John Butler is the type of artist who seems to contradict himself.
How can he be such a laid-back guy, and yet be so motivated in his professional aspirations? It seems as though the 31-year-old Australian has found the perfect combination between “chill” and “go-getter.” At his April 6 show at the 9:30 Club, Butler’s trio – aptly named The John Butler Trio – played to a sold-out audience almost as diverse and impassioned as the Trio’s music in a showcase that perfectly illustrated this dichotomy.
Despite all of his uniqueness and eccentricities, Butler is part of a new movement that is taking hold in popular music. In his blend of styles, there is an underlying current of “roots” music, which is a genre becoming much more commonplace in pop. The most notable and clear example of this is John Mayer’s new project, The John Mayer Trio, with their newest album Try! It is a blues record with pop overtones, but Mayer is one of the many artists who are incorporating roots music into their pop tunes.
However, Butler isn’t too sure about being called a roots rocker.
“Being a ‘roots rocker’ is a label. It’s just two words put together and nothing more,” he said in an interview with The Hatchet at the 9:30 Club show, before taking the stage. “I would call what we do eclectic roots rock, and that means one thing to me. It means total sonic freedom.”
This “sonic freedom” is clearly exercised by the group in its live performances.
Butler includes a great deal more than blues in his own unique blend. The trio, consisting of Butler on guitar and vocals, drummer Nicky Bomba and upright bass player Shannon Brichall, includes blues, reggae, classic country, Appalachian folk, funk, rock and hip-hop in its melodies. However, the fusing of these disparate types of music is most often a matter of subconscious for the three. Butler said, “I just do what sounds right. I don’t think, ‘I should put some blues here.’ It’s more like, ‘I need some blues here.’ It just sounds right.”
Wearing the hat of the consummate musician, Butler takes this feel very seriously, especially when writing songs.
“I’m never really satisfied with them,” Butler said. “The album version is far from the final product. A song is never finished, but I’m happy when they can walk on their own and live by themselves.”
Butler also talked with The Hatchet about how he first started playing music.
“I got my start busking in the markets,” he said. (Busking is a practice in Australia in which artists go to market and play, essentially as street performers.) “Then I got into bars, and then decided to record.”
Instead of recording with someone else, as most artists would do, Butler started his own label.
“We just started it to cut our own stuff, which taught me not to sign anything if I couldn’t make my music the way I wanted to.” Butler has made a name for himself by finding a balance between being the laid-back artist and a type-A businessman.
The name Butler has made for himself is often tied with the “jam” nature of his live shows. The audience at the 9:30 Club was a mix of college age kids, hippies, middle-aged adults and even a large group of Australians, several of whom drunkenly shouted “Aussy, Aussy, Aussy! Oye, Oye, Oye!” throughout the show.
Despite the sell-out show of such a diverse audience, his current tour of the United States is actually losing money.
Butler said, “People have funny views of success. My opinion is that success is the ability to feed myself and my family by doing what I love, and that I’m able to do just fine.”