John Butler, the driving force behind Australia's John Butler Trio, is a musician of eclectic tastes.
He prefers to play his collection of twelve string guitars without the high-G, pulls electric sounds out of acoustic instruments, and embraces stylistic infidelity. His musical ADD has kept his sound evolving over the last seventeen years, which courses through reggae, blue grass, folk, funk, and rock. The group is in the final leg of touring for 2014's Flesh and Blood, which is the group's last stint before a new record. Flanked by bassist Byron Luiters and percussionist Grant Gerathy, Butler and his trio will hit the Observatory on Friday, July 3.
“This is the last tour of Flesh and Blood. We usually get four or five tours out of every album, and this is kind of the last hurrah,” Butler says. “There are so many cities we want to get to and people we want to see. I'm sure you could tour your whole life and still not see everybody.”
While his collective tours in the U.S. haven't reached every major city, they've made a considerable dent. He's racked up a headlining show at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado, opening gigs at Madison Square Garden, and billings from nearly every major American music festival. He's done all of this despite not having a traditional “radio hit” here in the states, but he's scored a slew of hits and industry awards from down under. He's achieved all of this while maintaining a family and a passion for environmental activism.
Butler's activist nature led him to join a handful of artists on the anti-hydrofracking album, Buy This Fracking Album, released last week. The compilation featured JBT's song “Revolution” off their fifth studio effort, April Uprising, and touts tracks from several other activist/musicians including Bonnie Raitt, Michael Franti, and Anti Flag, among others.
“Fracking is an interesting issue,” Butler says. “It's extremely volatile. Big industry is poisoning our water all around the globe, but the blessing behind this whole catastrophe is that it's brining people together that may not have much in common. People realize they all want the same thing, and it goes beyond religion and politics. It boils down to common sense -don't piss in the water.”
“Revolution” isn't the only JBT track to make a comeback in the last few months. A 12″ vinyl version of Butler's revered instrumental, “Ocean” was released in honor of Record Store Day last April. The song is an acoustic work of art that dips into sophisticated plucking styles and rises into impassioned crescendos. “Ocean” is also one of the first songs Butler ever performed, taking shape nearly two decades ago during his busker days in Australia.
“I think at times there's beauty without words, you know?” Butler says. “I think a well-crafted bit of poetry is really powerful, but I think the same can go for instrumentals. Music can say things that words never can. I think on this song it's down to energy, and more of a spiritual thing.”
During those early busker years Butler played a twelve-string Maton guitar; the same guitar that popped a high G-string and shaped his eleven string preference. It's also the same instrument he brings out on tour and performs “Ocean” with to this day. But after a nearly two-decade relationship, he shares that it might be time to hang up his beloved instrument.
“I believe the time has come to put her out to graze,” Butler says of his first eleven-string. “She's been hit so many times and beaten so many times. I know that sounds really horrible, but it's because of the percussive way I play. Let's just say she's had it with me. But you never know, she has this funny way of making it back out.”
As for deciphering when the next time Butler and his cohorts will make it back out to the states, the answer is uncertain at this point. The front man shares that he's planning on recording music late this year or early next, but adds that he's not one to rush the process. Given his tendency to nurture tracks into acoustic perfection, here's hoping he takes all the time he needs.
John Butler Trio performs at the Observatory, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600; www.observatoryoc.com. Friday, July 3, 8 p.m. $30 all ages. For more information on John Butler Trio visit www.johnbutlertrio.com.
If there’s music or art involved, she’ll take a chance on it.