About John Butler Trio
John Butler is many things to many people. To John’s family he is a much loved husband, father, brother, and son. To his ever growing fan base it is purely about the musical journey, the groove of the Trio, the soul of the guitar and the honesty and integrity of John’s lyrics. To emerging independent artists John is an inspiration and patron to young acts struggling to establish themselves in an increasingly difficult and diluted marketplace. For guitar players John has reignited interest in open tunings, slide-playing and down-home tone, and like his heroes singer/songwriter and slide great Jeff Lang and multi-instrumentalist virtuoso Bob Brozman, John has provided the motivation for many players to pick up the guitar, practice and get deep. To people everywhere who believe in social equity, justice and the human spirit John’s words and actions have provided an audible, considered, independent voice and energy to many legitimate and universal concerns. For John however, the importance and focus has always been at the source, his family, his commitment, a voice, a guitar, a song, and the path they walk together.
It is the bold ideal that has been made into reality that makes John Butler’s work significant. The concepts of independence, artistic integrity and ethical business practice have been proven not only achievable but highly successful. John’s ability to thrive independently with music has provided a catalyst for new directions within the industry and an inspiration for many artists and the way they approach their career. Independent options are real and tangible.
John Butler was born in California and at age eleven swapped one West Coast lifestyle for a vastly different one when his family moved to Pinjarra in Western Australia. By age sixteen John was learning guitar alongside other family members, but he quickly found his affinity with the instrument and his own inspiration to excel, appreciating the cathartic and therapeutic nature that writing and singing his own songs brought to his life in a small country town. This early dedication to the instrument was rewarded soon after as John demonstrated enough discipline to inherit his grandfather’s 1930s Dobro. This was a defining moment, now armed with a sense of linage and total commitment John began to define his own voice on the instrument via experimentation with open tunings and a gumbo of musical influences from Celtic folk to Indian ragas and from blues to reggae. John absorbed all of these until he was able to translate them through his own instrumental voice and he began to perform his own music busking in front of large crowds at the Fremantle markets.
Demand for recorded versions of these early instrumentals became so great that John realised the need to produce his first release. Completely self funded, it would indicate the shape of John’s career from the outset. ‘Searching for Heritage’ released on tape in 1996 sold three and a half thousand copies and enabled John to fund his first CD recording. These early lessons of the demand for live energy on a recording and the importance of artistic independence, re-investment, and a consistent work ethic came so naturally to John that they only served to reinforce his belief that this was the only way to conduct his career. John continued to work hard on both performing and developing the next part of his musical palette, a merger between his instrumental voice and singing voice. Inspired by pivotal moments along the way such as a Jeff Lang or a Tony McManus concert, John’s vocals and lyrics became further inter-locked with his guitar and songwriting completing the puzzle and revealing an inspired and energetic picture.
In 1998, the first incarnation of the John Butler Trio launched ‘John Butler/ Self Titled’ followed in 2000/1 by the EP ‘Pickapart’, both were well received and the track ‘Pickapart’ was added to high rotation on national youth broadcaster, radio Triple J. This saw the band tour long and hard nationally in support of the release. In April 2001, the breakthrough album ‘Three’ was released through independent distributors MGM Distribution and remained in the national alternative charts for nine months rising to the number one position a record breaking three times.
Meanwhile in New York, manager Philip Stevens was forging working relationships with booking agents, promoters and labels to find the best way to continue John Butler’s independent model around the world. To this end, in conjunction with fellow West Australian band, The Waifs, Jarrah Records was formed as a new independent label that saw the release in USA of “Three” in July 2002 which went on to sell over 10,000 copies.
By the time ‘Three’ reached platinum sales status in Australia the JBT was recognised and respected nationally as part of the Australian musical landscape both on the airwaves and the touring circuit. In 2003, ‘Living 2001- 2002’, a double live CD, debuted at number six on the ARIA charts also achieving platinum sales with the subsequent mainstream focus and acceptance indicating a bright horizon for John.
The release of the single ‘Zebra’ from the album ‘Sunrise Over Sea’ in December 2003 would achieve the crossover into a historically difficult market for independent artists, commercial radio. ‘Zebra’ not only made it to number eight in Triple J’s esteemed Hot 100 but it was programmed on high rotation around the country on mainstream commercial networks such as Triple M and Nova. The debut of ‘Sunrise Over Sea’ at number one in the ARIA charts created Australian music history. It was the first time a release by a completely independent Australian artist on their own independent label had rocketed to the top of the national charts. ‘Sunrise Over Sea’ would go on to achieve five times platinum status (350,000 copies) in Australian record sales alone and remained in The Association of Independent Record Labels (AIR) charts for a staggering 84 weeks. A sold out national tour followed in support of the album with John donating one dollar from every ticket to the Refugee Action Coalition. John has continued this tradition with various causes such as The Wilderness Society, Save Ningaloo Reef Campaign and The JB Seed all benefiting from touring donations.
Critical acclaim rapidly followed when ‘Zebra’ won the highly prestigious Australian Performing Rights Association (APRA) Song Of The Year Award, again making history being the first time musical peers have voted for a self-published, independent singer/ songwriter. Having been nominated for a massive five awards at the 2004 Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) awards, The John Butler Trio started the evening by taking out Best Independent Release and Best Blues and Roots Album. The night culminated on a major high when John also took out the coveted Best Male Artist Award. With landmark achievements and recognition born of dedication, trust, and pure hard work, a precedent had been set, the lesson being to aspiring artists, you can do this too.
The year 2005 also saw the realisation of a long time dream for John and his partner Danielle Caruana as The JB Seed Arts Grant Programme became a reality. Initially independently funded by John, the programme is designed to explore and encourage the social, cultural, and artistic diversity in Australian society. The JB Seed in its second year has developed and been nationally recognised with industry peers and experts both offering contributions financially and via their knowledge and time. In October 2006 The JB Seed dream was further enhanced when its inaugural Managers Workshop/Conference was held in Katoomba, the hub of the beautiful Blue Mountains. Another vision become an actuality for John and Dan and their team as twenty successful applicants from around the country gathered for three days workshopping and networking with industry experts covering topics such as management, legals, copyright, publicity and promotion in an enabling and trusting environment. In mid 2006 John Butler held an insightful interview with Andrew Denton who, when canvassed about the interview subjects he most admired in the 2006 November edition of The Sydney Magazine (Sydney Morning Herald), referenced John stating, “He’s put in $100,000 of his own money to seed other artists coming through. I find that very impressive.” The JB Seed continues to grow, for more information visit www.thejbseed.com .
Despite incredible success received to date John Butler and his fellow band members, Shannon Birchall on bass and Michael Barker on drums, did not rest to bask in the glory and as always went back to work. During the last two years The JBT has been making new friends and winning over large audiences all over the world. Highlight performances so far have included two sold out shows at the legendary Fillmore East in San Francisco, a standing ovation at the celebrated New Orleans Jazz Festival, selling out the prestigious Grand Rex in Paris, rocking the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan, becoming the highest selling act at the Cambridge Folk Festival and performing main stage at Glastonbury, one of the most coveted gigs on the international festival circuit, and a landmark television performance on the David Letterman Show.
During this time the decision had been made to sign with Lava Records, an imprint of Atlantic Records, for the release of their CDs outside of Australia and New Zealand. A decision not taken lightly but born of the belief that the music needed to be heard by as many people as possible through out the world. In a rare deal John retained full artistic control and also the ability to have all CDs and promotional material printed on recycled paper. Sunrise Over Sea went on to sell a further 200,000 copies around the world.
Back home John Butler jumped at the chance to give something back at the Wave Aid benefit concert held in Sydney in January 2005 for victims of the Boxing Day tsunami. The group joined a host of Australia’s frontline acts including iconic political musicians Midnight Oil and Silverchair to raise money and awareness for the plight of hundreds of thousands of people caught up innocently in possibly the world’s largest natural disaster. The Wave Aid Tsunami Relief Concert, co-organised by John Butler’s manager Phil Stevens, raised over two million dollars and this figure continues to grow through DVD sales.
In July 2005, a performance in Switzerland at the St Gallen open air music festival was recorded in analogue on two inch tape and critically captures the warmth of a JBT performance both in sound quality and atmosphere. The concert was released as the ‘John Butler Trio – Live At St Gallen’ with a bonus DVD component and reflects the group’s ability to make an impact on the international stage. Australian fans are not forgotten however, and are thanked by John on the cover for making all of these shows possible in the first place.
In January 2006, John and fellow band members Shannon and Michael began pre-production at Couch Studios (WA) with engineer Shaun O’Callaghan. The first recording session for the album started in February at Woodstock studios with engineer Robin Mai who also worked on the ground breaking ‘Sunrise Over Sea’ album. Session two, saw the band moving to Sing Sing studios (Melbourne) where John came together with legendary Mario Caldato Jnr (Beastie Boys, Beck) to co-produce and engineer.
October 2006 saw the start of a new chapter for John Butler with the release of the single ‘Funky Tonight’ which was snapped up by radio programmers Australia wide and came in as the second most added track at radio the week it was serviced. The band will support the release with a major tour throughout November/ December 2006 and can’t wait to share the new tracks in front of a live audience.
A very special performance took place in Melbourne at the out set of the tour when The John Butler Trio took part in an historical event created to increase awareness of the MAKE POVERTY HISTORY Campaign www.makepovertyhistory.org . John as always was honoured to support such an important cause and joined members of U2 and Pearl Jam, as well as many of Australia’s finest acts in performing to raise awareness of the extreme gap between rich and poor nations. John Butler sees this agenda of extreme importance.
In June 2009, John Butler proudly announced the new line up of the ever-evolving John Butler Trio. Prominent Melbourne musician Nicky Bomba (drums and percussion) of ‘Bomba’ fame and principal drummer on ‘Sunrise Over Sea’ joined the band and bass player Byron Luiters from Sydney outfit Ray Mann Three completed the new line up. John Butler and his new band mates spent several months bunkered down in their Fremantle studio putting down tracks for their fifth studio album entitled ‘APRIL UPRISING’, which was released in the spring of 2010.
John is honoured to share this new journey and welcomes everyone along for the ride.