John Butler Trio reaps success and sows seeds of consciousness for the world

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:: John Butler Trio :: Ogden Theatre :: November 23 and 24 ::

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By Monica Banks

“Yes, I one hundred percent believe music can change the world,” John Butler said. And that is exactly what he and the trio that bears his name are trying to do with refreshing sincerity.
Butler began playing the guitar when he was 16 and by the time he turned 21 showed enough discipline and promise to inherit his grandfather’s 1930s Dobro. Armed with his family’s confidence, he developed an obsession with the guitar. “I always loved songwriting, but it wasn’t until I saw (Australian singer/songwriter) Jeff Lang and (Scottish musician) Tony McManus that I realized what I wanted to do,” Butler said in a recent interview with The Marquee from his Australian home. He began by busking as a street musician at the Fremantle markets in Australia and his performances soon inspired a popular demand to record.

His first release Searching for Heritage was completely self-funded and released on tape in 1996. Butler sold three-and-a-half thousand copies and was able to record his first CD with his earnings.
In 1998 he released the self-titled John Butler album, followed by an EP in 2000, Pickapart. This got Butler put into high rotation on Triple J, an underground radio station in Australia that plays all over the country. Although in the earlier years Butler had a bit more of an edge, Triple J DJs were willing to take a chance and it has paid off well. In 2001 the John Butler Trio, comprised of Butler, Shannon Birchall on bass and Michael Barker on the drums, released their breakthrough album Three, which reached number one on the Australian charts three times. By the time Three reached platinum status the band was beginning to catch on in the U.S., and Jarrah Records was formed in conjunction with fellow Australian band The Waifs so they could keep their independent model as they began to break down international boundaries.
In 2003 their double live CD Living 2001-2002 debuted at number six and brought JBT into the mainstream. Later that year, Sunrise Over Sea was released and marked another crossover, onto commercial radio. The premier made history as the first independently released album to debut at number one on the Australian charts and went on to achieve five times platinum status.
Along with his musical obsession, Butler also became an activist. As the ancient forests suffered from clear cutting, Butler saw the need to speak out against such travesties. “These people were coming into the local and state governments, trashing the community and saying it was good for the economy and then moving on,” said Butler. “I realized it was a cause more important than myself.” In 2005 Butler realized a long time dream by creating the JB Seed Arts Grant Programme. The program was initially funded by Butler and promotes the exploration of the social, cultural and artistic diversity in Australia. Nationally recognized by its second year, the program helps to network experts in the industry with independent artists and educate them in areas such as management, legal matters, copyright, publicity and promotion.
Butler is a man of action; the Trio’s soldout national tour for Sunrise Over Sea donated one-dollar from every ticket to the Refugee Action Coalition. This tradition has also benefited The Wilderness Society, Save Nigaloo Reef Campaign and the JB Seed Programme. For Butler, it’s about more than just the environment. “It’s about the human condition. These days, everyone is just in it for personal gain, it has infiltrated our head stage,” he said.
Taking a cue from other artists such as Tracy Chapman, Bob Dylan and Bob Marley, Butler continues to try and touch people with his music in hopes they will touch other people in their lives. “You can just be a person who enjoys music and still make a difference,” Butler said. JBT encourages their fans to buy “Green Tickets,” a program designed to help offset CO2 emissions created by their drive to the show. The tickets are an additional 40 cents, to help build new wind projects through Native Energy, a renewable energy company.
In 2006, after much deliberation, the band decided to sign with Lava Records, an imprint of Atlantic. “We’re still independent in Australia, but we needed the help with America,” Butler said. “I don’t think we could have made it here if we hadn’t made it back home.” Their contract came with a rare clause allowing the band to maintain creative freedom and independence. “They know we can deliver,” Butler said. “When you’re in a relationship or any kind of collaborative effort you have to be open to people’s opinions, some of them are really quite good.”
Their latest album, Grand National, was released last March and went straight to number one on the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) album charts. The album is up for five ARIA awards, including album of the year, single of the year (“Funky Tonight”), best male artist, best independent release and best blues and roots album. “It’s moving more toward a universal kind of music,” Butler said.
:: John Butler Trio ::
:: Ogden Theatre :: November 23 and 24 ::

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