Music

Interview

John Butler on storytelling and touring for more than two decades

Before beloved Australian singer-songwriter John Butler brings his extensive catalogue of iconic music and more than 20 years of storytelling to Australian theatre stages, we sat down with him to chat about his career.

As Australia’s highest selling independent artist of all time, Butler needs no introduction. Honest, rich storytelling drenched in a classic folk style with a modern twist is a thread that ties Butler’s songbook together – and whether he is writing activism anthems or love songs, the soul within his music never wavers.

In this brand new live show, John will be sharing stories from the road and from his heart and playing songs from his vast catalogue which spans almost a quarter of a century. Get ready to sing along to hits including ‘Zebra’, ‘Something’s Gotta Give’, ‘Better You’, and ‘Only One’.

John Butler 2021 Australian Tour Dates

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How has it felt finally getting back on the road this year? It’s been great. I’ve been LOVING playing solo. The first show back was SummerSalt music festival in Adelaide. 

How did you spend your 2020? Did you discover anything new or interesting about yourself or those around you? 2020 was a lot of things. Obviously for everyone, in different ways. In many ways it was a blessing just to have the rat race stop for a second. I started teaching myself how to engineer in my studio and make beats in Logic and that’s been so much fun and a big learning curve. 

Both my wife and I lost our fathers within 40 hrs of each other in 2020, too. We were both giving Palliative care to our fathers on opposite sides of the country. Me in my home in Western Australia  and my wife in Victoria during lockdown. It’s been a sublime period of time and one I feel very grateful to be around for to care and honour our fathers at such a critical sacred time. 

 You started the year playing at Summersalt Festival – how important is it for big tours to head out to regional areas? Regional areas often get forgotten. There is this weird city way of thinking that kinda assumes everyone’s just going tp come to them, but when you take the show to regional locations, the gratitude is next level. I personally love heading out and playing to those communities. In many ways we always did that. 

This tour will see you taking over some of the country’s most beautiful theatres – playing in intimate sit-down mode. What does a John Butler show look like in this setting? It’s visually simple but I think that’s what’s great about it. That allows the music to really breath in these venues and very much creates a very intimate focus on the song and performance. 

For fans both familiar with your live show and those that might be coming out for the first time – what can we expect? I reckon in many ways the audience gets more from me than other types of shows. I still am able to do the walls of sound, melt-your-face-off guitar moments, but there’s also those moments juxtaposed by times where you can hear a pin drop. Sometimes within the same song. That and the fact that the song selection opens right up and I’m able to do different renditions of my songs.

You’ve been performing around the world for more than two decades now – what is it that still keeps you going? What do you love most about creating and performing music? I think what keeps me going is that I reckon it’s magic stuff. When I go to a gig as an audience member and I get the chills, it’s like I feel something “bigger” and magical. I have this realization that there’s something that binds us all and I’m not alone. THEN when I understand that’s also what I do or can do when I’m at my best, I feel excited and grateful to be able to provide that for someone else. 

I think that, with the addition of not knowing exactly what formula is, keeps me interred and challenged. It’s actually a bit scary going onto stage and bearing your soul to a group of strangers. Feels kinda like an extreme sport or a wild horse that can buck you off any second. It’s to be respected as not fully understood. 

You are an incredible storyteller, and we hear that through your music, but on this tour we hear you’ll also be sharing stories about your career and life. What can fans expect in that regard? I find the silk format and singer-songwriter folk tradition leaves room for that kind of storytelling. That’s what folk music is in its essence, and so the environmental factors allow those stories to come forth more. But it’s nothing curated, or some stories from the road or my 20+ year career. That would feel cheesy. It’s just how I bring songs to life and share them with family. The stories before the songs are intrinsically connected. Aaaaaaannnd I probably over share a bit. But hey, I wear my heart on my sleeve and what you see is definitely what you get. 

How have your earlier tracks, especially those you still regularly play live, grown and changed with you over the years? All songs grow and change. When you write them they’re being birthed. When you record them they’re ready to go out to the big wide world and be “adults”. Although very young, slightly righteous ones. And as one gigs and performs them over the years they mature, grow , contract, expand, and sometimes just sometimes, even fade away. But all the songs I’m playing at the moment and how they’re coming into life in the solo show are really fun to play and allow me to improvise and explore and experiment when the mood takes me. 

What are you most excited about for the rest of the year? I think about this tour and returning to my studio to keep working on my next album.

John Butler will take his catalogue of much-loved tunes around Australia this May and June. Tickets are on sale via Ticketmaster.com.au.