John Butler Trio released their seventh album, Flesh & Blood, earlier this year and the eponymous multi-instrumentalist will return to Birmingham on Monday, Nov. 10. The Australian spoke to Weld about his native country, collaborations with his wife and country superstar Keith Urban and what to expect from the band’s live performance.
Weld: How did you discover the American jam scene when you were playing music in Australia?
John Butler: I don’t know. It was around. I think at the time I had met some people from the management of the String Cheese Incident and those kind of guys, and they suggested some festivals we should play and from there – that’s how I discovered it. I wouldn’t say a part of anyone’s scene, but we’ve definitely played that scene a bit.
Weld: Being a multi-instrumentalist may have accidentally landed you in that scene. When you started making music, what type of music were you hoping to create?
JB: I just wanted to create my own. [Laughs] And I didn’t know what that was, I just knew that I wanted to create music and I had some kind of voice. I didn’t really think about formulating any one particular kind of sound, I just knew I didn’t want to sound like anybody else. For me, writing songs at home was enough, and playing instrumentals on the street was kind of what I was going to do, and it kind of just took off from there. My biggest ambition when I was starting was to get a good [mode of transportation] that could carry my guitar and carry my swag and my sleeping bag and I could gypsy around like an anarchist punk around the country. That’s what I wanted to do, and it turned into something else.
Weld: You’ve always been called a trio, you’ve always played as a trio, but those three members have changed a lot. Why do you keep the moniker rather than something more specific? I mean, I guess it’s pretty specific, but why not present it as a solo act?
JB: Yeah [Laughs]. John Butler Trio. It’s about as specific as you can get, and I play with two other men in the trio and it seems to work. But as far as the lineup changes are concerned, they’ve happened for various reasons, and while people think it happens a lot, it’s actually happened organically and not very often. I guess before working with Nicky and Byron, I was working with Michael and Shannon for seven years and before that, it hadn’t changed much. So it’s only changed twice really drastically.
The trio works. I work with people that can create a lot of sound. We don’t really need more sound. If anything, the space is appreciated.
Weld: What is your reception in the States now versus back home?
JB: When I met those guys from String Cheese, those were the first couple of weeks that I had come here, and it took another 10 years to make something that you see here today. Which is a pretty solid underground, non-mainstream kind of thing. Yes, most Americans are asked who the John Butler Trio are and they go, “Who?” But yet we have a good fan base.
It took a long time to make. It takes a long time to make a sustainable career in America even if you’re an American band. And I’d say it’s harder if you’re from Australia. We’re from the furtherest place that you could possibly come to America from. So it takes a lot of work and I’m really happy with where we’re at. It’s a nice place to be. It’s one of those 12-year, overnight successes that still hasn’t really reached the mainstream [Laughs].
Weld: You collaborated with fellow Australian Keith Urban once. How did it happen and what is your relationship like with Keith?
JB: Keith is a sweetheart. I’m coming through his neck of the woods soon, and every time I do, he’s always on tour. I don’t know where he’ll be this time. It was an awards ceremony — I guess the Australian Grammys had this idea of us playing together for one of my songs and I said, “Cool.” He came up and shredded away on his guitar and we had a great time; it was a dueling axe kind of thing. That’s kind of where our relationship started.
I’ve only seen him a couple of times since, really.
Weld: How many instruments will you incorporate into your live show here?
JB: 12-string and six-string and electric guitar and lap steel. I don’t think there will be any ukulele.
Weld: No didgeridoo?
JB: Unless we play “Treat Your Mama,” which I don’t play. I mean, Byron plays didgeridoo. I mean, I can play it, but I don’t play it live.
Weld: Which instrument challenges you most?
JB: Maybe the electric guitar? I find that pretty tricky.
Weld: You collaborated with your wife [Mama Kin] on a benefit project a few years ago. Will we see that again any time soon?
JB: We keep on threatening that we’ll make an album together, we just haven’t written enough songs yet. I’d love to make some more music with her. I love what she does musically and as a songwriter and I think what we do together is a lot of fun to me.
Weld: What will we get out of the live show here?
JB: You’ll get over two hours of music. You’ll get out of it what you’re willing to give. And, I think I play seven to eight new songs out of about 17-18. There are quite a few new songs and quite a few old songs and I think that’s the only way to keep people moving with you, as opposed to just liking your old stuff.
Weld: Who are the top five American rock bands of all time?
JB: American? Creedence Clearwater Revival. Jimi Hendrix, Band of Gypsys, yeah. It has to be bands or can it be an artist?
Weld: If you want to list an artist, that’s fine.
JB: Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson. And Rage Against the Machine.
John Butler Trio comes to Iron City on Monday, Nov. 10. Monica Heldal will open. Doors open at 7 p.m., while the show begins at 8 p.m. Advance tickets are $23.50, while tickets will be $27.50 on the day of the show.