John Butler Trio relishes its musical independence

John Butler



History shows that the major record labels have done all right for themselves while bringing Australian music to the masses. Atlantic signed AC/DC to an international distribution deal in 1976, and for years afterward its stockholders reaped the benefits of monumental blues-metal. During the ’80s U.S. labels made a pretty penny off increasingly accessible Aussie rock acts like INXS and Midnight Oil, and you couldn’t flip on the radio in ’83 without hearing Men at Work sing the praises of Vegemite sandwiches. Thanks a bunch, CBS.

Times have changed, of course, and the economics of the music industry don’t require bands from Down Under to sell their souls to corporate backers anymore. Take the John Butler Trio, whose albums are marketed by the independent Jarrah Records, which singer, songwriter, and guitarist Butler co-owns with West Australian folk band the Waifs.“I think it’s important to have musical freedom,” says Butler from a San Diego tour stop. “If you can find that with a major record label, then good on you, and if you can’t then going and doing it yourself is an option as well. I don’t advocate one or the other, but being independent is something I’m proud of and something that works for us. By the time record companies started calling us we were already gold in Australia, so we didn’t need them.”By achieving success on its own terms the JBT has remained free to support whatever social, environmental, or political causes it sees fit. The booklet that accompanied its 2001 platinum-in-Australia CD, Three, included info on the ongoing rape of the nation’s old-growth forests for exportable wood chips, and a map dotted with skulls to signify its uranium mines and nuclear-weapons test sites. On its new album, April Uprising, the trio continues to fight the power via tracks like the inspiring opener, “Revolution”, but the outrage is toned down a tad.

“There’s a lot of songs that are political but just not so blunt,” reveals Butler. “They’re a little more poetic than they have been. But it’s also personal. I mean, ever since I had my kid there’s a lot more to write about than just what the bad guys are doin’ in the world, you know.

“And to be more to the point,” he continues, “if you want to talk about a revolution, and talk about poverty and progress, you gotta talk about love. You just can’t keep throwin’ the negativity onto the negativity, you know.”

Butler’s band makes great strides towards asserting a positive musical vibe with its single “One Way Road”, a bouncy, upbeat ditty that could be the jam-roots outfit’s poppiest tune ever.

“Some people thought that song wouldn’t be so good because of how fast the lyrics were comin’ at ya,” he says. “It has the classic pop chord progression used on thousands of songs, but mixed with a bit of dancehall and a bit of lap-steel guitar it kinda changes into something else that is still very original and unique in its sound.”

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