an age where superficiality dominates the music marketplace, where music has become less a personal expression and more a means of gaining ‘bling' through fad driven beats and expensive, pithy production, the shadow of John Butler looms like a menacing specter of the past…and future. Rising (like the sun) from humble beginnings as a threadbare busker [I bet he was still hot, though!—Ed.] to his reluctant role as Australia's newest and brightest cultural ambassador, Butler has, and always will, forever and ever refuse to adhere to musical trends and record industry bullshit. It's this ‘no crap' approach that has seen The John Butler Trio finally break through after years of incessant touring, and John—the people's jester—now finds himself in the position of having multi-platinum albums, a huge and devoted Australian fan-base and massive international recognition [those foreigners know a good thing when they see it, ey?—Ed.]. All this from an independent musician who relies solely on passionate live performances and honesty to reach the people.
Yet Butler's recent signing to Lava Records (an imprint of Warner) has some of his fans worried, as if the allegiance itself signals a departure from the ethics that have made him an inspiration to "free spirits" everywhere.
But the fans need not worry as Butler has proven himself time and time again—consistently staying true to his ethics in the face of commercial success. Throughout his four major releases, the pains of a man concerned for the environment, his country and his heart play out in very personal, earnest and beautiful music. Lyrics overflow with honesty and genuine frustration at a world gone wrong; where exploitation of Indigenous cultures (2000s Self Titled EP contains a depiction of a Native American painted by Butler and a most fascinating reproduction of Aboriginal Dreamings, also painted by the gifted and versatile artist), the world's resources and the working man lead to war and suffering.
Butler also puts his money where his mouth is, often donating a portion of the proceeds from live shows and CD sales towards "free the refugees" and "no war" protests. The down to earth Butler is always quick, however, to avoid the social and political ‘hero' tag that abounds in interviews and the guestbook section of his website.
"I really don't think I'm educated enough to be a spokesperson, to tell you the honest truth…I don't have any revolutionary ideas or any invention that's gonna come and save the world, I don't have any answers for the state of the human race as far as how we can just fuckin' get along and use some common sense and stop the greedy people of the world that are ruining it… There's a very fine line of becoming a preacher and getting on your soap box."
So should we worry about Butler? I don't think so. As long as there is a line and a soap box, he will tread over it, beside it, and most importantly upon it, and continue to inspire, educate and entertain us.