Observations inspire new John Butler Trio album
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It’s a shame John Butler doesn’t rule the planet, it might be a better place if he did.
You could surmise, however, that after a listen to his latest release Grand National, the front man of the award-winning folk/roots/jam trio of the same name would never accept such power. The Pinjarra, Australia native truly belongs to the Earth, not the other way round: Fused with eclectic, indigenous world beats and tones, Grand National’s shrewd, progressively minded observations deride racism and the U.S. government’s apathy towards hurricane Katrina victims, among other issues.
So even though he ‘s taken part in “green” concerts like Boston’s recent EarthFest, anti-poverty campaign Make Poverty History, and donated cash to up-and-coming Australian artists, is Butler a committed activist? He doesn’t think so.
“I’m more of an activist for common sense and respect than anything else,” he says. “The environment and human rights are just part of that. We’re one people. We can’t get by without each other.”
Butler comes honestly by his music and viewpoints — many of which he frames on tracks Fire In The Sky, Gov Did Nuthin’, Devil Running and Good Excuse. Growing up in Western Australia, Butler honed his craft on his grandfather’s 1930s dobro guitar which he inherited at age 16. Before moving down under with his family at age 11, he spent his early childhood in Los Angeles, where he says he saw discrimination first-hand.
“It was definitely there,” he says, “But I went to a school where white people were one of many groups. When you’re young, you don’t look at the world that way. Racism and hate are taught ... It’s spreading ignorance and aggression and it’s reinforced on the news. You see it on Fox, or in religious groups screaming against ‘homos’ or lesbians. It’s quite sad.”
Of course, the singer doesn’t let this get him down. Even though the far right takes a sound licking on the album, Butler refuses to fight fire with fire. Inspired by his two young kids, he remains optimistic about humanity.
“Me hating them makes them hate more,” he says. “You are what you think. If you believe life is bad and unsafe, that’s how you’ll live. You can give anger more energy, or you can give love more energy … Fatherhood has given me a new hope. I look at my kids and I realize that human beings are really beautiful.”