JOHN BUTLER TRIO - By Joe Matera

Their latest live album 'Living' was recently certified gold in Australia, and deservedly so. A hectic national tour beckons, and the John Butler Trio is already in the process of looking to record their next studio disc. "Yeah I've got about three albums worth of material already written for the next album!" exclaims the softly spoken Butler. "And it's going in a direction towards more of a groove and roots based record. I'm really into the roots music and country stuff at the moment so I want it to be more stripped back. And I want to try to infuse those two styles together as well as separately, concentrating more on the 'upbeat' of each particular style to give it more of that 'skank' feel".

John Butler was been born in Torrance, in the sunny American state of California on April 1st, 1975. The first seeds of his musical path were sown when his father, having a desire to return to the country of his birth, moved the family from Los Angeles to Australia in 1986 to a small town in Western Australia called Pinjarra. It was here the young John started to play the guitar at the tender age of sixteen. The ensuing years saw Butler develop and further his instrumental prowess until 1998 when an early incarnation of the John Butler Trio took root with the band making their official debut in 2000 at the East Coast Blues and Roots Festival. 2001 saw the band's breakthrough release 'Three' garner much critical and commercial acclaim. Since then, the John Butler Trio has constantly stayed on the road playing to ever increasing crowds night after night.

It was during their 2001/02 tour, when the John Butler Trio decided to record four of their gigs - two in Melbourne at the Forum, two in West Australia, one at UWA and one at the 'Rockit' festival. From these recordings Butler chose 13 songs, along with one new studio song "Home Is Where The Heart Is", to feature on the live album called "Living", a double CD set released earlier this year. The tracks that appeared on the album had been played live constantly over a four year period, so Butler thought it would be a fitting way to end one chapter and start another.

"For the last five years we've just been on the road touring and playing live" explains Butler on why he decided to release the live disc. "And that's how we've built our reputation. So it seemed fitting to put down what we've done over the past five years and give people an example of that and give the fans a bit of the magic that we've all shared over that period. We just recorded four of our gigs and tried to pick the best stuff out of them and tried to stay objective about it all."

With the gypsy lifestyle of a travelling musician and a touring schedule that is at times both hectic and gruelling, how does Butler cope with life on the road? "It's like a travelling circus really" he says. "You go to a town and set up a tent and go play a show. Then everybody goes home and you take the show down and move on to the next town and do it all again. You do about 10 hours a day of transporting and work for that two hour performance each night. It's a lot of work but at the same time it's a total honour. It's definitely a different type of lifestyle to live."

It's obvious from witnessing Butler's live performances and the energy that the band creates, that he would rather be performing on stage than be in the studio, but he insists both have their merits.

"I really enjoyed the last two times I was in the studio to be honest with you" he reveals. "I think they both have their merits and can't be compared. But I do prefer playing live music with other musicians." Explaining the writing process within the context of the band he points out: "I usually set everything to music with the words coming after the music. Then I usually craft it up a bit, work on it and refine it and arrange it. Then I bring it all to the band and tell them what I'd like to hear and let them see how they can interpret it, and how it works for them."

One distinctive trait of Butler's bluesy roots-based guitar playing is the sound and style he achieves from his vast range of 12 string guitars and lap steels. "I mainly play a lot of 12-string guitars" he states. "Like I've got a couple of Matons and a Washburn 12 string acoustic. I do use a lot of C tunings like the CGCGCE tuning and a little bit of the B tuning and drop D. I also do a couple of songs in DADGAD tuning, but mostly I write in C tuning. I also play a 12-string lap steel and a little Weissenborn copy which is made by Carson Crickmore in Victoria. I usually have two pick-ups in all my guitars; one magnetic like an electric pick-up and the other a bridge or microphone pick-up near the bridge which kind of gives me the best acoustic sound. I plug that into a Fender Blender. I then take a send out from the magnetic pick-up and plug that into a volume pedal through a 1974 JMP Marshall amp which I can turn on or off."

While Butler is gaining an increasing fan base locally, he is also starting to make inroads overseas. "I've got a great agent over in the States and he's scored us some really good gigs with artists like John Mayer and Dave Matthews" he muses. "And playing some of the good festivals over there. But it's really early days for us over there, but it is building. As for Europe, I've only been there once and for a very short amount of time, like two to three days. But I would really like to go back and play some more maybe later this year. It's really good to have another country to play in instead of your own, you don't want to saturate too much in Australia. In the last four or five years, I've done hundreds and hundreds of gigs."

The method by which Butler keeps his ideas fresh, is by a constant regime of listening to his musical influences as well keeping his ear to the ground on current faves. "I have been listening to a lot Gillian Welch and Ani DiFranco recently" he reveals. "And lots of old 1970's Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix circa Band Of Gypsies along with lots of old country folk-blues and hillbilly and roots music." And what does Butler hope to achieve with his music? "My main goal in music is to keep evolving and having a good time" he ponders. "While getting constantly better as an artist, songwriter and musician at the same time."