Taken from The Bulletin (Sep 06, 2017)
John Butler Trio returns to Bend
Australian roots-rockers play Athletic Club
by Brian McElhiney - The Bulletin
Australian singer-songwriter and guitarist John Butler will return with his trio to the Athletic Club of Bend on Sunday. (Submitted photo)
John Butler still has plenty to say about the world around him. He’s just looking for a better way to say it.
In 2014, shortly before the release of his roots rock trio’s sixth studio album “Flesh & Blood,” the Australian guitarist and songwriter told an interviewer with News Corp Australia (news.com.au): “I don’t know how to write another song about a greedy arsehole ruining the planet.” True to that statement, “Flesh & Blood” more often than not found Butler in storytelling mode, looking beyond his personal life to inhabit different characters.
Butler is back to topical writing on the blues-rocking single “Bully,” released in late August in the wake of the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. The amped-up song, Butler’s first since “Flesh & Blood,” rails against power abusers, with the chorus hook warning that, “We’re in the middle of a war between love and hate.” Its accompanying music video features photos of protests against oil companies and fracking in Australia and the United States, further clarifying the message.
“Instead of talking about the companies drilling oil or taking land or desecrating ancient burial grounds and all that, I look at, what is that energy that’s doing that? It’s actually a bully,” Butler said from a recent tour stop in Peoria, Illinois. The John Butler Trio is wrapping up its current U.S. tour, and plays the penultimate date at the Athletic Club of Bend on Sunday.
“Rather than talking about President Trump or George Bush or John Howard or any other politician — Malcolm Turnbull in my country — it’s too literal and it dates itself. But when you can step back and go, ‘oh, this is a bully.’ This is something everybody can relate to, because the bullies are in the schoolyard; they’re in the workplace; they’re in the families; they’re in the government. And all of a sudden, it gives me a bit of a new lease on life to talk about these archetypes in a different way.”
The song was recorded last year, but it has remained timely in light of the aforementioned Charlottesville protests, the ongoing gay marriage debate in Australia and increasing environmental concerns worldwide. As Butler put it, “It seems like we wrote the song for this month.”
“We’re at a point in time where we either let the bullies ruin everything, and then just suck it up and say, ‘Well, hey, we could have done something, but we didn’t and now, it’s our fault,’” Butler said, “or we stand up to the bully, and how to do that and when to do that and who to do that with, it varies. It’s an interesting time to be alive, and it feels like we’re getting to a crux, but maybe people have always felt that way. I’m sure they felt that way in the ’60s and ’70s, as well. But it seems like the blatant abuse of power and dishonesty of our organizations and administrations seem to be so obvious. It’s almost like a movie; it’s almost like we’re watching ‘Total Recall’ or ‘RoboCop’ or something.”
“Bully” precedes a new studio album from Butler and the trio — percussionist Grant Gerathy and bassist Byron Luiters — due out next year. Butler said the group is about halfway through the recording process, though the album has been delayed due to the tour: “It’s like building an engine, and the workshop — the engine’s all over the ground,” he said.
Butler said the new songs have been rhythm-centric, with a focus on bombastic beats similar to the driving “Bully.” Although Butler hinted at a few other political songs in the vein of “Bully,” for the most part, he said he once again found himself drawn to characters and stories.
“They’re mostly love stories,” Butler said. “I think there’s a couple kind of political ones, but even those ones for the most part are kind of stories, as well. I tried to make them more stories than proclamations.”
“Flesh & Blood” primarily featured previous drummer and Butler’s brother-in-law Nicky Bomba. Gerathy will perform all percussion on the new album, although he’s sitting out the current tour due to the recent birth of his first child. Bomba will sit in for the Bend date.
Since forming the trio in 1998, Butler has performed with a number of different bassists and drummers. He brought Bomba and Luiters on board in 2009 in an effort to expand his sound and play with new people, although he said each lineup shift has affected the band’s sound in some way.
“I’ve been seriously fortunate to play with some fantastic players that leave their fingerprints and their DNA into what the trio does,” Butler said. “This current trio with G. and Byron, it kind of seems to find a whole new kind of depth. I’m like the employee of the songs, and so I don’t ever really want to change bands, but it’s kind of up to the music.”