On the john: how Butler finds inspiration in the most unlikely places
IT CAN a long time for some of John Butler's songs to be "born", but a new tune off his recent album, Home, finally arrived after a 13 year wait.
by Ben Cameron, The Advertiser
John Butler is performing in Hobart. For Pulse January 2019.
In town for WOMAD this Saturday night, Butler says Just Call - all about meeting his partner Danielle for the first time - was a slow burn from genesis to fully-formed song.
He's thankful though, as some tunes constantly come and go from his mind, with some never to return.
In fact, one of his all time classics, Zebra, bounced around his head for three years before he finally nailed it down.
"Every time I had a guitar, I couldn't remember the riff. And when I didn't have a guitar I could remember the riff," Butler tells Adelaide Confidential.
"It took a while for them both to meet.
"Some songs go and never come back, they find somebody else. Some songs take 13 years, like Just Call off the new album."
John Butler Trio, 'How Do You Sleep at Night'
Butler says inspiration often strikes when he's not thinking about music, like while driving or walking.
"(And) the toilet, constantly," he says with a laugh.
"I keep an instrument in the toilet just for that reason.
"Whenever you're sitting down, you're not concentrating on music and sometimes when you're not concentrating on making something good, you do.
"That's a lot of times. It's something about, when you're not trying, some things happen.
"(When) you're not deliberately trying to be a brilliant musician, things pop up."
Another song Coffee, Methadone and Cigarettes - about "intergenerational pain" after the loss of his grandfather to a bushfire in 1958 in Western Australia - was realised during a three-hour drive.
"It was one of those songs that came out without much thought," he says.
"I could hear the chords in my head.
"These lyrics fell out. By the time I got home I already had two verses done."
Like Just Call and Zebra, it was one of those songs that was "wanting to come out and waiting for the right time."
More broadly, Butler says the catalyst for a new record is usually the accumulation of 20 to 30 tunes that need to be "reared" that ultimately "leave home".
"It's on the journey of life... I collect a whole bunch of things and I meet a whole bunch of songs," he says.
"I collect a whole bunch of songs, these little creatures that I end up taking home.
"And after a while the house gets pretty full of those songs.
"My mind's full of them, my computer's full of them, and all of a sudden I stop writing.
"It's time to empty the house, to see which songs of these really want to be born... set them free a little bit."
Butler's latest record Home is a diverse beast - his "most intimate and raw" - with moments of country on Coffee, Methadone and Cigarettes to electro flourishes (You Don't Have To Be Angry Anymore, Home).
The latter sound like Butler has been following Chet Faker's early material.
An unashamed fan of Anderson Paak, Beyonce and Rihanna, the 43-year-old says his perceived uber chill, folk persona is not the whole story.
"If you knew me, you'd see there's a lot of not exactly stereotypical aspects of (my personality)," he says.
"People often see me as a stereotype cliche... a pretty mellow, tree hugging, vegetarian.
"But what I really am is a skateboarder who struggles to be a vegetarian.
"Who is a pretty intense guy. I'm totally into the outdoors, camping, and love my gear and my tools."