The contradictions in John Butler are evident, and, despite his magnificently successful career (with number one albums in Australia and sell-out tours) his is a troubled soul. One of the most successful recording artists Australia has ever produced and a musician whose reputation has begun to rock the waters of both Europe and America, Butler is nevertheless a man on the edge. Where will he go next? Up or down? Despite the tensions within the man and his music the new album makes his future trajectory abundantly clear.
An independent role model, founder of Australia’s Jarrah Records, family man and proud skateboard aficionado, JB, in spite of his matey public persona, remains an enigma. He is from everywhere and nowhere, an Australian/American, Everyman/Nowhere Man, and his music mixes rootedness and rootlessness, pain and celebration in a way that is utterly beguiling. He is the consummate rebel-refugee whose songs chart disenchantment with the corporate world and show a yearning for truth along with an ongoing struggle for a sense of locus. The songs’ off-centre grooves have always been their charm, and yet now there is a sense, in the new album at least, of resolution and peace after years of being against the world and what it offered. Maybe the man on the brink will not jump after all?
John Butler is no pie-in-the-sky hippy. He has dirt beneath his feet: red dirt. He is well-known Down Under for his environmental and political commitment. His white Rasta look once suggested a teleported Bob Marley – but that has gone. The more recent barbered image makes him look like a handsome American from the Civil War era. His stare is hypnotic. Who will draw first, you or him? He is not, however, all gun and no trousers. He has put his money where his mouth is, fronting a campaign that helped stop a vast gas plant from despoiling the natural beauty of the Kimberley area in NW Australia. He has also set up a charitable trust that has enabled many aspiring artists to find an outlet. He is a man who cares about the world he is in and one who has tried, in his own way, to set in right.