Where John But­ler calls home

John But­ler in­vites Si­mon Collins in­side his Mar­garet River re­treat

Augusta Margaret River Times - - Front Page -

While it’s prob­a­bly not the only wheelie bin with a Frack Off ! sticker in Mar­garet River, this plas­tic re­cep­ta­cle be­longs to John But­ler.

When the 43-year-old roots rocker played to nearly 10,000 peo­ple at two sold-out anti-frack­ing con­certs in late 2016, it wasn’t as a so-called celebrity ac­tivist but a lo­cal.

Four years ago But­ler, wife Danielle Caru­ana (also known as mu­si­cian Mama Kin) and their teenage kids, daugh­ter Banjo and son Jahli, moved to a 2.8ha prop­erty just out­side Margs.

There you’re just as likely to catch But­ler wield­ing a chain­saw to chop up fallen branches from a karri tree, tend­ing to his im­pres­sive vegie patch, or fash­ion­ing a knife in his big shed, as strum­ming an acous­tic gui­tar or pluck­ing a banjo.

“Dan and I, we both saw our­selves rais­ing kids in the coun­try,” said But­ler, who was born in Cal­i­for­nia, but moved to Pin­jarra when he was 11.

Dur­ing a lit­eral fire­side chat in the lounge room of their ar­tis­ti­cally-clut­tered home, the ARIA and APRA award-win­ning mu­si­cian re­calls his teenage years in the re­gion, camp­ing by the Mur­ray and Black­wood rivers.

“That’s my coun­try,” But­ler says, pat­ting the fam­ily dog Pinda. “That’s where my grand­fa­ther lived and passed away.”

While they pre­vi­ously lived in the “big vil­lage” of Fre­man­tle, But­ler wanted a place to de­com­press af­ter his reg­u­lar tours of the US and Europe.

“We wanted a bal­ance from a re­ally highly in­tensely ur­ban job, which was liv­ing in buses and carparks for three months on end and be­ing in cities ev­ery night.”

The WA mu­sic le­gend says this in front of his makeshift shrine — a book­shelf loaded with an­i­mal skulls, bones and feath­ers, a world globe, and in a nod to his Bul­gar­ian an­ces­try, two Byzan­tine icons.

A por­trait of Frida Kahlo pre­sides over a scene no­table for the ab­sence of his six ARIA tro­phies, most of which sit in the Fre­man­tle of­fice of his la­bel, Jar­rah Records.

The tree change seems to have ful­filled But­ler’s search for home, which just hap­pens to be the ti­tle of the John But­ler Trio’s sixth stu­dio al­bum.

Recorded in pro­ducer Jan Sku­biszewski’s Red Moon Stu­dios in the Mace­don Ranges late last year, Home sees the for­mer busker ex­plor­ing rad­i­cally fresh ter­rain. The al­bum melds heav­ier beats and mod­ern tex­tures to the fa­mil­iar acous­tic gui­tar work­outs But­ler has ped­dled since he was sell­ing cas­settes out­side the Fre­man­tle Mar­kets 20-odd years ago.

But­ler wrote and de­moed the al­bum by him­self at home and in ho­tels, buses and planes us­ing au­dio pro­duc­tion ap­pli­ca­tion GarageBand. “On the six-hour drives (on tour) with noth­ing to do, I could make a whole song,” he says.

Ges­tur­ing to the acous­tic in­stru­ments and other “old tech­nol­ogy” hang­ing above the up­right pi­ano op­po­site the fire­place, he adds “I know them, I touch them and they make the sound I want . . . most com­put­ers don’t”.

How­ever, But­ler found GarageBand easy to use — “very in­tu­itive and very mu­si­cal” — and he soon had a dozen or so demos on his iPhone. Well, un­til he shook up his mo­bile so much while skate­board­ing that the ap­pli­ca­tion was ac­ci­den­tally deleted along with 13 song sketches.

But he bought an iPad and per­se­vered with his new record­ing method, tak­ing re­made demos to Red Moon to be pol­ished with Sku­biszewski, who also worked on 2014’s ARIA Award-win­ning Flesh & Blood and has pro­duced al­bums for the Cat Em­pire and Dan Sul­tan.

While that al­bum was recorded with Trio bassist By­ron Luiters and drum­mer Grant Gerathy, with brother-in-law Nicky Bomba help­ing out with loads of per­cus­sion, Home is ef­fec­tively But­ler’s first solo stu­dio al­bum since his self-funded 1996 cas­sette Search­ing For Her­itage.

This new re­lease is a world away from the Celtic-flavoured in­stru­men­tals of his first foray, es­pe­cially the down­beat in­dus­trial elec­tron­ica of the ti­tle track and lead sin­gle.

But­ler, who will tour the new al­bum with a beefed-up five-piece Trio, ad­mits that drop­ping Home first was about “shock value” and “hope­fully piss­ing a few peo­ple off”. He says that mak­ing Home and mov­ing to the South West was about find­ing his “true north”..

The emo­tional cen­tre­piece of Home is the folk bal­lad Cof­fee, Methadone and Cig­a­rettes, in­spired by his fa­ther, “a pretty colour­ful char­ac­ter” who lost his fa­ther, a forestry worker, in the Nan­nup bush­fires of 1958.

“There’s this the­ory that it takes six gen­er­a­tions to get over a fam­ily trauma,” But­ler ex­plains.

“I def­i­nitely be­lieve in in­ter­gen­er­a­tional pain and that sum­mer, and my dad los­ing his dad, re­ver­ber­ated through the whole fam­ily. It still does.”

But­ler has been mus­ing on “frac­tal over­lays” span­ning gen­er­a­tions of his fam­ily. His dad was nine when he lost his dad. But­ler was about the same age when his par­ents di­vorced and his fa­ther, then in his early 40s, moved from the US to Pin­jarra.

“I’ve got a fair per­spec­tive now,” he adds. “I can see where I came from and I can see where I’m go­ing, how I want to be and what I’d like to change.”

■ Home is out now. John But­ler Trio play Wig­nalls Wines near Al­bany on Jan­uary 25, Leeuwin Es­tate, Mar­garet River, on Jan­uary 27 and Kings Park on Fe­bru­ary 1, with Missy Hig­gins.

Pic­tures: Ian Munro

John But­ler with the fam­ily dog Pinda.

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