To live a life of travel, you’ve got to be a malleable and adaptable person – but you also need to understand how to ground yourself in order not to just float clean away off the planet, unattached from the things that anchor your life’s meaning. “When I’m on the road, I have to keep on meditating and running: those are my two things to keep the crazy guy away,” smiles John Butler. The gorgeous, eponymous single from brand new John Butler Trio album Home ruminates on how easy it can be to slip away from those anchors: “All I want is home/ In the land of palm trees,” Butler sings. “Being on the road is quite a regimented lifestyle, and I guess that’s part of the disconnect as well – the bubble,” he tells STACK. “And then you come home and it’s immersive and interactive and community-driven.”
Remaining aware is the key, Butler says, to avoiding stagnation even as you appear to be in motion. The anthemic Running Away describes the accumulation of your brain’s detritus as “bottle-necking”; Butler thinks you have to make a conscious decision not to evade your problems to keep that accumulation from overwhelming you, and that recognition is an enormous part of the (ongoing) solution. “I’ve been doing a lot of reading of late, and it’s echoing something I’ve heard all my life, which is: if you can’t sit with your flaws and you can’t sit with the pain, then it metastasises,” he says. “What you run away from, it keeps chasing you. You can’t run forever, and when it hits you, it tackles you, because you’re exhausted.”
The analogy he uses to explain his approach, is (maybe surprisingly) very pragmatic. “I’m just like any other technology – I need to be upgraded,” he says. “If I don’t upgrade the apps on my phone, my phone stops working, and turns into even more of a pain in the a-se than it already is. It’s the same for me: If I don’t upgrade, my emotional and mental processing ability – those cogs – will start rusting. Sometimes it takes a long time to do a major overhaul.”
And the more honest you are with yourself, the better. “I’m always having to keep on looking at my sh-t – I don’t think that’s ever going to stop,” he admits. “As you get wiser and older, you kind of start getting down to the kernel of things a little bit – the seed of it. The longer you put it off, there’s only so many fingers you have that block the dams, you know?”
The theme of healing through discussion and awareness surfaces on the album’s zenith, the gripping Coffee, Methadone & Cigarettes. It takes as its first building block an event from 60 years ago which shaped Butler’s family’s journey, going on to reveal personal recollections within its lyrics. You can find a scan of a Canberra Times article from January 1958 on the internet, which outlines that fiery tragedy – the journalist even names John Francis Wiltshire-Butler. “Yes, that’s my grandfather,” Butler says. “It’s something that’s discussed almost every time [my extended family is] together. It’s a fracture in literally the kinetic make-up of all of us – it’s always there. But this was a song that was always wanting to be written. It just needed the context. And the context was through my dad… When I was done with it, I was like, f-ck! I dropped the mic on myself. For me and my family, it’s what I’m here to be, and that was a moment for me and a moment of healing – I gave it to my cousin and my cousin showed all my aunties and uncles.”
While family and home remain his ballasts, Butler will always find a way to take his craft to the world. “It is a constant balancing act just to make it work, even after 15 years,” he says. “I feel very much at home on the stage and that’s definitely my mission in life, and what I’m good at. I don’t ever want to leave once I’m there.”
Home is out September 28 via MGM.
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