I almost missed out on my interview with John Butler of the John Butler trio. I blame the chaos of the media tent, and the nearly total inability of cell phones to work properly. But then I spotted him talking with another outlet, and hovered until he was free.
John Butler is a wiry thing–there’s an energy about him that makes the air in his vicinity feel charged with electricity. We wandered a bit until we found an empty corner and stood, me madly scribbling in my notebook as he talked.
I saw you earlier this afternoon on the Kidzapalooza stage with your daughter–that’s my most favorite area of Lollapalooza. How old is she?
She’s five, her name is Banjo.
She was great!
She made it, didn’t she?
So much character! I’m curious, how did your music life change when you had children?
They gave me hope, and a lot less anger. I was a really angry person for a while there. It’s surprising that I even had kids with that attitude. But something happens, they come out, this little hot bundle of love, and you’re changed.
During your “adult” set this afternoon, you introduced “Satisfied” by saying, “This song is about the state of music television. Every time you turn on a channel that’s supposed to play music, all you see is shite reality television.” I was a pre-teen when MTV first hit, and it changed everything about music for me…
It’s a funny thing.
Some channels should change their name. If they want to put brain-numbing shit on, fine. I mean, I love them, they play my music, but if it’s not music they’re playing…
You know, I love hip hop music, but when you see what it’s representing to young people these days. They’re advertising the same rocks and minerals their ancestors were enslaved to get out of the ground…
There’s some…Jedi Mind Trick, The Roots, Jurassic 5…
When MTV first came out, you had your skater thrash…that’s now pop music.
Avid watchers of MTV are missing out on a lot of good music–maybe I’m getting old, but I find myself saying “Turn that shit off!” when my kids are watching MTV.
It’s ‘soul’ …it doesn’t matter if it’s Gillian Welch soul or Rage Against the Machine soul. The roots go so deep…you don’t see a lot of that soul in popular culture or music.
Feeling able or free to criticize the government, to say what you’re feeling or thinking…there’s not enough of that. That’s what’s so great about Eminem…he said what you were thinking…it was scary, but he was saying what you were thinking.
I think that’s what frightens people about Eminem–sometimes it’s scary to hear the thoughts you’ve learned to suppress said out loud.
When you introduced “Ocean,” you said “this is for everyone who wants to take this country back from all those motherfuckers…” It was a beautiful song. Inspiring, really.
Yeah…what’s your take on US politics? The US’s standing in the eyes of the rest of the world? I think a lot of young people are so ethnocentric in a way…they don’t realize how the rest of the world sees this country.
You know, I think the best way to look at it is…capitalism is eating itself. Free enterprise has gone to the extreme. Democracy can be bought or sold to the highest bidder. That’s all happening in front of your listening audience. They don’t want to step out of line, but…
They need to, this country needs people who are going to step out of line, no?
The system is completely corrupt. People wonder why Hitler, or even my own country’s John Hawkins commanded such… I don’t like either one of them, don’t get me wrong, but there was that sense of leadership, Obama is capturing our imagination. You want a leader who gives you hope, who believes in something.
There’s such fear–mortgage, debt, the government–it’s a great tool and they’ve learned how to use it against people.
Obama represents some kind of hope of getting out from under that fear, I think.
What’s the difference, for you, between playing big festivals like this and playing ‘regular’ concerts?
The only thing that changes is the intention. You’re trying to touch people, inspire them, and be inspired by them.
There’s all that sonic competition and infinite open space.
You put in as much soul and truth as possible. It’s such a strong medium…it’s hard to ignore its power–it’s a tenuous responsibility. You can affect people.