The Journey to Home
John Butler Inspires Hope and Awareness
by Meredith Montgomery
When singer-songwriter John Butler sees a performance that gives him chills, he leaves the show feeling like he could do anything. “If I can give that feeling to one person at every gig I play—because of what that experience gives to them, what it gives to me and in turn, what it gives to the world—if I can be a vehicle of that energy, then I’m doing my job.”
But Butler, who is now Australia’s highest selling independent artist of all time, never thought this would be his job. “I thought I’d be in Special Forces, a professional skateboarder, an artist or a teacher, never a musician,” he says.
Butler was 11 when his family moved from Los Angeles to Pinjarra, Australia. He lived a Huckleberry Finn-like life in this beautiful but isolated riverside town, but he also experienced xenophobia and racism firsthand. “It seemed my skin was the right color, but I had the wrong accent. Things could change really quickly when I’d begin to speak—like suddenly I was getting chased,” he recalls.
These experiences have kept him humble and down-to-earth through his musical success, but they’ve also helped fuel his outspoken and impassioned advocacy efforts for peace, environmental protection and global harmony.
“We live in an opulent society where everything is done for us. Our trash gets taken away—we put it in a bin, put the top on it and it’s like putting the top on your mind. We don’t know what hole it’s going in and there’s no sense of responsibility once it leaves our hands. And the opportunity to pollute and use plastic is getting easier and easier. It’s a convoluted situation,” he reflects.
His activism efforts are currently focused on the anti-fracking movement in Western Australia and speaking out against plans for the world’s largest coal mine to be built in North Queensland (which poses a threat to the Great Barrier Reef). A portion of his ticket and album sales often benefit charitable organizations, meet-and-greet experiences include a reusable water bottle and the band has utilized Globelet’s system to eliminate single-use plastic at some of his concerts.
Butler carries his own straw, utensils and water bottle and has a garden and rain catchment system at home, but he wishes it was easier to do more, noting, “If we’re sending people to Mars, we should be able to have greater access to green energy.”
As a parent, Butler is careful not to discourage the future stewards of our earth, so he keeps his fatherly advice simple—treat others as you wish to be treated, and recognize that everything has a cost. “When our kids say ‘I want this’ or ‘I want that’, I remind them to think about the cost of having those things. What resources were used to make it? How does that affect the environment? Is it worth it?”
He also encourages his son and daughter to find a form of self-expression that they love as they navigate their teen years. “I want them to have a friend in something they can do on their own,” he says. “Whether it’s making something with their hands, playing music, sewing—there’s something really beautiful about escaping with yourself and your tools, something you can’t get with anybody else.”
For Butler, his guitar is that unwavering companion. While making his latest album, Home, a flood of emotions and anxieties surfaced once he stopped touring. “Bringing a song into the world is an enlightening process, and each one demands different things from me,” he says. He worked through intense introspection, which was challenging yet therapeutic and productive.
“Throughout the years that it took to make this album there were tears and frustration, confusion and chaos. But, there was family and friends, honesty and vulnerability, gardens and harvest, service and surrender. And amongst it all, ultimately, there was joy,” Butler reflects.
To balance the demands of his career, Butler leans on family and friends for love and laughter, plus skateboarding, running and meditation to clear his mind. He regularly seeks solace in nature and is also very spiritual. Traveling with a portable altar while on tour, he carries a collection of tokens from his ancestors, candles, photos, feathers and sage—bits and pieces that represent the tapestry of his faith. “I am struck by spirituality’s ability to bind cultures in story, song, ethics and morals for generations to come, so we can somehow make life a little bit more doable,” he says.
Butler’s music and actions have a similar effect on the audiences it touches. The band’s deep layers of chant-like vocals and heart-pounding drums can bring a sea of strangers together in song and dance, while the words he speaks and the life he leads inspire reflection and action by multiple populations. He’s doing more than his job—he’s cultivating hope and awareness on a global level.