Amid of sea of activity backstage at London’s famed Brixton Academy, John Butler is calm. He’s enjoying the success of his first studio album in nearly four years, he’s gearing up for a sold-out show at a marquee venue and he’s focused. Well, almost.
“Let me close this window and tell my comrades to shut the fuck up,” he says with an audible grin before quieting his entourage. Then, he breaks into a laugh, amazed.
“Wow, they actually did. I thought they’d tell me to get fucked.”
In a few hours, he’ll play to a crowd of nearly 5,000 people. His trio, rounded out by bassist Byron Luiters and brand-new drummer Grant Gerathy, will dive into their percussive mix of roots, rock and reggae with Butler’s rat-a-tat singing topping each jam. Later, alone onstage, he’ll pick through the beautiful, 12-minute instrumental “Ocean.” He’ll even curse corrupt world leaders between songs.
“Power to us—power to the people,” he’ll say. “Because if we don’t protect it, you can surely bet that your leaders aren’t.” Then, he’ll slip into “How You Sleep at Night,” from his sixth album, Flesh & Blood, which was released in February and is an easy pick for his best-ever record.
“Do I dare to believe in something more?” he’ll sing. “‘Cause all I hear is lies dressed up in fantasies.”
But that rumbling, emotional purge of a performance is still hours away. For now, Butler is here, pushing as many thoughts through his lips as he can manage. When he speaks of his new album and his new band—or about the myriad environmental and social issues that he devotes much of his waking life to—he’s sharp and focused. Like the voice that comes through in his songs, his words are sincere and immediate.
“I’m going to play the Brixton Academy tonight,” says the 39-year-old. “My kids are on tour with me. It is all good. But I’m here. And I’m happy to be here. I’m not thinking about being anywhere else.” Continue reading