John Butler: Activist, troubadour, Pavlova aficionado. The day I confronted a hero and slayed a dragon, (with a little help from an ARIA winning chanteuse).
This was to be my fifth encounter with John Butler. It would be fair to say that the previous four had run the gamut from disastrous to tragic, so it was with trepidation that I stood on the precipice of interview number five. There was also a lot of respect obviously, respect for his music, respect for the causes he champions and to be honest, the kind of respect with which one would attempt to remove a piece of cheese from a feisty Chihuahua.
In my previous attempts I had managed to provoke the feisty Chihuahua in John Butler. Once I clumsily read him a nasty quote from another artist, and twice I just managed to bore him angry with the breadth of my research but lack of confidence in conversation. This is a guy who suffers neither fools nor sad-o suck-ups so I was delighted when I was able to subdue both of those elements of my character during attempt number four. JB version 4.0 as I like to call it, had everything going for it. It had thrills, it had spills and it had beat boxing. Unfortunately, and here’s where the tragedy comes in, it didn’t hit the record button and the whole thing was lost to the ages.
To paraphrase Brett Michaels from Poison as I am want to do, “Every rose has it’s thorn, but every night has it’s dawn,” and that dawn came two weeks later when John Butler agreed to do one better than attempt another recorded phone call. He came into the Nova studio for a face to face with me, Ashley, Kip and Luttsy.
“The nub is a good story,” says JB. Our attention had been drawn to the three acrylic fingernails on his right hand presumably for guitar picking. “They’re boring but the nub is good.”
“I bit the tip of my finger off when I was eighteen months old. I was standing up in the shopping cart with my finger in my mouth and when my mother turned around I fell out and bit it off. I was too young for anesthetic so they put me in a baby straight jacket and sewed me up raw.”
OK, so I’m struck by a couple of things at this point. 1) When JB decides upon the topic of discussion, the topic has been well and truly decided upon, and 2) He’s quite fun. A moment later Ashley asks him if he believes in the old writer’s cliché that he is but a conduit for a higher power. He turns to me and says ever so earnestly, “I need to be really vulnerable in this interview now and ask what conduit means.”
It means to act as a connection between two things we explain. “Hmm,” he ponders, “well I don’t know about a conduit, but it’s definitely about pulling your nub out and gettin’ busy with it.”
He inspires me to crack open some vulnerability of my own. I tell him that our previous four encounters have been quite upsetting for me because basically I thought he thought I was a cockhead.
“I don’t think you’re a cockhead,” he says, “not at all, it just depends on how much food I’ve eaten. It’s my tolerance levels for….things you know? Everything can be fine but if I haven’t eaten it’s a bit of a problem. It’s not you, it’s me. It’s a glycemic cockhead situation.”
A little more confident now, though still with all the deft touch and desperation of a So You Think You Can Dance reject, I attempt to steer the conversation toward my own area of expertise. I’m intrigued by JB’s tour dates. Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Toowoomba. TOOWOOMBA?
“What’s wrong with Toowoomba?” asks the man, his left eyebrow arching so violently it threatens to lift his compact body clean off the chair.
Oh no. No no no no no! I’ve done it again!!
The boys rally ‘round me, laughing a bit too loudly in that way you do when you feel a social situation crashing down around you like a house of cards. “She’s from there,” one of them squeaks. HAHAHAHA.
“Oh…OK.” He relaxes. The room relaxes. The relief is palpable. I feel like I’ve been watching a hungry grizzly bear as it’s lost my scent on the breeze.
Clearly John Butler is ready to go to the mat for Toowoomba. I appreciate it I guess, but I have to say I still wonder why? Why single Toowoomba out from the million other Australian towns that look, smell, and feel just like it?
“We’ve got people there, indigenous mob.” Surely he must have people in lots of places. “Well yeah, but every time we play Toowoomba, they bring us Pavlova.” A-ha. So the Toowoomba mob are all over the Glycemic knob situation.
“It’s so good. The perfect combination of crusty and soft. A little bit of passion fruit, a little bit of pineapple and a lot of fresh cream.” He’s smiling dreamily at the memory.
It’s also a bonus for the other acts on tour namely, The Waifs and Claire Bowditch; the aforementioned chanteuse who’d visited us the day before.
“She told me a lot of stuff about you actually.” He swings his chair in my direction and I fear for a moment that the bear may have caught another whiff.
“She did not,” I flirt, swinging my legs like a schoolgirl.
“She did,” he flirts right back.
“Was is what I told you before about our other interviews?”
“Pretty much yeah, I just wanted to see if you’d tell me.” He flashes me a reassuring smile.
I relax. The room relaxes. The time is up. Butler’s being shepherded out the door and Laurie lives to fight another day. It turns out the bear wasn’t really that hungry after all. In fact, just quietly, I think he might have been looking for a little tummy rub all along.