AUSTRALIAN GUITAR SENSATION John Butler made a huge change last year by replacing his long-time rhythm section, switching out the talented doubler Shannon Birchall with Ray Mann Three bassist Byron Luiters. The new John Butler Trio is on a world tour supporting the stellar new album April Uprising.
What’s your musical background?
I started on the yidaki [didgeridoo] when I was 16. I used to play it for hours; it was like meditation after long days at school. I started playing bass about a year later, teaching myself by playing along with my favorite albums. After about a year of that, I went to a local guitar tutor who taught me a lot about scales, modes, and playing techniques.
What did you learn from your first experiences recording and gigging?
My first band made an EP just after finishing high school. I thought I was prepared, but I’m pretty sure I overplayed on it. I later realized from working around town that I didn’t have to fill every gap with notes. That lesson prepared me for later session and touring work.
What is your upright bass of choice for touring, and how do you get the optimal amplified sound?
My upright is a French-made Cosi. The body is made of graphite, so it’s light, it stays in tune, and it sounds wicked. For pickups, I use a David Gage Realist under the bridge, and a Stuart Wood magnetic pickup for added beef. I like to set my Aguilar amp’s gain at about 1 o’clock in order to get some grit out of the preamp when I dig in. That way, I can keep the clarity of my tone, but I can get a bit of bite when I want to.
Aside from your ’71 Fender Precision, what other basses do you play?
I play a Maton JB4 fretless, and a Warwick Stage I 5-string—although I generally feel more creative on a 4-string.
How would you compare your role in the John Butler Trio with that in Ray Mann Three?
Musically, the vibe between the two bands is very different. For me, Ray Man Three is striped-down neo-soul, and the John Butler Trio is roots rock. With Ray Man Three, I can play with the time, and move around with more rhythmic and melodic freedom, whereas with JBT, I have to play tighter to the drums.
What first inspired you to play bass?
I heard the Jamiroquai album Return of The Space Cowboy, and Stuart Zender’s bass playing blew my mind! It’s unreal listening to that guy play; he’s so melodic, grounded, and thick.
Who are the bass players who are catching your ear these days?
Adam Blackstone [Jill Scott, Al Green], Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner [Erykah Badu], and Australia’s Dauno Martinez are all freaks on bass.
HEAR HIM ON
John Butler Trio, April Uprising [ATO, 2010]
Bass Cosi graphite upright bass; 1971 Fender Precision
Rig Aguilar DB 751 head, Aguilar DB 412 4x12 cab
Effects Electro-Harmonix Mini POG