By ALEX TURNBULL
It was probably Hunter S Thompson who put it most eloquently, claiming that “the music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long and plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs”. In the country music world, we try and be a little less cynical – but in truth we’re not immune to self-interest, competitive rivalry, prima donna-ism, backstabbing, two-facedness and the off bout of good old soul-selling. Its a tough field after all, and the artists are only humans – humans with fragile egos no-less.
Queenslander Brad Butcher however, seems cut from a different cloth to your average ambitious newcomer. He is, as almost anyone in the business will attest, one of the genuine good guys. the honey-voiced singer songwriter is as soft-spoken and humble on-stage as he is in person – or in this case on the telephone, as our catch up took place whilst he was driving home from this year’s Hats Off To Country festival in Tamworth.
“I’m not interested in being famous”, he says from behind the wheel whilst wife Erin rests up in the passenger seat in preparation for a late night driving shift. “All I’ve ever wanted was to be able to make a living out of my music – out of playing and singing my own songs”.
It’s an ambition which Butcher seems to be achieving. Earlier this year he managed to shake off his long standing day job as a crane driver in the coal mines and can now call himself a ‘full time musician’ – a title that feels pretty good for a man about to release his third album. He’s already starting to feel the benefits.
“It’s such a great thing to be able to wake up in the morning and only have to think about picking up the guitar, song writing, or getting to the next show”, he explains. “Having the time to so those things properly rather than squeeze them in around work is a great relief”.
Full time status has also given Brad the opportunity to take to the road a little more, and recently completed a tour with Melbourne folkies The Weeping Willows (possibly Brad’s biggest rivals for the title of ‘nicest people in the business’).
“Touring with The Willows was a real bonus for me” says Brad, “because Laura (Coates) would get up and sing harmonies on my songs every night and Andy (Wrigglesworth) would do his thing on the guitar which is with me – so it was almost like having a band on the road with me”.
The tour was a change for Brad to launch the first single Well Dressed Man from the new album From The Bottom Of A Well. The song is largely based on the life story of Brad’s grandfather, Norman, who grew up one of thirteen kids in a cane cutters cottage just south of Mackay in Central Queensland, along the banks of the Pioneer River. During the tough times of the post depression years and World War 2 era, “Norm” was seen as a beacon of hope and resilience to the large family. It’s the kind of story Brad likes to telling his songs, and he’s the first to admit that inspiration always comes from close to home, despite the fact he identifies his music within the ‘Americana’ genre.
By it’s name alone ‘Americana’ requires a but of imagination for Australian artists, and many of Brad’s contemporaries (The Weeping Willows included) tell stories of woe, murder ballads and all sorts of made-up tales – often to great effect. But for Brad, imagination is not really a part of the songwriting process.
“I write completely from the heart” he admits. “For me, I couldn’t get up and sing songs that I’d just made up or hadn’t experienced. even when I play a cover – I’d only ever choose a cover that really moved me, that I really related to personally – otherwise I just don’t think I’d be convincing”.
It’s this honesty which is the hallmark of Brad Butcher’s music. You get the feeling, if Brad’s singing about it, it really happened. For that reason, it’s unlikely that we’ll hear a murder ballad on any future Brad Butcher album and if we ever do, we should probably be a little concerned.
“Yes that’s true” laughs Butcher, “though maybe if it was a story that I found particularly interesting or that really affect me I might write the song”.
Unlike it’s predecessor Jamestown (which was recorded in New York), From The Bottom OF A Well was produced locally. It’s the latest (at the time of writing) product of the Matt Fell ‘machine’ and it displays all of the trademark lush arrangements and attention to detail for which Fell is rightly considered a master. The presence of an all Australian band in the studio has Butcher excited about a full scale album launch tour.
“I’m taking a band ou ton the road” Butcher exclaims, with excitement obvious. “We’re going to create almost every aspect of all the arrangements, and I can’t wait for that opportunity to bring the album to life”.
Butcher, with full band, will be on the road from late July. He’ll also be supporting Sara Storer for her tour dates in the latter half of the year.
From The Bottom Of A Well will be available on iTunes, at shows and through www.bradbutcher.com from August 4.