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SCOTT SIMON, host:

John Butler sure has come a long way since his days as a busker on the streets of western Australia.

(Soundbite of song, "One Way Road")

Mr. JOHN BUTLER (Singer): (Singing) They come, they take, it's never enough because they can't relate. To the real world, thinking the oyster is just for the pearl. They start those wars, they wanna own the land, sea and all the stars. And right those wrongs, they change their history with their poisoned forked tongues.

SIMON: John Butler now fronts the award-winning, multi-platinum band the John Butler Trio. That's from their latest single called "One Way Road" that started the year at number one on the Australian radio charts. The song's taken from the John Butler Trio's fifth album, "April Uprising." John Butler joins us now from the studios of NPR West. Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. BUTLER: No worries. Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I'm fine, thank you. Now, I understand busking - let's put it this way -I understand the business plan behind busking in the subways of New York or London. Busking, maybe we should explain for our audience, is when you play for money in a public place. How does that pay off in western Australia, which doesn't - wouldn't seem to have the foot traffic.

Mr. BUTLER: Yeah, yeah, I know. I started when I was 16. It was just a hobby. I knew about five or six chords until I was about 21. And when I discovered that open tuning, which is basically tuning a guitar to a chord, so instead of holding a chord down with your left hand, you can actually play a chord by just strumming it and with no hands on the guitar.

And it's quite an old style of playing. It's very Celtic, it's very Indian, it's very African.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BUTLER: I was going to get my art degree so I could become an art teacher, and, you know, I left the university to go play next to a fruit and veggie stall in the Fremantle Markets, and I did very well.

SIMON: I have to ask: were they selling kiwis there?

Mr. BUTLER: Were they selling kiwis? They probably were. Not the country people, but definitely the...

SIMON: No, I know, not the New Zealanders, no. They don't sell New Zealanders at Australian markets. I've looked.

Let's listen to a little bit of the first song on this album. It's called "Revolution."

(Soundbite of song "Revolution")

Mr. BUTLER: (Singing) Running through the fire, running through the flame, running through the hatred, through the blame, running through the hopelessness and shame, revolution already on the way...

(Speaking) I felt that revolution was such an overused word nowadays and it's lost a lot of its potency and its meaning. So, you know, running through the fire, running through the flame, you know, pushing through the pain, all those things, it was kind of going, yeah, the revolution is happening as we speak. I see change happening, however slowly, and it's something that we all have to take part in.

(Soundbite of song "Revolution")

SIMON: Are you an activist?

Mr. BUTLER: I am a contributor. Yeah, I'm a father...

SIMON: You have a program.

Mr. BUTLER: Yeah, I have an arts fund program called The Seed. The Seed is something that my wife Danielle and I started about five years ago now and we decided that we wanted to also contribute to artists' development and we started putting our money towards helping emerging artists take on their projects. So, you know, sometimes we'd help people record an album or we'd pay for the funding for advertising, or we'd help them with a photo exhibition. And throughout the years we've been part of many, many great projects.

SIMON: Is the song "I'm a Fool" about anyone in particular?

Mr. BUTLER: Yeah, it's about my beautiful partner Danielle.

SIMON: Well, why don't we listen to a little of that.

Mr. BUTLER: Okay then.

(Soundbite of song, "I'm a Fool")

Mr. BUTLER: (Singing) Two atoms, they collide in all the random ways. You know, you and I are not so random, some might say. She walks up close to me, she looks me in the eyes...

SIMON: So is that how it happened?

Mr. BUTLER: Pretty much. She pulled into Fremantle, western Australia from driving all the way from the east coast. She asked me for directions; I told her the wrong directions 'cause I'd just sort of woken up, and then I corrected myself. And then I saw her two or three times after that. And yeah, we soon got together after that and we've never looked back, you know?

SIMON: Would it be particularly tricky for you to have any kind of falling out with your drummer?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BUTLER: Yeah, now it would, yeah. Any kind of, yeah, serious falling out, him being my brother-in-law. It could be a problem. But, you know, me and Nicky have such a great relationship.

SIMON: This is Nicky Bomba, your...

Mr. BUTLER: Yeah, Mr. Nicky Bomba, who plays for drums for me and also is, you know, my wife's brother. And he's an amazing, amazing musician, songwriter, producer and great drummer, and we have a lot of fun together. And I know that if we ever wanted to part ways, it would be in the most peaceful way because we have so much love and respect for each other.

SIMON: I've seen some video of your playing. First thing I want to say is you're an amazing guitar player.

Mr. BUTLER: Thanks.

SIMON: But you do notice the fingernails.

Mr. BUTLER: Yes, you do.

SIMON: Yeah, I mean, you've got fingernails that would make a parrot proud.

Mr. BUTLER: I think I've got fingernails that would make a vampire jealous or a werewolf jealous. Yeah, when I first started busking, I started finger picking heavily and I was left with bloody nubs. That's all I can say. My fingers would bleed and it really hurt. And I was having lunch with a friend and I looked at his nails; I went, man, those are the greatest, healthiest nails ever, and he said, they're fake. I went down to Chez New Beauty Clinic. And I went really? Well, I'm going there tomorrow.

And I went there and I exposed myself to all those bloody fumes in that shop and I got some nails, and I've never looked back. I do my own nails nowadays; I've done them for the last 10 years.

SIMON: You're an awfully nice and wholesome man for a guy with foot-long fingernails.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BUTLER: We all do our best, you know, we all do our best. I have a lot of good people around me. It's hard not to when you have kids and you have this abundance in our life which is I'm able to pay the rent. I'm able to pay the rent and feed my family through my art. And people around the world love it. Like, that's a rare and beautiful thing.

SIMON: Well, Mr. Butler, awfully nice talking to you.

Mr. BUTLER: Likewise, Scott. Thank you for your time. I really appreciate it.

(Soundbite of song, "Gonna Be a Long Time")

Mr. BUTLER: (Singing) All trying to find our way. When everybody looking for something they can't find, walk a street (unintelligible) Only taking time for one dapper shoeshine, don't look left right, now you got a street fight. Everybody looking for just a little more. Working eight nights trying to (unintelligible). Waiting for it to come around...

SIMON: And you can hear full songs from John Butler's new album, "April Uprising," at the coolest spot on the Web, NPRMusic.org.

(Soundbite of song, "Gonna Be a Long Time")

Mr. BUTLER: (Singing) Oh, oh what's inside, 'cause I can't hide from it no more. Oh, what you see, well, it's not me anymore. Oh, I don't know, I, I don't know, man, anymore...

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: And I can tell in the control room they're murmuring: What would he know about cool?

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