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Brad Butcher on his greatest creation of all

22 October 2020 | 1:38 pm | Mallory Arbour

Queensland singer-songwriter Brad Butcher has released his fourth studio album, Travelling Salesman. Find out about it in our interview.

Last year, Queensland singer-songwriter Brad Butcher released his fourth studio album, Travelling Salesman, which earned the gong for 'Alternative Country Album of the Year' at the Tamworth Country Music Awards earlier this year. Mixing his signature blend of country, folk and blues, the album was co-produced by Matt Fell at Love Hz Studios.

Its lead single Nature's Course is a song filled with images of wrecking balls and raging fires in a song that isn’t afraid to show some anger about what we’re doing to the world. His latest single, I Walk The Line Revisited pays homage to one of Brad's songwriting heroes, Rodney Crowell, and one of the forefathers of Country Music, Johnny Cash.

However, it's the birth of his greatest creation of all - his first daughter, Laine - that he's the most proud of. And something, he says, will be reflected in his future release. I spoke to Brad to find out more.

Firstly, congratulations are in order! Back in July, you shared a photo on your Facebook page announcing the arrival of your daughter, with the caption: "So happy to have my girls home today. She takes my breathe away. You can probably expect a bit more of this kind of spam from me... I’ve wanted to be a dad since forever so let me enjoy it please.” Is this your child?

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It is my first child. I've got two stepdaughters as well, so there's three girls here, which is nice. I've gone from none to three [laughs]. I've always wanted to be a dad. Always. [But] I poured my time into music and focused on that for the last 10 years.

I met my partner, Katie at the start of 2019 and we fell madly in love. I moved towns to be with her, and then we started a little family. I was 36 when we met and 37 when Laine was born. And, as soon as I held her, it was incredible. I had that many people say to me beforehand that it'll change your life [and] be the hardest thing you ever do, but the most rewarding – they're absolutely right!

That's the beauty of what this year has given me, is time to be home and time to focus on my family. Whereas, if it was any other year, outside of [the pandemic], I could have been on the road four days a week, and it would have made things a whole lot different.

You're living proof that it’s never too late to alter the course of your life and pursue your passion. Is following your dreams something you want to greatly instill in your daughters growing up?

Yeah, the message my parents instilled in me, my brothers and sisters was that you can do whatever you want with your life and it's just a matter of putting in the hard work to achieve it. Anything's within reach. It's a matter of if you're willing to commit to it and dedicate yourself to it. I'll definitely be passing that on to all the girls. I think that's good in life – not even just with your dreams – anything. If you're gonna take on a job – even if it's stocking shelves at Coles – just do it well.

Would you encourage them to pursue careers in music if they showed interest in wanting to?

That's a given. We've got guitars hanging on walls and I'm always online looking at recording programmes, and whatever else I can expand myself on. So just purely by growing up in this house, they're going to be exposed to that. I'm not looking to push them into anything, but hopefully they find the bug for it like I have and can learn to love it in the same way.

Has now being a dad made you want to slow down and spend more time with the family, or has it made you want to work even harder and do more for her?

I want to do everything I can for her, absolutely, but, having all this downtime and not being able to do music – which I'm missing so much – it's stirred up the fire in the belly again. I'm eager and ready to [hit] the road and play some shows. But I've got no doubt, it's gonna be difficult to leave home [laughs].

Your previous album From the Bottom of a Well was inspired by the passing of your grandfather. Can we expect your next album to take some influence from fatherhood?

Oh, totally. I've been listening to a lot of Lori McKenna. She writes about her kids and family time and time again, so loving her music. And now, having a daughter of my own, the next album is going to be, without a doubt, [about] how much I don’t want to stuff this up and how much I want to be there for them. It's gonna trickle in [but] I'm gonna try not to bore everybody with it [laughs].

Have you started writing any of this new material?

Absolutely. There's a bunch of songs that I've got maybe a verse and the chorus written. Lucky Man relates to all this stuff. I think everyone would have written a silver lining song for this period, so I've got one called Silver Linings. There's a couple on the way. I just need to bunker down and finish some songs off, but I wouldn't be surprised if I had an album ready to go early next year.

I'm very lucky that my partner is a terrific mum. She’s the best supporter I’ve come across and she pushes me. I’m very lucky to have that family network [who are] always eager to help in some way.

You recently released the fourth single from your 2020 Golden Guitar ‘Alternate Country Album of the Year’, Travelling Salesman. I Walk the Line Revisited pays homage to one of your songwriting heroes, Rodney Crowell and vocals from Daniel Thompson as Johnny Cash. How’d the song come about?

It's an old Rodney Crowell tune. That song, we started playing it in the set. It's been there for probably as long as I've known the song for three or four years now. And when we were making this album, we were looking for something that not only fit the direction the whole album was going but was something a little more up tempo. I write far too many ballads, so this one ticked a few boxes and because I've been playing it so much, it was already a part of the set. It just felt right. It was an easy fit.

The music video also features one of the forefathers of country music, Johnny Cash. What was the idea behind the music video?

Yeah, that's actually a clip of [Johnny Cash] from 1958, or maybe even earlier. We superimposed that over the video and the whole thing is a tip to Rodney Crowell as well. If you look at the original [music video from Rodney Crowell], he uses the exact same thing. I'll just done it in my way.

I didn't want to rewrite the whole thing. I wanted it to be a nod to him out of pure respect. I hope if he ever sees it, he doesn't just turn his nose up like copycat, [as] it was done out of respect for both of them, and in the song.

From the biography on the website, it mentions that you gained a lot of confidence in your musicality and songwriting when recording Travelling Salesman. Can you expand on how and why that happened?

It was more so in the studio and preparation of the songs where I found my feet as a songwriter. Coming into this album, I was using all the things I’ve learned along the way. And, being my fourth time in the studio – and the second time with Matt Fell [producer, from Love Hz Studios] – I've got my head around it a little more.

I walked into the studio this time with a real idea of direction, sounds and instrumentation, and I was 99% locked in on the songs and how I'd written them, that I was confident. That's why Matt and I co-produced this latest album. He felt I had enough input to allow that too, so to have his confidence and then to back myself as well, that's where that stems from. It's finding my feet in this in this industry.

As the biography says: “The result is an album which focuses even more Butcher’s mix of country, folk and blues, brings some different toughness to the sound, and highlights his ability to write about families, the natural world, and something close to his heart, mental health.” Knowing the large hand you had in the making of the album – do you think people can gain a better sense of who you are as an artist and songwriter from songs you’ve written on your own compared to the ones you’ve co-written or outsourced?

I write from a pretty literal standpoint, so there's a lot of honesty, facts and events in my songs. I have a hard time singing a song if I don't believe it and it's not authentic. To avoid ever coming across like I'm trying to be someone that I'm not, I've always written songs from the heart, told the story as it was and tried to make it as poetic and – for lack of the better word – clever, but trying to be smart about how I piece them together. And then I think that translates well on stage when I'm performing them.

But anybody who hears my songs and can relate to them, that's more important for me that they gain something from themselves out of the songs, not so much about me. Songs about family, loss, hardship, love and whatever else I've written about, if they can find something they've been through and can take away from the song, that's why I do it. That's the important thing to me.

You started your music career later in life. Why was that?

I'm just a late bloomer. I played rugby league growing up – I was mad sportsman – and it wasn't until my mid-20s [that] some friends back in Mackay said, “Do you want to start a covers band?” From that came songwriting, and then I found a love for that. I didn't release my first album until I was 28 – almost 10 years ago to the day – and since then, I've been going like a madman trying to learn as much as I can.

Whether that's performing, songwriting, stage presence and/or the simple things that I had no idea about. I had to learn a lot on the run, but 10 years down the track, I think I've come a long way.

Speaking of coming a long way, you won your first Golden Guitar for Best New Talent at the Tamworth Country Music Awards in 2018. Did your life change after taking home the award?

Well, yes, and no. One thing that didn't change was how hard you’ve still got to work to maintain what I built. But it definitely opened up some doors and gave me a lot more opportunity, which, previous to that, people love to keep you at arm's length so to speak. You’ve really got to gain people's trust and they’ve got to believe in you – and that's the hardest thing, above all, to get.

But a few of these awards have helped turn some heads, get some more attention and gave us that platform to build on. Thankfully, with the power of social media and the internet, you can reach out to people, let them know you’re still alive, and hopefully they’ll come along and support us.

We played in Brisbane on the second of October this year and it was my third gig for the year – if you include the couple at the start of the year and Tamworth, of course. It was a sold-out show so thankfully people are still hanging out for live music and still want to hear my songs.

That gig was at The Outpost Bar, which you referenced in a Facebook post saying, “I can’t adequately put into words the pure happiness I felt being back on stage last night but I can say it was one gig I’ll never forget. The room was filled with love and I’m so humbled and proud and I want to thank each and every one of you who came along and made it so.” What made this gig so amazing?

It was a mix of a few things. I hadn't been out on the road [or] played a gig in months and I was dying to feel that energy in a room you get when you can hear a pin drop [where] they're listening and really into it. That's an amazing feeling!

At the Outpost Bar, we had a sold-out show, chock-a-block room of people, who were hanging out for some live music too, so it was coming both ways. I was on stage absolutely buzzing [and] had my mates playing their instruments with me, and then the warmth and love that was coming back from the crowd, it's like a footy Grand Final and you've won. Everyone's just into it. It was just great.

I always chase [that feeling]. I’ve started booking more shows, so there's plenty on the horizon. Some here in Rockhampton, which we're about to announce. I've just announced the show in Maleny in November and there's Bundaberg shows at the end of this month. Christmas is always a slow time for us, but I wouldn't mind spending time with the family, and 2021 we're hopefully gonna hit the ground running.

I'm guessing that Christmas is going to be incredibly different for you this year, right?

For the last 10 years, Christmas has been a pain for me because I had nothing to celebrate except to watch my nieces and nephews get all excited. That was always nice, but it was a bit of a pain in the butt because it would slow down the music industry, work and whatever else I had going on. It was kinda, like, “Come on, let's get this out of the way so we can get back to it!” But now, it's completely different – I can't wait to dress up as Santa! [laughs] I may need to learn some carols.

But, speaking of gigs, you’ll also be performing at the Country on Keppel festival on the 14th and 15th of November on Great Keppel Island in Queensland, alongside headliners Matt Cornell and James Blundell, as well as Caitlyn Shadbolt, Jade Holland and others. Surely, this is a dream festival for you?

It's a stunning island and it's just off Yeppoon. It's a 20-minute boat ride across 20 kilometres of ocean, but you can see easily from the mainland onto this pristine, white sandy beach and the bluest and greenest colours you’ve ever seen in an ocean. People travel to the Maldives and all sorts of places to see it, but don’t know that it exists right on our doorstep. So, if you’re looking for a festival in a beautiful backdrop or setting, you can’t get past this one! I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Keep up to date with Brad Butcher on his Facebook page here.
Brad will be performing at Country on Keppel, find more information here.

For more in-depth interviews on CountryTown, check out here.