When ARIA Award winning singer/songwriter John Butler realised he had anxiety five years ago, he cried in his wife's arms and slow danced in the lounge room to duets by Ella Fitzgerald and Louie Armstrong. Then he got help.
The much-loved activist might spend his time trying to stop the Adani mine and raise awareness about climate change through songs, but admits he has more in common with a miner than his fans might realise. "My lifestyle is similar to a fly-in, fly-out miner which is kind of ironic," says John Butler who is practicing his guitar in a hotel room in Montreal when he takes this call.
"I hear it from acquaintances and friends who do this sort of work – those who come and go all the time and find it tricky to leave their family – and then find themselves in the depths of anxiety and depression when it all gets too much," he says.
Few high-profile rock stars are willing to dispel the rock'n'roll myth of sex, drugs and what happens on tour stays on tour– but Butler is willing to break down the walls.
Putting it on the line
He put it all on the line with the band's latest album Home – his most vulnerable yet – where he openly shares his feelings about being anxious despite being one of the most successful musicians this country has seen.
I know several people who have missed their kids' first words, first birthdays, the significant 16th and it goes on and on ...
"The music industry is rife with addiction and adultery," says Butler.
"You might be living the dream on the road and you are," he smiles. "But going from being on stage where it's highly electric, to being off stage and in a sterile room where its inverted, can have mental consequences," says the married father of two.
"I know several people who have missed their kids' first words, first birthdays, the significant 16th and it goes on and on and that f---s with an individual and then there's free beer everywhere and suddenly you're stuffed," he says.
Music and mental health
From stage adrenalin spikes to the loneliness of hotel rooms, the imbalance can be felt by others on the tour bus as well, including tour managers, roadies and merch staff. Earlier this month, Ausmusic T-Shirt Day helped raise awareness about mental illness in the music industry. More than an opportunity to wear your favourite band tee to work, the yearly initiative, run by Support Act, ARIA and Triple J, behind aims to raise money for those affected by depression and anxiety.
"There's no doubt being a musician can be extremely unhealthy, but I am surrounded by utmost professionals who work their asses off to keep it together," adds Butler.
"Some of us meditate, others run. After sound-check, we make sure we eat well and then pack our shit after a show and get a decent sleep. Then you wake up and do it all again. If you're not regimented and piss it up each and every night you'll be stepping on landmines before you know it. it's about being diligent with where you put your feet," he says.
What's more, Butler says men can take a leaf from the opposite sex. He turned to his musician wife Danielle Caruana [Mama Kin] for support and read books by Elizabeth Gilbert [Big Magic not Eat Pray Love in case you're wondering].
"I have always been struck by my wife's strength and power and she gets most of it from being honest, forthright and vulnerable," says Butler of his emotional epiphany.
"Once I acknowledged my constant agitation before touring was anxiety and not because I thought everybody sucked I started to change the way I viewed myself," he says.
"We can learn a lot from women," he adds. "Guys don't talk and then they're topping themselves. Women are there to teach us, but they have a big load as it is and guys need to sort their shit out. That takes us banding together and then find a new sense of what it means to be a man – it's not just talking shit and drinking beer. We don't need mothering, we need to be men."
John Butler's Home is out now and the band tours in February. Visit johnbutletrio.com for more details.