The John Butler Trio was formed in 1998 by guitarist and vocalist John Butler with Jason McGann on drums and Gavin Shoesmith on bass guitar. By 2009 Butler's brother-in-law, Nicky Bomba, was on drums and percussion and Byron Luiters on bass guitar. Their music features environmental and political themes and is influenced by reggae, hip-hop and rock n' roll.
Butler started playing guitar at 16. When Butler's grandmother saw his commitment to the instrument she gave him his grandfather's guitar which she had been saving for her children but none showed any interest in the instrument. He discovered he could play the guitar and sing as well as a love of writing songs at 21. He started busking on the streets of Freemantle in Perth in 1996 while in his first year of university. When asked by Blender.com what was the single greatest day he had experienced as a musician Butler listed his first day of busking where he received a lot of positive feedback and made 30 dollars in half an hour. This success made him realize the prospect of supporting himself as a musician. His first self-funded cassette tape, Searching For Heritage, sold 3000 copies and he eventually dropped out of his first year of university to pursue his musical career.Their first album, John Butler, was independently released in 1998. Their second album, Three, was released in 2000 through independent label, Jarrah Records, which Butler co-owns with another West Australian band, The Waifs. The album debuted at number one on the ARIA charts leading Butler to an opening spot on Dave Matthews' tour that year.