“THE MATERIAL IS COMPLICATED, BUT HOPEFULLY NEVER CLEVER.”
Possessed with an oddball frenetic vibe that calls to mind Gyratory System and cloudy expanses in debt to their heroes Autechre, welcome instrumental noise jammers Three Trapped Tigers. Thomas Rogerson, Matt Calvert (currently arguing about a Twix) and Adam Betts are sitting in their studio in Limehouse, talking us through their new record, ‘Route One or Die’, in between making sandwiches and finishing off recording. Their sound is very of its own, and their three EPs, album and live shows (particularly) have made a significant impression, winning over much of the leftfield press. They compensate for the admiration they’re sure to get from chin-strokers with a good dose of Rock Action! and pace, rubbed off on them from their flirts with metal, no doubt. They’re keen to be seen as a rock band making use of electronic elements and not vice versa. Metal, typically for classically trained musicians, they admire and feel at one with jazz.
I note that while their album has been out for a month, it’s live that Three Trapped Tigers have really built their reputation.
“We really want to do a live album,” says Matt, “because, since the first EP, stuff hasn’t changed so much, it’s just started feeling and sounding a lot better. I’d rather get something out that represents what I think of those songs. That first EP just didn’t really capture it for me, for X, Y, Z reasons. Also just to kind of prove what off the record is feasibly possible live.”
And being able to play it live is important – Three Trapped Tigers exist in that space between human and electronic, where there can be trust issues with audiences. They’re militant about backing tracks and will have nothing impinge with the live ‘feel’ of their music.
Tom: “It’s started circulating that every record doesn’t have a single overdub – hahaha! Come on, it’s common sense, there’s no overdubs and it’s like…”
Adam: “There was one moment on the third EP in the studio and it was like ‘Go and play some drums [flails wildly], we’ll sort the music out afterwards’ – hahaha! That was a frightening moment.”
Tom: “I think the most important thing is that you’re aware that it’s live and if you think of it as electronic music your expectations will be different. When it’s on a computer, you can basically cover up all the shit that makes it live, you know? The universe of the music is bound by the fact that it’s live so you can’t just get away with all the crazy shit you can do in electronic music.”
Matt: “But you can still attempt it, emulate it, try to play guitar lines that sound like they’re on a monophone synth or something, or programming a drum beat and then getting Betts to play it… there’s quite a lot of that kind of thing.”
So the album was a bit of a change of direction in this respect?
Matt: “The EPs were a sort of Squarepusher/Aphex kind of rip off attempt but within a live context, and this [new record] seems to take on more stuff, not necessarily very consciously. It’s slower for starters, it has a different sense of groove, but also all the melodies and all that kind of thing, I think they’re just a bit wilder and weirder.”
Tom:” While we were still really proud of the third EP, for the album it was like, ‘Lets consciously emphasize our live nature as much as we can. Lets be able to play everything before we go into the studio.’”
Tom, you grew up listening almost totally to Classical music. Was that alienating?
Tom: “Yeah, it um, yeah how do you answer that question? I don’t know, it was weird, it was fine, I don’t know. The only cool tapes I had were U2 tapes, which I’d nicked off my brother, so when U2 played Glastonbury the other day I was really excited ‘cause I do really love that band. They were the only remotely four-four band I was listening to. I was writing loads of classical music but I realized at eighteen – and I’m quite proud of the fact that I realized it – that actually it was a bit of a dead end. Even then I didn’t really foresee myself doing that forever, it’s fucking solitary as well. I then got into Jazz through a mate, and then, as you do, through jazz… the whole thing is about – how do you climb out of your ivory tower gracefully? You’re allowed to listen to certain things. Jazz is fine because it’s still complicated and nobody likes it. You kind of work backwards and eventually you reach a point where it’s OK to like certain types of rock music. Um, I think I’m much more, I hope I’m, I’m still a snob but I’m a snob in the right way.”
Is there any new exciting classical stuff our readers should know about?
Tom: “Oh I don’t know, I haven’t been involved in the uh, ‘scene’ for a long time, so I wouldn’t like to say. There is some good stuff going on but I’m still hung up on all the sixties heroes anyway, Ligeti and Xenakis and people like that.”
With this in mind, it’s quite easy to reflect upon the album and EPs as veering, having a Steely Dan-like technical prowess and a deficit of soul. OK, so a press release for a club night I read recently asked why, if Jackson Pollock paintings sell for millions, ‘difficult’ music remains such a commercial black hole. What do you guys think?
Adam: “I don’t think art has ever been seen as something that should be for entertainment as much as music has, not that I have a problem with music for entertainment. I think all three of us, for people who’ve actually studied music, we’re quite hard-line about music meaning something to people who aren’t musicians. You can’t only play to musicians – me and Matt went to Jazz colleges, Tom went to New York and played Jazz and you vanish up this place where the only people in your audience are musicians. I’m probably wrong when I say this but, for me, art has always started at a point where you kind of have to appreciate it, there’s no kind of X Factor for art and a lot of people expect music to be able to be listened to in quite a passenger way: you sit back, it happens to you. Music that you have to really concentrate on and listen to is never going to be as mainstream as something that can just happen to you.
Tom: “I agree. Art’s obviously spatial and music’s temporal so the comparison is, if you wanted to listen to complicated music, it’s the equivalent of not just looking at a Jackson Pollock painting but following every single one of his strands, all the way into the end and once you’ve done that over the course of five, ten, fifteen minutes, half an hour, one hour… that’s the equivalent. And people don’t stand in front of a Jackson Pollock painting for one hour, a Jackson Pollock painting is actually quite easily understood [snaps his fingers] as a constant – bfffshm! Like, OK that’s it, I’ve seen Jackson Pollock now, I can go and tell my friends at Vice Magazine.
OK, but I’d guess that maybe there are people that would look at a Jackson Pollock for more than one hour?
Tom: “Oh yeah that’s right, But there’s also a bunch of music Geeks who actually transcribe like…”
Matt: ” The understanding can go a lot deeper, you know [the others hum sagely], wider than one work, it’s the same with Miles Davies or something – you look at his entire output and it’s fucking , you know, it’s interesting in relation to each other or whatever.
Adam: “Yeah, totally.”
Speaking of Pollock and whatnot, you don’t title your tracks, but you did for the album. Was that something about authorship and personality getting in the way of the forms?
Tom: “We kind of did the numbers just because we… we didn’t want to think of names… we were really struggling with it, and it’s like, ‘Oh bloody hell’, and you know, we can make up better answers, but it was kind of a couple of reasons. One, it did keep coming up in interviews: ‘So, why the numbers?’ And then the other was, we can’t really do an album and be on stage and say ‘OK, 22 – how does that go?’, or 1.1 or whatever, it’s just going to get silly.”
Adam: “The process of finding the names on the album was a bloody nightmare.”
Tom: “They’re totally arbitrary. A lot of arguing and stuff. It made me realize that actually the numbers were quite a good idea at first because when you attach names to things automatically people are going to think stuff. You might say this is what Jackson Pollock was thinking as well – you don’t want to attach anything to any understanding, this music is complicated, it’s also emotional, basically you can react to it however you want to react to it. I’m a bit of a believer in the whole ‘who cares who the artist was’.
Does that make your music quite impersonal?
Adam: “I think it does say quite a lot about a lot us, possibly, but you’d have to know us first to hear it in there.”
Tom: “I think you might get the impression that we’re a bunch of po-faced fuckers – hahaha! – who take ourselves really seriously. I think, whilst we take making music really seriously, we don’t take ourselves seriously. We kind of had that image of Autechre until we met them, we thought they were these four fucking…”
Tom: “uuuhhh – Legends, Geniuses, obviously! And then we met them and they’re just like…”
Adam: “The most awesome, kind of lary, Northern… and they were great, it was the best thing to meet and just really awesome, really fucking for real and, yeah we said to them after the gig, ‘that was incredible’ and he went like ‘reehlly? thought we wur a ‘it boring’ [out come those northern accents…]”
Matt: “‘A bit fooking boring’, yeah it was good. I personally, we all have, there’s a communal sense of humour, but generally comedy and music hand-in-hand fails 95% of the time, with the exception of the musical skits in Brass Eye or stuff like that. Other than that kind of thing, I dunno, I’d never aim to marry comedy, ‘cause I don’t… I’m not a comedian. We’re all comedy fans, but I wouldn’t say we’re comedians. I feel quite apolitical. These guys have quite strong political views, I don’t feel like that ever has to come out in the band, personally.”
Tom: “Maybe one day. I think, certainly, if I’d been left to my own devices, I could’ve ended up being quite an art college cunt, but, you know, I’m glad that I’m not, cause this band could so easily be really, really pretentious. This does come through in the music, I hope: the material is complicated but hopefully it’s never smart.”
Matt: “Me and Betts were watching this Dream Theatre video the other day and it’s like, that is just a fucking complete laugh for us. I mean, the music is awful.”
Adam: “They’re also multi-multi-millionaires.”
Matt: “They’ve sold ten million albums. Astonishing sales, but if anyone ever accuses us of playing like prog, I’d be like ‘well, maybe in one sense.’”
Adam: “Maybe in a Mars Volta sense of it but…”
Matt: “…compare it to this and it’s like ‘come on, give us some credit.’”
Adam: “The day when we’re in our forties doing this, I’ve had a facelift and I’m wearing make-up for an interview…”
Tom: “Hair implants…”
Adam: “Yeah, exactly. You know, how seriously do you take yourself as a person? Prog is such a dangerous word, but if you can stand back and say, ‘well does that rock? Does that sound cool?’, then it’s alright.”
Matt: “Does that pull at my heart strings or does it make me think ‘that’s fucking shit’?”
Adam: “Hahaha! ‘That is fucking shit.’”
By Edgar Smith
Originally published in issue 30 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. July 2011.