Jazz five-piece The Rookies fourth album is Feed The Fire.
Back in 2014 they started at The Rooks Return on Brunswick Street, to taking lead at jams at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and other notable performances.
Keys for the outfit, Joel Trigg has under their own name released over eighteen improvisational albums, joined Vince Jones (The Monash Sessions), been part of the Claps’ tunes and so much more.
Hear here Joel’s chat with radionotes’ John Murch…
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SHOW NOTES: Joel Trigg of The Rookies
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Feature Guest: Joel Trigg
- The Rookies (Official Website)
- The Rooks Return (Offical Site)
- Claps (Bandcamp)
- The Köln Concert – Keith Jarrett (ECM)
- The Monash Sessions – Vince Jones (Jazzhead)
- Travellers – Keller/Murphy/Browne
- Andrea Keller (Official Site)
- Earshift (Official Website)
- Joel Trigg’s 18+ improv albums (Bandcamp)
- Stay Weird – The Rookies (Bandcamp)
- Acolyte (Offical Site)
- The Newmarket Collective (Official Site)
- My Life Is A Symphony – Kate Ceberano with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (LinksTo)
- Home In Space – Joel Trigg (Bandcamp) [released 29th June 2023]
- Whacking Day with Barry White on the Simpsons
- The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin (Simon & Schuster)
- Hannah Wexler
- Merri Creek
- Travel – The Necks (2023 album thru Northern Spy)
- Feed The Fire find the album on Bandcamp (including limited orange vinyl) – Spotify – Apple Music – Tidal
Joel Trigg’s album mentioned in our chat:
Next Feature Guest: Charles Firth of The Chaser
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Welcome to radionotes.
Thank you, John. Great to be here.
How has your reflection of the past, and wisdom it can bring, informed your musical journey?
Oh, that’s a good question, John. And I think it’s a question that all jazz musicians feel the need to grapple with because we’re participating in a musical tradition, which always has one foot in the past and is always looking to the future at the same time.
So, jazz has this complex history of being both constantly drawing upon its own ways and practises, and then pushing beyond them into the future as well. I think you’ll find there’s sometimes a quite tense debate amongst jazz musicians as to what degree should we look into the past and what degree should we forge ahead? So, there’s a lot of amazing young musicians at the moment who are doing this incredibly creative, forward-thinking music, which a lot of older musicians feel reticent to even call jazz.
But certainly, I feel the need to balance these two sides to this question, so always understand where the music has come from. So, understanding, for example, that as a young white Australian musician, that what I’m doing, what we’re doing, is we’re participating in a tradition which is an African-American music, which has its roots even before the New World in Africa as well. Understanding those origins and paying homage and respect to them, while also seeing that the history of jazz is punctuated by people, or made even by people, who are always trying to forge their way into some new sound as well. Musically, I think that idea of paying heed to history is very important as a jazz musician.
For you, when was that first touchstone, touchpoint with jazz that you had? Because that would’ve been the start of your conversation and history with the form.
Yeah. For me, it came from the American pianist, Keith Jarrett, listening to his Köln Concert. He has a very famous solo piano concert, I think it’s ’79 or ’76 or something, of just solo piano improvisation.
Possibly a great example of the debate around what is jazz, because it’s on the outer edge, I think, of that definition, but still comes from that tradition of improvisation and creativity. And Keith was a serious student of African-American jazz and played that music, but then became a great improviser of unstructured, untethered music as well.
And it was listening to his stuff, around about 12 or 13, that I realised that as a pianist I could make up whatever I wanted on the spot. That was a key moment for me, because I’d always played written pieces. Coming from a classical background, you play what’s on the page.
And Keith taught me that you can play what’s in your head and what’s in your heart, and even what has no presence yet, except for in the strange, unknowable void of pre-creativity, just the act of spontaneous creativity that got me into this music. And then following that thread back into what is more explicitly the jazz tradition.
I think a lot of those ECM recordings, if I’ve got that right, were exploring some of those themes, and Keith, if I’m right, was part of that?
You’ve got that exactly right. Yeah, he was a big person on the ECM label. And ECM is a great example of what jazz is. What’s so interesting to me about jazz is the way that it starts as this African-American art form, and I think due to the nature of its flexibility and its open horizons, it can be absorbed by other musical traditions as well, and then shoot off in all these amazing different directions.
So, the ECM label, which I think it starts in Germany, so it becomes, I think in the late ’60s, early ’70s, becomes the hub for the European branch of the story of jazz. So, Keith Jarrett and Jan Garbarek, and actually quite a few American musicians as well, but lots of European, Scandinavian musicians, take jazz music and infuse it with their own folk music traditions and cultures collide. And yeah, jazz branches off in all these amazing different new directions as well. And ECM, listening to records from that label was a big source of influence for me as well.
Reflecting back on where the music form itself came from.
Yes. And I think it’s been helpful for a young Australian musician like myself, to look at how jazz made its way into Europe, and then all the music that came out of that meeting. For us in Australia to consider, “What does it mean for Australian musicians to then take up some part of the mantle of jazz music and make it our own as well?”
As we mentioned in the introduction, you actually are part of a Vince Jones recording. Now, it’s not so much the Vince Jones aspect, but that it’s actually on the Jazzhead recording label.
Jazzhead, I think, is the closest thing Australia has ever had to an ECM equivalent. The ’90s and 2000s, that label was responsible for the vast majority of, I think, amazing jazz records released in this country. Not explicitly exploring an Australian sound, but an Australian sound emerges from that body of work, I think, naturally. So, a lot of the records, the Australian jazz records I grew up listening to, particularly those made by Andrea Keller, who’s a hero of mine, are on the Jazzhead label.
Now, that Vince Jones recording, that actually came about through Monash University where I studied my undergrad, in fact, where all The Rookies met, and I have a feeling two of the other members of the band are on that same recording you mentioned.
Monash had this amazing programme of… they would always bring out fantastic musicians and then do mentorship programmes and record albums with some students and faculty and this guest musician. And I was lucky enough to work with Vince briefly as part of making that record. But to speak a bit more to Jazzhead, I don’t think they are active anymore. I’m not sure, I don’t know what the story is there, but I haven’t heard of a new album from them in a while.
I would say that Earshift, which is Jeremy Rose’s record label in Sydney, has taken up some of the mantle that they used to hold. So, Earshift is putting out actually quite a lot of new Australian jazz music at the moment, which is great to see.
You mentioned that Andrea Keller is, “a hero.”
Andrea is particularly beloved in Melbourne where she lives now. She’s incredibly prolific, she plays a lot of gigs, so she’s very, very hardworking. I know that she has a very busy life. She’s also just recently become the Head of Jazz at Victorian College of the Arts, which is now called Melbourne Conservatorium. Passionate educator, which is something that’s important to me as well, I love to teach and I believe a big part of this music is sharing it with people who are figuring it out for themselves and passing on that tradition. So, she epitomises that, she works very hard.
I think she’s someone who is incredibly true to conception of her own sound as a musician. So to me, she doesn’t sound quite like anyone else. She has a distinctly Andrea Keller-ness to her, which is a very important aspect of, I think, what it means to be a jazz musician, which is embracing one’s individuality, embracing one’s particular quirks and loves and passions and weirdness, and not shying away from that and not trying to just be a replicator or a regurgitator of what has come before you.
Here again is that tension of acknowledging and paying homage to and learning from the past, but also being yourself and striving forward in your own way, and I think she does that beautifully.
I want to talk about these improvisation volumes. On Bandcamp, there’s 18 of them. I call them albums because that’s how I’ve been listening to them. Feel in the sense of maturity development, but more importantly, narrative as you’re getting closer to the pandemic, I would guess. Can you talk to me about the narrative of the importance of these 18 improvisational volumes?
Yeah, well, firstly, John, thank you so much for listening to them. They are a project that I didn’t really think of as would ever… I don’t know. I never saw them as being something people would listen to a lot of. So, anytime anyone tells me they’ve enjoyed, listened to and enjoyed them, I’m always grateful and honoured by that.
Partly because they were for me, just a very personal project of wanting to challenge myself to be creative and find some personal clarity in the way that I was creative, and tap into a creative flow that was uninhibited. I wanted to learn to play the piano and improvise with a directness, with a kind of immediacy of, “I want to sit down at the piano and I want music to flow out of me and I want it to feel good,” and this was the way of practising doing that because it’s one thing to improvise by yourself in the privacy of your own space, certainly another to perform people, but it’s another to improvise privately, but record those improvisations and then have them be a sort of oral document that anyone else can access.
It was important for me that I was recording them and sharing them and making them available, so that… I guess what happened when I was doing that was I would be playing in the moment, but I’d be thinking, “Oh, this is something that’s going to be on the internet for people to listen to.” So, I’m actually playing to an audience which exists. It’s just not here in the room with me. I’m separated from them by time and space, but I’m still playing for people.
The ego is challenged by that, and I had to learn to be okay with, I guess, relating to this discussion of why I love Andrea Keller so much is that I wanted to learn to be okay with myself and be okay with what comes out of me naturally when I’m just sitting at home. Can I trust and accept and even love the fragile moments, the broken, awkward things that come out of my hands and out of the piano? Can I embrace and accept it all with open arms?
And I found that over the course of those albums, I was more and more able to do that. I vaguely play with the idea of releasing a hundred of them in my lifetime because I like the sound of that, so I’ll come back to it at some point. It’s just other things in life have come up to get in the way a little bit.
Was there also that sense of pressure because time… There might’ve been other things to do in said days. Particularly, I think when you were trying to do it daily, I was thinking, having a listen, when it was more daily, I guess, in terms of the pressure of things that had to be done in said day and the censorship of what you actually want to release as the representation of that day.
Yes, you’ve clearly read my diary-like blurbs to these albums. So, there was a year, 2018, where I wanted to release a volume of these recordings, a volume of 10 per month, and I did that that year. That’s where the bulk of them come from. Continued the practise sporadically after that.
There was definitely a tension because sometimes I would… I limited myself to one a day, but I had to do 10 every month. Sometimes I would get to, say, the 19th or the 20th of the month, and then it would be, “Okay, now I have to do one every day,” and no matter how I’m feeling, whether I had a terrible day and I’m not feeling very confident as a musician, which happens when you’re an artist, of course, I still have to sit down and play something and that something still has to be released publicly. And so I have to very quickly accept the position I’m in, the emotional state I’m in, accept the music that’s going to come out of me, embrace that, and share it.
One of the things I’m sort of hoping to express with this project is that I want to challenge people to accept themselves in whatever state they’re in as well, whether they’re an artist or not, to just take who they are in that moment as it is, just to be able to accept that, accept the highs and the lows of a life, which is an inevitable part of the human experience.
What do you then, Joel, bring into the composition element of The Rookies? Because it’s a collaborative effort in terms of the music that is on Feed the Fire.
Yeah, well, certainly this idea of accepting oneself in all our flawed beauty and imperfection is a core belief of The Rookies. We have this album called Stay Weird, and Stay Weird has since sort of become something of a catch cry for us. And what it means it’s not, “Be weird,” or, “Get weird,” or, “Become weird.” It’s Stay Weird, meaning allow yourself to be the weird version of yourself, the uncensored version of yourself that feels most true to you.
So, certainly the intention behind these solo improvisation recordings, I think flows into that theme in our music. There’s definitely an invitation or even a demand, I think, to embrace yourself, embrace who you are and not conform just for the sake of fitting in, but rather continuing to be this kooky individual. The world needs strange, wonderful, different people. Diversity is, I think, a basically good thing that we need to celebrate, and I wonder how that comes into the composition process.
I’m thinking about it now for this album. The songs you hear on Feed the Fire are all deeply collaborative. They all contain little fragments of ideas that each of us in the band, all five of us, have contributed and layered over each other. And so the result is a collaboration, a blending of five very weird, and sometimes quite strong, personalities, who have different desires for the music.
I like to believe that this album really demonstrates what’s possible when people, A, embrace who they are and don’t compromise on their own integrity, but are also able to compromise on what they create collectively.
Holding on to who you are and making sure that you are actually heard before negotiating what is needed.
All such offerings of personal creativity or ideas, whether it’s in a musical artistic context, or I’m thinking even of a business board meeting where everyone’s pitching ideas together and trying to come up with the best solution.
In those situations, not only do you have to be able to speak your offering with the confidence and belief in yourself, but you also need to learn to hear and trust that when it is offered to you from outside. So, when someone else suggests something… And this happened quite a lot in making this album, someone else would suggest something, a musical decision, and would be trivial, things like even, “Should this bar go for an extra beat or should we change this chord? Should we change this melody in this tiny three-note fragment?” I would watch myself in those moments having an immediate reaction of, “Oh, I don’t think we should do that because it goes against my idea.”
I really learned through this process how to not have that reaction, how to let myself have that reaction, but also to train myself to hear what someone else was saying and think, “Huh, maybe that’s…” Well, for one thing, trust that they were offering it in good faith, that they really believed that was the best decision at that moment. And also for me to hear that that could actually really enrich the music and make it more than something that if I had my way and made it exactly how I wanted it to be, then it would just sound like me.
But what we get to is actually something that sounds like all of us, and I think that’s a really special and beautiful thing. It’s not just great in music when we can balance everyone’s offerings, but it’s something that is great in families, it’s great in communities, fundamentally democratic idea, right? That everyone has a voice, that there’s a space for debate and exchange of ideas.
Everyone is trusted that they’re offering something in good faith and that what we come to, the results, are better for being diverse, they’re better for being collaborations, rather than a single person’s vision.
Who is the decision-maker in The Rookies? And one would suggest it’s all five members, but maybe it’s not. Is there a decision-maker in The Rookies?
That’s a great question and something we sort of have grappled with over the years. The band did not start with a leader, although it was Greg Sher, the saxophonist, who started the band, and he is a very committed socialist, and actually comes from a background of leading youth groups and activism. So, he was really across all these social dynamics.
The band starts as a very straightforwardly five-way, all equally balanced, no leader situation, but then we discovered that there is great value in having someone with a final say and someone who can direct the course of a conversation and of a process, and who can have oversight and a bird’s eye view of things. And Greg naturally came into that role more fully as the years went by, and it’s to the point now where I’m very proud to say that he’s the leader and the last word on what we do.
He’s very understanding and he’s found a very beautiful way of balancing all the opinions in the band and coming to a solution which honours that.
Talk to us about that trust.
It’s imperative for making good music. I want to say especially jazz, but I don’t think this is exclusive to jazz at all. It’s that you have to trust the people you’re playing with, that they support you and that they believe in you and that they will not hide hard truths from you.
There have been times when, as a band, that each of us have been sort of not as on our game, not as focused maybe, not as attentive to each other on the bandstand, and we have gotten to a place now where we’re able to express to each other when that’s the case, and we trust that it’s coming from a place of love and a desire for each of us to be the best versions of ourselves.
In the immediate moment to moment experience of improvising in jazz music, you need to trust that someone is going to catch you if you fall because it’s so important that you reach beyond yourself and you try things. You play melodies and rhythms and chords, you’re not quite sure how they’re going to turn out or they might be kooky, slightly controversial choices. You need to feel comfortable to make those choices, to have those strange impulses, and that someone’s going to be there to support you if you fall, which happens a lot.
That’s a really great experience in jazz: reaching out, playing something strange, finding that your bandmates are actually there to make what you’ve played make more sense than it would’ve made if you were just by yourself.
Joel, recently The Rookies celebrated their 400th residency night at The Rooks Return.
People sometimes ask us, “Which comes first: The Rookies or The Rooks Return?” It is The Rooks Return, the bar, but only by a couple of months, actually. The had opened two or three months, and Greg Sher, the leader of The Rookies, now called The Rookies, was looking for a residency for himself and his friends, that’s us, to play really with no other intention than just to learn to play jazz music because it’s quite demanding and it requires you to sort of play regularly, learn a vast body of repertoire, and just practise by doing.
So, that was all the band was ever intended to be. It didn’t start with a name. In fact, it was, I think, just the Greg Sher Quartet, later Quintet, when Tom, the trumpet player, joined. Just intended to be background music, which is a great boon for a jazz musician to just… some money and some beers and play in the back of a bar.
But then what happened strangely, was we realised people were starting to come not just for the bar, but to see us, and so as the bar was gaining popularity, we were gaining popularity too, and we certainly feel that the two institutions have grown up together and helped each other enormously, so I don’t think… We certainly wouldn’t exist without that bar. I’m not sure where they would be without us, and I feel confident in saying that too.
It’s to the point now where I feel like the relationship is quite symbiotic, but yeah, and it’s like a good relationship in music that we both enable each other to be better than we could have been otherwise.
And not to lessen it. We’re talking about a Wednesday night.
Great things about it being a Wednesday, I think, is that we’re not really competing with much. It’s not a night people typically go out on, so it’s kind of become this funny Fitzroy cult thing that Wednesday night in Fitzroy is jazz night. I sometimes overhear conversations between people at our gigs saying things like they talk about it like this. They say, “Oh yeah, I go to jazz every Wednesday. Have you been to jazz before?” “No, it’s my first time at jazz.”
They refer to the whole gig and band thing as just jazz, which is an incredible honour. And I think by and large, our clientele is young people, which always blows my mind too because jazz is not currently anywhere close to mainstream popular music for people in their 20s and even 30s. I think we’re certainly seeing… Actually, I will say a resurgence of jazz in younger circles, because at one stage, I’m thinking of the ’20s and ’30s, jazz was certainly youth music, party music. It was music for going out and dancing.
And the history of jazz is so fascinating as you watch that stream peters out and is replaced by a slightly more… an older, more mature listening audience. Jazz starts to be sit down music, it even becomes art music, rather than popular music, and I think this is a really important and wonderful progression that occurred.
But one of the things we’re very big on in The Rookies is wanting to reclaim some of that early sense in jazz’s history of it being just music that’s fun and engaging and music you can dance to and you can revel to, but we also try and balance that with the fact that this is music. It is deeply expressive music. It’s deeply meaningful. It’s deeply symbolic, if you let it be. But sometimes we joke that it’s kind of a Trojan horse, right?
It’s this really fun gig, really enjoyable, you can easily come along, it’s free, you can drink, you can hang out. But then it’s also deeply meaningful and can be quite intellectual as well, but without creating barriers for entry. We don’t want the music to be esoteric. We want it to be challenging and inviting at the same time.
It’s really exciting when we get people from… out-of-town musicians coming through. I think this has been happening more recently, where people will tell their friends from other cities and states and even from other parts of the world, “Hey, if you’re in Melbourne, you’ve got to come to this thing on Wednesday night.” We get those musicians coming in and really enjoying the gig and sometimes playing with us as well.
Let’s get back to the album of The Rookies. It’s called Feed the Fire. I did have a bit of a big question to ask you, and that is the involvement of Dave Van Pelt on this record, obviously as the keys on this album, having them come on board. Was it welcoming or did you feel like your mantle was pushed to one side? Talk to me about the relationship with Dave Van Pelt. Although it’s a completely different genre, no less.
I think maybe that’s why I feel no threat. No, it’s because Dave’s such a lovely guy, and the connection we have to him is that Chris Cameron, our drummer, also plays a reasonably successful progressive metal band called Acolyte, in which Dave is the keys and synth player.
Dave plays on The Rookies album in this moment that required something that I wasn’t able to do, which is Dave’s a great lover of incredible synthesisers. He programmed for us this sort of arpeggio pattern which plays over, I think it’s the end of Schema II on The Rookies album, and it’s this incredible moment. It’s a bit of an electronic thing just blended subtly into this hypnotic acoustic groove moment that we had set up.
So, no threat at all, and it’s lovely, and it’s so exciting when you’re able to bring in your friends to do something on your music that is something unique that they can offer to it.
Can you talk to us about the strings? Because this is a new approach for The Rookies on their recorded material.
This is another example of us thinking, “Well, there’s something that we want to do with this music, some sound we’re hearing that we’re not able to produce ourselves.” None of us play strings. We’ve had this running joke in the band for a while. When are we playing with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra? When are we doing Rookies plus MSO?
Every six months or so, we have a good laugh about that. This is the closest we’ve come because yeah, we decided for this record, we were really hearing the sound of a string quartet. Tom, our trumpet player, who’s also a skilled arranger, wrote these parts for strings that just kind of enrich a couple of songs on the record, and it became this beautiful theme throughout, that I think there are three tracks. I think it’s Vultures, Schema I and II, and also Seed and Soil, which closes the album, which all have the incredible Newmarket String Collective on it, featuring Tom’s arrangements.
And The Newmarket Collective is affiliated with Newmarket Studios where we recorded the album, and they’re sort of the in-house string section there who we’re just great to work with. In fact, to our dream, some of those members are members of the MSO as well, so we’re getting closer to The Rookies meets the MSO.
To be fair, the MSO have been a bit busy with Kate Ceberano’s new album, so a little busy.
That’s true. I can forgive them. Yeah, yeah, we’ll get there.
Keys to the Fender Rhode, what were you able to bring with this record, and how, through that change?
That choice did not come from me actually, it was sort of a collective decision that we wanted the album to sound different to anything we’d done before.
I occasionally play a keyboard sound, like an electric keyboard sound effect, a sound on my keyboard, for The Rooks Return gigs, so we had a bit of that electric piano road sound in our music already, but we thought for the kind of music we were making for this record, which is very groove-oriented, it’s leaning a little bit into some of the sort of UK new jazz influence. We wanted to differentiate this record from our past albums and also to have there be a sort of aesthetic clarity to it.
Once I was forced into it, I agreed in the end, that it would be cool if the album was entirely Rhodes, but I will say for clarity that I think of myself as a pianist and I really love the piano. I love the particular way that piano keys feel. I love the woodiness, the stringiness, the earthiness of them. I think they’re beautiful and I feel that’s my voice in music.
I’m not one of those keys players who are really deep into synthesisers and other keyboards. Of course, I respect that. I feel very strongly about the piano. All that being said, I was grateful to have been encouraged to explore just the Rhodes for this record.
A Fender Rhodes is a really beautiful instrument. It is kind of acoustic in a way. I don’t quite understand the mechanism behind it, but it’s a very early electric piano from the era, I think, in the ’70s, when they were still trying to create a piano sound that was more portable and electric, so it uses some kind of metal mechanism inside, so it has some of that kind of tactility, but it’s very soft to play. The keys feel really buttery and really loose.
The sound is dreamy. I mean, the sound is iconic. You’ll find it on so much great music from the ’70s and beyond, that… Yeah, it was a pleasure to embrace that instrument and work with it for this record.
The Rooks Return actually has that tactile piano in that venue, is that what you’re saying you lean into more for the performances, maybe on a live performance till now?
Yeah. So, The Rooks Return did have a piano there for a while. I think maybe the first three or four years of our residency. It now no longer does, partly because the piano was just falling to pieces, quite literally, over the time that we were playing there. I got to the point where I would put little blue dot stickers on all the notes that didn’t work so that I would… visually could see the minefield that I had to navigate around, and not play if I wanted to be able to express myself.
And then I think there was one gig where one of the hammers inside fell over onto its side, thus making the six or seven notes to its left, inaccessible as well, and at that point it was like, “Well, I think it’s time. This piano needs to go or I need to start bringing my own keyboard to the gigs.”
Just to focus on you directly, Joel, how is Home in Space going?
Oh my God, I can’t believe you’re asking me about that. Home in Space is my first album of all original music with my trio, which I’m really excited to be finally releasing. It’s going to come out in June or July this year, which is already way too late because I recorded it in late 2021, and I must not let it get to be two years since I recorded to release. But Home in Space is indeed coming out this year. I have to ask, John, how did you know about that? I’m not sure if I’ve advertised it anywhere.
I did my research.
You are very good. I’m impressed and flattered and you’ve encouraged me to really make it happen. I’ve got the artwork ready to go. I just need to organise the launch gig. Yeah, put it out there.
This is an album of originals from Joel Trigg, possibly the leader in this particular trio.
I’m really enjoying discovering the leader in me that I didn’t quite know was there. I love being a part of The Rookies. It’s been one of the great joys of my life, one of the great privileges of my life, and learning to collaborate in the way we’ve discussed, in the way that is the balance of honest offering, but then compromise and letting your suggestions go sometimes in the interest of something which is greater than the sum of all the other parts.
It’s a wonderful experience, but I’m also realising how much I love and want to be able to craft more of the direction of some music myself, and that’s what this project is allowing me to do is discover my particular vision for how I want music to sound and to be able to enact that vision, still, of course, with the collaborative help of my two bandmates who are Angus Radley on bass and Lewis Pierre on drums, who are just beautifully receptive to suggestions and sort of curation, but also bring their own beautiful energy to the music.
And the compositions are, yes, they’re all songs that I’ve written. They’re actually… a lot of them are very, very old songs for me. Some of them I wrote at University 2013 to 2015, some a few years after that, and I really enjoyed this process of going through old songs of my own and discovering in them a compositional voice, which I can hear as my own, but I would now no longer write songs like that.
It’s almost like seeing photos of yourself, like baby photos of yourself. You go, “Oh, that’s me, but it’s also not me as well.” So, I love taking these songs and thinking, “Okay, I want to give them a life. I want to record them and release them and honour the creative impulse that I had when I was 20, 23, even though I’m 28 now, and still let them have their life.”
Teaching, and the passion you have for teaching and why that is. What is the reason that Joel has a passion for teaching?
I love the process of teaching. I love sitting in the room with a student talking about music, but I think I also feel motivated to do so because of the great gift of music that’s been given to me by my teachers, and by the culture at large, which we live in a culture where it’s very common to have music lessons in high school when you’re a kid and music is around us all the time.
I want to make sure that having been given that gift to myself, that I take responsibility for it and pass it on to the next generation and make sure that music remains this rich and wonderful part of our culture. So, I feel like I’m doing that every time I sit down with a student and just talk about music with them and share my experience and help them have a flourishing experience of their own in music. It’s very meaningful and I do feel it as something of responsibility.
That tactile physical element of that, of passing on music to the next generation, is often in the pressing of a vinyl, which you’ve done for this very record.
Greg has listened to them and says they sound amazing. And he said this beautiful thing. He said, “There is new detail to the music,” that he didn’t hear in previous listeners when it was just a digital file that the vinyl pressing done at Melbourne’s programme records that they did such a beautiful job, that it brings out new details to the music.
What’s the first… Very much a Rockwiz question, I acknowledged Julia and the team on this one, but what was the first record, vinyl or otherwise, you bought with your own money?
First vinyl record I bought with my own money. I can’t think of the answer to that. I know what it is for CDs, which is what I grew up listening to. Two CDs at the same time. I bought Wolfmother’s debut records, self-titled, which I loved, listened to a lot, and I bought a Barry White Best Of CD, and I think this was probably at the age of about nine or 10. That was it. Great, and I wrote my name. They were mine.
My parents both had huge CD collections and it was lovely to sort of be like, “This is what I like.” Not particularly informed choices. I can’t remember. I think I must’ve heard of Barry White through his Simpsons cameo and Wolfmother was just popular at the time. Did dearly love those two albums.
What’s the book you’re reading at the moment?
I’m so happy to tell you the answer to that. I’m rereading Ursula Guin’s Earthsea books at the moment. I’m up to The Farthest Shore, which is the third one. I was actually just reading it before jumping on this call with you. Recently rediscovered a love for fantasy literature, which was a big part of my childhood and takes on a lot more meaning, I think, when you’re an adult and you have a bit more of a sense of, I guess the harshness of the world, but also its awe and beauty. Read your way into a world of magic in fiction. And for me at least, I see so much magic in the world now. I look out my window now and I see light playing in leaves, and I think that is its own kind of magic. And Ursula Le Guin beautifully captures that sense in her books.
Visually behind you, there’s two pieces that may or may not be related to your life. Can you talk us through those please?
Yeah, I certainly can. I just set this up on the kitchen counter. I’m hanging out of my parents’ place at the moment. And the two paintings behind me-
These relate to maps, do they?
Yes. I’ll describe them for our listeners. So, there are two different depictions of Europe. My father got really into collecting maps for a while, and they’re maps of Europe, old maps of Europe, that show Europe as the queen. They’re very strange, very quirky.
How much of your father or maybe some other parent lineage has influenced your view on the world?
So much, so much. I will talk about my father because I can think of a specific thing with him, which is that he, throughout my entire life, has always helped me to challenge preconceptions I have about things. So, I feel like I’ve often come to him very excited with some proclamation about the way things are that I’ve just figured out, and he’ll so gently and so beautifully just poke at it and just remind me that what I’m sharing is a perspective, and that perspective is incredibly important for understanding one’s own understanding.
If you can think of a good example, we’ve talked a lot about in the past about considerations of what does it mean for tribal pre-industrial customary cultures to have a cosmological view of the world as being informed by sort of ancestral prehistoric… An obvious example here in Australia is our First Nations people. I think of the dreaming as a place outside of place, a time outside of time, where spirits and from where stories come about the making of the world.
Now, these are views that are, I think, very hard for the western rational mind to make sense of, because we’re so used to thinking in terms of linear time, causal relationships that are mappable in scientific contexts, that we have a hard time dealing with these different cosmologies, these different worldviews.
My dad’s really taught me how there’s nothing inherently more right about these different perspectives. They come from different ways of making sense of the world. Here we all are, as funny little individual souls and minds, collaborating on meaningful projects and making sense of the world together. And no one really knows what’s going on. No one has the final answer to how it all works and where it all comes from and where it’s all going. But we have a whole bunch of different and interesting answers to this question.
I am very appreciative of those different perspectives, and I embrace them. As we were talking about before, with the great virtue of diversity in the world. I think we need a diversity of opinion about how things, how they should be, in order to chart a course forward, which is the most beneficial for all of us.
But also, as we’ve discussed both with your project and The Rookies as a band, there needs to be a leader in some respect, doesn’t there? And who is in charge of deciding who is the leader and to what degree does the leader lead and not follow the wishes of the mass?
I believe in democracy in this question. I’m very firmly anti-authoritarian, although it’s complicated because some people, I believe, are more qualified to make decisions on behalf of others. I believe education is a really important part of this. Compassion is an important part of this.
Democracy, I think, does the best job of managing those different needs and expectations. So, it’s not the perfect system, but one in which everyone, at least in theory, has a voice and the ability to at least choose who then takes up the reins and guides us forward, I think is really fundamentally important to me.
It’s that interesting larger theme that we started with in terms of looking back in finding wisdom and knowledge, for which this record does beautifully in giving the room and the space to explore those themes, to now where you yourself are a leader of a trio and part of a quintet where there is those dynamics and how do we work through those. And it sounds like you’ve been brought up in a wonderful sphere of knowledge to actually have at least your own answer to how that may or may not work.
I suppose that makes me think a little bit about some of the questions around leadership, collective growth and progress that we were grappling with in this album with The Rookies.
We wanted to try and express something about… You mentioned On The Shoulders of Giants, which is a song very much about appreciating the wisdom of the elders of our community and taking heed of them as we face the challenges of the present and of the future. So, there’s got to be a balance between listening to the wisdom of the past in navigating present challenges, and there’s also a strong theme in this album about the great challenge of looking at systems, which may have fallen into disrepair.
Yeah, capitalism is, I think, a complex beast to grapple with. It has given us some great things: it has lifted a great many people out of poverty, it has progressed scientific advancement in medicine, et cetera, et cetera. But also there’s a dark side to it as well, which is it has the capacity to stifle and squash creativity and individuality.
Look, these are issues that I don’t feel equipped to grapple with, but we wanted to, as a band, raise the question that it may be the case that some of these systems we take for granted, be the vast systems of managing and even conceptualising money or down to worth social issues, that we may need to question the established order, and we may even need to discard some parts of these systematic approaches to living, which are no longer serving us.
And we know that the world is in trouble, frankly, that we know that climate change is progressing at pace, and is also hopefully fixable by human action as well. I think we’re entering a time which is going to call for a great deal of looking inwards, looking around at the systems that we take for granted, and maybe considering where we can feed the fire of destruction, so to speak, but in a careful and reflective and sensitive way to extend its metaphor to back burn some of these places where the system has become rotten.
And I think it’d be hard to argue against the point that there are certainly something rotten in the state of Denmark, and of course, not speaking about Denmark, particularly. Borrowing on Shakespeare, for that one. The world is in trouble and we’re going to need to look carefully about how we approach fixing it.
It reminds me that the album cover actually has a member of the Code of Arms of Australia with its head with flames, or at least some smoke coming out of it. Can you talk to me about the creation of the album cover?
The artwork is made by the designer, the artist who’s made all of our album artwork, Hannah Wexler, who does these beautiful collages. The emu whose head is disconnected from its body and off to one side and has its neck with flames emerging from it. This, for me, is… I think of it along the lines of the surrealist painter, Rene Magritte.
For me, it very much recalls that kind of just, it’s not meant to be explicitly violent or destructive. It’s meant to make you go, “Huh, there’s something strange here. This is another worldly image that invites a question without necessarily an answer.” But that said, it also, I think, does point fairly directly to the great danger we put our beautiful wildlife in this country, and around the world, in by destructive action leading to climate change.
What’s your favourite engagement, Joel, with the natural environs? Maybe going out bush or maybe you’re more of a water baby.
I grew up in Melbourne, in North Fitzroy, so north of where we do our residency in Fitzroy proper. And in North Fitzroy, I grew up along the banks of the Merri Creek, which is a beautiful waterway running all the way down and connecting with the Yarra, running through the city. But Merri Creek runs through Northcote and Thornbury. It’s a very important body of water in Melbourne’s north side.
And certainly during the Covid lockdowns in 2020, most of the north side would flock to this beautiful waterway every day for our allotted one-hour walks. But even before that, and of course long after that, that particular walk along the Merri Creek has always been special to me.
I reckon I’ve walked it at least a thousand times, probably many more. It’s a deep place of home for me, and I’m certainly very grateful for its existence in an otherwise urban area. I think it’s really important, as cities grow upwards and outwards, that we make sure that we maintain beautiful green spaces, green and blue and brown spaces, to stay connected to the natural world, the world that predates and will likely postdate human civilization.
It’s a special thing to stay in touch with that because of course, that’s where we come from. Everyone, to some degree, understands this, especially the Japanese who talk about forest bathing as a form of mental health and emotional therapy, to just be amongst trees is such a sanctuary for the mind, I think. I wonder if even… it sort of triggers some deep evolutionary mental pathway of we used to be monkeys in those trees, so to speak.
With these tracks now out and about, you’ve recently had some album launches of the material on it. This is the fourth release as well. Before I was listening to your records, I had recently got the new record by The Necks. I don’t know what you think of The Necks, but I recently got their recording as well-
I love it.
… which very much, of course, lives in the world of improvisation. The difference between what people will hear on the record of The Rookies and maybe compared to dropping in on The Rooks Return on a Wednesday night.
First, just to speak to sort of contextualising The Necks and Rookies, it’s improvisation is the common thread, right? And improvisation, I think it’s the core, at least from my understanding, the core of jazz music, and obviously plays a role in other musics around the world as well. But it’s the core of jazz music.
And The Necks, I think most of what they do is 90% to 95%, maybe even a 100% improvised. It’s entirely in the moment. In fact, in the same way that my improvisation volumes, all that music is sitting down at the piano and just creating in the moment.
The Rookies is further towards the other end of that spectrum where a lot of what you hear is pre-composed. A lot of the melodies and chords and rhythms and the overall structure of the songs is predetermined. And if you hear us play these songs at live shows, you will hear those familiar melodies and rhythms and structures, but there’s always space inside those structures for improvisations.
You notice that particularly when you hear an improvised solo, where one instrument takes centre stage and the others step back and allow an individual to lead the direction of the music that’s improvised. You might think of a play in which all the lines are set, except for five minutes where someone does a monologue that they composed on the spot. It’s that kind of thing.
Come to see us play this music live. You’ll hear these songs, but I mean hopefully, I think if we’re doing our job, you’ll hear new versions of them every night. It’s not just these isolated five-minute chunks either, and it’s hard to describe exactly what changes, but we try and pour new energy and surprises and spontaneity, surprises for ourselves and each other into each new version we play of these songs.
Joel Trigg, thanks very much for joining us on radionotes and sharing a little bit of the experience of The Rookies’ fourth new album, as well as some other aspects of your life and times.
Well, thank you, John, so much for having me, and I appreciate the depth of this conversation and of your research and your attention to what we’re trying to do here. It’s a pleasure to share this with your audience. Thank you.
AI generated summary supplied by Rev: Joel Trigg, a member of the jazz band The Rookies, discusses the influence of reflection and wisdom on his musical journey. He explains the tension in the jazz community between looking to the past and forging ahead into the future. Trigg also reflects on his first touchstone with jazz, listening to Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert, and how it inspired him to explore improvisation. He discusses the importance of paying homage to jazz’s African-American roots while also pushing the boundaries of the genre. Trigg also talks about the significance of ECM Records and the Jazzhead label in the Australian jazz scene. He shares his thoughts on the role of history in jazz and the need to balance tradition with innovation. Trigg also discusses his own musical projects, including his upcoming album “Home in Space” with his trio. He emphasizes the importance of teaching and passing on the gift of music to future generations. The conversation touches on the dynamics of leadership in The Rookies and the band’s 400th residency night at The Rooks Return. Trigg also discusses the themes and artwork of The Rookies’ album “Feed the Fire,” including the exploration of systems and the environment. He reflects on his connection to nature and the importance of green spaces in urban areas. The interview concludes with a discussion of improvisation in jazz and the differences between recorded music and live performances.