London based three piece Three Trapped Tigers create electronic music that's not like anything else out there. A hidden gem that's starting to gain some much deserved recognition after the release of the debut album Route One Or Die, I sat down with guitarist Matt Calvert, drummer Adam Betts and keyboard and synth player Tom Rogerson for an in depth conversation on where their unique sound comes from.
Air3: Speaking of the nature of the music, how would you describe your own sound? You've been described as Math Rock, Noise Rock, Experimental, Instrumental; how would you personally describe it?
Matt: We have a couple discussions about this every now and again,we try to blast terms like Math Rock out because we've always said that Math implies quite cold music that's kind of made in a slightly laboratory kind of way rather than in an emotional way. The same with Noise Rock, that seems to imply that there's no melody so I dunno man, it's not our job to come up with the term but we won't hesitate to complain about it.
Tom: I'll stick with Rock.
Matt: I guess Electronic Rock doesn't offend me.
Air3: I guess with all these sub-genres emerging every year, it can be hard to keep up with what you're regarded as.
Tom: We find it hilarious, because if you're actually doing it, you don't think about it.
Adam: The Math Rock one is probably the one that gets me most kinda 'bleurgh' because it does sound like they take the numbers first and hope the music follows along and I've seen a lot of bands that do that.
Matt: I just don't think we sound like a lot of bands who are Math Rock other than maybe like particular passages in certain tunes, but I think that the album we've made doesn't adhere to that. I dunno man, as long as the word 'future' never works it way into any genre, Future Rock would just be too much to stomach.
Air3: On the subject of formulaic music, obviously you say you're trying to avoid that to maintain the emotion - how does Tom's classical piano training affect the logic behind the songs-writing?
Tom: Well I had some lessons...but in terms of logic, I think a dance-electronic producer has as much logic as a classical guy, in fact classical musicians are notorious for their bad timing. I mean the classical think certainly affects it as much as that was the first music I ever even listened to until really quite late, so yeah early on particularly I was always keen to get the piano and keyboard into it and yeah it was nice to train on that classical thing, but quite quickly that became predictable like 'Oh look! It's a classical piano in amongst a rock band'. I think we've stepped away from that now, the album features barely any piano at all. The classical thing, yeah there's probably a sense of structure, form and knowledge of harmony - but we all share that, you don't need to be classically trained to understand that. So I think it's there in the most subliminal was imaginable, it's not like we're setting out to write concerti or anything like that.
Matt: We've had a fair amount of music education and once you're actually out of that environment you just wanna kinda get out and there is a process of unlearning so you don't do things in a formulaic way.
Tom: We're all kind of reacting against that formality and it comes up quite often and if you think of quite a lot of music that our contemporaries are making, our friends in fact, yeah they're making the formulaic stuff and we think we're getting away from that, I mean we're not the Sex Pistols but...
Adam: There's always got to be a sense of excitement and feeling behind the music, whatever you do with it.
Air3: On the opposite end of the spectrum, in the live shows is there any elements of the music that's improvised
Tom: Betts has the most freedom I'd say.
Adam: Yeah there are a few bits where there's just a wall of energy where I can just play whatever, but there are always some pretty strong, defined boundaries normally within a template from Matt.
Tom: There are sections here and there where we can be a bit free.
Matt: Yeah during the noisy segways between tunes.
Adam: They're some of the most fun bits.
Matt: I feel like going forwards, maybe there'll be some more room to maneuver, but not trying to make it sound like really indulgent jazz or something.
Tom: I guess to come back to your last question this is always the perennial problem with jazz or fusion or any of the music we're trying to elude from, we all know the feeling of playing difficult music and pulling it off and you feel fucking great and then you look out and you realise that no one gives a shit and the fact that you can do that reflects very badly on you. So maybe in soundcheck we'll do it but...
Adam: Yeah we'll play The Bill theme or something.
Air3: Your third gig was Reading festival, how does playing a festival differ from playing your own headline slot?
Adam: It wasn't mine! That was the only show I've not played.
Matt: We've done Leeds twice and both times it's stressed me out beyond belief, whereas playing something like End Of The Road or In The Woods was completely amazing and totally glorious, Stag and Dagger was wicked, Soundcity, all those ones are amazing.
Air3: So do your comfort levels go hand in hand with the intimacy?
Matt: There are some factors that make a gig good that are within your control like if you turn up and do a soundcheck and make sure everything feels good, you're gonna be able to relax more. But that's not gonna guarantee it being a great gig and the thing with a festival, you don't normally have such a luxury of soundchecking but the crowd might be a bit more pissed or more up for it. We did a festival in Liverpool and we went on at like 2am and we were wondering if anyone was even gonna care and we went on and it was aamzing. I don't think they were all there necessarily to see us, but just having a lot of people there was great.
Tom: It was the only venue open at that time, it was one of those city festival with 10 venues on the one same strip and our night was running late anyway because the previous band had taken ages to soundcheck, so all the factors not in our control kinda fell into place and played into our hands; the previous act were quite big so the place filled out anyway.
Air3: Do you feel there's more pressure to win people over at a festival?
Adam: More of an opportunity, doesn't feel so much like pressure though.
Matt: Say you're doing a London headline gig where this is one or two London gigs we're doing this year, people are paying what I consider a fair amount of money to come see us, I think there's more pressure that way. With a festival, it's like okay if people are gonna come and watch us then we'll do our thing as well as possible but it's completely different, I dunno but I've never really thought of it as a high pressure.
Air3: I read somewhere that you'd like to play bigger gigs, so does playing gigs such as tonight's still have the same impact for you?
Adam: I love small gigs like this.
Tom: We were all saying earlier how this is gonna be awesome.
Matt: I think we'd obviously like our whole trajectory to go up but I actually don't think that playing massive venues would suit the music we're playing. There's so much detail, it's so fast and complex - that doesn't translate so well on huge stages.
Adam: And also being thirty feet away from the people we were playing to was one of the biggest problems at Leeds, I felt like I was playing on my own. Whereas playing in a place like this it's like 'Ah there's fucking people there!' Obviously that can lead to you looking the the first 10 rows and people make you wanna feel sorry for playing, but if everyone's feeling it it can be a really exciting thing, much better than playing at Leeds Festival in a massive tent where people are way over there, like 'is someone there?', grinning at this gorgeous girl that turns out to be Ross (tour manager), it's atrocious.
Tom: I guess the common thread between all these questions is that it's always about the vibe and the atmosphere and that's always gonna be better really, some of the London shows are like 300 capacity and it stills feel like a small room and everyone's rammed in but in a venue like this I always think it's awesome because the music's so much about the energy, if you wanna stand there and stratch your chin and look at Matt's guitar pedals or how is Betts doing this and how quick we play and everything that's fine, but hopefully it should be more about the fact that it's loud and it's exciting.
Adam: When you hear things like Foo Fighters are in town playing Hyde Park you just think that would be the loneliest gig, there'd be like 80,000 people singing your chorus or something but I alway think even if I was in the biggest band in the world I'd still wanna play places where there are like 400 people in there.
Matt: I remember reading a while back, I think it was Editors who had a really hit album at the time were playing a really small venue and I don't know if the gig was booked before the album was released, but respect to that!
Tom: We were talking about when Nine Inch Nails deliberately chose smaller venues and they were right back to basics and they came on stage with all the house lights still up, apparently the carried all their own gear around and that kind of thing, Trent decided to go right back to his early days and he doesn't forget and I think that's really admirable.
Adam: We're thinking of going back to carrying our own gear one day aren't we?
Air3: Matt, in regards to your solo material - how did this come about? In regard to your contributions to the band, is your solo stuff music that you felt was so different from Three Trapped Tigers that you required the solo project?
Matt: The first Evil Ex EP was recorded before the band formed and last year I bascially wanted to use it to practise mixing and I thought it was good enough to put into the public domain. It had kinda been swept under the carpet after quite a long time. We've all recorded albums that have never seen the light of day, I didn't want it to be something like that but I dunno man, it was before Three Trapped Tigers really existed in a bonified way, so there are some similarities there but there are some differences.
Adam: For all of us, there all a hell of a lot of different things we all do and get involved with and Matt's got like an encyclopaedic catalogue of different styles and atmospheres. It's definitely the same for all of us as well.
Tom: We've all got things we wanna get off our chest and this band is quite limiting actually in some ways if you think about it. So I think all three of us have a solo project that's waiting to get out, but Matt's got the ability and the material there. He's got the creative ability to do it and much as he's a producer-head so he'll sit in his room and be like 'Alright I'm gonna nail this' whereas I take two years and feel completely helpless.
Matt: I guess the album was kinda 50/50 between me and Tom which is probably why he wants to do solo shit as well! Sometimes we just don't wanna have to answer to anyone else.
Air3: Who are you all listening to at the moment?
Matt: I just discovered someone called Andy Stott, who's this guy from Manchester who makes pretty bloody dark, down tempo house music. Lots of down tempo stuff like Andy Stott, Actress - I always discover stuff years after it's happened like the Portishead album Third that kind of thing, I'm well behind.
Tom: I've been checking out Luke Abbott, Gold Panda, Baths.
Adam: I've just got into Pig Destroyer who are fucking amazing. I fucking love Pissed Jeans as well, they're wild.
Air3: What does 2012 hold for Three Trapped Tigers?
Tom: The Olympics.
Adam: Yup, we're all entering the Olympics.
Matt: We've nominated Betts for the torch bearer.
Tom: Definitely a new album.
Air3: Are you writing at the moment or concentrating on tour?
Tom: No, but it'll happen!
Adam: We're touring until about mid-November and then it's goes pretty quiet.
Tom: Basically we're gonna re-release the EPs as a single package, not sure how much we're supposed to say on this, but you never know what might happen. We might get offered a random tour which'd be quite fun so you never know. I'm quite keen to get on with the second album, I think the first album's done well and we've made a step up in terms of presence and gig size and I think we should build on that. We're not the kind of band who have the right to take two or three years between albums as much as we'd like to. But we've all got our own stuff we wanna do as well so it's a matter of juggling that and making a living would be nice as well.
Three Trapped Tigers' debut album Route One Or Die is available to buy and download now.