Oftentimes, the flowery prose that comprises a band’s bio invites eye-rolling. The adjectives and declarations are a necessary evil, but the accuracy of such vivid descriptions is debatable. So, when you read that Three Trapped Tigers “conjure the contained intensity of their namesake”, you may scoff, but two things must be noted. First off, all the pretty words in the world would have a hard time capturing the beautiful noise created by the London trio, though that sentence is pretty on the money. Second, they don’t really care what label you might affix to them.
Nor should they. Call it math rock, call it IDM, call it niche, whatever. Three Trapped Tigers are worthy of your attention. Having first come to prominence via a string of EPs, the band released their debut album Route One or Die in 2011. A typically frenetic effort, the only apparent compromise appeared to be track titles in place of their previous affinity for numbers. Ahead of their upcoming Meteor Camden Crawl Dublin appearance, State caught up with keyboardist Tom Rogerson to talk potential new material, the importance of the album and, er, Roy Keane…
It’s been two years since Route One or Die. Should we expect a new album soon?
We’re not really working on an album direction right now, it’s more of what we try to say to each other all the time which is to have fun and make music, all those things that you tend to forget about when you become a professional musician. You know, trying to get back to why the hell we started this thing in the first place. I think it became, not a struggle, but we did a lot of gigs and it had its own momentum but i think it’s beneficial to step back sometimes and think, ‘Well, why are we doing this?’. We’d rather make music and not worry about it being some professional thing but eventually a time comes when you need to get on with it and get something out to fans, A) to reflect what we’re up to, B) for our own artistic satisfaction and C) for the obvious professional reason that people get sick of hearing the same songs.
Are you leaning towards an LP rather than another EP, though?
I really love EPs. I think they’re totally underrated by everyone because 20 minutes is a really good amount of time for music. The problem is there’s a kind of industrial logic to the album. The press doesn’t care unless you’re doing an album, they don’t report on EPs unless you’re a massive band. And no matter how much the Internet has supposedly changed everything and shortened people’s attention spans; that particular aspect doesn’t seem to have changed very much. We personally all feel a bit sick every time someone mentions the album! It becomes this totemic, monolithic ‘thing’ that is now kind of hanging around our necks and we’d rather just write music and wake up one day and discover that we’ve got 40 minutes that we can put together. We’ve got a bit of a funny modus operandi which is that unlike a lot of bands, we’ve always written to order, to commission as it were.
No real pressure then…
We haven’t had much pressure for the past two years, no. We’re on our own label and it’s not like there are any tracks or B-sides kicking around. We get in a room and we jam loads or we have ideas but it just takes ages to flesh it all out. Plus, there’s no singing. With us, it’s a completely blank canvas, like, ‘Wow, we can do anything’ and we want to go in a million different directions at once and we’re desperate to not repeat ourselves. It will be an album though! If you’re being ambitious, an album is preferable.
It’s strange that the album still has so much currency given that we now live in what seems to be a very track-oriented culture.
Yeah. It’s true, and I don’t know how long it will take for that change. Back in the day, it was obviously the 7″ and a lot of people now say it’s all about tracks, it’s all about mp3s and you get artists who only do tracks or they do mix tapes, but in our particular tiny world it seems that albums are still the way to go and i think it’s because there’s so much supply, there’s so many artists making music. There’s always people who break out with a track and make an album off the back of it and often nobody cares because it’s nine filler tracks to bolster the single – I’m talking about the really, really big artists here – but at our level for some reason it’s still, as you say, currency. That’s just something that the press and the labels are going to have to resolve at some point.
From our point of view, the album is still an incredibly flexible thing. A lot of records these days are only 30 minutes so it’s debatable whether they even qualify but I always think, because I’m from a kind of composition background, that an album is normally about 40 minutes which is about the length of a Beethoven symphony, so for 300 years that’s been a good length of time for something. It’s also the length of a half of football or rugby, roughly, so it’s a good length for people to sit through before they get antsy about stuff. I always notice if it’s a gig, doesn’t matter who it is, after an hour I start to get restless.
Speaking of that, you’re known for your raucous live presence. Is that hard to live up to?
It’s not a choice, really. We can’t help but play the way we play. I play a lot of classical music in private but I always notice that I play it very hard and very loud and I’m still banging my head and my foot when I play. I’m just a bit of an unsubtle musician and I think that goes for all three of us, really. I think, looking at the second album, we do feel a bit of pressure, more of a personal will to change it up a bit because I think we’ve got this reputation but at the same time you can get stuck in a particular mode and when you’ve got a drummer like ours [Adam Betts], you know what will sound good and you know what the audience will love and it can be a temptation just to give them what you want. Betts himself will tell you that he doesn’t like the reputation of being this notorious and loud shredder, he wants to be able to show that he can do all sorts of other things.
Also, we’ve always had this polarising interest between rock and electronic music. I feel like the last album was very rock-heavy, actually. There was a lot of guitar, a lot of live drums and I don’t regret that at all because i think it completely nailed that side of us but going ahead, I think we want to focus on a more electronic style which means, inevitably, that Betts will be playing slightly less energetically because he’ll be concentrating more on technical and technological things that he has to do. That’s true for all of us so there’ll be slightly less guitar and it will sound more textured and detailed which will be less easy for the audience to go mental and start moshing. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
You mentioned football earlier. Do you follow a particular team?
I’m a sports fan in general. I support Ipswich Town.
I can only apologise on behalf of Roy Keane…
Ha! I thought it was awesome when he came because I think he’s a really hilarious character and Ipswich and Roy Keane was just not an appropriate match in the first place. I think the year we got relegated from the Premier League with the record lowest points total we also won ‘Ground of the Year’ and ‘Best Behaved Fans’ which is nice, because it’s a sleepy agricultural town and Roy Keane, y’know, notoriously semi-schizophrenic psychopath. My sister did get to see him once, she stood behind him in a cake shop and he was apparently very nice to his daughters, so there you go. That was the highlight of her year.
He might be a hardcore Three Trapped Tigers fan, for all we know.
Well, that would make sense in some ways.
What would you do if you saw him in the front row mid-set?
I’d probably give him a shout out, but I’ve got a bad pedigree with football shout outs. When we played in Newcastle for the first time, Bobby Robson had just died. Obviously, he was a proud Geordie but also a great Ipswich manager and I foolishly, with my plummy tones, thought that it would be a way of befriending the audience by saying I just wanted to mourn the passing of Bobby Robson. There was a Sunderland fan in the crowd who didn’t appreciate that at all and thought I was being a patronising sod, which I guess I was. He just kept heckling me for the rest of the gig and at the end, he got up on the mic while we were still onstage and went, ‘I just wanna say I think it’s a fucking disgrace the way you people from the South come up here and think you can patronise us!’. One guy tried to stop him and a fight eventually broke out which didn’t do the whole stereotyping thing any good. So there was a massive brawl all over the place and the promoter tried to claim that he’d lost our fee in the melee. That was a nice introduction to the North.
Three Trapped Tigers sometimes get labeled as ‘difficult’ or ‘inaccessible’ but surely it’s all about provoking a reaction if nothing else?
Yes, definitely. I’ve said that many times. That’s the most important thing, honestly. It sounds a bit throwaway but you have to unpack it a bit. It’s not provocative for the sake of being provocative. It’s not provocative at all, actually, I don’t think, but it’s about eliciting a reaction. It’s about communicating something to somebody else to get a response in the way that they respond. That’s why we always had numbers on the EPs. I didn’t want titles because I didn’t want it to be, ‘This song is about X, Y or Z or contains this emotion’, it’s purely for everyone else to respond to as they see fit. But then of course every journalist started asking me why we didn’t have song titles…
I deliberately left that one off the list…
Right, please! It’s been three years! But yeah, I totally agree. In terms of labels and categorisation, it’s completely none of my business how people describe it. I don’t really describe it as anything. It depends who asks me. If it’s one of my parents’ friends then you tangle yourself up in knots trying to be like, ‘Well, it’s, you know, rock music…’, but you can’t worry about it really. I don’t really look at the Internet in relation to Three Trapped Tigers so I don’t know how we’re described. I would imagine people think we’re difficult and inaccessible but I really insist that we’re not. I really think that you just have to come to the gig and experience it.
Maybe it’s not ‘accessible’ but I don’t think it’s difficult. It’s volume, it’s energy and you can always engage with the performance and the rush of emotion and the virtuosity of it all. There are always things you can admire even if you don’t like the music itself. It’s difficult to play and difficult to transcribe and learn, unless you’re a music student, but why on earth you’d want to do that in the first place I have no idea. The important thing is just to listen to it and enjoy it. It’s like what T.S. Eliot said about The Waste Land; it doesn’t matter what it means. Stop worrying about what it means and just read it and enjoy it.
We’re seeing a lot of musicians move into soundtrack work. Would Three Trapped Tigers ever be up for scoring a film?
Yeah, of course. Three Trapped Tigers is extremely soundtrack-y, I think. I’ve done a bit of TV work in my time, piano stuff and composing things or whatever. I think we’d all be into that, both as a band and separately. We’re always doing different things.
What about giving up control? Anthony Gonzalez of M83 recently spoke quite candidly of how frustrating he found working on the Oblivion soundtrack…
You’ve got to be confident enough that all you’re doing is completing the director’s vision and that’s your role. You’re secondary to it. Obviously directors like the idea of getting certain people in – and it worked so well with Trent Reznor on The Social Network – because it gives their film a cachet or whatever, but the truth is there’s people in Hollywood who are real specialists in that area and if you want to do something for a sci-fi movie like Oblivion, then they’ll probably be slightly better suited to it. It’s silly to have the guy going around complaining about how his control has been stepped on because is it a Tom Cruise movie or is it a music video for M83?
In my tiny experience of working with directors and whoever, you do get some hilarious power struggles and you get some hilarious things because often directors don’t actually know too much about music, or producers don’t. And so they’ll be saying things like, ‘We need it to happen at seven seconds and it’s currently happening at eight seconds’, but you can’t just push it back by a second because obviously it’s a bar of four and that’s two seconds, so it’s all those kind of things that they can’t exactly understand. And they always have a brief, like ‘We want it to sound like this band’, which is normally a band that’s racked up five million YouTube hits in the last month and then you do that and then it’s, ‘Oh no, no, it just sounds a bit too aggressive, a bit too indie’, and it’s like, ‘Well, you did play me an aggressive indie track…’ or you try and put your own spin on it and then it’s too original and doesn’t sound like the type of thing you’re trying to rip off. That’s the frustrating situation I’ve dealt with, but then again, normally, they’re giving you a hell of a lot of money for the amount of work you’re putting in so you’ve always got to think of that and just be like, ‘Right… suck it up.’.
Finally, given that you’ve now been trapped for several years, what’s your take on household cats and the relationships they have with their owners?
Well, I’ve got no witty riposte to that other than to say that I really love cats. I think all three of us do. I really love them. In fact, my girlfriend is always going on at me to get one but I don’t really feel like I’m ready for it as a musician travelling around… God I’d love it, though. I’d love to be a cat…
Route One or Die is available now on Blood and Biscuits Records. Three Trapped Tigers play The Village on Sunday May 5 as part of the Meteor Camden Crawl Dublin.