Chatting with Briggs and Trials is a hoot from soup to nuts. These two musicians are the best of buds and love to josh (including at myself), and it’s as energetic as the spirit behind the messages their extraordinary debut Reclaim Australia is pushing.
In the G-funk jam The Feast (featuring Compton rapper King T), little jokes and mouth-made sound effects are littered around a la classic Eminem, while during Firing Squad’s verse about how you’ll end up eating with the rats if you hit the pipe in Bali, the background interjections include “What’s up Luigi?” and a smooth, sarcastic “YUM.”
“Really early on, we wanted to capture what we were doing in the studio,” Trials says. “A lot of people can overcook a song or make it too professional; we wanted to capture the energy. Even though we’re talking about some real dark sh-t at times, we wanted to capture the… jovial bullsh-t that is me and Briggs just hanging out with each other. Some of the themes are so difficult for people to digest on first listen; it was important for us to make them feel like they’re in the studio with us and they’re sharing the joke, they’re sharing the experience. So all those bits weren’t planned. It was more of a, ‘That’s f-cking hilarious’. Even the album title’s like – ‘That’s f-cking hilarious. Let’s do that.’”
It turns out they didn’t ruminate long on that title. How many times did they bat it back and forth? “Once,” Trials confirms. “Once. Briggs said it, and I said ‘Let’s do it.’” And it’s inspired: they’ve repossessed a phrase which is actually far more meaningful to Australia’s original people than it could ever be to the racist, right-wing agenda with which it’s recently become aligned.
The themes are difficult, but that’s the point: A.B. Original’s music doesn’t pussy-foot anywhere. It’s proud, unafraid, combative, but also inclusive. Amongst the most West Coast-inspired (see: the tinkling Still Dre piano chords on Dead In A Minute) but very original (see: Take Me Home, featuring deep brass, flourishes of flamenco guitar and a driving march of a beat) ideas, the guys rap about their experiences as Indigenous men in a modern Australia – but they’re looking back, too. On Call ‘Em Out there are samples a few decades old of WA minister Lang Hancock speaking about “the Aboriginal problem”; at first you think he’s referring to issues facing Indigenous people and how the government can effectively address them, but then it becomes clear this is the horrifying, old school blame game.
“I put those [samples] in there really early on – they were in there before we wrote the song,” Trials says. “I felt like bringing attention to that kind of stuff is really important for people who don’t realise how bad it was – how bad it is. That was a normal thing for people to discuss back then. Sterilising and basically genociding a population for f-cking kicks?” Briggs adds: “Not even ‘Let’s discuss this new problem that’s creeping up around the corner’ – it was ‘Let’s discuss this thing that we all f-cking hate, right?’ Woah. No. Funnily enough, some of us are the Aboriginals who are watching television right now. It was important for us to have that up front really, really early on in the record, so people knew the theme and tone. It doesn’t matter where you are; this systemic racism is something that permeates a lot of cultures. So even though we’re on the other side of the map, it’s the same story. That sort of attitude doesn’t leave, either. Hancock was a big player in the mining industry obviously, and he’s not a one-off. That’s the culture.”
During the ‘80s when Hancock made these comments, Aboriginal Australians were marching for their rights; it had been less than a decade in some places since Aboriginal children were still being taken from their families, and it wasn’t until 1983 that the High Court of Australia made an attempt to define ‘Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander’ for the purposes of legal recognition – which then initiated a handbasket of its own cruel problems. One of the Aboriginal Australians who joined that fight was musician Archie Roach, who speaks across the opening track of the album, Intro: “It gives me goosebumps… you had to be in their face,” Roach says.
“It’s a trip,” says Trials of Archie’s words. “To us, it’s like you’re travelling and thinking you’re lost, and then seeing the roadside that says you’re half-way there. That’s the dude that opened up a lot of these doors in contemporary Australian music, to be able to include black stories. He was amongst it. To hear him says it reminds him of the old days? We want to capture the passion we had for the music, and that’s what we felt we were doing, and that’s what we were aiming for.”
“I think as soon as Archie gave us the nod, it was like okay, regardless of the genre he could feel the energy in what we were trying to do – the same things that we felt from his records,” says Briggs. “And also,” Trials adds, ”If we get a bad review, we can say ‘F-ck you – Archie likes it.’”
The last song on the album, Take Me Home, features the familiarly haunting vocals of another enormously influential Aboriginal musician: Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu. “We didn’t even mean to have it as bookends,” Trials says. “It grew so naturally. It literally was an accident that we started with Archie and ended with Gurrumul; it just works so poetically to have two absolute dead-set kings to start and finish our message.”
That message of reclamation and comradeship comes in an extended metaphor across the album; there are several references to gorillas, most notably on stand-out Report To The Mist. Aside from the incredible flow of the track’s rap – the complexity of its constantly changing accents is formidable, as well as its killer rhymes: “The blacker the berry the bigger the charge/ The whiter the lies the deeper the façade/ The whiter the crime the looser the cuffs/ The blacker the skin? That noose is for us” – it contains the repeated rally-cry of “Roll call: report for duty, gorillas.”
“They’re smart animals – I think they’re pretty f-cking cool,” says Briggs. Trials continues: “We’re obviously well aware of the racial undertones that go along with the wonderful gorillas. I think that was a big thing for us – to use a lot of those slurs that we’ve heard against us growing up, and say ‘F-ck that, that’s ours.’”
“And, Harambe,” says Briggs, semi-solemnly. “That’s obviously an extra level… R.I.P.”