Trinity Roots: Three back in tune for Leigh

By Mike Dinsdale

Easter weekend will see New Zealand music heavyweights Trinity Roots return for gigs at their spiritual home in Leigh Sawmill.

And for frontman Warren Maxwell, it will be a chance to return home to Whangarei to catch up with family and friends, while spreading the Trinity Roots gospel of producing the best psych-rock reggae dub and soul sound around.

The Sawmill - on the coast about halfway between Whangarei and Auckland - is one of the country's best-known venues, despite being well off the beaten track, and the house is expected to be packed for the gigs on Good Friday and Saturday.

"The Sawmill is one of my favourite venues on the whole planet," says Maxwell. "I love everything about it. It's a holistic thing, the people are great, the food is phenomenal, it's a very therapeutic place to play and the audience really know their stuff.

"It's so out of the way that the audience has to really want to come and see you; they've got to make a bit of a trek and that makes it all the better. We always have a really good time playing there with that fantastic audience.

And I'm bringing the kids up so we can have a bit of a family holiday as well."

He says the long weekend means he can relax a bit, too.

"When you are touring, it's not always conducive to having a really good time or checking the place out," he says. "You can say 'I've been to Paris and London', but the reality is that you are there for one or two days and you are rehearsing and playing and it's too expensive to see or do too much."

Trinity Roots reformed in 2010 after being one of the country's most successful and influential roots music bands, but founding member Riki Gooch departed again and the current line-up is Maxwell (Fat Freddy's Drop, Little Bushman), Rio Hunuki-Hemopo (Breaks Co-op, Fat Freddy's Drop), and recent addition and honorary "little sister", Jean Pompey, on drums.

Maxwell promises that the "new" member adds a different dimension to the band that enhances their set.

Their reunion came as a surprise to most, but Maxwell says it seemed right after a promoter asked him to reform the band for some summer shows. A couple of phone calls and a few weeks later, they were rehearsing as if they'd never been apart.

Maxwell says Trinity Roots are greater than the sum of their parts, making it easy to get back into the swing of things.

But it's not just Trinity Roots that's been occupying his mind and time. Like most artists, Maxwell has several things on the go at once and he's also on Maori TV in the acclaimed new documentary series, Songs From The Inside.

In the show, Maxwell and fellow New Zealand musicians Anika Moa, Maisey Rika and Ruia Aperahama go inside two Wellington prisons to teach songwriting to inmates.

Last month, the musicians were acknowledged for their contribution to the series in a motion to Parliament by Labour List MP Charles Chauvel.

The motion says the House "congratulates New Zealand musicians Anika Moa, Warren Maxwell, Maisey Rika and Ruia Aperahama for teaching songwriting at Rimutaka and Arohanta Prisons, on the step-by-step music programme developed by Evan Rhys Davies".

Maxwell says the show has been his opportunity to give something back to the community.

"Musicians can be quite an insular bunch; just hiding away writing songs and making music and practising the guitar," he says. "Even in a band, it's your band and you are tight-knit and it's you against everybody else.

"But I always thought of music as a therapy, just seeing how music can make people feel so happy. So when the producer rang me up, I couldn't wait to be involved and jumped at the idea."

There's something similar going in Britain - Jail Guitar Doors is an independent initiative which aims to provide instruments to help rehabilitate prison inmates using music.

Founded by British singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, it takes its name from the B-side of the Clash's 1978 single, Clash City Rockers.

Maxwell says his own experience helping inmates moved him to tears at times.

"You could feel the sincerity of the inmate coming through, they genuinely didn't want to be in there and wanted to do what they could so that they didn't have to go back.

"There are some amazing people inside and we have had nothing but good feedback about the programme.

"I was expecting some negative stuff, and at least maybe some concerns from victims' groups, but people have realised that these inmates are going to be released back into society at some stage. And if we can arm them with some skills and tools to help them integrate back, then all the better so that they don't go back to their old ways."

He says one of the prisoners featured in the programme has been released in Masterton and is finding it difficult to stay on the right path, but has said that what he learned from the four musicians is helping him.

"I remember talking to a couple of the guys inside and they were really scared to go back outside because inside it was 'easy' for them. They had food and a roof over their head and a bed to sleep in, but they really wanted to learn new skills to help them.

"And those guys are like us - they might be hard people, but they miss their kids and their families like heck when they are inside ...

"There are a myriad reasons why people end up inside and any community is only as strong as its weakest link, so we have to make those people stronger and this is one way."

Next up for Maxwell is setting up a group reminiscent of Crosby, Stills and Nash.

"I'm getting some awesome vocal harmonies down. There's just something in the harmonies of a group of people that is really powerful."

And vocal harmonies are fashionable again, thanks largely to American band Fleet Foxes, so Maxwell thinks people will want to listen to what he's working on. "Believe me, it's going to be really good."

- Hamilton News

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