Wellington music stalwarts Trinity Roots are celebrating their reunion with a long-awaited third album. Lydia Jenkin reports.
Warren Maxwell is enjoying a pretty good buzz when he sits down to chat with TimeOut. He's just come off stage from performing with fellow Wellingtonians Louis Baker and Thomas Oliver in a one-off Auckland Arts Festival show called Pass The Gat - a bluesy, soulful, song-sharing experience.
The godfather of New Zealand roots music clearly had a great time, whooping and smiling as guitars are packed away. And why wouldn't he - 2015 is off to a great start.
Apart from his side projects like Pass The Gat, Trinity Roots have been playing some of their favourite festivals here and abroad, and they're just about to mark the release of their first album in 10 years with a big performance at Womad this weekend.
"We're very lucky" Maxwell nods. "And we're very excited to be playing at Womad. It's gonna sound huge."
For fans of the band, this resurgence in activity, and the release of a new album might come as a surprise. Trinity Roots have been pretty quiet since they first got back together and toured in 2010, but Maxwell always hoped they'd release a new album.
"It's all finally fallen into place. Not long after we got back together, Riki [Gooch, drummer] decided he wanted to focus on Eru Dangerspiel, and also on working as a producer - and he's a fantastic producer. So then we found a new drummer, Jean Pompey, but after about a year Jean decided to move to Australia. And that was kind of a random thing, but it was serendipitous in a way I guess, because then Ben came along."
Ben Wood (aka Ben Lemi) is someone both Maxwell, and bassist/vocalist Rio Hemopo knew through the Wellington scene - he's played with Newtown Rocksteady, Hikoikoi Reserve, Amiria Grenell, and French For Rabbits, and it turns out he was the drummer they'd been waiting for.
"Ben is phenomenal, he's just so creative, and he's really open, his musical vocabulary is huge - classical, jazz, pop, rock, everything. And he's unorthodox in how he uses that vocabulary, he's not predictable at all, so that's really refreshing for us, and for an audience I think."
It's taken them about three years to bring their new album Citizen to fruition, but that has allowed Maxwell, who has always written in a sincere, conscious manner whether on Home, Land, and Sea, or with his other band Little Bushman, to bring his observations into focus. The most recent election in particular brought new issues to the fore.
"I think the thing I was most dismayed at was the voting turnout. I mean, again? After the previous election, it was so dismal, and we were like, 'Okay, let's never let that happen again'. And then it did. So I was a bit disappointed in that percentage of New Zealand that didn't bother. At the same time, you can kind of see why."
Their latest single El Kaptain addresses those frustrations, an analogy which "reflects the arrogant, fiscal-heavy result of the last election.
"A selfish captain of a gold laden vessel for the elite ... Given ironic license by the apathetic villagers - a true tale of woe," he says in notes about the album.
It's not all political though - Haiku was inspired by a sad period of teen suicide in Wairarapa, and Maxwell thinking about his daughter and the world she's facing as a woman, while Citizen draws on the writings of the Dalai Lama.
And the musical inspirations are just as diverse - the album features some of the rockiest tracks Trinity Roots has produced, while also expanding their sound into many other genres.
"Yeah the rock side just came out. Like Haiku has that kind of Queens of the Stone Age, No One Knows, chugging chord thing, I just love how ballsy that is, so that's where that came from.
"Then there's world music influences, and there's jazz and blues. I think we're trying to break away from the idea that you have to be a 'reggae band' or a 'rock band', those parameters that box you into just being that. I hope our fans appreciate that we're trying different stuff."
They've also brought a wide array of collaborators in to add extra oomph to certain songs, including a couple of special features.
"With some songs I've always heard these other particular parts. Like with Village Man, I'd always heard a really strong female vocal for the verse. And then I heard Tami Neilson sing one of Dave Dobbyn's songs at a Silver Scroll ceremony, and wow, she just blew my mind, so we asked her.
"Ria Hall is another really strong woman who's added her touch to the opening track Bully. I love that song so much. I hope most New Zealanders, when they hear it, will get a bit of a woooooooo, a bit of a tingle."
And it seems like plenty of New Zealanders will be hearing it not just on the record but live, too. The band have 16-date tour of the country planned for May and June, and are itching to get back on the road.
"You've got to tour, you've got to go to Dargaville, to Kaitaia, to Ekatahuna, you have to go to your fans, and that's a respect thing. That's how Trinity started really, we'd jump in the van and go and play Tolaga Bay, or something, and just reach out."
Who: Warren Maxwell, lead singer of Trinity Roots
What: New album Citizen, out tomorrow
Where and when: Performing at Womad in New Plymouth this weekend and touring in May and June (dates to be be announced).