After some troubling times, Trinity Roots are heading back to where it all began. Sarah Catherall meets the band ahead of their 20th anniversary.

"It's nice to grow up," Warren Maxwell says, reflecting on 20 years of Trinity Roots and his own life journey.

In 1998, Maxwell was a 28-year-old musician living off noodles and jamming long into the night when he got together with two "bros" he had met at Wellington Jazz School: Riki Gooch, a drummer, and Rio Hunuki-Hemopo, a bass guitarist.

With Maxwell on lead vocals, keyboard and guitar, the trio began penning lyrics, formed Trinity Roots, and released their first EP in 2000, selling 3000 copies.


However, it was the band's debut 2001 album, True, that truly launched them on to New Zealand's music scene.

As a musical nod to its roots, Trinity Roots are performing the entire True album for its 20th birthday tour. The album was re-released this year as a sell-out vinyl.

"Musically we were exploring our collective jazz, roots and blues influences and also weaving in some New Zealand flavours. But we were also discovering our own individual traits, dynamics and personalities, of which were all imprinted into that record."

True was supposed to be recorded over three weeks in a Central Hawke's Bay farmhouse on borrowed gear. Instead, it took a long two years for True to be released.

It was recorded at three different locations over nine months, including at Maxwell's family home in Port Waikato.

Maxwell, the album's producer, says: "I wasn't happy with the way it was sounding. As a band, we were disconnected. You could hear that in the music.''

Sitting in a sunny courtyard at Wellington's Massey University campus, where he is a music lecturer, Maxwell says the musicians were still "finding themselves".

Their material was reflective of that time and that culture. They penned lyrics about suicide.


"Friends of ours were in dark places. There was a lot about depression, but it wasn't as open as it is now. At the time, within the group we had our ups and downs with mental health. So our music was reflective of that."

As a composer, he set out to touch people with his music. He wrote lyrics about politics and love, about egos, and capitalism.

One of Maxwell's favourite songs from True is Sense and Cents. "The title says a lot. I wrote it while I was a student. Being broke can be quite challenging for a young person.

The band finally finished True in Wellington with the assistance of producer Lee Prebble.

Again, it was fitting that True wrapped up in the capital city, as Trinity Roots was very much part of a music culture born in 1990s Wellington. Blending soul, blues, jazz, reggae and roots enriched with heartfelt lyrics, Trinity Roots' musical fusion was also being expressed by new bands forming at the same time such as Fat Freddy's Drop, Black Seeds and the Phoenix Foundation.

The music scene was incredibly alive back then, Maxwell says. "You'd get DJs like Mu (from Fat Freddy's Drop) at the Matterhorn, and you'd get live musicians turning up and jamming and improvising. That hadn't really happened before.''

Since then, Trinity Roots has released two more studio albums and a live album. However, the band's history has not all been musical high notes. Trinity Roots had a five-year hiatus from 2005 to 2010.

They reformed, but in 2012, the company went into liquidation over an unpaid tax bill and penalties they attributed to a former management bungle.

Reflects Maxwell: "It was a damaging time but we got through it. All our fans and our families knew it wasn't intentional. It's a clichéd story but most artists have had a tangle with the tax department either through ignorance or ill-intent.''

After Gooch left to pursue his own music interests, Trinity Roots had three different drummers over the years, with the latest, Ben Lemi, now on the drum kit.

In 2015, Trinity Roots released their latest album, Citizen, the first in 11 years, which added more of a psychedelic sound to True's blueprint.

"We all contribute to the music. This goes back to that it's nice to grow up. In the early days, we struggled with communicating. Boys are terrible with that. Now we can discuss things and keep an open mind about each other's contributions. It doesn't become an ego fight."

The commemorative tour will particularly appeal to those who want to experience Trinity Roots in a live experience, like listening to vinyl in a theatre rather than a living room.

Produced by Loop, the trio will be accompanied by Jonathan Crayford (piano), Lisa Tomlins and Stephanie Paris (vocals), Mark Vanilau (piano/synths), David Long (multi-instrumentalist) and an accompanying string section to bring the classic album to life.

"It will all be about the subtleties and the nuances of the album. One thing I love about Trinity is our use of dynamics. We can go right down to a pin drop where the audience is too scared to breath or we can go up to a huge wall of sound which is deafening. I love that. You take your audience with you.''

Twenty years is also long enough to reflect Maxwell's own growth. Over those years, he has carved out a successful career as a musician, composer and lecturer, and is also known for his role as frontman for the psychedelic blues band Little Bushman.

"I hope that my own journey never gets stagnant, and it's constantly meandering," he says.

"I don't want to ever get stale, either in music or in life."

• Trinity Roots perform True in Auckland on November 10 and 11. For tickets, visit