Briggs: “There’s always challenges but once you learn and fail and fall down, you realise that failure is not the end and you get back up”

Original Photo: Tristan Edouard. Handmade collage by B.

Proud Yorta-Yorta man and creator Briggs does many, many things, he’s a comedy writer, best-selling children’s book author, actor and rapper. Latest project EP Always Was sees Briggs back in his wheelhouse and home, making music. He’s stepped out of the safety net of simply writing rhyme though, and taken a leap forward bringing us six joints, each unique, each representing different aspects of his personality, each speaking to the possibilities of where he’s on his way to with upcoming full-length Briggs For PM. Gimmie caught up with Briggs for a dose of inspiration and an insight into his process and passion.

You’re a writer in many capacities – lyrics, scripts, a book – when did your love of words and writing first develop?

BRIGGS: The first thing was the love of entertainment, that’s where it all started for me because I was such a consumer of TV, comedy and music. I didn’t really put it all together until much later and realised that people have to actually write these jokes [laughs].

What is it that you love about the process of creating?

B: It’s a hard thing to wrap up succinctly. I’ve always just liked making things, ever since I was a kid, making stuff was always where I was happiest. Even later on in life, over the lockdown period, I was just making food with my mates. I just like creating and making stuff in general. Like with this EP, I made it and now I’m off making something else.

It’s a pretty cool feeling getting lost in the moment when you’re creating.

B: Yeah, it is.

When did you find the calling for hip-hop?

B: Hip-hop was always the music I had the most affinity for, it was something I was drawn to since I was a kid. It was just the coolest thing there was! [laughs]. It was the simple for me. As a young man I was drawn to the absurdity and audaciousness. Everything I was drawn to was audacious and the absurd. I loved professional wrestling, heavy metal and rap music and action movies; they were the things I enjoyed most. Everything was always over the top! I think Gangster Rap really gave me that fix.

You used to have a punk band in high school before you started rapping, right?

B: Yeah, I had a punk band in the sense that I was a kid that tried to play guitar [laughs]. I think that’s every kid from the country’s right of passage at some point, playing guitar. It really was, I just wanted to be involved in music somehow, whether it was going to be radio, behind the decks, or creating—I just wanted to be involved. There wasn’t a lot of opportunities to make rap music in Shepparton where I grew up for a long time, until I was like, nah, I can do this! I’ll do this! [laughs].

You created your own opportunity!

B: Yeah! You had to.

I’ve heard that setting goals and goal accomplishment is a really big thing for you; when did you first realise the power of setting goals and following through in your life?

B: It was probably around the time of my first EP, the Homemade Bombs EP. I realised that I was essentially starting my own business, I was like, OK, I’m going to get 1,000 CDs made and I’m going to sell 1,000; I’m going to do a video clip; I’m going to do all of these things. They were all really simple things. I started ticking off each one. I wanted to tour nationally, I wanted to sell 1,000 of my CDs, and I wanted to do a video clip. Eventually I did all of those things over the course of a year of having that EP put by myself. There were boxes of CDs and I was with my mates, when we were just able to have fun and could weather the storm and sleep on the floors and do all the hard things, I’m too soft now! [laughs].

I know the feeling of staring out and doing things for yourself, I came from both the punk and hip-hop communities. It’s all very do-it-yourself.

B: They’re very similar, super similar. The difference between punk rock, hardcore and hip-hop is just the jackets! [laughs]. Everyone had buzz cuts but just different jackets on. It’s still the same, at the core of all of the good stuff, the communities of punk rock, hip hop, hardcore, metal, they’re all parallel. I was lucky because I enjoyed all of the music, I was a big fan of all of it. They’re more in tune than they’re not, I don’t think a lot of people realise that.

Geometric patterns designed by Reko Rennie.

Same! I wanted to ask you about your philosophy of: good work is hard work; what do you mean by that?

B: It’s a mantra that I kind of spit to myself when things are tough or things are harder than normal. When you go to take the high road on some things, the high road is always the hardest road to take. Good work is hard work reminds me that you’re doing the right thing, that it’s tough now but it pays off. It works in a lot of different facets in my life, be it in the gym doing work and exercising, trying to be healthy—going the extra mile for yourself so it doesn’t suck so hard tomorrow! [laughs].

Previously you’ve mentioned self-esteem and how that’s a big issue you like to address; why is that important to you?

B: I think maybe because I don’t really remember feeling super confident as a kid. I was very performative – I was the class clown – but I was never very confident. There’s a difference there that people need to identify. You might have teachers identify how to better interact with their students; really anyone that interacts with a young person. Performative acts, being loud and boisterous, doesn’t always equal confidence, they might need a hand here or there or something. Self-esteem and tying it back to the Indigenous community because that’s where I grew up, it was extra hard to be yourself in what it felt like, a world that didn’t understand you or want you in it. Ya’know what I mean?

Yes, I really do. As an Indigenous kid, a Bla(c)k kid, growing up I didn’t think there was much different about me until I went to school and other kids, white kids, pointed out I was different. I’d get called all kinds of names.

B: It’s like, everything’s good until it’s not, right?! [laughs]. You don’t realise you’re different until people start telling you you’re different. It’s quantum physics, you change the outcome by measuring it [laughs].

What’s helped you with your confidence?

B: it’s a weird analogy but, I just got a puppy the other day. She’s great, she’s fantastic and she plays really well with me and anyone that comes around, but she was a little bit fearful in the beginning with other people and other dogs. I got her a treat ball, you keep her food in and she pushes it around and gets food out of it. When I first got it she was terrified of it, she stood there and barked at it and didn’t want to go near it. I rolled it near her, she didn’t know there were treats inside, until she did and then she went to work! She now breaks this thing open, even when it’s not meant to be broken open. When she figured out she was a problem solver, it changed her personality. She was suddenly interacting with other dogs much more openly. I feel like that was part of the thing for me, once I figured out that I could get over it and own a stage or speak my mind somewhere on stage and have a microphone and talk about my point of view, it was much easy to interact with people on a daily basis. Do you get what I mean?

Yes, I do. What’s your puppy’s name?

B: Carmella!

That’s a lovely name. I do get what you mean though, I started making my own zines, independent publications when I was 15, and once you start doing that and using your voice and you know that you can, you just keep going! I did a zine workshop once and a young boy said he didn’t know what to write and I told him he could write anything he wanted to. He replied “What I have to say doesn’t matter” and I told him it did matter; he said no one had ever told him that before and then he started writing.

B: Yeah! Once you get over that first hump, that first moment and you break the ice on it… there’s always challenges but once you learn and fail and fall down, you realise that failure is not the end and you get back up.

Your new EP is called Always Was and the image on the cover is a photo of the tattoo on your hand that says “Always Was” and I know the slogan “Always was, always will be Aboriginal land”; what does the EP title mean to you?

B: I didn’t want to call it Always Was, Always Will Be because it was only an EP [laughs]. I wanted people to understand that this wasn’t the whole story. “Always was, always will be” the slogan itself to me, was one of the very first things that I remember as a kid with protests and being present as Aboriginal People. Bringing it back to my music felt right. I didn’t want to do the whole thing because I wasn’t done yet! I thought it was a good title because it says there’s more to come because it’s only half the slogan. “Always was, always will be” is about longevity. It’s not just a thing to ring off—it is about longevity, it is about strength.

Absolutely! I feel like also with you putting out new music is that you’re back to the fundamentals of Briggs, the core of what you do.

B: Yeah, ‘cause I do a lot of different things. It’s good to be back in the house that I built, making tunes with my friends and doing the stuff that I love.

What’s your favourite lyric you’ve written on the EP?

B: [Pauses and thinks] There’s a few: nervous people make me nervous [laughs]. I like stuff like that.

Do you have a process for writing?

B: I just write to the beat that I get, especially lately, I’m trying to write more songs than just write raps. It’s mostly just write off the beat.

I’ve heard you mention that each song on the EP represents a different aspect of your personality…

B: Yeah! I should have done seven and you could have had them all! [laughs].

What’s the aspect we don’t have?

B: I don’t know, maybe gluttony isn’t on there [laughs]. You got wrath, that’s “Go To War”.

What about the song “Good Morning”?

B: That one might be pride [laughs].

I really love the lyrics of that one: When the sunshine says good morning / Good morning, I say what’s up.

B: That song is about not going to sleep. It’s like “good morning” because I haven’t been to bed. Everything I do is very tongue-in-cheek, more often than not.

I got something totally different from that song. I was thinking it’s more a positive, I’m waking up what can I do today.

B: Well that’s the beauty of music, people can interpret it any way they need it. Whatever that song means to you or whatever you take away from it it’s great! I read this thing about art: once it’s out there, it’s yours!

Yeah, it takes on a life of its own and it keeps evolving beyond the people who created it.

B: Yeah, for sure!

Recently, you were talking about the combination of singing and rapping on your joints and you said something of how it’s light and dark, yin and yang, it’s the balance and that you feel the universe is built on balance; how do you keep the balance in your life?

B: As much possible! That’s all I got [laughs]. That’s all I know.

Do you take time out to reset or do anything like meditation?

B: The closest thing I get to meditation is going to the gym. Anytime I put my phone down and I’m not working, that’s the closet thing I’ve got to meditation. I used to go to the theatre a lot and see movies. I’m terrible with that.

Last question,  you’ve supported Ice Cube on his Australian tour, I know hearing his song “Today Was A Good Day” as a youth was a big deal for you; did you learn anything from spending time with him?

B: I’ve learnt things from spending time with all of my heroes. You watch how they work and it’s all about focusing on caring about the art and longevity, whether it’s with Ice Cube or Ice-T, RZA or Matt  Groening.

Please check out BRIGGS. Briggs on Facebook. Briggs on Instagram. Always Was EP out via Island Records/Bad Apples Music.

Singer-Songwriter Alice Skye: “It’s nice when you see people from your community doing things, it makes you feel like we’ll be ok, even if things or the government aren’t looking after us…”

Photo courtesy of Bad Apples Music. Handmade collage by B.

Australian-based Wergaia/Wemba Wemba woman Alice Skye crafts beautiful, hopeful and shimmery, introspectively themed yet relatable pop songs. She wears her heart on her sleeve as she explores identity, family and personal growth, reflective in latest singles ‘I Feel Better But I Don’t Feel Good’ and ‘Grand Ideas’ taken from her forthcoming album. Gimmie spoke to Alice about ‘Grand Ideas’ just before it dropped, she also gave us a little insight on what’s to come.

How’s your day been?

ALICE SKYE: Pretty nice, it’s really good weather where I am. This morning I’ve just been doing some songwriting sessions with a couple of young people, which is not something that I usually do. It’s been a pretty good day, a productive one! What about you?

I’ve been doing other interviews. I spend most of my days listening to new music and researching.

AS: It sounds pretty good.

I wanted to start by asking you; why is music important to you?

AS: I feel like I should know the answer straight away to this… as a kid it was a way that I figured out you can express feelings through it, that’s why I find it soooo important. I guess sometimes it’s hard to do that communicating… or it helps you identity a feeling you’re having by listening to a song like, aww yeah, I feel those things! Also, it can be the opposite thing and be an escape and you can listen to something that takes you out of your mind or you can listen to something that puts you in your mind, which are two great things to be able to do just by listening to something.

Totally. I understand that a little while back you were going through a phase of listening to ‘90s music from No Doubt, The Breeders, Garbage…

AS: Aww yeah. I always return there every so often, seasonally. Being in isolation and spending a lot more time on my computer, I’ve just been going down rabbit holes like that again and listening to heaps of early Silverchair. I love that time in music, I think a lot of people do, especially because I was born in the mid-90s, it was in my sphere.

I grew up listening to that stuff as well.

AS: Yeah, pretty formative years.

What is it that you love most about singing?

AS: It’s a weird thing. I have a pretty up and down relationship with it. Sometimes I love it and sometimes I don’t want to do it, it’s like anything I guess. I feel most happy when it’s using it as a cathartic thing… I’m not really a thrill seeker or anything but, singing gives me that release I guess people get from other things, that’s why I love it.

You’re set to release new single ‘Grand Ideas’. What I’ve got from it is that thematically it’s an escape from one’s self and the ideas we build to break from our thoughts within; what led you to this idea?

AS: It’s really nice when a song comes together all at once, it was one of those moments where the lyrics and the chorus: everything I have is too heavy to hold / everything I do feels out of my control… it was like, saying that and feeling that. Feeling really overwhelmed by things and ideas, hopes, different things we carry with us a lot from childhood or now, pressures you put on yourself. I was feeling a bit crazy and I just wanted to write about it. I feel lucky I can use that to get through those feelings.

You’ve said that songs from your last album Friends With Feelings was you trying to work out your identity; what’s your forthcoming album about?

AS: I’m hoping that it will show growth since I wrote my first one, maybe a bit more of an idea of who I am and what I want to say. I think a lot about identify still, it’s just something that I’m going to gradually get to know more and that’s constantly changing, there’s still themes of that in the next album. More of an up-to-date version of it because they’re more recent and feel more relevant to me. There’s a lot of different things on there but all from the same year. They feel like they belong together.

In relation to your identity; what are the things that you’re dealing with?

AS: There’s themes of that in ‘Grand Ideas’ because I wrote it when I was on my way home from seeing a new therapist and like… I’m going to work on myself and do the things that people do, and then people can put labels or give those diagnoses and things that you’re not too sure if it fits you. Learning more things about yourself and having other people pitch in on that and trying to grapple with that and like; how do I see myself as compared to how other people see myself. Sorry that’s such a strange answer.

Nah. I see a therapist myself… I think a lot of people do. I think it’s good to talk about these things and normalise them a bit more. Getting help is a good thing!

AS: Yeah, absolutely. It feels weird to talk about it but its fine, honestly it’s great! A lot of my friends and I talk about it. I wrote that song around that time because I’d just seen one of those therapists that you don’t necessarily get along with too well and you think, actually that’s not me… also, though trying to take in some of the advice.

I know that for me finding my identity – my family is Indigenous as well and I’m mixed-race – I’m dealing with sometimes not being black enough for the black kids or white enough for the white kids, you’re in that weird in between place…

AS: Yeah, totally! For First Nations People in this country, and the world, it’s hard enough figuring out who you are as a person but also having an identity where people publicly question, whether in the news or politicians or whatever, that’s a whole other thing to navigate that can be really hard and really confusing. In my first album I was really beginning to understand that and talking about it more, now I feel a lot more confident in who I am as an Indigenous Person. It’s hard when people are discussing it that don’t even know you.

Absolutely! Was there anything that helped you develop that confidence?

AS: Talking about it. Having songs out there and having to talk about the songs got me to do that more. Growing up in a small predominately white town, it wasn’t something that I talked  about outside of my family really because I felt I couldn’t or I didn’t have ownership over that. It’s really different now that I’m having conversations about it a lot more. The more you say it the more you feel it and now it’s not such a big unknown in my life, I guess.

Is there a core theme to the new album?

AS: I don’t know. I feel like it’s something that I sometimes wish I had going into recording but I really just write from what’s happening at the time. It’s the last year and a half for me and what’s been going on. There’s a lot of different things in there.

Were there any particular moods or emotions you were writing from?

AS: Lots! Sometimes frustration, sometimes sadness, but sometimes comfort and content as well. Even at the moment with everything going on with Covid-19, I think I’ve been feeling better and worse at the same time about not being able to do things… feelings like that—things being better but worse! [laughs].

Previously you’ve commented that with writing this album you’ve been thinking about music differently; in what ways?

AS: I recorded this one with my band that I’ve been touring with for the last four or five years. I didn’t do the first one with them, I did that alone. It was a different approach to the recording having people with me and being able to bounce ideas off each other… also, I think because how I naturally approach songwriting, it’s usually quite stripped back and sparse and moody, it was fun to play with different options; to play with different elements of different genres rather than sticking to just one.

Nice! Do you write most of your music on guitar or piano?

AS: Mostly on piano. I play with a guitarist and a drummer so sometimes they’ll help me in how to figure something out if I don’t play that instrument.

Is there a song on the new album that has a special significance for you?

AS: Quite a lot of them [laughs]. There are quite a few about my family and relationships with family. Those songs are quite important to me because family are great and also a tricky thing. It’s nice to be able to write through those things. There’s a few songs on there about my family, I wrote them down in the Grampians where I am now. Those ones feel quite special, the ones that were written at home.

That’s where you grew up?

AS: Yeah, yeah.

You’ve won so many awards already including, the Emerging Artist Award at the 2019 Australian Women in Music Awards and the inaugural First Peoples Emerging Artist Award; what award has meant the most to you?

AS: It always feels nice to get the support and recognition from different people and different things whatever it is. A few years ago, the International Women’s Day Award got me a lot of opportunities, with Bakehouse Studios in Melbourne and that’s still a relationship that I have now, it essentially introduced me to the label that I’m on now. A lot of things came from that, I feel really grateful to have kept that relationship.

It’s awesome that you’re on the Bad Apples Music label now!

AS: Yep, I feel very well looked after!

What do you like to do outside of music?

AS: At the moment, because I haven’t been travelling around much, which has been kind of nice, I’ve just been indulging in that extra spare time. Trying to pick up things I used to do, making some clothes and printmaking at my mum’s place; not super successfully but it feels nice to tap into old hobbies again.

The art for your album was done by artist Aretha Brown; how did you feel when you first saw the large piece she did for you?

AS: Aww so special! I was so grateful that she said “yes” when I asked. She took a lot of care to ask me what I hoped for it. I love it! I can’t wait to release the next portion of it. The one that’s out so far is a quarter of it… there’s a whole other image around it. I can’t wait for the whole thing to be out, it’s beautiful!

You’re releasing a bit at a time with each single, right?

AS: Yeah. She’s so talented. Very grateful.

[The title of the first single ‘I Feel Better But I Don’t Feel Good’] That’s probably the main theme [of the album] really.

When you’re not feeling so great is there anything that you do to lift your mood?

AS: Yeah, different things work for different days. I love… it’s probably terrible, I wish I was someone that meditated but I don’t, I just throw myself into being distracted, that’s either playing music or watching shitty TV or doing something outside—sometimes good, sometimes not so good.

What’s something you’ve seen lately that’s been really beautiful?

AS: A lot of my friends have really shown up and done amazing things during this time. I have friends that have a restaurant in Melbourne and they’ve been doing meals for free for people that need it or making boxes of groceries and donating them to people and delivering them to those that can’t get out or can’t work. It’s nice when you see people from your community doing things, it makes you feel like we’ll be ok, even if things or the government aren’t looking after us. We have good community around us!

Please check out: ALICE SKYE. AS on Instagram. Alice’s new album will be out on Bad Apples Music for more info go here.