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Briggs: “Whatever Boxes People Put Me In, I Don’t Feel Bound By That”

When Briggs announced that he does things “Extra Extra” on the song of the same name back in May, he was unequivocally telling the truth. In case you’ve somehow had your blinders on the last couple of years, here’s the man’s highlight reel. An instant-classic LP with A.B. Original. Starring roles on two ABC shows and a writing gig for a show created by his hero, The Simpsons‘ creator Matt Groening. A children’s book. Collaborations with Paul Kelly, DZ Deathrays and Tim Minchin. Shows with Midnight Oil, Body Count and the Hilltop Hoods. Dozens and dozens of tours and festivals promptly rocked across the country. Take a deep breath if you need to, then read that again.

You’d think, then, what with Everything Going On Right Now, our man would be indulging in a bit of much-needed rest and relaxation. Au contraire, dear reader. By the time you’re reading this, Briggs’ second EP Always Was will be out in the world. It features the aforementioned ‘Extra Extra’, as well as a staunch new collaboration with old friend Thelma Plum in ‘Go to War’. After that, there’s a third studio album – tentatively titled Briggs For PM – to look forward to as well. If there’s no rest for the wicked, Briggs may be the single most wicked man in Australian music.

In what now truly seems like an impossible feat, Music Feeds was able to track down the man of the hour for 15 minutes of his time to keep track of all his wheelings and dealings in the year of our Lord, 2020.

Music Feeds: Always Was is an EP, which is a format not many people tend to really associate with hip-hop. It tends to be about either putting out mixtapes or bigging up the idea of putting out an album – which is still a very revered concept. For you, was it a matter of having a batch of songs that made sense together? Do you see it more as like a stop-over release?

Briggs: I’m still working on an album, but it had been so long in the studio that we’d done so much work. We knew there was stuff there, where the tracks weren’t gonna fit on an album. The way that I approach everything that I do is like start to finish. Everything has a place, I’m not just stacking stuff on top of one another and calling it done. When I do an album, it’s no different. Given everything I was doing in the moment, I was like, “I don’t have the space to put out an album right now. Let’s just do a really cool EP.” It’s six songs jammed together, but they still make sense as a group. It’s a good precursor for what’s to come, I think. So that’s where we’re at.

MF: You mention everything that you’re doing in the moment, and truly you could have said that at any point over the last few years and had it remain true. What’s your time management like? How does songwriting factor into your ever-rotating schedule?

B: For me, it’s a really difficult job. My life’s too sporadic to plan. My various management and agents have tried to put my schedules together, and they’ve done the best they could. Really, to me, I’m happiest when I’m making things. That’s happiness. Whether it’s books, TV… even food. [laughs] Music is something I’ve always done, obviously. I know it like the back of my hand. It was really good to get back to… [dog noises in the background] Go on! Yeah, go on!

MF: Is that a dog?

B: Yeah, I got a puppy as well. I didn’t have enough to do, so why not? [laughs]

MF: Everything that you do requires a very different set of principles and different perspectives. How do you switch between those mindsets? One can’t imagine you can write something like ‘Bad Apples’ the same way that you would write a children’s book, which are both separate to writing comedy.

B: It takes a few goes to tap back into each discipline. There are rules to adhere to for all of them. Once you’re in there, you do as much work as you can – y’know what I mean? Say, for instance, I know that I’ve got a week booked in at the studio coming up. I gotta start thinking about that. It takes a bit of a wind-up in order to access different parts of the brain, but once you do? You’re good. I’m good.

MF: By that same token, one of the, kind of, interesting things about the music that you’re putting out under your own name is that there are these multiplicities present. A lot of people will inherently associate you with very forthright political music. There’s plenty to back that up, but there’s also plenty of songs that reflect on your sense of humour and stuff that’s quite light-hearted as well. How do you go about striking that balance?

B: It’s the fucking dichotomy of man, isn’t it? [laughs] You can see it in my work. I am multi-disciplinary by nature. I don’t feel bound to any singular sense of narrative. Whatever boxes people put me in, I don’t feel bound by that. I guess at a point, when I’m making my art, I’m very selfish with that part of it. I’m making what I want to make. You’re not going to dictate to me what this is going to be. “But you’re Briggs! You have to do political songs!” Like, if you know anything about me, you know what I’m capable of. I can write TV shows, I can write books, I can write comedy. I can do all sorts of things, so don’t be surprised that the music I’m making isn’t all one-note.

MF: You look at something like ‘HouseFyre’, and that’s like the perfect kind of bridging of those gaps – being able to write something with a kind of political purpose behind it, but also managing to be quite funny as well.

B: Yeah, yeah. I think the thing is, as well, is that I look at the way my heroes operate. Look at someone like Ice Cube – a decade after doing Straight Outta Compton, he’s doing ‘You Can Do It, Put Your Back Into It.’ [laughs] They’re the dudes I take my cues from. I don’t take them from anyone else.

MF: On the note of ‘HouseFyre’, you worked with Tim Minchin on that track. You’ve always been a keen collaborator – you’re basically friends with everyone in Australian music, from Camp Cope to Dune Rats, and you frequently work with people like Thelma Plum and Caiti Baker. To you, what makes collaborations work? What are the kind of things you look out for in someone to work with?

B: For me, it’s about like, being on the same page morally. It’s important. If we can’t be mates, there’s no point in us working together. The collaborative thing for me is always like, “wouldn’t that be interesting?” Or perhaps it’s more like, “I like this person, I like what they’re about.” It’s also about both of us knowing what we want out of it. Sometimes, collaborations aren’t meant to be. It mightn’t not even really matter what great friends you are. I’m very aware of what I make and what I sound good on – and it’s not always necessarily stuff that I listen to. It’s all a greater part of who you are as an artist, really?

MF: What are you kind of listening to at the moment? Is there anything that has piqued your interest recently that maybe people wouldn’t expect to associate with you?

B: I don’t think people would think I’d listen to Violent Soho and stuff like that. I enjoy a whole lot of different music. I’m always… [whistles at dog] Oi! C’mon! Outside!

MF: Being naughty?

B: All the time. [laughs] Sorry about that. But yeah, I guess I always come back to American rap in one way or another. That’s my bread and butter. At the moment, I’ve been listening to a lot of Westide Gunn. I’ve been going back to the fundamentals of the stuff I grew up on. That’s been really refreshing – just going back to looped beats and hard-hitting hip-hop. I did enjoy the Pop Smoke record, that was good fun. I love anything that Freddie Gibbs touches. Locally, Barkaa has got my attention. She’s really great. That’s about it. Lockdown’s been funny… I’ve been so focused on my own stuff, I’ve tried to not overwhelm myself. There’s so many releases out there already y’know?

MF: Let’s focus back in on that, then. Were there any tracks on Always Was that kind of set off a chain of events that lead to this EP’s creation? Do these tracks all have different origin stories?

B: Yeah, it all just kind of came together from that really simple premise: “Let’s make six cool songs.” I just wanted a collection of good, fun, fundamental hip-hop – stuff I could play live too, of course. It wasn’t part of any greater plan – and I mean that in the best way possible. There are some big ideas on here – there’s me trying different stuff, working with different artists. Trials produced a lot of it, and we just work together, man. Like, that’s just what we do. There’s no better way to put it.

MF: Are the two of you kind of thinking ahead in terms of A.B. Original stuff, or are you both on kind of separate paths right now?

B: It’s never far from our minds. It’s bound to happen. We’re never too far away from another. We just haven’t done it yet because we’ve had our own projects. Trials has had a lot going on, too – he just signed a deal with Island Records. When the time’s right, the time’s right.

Brigg’s EP ‘Always Was’ is out now. Listen here. 

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