trilemma interview
(May 2005)

We've all done it in an emergency - in the old days it would've been Top of the Pops about to start; these days it's Popworld - we've all used a bit of cheap and nasty cable to get the aerial into the back of the telly. So there's stray strands of copper wire sprouting out of the connector like ginger hair out of a comedy tam-o-shanter? So what? So long as there's a picture. And there is. Sort of.

Sort of. Grainy. Blurred. Intermittent. Ghostly figures wear Reddy Brek halos as they fizz and fade, fizz and fade, fizz and fade. What they're half-saying doesn't make sense and then you stop listening. What you're seeing doesn't make sense, but you can't stop watching, hoping that it will. Willing that it will. You're always let down. Fleeting moments of clarity dashed by another burst of incomprehension.

Imagine that was how your telly looked whenever something you wanted to watch was on. Imagine that was how you telly looked when nothing you wanted to watch was on. Now imagine that was how the world looked 24/7. Welcome to Trilemma's head.


Subscribers and longtime readers will already know the band from the Push What Is Collapsing album that we gave away with #11 and their Blue Minnow label compilation with #14. Back in 2001 their postcard CV showed way they were heading: "we have synthesised a new and powerful form of negation which we will shortly be perfecting." And shortly they did. Two years later the debut 7" drew grimy respect:

I've got a lot of time for Trilemma. Not only do they do it like they mean it. But they really do mean it. The four tracks they chose for the single are small-town England on vinyl. That is, piss-soaked subways and ring-roads and concrete tower blocks and constant grey skies and The Sun and dole queues and McJobs and far-distant aspirations. Quiet, angry and introspective, Trilemma reflect their surroundings onto themselves and into their music, and it comes out perfectly underproduced, glistening and chiming under the unglamour.

Another couple of years on and Pete and Rob are in full uninterruptible flow for us. Apart from John Robb, I don't think I've ever spoken to anybody in a band who needs less prompting. Here's what they said.

What kind of influence does your home town, Stoke, have on Trilemma?

Pete: It's a pervasive influence throughout - I mean, we couldn't escape its hold even if we wanted to. Stoke's atmosphere is bleak, world weary and introspective and that comes out in the music. It's the kind of place that suits the rain and grey skies. Summer feels odd here. There's a sense of resignation around the place and I suppose that's present in the music too.

There's still hope though - it's just tempered by the realisation that it's a fight against the odds. We're ready for that though! There was a documentary called Diamonds In The Dirt about Stoke in the late 60s and early 70s and though it's well out of time, Trilemma's music could form a backdrop to that - hardly upbeat but earthy and solemn.

Rob: So let me ask; why does Trilemma think it's important to try to reflect this?

Pete: I didn't say Trilemma think it's important to try to reflect this! Do you think it's "important to try to reflect this?" What I'm saying is that because of being brought up here and living here most of our lives, whatever "culture" and "attitudes" have been absorbed tend to come out.

Rob: I agree that it would be hard to stop the (ahem) "residues" of this culture and attitude emerging in the creative process. We're both Stokies born and bred, as were our parents, and parents' parents, etc. So there's this thing of being more or less "steeped" in Stoke's atmosphere.



Rob: ..but let me turn to whether or not I think it's important to try to reflect this in what we do musically and creatively. I'm often ambivalent about this, but on balance I come to the conclusion that, yes, it is important. And this is because I like to draw on what I know, what I've experienced and what interests me. I refuse to reject my background and the place I was brought up in. I'm not proud of it, particularly, although I am proud of my family and what they've been through down the generations. I'm not saying it's a Catherine Cookson novel, but even so I'm certainly not ashamed of it. I definitely won't dismiss it as "small town," "provincial" or "irrelevant." There're too many factors that try to convince us all that this is precisely how we should view such lives and experiences, even today in a so-called advanced mass-culture where class-snobbery is meant to be fossilised.

So basically I do think it's important to let the feelings and emotions come to the surface, and if these feelings and emotions are constituted, in part, by where we've lived and stuff, well, so be it. The resultant creations might not be immediately palatable and they may have the air of "miserablism" about them. Tough shit. I would argue that they communicate something - something meaningful that reflects other people's experiences and backgrounds.

There's something entertaining about pop music that is just air-headed nonsense, for sure. But how much "meaning" is there in such stuff, ultimately? Fuck all, is my guess. And while it might be argued that music - popular or otherwise - is not the place to go looking for meaning, I say bollocks. There's nothing wrong with trying to get some depth and gravitas on the go, whilst ALSO keeping some of the more palatable aspects of the pop thing in your sights


Rob: ..but why don't we try to transcend our surroundings, to look beyond the shite and rust, to invent - or reflect - a more magical and inviting place? After all, the band's members aren't miserable, as such.

Pete: Good point. I don't know why that's not come up before.

Rob: I think one possible answer to this is that the one doesn't - or at least shouldn't - preclude the other. There's no good reason why there can't be parts of realism and escapism in there. Although I would say this wouldn't I, I honestly think that's what's in the Trilemma thing. feelings of resignation, dejection, resentment, but also of hope, optimism and levity. Both parts are essential. Yes, at the end of the day, it's kind of a subjective thing as to how the balance is struck here. And I'm pretty sure a lot of people would feel that we were weighted towards the former, rather than the positive stuff. What can I say? We're thrust rudely back onto the charge that we're a pair of grim-faced, Northern bastards with attitude problems. I'm quite comfortable with that. Such a conclusion can only be drawn by people who've failed to understand the message. We're not bloody evangelical about it - if they don't get it, well. Good for them. They're probably better off out of it anyway.

I wouldn't go as far as grim-faced bastards.. but can we talk about something a bit more uplifting?

Rob: Yeah, like what famous people have you met and how did they change your life?

Pete: I met Terry Hall a couple of times when he was in The Colourfield.

Rob: And more importantly The Specials and Fun Boy 3. So how did you come to meet him then? And wasn't he on Never Mind the Buzzcocks the other week?

Pete: Yes indeed, but he was in The Colourfield when I met him, twice, both times were on trains. We had a bit of a chat and walked up Euston platform together- aah!

Rob: I must admit I'm pretty jealous of you here. Terry Hall seemed like a fucking ace bloke on Never Mind the Buzzcocks. He played a poker-faced game, but came out with some very dry observations. A good man, basically. Plus he was partly responsible for one of Mark's all-time favourite songs, Ghost Town. [Mark is Trilemma's mysterious 3rd member - stepping up for drum and percussion duties when required]

Pete: I played football against Gordon Banks once. I realised he was still a better player than I'd ever be, even with his one good eye and a hip replacement, so I'd never make it as a pro! Mind you, I was about 23 at the time so something should've clicked before then!

Rob: How did you come to be playing against Banksy then? I saw him once at Dennis Smith's testimonial, but you presumably weren't on the field that night.

Pete: It was a student five-a-side tournament at Keele University. He wanted to test his new hip out!

Rob: So were you in the crowd at Smithy's testimonial then? I was. It was a slow night, I've got to say. Is he still manager at Cambridge these days or what? I suppose this is a question for Mr. Possession really.

Cambridge just got relegated out of the football league and that's about all I know.

Rob: Anyway, I don't want anyone to get the wrong impression here. I couldn't give a fuck about football. It pisses me off in so many ways it's not even reasonable. Although I do like the way the game has been colonised totally by the middles classes, corrupted by big business and filleted by merchandising. After all, it's always nice to see the workings of capitalism in such stark detail. What a gloriously rapacious machine it is. I never ceased to be amazed by its awesome powers of utter desolation and destruction.

Pete: Brian Connelly from the Sweet, does he count? He was dressed head to toe in his leather outfit; a one-piece job I think! He was really sweet, ha! and signed autographs for us lads.

Rob: No. Brian Connelly does NOT count. Please refrain from mentioning him ever again, particularly in polite company.

Pete: Leave Brian alone, Sweet were ace! How can you resist those mighty singles? Hellraiser.. Action.. The Six Teens.. fantastic records!

Rob: I utterly refuse to be drawn into this ludicrous discussion. You will not force a confession from me on this score, so put those high-voltage nipple clamps away right this instant. I am NOT going to sit down and watch you prance around the living-room to Ballroom Blitz. Again. Glam racket indeed.

Pete: Pete Shelley around Homosapien time at a gig in Derby. I'd turned up much too early for a gig and I think he thought I was lurking around for no good reason. I'd just wandered in the venue because the doors were open!

Rob: Oooh, Pete Shelley, nice one. So, did you get all your Buzzcocks singles signed then? And if not, why not??

Pete: Course not! I didn't have them with me! I'd gone along thinking it was a 7:30 start but the band came on at midnight so it was a long wait. There was a huge reel-to-reel recorder behind the band and they played along to the backing, with a few technical hitches.

Rob: OK, so let me get this straight. Are you accusing our beloved Pete, he who was at the vanguard of the northern punk revolution, of pulling a Milli Vanilli?? Scandalous. I hope you're ashamed of yourself.

Pete: Always a dark horse, Pete Shelley!

Yeah, and ahead of his time. Are Trilemma ahead of their time?

Rob: Yeah, do you believe in destiny?

Pete: If you'd asked me years ago, I'd probably have said yes, it's all written in the stars but now I'm not so sure. It's not very hopeful to think that no matter what you do the outcome is predetermined! With Trilemma, it goes back to that feeling of resignation and sadness, loss and regret.

Rob: But predetermination does not preclude the possibility of a positive, advantageous outcome. It's just that such an outcome would be inevitable. So perhaps your point is that you would prefer a negative, disadvantageous outcome - providing that you yourself had determined it. Or what? Please clarify.

Pete: Both negative and positive outcomes are possible. Did I say I would prefer a negative outcome? No. The notion of destiny takes away the power, control maybe, to have any such say in outcomes, that's why I say it isn't hopeful in the sense of having a lack of control of influence.

Rob: True, it isn't hopeful. But if it would be possible to know that the outcome would be positive, there would be no need for hope. That's why I think it's a difficult issue. On the one hand, a predetermined course (leading to a positive outcome) suggests that there would be no need to worry, and that all anxieties about the future would be eradicated. For those who experience life as intolerable due to its unforeseeable consequences, and who agonise to the point of insanity over decisions and of what tomorrow may bring, such a course would presumably be the solution. And yet, on the other hand, it seems that one of the most important aspects of life is precisely the fact that we (believe we can?) influence what happens to us.

Now, it might be argued that there would be no need for us to exercise influence over our lives if we knew that it was set on a course that would lead to an absence of negative consequences. And yet, we surely also know that what we experienced as negative consequences at one point in our life can later become positive. So, as a kid, we might experience the close attention of our parents as something of a blessing but, in later life, we'd probably come to hate this, and to view it as cosseting, cloying and basically a right pain in the arse. I'm not really sure what all this means though.

In relation to ideological and political stuff there's definitely a problem with notions of destiny and fate, because they imply that actions are worthless. There's no point trying to resist, history is pre-written and no amount of activity can change its course. Surely, then, the whole idea of resistance requires some belief in the ability to at least influence events.


Can we get back to the band?

Rob: What is your favourite music gadget and how do you use it writing and recording?

Pete: The Focusrite Mixmaster. It gives mixes a gorgeous analogue sheen and makes whole tracks gel together.

Rob: But don't you think it's a bit "safe" sounding?

Pete: What do you mean by "safe?"

Rob: I think what I mean is, might there be a sense in which the manufacturers designed it with a more or less specific purpose in mind? i.e. to enable signals to be captured in a more clinical, clean and "professional" fashion. Of course, that's probably the aim of anyone involved in designing and making audio crap, but I think what I mean is that the Focusrite stuff doesn't have a reputation for character, excitement and colour. It seems to be about transparency, accuracy and, therefore, blandness. But then I haven't had anywhere near enough experience with this stuff to have a clue. But hopefully you can still get a feeling of what I meant by "safe." And what's all this about "analogue sheen"? Sounds a bit vague to me.

Pete: The compressor and EQ make the whole track sound "warm" and "human" as opposed to "clinical" and "harsh" which seems to happen with some digital gadgets.

Rob: Is it impossible to have "digital" sheen?

Pete: It's all over digitally remastered CDs! You heard the first Clash LP digitally remastered on CD? Or the third Velvets one? Utter atrocities. I can't listen to them.

Rob: Wow, I dunno. I can never hear much of a difference in these things. I don't really give a fuck. I mean, if I'm in the mood for White Riot, then I'm in the bloody mood. I never think "wait, this doesn't sound quite as good as that other format" I just get carried away by the anger and aggression of it. I'm honestly not sure I'd be able to point out which was which. Same with the Velvets. If I'm in the mood for seductive, melancholy stuff then it'll take over and get through to me.

And the band?

Rob: OK, who is the best person in Trilemma?

Pete: What sort of question is that? There isn't one! We're nasty vicious characters who'd be far better off doing something useful and productive.

Rob: Yes, but even so. Surely one member is better than the other.

Pete: OK Rob, you'd better define what you mean by "best person" in that case and also what you mean by "one member is better than the other"

Rob: I put it to you that your avoidance of the key issue here is emblematic of a deep-seated desire to avoid conflict. How do you account for this character-trait, and do you see it as a weakness or a virtue?

Pete: Once you've defined the key issue things will be a bit clearer.

Rob: No let's not get sidetracked by definitions and clarifications. You could've taken the opportunity to assert that you were the best. But you didn't. I wonder if this is evidence of innate modesty? Or, rather, a desire to.. [he wanders off.]

Pete: Where've you gone, Rob?

I've got a lot of time for Trilemma. You should make some time for them too:

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