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Rainbow Road: Three Trapped Tigers Embrace Sensory Experiences On 'Silent Earthling'

Monday, 11 April 2016 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

On Three Trapped Tigers’ new record, ‘Silent Earthling’, there’s a track called Rainbow Road, named after the notorious racing circuit on the video game Mario Kart. It might be the most perfect song title of the year.

Those of you who have history with the game know what that means. Rainbow Road is a multi-coloured track that’s wildly unpredictable, full of obstacles and lacking barriers, meaning that you always run the risk of driving off the side and falling into deep space. It is a source of torment for many players, but it’s also a tense, exhilarating part of the game.

Without knowledge of context, you could readily believe that Three Trapped Tigers provided the soundtrack. Opening with a dramatic synth line, the song steers towards a syncopated groove performed at breakneck speed before shifting gears for the chorus. It’s enthralling stuff, taking you on a meandering journey that’s full of twists and turns.

“You should hear us play it live,” guitarist and keyboardist Matt Calvert says. “We fly off into oblivion for that one. Our sound can certainly be quite colourful, I think. I’ve heard some people even see colours listening to us. That’s not a conscious thing on our part. We don’t write music like: ‘Here’s the turquoise, here’s the yellow to contrast.’ It’s more abstract than that, but our music does fight against the murky and the monochrome.”

The London trio’s wildly inventive sound draws from ‘90s electronica but frames it in the context of instrumental rock. Though most of their melodic ideas are formed by layers of synths, drummer Adam Betts’ intricate math-rock-inspired rhythms contort the overall effect into something extraordinary. The band’s 2011 debut, ‘Route One or Die’, featured monstrous cuts like Creepies and Cramm, but its long-awaited follow-up is both catchier and broader in scope.

“We actually started writing in 2013,” Betts says. “After our first album and live shows we were absolutely exhausted. Once we got off the mark, though, everything took shape quite quickly. We did my parts first and finished the rest of recording by November 2014, so the tracks are very familiar now.”

It seems like a cliché to describe a sophomore LP as being ‘bigger’, yet almost everything on ‘Silent Earthling’ feels heightened, so much so that the band seem most comfortable when there’s more on the canvas. Calvert emphasises that they’ve honed and tweaked rather than simply expanded, though.

“There’s a much wider palette this time,” he says. “We’ve put more emphasis on synth tones and melody. The goal was to expand our capabilities while still sounding unmistakably like us. I wanted it all to be a bit hookier, a bit more repetitive. Every track has that melodic focus and there’s usually a riff that echoes or comes back around. We’ve kept that side more economical rather than introducing a ton of ideas that aren’t that memorable. We don’t want to sound too proggy and self-indulgent.”

It’s hard to portray a band so overtly fun as self-indulgent but they assure me they’ve had their fair share of critics, partly because nobody has any idea how to categorise them. Putting the Tigers in a box has proven difficult, with the band’s reputation leading to some misplaced appearances at electronic dance festivals in the past.

“We just didn’t sit well,” Betts says. “We’ve been built up as this wild electronic band, but it’s not enough for some people when they hear the distorted guitars and loud cymbals. We’ve been told we’re too nerdy, too heavy, not heavy enough and even too jazzy, which is just a ludicrous word for complicated.”

It might seem ridiculous that a band who evoke Aphex Twin would feel more at home playing alongside Deftones or the Dillinger Escape Plan, but that’s what’s happened. Their layered sound has been better received by rock fans who like music to spin several plates at once.

“I think we have a punk energy and tension that appeals to them,” Calvert says. “If 65daysofstatic or Battles are rock bands, then we’re a rock band. Touring with Deftones was particularly eye-opening. You speak to Chino [Moreno, Deftones vocalist] and he’s the biggest music nerd on the planet. He loves jazz and electronic music and his biggest influence is My Bloody Valentine. And they’re a metal band. We found their audience incredibly welcoming to be honest. Perhaps we have the same spirit of adventure.”

As joyous and free-spirited as Three Trapped Tigers are, the technical detail isn’t accidental. According to Betts, the band’s commitment to not sounding too clinical means that many people have mistaken them for a jam band upon seeing them for the first time. But, given the wild variation in tempos and dynamics, nobody would make that mistake seeing ‘Silent Earthling’ played live. From the explosive Kraken to the well-measured Blimp, the album feels more composed than what’s come before.

“All the compositions on this album, bar one, started from drum parts,” Calvert says. “Sometimes I’d beatbox it, sometimes it’d be programmed. They really informed everything we wanted to try and we learned a few things. On ‘Route One…’ it was all about balls-out tempos but we realised we didn’t have to be fast to be heavy.”

Later this month, the trio will hit the road for a UK tour, a prospect as terrifying as it must be thrilling for a band with so many elements. Every band member plays multiple instruments in a typical set. Betts handles various samples along with his drumming duties, Calvert triggers other sounds while on guitar and keyboard player Tom Rogerson has additional laptop responsibilities.

“Every sound you hear at a live show is genuine, not a backing track,” Betts says. “It’s something we’re proud of and makes for a quite visceral and very exciting live show.”

Calvert echoes the sentiment, adding: “We want to transcend pure technicality by being energetic. Betts is a great drummer because he plays with an energy that cold, clinical session drummers don’t. How would I describe a Three Trapped Tigers show? Synth-led music with drums and guitars that isn’t done in a boring straight-up way. If you like the records, you’ll love us live. We want to create a visual spectacle and sonic experience.”

'Silent Earthling' is out now on Superball Music.

Three Trapped Tigers Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sun April 17 2016 - GLASGOW Hug and Pint
Mon April 18 2016 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE Think Tank
Tue April 19 2016 - YORK Fibbers
Wed April 20 2016 - LIVERPOOL Buyers Club
Thu April 21 2016 - MANCHESTER Deaf Institute
Fri April 22 2016 - NOTTINGHAM Bodega Social Club
Sat April 23 2016 - BIRMINGHAM Rainbow
Mon April 25 2016 - READING Purple Turtle
Tue April 26 2016 - GUILDFORD Boileroom
Thu April 28 2016 - LONDON Scala
Sat April 30 2016 - MILTON KEYNES Craufurd Arms
Mon May 02 2016 - BRISTOL Lantern
Tue May 03 2016 - BRIGHTON Haunt
Mon May 09 2016 - LEEDS Brudenell Social Club
Tue May 10 2016 - CAMBRIGDE Portland Arms

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