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An interview with Trischelle Roberts - Musician / Community Organiser / Visual Artist

June 27, 2018


Tell us about yourself in your own words.


My name is Trischelle Roberts. I play in a couple of bands, one called Mere Women and one called Cat Heaven. I’m interested in history as well, I float around and do teaching and things at museums also. I do some crochet work and I’m also involved in running Girls Rock! Sydney. 


How long have you been playing music and what sparked your interest in it?


I think that I had pretty much always played music but had never seen myself as a musician. When I was born, I was adopted at birth and one of the pacts that my adoptive parents made with my birth parents was that I would learn music - they wanted me to be able to learn an instrument. I was one of those kids that could never settle on playing just one instrument. But I didn’t really start playing music, I don’t think, until I was in my mid to late twenties. Around 27 or something like that. All my friends, particularly all the guys around me, were playing music. And so I just decided with a few, mainly female friends that we would start playing and see what happened.


What band was that?


It was a band very drunkenly named 123 Amazing, which existed for a really really short time but was heaps of fun. None of us could play very well at all. Vivian, who ended up playing in No Art, played with me in that band, and the only time she’d ever played guitar before was when her maths tutor used to teach her guitar on the side as like a bonus lesson. So we all just kind of jumped in and gave it a whirl, and of course that was heaps of fun, and then it fell apart spectacularly. Then we decided to start No Art and kept playing in that. It was Viv and I, and another woman called Nat, and a rotating series of drummers who would jump in.


At the moment you play in Mere Women and Cat Heaven. How does the experience differ with the two bands and with other bands that you’ve played in?


It’s funny, it’s actually so different. So I started playing in Cat Heaven - Matt Saliba approached me after No Art had finished and he wasn’t playing with his band Hira Hira any more. We had played a couple of shows together and he was wanting to start something new. He had this idea that it would make him play slower, but I think it just made me play faster. We ended up calling the release ‘Living Room’ because we basically just floated around playing in living rooms for about a year, and he was back and forth living overseas and things like that. So that was this really slow burning, really different thing. At some point during that, Flynn and the rest of Mere Women asked if I wanted to go in and give playing bass with them a go. I was kind of hesitant to do it, despite the fact that I was working on this project with Matt, because I’d been really burnt out at the end of No Art and I thought, I don’t know if I want to jump straight up and perform in front of people again. But I went along and it was super fun from the first rehearsal. I think from the start, because I’ve always loved Mere Women’s music as well, I’ve always played alongside that band and writing with them was such a technical challenge. It’s all about how you think about the music and how you structure it and how you hear it - it’s like this constantly evolving mess. I’ve been having this same conversation with Mac as well. Mac drums in Cat Heaven and has started drumming in Mere Women over the past year, and he was kind of worried that the two bands thing would be too much but he’s had the same experience. They’re just so utterly different. It’s really difficult to articulate - I guess the vibe and the process is different. The song content or subject matter is different, but the feeling of playing is really different as well. It’s nice to have both, they kind of feed off each other. 


You’re also a visual artist - you do crochet work - what can you tell us about that?


It’s hard to know where to start with that. I have always been interested in tactile things... We were talking before about this piece that’s on my wall, which is by an artist Kevina-Jo Smith, and she’d been a friend for a really long time and makes these really incredible tactile things out of upcycled materials. But I started crocheting because I was interested in that world, and I complemented an ex-boyfriend’s mother - Rosa, an incredible woman - on a blanket or something that she’d made. And she sat me down and asked, if you could do any craft in the world - what would you do? I said, I think crochet. So she took me upstairs, got out the needle, sat down with me for about four hours - I had a migraine at the end and it was just making the first chain. She said, I’ll see you next week and then we’re going to do the next step. It was wild. I had this really incredible, highly didactic, highly skilled person teaching me how to do it. From there, I just started playing around with it. I had a pretty tough couple of years where I didn’t spend a lot of time out of the house, so I could sit around and crochet, and just do that for hours and hours at a time. I could sit there and watch TV and do it, or listen to a podcast and do it. I started getting into the mode of doing things in a circular pattern as well, so it’s just something that you can do forever and ever until you get sick of it - it can just become as big or as small as you want it to be. I think also I was getting obsessed with rugs - particularly like Moroccan forms - and trying to figure out ways to fit them into the mold of what I technically knew how to do. So it’s just something I go back to now and then.


What sort of themes do you like to explore through music and art/ what inspires your music?


That’s a good question - a really tough one. I think, I started doing it because I felt like I wanted to do it and now I don’t know how to not do it. Which is a really cliche thing to say, but if I stop doing things for a particular amount of time I just start feeling really unhappy. So in terms of what themes and ideas, it’s really whatever is floating around and a lot of the time I won’t know what that is until it comes out. Again, sounds very cliche, but I start off in a process of writing music - a series of songs or making something - and then a year later I’ll think, ‘huh, I guess that’s what that was about.’ But that’s a nice way to do it, and I’m not someone that’s particularly interested in the psychology of things but in that sense I think I am. Making art is something a bit separate. I love the fact that you can go into a rehearsal room, or you can sit there and do crochet, and hours can go by and you come out - and it’s like this separation. Like when you’re sitting down reading a book, you can just go into that other world for a while, and then when you come back, everything feels a bit more settled in your own world. 


What is your process for writing songs and making music and how has that changed over time?


I’m trying to think of whether it has changed over time. It hasn’t… I mean, I think it probably gets easier and harder at the same time. It’s easier to start but impossibly harder to finish things. I think playing bass and working with vocals, I like having something to work off. You know like those games you play when you’re young, you’re listening to something in the car, and you make up another vocal line or a weird little harmony and sing along. That’s the way that I really enjoy writing. I think, over time, I’ve gotten better at starting things on my own, but usually I like to be in a place with other people and just having no concerns of going into something without an idea. I hate coming up with an idea in isolation. I’d rather just be in a space with people and see what happens.


What do you as an artist stand for?


I think that’s the same kinds of things that I would say - just being a human - that you stand for. You have a series of beliefs that you work with to survive, and making art and music doesn’t really change that for me, except that I just have a different way of putting that out there in the world. I really strongly identify as a feminist. I really strongly identify as someone that wants to have deeper understandings of things and a mediation between things. I don’t want to see things in black and white, no matter how complex or problematic that is. I’d like to be able to see as many sides of any problem as I can. I don’t think there’s any point in standing up for something if you can’t try to comprehend things from every point of view. I think a lack of empathy is at the root of a lot of things.


You were involved with the coordination of the first ever Girls Rock! Camp in Sydney. Can you tell us about your experience?


It was so fun. So I became aware of Girls Rock! when Chiara, who runs Girls Rock! Canberra, asked if Mere Women could go down and play one of the lunchtime sessions, which very sadly we couldn’t do, but it meant that I was clued in enough to be like ‘maybe I can go down and mentor at this thing?’ I was just totally blown away. So I actually trained as a high school teacher, and then started playing music and other things, and realised I didn’t want to do that in a classroom necessarily - which is why I work in museums now. So coming to this and being like ‘this is doing all of the stuff that teaching is supposed to do, in the most extreme, radical, profound way’ and you could see that on day one at this Canberra camp. It was just like nothing I’d ever seen or experienced before. So, coming back to Sydney, a few of us were like, how do we do this forever? How can we get closer to this thing and keep doing this? Mara O’Toole had been working on the Sydney one for a while - had worked really hard and laid a lot of the ground work, and it was really nice that she was open enough for this enthusiastic bundle of people to come back from Canberra, and just jump into this project that she had been working on for years. She was so open and so resilient. And it’s been such a pleasure to work on it. I think every single person involved has done something that they wouldn’t necessarily have put their hand up to do at the start, and gone beyond what they thought they were capable of doing. And it’s really nice that it works out that way for the campers as well as for us.


Where is it going from here?


So we’ve kind of got to double down. With the whole group, we spent about four months working towards the first camp. And now we kind of get to reap the benefits of that, now that we’ve shown people in Sydney what the camp can do. Hopefully in the next couple of years we can do really exciting things. Extend the camps out more, whether that’s running physical camps elsewhere in Western Sydney, helping Newcastle build theirs, also working with local councils to do a series of workshops. Just to make it as accessible as possible. Working towards better funding as well, so that we can make things as affordable as possible and as open as possible. Seeking out as many different communities as possible to work with: and a lot of the work is repeatedly saying to people, yes, this is for you, yes, this can be for you. In fact, you can come in and run this, and make it essentially whatever you want it to be. So to keep building that and also just to build up our resources. We’ve already been really fortunate with lots of people, like Matt Saliba that runs Guitar Butcher and Salt Mine Repairs, coming forward and doing all this servicing work, and helping us source instruments and amps and all of this stuff. It’s almost a year out from the next camp, so it’s exciting to build it as a thing that can live on, and hopefully within a couple of years Mara and myself and some of the others can hand over for someone else to do what they want with.


What is the biggest obstacle you face when expressing yourself creatively?


Taking too much on… It is a hard thing to run head first into things and sort of hope for the best and be okay. You know, the best opportunity to figure out how to do something is people telling you that you’re doing it wrong. But being resilient enough to say, okay, can you have a little bit more patience with me about how to do this right or try something else. I think hesitating from trying things because of that idea - of getting something wrong or doing something wrong or feeling totally out of your depth - is something I’m only just coming to terms with in the last couple of years. And it’s really nice to not give a shit. It’s such a nice feeling to just decide that I’m always going to feel terrified of that, but let’s just give it a whirl and then see what happens. So yeah, that’s always been the biggest hold up for me: regret before you even do something. And learning to not worry about that is really nice. 


What is the best piece of advice you could give to young women and queer folk who want to make art or music or just be seen and heard?


Do all of the things. This is for you. If you’re going out and seeing shows, or seeing things you’re not comfortable with… I mean, for so many years, I saw musicians playing and I thought I’m not like them. You know even other people that I would otherwise identify with - female or otherwise - I would think, oh no they do this in a slightly different way or they’re better at this. The best way to do something is just to get out and do it, and you’ll figure it out as you go. You’re not going to overnight become some genius guitarist by never doing it, and then just one day picking up a guitar and being a genius. Just go out and do it. If you feel like something isn’t for you, go out and do it anyway, and then you can make a whole world for people that are like you and don’t see themselves anywhere else.

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