Interview: Triggerfinger’s Ruben Block talks new album, Colossus

Belgian trio, Triggerfinger, is one of the freshest genre-crossing acts to emerge on the international music scene in many years. Collecting four gongs at the Belgian Music Industry Awards, as well as achieving platinum and gold status for their last two studio efforts, All This Dancing Around (2010) and By Absence of the Sun (2104), respectively, the guys are about to release their fifth album, Colossus, to what is certain to be universal acclaim. Produced by Mitchell Froom (Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt, Suzanne Vega, Pearl Jam), Colossus features 10 tracks of pure aural ambrosia and is one of those albums you can groove to all day, such is its musical range and depth of musicianship. From pop to folk and glam to swaggering rock, this inspired release reflects the band’s creative flexibility and eclectic tastes. Thanks to the kind folks at Annie Johnsson Publicity, we recently caught up with the silver fox himself, frontman Ruben Block, who shared his thoughts about writing the album and conveyed his passion for creating and remaining open to inspiration. 


SR: You guys changed your creative approach for Colossus, and even set up your own studio. What was the catalyst for the change in direction?

RB: Well, we made a couple of albums with Greg Gordon before this one. Those albums were more situated around our live interaction as a band and the live sound. We explored that direction and did some cool stuff with that; but, since we’d done two albums like that, we thought it was maybe time to see what else we could do and broaden our horizons a bit. It was really a combination of a few events. Like, I had time to finish the little studio rehearsal room at the house. Before we were touring so much I didn’t have time for it. We got the gear from a recording studio a couple of years back—a small mixing desk and a couple of mics and amps—but we didn’t have time to install it. And in April last year I had time to do that and get the gear in. That was also the time we started writing the new songs for the album and making the demo. In the meantime, we also explored our little recording room and the gear we had. Really cool things happened and the demo was pretty high quality because of the gear we used. We thought it might be really interesting. On previous albums, when I’ve made demos, they’ve turned into a real live interpretation, or a band interpretation, to be exact. But this time, we thought that if certain things proved to be really cool, we’d just use elements from the demo if they suited the track. We were in that headspace and Mitchell (Froom) came along and said, “Yeah, there’s some interesting stuff happening. Let’s just see.’ We started recording the songs live again in Santa Monica and if anything seemed interesting to us, we added it. So it all started from there and I guess that’s where the vibe came from.

SR: What was Mitchell like to work with?

RB: It was pretty amazing. It was fantastic. He’s worked on so many cool albums. Last year, we went to Santa Monica to have a talk with him because we made a little list of people we’d love to work with and he was at the top of that list. Amazingly enough, he was the first person to respond to us. He said he’d listened to the previous stuff we’d made and that he’d love to work with us. So we went over there for a couple of days and had a chat with him and ran through a couple of demos. Yeah, it’s just been amazing. In your wildest dreams, you kind of hope that a recording session would go like this and sometimes everything falls into place. It doesn’t mean that we didn’t have bumps in the road or issues or things that didn’t work in the studio. We had to work things out sometimes and find solutions for stuff that didn’t work. But we always ended up somewhere amazing. He’s a really nice guy and he has an insane knowledge of music. He’s very musical, both in a harmonic way and a non-harmonic way. He’s just the perfect guy to make a song richer and pull your ear to it. The thing is that he played a lot of keyboard and other weird stuff throughout the whole album, but it doesn’t sound like a keyboard album. He didn’t take over, you know? And that’s what’s so cool about him. It’s still a Triggerfinger album—he helped make the sound richer.

SR: There’s a bit of everything on this album, from pop and glam through to country and rock. Which tracks are your favourites and where do you feel most comfortable, genre-wise?

RB: Oh, I’m very happy with the album. We’re living in interesting times in terms of the way people take songs and throw them in a playlist—that’s the way they take music in now. But I still feel the need to make an album, because when you start writing songs, one idea kind of feeds another idea, and one song feeds another song, until you get into a sort of a headspace. Even if the songs are really diverse, like on the Colossus album, they still have a connection and I probably wouldn’t get there in that way by loosely writing individual songs over the course of two years or so. It’s a different vibe, and that’s why I guess I’m really happy with the album as a whole. I like the diversity of it–having two basses on a song, instead of having a guitar and bass. In general, it doesn’t matter what you use or whether it’s a guitar or bass or keyboards. You get a couple of grooves or sounds clashing against each other and it’s great when something interesting like that happens. But it all clicked and it’s great if you have an idea like that—like playing with two basses. It opens up your imagination a little bit and the way you play because it’s different to play a song on two basses instead of a guitar and a bass. It’s a different approach and that challenges you. I like Colossus, Candy Killer, Afterglow—I’m really happy with the whole album, I guess, and especially the diversity. It reflects the kind of music we like, and there’s so much stuff we like, whether it’s country or rockabilly or rock and roll or hip hop or folk or pop. We’re really happy with it.

SR: Your last two albums went platinum and gold. Do you feel any pressure, or do you put any pressure on yourselves, to try to outdo the last release?

RB: Well, they were platinum and gold in our home territory here, you know? (Laughs) There’s already enough pressure just to start making a new album. With this album, I felt like we should try to make something really exciting and something we hadn’t done before. But starting with a white piece of paper is always pretty intimidating, in a way. It’s a lot of fun. It’s nice that people bought the previous albums and we’re still playing those songs—they’re part of the family of songs we have. You just have to make an exciting album for yourself; and then it’s possible that if you make the album exciting for yourself, maybe other people might like it. I think it’s more worthwhile to try to make something really interesting for yourself than try to replicate something that was well received by a large number of people. It’s a completely different way to approach music from a more calculated point of view. I still love working in this little room, with all the guitars and stuff around me. I love fooling around and getting frustrated because nothing comes out, and then the third day you kick against something and it sounds cool and you’re off again. The coolest thing, I still think, and maybe it’s why I still love writing, is feeling the potential of an idea. Whether it’s a guitar riff, or some chords, or a vocal line, feeling the potential of an idea that could end up being something really cool is amazing. Then you have to work to turn it into something. It’s great if you can do that.

SR: You’ve achieved so much to date. You’ve won an MTV award, you’ve had platinum and gold albums, and you’ve even toured with the Rolling Stones. What would you say your career highlights have been?

RB: I guess the highlight of our career is the fact that we’re doing what we do. (Laughs) That’s pretty amazing, you know? We’ve always tried to make the albums we like to make. We have a licence with our label that we make the album, deliver it to them, and if they like it, they can promote it and sell it, and if they don’t, we have to find someone else. We’ve been playing live for a lot of years and playing the music we like and travelling around Europe mainly and doing what we love. It’s just amazing to be able to do that. And now, we’ve been able to make this album with a bunch of fantastic people like Mitchell and David Boucher, who’s the engineer and was also responsible for the way the album sounds. He really dug in there and found cool ways to record the stuff. It’s like vitamins for your soul. (Laughs) You think to yourself, ‘Man, it’s cool that we pulled this one off, and maybe there are more things we can try and experiment with in future’.

SR: You’ve just played some festivals and you have more coming up, as well as a series of headliners through to the end of the year. How have audiences been responding to the new material?

RB: It’s been pretty cool. It’s always strange to play new songs, especially when the album isn’t out, because people aren’t familiar with them. But I must say that the reaction to the new songs has been pretty cool. It’s been fun. We’ve been living in a strange period of time lately. Every time you make a new album, it’s that time when the album is finished, the music’s done, but it’s not out yet. It’s not part of public opinion yet. That all starts when the album’s released. So it’s this weird period of time where the album is still yours, emotionally. You carry it and only you and a couple of close friends have heard it. It’s a weird time, because on the one hand, you wonder what people might think about it and you want to go out and play it and have the album be available to everyone; but, in the meantime, it’s also nice that you can cherish it just for yourself and be happy with it.

SR: When you’ve produced something as diverse as this album, is it difficult to choose the next single?

RB: I find it’s very difficult to choose singles. They’re a weird beast. They tend to be the songs that might work well on radio, and radio is also a weird beast (laughs). It depends where you are, but especially popular radio. Sometimes your favourite songs aren’t the singles. I think there are a couple of options to be considered as singles and usually the label suggests things because they work with the radio.

SR: You do a fair bit of collaborating. Which people have been most inspiring to work with to date and who would you like to work with in future?

RB: Mitchell and David have been really inspiring people to work with, and that’s also the freshest experience in my mind. It was amazing to work with them and experience the openness they had and their approach to the music and to let that live and breathe. I learned a lot from them. For instance, whenever there was a problem with a song, or part of a song, Mitchell would say, ‘Usually, the solution is in the music.’ We just had to open ourselves up to hearing it. He’s probably right about that—maybe not always. But a lot of times, the solution might already be in the music somewhere and you’ve just got to pull it out. It was also the first time we had a producer who was also a musician and really harmonically connected to the music. That was really cool. And in the future? I wouldn’t mind working with PJ Harvey.

SR: Do you have any plans to tour Australia in the near future?

RB: We would love to. The strange thing is that our agent is English and his wife is Australian, so he goes to Australia every year to holiday. We’ve already told him, ‘You’ve got to make this happen, my man.’ We’re really anxious to go to Australia. I’ve never been there and I’d love to come over and do some shows and travel around a bit. This is the first time we’ve had so much press going on in Australia, so we should probably try to make it happen.

SR: Do you have a message for your Aussie fans ahead of the album release on the 25th of August?

RB: I hope you enjoy the music a lot and just keep having fun with music and films and books, you know? Just dive in and let yourself be influenced and let your mind drift off to make your own interpretation of all of the things you hear.

Pre-order your copy of Colossus here! (All pre-orders will be signed by Triggerfinger, and will include a free poster!)

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