Scott Edgar is sitting at a bar table, relaxed, beer at his side when I arrive at the popular Northcote Social Club. A relaxed version of the performer in Tripod we’ve seen on our stages and screens, he ends a call with his daughter and we begin by noting the span of varying projects to cover from decades past.
“I feel like literally all my song writing has been in a forum that people don’t often think song writing fits in necessarily. I kinda like that. I’m not a pop star, not a musician in that sort of way. But I still manage to make a career out of music and composing to some extent”.
Many first saw Scott with Tripod on TV as part of the Hey Hey It’s Saturday segment ‘Red Faces’, in the late 90’s. They performed their infamous “Oasis” skit, noting how all the bands’ songs are made of the same chord progressions.
“That was a real lesson in how pervasive television was at the time. We didn’t really realise. Everyone the next day was ‘Hey we saw you on the telly!’ And we were like ‘Wow what’ve we done?’”
Meeting at Uni while performing in musicals, it wasn’t long before the trio (Scott, Yon and Gatesy) started busking, and built up a following at a regular gig in Williamstown, Melbourne. In the late 90’s St Martins theatre were programming a Comedy Festival season. “I never thought that we were a comedy act, but they had a hole in the program and I said ‘I do have this band, it’s sort of silly and we could easily do an hour’”
The next year they were off to the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, a new learning curve- they’d been playing cover gigs for years but never in the comedy realm.
Were you playing any of your originals back then?
I started a band of my own, called The Universe in 2004, and I reckon we ran for 10 years, before I got jack of my own organisational logistical abilities. Part of me wishes that band was still around. But I have to be realistic of the time and the hard work, you gotta justify it.
The Universe songs have humour, but on a smaller scale. Would you solely write those songs for Scott Edgar and The Universe, whereas with Tripod, everyone is writing?
Yeh that’s the main difference. Tripod pretty much always write together. At the start we’d bring in songs which we’d written, but it tended to lead to a bit of tension because the other two members of the band would rip it apart, and then put it back together.
(Now) you might come in with an idea, but you don’t get too wedded to what you think it should be, because once it gets into the group situation, it’s gonna evolve. Meanwhile I was writing my Universe songs – and they wouldn’t change really at all.
Best of both worlds.
Tripod is Tripod partly because of our personalities. I wasn’t trying to be a different songwriter for The Universe, but I knew that people’s expectations were different, and they didn’t necessarily kick up a stink if there were three serious songs in a row. It’s easier if you feel like you don’t have to be funny all the time. But it’s harder because you have to be more honest.
You’ve done the cabaret stuff and then the more musical type theatre narrative. Is it the same deal – the three of you come in (to write together) when you’ve got a project coming up?
Yeh. They’re all different. We’re gonna be playing some shows at the Spotted Mallard coming up- we are doing some writing together of some open ended, fun, generic stuff and you come in with a list of ideas and see where it will go. But all of us would say that our preference is writing to a brief- where we understand the bigger structure of what It’s trying to do.
Bit of a starting plan?
A place with some limitations that you work within. Sometimes it’s those limitations that spawn creativity in a funny way. Like ‘How do I fulfill this bit of the brief, not in a way you would expect?’
Instead of completely open ‘What are we gonna write?’
That’s right. When we’re writing for animations or musicals and the song has to do A THING, already you’ve got something to compare it to. You’ve got the obvious way of doing something like ‘She packs up and moves to the city’ – you could write a song saying ‘She packs up and moves to the city’, but what’s a more interesting way of saying that? Having that framework in place, and how could I have fun inside that, in a way you don’t expect?- that’s where I get excited.
Is that why you’ve all done a bit more of those projects as you’ve gone along?
Partly, yeh. It is a challenge, on levels other than on comedy. How do I explore a topic or show some part of yourself which doesn’t rely on getting a laugh every 20 seconds. I’m not trying to shitcan the idea of comedy, it’s great but it’s the colours, you know? 10 years ago, when we did Tripod vs the Dragon- our brief to ourselves was ‘Lets let it be sad in the sad bits and funny in the funny bits and let it do its thing’ -which provided a huge marketing headache (laughs) but the lesson for us, was its not an either/or proposition. It could be sad and funny at the same time. You could be serious without being over- sentimental. It was a hard learning experience. But it made us better from that point on. We also felt more comfortable being not funny as well, and letting things be weird.
That leads me to ask – the song Jeboticabal. The chords are sooo sad! Did you write that song?
No, we wrote it together. It wasn’t called Jeboticabal though, it was called another name of a town, which genuinely was a name of a town but too made up. We got the Atlas out and found Jeboticabal.
I thought ‘this cannot be a place’, but it is! A gorgeous piece of music, then it has the ridiculous lyrics over the top.
That’s an example of the kind of song I’m really proud of. Because its that weird mix of an alchemy of different feelings. I’ll sort of push towards simple stuff, and then Gatesy will push towards real complicated stuff and we find a balance in the middle somewhere. That was a time when we had to write credits for Skithouse. Skithouse was a real training ground because we had to come up with something people would hear on national tv every week.
You couldn’t sit around and hope a snowflake landed on your noggin, you had to work and write and write and write, and I think there’s a lot to be said for that kinda training.
Taking action instead of waiting for the ideas.
Yeh exactly, that’s right. That’s what Triple J was to us as well. We had the ‘Song in an Hour’ challenge. We used to do this thing, where we would go in every week at 6:30 – the audience called in topics and we had an hour to write the song. We had a ball, and it was university for us – how to do it efficiently.
Was there anything (material) from that, you hung onto?
Almost nothing (laughs). It was a really popular segment, we did it for 2 or 3 years. I reckon there is like zero songs from that. We did some stuff later on for Double J. We said we don’t want it to have to be comedy – call in the day before, we’ll write it and come in the next. We liked a lot of the stuff. It wasn’t a very popular segment mind you.
How do you know, do they tell you how many people are listening?
No, this a bit of a debate between me and Gatesy. He doesn’t reckon there’s any evidence to suggest that it was not popular. But I reckon it’s pretty obvious that it wasn’t a popular segment (laughs). We were booked for six weeks. We did six weeks. Also the topics started coming in from audience members– then by the last two, they were by other announcers at the station. That to me is pretty clear (laughing).
There’s a song in that.
Yeh! We did one for this woman whose husband had died. That was intense. I was crying while singing it.
Did you ever speak to her?
Yeh she was on the line. She was bawling her eyes out. Myf (Warhurst) was crying her head off. I was trying to keep it together but part of me was punching the air that we’d managed to touch something. It’s very simple in the end – make people feel feelings – of some kind.
And lyrics, is that a team effort?
In Tripod it’s a group thing. We often experiment in how we write because you wanna mix it up a bit.
Like ‘Lingering Dad’, for example.
Me and Yonny were on the couch, muckin’ around trying to think of something. Gatesy was meant to be in the other room mixing or tracking something (for) Skithouse at the time. He was hanging in the doorway, making half hearted conversation with us. Yonny sort of goes ‘Rack off you feel like a lingering Dad’– maybe it was Gatesy who said it –It was one of them to the other – and we thought that was hilarious. Then I started playing a riff and it went from there.
It’s quite chorus driven isn’t it? There’s a lot like that – ‘BAS Time’
Ohh yeh hunded percent. That really falls on the line of ‘Is it a song or is it a comedy bit’ you know. We had to make that decision when we did a song book – 101 Tripod hits and a few of those fall into that category where it’s not really a song. If you’re trying to imagine someone playing this on the ukulele at home – doesn’t get there you know.
With songs or bits like that – is it the chorus comes first?
Yeh – it was pretty groove driven that one – Gatesy was muckin around on guitar and im doing the keyboard.
Often you’d find a chorus that felt right, then (would come) the story. I heard a great tip from Jen Cloher – I’ve never had the guts to do that one but if you find a chorus you like, make it a verse and try and write a chorus even better (laughs)
You have to be a bit brutal with yourself – I take a strange pleasure in cutting stuff these days. Like even if you really love it but you feel the shape isn’t there, there is a weird sadistic thrill I get out of cutting stuff out.
Any writing routines?
I wish I was one of those people who could get up and go straight to work and have a coffee, have breakfast then go back into the studio. But it’s really ad hoc for me. These days I do a lot of screenwriting and illustrating, my week is a real patch work. I’ll loosely have an idea and think I’ve ‘really gotta write that song by the end of the week’. And sort of find time somewhere in there. In all the things I do, I always build in time to not be thinking on it, because your brain will subconsciously be working it out. Then when you come back and look at it you really see stuff clearly that you might not have.
Most people I’ve interviewed have said that their routine is that they don’t have a routine.
Another ritual I have is I don’t have podcasts on if im going from A to B, because that’s when your brain will wander- and if you block it up with podcasts all the time – it really cuts into that time which is precious time for an artist, that’s your bread and butter.
Even text messages.
Yeh and social media, really clogs all that up. I’m not a total teetotaller but I am conscious of avoiding that. And sometimes it’s like ‘of course’ and it all comes clearly to you, if you let your brain do that.
Instead of trying?
Sometimes you have to, but if you build in those times, that’s really good. Allow yourself that freedom. It’s very easy to fall into ‘Im doing this thing- but it’s really gross and unfinished and wonky– but you’re forgetting– youre making it now! Don’t stress that it’s not MADE yet. Because you’re MAKING it, you know. Sometimes you’ve gotta push yourself, but you cannot punish yourself that something’s not finished yet.
And creative stuff is not A to B like building a wall or whatever.
In Tripod I tend to be the guy at the piano going ‘We’ve got a first verse, we’ve got a chorus, but were unsure how the chorus gets to here – so this is the thing we need to solve right now’- kind of structuring the process. When I’m writing for myself, im the opposite. I’ve got all these bits and I try and make sure it’s really open and free and to not be wedded to anything.
Do the other guys work like that as well?
I think they’re naturally that way. Where I fall into the category of structure/cracking the whip guy, they’re like ‘What are we up to now?’ I’m like ‘You thought of 5 solutions for something we already solved, you idiot (laughs). They’re total time travellers those two, they’re like dogs (laughs).
It works well then! What was the first song you wrote?
When I was young I wrote a bunch of really, really embarrassing songs, obviously. The first one was called “It’s a cold night in hell’.
Were you a teenager by any chance?
Yeh, and it was like a AC/DC thing. Like ‘Baby you told me hell would freeze over before you ever loved me, well guess what it’s a cold night in hell.’ Terrible. Really bad.
But you had that feeling of ‘yehh lovin this.’?
I mean I loved doing it but never for one second thought I’d be doing (the whole Tripod thing) for a job.
Have your narrative songs always been driven that way – I assume with Tripod they’re idea based?
We try and keep it free – there’ll be a period- at the start of every production really, there’s this period where everything is possible and you say yes to everything- you definitely try to honour that phase. We’ll have a general topic an example would be a show we did at the Malthouse which was an adaptation of a Russian play on a 3 headed dragon that ran this town.
You guys chose that?
Nope we were cast in it – they were looking for a 3 headed dragon (laughs).
And you wrote the songs?
Yeh. It was our second dragon show in a row. We need to write a 3rd one – it’ll always bother me if there isn’t a trilogy. We knew the themes but we hadn’t settled on where the songs would go- There was a phase at the start where we did what we call ‘bandcamp’ where we go away for the weekend and get wasted, set up the instruments, cook, and jam for 2 or 3 days. We did the same for our show this gaming life- riffs and bits of lyrics. We wrote a song in one night a few years ago, DILF.
Obviously a popular song. I was at Queenscliff last year, that song was definitely played.
That song still comes out (laughs)
The Scott Edgar and The Universe song Met My Match- how dd that come together?
I was really into that Jazz swingy feel at the time. That was really early on on, one of the first I wrote for that band and one of the first I rehearsed with Xani, the violin player, who was like 17 at that time – now she’s working on Come From Away – and Micky Meagher the bass player who’s in The Putbacks now.
How do you know when a song is finished?
I never know when a song is finished. With Tripod, the process is finished when performing live– you’ve got such an opportunity to figure out what’s landing, feeling right, I try not to get too locked in. I’ll often come up with ideas for songs we’ve played for 15 years. Maybe that’s a bad habit, but with comedy I kindof justify doing it, by responding to the audience.
We wrote this song years ago called ‘Text Message’ which was how ridiculous it was at the time (we thought) that people would break up via text message.
Now it’s EVEN worse. But we made a lot of predictive text gags and Nokia 3110 (gags). Recently we thought ‘we’ve gotta at least update those references in the song, to like emoji’s, gifs’.
Any influences in 2019?
I (recently) bought a 130 year old sheet music book of Irish jigs, for $12 at a market.
I guarantee no-one else has said that.