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To Rebel in The Times: Jack River in Conversation with Briggs

A jack-of-all trades, and a beacon of change, Briggs speaks to Jack River in the latest episode of her 'To Rebel in The Times' podcast.

Ever since he first hit the scene as a 19-year-old rapper, Adam Briggs has been a force to be reckoned with. A powerhouse of musical talent, he’s only furthered his versatility as the years have gone on, proving there’s barely a single aspect of the entertainment industry he’s yet to conquer.

From his work as a solo artist, to his work as part of the supergroup duo A.B. Original, Briggs has always used his art to help bring about change in the local and international. Add in his comedic talents, his acting, and writing, and there’s no platform out there that Briggs is yet to bring his impeccable influence to.

With a new EP on the way, and with his book Our Home, Our Heartbeat being certified as the best-selling children’s book in Australia last month, Briggs recently appeared on the latest episode of Jack River’s newly-launched To Rebel in The Times podcast.

Having featured guests such as Cub Sport’s Tim Nelson, Portugal. The Man frontman John Gouley, and Kita Alexander, the podcast has seen these artists discussing topics close to them. Now, Briggs’ appearance as the latest guest on the series has seen the Yorta Yorta artist discussing how he has brought about change within his community and industry by starting small and staying determined.

So Briggs, thank you so much for being a part of To Rebel In The Times. I’ve never been more excited to have a conversation

Cool. Thank you for having me. I’m in my car at the moment where I conduct most of my business.

Okay, so I knew you did lot of stuff, like a lot, and I’ve been following you for a long time. But spending the time over the past few weeks to actually grasp how much you really do has absolutely fucking blown my mind. So do you rest? Have you rested at all during this Corona time in our world?

No. To put it shortly and quickly, no. I get restless and if I’m not doing something, I get pretty bored. I’ve always got to be making something, so I’ll rest when I’m done. I think that’s my normal approach to everything I do. I’ll rest when I’m finished though.

I think going into Corona and COVID whatever, it was an opportunity for me to adapt and switch u p and try and accomplish some new things with the challenges in place, with our environment. So I didn’t really find it a time to really chill out or anything like that. If anything, it was more a license for me to go harder.

I love that. I feel a little bit the same, so it’s good to know. But you’ve honestly done so much. I have so much respect for your work ethic.

So your incredibly important book, My Home My Heartbeat, released this May, walks the reader through the shoes of Indigenous Australian heroes celebrating their stories and their victories whilst coming back to this beautiful refrain, “My history is my strength. My future is my own. My community is a part of me. It’s my time, my heartbeat.”

When did these words or this understanding of yourself and your people’s legacy begin to sink in? And did you feel these words growing up or did you wish you could’ve heard them earlier?

When I was formatting the book, because it was already a song obviously, “The Children Came Back”. And when I formatting the book, it was something I really wanted to make the book stand on its own, so it just wasn’t a lyric printout or something that I had already written. And I really wanted to update it and make it super accessible for kids. And also just give a message that maybe they hadn’t heard yet. I guess as well it’s like the message that maybe I needed to hear when I was a kid.

So it’s part of when I was making that book, when I was writing it, you just want to make the best product and the best piece of art that you can in that moment. And in a book, you have all these opportunities to say so much that you don’t get to say in a song. And especially for the age demographic.

They were the kind of words that I felt kind of encompassed the whole spirit of that book, of that art, and the whole idea around it. I don’t get a lot of opportunities to do G-rated stuff.

Amazing. Or you don’t choose to do G-rated stuff.

So it was my opportunity to say something really quickly. And it went nuts. I didn’t expect it to do what it had done either.

Is it the best selling Australian children’s book right now?

Something like that.

Like in June.

It’s the best selling kids book or something. It’s crazy.

It’s so crazy. And it’s so cool to see Thelma in there. I absolutely love it.

It’s just good to be able to celebrate for once.

Absolutely. And can you tell me a little bit about growing up on Yorta Yorta country and Shepparton and I guess when music became a big part of your life. What were the moments around that?

I’m sitting outside of my childhood house right now and I’m looking at the primary school down the street which I loathed to go every morning and hated. It was a pretty standard kind of rural city upbringing. I thought it was pretty standard until you get a little bit older and you start to see a lot of the symptoms and stuff of racism and a racist town in which we grew up. Like our community was really strong, we have the largest Indigenous population outside of Melbourne or any capital city and I think more than anywhere else per capita in Victoria.

And so there was a strong sense of community here. So it wasn’t like I felt very alone but you definitely felt excluded. That exclusion, which I feel like is the main source of racism, was very prevalent. And it’s something, an obstacle that we dealt with and still continue to deal with every day.

And I guess that feeling of exclusion seems to have propelled you to create so many including kind of record label, children’s book, music, all of these things are so inclusive, right?

Yeah. Well, I think it was important to build something and build things up and help build other people as well. As many as you can, as many as you want. So it’s not enough just for my own success, there has to be other success to really feel like people are winning and there’s a shift.

I can see that the name of your record label, Bad Apples, came from a song and turned into a record label. Also “The Children Came Back” inspired your children’s book, My Home My Heartbeat. So it’s like throughout these things that you’re creating, you’re coming out with your philosophy and your belief, a kind of like dream. And then you make a vision, a physical reality, especially for Indigenous people. Is this what’s happening?

I just try to milk every idea that I have and try to figure out how many different ways I can flip this thing. You know what I mean? It’s like when you hear about books being turned into movies and screenplays coming from theater, just the growth of an idea. I was always interested in if this is the seed, where does this go? Like what is the growth of this. I’m not too interested in creating stuff that is just one thing.

Dimensional, yeah. Cool.

It doesn’t really turn into anything else. Sometimes those things are just fun to make and you put them out and away you go. But the real fulfilment I get is from an idea that has a plan and there is longevity. That’s my main process when it comes to creating something. It’s like how many different ways can we flip this thing to-

Make it a reality and entrench it deeply.

To change someone else’s reality too and give it importance and relevance and stuff. If things are one-dimensional, they’re not normally relevant or at least they’re not relevant for too long. You know what I mean?

Yeah, that’s awesome. And does music come first for you? And then those kind of the will to change comes out of a song or is it more kind of inter-relational?

I think at this point it’s like everything feeds into everything. So it’s like music is first just because that’s what I’ve always done.

And it’s fun.

And it’s like I know it like the back of my hand. It’s like when we started the record label, it was always going to be hip-hop first because that’s what I know. I can do that in my sleep.

But it was like if we really want to change things and challenge stuff, we need to access artists like Alice Skye and push her to the forefront and push her story so young girls can see themselves in these positions and being artists and being songwriters and being great. You know what I mean?

So music was always first just because that was my wheelhouse. That’s where I played the most and that’s what I knew how to do. But now it’s kind of like things are a little bit more even-handed. It’s like I can go and I have cut my teeth in writing scripts and stuff, so I can start over there now. You know what I mean? It doesn’t have to always stem from a musical endeavour.

That’s bloody epic to have created that kind of palette of ways you can express and change things.

Well, I just like making stuff. That’s first and foremost. Even in iso, I hit up my mate Ben, who’s like a crazy talented chef, like he’s a dude with an actual gift, and got him to teach me how to make garlic bread. You know what I mean? I’ve got to make stuff. It’s the creation that I really … I think that’s why I’m surprised at the success of the book because I don’t really think about the other side too much. I’m just more intent on the process of creating it.

That’s awesome. Briggs:

Because once I make it, I kind of put it down and walk away and then I go and try and make something else. And everyone’s like, “Hey, that book you wrote is coming out.” I’m like, “Oh, okay.”

It’s always so good to hear. And I feel the same about creating things. I never, ever think of the other side. It’s always the fun of making it. And I think it’s reassuring when you know that about someone, that it’s not about the other side. I think that’s cool.

So if we could talk Bad Apples, the label for a moment. Coming back to the song first, the lyrics of the song, your song “Bad Apples”, talks about kids who have had the system against them, kids who are more likely to go to jail than make it to year 12. The lyrics in this song are calling to give them a chance and give them what they need to succeed.

Instead of just singing about this, you went and created Bad Apples record label, signing amazing artists like Alice Skye and Nooky, literally creating the support structure for young artists to thrive and get backing and access world class guidance.

So how did you take this from lyrics and that intention in a song to reality? I know that’s a bloody big question, but can you describe some of those moments that pushed it into reality?

I grew up in a community in Shepparton of overachievers. You know what I mean? Like the community that I grew up in was always doing something extraordinary, something different, something that was pushing the boundaries, like anomalies.

And so I just took the blueprints and the structures that were already around me as a kid and all the things that I had seen my parents do and my family do and put that same work ethic and the same method into creating a record label.

So I was talking with my manager at the time, Sam, and I said, “I could probably do it.” That was it. I was like, “I could probably do that. I know rap music.” M y whole motto was always do simplenthings great and let the big things work themselves out. And so that was always my plan. I was like just do small things amazing. Make small things amazing and just start by changing little things in people’s lives.

And the whole purpose of the label was to kind of give a bunch of Indigenous kids the opportunity and the business acumen like the Hilltop Hoods gave me in the fact that we could create and turn myself into a business and turn myself into an earner and be my own boss. And understand that this thing that we do is a brand and is a business and try to teach these kids how to run their music careers as a business.

Which is so, so awesome that you look at it in that way in that you’re providing that guidance along side the wonderful creativity.

Well, they’re already artists, you know what I mean?

Yeah, that’s it. And that’s what a label should be.

They don’t need me to tell them how to make art. They don’t need me to tell them how to make art. But what they need me to help them with is how to push things and when to push and how things may roll out. Also, just understand that sometimes things just don’t work all the time.

I know it looks like everything I touch and everything I do works but for every one thing that does work, there might be five or ten things that don’t. You know what I mean? But the whole purpose of it is I’ve never quit when something sucked or something didn’t work as well as I thought it would. I’d always just be like, “Okay, well, next one. Let’s go.”

Which is so inspiring to all of the artists around you, myself included, seeing someone continually do shit. It’s really cool so thank you.

Well, it’s like what else are you going to do? You know what I mean? You’re an artist or you’re not. And it’s like if you make things, you’re going to make things. And nobody’s telling you not to, nobody’s asking you for it. You have to first and foremost make these things because that’s what you do.

It’s up to you.

And then the business will come later. But if you are a creator and that’s what you do, it’s like you’ll find a way to make things.

I haven’t asked you this before, I’m sure people ask you all the time, what it means, but can you tell me about Briggs For PM and Senator Briggs? Because some people actually really want you in politics and we need to know what’s happening there.

I just can’t see myself hand on the Bible, swearing an oath to the Queen that I’m going to uphold the framework of parliament. That’s just not really in my being. If you can do that, if you can swear the oath to the Queen that you’re going to uphold the conduct of parliament and be good and-

Have tea with Lizzy and shit.

Yeah, cool. That’s all good. But that’s just not me. And the whole purpose of Senator Briggs, it’s just funny to me. That’s all. It’s just funny to me.

Do you see yourself at all as like a people’s politician in the work that you do or it’s just funny?

The Senator Briggs thing comes from a Simpsons joke because that’s what Homer thinks that he’s going to be when he robs the Kwik-E-Mart. He has a dream that he would be senator on a plantation house somewhere and Marge is a go-go dancer. And that’s the joke. It’s like senator. What would life be like if I rob the Kwik-E-Mart? And that’s where it really comes from.

And then people would be like, “You can’t be a senator.” And I was like, “Well, no.” You know what I mean? I’ve done all this other stuff. But it’s a good troll for all my detractors. Like, “You can’t be prime minister.” And it’s like, “Yes, I can.” “No.” You know what I mean?

Well, one day.

And it’s just like a succinct nice title. You know what I mean. And it’s a shout-out to Eric B as well, a hip-hop godfather. You know, “Eric B For President”. So there’s a hip-hop history to that title as well. But I don’t ever intend to have a boring job.

Amazing. That’s good to know.

I feel like I’m more influential not toeing the party line and saying whatever I want whenever I want, how I want.

I totally agree. I love that. Okay, cool. The role of comedy in your career so far has been pretty prolific with songs like “HouseFyre” with Tim Minchin or the film clip for “Life Is Incredible” and obviously all of your other work writing and acting. And you seem like a very natural comedian, which is great. A great tool to have in the belt that some of us like me do not have. But is using comedy in most things you do an active decision?

I just think it’s just who I am.

It’s natural.

It’s like comedy’s always just been a part of the way that I make sense of the world through analogies, the sketches and stuff that I’ve written. The idea was that I was able to make sense of the world through comedy. And that’s how I learnt to make sense of a lot of global political things. And if it was Bill Burr, or Dave Chappelle, or Eddie Murphy, or Patrice O’Neil, or Bill Hicks These are the guys … Or George Carlin. The kind of guys-

Softens the blow.

Well, sometimes it softens the blow for some people. But for me it was like really sharp. Everything was so sharp and it was like if that softens the blow it’s because they’re not getting hit with a sledgehammer. It’s like they’re getting a silencer.

Sometimes it can be far more succinct than-

And like these people, these dudes sum up the way you’re feeling or the state of politics really quickly. And there was a lot of power to that. And it was something that I think just always resonated with me.

You know in Australia how we’ve got a bit of a take-a-joke-mate culture and we don’t have a great track record of taking things seriously. Everything’s kind of always turned into a joke. Do you think there’s an element of that that means our culture is afraid of truth? Or do you think it’s something that is positive in our culture and that will be conducive to some kind of progression?

I think a lot of Australian comedy, like everything else, is just imported. You know what I mean? And Australia’s big export I feel is arrogance and entitlement. We call ourselves as a lucky country and what not without really acknowledging-

What’s really going on

What luck really is. Luck is dispossession. The really kind of dismantling 200 years of occupation and dispossession of indigenous people. You’re really able to build a wealthy country when you don’t pay for anything.

And so I think as well Australia has a rich comedy industry that is full of talented comedians. The good ones do reflect on Australia really truthfully. But Australia collectively, Australia as a country has not ever really acknowledged the dispossession outside of lip service and ornamental kind of gestures I feel.

So the best comedy comes from truth and tragedy. You know what I mean? So we’ve got a lot of truth and tragedy here but I don’t feel like Australia’s really tapped into it yet.

Of course recently we’re all aware of this surge in cultural attention and awareness around injustices globally. And then Australia kindly cottoned on to their own injustices, in particular Indigenous deaths in custody and the disproportion of Indigenous people in incarceration in Australia.

But it would be insane not to discount the hundreds of years and tens of years that people in our country have been working toward change, mostly Indigenous people. But you’re included in this group of people who have been working for years, not just a couple of months.

Yes.

I think we’ve spoken earlier and you’ve said it’s just we’ve got to keep on doing the work and nothing’s different about these last few months. Can you talk to that a little bit and where you’re sitting with feeling about this time we’re living in?

I just feel like every single time something like this happens, it always feels different. But pragmatically looking at it, to me it feels that same. I don’t feel like there’s much difference to the other times honestly.

And there’s not a magic pill that fixes anything, especially in our country.

No. And it’s a lot of the boring work that’s not very romantic. It’s not a protest with thousands of people. It’s policy advocacy, and infrastructure building, and enterprise building, and business building, and employment and health. It’s all these kinds of boring things that really do change the lives of people and really does better the lives.

I feel like a lot of people are happy to latch themselves to a protest because it’s kind of exciting.

And it’s one day in the calendar.

And then they put it down, they put their placard down, and job done. They feel very moved But I just feel like, I wrote it on my Instagram, it’s like you did that yesterday. What are you doing today?

What are you doing every single day?

It’s a call to action. Do something. You don’t have to do everything, but you have to do something. And while people are uncomfortable at the moment, it’s the perfect time to shift things and change things.

Absolutely. And if you were speaking to a young person who’s in high school or fresh out of high school, whatever, and they’re deciding what to do with their life, they haven’t made the cultural mistake of being sleepy, where would you say to begin?

Where you feel needs you. You know what I mean? That’s where you start.

Follow your gut.

It’s like, where do you feel would appreciate your input? Or where do you need to learn? You know what I mean? What can you give to a movement or an organisation or a cause that is uniquely yours and uniquely you? And I feel like that is like the biggest lesson in all this stuff is what is uniquely yourself.

That is awesome. I love that. And now I’ll go to what you’ve done again. So you’ve redefined the modern political pop song in Australia with songs like “January 26”. You’ve started a label to increase Indigenous representation in music. You’ve got a show on Apple Beats 1 called The New Australia. You’ve written with comic genius Matt Groening, you’ve written a children’s book, won ARIA awards.

Your creativity is coming through so many formats. And if you zoom back and did that gut feel thing, if you went to the heart of everything, is there a single idea or feeling that’s driving it all?

Legacy. It’s like what are you making that you can look back on or your grandkids or whatever can look back on in 80 years and great-grandkids and look back on and be like, “My great-great-grandfather did this.” You know what I mean? And it stood the test of time.

It’s all about legacy. For me, personally, it’s about legacy. And I feel like to have something stand the test of time, you have to change things around you. And to sustain your own legacy, you have to build the success of others, hence the record label. And hence the kids book. It’s about sparking an idea in a kid that they may not have thought were them yesterday.

There’s a few things that I always trail back to and it’s like you weren’t that yesterday, you’re this today. What are you going to be tomorrow? You know what I mean?

Yeah, that’s awesome.

So it’s always about pushing yourself to try something new, and not having to try everything, but try something new. And that’s what the book is about. It’s like being able to see yourself in another way because I think kids need that. They need to be able to see themselves in different lights, and different structures, and different places, and different industries so they can be that.

And so those are always the things that I strive for in my own career, to try and change how it looks after I’ve touched it. You know what I mean? Like after I’ve been there, I want it to be a little bit different.

That’s really fucking cool. I really, really love that. I want to write it on my wall. That’s so good. Thank you. So you’ve just answered everything so bloody succinctly.

That’s the other thing. Don’t waste time.

Fucking love it. It’s great. Following from everything you’ve just said, you said in an interview with Conan, “There’s no point in me winning and doing all this stuff unless it reflects home.” You’ve also given your ARIA Award to a local café in Shepparton so kids can pick it up and no someone from their town won that award and envisioned their own dreams, which is so fucking cool. Seems like there’s a huge part of you that cares so much about leaving tracks in the sand for the next generation in everything you do, which you’ve just confirmed.

So if you went home to your Yorta Yorta Country, you’re in your car right now, if you were looking at a kid standing outside that school today, what is one big piece of advice you’d give them?

School sucks, but go anyway. It’s so hard because I had such a bad time at school. I really didn’t enjoy it. So if I see myself outside of school really hating it, I’m not sure what I would say other than it turns out all right. Just keep doing what you’re doing. It turns out okay. And I drive off.

Just keep doing what you’re doing, it turns out all right. Don’t worry.

That’s great advice for this time in the world for so many young people. Must feel pretty fucked, pretty strange.

Yeah, I think the thing is all the things that I’ve learnt is just like never stop, never give up. Good work is hard work but not all hard work is good work.

I love that. Can you be my wise uncle or brother? Wonderful.

All good work is hard work but not all hard work is good work. Just know the difference. There’s so much that I want to do and I haven’t done yet that I’ll keep on making things. And so other kids know that they can make things too. You know what I mean? If I can make all these different things, you can make one.

Absolutely. I love that.

And there’s room for you and there’s room for everybody. You know what I mean? There’s room for everybody. It’s a common thing that people, they quit after they get beaten once. But there’s a real thing in sticking to your guns and being strong in who you are.

But I feel like the hard work is good work is hard work. That’s my favourite.

I love that. Well, thank you so much. I felt that in my gut. I needed to hear that. Thank you. And I’m sure everyone’s going to appreciate this so much. So honestly, thank you so much for your time. I know you could be doing a million things with it so I feel really honored to have a tiny piece of it. Thank you.

Honestly, there’s not much to do in Shepparton so I’m chilling.

ShepLife.

Indeed.

Jack River’s To Rebel in The Times podcast is available now, with new episodes arriving weekly