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Trash Boat’s Tobi Duncan: “We Need To Introduce The Idea That People Can Make Radical Change Happen”

Jack Rogers
Jack Rogers 16 April 2021 at 15.00

With the release of their new track 'Silence Is Golden', Trash Boat are looking to start a positive and powerful conversation. Let vocalist Tobi Duncan explain...

Trash Boat
have just released their new track 'Silence Is Golden'.

It sounds a lot like this:

Rather than writing a track that just angrily points at those in power for their failings and hoping that things change, the band have instead set out to start a passionate and positive conversation about wealth and the clear divide that it triggers. With a plethora of resources in tow and a thirst to learn and to grow, Trash Boat are opening up a whole new channel of communication for people who may have felt out of their depth previously.

We jumped on the phone with vocalist Tobi Duncan to discuss the inspirations behind the track and how exactly they have reached a place where they feel confident and comfortable to approach issues such as this...

Where did this song start its life? How did you set about building it into this new era of the band?
“This track, and the topic behind it, is the most difficult one to approach and discuss. I can talk about my LGBTQ+ leanings all day. I can have that conversation for hours, and then if anyone asks me to follow up questions, I’m already there. Then the song that we are releasing after this one is all about hedonism and giving in to your worst impulses. But ‘Silence Is Golden’ is quite politically motivated, and I always have, to an extent, kept my mouth shut about these sorts of things because when you start talking about the government and social issues, it’s such an intensely grey area. There are so many factors and opinions, and statistics. It’s just a mess. The moment that you step up and try and take that Zach De La Rocha angle on things, all of a sudden, you open yourself up to the debate. That debate has so many elements to it as well.

“I’m not the most intelligent guy when it comes to social issues. For this song, I’ve had to reach out to many friends who have worked in grassroots movements and collated a massive list of what I believe are pragmatic and effective news sources. So the track's whole ethos stems from bringing light to wealth, social inequality, and media bias. Though the thing is that you can step up on that pedestal and say, ‘Things are bad’, and people will shout back, ‘Yeah, things are bad!’, but at the end of the day, what can we do about it? The crushing reality is that you can feed people statistics about the 1% and its effect on wealth inequality, but what can we do about it? It’s such a leviathan of an issue and so unapproachable, especially for people like me and the people who listen to our music because people at the top of society's upper echelons are so untouchable. We live in a world where Boris Johnson refers to a £250,000 deal he made as ‘Chicken Feed’. There’s an intense debate about whether healthcare workers pay should go up by just 1%. The whole system is geared towards proving that all of these issues will elicit such visceral responses from the general public. Still, those people are so untouchable that the anger we feel is just going to end up going down the street than up to the top. It’s easy to blame your neighbour.

“And then the media is so sensationalised and geared towards making the general public think that all decisions are binary. You’re either with us, or you’re against us. They only have a tiny amount of time to cover an extremely complicated social issue, and they will dress it up as ‘In or out'. You’re able to have a three-hour podcast with ten of the world’s leading economic minds and still only scratch the surface of some of these issues. It’s just crazy to me.

“So this song, the best it can, is trying to shine a light on some of these issues. The song has to sound good. I’m not going to be Zach De La Rocha coming out here and dropping slam poetry that deconstructs years of social and racial inequality. What I hope to achieve is to write a fucking banger that gets people listening, and then have sources where I can then say, ‘All of this is so larger than life and can make you feel so helpless, but here are some resources where people may share your views’. Here are some grassroots things that you can do. Here are some news sources, podcasts, all of these places where you can go and look and make you feel a little bit more involved in a pragmatic way that makes the world seem a little less impossible.”

In many ways, writing a song such as this and providing these assets makes the whole issue seem more human. It gives it flesh and blood rather than nuts and bolts and makes the whole thing feel much less disconnected. And when you have the opportunity to provide that, you’re going to utilise it…
“Yeah. I heard a quote on a podcast the other night that I love. They said, ‘The objective, neutral epidemiology can do neo-liberal work’. Most models do very little to open the public’s imagination to radical change. When you look at how things are will lead you to believe certain things about things will be. That’s what the data suggests, so that’s where it’s heading, and there’s nothing we can do about it. We need to introduce the idea that people can make radical change happen. These things are possible. And the only people who will lead you to believe that they aren’t are doing so to protect their financial gain.”

The thing is that it would almost be easier for you to think, ‘We’re just a band, what can we do?’, but that’s something that has practically been programmed into you. For you to stand in a studio and make something that will still be in the world long after Trash Boat is gone, that’s the result of taking that step…
“My concern was always that if I wrote a song then handed out some statistics, if someone knowledgeable put me on the spot, I would then reach a dead end pretty quickly, and it would nullify everything put me on the spot we had said. I would become a lightning rod for people saying, He wrote this song and thinks he is woke, and now he’s wrong’. That’s why I never felt confident enough. Though now it’s not about me being this beacon of social intelligence. It’s more a case of me starting the conversation and taking it back to simple things that people can do in their day-to-day and to be more aware of. It’s about focusing this built up energy that everybody has in a much more pragmatic way and keep it away from shit that isn’t going to do anything. We could direct so much energy into more valuable areas, and people can take more responsibility in knowing how they are taking a little bit of power back. Unions are a great way to do that, for example. They help people band together and create stronger structures to fight people who already have stronger assets on their side.”

It feels like there has been a massive leap between what you were trying to achieve on ‘Crown Shyness’ and what you are trying to achieve now. Where did things start to shift?

"I always wanted to maintain an air of humility around me and not take too much of a big stand or make too much of a spectacle of myself. I didn’t want to be that guy who was trying to latch on to some big issue for the sake of clout. Like, am I going to interview Naom Chomsky? No. So what’s the point in me standing up because I’m not going to be the guy to fix it. So all of the songs we would write would be introspective and about feelings and anxieties and this and that. We did that for two full-length albums. ‘Crown Shyness’ was great as well, but it was still reserved in a way. Now with COVID and not being able to play shows and me generally getting older, the types of songs we were writing and how we were writing them were changing. ‘He’s So Good’, the song we will release next, and two other tracks were written in the studio in a day. We just said, ‘Fuck it, we’re going to write what sounds good’. Then I just wrote lyrics there and then. That mentality is just continuing to creep in. I now feel like I’m not just bastardising these issues for my gain. I’m learning about these things, I feel strongly about these things, and I want people to understand more about what they can personally do. It does not hold up in the academic arena, but that’s not what it’s for. It’s to keep the conversation going. I’m putting the effort in, and I’m learning and asking and getting more and more resources. I’m more inclined to have these conversations now than before.”

Having a positive conversation in our world constructively is such an important thing to happen. You’re speaking to the kids in the queue outside your show about these things in a way that they probably haven’t heard before…
“100%. I’m no longer scared about it. I’m no longer checking myself. That’s because the motivation behind the song is no longer in question. I know exactly why I’m doing this. I know exactly what I want to get from it.”

How does it feel to be in a position with Trash Boat, after the journey that you have been on, where you can contribute in such a way?
“Yeah, it feeds into everything that I have been feeling for the last year. Not being able to tour and seeing the last 18 months of my career in Trash Boat and my life, in general, bleed away. I have just got all of that energy ready to go. It’s not anxiousness. It’s eagerness. I have no patience anymore, and it’s being channelled in a good way. We’re not going to write songs now just because we want to be considered cool by people who listen to the type of music we like. We used to write thinking, ‘If we write a song like this we will be able to go on tour with this band’ or, ‘If we write songs like this, people who went crazy at that show will go crazy at our show’. Now we say, ‘Does it sound good? Let’s stick it down’.

“We ended up scrapping a load of songs off this upcoming record whilst we were in the studio. We only had two weeks in there to record the whole thing. That’s not a lot of time, and considering that we wrote four songs in the studio, what we got done in two weeks is insane. We got to the last three or four days, and we listened to a demo we had, and I just said, ‘That beat is fat, so let’s turn it into a three-minute song, and I’ll put some lyrics over it’. It was the first time we wrote a tune where we said, ‘It sounds good, so we’re doing it’. I would never have believed we would do something like that, even on ‘Crown Shyness’. It’s filled me with this confidence and energy where I’m ready to treat it like the next big thing. I now have enough reference points and context that I’m able to put this stuff out there with a higher degree of confidence.”

And finally, what is it about ‘Silence Is Golden’ as a statement that stood out for you? What do those three words mean as a way to umbrella all of this?
“The best methods that people in power can use to maintain their power come from promoting and controlling the silence of the people who can change it. The full lyric is, ‘Silence is golden to those who control it’. If you shut everyone up, then everything will just stay the same. If you want everything to stay the same because you’re the one holding all the cards, then the best thing to do is keep everybody quiet.”

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