Take a band, stick them on a tram, let the artistry ensue. That’s the concept behind Tram Sessions, a not-for-profit project aiming to bring more culture into the public spaces of Melbourne.
The brainchild of two Swedish ex-pats, Nicklas Wallberg and Carl Malmsten, Tram Sessions is a labour of love that’s quickly turning into a viral sensation. In its early days, Wallberg and Malmsten were approaching Australian bands to play on their trams; now it’s the other way round, as word-of-mouth spreads through the Australian music community. Lanie Lane, Dead Letter Chorus and Hey Rosetta! have all performed, and if you watch your Facebook feed closely, you’re bound at some point to spot a friend’s phone-captured video of a session going down.
A guerrilla-arts success story Tram Sessions may be, but Wallberg and Malmsten aren’t stopping there. Indeed, they’re currently undertaking a project so ambitious that it may just work: getting Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters to jam on a Melbourne tram. At the time of writing, and with the Foo’s latest tour a month away, the Facebook events page is humming with almost 1700 signatories. Can they do it? It’s going to be fascinating to find out.
So how did two Swedes in their late 20s come up with an idea that’s so quintessentially Melbourne? And how close are they to cajoling Grohl, Mendel and co. onto one of their trams? Everguide got on the horn to Wallberg to find out.
Matt Shea: You’re from Sweden originally. How long have you lived in Melbourne for, Nick?
Nicklas Wallberg: In Melbourne, for about two years. But in Australia, it adds up to about six years. I was an exchange student about 11 years ago in Mildura, and that’s where the connection with Australia started, I guess.
MS: Was it your background in advertising that fed into the Tram Sessions idea, do you think?
NW: My degree is in communications, and I’ve always been working in PR and that kind of stuff, but I think it was a mix of interest in new things – ideas and especially online ideas – and then a big passion for music, really.
MS: Had you seen something like this done before elsewhere in the world?
NW: Yeah. There’s the Black Cab Sessions in London, the Take-Away Shows on La Blogothèque in Paris – they were the ones who started the whole thing. They’re great inspirations. The basic idea has been done before – the concept of playing music in weird places – but what Tram Sessions does is take that idea and make it completely new, because the potential for energy on a tram is amazing. You have all these people, and they’re enclosed in an environment, and when you bring in a whole band and they start to play around with the commuters’ environment, the reaction and interaction is amazing. I can’t describe it other than it being this clash of emotions, really.
MS: Did you and Carl have a few nervous moments when you hijacked your first tram?
NW: Oh yeah [laughs]. We thought it would be fine and we thought people would enjoy it, but you never know. So we basically went around and asked people. When we film now we have a bit of a team involved, but I go around and just talk to people and let them know what’s going on, and I think that works really well because they then relax a bit more and they can enjoy it a bit more and there are more smiles – sometimes they even sing along and dance and stuff, so it’s pretty cool.
MS: Yarra Trams: were they onboard from the first session or did you approach it in a more guerrilla fashion at first?
NW: No. We did a pilot at the beginning. That’s when we had my partner’s sister actually – she joined in and sang a bit. But we quickly realised that if we wanted to do it properly, we would need to get proper approval. That’s when the relationship with Yarra Trams began, and they’ve been great. This is an added extra for them. It’s not what they usually do and nothing that they want to spend too much energy on, so we’re just trying to make it as easy and simple for them as possible.
MS: You’ve talked before about the closure of music venues around Melbourne being an inspiration for the project. That’s a bit of a problem at the moment, you think?
NW: Yeah. I think music has sort of become something that only a few people can enjoy. I think that it’s partly because music venues are closing down, but it’s also people don’t have time to listen to music or listen to a live gig. Often gigs are quite late because the venue doesn’t get enough people and people don’t drink enough alcohol and they don’t get enough money. So this is bringing back music to everyone; not just the really keen people who have time and money and energy to go to gigs. And it’s just breaking the barrier between public space and art and music. I really like that, because things are often so segregated in society now, and if we break the barrier between things we can have a much more vibrant place to live in.
MS: Do you think the Melbourne public are almost the perfect audience for this – that they’re receptive to this sort of thing?
NW: Definitely. The number of times we hear from people, “This is great. This is so Melbourne.” [laughs] We hear that all the time. There have been similar projects in Sweden, but over there people definitely question it a bit more. Here, people really enjoy the vibe. Yeah: the Melbourne audience is amazing and up for anything, really.
MS: I’ve caught some of the sessions going viral, with friends bumping into you on the trams and recording the sessions. Have you guys really noticed it going viral in that way?
NW: Every time we jump on the tram, I go around and hand out fliers telling people what Tram Sessions is, just so people know what’s going on. Now we get the comment, “Oh yeah! Tram Sessions. Finally I’m on a tram.” I no longer have to explain everything all the time [laughs]. People know about it.
MS: So you want to get the Foo Fighters on a tram.
NW: Hell yeah! [laughs]
MS: When exactly did that idea come to you and Carl?
NW: I was interviewed for a blog maybe four months ago. I got the question: “What would be your favourite band to have on the tram?” I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought about that question beforehand – it’s pretty obvious. So I said Foo Fighters, and the reason for that is, firstly, I’m a big fan myself and they’ve touched a period in my life. Also, I just think that they’re people who like to have a lot of fun. They break the conventions of rock pretty frequently and they’re not afraid to try something else, even if it is a bit stupid. They’re keen for a challenge, and I really appreciate that. To see them going from 68,000 people at Wembley to 100 people on a tram, it’s a pretty cool concept. It’s about getting people closer to their heroes, I guess. You can see them on television or at a big concert, but here you can actually be half a metre away from Dave Grohl.
MS: Their concert’s still four or five weeks away, but how’s the momentum for the project?
NW: It’s going great guns, actually. The Facebook petition is ticking over all the time without us doing anything. Last week we got on the front page of MX in Melbourne and generated quite a lot of momentum. We also managed to get hold of the management of Foo Fighters, so we’ve been in contact with them, which is really exciting. Nothing is set, but we know where they live [laughs] and we will just keep going and going, and see what they say in the end!
MS: Have you found that the Foo Fighters idea on its own is feeding right back into Tram Sessions?
NW: Most definitely. People get it. It’s like anything: in the beginning when you start a new concept you’ll always have people who will question it, but now they’re starting to see that there are a lot of people interested and loving it. We had a Canadian band, Hey Rosetta!, on last week and they absolutely loved playing. It was amazing. Because bands never do these things: you’ll do the promotional stuff and it’s all produced and tracked, I guess. But this is raw: one take, jump in a tram, they start to play, and we film it.
MS: You’ve mentioned how your requests to bands have now turned around to bands requesting to play on the trams. Was there a particular point when that started happening?
NW: I think it was the end of August. We got good coverage in The Age. We were on there, but also the week before that we got a lot of publicists and managers emailing us. I think that was when it clicked for me. We’ve had a lot of good bands, because Melbourne is full of them – it’s amazing – but we’ve never really had managers and publicists calling us. But in August the publicists and the managers started contacting us.
MS: Looking beyond the possibilities of Foo Fighters, what’s the future of Tram Sessions? Are you going to keep this thing going or let it feed into something else?
NW: We will continue on in Melbourne and make the project more stable, and just get a good mix of established and up-and-coming artists. The mix is really important to us. Then we have heaps of ideas on how to expand it, but it’s all a little bit secret at the moment! [laughs]
Sign the petition to get the Fooeys on a tram here.
WORDS: Matt Shea