Smart, inventive, and unorthodox, Malleus Trio is one musical act starting to make some noise. If there’s one knock against jazz music, it’s that it’s inaccessible to average music fans. Well, not with this Vancouver-based unit, originally formed in 2007. That’s because its members come from many different musical backgrounds. Bassist Geordie Hart has a soul-pop band called The Boom Booms and has also recorded with artists like Sarah McLachlan, Bryan Adams, Serena Ryder, and Jessie Reyez. Saxophonist Dominic Conway also contributes to other bands and has worked with Peggy Lee, Arkells, and guitarist Steve Dawson. Drummer Ben Brown has a JUNO-winning band called Pugs and Crows and has done a lot of experimental music.

As Malleus Trio, the guys will release their third album, On/Off, on September 22nd. This is a full exploration of their musical range, creating jazz-based music that is both simplistic and curious. Their approach to instrumentation is interesting; it’s stripped down, containing no guitars or piano. It allows them space to create unique approaches to how they play together and arrange their music. Their soulful melodies do a lot of the heavy lifting, and they avoid getting too virtuosic, a common element of more hardcore jazz scenes.

Today we are joined by Malleus Trio for a conversation about the group, their influences, creative process, and more.

How would you describe your own music?

“Ferociously playful. A mysterious groove-based, hook-laden invitation.”

What is the story behind your band name?

“Like probably a lot of band names, it started with, ‘shit, we got a gig, what are we going to call ourselves?’ A copy of Gray’s Anatomy was near at hand, and in it, we found our Malleus, one of a trio of bones responsible for transmitting sound to the inner ear. It’s the hammer to the anvil and stirrup, but all three bones are required to translate input. In other words, you need a Malleus Trio to listen to Malleus Trio.”

How would you describe your creative process?

“Part pit crew assembly, part collective unconscious archeological dig. ‘There’s something down here; I think I’ve got the tail, is that a mandible you’re holding?’ Our bedrock has always been improvisation, a particular sound that the three of us tap into together. From there, we sift out the gems and polish them up for a ring or string them into a necklace.”

Malleus Trio ‘On/Off’ album artwork
Malleus Trio ‘On/Off’ album artwork

Who are your biggest influences?

“We all have pretty distinct tastes individually, and they move around album to album. But this time out, Missy Elliot, Deftones, Busta Rhymes, Carlos Bica, and Miles Davis seemed especially prominent.”

Tell us about On/Off. What was your experience of making it? What went on behind the scenes? Any notable moments stand out?

“The initial writing process was similar to our first two albums: three guys with axes in a room, summoning it up, and hammering it out. Dredging and refining. This time out, though, we decided to play the tunes live as much as possible before recording them to get a feel for how they wanted to breath in that setting. Sometimes a song reveals itself a bit more after it’s been bounced back and forth with an audience a few times. You might know what it is you’re saying, but that experience can shape, sharpen or soften the delivery.”

What is the story behind the name of the new record?

“The album shares its name with the song ‘ON/OFF which leads off the album and features a switched-up groove. We started writing this album shortly after our second album, Play Nice, came out in 2019, and we were on a roll when 2020 came along. Like everybody else, our plans became very on-and-off in nature; a lot of stop-and-start. Having each other and this music to focus on became an important creative outlet and throughline for us.”

For those not familiar with Malleus Trio, can you tell us a little bit about yourselves?

“We’ve been a band since 2007. Right off the bat, there was something there; a distinct identity present whenever the three of us got together. We’ve all been in a number of different projects over the years, but whenever we had the chance, we’d reconvene and pick up right where we left off. The earlier music was largely improvised, but when we finally got to record our first full-length, we set to shaping more structured compositions out of that, and now the music harnesses that exploratory energy inside of song forms. Our new album On/Off is our third, following Play Nice (2019) and our self-titled debut (2017).”

Your new disc, On/Off, has just been released. Now that it is complete, how do you feel about it, and what has the response been so far?

“It feels like a release in so many senses of the word! Getting to this point this time had more and different ups, downs and detours than expected, but we kept at it. We’re proud of how this album came out; On/Off feels true to us and the sound we’ve established while also fanning out of the possibilities of that sound.”

What was a highlight of the last tour you went on?

“In the spring, we went over to Europe as a band for the first time. We played a number of shows in Amsterdam and Berlin. We played our music and also did some collaborating with terrific artists in both cities. Encountering people that had heard of us that far from home and were into what we do was very encouraging.”

Malleus Trio, photo by Tom Gould
Malleus Trio, photo by Tom Gould

Do you receive a lot of support from your local scene or fans in general?

“Yes. Our shows in Vancouver are usually a mix of familiar faces we’ve seen since the start and newer listeners who’ve heard about us through word of mouth or maybe radio or online. We’re particularly proud that we draw from a wide range of listeners; from hip-hop heads to jazz fans to rock n’ rollers and points in between. We’ve got eclectic tastes, and it’s nice to know that our audience does too.”

When recording On/Off, did anything strange, wonderful, or terrible occur?

“We recorded On/Off at The Warehouse in Vancouver, which is owned by Bryan Adams. He happened to be working in the studio upstairs while we were there. On the last day of our tracking, he threw a birthday party for his mother in the kitchen area. We were down to the wire, listening to some playback in the control room, when there was a knock at the door, and it was Bryan coming to say hello and thank us for being cool about the kitchen usage. He was pleasant, listened to some playback, and invited us to stick around and have some birthday cake with his mom.”


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