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A Jam on your Tram

Amanda Yap

Tue Oct 25 2011

The Quarry Mountain Dead Rats, Tram Sessions

IF YOU’VE ever travelled on a Melbourne city tram with a smiling, singing musical group and their instruments on board, then you’re probably one of the lucky ones to have experienced a live Tram Session.

The concept of Tram Sessions is fairly simple – get an artist or a band to perform on a tram, record the performance, and then upload it online for the viewing pleasure of a larger audience.

One of the not-for-profit organisation’s aims is to encourage the use of sustainable transport by making music and art available to commuters on city trams.

Tram Sessions co-founder Nick Wallberg says when he and a friend first moved to Melbourne, they had decided it would be fun to do something with their love of music and its communication.

Wallberg says coming up with the idea of Tram Sessions had not been not a huge process, and “it came quite simply to us” after looking at and drawing inspiration from similar projects around the world such as London’s Black Cab Sessions.

“We thought Melbourne trams were the obvious choice to put amazing music on, because there are loads of people on them and we wanted to have the interaction with them.

“There is a clash of emotions when music and art is brought into a place that doesn’t usually have energy. If you bring a lot of energy into a tram, there’s a really interesting clash which becomes something really beautiful and joyful, and what results then is really magic – I can’t get enough of it,” Wallberg says.

Melbourne band The Messengers wait to hop on the number 86 tram with their instruments

Melbourne band The Messengers wait to hop on the number 86 tram with their instruments. Photo supplied.

While the idea may have been conceived easily, it had taken a long time to get it officially moving.

“We had the idea, it was really cool, it had legs. But we obviously needed to try it out – we got a band on a tram, we filmed it, we saw how people reacted in the tram, and then we put it on a website. And it was a concept that worked,” Wallberg says.

“But while we knew that it was working, we knew we had to do it properly – we had to get the approval of Yarra Trams before being able to go any further.”

The Tram Sessions team had first attempted to gain approval by applying through the Yarra Trams website, but “that didn’t work”. So they had decided to up their tactics.

After getting insider knowledge from a friend who worked at Yarra Trams, Wallberg and his team had quickly put together a press kit and presented it to the managers of Yarra Trams, who were out and about talking to Melbourne commuters one day at different tram stops in the city.

Their efforts were rewarded with a meeting. Although they never got the call-back they were promised, Wallberg was persistent in eliciting a response by calling Yarra Trams two or three times a week for the next few months. After getting another meeting, Tram Sessions was finally given the go-ahead in December 2010.

“We had our first official Tram Session last December. And it’s been going well since then, it’s a process that always develops,” Wallberg says.

He firmly maintains the team really wants “to try to get out there and to not be afraid of testing stuff”.

“It’s not about perfection – it’s about feelings, and it’s about joy.”

Holly plays the first ever Tram Session in October 2009. Photo supplied.

Holly plays the first ever Tram Session in October 2009. Photo supplied.

Wallberg and commuters look on during a Tram Session

Wallberg and commuters look on during a Tram Session. Photo supplied.

The music

Tram Sessions also aims to provide a platform for established and up-and-coming artists to engage with the community, and the team receives lots of emails from bands wanting to join in.

Each band’s particular style of music determines how tram lines are chosen.

“If you want to go a bit more rock and roll, or maybe grunge, it’s good to go up the 86 or 112 [which go up Smith St and Brunswick St, respectively].

“I think the folksy tram would be the City Circle – we’ve put a blue-grass band on there once. It’s an old tram with its old wooden seats, so it gives a nice feel to it.”

Blue-grass band Dead Letter Chorus perform on an iconic old W Class tram

Blue-grass band Dead Letter Chorus perform on an iconic W Class tram. Photo supplied.

Tram Sessions performances are mainly acoustic, to make it easier to set up instruments. But Wallberg says they’ve had “rockier” sessions with battery-powered amps that have been “amazing, with a ton of energy”.

“The latest Tram Session was really beautiful because the band had an amp and keyboards, and that was a really different sound,” Wallberg says.

Foo Fighters Jam on My Tram

Melbourne band The Messengers do their bit to encourage the real Dave Grohl to jam on a tram. Photo supplied.

The Messengers do their bit to encourage the real Dave Grohl to jam on a tram. Photo supplied.

The team’s efforts are currently aimed at getting multi-Grammy Award-winning band Foo Fighters to do a Tram Session when they tour Melbourne this December.

The band has a reputation for playing everywhere, regardless of their fame and fortune.

“They are one of the biggest bands in the world, but they still retain their rawness, and their feelings for music. They’re really about getting their energy out to the people and listeners,” Wallberg says.

“It’s a real opportunity to get them to play because they have done a lot of small gigs in the past – they’ve done similar things to Tram Sessions.”

The band also means a lot to Wallberg, personally.

“I’ve been doing a lot of important stuff in my life, and while I was doing them, I was listening to the Foo Fighters,” he says.

“If I can get through to the band directly, I think they would do a Tram Session. Why not give it a go?”

It’s safe to say Wallberg is not the only one excited about the prospect of the famous band playing on a Melbourne tram – there are already more than 1400 people on Facebook saying they want Foo Fighters to “jam on a tram”.

“We’re confident that if we can show enough support, the band will agree to do it. Also, Dave Grohl seems like a really nice guy.”