He writes comedy, acts, and is a best-selling children’s author. He also runs his own record company, Bad Apples Music, which is changing the musical landscape and supporting other First Nations artists making their way in the industry.
The kid from Shepparton in Victoria, who says he had no interest in school and was influenced by Guns N Roses, looks back on his incredible achievements with Living Black’s Karla Grant
Like many Indigenous families, Briggs’ first childhood home was the same house his Nan lived in with the usual influx of extended family members coming to visit.
“Being around my family so much and all of us making our own fun, being in this rural city, what they call a gateway when they don't have a better description of it, the Fruit Bowl of Australia. Just making our own fun. I guess it taught me how to create and rely on myself."
While he has fond memories of growing up in Shepparton, he says the isolation of the town made it a tough place to live. He says his family felt the impact of racism.
“I think we kind of all dealt with it the same way, with my family and because you're not exposed to another way of life. This is just is what it is, so it wasn't like, wow, this is really racist. It's not until you're older and you realise, that wasn't right. That wasn't meant to be.
It's something Briggs has reflected on as an adult and how these experiences have impacted on the lives of Indigenous Australians.
"I think Blackfellas in Australia, in general, have to live in this absurdity of Australia and the idea of how we have to fit in.
That's what I've been looking at with a lot of my work over the last couple of years, really exploring that, the two worlds, and having to navigate that. 5I guess it kind of carved the person I am today.”
In his interview with Karla Grant, Briggs reflects on his earliest memories of primary school.
“I hated school, loathed it, couldn't stand it. I managed to get through year 12, begrudgingly. I was a horrible student. It's not because I hated learning, I like learning. I didn't like school. That was the difference. I liked learning, didn't like school. I didn't like the structure, didn't feel like it was there to help, didn't feel like they understood me, or cared to understand me, either.
I got told over and over and over that they didn't want me there, how welcome could you feel? From a kid till my teenage years, you're told again, and again you're not going to amount to anything, you're not meant to be here. Again, for some people, they don't make it out of that, they can't get past that. I just built this thing of being disgustingly self-assured that I could do what I want.”
As a child, Briggs says he had to work hard at gaining the confidence to get up on stage.
“At first, it was real difficult. I didn't want my family there, I was like, no, no. Classic shame. I was a performative kid, but I didn't feel like I was a super confident kid. I could perform, and I was class clown but I wasn't super confident.
“I think by doing music and jumping on stage, just having to do it and walking through that anxiety taught me how to be confident in other areas of my life because not only were you not meant to be doing rap music from Australia. If you're an Indigenous kid from Shepparton, you're definitely not meant to be doing anything. They told me that a bunch of times.”
Having self-belief and strong family and community support helped him to get through the tough times.
And his love for music and entertainment was a big presence throughout his childhood.
“I always loved music, I always loved entertainment. Looking back now, it wasn't so much music as it was doing what I wanted. I was a big consumer of music, TV, comedy and video games, I guess the strength of pop culture of the nineties, it really felt like throughout the eighties and the nineties America really figured out how to sell America to the world.”
Briggs recalls being told as a child that he should be listening to country music. Instead, his musical influences were Guns N Roses and Snoop Dogg.
“I think the first ever tape that I had was a Guns N Roses tape that had Arnold Schwarzenegger on the cover from Terminator 2. I just had to listen to that song, “You Could Be Mine” over and over and over. I guess that was just the song that I loved, and when I like something, I really liked it, I really got intense about it.
I think it was just how cool it was. Arnold Schwarzenegger was on the cover of the tape with a shotgun and a motorbike, in a cool leather jacket. It just hit all the right combinations for me. Then from that, and really my formative years of finding the stuff that I liked, and I guess because I wasn't supposed to like it, too, it was a little bit dangerous.”
He says all his cousins and friends listened to rap music, heavy metal, and punk rock, so for him, it was a no brainer. From Guns N' Roses into Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube, Public Enemy and NWA, it was music that he still listens to today.
It seems Briggs was always destined to become a storyteller. It’s in his blood as a Yorta Yorta man who comes from a long line of storytellers from Cummeragunja Mission; people who have gone on to achieve exceptional things in their lives. From writer Tony Briggs to Aboriginal rights campaigner William Cooper to footballer and activist Pastor Sir Douglas Nicholls.
After finishing his education in Shepparton, Briggs moved to Melbourne to pursue his music career. He says sacrifice has been the cornerstone of his career.
“Talent will get you so far, hard work will get you the rest of the way, but the sacrifice is what separates everybody who makes it and keeps making it and is doing it, versus the people that don't. It's what you give up, and what you say no to, that define you as an artist and defines your strategy and how you work. It was all the things that I decided to miss out on. I'm gunning for this, I'm not going to have a regular job, it's going to be really hard, you're going to be borderline homeless and not eating properly, sleeping through dinner because you're hungry.”
Living in Melbourne meant he didn’t have the family support he had growing up in Shepparton. He could have given up at any time, but he knew he had to remain dedicated if he wanted to succeed in the music industry.
“I could have quit at any point and got a regular job, but I never liked regular jobs. I was just interested in doing what I want all the time.
Briggs says he was inspired by one of his favourite authors, best-selling American novelist and playwright Cormac McCarthy who said; “I always work to not work.”
“I’m not as crazy as I think, this best-selling author does that, so away I go.”
It seems this work ethic has paid off for the deep-thinking Yorta Yorta man. He released his first EP Homemade Bombs in 2009.
In the same year, Briggs caught the eye of Australian hip-hop group Hilltop Hoods signing him to their label Golden Era and releasing his first full-length album “The Blacklist” in 2010.
“I was just stoked that the Hoods decided to take a shot on me.”
But despite being signed by the popular hip-hop group, supporting them on their European tour and achieving success with “The Blacklist”, Briggs wasn’t going to rest on his laurels.
“Everything was always, what's the next level? Because this is the level, but when you're there, you can see there's other levels above it. You see it all the time. It's like, how do you ascend? How do I get better? I was more interested in creating longevity.”
His music career has gone to the next level, releasing his second album “Sheplife” in 2012, forming his own record label Bad Apples Music in 2015, forming A.B. Original in 2016 with music producer Trials aka Daniel Rankine. Together they released their debut album “Reclaim Australia” featuring the song “January 26”; making a huge impact on the Australia Day debate.
“When me and Trials made the AB Original album, we were kind of like, we'll do this and this will be career suicide. We were done, I'm just going to go write comedy now, and he was going to lean into producing and doing film scores and all the amazing stuff he does. We thought we were done, we're going to go out in a blaze of glory with this album.
We'd seen how Australia reacted to Adam Goodes, we see how Australia reacted to Anthony Mundine. As soon as you're a Black fella who gets out of pocket and starts talking for themselves, the biggest crime they committed was they reminded Australia that it was white, and they're Black, they're Aboriginal and they're proud. As soon as you start doing that, you ruffle some feathers and everyone's like, "We gave you an Indigenous round, be Indigenous in that round, and shut up."
The album shot to the top 10 on Australian iTunes and both Briggs and Trials still have a major presence in the music scene.
Earlier this year he collaborated with musician, comedian, and writer Tim Minchin on the single HouseFyre, a song they wrote during lockdown taking aim at Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s handling of the bushfires, through to the Federal Governments response to the Coronavirus pandemic.
In August Briggs released his latest EP “Always Was” and a new single “Go to War”.
“Go To War is just me getting back to that Bad Apples moment, where I was in a headspace of after you said everything that you can say, and there's nothing more to be said and you've burned every bridge, what's left? What's next? It was just a fun kind of song to exercise your thoughts.
Music for me has been one of those outlets where I get to, that's my punching bag. I get to put all my thoughts and create an idea, just workshop this idea out of this track about “Go To War”, and the video itself which is talking about Australia's idea of the palatable Black fella and how they might look down their nose at a Black fella in the street, but celebrate someone dancing or their art, their painting.”
While Briggs will continue to write songs about the stories and experiences of his people, he also feels strongly about voicing his opinions on issues like raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14.
“I'm the first to admit I don't know the ins and outs of the law, I barely finished school, but that to me feels like a pretty reasonable thing for a human. Do you know what I mean? When I was 10, I couldn't imagine being arrested and brought before a judge. I think there's better outcomes for community when government invests in community. I grew up in a community that invested in itself in Shepparton.
When you invest in a community, and prevention is the forethought, it always ends up in a better place. When you invest in a community and a community can invest in itself, that's the future, that's where it needs to be.”Watch Adam Briggs speak with Karla Grant on NITV’s Living Black on Monday the 24th August at 8:30 pm and via On Demand.