Australian rock star now calls Washougal ‘home’

Jonny Aherne, The Temper Trap's bass player, moved to East Clark County with his family in 2020

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Jonny Aherne, the bass player for The Temper Trap, a Melbourne, Australia-based indie rock band, lives in Washougal. (Courtesy of Jonny Aherne)

A literal rock star is embracing his new life in East Clark County.

Jonny Aherne, the bass player for The Temper Trap, an Australian indie-pop band, moved to Washougal with his wife, Britni, and two children in 2020.

“It’s been a bit crazy. It was a weird time to move. (But) we’re feeling settled as a family and (experiencing) the local stuff,” said Aherne, who grew up in Melbourne, Australia. “I believe you get what you give out of a community, and we haven’t had a lot of chances to ‘give’ yet, but it’s been pretty pleasant so far. We’re landing now and starting to really wrap our heads around how much life we can have here.”

Aherne’s journey to Washougal began about 18 years ago, when he met a visitor from America named Britni Blackketter. They fell in love, got married, and moved to London, then New York City as The Temper Trap rose to prominence. But several years ago, they started talking about the possibility of relocating closer to Blackketter’s family in Moscow, Idaho.

“There was a longing to come back closer to Britni’s family,” Aherne said. “Because I toured this region of the world, I just knew how beautiful it was. The pandemic hit, and we already knew that we would love to live in this area.”

They moved to Portland and lived there for a short time before settling down in Washougal. Blackketter is a physical education teacher at Helen Baller Elementary School in Camas.

“(After) three months, we went, ‘Wait, let’s have another look around again.’ We didn’t have roots in Portland or anything. There was no reason to keep us there,” Aherne said. “We drove over here, and (feel that things) just started to align around, ‘This is where we should be.’ (We thought it) was a beautiful town. It feels like a (well-kept) secret.

“I’ve never lived in a (small) town, just big cities. Even though I was born in Melbourne and I’m a city kid, I have such a longing for nature. Coming here, (finding out) how easily accessible you are to adventure, it’s very appealing.”

The son of a preacher, Aherne displayed a proclivity and interest in music at an early age and started to develop his skills by playing in church bands.

“I never went to school for music,” he said. “I’m self-taught by ear.”

He found his way into The Temper Trap, which formed in 2005, thanks to his friendship with Dougy Mandagi, who became the group’s lead singer.

“We sucked for ages and got better,” Aherne said. “Maybe it was the ‘10,000 hours theory,’ or the fact that we lived in Australia, which is so isolated, but we (stuck together) learned the craft. One of the hardest things for a band is to organize everyone into the same space and pay for rehearsals, but (we had access to a church) that had a space for us where we could write (and perform).”

The group, which also included drummer Toby Dundas and guitar player Lorenzo Sillitto, signed with a record label and released a self-titled extended-play album in 2006.

“There were a number of things (that led to our breakout, including a) stroke of luck, certainly, and a really hard work ethic,” Aherne said. “We’d practice three or four times a week. We just enjoyed being in the same room with each other. We’d play at after-work events where we would just get together and create. And also we were putting on gigs all the time, creating opportunities for ourselves. We were going around everywhere and putting on events, essentially. That’s how we met our manager, Danny Rogers. We formed a relationship, and he let us play at his events.”

The hard work eventually led to breakout success for the band, which relocated from Melbourne to London in 2008 and released its first full-length album, “Conditions,” in June 2009 to favorable reviews and commercial success; it peaked at No. 9 on the ARIA (Australia Recording Industry Association) Albums Chart and climbed into the top 30 on the United Kingdom’s Official Albums Chart. Its lead single, “Sweet Disposition,” reached the top 10 in several European countries and went to No. 14 on the ARIA Singles Chart. The band won Best Group and Most Popular Australian Single for “Sweet Disposition” at the 2010 ARIA Music Awards.

“Sweet Disposition” also earned recognition in the U.S. after its inclusion in the soundtrack to the 2009 movie, “500 Days of Summer.”

“The genre that we would sit under in different playlists or award (categories) would be indie rock or alternative rock,” Aherne said. “I don’t know. I make a joke that it’s uptempo ‘sissy’ rock. I wouldn’t be scared to show it to my grandma or something. (Mandagi) has a soulful edge to his voice, so maybe you can compare it to U2 a little bit when Bono does his ‘soul’ stuff.”

The group released its second eponymous album in May 2012 and went on to win Best Rock Album and Best Group honors at the 2012 ARIA Awards. It released its third and most recent album, “Thick As Thieves,” in June 2016.

The group has toured all over the world and opened for multiple iconic bands, including Coldplay and the Rolling Stones. It has appeared on “Late Night with David Letterman” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” It also played in front of approximately 100,000 spectators at halftime of the 2012 Australian Rules Football (AFL) Grand Final, a feat that repeated last month.

“For Australians, the AFL Grand Finals is like the Super Bowl. It’s a national holiday. Everyone gets to take a day off (work on the day of the event),” Aherne said. “We just got to play (there) for the second time just recently, and it was a real honor. It’s just surreal. (We were) honored to be asked again. It was a real privilege.”

While the band was on a temporary hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, Aherne launched a solo project called Shacks and Palaces and released three singles, including “Once Upon a Hilltop,” which spawned a video that stars his children Stella and Jesse dressed in bird costumes exploring Brooklyn, New York, with their dad.

“The Australian-born artist creates upbeat, folk-informed indie pop, sparkling with likenesses to eclectic icons from The Flaming Lips to Modest Mouse,” according to a March 2020 post on “His music ranges from infectious to truly exaltant, a blissful blend of bouncing melodies, boomerang hooks and colorful production. Aherne’s voice — a jubilant, stony sort of roar — is recognizable from his contributions to the mid-aughts sensation (The TemperTrap), but here rings absolutely reckless with spirit.”

Aherne is in the process of reuniting with his bandmates, however. They joined Nashville, Tennessee-based rock band Kings of Leon for the Australian leg of its 2002 tour earlier this month and are planning to start writing their fourth album while on the road.

“We kind of are in this stage of life where we are just getting back together and seeing how we feel in the room,” Aherne said. “Everyone (decided that we are) unified and feel good to continue. Playing in a band is like being with your siblings. When you get that comfortable with some people that you’re around all the time, they’re going to see the ugly side. We all have it. Sometimes you’re unified in the music and sometimes you’re not, even when you’re making (important) decisions. But I think that there’s been enough grace for one another, enough maturity, to just be able to iron out things that could bring down bands in a second. (We have) transparency with one another to work stuff out.

“Hopefully I’m not painting a picture that we don’t like each other. We do like each other. But it’s certainly not, ‘It’s just all fun and rock and roll.’ It’s like, ‘No, you have to work stuff out as a family.'”

The Temper Trap is a family that lives apart, however. Mundas and Joseph Greer, who joined the band in 2008 and took over lead guitarist duties when Silletto left the band in 2013, live in Melbourne. Mandagi recently relocated from Berlin to Indonesia. And, of course, Aherne is in Washougal.

“We’ve lived separately for quite a long time, so nothing will be a shock. We’ve gotten together to record a number of times. We just figure it out,” Aherne said. “We’re all writers, so we share songs online. We have a drop box, and everyone puts their songs in there, and when we get together, we decide what to work on, and we vote on the strongest ideas, and start working on them in the room together.”

Aherne may have plenty of worldwide opportunities to embrace, but he’s also looking forward to getting involved with the Clark County music scene as well.

“I’d like to connect with anyone here who is a musician,” he said. “I feel like there’s a lot of opportunity for development here, and it’s really exciting. And it seems like people are longing for that accessibility here, and there could be opportunities for that. I’m excited for whatever it is to come. I’ve heard some real class bands play around here. I would love to get involved locally for sure at some point soon, whatever makes sense. I’m looking forward to figuring out what that looks like.”