When Hilltop Hoods head into the studio they give it their all, meaning you often won’t see the Adelaide hip-hop crew for months at a time. On the other hand, that means that when the Hoods do go on tour, it’s a major event. And when the tour is on the back of arguably their best album yet, Drinking From the Sun
, then …
With Drinking From the Sun
blazing a trail across the Australian charts and the Hoods preparing themselves to hit the road once again, Everguide picked up the phone and chatted to MC Pressure about the new album, how he, MC Suffa and DJ Debris plan to translate such an epic listen into the live environment, and the state of Australian hip-hop in general.
: Congratulations on Drinking From the Sun
. Now that it’s had a couple of months to sink in, what did you make of the response it got?
: I’m really overwhelmed, to be honest. It’s been 99 percent positive. You always get a few haters and the bigger you get the more haters there are. But the amount that it sold and how it stuck around in the ARIA charts, going platinum so quickly, means we have overwhelming support from a really large bunch of supporters and most of them have written back to us over social networking to let us know how much they’ve enjoyed it. So, we can’t ask for anymore than that.
: Does that critical response align with your personal expectations and perceptions of the record?
: Most definitely. Regardless of the accolades, we were really happy with the record. We had a lot of tracks but we really wanted to cut it down to the bare minimum. We didn’t want any filler. In my opinion it came off as a very solid album. I’m not going to go to that clichéd place and say that it’s our best ever… but I know that where I currently am in my life as a person and as an artist, I’m super proud of this album.
: I think it’s fair to say these days that your records probably come with a fair amount of expectation – or at least anticipation. Is there a sense of relief or release now that it’s out and gained that traction?
: Of course. Anyone can say they weren’t feeling any pressure, but there was a lot of expectation with this album. We took a year and a half solid in the studio – no touring, no anything – just making music, and after hearing your music thousands of times, you do start to lose perspective on it. So to get it out was such a feeling of release, and then to get that positive feedback for it after all that time is an amazing sense of relief. We get pretty proud of it as well because you’ve given an entire piece of your life into something, so to know that people appreciate it means a lot.
: What about in a wider sense? You guys are often credited with breaking open Australian hip-hop to a wider audience. Does that create a weight for you at all?
: That’s something I’m pretty proud of. When we started out there was almost no hip-hop scene. When we released The Calling in 2003 there was only a handful of other artists who were prolific, so to see Australian hip-hop now from where it’s come and to be part of that revolution – it’s the number one music of young people, it’s huge – I couldn’t be happier to be part of it.
: It’s an interesting time for you guys to release another album. There’s a lot of talk in Aussie hip-hop at the moment about the direction of the genre. What’s your opinion of where Australian hip-hop is at the moment? Are you happy with the way it’s evolving?
: Mostly, yes. The bigger hip-hop gets, the more subgenres that branch off from it, and I think that’s healthy. I think that as long as there’s always a core body of artists making straight-up hip-hop, or more to the point, making hip-hop that they love and want to hear, then that’s all good. You can have these commercial artists, you can have these backpacking artists, and you can have these underground hardcore artists. They’re all different but they all fall under the hip-hop umbrella, and I think it’s healthier.
: One of the suggestions is that it’s become too insular. Robbie Ettelson – MC Rob Nat of Lyrical Commission – wrote in a recent edition of Acclaim Magazine that we’ve started to support Australian hip-hop regardless of whether it’s any good or not, and that we’ve become so insular that local fans have lost their foreign points of reference. Is there a danger of that happening, do you think?
: Look, I guess there is. In terms of points of reference, that changes from city to city. I’m sure the old school heads in Melbourne look at Nuff Said and Lyrical Commission and that’s their point of reference and they might not be feeling some of the more modern styles of Australian hip-hop coming out of their own city. It’s a type of music that’s always evolving and always will, and you can’t really sit around too long saying, “It doesn’t sound like it did ten years ago. I’m not down with it.” If people like the sound from ten years ago and want to stick with it, that’s cool, but you can’t hate on something for changing and evolving.
: Now, the tour. You’ve talked about being hunkered down in the studio. Are you guys looking forward to heading out and getting busy on the road?
: Most definitely. We’ve been doing a smattering of festival shows here and there, which are awesome fun. But I’m really looking forward to getting out and doing our own shows. We get to play for longer: probably an hour and a half, rather than 45 minutes. And we get to do a lot of tracks we normally wouldn’t get to do, and everyone is there for that particular show. So, we haven’t done it in two years and I can’t wait to get back out there.
: When I think of you guys, I often think of you tooling about in the studio. You work hard on that element of your craft. But what do you consider the natural environment of the Hoods: the studio or the stage?
: The stage. Maybe that’s just a reflection of the part I enjoy most. When it comes to touring, I hate the travel – hell is an airport, you know what I’m saying – but I still love getting up on stage. And you do get worn down after a year or two of hard touring and you start to get that creative bug to get back in the studio, but for me I think live performance is still the most enjoyable part of it all.
: Have you had to put a lot of thought into how to translate Drinking From the Sun into a live environment? Is there a lot of preparation there?
: There is. It probably doesn’t occur to most people. You can’t just grab a track and do it live; tracks don’t always have the same energy live as they do in the studio. It’s a process of elimination and we’ve tried out a few of the new tracks live recently and they either have or haven’t worked, and you go back and refine them. So we definitely work on the tracks and we never do them the same as we do in the studio. They’re different environments and not everything works.
: Plans for the rest of the year?
: Literally, it’s touring. We’ve got a month in Europe in July, we’ve got the ‘Speaking in Tongues’ tour that runs from June until September, with that break in there to go to Europe, we’re going back to North America in November, and then I’m having a kid in September [laughs].
: That’s going to take up a month or two of my time, to say the least (laughs). It’s busy as shit, but next year we might look at making some new material and doing a DVD.
: You’ve been spending more and more time overseas in recent years. Do you see that trend continuing?
: Definitely. It’s one of those things. We had a crack at it about five years ago, and now it’s like starting afresh. You really remember what it was like back in the day trying to get 100 people in the club going overseas. Especially a place like Germany, where they don’t always understand what we’re saying unless we speak really slowly. So you’ve got to do it from the ground up, but we’re doing well now in Switzerland and Germany, we’re doing really well in the UK, and now the US as well. It’s something that’s going to take up more of our time for however many years we keep doing it, for sure.
: Matt Shea
Drinking From the Sun
is out now via Golden Era Records.
'SPEAKING IN TONGUES' TOUR DATES:
Thursday 28 June – Plantation Hotel, Coffs Harbour
Saturday 30 June – Riversessions, Mackay
Friday 27 July – Adelaide Entertainment Centre (all ages), Adelaide
Saturday 4 August – Hordern Pavilion (all ages), Sydney
Thursday 9 August – Ballarat Uni, Ballarat
Friday 10 August – Kay St Entertainment Complex, Traralgon
Saturday 11 August – City Hall (all ages), Hobart
Wednesday 15 August – Station Resort, Jindabyne
Thursday 16 August – UC Refectory, Canberra
Friday 17 August – Challenge Stadium, Perth
Saturday 18 August – North West Festival (all ages), Port Hedland
Friday 24 August – The Setts, Mildura
Saturday 25 August – Festival Hall, Melbourne
Sunday 26 August – New Albury Hotel, Albury