Interview: Hilltop Hoods29 March 2016
The Hilltop Hoods’ new track, ‘1955’, was released alongside their latest album Drinking from the Sun, Walking Under Stars Restrung. The album combines two of their most popular works but reinvents the sound and feel by partnering with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. They will be performing throughout Australia in the coming months alongside some of the nation’s best orchestras. I chatted with MC Suffa as we talked the Hilltop Hoods’ latest music, their upcoming tour, international success and lockout laws.
Sean: So you guys dropped a new track recently, ‘1955’ – awesome song and an awesome video and, not to take anything away from you guys but, how good was Montaigne! She absolutely nailed it.
Suffa: (laughs) That doesn’t take anything away from us! Montaigne outshines anyone she’s in the room with, to be honest.
Sean: Her voice was that good, I was really impressed.
Suffa: Yeah she’s amazing, an amazing talent.
Sean: The video was awesome, looked like a lot of fun, can’t quite get past you rapping behind the grill in that get up.
Suffa: Aw man, it wasn’t that fun. Getting that makeup on took about an hour or an hour and a half to get it on.
Sean: That’s true, I didn’t think about that.
Suffa: (laughs) I was kind of getting claustrophobic in my own face. It was good fun though.
Sean: So what’s the song about?
Suffa: Well ‘1955’ is basically about living in a small town – it was actually inspired by a Dylan Moran quote from his show, we went to see him here. He said he loves coming to Adelaide because he always wanted to see what it was like living in 1955. I’m sure he says that in every small town he goes to (laughs) but I thought it was funny, I wasn’t offended, it inspired the track and it’s sort of just about how living in a small town is like living in a different era to a degree.
Sean: One of the cool things about being a hip-hop artist is that you get to collaborate with other artists regularly. Most recently with Montaigne, Tom Thum but also people like Sia. How do you decide who to collaborate with?
Suffa: I guess it depends on who the track lends itself to. Like with ‘1955’ I had the hook written, I knew how it wanted to sound and my wife suggested Montaigne because she listens to a lot of radio and she is sort of keyed in. That lent itself to her so that’s sort of how it works out but then you know you’ve got the guys we actively seek out because we’re complete fanboys like Brother Ali and Black Thought. So there’s a couple of different ways, sometimes our manager suggests stuff who he’d like us to work with. But yeah we love collaborating, you get a bit of someone else in the process and you learn a little bit every time I think.
Sean: Yeah, you get a bit of flexibility with your sound and theme.
Suffa: Yeah, and we can’t sing so… (laughs)
Sean: Now, the upcoming strings tour to go along with the release of Drinking From the Sun, Walking Under Stars Restrung. Pretty unique and awesome idea, I don’t think it’s the first time you guys have collaborated with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, where did the idea come from?
Suffa: Well our last two records were companion pieces, Drinking from the Sun and Walking Under Stars. So it was already a project that was going over multiple albums and ever since we did the last ‘restrung’ project which was in 2007, we’ve had a lot of punters hit us up and say ‘are you going to do it again with this album, we really loved it’ so that sort of kept it at the back of our minds. But then sort of maybe a year ago we really started playing with the idea of bringing the last two albums together under the orchestra umbrella, then we ran with it. It’s been a big project! (laughs).
Sean: And I read in one of your press releases that the strings complement both the feel of the album as well as the sound – could you expand on that a little?
Suffa: Well I think that sound wise, orchestra’s sort of speak for themselves, they’ve got that big sound that sort of surrounds you and uplifts you to a degree. As far as feel goes, if you got like a more melancholy track like Through the Dark or Shredding the Balloon or something like that strings sort of lend their sensibilities to that sort of track and amplify any existing feeling that might already be there.
Sean: I think that’s why people are looking forward to this.
Suffa: Yeah, well, you’re putting a lot of pressure on these strings Sean (laughs)
Sean: No pressure, I have faith! So, I guess I’m not alone when I say I’m not what most people would call a traditional hip hop fan but I like you guys and your music. What do you think it is about you guys that is able to transcend those traditional boundaries?
Suffa: Yeah I mean the only thing I can put it down to is that we share a sensibility with a lot of people. I mean our taste in music translates into the music we make and I guess that matches a lot of other people’s taste, that’s all I can put it down to. I’m inside it so really I have no idea (laughs).
Sean: Would you say you guys are influenced by a lot music that isn’t hip hop? And maybe you incorporate that sound into your own music?
Suffa: I mean, yeah, I don’t [know] whether we incorporate it but we are definitely influenced by it. I listen to a really diverse mix of music and I know P does as well and that probably translates. Music is a lot like food, you are what you eat in that respect.
Sean: You may not have an opinion on this but it would seem Australia needs a thriving live music scene for Australian music to flourish. What do you think of ‘lockout’ laws in New outhWales and Queensland and how they might affect Aussie music?
Suffa: I think politicians at the moment are using these issues to manipulate things to their own desired outcomes. I don’t think the concerns that they are expressing are those that really concern their constituency. I think when you’re exerting your control over these nightclubs and bars but you leave the casino open it speaks volumes about what your goals are. It takes any credibility away from what you say you’re trying to do. A city is more than its monuments and its transport system, it’s its nightlife. If you destroy that, you’re destroying a big part of what people from all over the world love about Sydney. It’s just a really short sighted and stupid thing to do. It affects not just bars but the people who work there and yes of course it affects live music as well.
Sean: Well all the good music comes out of Adelaide and Melbourne anyway.
Suffa: (laughs) yeah!
Sean: Now you guys have done some overseas touring and sold out concerts around the world, it must be cool to see your music recognised overseas.
Suffa: Yeah that’s always fun, we’ve been lucky with the digital and internet era to be able to get our music out there. It’s amazing for us to play in places like Switzerland and Austria and Canada and have people know our music, it’s a trip.
Sean: It’s funny for me because I see you guys as so quintessentially Australian that to picture a few Adelaide boys rapping in the Swiss Alps seems surreal.
Suffa: (laughs) Well trust me it’s a trip for us. There are many moments where the three of us have been sitting there thinking ‘what the fuck are we doing here!’
Sean: You guys really have been the mainstay of Aussie hip hop – probably getting sick of this question but I’m wondering if you could talk about what it’s been like to watch Aussie hip hop grow and really now take on a culture of it’s own.
Suffa: Well I particularly like the past few years where like before that, hip hop in Australia had one sound and one face, and that was a white male face. And that’s finally changing and diversifying and the sounds changing and diversifying. We’re moving into a time now where there is sub-genres of hip hop in Australia whereas there was just one thing before. It’s great to see and that’s the only way it was going or it probably would have died off.
Sean: Last question, what’s on for the ‘Hoods for the rest of 2016?
Suffa: Nothing! (laughs)
Sean: What?! Give the people what they want!
Suffa: (laughs) Taking a break, Debris is getting married later in the year, I’m having a kid.
Suffa: Thank you man. We’ve been touring and recording for a really long time, not even without a holiday without a break even. So yeah, taking some time off much to the disapproval of my manager (laughs).
Sean: It’s a well deserved break so enjoy it, good luck with the tour and thank you so much for speaking with me.