This week VP Music was lucky enough to talk to MC Pressure, one third of Aussie hip hop legends The Hilltop Hoods about their upcoming European tour, what it’s like to be on the road and what they have install for Amsterdam later this year!
Although maybe not yet a household name here in the Netherlands, back in Australia the Hilltop Hoods are the undisputed leaders of the Aussie Hip Hop scene. With 5 studio albums, numerous hit singles and a bunch of ARIA awards they have helped take hip hop from the underground to the mainstream in the once rock and pop dominated Australian music industry.
Their full time members are MC Pressure, MC Suffa and DJ Debris. Although on their latest album “Drinking from the Sun” they also have guests Black Thought (The Roots), Chali 2na (Jurassic 5), Classified (Canada), Lotek (UK) and Solo (Horrorshow).
We caught up with Pressure by phone from his home town, Adelaide:
Hey Pressure, thanks so much for your time. How are you feeling about heading over to play at a few of the European summer festivals and some side shows this July?
Pumped to come back to Europe! It’s been two years since we’ve been there and we’re really looking forward to getting back out there and doing some new material and seeing some sights along the way. It’s a beautiful part of the world.
We almost got to see you play here in Amsterdam a couple of years ago with D12 but it got cancelled. Will this be your first time playing here?
Yeah, it’ll actually be the first time we’ve ever played in Amsterdam. I’ve never even been to the city, so I’m really looking forward to coming around there, and checking out a few coffee shops as well!
(Laughing)- Well you shouldn’t have too much problem finding a couple of them around town.
(Also laughing) – yeah, well you know – ‘when in Rome’!
But what happened last time, to clarify. Bizarre from D12 had some health complications, he got really sick so they had to pull out and then the promoters didn’t want to back the show ‘cause they were the headline. So unfortunately we didn’t make it there as well but we are really looking forward to coming there this time.
Back home we are used to seeing you play some pretty big venues – Bitterzoet is a really fun venue but I don’t think I would describe it as big. How does it feel going back to these sort of smaller venues?
Well the thing about going overseas and coming to smaller venues and places especially where we’ve never played before, it’s kind of refreshing. It makes you remember ‘back in the day’ when we were unknown in Australia and no one came to our shows, and how hard we had to work to get where we are. But I think having said that, it’s a good thing sort of getting amongst the new crowd and it makes you appreciate everything we have back home when we go to new places.
When was the last time you would have played a small venue like that?
Ah, in the States recently. We were over in the US in March and we played New York, LA and Denver, and that was the first time we had been there. So we played capacities of between 300-700. So that’s definitely the smallest we have played in the last several years.
And we had amazing shows though. You know sometimes its cool getting up close and intimate with the crowd in a smaller venue, it’s more personal, it’s more raw.
Do you mix up the set list or anything for that change in size?
Definitely, yeah we do. We play a lot of festivals in Australia, they’re the big ones. You know, you get 45 minutes and you kind of play all of the party rocking anthems. When we play to a smaller crowd, you get to throw a few sort of slower more soulful tracks in and do some moodier joints and a bit of stuff you wouldn’t do to a bigger audience.
And have you got any expectations of this gig in Amsterdam?
I have absolutely no idea how it’s going to be! And you know, I think that’s the beauty of it. We’ll see when we get there!
Well, we have been doing everything to get people there – I think we have at least 20 people coming!
(Laughing) – bring all your friends and family!
Whether it’s 50 people or a few hundred, it doesn’t matter, we’ll still put in the same energy, heart and soul into the show and we’ll rock it out. It’ll be good.
We’ve been telling everyone it’ll be the best 10 euro they’ll spend in 2012!
Oh no, we better live up to it now!
Crowd favourite - Nosebleed Section
We have heard that you guys average one massive fight per album in the recording process – how do you all go as tour buddies, do average one fight a tour?
(Laughing hard) One fight a show!
Nah, nah not really – we actually get along really well on the road 'cause there’s not those creative decisions to be made. Me and Suf have a falling out every album and it’s always over something creative, you know what I mean. When you’ve got two chefs in the kitchen, it’s sometimes hard to accommodate for the other one.
So that’s where that stems from. It’s basically our anal retentiveness and our creative love of the music sort of combined and you know wanting to have control because you think you have a great idea and some else’s idea maybe not so much. But you know, it’s that passion that keeps us together is the same one that makes us have that same falling out every time.
So you’re a happy family on the road?
Yeah, we are actually, we get along well on the road. I mean things can get strained on the road as well, especially when you’re tired and you’ve been away from home for a very long time and that sort of thing but really on the road there’s no issues.
And on the road do you take a different crew overseas compared to what you would around Australia?
We take a slightly cut down crew. When we come to Europe this time we will be travelling with a drummer, he is from an Aussie hip hop crew called Muph & Plutonic. So Plutonic Lab is coming with us, he’s a producer/drummer, so we are doing some live drums.
In Australia we are travelling with him as well at the moment and a keyboardist as well. But it’s hard to take a whole crew when you’re doing really small club gigs and they either don’t fit on stage or you can’t afford to take ‘em.
So it’s a slightly cut down show, but it’s 95% the same.
And do you try and limit the number of shows you are doing on your tour so that you reduce the stress or is just get out sell as many as you can.
It’s like you said, it’s about trying to cover as much ground as possible. People get pissed off if you go to a city and not to theirs, so we try and keep everyone happy. Try and bring the music to everyone, I mean at the end of the day, that’s half of what it’s all about – bringing the show live to people, letting ‘em see it up live in the flesh.
At the end of the day there are only so many weeks in the year and you know you do have to have some down time. We could travel 10 months of the year but we would probably die – I think DJ Debris would definitely die!
He’s recently single and partying extremely hard, so for his sake and keeping him alive we can only tour so much!
Looking at your tour dates, there is a lot of Germany in there – is that something you had good success with before?
Yeah, this will be our third tour of Germany. I am not sure why we have got the connection there, but we have some interest from “Four Artists”, the touring company there who got into our music, I guess just from other Australians, that’s the way it usually gets handed down. So we had some really successful tours there, we travelled with (US hip hop band’s) Atmosphere there on one and CunninLynguists on another tour there.
We had some really cool tours there and we ended up getting an international deal there with Universal as well, so the albums are actually distributed there. It’s not professionally distributed in many other countries outside Australia but Germany is one of them, so that’s why we keep coming back.
And when you’re on the road do you ever write songs, or listen out for international samples or anything like that?
Definitely - not so much the sampling, [we] don’t generally have the equipment with us. But I write a fair bit of material on the road. You get a lot of hours down time, where you’re on an international flight or even just a domestic flight for a few hours or the tour bus or 5 hours off in a hotel room. So you end up with a lot of spare time and I write quite a bit of lyrics when I’m on tour because it’s inspiring. I think seeing knew places and meeting new people and all these things can submit to the sort of vibe and I find it really inspiring.
Okay, well we are looking forward to hearing what you write from your inspired time in Amsterdam!
(Laughing again) – It might be a bit twisted! Could be out of this world…
What do you guys listen to when you are on tour? Are you all very individual or do you listen to a lot of stuff together?
Sometimes we have a bit of communal music going when you’re in the tour van but I listen to anything and everything, you know what I mean. It doesn’t have to be hip hop, good music is good music and all of us pretty much share that opinion, so we listen to anything. You’d be very surprised at some of the things we listen to in the tour van actually.
In fact on the last road trip that we were on, Debris put on his ‘Classic 60’s Rock’ mix, so there you go!
And this upcoming European tour you are doing with Horrorshow, who you are also touring with in Australia?
Yeah, we are – Solo from Horrorshow is on the album, on a track called ‘The Underground’, so now we’re going to take Horrorshow with us on the ‘Speaking in Tongues’ tour, which is the big Australian tour we are starting. And Four Artists, the guys taking us to Germany were interested in having them with us, so now we are touring with them in Europe as well, which is dope. So we ended up doing a sort of semi international tour with them now.
Horrorshow are young guys out of Sydney, right?
That’s right, yeah. Solo, the rapper from Horrorshow, is only about 22, he’s an amazingly talented and inspired dude so I think he’s going to go down really well over there.
Cool, looking forward to it. What do you miss about home when you are touring?
I think the thing I miss most when I’m on tour is sleep. It’s a commodity that’s rarely achievable and you miss sleeping in your own bed and just having the creature comforts of your own house. I think that’s about it, apart from that it’s all good and I love it!
And have you ever contemplated relocating to somewhere else?
Umm, I don’t think that will ever happen. I’ve got a son to my ex-girlfriend here, which is keeping me in Adelaide. We get asked a lot if we are going to move outside of Adelaide, move over to Melbourne or Sydney, which is a no. I just think there’s not that much need for it these days, everyone is so connected through social networking and the internet. And it’s only a few hours flight getting to other parts of Australia.
It is a long flight to the rest of the world, we are a bit disconnected down-under, as I’m sure you know. But at the end of the day you get used to living on planes and airports and it’s not such a big deal when you’re doing it for a living.
So is this tour to Europe, and also the one to the US later in the year part of some sort of international expansion plan to try and be more active outside of Australia?
Yeah we are, you know we’ve been doing our thing in Australia for a long time and for the last 4-5 years we really have tried to take our music more to an international market, particularly North America and Europe. So it is something we’ve focused on a little bit more on this album. We did try to give the album a bit more of an international sound as well.
If we can do well enough in international markets to basically cover our costs, see the world, rock some shows to some crowds that have never seen us before then that’s a win for us.
How do you guy write your songs these days, what’s the collaboration process like?
Usually starts with the beat. So Suffa or Debris, or we’ve got a few guest producers on the last album, will make a beat and if the 3 of us are all feeling the beat then either me or Suffa will write usually a hook to it and put a concept to it. And then the lyrics for the verses will come after that and then the recording.
And is it a pretty stream lined process now that you guys have been doing this for so long?
Well, it’s kind of like one of those things where although it usually happens in that order there’s no real stream lining. Art sort of just happens as it happens. And because I guess art is never really finished either, it just gets abandoned and the creative process might start that way and then where it ends is usually a very different thing. It might end a year later or a day later. Some tracks get made in a day and some might get finished in a year.
How do you think you have changed over the last 20 years?
Well about 20 years ago I was in about year 8 in high school, so I am not sure who put it in our Bio, that 20 year thing (laughing).
But we’ve only really been touting artist for about 10 years. Before that me and Suffa were in high school together, so we’ve been doing it a long time, probably about 15 years. In that time everyone sort of changes as people and as you change as a person over time your music changes with you. So I think we definitely have changed as musicians and people and who we are now reflects in the music we are making.
And how do you feel when you look at how far you have come in that time? I mean at the start you might have got some airtime on a specific hip hop show or maybe Triple J, and now you are all over the place with commercial play on TV and radio – how does that feel?
I guess it’s not something you think about that often unless someone puts it to you like you just have. But every now and then you do have to jump back and pinch yourself of how far we have come. I mean it’s a good feeling, I’d be lying if I was saying I wasn’t proud of how far come and the things that we’ve achieved but I think at the end of the day it’s not all the accolades it’s more about the music.
When you read a lot of the stuff about you in the press or online, it’s always about Australian hip hop with the emphasis on Australian – do you like that, or does that bother you and you would rather just be a hip hop band?
Oh man, I would rather just be hip hop. I don’t think it needs to be its own sub genre, it doesn’t need to be labeled Australian hip hop. Good music is good music, no matter where it is from and it should be the same for hip hop.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re from Amsterdam or London or New York or Australia, it should just be hip hop.
Yeah, it is a funny thing – you hardly ever hear of an alternative rock band being labeled as an Australian alternative rock band, especially within Australia.
Yeah well that’s it. I think it’s something that Australian’s have sort of adopted. Hip Hop, particularly on a commercial level is still a very new thing. Not as new as it was 5 years ago I guess but it’s still kind of new and I think some people felt the need to embrace it as their own and create it differently in our own back yard and make it a bit different. Which it is anyway regardless of whether you go about doing that deliberately or not, especially when you’re rapping it’s a very personal thing. Your telling a story of your life when you’re putting an album out and that’s going to be reflected locally more than internationally but it doesn’t need that title.
Well I think our time is just about up, thanks so much for your time today – what’s your final message to the punters of Amsterdam?
Come down if you want to see some really live energetic raw hip hop and we guarantee that they will have a good night!!
Playing Bitterzoet, 12 July 2012
Tickets still available HERE