The Hilltop Hoods’ long-awaited new album drops on 22 February. It comes on the back of much touring and studio time by the trio in recent years – A European tour, Splendour in the Grass, Falls Festival, the boys have certainly been busy! Two singles have already been released, to award-winning acclaim with Clark Griswold scoring the ARIA for best urban release. Kim Burley talked to Dan Smith, AKA MC Pressure, ahead of the album’s release about kids, WOMADelaide, touring, orchestras and Adelaide accents.
Thanks for chatting with Hifi Way. Congratulations on a fantastic album, I was having a listen last night. It’s certainly full bodied, mature and sophisticated. Did you have a lot of fun making it?
(laughs) yeah we did. I’ve got to say the first year and a half were really fun but the last few months were pretty gruelling. But no, incredibly happy and proud of the album and it’s definitely us – mature and full bodied (laughs).
(laughs) like a good South Aussie wine from McLaren Vale.
Yeah exactly, that’s what I’m talking about.
When did you start building the album?
So there was probably two years in the making, realistically. We probably finished it around Christmas time and you’ve always got to hand it in a few months before it comes out. It’s hard to say when we started making it, you know, for instance since handing it in in December, me and Suffa have started writing new songs already and throwing ideas around. So we are kind of always making songs, but we solidly worked on it for a good eighteen to twenty-four months.
Sounds like it was a hard slog but also heaps of fun.
It’s one of those things, we’re so inspired at the start of making a record by the time you get to the end of it, most of the creative process has been done. The songs have been written, the music has been produced, you’re just recording or re-recording the same verses or choruses over and over again and just mixing and tinkering. And that bit’s the hard slog but the rest of I still love. I love writing. It’s just the finishing part that sux (laughs).
And now you can get out and start performing with it, which is awesome. You’re touring with Groovin’ the Moo, but is there talk of a national standalone tour for this album?
Yeah there is. We are going to do some standalone shows after Groovin’ the Moo. Still deciding where and when and locking in some dates and how many we’re going do. But were definitely going to tour in Australia this year, just our show.
Fantastic! And will there be a Restrung component of the tour? The vocals and strings in some of the tracks (such as the strings on The Great Expanse) already pay tribute to your restrung releases. Is there talk of this album being re-strung in the future?
It’s not a discussion we’ve had yet between ourselves, but there’s always an opportunity, you know what I’m saying. I’d never say no, the restrung project was so much fun and we get so much out of it, and it’s so good to do a tour with an orchestra and play live. But there’s a tonne of work involved and it’s very expensive. So yeah, maybe. Maybe.
I can imagine, I’m a classical pianist so I know the work and cost involved.
Yeah OK, yeah you know then that orchestras are not cheap! They’re very expensive to take on the road.
You’ve done some fantastic work with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra in the past, and I see on this album you’ve got quite a few featured artists and producers. It’s awesome that a lot of them are Adelaide talent. What drives you to work with Adelaide people?
First and foremost the reason that we pick people to collaborate with, is that we love their music and we love what they’re doing. That’s like absolutely the main thing. But having said that, we’ve always tried to support the scene in Australia, we’re always out at shows or in studios watching other people, hanging out with people. Most of those collaborations came about very organically. We worked with more producers, as you said, on this record than we have before. There’s five producers that made the record with us. And we maybe sussed that we took more of a backbench of being the main producers this time and did more song writing and co-producing rather than doing the actual production ourselves. So we wrote more heavily for this record than we ever have. And there’s probably more hooks and bridges in this record than we’ve had before because there’s not as much sampling in it. So we wrote more, but didn’t produce it, so we worked with One Above, Trials of Funkoars who is a long time collaborator, SixFour again who we’ve worked heaps of times with, Cam Bluff and Plutonic Lab. These people are all pretty much family to us already, so we choose our favourite producers and worked heavily with them.
Yeah, that’s awesome Plutonic Lab on Leave Me Lonely is just amazing.
Killed it. Yeah I know he’s ridiculous. You know he travels with us because he’s our drummer so it’s so good finally having him making beats for us as well. He’s made some remixes for us and dabbled in some bits and pieces in the past but never fully produced songs on our records before. He had two on this record, I’m chuffed that he’s ours now. We’ve got him.
Which one is the other track that he produced?
Oh yeah, I love that one. Yeah, listening to the album I was thinking there’s potential for so many singles off that album – such as Sell It All, Exit Sign, OOFT, Fire and Grace. Was it difficult to decide which ones to release pre-album?
Look Clark Griswold probably was the first single because we’d only really conceptualised half the record by then. The single’s been out you know seven or eight months now. We had a lot of songs in works that weren’t ready or we just didn’t end up using them. But Leave Me Lonely we felt like was probably the strongest single which was the most recent one of course. And the album was close enough to finished by then anyway, we knew what was on there.
It’s funny, sometimes your first single is not always your biggest track, and that’s cool. There’s potentially two or three other singles on this record that we’ve sort of being having this discussion and the debate is about which one we put out next. Different people find different things in music as well and think that like this song is much stronger than this song and the next person will have the total polar opposite opinion. So yeah.
Talking about choice, given the Triple J Hottest 100 this year, and the number of times you’ve been in the Top 10, despite I think having the best song, I’m thinking perhaps democracy simply doesn’t work! If that’s the case, who would you appoint dictator of Australia?
Are we choosing a dictator for Australia to choose the Hottest 100%? If so, I’d let Kim Jong-Un handle that, it certainly wouldn’t be me! I’m certainly not going to have a say in that, can you imagine the backlash? My God! (laughs)
Oh gosh! On a serious note though, your vocals on Counterweight are just amazing.
As is that acoustic guitar intro. It reminds me of a happier sequel to Through the Dark.
Oh OK, I hope it’s happier than Through the Dark.
I have a penchant for making dark songs don’t I.
Uh, that’s fair enough though. I’m sure you’ve heard this heaps of times before, but that song brought me to tears. But Counterweight didn’t, just as good, but what’s it about?
Counterweight is about dealing with your vices. It’s about finding balance in your life through having vices. I think the inspiration from that comes from me just being a touring artist just trying to balance a normal life with my wife and family. I’ve got young kids and I come home from this crazy-arse touring life where you miss them and you do all sorts of things to pass the time like hit the booze too hard. And it’s about having vices and about finding a balance but not pushing your vices too far so you fall off the edge. The concept is that you’ve got to find a balance and find a counterweight for those vices.
That’s gorgeous. There’s a couple of songs that are about touring on there.
Yeah we’ve been doing a lot of it!
Certainly provides that inspiration! And how’s your son doing now?
Yeah my son’s doing great now, he’s fourteen years old now, normal healthy high school kid, he’s been out of remission, 100% cured for four years now. Best possible outcome from pretty dim circumstances.
Hats off to you. It’s something that no parent ever wants to go through.
Nah, it was a bit of a test of character that one but we got through it.
Speaking of kids my kids are 8 and 11 and think you absolutely rock!
(laughs) Well I’m glad the kids still do, you know.
I’ve had to tell them it’s OK for you to drop the F bomb, because it’s in the name of art.
Actually, that’s an excellent explanation you know. I might use that.
And when I drop it, I tell them I’m just quoting you.
Well I’m happy to be the scapegoat in your household Kim, use me as much as you like.
(Laughs) Thanks Dan, appreciated. Do your kids listen to your music and what do they think of it?
My fourteen-year-old loves my music but didn’t vote for me in the Hottest 100! And I told him he had to sleep outside. I’m joking of course (laughs).
Traitor! What did he vote for?
A whole lot of hip hop. He loves modern hip hop. I never tried to get him into hip hop but he just grew up in a house where there was always just so much music playing. And the younger kids love Leave me Lonely. In fact my four year old thinks the Leave Me Lonely film clip is hilarious because the guy, the caricature in the film clip is eating a band aid which is actually a pill (Laughs).
and they crack up laughing every time it comes on and they go “haha, the man’s eating a band aid, why’s he eating a band aid Dad?” and I’m going “Don’t worry about that kids, I’ll explain when you’re older”.
That’s hilarious, that’s like my daughter’s best friend at the moment is called Molly, so she thinks the song is about her best friend. I’m not going to tell her otherwise.
Nah, just let her run with that.
Yeah definitely ….. with the track H Is For … Was it a no brainer to say ‘aitch’ or did you debate whether to say ‘haitch’?
Oh well that’s a good question. Well the Adelaide in us say “aitch” not “haitch”.
You know we’re not philistines here. You know what? We never had that discussion so it genuinely was a no brainer. It’s interesting you brought that up because the guy that does our vocal producing One Above is an Adelaide guy and there was one phrase in the album that he was like “You’ve pronounced it really Adelaidean and it sounds very formal and I think it needs to have more of an American twang to make it more relaxed” and we’re like “but we don’t have an American twang in our accents, this is us” and he was like “okay, just pointing it out”.
That’s great, go Adelaide.
The accent down here certainly sticks out in certain little spots.
It certainly is, Adrian Eagle is going to be at Womadelaide. I’m heading to see him there. Any chance there might be a guest appearances from the hoods there?
No guest appearances, but you’ll probably see me in the crowd drinking beer. I’m going to get down to Womadelaide, I love Womadelaide.
Interview By Kim Burley
The Hilltop Hoods album The Great Expanse is out February 22