The boys from Blackwood, Hilltop Hoods, have just released their second Restrung album; DJ Debris chatted with ET’s music columnist, Aden Beaver, about the new album and much more.
Aden Beaver: I’d like to talk about your new album, Drinking From The Sun, Walking Under Stars Restrung. This is your second album with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. What’s it like working with them?
DJ Debris: It’s amazing. It’s inspiring working with an orchestra. It’s challenging as well technically, we’re used to recording a rapper or a singer, keys or a single instrument. Recording a whole orchestra is always a challenging feat, mixing it equally so. But it’s amazing working with them, I wish I could click my fingers and have them at my disposal more often! (laughs)
AB: So you’re more involved with recording them and writing arrangements?
DD: Jamie Messenger, the composer, writes the arrangements, I just oversee the recording process and do a huge chunk of the mixing. We mixed it ourselves between me, Pressure, and Suffa.
AB: How did they react when you first approached them with the idea?
DD: I don’t know, our manager dealt with the initial stages, but I guess it wasn’t too much of a shock, he had done it before. I guess it was more of a shock to the other orchestras when we started on the national tour, but most of that is liaised by management so we didn’t get the initial reaction.
AB: Ah, yeah. They were all on board with it though?
DD: Oh yeah, definitely, definitely.
AB: Well it’s a great record, you made your first Restrung in 2007, what made you want to turn your hip-hop into an orchestra? It’s an interesting idea, not many artists do that sort of thing.
DD: There’s not much precedent for it there. I guess it kind of naturally progressed, we had a few strings on there before we did The Hard Road Restrung, and from memory, we had to perform at the ARIAs one year and we decided to get a quartet, and we were like “Man, that works really well”! That kind of preceded us getting an orchestra and expanding on it. It grew from there, a natural progression so to speak.
AB: [Based on] one of the new songs from your album, “Higher”, does the group lyrically see themselves at the top?
DD: No, not really. We’re pretty humble, we acknowledge that we work hard and dream big, so I guess it’s more about that, our work ethic more than anything.
AB: What was it like starting out as musicians in Adelaide? I’m imagining it wouldn’t have been the easiest city to break out into.
DD: Yeah, it was kind of tough. There wasn’t really a scene when we started. There was a hip-hop scene but pretty small, Australian hip-hop wasn’t really accepted by the mainstream genres by itself, (hip-hop) was more identified as an American thing. We hoped for (success) but we never thought we’d actually be able to live off it. It was something we just chiselled away at, and we did it because we loved it, it was an escape from our realities of factory jobs and what-not. I guess it was a matter of the right songs and luckily for us, it all came together.
AB: What was it like working with James Chatburn on “Higher”?
DD: It was great, he’s amazing and fun to work with, came down at about eleven in the morning and left at six pm. Pressure wrote the hook originally, the chorus, and I think at first he struggled to interpret how exactly he wanted it, but once he got warmed up and everything, he made it clear, that this is a guide, (Pressure) wanted James’ spin on it, if he wanted to change a few words or pattern a bit here and there, and once he realised we wanted him not just to repeat what we’d written but put his own flavour on it, that’s when he opened up. He’s got an amazing voice and is super talented.
AB: So, you’re the beatmaster behind it?
DD: No, I used to make beats many moons ago. I’m the engineer slash DJ, I do all the technical stuff for the group, both live and in studio. Suffa and myself are in the studio, most of the session work happens there.
AB: You gather huge crowds at live performances now, is it always exciting, and do you still get nervous?
DD: Yes, I still get nervous, I think we all do, but it all dies within 10 seconds of going out on stage. I get nervous about the technical point of view, everything folds back to me, technology and Murphy’s Law are two great enemies that seem to show face once in a while and you never know when it’ll happen! But yes, it’s weird to be honest, the bigger the crowd the less nerve-wracking it is, for me personally, because they’re further away and it’s more like looking at a painting on a wall (laughs). It’s bizarre, but sometimes we have to do smaller gigs that are more intimate, and I get [more nervous] about those for some reason. The most nervous I get, is [during the gigs] my parents are at, and I’m sure the other guys feel the same.
AB: I guess you’re keen to impress them.
DD: Yeah, or you can just feel their eyes judging you the whole time! (laughs)
AB: On “1955”, the other single on the record, you worked with Tom Thum. How was that?
DD: Yeah, we’ve been good friends over the years, he’s done a few things with us in the past, he’s very integral in the Australian hip-hop scene and has been since we started out. He’s [a] very multi-talented, multi-skilled guy, and fun to work with. He did it all off-location, Suffa was focused on that track while Pressure and I were busy with a bunch of other stuff, but yeah, (Tom) did all the horns and everything on that track, as well as the 1950’s sounding adverts. A bunch of sounds in that song are from him that people probably don’t know about.
AB: I wouldn’t have known he did the horns as well, to be honest.
DD: No, and to be honest I think we would have struggled to get a horn player to sound that good, (laughs) or find a sample that good, he has some very convincing sounds. I wanted to catch him at the Fringe this year, it’s been a yearly tradition but time got the better of me and I missed out unfortunately.
AB: I didn’t get to see him either; I’m told he was very good.
DD: Yes, he always amazes me, and inspires me as a DJ as well, because he thinks outside of the box in terms of sound processing and ways to convey sound across to a crowd.
AB: Well, I only have one question left; do you have any advice for up and coming musicians who may be reading our magazine?
DD: Persist, don’t give up, if you’re in a group, put the music first… well, friendship first obviously, but the music, don’t let it come between you. Persistence, to me; people give up, I think when they see the signs that say they’re not going to succeed or get to where they want to get with it. But if you chisel away at it, eventually, it’ll happen. It’s not something that happens overnight, so persistence would be my strongest advice.
AB: Well, thank you for talking with us, and we look forward to seeing what your group does next.
DD: No problems, thank you man. Cheers.
Interviewer: Aden Beaver, Empire Times music columnist, and Creative Arts (Digital Media) student