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Hilltop Hoods

Hilltop-Hoods

Walking Under Stars, the latest album from Hilltop Hoods, debuted at the top spot this week on the ARIA Album Chart, making it their fourth #1 album in a row. SHAUN COWE reports. 

When thinking of Australian hip hop there’s one name that seem to towers above the rest – Hilltop Hoods The tireless trio have been working both here and in the US to promote Australian hip hop since their breakthrough album, The Calling, 11 years ago. 

Now the group are older and the challenges of family life have begun to work their way into the music. Daniel Smith, aka MC Pressure, chats just after this year’s killer Splendour In The Grass performance about their latest album, Walking Under Stars… and missing Outkast.

“It’s funny, we just got back from Europe, as well – we did a month in Europe – and Outkast were playing a lot of the same festivals that we were playing and we just somehow missed them every freakin’ show, so I’m spewin’. Apparently they were really good, but.”

In regards to the album, Hilltop Hoods want fans to see it as a sequel to 2012’s Drinking From The Sun, not as a separate work. The repeating motifs, including the classical instrumentation and the inclusion of The Thirst Pt. 4 and Pt. 5, act as string tying the two albums together.

“It’s meant to be part two of the album – a companion piece. When we went about making Drinking From The Sun, about four or five years ago, we decided we were gonna release a second after it.”

One of the most common questions the band has been asked in the lead up to the album being released is whether they feel any pressure. Smith takes it all in good humour though, and totally stands behind his work.

“When we go about making the music we don’t apply any pressure to ourselves. We just get in our creative zone and just make the music we want to make but once a bit of pressure does get applied to us, for sure, but it’s not from us, it’s from our manager or the record label or the media or everyone asking about whether the album’s gonna stand up to the last few and that sort of thing But at the end of the day, we wouldn’t release the album if we weren’t 100 pre cent comfortable with it.”

Something that might come as a surprise to Hoods fans is the album’s thick soul influences, which comes in part from what the group has experienced in the past couple of years since Drinking From The Sun and in part from the guest vocalists.

“We spent about 18 months in the creative process of it… and that’s everything, from start to finish.

“Every album we make is just a sort of a timepiece of the couple of years of our lives; everything we go through when we’re making it. We were just feeling that more soulful groove. And some of the content is most definitely a direct reflection of everything I’ve gone through.”

Smith says the actual process for choosing guest musicians came from picking which would best suit the songs the Hoods were writing at the time, which eventually became the reason Walking Under Stars is so different from its companion piece.

“All the guests we decided on fairly early in the making of the record that we wanted to work with these people. Once those songs came to fruition I guess the album kind of made itself around those songs.

“We did some collaboration with Maverick Sabre and Aaradhna – who are both soul singers – and Dan Sultan who’s sort of rock blues. They just all lend themselves to that sound, so we forged the rest of the album around that.”

When asked about the sort of events that Smith alludes to inspiring the album, particularly one of the most emotional tracks, Through The Dark, Smith opens up about his personal experiences.

“Well, Through The Dark was one of the first ones that got written for the album. In February, 2013, my eight-year-old son was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia, so I actually spent a lot 2013 in hospital being his carer through his chemotherapy and I wrote that song while I was in hospital with him.

“He’s made a great recovery now so he’s doing quite well. I guess because of those events and because of the hardship that I, in particular, went through throughout the couple of years we spent making the record it probably has tainted somewhat and given it a more soulful feel.”

Finally, with all this talk about the songwriting process, Smith throws out some pearls of wisdom on how he finds time to put together material for each album, in between hectic touring schedules, recording and the everyday pressures of being a father.

“I write anywhere. Sometimes I write in my car; I’ll have an idea for a song and just turn my voice memo on, on my phone, and rap or sing a tune into it. I write on planes and on buses quite a bit, just because we’ve got so much down time when we’re touring. So much of your time is spent waiting at an airport, or sitting on a plane, or sitting on the back of a tour bus that I’ve written a lot of songs in transit.”