The Hilltop Hoods shot to prominence with ‘The Calling’, becoming the first Australian hiphop act to gain a Gold record. The follow up, ‘The Hard Road’ has a hard act to follow, and not only in terms of sales, but also in of ‘keeping it real’ for the Hilltops. I’d heard rumours and stories that the new album was ‘commercial’, and that the band were tearing themselves apart from within. But talking to Suffa a day after the album was finished made me realise that the Hoods still have it very much together, and no matter what happens, they will always be The Hilltop Hoods.
I asked Suffa if there was any extra pressure to record The Hard Road. “It wasn’t a struggle to record it, but when we started mixing it Baz (Debris) went on holiday to Vietnam,” he laughs. “So that made the mixing down a little bit more difficult.” Of course not having heard the album, I asked Suffa to describe how it sounded. “It’s similar to The Calling but it’s sort of a darker version of The Calling,” he mutters. Dark hey… Could this be a reflection of the way the band is feeling the pressure? “I don’t know,” he chuckles. “It just turned out that way. We don’t plan albums. As the beats are made, as we like certain beats and the album makes itself. There’s a couple of party tracks on there, a couple of jazz influenced tracks, it’s not like it’s some kind of melancholy beast,” he grins.
The Calling’s most popular track is the Nosebleed Section, containing the Melanie Safka sample. Seeing as how she was apparently enamoured of the tune, I wanted to find out what Suffa thought of her and how she came into knowing about this little group from Adelaide. “She got sent the track by a fan she has here, but to be honest I’d rather not talk about that because”, he hesitates, “we’re not having legal issues, but it’s not sorted out completely and I really shouldn’t be talking about it,” he says, and fair enough too.
He does openly speak of how that whole exercise has changed the way the group approaches sampling, however. “We had to either use things on this album that didn’t need sample clearance, or the ones that did need sample clearance we had to chase after and get it,” he explains. “You can sort of take care of it in the processes (of making a track). If you’re sampling a funk artist, they’re sampled so much they’ve got the process in place to legally sample them. You just need to contact their people, they’re people tell you how much it’ll be and how much royalties they want, blah blah blah, and that’s sort of easy. If you go into other genres and sample someone not used to it, it can become difficult. And also during the process you try not to sample records you know you’re going to have trouble with,” he adds with a smirk.
Thanks to the efforts of the likes of Hilltop Hoods, Delta, Downsyde, the Triple J Hiphop Show, and the seminal Aussie hiphop label Obese Records, Aussie Hiphop has blossomed and become a lot more respected by the wider community. “Yeah, the scene, if you compare it to 5 or 10 years ago, the amount of exposure, the amount of groups, the amount of interest, the amount of media attention, it’s a lot healthier than it was,” Suffa exclaims. But when I ask him about the down side of it, he’s quite frank in his answer. “I don’t really want to say negative things about it, you know? I just don’t want to sound like one of those guys who’s gone all cynical,” he laughs.
Although I didn’t like to keep the interview on a negative vibe, I had heard rumours that there was some tension with in the group over creative control. Having chatted to both Suffa and Debris in the past, I found it hard to believe, and of course Suffa set those rumours to rest with a big laugh. “It’s absolute shit!” he cries. “The reason why those rumours come about, and we’ve even seen things where people said we should have a media coach,” he laughs incredulously, “is because we’re such close mates all we do is fucking hang shit on each other all day, so even if we’re being interviewed or there’s a camera there we’re still hanging shit on each other, it’s just the way we always have been. So you know, I don’t know why people want to turn it into some kind of… thing, maybe the people starting these rumours are trying to turn us against each other or something, but it’s just not going to happen. We know each other so well, we just don’t care what they say.”
To help the launch of the Album, the trio will be hosting ABC’s Rage. “We’ve always been so disappointed when hiphop artists go on Rage because for some reason whenever hiphop artists program one of these shows they try to show how open minded they are and play anything but hiphop,” he groans. “Our sole mission was to go on there and play nothing but dope hiphop. So we played 40 songs of just straight up hiphop. We were limited a little by what catalogue they had, but we tried our best to play clips that just don’t get seen and the artists we think should get a little more exposure.”