After an eight-year wait between drinks, Melbourne rap stalwart PEZ is back with his sophomore album Don’t Look Down. His debut record, of course, brought him a monster hit in ‘The Festival Song’ feat. 360, but PEZ’s music trajectory hasn’t been all that straightforward since then.

The deeply personal new record addresses the ups and downs he’s experienced in detail, supported by a cast of collaborators both new and old including big names and personal heroes like Paul Dempsey and Paul Kelly. Emerging beatmaker aKidCalledJay handles production duties, and the Festival Song crew is brought back together with vocalist Hailey Cramer and 360 both making new appearances.

“I feel like my perspective has shifted quite a bit, just with age maybe – just maturity,” PEZ says of the record’s themes. “You start to see the world a little differently.” He’s gone on to detail the record for us in full below, from fun reunions with 360 to a chance meeting with Paul Kelly.

Don’t Look Down is out now via Forthwrite Records/Universal, and PEZ is back on the road this month touring across the country with Thundamentals (dates below) which should make for a pretty amazing run of shows – just don’t call it a comeback.

Photo by Rush Photography via PEZ

Can’t Wait (ft. Hailey Cramer)

In this prelude I address the question that everyone wants to ask, I figured best to deal with it up front – “Why the delay between albums?” I wanted to address the hiatus, everything, head-on. I kickstarted the production, laying down strings, then finished it with aKidCalledJay – my main studio partner.

I envisaged a really upbeat, big intro. I think for a long time people had thought of me as making quite chilled-out, laidback music, so I almost wanted to do the opposite and have something high-energy – and something that we could hopefully open a show with. I brought in Hailey Cramer for vocals, she sang on The Festival Song. I’m pretty proud of it. It feels cool to start the record like this. It was just a bit of a change.

Calling Out (ft. Paul Dempsey)

I had a demo of the song before Paul Dempsey became involved. I spoke to my label and was like, ‘I really need someone who’s got pain in their voice to be able to sing this and make it believable.'” A&R boss Mark Holland suggested Paul, but didn’t know if he was into hip-hop.

We expected him to shoot it down, but Paul dug Calling Out. He came back really quickly and was like, ‘I love it – I love the lyrics, I really connect with it, I’d love to do it.'” The following evening, he dropped by the studio. “He’s like, ‘Oh, I’ve got this harmony idea…'” We cut Calling Out in two takes. It was surreal!

They Try To Tell Me (ft. 360)

360 and I go way back… We’ve had a history of writing just kind of tongue-in-cheek, funny stuff together. I probably overthink things and he would tend to be the opposite and just go with the flow. So, when we’re together, we tend to have a really good time.

The song definitely has defiant lyrics – it was lightly addressing the pressure that I felt to write another single or another Festival Song or something. That was like saying, ‘They try to tell me what to say and blah, blah, blah, but I’ll just say whatever I want. It’s quite uptempo – I didn’t really expect it, but it did become more of a banger – the closest thing I generally have to a banger!

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I Wish I Could Stay

I recorded this with Matik, who I also worked with on my first album. It was almost a bit of a lighthearted, muck-around song that I didn’t really expect to make the album. In the first verse it’s talking about being before a show and I get so nervous, and so scared, that I wish I’d stayed backstage – it’s terrifying!

But the second verse is about how suddenly, once you’re on stage, all that feeling melts away and then you feel so incredible that you wish you could stay on stage. It’s that weird experience that I have every time I do a show.

Livin’ On (ft. Paul Kelly)

I bumped into Paul at a friend’s family bash, Paul told me he had bought my album. I couldn’t believe it – I didn’t know what to say. I was like, ‘Man, you’re a hero! I’ve grown up listening to you. If you ever wanna do a song with a rapper, just let me know’ – like kinda as a joke. And he was like, ‘Oh, no – I’d love to.’ So that was just bizarre. I called my parents straightaway. I’m like, ‘I just met Paul Kelly – I think we’re gonna do a song together.’ My Mum was nearly crying.

This track is definitely the album’s tearjerker. I lost my beloved grandma at 12 and it rocked my world. I just love Paul’s vocals – raw and soulful.

Whatever It Takes

This song deals with anxiety in an in-depth way. It’s being pretty open about all of the fear and everything that these last five years have been dealing with.

The song is intense but I love the dynamic of it – it starts off quite stripped-back, and with me just baring my soul, and then the energy really comes in towards the end and starts to lift… It was meant to be one big, long take – which made it cool in itself. Instead of breaking it up in little verses and having a chorus, it was like, Nah – it’s a journey.

Don’t Look Down (Ft. Kota Banks)

I made a track called ‘Don’t Look Down’ with my brother Tys in 2008. Here I’ve used the title for a wholly new recording because of its powerful allusion to fear – and my resolve to conquer that. It was the last song that we actually did for the album, which then became the title-track. I actually wrote it about fatherhood, speaking to my daughter. Matik recommended Kota Banks as vocalist.

Ironically, it was one collaboration that didn’t happen in person, I communicated with Kota long distance. I just loved the parts that she wrote. We layered it up a bit more – lots of voices, more of a chant… It just seemed to suit the track. It was another lighter moment that I think the album needed. It was just me coming out the other side of the tunnel.

Weekend (ft. 360)

Weekend is a nostalgic party tune! The lyrics all just came together and summed up that feeling of when we were both working and dreaming about trying to chase music. It’s probably one of the more relatable songs – I think a lot of people can feel like that, where you do feel like you’re just living for the weekend, trying to get by. We felt that for a long time!

Real Life (ft. Tys & Arie-Elle)

On this one I’m joined by my brother Tys and singer/songwriter Arie-Elle . It’s cerebral yet carefree, and philosophical. It’s nice to have a song that’s a bit more observational, and looking out at life, rather than being too introspective or whatever the whole time.

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The Con

This is without doubt the album’s most socially-conscious track. It’s about how the media sensationally covers global events. I understand how people feel overwhelmed by what they see and hear on the news. I’m asking the question, are powerful entities are playing – “conning” – the masses and exacerbating conflict and discord? So it’s probably just a bit of a rant!

Motherland (ft. Raymes)

On Motherland, I’m reunited with Raymes – a good mate since my teens. He’s just an incredible songwriter. I’ve always wanted him to do music, but he’s always shied away from it. So, when I can, I do love to try to make a song with him, just to showcase his talent. I examine my relationship with music – and life.

You look to music, or whatever it is, to be your salvation – like it’s gonna get you to this place where you’re finally happy or ‘saved’. Sometimes you wonder, Are you chasing a figment in your head? I think that was the problem that I had for a while – where you’re living in your head so much that you forget to stop and actually just take life in and enjoy it.

No One (ft. Arie-Elle)

A song of “hope” – with Arie-Elle on the chorus. It’s where I realise that there was no rational basis for my anxiety about writing music. It’s ending on that idea that it was all just up in my head – it was me making a problem out of something that didn’t need to be that way.

Produced by myself and aKidCalledJay it’s a real piano-led chill-hop number. It’s a little bit more of a musical influence – even though we wanted to have a bit of a toughness in the drums to feel ‘hip-hop’ and just try to get that balance. Hopefully it’s a song I can maybe play live – and play last, too… I’m pretty fond of it.

PEZ Live Dates

w/ Thundamentals

Nov 17th Republic Bar, Hobart TAS

Nov 18th The Croxton, Melbourne VIC  **SOLD OUT

Nov 19th The Croxton, Melbourne VIC

Nov 25th Miami Tavern, Gold Coast QLD

Nov 26th The Tivoli, Brisbane QLD

Dec 2nd Wollongong Uni Bar, Wollongong NSW

Dec 3rd Long Jetty Hotel Central Coast NSW

Dec 16th Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle NSW

Dec 17th The Metro, Sydney NSW

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