It’s been two years since Blue Mountains & Newtown hip-hop stalwarts released their last album So We Can Remember and 2016 has just seen the release of their second new single since the record, Never Say Never and now DJ Morgs, Jeswon, Tuka and DJ Poncho are about to hit the road with Pez & Mallrat on their first national tour since the Elephant in the Room tour of 2015.
As well as releasing the video clip for Never Say Never the crew recently dropped their new single Ignorance is Bliss via a live performance on Facebook, soon after followed by the announcement of the 2016 leg of their humanitarian charity, The Got Love Initiative. All the proceeds from the sale of Ignorance is Bliss and their new line of Got Love merchandise will be donated to the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence.
We caught up with Tuka to talk about the new singles, the upcoming tour and the social issues which have informed their work on and off stage.
In Never Say Never, Jeswon has the illest line, “Picking up your daughter in a 94 Corolla”. I had an 84 Corolla and if it went above 90km it started to shudder. I wasn’t picking anyone up in that mess. But I loved it. What’s worst car you’ve picked up a date in?
I don’t even have my license bro (laugh) I just roll past babes on my skate board and just give them a wink or something I guess. To tell you the truth, there’s a story behind that line. So when I was a kid my grandmother had this ’94 Corolla called “Buttercup”. And it was this yellow, daisy coloured thing. Once she got a little too old to drive she tried to sell it to me but I didn’t have my license. So I sold it to Morgan, DJ Morgs, and he’s still kicking with it now.
Not so much anymore I guess, we have tour managers to help with the driving now but back in the day when we were just starting out, Morgan was the only one with a license and we were driving around in my grandmother’s Corolla, like literally all around Australia and shit. So Jesse’s just tipping his hat to what it was like starting out, and Never Say Never’s just like this tongue in cheek kind of song, when you’re at the top and the ARIAs, it’s like wow you get all this kind of shine but you know remembering those times where you’re just rolling around in a Corolla, they were pretty fun as well, you know, it’s all relative.
And did anybody pick up anyone’s daughter in the Corolla?
I don’t think so. We’re not the type of people to be like, what is it, “No, I don’t want no scrub, scrub is a guy that can’t get no love from-“ (laughs) Nah we’re not into that, we don’t do that shit.
The Never Say Never clip is set in an elderly home. Where did that idea come from?
It was crazy. We had this huge operation/project happening that fell through last minute just before we were about to release that song , and then we were like, “Damn. That sucks. That didn’t happen.” So, we went to this guy’s treatment and he was just talking about old people in a nursing home and we were like, “Fuck, imagine what it’s gonna be like when we’re in a nursing home.” So right now people listen to like Billie Holiday and stuff like that and we were thinking, “Fuck, we’ll probably be listening to Dre 2001”, like these old white guys. It resonated with us, so we were like, “Yeah, that’ll work”.
So we got with a director down in Melbourne and we filmed it one day and it was honestly the funniest day of making a video clip I’ve ever had. And clips are usually funny to film, cause you’re in this awkward compromising situation like all day. And that one was still awkward and compromising but the old folks… fucking hilarious. You forget that these guys grew up in the seventies. Like people who are in their sixties and seventies, they were lit when they were our age. They were probably more lit than we are now.
There’s a cultural lag, you think that old people are conservative, yeah maybe when me and you were kids, old people were conservative, but these days they were the first generation that took acid and shit like that, they’re open minded old folks so yeah it was so funny though.
Where did you find them fly ass grandparents for the clip?
The crew did the casting. We’re not from Melbourne so we had to go down to Melbourne to do it.
Did you have to give them rapper hand and screw face lessons?
We met them on the day. I was hanging out with, my dude’s name was Hank (I think). I was hanging out with him all day and he was just swearing at me heaps and telling me he’d pick up my grandmother if he ever saw her in a nursing home and shit. So he was already pretty gangster. I didn’t have to teach him much. Not that I’m gangster, not that I can teach someone to be gangster.
In the clip you play the orderlies, do you think in real life you’d have what it takes to keep those funky grand folk under control?
Yeah I guess if the rapping career falls through, I could have an insight into what it would be like and I might be able to do it but those particular guys would be a handful.
Do you think the older and more experienced one gets, it’s easier or harder to say never say never?
Definitely as you get older.
So it gets easier?
Well this is a personal question. Your experience is going to hinder you. So if you end up looking at the world negatively as you get older, then you’ll probably be more likely to say, “Never say never” when you’re younger. But if you can maintain your positivity and realise we’re all one and interconnected, the possibilities are endless. That’s a personal question, but personally, definitely. If anything you just get better at life as you get older, and more opportunities and platforms are there, if you could recognise the opportunities I guess. So, yeah, I’m all about it.
Along for the Never Say Never tour is Pez and Mallrat, an OG and a freshman, was this conscious decision when selecting the supports?
Supports are always a funny one. You always want a really tight clique to tour around with. They end up being family by the end. Both Pez and Mallrat are really lovely people. I’ve met Mallrat briefly and I did Groovin the Moo 2012 with Pez. We felt that Mallrat’s a really interesting up and comer. She’s definitely got her own brand of music. It’s almost her own genre, I really respect that. And Pez has obviously been around for a minute. He’s actually dropping his record while we’re on tour, it’s crazy. I think the line-up’s really strong and can’t wait to get out there with them. It’s gonna be fun.
You guys just dropped new cut Ignorance is Bliss with an incredibly important message about White Privilege and racism in Australia. Was that a difficult song for you guys to write?
I wouldn’t call it just Australia. Hip-hop comes from the Bronx originally and the systemic racism that existed then birthed a culture so fast forward to the future and we’re middle-class white guys making hip-hop music. We just want to contribute to the conversation and be supportive of it and wear the responsibility. It’s a thing that’s happening around the world at the moment and it’s got a lot do with the internet and it’s the current climate and we felt like we have a platform and an audience that is a lot of middle-class white people.
We’re from Australia, so once you get into the regional districts, when you come to our shows a lot of our people are like us, we relate to people from an Australiana way, I guess. So we thought if people wanted to know our angle on it, this is our angle on it. To do that we didn’t want to just put out a song and not make anything tangible. Just saying it is one thing, at the same time we wanted to make something tangible and contribute to the actual issue itself.
The organisation that we’ve chosen, The National Centre of Indigenous Excellence, they’re already in the community every day killing it. We’re not trying to be authoritarians of justice or be politicians, we’re just musicians so we want to contribute and show support of leaders that are already doing that in the community.
You aren’t social justice experts or politicians, but I think a lot of young people would agree that they feel more represented by their artists than by their government.
So funny you said that. I was at an Amnesty International meeting yesterday and we were thinking about how to relate to people. Basically, 60% of Australians are sitting on the fence about a lot of these kind of issues. You’ve got 25% of people that might be like me who kind of know, I feel like I’m taking a lane to understand systematic racism and then there’s 25% of people that, like Pauline Hanson, who will probably never be able to open their minds. Then there’s this huge quota in the middle, 50-60% of people that kind of just sit on the fence and Ignorance is Bliss is a very ironic way of saying that. (laughs)
We do see it as a platform to potentially at least ask people to question things a little more. If half of those people who are sitting on the fence actually start thinking about it critically and looking basically at facts. It’s not like up in the air, it’s kind of a fact, and the other side of Pauline Hanson’s argument; it’s just fear driven and it’s fear mongering and I’m not down with it. But at the same time we’re not trying to be preachy. It’s hard not to be. Any particular conversation you kind of have to take a lane if you’re gonna say something. We’ve chosen to say something.
To be honest the response has been incredible. There hasn’t been a lot of backlash at all. We just know that there’s a significant 50-60% of people out there, the broader audience, they’re sitting on the fence they’re neither here or there about it. If they can relate to us at all maybe that will start tilting the cup this way. Because there’s some atrocious things happening in this country. Fucking atrocious. Especially with refugees. I’ll give you a fact. The average Australian makes somewhere between $25,000 and $60,000. To keep one person in the offshore detention centre in Manus costs taxpayers $500,000 just to keep them there so we can torture them.
You just made my heart cry.
It’s incredible and 60% of the people don’t really know or understand that. So once people start thinking in their pocket, in their bank, because that affects them personally, like that math makes fucking no sense. And Ignorance is Bliss? Is It? Is it bliss? You’re paying taxes so we can torture people. It’s incredible to think about. I don’t mean to get that deep but I’m just passionate, you know.
It’s something that myself and a lot of people in Australia appreciate because especially on a broader spectrum. I mean you look at all these sort of conversations and they stem to Black Lives Matter and I think why Black Lives Matter is such an important message is because people of privilege don’t realise that that slogan means that it’s everyone’s fight. It’s just refreshing to see people from an outsider perspective.
People expect to see artists like Briggs, Birdz, Philly and Thelma Plum talk about it and talk about the problems in this country. But it’s just refreshing to see that everyone, no matter what creed or colour is aware that this is an issue that affects everyone and it’s everyone’s fight.
That’s the thing. It’s affected Briggs and the homie Thelma more than I can really understand but that being said I’m missing out on culture and learning and human experience because there’s all these barriers that are put up systematically. So I’ve been affected by it too. In fact it’s actually this crazy feedback loop. I’m inspired by black music in the first place and I’m making a career out of it. So we’re trying to contribute to that rather than just taking all the time. Honouring that. Everyone’s affected.
If you don’t like a black person and you’re suffering from hatred, you’re being affected. That hatred is eating you. You don’t need to hate things. I’m talking about the Pauline Hanson side of the fence here. You have no reason to fear anything. You have no reason to hate anything. It makes no sense. You’re putting yourself through self suffering by putting energy into hating something that you may not understand, basically. But I don’t wanna preach, I’m not gonna preach!
For a non politician you’ve got an eloquent air about you and you know some pretty convincing statistics. So perhaps after the tour you might take a run at the… I nearly said White House, I suppose that shows how Americanised we are…
Nah I’m an artist, I’ll keep it there I reckon.
Other than having strong messages, there’s a real difference in style between Never Say Never and Ignorance is Bliss. Is that what Thundakats can expect all over the new album?
I can’t let too much out of the bag about the record but basically it’s a huge body of work. We haven’t even begun to roll it out yet. We’ve just started. And it’s really, really exciting and the next couple of pieces in particular I’m really, really looking forward to. So yeah a lot of people have been hitting us up with, “Make the old stuff” and I’m like, “So you want us to make new stuff that’s the old stuff”. That’s funny.
I get what they mean and yeah that sound palette that we’ve established will be represented in this body of work. But if you do go through our catalogue we’ve always been progressive and always been genre-blending and that’s more our sound than anything: not being tied down to a particular sound. I guess people really like our boom-bap, ‘Quit Your Job’ and ‘Got Love’ songs, but if you look throughout all our records we’ve always been progressive and there’s nothing new there. So I think once we actually drop the body of work people will be reminded, “Nah yeah, everything’s still there, Thundas haven’t moved away from that song”, we’ve also just made these songs.
From “iHipHop” to “Quit Your Job” you guys have made your position on working life pretty clear. Do you think the prospect of working for a living is more difficult for creative types?
We’re subject to a small population in Australia and there’s two lanes you can run, you have career musicians who get commercial radio play or you can be a career musician who lives online ala Kerser. And Allday’s presence online is incredible even though he does get a bit of commercial radio play too as well as the internet stuff. So you kind of have to choose a lane, so obviously they’ll mould together.
Non-creatives don’t seem to gel with those songs where it’s talking about the duality between having to work to support yourself and having a living that, for some people for an extended period of time, doesn’t provide that financial support that a job does. Do you think that sort of struggle is mainly exclusively experienced by musicians and creative types?
Definitely. That’s been a huge thing for us. Being able to support our passion. It only really happened after So We Can Remember. For the first time, we didn’t quit our job, but we could take time off working to be creative and I pinch myself every day. It’s crazy. We worked so hard. Nothing came easy. (laughs)
You hear these success stories of people getting discovered . That is not the case of most people and it definitely wasn’t the case for us. Everything was a baby step and then people see these big moves and huge pillars that are already established, and you don’t understand each brick was built in my off-time when I wasn’t at work.
I definitely relate to most creatives having to make this sacrifice for their art and whether or not its work. And not only just work, socially. You don’t actually have that much time to socialise either, cause if you’re working on being creative, there’s not a lot of space, and it’s a huge juggling act.
Finally, other than “never say never”, if you had to give one piece of advice to someone who was considering giving up on their dreams, what would you say?
I’d assess their intention in the first place. What was your intention? What did you want in the first place? Are you failing to honour that? Or has it become too hard? You can make things happen if you’re patient enough. Or you invest the right amount of energy into it and you’ve got willpower.
We’re humans and things are very malleable and you have an opportunity to grab ideas and literally make them. Like if you think you want to make a spanner, you can go and fucking buy a 3D printer and make the thing. Humans are so good at doing shit. It’s kind of ludicrous to think you can’t do something. I’d be asking what’s your intention. Why are you doing something? And if it’s not working then what’s missing about your intention of it.
Your motivations are the things that will hinder or help you, because all the resources are out there. All the ideas are out there. You’ve just got to pluck one out of the ether and then make it. You’re a human. You can do that. Not many species can have George Lucas’s imagination and actually create it and then scientists repeat it 30 years later alas Star Wars. He imagined things, put it in the movie and then scientists who grew up on Star Wars are now making holographic phones and shit like that. It’s all about your motivations.
The submarine was first invented in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Exactly. We’ve got these imaginations. Use them. You can make shit out of them. It’s crazy. Never Say Never is all about your intention and motivation, basically.