The Dwarf In Conversation With Hilltop Hoods

The Dwarf In Conversation With Hilltop Hoods

Today I'm chatting to Daniel Smith aka Pressure from one of Australia's most successful hip hop acts The Hilltop Hoods! MC Pressure! Waddup homie!

So you guys recently released 'Drinking from the Sun, Walking Under the Stars Restrung', (wow that was a bit of a tongue twister) hahaha...

Yeah sorry about that, it's probably a little too much. (Laughs).

The Dwarf In Conversation With Hilltop Hoods

.....this is your second orchestral album; a compilation of favourites from Walking Under Stars and Drinking From the Sun, both equally successful albums in their own right. Tell us a bit about how this idea originally came to life.

Ummm... We'd been using some string section quartets in our production and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra approached us years ago back when we did Hard Road: Restrung to see if we wanted to do some live shows with them and we ended up getting in the studio with them and doing a remix project, which was amazing fun. We've been saying we always wanted to go back and re-do it, we decided that our last two albums being kind of a companion piece, a part one and part two would be a good way to do it. So we went ahead and did it again because we could and added a chamber choir to it as well.

I'm sure a lot of people were taken by surprise when they first heard the Hilltops were joining forces with a choir and an orchestra? It was a very unexpected collaboration, were you guys worried about how your fans would react when you first released The Hard Road: Restrung?

We weren't concerned about what they thought when they heard it, but it was interesting to hear the response when they heard about it. I guess the common conception when people first heard that we were doing that, is that we were doing a classical album or you know, something so out of the usual, but once they hear it they realise it's not the classical world meets hip hop world, that it's not a gelling of the two genres, it's an orchestra and choir playing our music the way that we want it to be played. They're recreating hip hop. So you know, it's definitely not as classical as people assumed it was and the response has been overwhelmingly positive actually.

When I think of an orchestra, I imagine a bunch of rich old fuddy duddies sitting in a theatre…

People think Mozart and it's really nothing like that, there will be no viewing monocles at the shows or... It's not a theatre, its Hilltop Hoods songs being recreated by an orchestra.

So have you scored any unexpected fans with the Restrung albums?

Definitely. Yeah. We noticed the first time that we played with the ASA back when we did Hard Road Restrung that there was definitely our crowd there but there was definitely more people than just our usual crowd that you'd find at a Hilltop Hoods show. I think when you collaborate with say, the ASO, or the SSO or the MSA they have their own following and some people come out of interest. Which was cool you know, i think we got exposed to a lot of people who came to the show and didn't know what they were in for and i think they left on a good note with a good vibe, which is great. We always welcome new people to our shows.

The Dwarf In Conversation With Hilltop Hoods

Recording with an orchestra must be very different from the norm. You wouldnt fit all those people in the studio! Must need some serious engineers to make that magic happen?

Yeah, so we had a whole team, so the 32 piece orchestra, this time around every instrument is spot mic-ed, it's got its own pick up on every instrument. Then there are zone and group mics as well, so there was like 50 microphones sort of running in a concert hall. We recorded a Grangers Studio, which is the ASO's sort of home rehearsal and sometimes performance base, so it's basically a sound treated hall. Obviously we can't fit them in our studio at Suffa's house because about five of them would fit in our room with us. So it is an entirely different world. We acquired the help of Neville Clark, a team of crew who did the actual recording for us. It was definitely out of our comfort zone, we sort of learnt a lot. So we went back in this time with a much greater knowledge of what we needed to do in the recording to get us where we wanted to be in the finished product. So this time around it's a lot more polished.

‘Cosby Sweater’, ‘I Love It’ and ‘Rattling the Keys to the Kingdom’ all found enormous success in their original state, so it's no surprise that those tracks made the album. Did you re-record everything from scratch for the Restrung versions?

No we didn't re-record any of the vocals. We stripped back a lot of the production in the original songs. Every song had to be approached differently. Like I mean, some of the songs, I guess old style hip hop style, sample driven songs; some of them are a sort of layered production of session musicians, or other various producers playing parts in them, so every track in its original state had to be altered differently to fit the orchestra in. I mean they were already complete songs in themselves, so to fit 32 instruments and a choir into some of those songs, something had to go. So we stripped back a lot of the original production. But the lyrics themselves, very little of it was re-recorded. We did somethings, sort of re-layered some chorus's to make them thicker or delays and that sort of thing, but the main vocals stayed.

On the ‘Cosby Sweater’, I remember it wasn't long after you guys first release the song that the allegations against Bill Cosby came out. You boys must have been spewing to hear that news so soon after its release, especially when the song was actually written about Biggie's jumper?

Yeah you know, it's one of those unfortunate things, obviously the song is not about Bill Cosby, he got name checked, it's about an ugly sweater. And since I've decided the saying all publicity is good publicity is not true. That was bad publicity. It wasn't a great thing to happen. But at the end of the day, in terms of the song it wasn't some fan song to Bill Cosby. It was unfortunate, but what can you do.

I did feel for ya's. It felt like like literally days…

Yeah about a week after we put it out as a single, the allegations came out. And we were like this is fucked, so.....

The Dwarf In Conversation With Hilltop Hoods

The song 'Through the Dark' is dedicated to your son who has suffered from cancer. I remember reading about the song in the lead up to the release of Walking Under the Stars and you said in the article that your son was waiting for the release of the album to hear the finished song, that must have been an emotional moment?

It was. And he didn't really like the song either.

Didn't he?

Well, it was a little bit too close to home for him. He liked that I wrote him a song. But it didn't go down well him listening to the song. It was still too close to home. He was in remission when he heard it, and it was pretty terrifying for a nine year old to listen to a song about his mortality, so yeah. It's a heavy one.

The Restrung version really brings out the emotion in an already heartfelt track.

Yeah it also has the ability to take something that is already emotional and make it even more emotive. He has heard the new version. It's been three years since his diagnosis with leukemia, and he's is full remission and has been for a year, so he's actually cured indefinitely. He's heard the Restrung version and he kinda said to me, I can listen to it now and I really like the song. Which is nice, because I was thinking, like fuck, what have I done, when he hated it. That was pretty tough. But he's grown older and wiser and I think he's got the ability, now that he is comfortable and he's cured that he can actually listen to it and digest it.

There's also a couple of new tracks that feature on the album, ‘Higher’ which is the first single, features James Chapburn. He was discovered through the Hilltop Hoods Initiative, wasn't he?

Yeah he was. He wasn't actually the winner.. He didn't quite fit the bill of what we were looking for the grant, but we loved his music. So we actually hit him up to come and jump on a track with us, which was cool. He's a super cool cat, he's living in Berlin now and he's doing quite well. He just happened to be back in Australia for his brothers wedding the weekend that we asked to come come down to Adelaide. So he flew down the day before his brothers wedding and jumped in the studio with us, then went back watched his brother get married and flew back to Berlin. So it was a really cool story.

A number of very talented musicians have emerged from the initiative, I imagine it would be an awesome feeling to be able to help people kick off their music careers?

Yeah you know, I mean we received the grant from the government to get our first LP distributed. And we always wanted to be able to give something back, and we thought this was a great way to do it. We get to help artists, we get to help the community and funny enough we've found a tonne of talent through it as well. One Above produced one of the new songs on the Restrung album and he's a guy we found through the initiative as well.

I recently met Sarah Connor, a winner from previous years. Awesome to see some talented female emcees starting to make waves.

Yeah she's doing great now. She's just been on tour.

The Dwarf In Conversation With Hilltop Hoods

You guys have been hanging doing your thing since the early 90's, you three aren't sick of each other yet?

Funny enough, no. We still hang out on weekends when there's no music to be done. Crazy people, right? We're still best mates and that's the obvious reason why we're still making music videos cos we get along so well. And if we didnt, you know, fifteen years down the track we wouldn't still be making tunes together, I guess.

Wowsers, that's a long time. That makes me feel old, does that make you feel old?

I'm feeling' younger everyday! What you talkin' about? Na, but it's amazing to be able to go on tour and just make music with you best mates. I'm pretty blessed.

For sure! I wouldn't mind doing that, pitty I cant rap!


So the tour kicks off in just a couple of weeks, where are you guys headed first?

So, Sydney's first which is going to be exciting. We never took the Restrung to any other state other than our home of Adelaide last time so we get to do five shows around the country this time. They're all selling great, so it's a really good vibe leading up to the show which is making it super exciting for all of us.

It must be an amazing experience for you guys to perform your tracks with an orchestra and a choir backing you up?

We went back again and did another Restrung album because we enjoyed it so much the first time. But we also wanted to do it bigger and better, and learn from, not from the mistakes, but I just learn from the process and know how to get the exact end product that we wanted. I don't think we made mistakes as such in the initial one but I definitely think we did it better this time round.

You recorded the album with the 32-piece Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and the 20-piece Adelaide Chamber Singers Choir. But I imagine it would be a very large scale operation transporting all those people and their gear around if the entire orchestra followed you around on this tour? So how will it work? Have you got every State orchestra in the country learning Hilltop Hoods songs right now?

(Laughs). Pretty much! As you say, you can't take a fifty piece band, orchestra, group, whatever you want to call it on the road with you. We're not that rich, we don't have our own private plane. So yeah when we're in Sydney, we're using the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, when we're in Melbourne, we're using the MSO etc. So we are getting in a couple of days early and doing the whole stage set up and a big dress rehearsal, orchestral rehearsals with each orchestra before we go on stage on the night of the show. If we didn't it would just be a little bit cold I think.

That's insane! Well I am hoping to get to a show and check you guys out! Sounds like it's going to be EPIC.

The Dwarf In Conversation With Hilltop Hoods

Tour Dates:

Apr 02 Allphones Arena, Sydney
Apr 08 Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Brisbane
Apr 16 Adelaide Entertainment Centre, Adelaide
Apr 23 Rod Laver Arena,Melbourne
Apr 30 Perth Arena, Perth

Tickets available here:

The Dwarf In Conversation With Hilltop Hoods

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