Hilltop Hoods continue to explore the great expanse

Nine ARIAs, multi-platinum sales, half a billion global streams (and counting) and a swag of songs embedded in the national consciousness. The legacy of the Hilltop Hoods is undeniable – they legit catalysed the birth of Australian hip-hop as a genre. But they’re not done yet. Their eighth studio album ‘The Great Expanse’ debuted at #1 on the ARIA album charts (their sixth album to do so) and they’re about to embark on their first headline tour since 2016 with a bunch of Australian shows selling out within hours.

MC Pressure spoke to Gold Coast’s Samantha Morris about the new album, what it’s like to be considered an elder statesman for the genre and the band’s ‘Side of Stage’ partnership with Canteen.

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“I’m connecting you through to Pressure now,” said the helpful Universal team member as I frantically searched for my interview notes, having completely forgotten about this appointment. I haven’t found them by the time MC Pressure is on the other end, so I’m floundering for my first question.

“Do I call you Pressure,” I say, “or Dan?”

MC Pressure, AKA Dan laughs. “If you feel weird calling me Pressure, just call me Dan. My mum doesn’t call me Pressure. It’s mostly just Dan.”

He tells me Pressure is a hangover from a graffiti tag when he was a “proper” kid; “being a jerk cruising around the Adelaide hills, tagging things.”

I can’t help but ask if he’s grown out of being a jerk and he laughs again.

“I’ve definitely grown out of being a jerk. Well, I like to think so, anyway.”

Dan is sitting in his South Australian studio when he speaks to me, part of his home on the edge of the Adelaide Hills, not far from the city. It’s where he writes most of his lyrics. Now that we’ve got the naming issues out of the way, I remind Dan that it’s been 22 years since the Hilltop Hoods released their fist EP. I’m curious about how he feels having sustained a career for more than two decades in such a fickle industry.

“Ah, amazed, actually.”

“I never meant to make a career out of it. And when we put that EP out, we weren’t even serious about making any music, it was just a hobby.”

The band took a loan out from Debris’ boss to put the record out and Dan says that just goes to show how much they didn’t really consider music to be a viable option to live off.

On the contrary, I think it shows that they might have had an inkling.

“I’m amazed that people still like our music. Genuinely,” he says.

“It’s so much [music that’s been made] that I forget we’ve made songs. I did another interview and I told her we were going to play a heap of old songs in the tour and she asked if we were going to play this song and I had forgot that that song even existed.”

Hilltop Hood’s new album ‘The Great Expanse’ is their eighth studio album and it shot straight to #1 on the ARIA charts, like five albums before it. Dan says he feels a little pressure to deliver the goods, but mostly for fans.

“Our manager tries his hardest to put me under a shitload of pressure for what he expects the record to do,” he said, “And I guess there is a lot of external expectations, but for me, I kind of don’t care about that stuff.”

“Accolades are nice and acknowledgement from peers, but the support from listeners is the most important, I would rather people just say nice things about the album rather than it going number one.”

“The thing I care about with most of our records is if people can listen to it as a cohesive piece of art, a journey from start to finish, enjoy listening to every song.”

“Like everything in this world, things are being consumed faster, at the greatest volume, everyone is putting out singles and EPs now and I don’t want to do that. I want to make records.”

“I think that aspect and the art of making an album has been lost a little bit.”

It’s no wonder when a piece of work like ‘The Great Expanse’ can take so long to come to fruition. Dan tells me it was three years in the making. From the first initial song idea and beat that got made by a producer through to release.

“It was heavy writing and recording for the last 12 – 18 months. That was fairly intense.”

“I don’t think we wanted to go that long between albums,” Dan said.

And it seems fans have been fanging for new music as much as the artists themselves. With ‘The Great Expanse’ tour being the first headline tour since 2016 for Hilltop Hoods, many shows have sold out and some 14 countries are on the hit list. The tour takes in New Zealand, then Brisbane, Perth, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne before heading overseas.

“It’s a pretty big tour. Easily the biggest I’ve ever done,” Dan said. “About five months.”

“There’ll be some going and coming home between some of the legs. It’s basically New Zealand, Australia, Europe and North America.”

But he’s most looking forward to the Australian shows.

“Genuinely. I’m looking forward to playing at home – they’re always special.”

“They’ve all sold like crazy. I thought we were taking a risk putting arenas up on sale. We played with the Symphony Orchestra last time and it’s hard to know whether that was because of the spectacle [that they sold so well] or that’s just where we’re at.”

“Some of these shows sold out on the first day. There’s this energy of excitement for us as well as the people coming along.”

One of the initiatives taking place during this tour and across many tours and festivals in Australia at the moment is ‘Side of Stage’. The program is a flow-on one from a song Dan wrote called ‘Through The Dark’ which was about his son’s journey with leukemia, treatment and recovery.

The band collaborated with Google who made an interactive film clip for the song and then donated a large portion of funds raised to Canteen on behalf of the band. Canteen then used those funds to catalyse the ‘Side of Stage’ initiative which sees young people who are going through cancer get to experience live music from the side of the stage.

“They get out of their normal everyday life, doing it tough, to experience something they wouldn’t normally get access to,” Dan explained.

“There are a lot of people on board – festival promoters, bands, lots of people have offered access to backstage to give these young people a day of awesomeness,” he said.

Dan’s son is in full remission now but he says it was a very eye-opening journey.

“He beat it,” he said. “It brought the band closer together, it brought me and my son and all my family closer together. It’s a very different perspective on life and it definitely changes you and makes you realise the things that are all important and the things that aren’t.”

While the Hilltop Hoods released their first music in 1997 they first got together in 1994 and people have described them as the elder statesmen of Australia’s hip-hop scene. How does Dan feel about that moniker?

“I guess mostly proud,” he said.

“I always feel the need to point out that there were some awesome underground acts who inspired us to make music as well – the underground scene back then when we were in high school.”

“I guess I’m really proud to be a big part of hip-hop in Australia. It’s a great story.”

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Hilltop Hoods bring ‘The Great Expanse’ to Brisbane’s Riverstage on Friday 23 August and Saturday 24 August (sold out). You can also catch them in Melbourne on 9 August (10 August is sold out), Adelaide on 17 August (sold out), Sydney (31 August) and Perth (7 September). Get details at hilltophoods.com.

 

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