The Hilltop Hoods: “We wanted to do something unifying for the scene”

This weekend, festival pros The Hilltop Hoods will take the stage at Brisbane’s Sprung Hip Hop Festival, equipped with a streamlined set-list that reaches from the group’s early days to 2012’s Drinking from the Sun. At Sprung, the Hoods will be leading an all-Australian hip hop line-up including Spit Syndicate, Bias B, Illy, Pez and Thundamentals. We bailed up the headliners to talk quality control, the extremes of fan devotion and more.

You guys are gearing up to headline the Sprung Festival. Can we look forward to a similar set as what we saw at Splendour In The Grass?

Pretty much. We have a bit of a longer set at Sprung I believe though. And no gorillas this time. Well, at least less gorillas.

How do the songs from Drinking from the Sun feel in the live show? has that album brought a new edge to your set?

They feel really good, they feel like we’ve been playing them forever, not just a year. Songs like Rattling the Keys definitely bring an edge to the set, but I think more so having Plutonic Lab and One Above joining us this last year has made the difference. They bring a real ‘live’ feel to the show.

Nailing the album format is an art-form, no matter what genre you’re working in. What are some of the landmark albums you guys have been inspired by?

I like quality control on an album. I really admire albums that you can listen to front to back without skipping, albums like Nas’s Illmatic (that’s only 10 tracks long). I guess that’s why we’ve started whittling our albums down from something like Left Foot, Right Foot, which was 18 tracks, to State of the Art, which is only 12 tracks.

I also really like albums to have a consistent feel. Albums that are cohesive can be difficult to make when you’re making sample based music. Brother Ali’s Shadows on the Sun is one of the albums that pulls it off. Albums like that inspire you to try put something together that has a uniform feel, like it was all made at one time, in one studio.

Looking back at The Calling and the strong impression it made, why do you think that was a kind of ‘watershed moment’ for Australian hip hop?

Not trying to sound modest, but we’ve always felt that timing and luck had a lot to do with the success of that album. It really was a case of right place, right time. The hip hop scene in Australia at that time was bubbling, and about to boil over. Of course the support that triple j gave it made all the difference, and it helped that we worked hard and toured hard.

The Rattling The Keys To The Kingdom video feels like a powerful statement from the Hilltop Hoods. Can you tell about the concept and the feeling behind that video?

We really wanted to do something unifying for the scene and get a lot of people who you might not usually associate with each other under the one banner. We also wanted to give some up and coming artists some exposure, and we thought we could use our profile, and other high profile artists in the clip to do that.

Obviously we weren’t able to involve everybody relevant in the scene, but we think we got a good cross-section. I think it’s something we’ll be able to look back on as a little bit of history, a sort of snapshot of the movement at the time.

You’ve got a photo album on your Facebook page of fans who’ve inked themselves with Hilltop Hoods tattoos. Is it always a buzz to see that kind of loyalty?

It’s pretty full-on having someone put that on their body. Permanently. It kind of stresses me a bit to be honest!

But the people who have Hoods tattoos that I’ve talked to kind of put my mind at ease. It’s like people with AC/DC tattoos from the 80s – it’s less about the band, and more about that period in their lives.

I’ve seen you mention that the U.S. was a focus for the Hoods, with Drinking from the Sun released there. You often hear that the U.S. is a difficult nut to crack – how have you found it?

We’ve just come back from the US a few months ago, and we had an amazing time, we’re heading back early next year. It is a tough nut to crack, but to be honest I’m not that fussed. If it really jumps off over there, that would be great, but that’s not where all our ambitions lie or anything like that.

So, after Sprung this weekend, what’s next for the Hilltop Hoods in 2012?

We’re touring NZ as well as playing at the ARIAs, Homebake and finishing the year off at Falls. Apart from that we’re finishing up the Golden Era 2013 Mixtape which is starting to take shape and should be out in January.