Blossoming families, fostering communities, and the importance of both self-love and humility sit alongside solid, pithy hilarity on Hilltop Hoods’ new album, The Great Expanse. We spoke to Matthew Lambert – AKA MC Suffa – about all the pieces of the pie.
“Dude, I’ll do a remix of those lines solely for you… like one of those 12-hour YouTube videos,” MC Suffa laughs. A generous offer from a patient man – when we get on the blower to talk about Hilltop Hoods’ new album The Great Expanse, he’s sitting in the car with his two very young daughters, one of whom is demanding a band-aid for a pretend injury. “Yep, you’ve got a band-aid,” he smiles, aside. “Oh my God.”
Family and how it intersects with the touring life is one of many themes touched on across the Hoods’ eighth album (or eleventh, if you’re counting the band’s two Restrung remix albums), which comes just after the massively successful Restrung tour and documentary film. Despite the broad range of subject matter, Suffa says that he and bandmates MC Pressure and DJ Debris found selecting material a straightforward affair. “We’ve got this sort of mantra, that albums make themselves,” he says. “We just make a lot of songs, and then everything you’re going to use becomes apparent. Going in with a big master plan doesn’t really work for us.”
What has always worked, and remains remarkably impressive, is the Hoods’ gift for a turn of phrase. In OOFT (Ponda Baba) (“It’s great to hear someone say the title of that song,” Suffa chortles) we find the line ‘I don’t want to fall through the cracks/ Like cigarette ash on Scott Storch’s keyboard.’ “I’m saying it in quite the literal sense,” Suffa says. You might know Storch as the high-life-livin’ producer who has crafted hits for Snoop, Dr Dre, Beyoncé, Nas, 50 Cent, Pink, and more. You may not know he started out as keyboardist for Philadelphian neo-soul band The Roots in 1994 (the same year famed beatboxer Rahzel joined the line-up), nor that he’s now an avid Instagrammer.
“If you go to his Instagram, he has tonnes of videos of him playing keys, and he’s constantly chainsmoking while playing keys,” Suffa explains. “So, I don’t want to fall through the cracks like his cigarette ash. Go to his Instagram, it’s a lot of fun – man, he’s a bad motherf-cker.”
That line’s also illustrative of one of the other things at which Hilltops are top notch: a sneaky little bit of cultural education. It’s likely not all Hilltops fans knew who Bobby Fischer was when they heard the opening line from 2014 hit single Cosby Sweater (from the ARIA-winning album Walking Under Stars), ‘I feel like Bobby Fischer/ Always four moves ahead.’ Suffa admits he isn’t some walking encyclopaedia. “I’m in much in the same boat as you, in that when we use something in a lyric, I also learn about those things,” he explains. “But with [Bobby Fischer], I found out something in the months after, that wasn’t very great. I knew he was a chess champion… but I didn’t know he was a massive anti-Semite! He’s a bit of a rubbish person. These days it feels like nearly everyone, except for John Legend and a couple of other people, maybe Tom Hanks – they’re the only ones that are famous and not jerks, by the looks of it.”
Along with that education, and wisdom via experience, the triumvirate of lyrical skill is completed with humour. In single Leave Me Lonely there’s an absolutely inspired section in which Suffa describes several things he’d rather do than speak to the song’s irritating subject. To wit: ‘I’d rather lick a sneeze guard on a salad bar.’ (This was the section Suffa offered to remix into the extended YouTube track for us.)
Hilltops are riding high on their own self-made mountain – but they also consider personal growth a terribly important aspiration. Into The Abyss declares ‘I’m trying to be a better man/ Ask Eddie Vedder, man.’ Fire & Grace – featuring 16-year-old vocal sensation Ruel – explores our penchant for idolising public personalities while hating on ourselves, and includes the line: ‘The happiest people are the least ambitious.’
“If you’re overly ambitious, [you] sacrifice values and relationships and all the important things in life,” Suffa says. “Ambition can be poison – ambition is driven by ego. I was listening to a podcast the other day where they were saying the position of President of the United States shouldn’t be elected – it should be a job that’s forced on the most reluctant, but qualified, person.”
Whether its idealistic or purely musical, the band’s approach clearly strikes a chord with some of their most talented peers; along with guest vocalist Nyassa, they’ve found a kindred spirit in Ecca Vandal, one of the most brilliant vocalists Australia has produced in the last 10 years. “I’d like to take credit [for getting Ecca to guest],” Suffa smiles, “but Pressure was a huge fan of [track] Future Heroine [from Vandal’s selftitled debut 2017 album]. His wife’s a bit more punk rock than he is, and I think she probably introduced him to Ecca. We just asked her to jump on, and she suited two tracks on the album really well. I mean, she’s got a really good range. Any sort of ideas that you’ve got and you want to try, she’s the perfect person to have in the studio, because she’s got so much ability. She and her band are doing so well, particularly in Europe. It’s great to see the good guys win.”
The Great Expanse is out February 22 via HTH/UMA.
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