There are absolutely no flies on Thundamentals MC Tuka. To answer an (admittedly complicated) opening interview question with “Well, what’s your perspective?” may sound like a deflection, but it’s actually the rapper’s interest in engaging with the minds around him showing its eager face.
“You mean, [is it important to] respect people and their choices to support these random four guys from the mountains that make music?” Yes, that’s kind of what I mean. Essentially, I’m wondering how the flow of communication between artist and listener – a practice which has become monumentally important to the two MCs and two producers who make up Blue Mountains act Thundamentals – ended up such a central theme on new album Everyone We Know. “For some reason [listeners] think I have something called ‘a say’, and I [don’t] have to work for the man, and I’m given all these amazing experiences, and to take that for granted seems ludicrous because so many people in the world work hard [and they don’t] even have a roof over their head,” Tuka says. “I feel very blessed.”
Understandable, but that doesn’t mean an artist has to bring that gratitude into the actual content or mission of their music. It’s the difference between blowing a kiss to the crowd, and connecting with your listeners’ concerns and desires. Being authentic in expressing those messages is paramount too. Tuka explains the figurative lectern like this: “We channel a particular type of collective consciousness, [wherein we] honour awareness and critical thinking because we are talking about what’s happening in society; we try to think of things and feel things that are worth listening to. I believe that I’m kind of a victim of the past, and I use time and space as tools to activate ideas that I get – the idea might not necessarily be mine. I’m just a vessel expressing it.
For instance, Think About It is about loneliness. Everyone experiences it, and when they’re depressed they think no one else understands who they are. The irony is that everyone feels like that. Well, why would I make this [track speak] to a couple of people when everyone is feeling like that? We wanted to spread it as far and wide as we could. Some people are going to call that a pop song. And, you know, it is. But we wanted to honour the idea and tell as many people as we could in a broad stroke that you’re not alone, you’re just by yourself. It’s like a collage. All these ideas start collaging and channelling themselves. You start sculpting a theme. Then we noticed that, wow, we’re just talking to people in our lives and we’re commenting on conversations that we’ve had in our lives. We still left people out; we could go on forever.”
Tracks with vehement social messages like the gender equality-driven Ignorance Is Bliss – “Male, straight, white privilege”, “Are you too insecure to listen to the inconvenient truth?”, “One day we’re gonna get it right” – sit alongside wonderful backing instrumentals, like the unhurried bell synths in stand-out Milk & Honey, or the menacing glockenspiel in Open Letter, or the weirdly propulsive swing of De Ja Vu. The latter’s feel is created by the deliberate lagging-back and odd timing of Tuka and fellow MC Jeswon’s voices, and slightly wonky snare beats from producers Morgs and Poncho. “In hip hop, snares are so important, their placement,” Tuka says. “You can really ruin a track by making it feel square, and putting [the snare] right on [the beat]. It was kind of one of those Frankenstein things we’d written – technical raps, super chilled choruses, and trying to find a happy medium where everything can fit.”
Even on the album’s biggest collab, that fit was fortuitous. The beautifully triumphant and poignant closer 21 Grams features Aussie hip hop royalty Hilltop Hoods; Tuka was enormously impressed with the very apt verses the Hoods wrote without having had a lot of contextual info. “Things got complicated because [Hoods MC] Suffa had a kid, so in the final dying hours we sent them a bunch of beats,” Tuka says. “We were pretty much, ‘We’re creatively exhausted, do you guys want to make a start on this?’ We didn’t tell them the theme and they spat out this serendipitous idea of 21 grams.” (21 grams is, according to early-20th century physician Duncan MacDougall, the weight of a human soul.) “It came together so beautifully. You can hear Suffa talking about his daughter who’s just been born. It’s so real. I love them. They’re literally beautiful people. That’s why we made it the final song, ‘cause it’s like okay, see you later, this is us and we’re out.”
THE COVER ART
Everyone We Know’s abstract cover art is a little bit MJ’s Dangerous, drawing widely from the album’s lyrics and themes. There’s Sally-E, the girl who can’t dance with her Metropolis-looking head; a zombified man who looks like an extra from They Live! on the left; the scales marked with ’21 grams’ in the foreground; and a girl wearing her Reebok pumps in the front-right. It’s the work of creative Ben Furnell, whom Thundas have collaborated with for almost every past project. “We told him we wanted a character for every song, [but] we wanted to add a depth of personality, too,” Tuka says. “We wanted to make it a bit magical, a bit surreal: we love psychedelic imagery on records.” An exhibition curated by Furnell and featuring a conceptual collection of the album’s artwork is going on tour early this month, through Melbourne, Fortitude Valley, Chippendale, Adelaide and Perth. Check Thundamentals.com.au for details.
Everyone We Know is out February 10 via Universal.