PEZ Opens Up About Mental Health & Embracing Artistic Freedom On His New Album

It may have been eight years between albums, but that much-loved Melbourne hip-hopper PEZ (aka Perry Chapman) is back bigtime with Don’t Look Down – his major label premiere. P Easy’s career was a happy accident.

He began rapping when injury thwarted his dream of being a US college basketballer. Chapman debuted independently with 2008’s A Mind Of My Own – revealing an interest in classic pop instrumentation. He blew up with the summer anthem The Festival Song, featuring his mate 360 and the soulstress Hailey Cramer. It was voted #7 in the triple j Hottest 100. But, amid the cray, Chapman was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease, an autoimmune condition affecting the thyroid, necessitating that he take time out (Missy Elliott is a fellow sufferer). During his hiatus, Chapman grew increasingly anxious about fame and both making and releasing music – to the point of stasis. Today the cheerful rapper refers to this as “overthinking”.

Chapman wasn’t wholly off-radar. In late 2012 he previewed the self-produced – and buzz – joint The Game on triple j. And Chapman appeared on 360’s projects – the allies enjoying a hit in Live It Up from Utopia. Recently, he cameoed on 360’s mixtape Please Be Seated 3 (a remix of alt-J’s Fitzpleasure). Earlier in the year, Chapman became a dad. Ironically, this spurred him on to finally complete Don’t Look Down. Chapman has not only matured, but he’s also learnt to let go – the album proving “therapeutic”.

Don’t Look Down should soundtrack summer – with hooky numbers, bangers and downtempos. On the buoyant opener, Can’t Wait, graced by Cramer, Chapman confronts his absence. He previously recorded a mixtape cut with his brother Tys called Don’t Look Down, but the album’s title-track is all-new – penned for baby daughter Lonnie. Chapman worked with familiar producers like M-Phazes, Styalz Fuego and Matik. However, the album’s primary driver is aKidCalledJay – an old basketball buddy.

Don’t Look Down finds Chapman collaborating with two esteemed Australian musicians. Something For Kate frontman Paul Dempsey brings a bluesy vibe to Calling Out – the lead single. Chapman wrote Livin’ On, about losing his grandmother, with Paul Kelly after randomly meeting him at a party, years ago, and discovering he was a fan. Also present are members of Chapman’s old posse, including his bestie Raymes. A talented singer/songwriter, Raymes is apparently another overthinker – and Chapman has been helping him write for his indie-pop outfit Never Never.

But, excitingly for Aussie hip-hop fiends, 360 joins Chapman on two party songs – most notably the irreverent They Try To Tell Me. The pair just shot a video for it. “It was pretty fun – taking the piss a lot,” Chapman laughs. And the MC has returned to the road with aKidCalledJay as his DJ – supporting Thundamentals through to mid-December. “I’ve always been a fan of those dudes.” All going well with Don’t Look Down, Chapman will have his own headline tour in 2017.

MF: I saw a picture of you on Facebook signing all these pre-orders – a huge pile of CDs. Have you got through them all?

P: Yeah, I have, actually. It took a while, but it was a pretty awesome experience – ’cause I’ve obviously been nervous as to what to expect, how anything’s gonna go… So it was nice to see that there was all this supportive fanbase waiting there that’s still got my back sort of thing, you know?

MF: I keep thinking of other artists, particularly in hip-hop, who have taken a while with albums. Drapht came back after five years. Maybe you started a trend!

P: I hope not (laughs). The music market might fall apart if everyone does a runner for too long. But it’s definitely cool to see that some people have very long memories and they’ve still got your back.

MF: One thing that intrigued me was how you worked with aKidCalledJay so extensively because he didn’t have a profile before as a producer. What made you trust him to that extent, with such a major project?

P: Well, I guess we’d been close friends in the past, so the more that we reconnected, the more that I probably really wanted it to happen – ’cause the thought of doing it with a friend, it makes it business, but fun at the same time. You get to share the dream and the vision of it. And then I think as he grew and [his] skills continued to develop, it became clear to me that our chemistry was really good – you start to feel like you’re on the same wavelength. It becomes quite effortless. Then he just started to prove himself – that he was totally capable of the role. It was really great. So I think it sort of feels like onwards and upwards from here. We’re really excited to just make more music now and get better and better hopefully and make more and more impressive stuff.

MF: I imagine that some of the guest artists have heard the finished product now. Have you had any more exchanges with Paul Dempsey?

P: Yeah, I’ve been able to see him a few times, which has been really cool, ’cause he’s so down-to-earth. He’s a really intelligent guy but super-humble at the same time – so it’s nice. I mean, I’ve only been able to show him a few things. He obviously loved how Calling Out came out – which was great.

MF: You weren’t sure if Paul even liked hip-hop when your label approached him. But is he into hip-hop generally? Or did he just like your hip-hop?

P: He does… I think he does love certain things. But, for him, the way he explained it was that he just loves good music – things with emotion that resonate with him. He doesn’t particularly like to put things into a box and be like, “Oh, I only like this” or “I only like that” or blah, blah, blah. So that’s what he said. When he heard [Calling Out], he just seemed to connect with the lyrics and the message. He felt it wasn’t that different from a song that he’d perhaps try to write – it’s just a different medium… But, really, we’re probably on the same wavelength with what we’re trying to talk about. So that was really cool to hear him put it like that. ‘Cause I even asked him…

I saw a lot of support for the song, but I remember seeing one comment on social media from a real diehard Paul Dempsey/Something For Kate fan who’s horrified – like, “No, why on earth would he collaborate with a rapper!” I’m like, “Does that sort of thing bother you?” And he was like, “Not at all, ’cause if people don’t really wanna trust me and go with me on my journey with what I feel in my heart, and this is the music I wanna make, then I don’t particularly want them or need them as fans – I want fans that are willing to go on the journey with me. That’s what music and expression is all about.” He was so grounded and level-headed about it all that I thought it was really cool – ’cause that’s probably something I’ve done in the past too much. You’re over-thinking it and worrying about what everyone else thinks or says too much, rather than just being like, “This is what I feel.” It’s okay if some people don’t like it – or some people do. It’s all good. Just go for the ride.

MF: I think this is why Kanye West has that ‘arrogance’ because it shields him from criticism. He’s so convinced that he’s a genius…

P: Right from the get-go, he was wearing pink polo shirts and a backpack and tight jeans – things that were just not done [by male hip-hoppers] in America. They’re so rigid and stuck in their ways. So all hip-hop dudes were wearing jerseys and baggy pants and all this stuff and they all made fun of him – like, “You’re ridiculous.” But he literally just stuck to his guns from the get-go. So I think he’s one of those perfect examples of artists like that – you build up this arrogant shield because you’re trying to protect yourself from everyone who’s trying to shoot you down and you need to have that thick skin to get through the barrage. Then you find that the people turn around and suddenly they love you. It’s a fickle sort of game (laughs). But I’ve always probably been the opposite, where you’re too sensitive. So I think maybe I need to work on getting a bit of an arrogant shield going on! It’s probably not my nature.

MF: You’ve had this ongoing rapport with 360. When I watch The Festival Song, I feel a bit sad because you look so happy there. I think of the struggles you’ve both had since. Have you been able to support each other – or is it a case of dudes not wanting to talk about stuff?

P: I think it has been a bit of that. There’s been times when we’ve been able to be really open and supportive – and it’s been great. I know there were times when things were going huge for him – then you tend to have a lotta fake sort of people around you who are there for the wrong reasons. I think he found it probably grounding to be able to have someone [like me]. I was there with him from the start and we don’t feel any different – our relationship still feels the same. But there have definitely been times when, even when I was living at his house with him, you do have this bad habit of putting a wall up and pretending everything’s all right instead of just being open – probably ’cause you’ve always had such a good time hanging out and you don’t wanna burden the other person [with a problem]. It’s very easy to get into this habit of putting up a front and smiling and acting like everything’s cool, rather than just coming out with it straight away. It takes a while to kinda hit a breaking point where you finally open up. So, yeah, I think we’ve both had to battle through that and get more and more comfortable with the idea of just admitting what you’re dealing with or how you’re feeling.

MF: Would you ever do a full collab album together?

P: Yeah, we wanna – I think it’s probably the next thing we’ll do. We’ll do a Forthwrite album together, which will be really cool.

MF: You’re raising a lot of issues – and helping a lot of young men – because they don’t always feel they can talk about things like anxiety. KiD CuDi has done this, too, by going public with his depression. Drake messed up when he then used that in a diss song, Two Birds, One Stone – and it’s actually backfired on him. Did he go too far?

P: Well, that’s the thing – I guess it used to be one of those things where, like, all’s fair in love and war. It’s sort of like nothing’s off-limits if it’s gonna go to this place, then people just say whatever. In battles it’s certainly always tended to be the case where they’d overstep the mark so far that you’re like, “I can’t believe someone would even say that,” but you almost know not to take it that way [personally]. But it shows how much the stigma’s removed. [Mental health] has become a real serious topic. It’s become so serious that people think it is crossing the line to ever use it against someone… So, I mean, in a lot of ways, it’s probably a good thing [that this is an issue], ’cause that’s part of what’s helping people have the courage to actually say [they are experiencing problems] – ’cause in the past, it’s never something you’d say, ’cause you’re embarrassed about it, you’re so afraid about it. And now they’re trying to remove the stigma so people feel comfortable to just be like, “Hey, this is what’s really going on.” I don’t know – where do you draw the line? It’s always a slippery slope.

MF: I love the album’s last song, No One, with Arie-Elle.

P: That’s probably one of my favourites. I got pretty emotional. I know when we mastered the album and I listened to that song, it hit me hard – just ’cause I feel like it summed up the journey. It really was from dark to light. The way it goes all major and the lyrics change at the end was kinda like, “Yeah – I feel like that really summed it all up pretty well.”

‘Don’t Look Down’ is out today and available here. PEZ is currently on a national tour with Thundamentals.

Thundamentals ‘Never Say Never’ 2016 Tour Dates

Feat Mallrat & Pez

Friday, 4th November

HQ Complex, Adelaide SA

Tickets: Thundamentals

Thursday, 17th November

Republic Bar, Hobart TAS

Tickets: Thundamentals

Friday, 18th November

The Croxton, Melbourne VIC

Tickets: Thundamentals

Friday, 25th November

Miami Tavern, Gold Coast QLD

Tickets: Thundamentals

Saturday, 26th November

The Tivoli, Brisbane QLD

Tickets: Thundamentals

Friday, 2nd December

Wollongong Uni Bar, Wollongong NSW

Tickets: Thundamentals

Saturday, 3rd December

Long Jetty Hotel, Central Coast NSW

Tickets: Thundamentals

Thursday, 15th December

The Metro, Sydney NSW

Tickets: Thundamentals

Saturday, 16th December

Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle NSW

Tickets: Thundamentals

Sunday, 17th December

The Metro, Sydney NSW

Tickets: Thundamentals

Wednesday, 28th December

Southbound Festival, Busselton WA

Tickets: Thundamentals

Thursday, 29th December

Beyond The Valley Festival, VIC

Tickets: Thundamentals

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