Aussie hip-hop heavyweights Thundamentals are celebrating their 10-year anniversary by returning to their roots on their new record. Aptly titled I Love Songs and dropping this Friday, 21st September, the album celebrates Tuka, Jeswon and Morgs’ unwavering love for music.
While the trio have used music as a megaphone to make political commentary in the past, this album focuses on intimate reflections of love and interpersonal relationships. But with an emphasis on authentic connections outside of the digital world, the final result is still very much a sign of the times.
In another first for the Sydney trio, the record will be accompanied by a ‘multimedia zine’ made up of a series of original photographs and video footage. Largely self-produced alongside Sydney multi-instrumentalist Carl Dimataga, Thundamentals also experimented with electronica, gospel and R&B vibes to compliment their signature rap sound. This fresh feel was also heightened thanks to collaborations with Aussie artists like Eves Karydas and Adrian Eagle.
To celebrate the new record and a decade as a band, the boys are hitting the road for a massive Australian tour over November and December this year. Incorporating the visual elements from the record and a full band, it’s promised to be an unparalleled live experience for even the most seasoned Thundamentals fan.
We caught up with Tuka to chat I Love Songs, making music on their own terms and why the next tour is set to be the biggest one yet.
Music Feeds: Congrats on the new record, man! What can you tell us about I Love Songs?
Tuka: Well, right now I’m working on all of the art for it. We’ve done this huge video zine. I Love Songs is about how much we love music, first and foremost. The album reflects a fair few different genres. We’ve always kind of done that, but this time it’s pretty diverse just in what we’re sampling or what kind of music we’re playing. Hip-hop has the beauty of that, I guess. You’re diving into genres to make hip-hop.
Apart from that, ‘I Love Songs’ is kind of a love story and a narrative, that both of the songwriters me and Jeswon, wrote about relationships that we have with people in our lives. I wrote about my girlfriend for a lot of it. And in the songs that I’m not talking about my girlfriend, I’m just talking about love and associated emotions around that. It’s kind of hard to explain but I think once we roll it out, each song has its own visual world as well so people will make of it what they will. So yeah, kind of diverse I guess!
MF: That sounds awesome. So can we expect a Beyoncé-level Lemonade visual album or what?
T: It’s more patchwork and in the trailer for the album, it starts with this woman and she’s surrounded with bubbles and is holding a sign that’s got these symbols saying “I love music”. It’s like an eye, a heart and a musical note. Then we pan out into this other world where it goes black and white and it’s me and the band and I write “I Love Songs” on the back wall. And you can see a collage of heaps of different photographs and after we pan out, we dive back in and try to patch together a relationship with the world around you and music is the backdrop of that narrative.
It’s not as in-depth as Beyoncé did. It’s more of a collage. We’ve been joking around that, you know the windows in Play School? It’s more like that! It’s observational. So that’s been super fun. After doing so many records, it’s fun to take on a visual element with video and all sorts of mediums to further push the themes of the record.
MF: I’m sure those visual elements will translate beautifully to the live shows on the upcoming tour too.
T: Yeah, it’s the first record that we’ve had enough hindsight with what we want the project to be, so we can associate all of these images with it. I can’t wait to get to the live show and include those elements through the whole thing. It is going to be a massive tour with a full band and all that. At the moment, we’re just tying up the concept because we’ve filmed so much. There were 13 photoshoots and film shoots for each song and the front cover. So there’s a lot to get through (laughs).
MF: This is a very different direction for Thundamentals, both sonically and visually. What were the inspirations behind the record?
T: We kind of knew the rough idea of the record pretty early on. We’ve been pretty political and opinionated about government and particular politics and just activism in general. We’ve donated almost $40,000 to charities and organisations that we believe in. But for this record we wanted to simplify things, I guess. There are a lot of conversations happening and a lot of the conversations involve minority groups and people who haven’t usually got a lot of voice, and they actually have an opportunity and a platform now to really speak that. We want to support that conversation and we’ve already spoken a lot on these conversations.
We’ll no doubt be continuing that conversation as a band but for this one project it was more about making people feel good about their interpersonal relationships and the relationships they have with their loved ones rather than relationships they have with political turmoil and the chaos of the world. We wanted to give them space where they could appreciate connections, interpersonally without the phone and without the plugin to media, which is ironic because the way that we sell the whole thing is through the media. That’s why we led with ‘I Miss You’, highlighting the irony of the whole concept (laughs). But how else do you tell people that connection without mobile phones is good when the only connection you have with them is through a mobile phone? It’s the conundrum we’re facing.
It’s just reminding people that the actual connections we have with one another in real life is way more stimulating for your biology and for your physical and mental health. We need to value those connections more so than the connections you get through social media. We’re beginning to flip the other way and value how many likes we get or what your online persona is. We’re losing a lot of connection. We are the last generation that can remember what the world was like before the internet and we feel like it’s a story worth telling. It’s simple. It’s just like, don’t forget your home, don’t forget your loved ones. Don’t push yourself out into the internet to a point where you’ve lost connection with the people around you.
So, in a way it is a political record by the fact that we’re ignoring it all and we’re exclusively talking about interpersonal relationships. Other than ‘I Miss You’, it’s the only one that we actually address it.
MF: Yeah, even if it’s not explicitly political it’s still very relatable and very much a commentary on the current state of the world.
T: Yeah! And it’s just really simple: ‘I Love Songs’. If it wasn’t for music, we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing and it’s that simple. There’s all of that, that whole narrative and then there’s the simple fact that we just love music. That gets lost sometimes when you’re writing music and pushing your band and trying to get yourself out there. I’m not actually guilty of that, I really do love music but there are a lot of people in the industry who just start making songs to fuel a career rather than making songs that people should listen to.
MF: When you’re writing about subject matter that is more intimate, does that make it easier or harder to create?
T: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I guess in the past, I don’t think the band has been as secure about ourselves as musicians purely for the fact that it took us so long to pay ourselves and for this to be our main hustle. So this was the first record where we’ve gone “Hey, we actually have 6 months to a year where we can just work on this and not have to worry about an income.” We pay ourselves something really humble just to keep things in the flow, but it’s taken us a long time to do that.
I guess with this record we just wanted to do whatever the fuck we wanted to do. We didn’t want to be like “an album needs this” or “it needs this song” or “an album needs a couple of live songs and it needs a love song” or whatever. We weren’t thinking about it like that. We were thinking that we wanted to write a bunch of music knowing that we were going to call it ‘I Love Songs’. We’re going to write a bunch of songs that we want to write and put that out and that’s our main focus rather than impressing anyone else.
Not that we’re overly guilty of it, but as musicians you do have to think about those things and it was a real big relief not to be as concerned and just do what was bleeding out of our hearts rather than thinking about the bottom line.
It’s cool that it’s been 10 years because when you start out as an artist, that’s just what you are. You just want a voice and a platform where you can speak your authentic self. Once you’re devoured in a music industry, sometimes you shift lanes very quickly because of the way that technology works and how fads work. It’s kind of full circle to come back around and now just be like “let’s just do us, 100% authentically”. It’s a good question because that’s hard to do. You can’t lie to yourself.
MF: Even if difficult, I’m sure that must’ve been a very liberating experience.
T: Yeah, and maybe things will change and we’ll have to be more calculated. Who knows? As I said, the industry will make you shift lanes like once a year at least in terms of how you go about things. It was cool to just press stop and just focus on this one album and throw it out there to see how it goes. We released a record last year. We didn’t need to release this album, you know? But with it being 10 years and us in the headspace to do it, we just felt like it was right.
MF: Yeah, and what better way to celebrate your 10-year anniversary as a band than with a new record that’s unapologetically you?
T: Yeah, that’s it! That’s why it’s so simple with the title. Just ‘I Love Songs’. After 10 years of writing music, that’s the conclusion and what I see as the beauty of the whole thing. We’re so blessed that people give a fuck about our music that we can actually just do what we love. It’s just surreal.
MF: You’ve said this album was also the most effortless one to complete, which I think says a lot about the subject matter you drew inspiration from.
T: Yeah, that was really interesting. In the past, we’ve toiled over some songs and we questioned or doubted ourselves. For this one, as songs were coming out, we just accepted that we’ve been writing songs for so long that doesn’t that make our standard good enough? Why do you have to double check yourself so much? Isn’t the point of being good at your craft that you actually know what you’re doing. I feel like we knew what we were doing for this record. It just kind of came out. We’ve been doing it long enough to know. Stylistically it is a bit different from our previous work and I think some fans who have been around since day dot might have issues with that. But like I said before, we don’t mind. That’s OK.
After 10 years, all I’ve learned is that you go with your gut feeling. We’ve got these instincts and anxieties and insecurities and fears that are there to alert you, but you’re not doing what your gut feeling is telling you. Once you drop that, you’re very vulnerable because you have to listen to all of those anxieties and question them. Is that real or not or maybe I do need to adjust my outlook? There is a lot of vulnerability with it but going with your gut like that has just time and time again proven to me that that’s what I should’ve done.
MF: You’re embarking on a massive tour at the end of the year, what else can we expect from the live shows? Any guest appearances from the collabs on the record?
T: At this stage we haven’t thought about what guests we’ll bring along but we’re definitely working a huge band, which we’ve never done. The stage is big enough that we can really curate the space like we’ve never done. It’s the biggest production we’ve ever done. We’ve done a lot of MC and DJ stuff and we love that. We’ll definitely always do that but for this one, with the 10-year anniversary, we’re doing a huge regional tour and for the capitals we just want to do something really special for everyone who has been on this ride. So we’re kind of throwing everything we’ve got at it.
We also understand that we released a record last year and so many of our fans have seen us heaps. So what’s the point of touring again if you don’t invest in a new experience for people? No one will have seen this show before.
Thundamentals new album ‘I Love Songs’ is out this Friday and you can catch them touring it around the nation this November and December.