Interview by Chris Dornan
Hip Hop trio THUNDAMENTALS are just about to wrap up their “Foreverlution Album Tour 2011” in Brisbane. With a successful National headlining tour and supporting tours with big name acts such as newly awarded Aria recipient Drapht, A Tribe Called Quest (USA), Lyrics Born (USA), Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (USA), and many more amazing artists..
I caught up with one third of the Thundamentals – “MC Tuka” – prior to their summer festival season ahead
Chris Dornan LifeMusicMedia: Let me first say I’ve listened to the new album and it’s amazing. I really enjoyed its complexity of perfectly timed layers and classic hip hop style. The mixture of styles and rhymes throughout were perfectly timed. The momentum throughout its entirety is never lowered, it just grows and evolves just like the breakdown of its title.
MC Tuka: Thanks, man.
LifeMusicMedia: It’s just a great mix of sounds with horns and a bit of a reggae style as well, can you elaborate on that?
MC Tuka: I suppose we’re a bit of a sample first and foremost; we are victims of a sample. If there’s something that’s more world influenced like a Latin or reggae groove or an African groove were not hindered by that, we can use that kinda stuff. The song really has a life of its own. It only seems natural sometimes to get a bit holistic with recorded live instruments as well; it all comes from the inspiration of the sample I reckon.
LifeMusicMedia: “Foreverlution” was released in July (2011) through Obese Records how has the reaction been?
MC Tuka: Triple J definitely has that gateway audience to let people in who don’t normally have access to it. Unless you have a really good internet presence that goes viral. Triple J is the main place for an underground band. Getting the singles on obviously helps and getting good reviews about the tracks and the album is awesome. We haven’t had it out that long to really dwell on it and sit back just because we’ve been touring so much. I won’t release it yet but I’m pretty sure we’ve got the next tour already on the cards. With our previous record we did pretty much the same thing with lots of tours straight after we finished it but it will be nice just to sit down and just listen to it and reflect with some fresh ears. Get some space from it maybe.
LifeMusicMedia: You have been touring with some big name acts over this past year and getting support from a lot of huge acts as well. Who has really stood out as a great live act that you shared the stage with?
MC Tuka: I can’t really go past “A Tribe Called Quest“, that was just amazing. They are really talented obviously. I suppose this year touring with Drapht and watching him and his crew play every night in different environments is quite interesting. I can see how an artist can adapt to the environment of the gig and the region that we are in. We did some regional places and obviously all the cities as well. Sometimes there was like five legs and you’d see a standard and approaching bigger gigs slightly different because of the environment. I’m the kind of person that appreciates that in an artist, a diverse style like that. I think that’s important when you’re trying to connect with people and you’re an entertainer.
LifeMusicMedia: I got to say big props to DJ Morgs and the whole production side of things on this album. He has got some skills working the decks and providing the sounds. What’s it like working with him?
MC Tuka: Yes definitely he’s got snaps! He spends a lot of time in his room making the beats. We share a house together so he’s hands on, back and forth kinda stuff. Sometimes he’s really dedicated and he puts a lot of work in and he’s starting to get recognized for it, I’m stoked for him.
LifeMusicMedia: You had some really talented people do some guest vocals on this album. The standout for me was the soulful sounds and gifted voice of Charlotte Craib on “Calm In The Caos”. Where has a voice like her’s been hiding?
MC Tuka: I was in a band for about six years it was like a reggae band called RUM PUNCH. I have been working with her ever since and then we kinda split up. I think DJ Morgs is going to be making a record with her, I think a solo record. We’ve been using her for a long time, she’s just got this jazzy nineteen twenties vibe. We’ve got a nineteen twenties vibe sometimes, we do try to go there I suppose. We are big fans of Billy Holiday that inspiration pops through. Charlotte’s great to work with I think she’s been on every single release so far. She smashed that chorus I was stoked about that originally .I was supposed to sing it but it just wasn’t to turn out that way. With a female voice I was really confident and I heard it after she recorded it.
LifeMusicMedia: What would you say is Hip Hop in Australia biggest enemy at the moment or something that’s bringing it down?
MC Tuka: Obstacles or barriers? I can’t speak for all of Australia but I can say for a couple of places. I think it’s music in general and being able to build your bands from a hundred capacity crowd up to a five hundred capacity crowd in Sydney is kinda ridiculous at the moment. There’s nowhere to start your little bit of support from a small amount of people and playing there until you get a following. You then move to a bigger venue. The next big event jumps from four hundred to The Metro which is like twelve hundred or fifteen hundred people. It’s really hard for artists to like get a lot of stage time these days. From memory it was a little bit easier for me about five years ago when I started. These days it’s really hard to break through; that’s across the board not just hip hop. I think Australian hip hop is kinda in its golden era at the moment – so potent. If you can get that buzz going with your band and Triple j playing, I don’t really see too many barriers. It’s just that I’m more open minded at the moment. From where I stand there’s so much diversity in the acts now and people aren’t afraid to branch out and do completely different songs. It’s still labeled hip hop. Actually there is one thing I’d like to take away which isn’t a barrier per say but it’s kind of irritating. Sometimes being recognized as a Oz hip hop genre rather than just a hip hop genre. We never really thought of it like that it’s just a tag that’s been put on us because we’re Australian I suppose.
LifeMusicMedia: If you could play anywhere in the world in front of fifty thousand people, where would it be and who would your support acts be?
MC Tuka: Some kinda dream gig. If I was really ambitious I would like to go to Germany and have fifty thousand people come watch my show. Being in Germany could hook me up with some great networks. If I spent some time in Germany, I don’t know if I could get them to support me but I would love to play with the Rhymesayers crew or a lot of people on that record. I rate them very highly like Brother Ali or someone like Mos Def. It would be great to hang out with him backstage and talk about stuff. I’ve watched a lot of his content and I know a lot about his songs. Yes, Germany, fifty thousand people and playing with Mos Def that would be fun.
LifeMusicMedia: Some Hip Hop artists can find a flow with a real different beat and pull out a rhyme with no problems. Do you get your creative ideas from the sounds made by DJ Morgs or do you get inspiration from the evolving world around you and the endless changing life you live? Where do you get your creative ideas from/
MC Tuka: When I hear music I kinda get a color association to it… you don’t just see the color you feel the color. I think there’s some kind of terminology for it. If I hear a core progression I get a color, it’s not like I can see it or when I close my eyes I can see it. You just kinda feel it out, like it’s a maroon sometimes or a green. From that sometimes even drum tones can give you the tone of voice I’m going to use and obviously the pitch used for the song. That’s when I get a beat given to me. I find when you’re walking by yourself your feet kind of have a natural rhythm, and sometimes words will pop out of thin air. As your walking to this rhythm and the vibe will come out. Another time I’ll be in a conversation with some friends, and someone will just say a really interesting quotable. I’ll start thinking about what that point actually means. Anything is ammunition a lot of the time. Like I’ll have to hear the actual song or the sample first to know what tone I’m going to use in my voice. Because that’s one of the first things I think of, like the texture. I try to do raps as an instrument and the words as your saying it they are just as important as one another.
LifeMusicMedia: Where do you like to go when want to chill out from the scene and have some peace?
MC Tuka: I actually don’t have a drivers license so when I go to work – I’m actually a teacher – I travel about an hour to what I call “Sydney’s China Town” – it’s called Cabrarmatta. It’s a Cambodian and Vietnamese community that I teach English as a second language and I work with ex offenders and stuff. I‘m finding when I’m on the train I take my laptop and do a lot of writing just on the train back and forth. I work about three days a week and out there I really don’t know anyone and no one knows me. So it’s quite grounding. They don’t know realize that I’m in this band and doing this other thing. Out there I feel really comfortable being myself and for some reason I just write a lot out there. It’s a little escape for just collecting my thoughts. I skateboard a lot, just skating and listening to my friends music or music that I dig at the time, that’s definitely where I get my Zen on, those two places .
LifeMusicMedia: The whole electric funk and hip hop movement old school style from guys like George Clinton, Grand Master Flash, Kool Moe Dee, were a big inspiration. Rhythmic backbone to the hip hop movement as it is today .Who inspired you to perform and pull rhymes and have the taste of making music with feeling and meaningful justice?
MC Tuka: My first recollection of hip hop was off Channel Two, Rage and RUN D. M. C. Vs. Aerosmith “Walk This Way”. Mum’s boyfriend used to religiously tape all the Rage shows. When I had realized he had taped them and about two day later I like actually went through every tape till I found this three minute clip. It was seriously hours of work to find, because I don’t know how he labeled it and I just had to find it. That kinda stuck with me for ages. Then I think I was impressionable around sixteen and Two Thousand And One came out by Dr.Dre and I don’t know but it seemed like everyone my age knew that record. I obviously wasn’t into the gangster rap for too long I found that the esthetic of that kind of production really good. I just needed to find the right kinda version of hip hop; it took me some time before I was really getting into being a real fan. Rapping heaps and I suppose those two releases are the ones that had that popular crossover where I was able to find that sound of hip hop. I suppose now these days you have to go through a lot of crap before you find the kind of hip hop you want to make. At that time there were the two records that opened the door to that process. So RUN D.M.C. was rolling around in my head when I was a young kid.
LifeMusicMedia: What can you tell me about the “Thunda Cats “and do you want to pass on a message to them?
MC Tuka: It’s kinda funny people are starting to ask questions about the Thunda Cats thing. We were always called that by other acts, either Thundas or Thunda Cats. Once we started doing headline shows you see these people come to your shows; they are Thunda Cats just like us, similar to us and they come to see our music. Sometimes people will come to the gig with an original Thunda Cats shirt on. I reckon that’s so cool. You see heaps of kids with Thunda Cats shirts on I want to buy them a beer or something. There was a dude in Perth wearing a Thunda Cats shirt and he goes to me “I’m gunna buy you a shot, and I bet I can guess what shot you want” I don’t know if he asked anyone; he kinda just pulled it out of nowhere and he bought me a little nip of Glenfiddich on the rocks and I’m like this is my man. A Thunda Cat, he understands me.
LifeMusicMedia: So what does the future hold for the Thundamentals? Do you plan on going global?
MC Tuka: There is definitely some stuff on the cards for a world tour. We’ve all talked about it and it’s something we want to do, it’s just hard to get away from Australia at the moment. Since there’s a lot of things happening for us and we’re building a lot of really solid foundations. I think in the next couple of years we’re all going to push to do it just for our own life experience. It’ll be a mad thing to do rather than a huge career move. Obviously it will be a career move when we do it, experience it as a band rather than a traveler. It’ll be fu..ing awesome, there is that definitely on the horizon. We kinda make a lot of music so there’s also some solo projects popping up in the next year. Then we’ll tie it all back in the year after or our next release probably. We can’t really foresee the future yet but there will definitely be a lot of records still from our camp. We’re constantly making music and every now and then we have to tie it up and put it into records. It’s just the constant flow of it, we just keep on making songs until the time comes when we need to drop the next thing but it’s been working so far anyway.
Interview by Chris Dornan