Interviewed for CLIQUE Mag Winter Edition, June 22 2017
NB: this is the full original version of my interview. The version in the print magazine was edited significantly to meet print constraints.
Hailing from the Blue Mountains, the guys in legendary Aussie hip hop group Thundamentals never anticipated that they’d one day get to play a venue like the Enmore Theatre, let alone fill it to capacity. Last week saw them do just that as they kicked off their national tour in support of their fourth studio album, Everyone We Know, released in February.
We caught up with Jeswon (Jesse Ferris) ahead of the group’s Adelaide show on June 16 for a quick chat that soon turned into a D&M about friendships, the importance of music, and checking your privilege. Have a suss before you head out to the gig and show them some love!
What are some of your favourite tracks to perform live?
Noodle Soup’s pretty fun. But also from the new album, we’ve been playing this song called Blue Balloons. It’s a dedication to a young fella from our hometown who passed away too early under pretty tragic circumstances. I know a lot of his friends and some of his family were at the show in Sydney when we played. That felt like a really special moment in the set, even though the song is quite downtempo and not necessarily the easiest to perform. The vibe around that song felt really special in the room.
I did read that you guys headed down to his funeral.
It was his memorial ceremony. He was a big skater and there’s a skate park in the town where he was from, it’s called Blaxland. They unveiled a memorial bench, this sculpted bench in the shape of a skateboard with a little epitaph inscribed into it. We were invited along to that, so that was kind of the moment that inspired the song idea.
Sometimes you’re not aware what an important part your music can play in other people’s lives. You’re stuck in this dark little studio making music for a year or two or however long it takes for you to write the album and you’re so in your head and don’t think too far past making it. You don’t think about the consequences of it and who it’s going to resonate with. To be invited to something so personal and tragic like that, it was just a reminder that your music does have a life beyond what you originally think it might.
It’s very much got that personal significance to you having written the songs, and then listeners go on to find their own meanings in it. So it’s constantly being reinterpreted.
Exactly. That was the thinking behind the concept of the album, because the album’s called Everyone We Know. Basically each song is inspired by certain individuals within our own life and within that. We were hoping that people can identify with similar types of people and characters within their own life, and that’s where the songs gain a bit of a deeper and more personal meaning for people, when they can take what’s personal to you as a writer and apply it within the confines of their own life. It becomes much more of a richer experience for the listener, I think.
My next question was actually going to be about how the concept of Everyone We Know came to be, but as you said it’s an insight into the networks of people you meet throughout your life and how that connects to others.
Yeah, and I guess the lessons that you learn from people or certain relationships, whether they’re positive or negative ones. Some of the songs are even based on snippets of conversations we’ve had with people or conversations that we wish we had with certain people at certain times of our life but we never did. So it’s not strictly 100% like, “this song’s about Dave and this song’s about Susie,” it’s this whole amalgamation of experiences throughout our lives and reflections on those experiences, so it’s all about that but loosely it’s inspired by the various people in our lives who have influenced us for the better and for the bad.
One track that I really enjoyed was Ignorance is Bliss, ‘cause I thought it’s sick that you’re using your platform to spread this message that often a lot of people in positions in privilege tend to completely deny. Have you had much feedback on that particular track?
Yeah, we have. I think a lot of acts can cruise along and not address things because potentially it’s risky addressing those things with your fanbase. I was wanting to stir up the bees nest a bit and get people thinking — I was prepared for the criticism and prepared to be challenged and engage in a dialogue around it. But it’s a funny thing, there was so little of that that the fact that so many people came out and said, “good on ya, we agree” was a bit disappointing. I know that sounds weird because in a way it’s reassuring that we have good fans who think about things and question the way things work, but it’s also ironic because it’s another reflection of our privilege. It’s like we are actually in this bubble where we surround ourselves with people that think the same way that we do. I wanted a few more people to come out of the woodwork and have a bit of a discussion around it but that didn’t happen as much as I would’ve hoped.
That whole song as well is part of a wider plan, because we put it up for a pay-what-you-want download [for] this campaign that we’re running. We’ve done this thing in the past, it’s called the ‘Got Love’ Initiative and it’s based around a song from an earlier album called Got Love where we partner with an organisation and try raise money for them through the release of initially sales from one particular piece of merch, but we also did it with that song for this campaign. So that was a cool thing and lots of people downloaded it and donated quite generously, and I think we got $18,000 for the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence which is this really awesome hub in a neighbouring suburb [of] where we’re living in Sydney. It’s in Redfern and they have really good after hours programs for indigenous kids who come there after school, do a bunch of educational programs, get good food and sporting facilities.
So [the song] was kind of trying to raise awareness about the fact that we are privileged and we do have this platform, and hopefully we can use it to tap into real life things that are going on for people other than just ourselves. I stand by that song, and I stand by the things we talk about in it. I don’t even think it’s that controversial. It’s things that most people know; just a lot of the time, when you’re in that position you don’t want to think about it too much because that would mean thinking about others’ disadvantage and how you’re comfortable within that privilege and you’re not using it to do anything else.
I think it’s important to get it out there though. Even if you’re not getting those more negative reactions then hopefully there’s some people who are thinking about it in their own time.
I think there’s a lot of kids listening to our music as well. For that hour or so that we’re in a room together [during live shows], we’re trying to create this positive experience. I feel like being interested and passionate about things and being compassionate and impassioned isn’t seen as cool, and I wanna try and challenge that concept a little bit through the music but also through the live performances. So I think even just having an affirmation about how you feel about things and trying to put those real positive messages out is something that kids can see as an alternative to maybe what they’re faced with quite often, which is [that] it’s cool to be apathetic and it’s cool not to give a fuck about other people and to be on your own wave and not be conscious of how what you do affects other people. So it’s all tying into that idea of trying to push a positive alternative for people.
You can purchase ‘Everyone We Know’ from their website at thundamentals.com.au.