Hilltop Hoods are making their return to Minneapolis on Tuesday, Nov. 12 at The Fine Line Music Cafe. I was able to have a phone call with Matt Lambert “Suffa” of Hilltop Hoods a week before their show in Minnesota.
Chris Taylor: This is Chris Taylor with Music In Minnesota, I am here with Matt Lambert a.k.a “Suffa” of Hilltop Hoods. One of the all-time greats of Australian Hip-Hop. So Matt, what was it like starting out in the Australian Hip-Hop Scene? Where did you get the most support and where do you think the big break came from?
Matt Lambert: Starting Out, we were hanging out with graffiti artists and those people got into hip-hop. It wasn’t a big thing yet. Most of the nights were DJ nights or battle nights. There were about a hundred or so people they were dudes. [Laughter] Every. Single. One.
It sort of developed when we had a couple of songs on our National broadcaster. I don’t know if you have an equivalent in the states. A government news radio station.
Chris Taylor: We do have National Public Radio, but it varies state to state on what they play. Minnesota is actually well-known for having an NPR station that is pretty famous for playing things other than talk shows and classical music. It’s a great station that features a ton of up and coming local artists.
Matt Lambert: You know actually, I know that. I watch a lot of NPR stuff We watch a lot of content every year like Tiny Desk. But yeah, we got a couple of our songs on the radio. One was called “The Nosebleed Section” and the other was called “Dumb Enough?” It sort of took off for us there.
From that, we were able to get on festivals. Then it got to a point where we’d better quit our jobs. Now, here we are.
Chris Taylor: That’s wonderful, especially when a national radio station picks you up. They get your name out to people’s ears. It sounds like a pretty similar story to how today’s underground artists got their break. It’s a little bit different today, with going viral on the internet. But, you’re still going on the festival circuit. What was your first tour of the states like?
Matt Lambert: Our first proper tour in the States was great. We were sponsored by Red Bull. We did Splendor in The Grass and other things and we toured with Sims from Doomtree, actually.
Chris Taylor: That was going to be my next question actually. How was it working with Sims and did you get to meet the rest of Doomtree?
Matt Lambert: I actually did not. The night we played Minnesota, Soundset was on.
Chris Taylor: No way.
Matt Lambert: It was the only night that Sims couldn’t play because he was booked to play with Doomtree at Soundset on the same night. [Laughter] So yeah, that’s pretty bad timing.
Sims is our guy, man. Such a great guy. We’ve been following what he’s been doing since like with Shredders
You don’t perform as well when you’re solo. Not a lot of people, particularly in hip-hop are fine with getting on stage as a solo artist. He [Sims] engaged the crowd, like, really engaged the crowd. I know those guys [Shredders] work, together and separately, really hard and worked years for it.
It’s one of those things where the hard work shows and it is really inspiring to be there and watch. It makes you want to be a better version of your self
Chris Taylor: Absolutely. They gained such a cult following here be from Minnesota. They’ve been just working so so so hard 15-18 years, putting out track after track, record after record. They used to do this thing called Blowout. They played 10 concerts in a row in (in the last year.) They were at various venues in the city.
Matt Lambert: Oh wow.
Chris Taylor: I actually went to the last performance. I imagined they stopped doing it because that’s just hard on the body.
Matt Lambert: Yeah! Especially when you said that I got instant anxiety! I was like “NOPE, not for me!” (Laughter)
Chris Taylor: I just remember seeing them on the last night and thinking about the 10 venues and 10 nights, and different types of sets. That’s some dedication right there.
Matt Lambert: It’s a brilliant idea. But……I couldn’t do it. [Laughter]
Chris Taylor: I don’t know how they do it, man. Yeah, they have been a force in our music scene for a very long time. It’s cool you got to work with one of them, have a connection to Minnesota.
Here come a few of my own more specific questions. I heard about you guys back in 2008, back in my high school in Minnesota. One of my friends discovered you guys, then word got to me about you guys. The first album that really caught all of our attention was The Hard Road Restrung.
Matt Lambert: Yeah, yeah, cool!
Chris Taylor: I read that the inspiration for the restrung albums came from your ARIA Awards Performance [Australian equivalent of the Grammy’s) What was the big motivation for an album where most of the music (production) was played by an orchestra?
Matt Lambert: It was definitely the performance at ARIA but we also had a quartet come in and add strings to our existing songs and we really liked how that worked. It put us out of this melancholy and mood, And when we performed with the quartet at ARIA, our Grammy’s. It was kind of eye-opening like “that was dope, we can do that.”
We remixed our album with an orchestra. Which is more time-consuming, expensive and more soul-crushing than it sounds. (Laughter)
Chris Taylor: Did you rehearse with orchestra or were you producing the tracks separately and mixing in the vocals and orchestra later?
Matt Lambert: It was a remix project, so there was The Hard Road, The Album. We took that record and gave it to a composer who had been working with us on various things. He wrote the composition for a symphony orchestra. He also had a relationship with the orchestra we were working with.
We then got together with the orchestra at their recording studio in Adelaide. And I think it was in 3 or 4 days they knocked the whole album and then it was like three or four months on top that (Laughter)
Chris Taylor: That is cool. He literally took The Hard Road and basically transposed it to orchestral music, sheet music and had them play it.
Matt Lambert: I would agree, he left some elements in that were already there that were key to the tracks and added some elements that were there as well. We didn’t have many interesting, you know timpani parts.
Chris Taylor: Ok, I have one last question. What is the story behind the man with the swords that is featured predominately in your album artwork?
Matt Lambert: His name is Armageddon and we tried to trace a storyline to our albums since our first EP in ’97. And, I’m sure you’re familiar with Iron Maiden?
Chris Taylor: Mmhmm.
Matt Lambert: When I was a kid I was an Iron Maiden fan, and they’ve got Edde, who’s a character that is on their tour posters, albums, and pretty much everything? We were inspired by it. “Eddie’s such a good idea, let’s make our Eddie.” (Laughter)
Chris Taylor: It’s cool to have a story across albums, build a whole arc.
Matt Lambert: I wish I thought more about the narrative but here we are. (Laughter)
Chris Taylor: So, what can we expect out of your performance next week?
Matt Lambert: Well, do a big ol’ long show (Laughter)
We’ve got a live drummer with us (Plutonic Lad) who’s been with us for the last 10 years. We try to make our shows a party as much as we can. That’s all we go for.
We’re bringing Adrian Eagle, he’s a soul singer from Adelaide. He has an incredible, beautiful voice. Yeah man, It’s gonna be such a good night and a good time. We’ve really loved past concerts and we’re really looking forward to not being on the same night as Soundset. (Laughter)
Chris Taylor: Well, Matt, it was wonderful talking to you and learning about Hilltop Hoods and I’ve very excited to attend the show on November 12th at the Fine Line.
Matt Lambert: Thanks for having me was a pleasure, dude.
Chris Taylor: It was a pleasure speaking to you as well! I will see you in about a week-ish!
Matt Lambert: AH Shit, I better pack! (Laughter)
Catch Hilltop Hoods on Tuesday, Nov. 12 on their Great Expanse Tour at The Fine Line Music Cafe with Adrian Eagle.