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Tommy Ill

Tommy Ill

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Thursday 5th April, 2012 10:16AM

Wellington rapper Tommy Ill released his latest album, Hat and a Haircut on EMI this week. UTR caught up with him to discuss the record, the disparate nature of his influences and how it feels to be on a major.

Tell us a little bit about writing and recording the new album, Hat and a Haircut.

It’s been a far more collaborative process with Kelvin and Buck being a lot more involved this time. Rather than me working on the entirety of the song I’ve sort of moved into production for the beats as well. It’s a bit more diverse-sounding I think and there are quite a few dancier songs in there; not dance songs but tracks with a bit more of that beat. I definitely think it’s a more mature-sounding record.

What were you influenced by, musically or otherwise, while writing it?

To be honest when I’m writing I tend to avoid listening to any other music as much as possible - apart from stuff that we sample and things - just to make sure I don’t accidentally or subconsciously steal someone else's idea or anything. We were listening to a little bit of Das Racist and The Cool Kids though, oh and Kanye’s Watch The Throne as well.

Your lyrics are always pretty heavy. What are the themes or lyrical concerns that you deal with on this album.

It’s a little bit darker than our earlier records. There isn’t a song about a robot , although quite a lot of it is about zombies as a metaphor for a hangover. I donno, it’s definitely a darker record but there are also bigger extremes. There are some pretty bright songs on there as well. Thematically it’s all over the place but it’s also all tied together by my drinking problem more than anything - that’s probably an underlying theme on it.

Has it been nice to have a more collaborative thing going on with your counterparts this time round? How has it affected the output?

Yeah it's been great because we all sort of start working on a beat and we’ll have a rough song and I’ll work with Buck, or on my own, or with Kelvin to finish it off. It's been really collaborative and adds to the quality of the music/

None of us would want to work on our own again because those happy accidents where someone takes someone else's work and turns it into something better are the best.

You’ve released this album on EMI. Tell us how that relationship came about?

Um, it initially happened because my manager at the time was working at Radioactive and she was talking to EMI on the phone about advertising on Radioactive, and she mentioned to Mark at EMI that she managed me. She stayed in touch with him and about a year later we finally sorted the contract out and signed it and stuff.

How has being on a major affected the process or output?

To be honest the process has stayed pretty much the same, we’ve just had more money to play with which meant we could do things like hire a percussionist when we were recording because we had an advance. We basically just got to polish it. They’ve made a few demands here and there but they’ve basically just used their common sense and passed it onto us.

You walk a line between hip hop and indie. Tell us about marrying these two sets of influences.

Yeah I always struggle with it a little bit because I see this as an indie act in a live sense but it’s very strange when we get radio play on Mai FM and things - it seems really strange to me even though really that should be our demographic. I don’t actually know! There are people who seem to appeal more to the indie kids than the broad hip hop guys and I don’t know whether that’s us. I’m still trying to figure out what Tommy Ill is I think.

What are the plans for the rest of 2012?

Hopefully we’ll get oversea, it’s all pretty up in the air but I’d love to head to Australia and give that a shot. I’m definitely keent o go overseas and give it a crack and come back and try again.

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