There’s no use pretending that rap is still a niche genre in this country. The Australian music industry is bursting at the seams with men and (not enough) women clambering over each other to spit rhymes in some sort of time. Genre saturation can be creative suicide but luckily for all involved, the hip hop scene in our fair land has stayed afloat by its safety in numbers. Talent has always been there, skill has definitely grown, but mateship and collaboration – that’s the key ingredient that has pushed Aussie hip hop beyond the hilltops and into the stratosphere.
Mantra (Rob Tremlett, according to his passport) has finally revealed album number three, Telling Scenes, and has a whole new setlist to go with it for the album launch tour. “I’ve been pretty cagey about it all,” Tremlett says of the shows he played immediately before Telling Scenes dropped. “[I was] doing the two singles and dropping little bits of other tracks, like a verse of one and a chorus of another dropped in … keeping it close to my chest until the big album tour.”
As is Tremlett’s MO, the record includes a slew of guests, from Grey Ghost to old sparring partner Tom Thum. Tremlett has always enjoyed collaborative creation but what stands out with this album is its musicality. “I started getting some vocal lessons, mainly to strengthen my voice and take care of it on the road and nail my tunes each and every night,” he says. “That then led to trying more out with singing and I got to learn some piano and it got to solidify some of the music theory I’d learned back in the days, as well as giving me that really strong foundation to build on. It really affected my writing and my music in a cool way. The more I think about it now though, I probably did need to do it.”
As with his previous releases, Tremlett has chosen to be forthright and honest in his lyrics and subject matter on this album, though not beyond reason. “I think for the most part the things that I write about are the things I’m generally comfortable with people hearing and discussing. If you’re putting something in a song you’re basically putting it up for public discussion. If there’s something I’m totally not comfortable with I won’t put it on a record. Some of the biggest obstacles and emotional issues I’ve dealt with in my life I’ve come to terms with a lot more after writing songs about them. There have been a few massive heartbreaks and tragedies that have become easier to think about.”
Though Tremlett continues that emotional purging, he explains the catalyst for each song can always come back and take him by emotional surprise. “You’ve poured your heart out but after rehearsing and performing a song night after night it makes it a bit strange,” he says. “I have a song I wrote, ‘For You’, about my friend who was murdered and I’d written the song a few years ago now, and I’d recorded before and performed it – I decided to record it again in its final incarnation. I laid it down in the studio and then just this one time listening to it in the studio that was suddenly a trigger for me to have to leave the room for a minute and go and cry my eyes out in the bathroom. It’s like I hadn’t properly thought about what it was for so long – it had become just a song – so shit never really goes away, but you do become desensitised. And there’s no better place to do that than in music.”
BY KRISSI WEISS
Mantra plays Great Northern, Newcastle on Thursday October 3, Annandale Hotel, Sydney on Friday October 5 and Beachcomber, Toukey on Saturday October 5. Telling Scenes out now through Ten To Two Records.