It’s been a long time coming but Pez is finally getting ready to release his second album, due out in 2014. The intervening years since 2008’s A Mind Of My Own have seen incredible highs and some difficult lows for the rapper, who was diagnosed with Graves’ disease (a serious thyroid condition) soon after releasing his debut.
“It feels like it’s been baby steps ever since then, just trying to get back on the horse and remember why you started making music in the first place and to actually enjoy it again,” says Pez. “In amongst that, the first song I did was called ‘The Game’ and the label heard it and came in and were like, ‘We want to take this to radio,’ and I didn’t really like it, didn’t want them to do that, but they ended up doing it anyway and luckily it got a lot of support. It actually helps a lot, ’cause it was cool to just see that there were all these fans out there who were actually still supporting me and cared. I really thought no-one would give a shit, I’d been away for so long I didn’t think anyone would really be interested.”
While the positive reception was encouraging, Pez still had to get back to work and finish what he’d started. “I was still pretty shit scared and had to finish an album, so the last year has just been scrambling to get to that place while still dealing with a lot of self-doubt and procrastinations. But I guess it’s finally getting back to a place where I get to feel ready to try and let go and just say ‘fuck it’ and hope for the best. There’s definitely things on [the album] that I’m pretty excited about.”
And the title? “It’s called Don’t Look Down, and it kind of felt like the perfect metaphor for it. That’s kind of what it’s felt like for me, as you’re going higher and higher up, trying to do this thing – it’s really terrifying and you keep trying to talk yourself out of it. The only way to do it is to try and forget about that and not think about the consequences … That’s been the main theme through the album, it’s been just working through all of that and working through all your own fear and personal shit and trying to let go of it.”
Pez also wanted to stay true to his own style and sound. “I definitely didn’t want to be one of those rappers that makes ‘therapy’ music, where they’re just talking about themselves the whole time and shit. I mean, dudes like Eminem have made a pretty good career out of it, but I just didn’t want to be that guy – so waiting a bit longer and being able to make that kind of music where you’re coming out the other side and you feel like you have balance and a bit of a journey on it, for me, is what I’ve always kind of wanted.”
The support and sense of community in Australian music, and especially the hip hop scene, has been a significant part of Pez’s career and comeback. “It’s been amazing; it’s been really beautiful in that sense. People talk about Australia having this tall poppy thing and all this shit, but in my sense I feel pretty blessed [by] the people that I’ve been able to work with.”
For Don’t Look Down, the list of appearances includes icons and somewhat unexpected hip hop collaborators Paul Kelly and Paul Dempsey. “People just want to see Australian music do well,” says Pez, “because for a long time there wasn’t really a sense of that. Even when we first started, the idea of doing Australian hip hop seemed so hilarious to everyone – you’d get laughed at if you did that – but now there’s a whole community of people that support it and are proud that it’s come such a long way. It’s cool to feel part of something.”
After the new album, Pez will embark on new Forthwrite work with good mate 360. “We kind of started out together and it was like, ‘We can be rappers!’ which sounded ridiculous but it’s kind of what happened. That was our big plan, like, ‘We’ll have a big single together and then we’ll do this and that,’ but then I got sick and it didn’t pan out that way. It was cool to just be in a position where we were both really eager to do this album together like we always wanted to do.”
And after his battles with illness, Pez knows better than most young people the importance of staying healthy. The lesson is now being passed on to others through his involvement in The Be Project – a government initiative aimed at tackling the problem of binge drinking. Apart from supporting up-and-coming songwriters and filmmakers and keeping young people alive (awesome), it will hopefully reduce the amount of vomiting douchebags we all have to deal with.
“A lot of artists, kids look up to them and they think they wanna be like them, but they don’t see them behind the scenes and what they’re really like. They don’t see that they’re alcoholics and that they’re really not happy at all. In their photos and shit and it’s so glorified, kids think they’re living the dream and I’m there with ’em thinking, ‘This is all bullshit.’ Music is really promoting binge drinking, especially a lot of international music. It’s all like, ‘Yeah, you only live once, we get fucked up, yeah! Work hard, play hard, we don’t give a shit!’ and somehow it’s cool to be like that … You can just start abusing yourself with substance abuse and drinking. I got lucky, when my thyroid went crazy I couldn’t do that anymore and it gave me a slap in the face. Since then I’ve stepped back and I’ve realised that if you’ve got issues you’ve gotta deal with them.”
When it comes to surviving a festival like Big Day Out, Pez reckons, “You’ve just really gotta pace yourself, that’s the advice. You’ve gotta plan.” His own favourite festival memory is pretty clear: “When we did the video [for ‘Festival Song’] at Pyramid Rock it was really weird, because the year before that we were at that festival and up at that main stage thinking, ‘Man, wouldn’t you just love to be up there playing…’ – that’s always going to be something that’s pretty vivid in my memory.”
BY NATALIE AMAT
Pez plays Big Day Out with Pearl Jam, Arcade Fire, Beady Eye, Snoop Dogg AKA Snoop Lion, Major Lazer, Flume, Tame Impala, Bliss n Eso and more at Sydney Showgrounds on Sunday January 26. Pez is also an ambassador for The Be Project, a national competition inviting young Aussies to submit an inspirational song or 30 seconds of amateur sports film, to form a collective voice challenging Australia’s binge drinking culture. The competition closes at midnight on Friday December 20. To enter or find out more, visit tacklingbingedrinking.com.au.