By the time you’ve hit record number nine, you’ve probably picked up some fairly decent insight into the creative process.
Sure, everyone is going to approach music differently, but across three solo albums and six releases with Thundamentals, Tuka’s grasp of songwriting sounds pretty slick. As the Aussie hip hop crew unveils its latest effort, Everyone We Know, the straight-shooting rapper gives some real insight into what makes a song tick – and why, despite the tribulations of 2016, the music is stronger than ever.
“I was pretty candid on socials about how fucked my year was,” Tuka (AKA Brendan Tuckerman) admits. “I wasn’t going into extreme depths, but I think like a lot of people in 2016, it was a weird year.
“That being said, I think when bad things happen, art always rises to the top. It’s unfortunate, but a godsend at the same time. I have a lot of artillery now not only for the album that we’ve just written, but for the next, like, ten records. But that wasn’t just me. Most of the guys … It was great working together every day, and to tell you the truth, the band is going better than ever, but our personal lives … Everyone had some pretty big barriers come up, deaths or severe problems, which all came out in the record.”
This is not some idle aside. The lyrics of Everyone We Know include countless references seemingly drawn from life. It has always been one of Thundamentals’ strengths; inserting those kind of universal, everyday details to make a song seem somehow closer. One of the most entertaining songs on the album, ‘Sally (feat. Mataya)’, is a prime example.
“That’s part of being authentic,” says Tuka. “That song is based on a real experience. I basically had this huge crush on this girl, and she just totally wasn’t having it. And then one night she rings me up really randomly and says, ‘Look, I’m at this club with some friends, you should come meet me.’ And I was like, ‘Sweet!’
“Once we got dancing, she seriously danced like Elaine from Seinfeld. It was hilarious. But that said, she’s a very suave, beautiful person; she had heaps of style. It was almost a good attribute, it was showing her having fun and not caring whether she can dance or not. It was actually really attractive. I’m not trying to poke fun in the song, I’m more saying to be comfortable in your own skin. In all the songs, we like to try and make things feel inclusive. We think that everyone is feeling isolated in general now, because of technology and all the stresses to live. We’re trying to bring people together, hence the title, Everyone We Know.”
From outside the band, it seems like an appropriate album title for a variety of reasons. Tuka’s own insight into inclusiveness is one thing, but there is also the album’s somewhat retrospective tone, looking back across not only the life of the band, but the personal histories of its members (“riding a skateboard down memory lane”, as ‘Reebok Pumps’ puts it). There is also, of course, the hip hop staple of inviting the other artists you meet along the way to jump on board and make a song soar.
“We pretty much wrote all the top lines ourselves, where you have this voice in your head of what kind of character is going to say ‘this’ narrative,” says Tuka. “Mostly what’s in your head you can’t perform, and so then you have to go out and find who it is. But in that is the magic of creating something brand new that you still have half control of.
“There’s ‘Think About It’ – when we wrote that, the chorus, I kind of imagined a kind of Joy Division male vocalist there. But as we went along and couldn’t find the right voice, Peta and The Wolves kind of came up with her own awesome spin, and we thought, you know, when a song wants to go a different direction, you have to trust that sometimes.”
Tuka isn’t the first artist to talk of songs having their own autonomy, nor will he be the last. But he comes across as truly sincere about needing to serve the song before serving how the band intended it to sound. The task was all the more difficult when Thundamentals were emerging from a difficult year, with no clear vision of what Everyone We Know would eventually resemble.
“You can’t think about it while you’re putting it together. These days, when I go into a project I just accept that I don’t know what it is yet, and all of a sudden, after a couple of songs, a collage of themes start to appear. It’s really misty and you can’t see what it is, but the more you’re aware of that collage, the more attention you pay it, the more you start to see.
“You start moving things around, like mixing up the track order or working out how many times have I said, ‘Everyone we know’? How many characters are here that we could bring back later? Once you’re aware the collage is there, you can start getting deeper. You just move everything around until the pieces of the puzzle start making sense in your head. Communicating that to other people, though, that’s another art in itself.”