2017 was one hell of a year for the Thundamentals – their most successful year to date, musically speaking.
Hot off a well-deserved, #8 place in the Hottest 100, I was lucky enough to have a chat with Tuka (one third of the current incarnation of the Thundamentals, along with Jeswon and DJ Morgs) about their successes and everything in-between.
Brendan Tuckerman is still processing their placing in the national countdown: “I never thought that would happen, totally surreal.”
Recently, news of band member PON CHO leaving has surfaced. PON CHO’s first gig with the Thundamentals was for their widely acclaimed Like A Version of Matt Corby’s Brother. PON CHO was used in the horn section prior. He then went on to co-write albums So We Can Remember and Everyone We Know and toured with the band.
“I know this industry is pretty hard, that’s no lie. It might seem like its glamour and glitz but Australia is a small country, population-wise, and not everyone really even likes hip hop,” Tuckerman concedes. “It’s really only been the last three to four years that it’s really come to a point where people are taking it seriously and as a career option. Things weren’t moving in the music industry in general for him and he’s taken a break. So basically the doors are always open to him. I kind of just accepted that if that’s what he wants to do and I love him then I want him to be happy.
“He’s a genius, it’s crazy, he’s really one of those people who can do whatever he wants,” he extols. “Sometimes you need a break from music. This stuff is hard, man. It has a huge mental toll if you’re not careful.”
The boys have been at it for a long time. Ten years, to be precise. Ten years have come and gone since the first incarnation of the Thundamentals came into being, and a lot of has happened in that time. Tuka humbly informed me that it hasn’t been easy, by any means.
“Some bands get together because they’re all on the same page, whereas we got together because we were friends, so once you get a couple years deep, friendships and relationships evolve. We were kids when we were friends and then all of a sudden we’re adults with matured tastes in things; we were never on the same page, other than the fact we liked hip hop.”
Bound by friendship and music, one would assume that being in a band for a decade would make it easier to churn out tracks and come to a decisive, trademark sound.
“Being in a band is like a marriage; there’s huge payoffs and there’s also huge disagreements. Morgan (DJ Morgs) and I, for instance, have pretty different taste in music and that approach has been the reason why we hop across genres and don’t have this cohesive sound, or at the very least it’s taken a while for us to find this sound that’s us and no one else.”
Each member of the Thundamentals share a relatively different taste in music. That has allowed them to work outside of their comfort zones, giving and taking, ultimately finding the ability to grow and learn through each song that they create.
“When you don’t fuck with the same music you don’t have the same influences. So when you’re collaborating with people that you both know really well and also have different influences you’re forced to be empathetic and see the way they’re looking at it, which helps you communicate what you’re trying to say better through them. It makes for good creativity.
“Emotionally speaking it’s not extremely turbulent, but it’s not smooth sailing at all. I think that’s an attribute – a pro not a con. Rocking the boat in regards to someone else’s influences and them rocking the boat in regards to mine is how you make art, it’s how you refine it. Restrictions of any sort will always make creativity work harder because of your imagination.”
It is becoming harder and harder to hold someone’s attention in this age of the internet. People are always on the go, lacking the time to stay and chat, but finding time to scroll through their phone or listen to a conventional three and a half minute song on the go. Even then you must draw in the listener and keep them in for the whole length of the song, which ultimately comes down to a combination of method and technique, songwriting and sound.
“With a conventional song you’ve got like three and a half to four minutes. You can break the rules and do however long you want, but in my opinion, if you want to communicate something really effectively, without losing attention by the end of it, you must have a narrative that goes deep enough for people willing to listen.
“So you can see that three and half minutes as the conventional barrier to creativity or where creativity really flourishes. You can only do that by looking at those conventions and the box you get put in [three and a half minutes] differently.”
Music has the power to influence us greatly. It has the ability to make us feel something; feel different, feel happy, feel sad.
“Art is really emotional and a good artist is a mood artist. A good musician can take someone in that three minutes [and change their emotional state]. You could have been happy before that three minutes and now I made you cry, or you could have been in a shit mood and now I made you feel a completely new emotion. You can be as technical as you fucking want, but if you’re not changing someone’s mood then you’re not going to hang around.
“It seems weird to say, but my ideas aren’t original per say – it’s a combination between the understanding I have for myself and the understanding I have for the environment and every now and then those two things pop out an idea and I can write a song about it,” he explains. “You obviously need science and social infrastructure to facilitate the resources that art needs to turn itself from an idea into a reality, that’s basically what we do, that’s what puts us over basically every other species we know of. We can imagine something and then make it into matter or reality.”
The ability to be introspective, to find answers about yourself and who you are, allows you to be true to yourself.
“People who don’t hide things have access to more, whereas people who are hiding behind something have a barrier to finding out who they are. The more you know about yourself the more likely you are to engage in your environment, hence find a better idea or have a conversation that will allow you to find one.
“The way that I’ve come to terms with my own fear is through using it instead of letting it stop me. I was brought up not as poor as some people, but pretty poor, so the fears that I had would be if I became any poorer, which would have been something like being homeless or not being able to eat. So that fear actually isn’t in front of me, it’s actually behind me. That fear is making me work so fucking hard.
“As you get closer to the goal, whatever it is, you can allow your insecurities to block you and that’s when your fears block you. So as soon as I find anything that scares me I try to use it to propel me forward rather than block me. If you’re scared, go for it; that’s why you’re scared. That fear will propel you forward rather than stopping you.
“You need to learn from failures, that’s what pushes forward your vulnerabilities. The thing about vulnerability is that people don’t really see it as powerful. In my eyes, vulnerabilities are extremely powerful because if you can admit to someone else your vulnerabilities, you’re actually telling them how powerful you are because you’re not ashamed of them, you don’t need to hide them.
“I’d say failure is the reason why anyone likes my music. Smiles Don’t Lie, for instance, is about a failed relationship and me looking back at it saying ‘Wow if I didn’t fail, this woman wouldn’t have forgiven me for being crap and I wouldn’t understand what love is, or at least have a better understanding of what love is, and I wouldn’t have been able to write that song.’ Through that song, people were able to relate, and at the time it was the biggest thing we had ever released.
“So even with Sally, right, someone might regard someone dancing badly as not exactly a pro, but me recognising it as [a failure] is the reason why Sally has done so well. It’s a combination of failures but it’s also a learning curve.”
If you’re lucky enough to be in Melbourne on 24 February, make sure you pop into the Pier Street Party and have a boogie. With the Thundamentals taking care of the headline spot, the line-up runs deep, you won’t be disappointed.
24 Feb, The Pier Street Party, The Pelly Bar & Pier Bandroom, Melbourne
For tour dates, check their website HERE