‘Politics Of The Psyche’ – Tuka Talks ‘Nothing In Common But Us’, Thundamentals & His Shadow
Out today!
Music 1y

Speaking the sonic language…

It’s fair to say that the Aussie hip hop scene is stronger than ever in 2020, filled to the brim with young and exciting acts pushing the bounds in increasingly innovative ways. But, that’s not a simple phenomenon that occurs by itself. It takes hardworking artists to set the stage early on, grinding their hearts out to help push the scene forward while staying true to the roots of the genre. If there’s one artist that’s been a model of all of the above throughout his career, it’s without a doubt Blue Mountains musical maestro Tuka.

As part of the mega three-piece Thundamentals, he’s helped bring the local hip hop scene some of the most badass moments in recent memory. As a solo artist, he’s done the same, but in an even more badass fashion, as he’s fearlessly continued to reach into the depths of his psyche, taking his many fans on a journey transcending all time and bound. With past albums like Will Rap for Tuka (2010), Feedback Loop (2012), Life Death Time Eternal (2015), he’s more than proven he’s an unstoppable force on the local scene, his mad skills with the pen equally matched by the strength of his creative vision.

His new album Nothing in Common But Us (out today!) sees the supercharged creative force continue to dig even deeper within, investing the politics of the psyche as he explores the existential nature of relationships. The result is a stunning 13 tracks encompassing hip hop, deep house, pop, R&B and many more (there are even a couple of acoustic gems in there that’ll absolutely melt your heart!). The album is a true journey, and whether you’re a die hard fan or a newcomer to his work (where have you been the past ten years!), there’s no denying it’s one of the strongest records to come out of Australia in 2020, and just goes to show the genius that is Tuka.

We got to catch up with the multi-genre star ahead of the album release, check it below!

Your album is about to drop in just a couple of days. How are you feeling for it all? 

Yeah, I’m pretty stoked. It got postponed because of COVID and all that unfortunately. It was meant to come out in March, so it’s been a long time coming. It’s nice to have it out now, I’m pretty excited!

Listening to the album was like being on an emotional rollercoaster. After listening to it I feel compelled to ask: are you okay?

Yeah! I’m loving it to be honest. It was conceptual choice to kind of make it, as bad as it was. But no, I’m killing it. I’m actually back at writing some new music with my other band Thundamentals. So I can’t complain, but thank you for checking in!

I also wanna know how you’ve been managing the past couple of months with COVID and everything. Has it been tough being away from the stage? 

I was actually talking about this in another interview, it’s actually not that different for me. I’ve been a full time songwriter for about five or six years. So, lockdown is kind of my norm, but not being able to perform kind of makes it a bit tricky in terms of… Like, I used to perform in front of 1000, 2000 people every two or three weeks. And so, that would be a good mood regulator. Being locked down and not having anything to look forward to, nothing to spike that adrenaline has been something that I’ve had to adapt to, because it kind of affected my songwriting a bit and I got a bit clogged up. But at the moment, I’m actually pretty good. I’ve been writing a song every day, which is pretty good. So no complaints!

Now, congrats on ‘Nothing In Common But Us’! What are you most proud of from it?

I guess the diversity of the kind of sonic language. It’s a really kind of conceptual record. And one of the aspects of the of the album is kind of symbolised in how diverse the genres I chose experiment with were. That really set off the goalposts that… I wrote the two hip hop songs first, so I wrote this grime kind of song called ‘F*ck You Pay Me’. And then I wrote this trap kind of song called ‘Trailer Trash’. And after that, I’d kind of got my hip hop out of me and I didn’t really write much more. I was more concerned with trying to build my own genre more so than being labeled in one genre. So, if an odd kind of sample came up, I would go for that rather than going your classic contemporary hip hop album, which is hard to define these days anyway.

It kind of feels like you were being pulled a million different ways but just trusted in the creative process. Is that accurate? 

Yeah. There were heaps of selfish decisions. I basically just wanted to challenge my audience. And so, if I liked it, I would run with it, whereas in the past I’d be like, “Oh this is going a bit far out”. Like there’s a full on dance track on there. I might have reigned that in and written like a rapper, but I found myself just writing a lot of melody and not being too hard on myself about it.

I really love ‘How To Fly’. Even though it’s the opening track, it feels like the emotional centre of the album. Can you break it down a bit for us?

‘How To Fly’ is more or less what the album’s about. The whole record is about personifying a relationship of two people into one person. And kind of honouring that. ‘How To Fly’ is like enabling that to happen. So you’re diving into a situation that you don’t know the outcome of, and in these situations you inevitably make mistakes and get hurt because it’s ground that you’ve never covered before. And so it’s almost like the ideology of accepting that you’re going to fuck up and trying to celebrate the fact that that’s a good thing because you’re going to grow from it. So yeah, when a loss comes into your life, whether it be great or you failed at something, it’s about trying to recognize the fact that you’ll benefit through growth rather than bothering to grieve over it all. And that will inevitably teach you, metaphorically speaking, how to fly, how to be the better version of whoever you’re trying to be. It’s sort of the prequel to the album in a way. 

In the hook you sing ‘take a dive/ its a beautiful way to learn how to fly’. What was the dive you took that helped you learn how to fly? 

It’s one of those lyrics that you can take in multidimensional ways. So, taking a dive for a boxing match is taking the loss. So you’re going to make a lot of money because you probably getting bribed. Right? So sometimes it means holding your tongue. And then taking a dive also means diving into something like a new career or whatever goal you’re trying to do. So it’s kind of like, that’s why it’s almost a prequel to the record. Because for the rest of the record I’m talking about the relationship, except for ‘F*ck You Pay Me’, whereas, ‘How To Fly’ and the last song ‘You Don’t Know’ are kind of like the stop and reflect songs. The narrative exists from track two to the second last song, but the first and the last song is kind of like the yin and the yang of the whole thing.

Just getting into the album thematically, you’ve talked about how it sort of personifies the relationship between two people and that the relationship itself is sort of the main character of the album. Can you just break that down a bit for us?

Yeah, sure. So an example of that would be, you’re one end of the phone, I’m on the other end of the phone. We both represent two entities or ideas. And so, by us merely having a conversation, that gives birth to us. I treat that as a third entity of the whole dynamic. So once I kind of ideated about that a bit, I decided to write the whole album from that perspective. So throughout the songs, when I’m referring to someone like “you did this”, or “you did that”, I could very well be speaking from my own personal experience and talking to myself, there are no roles getting played in the relationship. It’s kind of living as itself and I’m treating it like it’s another entity in the real world. Not just a hypothetical one, if that makes sense.

You’ve said the basic theme is about integrating all our positives and negatives and just accepting ourselves for who we totally are, even the parts that scare us. Is that a mindset you’ve always had? Or has that been a progression over time?

Yeah. That’s something that’s been revealed to me with meaningful relationships. So once you do find a relationship that you invest yourself in, I’ve found that you can be honest with them in that period of growth and being. Then, you have to be honest with yourself and you might discover things about yourself that you didn’t know, like maybe jealousy or envy or hatred or rage, or a plethora of things that are beneath the surface of your personality. And so, I think if you really are honest with someone, you have the opportunity to kind of discover those elements. And I think that they’re there for a reason and maybe they lead to disgrace sometimes, but you should honor them and incorporate your shadow self into your whole being. And that’s what the album is about. And that’s why I kind of say, we have “nothing in common but us”, because we’re also different in the stages of development we’re kind of at, and sometimes it takes another person to show you who you really are, by the way you respond to them in said relationship. Sorry, this is like pretty dense, but I hope I’m making sense.

That’s what I meant by, when you said, am I okay. I’m like, “yeah, no, I’m fine”. But it is very psychological. I chose not to be political at one point in my career and just kind of investigate politics of the psyche. I find that if we can mend and heal ourselves on a psychological level, the communication we have with other people becomes a lot more streamlined and clarified. So, rather than being all guns politically, I’m all guns psychologically, in my songwriting.

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Nothing In Common But Us, out July 31st. Some wanky words I wrote about the album after it was completed it, thought some of you may be interested in what the title of the record means to me… FYI, the phase itself is coined by a local poet @1annecasey (she features on two songs off the album). The entire album follows a nonlinear character ark of a relationship. It personifies the relationship between two people as the same person, In the songs, I’m speaking on behalf of both members of a relationship, taking on both sides. The relationship itself is the main character of this album… It's basic theme is talking about integrating all our positive attributes AND our imperfections into our being and accepting who we are, owning who we are, even the shadow self that you don't admit to. The bits you might be ashamed of. Those moments we only share with those we allow close enough. I've found in my darkest times, someone will come along and show you who you really are and you grow from that, it can be a painful process of self discovery most of the time. In relationships, I’ve found you learn more about yourself than you do about the other person, you learn about "us”, I treat “us” like another member of any relationship. Even this post for example, there is me who wrote it and you reading it, the combination of that exchange is “us”, that concept of “us” I see as it’s own entity. I have respect for the relationship as if it was a real person. I find when I look at my relationships like that I take on more accountability and also show more understanding, in return those relationships are much more fulfilling, meaningful & enjoyable dynamics to be apart of. If one of us win, we all do, if one of us fail, we all do.  The relationship (us) is a union of two parts (me and you) making a whole of some sort (a trinity you might say), together for a fleeting moment in time. Still a lot more to come off this album, I’m so excited to show you the remaining songs. Not long now. ❤️ Pre orders now live, link in bio T xo Art by long collaborator @april77_creative

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I wanna touch on Thundamentals for a second. It’s been over 10 years since you guys first formed, how do you look back on everything the three of you have done together since its inception?

We didn’t know it was going to go as well as it did. It’s our bread and butter. We weren’t even musicians when we started the band, we were just friends. So, Thundamentals is just consistently changing the goalpost. We’re at the point where I think we really have achieved everything. And way more than we thought we would. I think we sold almost 50,000 records of the last release, which is just mind bending to me. And when we go on tour it generally sells out. And so, we’re in this crazy situation now where we have a platform but perhaps not to cater as much to the public, but instead make music that we really want to push as a kind of statement of our identity, which is exactly what this record is trying to do. But honestly, Thundamentals is a much bigger platform than the Tuka stuff. So that’s what we’re doing. We’re just kind of realigning our goalposts. We’ve started writing again and we want to make music that is kind of culturally defining. I’ll back what I’m really proud of, but we were definitely in a lot of cases kind of catering to a wider audience. And I think our audience is wide enough now to now focus on making culturally, entertaining music. I guess it’s a cool situation to be in.

It’s also been a decade since your debut solo album ‘Will Rap For Tuka’ was released. If you could summarise the first ten years of your solo career with one word, what would it be?

Honesty. Actually, probably vulnerability.  

If the Tuka of 2010 could listen to ‘Nothing In Common But Us’, what would he think?

Wow. I’d be proud of myself that I’m… I don’t know.  I haven’t changed my message too much. But I’d be pretty proud that I put it out to the amount of people that I put it out to. And the fact that, there’s a major label and a publishing company that I consider my friends and my team that I work with. It’s an operation and it helps me pay for my house and stuff. I’ve found independence from living off art, which I never thought I’d do. So just the symbolic thing to have it in my hand, like a piece of vinyl of that would’ve just blown me away to be honest.

Just capping off, is there anything you hope this album achieves? 

Putting it out at this stage is enough for me to be happy about! I’ll be interested to see what my fans kind of think of it. Because it is pretty radically different to say anything I’ve done with Thundamentals or anything I’ve done prior. So that’s enough. I’ll be happy with that. The rest of the year is just, I guess it’s just kind of settled in. It’s kicked in that no gigs will be happening at least until March, but who knows?

Lastly, what’s the plan for the rest of 2020?

I’m just kind of bunkering down and spending as much time as I can with the Thundamentals and just trying to write the new thing, which is a blessing to be able to say. But that’s about all I have to do at the moment!

‘Nothing in Common But Us’ is out now. Be sure to keep up with all things Tuka on Facebook and Instagram to stay in the know about his latest projects.

Words by Amar Gera July 31, 2020
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