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:: Spotlight :: Interview with True Live

By: Saeed Saeed

True Live is a true Melbourne success story. From the promising start in small pubs, to a legendary Monday residency at Fitzroy’s Evelyn Hotel, True Live’s fan base continued to swell and their debut album ‘Shape Of It’ has been released to huge anticipation. Although ‘The Shape Of It’ does a great job of capturing the tension of TL’s dynamic live show, it’s always on the stage where the True Live experience can be fully appreciated. True Live MC Ryan talks to Mediasearch about handling expectations, the state of Aussie hip hop and what makes Melbourne such fertile ground for great music.

Now that the debut album has been out for a while, what are your thoughts on it and are you happy with the reaction?

Its funny, people tell me how great they think it is and I’m always agreeing with them in surprise. I feel so removed from it because I have such an awesome team taking care to make sure the music works, from our string arranger Tamil to our taste master and bassist Tom, to Chris who mixed it. Because I used to make records in my studio on my own to have such an amazing bunch of musos involved it just feels like it’s not mine and I’m very into it as a record.

This year has been successful for the group. You played the summer festivals, the Commonwealth Games, released your debut record and playing sold out shows across the country. How are the spirits in the True Live camp at the moment?

We’re all just really thankful and humbled by the opportunity that this thing has afforded us, and really keen to make it work so we can make money and turn that cash into art that is good.

True Live made its name from the dynamic live shows. When you hit the studio to record the debut, was there a certain amount of pressure to capture that live intensity on record? Or is True Live in the studio and True Live on stage two different entities?

It’s difficult, I’ll say that. It took us about four EPs to nail the studio approach to get what you hear now. You can’t track live energy in a string duo, it doesn’t work, you need to replace a lot of the energy with concise performances, larger ensembles, good arranging and good mixing.

Can you give us a bit of info on how the seeds of True Live were planted?

It started as a jam night with rotating musicians, I locked down the musos that inspired me and we kind of built it from there, the whole string thing was Tamil’s idea. I was studying and younger at the time so when an opportunity to run a band of such motherf**kers came about I jumped at it.

With so many different instruments and musical personalities in the band, how did you guys manage to navigate around the notoriously tricky issue of artistic compromise?

It’s about making the best idea shine. The way I work is “this is the track…………got a better idea?” and if someone does then great. If not we go from there.

In addition to the many talented rock bands and dance artists, there are also lots of exciting live bands that incorporate a heavy dose of hip hop coming out of Melbourne. I am talking True Live, Labjacd, Illzilla, Fizard, The Cat Empire and The Melodics. What is it about Melbourne do you feel that can constantly create bands of such diverse talent?

The scene here that got fostered from 2002 by bands like The Red Eyes, True Live, and Elf Transporter, helped bring things to life. People expect hip hop on Mondays at the Evelyn, they expect good beats, and bands know the standard is high, so they step up and that’s what you get. It had early seeds with bands like PAN (now TZU) and Decoy who come from the Jazz scene. The venues like Revolver, who are really down for experimenting, make it possible for all of us to do our thing.

True Live is in a very interesting position, your album embraces hip hop but it isn’t a hip hop record. What kind of fans are you getting to your shows, and how has the reaction been from the Australian hip hop community?

All sorts of fans come to see us - from classical heads, jazz heads, cats who just dig good music, 70s style older fans, and the young ones 18 to 21 who just dig it – it’s dope having a broad audience. As far as the Hip Hop community is concerned, they have their usual opinions that I expect, some say its not “real hip hop” cause there are no turntables. I don’t know what real hip hop is, but for me it’s defined by expression of self and evolution. Some say I need to “represent Aus with my accent” and can’t handle that my speaking voice is actually void of any Australian twang I just don’t talk like that I say “I just rep me”. Others like our buddies Bliss N Eso just dig it for what it is and are thankful that someone is pushing some boundaries. I’d love it if Bias B and Pegz could dig on it, but they tell me it’s not really their style…

This year we had our first ever Australian hip hop album debuting at number one as well as hosting our first ever Urban Music awards, do you feel that Aussie hip hop is finally coming of age in Australia?

No, I think there needs to be a lot more recognition of it in the mainstream, I still feel as though ARIA treats us as a side show to the main event which in their heads is rock and roll. We still play festivals and they got bands like us and The Resin Dogs on at 4.00pm so “the hip hop is done with and we can start the rock later”. It's like do you want your crowd to move or wonder why they can’t understand Tim Rogers? Ha

All the members of True Live come from a classically trained musical background. How is the mindset when you are playing hip hop music? Does it require a change in attitude and do you feel that because of your background you can add some fresh perspective when it comes to hip hop?

Yes, we are all trained musicians so we can look back while looking forward, which is what hip hop does so well. Look at Kool Herc or Dre or Kanye. Those cats are introducing old soul records to new audiences because they know their black music history. We do the same, only drawing from a more diverse range of music history from classical to jazz and 20th century. The hip hop mindset for us is more of a movement thing. It is about being in a dance band, keeping the crowd jumping or crying and keeping them involved.

I read that you were keen to do some work with Oz Idol contestant Amali Ward for her album? What is the status on that?

We are getting together to do some writing soon; should be fun see where it ends up.

After slaying local audiences for years, will the True Live party go international in the near future?

We're aiming for Europe and Japan with great vigour. We really want to see how those audiences react to our sound and ideas.

True Live plays at The Basement in Sydney on Thursday, December 7 and the Prince of Wales in Melbourne on Friday, December 15.

The album ‘The Shape Of It’ is out now through Shock'.

For more information, visit

www.truelive.com.au