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Hilltop Hoods are in a mood

Australian hip-hop trio embrace in new, 'refined' style of music making



MC Pressure, a.k.a. Daniel Smith, of Australian hip-hop group Hilltop Hood, is sitting in the back of their tour bus in Boulder, Colorado, thankful to be in the good ole U.S. of A.

A week into their five-week North American tour, the trio — including Suffa (Matt Lambert) and DJ Debris (Barry Francis) — are hitting the usual laundry list of U.S. cities, San Francisco, Chicago, Madison, Kansas City, Park City and Los Angeles.

It is a big deal for the guys in Hilltop Hoods to be able to do this. They had been prevented from staging a full American tour before now because DJ Debris wasn't allowed into the country.

It was one of those youthful indiscretions involving marijuana and Australian law enforcement.

"All the shows have been awesome so far and we've had big crowds and it's been crazy, which is great because we didn't know what to expect because it's our first time here," Pressure says.

"They wouldn't allow DJ Debris in because he's a criminal, but we finally got him in! He got caught with weed years ago and it was a criminal offense at the time. He didn't declare it on his passport or visa when he tried to come into the States a long time ago for a holiday. He got nailed. He was given an alien number and deported and told he could never come back.

"But I don't blame them, we don't let half of their rappers into our country."

Canada hasn't been as strict, the 'Hoods have been here five times ­­­— and this includes gigs in Whistler.

This time they perform at Garfinkel's on Monday, Sept. 15.

"We're living on the bus for five weeks. The family is eight or nine artists living on this bus, sleeping and eating and breathing, and everything," he laughs.

Now in their 20th year and with seven studio albums, Hilltop Hoods' latest, Walking Under Stars, was released by Universal Music in August and was No. 1 on Australia's ARIA albums charts by the end of the month. It went gold in Australia in early September.

"We're absolutely ecstatic at how well it's doing and how well it was received back home," Pressure says.

"It's probably, actually, a slower, a moodier album, more soulful and progressive. We've traditionally been a more sample-based, boom-bass style of hip-hop group. This album is a little more refined, I think. Less samples, so a bit cleaner and more modern."

Audiences definitely noticed the change and some weren't too sure about it, Pressure says.

"At first a few people were wondering about the new sound because it sounds very different, but no one really shone a negative light on that. It probably took some people a few listens to wrap their heads around it and now people back home are now claiming it's one of our best pieces of work," he says.

"It's very interesting. We thought we might get more of a backlash."

Walking Under Stars has also broken the hip-hop charts in Canada and they've been selling out in cities like San Francisco.

"The numbers at the shows so far over here have been incredibly flattering. It's the best judge, I think, when people rock up to your live show," says Pressure.

"It's hard to tell just how you're doing in a territory away from your own home. So many people don't buy albums these days but they come out when you're touring, so it's a gauge for us."