Interview: Illy – Channel [V]

If you ever want to feel like you’ve achieved jack shit in the past five years of your life, simply sit down for a chat with indefatigable Aussie hip hop phenomenon Illy, a lesson Mitch Feltscheer learnt recently when he caught up with the man also known as Al Murray.

Although self-described as “normally a really lazy individual,” Murray is about to see the release of his fourth full-length studio album since 2009, a fact which seems to refute this self-diagnosis. Pointing the blame at the people he surrounds himself with, the Melbourne based artist says he is now simply used to the steady cycle of writing, producing and releasing and that his music is the one thing that brings the workaholic out of him.

As a figurehead in the new wave of Aussie hip-hop which has over those five years not only seen a shift towards a more genre-inclusive sound but also a much larger presence in the mainstream music conscious, Murray humbly talks down his input in this resurgence and talks up the work of his colleagues. “I wouldn’t even say I’m a veteran just yet, I guess I’m getting close to there,” he says. “But in my generation, I’m seeing dudes like 360, Pez, Seth [Sentry] and Horrorshow, plus a whole lot of dudes who are coming up and making music with a very different style to it, a lot more modern I think and really putting their own sort of identity on it, which has been really cool to see. As far as the reach, I mean the last five years has gone crazy compared to what it was when I started.”

The impressive output of music over the past five years hasn’t been without its ups and downs, however, with the road to his new album Cinematic seeing criticism from opposing camps within the industry. Whereas his first two albums received disapproval from purists who accused Murray of diverging too far from the core hip hop sound, his 2012 release Bring it Back found itself the target of early fans who felt alienated by the lack of his earlier pop sensibilities. With his newest work though, Murray seems to have given the finger to haters across the board. “It is impossible to please everyone and it’s a waste of time trying to make everyone happy,” explains Murray. “It doesn’t really affect my writing anymore. I’m really comfortable with who I am.”

Once again aligning with long-time collaborator and best bud M-Phazes, Murray says the two had a strong idea of what they wanted the album to sound like, locked themselves away and simply laid down what they wanted. With their brotherly closeness (Phazes accompanies Illy on tour as his DJ) and having worked together successfully in the past, Murray reckons they’ve got the process locked down. “We pretty much annoy the shit out of each other for six months and then there’s an album at the end.”

M-Phazes isn’t the only person Murray got the chance to annoy in the studio, with Cinematic seeing him recruit some of the biggest names in Australia right now, including an unlikely pairing with the clean vocalist from Amity Affliction, Ahren Stringer, who he met by chance at a house party, and a collaboration with his very own teenage idols Hilltop Hoods. Assuring me it was the opposite of the proverbial glass-shatter moment when you finally meet your long-time heroes, Murray says he got along with and synced up so well with the Adelaide group they offered to put the resulting track on the Hoods’ upcoming release. “It was already locked in for mine though. If I had known earlier I probably would have let them put it onto theirs.”

With a return to the undiluted, unaltered Illy style and sound, the epic and aptly-titled Cinematic is sure to please fans from all corners of the industry, however its impending release isn’t the only big calendar event this month for Murray with his LP from last year nominated for a 2013 ARIA for Best Urban Release. His second time nominated at the awards, Murray says he was actually incredibly surprised to receive the nod for Bring it Back and again modestly brushes off the praise. “Yeah I don’t think I have a shot this year. I reckon and I hope Horrorshow takes it out.”

It takes a rare artist to be releasing a new album a couple of weeks before attending an award ceremony where he’s nominated for his last but such is the nature of the unstoppable Illy. First things first though and when asked what he was getting up to for the album release this Friday he once again demonstrated the forthright, down to earth Al Murray persona I’d first observed on his Facebook page and had now witnessed in person. “I’ve got a launch party mate, so I’ll be getting pissed.”

Illy’s fourth album Cinematic is out Friday November 8th.

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