Standing in his backyard watching his beloved dogs wrestle on a sunny Autumn day, Max MacKinnon, breathes it all in deeply and audibly and declares that it doesn’t get much better than this.
“It’s the simple things that make the world spin; from my dogs, to my job, to my girlfriend,” is how he describes it on Home is Where the Heart Is, the track that also tells the story of how he came to be one third of Australia’s hottest hip hop act, Bliss N Eso,
Ten years since the release of their first album, Flowers in the Pavement and MC Eso is now a newly- wed, 7 months sober and about to embark on a massive 16-date national tour to celebrate the group’s 5th studio album, Circus In The Sky.
“I remember actually listening to I think it was Dr Dre, like 10 years ago and he had line that was like, ‘I been in the game for 10 years selling rap tunes ‘ and I was like, ‘Fuck! I want to be able say something like that!’ but now that it’s 10 years further down the line, you’re like, ‘Oh shit, it’s been 10 years!’. But we’re still in love with it and I still can’t see us as these older men, you know. “
Their latest album is a lot more personal than their previous offerings, giving us an idea of what a decade can change for an artist, no matter how young they feel.
“With certain songs on the album, like Home Is Where the Heart Is, Bliss goes into the full story of how we all met in high school, which is always the question that gets brought up in magazine articles and things like that; you know, ‘how did you guys get together?’ So, we’ve thought, ‘let’s give them a little bit more, of who we are personally’ and so, Jonathon’s verse was all about us meeting in high school and my verse was about my relationship with my now wife, which is very personal stuff. My whole verse was literally about me, my wife, our love and our dogs and driving in our car and you know, that’s not exactly the coolest thing to say in hip hop, so it was a little kind of out there for us to do a song like that.
“And I had song in there called Life’s Midnight where I talked about meeting my childhood idol, Ozone, which a story that I’ve had since I was like 5 years old but I just felt like I hadn’t – not, not matured enough – but, I knew how that needed to get across and it had to wait until this album for me to really sit down and craft that out. So, there’s a lot of personal stuff on there and I think that’s good. I think it lets people know a little bit more about us and I always want to know more about an artist that I’m into, so it was good how they received that.”
Satisfied with the album’s reflection of their personal and musical progress, what hasn’t changed in a decade is the way Bliss N Eso approach making music.
“No different; no different whatsoever. We dust off our shoulders, which is that little bit of pressure just because of the success of the other albums and we get in there and just have fun.” Although he talks about fun, MacKinnon sounds adamant, even serious, “If we don’t have fun when we’re making a record, then we don’t make music. And we’re having too much fucking fun to stop.”
“We’re still just so young at heart, we’re scallywags, we live for the prank and we’re just happy that this wave has kept going and we’re humbled by the whole thing and pinch ourselves every single day that hip hop has got us this far. Fuck, we’ve seen Paris, played for the troops in Afghanistan, Africa, all across America, so it’s just amazing and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
The scene that attracted three Sydney high school boys is very different from the Australian hip hop scene 10 years on and despite wanting to continue to make music that’s fun and escapist, Eso is nothing but complimentary of how the Australian scene has blossomed and diversified.
“I think the quality, everyone has really upped the game on making the quality to international levels. So, you know people are getting it mixed right, they’re getting it mastered right so when you do pop it in your car, it does bang like Eminem‘s album. The quality has gone up amazingly and I can’t even keep track of how much stuff is out there right now.
“I think there’s space for everyone and we need that, too; we need a variety of stuff. I was just listening to March by Jimblah and it’s just… wow! We need this; we need this variety, different people, different ideas, and I think it’s a really important political track about our country that seems to mask a lot of those kinds of things.”
So why don’t Bliss N Eso get political too?
“I don’t want to get up there and talk about it if I don’t have the full research behind me, that’s why I think it’s a brilliant thing that Jimblah has said that stuff because it’s coming from the right person.
“I’ve always found for me that hip hop is my escape from all of that. And then someone comes along like Seth Sentry and does a track about “I wish I had a fucking hoverboard”, I love it! I love it! Give me something else; give me something fun, you know what I mean? And that’s what I’ve always liked about us, if you are having a shit day, you can put our music on. And we’ve done some political stuff in the past and we’ll always voice our opinion on certain matters that we feel we should, but we’ve never been ones to preach, we’ve always just suggested the thought and allowed you to take it where you want.”
The Circus Under The Stars Tour kicks off this weekend and sees the group playing a string of large, outdoor venues.
“The whole show is going to be magic and you won’t meed LSD to see the colours, I can’t give away too much, but for anyone who has seen a Bliss N Eso show, you haven’t seen this. We’ve got a live band with us. We have Sam from 28 Days as our drummer, we have Ceekay Jones who features on My Life flying all the way from Los Angeles to play his part, we’ve got James Illingworth who’s Bliss’s cousin who’s going to be playing grand piano, we’ve got some gospel singers in the there and it’s going to be outrageously barracuda.
“It’s crazy, just in rehearsals, seeing the live element and these songs sort of come to life. It’s weird, it actually helps with the flows, with the lyric flows. With the live percussion, it’s like you can move with them more, you can play with them more, I can even speed it up, I can, it’s just, strange, it’s very free. And we’ve got some stage setup production stuff that’ll blow your mind.”
Circus Under the Stars Tour ft. Horrowshow, Seth Sentry & Ceekay Jones
Saturday, April 5 – Showground, Bathurst
Saturday April 12 – Nobbys Beach Reserve, Newcastle
Thursday, April 17 – The Domain, Sydney
Saturday, April 19 – Showground, Coffs Harbour
Thursday, April 24 – Riverstage, Brisbane
Friday, April 25 – The Stadium, Mackay
Saturday, April 26 – Fogarty Park, Cairns
Friday, May 2 – Signal Park, Busselton
Saturday, May 3 – Wellington Square, Perth
Friday, May 9 – Showgrounds, Wagga Wagga
Saturday, May 10 – Showgrounds, Ballarat
Thursday, May 15 – Showgrounds, Bendigo
Friday, May 16 – Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne
Friday, May 23 – Showgrounds, Mount Gambier
Saturday, May 24 – Tampawardli Park, Adelaide
Saturday, May 31 – Macquarie Wharf 2, Hobart