Poor, poor TZU. They were always on the cusp of something so much bigger than they actually got. It wasn’t for lack of trying, either – such a potent mix of conscious rap and catchy beats that ultimately left them in the cold for either side of the spectrum. Joelistics has broken out on the solo front; and Count Bounce has found a home as a formidable producer. Still, I often wonder what could have been for TZU. Perennially underrated. Super-nice to interview, too.
– DJY, December 2014
“Are you gonna play Summer Days? Are you gonna play some hip-hop?”
If this question had been posed to TZU, say, six or so years ago, it would have a forthright and succinct “yes” as an answer. It’s how the band started, and despite some variety in sound and a few departures here and there, it’s a sound the band remained ingrained in. Fast forward to 2012, however, with this very same question being posed by a punter up the front at a recent show, and it’s a little more difficult to answer. With their latest album, Millions of Moments, the band have moved away from funk-based hip-hop and into conceptual electronica and rnb. It’s a bold and inventive reboot of a band many had thought to be abandoned entirely following an absence of roughly three years.
“We tend to always get those kind of guys at our shows,” explains Pip Norman, aka Count Bounce; the band’s vocalist, producer and bassist. “They always end up loving it, though. I think people just tend to like us on stage, as a whole. We just have to be ourselves, and let people decide for themselves. They tend to just go with it, no matter what weird direction we end up heading on stage. And yes, we’ll still play the old stuff!” Although Norman says this jokingly, one can’t help but feel that the band have felt trapped in by their earlier material, fans expecting them to essentially present to them variations on a theme across their discography. Of course, that’s not what TZU, who started out humbly as a DIY hip-hop crew in 1999, is all about. It’s why Millions of Moments comes across as somewhat of a challenge to older fans – although Pip himself is reluctant to agree.
“I don’t think we really set out to shock people with this album,” he says. “For us, I think it’s not as weird as everyone else thinks it is. We’ve been interested in this kind of music for years. This is just the first time we’ve acted on it. When we came back together after our break, we decided that we were going to do something different, or we weren’t going to do anything at all. If we tried to make another hip-hop album, it just wasn’t going to work. To us, the decision was simple.” For Norman, it’s a matter of getting a clear perspective on where the band is, where the band has come from and where the band is headed. He notes: “I don’t think we could ever make an album like our previous three. We’re just not those people anymore. At the same time, though, we’re not ashamed of our past, and we’re not trying to hide from it. We definitely recognise that people love us for that era of the band, and we’ve come to terms with sort of accepting this somewhat uncomfortable part of ourselves.”
Seeing the band live on their current tour with Darwin duo Sietta will see the band play tracks from across their entire catalogue, mixing live instrumentation with sequencers and programming. It was partially inspired by Pip seeing the Beastie Boys live as a young man. “They’d start with their hip-hop stuff,” he explains, “then go and do their punk stuff on their instruments for a few tracks. Then they’d go and do some more hip-hop, before doing their weird, instrumental stuff. I loved it, and I loved that everyone was still into it no matter what they did.” If you’re after a show that incorporates a myriad of eclectic, engaging sounds, make sure you get along to see what TZU is up to in 2012.