The Sun Shines on Bliss n Eso
By ALEC SMART
2042 magazine spoke with Bliss n Eso, the multi award-winning Sydney hip-hop music trio, to mark the release of their seventh studio album, The Sun.
Bliss n Eso, the multi award-winning Aussie rap trio, features three former schoolfriends who bonded over a love of hip hop music and culture.
American Jonathan Notley – aka MC Bliss - met Max MacKinnon – aka MC Eso – in 1992 at Glenaeon Rudolf Steiner School in Middle Cove on the lower North Shore, when they were 13.
MacKinnon (MC Eso) later transferred to Mosman High School, where he met another hip hop lover, Tarik Ejjamai – aka DJ Izm – of Moroccan heritage, and soon the trio were composing rhymes together.
The group initially performed under the name of Bliss n Esoterikizm, but the latter word proved difficult for fans to pronounce, so MacKinnon shortened it to ‘Eso’.
In 2000 they released their first recording, an EP titled The Arrival, followed by a mixtape.
Bliss n Eso won the Hip Hop category at the 2003 Music Oz Awards and the following year released their debut album, Flowers in the Pavement, on Obese Records.
Since then, they’ve released another five full-length albums: Day of the Dog (2006), Flying Colours (2008), Running on Air (2010), Circus in the Sky (2013), and Off the Grid (2017) - the last album ARIA-certified gold status (500,000+ sales), the previous three platinum (million-selling).
* Congratulations on the release of your 7th studio album, especially considering how the coronavirus pandemic has hindered musicians from performing, recording, creating and socialising. How has Covid-19 impacted you?
On the creative side of things Covid hasn’t affected us too much, because like a lot of artists, we're already inside our studios pretty much locked away from the world anyway. Creating was never a problem, but when it comes to putting on a performance, Covid has definitely put a massive dent in things for all musicians.
Artists want to be able to write the songs, record the albums and perform their music for the world - so, taking that live element away from the whole release process is a really hard thing. Covid has affected performances for every artist in the world and we’re all itching to get back on stage. We were supposed to be on tour right now! But we’ll see through the darkness and find the light.
* How did the collaboration with Kasey Chambers come about on your Good People song?
Bliss n Eso and Kasey Chambers have been friends for a very long time. One of our first experiences getting into a professional studio was actually with Kasey and her brother Nash Chambers. Ever since then we have continued to have a blossoming relationship. When we were writing this album we were only a few doors down from Kasey [in the studio]. Kasey would come past in the morning and drop off organic cookies and other treats for us to munch on!
We were playing Kasey some of our new songs and she heard Good People and said to us “Wow what a great song! What a cool message - do you have any ideas of who you’re going to get to sing the chorus?”
We knew exactly who it should be and it was the beautiful lady standing right in front of us!
We asked Kasey if she wanted to be involved and she was all for it. We started recording that day. It came out absolutely awesome and I can’t imagine anyone else singing that hook. She is truly one of the good people.
Kasey Chambers onstage with Bliss n Eso
* It was wonderful that Kasey performed the song live with you at the Myer Music Bowl during the 2021 Music From the Home Front Festival. Was she also performing at the festival or made a special trip to appear onstage with you?
Kasey is such a legend that she came down just to perform that song with us. It was a special moment because it was the first time we'd performed that song on stage ( it was also during a time where live events had only just started back up during that first year of Covid). To be able to perform live again and having Kasey with us was such a great way to return to the stage.
* In the live video, DJ Bliss wears a number 42 on his yellow baseball jersey. Good People mentions “Like the 42 on Jackie Robinson and James Worthy's jerseys..” American baseballer Jackie Robinson wore a number 42 jersey during his 10 years playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. What is the significance of people honouring him by wearing a number 42 sports top?
Bliss n Eso are basketball fans and card collectors; in this instance we liked the play on words / rhyme scheme with 42 and fortitude. I guess that was our way of honouring legends of the game.
* You’ve had several collaborations with vocalists with amazing singing voices, including Gavin James, Ceekay Jones, Jake Isaac, the Connections Zulu Choir and the aforementioned Kasey Chambers. Live on stage, unless these artists are performing with you, do you replicate their vocal contributions with a singing section or a pre-recorded vocal track?
We always seize the opportunity to have any of those awesome guest vocalist perform with us on stage, but coinciding schedules is tricky, so it’s usually just our band on stage. For those shows we have our awesome vocalist, Kirsten Te Rito, from New Zealand.
But the awesome thing about our Fanbase is they love our music so much that they sing and rap every single word. So, when it does come time for the hooks, the crowd is usually making more noise than what’s coming from stage!
* Your music videos are getting more sophisticated with each album release – Moments is extraordinary and a well-deserved winner of ARIA’s Best Music Video Award 2017. So far, the music videos accompanying the singles from The Sun have been minimalist: the spaceman with wings for Good People and a lyric track for OGs. Are you working on a dynamic film clip to accompany the next single from the album, and which song is the next scheduled single (eg: On One with Dizzee Rascal?)?
Let’s not forget we had a cinematic film clip for So Happy, a monumental film clip for Lighthouse, and an awesome video for OG's ( not just a lyric video 😉)!
Just trying to do our music video for Lighthouse took about five different attempts. We had crew from different states that got locked down and couldn’t travel across borders, so we had to reschedule multiple times and come up with new plans and ideas for the clip each time. We moved earth, fire wind and water - quite literally! - to make the Lighthouse clip. Our director was directing over FaceTime video from Queensland while we were shooting in New South Wales.
It was probably one of the hardest film clips we had to do, because there were so many hurdles. It wasn’t like normal times where you could pick & choose locations. For instance, we wanted to shoot a water scene, but swimming pools were closed, so we ended up shooting over a dam at a friend’s apple orchard, suspended from a mate’s crane while water was being sprayed out from a fire hose.
Meanwhile Bliss was doing the same in front of a bonfire lit in a friend’s paddock, while he was separated in Queensland!
When it came time for the OG's clip, borders had closed again, the production crew were in Melbourne and we were in Sydney. We got some awesome young actors to play our parts so we could still have a music video for that track.
* Two of Australia’s biggest hip hop stars, Bliss n Eso and Hilltop Hoods have never collaborated. I assume any rumours of ill feelings are in the past; any plans to work or tour together in the future?
No ill feelings - it’s all peace love and unity.
* What was it like working with Sydney rapper ChillinIt? Do you feel like he’s a big part of the future of Aussie hip hop?
Working with Chillinit was just like working with one of the homies. We’ve been watching him come up and we know that his talent lies in his lyricism and his raps, we related to that instantly. Showing love to the new generation is something that we love to do and we love to see the future of Australian hip-hop.
It’s explosive right now with the amount of music being made and artists coming up, and there’s room for everyone! The future of Australian hip-hop is sounding really bright.
* You’ve done a lot of charity work, including the epic Make Poverty History tour of impoverished regions of South Africa in 2007; performing at the fundraiser for Victorian bushfire relief in 2008; the Brainbeats brain cancer awareness concert in 2016; and the 2020-21 Music From the Home Front festivals for Covid-19 crisis charity Support Act.
Are there any causes you support that are particularly close to your hearts?
They are all great causes and we always want to help where we can. We know from the messages we receive from fans that our music has helped a lot of people get through hard times. It’s nice knowing that our music has that positive effect and can work like its own kind of therapy. We all need some of that right now.
* What is on the horizon for Bliss n Eso?
The new album is about to drop… and after that... like all musicians across the globe, we can’t wait to be back on stage. I’m sure fans are just as hungry for live concerts again as musicians are to play them.
Bliss N Eso