Oxford Languages define the term tall poppy as “A person who is conspicuously successful and whose success frequently attracts envious hostility.” But why does it have to mean that? Isn’t obtaining a certain amount of success in your field something that should be highlighted positively? The phrase needs a reposition, and Nerve is here to do that.
In the 2 years since our last interview together, the Brisbane rapper has doubled in popularity and notoriety throughout projects like Mumma’s Boy, and big-time placements such as on Aitch’s ‘Taste (Make it Shake) remix. But his new EP Tall Poppy Season is not about the sense of success that a monetary value can be attributed to. Instead, the project’s 8 songs are more like the flower the term ‘tall poppy’ is named after, as it finds Nerve changing forms and growing, with each piece of music producing uniquely coloured pedals. He still occupies the same field, relishing in the heavy 808s and ravenous bars of the opener ‘MIGRAINES’, but the crops have expanded. Melodies flow over reverberated brass on ballads like ‘BABY STOP RUNNING YOUR MOUTH’. a sing-along, arena-ready hook soars on the rap anthem ‘MISSED CALLS’. He even opens the book to the chapters of his thoughts in the reflective raps of ‘WHO THAT? (KNOW ME)’. It’s a farming operation free of frivolity and full of inspiration, as the most introspective, creative form of Nerve blossoms.
In celebration of the project, Nerve stopped by to talk through the people, pondering, and personal growth that planted the seeds for Tall Poppy Season.
Congratulations on Tall Poppy Season. How are you feeling?
I’m feeling good, it’s exciting to put stuff out. It’s been a bit of a marathon, and pretty stressful. But it’s satisfying to see the response it’s getting, which makes it all worth it.
The last time we had a chat was in a Collingwood coffee shop 2 years ago, around the release of ‘Big Switch’. How do you think you’ve grown since then?
I think I’ve become a lot more in touch with who I want to be and what sort of effect I want to have on people, not only in my music but in my day-to-day life and relationships with people. I think I’ve got a clearer vision of where I want my music to go, and I also think the vision I had for my music back then is starting to come to fruition. Artistically, I’ve moved into my own space, which can’t be attributed to anything pre-existing. I’m trying to be versatile, and have my fans understand that I’m going to drop stuff from different angles. It’s still going to be me, but I’m constantly changing, and never want to be pigeonholed. That’s what I’ve been working on for the last 2 years.
You’re someone who is constantly working, whether it be in a studio, or on the road. But this last year has seen us all confined to our homes. What’s that been like for you?
Things actually got busier. I don’t know how it happened, but last year we pushed more merch than we have ever pushed. And although there were no shows, I think I started a lot of things that have become very crucial to my brand. Like with live streaming stuff, and the way I connect with fans. . We kind of just kept it moving, and managed to stay in touch with the people. Because at the end of the day, everybody was online when they weren’t working. So now I’m just excited to take it to a physical space, get touring again, and start linking up with fans and collaborators.
The EP title references a tall poppy, which in my view, is a term that attaches a negative connotation to something people should be proud of; self-belief. What’s it been like exploring this concept throughout these tracks?
I didn’t have the EP name until really late, but when it did come together, it clicked. A lot of the complications I’ve had over the last 2 years of making and releasing music I think relate to that concept. Whenever a conflict happens with people, you can always see where it comes from internally. In Australia especially it’s a big theme, where you’re trying to cut down tall poppies. It may come across as potentially egotistical, but the concept for me is that anyone can be a tall poppy, and proficient at whatever they choose to do, as long as they find their thing and stick to it.
I think you live out that concept on the EP stylistically as well, in the sense that you explore different sounds, work for that tall poppy status in those pockets, and create what is your most versatile release yet.
For sure. I think I’ve had to break down a lot of self-doubts to do a lot of the stuff on this project as well. I’ve had to get out of my comfort zone and try new things without second-guessing myself. I had to do what feels right, opposed to doing what I think people want to hear. There are definitely some themes from my older stuff that crosses over to this release, but I think it also has sounds people weren’t expecting to hear.
I’ve been enthralled in revisiting Kanye West’s album ye lately, and how he repositioned his struggles with mental health to be his artistic superpower. It feels like you do the same here with the term tall poppy, flipping the negative connotations that come with it, and making it the force behind your vision.
I think that’s true. Also, a lot of the inspiration for this EP comes from how the music side of things has started to change and bleed into my personal life as well. I think in the past, I’ve been naive to how people start treating you differently when you get a bit of a buzz, or how people think certain things about you based on how you’re perceived on the internet. I’ve had to get savvy with that shit, and that’s had an impact on the things I’ve been writing about lately. It all feeds into the concept in a lot of ways.
On the EP, it sounds like you’re figuring out what’s important in your life. You talk about things like doing right by the right people and minimising stuff like screen time. How’s the process been figuring out what to prioritise in your artistic and personal life?
I’ve just had to spend a lot of time with myself to figure these things out. A lot of this EP was written in the last 3 months, so it’s very fresh. I’ve been dealing with situations socially and emotionally that have led me to think about what I want and who I am. Because most of the time, I kind of just cruise through life and roll with whatever comes. I’m slowly finding out where I want to be, and how I approach decisions moving forward. It’s had an impact on the music as well. My back catalogue is very rap-related, where I’m flexing my rap skills, production skills, pursuing grime, etc. But now it feels like I’m using music as therapy and a way to talk about my life. It’s a good way to connect with the listeners because I feel like everybody goes through similar shit in their life. People will be able to take their therapy from it.
You allude to the therapeutic aspects of ‘WHO DAT (KNOW ME)’, where you talk about bottling things up and wanting to live a long life. Is it cathartic to be this expressive and vulnerable in your music?
It’s cathartic, but also kind of strange playing it for people. I’ve played it for people who I’m not necessarily super close to, people who I don’t open up to much, and they’ve been like “Woah, I didn’t know you were thinking about that sort of shit.” It’s been interesting. I think people will find consolation in the fact that I’m going through the same shit everybody else goes through. That’s a powerful thing, and why I actively tried to include these things in the project.
In our previous interview, you told me that you function best when you’re overloaded with tasks and things to do. But through this EP, it almost feels like you’re a bit overwhelmed with that overload. Has that initial notion changed?
Maybe, because I’ve pulled back a bit from work and uni, so everything is music-focused now. But I also think the older I get, the more deep and intense social relationships get. I’ve had to navigate a lot of tricky situations lately in that aspect. I’m still overloaded with stuff constantly, but when it’s all in one field, it can be overwhelming. When I was doing uni and working a job, I could kind of switch between things when I needed to. But now that it’s all music, it can be pretty stressful with the organisation, especially with an EP release. Every day there’s something I forget, and that’s what has been overwhelming lately. But at the same time, it teaches me that I need to keep a healthy routine, to keep my mind straight.
An immediate standout on the EP is ‘One in A Million’ with JK-47, which feels like an anthem for self-belief against external forces, and how you can clear those hurdles using that tall poppy mindset. How did you find that self-belief, amidst the systems in our world that feel designed to push back?
Good question. With self-belief, I don’t really know, because I think I’ve always felt that way. I think you just need to surround yourself with the right people because some do feed into self-doubt. I try to surround myself with people who lift me up and are confident in themselves as well. Cockiness and confidence are different things because confidence is backed up by something. I like hanging around people who know that they’re good at stuff, but also back it up. Staying around people like that who support you and want to see you win is important, and you also need to make sure that you give back that same energy.
Since our last chat in 2019, Australian rap has essentially quadrupled in growth. But with that rise, it feels like we’ve started to see a lot of corporations, systems, and external forces try to monetise the organic growth of the music. Is that something you’ve noticed as someone who is at the forefront of the scene?
100%. Since everything popped off on that next level, everybody has been trying to dip their fingers. It’s fine by me because it shows that we’re doing something that people want. But you’ve got to keep your wits about you, have the right people working with you, and not jump into anything too quickly. I could have easily jumped into something and potentially screwed myself, but I feel like I’ve always had a business mind. The people I’m close with do as well. Although it can look sinister with all these people trying to dip into the scene and take what they need, I think you can make it work for you if you approach it smart. So it’s been a good thing, and it’s also taught me a lot of business skills. I’ve also been able to keep it authentic even with this shift in the tide because I’ve had the right people around me from the beginning. I could sign to a major label and do some crazy 360 deal, but I’ve already got all the tools I need. There’s nothing they could offer me that I can’t already do with my team.
Throughout this conversation, and in the EP itself, it sounds as if you’ve garnered a sense of gratitude for the right people around you, but also have gone through the struggle of dealing with the wrong ones. Is this something you’ve recently experienced, and how did you overcome that struggle to be where you are now?
It’s an interesting one because I think I learned that stuff a little bit late. I’ve been lucky enough to grow up in a family with morals, and I’ve always been surrounded by people who are big on respect, self-awareness, and honesty. The older I get, the more often I run into people who have twisted morals when it comes to that stuff, and it’s made me work on second-guessing shit when I see it. I have some friends who have been around really fucked situations, and at times their second-guessing has seemed like paranoia to me. But I think you need to occupy both sides of the spectrum, where you can trust people, and see through the bullshit as well. I’ve only really begun learning this stuff over the past couple of years, where I’ve dealt with people from different walks of life. Especially in business. I’ve had situations go sticky, and it’s helped me identify these things more quickly.
Lastly, what do you have planned for the rest of 2021?
Well, my tour is coming up in 2 weeks! Hopefully, some festivals come back soon, and hopefully, I can do some tours with some really interesting artists that are out of my normal comfort zone, which I’m excited about. I want to collaborate with different artists, grow, and keep my fingers in every pie. We’ve just built a new studio, so I’m looking to get some work in there. I’ve been working on a lot more songwriting and singing specifically. I’ve found a new passion in that. There’s a group of girls who did the background vocals on ‘BABY STOP RUNNING YOUR MOUTH’ who I’ve been kicking it with heaps, and we’ve legit just been sitting around singing for like 4 hours at a time. It reminds me of when I used to just spit bars with homies for like 5 hours over Youtube beats. I’ve found a new love in that, and it’s good because I can add that to the repertoire, and continue to write songs that are more deep and complex. I’ve also started a Discord server that’s been absolute mayhem and hilarity. I’ll also probably start streaming on Twitch as well. I’m just trying to create as much as I can, connect with people that fuck with it, and help inspire them.
Follow Nerve here for more and stream Tall Poppy Season below.