Somber Hills spent much of his definitive years as a vagabond. He and his family would travel in caravans, trekking the wide-spanning scenery of New Zealand. Equipped with a guitar, he would find himself meeting new people and experiencing new perspectives, all with music as a device for connection.
Flash forward to now, Somber Hills has relocated to Sydney from New Zealand and is celebrating the release of his new single ‘Autumn’. It’s a rock-infused trap anthem that urges you to fight through the storms of adversity, to reach the summit of contentment, with Somber and fan-favourite Ph1lla relishing in their melodic chops. It follows his singles ‘Don’t Need’ and ‘Say To Me’, which are emotion-filled, melancholic rap ballads that sound as if he’s hiking the somber hills that make up his name. In a sense, the travelling tales of Somber Hills remain the same, just in a different arena. He’s meeting new collaborators like Lucianblomkamp and Jeida Woods; he’s experiencing different artistic perspectives that help enhance his skills, and he’s using a love of music to connect with people around the world.
In celebration of ‘Autumn’, we hopped on a Zoom call with Somber Hills to talk through his upcoming EP, relocating from New Zealand to Sydney, and his love of Green Day.
Congratulations on ‘Autumn’ my man. How are you feeling?
It’s all exciting. I was waiting a long time for this song to come out. We started the song in 2019, and it was never meant to be a part of an EP or anything. I had a hook, a guitar riff, and I sent them through to the producer I’m working with named Sadie. He gave the song a body because, before that, it was just a skeleton. And then when I got to Australia last year before the lockdown happened, I met Phi11a in the studio. I played it for him, and initially, I was going to give him the song. But then, I heard him spit this fire verse, and I had to keep it [Laughs]. I went home, made it more solid, and he did his thing on it as well. It went from something that was just sitting around, to my favourite song on my upcoming project.
You’ve described the song as a ‘Somber but hopeful approach to new beginnings.’ Over the past year, how have you found hope throughout all of this adversity?
The hook is, without realising it, is about things happening if you keep on trying. It’s sad and happy at the same time. For me, it was just knowing that if I keep pushing through the bullshit, something fire is going to happen. That’s how it felt when I first moved to Australia. I had a lot of things lined up, jobs, places, all this stuff. I expected this because the first time I moved here, nothing worked out, it was hectic. I was couch surfing, working a couple of jobs for cash, and then having trouble getting the cash. Funnily enough, that was the time this song came about. When you’re out of your natural environment, you have to experience shit differently. Because of this, you get a lot of new perspectives and it even changes the way you look at yourself. Through those hard times, music was the thing that kept me happy.
On the topic of experiencing stuff differently, I’ve read that you have spent some time living in a camper van and travelling. What are some of your memories of that, and how has it shaped the person you are today?
Pretty much from the age of 12, I was in house buses, caravans, and parks, moving around a lot. Everywhere we went, I ended up hanging out with the people who made music because I played the guitar. A lot of people you meet who are in those situations are kind of lost, or just don’t want a mainstream way of living. And I’m just a kid with these people, playing guitar while they smoke weed and tell stories. It would turn into jam sessions in the caravan park on Friday nights. I think it helped shape the person I am because I’ve had experiences with so many different types of people. Whether it’s those days, or moving here, it’s made me see everyone as equal. It helps me create friendships, and the base of those friendships is always music.
Back then you were navigating through nature, now you’re navigating through the industry of art. Do you think that life experience helped you prepare for the music business?
It’s hard to explain. I come from a really weird background. I love my family a lot, everything about them. I wouldn’t be me if it wasn’t for them. But there’s a lot of traits there that I try to steer away from. They were mentors, but when you grow up in that environment, you never really want to be there. So I’d go hang out with my friends and see their successful parents, and they would have mentors without really realising it. So I see the people in the business trying to take cuts, and I guess I try to see both sides of it. I see the dog-eat-dog world part of it, where you only look after yourself to try and get to the top. But I also see the big community behind it, where you can’t do anything without a family behind you. I feel like I always see things from an outside perspective. It never feels real when I’m in these offices and stuff. At the end of the day, I just want my music to be heard, and have it affect people the way music affects me. But at the same time, I know I need to be smart, so I don’t get screwed over.
The story of your travels reminds me of an adventurer named Christopher McCandless, who burned all of his money and went off the grid, to live in the wilderness of Alaska. He has a famous quote, where he says ‘Happiness is only real when shared.” Is that something you’ve also found on your journey?
1000%. I would never want to do this on my own. Ever since I’ve started music, I’ve been trying to get a little squad together. I’ve been in rap groups here and there, and am always working with producers trying to create. I’ve wanted to start something like a little TDE, where we can all work together. I’ve been in bands and stuff before as well, but selfishness has got in the way of those. But I’m starting to get a team together. I’ve got Sadie, who produces all of my stuff. I’ve also been working with Ph1lla a lot, who is someone I get along with on a friendship level. You come across a lot of people in the scene that just want to take, but he just wants to give. So I feel the impact in that quote because, without the people around me, I wouldn’t be happy doing this. The reason I do it is so I can do more for others. My ultimate dream in music is to get to a point where I can have a label or something, and I can go find the me that everyone ignored.
Your musical style combines rap with elements of rock and alternative music. Where does that influence come from?
My dad was in bands when I was growing up. When I was 7 or 8, he introduced me to some pop-rock stuff like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. When I was like 10 or 11, I was getting more into shit like Sex Pistols, and bands like Blink 182. But my favourite band from when I was a kid, who I still fuck with to this day, is Green Day. They’re just fire and have really good songwriting. I used to have 4 CDs as a kid: Hybrid Theory by Linkin Park, Dookie by Green Day, a Metallica CD, and a Radiohead CD. That was my shit because I just stole stuff from my brother. That kind of songwriting is just ingrained in me, so when I hear a beat that has that influence, I’m super into it. I got into rap a bit later, when I was 14 or 15, where I just started bumping trap shit like Wacka Flocka Flame, Denzel Curry, and Gucci Mane. And then I got into albums like Drake’s Nothing Was The Same and Travis Scott’s Days Before Rodeo. Those projects particularly influenced me sonically, with the way they combined rap and melodies. Those are my main early influences.
Why do you think the sounds of rap and rock go together so well?
I think they’re both genres where you can chuck something on at a party and go hard too. I can still put on Linkin Park and mosh with the bros, the same way I can put on Playboi Carti and mosh with the bros. I think it’s an energy thing, and I feel like it’s not too complicated. It’s emotionally driven music, and never trying to be too technical. I think that raw emotion and rage are what make them mesh so well together.
On songs like ‘Don’t Need’ and ‘Say To Me’, you delve into vulnerable topics regarding romance. Do you feel like the raw expression in your music helps you grow in your relationships outside of the booth?
100%, it’s crazy. I’ll listen to these songs back, and it’ll take like 11 plays for the words I said to make sense to me. The weird thing is sometimes I’ll make a song, and 2 weeks later, that situation is happening. Music is an outlet, and getting things out helps me in my relationships for sure. Sometimes, it ain’t even that serious, and you can just be super fucked off. I’m not a huge arguer, so expressing myself in music helps calm those feelings down.
You’ve been working with Lucianblomkamp and Jeida Woods. How has that experience been so far?
So far, I’ve only worked with Lucian online, and don’t know them super well. But from the interactions I’ve had, he seems like the sweetest dude ever, and I can’t wait to meet him in real life. I’ve been in the studio with Jeida a couple of times, and he’s super dope. It’s cool in general working with other artists because you can see their process, and kind of take from it. The way Jeida works is very cool and smooth. He comes through, doesn’t say much, and jumps in the booth. The way he writes is that he hums out the melodies, and then writes to them. So on the songs we have together, I’ve used the same approach.
Both Australia and New Zealand have seen such a huge surge in talent over the last few years. How do you think the scenes differ?
I feel like because New Zealand is only 4 million people, and more spread out across the country, I feel like it’s harder for artists, which leads to a scene that’s a little more competitive. Which is a good thing, because people get good fast to catch up. And then with my experience in the Sydney scene, it feels like you meet everybody super quick, and it has felt more welcoming, than competitive. But that could be because I’m an outsider. I’d also say New Zealand is probably a little less melodic, and more bar-orientated.
Just lastly, my man, when can we expect the EP, and what do you have planned for the rest of 2021?
So the EP, called It’s Sad Saying Goodbye, is coming soon. All the songs on the EP are loosely based on the feeling of leaving, and being somewhere new. It’s 5 songs, based on the 5 stages of leaving. I’ve also got shows coming up in New Zealand this November, and am also planning shows in Sydney and Melbourne around the EP release. I’ve also got around 200 songs in the vault that need finishing, so you can expect more dope singles this year as well.
Follow Somber Hills here for more.