This may be The New Locals, but Claz has been doing this rap thing for a while now. His hard bars on mixtapes like 7th Floor Blues skyrocketed him into the Australian hip-hop scene, and his smooth, soulful vibe quickly separated him from the pack. Hailing from Adelaide, at one point his local notoriety was so great that you couldn’t walk down Hindley Street without seeing a Claz sticker plastered to a stobie pole. And with his 2016 debut album The Beautiful Distraction culminating in a packed out launch at Adelaide’s Rocket Bar, it seemed that the hills of his hometown couldn’t contain the buzz much longer.
The Claz that sits in front of me, however, is a different man. After that launch, life enforced an involuntarily hiatus that saw him go through a flurry of mental and physical health problems. But after some much needed soul searching on a bus-based voyage through Australia, he’s returned with his upcoming album Before I Forget. Led by the liquor-driven single ‘Vegan Beef’ and Ruru assisted ‘Nothing’, it’s a collection of tracks that showcase a newfound wisdom and a comfort with expressing emotion—something we’ve yet to see in his discography.
I met up with Claz in Adelaide’s CBD a few Saturdays ago. What began as an afternoon interview turned into an evening out, traversing backpackers bars and gin lounges, talking about his new album, his experiences travelling, and why Adelaide is special.
It’s been two years since your last album. What is different about the Claz that exists today, to the one back then?
I’ve seen a lot more, learned a lot more as well. I’ve gone through a lot personally health-wise; I look at health as a more fragile thing. I’m definitely more conscious of time now. I think I am wiser than I once was, and that comes from travelling the country and seeing all these different places. My outlook on music has changed a lot as well, where I strive for everything to be good and something you can’t just throw away.
Do you think that two-year break has helped you gain this wisdom?
It’s given me time to really look at what I want to project to the world. I’d say I’m a lot more conscious of my lyrics now, and how they can influence people. They’re still real, acknowledging that everybody has an angel and devil on their shoulders, but I’m trying to put it out in a sense where I’m sharing positive messages.
Was the break a conscious decision?
Not at all, man. Right after I dropped my last album, I went overseas for a month and got really sick. It put me out for like months just in terms of being productive and doing shit. There was music being written and recorded, but life just happened man.
Did everything that was going on hinder your love for music, or did it make the process more therapeutic?
I was in the process of seeking inspiration. Within the last year, it was intense. At one point I thought I’d never make music again. It gives you a different outlook on the art you know? Like, music is not just something that’s there, it’s not a present thing, it can be taken away. This process has made me go extra hard on my music and making it real.
You mentioned you travelled through Australia during this break. Do you think that helped you get back into things?
100% bro. Before that trip, I went to the studio maybe like once. It just didn’t feel the same. It didn’t feel like I was meant to be there. But that trip kept me busy. I was living on the road, out of a suitcase for a whole month. I was constantly getting on and off buses, sometimes spending 30 hours on one. I was drinking, seeing beautiful places, and having beautiful experiences. It was a distraction from my health and mental problems. It gave me shit to write about. I came back to Adelaide hungry to make music.
Oscar Wilde once said “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” Do you feel like you had to go and live life before returning to the art?
Definitely. Before the trip, there were only three songs done for the album, and I really didn’t know what the rest was going to be. It’s cool how the album has turned out because the first three tracks are from those sessions, and the next four are post-trip. And there’s a complete vibe change. There’s still a connection between them, but you can definitely see that something happened to cause this change. I definitely needed to seek life.
Was there a particular moment during your travels that made you want to make music again?
Well, I took the bus the whole time from Adelaide to Queensland. Not once did I get on a plane [laughs]. At one point I did 32 hours between Brisbane and Cairns due to time constraints. But I started writing on the first bus to Melbourne. I was listening to Norah Jones and had smoked a little weed through a vape. The two went hand in hand. And I looked out the window and saw the moon. It felt like a cool moment of clarity. It just dawned that I had 30 days in front of me of going to places I hadn’t seen, and I had no idea what was going to happen. All I knew was that there was beauty awaiting me. That feeling got my heart pumping, and it got me writing.
Then when I got to Melbourne, I stayed a few nights with my homie Eric Spice, who produced a few songs off the last album and a few on this new one. And he gave me a beat and from there, it really launched off. I knew from the get-go, this wasn’t going to be a trip for the sake of going on a trip, but to really kick start this process again.
And now we’re looking at a release for the new album Before I Forget real soon. What was the difference in the recording process between this and The Beautiful Distraction?
I think it’s all in the vibe. There’s an eerie feeling to this album. It’s like being in a dark ass room with a little window [laughs]. And that’s what it felt like recording it. So everything has this dark undertone, with a little bit of light shining on it. Also, everything on this album is produced with the homies, whereas the last one I was buying beats from the internet and shit. It’s cool because everybody that’s involved with this album is people I can call friends. I also produced a track myself, which has always been a dream to me really.
I’m really digging the lead single ‘Vegan Beef’. Can you talk me through the process of making that song?
I was sipping whisky in my guy Nick’s car, and he put on ‘Beef’ by Playboi Carti. And while I didn’t really fuck with the raps, I thought the beat slapped, and I knew that I was going to record a whole song to that instrumental. On ‘Vegan Beef’ I’m talking about shit that really reflects the type of shit I do in Adelaide. The song talks about chilling with the homies and references places like Rocket on Hindley Street [laughs], so I feel like it’s something people in Adelaide can relate to. Once the song was done, I wanted to put it on my album, but it was on that Playboi Carti instrumental. So I hit up my homie Rela to make a similar beat at the same BPM, and he hit the spot man. It turned out cool. We shot the video outside of the units in Arndale where I recorded the song, and all the homies that were involved are in the video as well. It’s good energy.
Being from Adelaide myself, I can vouch for the cool, homely energy that the city has, and the music scene that’s a product of it— what do you think makes Adelaide special?
I think it’s because we don’t have that same spotlight on us that a place like Melbourne or Sydney has. I think in Adelaide we’re not as influenced by American shit, and we really have our own thing going on. I don’t think we are really trying to fit in with anybody, and because of that, we have our own unique lane. You’ve got people like Nelson Dialect down here doing their own thing and making music that’s really different. They say for something to grow you need to expose it to light. But shit, in the darkness it grows a little bit too.
Any Adelaide artists you’d recommend people check out?
There’s this artist Ruru who is absolutely amazing. Like, when you hear her voice, you think she should be much bigger than she is. There’s also Kiirby, who is making some genuinely smooth hip-hop. I think ELK from Playback 808 as well is super tight. And there’s also my guy Theodore Moonwater, who is making some fire stuff right now.
You’ve been doing this for a long time, almost a decade now. As the music industry continues to change and seemingly gets harder to make a living in, what keeps you going?
I mean, there’s that analogy of putting all your eggs into one basket. There have been artists that find success in other areas of life and leave it. But I really love it, man. And not to be cliche, but it’s my therapy. It’s my way to get the good and the bad energy out. It allows me to express myself. And seeing people get influenced by that in a positive way really drives me to keep improving. I’m not the biggest artist yet, but there are cats that hit you up and it makes you realise that this music is for something more, rather than just for yourself. And of course, there’s the fact that I’m not really that talented at anything else [laughs]. But shit man, this stuff could fall into the right hands one day and explode. Time is ticking, but I just can’t stop.
Claz’s new album Before I Forget is scheduled for release in the near future. Peep the video for his latest single ‘Nothing’ below.