For the past two decades, Bliss n Eso have been proudly representing Australian hip hop on the world stage. The brainchild of two school friends, Jonathan Notley (MC Bliss) and Max MacKinnon (MC Eso), Bliss N Eso blazed a trail for the burgeoning genre in their home country, but it was their alignment with Mushroom Records and the late, great Michael Gudinski that helped elevate them to the next level.
Now, to mark the 50th anniversary of Mushroom Records, the beloved group is celebrating the milestone by taking on “Hoops” from their stablemates The Rubens. Max MacKinnon joins us to discuss the track, memories of Michael Gudinski and what’s next.
Bliss n Eso’s “Hoops” (The Rubens cover) is out now via Mushroom Group.
RS: Tell us a bit about your relationship with Mushroom.
Max: Mushroom has been a huge family for us. When we started, it was very rock ‘n’ roll based in this country, there wasn’t much hip hop, so labels weren’t willing to take a risk on a new kind of genre. But Michael and Matt Gudinski both saw something in our group.
We kind of linked with them through live shows internationally. So when 50 Cent or Cypress Hill would tour, we would always get the support act spot. And Mushroom was running these shows, so they could see us there, waiting on the south side of the stage, not arguing, you know, waiting for our turn. They just saw that we were professional, that we loved what we did and weren’t going to stop. This was kind of what we wanted to do. And so yeah, we’ve been together ever since.
And then came this awesome opportunity on the 50th anniversary of Mushroom, getting Mushroom artists to reinvent or cover some of the other Mushroom artists. We were lucky enough to get “Hoops” by The Rubens, which is a personal favourite. Really stoked to get that song and be able to reinvent it in our own way.
RS: How did you choose the track and why did you see it as a good mix for you guys?
Max: The challenge was really how to make it our own. We had producers Jon Reichardt and Cam Bluff. Personally, we think they’re the best producers in Australia.
We were able to really recreate it, and changed the major chord in the song to a minor, I believe, which kind of gave this new kind of feel; a bit of a juxtaposition. There’s a bit of an uplifting kind of guitar feel and riff, and then there’s kind of an emotional sentiment to the lyrics. So I think it worked well and we definitely had fun making it.
RS: What do you think the Australian hip hop scene would look like without Mushroom?
Max: There are heaps of other groups that have trailblazed their way, but for a group to start as teenagers and stay together for twenty-something years is pretty unheard of. It’s such a great family.
Mushroom was able to create some opportunities for us. I remember one pivotal moment in our popularity. It was called Sound Relief, a gigantic charity show that Michael had put on in relief of the fires down in Melbourne. And I think it was 82,000 people at MCG and then there were another 80,000 at the Sydney Cricket Ground as well. All the other groups were rock ‘n’ roll based, so we got out there and just really spoke to the crowd.
It was moments like that that really shot us into space. You know, it’s the dream. When we started obviously we didn’t have any social media or any kind of platform to do independent stuff and try and get noticed, so it was all about trying to get a record deal.
And luckily enough we’re quite smart guys. We came into the game knowing the record industry is quite a crazy industry and we’ve never let the industry dick us.
RS: Do you have any stories about your relationship with Michael?
Max: We have a wonderful relationship with Mushroom. And obviously rest in peace Michael – he was like a father to us. Sure, everyone who worked with him said that, but he just had that fatherly figure glow and aura about him. He’d often be quite in-depth and the messages could be quite abstract and personal to the artists. So you know, there was maybe a lot of things that Michael didn’t exactly understand about the rap lyrics, but he could see the love, he could see our passion for it. It’s been a wonderful ride.
He was always funny. Just bumping into Michael, the conversations always felt like there were three parts: He would overload you with compliments, “Oh you look amazing today mate! How’s ya beautiful son? How’s ya, beautiful wife? It’s going to be a number one album this year!”
That’s until he explodes into memory lane, and I’d have no idea what he’s talking to me about: “Remember when the fuckin’ Skyhooks played at the twin towers in Coolangatta? Fuckin’ awesome!”
So he’d go down a memory and then automatically leave: “Okay mate you look wonderful see you later!” And he’d be out. He always left an impression.
And to say how close we were: I had a mattress – I think it’s still there – that is in their cinema room in Michael’s house, where he would let me stay when we didn’t have a hotel or something.
RS: What does the future hold for Bliss n Eso?
Max: We are not stopping. Back in the day we could kind of take a few years in between albums as kind of a rest mode. But we’re just feeling it right now. The faucet is going and we’re just not turning it off. So we’ve been in the laboratory. We’ve been in the studio for the last six months, working on new music and it feels like some of the best music we’ve ever made so, exciting times.