When the world of Australian music welcomed Triple One into its ranks just a few short years ago, few could have imagined what the future would hold. Hailing from Sydney’s Inner West, the four piece – consisting of vocalist Lil Dijon, producer Billy Gunns, and rappers Marty Bugatti and Obi Ill Terrors – quickly got down to composing an immense body of work.
Their time spent creating was fruitful, and in 2017, Triple One began unleashing what would become a seemingly never-ending run of singles. In fact, services such as Spotify list over 20 individual singles for the group, while their three EPs almost double that number. In four short years, Triple One have managed more content than some bands take an entire decade to deliver. The most impressive part, however, is the constant high-level at which they continue to create, with each and every single piece of music they release sounding as though it could be the biggest and best single they’ve unleashed to date.
In 2019 though, Triple One found their greatest success to date, with “Butter” going somewhat viral online, becoming certified Gold by ARIA, and managing to shine a light on both the group, and the relatable message of mental health that the track highlights.
Not content to forever deliver an endless string of hit singles, Triple One decided to take things to the next level at the start of the year, knuckling down and working on their debut album. Dubbed Panic Force, the record served as the next logical step for the group – who have rightfully been dubbed as trailblazers of the scene whose lines they blur – and became a testament to the artists and people they have become over the years.
“Fans have been asking for our debut album for years, but we’ve been waiting for the right moment where we felt comfortable with ourselves as musicians to release a full body of work,” the group explained. “Panic Force is a deeply personal work for us, and one that culminates everything we’ve learned since day one. Everybody will have something to take away from this record.”
With Panic Force officially released today, Lil Dijon and Obi Ill Terrors took the time to chat to Rolling Stone for an in-depth conversation about the year that has been, where they’ve come from, and where they’re headed.
Let’s kick off with the obvious question of late, how have you been faring with everything going on this year?
Obi Ill Terrors: Terribly [laughs].
Lil Dijon: Alright, not too bad. Obviously the first half of the year was a lot better than the second half of the year, y’know, because of COVID and everything. But I guess with COVID, it’s given us more of an opportunity to lockdown and produce a bit more stuff – not even to do with the album, we did the album but now we’re working on even more stuff, which is good. So we’re just kind of doing what we can and pushing forward with the time we have.
You said before that the start of year was better before COVID hit, but did the pandemic disrupt your plans too much at all? You would’ve had your touring messed up, but with an album coming out this late in the year, was it pushed back, or anything like that?
Obi: We had pressure from other people to push it back, and advice from people around us to push it back to next year, just to do with charting and touring. They didn’t really want us to mess up our first album release. But I think everyone was way too antsy to get it out this year. I think if we kept sitting on that music for another year we’d just end up fucking hating it or end up making another album, so I think it was the right time to put our heads together and actually get something solid out.
Dijon: We also just wanted to like, feel excited when the music comes out, and not like, “I’ve been holding onto this music for ages,” and then I’m excited about other stuff and not liking the stuff I’m bringing out currently. Then when we do release it, it’ll make me more into it and wanting to promote it and tour it because it’s so new.
Obi: Yeah, instead of beating a dead horse [laughs].
So before we look at the new album and everything, I’d love to go back a little bit. Where and when did the Triple One story first start? What was the inspiration, and how did you come together?
Obi: Billy [Gunns] and Martin [Marty Bugatti] went to school together, and Billy liked hip-hop the same as Martin – I think they talked about it in art class and stuff. Then Billy, I think he got an MPC for his birthday, or he bought an MPC and started producing, then Martin was all, “Well I’m gonna rap.” So that kind of kicked off, and then I met him at a house party, and I’d played footy against him and stuff when we were younger.
I met him at a house party and got into a freestyle battle with him, which was a bit of a g up – it was fucking stupid as; it was really fun. Then I guess we just started making music from there under different aliases. We were quite old actually, probably about 18 or 19 when we actually started having a crack at it – a lot of people are coming through younger. Then Dom [Lil Dijon] came into the picture about a year after we started making music, then we became Triple One.
Dijon: I think it was like two years.
Obi: Yeah, probably about two years, but maybe a year after had the Triple One alias, and about two years after we first started making music. I met Dom at a pub and he vomited outside after [laughs].
Dijon: Yeah, that was me.
Clearly making a great first impression there?
Dijon: Yeah, why do you think they kept me around?
Obi: He’s got the chords, bro, those fucking pipes!
Dijon: I’m useless otherwise [both laugh].
What was the plan when things first started? Was it with the intent of starting a band and having a bit of fun, or did you have grand plans of doing an album someday?
Dijon: I think, for me personally, it was more of a hobby at first. It was just really fun, y’know? Something to put my creative side into, not really thinking too much about making money from it yet. Then it just kind of evolved into this thing it is now, just through people listening to our music and enjoying it a bit more. It happened so naturally, we weren’t really pushing for money or streams right away. [We were] just making music because we enjoyed it and it was fun to do.
Well that’s probably the best way to approach it.
Dijon: Yeah, it was good for us. There are many ways to approach it, but that’s the way we did it, and it worked out quite nicely for us, which is great. And we’re just continuing doing it now.
When you came together, were you all sharing influences? Were you all fond of the same sort of music, or was there a mix of different genres and artists that you guys would listen to?
Obi: I think it was definitely a mix of genres. Everyone with a musical background is very different, and everyone has different tastes, so when we came together, I feel like it very naturally happened, but you try and make the other person sound the best while they’ll try and make you sound the best so you can fit in your pocket and make a cohesive piece of work so it doesn’t sound like four dudes shouting on a track, or three dudes shouting on a track while trying to push forward a different idea.
I think it’s taken a long time to actually hit those pockets as well, where everyone is actually comfortable with what music we have the capability of making after a lot of experimentation, a lot of messing around. It’s really good to try and hone in on a sound or start to master a few sounds we’ve been playing with.
I guess that would always change as well, wouldn’t it? You’d obviously sound different to how you did when you first got together, and you look at the album, and that probably won’t be representative of what it’ll all sound like in a year or so.
Dijon: Yeah, obviously our music tastes are always changing, or is developing into one thing and then into another thing later. It’s really broad, which I really like as well. The next time we make a song it might be completely different to the song we made a week ago, just depending on what we’ve been listening to, or what I’m appreciating at the time.
Obi: I think everyone really focuses on trying to be progressive and making current sounds. I feel like a lot of artists fall into a bubble or a trap where they have to make certain sort of sounds for so long, but I think we’ve always been conscious that we have to be current instead of making one sound and then it ends up dated, because music in the US and the UK is moving so fast now that you never know what’s going to happen next.
So yeah, you spend a year trying to get a record out, and by the time you get it out it almost sounds, unless you’re making perfectly timeless music, it can sound dated. So you always have to be on your toes, looking at what other people are doing or what your peers are doing.
So were you guys feeling a bit of pressure to make something that felt current with this record?
Obi: It wasn’t really pressure…
Dijon: Not pressure, but we definitely try and look for it, but we don’t try to force it too much. We still make so much music that sounds so much like other songs, but sometimes if we have the opportunity to make it sound a little bit different, we’ll just take that opportunity and see where it goes. I don’t think we ever walk into a song and are like, “We have to make it sound exactly like this.”
It always progresses into something after that, and like I said before, if the opportunity arises within that spectrum to make it a bit different, then we’ll just make it a bit different. And not even ‘different’, just like, ‘try something new’ and develop new things, and see what it sounds like, see what happens, and experimentation.
Again, that’s a good way to approach it by keeping that open mind and being willing to change depending on the song.
Obi: I think it’s less about making music to a trend – I think a lot of people make trend music, I don’t think we do that, I think we just try and make a piece that is current so people don’t… You’re trying to reach the biggest fucking audience possible, so you try and make the best music possible. You’re not going to make music to completely alienate people unless you’re doing some kind of art music. We’re here to write some songs.
You guys have also become pretty synonymous with the Western Sydney hip-hop scene as well now. Was that a good musical environment to thrive from? Was there a lot of encouragement from other artists in the scene, or did you sort of go it alone at first?
Dijon: I think we were going it alone at first, to tell you the truth. We didn’t really know other music… We had to try and create all our own gigs and everything because we didn’t know many other hip-hop artists to have gigs with, or current hip-hop artists or anything like that. So we just started off by making our own gigs, but it was mainly by ourselves. Then a couple of years ago when we ran into BodyBag, we started joining forces with those guys and having gigs together, and making the hip-hop community a little bit more cohesive.
Obi: I feel like when we started, it was a struggle to find artists or other musicians that you actually like. You still like, played shows together or put on shows and get people on the bill, but you never really fuck with them too much. It was only until about two years ago [that it changed].
Dijon: When we were younger, or when we were first starting out with like Slim Set, and we had a few gigs with them, they were like the only people that we ever really knew that we would gig with and have a good time with. They were hectic.
Obi: Yeah, we used to play mixed bills. We used to play with like rock bands and punk bands and shit [laughs].
Do you think that was a positive influence on how you started? Had you had that sense of camaraderie with different artists at the start, it would probably have been a different story.
Obi: I think it’s made us not be strictly hip-hop. I think we understand and really like the sonics of other music, and we try and bring that element to the rap music we make. Obviously branching from that, but I feel like if we were solely just in a rap circle all we’d be making is fucking rap music, but I think it’s progressed beyond that now, which is good. Just to have something a bit fresh in Australia.
You mentioned that things were obviously a lot more rap-influenced in the early days, but what was the creative process like for you back then? Was everything coming together quickly, or did you experience some trouble with kicking things off?
Dijon: It was different, I guess, just from song to song. I think we meld well together as people, and that kind of helped with the process. It’s just different, y’know? Depending on what you’re trying to make, or if you just come into right or not. Some songs definitely do happen faster than others, like “Butter”, that song happened within seconds, in a night, and we knew the mould to it right away.
Some songs take a longer time, it’s just the way it is, really, it’s just the way we work. If we have that spark of inspiration, it just happens straight away. It’s kind of like what we’re chasing, you’re always chasing that epiphany, that one moment of realisation in a song, and like, ‘This is what it should sound like,” where you know it all fits together automatically.
Obi: I think as well, we have quite a high work rate, and everyone works around each other really well. When we were doing this album, we were away for two weeks and we we pretty much recorded the whole thing – all the skeleton of what we wanted to do – within that two weeks. There were a couple of songs from a bit earlier, but apart from that it was all fresh.
I think we work very differently, like, we’ll churn out stuff super quickly, and I think what we think is a long time, most bands usually spend it in a writing process, or they have to flesh it out physically before they get a chance to record. But because we’ve got a microphone right in front of us, or a producer right in front of us, we might make three skeletons of a song in a day, really. Then you just pick the best one and try and move on from there.
If you take a look at something like Wikipedia these days, it lists something like nine singles in 2017 alone, in addition to the first EP. Some bands struggle to get that in a few years. Obviously this high work rate just comes naturally, doesn’t it? It doesn’t sound like something you’re particularly striving to achieve?
Dijon: Not really, at all. But then again, we don’t just release it just because we feel like we should release it – it’s always a song that we feel is the right song to release. If it wasn’t good, then we wouldn’t release, but it just happens that it’s a good song, you know?
I assume you’d probably be sitting on hundred of unreleased ideas that you’ve got just sitting around, then?
Obi: Yeah, just floating around, absolutely.
Dijon: There is a couple floating around, there’s always a couple floating around.
Obi: Just a few [laughs].
Dijon: Yeah, sometimes there are heaps just floating around that we never use just because we feel like it’s not going anywhere. But there are others which, it’s interesting because we sometimes listen to the older tracks and I’m like, “This song actually slaps,” and we revisit it. It’s cool, it’s fun when you can revisit and when you can come back to it.
You mentioned how “Butter” came about before, and that was the song that really sort of put you guys on the map. What was that experience like?
Obi: Strenuous. I think […] it was kind of just a fucking relief to get something on Australian radio, or something commercially that people would pick up on and listen to. We were clocking millions of viewing and having just ridiculous numbers, and we weren’t just getting played by any radio stations.
I think “Butter” was the first step in the door for our Australian careers, which was fantastic. But yeah, I think what you see from our catalogue, it felt like it took years to get there, and we had like, stepping stones on our way to achieving it. But definitely “Butter” was the biggest foot in the door.
Dijon: It’s definitely one of the greater milestones for us – you can just see the progression after that.
Did that give you guys some validation that you’re kind of doing the right thing and going the right way about it?
Obi: We don’t suck [laughs].
Dijon: It definitely did give us that. Y’know, we already had that little bit of a feeling that something might be there, but I think gave us the full stamp of approval…
Obi: I think it made it tangible as well, because all this other stuff, you see numbers and you see streams and you can’t really see it in front of you. But definitely with “Butter”, you could see the whole of Australia watching versus pockets around the world that you can’t actually grasp, like, unless it’s in front of you, you can’t really understand it, but you know they’re out there. But seeing an actual physical response and playing all those shows was incredibly fun.
The song was pretty popular in part due to its message, and I assume that’s a topic close to you all as well. Was is enjoyable then to see something of an “important” song getting attention like that?
Dijon: Yeah, definitely. I feel it came from a part deep down inside of us, inside all of us, when we made that song. Then when you see people receive and how they receive it, especially through playing live gigs, you can really see how they react to the song. It definitely does make you feel a lot better about not yourself, but what you’ve done, and how people are treating something you’ve made.
Obi: It’s cool to see people interact with it. Like, people have done drum covers and shit, or people just send you messages, and it’s like, “This is fucking wild.” You’ve got no idea who this person is, you’ve never met them before, but you realise how much it has affected them. It’s pretty fucking cool.
We were in Europe last year, about a year and a few months ago now, and we were in Germany and this dude brought Martin a pair of underwear when we were playing a show in this old SS building. Martin was like, “What the fuck?” and the guy was like, “Yeah, I saw on your Instagram page that you had holes in your undies, so we bought you underwear.” So before we played the set they gave him underwear and he wore the underwear for the set. It’s fucking insane.
Some artists talk about having a huge single as being a bit of a disadvantage, especially when they get tied to it forever, or everything they do afterwards sort of has to live up to that. Was that something you guys had worried about afterwards?
Dijon: Not at all, I guess that ties back to how we’re always looking to make something new and fresh. So we’re not being really worried about tied down to that song and having to make a song like that again – that was like a moment of itself.
Obi: It’s a fucking mad song anyways.
Dijon: It’s a hectic song and it’s like, after that, if we do make another song like that again then we’ll release it, but it’s more just like we’ll make something better. “Who cares about that song now,” y’know? It’s like, “That song is in the past now, we’ve released it, what can we do next?”
Obi: I guess that song wasn’t even big enough to be such a defining single yet. Comparatively. So I think we’re still in a sweet spot.
It was obviously a song that was still big enough to turn you guys from being a burgeoning artist on triple j Unearthed to being a group with radio play and a name for themselves. Has that rise been daunting at all, or has it been something you’ve been able to enjoy?
Obi: It’s fucking sick [laughs].
Dijon: Yeah, we try to enjoy the ride. It is a bit strange though. I don’t feel like that we’ve fully risen yet. It’s kind of like…
Obi: [Sings] “It’s a phoenix rising!”
Dijon: Yeah, it’s kind of like a halfway there phoenix, just cracking out of the egg….
Obi: We’re in ashes, bro. Phoenixes are born in ashes, bro, there’s no eggs.
Dijon: There’s bit of shell everywhere, but we’re still ready to be out with our wings and flying. [Laughs] That’s a bit of a metaphor for you.
I’m pretty certain that once the album is out there though, people will be looking at you guys as a big name in the genre.
Obi: I feel like Australian hip-hop as a whole has a negative connotation towards it, or a negative feeling around it. Like, “Oh, it’s Aussie hip-hop…” I guess from the start, we always wanted to change that and make it like, “Fuck, that’s sick!” instead of being like, “Oh, fuck…” If you don’t like it, you don’t fucking like it, that’s a pretty general consensus in Australia, there’s no fence-sitters thinking, “This is cool, or this is alright”.
Dijon: Not just with this album though, it’s with everything. If you don’t like it, you’re not going to like it.
Obi: We’re trying to change that stigma and stop [people] being like, “Oh, it’s a hip-hop group” and make it like, “Oh, Triple One, yeah, they’re fucking dope!”
What do you think it is that makes Triple One connect with people so much?
Dijon: I think one big factor is personality, I think. There’s four people that, together, don’t look like they should be next to each other.
Obi: What are you trying so say, Dom? [Laughs] Fuck you, man.
Dijon: I’m saying we all look different, y’know? Marty’s a bit of an eshay, I’m just a random dude, Connor’s [Obi Ill Terrors] a bit of a metally, like, [he] wears kind of thick bracelets.
Obi: He’s a big white dude.
Dijon: Yeah, a big ugly white dude, and Billy’s just like some coastal surfie dude. But I think the personalities of the group just draws people in because it’s so intriguing.
Obi: I feel like people relate to it as well because we don’t fucking get dressed up like [some artists do] and we take the piss out of ourselves. Australian culture definitely spins around to people liking that kind of stuff.
Dijon: [And] being funny and interesting.
Obi: I’m a heaps funny person, so people like me [laughs].
So let’s go forward a bit to the big thing going on, and now 2020 has seen you guys work on your debut album as well. You’ve obviously spent quite a while making music, releasing singles, and releasing EPs. At what point did you sort of make the decision to actually focus on and record a full album?
Obi: I think we were just waiting for it, or just the right moment, and it felt like the right time. Everyone wanted to do it.
Dijon: Yeah, we always had the thought in our head that we wanted to do it. It comes with the collections of songs that you have, and like, “What songs really go well together to fully create an album, a cohesive piece of work that will work well together?” I felt like this was the right moment for us. It’s hard to say, you never know when the moment is coming.
O: Sometimes it’s right there. I think we were doing singles for so fucking long as well that everyone just got sick of it. Like, what’s the point of it? Just doing single after single after single.
Dijon: A body of work is so much more interesting than a single, which can kind of tell a story in a sense.
A lot of artists look at an album as more of a statement as to where they are as musicians, as artists, and people. What sort of statement does Panic Force make for you?
Obi: It says I’m a fucking mess of a human being and I don’t know what music to make so I’m going to make everything. [Laughs] I’m joking. I think it’s just sonically where we’re at, and what we want to explore.
Dijon: Different parts of the album have seperate meanings to us, personally, but for me, there’s not like a big purpose for the album. For me, it’s just a collection of cool songs that really go together and really describe us as people and describe our sound and what we like making and what we like doing. That’s the best way I probably could describe it.
Obi: Don’t overthink it, and don’t take yourself too seriously – just try and make the best music you can.
You noted in a press release that the record is “a deeply personal work for us, and one that culminates everything we’ve learned since day one.” Obviously the themes it touches on are pretty dark at times, but overall, it feels like more of a triumphant record than anything and one that sort of feels rooted in personal growth. Was it difficult to sort of bare your soul a bit more on something like this?
Obi: I think we’ve been making fairly emotional or “deep” music for a long time, so it’s always fucking scary writing something that you actually mean down on a piece of paper and singing it to people. But we’ve learnt over the years that that’s like the most honest, best shit.
Dijon: I think because we’ve been doing it for a while, it’s just the way that we approach things now. At first, for me, it was hard to write what I felt on a piece of paper, and especially describe it in a way that you want to describe it – but you get better at it. I think the bare emotions part is that it’s the best thing you can do.
That’s how people will properly relate to you, y’know? That’s how they can actually really find more out about you, and not so much you, but the work and find something about themselves. And that’s what it makes it real, instead of something so fantastical, which sometimes works, but for us, that’s the way we work and it makes it so much more real for us when we have to bare that part [of us].
Obi: I think we find ourselves in a more pop lane now, and I feel like a lot of pop music is dressed up and fake, so we’re trying to bring an element of it being okay to talk about your feelings, because everyone has feelings, and they’re beautiful things, and we all need to share them.
That same press release noted how you hope everyone will take something away from the record. Is there anything in particular you hope people will take away from it?
Obi: I want everyone to take away a sore neck because they’ve been banging their head so much because it’s so sick.
Dijon: I guess for me, what I meant by that, is just different types of music in general, and someone can take away whatever they feel from it. If they want to take something emotionally from it, they can, they’re free to. Do whatever you want with it, and take whatever you want from it, even if it’s just a single word.
Obi: I feel like the most powerful songs just make you feel something your chest, and I hope our music translates and makes people angry, sad, happy – just make people feel emotion, pretty much. And hopefully by us trying to understand ourselves, people will understand themselves a bit more.
How quickly did it all come together? You’ve mentioned how you all work pretty quickly, but obviously there’s a lot of hard work behind the scenes. Did this one come together quickly like previous singles, or because it’s a larger body of work, was there a lot more thought put into it?
Dijon: Well the majority of the songs came about when we went away just before COVID this year, and that’s where a lot of the writing has come from. But then there are some songs which we made like, a year ago that were going to be on the album, and older songs as well. So if we had to put a time on it based on the oldest song, it’d be like a year, I’d say. But most of the stuff was made this year, towards April.
Obi: I think all songs bar one were made this year, and pretty much all of the songs were made while we were away. There was a very small period of time, but I think we tried to make it eclectic about the experiences that we’ve had across the whole journey, the whole road.
Was there anything particularly different you all you tried to do with this one? You mention staying fresh and current in your creations, but to me, the record feels somewhat more expansive with an exploration of different genres, using more guitars, etc.
Dijon: It’s just staying open minded really, and experimenting with things. We also had a good friend of ours come down with us on that writing trip where we wrote most of the album – his name’s Vin but he goes under the alias 18YOMAN. He helped us with a lot of production stuff, which was cool, and just opened our minds a little bit more to what you can do and what you can write.
Obi: I feel like we’re constantly pushing or trying to experiment, or just trying to push and push and push to make it as obscure as possible, but still palatable for people. We’ve got a song on there that sounds like a Britpop song – a proper Britpop song – and if people can accept us making that sort of music, then I think we’ve kind of done our job, or done what we came to do, which is bend some genres and freak some people out.
Following on from what I mentioned earlier, was there any sort of pressure involved in making an album like this? Some artists love singles since they stand alone, while others love EPs since they’re a brief snapshot of music. But to make a larger product is obviously a much bigger step.
Obi: I reckon it’s heaps scary, man. It’s like, you put yourself out there and if everyone thinks it’s shit, it’s fucked! You spend so much time on it, and intrinsically as well, it’s terrifying.
Dijon: Obviously we’re fully invested in it as well, so there is that natural pressure you’re going to feel when you’re invested in anything. But I think the pressure is good, it makes you feel more grounded when you work, y’know? Like, it makes you think about things differently compared to thoughts of the future and music, and what you want to do, or for our music in general. There is pressure, definitely, but it depends how you use [it] as an advantage or something that’ll put you down.
Obi: Yeah, you’ve got to use it for you. It’s like if you work on something for a year and it flops, it’s pretty soul-crushing.
Dijon: But then you just get back up again and crush your soul again, that’s what you’ve got to do [laughs].
Obviously you guys aren’t feeling too worried about how it’s going to be received though?
Dijon: Nah, I’m not really that worried. …Should I be? [laughs]. Nah, I’m not that worried, obviously there’s a bit of like, “Will people like this?”, but I’m more excited than anything. It’s like one of the biggest things I’ve ever done in my life, and I’m more excited to see how people receive it. There’s going to be people who don’t like it, obviously, but I just can’t wait to see the people who do like it, and what they have to say about it.
People obviously have heard a few singles so far, and I’m assuming they’ve been received well, too?
Dijon: Especially with the videos as well, just having people say “Good job with the videos”. That’s one of the funnest parts, the videos, to tell the truth, especially when you have a great idea.
Once the album is out, you guys will want to be playing live shows as well, obviously. You’ve got a show coming up on November 1st, Triple One day, and that must be a pretty great promotional tool, right?
Dijon: Yeah, free marketing! Triple One day, it happens twice a year – first of the 11th, and 11th of the first
You guys have obviously become well-known for your live shows as well. Are you feeling keen to get back out there again and get in there with the crowd?
Dijon: Yeah, of course. It’s going to be a very different type of live show as well. Stripped back, more acoustic, still with some beat drums at the back as well. We’re going to have – not to give any secrets away – more of a full stage setting, which is going to be fun. It’ll put you into a world.
Has it been difficult being sidelined like this, or has it been a little refreshing to take some time off?
Dijon: It’s been annoying, but you know…
Obi: It’s like the funnest part of it, for me.
Dijon: Yeah, but you take what you get. It sucks, but you push your motivations elsewhere.
You mentioned before you’d been using your time to work on new music, so how long will folks be waiting for more music after the album? It sounds like you’d already have a lot on your hands already.
Dijon: Not fucking long, actually.
Obi: Not too long, but that’s all we’re going to say.
Dijon: It could be ages, we could break before then.
Obi: Who knows, I could hate Connor all of a sudden. Nah, never, I promise [laughs].
Triple One’s debut album, Panic Force, is officially out today.