Utopia by definition is an ideal place or state. So, as the title of 360’s third album, the name seems fitting. He crashed and burned after 2011’s double-platinum Falling & Flying, which ended with the Melbourne rapper spending three weeks in rehab late last year. However, like the phoenix, 360 rose from the ashes, releasing his epic follow-up, Utopia, earlier this year, and announcing the biggest national tour of his career this September.
We recently caught up with the man behind the 360 moniker, Matthew Colwell, for word of his upcoming tour, collaborations with “Australian legend” Daniel Johns, and his recent stint at Splendour In The Grass.
Speaking over the phone, it’s clear that the 6’4″ MC wears his heart on his tattoo sleeve – both literally and metaphorically. His body is covered in intricate tattoos, which include a tiny treble clef on his left cheek and the phrase “timeless” on his knuckles. Colwell’s history is inked on his skin, and the same holds true to his music, as he remains lyrically sincere and candid on his latest effort.
“It’s just a really good reflection of my life from the last couple of years” says Colwell, when asked if he explored any overarching themes on Utopia, which was released on June 13 this year through Forthwrite Records. “That’s how most of my albums are. I write from personal experience, and s**t like that, so if you listen to the album you can get an idea of what my life’s been like.”
Covering everything from battling his demons to fake friends, Utopia peaked at number two on the ARIA Album Charts. Colwell admits that he felt pressured to brush off criticism and cement himself as a serious rap force to be reckoned with on his new album. “Rappers are getting so good these days,” explains Sixty. “One of the biggest things for me was to up my game rap-wise.”
“I come from a background of rap, and underground hip-hop and s**t, so I know what good rap is. On my last album, one of the main criticisms that I saw was, ‘Oh, he can’t rap, he’s just a pop singer.’ So I used that to fuel and motivate me to make a f**king crazy album, rap-wise, and really prove myself as a rapper, and make people go, ‘F**k, he really can rap’.”
If the pressure wasn’t enough already, Colwell needed to rid himself of the monkey on his back, which was, the constant reminder that his follow-up release would probably not be as successful. “Everyone’s sort of in my ear saying, ‘You know that when someone has a big album in Australia that goes crazy like Falling & Flying did, usually the follow-up album isn’t as good, and doesn’t do as well’.”
He adds: “My focus is just to make a much better album and I’m not worried about the success of it. Like, I want it to succeed, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not caught up on it being as successful as Falling & Flying, because Falling & Flying was a freak show in how successful it was. To be honest, it was crazy.”
Never one to shy away from a challenge, the 28-year-old rapper pushes the envelope with his music, deviating into electro, dubstep and alt-rock on Utopia, which features guest vocals from unlikely collaborators, Silverchair’s Daniel Johns and The Living End’s Chris Cheney.
Colwell has a fangirl moment as he recounts his “amazing” experience working with Daniel Johns on track ‘Impossible,’ which sees the hip-hop artist dabble with industrialised dubstep elements. The MC, who knows Johns’ brother Heath through his publishing company, broached the idea of a possible collaboration with the ‘Tomorrow’ singer.
“I hit him up and said, ‘Dude, I’d really like to work with Daniel. He’s on my bucket list of dudes I wanna work with’.” Heath warned Sixty that Daniel, who is known as a kind of musical lone wolf, would probably decline. “But then I got the call saying, ‘Daniel really loves your music man, so he’s down,’ and I was f**king blown away by that, you know.”
“He’s an Australian legend, and he’s someone that I’ve admired through my whole youth. To be able to work with him, and to become really good friends with him, as well – like, me and him are really close now, which is really cool, and he’s taught me a lot. We relate. We really, really relate to a lot of s**t in life.”
With lyrics such as, “Comin’ to terms that I might become a blind guy,If I do I’ll only ever look on hindsight,” the introductory collaboration is emotionally raw as it addresses the degenerative eye disorder Colwell suffers from, which could eventually make him “the Ray Charles of rap.”
360 recently joined the likes of Outkast, Lily Allen and City & Colour on this year’s bill for Splendour In The Grass. He admits that in the past he has had trouble remembering live shows. However, now sober, Sixty says that Splendour was “one of my favourite shows of my career so far.”
“It was wild” says PETA’s ‘Ink Not Mink’ poster boy. “We played on the main stage and I was really unsure of what the crowd was going to be like, and how receptive the crowd was going to be, but the crowd was f**king amazing. They were singing every word, and from the front to the back, they were just doing everything that I told them to do, and it was insane.”
With a smorgasbord of new tracks, and a fresh outlook, 360 will hit Aussie highways this September for his Utopia Tour. Playing nine dates across the country, Sixty says his set will be nothing short of “F**king mental.”
“We’ve got a lot of crazy s**t going on that’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m a big fan of fire and s**t, so that’s gonna be cool” says Colwell with a playful laugh. “We’ve got a lot of surprises, like a lot of guest people and s**t like that, so it’s going to be good.”
Joining him on the tour will be Los Angeles MC Hopsin, Brit rapper Lunar C, Gossling (who lent her voice for 360’s chart-topper ‘Boys Like You’), 360‘s long-time collaborator Pez, and Ghana-born Australian rapper Miracle. Colwell says that the tour will be the perfect opportunity to gage Australia’s response to the new material, as “there’s always a kind of trial and error process” after unleashing a new album unto the world.
“With this tour we’re just going into it. We’ve got to make that decision now, and judge it based on how we feel about the songs. So yeah, it’s going to be quite interesting. I think it’s going to be crazy though.”
The Utopia Tour kicks off on Wednesday September 3 at Canberra’s UC Refectory, and marks the rapper’s first headline tour in two years. Hence, with the promise of pyrotechnics and a slew of “surprises,” 360 urges fans to grab ticket, and come along to one of his shows.
He even takes the opportunity to thank his fans before hanging up. “If you’re a fan of mine, I really appreciate your support and I’m going to continue to make the best music that I am capable of, and I will continue to do that.”
360 – The Utopia Tour 2014 – Tour Dates:
Friday, 5th September – Hordern Pavilion, Sydney (Lic/AA)
Wednesday, 3rd September – UC Refectory, Canberra (18+)
Saturday, 6th September – The Arena, Brisbane (U18)
Saturday, 6th September – The Arena, Brisbane (18+)
Wednesday, 10th September – Uni Bar, Hobart (18+)
Friday, 12th September – Festival Hall, Melbourne (Lic/AA)
Saturday, 13th September – Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide (Lic/AA)
Saturday, 20th September – Astor Theatre, Perth (Lic/AA)
Friday, 19th September – Metro City, Perth (18+)