Pez returns after battle with illness

Aussie hip hop artist Pez knows the pitfalls of a rapid rise to popularity only too well.

The Melbourne MC (real name, Perry Chapman) burst onto the music scene in 2008 when his infectious hit The Festival Song saturated airwaves, climbing into the ARIA top 20 and crashing into Triple J’s Hottest 100 at number seven.

But for a performer who didn’t crave the spotlight, Pez admits the success of The Festival Song was a “double-edged sword”.

“I think the first time around it was a bit overwhelming for me and I didn’t truly appreciate it. It was difficult to handle, particularly going from zero to 100 really quickly. Being quite shy it wasn’t in my nature to deal with that type of thing whereas this time around I’m feeling more at peace with everything.”

The “this time around” the 28-year-old rapper refers to is his return to the spotlight ahead of the release of his second album later this year — almost five years after he dropped his debut, A Mind Of My Own.

In that long break Pez was struck down by illness and battled writer’s block before “coming out of the other side” a happier and more content artist.

Just as his success with A Mind of My Own was growing in 2009 Pez started getting symptoms of Graves Disease, an autoimmune condition that affects the thyroid. Battling the disease would take up the best part of the next two years of his life.

“I got really thin and my eyes bulged out of my head a bit and I got all these weird symptoms that were pretty scary. . . I did a lot of research and tried to treat it naturally. . . Also, I just changed a lot of the habits in my life and had a pretty good look at myself. Gradually, I started to get better,” he said.

But just as he conquered his health problems, another challenge reared its head — people’s expectations surrounding the “important” second album.

“Suddenly everyone was like ‘your new album must be about to come out’ and I was like ‘Shit, I haven’t even written a song in 18 months to two years,” he said.

“Then I was just terrified — how do you do this again? I was freaking out, ‘what if it sucks and no-one likes it’. It took a while just to work through all that psychological stuff but once I got a bit of momentum going with it, it just started feeling like my old self again. I started to remember why I started making music in the first place.”

But if fans were expecting the as-yet-unnamed second album to be a dark opus reflecting Pez’s tortuous personal journey over the last few years, they will be disappointed (or maybe relieved). While he admits he has let his guard down to write more personal songs on the album, he has been just as careful to avoid self-indulgence.

“I didn’t want to be one of those rappers where their music just becomes like therapy, where every song sounds like they’re complaining or talking about themselves,” he said. “Because I had fallen into that pretty dark place, when I was trying to be creative [again] it felt like that was the type of music that kept coming out — and I didn’t want to make an album of just that sort of stuff. . . I wanted to make a balanced album that has lots of different things and different emotions. Whatever mood you’re in, hopefully you can put it on and there’s something on the record that you can relate to.”

Blue Mountains fans will get to hear material from the upcoming album for themselves when Pez performs at the Baroque Nightclub in Katoomba next Thursday, April 25. He admits the prospect of the new tour — which kicked off in Queensland last week — was “half exciting and half terrifying”.

But if it produces moments like the one Pez experienced in a comeback gig in Melbourne recently, the tour should be an unqualified success.

Worried that fans would only remember him for The Festival Song, Pez was humbled by the audience’s response to a song he actually thought he would “cop shit” over when he released it — a heartfelt ode of gratitude to his parents for their unconditional support called Heavenly.

“My parents were there [at the gig] and I played Heavenly and started rapping it to them and the whole crowd was rapping the lyrics too. It was amazing, I never expected that,” he said.

“I think that helped re-instill a bit of faith in me because as much as The Festival Song thing was really exciting, music is really about writing something from your heart. . . I literally did just write that song for my parents. I thought ‘in hip hop they’re going to think this is a joke’ so to then find that people did connect with it was the most fulfilling kind of experience I’ve had from music.”

For bookings to Pez’s Katoomba show visit www.oztix.com.au, call 1300 762 545 or contact the venue.

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