Urthboy, aka Tim Levinson, is a busy man. The rapper has a young family, runs a successful independent record label in Sydney, is a member of politically-charged group Herd, and has set off on a six-week tour of the country promoting his latest single Crushing Hard.
The former Blue Mountains man will return to his roots next month for a prime spot on the Blue Mountains Music Festival program. Best known for his political songs, Levinson’s latest offering is a break from that, and he took the time to chat about relationships.
Released in December, Crushing Hard is about the impatient intensity of having a crush on someone, but not having the emotional maturity to come out and tell them.
“I want to explore hard-hitting political themes, but I also want to explore things that I’ve experienced,” the 39-year-old says.
“In the real world you have crushes and that continues on and just because you are married it doesn’t go away, it means you have to be responsible about them,” says the rapper, who lives in Dulwich Hill with his wife of 13 years, Anna, and their daughter Jetta Joanie.
“We [Anna and I] can openly chat about these things … it’s crazy to think that having a crush on someone results in some kind of infidelity, that’s a big leap. What I think is important is that relationships that are real and long and enduring are able to be honest with each other.”
He says rather than having relationships get to the point of breakdown, potentially involving lawyers and court proceedings, he thinks it’s a better idea to talk about the hard stuff.
“I would prefer to keep an open dialogue and talk about this stuff even when it’s hard rather than have a relationship fall apart and then have someone cheat on the other person and have what is so strong, split up over this stuff like infidelity, like insecurity, betrayal and doing the wrong thing and being dishonest.
“You would hope that something as strong as a marriage … would recognise that there’s more to gain from adjusting your approach to a relationship than to break it all down.”
But he acknowledges some people shouldn’t stay in relationships at all costs. Raised by his mum, after his parents split, Levinson lived most of his childhood in Wentworth Falls and attended Katoomba High School.
As a child, he could never have imagined his adult life would revolve around music.
“I was much more into sport as a kid, I was a really sporty kid, I never learnt a musical instrument apart from the recorder,” he recalls.
In fact, in primary school he was kicked out of the choir.
“I got the tap on the shoulder, ‘you’re not singing right, thank you very much for your time.’ I didn’t think too much beyond it other than I couldn’t sing.”
With five solo albums to his name, an ARIA nomination, multiple Australian Music Prize shortlistings and his songs regularly featuring in Triple Js hottest 100, some might say he’s well and truly proven that particular remark wrong, but the humble artist begs to differ.
“I wouldn’t call myself a singer still, but I have gotten a bit more familiar with the process. I’m one of those people who’s not overly talented but does a lot with what they’ve got.
“It’s not one of those things where I wrote a few songs, got some on radio, played at a few festivals and thought ‘OK, I’m done, I have achieved what I wanted to do.’
“It’s [music] something that helps me make sense of myself and make sense of the world around me”.
A wordsmith and a story-teller, Urthboy has never been afraid to put into song what he’s feeling or issues he cares passionately about.
In 2008, Levinson, Paul Kelly and GetUp reimagined the song From Little Things Big Things Grow, to celebrate the government’s apology to the Stolen Generations. In 2014’s Don’t Let It Go, Levinson criticised Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers.
In 2015 he paid tribute to Phillip Hughes in Nambucca Boy, approaching the first year anniversary of the cricketer’s death from being struck in the side of the head by a bouncer.
And on his latest album The Past Beats Inside Me Like a Second Heartbeat, he touches on gender inequality in Little Girl’s Dad, dedicated to his now 3.5 year old daughter Jetta Joanie.
“Music is a continuously accompanying part of life. It is able to be there for you when you are sad or when you are going through some heavy stuff, it’s there when you are happy, it’s there when you are tired, it’s the sort of thing that is so malleable to our lives,” Levinson explains.
“It’s so much more complex and we don’t give it anywhere near the credit of how much value it brings to us until we have those moments where music really draws out some intense emotion to the surface.”
Urthboy will appear at the Blue Mountains Music Festival, part way into his Crushing Hard tour.
He’ll perform songs off the 2016 album, Crushing Hard of course, and maybe a few new ones yet to be released.
It’s the first time a hip hop artist has performed at the Blue Mountains Music Festival, and while his music may be a little different to what some festival goers may be accustomed to hearing, he’s not about to modify his tunes to suit different audiences.
In a past gig with Paul Kelly he saw members of the audience in their Sunday best and modified a song, something he’s always regretted.
“Even though I was trying to do the right thing by them by not being loud and sweary, my show’s not super sweary anyway, but in retrospect I feel like I disrespected that audience by not acknowledging that they could deal with it,” Levinson reflects.
“I do what I do and if you like it, hey come along and if you don’t like it that’s cool. That’s part of life, we gravitate to different things, and hopefully some people who may not have otherwise heard of me will listen to my songs and will hear something and say ‘I want to hear another and check out what he’s got to say.’”
Urthboy will perform from 9.30pm-11pm on Saturday, March 18 on the Lurline Pavillion stage at the music festival, with his band and special guests Bertie Blackman and Kira Puru.