Jonathan Notley — a.k.a. MC Bliss — remembers his first time playing in Whistler a decade ago.
“We got off the tour bus in Whistler and it was like, ‘G’day mate,’ the first thing you hear,” he said. “It’s like a mini Sydney… We started with Whistler really being our first spot we played in Canada and we expanded towards the east. Now we’re doing our second headlining tour.”
Since then, the Australian hip hop group Bliss N Eso, has been back to the resort — and around Canada — several times, growing their audience. Still, they haven’t quite reached the level of fame they’ve achieved at home, where their recently released sixth album, Off the Grid, debuted at number one on the ARIA Charts (the record of the highest-selling singles and albums in Australia). “It’s been amazing,” Notley said. “(It’s) the third number one album we’ve had in a row, which is pretty rare. There are only five bands in Australian music history who’ve had that.”
The achievement is more impressive when you consider the group was also coming off of a three-year hiatus between albums. “It’s a testament to our fan base for us to go away for three years and come back and have a number one record,” Notley said. “It’s a rare thing in Australia to get that strength in a fan base.”
A lot happened in their personal lives in that time as well. For one, Max MacKinnon —MC Eso — began to tackle an alcohol problem. It wasn’t until the group travelled to Afghanistan to play for the troops there that he decided to use the opportunity in the “dry zone” to abstain from drinking —and it stuck.
“I said (to him), ‘you’ve got an amazing story to tell here,’” Notley said. “We’ve never gone too personal and I think this is the album where we should delve deep and talk about personal stuff. It’s a human story about what people go through.”
The resulting songs — which make up Off the Grid — are their most personal yet, he added. “It’s been incredible. It’s by far the most touching work — the work resonates the most with our fans. Sometimes you need to break it down on a real, human level and that’s what connects. To hear that vulnerability is a really powerful way to tell a story and be real and open and honest in music,” Notley said.
Along with discovering the way their vulnerability affected their fans, they also honed their 17 years of experience making music to push their style forward. “Sometimes MCs squeeze so much in and there’s no breathing room,” Notley said. “Having breathing room and more emotion is way more powerful. I would say it’s been a gradual learning curve the whole way, but I feel like this is the best work we’ve done to date. I feel we’ve come into our own more.”
With an Australian and New Zealand tour under their belts, Bliss N Eso is heading back to Canada for a headlining tour — with a stop in Whistler at Garfinkel’s on Tuesday (Sept. 19).
To that end, Notley has a message for the people of “mini Sydney”: “Tell everyone in Whistler we’re stoked to be coming back and we’re ready to rock.”
For tickets visit ticketzone.com/BlissNEsoWhistler.