INTERVIEW: ASTRONAUTALIS, PART TWO
In part one of my interview with Astronautalis we spoke about the beginnings of his rap career and his current collaboration project with Doomtree member, P.O.S. This half of the interview we dive into touring, what the future holds for Astronautalis and where exactly this name came from in the first place.
How do your shows differ in Europe than in America? Are they received differently?
This is my fourth full tour in Europe. There is a different culture towards music over there, there is less of a “prove it to me” culture like there is in America. In any kind of music you really have to win them over in America, whereas people in Europe come to shows to appreciate music. Not to say that American’s don’t appreciate music that is not true, it’s just a different approach to it.
It starts from the top down; the way people promote shows over there. Half the shows I play over there are promoted so much better than the shows I play in America, at clubs that have better sound systems. Half the shows I play people work for free, the sound system guys and the promoter, they all have regular jobs but they do it because they really love it. I think that trickles down to the fans as well. People are a bit more receptive to music and new ideas, new boundaries in music.
It’s not to say that it’s not the case in America at all. I think it’s a different approach. And certainly the ironic thing of it is I wouldn’t have any fans in Europe if it wasn’t for the people in America that did appreciate my music. My fan base in Europe has been solely based on the fan base I’ve had in America for five years. It’s funny I played shows in France and there were 50 year old people there. We played this show in Austria on the Danube. We played in a park right on the river and more than half the crowd was over 40. Not to say that all my shows are like that but a really strange group of diverse people come out to see my shows. I think they definitely have socializing down in a much more appealing way to me than Americain’s have to me. You spend time in a cafe, just talking and watching shows, it’s not a special occasion to go see shows and art in Europe it’s just a thing you do. Whereas in America people are like, “I work all week and Friday I’m going to get FUUUUCKKED up and go see this show.” It’s a different thing. It’s much more common place, they have a different code of ethics for it.
Do you plan out certain songs during your shows and when you are going to freestyle?
I’m getting more and more to the point of freestyling when I want to. Especially now that I’ve been touring in Europe it’s been interesting because there is a whole fan base that doesn’t necessarily know me for my freestyles but k
nows me for my album. Which is a really amazing concept for me because I rely on the reputation of my live show first because at first record labels didn’t really give a damn about me. In Europe, people know my albums that don’t have freestyle. Plus with the language barrier it wouldn’t behoove me to freestyle.
Now taking it back to America. I’m getting to a point when I’m in support on tour, being exposed to a new fanbase and understanding that there is a power in it to draw in people. When I play my headline shows I’m freestyling when I want to and I still love it. I’m a total entertainer, I’m a total ham. Generally I freestyle every night but if I’m not in I won’t do it. I didn’t take topics the night that Eyedea died. It just didn’t seem appropriate because if I did I would just be phoning it in and it’s gotten to a point where I don’t want to have to phone it in. It’s patronizing to the fans, to be like, “Oh yeah, here is this trick that I do.” I think that my fans are very respectful of my work and I try to be very respectful to them with everything that I do, so I do it when I want.
During your shows you take suggestions from the audience for the freestyle part. How has this evolved for you?
It’s something that I’m trying to find a new approach to. I’ve been doing that and I really enjoy it, but I definitely feel it becoming sort of a parlor trick. That is what I really want to avoid because that’s what battling became for me. It became this thing, like freestyling at parties just became this trick.
The best parallel for it is improvisation in jazz. It’s such a huge thing-the ability to improv in jazz music. It’s such a respected craft. It’s not something that’s just seen as being cleaver, it’s something that’s seen as being this really incredible emotional output coupled with incredible technique. For freestyling, it’s technique, but it’s still mostly cleaver. Cleaver in my opinion is really down on the totem pole of an important skill to have. It’s cool, but when it comes down to it really doesn’t mean that much in the end.
I really enjoy taking topics but I feel that there are times when it really has the ability to transcend itself when I do get a bigger topic. I played a show in Albuquerque the day that Eyedea passed away and that was a really weird day for myself and for everybody in rap music. Mikey wasn’t my best friend, but he’s someone I’ve known for a long time. Having him die was a pretty emotionally charged thing and having him die and having to play a rap show the same night, you know it was on everybody’s mind.
I did this long freestyle about him, knowing him, his act and my feelings about death. I feel like there is potential for greater things and there are topics that mean more to me. It is fun to rap about robot boobs once in a while, but I do hope to find a new way to approach it. In freestyle rap music there is this desire to let everybody know that it’s freestyle, to prove that you aren’t writing stuff. Whereas in improvisational jazz, there is that trust that you can improv and people just want to see you improv. I feel like once I can get over the hump of where I don’t care whether people believe me or not, once I know in my heart that it’s freestyle I can do greater things with music.
What do you categorize yourself as?
I think I still see myself as a rapper where a lot of people don’t. Even when I write songs that are folk songs I still feel like I’m rapping, I’m just rapping really slow. It’s really hard for me to write lyrics that don’t rhyme. I understand that I’m doing other things and that my music doesn’t sound like rap music. I’m not stubborn in that sense. I have a really hard time of shaking the idea of me not being a rapper, it’s sort of my security blanket.
When my last record came out the reviews were really interesting. The reviews that came out suggested that it was an indie rock record and that I was an indie rock musician that just sort of happened to rap once in a while. I felt like it was the most rappy record I had made in a while. Certainly there is a disconnect between what I think and what other people think.
Do you prefer free-styling or writing your songs?
They are two totally different things. I labor exhaustively over my lyrics. I’m very particular about my word choice and very particular about the structure. I have songs that are written in iambic pentameter and I’m very deliberate about the way that I write. It drives me crazy but I really love the aspect of losing sleep over finding the exact right word.
For my last record, the first song of the record I had every part written except for the last two lines. It took me almost two years to write the last two lines and I love that aspect of writing. I feel like that’s what is so amazing about writing. You can channel raw blood and guts that is amazing about freestyling. I feel like they are connected only for the fact that there is a drum beat behind it sometimes.
There is a definite difference in themes in your albums, The Mighty Ocean (personal experience growing up) and Pomegranate (history). Is this something that you are going to continue, every album will have a different theme?
The guy who really taught me to make music and branch out was Radical Face, who I grew up with in Jacksonville. He really taught me the difference between being a battle rapper and a guy who just likes music. He taught me the joy of making albums within constraints. Setting the guidelines and rules of the album that you work on. It’s sort of like giving yourself an assignment and really thrive under limitations.
Because my music has no real limitation genre-wise, I feel like I do need limitations on other ends. If you’re a punk band and you’re using the same chords and same drums you are limited in so many ways. For me there is no limitation genre-wise, or the way I use my voice, style-wise or the way I record my voice. I don’t want there to be limitation on that end, so I do make limitations on other ends. I do feel that my next record will have a surrounding theme to it, I think all of them will.
Are you going to be doing more music with instruments like on Pomegranate with more instruments etc? More electronica/strings/piano etc?
This record is the first record where I’m working with different producers on every song. It’s a record that I’m making about the last seven years of touring and making it with different people that I’ve met. I’m modifying the pieces that I get from people. So far every piece that I’ve gotten hasn’t gone untouched by me in some way. It’s really hard for me to not want to add a string section. It’s just really powerful. Live instruments will always be there, I need them. I love them. This album is going to be more electric, upbeat and more hip-hop than anything I’ve ever done before.
Do you see yourself leaving the party at the pinnacle of your career before it’s over? Or do you see yourself waking up in the bathtub with one sock on cradling a bottle of Jim Beam?
::Laughs:: That’s a really good way to put it. Based on the people that I model in life, I fancy myself leaving the party before it’s over and then being at the next party before everybody else is there. I hope the party never stops. I hope that the drinks keep flowing and that the dance music always goes.
Tell me about the name Astronatualis.
I thought it was really cool when I was 15 and I needed a really awesome name to sound like a battle rapper. At that time what was rally envouge as far as rap content in names was everyone was doing sort of super scientifical rap music. I loved the name Astronaut and I loved the name Nautalis and one day when I was riding in my mom’s mini van and I thought it was the most perfect combination ever. I thought it was the most brilliant combination in the world and now I really, clearly wish that I hadn’t.
If you hadn’t what would you have named yourself?
::Laughs:: Probably Andy Bothwell.
Our love for underground rap and hip hop will never die here at Mezzic. Much thanks to Andy Bothwell and the one and only, Harpoon Larry. We hope to see you soon enough and can’t wait for the new albums. Cheers mates, Katia.