Interview: Atmosphere (Minneapolis)

Sean Daley, better known as Slug, has spent more than 15 years defining and supporting the ever-changing genre of underground hip-hop under the guise of Atmosphere and the Rhymesayers label. DJ/Producer Anthony Davis (Ant), guitarist Nate Collis and keyboard player Eric Anderson are the key components that form the rest of the emotionally charged hip-hop group, Atmosphere. Touring is as therapeutic for them as it is for the fans that sell out each show.

The Family Vacation tour kicked off in Chicago Aug. 5 with support from seasoned vet EvidenceDJ BabuBlueprint and Prof following the Spring release of The Family Sign. A devout following of fans that are like family would never miss a chance to catch Atmosphere when they come through town. In between making babies and getting engaged, Slug took some time out to talk to Mezzic about life on tour, the identity of hip-hop and The Family Sign.

How has the tour been going so far?

It’s been going really good so far. I kind of figured it would just because of everybody that’s on the bill. Everybody’s such nice people with such nice fan bases. It’s been very pleasant. We named it well accidentally when we called it the family vacation tour.

How has it been touring with Evidence for the first time?

It’s going really good. He’s a veteran, you know. It’s pretty crazy listening to him tell some of the stories about the years and years of Los Angeles hip-hop that he was witness to. It’s really cool touring with someone like that. That dude is like an elder statesmen, you know what I’m sayin. He was a kid, he was real young when he first started playing around with it.

How are European audiences different than US audiences?

It’s reaching a point where they’re really not. Here’s what I would say about the European audience, there’s a very pure sense, a very pure attachment to this culture in Europe that sometimes get’s overlooked here in the US. In Europe those kids are reppin’ the whole thing and don’t get me wrong there are kids here in the US that rep the whole thing, but it just seems like there’s strength in numbers over in Europe. It seems like there’s more of them.  These kids rep graffiti, break-dancing, you know the whole culture. I wonder if I’m starting to slowly see that tide turn and see it start to become a little bit more like the audiences here in the US.

In Europe, kids are about hip-hop and that’s it. I’m a hip-hop dude and that’s it. Where as here in the US hip-hop dudes listen to everything. It’s not just a hip-hop person anymore because you’re influenced by so much stuff now. I think that the kids in Europe are starting to become more like that now. They’re not necessarily using hip-hop to identify who the fuck they are so hardcore. Hip-hop is just one part of them. Like, you don’t have to rep it 24/7 in your gear and everything. It rep’s you now and that’s how it’s supposed to be. It was never supposed to be the people rep hip-hop. It was always supposed to be hip-hop represents the people. It’s crazy how it went through a phase there where the identity crisis of hip-hop was so strong that we did all force each other to represent the fuck out of it. Now that that’s relaxing and we’re letting it represent us again I think it will get back to being concerned with actually communicating what it can communicate to the fuckin’ world. Not just to the backpackers. Like how it was in the 80’s, because in the 80’s it was broad. And in the 90’s it was more focused. You had to either be a skateboarder or a backpacker or a thug or a this or a that. You had to be some type of person to be involved in hip-hop and if you weren’t one of those types of people we looked at you like you were an outsider. We even looked at each other like we were outsiders. Instead of just remembering that Mele Mel was communicating to everybody. And now a days I’m seeing like Big Boi is communicating to everybody. I’m seeing this happen again where we’re not drawing these lines anymore. Everybody likes the Big Boi record, that’s a good thing. It’s good for the movement, it’s good for the culture.

Why the lapse in time between albums?

Well we spent like two years on the road before the one record. So that whole time of the road we didn’t really have any time to write and record, we were just focused on playing. I don’t really write when I’m on the road anymore. I used to and I realized that it was all just stupid tour stories ala Seven’s Travels. It was just like jumbled up messes of lyrics. We spent a bunch of time on the road, came home and then spent like a year making the record. I don’t really see it as that much time. We put out that silly double EP in between the records and we toured a lot. So it’s not like we didn’t stay on top of our grizzly…is that what the kids are sayin’ now a days, grizzly. We were on our grizzly, it just was more focused. We were focused on traveling and touring when it was time to do that and we were focused on writing and recording when it was time to do that.

Do you feel like the material is more focused and more meaningful when you spend time off the road writing and recording?

I think that the material ends up becoming more pure. I feel like when you see life through this lens of touring and traveling, you’re not really seeing life. You know that Groundhog Day movie, you’re seeing that. But your body is traveling, it’s going across time zones and going through changes. I felt like every time I tried to write on the road I would just write about confusion and I just couldn’t write anymore songs about confusion. I’ve got enough of those. It’s easier to reflect on all of the parts of you (when you’re back home) and not just the one part of you that’s moving and happening. When I’m sitting all by myself on my back porch, then I can go over all the touring and reflect on all of it. As opposed to sitting in a hotel room that I’m not even comfortable in.

What’s the best thing about touring?

Being on stage and having everybody listen. I like the fact that everybody will listen to what I got to say. It makes me so happy (giggles). Everybody in life feels low every once in a while, you feel struggle even if you’re not struggling even if you’re not failing. You’re feeling failure and struggle because you feel what the world feels. We’re all connected. I’ve found a way to balance that feeling by doing something that’s productive and not just for me. It’s productive for me and the 16 people that come along with on this vehicle called Atmosphere when we hit the road. Maybe even productive for some of the people in the audience. It’s a really validating thing, almost on some religious shit. I find the same kind of spirituality within my kids. But eventually kids get older and they become little shits. That’s when it goes from being a spiritual thing to being a really strong emotional thing. The humanity of it comes back into play. When they’re little kids though, they are beyond humanity. It’s like music. Music is beyond humanity, it’s a language.

Do you have any tour rituals?

Not really. I mean, maybe I do and I just don’t recognize them. For the last few months I make a cup of tea, that throat coat shit because I quit smoking cigarettes. I quit months ago, in April I quit. I can’t die anytime soon. Is it ok for me to say that out loud…let me knock on something. I’ve got 18 more years of work I’ve gotta do and so I gotta try and stick around. I don’t really have any traditions though. I’m like a traveling salesman. I leave again and I’m gonna come back again and then I’m gonna leave again and then I’m gonna come back again. I don’t need to sage my luggage or nothin’. I think I’m lucky in that way that I don’t have any superstitions. There’s enough reasons to want to go home, naturally, I don’t need to make up anymore.

Tell me more about the history and the inspiration behind the song,  “The Last to Say.”

I don’t know that I’m going to get into the history or the inspiration. I’ll say that the inspiration to the song came from the music. When I heard that music I felt like it was an opportunity for me to finally write this song. But other than that, I think the song is pretty straightforward. I would hate to take away from how straightforward it is by talking about it too deeply.

What’s do you guys have planned after this tour?

We’re doing another tour! We’ll be going to Europe again this fall for a couple of weeks. More like a Rhymesayers tour with us (Atmosphere), Evidence, Brother Ali and Blueprint. It should be pretty fun.

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