Monday, January 21, 2013

Astronautalis Interview

I sat down with Jacksonville FL rapper, Astronautalis ("but for the love of God, call me Andy") before his set at High Ground last month. He spent September and October on tour with Flobots and he's now on tour in Russia. He crafts music that blends hip-hop, folk and indie rock into something really unique and engaging. His most recent album "This Is Our Science" was released last fall and has been his greatest success yet.  He talked to me about his recent success as well as his artistic progress and the journey he's had throughout his 15-year career.

Your album came out a year ago, how has it been since then?
It's been an insane surprise actually. I don't think anybody expected the album to do as well as it did.  We didn't have a marketing push or anything like that and it blew up. It was on a label called Fake Four, but there are only two employees. It outsold everything I've ever done in the first month and it was a great affirmation that people gave a shit.

You music spans across genres-how do you classify it?
I still consider myself a rapper because that's what I grew up doing, even though the music I make isn't always rap. The music that I make isn't really rap music anymore, but I still will approach a country song like a rap song. It's not really my job to classify it-that's everyone else's job.

How did you get started?
I started rapping when I was 12 or 13- I taught myself through freestyle but I didn't really write a song for about 8 years. From there I got invited to bigger battles around the country and to open for different artists.

And you went to school as well, right?
I went to Southern Methodist University in Dallas and studied theatre- I wanted to be a director and lighting designer for theatre, opera, and ballet.

How did that tie in to the rapping- you were doing at the time?
Battling isn't like an art form-it's a craft. So I was studying this craft in my free time and this art in the daytime. It took me a while to find a place where they fit together. I didn't grow up jamming in a band so my artistic process is the artistic process I got from theatre. - When I make my records I use that formula. I still use my theatre training every single day as a rapper now.

I'm really obsessed with melodrama and large scale- nothing that I do is subtle and I like broad strokes.

I've been going to Europe a lot in the pat few years- more into central and Eastern Europe. That's my favorite- it's an interesting time for that region. Once the USSR split up they became these little petri dishes of nationality. It's not a lucrative place to tour, by any means, but it's an interesting time to travel through there. I got there to learn- driving through Eastern Europe and bribing cops and shit? That's stuff I won't get to do anywhere else.

Is there a large difference with the crowds there?
People in America go to shows to sing along with a band- they try to figure out when the headliner's going on and get there right before theat. Over there, it's a loyalty to a club and they'll see everything and to discover new music.
Are you working on any new music?
There are two new bands I'm working on- one with Justin Vernon and Ryan Olson and Sean Kerry. And I'm working on an album with P.O.S. that we've been working on for a long time. I'm all over his new album but we're working on a record together that we've finally had time to work on and hopefully put the nail in the coffin.

With "This is Our Science" was there a different theme from your other albums?
Each album I work on has a concept- I work better in limitations. What opens that for me is the language; I try to change the language of every record. The second record was really with prose and raw emoting- it was literary, like a collection of short stories circling around the myth of Persephone. The latest record was supposed to feel like having a glass of whiskey with the audience.

How do you create that connection with your audience and fan base?
I try to be really frank about my artistic arc. I try to make it so they can see the artistic line through my albums so that they have a context. But ultimately, it just becomes trust- letting it out into the ether and hoping that it lands on people's hearts.

Astronautalis- Dimitri Mendeleev

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