It’s been over 10 years since his first album and Aesop Rock is still better than your favourite rapper. He took time out from the start of his 2008 European tour to kick the ballistics with us…
On the set for the ‘Coffee’ video – photo by Chrissy Piper
Can you remember when you first discovered hip-hop? Was there a certain track or artist that hooked you in?
It was sorta simultaneously RUN DMC’s Raising Hell, and License to Ill by the Beastie Boys. My mother took them and threw them both out so I knew I was onto something. Plus I guess being a white guy from the burbs knowing all the lyrics to “proud to be black” may appear odd to a mother. I dunno what is was exactly, probably the fact that it was the first time I had heard the personality of the artist show thru. Hip hop lyricists really get to do that more than almost any other writers. Let themselves really be who they are. It’s a shame it isn’t like that as much these days. Everyone must appear impervious to pain, instead of just buggin’ out and having fun with it.
In 2000, El-P said:
“Def-Jux are friends. We lean on them when we’re in trouble. It’s more than just a career opportunity. It’s a system of support. We’re more powerful in numbers”
Is that still true in 2008?
I guess to a degree. I mean, take into account we’re all kinda old and grumpy these days, but yeah, I feel like I could definitely lean on a lot of the older core artists if and when I need to. At the same time, we are all on our own shit right now. Everyone is finding their path musically, and sometimes that outweighs the “Crew” aspect of it, in a healthy way. We also don’t live as close as we all used to, and after all touring together for many years, we are trying to kinda branch out to give the audience some different stuff to check these days. but for all intents and purposes, there is a definite family vibe that goes along with the label, and while it’s more of a “label” now than ever before, on most days I still feel like I’m part of something special.
It seems Daylight is always a crowd pleaser at gigs, but I gather it’s not your favourite. Do you have a favourite Aesop Rock track? Is there one you particularly enjoy performing live?
Well it’s not that I don’t like Daylight, its just that I’ve heard it and played it about a billion times now, so its not even like music to me anymore. Ha. I like the newest stuff as far as performing. always the new. 39 thieves is fun. I like doing Coffee. A lot of this newer material really caters to live performance more than anything I’ve done, so most of the stuff off the None Shall Pass album has been fun to rock.
Photo by Chrissy Piper
Do you consider how your music would sound in a club? In a bedroom? On headphones?
Sure all that and none of it. I mean I just make shit that sounds cool to me at the time. I mean, I’m literally never at clubs unless i am playing there, but you’d like to make stuff that will bump in a live scenario. That said, it is a bit lyric-heavy, so headphones or cars might be more ideal listening grounds. I just want it to sound crisp and loud. Hopefully at the end of it all, a fan can play it in his or her favorite listening spot and it will sound good. I, personally, have an easy time soaking in music and lyrics when driving. Cars are cool.
Imagery and wordplay in your verses is complex to say the least. How does a track start for you, how do you get one rolling?
its really different everytime. sometimes I start with a frame of a beat, which gives me an idea, other times an idea comes to me and I seek out or make music to match. I’m kinda just a sponge everyday. I write little notes down and hopefully find something worthy of a song. Lots of times songs take months or years to write. Sometimes I can bang it out in a day. It;s really truly different every time. It’s a little nerve-racking that I don’t have a working system in place for how to do all of this, but I manage to figure it all out eventually.
‘Battery’ from Labour Days has the line “Middle sibling suitable, but far from son of excellence” – Do you still feel that way?
Sure. It just meant that between myslef and my brothers, I tended to give my mother the most headaches. I was getting in trouble at school, or hanging out with a questionable crowd, etc. I just kinda was the most “rebellious” of the 3 of us. Just fuckin up a bit here and there. Plus I always kinda took the creative route, which was a bit hard for my parents to swallow at first. I mean nobody wants to hear their son wants to be an artist, cuz artist = no job = no money. They were very traditional and conservative catholics raised in small towns. I was just into different shit than they were used to.
Will the Weathermen release a studio album?
Yes. It’s so hard to get us all together, but yes. Again, just a case of everyone being scattered and working on their own shit, but we are all hoping to knock out a nice chunk of it this year.
Photo by Chrissy Piper
Tell us about working with Jeremy Fish. Perhaps a little bit about the children’s book – Next Best Thing…
Fish is very easy for me to work with, as we are pretty close friends. He has great ideas, and we build well together. The book was our first collaboration, and it really came about as naturally as anything like that could. We spoke about it over the course of a few burgers, really got into the basic idea, and I started the song while he started the art. It was all mapped out from the beginning, and that was that. He’s a great dude, great artist, great friend, and creates stuff I feel I can relate to.
On Coffee you collaborated with John Darnielle from The Mountain Goats. Do you plan to team up with more people from outside the hip hop world?
Well, I don’t really plan on anything. I love John’s music, and have been a fan for well over 10 years. It was sort of a dream come true for me to become friends with him and eventually work with him. I actually just did a remix for his new record and I rapped on that as well, so that should be surfacing soon. Besides him I don’t really have anyone on my “must collab with” list, rock, hip hop, or otherwise. I’d like to work with Kimya Dawson maybe, or Tom Waits, but both of those are probably impossible, and for the sake of keeping my heroes as heroes, maybe best let unpursued.
Can you tell us a bit about your wife’s band, Parchman Farm?
Parchman Farm was a rock band that my wife wrote most of the songs for and played guitar in. They were bad ass in every way. Really really great shit. They are no longer all playing together, but Allyson, Carson (bassist), and Chris (drummer) are all still working together. They are just working on new stuff, kinda fucking around and figuring out where to go, Allyson and Carson have a ridiculous dynamic together that is amazing to watch, and they’re both insanely talented on their respective instruments. They both play on ‘None Shall Pass’ a bunch.
From doing the festival circuits, have you discovered any new music?
Not really, I tend to hide til it’s my turn to rock. Then I finish and hide again.
Photo from our Aesop Rock Live in Brighton gallery
What kind of music / Who are you listening to at the moment? Who is floating your boat?
A lot of hip hop, EPMD, Redman, Weathermen shit, I also listen to the Mountain Goats a lot, as i said Kimya Dawson and Tom Waits, and whatever I’m working on. I like Black Moth Super Rainbow, who came on tour with us in the US this year. Really great band out of Pittsburgh. Looking forward to the new Clipse record as well.
Do you feel that you’ve benefited in any way from illegal downloading?
We just heard Def Jux will handle the US re-release of Dizzee Rascal’s “Maths + English” – are you a fan of his work?
Admittedly, I know very little of his work, but I just heard El’s remix of the Dizzee and UGK song, and it definitely bumped. I haven’t gotten a chance to check his record.
What would your dream posse cut be? Who would be in it?
Hmm. this could be answered so many ways. I’ll say El-p, Cage, Breeze Brewin, Freeway, Clipse, Godfather Don, Jay-z.
Which dead rapper would you bring back to life?
All of them.
We love video games – always have. What are your favorite games, what are you playing at the moment?
Currently playing Mass Effect. Just finished Assassin’s Creed. Historically I love the Zelda series, and I think ICO is maybe the greatest game ever.
Do you still watch a lot of television?
Yes sir. Love it. Love movies. Love TV. I find tons of ideas from both. I love hearing people talk, good dialog, great writing, etc.
How will you vote in November? (US Presidential elections)
Not sure yet. the voting process in the US is such shit. Bush did not win. The majority of the country did not vote for him, and I think that soured a lot of American’s opinions on the voting process we have. That said, i probably will vote again, but have not decided which way.
Do you use the internet? Do you have any favourite websites?
I check Gamespot, MySpace, I read the blogs at Upper Playground, I laugh at Dlisted, various music sites, etc
Do you read your own reviews?
Do you ever feel you might have to work a 9 to 5 again? What would you do if you had to go back?
I feel like I will inevitably have to work a 9-5 again at some point, and I’m OK with that. Hopefully I can find something creative, maybe writing for an interesting magazine or working for an art gallery that shows artists I enjoy. I really don’t know. I’d like to keep writing, or work music into a 9-5, even if it isn’t in an Aesop Rock way.
Photo by Chrissy Piper
What’s next on the menu for you? Can you tell us about any new, up-and-coming projects?
Well I dunno. I’ve been on tour non-stop. I gotta finish this euro tour, then head to Australia, after that I plan on going home and really getting busy. New Aesop Rock solo stuff. Weathermen album. I have a few potential side projects that could pan out. I really don’t know. But I am very very ready to make new shit.
MPC or Pro tools?
ASR-10 and Protools
Birds or monkeys?
Brooklyn or Manhattan?
Vinyl, CD or mp3?
One hand that can sting like a bee with infinite stings or one hand that is a crab’s claw that can crush steel?
One hand that can sting like a bee with infinite stings
A pair of sneakers that make you moonwalk everywhere perfectly or a pair of sneakers that allow you to levitate 2 meters off the ground for 30 seconds, once an hour?
A pair of sneakers that make you moonwalk everywhere perfectly.
Mad props to Aesop for his time and massive thanks to Chrissy Piper for the photos.
» Peep our photos from Aesop Rock live in Brighton (Jan 2008)