An interview with Aesop Rock
Aesop Rock getting down (cred)
Def Jux is releasing Aesop Rock‘s excellent new album None Shall Pass on Tuesday August 28th. Such was the occasion that got Undisputed Wes over to the NYC Def Jux offifces last week to sit down and ask Ian Matthias Bavitz – aka Aesop Rock – a few questions….
W: Many of your previous records had a pretty clear concept or theme. Labor Days being the most obvious one. Was there a specific idea that None Shall Pass was born out of?
AR: I guess that would be me turning 30 and freaking out about it. (laughs) I went through a few life changes. Turned 30. Moved from New York to San Francisco. Stopped smoking cigarettes. A bunch of stuff happened and it influenced the writing. The writing on this album is more reflective, for lack of a better word. I didn’t want to do any braggadocio, no first person stuff, and get more into stories. Vivid descriptions of a snapshot of a moment in high school, first job, etc. and how all those snapshots add to who I am now at 30 years old.
W: Do you ever think ahead further than one album?
AR: No, that doesn’t make sense with my writing process. I couldn’t have told you I was making None Shall Pass until I was 3/4 in. I just stay busy, hope something sticks. I couldn’t ever plan ahead aside from maybe a theme or name for a song. Usually the way it works is that I just write songs and then there is one song that comes along that will be the first one I’ll decide to keep. That one will kind of set the stage for the album’s feel. ‘Catacumb Kids’ was kind of the key record that sparked it for None Shall Pass in terms of it being a snapshot of an era without resorting to the cliche “back in the day” stuff.
W: You did a song (“Coffee“) with John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats for this album. Are there any other indie rock musicians whose music you enjoy and you’d want to work with?
AR: Not really. I don’t really listen to so much of that stuff. Me listening to John’s music goes back to my first year of college. My brother introduced me to The Mountain Goats and for me it stood out from that genre by leaps and bounds. I tried to get into other stuff, but nothing caught me the same as far as John’s verbiage and delivery. I hadn’t heard anything like it or any better since.
W: How about some mainstream Hip Hop artists? Anyone you’d be interested in working with?
AR: Totally. I love Timbaland and Clipse, Jay-Z. But I have to say part of why I worked with John is because we became friends over time. I don’t like blind collaborations or just going around ringing doorbells to collaborate for collaboration’s sake. I mean, not to say that if Timbaland would call I wouldn’t do it (laughs). Especially if it was for his own project or something. Or if we’d meet and it became a mutual thing, then fuck yea. I tried it once before with Camp Lo on Bazooka Tooth, and that took a few days. We really hung out. One of the guys brought his kid down and everything. We just talked a lot and it became a family thing where we connected and it worked out well.
W: Mainstream Hip Hop seems to be spiraling down in popularity right now. What are your thoughts on the state of underground Hip Hop?
AR: I think it’s going down also to be honest. (laughs) The underground craze hit its peak in 2001/2002 with Def Jux, Stones Throw, Rhymesayers and other underground labels getting popular. But once you get past being people’s critical darling, in order to get the same praise your new stuff has to be five times better than before, because there won’t be that ‘new artist’ shock anymore. I just hope that people can appreciate diversity and originality again. The underground always focused so hard on staying true to their art, and in the mean time saw the mainstream take off doing the opposite. In the underground you’re not suppose to be a biter, you’re suppose to bring your own shit to the table. No one in those crews is suppose to sound alike, all different styles. But then in the mainstream you’ll see a whole crew with one style. So I’m hoping maybe people will once again appreciate that originality and the diversity again, but I don’t see it happening. (laughs)
W: Your upcoming tour features Black Moth Super Rainbow. They’re kind of a rock band, but when I listened to them I connected them to Hip Hop right away as well. How did you hook up with them?
AR: I was looking to not do a bill with just 5 Hip Hop acts like I have on previous tours. That was cool too, but I wanted to switch it up and bring a band that my fans could appreciate. It was also important that it was a new band and just about the music, not about relationships. I came across BMSR, because my wife is a booking agent and she was sent their cd. They don’t have a traditional Hip Hop sound, but they also don’t have a traditional rock sound. But they do have sort of a Hip Hop drum pattern that I could rhyme over. It’s not Hip Hop, but it’s music I would sample to make Hip Hop. We also talked to Battles about doing a tour, and Octopus Project, but it worked out in the end with BMSR.
DOWNLOAD: Black Moth Super Rainbow – Sun Lips (MP3)
W: Can we expect more kazoo on upcoming Aesop Rock albums? (‘Hands’, the album bonus track, features a kazoo solo.)
AR: (laughs) That was Jeremy Fish actually, the illustrator who also did the album artwork. He wanted to play the kazoo on the record all along and while I was waiting for El-P to get his track to me I made one last song. I called Jeremy and told him it was now or never, so he came over, bought a kazoo on the way and he ended up being the last sound on the record. It was a one-taker. He has since retired his kazoo. We decided he wasn’t going to ever outdo this performance.
Aesop Rock – 2007 Tour Dates
09-06 Portland, OR – MusicFest NW
09-08 Philadelphia, PA – Starlight Ballroom *#
09-09 New York, NY – Irving Plaza *#
09-10 Washington, DC – 9:30 Club *#
09-11 Pittsburgh, PA – Rex Theatre *#
09-13 Chicago, IL – Metro *^
09-14 Madison, WI – Barrymore *^
09-15 Milwaukee, WI – Pabst Theatre *^
09-16 Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue *^
09-18 Detroit, MI – TBA *^
09-19 Cleveland Heights, OH – Grog Shop *^
09-21 Baltimore, MD – Ottobar *^
09-22 Providence, RI – Living Room *^
09-23 Boston, MA – Middle East *^
09-25 Northampton, MA – Iron Horse *^
09-26 Burlington, MA – Higher Ground *^
10-10 San Francisco, CA – Fillmore *$
10-12 Los Angeles, CA – Henry Fonda Theatre *$
10-13 Phoenix, AZ – Clubhouse *$
10-15 Albuquerque, NM – Sunshine Theatre *$
10-16 Durango, CO – Abbey Theatre *$
10-18 Denver, CO – Cervantes *$
10-19 Boulder, CO – Fox Theatre *$
10-20 Ft. Collins, CO – Aggie Theatre *$
10-22 Salt Lake City, UT – In the Venue *$
10-25 Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom *$
10-26 Vancouver, British Columbia – Commodore Ballroom *$
10-27 Bellingham, WA – Nightlight *$
10-28 Seattle, WA – Showbox *$
10-30 Eugene, OR – WOW Hall *$
11-07 Asheville, NC – Orange Peel *$
11-09 Orlando, FL – Club Firestone *$
11-10 Miami, FL – Studio A *$
11-12 New Orleans, LA – House of Blues *$
11-13 Baton Rouge, LA – Spanish Moon *$
11-15 Dallas, TX – The Loft *$
11-16 Houston, TX – Warehouse Live *$
11-17 Austin, TX – Emo’s *$
11-19 Nashville, TN – Exit In *$
11-20 Atlanta, GA – TBA *$
* with Rob Sonic, Blockhead, DJ Big Wiz, DJ Signify
# with Cage
^ with the Octopus Project
$ with Black Moth Super Rainbow