February 1st, 2015
Preparing for his February 6th show at the Metro Chicago, Aesop Rock talks to WNUR Streetbeat about his beginnings, his motivations and the importance of exercise. Check it out, then buy some tickets to go see him here: http://www.etix.com/ticket/online/performanceSearch.jsp?performance_id=8459464&cobrand=metrochicago
Would you consider yourself a happy person?
Uuuuuh oh jeez. I don’t know, I consider myself a work in progress usually. I think I’m always aware that happiness is out there; I’m always trying to force myself in that direction. I don’t know. Naturally I think I tend to kind of go into a bit of a dark place. I think every year I try to be a little more aware of those kind of things. So I’d like to say yes, but ultimately no.
What is your definition of success?
I don’t know. There’s obviously different levels of it. I mean, I think success is me running my two miles today at the gym. That was big for me, but uh, obviously I could use a couple million dollars at any point also. So I think continuing to pull forward through all of this is kind of a success in itself.
So because of the run you made today, you feel successful as a person?
I did for like an hour but then I took a nap like right after, and I was back to square one. So it’s give and take everyday.
Yeah I understand that. I did a 2 and a half-mile run at the gym the other day and I felt really proud of myself.
Yeah that’s great, I can’t seem to run more than 2 miles in a row.
How do you think your music has evolved since Music For Earthworms?
I was young, man, so I think I was probably in a bit of an experimental state and that I was kind of flailing my arms around to a degree back in those days trying to figure out what I was even doing or what sounded cool to me. I think probably over the course of a bunch of projects you start to get a better feel of what you should be doing versus just blindly experimenting. I mean obliviously there’s still a degree of experimentation, but you just kind of learn more, there’s obviously technical improvements that can help. I definitely didn’t make those early records as if I was making a project necessarily; I was just kind of pudding along. I think that’s a little different these days for better or worse. I keep in mind “Oh I have to be working on an album,” and y’know, it should be approximately this length, which is probably helpful but probably hindering me as well. You definitely have the benefit when you’re young of not knowing what the fuck you’re supposed to be doing.
How did you get people to listen to your music when you were in college?
Well in those days I was recording on 4-tracks, and stuff, then when I was out I would try, anywhere I was, to rhyme, whether at a house party or if we were in a club for the night I would try to get on the mic. To be that guy. And then there was that aspect of it, but then a lot of it was making songs in my apartment and then I would go back to New York a lot and make songs with Blockhead in those days. We weren’t really worried about that to be honest, we were just doing what was fun to us. We always recorded shit, whether or not we were joking or serious. Just kind of made stuff constantly, videos and music and that kind of stuff. It was just like another thing we did. I think after being out rhyming at places, a couple people took more interest. Then eventually after that I made a tape with 4 songs on it that we started to sell to people for 4, 5 dollars. It wasn’t like it just happened overnight. We were just doing stuff, and then next thing you know a couple people are interested, and then one day my phone rang saying “we’re a record store in Los Angeles and we want to buy 5 copies of your tape” and I was like “oh fuck.” In those days people just got each other’s phone numbers and I would actually answer the phone when it rang. It was very slow and through more trading of tapes and making an album that’s how people eventually got to know me.
What were your reasons for rapping when you were younger? Did you have fame in the back of your mind?
I didn’t think any of that would happen, it was just for the fun and I mean I was doing visual arts at the time, it was kind of my focus for school. I was drawing and painting and doing music at nighttime; trying to make shit across the board. I moved back to New York after school and just kept making songs. I always recorded at my house with a nicer recording device, an 8-track. To be honest I’m still the same way. I don’t know that anyone’s going to buy another Aesop solo. I mean some people will because more people are on board with me, but I’m not guaranteed by any means. I’m still a working musician that rides the line; I can pretty easily fade into obscurity, or have a fucking hit. I just have to keep plugging away at it. I’ve never been secured that people are going to be into this shit for another day at all. From the day it started picking up, until even right now. Hopefully they’ll be with me tomorrow.
Well were you keeping fans in mind when you made an album like Bazooka Tooth where it was after you had all this success from Daylight? Was it made with the fact that people were going to listen to it in mind?
I think most of them aren’t made like that. I just kind of hold myself up and make shit. And I really don’t think about, that anybody’s going to listen to this ever. And then one day you’re just kind of mixing a little record, and you’re like, oh yeah this is going to all come out now, all this weird stuff I’ve been doing at my house by myself is actually going to be available. So there’s always that moment toward the end of the project that it hits you, that all the stuff you’ve been doing privately is going to be made public. Which is weird, it never really gets any easier. But yeah, all my efforts are like that. I do them quietly and then they’re done.
Do you think you’ve been able to maintain that it’s all for fun, or has it become more of a career thing?
Well, it actually has become more of a career whether I like it or not because it is my income and there has to be some level of, I don’t know, professionalism is the term, but I do have a little bit of a team, I have a manager and things like that, so I have to, to a degree, play the game. Certainly now that I’m a little older, the middle part of all of this was a bit of a blur, but now I just try to take a second occasionally and be like, well y’know I managed to somehow get this far without having to work some bullshit job really, but I do my best to appreciate that I’ve done this. But like I said, it’s still very much a fulltime job for me. It’s not like I just sit back on a pile of money and enjoy. I make my own hours and obviously I have a love for what I do, but it’s very much a job.
Are there topics in Hip-Hop that you feel still haven’t been touched on?
Yeah I think there’s probably endless topics out there, the problem is finding the ones that are worth it for me. It’s just harder these days to find something for me, not that there’s less out there, but sometimes you don’t know what’s going to stick and what’s not so sometimes it takes a while. I want to be unique with each line. I don’t want to sit there and write another song that I feel like I’ve already covered. Whether in the material or doing things in the rhymes that I’ve done before too much. I know I never repeat myself, but if I’m feeling like I’ve been there I don’t want to go there. So that leads me to sometimes kicking around a bunch of ideas and not following through with them. With that said, I think there’ a million and one things you can rap about, it’s just about whatever is of interest to you.
What new things are you exploring with Hail Mary Mallon?
Its me and Rob’s excuse to sort of fuck off a little bit and not really over-think anything. I think with the solo stuff that we both do it’s pretty easy to get very swept away and very caught up with the over-thinking and some of the rules you set up for yourself and wanting to stick to a theme. And I think with the Hail Mary Mallon stuff, Rob and I are pretty close friends, we got back a long way, so it’s very easy to find something in the moment and extend that into a song. We put in a lot of our little inside jokes and try and make songs we may not make on our solo records. Just not second-guess things so much, If the moment is there and we’re feeling it we just kinda go with it. There is a bit of a fresh energy that comes with that. It’s different than what you’re going to find on my solo stuff. For me, anyway.
Would you say that’s how the creative process was when you made a song like Whales?
Yeah Whales, and then on the first record it was Grubstake and Breakdance beach, those were all ones that were A, probably my favorites but B the ones at the end- y’know a lot of the stuff we’ll go back and forth because we don’t live in the same city and we’ll send stuff back and forth. Then we get together every few months and record the ones that we’ve been working on. But then there’s always a period sort of at the end with out final couple weeks together and we’re finishing things up and we’ll always try and write a few last minute songs together. Y’know usually the ones that are 99% drum machine, just us being silly. But yeah like Whales was one of those that just popped out on one of the very last days. It might be my favorite song on there. A similar thing happened the first time. We drew all the ones that were a little more heavy duty, and then we just try and bust out a couple small ones at the end and they end up being the really fun ones.
Cool. So how did you and Rob decide to bring Homeboy Sandman along for this tour?
It’s just honestly me listening to a bunch in the last year or so, and that Hallways record I’ve been listening to a ton. We have a couple friends in common. So y’know, then I was like “What’s up?” I said we have this tour coming up and you’re more than welcome to be with us, blah, blah, blah. That was kind of it.
What is your on-stage chemistry like with Rob Sonic?
We’re like lovers, pure lovers in the mist.
Do you think the complexity of your songs adds to the energy during a performance?
I think so. I mean we’ve been touring together for a long time, there’s an aspect that we don’t take ourselves all that seriously. I mean, we do in the right sense, but we very much try to get across that we’re just two dudes. There’s not really much of a superiority thing going on. We just look like two dudes you could just be hanging out with at a gas station. So I feel like between what we look like, sound like and how we present ourselves, it’s hopefully that kind of vibe. Where we’re not above you we’re just kind of there with you.
That’s a cool vibe to have, that’s a cool vibe to have.
Thank you, sir.
Lastly, is there anything you’ve always wanted to say in an interview that you’ve never gotten the chance to?
Unfortunately, probably not.
Oh. Anything interesting happen to you today?
I did my run, I took my nap and I ate a peanut butter sandwich. Oh and I’m reading an issue of National Geographic.
[Aesop Rock is a member of Rhymesayers Entertainment and is partnered with Rob Sonic. They together are Hail Mary Mallon. Listen to their latest releases here: http://rhymesayers.com/releases]
By Cameron Smith and Conor Driscoll