We Asked Astronautalis What His Problem With Journalists Is And He Sonned Us Pretty Hard.
Astronautalis is a well-known commodity around these parts. After being raised in Jacksonville, Florida, the currently Minneapolis-based rapper born Andy Bothwell cut his teeth in the North Texas music scene while attending Southern Methodist University and getting his live show footing at venues up in Denton.
But aside from a handful of tours that have brought him through the region in recent years, local fans of Astronautalis' haven't really heard too much from the performer of late. It's now been five years since the release of his This Is Our Science LP.
In 2016, Astronautalis aims to change all that. Already this year, he's released a new EP called SIKE!, which comes as prelude to his forthcoming Cut The Body Loose that's due to release on May 13.
With this deluge of new music and with Bothwell coming through the region to perform three shows in North Texas on the way in and out of South by Southwest, we caught up with the rapper to talk about his talented friends, how the Czech Republic likes to get down and why he is starting to get annoyed with journalists.
Your Facebook page describes your genre as “rap… plus everything else.” What is one genre or artist we would least expect to find in your music collection?
I think a lot of “indie rap” nerds are always surprised that I don't spend my time listening much “indie rap.” I'd honestly rather listen to most anything playing on Top 40 stations before I listened to something like Immortal Technique. But my favorite band of all time, a now-defunct band from Louisville, Kentucky, called Rachel's is probably the biggest curveball in my collection. They make a beautiful mix of classical chamber music and indie rock, and their pianist, Rachel Grimes, is the only musician i have ever written a fan letter to. I have been listening to that band at least once a week since I first heard them about 15 years ago.
You worked some with the Dallas-based producer John Congleton on your new album, and you've worked together previously. He's not known as a rap producer. What does he bring to the table in your partnership?
This is my third record produced by John, and it is hard to say what he doesn't bring to the table. After really starting out in music working solo, on a laptop, in my apartment, finding a producer that enables you is a thing beyond measure. Congleton doesn't just guide me to my vision for an album; he shows me aspects of my work that I can't see alone, pushes me away from my safe and easy choices, and coaches me up through the terror of trying out new ideas. And that is without even beginning to talk about his ear for music, and his abilities as an engineer. I can't say enough about John Congleton. I am lucky to have him as a producer and a friend.
You've said the following in previous interviews: “If my new album ever sounds like my last album, please tell me to quit making music.” Obviously, the desire to progress is important to you. What measures do you make sure to take to ensure your new work is different from your old work?
There are very easy measures to take like changing the music I listen to, shifting my focus on the things that inspire me. But I like to take it even further, and set hard and fast ground rules. I work better within limitations. I am always limiting the kinds of instruments we are allowed to use, restrictions on song lengths or the number of layers of sound we can stack on a track. I like forcing myself to avoid the old solutions to problems, and most importantly, changing the language I write and rap in. The language I work in for an album dictates so much about the way an album turns out, and, subsequently, finding the language for an album is always the hardest part.
At one point on your new song “SIKE!” you rap, “See, I can write your dumb raps.” What, specifically, are you saying about the state of rap with that line?
I am saying that it is not that hard to be a rapper, not really. A lot of this record is about taking seemingly unattainable things off their pedestal, and making them attainable. [I'm] not necessarily disparaging those things — I love rap music, especially dumb rap music — but just taking the crown off of everything. Off our politicians, our religions, our shared mythologies, our artists, our jobs, everything. I feel like there is far too much stuff in our world that is seen as special or magical, and is ultimately drowning out what is really truly amazing — or, even worse, making people feel like they are incapable of making or achieving something great. I can write some dumb raps if I want. So could you, if you really wanted to.
In that same single, you mention sterilizing tattoos with beer. That can't be safe. What is the gnarliest thing you’ve seen backstage that you feel comfortable sharing with us?
Sterilizing tattoos with beer ain't so bad. Better than not sterilizing them, right? My backstage is pretty tame most of the time. It is my office, so I keep things pretty tight back there. After the show? All bets are off. One time, I found myself in an absinthe-drinking contest after a show in a tiny Czech village. That got pretty insane — or so I am told. Good news is I won!
In the new song “Papillion,” you rap some about lazy journalists. What's your problem with journalism, man? Say it to my face.
Well, considering the song you are taking about is not “Papillion,” but in fact the song “You Know What It Is,” I think you pretty much answered the question for me, didn't you?
Well, shit. That's definitely my bad. OK, Andy. You win. We really do suck sometimes.
Catch Astronautalis as he barnstorms through North Texas for the following gigs at a venue near you: Friday, March 18, at Three Links in Dallas; Wednesday, March 23, at Lola's Saloon in Fort Worth; and Thursday, March 24, at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios in Denton. Head here for tickets.