Wednesday 20 February 2008

What to Do?

I'm continually struggling against an overriding feeling that I was born with a purpose and that I shall never achieve this and therefore everything else is just not good enough. Monday did not help - although I would like to add that it was definitly one of the best days of 2008 so far - I know we're only in February but I think I'll be saying this in December too.
I took the day off work on Monday to go and interview one of my favourite groups of all time Atmosphere. If you haven't heard them, you should. You're missing out. Big time. I didn't really know what to expect - someone who talks a lot definitely and someone who talks a lot less. But that was about it. Oh and I was predisposed to dislike one of them. 
Sean Daley and Anthony Davis are the perfect team. Slug (Daley) originally DJ'd behind fellow Rhymesayers founder and former member of Atmosphere, Spawn's rhymes but after teaming up with Ant (Davis) it was all change and now it's the combination of Slug's personal poetic musings and Ant's bare-boned but innovative beats that have made them one of the most popular independent hip-hop bands today. Originating from the Minneapolis Atmosphere don't rap about shooting guns, what they wear and shagging women (ok well maybe the last one...) a lot of the songs are inspired by 'Lucy' Slug's muse based on his ex-girlfriend and their turbulent relationship. One of their most famous tracks ‘The Woman With the Tattooed Hands’ has converted even my most anti-rap friends with its melodic piano’s, simple beats and bizarre story.
So I pootled down to The Social on Little Portland Street to interview them and listen to their new album When Life Gives You a Lemon You Paint That Shit Gold: Deluxe Edition. I had spent the weekend looking at other interviews with them - well mostly with Slug who seems to be able to talk for the whole of the Twin Cities – and they were not confidence boosting. He knows his subject, he lives for what he does and he does not suffer fools gladly. In some he came across as full on and frankly pretty arrogant whilst some interviewers asked him why he was unpopular with some in the hip-hop community. I’m sorry, call me a fickle female, but I didn’t like him. (This may also have something to do with him looking and sounding exactly like a US version of an ex-boyfriend... and I have no desire to interview him either). I was also worried that the new album would not be up to scratch. What if I didn’t like it? What if the other journalists there to listen didn’t like it (which may not be so bad if they weren’t already into the music) but I did not want to interview people whose new album I just thought sucked.
I arrived at one o’clock as I’d been told. Nobody there knew what was going on or who Atmosphere was so I sat in the top bar and ordered a drink. In walks a tall guy in black and I recognise Ant. Then comes Slug who asks to borrow my menu and orders a Red Bull. We all move downstairs where the other journalists are waiting (they knew something I didn’t) and I sat down at the back – the only person there alone and feeling quite conspicuous. Then opposite me appears Slug who shakes my hand and introduces himself as ‘Sean’. I tell him I’ll be interviewing him later and ask how long he’s in London for and why. ‘To be interviewed by you’ is the answer – I attempt to hold my resolve to dislike him intensely. It lasts about two minutes. 
He introduces Ant who makes me much more comfortable. He’s laid back, funny with an air of self-depreciation (without ever vocalising it) which contrasts with Slug’s self assured humour. The new album is amazing – I got it on pre-order as soon as I got home. When asked at the end, everyone wanted to hear it again. Then it’s time for me to wait... with the help of Smirnoff and Cash by Johnny Cash it’s not too bad. The interviews seem to go well and half way through photo’s are taken which shows their professional side. I hate having my photo taken and although Slug doesn’t seem to be as into having his photo taken as I would imagine (‘well... I prefer it to lifting heavy boxes’) he has no trouble or embarrassment in front of the camera. Ant seems slightly troubled when having photo’s taken without his reassuring glass in his hand and says he can’t look at Slug who will make him laugh. 
Finally at six o’clock the time has come. The band for the night have started to set up in the basement so I do the interview standing in a doorway outside. My hands are freezing and I’m aware that having talked to them all day it would have been better to have recorded that bit, when I was asking questions that I now can’t remember, rather than me now feeling that I’m interviewing people that probably know me well enough to not take me that seriously (it doesn’t take long). So... what did they have to say for themselves? (I’d like to point out that for me listening to the interview is torture... Ant and I giggle – well I giggle he laughs – through the whole thing and I sound very, very British)
What was the mood behind the new album?
S: I think for both of us we wanted to push ourselves to take what we do a step further. I don’t think either of us are trying to work outside of who we are and so all of Atmosphere’s albums have been pretty much a culmination of who we are when we made that album. You know we don’t go out of our way to make songs about this or that we keep the music and the lyrics close to exactly who we are and this album is a good representation of who we are now. At least who we are today who knows what we’ll be next week but we’ve both been touring together for the last couple of years, we’ve worked live musicians into the touring aspect of it, and things have just matured a lot in the sense of our movement even. These kids that have been listening to this music now for ten years have been there for ten years watching us but there’s new kids that didn’t find out about it until a year ago and so there’s a huge space for us to work in and play in with who we are for people to place their judgements on. I think this album is really well built for that. It’s not to say that everyone’s going to like it, it’s not to say that anyone’s going to like it but we like it and we like... who we are [peals of laughter].
Which artists do you admire most at the moment?
S: Brother Ali. And I’m sure I’m biased for a lot of reasons [Ali is a fellow Rhymesayers artist and friend of Atmosphere – he’s also produced by Ant], obviously he’s my friend, and we work with him as a label but just as far as people go, he’s one of the most sincere, genuine, real people that I’ve ever met period, much less within this industry, and so even if the dude wasn’t rapping if he was painting I would probably say my favourite artist is Brother Ali. Even if I wasn’t his buddy, if I had the opportunity to get to meet him and see what kind of a person he is and how he treats people I’d probably end up having him as one of my favourite artists. I’ve never been that kind of dude that loves somebody’s art because they’re amazing at it. Amazing, whatever, fuck amazing, anyone can do amazing if they practise it enough. I’m more into what stands behind the art and what it was that inspired the art and since I know what inspired Ali’s art it’s really easy for me to say that that dude is amazing.
A: Mine would be Snoop Dogg and that’s because, I love Ali to death obviously, but Snoop Dogg is somebody that I look up to that’s out now that can do anything and everything and nobody’s tripping on it. He does music that I dig generally, he has a song out right now that’s amazing, the video’s amazing. He does porno’s, he teaches kids how to play football, he has a TV show, he goes on Jay Leno and is just as witty as Sean. I love that guy – and he doesn’t go to jail for the shit he gets to do so I love it...
S: Ok fine I want to change my answer. To Brother Ali [more senseless giggling] he’s just an amazing dude... I’m sure I’m biased...
Are you done? What do you listen to apart from hip-hop?
S: Truthfully I don’t listen to that much hip-hop anymore. Not to be a dick but it’s just like everybody in hip-hop, much like myself even, we’re all just trying to make what we remember to be a classic album so it’s almost like a lot of us keep repeating ourselves even these guys that push the envelope and break out of the box are still recreating what Big Daddy Kane and KRS One and Ice Cube have already done. I’ve heard everybody do it and I’d rather go back and listen to Big Daddy Kane and Ice Cube – so I listen to lots of old rap. But as far as new music I’m kinda like everybody else I’m a sucker for poppy shit, I’m a sucker for Radiohead you know I’m not a very avant garde music listener. I like my music the same way I like my girls [more giggling]... you know... trendy. No that’s a joke... that’s a joke I don’t even like women [uncontrollable laughter].You know what music I love the most right now is generally stuff that my girlfriend plays around the house because I see the way she’s affected by a lot of new music and so when she gets excited about a band I get excited about a band, when she wants to go see a show I get excited and wanna go see the show. If she wasn’t around I probably wouldn’t even listen to music anymore outside of Brother Ali.
A: I like listening to Brother Ali [extra giggling]... No, the funny thing is when I’m in my car, and I don’t know if this is a sign of old age or not but for the last two years I’ve been listening to Sports Talk and I’m not even trying to learn new words because obviously it’s Sports Talk but it keeps me away from music. I tend to find myself not listening to a lot of music just because it’s what I do for a living now it’s everything about me. [Slug then tries to convince me that Sports Talk is like N-Sync but with old women..yes I do fall for it briefly]
Do you have any ambitions to produce?
S: It’s funny that you ask. Absolutely not. I see what Ant goes through and that’s crazy to me. I’ve got enough stress [I point out that he’s going to be too old for people to want to listen to him one day] Oh yeah – definitely. Soon. I’m not sure what I’ll do... Maybe drive a truck you know. That’s what I used to do before I rapped now that I’m rich I can just drive an empty truck I don’t have to deliver nothing. Just drive around, pull up hop out in my uniform, pop open the back, jump in for a minute, jump back out, shut that shit, get in the truck and speed off and everyone will think I just did some important shit like I just delivered some documents. No – I’ll do whatever, if people don’t want to listen to me rap I’ll probably try to write or I’ll probably try to sell rap for somebody else to do, I’ll ghost-write. We built a record label so there’s always a job for me there. I know how to call record stores and say will you please take a box of cd’s. So I’m not really too worried about the financial security of rap because I don’t believe in the financial security or rap but prior to rapping I was a worker. I’m not afraid to work. I’ll do whatever I’ve got to do to make it happen and to make the ends meet so whether it be rapping, or driving a truck or sitting on the phone calling the stores or helping be a tour manager. I’ve learned a few things from this job so I’m sure there’s room to develop at least one of them into something that will pay the rent but not production. I’m not going to make beats fuck that shit. Besides there aren’t any other good rappers - Ant already got Brother Ali so who the fuck am I going to get to rap over my beats.
Did you enjoy writing a book?
S: The children’s book? Yeah the book really wrote itself though because it’s kinda a translation of the album but told as a children’s story. At the end of every children’s story there’s a moral so it holds the same moral as the album’s moral so all I really had to do was write what I felt the album was about and then have somebody illustrate it but in a much more simplistic way obviously, because children’s books are written at the simple denominator. I did enjoy it, it was fun I would do that again.
Who are your favourite writers?
S: I hate to read. My favourite writers are Frank Miller people that write comic books. I like to read comic books. I like to act like I’m a reader and like I’m all extra smart but that’s just an act, and I usually do that when there’s women around. My guy friends they all know that I’m an idiot, my girlfriend knows I’m an idiot, hell I think even her parents know I’m an idiot. So there’s really no pressure on me to keep up with what’s going on in the literary world whatsoever. I read blogs about music, I read brat magazines, I read culture magazines, I read comic books so I think I get a lot of reading done in the course of a day I think I’m exercising my reading skills, reading is funda... funda.. (stutters on fundamental) reading is you know... important.
A: I don’t read... come on now I haven’t read a book since I was twelve or something.
S: I actually read up until I was about 24 and then I stopped reading and started writing more. I think my time reading is better spent writing.
So is that when did you start writing seriously?
S: I started writing when I was a kid but I didn’t really start writing a lot until I quit reading books
What is the attitude of bigger hip-hop/rap artists to independents like yourself?
S: I don’t really think there is much of an attitude. I don’t think that the mainstream artists see us as a threat, therefore there’s no reason to have an attitude and vice versa. I always laugh when I see these underground kids have hate on mainstream rappers because it’s kinda like, really? You’re mad at that guy for being popular – that’s high school. That’s like being mad at the captain of the cheerleader’s. To me hating on mainstream rappers was always funny to me. I understood why we would say ‘fuck the major labels’ because the corporate greed involved but to say fuck another artist because that artist is popular is silly to me because the bottom line is they got popular because they made music that people felt regardless of how you want to cut it, if people feel it they feel it. If people dance to it that’s the whole point and so I don’t think it’s important to separate mainstream from underground. I don’t think the mainstream people bother separating themselves. The mainstream don’t sit around going ‘fuck the underground’ the underground say ‘fuck the mainstream’ because of jealousy, they are having identity crisis issues. It’s like to prove how down you are with the underground you have to hate the mainstream. Its kids bonding over what they hate rather than bonding over what they love which is probably what they should be doing. It would be more productive.
A: (when asked if he had an opinion) no I really don’t... give a shit about either side (end with giggling).
Check out: Lucy Ford, God Loves Ugly, You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having

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