Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Aesop Rock: The Beat Q & A

A few months back, I had the chance to interview Aesop Rock, in anticipation of his Santa Cruz show in August. It was an interesting conversation, with Aesop sharing some of his personal thoughts; the recently married, 30-year-old rapper moved to the Bay Area this past year and is settling down into married life.
But he's still a beast on the mic, as evidenced by his Santa Cruz show, which was all gritty and chain-smoking cough underground hip-hop. Still, it was cool talking to a dude who sounds like your typical newlywed underground mc who just moved to a new town.
Here's an excerpt from the interview. Enjoy.

You ready to talk man?
I just woke up in time for it (laughs).

I appreciate that man. Thanks for taking the time to talk to The Beat.
Oh, of course. No problem.

Have you performed in Santa Cruz before?
No, I haven't. I've done San Diego, LA, San Francisco, but for some reason I never get to these other California cities. So this is my first time.

It's a different scene out there, more of a surfer vibe. It's cool, though.
Yeah, yeah, that's what I heard.

You moved out to the Bay Area in the last year or so.
That's true

Have you adjusted to that? How was the transition coming from the east coast?
It's pretty good so far. I lived in New York my whole life, so it's definitely a switch up. But so far, it's totally different.

What are the differences?
The weather for one. Right now, it's like 104 in New York, and I'd be fucking dying. It's just weird, like, different ways that people approach other people. It's hard to put into words. Things I never noticed when I was here because I was only out long enough for a show or something. But now that I've been here for along time, people just have a different attitude. It's not a better or a worse attitude, but it's just kind of funny how... when interactions go down it's completely different than they would in New York...

At this point I'm like, I could be kind of anywhere. I just do my work, have my wife and a few friends, that's all I need. When I was younger, I was running around in New York and taking advantage of the city and... I kind of don't do that anymore. Now, I'm just enjoying the weather.

It sounds like you're getting grown (laughs). Are you recording right now in the Bay?
Yep, we're just doing shows a couple times a month. But for the most part, we're just recording, trying to prepare a release for next year.

I wanted to ask you about this children's book with Jeremy Fish, can you break down how that came about?
The project, it's called "The Next Best Thing." Basically, me and Jeremy, and I don't know how familiar you are with his work, but I was familiar with his work before I got here. I own one of his prints. We both have friends in common. He contacted me. He was offered a chance to pitch a cartoon to a television network. He wanted to know if I would do the music and I said "fuck yeah." And then the cartoon went on the backburner, some of the people at the network left. But we just became friends and I was like "I'm moving to San Francisco in a week." I came out here and he was kind of the first person to show me around the city and we got to become pretty good friends. We started talking about other ways to collaborate, we were fans of each other.

The actual idea for the book was... we both feel that kind of like, musicians and visual artists never collaborate enough, or rather to an extent that's kind of cool. A lot of times when you're making a record, and it comes time for the art work, you work on the record for1- 2-3 years, however long it's taken and when it's time to come out you're like "Oh shit, I need some artwork." So by the time it comes out, at the last moment you just kind of whip something up.
We were just trying to go through ways that people in the past have combined art and music, and we brought it back to the 70s. How Disney was making the storybooks of like "Peter and the Dragon," and there would be a little book and in the back, it's a 7-inch record. You put on the record and you hear the sound effects to turn the page, the little chimes...it seemed like the perfect marriage for visual art and making some music.

I'm not familiar with Jeremy's work, but I am familiar with yours, and the thought of an Aesop Rock children's book seems so off the wall.
The idea was taken from these Disney books that were children's books...It's not necessarily geared towards the youngest audience. We sort of put an adult take on these children's books.

So it's kind of tongue in cheek?
It's not tongue and cheek. It's the format of a children's' book, but the drawings in it are real cartoony. Jeremy's work has really, kind of cartoony elements to it, but it also has some evil elements to it. It will be skulls mixed with some kind of weird, cuddly, funny animals. It's got this funny give and take, when you look at it first it's like a children's book, but you look further into it its got some aspects that are not for kids. It's adult content and things that you wouldn't let your kids read.

What is the story about?
It's our version of... we're trying to sell a cure for creative block, writer's block. Or creative block if you're an artist and you can't think of something to draw (laughs). Like kind of a generalized thing, because we talked about it, sometimes we get writer's block and he said sometimes I do this and I said sometimes I do this, and it was this little kind of strange thing. It's hard to explain, but basically, it's our cure for writer's block.

Is there a central character?
Yeah, there's a central character, but he's unnamed. It's just kind of in the song, I'm saying "I", I'm saying "You." It just can be any person who's an artist or a musician who does something creative.

When you're collaborating with someone like that, where you're coming from music angle and Jeremy's coming from visual art angle, how do you go about doing that? Do you guys shoot ideas back and forth? How did that work?
That's actually one of the reasons I ended up being happier with this project than I thought I would be because it really was a collaboration. It wasn't like I gave him a song and he drew a song or he drew a bunch of pictures and I made a song for it. We came up with the idea, of course, through a couple of sitdowns, and I was like, "alright." I was going out to write four bars of the lines, or eight bars of the lines, something equal to maybe 2 pages of pictures. And then I would send them to him and say, "This is where I'm at right now," and he would say, "This is cool" and "Yeah, I like this," and he would start drawing based on that.
As I was writing my part I would kind of hand it off to him and go through the text, go through the lyrics with him. He would kind of direct things, and we definitely went back and forth over the course of the writing of this four-minute song or whatever. It was really like a true collaboration, as opposed to you doing your half and me doing my half, you know what I mean. We did consult with each other the whole way.

The new record, any ideas on the name of the album, what stuff you're hoping to address with the record?
I don't have a title, and all of the songs I have don't have the right titles on them. I have got seven or eight songs that are keepers at this point. I'm just trying to be really picky about what I keep.

There's a bunch of stories on it, like more story lines than I ever did. At the risk of sounding corny, it's a little reflective. Not reflective, but there's definitely stuff that takes place that's kind of a just fun shit I did in high school and junior high school, that kind of stuff. There is this song that's almost like a "Children's Story" kind of song. Just stuff that kind of is just about growing up from age 1 to age 30, where I am now. It's going to be different songs that have to do with every couple years of your life kind of thing.
There's definitely more stories. I was never battle oriented, but when I did my kind of battle shit, I did my version of battle. There's kind of less of that and more of my stories that paint a scene, or kind of doing "This is what the city was like"...Just different characters and things like that. I don't know, I'm just trying to get real visual and really kind of... Originally I was going to do all stories, but I decided I couldn't' do all stories...

Has the change of your environment and your move west been reflected in your music
I'm sure people will say it will, because this definitely doesn't sound like anything I've done. And there's probably stuff on there that does sound like stuff I've done. I think people will be like "He moved to California, that's why he made this song." But I don't know. I tend to think that everything changes all the time anyway...It's not like I'm coming out with some G-Funk record or something. Your environment reflects what you do.

Any dream collabos?
There are some(pauses) actually, not really. If I think somebody is like a hero to me, I probably wouldn't want to collaborate. I'd rather them just maintain a hero. Be a hero in my eyes, because it's all too often you take someone who's the illest or that you look up to and then you meet them and it turns out they're an asshole (laughs).
Collaborations for me is I like to go with people that I know. I try and pick people that everyone's familiar with. I obviously have heroes from the underground all the way up to the top. But I don't think that I'd ever be the guy that pulls Redman aside and pays him a few g's to kick a verse or something. I want him to just be a hero.

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