Artist to Artist: Aesop Rock
It’s been about three years since Aesop Rock dropped his last solo record None Shall Pass. Busy touring and working on other projects such as The Dirty Ghosts record, some scoring of a NIKE spot as well as a collaborative record with Kimya Dawson. The dude stays busy…creating anything from art, to movies, to music, which brings us to his latest record, Skelethon, on Rhymesayers Entertainment. He had a little time to talk to us about what’s been going on in his world before he hits the road with his new material and possibly… a fake dead cat.
Matthew Leeb: At what point did you start writing? Did you write as a kid?
Aesop Rock: I think I started writing in Junior High School, just to try and write a rap basically. I don’t think I ever really wrote outside of Rap Music. Later in my life I took some creative writing courses, but I never really had an interest in sitting and writing a story. I sort of always was just writing lyrics.
ML: Did you always see yourself on a creative path?
AR: Yea, I think in general I always tried to be involved in art, I went to school for painting and even before that I was taking drawing classes outside of high school. That was what I was supposed to try and do, but yeah I like to be around creative people, ultimately it’s where I get the most satisfaction from. I always wanted to get to someplace in my life where I could make things full time whether it was drawing or music, that was always kind of the goal.
ML: I know you have 2 brothers…Are your brothers or parents artists?
AR: My parents are not creative, my older brother was very into music and very creative he was always drawing and painting and kind of playing weird music for me, everything from hip hop to punk rock…. I was introduced to music across the board at an early age. I think at the time, you know, the formative years. I realized that this was what excited me most in life and both of my brother’s helped in teaching me that.
ML: Growing up who were some of your favorite bands/rappers?
AR: Well let’s see, I’m 36 and it was like the late 80’s or quote… unquote “Golden Era,” so all the usual stuff: Run DMC and the Beastie Boys, eventually Boogie Down Productions, Kool G Rap… a lot of East Coast stuff. I also was real into skateboarding and that scene and those skate videos being put out exposed me to a lot of rock bands. I was listening to a lot of bands like Jawbreaker and The Dead Kennedys, that kind of thing.
ML: The imagery you’ve portrayed in your music is always so vivid, do you ever feel like you pick up on things that most people kind of ignore or don’t really take the time to see? That what you see kind of gives you this sort of unique perspective on the world?
AR: I try… I think that’s probably a good goal to have. I think it’s a combination of naturally seeing things differently… hopefully, and also keeping a fascination of seeking things out that are a little bit different.
ML: I remember playing your records for my friends that were into punk or indie rock. They could have hated Hip Hop, but they always dug your records. It always crossed boundaries. Do you think that’s just reflected in you as a human?
AR: That would be awesome. Ha-ha… I mean, I don’t know what it is. I like romanticizing the idea of being able to test people from all genres but I don’t know why that is. I do get a lot of that from people, you know like, “I hate Rap and then I found you!” I mean it’s cool, I welcome anybody from any facet of life and I take it as a compliment, but you know… it’s a weird thing.
ML: What are you listening to lately?
AR: Ha, shit…lately we’ve been rehearsing a lot so it’s been mostly me, Rob Sonic. I recently bought the latest Tom Waits record, so that has been in rotation.
ML: I know Skelathon was entirely self-produced, how was this experience different from other albums you’ve created?
AR: Well a lot of my albums I do a good portion of the production for, but at some point with this one it just became this beast, and a challenge where I was like, I’ve got to do this.
ML: You’ve got so many projects going on, from Dirty Ghosts to Uncluded, it seems like you’re constantly branching out.
AR: Yeah, you know it’s like it hit a point where I just wanted to try things and there’s no way to learn like trying other shit and bringing it back to incorporate into your own stuff. With the Dirty Ghosts, it was pretty up-tempo and most of the tracks were faster than anything I had rhymed on and the whole “sound” of the band was definitely something that I had to adapt to. Or you know, I’d program some drums and I’d really have to work them into the context of the band. To me that sort of thing is interesting…to not have the final say.
ML: What gear are you using nowadays?
AR: I’ve always had my ASR-10 which is kind of the center, it’s been my go to piece of equipment that I make a loop on or start a base to create the rest of the beat. So I have an ASR-10, Pro Tools and some other little pieces of gear. Between the people I make music with here, I’ll usually make a beat and invited a few people over and depending on the direction I’m going, well jam on it and I’ll go back and cut up whatever we do.
ML: I remember a friend gave me a cassette that had Music For Earthworms on it in like 1998. Did you ever see yourself here in 2012 back then when you were just getting started?
AR: No, I don’t even see myself here tomorrow… I’m just amazed that I’ve been able to maintain this long. I mean to me I don’t know if “personal” is the word but it’s like, it’s me in a room in my apartment. You don’t foresee a shelf life or even foresee anyone liking this stuff, but it feels good. It’s great to have someone appreciate something that’s 100 percent you and then have them be like, I want to buy that from you because I like it. In the early recordings it gave me the idea that maybe I could give it to a small record label and kind of tip toe my way into this music business. I didn’t know anything about the record business. My whole journey has kind of been this whole feel of tip-toeing and kind of seeing what’s comfortable for me. I don’t think I naturally feel comfortable in situations of releasing a record and going and promoting myself, it’s sort of a strange thing to do. I guess I’ve just been super lucky to have people in my life that really like what I do.
ML: How long have you known the guys at Rhymesayers? It seems like you guys all kind of came up together.
AR: Someone gave me an Atmosphere tape in the Overcast days, whenever that was. I met Slug soon after that, I think it was like his first trip to New York, and we’ve had a pretty good relationship over the years. It was kind of in a way that they were always doing what we were doing on the east coast. Right at the same time you’re kind of realizing the world is a little bit bigger than your circle of friends, and you meet people like that and now I’ve known some of those Rhymesayers kids for over a decade. They’ve always been there when I finish a project, I can just take it to them kind of like, we’re here if you need us type thing.
ML: What is Block Block Chop?
AR: Basically it was just a name I gave the projects I was working on. I guess technically it would be my record label but I just needed a name for it and I called it Block Block Chop.
ML: You’ve been putting out a lot of short films and videos lately. Do you see yourself doing more of that in the future?
AR: Yea. Video I feel is a relative medium for me. I’ve been editing audio for so long that I have a good sense of where to chop things. I think it’s a direct result of technology being available to anybody. When I was young I had to go buy a four-track, and now you can buy a laptop with multi-track recording software installed. Same thing with film, it was kinda like, here’s my movie it’s sitting on my laptop. I think Cage at the time showed me, which button cut and which button pastes or whatever, and I just jumped in head first teaching myself how to edit. The act of making video and cutting it together was very similar to what I’d been doing for a while so I enjoyed it. In the fall I think we’re going to release a video that will be like my first “official” featured video that I edited. It’s fun. It’s hard to say where I’m going to take it, but I like to do it.
ML: How’s Whiskers doing man?
AR: He’s good. I’ve been debating on whether or not he’s going to come on tour with me. I kind of feel like if I bring him on tour, somebody’s mom is going to come up and yell at me for dragging a dead cat around.
ML: I think you should probably bring him along.
AR: Yea, I mean obviously it’s fake, but it’s pretty gross looking. I’d have to be constantly reassuring people that it’s not real.
ML: What do you attribute your success as an artist to?
AR: I don’t know man, there’s never been a moment where I’m like, you know what? I’m just going to sit back and relax and feel good about what I’ve done. I’ve always just been worried about tomorrow. I think that’s my personality, anyway. But beyond that, here I am in the music industry, which is already super tense to have a job in. So, I don’t know what it is. I’d like to think that it’s because I’m a hard worker. Then again, I know a lot of hard workers that haven’t been able to maintain being a professional musician. I don’t know what it is and I think not knowing is what keeps me doing my thing naturally. I haven’t ever been like, “Well… they like this song so I’ll just make another one like this.” I’ve always approached it like, “I’m going to make what I’m going to make and you’re going to like it or not.” I don’t expect anyone to stay along for the ride. I don’t know, it’s always been my approach to just stay in my lane and make the records I’m going to make and hope that people are still on board with me.
ML: It seems like if you’re not working on a record you’re always on tour. Do you like that experience?
AR: It’s not my favorite part of it. It’s funny because early on I wrote all these personal songs about my life and all of a sudden people started to say, “We like this, perform this song about being anti-social in a room full of people.” So that’s the opposite of what I mentally feel like doing, you know what I mean? Touring is like its own monster, it’s never something I’ve been comfortable with, but I just do it. I have had people like Rob and Wiz with me for years now. So we have a good team and we get through it, and we even enjoy it on a very specific level. Some people love touring and it’s what they’re about, that’s not me.
ML: You’ve always toured with some interesting bands. The Octopus Project, Black Moth Super Rainbow, who are you hitting the road with this time around?
AR: Dark Time Sunshine is coming; this kid named Edison is coming, who’s this San Francisco beat-maker. It’s this situation where this kid is really fucking good at doing what he does, and I have no idea what he’s doing when I watch it. I hope that people who don’t know who he is have a similar experience when they see him. He hasn’t really toured nationally yet so I’m hoping this will get him some good years.
ML: Are you still chasing that Chris Ware interview?
AR: You know what! I got a couple opportunities to do it and I passed. I was like… you know what, after all these years I don’t think I want to talk to this guy because I put him on such a pedestal. Even a couple weeks ago some other mag said, “Hey we got Chris Ware, do you want to interview him?” I thought that I shouldn’t do that; I would just stay a fan from a far. I’ve kind of always been like that. Even if I like a musician, I don’t like them in a way where I want to work with them, I like to be a fan of them. One time maybe two years ago or something I think Juxtapoz said Chris agreed to do five questions. That was the beginning of me deciding that I just want to be this guy’s fan.
ML: So you’ve been in SF for about 6 years now. Are there certain things that you miss about NYC?
AR: Yes and no, I miss having a pretty close network of friends. At the same time, when I left New York I was really looking for something new. I always had plans of going back there but once I got out for a few years I thought maybe not. I don’t know. I don’t know that I’ll stay in SF forever, but I’d like to try something else. When I first moved here I was wearing my Yankee’s hat every day and thought I was a New Yorker living in San Francisco, and then you get past that. It takes a while to realize that, wow… I’m enjoying my new environment. I do see myself doing it again, just uprooting and going somewhere I’ve never been, just because it’s weird. It stirs things up quite a bit, I think. Familiarity is what use to drive me, and to some degree being completely unfamiliar with my surroundings is starting to drive me.
ML: Elvis or the Beatles?
AR: The Beatles. I never listened to anything by Elvis really.
ML: If you had to pick an actor to play you in a movie about your life, who would it be?
AR: Rick Moranis
ML: Good Answer.
ML: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
AR: I don’t know dude, I mean I didn’t see myself here, ever. What I hope I’m doing is anything remotely creative. That desire seems to just die out in people at some point. I just hope that fire sort of stays in me because I want to make things. It’s pretty easy to get discouraged when you’re doing it professionally, whether it’s music or art or anything creative at all.
ML: Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you like to read?
AR: I never read, ever. I don’t’ think I’ve read a book since To Kill A Mockingbird in school. I read National Geographic and science magazines. I feel like I would do better with books on tape but I never went there.
ML: What about Movies? What are some of your favorite?
AR: See, that’s the opposite because I could pretty much enjoy any movie. Of all time type thing I’d have to put Apocalypse Now in there, maybe even Rushmore. I am really looking forward to seeing Wes Anderson’s new movie. Seriously though, I can pretty much watch any single movie and sit through it and take something away from it.
“Skelathon” is set to release July 10, 2012 on Rhymesayers Entertainment