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Astronautalis is a white emcee from Florida whose musical growth is marked by incredible transformation. His debut album, "You & Yer Good Ideas" (released on Fighting Records) was a unique independent hip-hop album that mixed country and folk with rapping. Known for clever free styling and wild references, Astronautalis began to experiment with his sound. The young artist began to change his already unique style. He began with hip-hop dominated folk sound to an alternative indie-rock feel with a hip-hop backbone. Friend and colleague, Ben Cooper (aka Radical Face and Electric President) assisted Astronautalis with his musical journey. Creator of poignant indie rock, Radical Face was an unlikely choice for a producer of a hip-hop album. The thrill of experimentation and an unknown final result were just some beautiful aspects of creativity. As the winter of 2006 ended, Astronautalis released his sophomore album, 'The Mighty Ocean & Nine Dark Theaters' on Fighting Records. Although the artist and record label may cause someone to categorize this LP as a hip-hop, this Astronautalis album sounds more like indie rock. At the core of the album, hip-hop reigns. The opening track, 'Short Term Memory Loss' instantly displays a new side to the artist. Some inimitable beat-boxing ignites 'Meet Me Here Later'. The upbeat track, 'Lost At Sea' is poignantly vivid with a memorable chorus. The deep, bluesy feel of 'Xmas In July' has a bittersweet emotion and a universal theme. A modern classic, 'Xmas In July' captures the feeling of gratitude for a warm place to sleep. The sing-a-long crowd participation used in the song's finale adds a timeless quality to the album. 'The Mighty Ocean & Nine Dark Theaters' may have to grow on fans, but album sounds better with every repeated listen.
Hip-hop has the power to transcend every musical style and genre. A white guy from Florida, Astronautalis has hip-hop running through his veins as he makes unique indie rock. During the gold era of hip-hop, emcees and producers were experimenting. The innovators were not limited by categories. These hip-hop legends have walked a musical path, not knowing where it would lead them. Astronautalis is traveling on is musical odyssey. He's swimming the deep ocean of music, so fans could be entertained in the dark theater of life.
TODD E. JONES: 'What goes on?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'Laundry, then, packing. Followed shortly there after, by customs, flying, and Mark Helprin's 'Memoirs From An Antproof Case'. Finishing 20 hours later, in a blaze of jetlag and culture shock, I'll land in Shanghai and try and pick out my brother and his bright red mohawk out of over 2 billion Chinese people.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Tell us about your sophomore album, 'The Mighty Ocean & Nine Dark Theaters', which was just released on Fighting Records.'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'It is my second full-length record and the first album I made in a real studio, without any real limitations about time, money, or gear. Fearing such limitless possibilities, I decided to make some self-imposed limitations to give me something to push up against. The album is a non-linear story told in 4 acts, a development of a theory, I was working on at the time. A belief that every stage of growth in our lives, be it teenage years, adulthood, parenthood, or whatever, can be broken into 4 distinct acts. It is only in the brief flash, connecting that 4th act with the 1st act of the next stage, that we really have any perfect balance and control over our lives. For 3 months, all is right with the world. Then, the world is quite good at giving us a swift kick into our new life, where we are the same lost little lambs we were when we were born. Only this time, we are lambs with facial hair, or wives, or kids, or a mortgage, and still just as lost, spending the next few years relearning how to live.'
TODD E. JONES: 'What is the meaning behind the title, 'The Mighty Ocean & Nine Dark Theaters'?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'I focused the thesis of the album on the teenage stage of my own life, growing up in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. The two biggest outside influences for me, at that time, were the movie theater that I worked at and the ocean I swam in. Funny how things like that can mold you even years down the line.'
TODD E. JONES: 'The 'Mighty Ocean & Nine Dark Theaters' album is very different from the previous music you created? Why?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'Heaven help me if I ever make the same album twice. Music should always be challenging. The day that this job becomes easy for me, is the day I should go look for a new job.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Favorite song on the 'The Mighty Ocean & Nine Dark Theaters' LP?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'I am very proud of 'Lost At Sea Part 1 & 2'.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Which song on the 'The Mighty Ocean & Nine Dark Theaters' took you the longest to complete? Why?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: ''Meet Me Here Later' was the longest and most frustrating to complete. I knew what that song needed to be from the minute we started work, but it never came together. Songs like that seem to be the hardest songs to write. When you have such a clear and concrete idea in your head, it can become a maddening pursuit to perfection. What finally made it on the album is, in fact, the 4th or 5th version of that song. There were some other nice versions, but none of them actually sat well on the record as a whole. This one seemed to tie so much together, once I recorded the beat-boxing.'
TODD E. JONES: 'One of my favorite tracks on the album is 'Xmas In July'. What inspired this song? Tell us about that track.'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'Through other musicians and touring, we became very close friends with a rapper named JD Walker and his rapper wife, Sontiago. They live in a marvelous house on top of a hill in Portland, Maine. You lose any established sense of home by touring, but for whatever reason, their house has always felt like home for us. No matter what time of year we came into Portland, it felt like Christmas. Comfortable, inviting, perfect.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Do you do many overdubs while recording?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'Yes, we build almost everything in layers and layers of overdubs. For this record, we used a tremendous amount of layers. One song included over 120 individual tracks. The majority of the recording for this record was just myself and Radical Face. There were only a few occasions when we were able to record large chunks of songs live, at once, with session musicians. When we could, we jumped at the chance.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Do you use any first takes or do you usually do multiple?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'If something comes out nicely on the first take, we shoot off fireworks, but it rarely does. I don't mind doing hundreds of takes to make it perfect. It has to be perfect. That is why we spent a year and a half on the damn thing.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Ben Cooper (from Radical Face / Electric President) produced 'The Mighty Ocean & Nine Dark Theaters'. How did you hook up with him? What was he like to work with?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'I met Ben on my 3rd day at the job at the Pablo 9 Movie Theaters, the same theater from the album title, when I was 16 years old. We have been friends ever since. Musically, I wouldn't be half the artist I am today without the guidance he gave me and the things he taught me. Everything is about process before product with him. There is no bad idea. We try everything and if it doesn't work, we delete it and start over. He saw my strengths and taught me how to use them. At the same time, he pointed out many of my weaknesses and how to overcome them. I owe him damn near everything.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Will you work with Ben Cooper of Radical Face / Electric President again?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'We have done two whole albums together. I imagine that we will always bump into each other on future creative endeavors. He lives less than a half a mile from my house. I can't help but bump into him. But I doubt we will ever work on a full length record again. We have already gotten so much out of our working relationship. Neither of us would ever want to develop a creepy co-dependency like Elton John and Bernie Taupin.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Will you go back to creating straight hip-hop?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'I am making a couple little EPs in the future that will be pretty standard rap songs, featuring production by Maker, Shalem B, and some others. But those tracks are more of a test or an experiment for me, not a full-fledged project. So, I guess my answer is that it is doubtful.'
TODD E. JONES: 'How are the fans responding to the album, 'The Mighty Ocean & Nine Dark Theaters'?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'Better than I thought they would, Great, in fact. I lost a lot of sleep thinking I was making a terrible mistake. But, that is just half the fun of the creative process and that whole artistic credibility thing, I guess. All in all, the response has been great, which is a bit surprising and very exciting.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Gary Numan? What was it that inspired the song, 'A Love Song For Gary Numan'?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'It was a dare.'
TODD E. JONES: 'The cover for 'The Mighty Ocean and Nine Dark Theaters' LP is very original and has a timeless quality. I love it. Was this cover your idea? Tell us about making the cover?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'I had the idea for the album cover for as long as I had the idea for the songs. I set up the photo and got a friend of mine to push the shutter for me. Then, I spent the next month tweaking 8 layers of the same image in Photoshop until the image in my brain matched the image on my screen. Sometimes, you get lucky and things like that work out.'
TODD E. JONES: 'The layout for the CD/album is also very cool. I love how every song is represented by a Polaroid picture and the lyrics are on the back of each one. What inspired this idea? Was there a process for choosing each photo? Were these older photos or were the photos taken specifically for this album?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'I like albums that give you something to mull over while you listen, some supplemental material to make your purchase worthwhile. With all the heavy-handed nostalgia floating around on this record, Polaroid's seemed like a natural choice. Some photos, I took specifically for songs. Some, I pulled out of my archives. I knew what I wanted for each photo, pretty much but, as in all things, there are always a few happy accidents. Doing all the design work myself was quite a headache, but I am very happy with the way it all turned out.'
TODD E. JONES: 'What is the meaning behind your name, Astronautalis?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'Urbandictionary.com defines Astronautalis as 'The best deep underground rapper. Known for his deep rhymes and different beats. He takes Eminem's title for best white rapper.' Look out, Eminem. Urbandictionary.com says I am coming for you!'
TODD E. JONES: 'When creating a track, do you have a set theme or idea first, or do you start with the music?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'The chicken or the egg?'
TODD E. JONES: 'What was the recording process like for the new album? How was it different from other times?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'I could do whatever I wanted to do on this record. As I said before, there were no limitations on gear, time, and money. This was quite a big jump for Radical Face and me. The last album was recorded in 3 weeks with one mic, in my bathroom. It was quite a nice way to make a record.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Musically, what else have you been working on?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'I just finished a split 12' with a great rapper from Houston named, Babel Fish. This is coming out on a German record label. Beyond that, I have been doing a lot of guest work for other artists. I did beats for Sole, vocals for a couple other rappers, and I have a series of EPs entitled 'DANG!' where I make 7 songs in 7 days, under a specific set of rules and guidelines. One of which will be that aforementioned 'Rap EP'.'
TODD E. JONES: 'What are some of your favorite drum machines / samplers?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: '808's still make my dick hard.'
TODD E. JONES: 'On the song, 'Power, Money And Influence' from Guru's 'Version 7.0: The Street Scriptures' album, Talib Kweli remarks that Pro-Tools made producers lazy. Do you agree?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'Someone should ask Mr. Kweli what made him so damn lazy. He has been making the same song for almost 10 years now and wouldn't have anything to show for it if it weren't for his producers! What a presumptuous thing for him to say! I personally hate Pro-Tools. It is over-priced, overrated, and counterintuitive. You can do the same thing on cheaper and better-designed platforms. However, the revolution that came from digital recording, lead by companies like Digi-Design, has changed music forever. Pro-tools didn't make producers lazy. Those kinds of people would have been lazy no matter what luxuries technology afforded them. Digital recording took the power out of the studio system and made quality bedroom recording available to the masses. It is very easy now to write, record, mix, master, and distribute a record, right from your own home. You don't need a label. You don't need a studio. You don't need a lot of money to make a great record that sounds like a great record. Without digital recording, most of the great indie music made in the last 10 years couldn't have happened. We would all love to have miles of 2' tape to run through, but it just isn't realistic. If you think that the fine people at Warner Brothers records have Mr. Kweli recording on something other than Pro-tools, you are sadly mistaken, but that don't stop him from blowing smoke up our ass now, does it?'
TODD E. JONES: 'Around what time in your career did you start financially surviving from music?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'I have been surviving for about a year now. I still haven't started paying myself, just paying my bills. I don't make enough money to stay at home and light cigars with dollar bills. I make enough to keep my records and clothes at my parent's house, and live on tour. It is still better than a regular job. That is for damn sure.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Do you think that success and credibility are mutually exclusive?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'I sure hope not.'
TODD E. JONES: 'What song / album are you most proud of?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'My next song, my next album.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Who are some artists you would like to collaborate with in the future?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'Smog, Midlake, Against Me, Devin The Dude, Joanna Newsom, and Young Jeezy.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Who are some producers you would like to collaborate with in the future?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'Nigel Godrich, Dr. Dre, Dave Fridmann, Phil Elvrum, Organized Noise, Diamond D, and Showbiz.'
TODD E. JONES: 'How did you get the deal with Fighting Records?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'They had seen me play live and heard my record through one of their A&R's named, Mor Krivinsky. He had a lot of faith in me and passed that faith on to them. Now, we are all rich.'
TODD E. JONES: 'What have you been listening to in the last couple of days?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'Midlake's 'The Trials Of Van Occupanther', Radical Face's 'Ghost', 'To The Confusion Of Our Enemies' by The Riverboat Gamblers, The four leaked tracks off the new DJ Shadow, Smog's 'A River Ain't Too Much To Love', Bob Dylan's 'Blood On The Tracks', and I still can't stop listening to Young Jeezy's 'Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101'.'
TODD E. JONES: 'What is your favorite part of your live show?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'We have been playing around 200 shows a year for 3 years in a row. I still get surprised by some the things that come out of my mouth, for better and worse. I am a much more entertaining person on a stage, with a mic in my hand, than I am in real life.'
TODD E. JONES: 'How has your live show evolved?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'I started out playing live shows, battling, and hosting hip-hop nights. I even went to college for theater. Live shows have always been natural for me. On stage, I can read a crowd very quickly. My show has just slowly shifted and changed over the years, reflecting what I think is a nice balance between what the audience demands and my own personal interests. Making records is the hard part for me. I get in over my head in a studio but, on stage, I am at home. I am about to embark on a month long tour with Electric President and Alias & Tarsier. I plan on putting that nice balance to the test and trying out a lot of new things in the live show.'
TODD E. JONES: 'What do you think about the current situation between The United States and the Middle East?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'Are they on tour with LCD Soundsystem?'
TODD E. JONES: 'Abortion. Pro-choice or pro-life?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'I met a baby once. He was like totally rich, but he was cool about it you know? He didn't like rub it in your face or let it go to his head or anything. I met him at this Glass Candy show in Brooklyn. He invited me to this awesome party back at some model's house. We stayed up all night smoking, drinking, and talking about Nikes and post-punk. That baby was totally cool. Most babies are gay, but that one, he was cool.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Euthanasia. For or against?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'You mean 'Youthanasia'? I think it is a mediocre album, even for Megadeath.'
TODD E. JONES: 'What is your opinion on MySpace?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'MySpace is 'a place for friends' and a valuable tool for a musicians and date rapists.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Has being white been an obstacle in hip-hop?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'It hasn't.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Word association. When I say a name, you say the first word that pops into your head. So, if I said, 'Public Enemy', you may say 'Revolution' or 'Chuck D'. Okay?'
TODD E. JONES: 'Atmosphere.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Dead Prez.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Happy Mondays.'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'Simon Raymonde.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Kool Keith.'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'Plastic hair.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Necro.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Wu-Tang Clan.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Eminem.'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'Nice suit.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Public Enemy.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Little Brother.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Phife Dawg.'
TODD E. JONES: 'MF Doom.'
TODD E. JONES: 'De La Soul.'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'BK lounge.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Jimi Hendrix.'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'Janis Joplin.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Spank Rock.'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'Forest creatures.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Curtis Mayfield.'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'Spank Rock.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Billy Holiday.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Gil-Scott Heron.'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'Crack cocaine.'
TODD E. JONES: 'George Bush.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Who are your biggest influences?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'My Father, my mother, my two brothers, Ben Cooper, Mark Helprin, Smog, Calvin Johnson, Samuel Beckett, Lord Finesse, Devin The Dude, Nigel Godrich, Steve McQueen, Van Morrison, and William F. Buckley. That sounds pretty good.'
TODD E. JONES: 'What is the best thing about living in Florida?'
TODD E. JONES: 'What is the worst thing about living in Florida?'
TODD E. JONES: 'What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'If someone tells you that they know what they are doing or they know the right way to do things, they are lying. Everyone is just making it all up as they go along. We are all in it for the free drinks.'
TODD E. JONES: 'What are some of your favorite films?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'Anything with Steve McQueen, Michael Caine, or Rodney Dangerfield. 'Master and Commander', 'Patton', 'The Descent', and all of Hayao Miyazaki's movies. I really want to see 'ATL' again.'
TODD E. JONES: 'These days, what is a typical day like for you?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'Generally, I am on a stage or in the back of a van, riding to a stage. If you can't find me at either of those places, I am sure I am on my laptop answering MySpace messages. Tomorrow, though, I will be on my way to China for 17 days of bliss without stages, vans, laptops, or MySpace.'
TODD E. JONES: 'What are some major misconceptions do you think people have of you?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'I don't know where people got this idea that I was cool. I went to school for theater and have spent a pretty good amount of money on dice for role playing games. I guess I have a pretty cool job though.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Are you in a romantic relationship these days? Has touring, recording, and the hip-hop lifestyle affected relationships?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'I was with a great girl for a while, but I am in a bad position to be anyone's boyfriend. I am never home. I never write and never call. When I am home, I just work and work and work. One day, I will get tired of working on my own life/art and will want to work with someone on 'our life'. In the meantime, I am single and enjoying all the blessings and curses there in.'
TODD E. JONES: 'What do you look for in a woman?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'Right now, understanding and clean sheets.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Did you get along with your parents? What do they think about your music?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'My parents are my best friends. They are very big fans of my music and they are very proud of what I am doing with my life. I am lucky, very lucky to have them.'
TODD E. JONES: 'When you die, would you like to be buried or cremated?'
TODD E. JONES: 'What would you want on your epitaph?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'A transcript of Rodney Dangerfield's dialogue from 'Caddyshack'.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Are there any collaborations that fans should look out for?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'I am supposed to work on some songs with this great band called The pAper chAse on Kill Rock Stars. Mike Wiebe, from The Riverboat Gamblers, and I are planning to make our own version, old punk and new hip-hop. My homie, Isaiah and I have a group, in the works, called, No More Thank You. This rapper named, Bleubird and I are working on an exercise video called, 'Boyfriends INC'.'
TODD E. JONES: 'What's next?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'I am going to go to the store to get some milk and some cereal. It will be 17 days without either in China, so I want to stock up.'
TODD E. JONES: 'Final words?'
ASTRONAUTALIS: 'Teach your kids to smoke.'
THANK YOU ASTRONAUTALIS ! ! !
Interview by Todd E. Jones
NOTICE: This interview is property of Todd E. Jones and cannot be duplicated or posted without written permission.
Astronautalis MySpace Page: http://www.myspace.com/astronautalis
Astronautalis Web Site: http://www.modelcitizens.org
Fighting Records: http://www.fightingrecords.com
"I'm Never Right" - ASTRONAUTALIS
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"Ocean Walk"- ASTRONAUTALIS