Astronautalis on over-the-top comparisons, hip-hop's progression and fans "getting it"
Andy Bothwell, aka. Astronautalis, has oft times been labeled as the Tom Waits or Hunter S. Thompson of underground hip-hop. Like many others in his position, he began honing his skills in high school, battling on corners while climbing rank amongst industry-friendly peers. His unhurried and intelligent prose quickly became a trademark sound, along with witty freestyles that are as much a part of his show as the mellow beats they complement.
Recently, Astronautalis has been riding the wave of his three independently successful albums. While no official date has been set on any future solo projects, he has put aside time this year to work with P.O.S. on their collaborative album, his first of its kind.
Westword was able to grab Bothwell on a rare day off in advance of his show tonight at the Summit Music Hall to ask him how he felt about those seemingly over-the-top comparisons, his predictions on the new progression of hip-hop and how he feels when his fans actually "get it."
Brian Frederick (WW): Recently you finished up your two-week support tour with Tegan and Sara in Australia. How was it?
Andy Bothwell (AB): Australia was amazing, mind blowing. I've fallen in love with the city of Melbourne. It has everything I'm looking for in a city. It's like Austin, Texas with a beach, which is all I really want.
The crowds were fantastic. There's a significant amount of enthusiasm for music out there because they're just so far removed from the rest of the world. When people travel to see them and travel to play, they're very appreciative. It was pretty amazing; I can't wait to go back
WW: Following up on your tweets and updates it seems like you had a lot of trouble with your shows in Canada these past few weeks?
AB: Yeah, we had some unnecessary trouble at the border and one of our clubs burnt down. Everything that could have possibly gone wrong in a week went wrong in that week. Apparently it burnt down two weeks before our show, but they didn't tell us until three days before.
We just put it up on the Internet that we needed a show and some fans and friends came through and got me a 30-minute slot in the middle of some all-ages hardcore show. It was fun; we just made the best of the situation. It'll be a funny story in about a year though, you know?
WW: How has it been now that you've just recently brought your live show overseas?
AB: It's been exciting. There's a part of it that's a natural next step. We've gotten everything we can out of the States, promoting the way I'm promoting and touring the way I'm touring. You know, I don't get advertising in magazines. We don't get a huge push from a record label.
Basically, I just make an album and try to make the best record I can possibly make, and then put on the best show that I can, and then I just repeat. Repeat. Repeat, you know? There's certainly a glass ceiling on that in America that you can achieve, realistically, without needing further financial support. Going to Europe and Australia was just another opportunity to build that foundation.
It was an amazing experience to see Lithuania and have people in the crowd know all the lyrics to my songs. That's extremely mind blowing, and humbling. I made these songs in my bedroom or my bathroom and the fact that they've made it this far, and they had this much of a life, you know.
It's easy sometimes to feel defeated or get frustrated when you play seven shows in Canada and everything goes wrong, and there are not a lot of people at these shows. But, then the thing that eggs you on is the fact that it's not working at all times in all places, but it's working in these places, and these far places from where I am and where I'm from. It's great motivation. It's not just my friends and not just Americans, but people are getting it and that's just an amazing feeling.
WW: What do you think when there are both critics and supporters out there comparing you to people like Tom Waits or even labeling you as a Hunter S. Thompson of underground hip-hop?
AB: I think it's awesome, I mean, totally awesome. I think a lot of times some of those comparisons are very appropriate and sometimes I think, um, I'm so superficial, I think? Of course Tom Waits and I have a deep growly voice and I fucking love Tom Waits so of course that's going to bleed into my work. Of course I appreciate it and it's insanely flattering, but I also think in the back of my mind, like, c'mon really guys? Come on guys, settle down here; I don't think so. Maybe that's just insecurity or false modesty on my part, but I mean [laughs], really guys?
WW: What are some of your inspirations today?
AB: A lot of the music I listen to and a lot of the people that excite me or inspire me creatively or [even] on the business end of my job, a lot of those people are my friends. Which is an amazing thing. When I listen to a P.O.S. record and think that it's awesome, that's amazing. It feeds me. Do two tours with Tegan and Sara and watch how they work. It's super inspirational to me.
A lot of the people I get my fuel from are people who are my friends and people I'm surrounded with. Before I was kind of always dealing with idols, worshiping someone like Tom Waits or Radiohead or the Halo Benders; someone I didn't know. Now for it to come from a place close to home is radical.
With that said, I still get huge inspiration from a writer named Mark Helprin whose kind of been my number one inspiration for language and usage of words in the past few years. If you read his books you'll see the complexity of language being carefully lifted and put into Pomegranite. But, it's pretty rad that the guys I hang out with and have beers with are the guys that make me want to make better music.
WW: You've said before that you feel we're at an interesting time for the entire indie-rap movement you've been a part of for almost a decade now. Where does it go from here?
AB: This last weekend Rhymesayers records put on Soundset Minneapolis and there were 13,000 people there. Granted, the headliners were like, Method Man and Redman, but there's a certain aspect of that that I feel by and large the line between indie-rap music and mainstream rap music is kind of blurred in a lot of ways. I feel like in some ways the people who have taken advantage of that have been the pop rappers. You see rappers like Jay-Z dropping and getting off the record label and basically establishing the indie formula on a grand scale. They make their money on tour and they grind it out and make money in other ways because they don't make money off record sales anymore.
I feel like with a lot of the indie rappers that were at the forefront, a lot of them have been making the same record for the past few records. That's disappointing to me. I think Rhymesayers is an amazing exception. Rhymesayers does amazing business and they put out good records and they promote them well. I think they're a label that will not only continue to grow, but continue to flourish. I think they're going to be the one who comes through the whole thing and everyone else will fall behind. They did it right.
I think both creatively and from a business stand point most indie rap music, or what has been considered indie rap music in the past few years, has failed. I feel like they failed to grow as artists and their fan base is growing and moving on to other things. They're getting excited about rappers like the Cool Kids or Kid Sister, you know, Lil Wayne, Young Jeezy, Yelawolf. The other rappers were kind of just being cranky and being mad that people didn't get them, instead of really understanding why their fans were leaving.
I don't think it's any coincidence "Paid Dues" is making this huge push and having bigger names; like they had Ice Cube on it. I think that there are certain groups of people who are really seeing a future and certain groups who are clinging desperately to the past, which is a problem that rap music has had its entire life. Always and forever people who cling to the past will get left behind. And, that's the way it goes.