Astronautalis is not a name you’re familiar with, of this I can be fairly sure. He isn’t blowing up the charts, except maybe on iTunes, but he is out there on the road and in the studio bending genres and delivering powerful music every time out of the gate.
Last week he released This is Our Science for his furiously loyal fan base, which he accumulated over seven years and more than 500,000 miles worth of touring. This latest album is transcendent in its genres he uses to tell his personal and oft time autobiographical stories. From the very first track, “The River, The Woods,” you are taken on a journey spanning two and a half years and is the accumulation of decades of stories and life lessons.
Astronautalis, Andy Bothwell by name, is as much a hip-hop artist as he is a story teller from a long line of story tellers that accumulated enough interesting life stories worth telling. He flirts and even consummates a relationship with pop music in a few tracks, but when you get to Thomas Jefferson or Holy Water, you know that there is so much to be found in the tracks laid down on Science.
A son of the south, an adopted son of Florida, Seattle, and now Minneapolis, he might be categorized as a vagabond of sorts. He has been so many places and a man of this many mailing addresses, he also performs from many places: His mind, his heart, and belts it all out from deep in his gut.
His new album is the album he’s always wanted to make. One that he choked down and let simmer. For every artist, in any medium, there is that moment where it all comes together and you say “fuck it.” You let rip that guttural scream and lay it all out there on the line. There is no more tip-toeing through the Tulips. There is that thing you need to make, for yourself more than anything. This is Our Science is that album.
Andy seems to know as much about himself as he does about the world around him. His bright mind and visceral heart is ever present whether he is performing with Tegan Quin on Contrails or is forcing an involuntary raising of the arms on Dimitri Mendeleev. This album never gets old, even on repeat, as every track is something a little different than the last, but it all hangs together so well in a Wagnerian manner where the sum of it’s part work in concert to be something greater than itself.
Astronautalis labors in his live shows and sings his lungs out. From the gravelly tone in Holy Water to the melodious nature of Secrets on Our Lips to the rap styling of the title track This is Our Science, you feel he is genuine throughout and taking you on a sonic trip down lonely highways to the next stop, the next gig.
Astronautalis will be in SoCal soon, and for more information on the uber-local show at The Central in Santa Monica on Oct. 12, check out his website. Also like him on Facebook to keep up to date. He is on Twitter, too. Oh, and if you’re one to test drive a car before you buy it, then listen to the new album This is Our Science over at absolutepunk.com in it’s entirety. Support indie hip-hop, because if you like Hearing this kind of fantastic music, someone’s gotta pay for it to keep it coming.
@astronautalis on Twitter
Astronautalis Takes a Moment for an Exclusive Interview with Disarray Magazine Only Days Before The Start of His US Tour
DM: This is Our Science dropped last week and I have to ask: What about this album stands out for you, or is something you’re most proud of?
Astronautalis: I think that I feel like this album has been trapped inside me. Maybe I didn’t have the skill, or the courage, to do it. I feel like I skirted around a lot of these ideas and I never fully committed to them on the previous records. I kind of got to a point where I was like, “fuck it.” This is the record I really wanted to make and I feel like I overcame my own personal fears. Because when you engage, in any medium really, there can be that personal blockage about what people will think and what this record will mean to you and to others. I fell like I pushed through a lot of that and the songs are much more personal and connected to myself and the world at large than the previous records. I am really pretty proud of it.
DM: You’ve seen a bit of success with this one. It tracked at #9 on the iTunes hip-hop chart and at #90 overall. What do you attribute this success with? I know you’ve been a road warrior for some seven years now. Is that the way to get this kind of success in today’s market with no real advertising or promotional market, just hit the road one fan at a time?
Astronautalis: Well, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, for sure, but for us that’s just how it works. I just got into a car with my best friend, who eventually became my manager, and we just did laps around America until we could do laps around Europe and until we could go to Australia, and we just keep doing this. I really pride myself on the quality of my live shows.
Kanye West. So, I feel like I’ve created a small, devoted fan base that like not only what I’m doing artistically, but also with my life and with my business. They appreciate the work I put in to what I do. I feel like people want to support that, which is cool, because I don’t get a lot of advertisement, album reviews, or magazine spreads. I think I’ve earned their support by just grinding it out and making a good product whether it’s on stage, Twitter, or on a record.
DM: With your background, you seem to be a character Mark Twain would have written about; some kind of modern day Tom Sawyer. Your father is a Texas train man with a crooked nose from bar fights, and your mother was a 17 year old runaway Kentucky beauty. You have Uncles that made a living horse gambling, and your have grandparents that were everything from spies to test pilots. Do you draw from that background in your music? There is also some clear education in the arcane references you make in your music that I am sure keep young people busy on one Wiki site or another. This is all part of you, and I know this is a very personal album, but how much does your ancestry or background play a role?
Astronautalis: Well, I am very close with my family. My mother, brothers, and particularly my father, and there has always been a priority on...not “legacy”...but that is essentially what it comes down to. I come from a long line of story tellers who have lived pretty adventurous lives, and my father is a fantastic story teller. Whether it is my family, or family friends, it has always been about judging a person on the life they’ve lived and the stories that get collected throughout that life. That’s always been something that has been hammered in to my brain since I was a little kid. So, I knew all the stories about my grandparents, great-grandparents, and my father and my mother, and those were always important parts of the foundation of the person I wanted to grow up to be. It was always a priority in my life, was to go out, see the world, and gain experience, knowledge, and collect stories. It’s had always been there, and then came the time where it shaped my career, and my art. It was never something I thought about, it was just part of the natural process, the process of my entire life.
DM: What kind of journey are you hoping to take listeners of This is Our Science on? It does jump around a bit in style, sound, content. Is this an album that you just sat down and wrote in a few months, or is the listener following you through years of work, lyrics, and beats?
Astronautalis: These are all songs I have written over the last three years of touring. The first song I started writing for this record was “Midday Moon.” I literally started writing it the last couple days of recording for Pomegranate. I started there, and I started to lay the foundation for the album in my mind. When I make an album I approach it as if I’m writing a paper. There has to be a thesis and an overlying concept to the entire thing. It’s not like I’m making an opera every time, but I have to have a focus. I learned art through academic means. I learned by going to theatre school and I approach things academically, sometimes to a fault. The album does bounce around a bit, it’s a little all over, and has to capture the feelings of the last seven years of my life just traveling all over. It has to encompass how things are different in different places and at different times and how up and down this life can be. You have these really amazing moments, these highs, where you just kill a show, and all of a sudden you’re sitting in the car eating peanut butter and jelly. [This life] is very back and forth and manic. Stylistically I really wanted to achieve that. I have been about trying to stretch this genre as much as I can. With this one I feel like I really pushed it even further.
As far as content and concept, there are a lot of parallels of my life and the lives of my friends, who are discovering their own path through the world. So, I am paralleling that with the lives and the works of the scientists in the age of enlightenment. There are a lot of conclusions that can be drawn between these two things. There are these two groups of people who had an idea of what they wanted to do, but didn’t necessarily have an idea of how to go about getting it. Scientists in that age knew that this world is made up of these incredible elements, but didn’t really know how to go about discovering it. So they proceeded to set themselves on fire, put needles in their eye, eat Plutonium, and huff Carbon Monoxide trying to discover things. That’s just like me and a lot of my friends. We knew we wanted to make careers in art and music, but we didn’t really have a way to go about doing it, except to get in a car, starving yourself, and singing your lungs out until, all of a sudden, people give a damn and you’re on iTunes. The album may be a little all over the place style and content wise, but I think that it always comes back down to the idea of chasing and hunting down a dream and capturing it.
DM: You might be the first person to draw that parallel between indie musicians and age of enlightenment scientists; that’s a safe bet. You mentioned your pride in your live show. What can people coming out to see you expect in a show? From your album I am betting this isn’t just you on a Mac with a couple turn tables.
Astronautalis: Well, for years my show was just me and my iBook. Now, I am touring with a full band. I’ve got a drummer, punk guitar player, and a producer playing, like, an MPC or a drum machine, so it is just fuckin’ loud and it is sweaty. It is very energetic. It feels like church, but with a lot more whiskey.
DM: And I can hear that kind of southern church, delta bluesy kind of vibe. Especially with tracks like Holy Water I can hear that influence. This is a hip-hop album, but what are some of those other influences that give you the sound that you have?
Astronautalis: Well, I grew up in the south and my family is from the south, so that has always been a part of it. My family is NOT religious at all, but I did grow up in the bible belt. That feel has always just been in me, and I knew grew up going to church, and it wasn’t part of my life, but it has always been around. Country and folk have always been there as well. I had the fortune of growing up in the eighties and early nineties when the American indie scene was really exploding. It was also thanks to being a part of the skateboarding community at the time. I would watch skate videos and was taught a diverse spectrum of musical tastes as a result of that. I have always had the fortune of being exposed to music of all kinds, and grew up in a time when it was cool to be into all those different areas fro Leonard Cohen to Wu-Tang.
There is also a lot of really nerdy literature in there, a lot of old dead poets and that sort of thing. I seem to continue to add writers and artists and painters and musicians and architects and scientists to the big cork board in my mind. I add and remove, and add and remove, until I have a gigantic collage that sums up my inspiration for the record.
DM: I see you have some different people on this album. Tegan Quin does a track with you, SIMS of DOOMTREE does a track with you, and POS also of DOOMTREE says a sentence on the album. Is it that the touring/music world, or Minneapolis, is that small that you run into these great artists to work with, or are you reaching out and trying to get these people on an album? How does that work for a guy at your emerging level?
Astronautalis: Well, if you look at the music business as some kind of high school where you have some kind of insane hierarchy, then at certain tiers of success there are certain social circles that you run in and I am between total dirt bag at the bottom of the food chain in some circles, but I have had the luxury to meet some amazingly talented people. The more that you are out there and the more that you tour, the more people you meet. It’s a much smaller business and community than you understand until you get out that and do it. So, in the course of seven years of touring and doing about 1,000 shows I have met a bunch of really awesome musicians. I have met a couple of dickheads, but mostly everyone is pretty fantastic and I have fortunately met a lot of people that are pretty like-minded.
I also think that there is an indie realm, and everyone is approaching it from the same place of passion over product. So, you meet a lot of people that are just down to work on music. It’s not like, “yeah, I wanna work on that music with you. Just have your manager call my manager and we’ll sort it out between the lawyers and we’ll see if we can progress from there.” It’s more like, “cool man, come over to my house tomorrow and we’ll drink some whiskey, we’ll make a song.” I like that a lot better.
DM: Do you think there is room on the billboard charts for you? I know with a track like “Secrets on Our Lips,” it has that pop sound and that possible mass appeal where I could imagine hearing that on the drive home mix on my local radio station. Do you ever think about the “big time” or whether you have a sound that can make it there?
Astronautalis: Well, that is one of the more poppy songs on the record, with “Contrails” and maybe “Measure The Globe” is poppy in a ballad way. I like pop music. Particularly pop-rap music. Most of the indie-rap music I listen to anymore is just my friends. Mumford & Sons, or even the fact that Radiohead can still make their crazy, weird music and it be popular, there is room for everything. It just needs to be presented right and packaged right. That’s one thing you start to learn about the music. It is more about pitching the story to people. Whether I actually ever end up there? That’s something I don’t think about. Well, any artist that tells you they don’t think about how their songs are going to be received...they’re lying. That’s a total lie. Everybody worries. Everybody has that nag in the back of their head. “What are they going to think?” I am definitely very conscious of what I’m thinking. But it’s funny, when I’m picturing things in my brain, like with “Secrets on Our Lips”...it was actually the scariest song on on that record for me. I knew it because it was so fuckin’ pop. I actually thought people would hate it, but it’s been quite the opposite. I really wanted to make something really huge with that classic pop, that key change in the last chorus, I wanted to make that. Those songs move me. Listen to a fuckin’ Killers song. “Mr. Brightside” is a great song. It’s super poppy, sort of hokey in it’s own right, but I still get excited. There are certain elements of pop that are super cheesy, but there is still the capability to move people. Like listening to the first to Apex Twins records moved me when I heard them. They moved me in a different direction, but they moved me in the same way. I don’t know if it will ever translate to pop success for me, but experimenting with pop is a natural progression. If I keep making weird records forever than I will just be that guy that makes weird records. I want to make interesting records, weird records, records that make people cry, or records that make people wanna drive really fast and smash bottles over their heads. If it lands me on the pop charts, dope, I hope I can still go to the grocery store. But if I just keep making records and people keep coming to shows then that’s what it is for me.
DM: With the interesting path you’ve taken and where you are now, is there any advice you can give to musicians, artists, or anyone with a creative career in mind?
Astronautalis: More important than anything, you’d better really fucking love doing it. Because it may never reward you financially, and it may never reward you emotionally, it may never reward you at all. I’ve worked in construction, washing dishes, in offices, teaching kids, and this is the hardest job I’ve ever had because this is the job that really matter to me. So, when the failures happen, they’re like daggers, and the success are the greatest drug in the world. You may never have “success.” I never had real “success” for several years. Maybe it was minuscule, dust speck victories, but if you don’t truly love doing it just for the sake of doing it, you won’t put in the work. There is no advice I can give you if this doesn’t really matter to you. It doesn’t matter how you set up your Facebook page, who you get in front of, or what label hears your demo, because if you don’t love doing this then you’ll never survive the 19 dark alleys you need to go through to find 1 that has a light at the end of it. No matter what level of success you’re at, it’s the same for everybody. The people out doing stuff, achieving stuff, are the ones that are always looking for more, better, and striving for it. It’s because they fucking love the job. If you don’t love it, then just don’t fucking do it.
About the Author
Wesley Bauman, author of Doggy Paddling in the Deep End, is a writer/photojournalist originally from Oregon who makes his home in Ventura, CA. He's contributed to the VCReporter and maintains an active blog (http://projectpoppycock.com/) where he writes on political and social satire regularly. Follow Wesley on Twitter @myownfalseidol