Aesop Rock Interview
Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: Interviews, Music.
Aspiring MCs could prosper from modeling themselves after the likes of New York-based producer/MC Aesop Rock, though doing so would most definitely have negative effects on the global market for gold and platinum grillz. The Boston University graduate recently released the latest in Nike’s Original Run series, titled All Day, which follows last year’s releases in the series by the Crystal Method and LCD Soundsystem. (These online exclusives focus purely on assisting runners in their daily training, all coming in at around forty five minutes each.) In maintaining his healthy work ethic, Aesop Rock is also finalizing his upcoming album entitled None Shall Pass, from which the title track was recently released as apart of the Def Jux/Adult Swim Definitive Swim compilation.
Much of hip hop’s modern releases seem very upfront and quick to the punch whereas All Day takes a few minutes before even properly introducing itself. How did you approach the Nike mix knowing that you’d have to dictate the pace so it could maintain consistency over the better part of an hour?
Aesop Rock: Thanks. The assignment was forty five minutes, and they gave me a very slim outline of how they wanted it to move: a seven to eight minute warm up, thirty minute run, seven to eight minute cool down. In my head, the thing just had to remain entertaining. I needed to make it change as and grow over time so that just as somebody became used to a certain element it would fade on to the next. It’s interesting to approach a song like this because usually you’re designing something that will get heard over a three to five minute period. Where on a four minute song you have a ten second intro, now you have a four to five minute song, your intro grows, your build up grows, it’s a whole different way of listening.
Whereas Nike had previously approached electronic-based artists like the Crystal Method and LCD Soundsystem for the series, do you feel that it was a logical move for the brand to shift towards hip hop and in particular an artist such as yourself?
Logical? I don’t know if choosing me is ever logical for anybody ever but I know they were looking to branch out from dance music into hip hop and rock. My name was thrown in the hat with a bunch of others and I guess the good people over there liked what I do. I think they eventually want to cover all genres, or many.
What was the idea behind your collaborations with guitarist Allyson Baker and DJ Big Wiz on All Day?
Allyson is three things: a badass guitar player, an avid runner, and my wife. I was going to her left and right with questions on how to approach this music for a “runner,” is this working, is it not, etc. She always had great input, which soon grew into her playing on the song. I was given so little time to do the whole project, so any riffs she could come up with or we could come up with together we’d lay it down and move along. As for Wiz, I told him “hey I got forty five minutes of music here, let’s get busy.” I basically wanted it to come off like he was just scratching in his room, like he just had free range to get open. Whereas I usually create these songs and we go through them to choreograph sections where scratching may be good, this time I just really wanted him to treat it like he was freestyling, just go with the beat. So we got together a bunch of sounds and one at a time recorded a ton of cuts.
What was the process for writing the material for the mix – did you write individual songs and just blend them together or did you approach All Day as one extended track?
I made about seven separate sections, maybe eight. The first and last were designed as the most chilled out parts, as to serve their functions as “warm up” and “cool down.” The middle sections were all about moving forward, driving, and slowly changing sounds, a soundscape (lame term) that kind of grows and evolves as you move forward.
There are a fair amount of solid instrumental pieces within All Day but how did you even begin to approach this piece lyrically?
I did all of the music first. I knew I would go back an add lyrics after, but I wanted it to be primarily instrumental. I used the vocal sections almost like one would use a horn or instrument that kind of meanders in and meanders out. They were there to wake up the listener, to be something that says “hey look where you are now, this scenery is different since last I spoke.” The actual lyrics would play off the vibe of the particular section they were on. I wanted things that tried to keep the visual aspect of the music alive, anything that pushed the music into a clear, painted image.
Continuing that subject – could you explain the lyrics behind the track “None Shall Pass,” your contribution to the recent Def Jux/Adult Swim mix?
“None Shall Pass” is a good track to lead into the album of the same name. Much of the album’s overall concept has to do with growing. Hitting a point in your life in which the people around you, your peers, view you as an adult, and you become way more responsible for your actions than you were as a child. You hit a point where “acting” dumb is no longer viewed as funny, you hit all these areas in which your contemporaries will look at you and judge you. The song is about being responsible for your actions, and recognizing that a day will come when your neighbor will decide whether or not you are an asshole.
What has been your favorite part of the sessions for the new album?
It has been a long process. I’m not sure what my favorite part is, I mean most of the stuff I do revolves around me and Blockhead. I guess just knowing that I am still walking through this adventure in the music industry with my best homie is always fun. These days I take more time to step back and acknowledge that. There were a couple times on this one where we actually kind of stopped and took time to say “hey man, damn we been doing this together for a bit now. That’s pretty cool.” I guess I don’t have a favorite moment, but recognizing things like that is always good and helps keep me grounded during some of the worse times.