Astronautalis - Sound In The Signals Interview

Astronautalis released his fifth full length album, Cut the Body Loose on May 13th. It's hip-hop, indie, and punk rock. It's what you expect and more. He's spent most of the last decade traveling around, playing shows, spreading his music, and earning new fans. He uses his travels to find inspiration for encouraging stories. He was kind enough to explain how touring is the best job in the world, how creating this album was like working with a scalpel instead of a sledgehammer, and how collaborating with others serves as his education.

Your new album, “Cut The Body Loose", is being described as your "most aggressive album to date". Beyond that, I think that there is a lot of meaning and honesty in the lyrics and sound. If you could sum up what you want your fans to get from this album, what would that be? What does this album mean to you?

Astronautalis: I think this Camus quote is a pretty crucial to a lot of the themes of the record, "The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion". The record is in many ways, about how to create positive change, and find happiness, despite the countless forces working against us on a daily basis. And within that struggle, how to deal with the grief of inevitable failure and loss.
Cut the Body Loose came out May 13th. This was your fifth full length. How did your approach change and/or stay the same when creating this album?

Astronautalis: Everything was focused on simplifying the music.  Previous records, i had always wanted to make songs bigger, fuller, more grand.  With this album, i wanted to find ways to do more with less.  Find ways to solve problems with a scalpel, instead of a sledgehammer.  That is just from a musical standpoint, the themes covered, the stories told, and the language used all changed as well...but they always have to.

Over time you've worked with many different artists including Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Tegan Quin (Tegan & Sara). You have an ongoing collaboration with John Congleton, a Grammy Award-winning producer. What do you draw from these collaborations? Where do you find your influences, in places, people, experiences?

Astronautalis: I am essentially, a self taught musician.  I never went to school for any of this.  Collaborating with people i admire and respect, this is my education.  When i work with my friends, 2/3 of the time is spent working, and the rest of the time is spent talking, about music, art, whatever.  But from that talking, you get ideas, and from that work you learn technique, and you can take that and carry it with you for future projects.  This is why i hate working alone anymore...i am addicted to this education.

Your tour started May 5th. You're touring the U.S. and heading to Germany, Denmark, France, and the United Kingdom among others. I understand you've spent a fair amount of time traveling around for a while now. I think that's helped with your fan base and your music. What's an average day like out on tour? Do you have any favorite moments/stories?

Astronautalis: Touring is the best job in the world, but it is a lot more routine than people think.  I try to wake up early to get the first shower, tip toe around snoring band-mates. Get dressed, find coffee, pile into the van, and head to the next town. In the van, it's answer emails, post stuff online, yell about farts, catch up on sleep/podcasts, and play mario kart 7 with my band mates on our nintendo 3DSs. (I win most of the time). Get to the club, load in, soundcheck, eat fast (you need a few hours between when you eat, and when you play...or else the show is rough). Have a drink and a half backstage, listen to dumb rap to get hype, then go play the show. Hang out at the merch booth with folks, high fiving, and hugging people till the bar closes. Head to bed...do it all over again in the morning.

I have a lot of stories i am really proud of, but none better than my first trip to Romania. It is too long to type out, but it involves car wrecks, bribing cops, off roading in a VW station wagon, horse drawn Roma carts, and a trip to the US embassy. Ask me if you see me.

You've got such a unique style and sound. One of your profiles describes your genre as "rap...plus everything else". That's an apt description. You have roots in hip-hop and you also have tinges of shoegaze, indie rock, and blues, at times. I'm interested to know what and/or who might have been on your playlist as a kid and what about now, as well.

Astronautalis: I grew up listening to what my parents played for me: van morrison, bob dylan, the band, sam cooke, wilson pickett. What my older brother introduced me to: the clash, the smiths, bmore, house, and the stuff that he gave me that made me want to rap: Lord Finesse, Big L, De La Soul, etc. High school had me into british shoegaze, and american indie rock.

Now, i still listen to The Clash all the time, as well as a lot of stuff from my youth. But lately, i am especially into a lot of the exciting stuff in dance music, especially stuff coming out of Germany like: Schlachtofbronx, Stephan Bodzin, and George Fitzgerald. I really like everything Jon Hopkins, a great punk band called Pup, and i think we are currently living in the best time for rap music so far.  There is so much exciting rap music coming out of every corner of the genre.

It seems the art of rap, poetry, and storytelling is something that you mix really well. I know you have a background in battle rap. Do lyrics always come quickly to you? What's your process like when you start to write lyrics and consider the accompanying instruments/sounds?

Astronautalis: No, i wish they did. Sometimes, songs just appear before you, like a piece of fruit on a tree, waiting for you to pick then. But most of the time, there is not even a tree to pick fruit from, instead, you are wandering a d*mn desert, looking for a drop of water to plant a seed in.

The album is being released on vinyl, CD, and as a digital download. The vinyl pressing is selling quickly and you just got a second press in a new color. How involved were you in choosing the cover artwork and vinyl colors?

Astronautalis: My friend Andy McAlpine made the font, and another absurdly talented friend, Cameron Wittig took the photo, and i did all of the design, layout. I have done almost all of my own album art and design. My mother was graphic designer, it is in my blood, i suppose.

You can order the album, Cut the Body Loose, HERE.

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