Astronautalis am 24. Mai 2016 im sissikingkong in Dortmund
Bericht, Interview und Foto: Jennifer Gottstein
An dieser Stelle muss ich mich als Fangirl outen. Länger schon habe ich die musikalische Karriere von Astronautalis verfolgt und konnte dann natürlich ein Interview nicht ausschlagen. Wir trafen uns vor dem Konzert im sissikingkong auf einen Kaffee und haben über sein neues Album, unsere gemeinsame Liebe zu Minneapolis, Prince und über Zukunftsträume gesprochen. Am Ende entschuldigte er sich einige Male, weil er so gerne redet und die Antworten unglaublich lang wurden. Er entschuldigte sich dafür, dass ich das alles abtippen muss, aber das war es am Ende doch Wert. Es ist ein unglaublich angeregtes, informatives und interessantes Interview geworden.
Interview mit Astronautalis
You’ve toured a lot around Europe and also around the whole globe, what is your favorite place so far?
I mean, it’s tough to answer on this because those places where the shows are the best I like to go the most. So it’s like I do very well in Eastern and Central Europe. Like such as Slovakia and Russia are my best markets outside of America. The shows there are amazing. The more that I see the world and the more I travel around it feels more like the East than the west. Europe already feels like America, it feels like Canada or the UK. There are not too many differences at the end of the day. We all have kind of the same culture now, we all listen to Beyoncé now. Don’t get me wrong, Germany is not like America, but it’s a lot more like America than Lithuania for example.
So yeah, I like the places where the shows are good. We play shows only because we want to go there, because we like the culture. So sometimes we play in places that no one plays, like Romanian villages that no Americans have never put a show in. Only because we wanted to go. As a result it is not really a master plan, it’s more for fun. People there really respect it and appreciate it.
So you do see quite some differences between Central Europe and Eastern Europe or Russia?
Totally! Russia is another planet! The further East you go it gets more unreal. Before I started traveling I had this sort of idea that we are all just the same people and in the end it’s 100% not true. And anybody who says that has not seen the world. Take the example: Just when you’re in China you realize we are not the same people. And that is for me a really, really good thing. Everybody’s so different. Like Russians are not the same people as in America. It’s just such a different place as well. Sometimes traveling far East there it feels like traveling on a spaceship on a completely different planet.
How big are the venues you play in countries like China or Russia?
It depends. I haven’t played in China, I went there for a trip to see my brother who lives there. But in Russia it’s incredible. It’s the country I’ve grown the fastest as a musician. The first time I played there, I played for maybe 100 people and then the next show was like 1000 people. And then the next show was the biggest festival in Moscow, where I played on the main stage in front of 5000 people. That’s the only place in the world where my music happens on MTV. I certainly don’t do that in America. In Eastern and Central Europe it differs from city to city. Sometime it’s a show for 700 people, but then 3 days later I can be in Slovakia playing for 30 people. When we played in Romania we played for a ton of people in Bukarest, but then we were in a tiny village and we played in an old movie theatre. I had no idea where I was. And I feel like the whole village came to see the show. So it always differs.
My fanbase is so determined by word of mouth, in the most city it’s drastically different. You have to have a strong emotional balance, deal with the rollercoaster.
Your new record was released via Cargo Records in Europe. That’s kind of a big deal. What did that change for you?
This record which is the first record coming out on a real record label, is the first release where I have a team. There is a guy making the marketing, the woman who does PR, others do the manufacturing. And it’s still not a major label, but up until this point we haven’t had advertisements or anything like that. People used to generally find out about my music directly from me because they just happened to be on a show or because their friend told them about me.
And you are in the business already for quite a time…
14 years! My first tour was 13 years ago.
The new album is a wild mix of different styles of music, sometimes there is Jazz in it, sometimes you can hear punk, also some Reggae and Ska elements. I know older albums from you and it’s the same there. Do you have a favourite genre?
It always changes by years into something new. At the end of the day though I think it’s rap music. I am super obsessed with a lot of progressive techno music as well though. The last two years of my life I have been really into particularly stuff coming out of Berlin and other places around the globe. The Boys Noize record is like super huge for me always. But then again, I will listen to this for like two years and will take my favorite things out of it and carry it with me for the rest of my life. I listened to Boys Noize for like 10 years now and always loved it. But my favorite genre will always be rap. I always check on new rap music, I am always excited about new rap music, so it will always be my favorite.
How do you get your inspiration for the writing process for new tracks?
It’s different from album to album. I am a pretty curious person and I like to learn new things. And it also takes a long time for me to write. I come up with ideas, words and phrases, but I am not sure exactly how it all ties together. It’s like taking a big rock and then wriggling it down to a tiny little size. And quite often it is a quite weird mix of topics. I am really interested in the American South and surviving natural disasters and country reformations, but also in personal discovery and how all these things tie together. I spend months on trying to find a line that sort of connects everything. And when I find this line, it’s the album. I always look at all the things I am interested in at this moment. Why do all those things matter right now? And I try to figure out the thesis that connects them all.
What was the main idea about the new record? What would you say is it about?
At the end of the day it’s a record about how to deal with sadness and anger and adversity on a personal level and on a global level. I read this book called “Sapiens”. It’s a really interesting book about the history of the development of humans – humans coming from a tribal culture to a tribal culture we are in now. One of the things that were really interesting to me was the discussion about tribe size of early humans and its impact on contemporary humanity up until very recently, up until basically the internet. Internet changed a lot of things. I forgot the exact number, but I guess 157 people is the amount of people you keep track in your mind, it’s basically explaining why all people are interested in gossip. In a tribe gossip is keeping up with the track, making sure everybody is fine and happy or mad and angry, because it is part of your safety. And the tribe size was determined the amount of people that one person’s brain can keep track of. As a result up until very recently the level of gossip maintained with your 157 people, your local village so to say. So, until recently with the radio and movies and the internet, we are now being forced to keep up with a level of information about the world that we’ve never had to deal with up until the last 15 or especially the last 10 years. And now we all – if you want or even if you don’t want – have a very intimate knowledge of all of the problems in the world, the suffering in the world. And it’s not like reading the newspaper and saying ”Oh wow, war is going on in India today” or whatever. You now can watch a video of it and hear interviews and everything. And we are now forced to deal with sadness and suffering on a kind of insane level – each one of us. On top there is just the regular bullshit we have to deal with all the time. And I asked myself: what do we do with all of this? I want to be informed, I want to be able to speak about my society, to speak about my democracy, but I turn on the news it’s just the worst. Or it seems like it. And in fact, people are better than they have ever been. It’s just very easy to see the worst. Even though things are not perfect and environment is not how it should be, people are way more aware of environment than they have ever been. On an individual basis or in fact by war and violence it’s much less on global scale. Most of us will never experience war. So lot of these things are different now and the world seems like a bad place because we are aware of the horrible problems.
So I started thinking about what do we do with all of this shit? How can we find happiness in this? How can we become a productive member of society? So I started to look into grief rituals and funerals. That’s how I came up with the title “Cut The Body Lose”. It’s a term from New Orleans jazz funerals. The original New Orleans jazz funeral is incredibly emotive and suffering process in a church – crying, just brutal over the top emotion. And at the end of this ceremony the body is in a casket and they carry it out of the church and the funeral party comes with it and outside there is a band. They start playing super sad, slow music and everyone walks slow as long as it takes to the graveyard. Sometimes it’s next to the church, sometimes it is miles away. When the body reaches the graveyard it’s the crucial moment where you cut the body lose. So the body in the casket and the pallbearer continue to the grave and the funeral party, the family, the friends, the band, all of them keep going. So when you cut the body lose it’s the moment when the music changes into fun music. Everybody dances, it’s like a party. There is this moment of decision: “This is where sadness ends. Now we celebrate the dead person’s life, our lives, everything”. And they continuing partying down the street, the band playing party music and everyone is just dancing. People come out of their houses joining them, dancing. So the idea of building up this mountain of sadness in you for days and days and then let it all out. Then there is this point, where you go “Now it’s done, now we’re thinking different”. It’s such an impactful idea of grief and also engaging to me as an allegory for a bigger thing. It’s sort of the person that I am. I can get brutally sad and then there is a moment where I go “Alright, I am done now. I have to go do something with my life”. That is the corps of the record – coping with problems.
So it’s about getting back on your feet again and stand up after falling hard as well?
Yeah, totally. And it is not about ignoring it, it’s more about feeling it really deeply and hard and allow you to cut it off. Just take action and make your life better – political or physical action or whatever. Just cut your body lose.
That’s something from the Southern part of the US, right? Like Louisiana and New Orleans. You are Minneapolis-based though.
Yes, but I grew up in the South. My mom is from Kentucky and my father is from Texas, I was born in Virginia and grew up in Florida.
Wow, quite a journey. Why did you choose Minneapolis in the end?
In my opinion it’s the best music scene in America. It’s a smaller city, but it’s still a proper city.
Yeah, I’ve been there and I loved it so much!
Really? That’s amazing. See, I moved there from Seattle – obviously a city of music legends. I lived there for three years, but it’s not really my scene. I just didn’t get it. When I moved to Minneapolis I madly fell in love with the city. There were two kinds of responses: there were people who have never been there and people who went there and said “Yeah, totally get it. It’s amazing”. It’s not on the way to anything, no one accidentally goes there. You have to decide to go there. It’s far away from everything, the next big city I Chicago and that’s eight hours non-stop driving. To the North, there is just the woods.
So there is some sort of end-of-the-line quality that is really in the people think. There is a really independent streak community and it’s very self-supportive as well. They really work hard to support local artists, local businesses, local art. I love that. So I live there for 5 years now and that’s the longest time I lived anywhere since I was 12 and I will not leave.
Yeah, I had the feeling that Minneapolis is quite different from the other cities I’ve seen. I traveled from the East to the West coast and no city way comparable to Minneapolis. A friend showed me around there and she also told me about some local artists there like Dem Atlas and took me to the city center with all the music venues and artsy areas.
Did you see the venue with stars all over the building? It’s a venue called 1st Avenue. It’s very famous, it’s where a lot of the scenes from the Purple Rain movie were shot. So recently when Prince died that building and of course Prince’s house became the place where people traveled from all over the world to see that place. There was a huge shrine outside, mountains of flowers and gifts that people left there. To that city Prince is like a god. He’s from there, he never left, he invited people to his home. He is very different from Bowie and Dillon who left their hometown as fast as they could. He supported bands, he came see bands a lot. He would just show up at a show, every club in town has a guitar in store. If he shows up he would just join bands on stage. He was about that city in a way.
So when Prince died the city instantly shut down this block. It was insane. I love prince, but I realized I don’t love prince as much as you people do. It was three days of moaning and dancing at that venue. All the clubs in the US have to close at 2a.m. or whatever, but 1st Avenue stayed up until 7 a.m. every night and it was just Prince dance parties. They played the shows they had booked – I guess three sold out shows – and as soon as they ended they kicked all these people out and at 2a.m. bring all the people in to party until 7 a.m. There were people dancing on the streets. I have never seen anything like that. I went all three nights. The first night I only went to take pictures and the second night I was playing one song at a Prince show and I was so hungover the next but, but my friend said “You gotta go”, so I went again. It was worth it, everybody was dancing and sweating and dancing their brains off. It was super unreal and magic experience.
Sounds crazy! What do you think, have you arrived as an artist in Minneapolis? Do you experience the local support as well?
Yeah! All my friends there are so excited about making music and the way they make music and the way I make music is so excited as well. So passionate and supportive! It was different before: All my friends in Seattle were musicians, but when we met up in a bar we had some beer and talked about sports.
In Minneapolis you go to a bar and we have a drink and then we go to someone’s house and make music until7 in the morning. Don’t get me wrong, I like sports a lot, but I am a musician. People are super excited and there is some kind of attitude about those people in Minneapolis. It’s never a question about if you could do something. If you have an idea, you go “That’s a great idea. We will do it”. And then you figure it out. There is no question like “How could we do this? Is it possible to do this?” This was so engaging to me.
Yeah, in Minneapolis people are so enthusiastic about music, it’s fascinating. When I went to this record store there, I had the feeling people were nerds. And I don’t mean this in a bad way, but they were just real music nerds.
Yeah, huge nerds!
They knew about German bands that never even made it out of Germany. And most people outside of Germany don’t know any band except Scorpions or Kraftwerk perchance. Those people knew so much about the German music scene, it was incredible!
It’s so crazy! There is a record store about a mile from my house. It’s just punk, hardcore and metal. And there is enough devoted of that music in this city that it stays in business for years now. Whereas all over the country record stores are all disappearing, there are more record stores are opening. We are getting more radio stations. People are actually listening to radio, people listen to indie radio. People go to shows, people are actually fans. It’s such a magical place to be as a musician.
Totally! I only stayed there for a few days, but it impressed me how different it is.
It is so nice! I talk about his a lot in interviews and it is so nice that you like it. Most people look at me like I am fucking crazy. It’s nice to hear that this feeling is not only something in my head.
You are not crazy at all. I can certify that!
Great, so good to hear!
Another famous musician from your “neighborhood” is Justin Vernon and you actually worked with him, right? How did that come?
Through Minneapolis again! Well, he lives in Eau-Clair, Wisconsin, which is basically 45 minutes east. I met him on a trip in 2010. Me and friends of mine went to his house for the 4th of July for a party. It was right before his second album came out and he was on tour forever. So we bumped into each other every once in a while always happy to see each other. We once talked about how making a record is a miserable process until you’re done. It’s not fun. It is exhausting and challenging although it’s a rewarding experience it is very barely fun. So we decided to make a record that would just be fun and we never thought we would put it out. After that he was so kind to help me to get my own record up the ground and gave me a supporting studio. He was so kind and is a wonderful musician.
Sounds amazing! What’s coming up for you this year?
Touring! A lot of touring. Finish this tour, go back to the West Coast, do some festival, a huge North American Tour. And next year hopefully be back in Europe and maybe Australia or New Zealand.
Is there still a place where you would like to tour?
I want to go to all the places. I think I’ve been to over 30 countries now, but that’s not nearly enough for me. I am really dying to go to Africa and Namibia, the Southern and Western coast, but that’s just for fun. I am really interested in touring in Southeast Asia. I want to o to Japan, Southern America, like Mexico City… Well, I’ll go anywhere. There’s a lot of places that I’ve been that are not touristy, so people don’t go there. No offense, but Dortmund is not exactly a big tourist destination. I can say this because I am from a place called Jacksonville which is not a tourist destination either and we have a beach at least. This being said, when this comes up my agent does not really have to ask. Of course we will play the show – even in Dortmund. Not even a question. Honestly the most fun experience I’ve had traveling where in the places where people usually don’t go. For me the most interesting places are places no one gives a shit about. The people there are the most fun.
We don’t have too many shows in Dortmund, mostly musicians go to Cologne. So we might freak out a bit more. Do you think there is something to this?
Totally! The shows are more fun! Most of the time you have to work your ass off to get people to have fun. Whereas when you play in cities like Dortmund, no one is coming there for a week, so they are fucking bumped when you come. They get you excited and they are excited that you are excited.
Fingers crossed, you’ll make your way to all the other great places all around the world!
Thanks a lot! Thanks for the great interview and sorry that I talked so much!
Einige Stunden später stand er dann auf der kleinen Bühne im sissikingkong und die Hütte war voll. Es sind einige Fans gekommen, aber auch viele Interessierte, die offensichtlich nicht genau wussten, worauf sie sich einlassen. Das war dem US-amerikanischen HipHopper aber relativ egal, er stand alleine auf der Bühne mit zwei Mikrofonen und einem Laptop. Seine Performance war allerdings so einnehmend, dass man das sofort vergaß. Er füllte ab der ersten Minute den Raum mit guter Laune, Energie und brachte die Leute zum Tanzen. Aber eins nach dem anderen.
Gleich nach den ersten Tracks auf der Bühne heizte er den Leuten ein, sie sollen tanzen. Das wichtige dabei, sagte er, sei, dass es eine extrem wichtige Regel gibt:
(sinngemäß) Wenn jemand nicht tanzen kann, ist es egal. Er kann auch nicht tanzen und keiner im Raum kann vermutlich so tanzen wie Usher. Also kann sich auch keiner blamieren.
Seine Argumentation schien für fast alle Besucher_innen schlüssig und so kam Bewegung in die Menge. Er selbst wirbelte mit einer unglaublichen Energie über die Bühne und gab zwischen seinen Punchlines auch immer wieder lustige Lyrics zum Besten. Auch seine Zwischenmoderation sorgte dafür, dass die Gäste immer bessere Laune bekamen und am Ende der ganze Keller vom sissikingkong tanzte. Teilweise bewies er seine These, dass auch er nicht sonderlich gut tanzen kann und kam in die Menge runter, rappte weiter und tanzte dabei ein wenig verloren durch die Menge. Obwohl scheinbar der Großteil der Besucher_innen nicht gerade textsicher (bei den Stellen, bei denen das möglich ist) erschien, war die Stimmung extrem gut und Songs wie „Running Away From God“ und „Attila Ambrus“ kamen hervorragend an.
Als er dann pünktlich aufhören wollte, kam ihm eine Welle der Entrüstung entgegen, da die Party gerade erst anzufangen schien. Also kam er nochmal raus und freestylte über Dortmund und über die Partycrowd. Wie auch in unserem Gespräch vorab gab er hier seine Message an die Dortmunder_innen weiter: support your local artists and venues. Nachdem er gute 20 Minuten seine Freestyle-Fähigkeiten unter Beweise stellte, war der Abend auch leider schon wieder vorbei. Das Konzert war großartig und mit dieser Ansicht stehe ich – wie es bei den strahlenden Gesichtern im Venue vermuten lässt – nicht alleine da. Am Merchstand hat sich Astronautalis dennoch recht ausführlich mit seinen (bestimmt auch vielen neuen) Fans unterhalten – was bei seinem Redefluss auch nicht weiter verwundert.
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