Astronautalis hails from what might be the last generation of indie hip-hop. The 29-year old Florida rapper came of age in the late ’90s as a bevy of underground artists emerged, seeking to redefine a mainstream style that’d become stuck in a locked groove of guns, drugdealing, bitches and boasting.
Astronautalis, aka Andy Bothwell, honed his rap skills in his bedroom, to the point where his freestyles were “8 Mile”-tight. Like Eminem in that movie, Bothwell would travel to dangerous urban areas to do battle in clubs and basements, where he was the only white boy spitting. People wanted to beat him up, and one combatant drew a knife. So Bothwell gave up rap, except for college parties in Dallas, where he’d regale theater friends by rapping about any subject they’d toss out. It helped pull him back in.
He has an equal love of indie rock, manifested on his three adventurous albums, for which rap is only a jumping-off point. The low-key pace and textured arrangements have more in common with Death Cab for Cutie than Wu-Tang Clan. See for yourself Tuesday at The Conservatory.
OKG: You tend to tour more with indie-rock acts, and on your current tour, you have a live band backing you.
Astronautalis: I didn’t do any rap touring, because rap fans come to a rap show expecting rap. And if they’re not given rap, they’re disappointed. I don’t feel like that’s wrong, but that’s one of the reasons I checked out the rock community: “I’m not going to be able to give you guys what you want, and you don’t like what I’m giving you. So let’s go our separate ways, and we’ll buy each other drinks when we see each other.”
OKG: You’ve worked with producers in more of a rock manner rather than simply as a provider of beats.
Astronautalis: I feel a lot of rappers would benefit from that, because a lot of rappers don’t have a lot of outside input, and that really kills them over the course of a career. They figure out one way to do things and their vocals all sound the same. There really aren’t any dynamics to the record. They’re relying on content, as opposed to actual sound quality and song craftsmanship. So if their lyrics don’t remain relevant, they don’t really stand a chance.
OKG: What should we expect from your fourth album?
Astronautalis:I have every hope and expectation of taking a really significant departure for the next record.
There’s more emphasis on simplicity. This is the first record I’m working more like a traditional rap album, where I’m getting beats from other producers.
The stories are all inspired by my last seven years spent on the road. I wanted to do a record that was supremely autobiographical. There are still a lot of elements of history in there. I’ve been really interested in scientists from the Age of Enlightenment.
So there are a lot of parallels between the risks they took as scientists and the risks I feel like myself and people in my circle are taking with their lives, to do things differently.