This is an old interview me and a friend did back in 2008. I thought it had been lost forever, as the site we did it for is no longer around. Then I stumbled across an archived copy online yesterday, so thought I would share it. It was the first face to face interview I had ever done and I was nervous as fuck. It took place at the The Social in London in 2008, at a listening party for Atmosphere’s forthcoming album at the time, When Life Gives You Lemons.
Slug, you said in an interview at the start of 2007 that it would be a quiet year for Atmosphere to concentrate on home and family, then you ended up releasing three more Sad Clown EPs. Was the time spent away a direct influence to these records?
Slug: Probably, but not consciously. I didn’t intend for that time to influence the records, but more than likely yeah, there is kinda no way around that. That’s the thing about Atmosphere, our whole career has been really fortunate in the sense that I get to be who I am on the records, so the time that’s spent in my life doing other stuff always ends up affecting what the records are about. As far as the sound, it’s kind of similar. You can hear that Ant has been touring with us and that our bond has gotten stronger in the new record & the Sad Clowns. I can’t say if it was directly an influence. No more than whatever is going on in our lives at that time.
What do you think it is about the Mid-West that produces a seemingly endless stream of top-notch artists?
S: That’s in the eye of the beholder. For instance, you appreciate a lot of the artists coming out of there, and all of us are connected in a certain way. We didn’t grow up in an environment where certain things influenced us as much, because to be honest it would have required a lot of hard work and effort for me to have been a really successful drug dealer or mugger or whatever, because the areas we live in are not as well set up for that, like the East or West coasts are. I hear that influence in a lot of the music coming out of there, but that environment isn’t as open to us. That environment never came and embraced me and said “You’re gonna sell drugs.” you know, it just wasn’t an option for me. And so I think that’s what you hear in those artists. I mean we have plenty of artists in the Mid-West that you might not like, but they’re still great. But you might not like them because of the shit they’re talking about in their songs. They’re talking about the stuff that they had to deal with, but you might not ever hear them because you’re not as tapped in to the underground gangster scene or the underground whatever, you’re more tapped in to the underground everyman scene, and so you know who P.O.S is, you know who I am.
Right now somewhere in London I bet there’s a kid who is tapped in to that scene who doesn’t even know who the fuck I am. So I can’t necessarily say that we produce a lot of great creative artists, I think more so we’re lucky you tapped in to what we’re doing. You know, opinions on who’s good, who’s fresh, who’s whack, they’re all just opinions. It just so happens that one year more people got jobs writing freelance stories, that were into that type of music. You get to expose certain types of artist. I see how it works at a local level in my own city and I get to see how it works on an international level. Five years ago I came over here, did tonnes of press and nobody gave a shit who I was. I had people interviewing me who had never heard of me before; they’d just got a copy of GodLovesUgly in the mail a week before the interview. Now I come over here and everybody that talks to me knows who I am. Not only that, but they have the records, they’re actually fans of it. I see how it moves in ways. Eventually you guys will have to get real jobs, because writing isn’t gonna fucking cut it, unless you get to be one of those lucky few that builds straight careers out of it. In which case the people who are coming in underneath you who are some kinda “I’m gonna fucking do this even if I’m broke” shit. They might be listening to a whole different type of music, that’s the thing about exposure.
Is there anywhere else in particular you like playing shows, or do you still get the best reception in your hometown?
S: Ant can do this because you know what I’m gonna say if I answer this one.
Ant: I would be the same I guess…
S: London! [laughs]
A: You’re surprised that anybody gives a shit about you so it’s a great thing. You love playing that day because there are people there that want to see you. And they wanna shake your hand, buy a CD, all that shit. And you’re so grateful it doesn’t matter where you’re playing, so that makes them all pretty much equal.
Slug, you’ve appeared on tracks with the likes of Vadim, Evidence and Rob Zombie. Do you initiate a lot of these collaborations and do you turn many of them down?
S: I rarely initiate them and I usually turn them down. I turn down way more than I take on. My rule has kinda always been I only work with friends; I only do stuff with people that I know. I’m not really big on doing a sixteen for somebody’s song who I know nothing about. So when people offer me money or food, I usually say no. If it’s a friend I won’t charge them and for me that’s been a great experience, because then every project I do do, I stand by it, I believe in it. I did it because of how I feel about the person I was doing it for. I’ve got a small handful of things where I’m like “Hmm I shouldn’t have done that” because that guy seemed nice the one time I met him, but now, y’know I realise he’s a bad guy that kicks puppies & shit. Yeah I don’t really initiate, I have an endless supply of music to rap to from Anthony, so I don’t really need to go out looking for other things to rap to.
You opened up the Fifth Element store in 2000. How have things developed there in the past eight years?
S: It’s fairly aligned with the rest of the music industry as far as independent stores go. Vinyl sales are way down, as compared to where they were in say, 1999, when everyone was scouting around trying to find 12″ because there were only 2000 of them pressed. MP3’s have slowed down vinyl sales to almost nothing. As far as the store being a home base, or a place where people can congregate with likeminded thoughts, ideas, other artists, all these people – at this point it’s a really important thing for our community, in my city, but I almost wish there were seven or eight more of them. I wish other people in my city were putting in effort towards trying to get spaces like that; if not a record store, at least a place that does shows, somewhere people will come together. There are a lot of people in my scene, in my city that are doing this, but there’s not a whole lot of sharing of ideas. Everybody kinda sticks to their own camp. You’ve got Doomtree, they stick to Doomtree. Rhymesayers stick to Rhymesayers etc. We all know each other, we all say hi to each other at the bar and shit, but there’s so much shit that I can tell other rappers in my city about the things I’ve done and seen that could make things a little easier for them if they tried to go and do their version. I’ve learned so many little secrets and magic tricks when it comes to all this and the only people I really get to share that shit with are the Rhymesayers people who hang out at the store.
You did a track a while ago for The Planets. Are there any more British artists you would like to work with?
S: I’ve met a lot of people over here, as far as working with them, that’s a tough call. It would really require right place, right time, kinda like the thing with The Planets. The way that worked out was really good. There’s a couple of people here who I think are fresh, but I don’t like to answer that question because it makes me sound like I’m trying to hook up with people and make stuff with them, when in all honesty I don’t really care; if it happens, it happens. There’s a kid named Jehst that I’ve seen a couple of times, that dude’s dope. I even played a show with him once, somewhere that starts with a ‘B’ and reminded me of San Francisco… Brighton. I played with him there. That was pretty dope. But yeah he’s the only one, everybody else sucks. [laughs]
How did the track with The Planets come about?
S: They were friends with Musab, so I got to talk to them and whatnot. The thing there is I’m really good friends with Musab, so that was on him, that’d kinda be like if Musab called me up and said “We’re gonna go rob this bank, I got these two friends from the UK, I’m gonna vouch for them”. For me it became an opportunity to come together, the one dude especially, I can’t remember his name right now. This place might as well have been like Mars to me, I don’t think we’d even been to New York yet when we did that, so it was like “Thank you Musab, I owe you one for that.”
Ant, do you have any other records you’ve produced lined up for release outside of Atmosphere?
A: There’s another Brother Ali EP about to come out. Those are pretty much the only two artists I work with.
How did MF Doom signing to Rhymesayers come about?
S: Doom is kind of a free agent. The situation he has with us is not a situation where we require him to put all of his music out through us. We respect his room to breathe. It’s one thing for Rhymesayers to be involved in a rapper’s career, but Doom is like beyond just being a rapper. Even within him there is all of this other stuff in his story, I don’t know if one label could take him on, they would have to be a major with a lot of manpower and time and whatnot. I like the fact that other labels put stuff out. He sticks with really respectable people. I can’t say people were shocked. I would say look at his career, he’s been doing this stuff for so long. I see him in the same way I would see certain blues artists, if we were in a blues category instead of rap. But that guy gets to do whatever he wants. He came up with a lot of these styles that we’re fucking with today.
You’ve been approached by all the major labels, why did you pick Epitaph?
S: Because we didn’t really want to sign a deal with anyone. The Epitaph situation is that it’s just for distribution. It’s no different to what we did the year before with Fat Beats for the GodLovesUgly record. It was just more of a defining version of it, meaning like the money was pretty much identical, the concept was identical, but Epitaph had more of a vision of exactly what they wanted to do with it, whereas Fat Beats was only just starting off as a label. They’d been doing vinyl distro for a decade, but had never really licensed an album to try to work as an album. I thought they did a great job with it, they stepped us up to where we are and it’s been a continuing process ever since. After that we gave it to a company called Navar, which is a distro company. The thing about Epitaph is they’re also a label, but as a distro company they do this kinda thing with a lot of different artists. They basically just license an album, but you’re still signed to your label. I’m still a Rhymesayers artist, but they just kinda get behind it like a big brother and be like “Let him on the swing next” and hopefully they’ll listen to me cuz they know that I’m friends with all these other kids.
Then we went to Navar, which is a local company based out of Minnesota. It was really comfortable for us to deal with them because like you don’t have to call them. You can go to their office with a baseball bat and be like, “Hey”. But yeah they do the same thing Epitaph were able to do and with the new record it will be through Warner like Brother Ali’s was. It’s just a distro game for us. If you speak to most indie labels, its very similar compared to what we’ve done as far as licensing goes. Or they were just smart enough to get distro from one place in the beginning. But we couldn’t do that and stick with Fat Beats because the reach they had just wasn’t as strong. Fat Beats were putting their stuff out through a company called BMG and that was the equivalent of a paper boy on a bicycle. He throws the paper at your house and that shit might land on your porch, in your bushes, your neighbour might come get it. It’s just been a cycle continuously of us trying to find the correct distro. I think Warner obviously being such a heavy hitter with such a big baseball bat at the playground, it’s probably one of the best places we could’ve landed our distribution.
Slug, you’ve been involved with a lot of crews over the years – The Orphanage, Deep Puddle Dynamics, Dynospectrum. Are there any plans to make any new material with them?
S: Out of those three, the only one of them that was ever a crew was the Dynospectrum. Orphanage and Deep Puddle were kind of like, “Lets all get together this one time and make a record. Let’s go spend the next five days together and make a record.” So that’s more like a side project. You can hear in The Orphanage and Deep Puddle that we all weren’t talking about the same shit, having the same focus or vision. We were all just like “Its my turn..? Go.” Whereas with Dynospectrum that’s really old for me, we did that in like 1996. I still feel like you can hear continuity in that album, even though we were four different people doing our own verses, you could tell we kinda knew each other and hung out together. Those guys were my friends to the extent of a long-distance phone call every week as we were discussing the record. When I agreed to do it I didn’t know any of them. The Orphanage I did know all those guys, but you’ve basically got five rappers who are all good in their own right, its like too many chefs… you know what I mean? I think if we’d spent maybe three months doing that record we would’ve been smart enough to get the focus right, the energies, but instead you just ended up with five posse cuts, over and over. There were never any real visions or goals, we just rapped because it was fun to rap. I think with Deep Puddle we did have a vision and a goal, but even upon listening to the record I still am like “What the fuck is everybody talking about?”. A lot of people liked that because that’s what they wanted to hear at the time. It’s the same as like four jazz guys getting together and doing free jazz in their own direction. Maybe if we had known each other for a while and spent more time working on the album, we would’ve been able to hear more continuity or focus, but otherwise that record is like you pick which one of us you like the most and then you pay attention when their verse starts.
How was it working with Tom Waits, how did that come about?
A: It was beautiful. Yeah, he was the shit. He came in with all these instruments and shit, it was pretty tight. But he ended up beat boxing.
S: He’s been begging to work with us forever [laughs]. But no I’ve been begging to work with that dude for a long time and finally I just did what any good person would do and I just uh, became friends with his kid. [laughs] No I’m joking. He said to send him the song, then he sent it back and we listened to what he did, picked a beat box, turned it up and pressed record.
Ant, There seems to be a heavy almost country influence to some of your beats. We heard a lap steel guitar playing on the new album. Where does that influence come from?
A: I’ve always been intrigued by the lap steel. And the harp, those are two rare instruments in Hip Hop to me. I already did the harp thing on Overcast, but the lap steel I’ve only used before in samples, not to actually have a guy that can play that shit. They came in and played the parts that I had and he just put his own twist on them. I wanted to do the whole record like that, because I remember when we were doing that shit I almost cried it was so beautiful. I love the sound of that and I don’t recall that sound being in Hip Hop. I was very proud to be a part of that. I had a couple of others that were similar, but they were more quirky. That was more of a heartfelt sound and that’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t want it to be corny, I didn’t want it to be a joke.
S: That shits no joke. I like it because it reminds me of a song by Chris Isaacs. It reminds me of a beach. He had a beach in his video… So when I listen to that, I’m like “Yeah, sippin’ Piña Coladas”.
Slug, where did the inspiration for the children’s book come from? Is it something you’ve always been planning?
S: I wouldn’t say planning. I always used to joke about it, so I figured I might as well do it. I’ve joked about it to enough people and if I don’t do it then I’m kind of a chump. I always thought that I liked to write. Funny thing is I don’t like to read. So having a child I think I’ve read way more children’s books than I have actual contemporary novels, you know? So having read a lot of children’s books over the past 13 years, I started to notice things that I really respected. The way they were able to pull off stories simplistically, with the smallest amount of words possible. I’ve always been a fan of minimalist art – when people give you a visual using the smallest amount possible. When we finished this record I was like, I can probably write a children’s story that can tell the same exact theory and moral that I’m trying to tell with this record and it can accompany the record. So I can’t say I always planned it, but I’m glad I finally did it. I might’ve sucked at it, so we’ll see. If I look at it when it comes out and think it doesn’t suck I might try it again, but not with the album, just write an actual children’s book.
Are you guys coming back over this year to tour with the new album?
S: Yeah this summer we hope, wish me luck.