For his first solo album in five years, hip hop fabulist Aesop Rock returns to the captain’s seat with the self-produced, darkly conceived Skelethon. Released by Rhymesayers Entertainment and featuring a handful of familiar guest spots, the album has been hailed as “both a showpiece for [Aesop’s] illustrious career and a serious payoff for his droves of ever-patient loyal fans.”
Appearing this Friday at the Barrymore Theatre (July 27, 2012 – get your tickets here), Aesop Rock took a minute from his busy tour schedule to answer a few questions via email about his new album and to supply readers with a few little-known facts about himself.
True Endeavors: Your albums always have interesting cover art. Where did the title and concept of Skelethon come from?
Aesop Rock: “Skelethon” is a made up word – kind of a hybrid of skeleton and telethon, or marathon–something I basically took to mean a long period of skeletons, or just a lot of shit dying. I was a fan of [Spanish artist] Aryz‘s work and was thrilled when he agreed to work on the artwork for me. He had painted a few pieces, and we weren’t sure which would end up as the cover. Once that cat skeleton came through, it just seemed super nice and iconic, especially on the pale background. I just thought it represented the general picture amazingly. Especially with the cat being such a common domestic animal, it kinda lent itself to the idea of death becoming a common theme in ones life.
Among other guest spots, Kimya Dawson is featured on the new album. The two of you make an interesting pair. How did you meet? What is it about her music that you like the most?
I have been a fan of Kimya for many years. I find her lyric writing to be absolutely awesome, love her voice and how she uses it, and I love how earnest her songs are. I think she is a truly unique talent in music. I had emailed her many years ago to just say, “Hey your songs are great, thank you.” Then a couple years back when we were starting the 900bats blog I had gotten back in touch with her to see if she’d ever want to contribute. It was around the time she happened to be working on her most recent LP Thunder Thighs, and they were recording not far from where I live. Long story short, we became friends and I ended up working on a handful of songs on that record, and she sang on the song “Crows 1” for my record. We also recorded a full length together under the name The Uncluded that will be out probably early next year.
You’ve worn many artistic hats during your career, but are there any non-artistic pursuits you’ve thought about exploring in the future? Maybe running an arcade or selling prosthetic limbs?
Every now and then I realize that I’ve backed myself into a corner with this stuff, and I start thinking about what will be next for me if i ever choose to slide out the side door unnoticed. And you know what? I don’t know! I wish I knew. I wish I had a firmer grip on what else I could/should/would do, but I just have no clue. I would love to live in the woods somewhere, which would further limit my job options I guess. I’d enjoy something with wildlife I think, though I’m totally unqualified.
Where did most of the lyrics on the new album begin with you? A line? An image? A concept?
Yes to all. I am always taking notes and keeping a list of things I want to include in lyrics, metaphors or ideas. Sometimes I start writing and the larger idea kind of comes out along the way. Other times I’ll say, “OH I want to write a song about THIS.” It’s really patchy, and it’s never the same twice. A lot of scraps that get pieced together into something bigger is the general process, but really each song takes on its own life. Sometimes I’ll write one verse for something, then write the next part a couple years later. It’s always different. I try not to force anything, which is why I don’t usually write one song start to finish. I jump around and write whatever feels interesting at the time. If I can’t finish an idea, I’ll put it to the side and come back to it later.
With references to graveyards, bones, mummies and other occult themes, Skelethon continues to feature what seems to be your love of horror-movie imagery. Are you exorcising your fears, or are you simply a fan of morbid tales?
Maybe both. Definitely a fan of morbid tales, and just sort of leaning any story into that light. I like having a fantastical edge to my stories. That kinda reflects the fact that your brain goes all over the place when you’re actually experiencing these things. So exaggerations or the pushing and pulling of reality becomes a tool to almost make the stories feel more right. Nothing ever seems to just happen smoothly; there’s a lot of ricocheting thoughts in my head at all times. So even if I’m writing a story about one specific thing, I allow the tangents to come out to a degree, then attempt to wrangle it back in.
In promotion of Skelethon, you had a video series on your website where you’re seen dragging a (fake) dead cat around the city. Any funny stories you can share about the filming?
[Laughs] My buddy Coro shot those. We had fun, but yeah it was pretty sketchy at times. I tried to get comfy with it, but it’s a hard thing to get comfy with. We wanted some natural reactions from people on the street, but whenever there was a child around I had to snag it off the ground and hide it. We tried to get a shot in Walgreen’s where I dragged it down the aisle, which we did, but it came out kinda blurry and I wasn’t about to repeat it.
Who is a music group/artist that you think people would be surprised to know you love?
Hmmmm…I don’t really know what would surprise people. I grew up on hip hop and a lot of skate/punk type shit–really a big mix. I was excited to see that Quicksand was reuniting and will be playing one of the same festivals as me coming up. But yeah, I don’t know – I like all sorts of stuff. I revisited Paul Simon’s Graceland a bunch this year because my mother used to play that constantly in the car and that album is amazing. I loved the Dead Kennedys and I get pretty geeked on the occasional Jello Biafra sighting in SF. I’m all over the map.
Looking back over your career, what are you most proud of, be it a particular moment, song, performance, etc?
Oh man, I dunno. I’m not good at stopping and being proud of myself [laughs]. I think in general I am just grateful I am still going at all. It doesn’t feel so much like peaks and valleys, more just a windy road. It’s all been strange and difficult and fun and terrible and awesome all at the same time.
Lastly: why is the Grim Reaper such an asshole?
He just thinks he knows what’s best for everyone, and sometimes he doesn’t.
–interview by Austin Duerst
WIN A PAIR OF TICKETS: As explained above, the cover art for Skelethon was created by Aryz, an artist that Aesop Rock was, (and still is) a big fan of. If you created an album, what artist would you commission to create your cover? Post your responses in the comments section below by tomorrow night (Thursday, July 26) at 6pm. A winner will be chosen and notified shortly thereafter. Good luck!
Miss the giveaway? There’s still time to buy your tickets here.
Related Content: New Vid From Aesop Rock: “ZZZ Top”
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