Astronautalis: A Year To Remember

OVER THE PAST DECADE, ASTRONAUTALIS HAS BEEN PACKING HIS BAGS AND HITTING THE ROAD ALL IN THE NAME OF SPREADING HIS MUSIC.

By Nick Q. & Marilyn H.

Dec. 31, 2009

From the Vans Warped Tour to 2009′s Tegan & Sara European Tour, it seems as if Astronautalis has done it all. We caught up with this rising talent to talk about his latest album, Pomegranate, and his personal journey through last year.

We’ve kept up with you for a lot of 2009 and it seemed like a very good year for you. Did you meet all of your goals last year? What are your goals for this year?
I feel there are some goals that I met in 2009, some that I exceeded, and some that fell flat. I really wanted to get a solid foothold in Europe and that went a lot better than I could have ever imagined. I hoped to have a lot more to show for my various side projects and that didn’t happen. I did get a dumb gang tattoo in a German squat…so…I totally hit the nail on the head with that one. For 2010, I am hoping to get to Australia and/or Asia on tour, I want to be able to sing and play guitar at the same time, and I hope to finish the paperwork on that restraining order I have against you guys. Please. Stop. Following me.

What was your top moment of 2009?
Having 2,000 germans cheer for me to sing an encore in Berlin. It has been a great year for me…but that is something I will carry to the grave. Well, that, and hitting 5 home runs in one day at my pick up softball game…that was pretty bad ass too.

Sounds very Al Bundy-ish. How many countries did you visit?
13: Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, The Netherlands, The Czech Republic, Lithuania, England, and Scotland. I know that some readers AND the United Nations will try to tell me that Scotland isn’t a country…but they can fuck off with that shit and suck my family heritage!

How did Tegan & Sara’s crowd respond to you?
At first, sheer terror. Then, sesquipedaliophobic nervousness. Followed by, bemused curiosity. Which turned into a brief stretch of thirstiness. And finally developed into a warm acceptance. They were great.

How does the touring experience differ between the US and Europe? Would you say the promoters, venues, fans and/or food is better or worse?
In both the US & mainland Europe, there are two different touring worlds. The club circuit in the US is easily one of the hardest realms to be a professional musician in. The promoters rarely do their jobs, the sound systems are sub par, the money/accommodation is really meager, and the fans are hard to win over. An American show for an emerging band usually consists of shit sound, no promotion, two drink tickets, and a place to park your car…money if you are lucky. With that said, the house show scene in America is the closest thing we have to a European appreciation of music…you have people throwing shows out of love, working to make money and fans for touring bands, all out of passion and love for music. It is too bad that the sound systems are usually bad and you end up sleeping on a pile of cat hair and cigarettes. I would say half of the venues I play on my own European tours are non-profit venues. Yes, non-profit venues…everyone works for free except the artists. This is a concept is so bizarre to Americans, and it becomes even more bizarre when you see how nice these venues are. Kids squat old mansions and turn them into gorgeous clubs, with perfect sound systems, and they feed you delicious food, pay you great money, and give you cozy beds to sleep in, after you play to a great crowd of excited kids…who actually buy merch. I think the main difference between the two is the work people put into shows in Europe…the promoters have high standards as to what they feel they should provide, so they work their asses off to do so…all the while…generally not expecting a profit. You are seeing things like this going on in America…but it is rarely happening in nice clubs…it’s generally happening in someone’s backyard.

I am just lucky I grinded through the dregs of American shows, and earned a certain level of comfort and respect from clubs and fans in America BEFORE I went to Europe…or else the old country would have totally spoiled me.

What’s one thing you can’t live without on tour?
Privacy. I spend about 90% of my life around people…any chance I get to be alone in a room is solid gold. Sometimes I will just go into a bathroom at some hotel or someone’s house and just sit on the edge of the tub…just sit there…doing nothing…but doing it without anyone else around me. Hot showers are really great, so is Jim Beam, and ear plugs…but solitude is the most valuable commodity for me on the road.

Would you ever consider ditching your trusty laptop for a live band?
As soon as I possibly can. I am getting to the point where I might be able to afford bringing a small band on tour with me…and as soon as I can…I will. This laptop has gotten me far…but I am ready to see other people.

What made you want to make an album based on historical events?
My previous record was very self-indulgent. It was, like most people’s records, all about me and girls and growing up…you know…spill your guts lonely indie artist crap. That is the kind of record I wanted to make, because I felt like, while there had been a lot of rappers who had put themselves into a record, most were still hiding behind a character of themselves. In the interest of having a really gross metaphor, they were just puking up little bits of bile…not really spilling their guts, you know? I wanted to commit seppuku all over the Protools console. (In hindsight, I think I achieved that on maybe song or four, and while I am proud of that record, it wasn’t a total success artistically. hmm…funny…I just realized that). But, I digress, after spending all that time focusing on my sissy self, I wanted to do the exact opposite and see if I could make a record that wasn’t about me at all. I have always been obsessed with history, and I felt like that was an excellent foundation to build off of. So, I took some of my favorite events from history, mixed it with my genetic propensity for storytelling (i.e. bullshitting), and added drums. TA-DA!

When making Pomegranate did you know it would be such a success?
Nope. Quite the opposite…it scared me to death. I spent two years writing that album, and I haven’t had a longer bout of nervous insomnia in my life. The music I was producing felt so different from anything I had made, the lyrics were so much more dense, the subject matter so absurd, and all I could think was, “people are going to hate this”. That wasn’t reason enough for me to actually stop though. I felt like I made my last record ABOUT me, but FOR everyone else…I wanted to make something “unique” and “cool”, you know?.Pomegranate was all about other people…but made just for me. That record feels…um…melodramatic and nerdy to me…which is who I am…a nerdy, theatrical school kid. Put it this way, when “The Trouble Hunters” started to take shape, I thought, “people are going to think I am a total fucking tool for making this song”…and it is without a doubt…the most popular song I have ever made. Shows what the hell I know!

How different was it workin with live musicians rather than just a producer? Was it easier to be creative?
I have always worked with live musicians in some capacity, but generally they have been more involved in the actual writing process, taking a lot of input from them or having them actually write songs. ForPomegranate, I wrote everything on my own over the course of two years, making rough sketches out of samples and synths…then went into the studio for two 5 day sessions and really just slammed through that record. I knew what I wanted in advance this time, while there was more musicians involved, I played more of an active role…sort of like a director. With that said, there are still moments on that record that were totally shaped once the musicians got involved. Sean Kirpatrick’s (from “The Paper Chase”) piano riffs saved “The Wondersmith and His Sons” from the trash can and Mckenzie Smith’s (From “Midlake”) funk drum break turned “The Trouble Hunters” from a folk ballad into the Bruce Springsteen rip off it became. It wasn’t any easier…just different.

We’ve heard rumors of a full length album with P.O.S. What is the word on that?
I am flying out to Minneapolis in January, and staying for two weeks to start working on that record…finally! Stef and I both tour so much that it is really hard to get our schedules to align…but we finally did. I am so excited about this.

What other artists are you working with?
I am slowly working on my other group Maxx Moon with Dallas based producer, Picnic Tyme. We have a bunch of halfway done songs…it will get finished someday…and it will blow your pants off. Picnic = Dope. On top of that, I am producing all the music for my friend Bleubird’s new record, which is turning into equal parts indie folk, black gospel, and Miami bass. Last, but certainly not least…Mike Wiebe (from “The Riverboat Gamblers”) and I are starting on a Eurotrash-pa-house-dance group called: K.I.O.S.K. Oh, and I was forced into a straight edge german drunk punk band by some friends in Berlin…I don’t know what is coming out of that…but I am writing the lyrics in English, having them translate them back to German, and they are going to teach me how to sing them in German. It should be classy as fuck.

If you could work with any artist, dead or alive, who would it be?
Joanna Newsom.

When you’re rich and famous, what will be the most ridiculous request on your tour rider?
Joanna Newsom.

What was crazier…seeing your poster on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, or your album on the Apple iMac instructional video?
I have been friends with Charlie Day (Charlie) & Mary Elizabeth Ellis (the waitress) for years…so I knew that one was coming, (I actually designed those posters myself for their set) the Apple thing was a total surprise…with that said…it was WAY crazier to see my poster on TV! I mean…fuck! a drawing of me is on the TV! Hey maw! Come looksee!

Now we have a few questions from our readers:

Nick H (Dallas): What made you decide to do this thing full-time? What would your career be if not a nomad rap star?
Well Nick, I decided to try doing this full time after my first tour on the warped tour. I saw how the crowd responded to me, and I thought, “this might actually fucking work!?”. So I went home, and recorded my first record. If things didn’t turn out that way, I would have probably been back in Dallas, working as a lighting technician for all the theaters in the city…which means I would have been in a union and had a glorious beer gut.

Kat (OKC): Did touring with Tegan & Sara inspire you at all? Will we be hearing any collabs with them soon?
I could literally talk for HOURS about what I learned from watching, talking to, and just being around Tegan & Sara. I have always had so much respect for them as artists…but getting to know them, and being allowed to pick their brains…I now admire them as people, and a business organization. They are doing things the way I hope to someday. They run a tight ship, make great music the way they want to make it, and they take such good care of the people around them…I am lucky to have met them…they are only a few years older than me…but thay have centuries of knowledge on me. As for collabos…I am actually finishing up a remix for them right now…I don’t know if it will make it to an album…and it isn’t as cool as writing a song with them…but it is an excellent start, right?

Crista (Minneapolis): When will we get some new Maxx Moon?
Not soon enough Crista. Not soon enough. (Note to self: call Picnic tonight)

Fishr (Dallas): Why do you rhyme so much when you rap?
BECAUSE I LEARNED IT FROM YOU DAD!!!!!

We’d like to give a big thanks to Astronautalis for taking a few minutes out of his life, and ignoring the fact that we’ve been stalking him for months, to answer a few questions. Keep up to date with all things Astronautalis by visiting his website Modelcitizens.org, where he and his manager, Harpoon Larry, blog their asses off.

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