Atmosphere: Buhloone Mindstate
Despite being the best-selling act on the indy Hip Hop scene this decade and constantly fending off major label advances, Atmosphere has never given up their right to do what the fuck they want. Would a major ever let someone release an album called When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold [click to read]? I think not.
Live from the smokiest hotel room you can possibly imagine, Ant and (mostly) Slug talk about their new album, the 30-something mindstate, and why Murs is smiling so much.
HipHopDX: Lemons has a real live instrument feel to it, can you talk a bit about the production process for this record?
Slug: It wasnt like they play through, they play bars. Sampled bars, you know what Im sayin? Its still chopped and sampled, just not off the record.
DX: Right, like Dr. Dre does.
Slug: Exactly, only there is a whole lot less weed. And guns. Well not a whole lot less.
Ant: As long as I can remember, Ive always wanted to do one of those kinds of records. I mean hes been doing that kind of shit since 86. Its just knowing the people, having the finances to do these types of thingsnot anyone can just make a record like this. You know, probably some part of it too is that Ive already done a lot of the sample shit. I probably exhausted that avenue five years ago. Its just a growing up thing I guess.
DX: Ive been to a lot of your shows and you have a pretty young fan base, especially considering the type of music that you make. Does the age of your audience enter your thought process when you are making records?
Slug: No, no. In fact, I think that not so much the making of this album, but the minute we finished it and I knew we had to start the other cycles, I actually started thinking, how do I start translating what Im doing to a 35 year old soccer mom, single dad. Cause you know, Im going to be 36 this year. Everyone I went to high school with, they dont even listen to music the same way anymore. They play it in their car on their way to work. When theyre at home, they dont play records, they watch TV. You know what I mean? So how do I make what Im doing - because my perspective and my reality is that of a 35 year old how do I make what Im doing relevant to a 35 year old also, you know? And without pandering to it, 'cause I dont want to exclude the kids but Ive so many issues standing on stage in front of a bunch of kids singing along and Im wondering mid-song, "How the fuck can they be relating to what Im saying right now?" Mind you, thank God they do. Thank God anyone does. Realistically, I feel confident enough to believe Ive got some good things to say that kids maybe could fucking benefit from hearing. You know? But how long before my records turn into, "Wear your seatbelt," "Wear a helmet," "Eat your vegetables," you know? "Brush your teeth."
Ant: Wouldnt you say thats the case with a lot of records though? I think about the stuff I was listening to when I was 12 years old, I didnt know what half of that shit was about.
Slug: When Aerosmiths Pump came out, was it 35 year olds that made that shit go triple platinum? Probably not. When I was a kid, I was listening to adults that made music, I was listening to Chuck D and I was relating. Even though Chuck was talking from his perspective and hes got 10 years on me, you know what I mean? So I have to just believe in it, and just believe it is what it is. I wouldnt even know how to write a song with the 18 year old in mind.
The way I look at it across the board is, when the record is done and we turn it in, its no longer our problem. It is somebody elses problem, you know? Skye, Saddiq, you guys go figure out how you can get this record to do what you want it to do. Im committed for being who I am 150% of the time, whether its on record, in an interview or ordering coffee, eating, sleeping, Im committed to being me. Its your issue to make people relate to me or recognize me, or make me their friend, or hate me or think I suck. I cant put any thought into what can I do to make people think I suck, or make people think Im cool. The minute I do that I dont know that I can necessarily do this job. Id have to go find a new job, and not on some martyr me shit, but on some like, the reason I like this job more than any other job is not because I get to travel, its not because I get to smoke as many cigarettes as I want, any time that I want. Its because it feels purposeful, and I dont mean that what we do has this higher purpose. I mean like, this, compared to driving a delivery truck is soothing me. This makes me fucking happier than shit. Driving a delivery truck would make me happy too, much more than working a cash registerso its just the elements of this job that I love, I try to stick to in order to keep me in check and keep me from taking this for granted. That makes me a loser now, anyone who takes their job for granted is a fucking loser. If you come to terms that you deliver newspapers, and thats what you do and you take that for granted and fuck that off? Then youre a loser, cause youve got something that someone would kill to have. Thats how I see it, I dont want to be a loser. I started to feel like a loser a couple of years ago, thats why I started the live band because I felt like there was no challenge performing. Come out here and make my way through Modern Man and Scapegoat, I could do it in my sleep. It just wasnt challenging and I was like man, Im gonna get fired if I dont start taking my job more seriously.
DX: So at this point it has been over a decade with enough material for two, are you guys close to saying ,Im done making music? Or is there still plenty left in the tank?
Slug: Nah, just beginning. Whether or not people accept the music, thats a whole nother story and they might say Im done. But Im so in this, Ive got my girlfriend into this, she is making music now. Im so in this, if I fucking lose my voice tomorrow Im either going to go out and buy an ASR-10 and borrow some vinyl from Ant.
Ant: Be a ghostwriter.
Slug: [Laughs] Or Im gonna start driving the fucking tour bus. Ill go be a road manager. Ive learned so much about this game that Im gonna be up in this bitch forever, even if its not as the artist. If Im the guy helping expose another artist, Ill take that cause Ill still feel like I have a purpose. Best believe Ill go be Brother Alis tour manager, best one that dude could ever have. You know what Im saying? [Laughing] Serious, cause Ill still be doing something I love and something I believe in.
DX: Ant, we spoke over a year ago at Paid Dues and you told me then that the record was already done. If that is the case, how does it resonate with you guys now?
Slug: Uhh, it was probably close to being done, but not completely.
Ant: Yeah, we were done recording it.
Slug: We still had to mix it and put on the finishing touches and add a little magic here and there. But we had a year to add that magic.
Ant: We also did other recordings, you know? At least three albums worth of shit, and at least one of those was a completely different album than this one. In terms of the sound and all that. But we just kept going.
Slug: We started making the record in October of 06, by the time you saw us at Paid Dues, we had it done; written, produced. Then we went and made Strictly Leakage [click to listen], instead of even going and mix the album. We just left the album alone and made Strictly Leakage, had some fun and kicked it.
Ant: Then we could go back to it and go, "Oh not bad," or "Jesus, this is terrible."
Slug: Yeah, then go make some Sad Clown shit. You know what I mean? Then go back to it again. 'Cause they told in April was going to be our release date in like fuckin June and we were like thats almost a year. Lets leave it alone, we dont have to turn it in till December. We had until December to tweak and make some other adjustments and we kept ourselves occupied with some other stuff so that we could come back to it with something else fresh. Rather than sit there and beat ourselves in the head listening to it and trying to make it perfect.
Ant: Never as an artist should you just be focused on the 10 songs youre going to put out over two years. Thats just stupid.
Slug: I totally agree. Thats why Ive always tried to keep myself distracted with either touring or just writing other things, or whatever. Just busying myself in some way so that I can go back to Ants house with a fresh pallet and have a new way to look at what weve done.
DX: All the Sad Clown albums that have come out over the last year or so, has that all been new material or was some of it leftovers from You Cant Imagine?
Slug: Oh yeah.
Ant: Shit, some of it was probably newer than the album.
Slug: Yeah most of it was. I think some of the best songs weve ever made are on those albums. [Sad Clown, Bad Summer] is one of the best albums weve made. The label actually wanted Sunshine to be on Lemons and be the single. We just didnt think it fit in with what we were doing and what we were trying to say.
DX: At this point you guys are easily the biggest artists in the indy Hip Hop scene. Obviously, it isnt just the good music, because other people are making good music too. Can you talk a bit about what youve done to get to this point?
Slug: Hard work, man, we did a lot of fucking shit that other people just werent willing to do. Touring was the biggest part of it, we would go anywhere and everywhere. I remember driving from Minnesota to Dallas once for a show for $250, which wouldnt even cover the gas these days. But we did what we had to do to get our name out and sell records at the shows. Especially in small towns that didnt get shows. Once we built it up enough to get distribution it was a whole new game.
We hooked up with Fat Beats for Godlovesugly and they were able to get us in some chains. So wed go play a show in Boise, where they didnt have an independent record store, just a Target and a Walmart or Best Buy. So wed go there and these kids actually had access to our records. Boom, no other rappers are going to Boise. So these kids, regardless if theyve heard of us or if we suck, come to our show because its the only rap show that theyll get to go to this year. You know? We needed that. So, after Fat Beats, we did it with Epitaph. They had distro with ADA, I believe, and it was the same situation only Epitaph was able to get us overseas. Whole new game for us, 'cause before everyone in Europe would have to order imports. We had toured Europe two or three times already, but when we toured that time you could see the fucking difference. Now you guys have access to our records for a reasonable price, now youre coming out to the show. Europe gets lots of Hip Hop, now Ive gotta compete with Tame One and the Living Legends and people Im competing with back home. So this feels right, and feels comfortable. Thank god our record is finally here, we used to come over here before and play in front of 60 people who were either online learning about us or bootlegging with each other, sharing it.
Then You Cant Imagine was with Navarre, which is a pretty big distribution company only they mostly did DVDs and movies and shit like that, but they still had the ability to get us in all the chain stores and the independent stores just as good as Epitaph. So really, going to Warner is an easy step because weve been playing the game with major distro for so long now. The only catch now, is kind of like when Epitaph took us a step up from Fat Beats, there is a brand name that comes along with Epitaph. Even independent stores that werent fucking with us before are fucking with us now, "Oh, well take five of those," because of the Epitaph name. Once they took five and sold through, they took 10 more. So when we went to Navarre we had momentum and even though we didnt have the Epitaph name, they still took our shit. Now with the Warner name its like going to the playground with the biggest of big brothers there, going "Look at my little brother in the sandbox." You know what I mean? So now were in the sandbox with all the big names. It doesnt mean our record is gonna fucking sell, you know it depends, is our video gonna get played? Is the radio gonna pick up any of our shit? No. You heard the record, what are they gonna pick up? Maybe You? [It's the] poppiest shit we ever made; nope, were not making it a single. So there it goes, our one chance of making radio and me and you [Slug points to Ant], are gonna sabotage that shit. "No, dont send that one to radio." I dont think its in our future to become famous unless it is literally in our future like God wants it to happen. 'Cause otherwise me and him fight the shit, we always make the decision that is against common sense. [Laughs] I dont know why, were afraid of being famous. Especially at this point, Im hitting fucking 37 and all of a sudden Im going to get fucking recognized when I go buy a sandwich at Subway.
DX: I think that would be horrible, I cant understand why people want fame.
Slug: People want fame because of the money and the validation. Most of the time people who want to be famous didnt have good parents.
DX: Yeah, shit Ill take the money
Slug: Me too, dont get me wrong. I wanna buy an island from Willie D. [Writer's note: this was a joke from a previous conversation] But people who want fame, there is something missing from their lives that theyre trying to fucking get. I understand it, Im not mad it. Its just not my thing.
DX: With your boy Murs actually being an artist on Warner, do you know how thats working out for him?
Slug: That dude is the most optimistic person in the world, he knows how to adapt. If a bad situation is coming he might be like, "Fuck, how do I avoid this?" But if he wakes up and finds himself in a bad situation that dude knows how to maintain and still get his job done. So I dont think Im ever going to hear Murs complain about anything really, hes not a complainer, hes an adaptor. Hes one of those dudes who takes what hes got and makes the best out of it, you know? But I will say Ive heard plenty of positive things from Murs about the Warner situation. And honestly, Im an observer. Im really going to watch what happens here. Granted, Im in a totally different situation because I dont have an artist deal here and Im not going to have financial backing from Warner. But I want to see how Murs plays this because it is going to make an impact on those following me and him, the ones who are coming up behind us. Because whatever happens with Murs is going to affect their decisions, if they sign or where they sign a deal. So this is really interesting to me and it seems like Murs has got it on his terms so how could you complain about that, you know? Youve got to be realistic about this, especially when youve been in it for a while like Murs has, its a job. You want to do the best job that you can possibly do, every time. Now you might get hired by someonelike Nike, lots of kids hate Nike because of the sweatshops and all that.
Me? Id go get a job with Nike. For starters, I feel like I could go steal from the devil. I could go work at 3M and Ill do anything I can to bring them down just a little bit. Ill steal fucking staplers. Murs is in a position to that, not like he is going to go steal Post-It Notes from Warner but hes in the mix. It isnt so much bringing them down but he can go in there and affect the next ones coming up because the dudes who came in before us didnt. They didnt go in there and fix anything, and Im not saying Murs can fix anything on a large scale but he can make some differences. And Murs is the type of dude who will.
DX: I took the same kind of interest because he is the first big indy artist in a long time to make the jump.
Slug: Dude, hes such a stubborn individual that its beautiful. We get to watch a stubborn individual go at it with a major label and see him make the best of it. I really do think this will set some precedence for other independent acts to fuck with majors or not. To make majors a little more safe again. You know what Im saying? 'Cause we all had heroes from the mid to late '90s who were able to finagle a deal with a major and not a damn one of them have done anything to help those following them. They all start to throw the weird little R&B choruses in their songs and they all start to play the game. I wish someone, I wish someone like Saul Williams with his mind state got in there. Doing a record with Trent Reznor? That would have been amazing at a major label because they really could have done something really nuts with that fucking record. And Saul in the mix he could have really done something, so in 10 years the majors arent so scary for other people coming up. But I think Murs could, I think Murs could do some things. Im optimistic.