Ian, your upcoming album »Skelethon« is the first one that you entirely produced on your own …
Aesop Rock: … yes, the first one of my own albums – yes, it is.
What was the whole production based on software-wise and tool-wise?
Aesop Rock: The only software I use is Pro Tools. Oh wait, I started using BPM which is a drum machine by Motu. But apart from that I have a ASR 10 as sampler, I have a Moog and a Roland Fantom, some basses and guitars … I just have a couple of synths and instruments, but I always start with the same sampler that I’ve had since day one, it appears on everything [ASR 10 – editor’s note]. I don’t get along with software synths and that kind of stuff, I prefer just having a solid analogue synthesizer, a sampler and some instruments – I go from there.
Do you start with sampling?
Aesop Rock: Yeah, usually everything starts with samples whether it’s vinyl or whatever. I sample anything, change them up a little, chop them up a little and either layer other samples onto them or just play into them. I have some people that I know that play instruments well, they come over and play and add little layers to the stuff and then I construct the whole sequence in Pro Tools.
So the sampler remained the center piece of your production?
Aesop Rock: I think it’s because of how old I am and how I was taught to do it I guess. At the time, it was either a MPC60, an ASR 10 or a SP that you used and I ended up with the ASR 10. It was the first sampler I’ve had and it’s still the sampler that is sitting in my studio right now. I usually will start by just listening to music, finding a piece that I like and looping it up. That’s kind of step 1. And then I build on it and sometimes I take out the original sample and just use what I created on top of it.
There are three trailers for »Skeleton« out there, in which you’re dragging a dead cat through New York City. How much are you involved in the visual side of your work?
Aesop Rock: Sometimes we’re kicking a couple of dollars and get an actual director who studied the world and knows what he’s doing to do an official kind of music video. But I like to be involved in the creative style and the concept. The dead cat ones for instance I did with a friend, we just made them at home. I like to do as much as I can although I’m not that trained video guy. But right now for instance we’re having one video going up every day where I’m talking about the songs. I’ve put all those together myself and I love doing it. If I can do it, I’ll do it.
»I usually will start by just listening to music, finding a piece that I like and looping it up. That’s kind of step 1. And then I build on it and sometimes I take out the original sample and just use what I created on top of it.« Audio and video editing have a lot of similarities. In the end it’s about composition, don’t you think so?
Aesop Rock: Yes, video editing is a world I’ve gotten into in the last few years. It’s not that different from using a Pro Tools kind of programme where you’re based on a timeline and you’re cutting and pasting things on a timeline. If you can edit audio really well, editing video is a really similar idea as long as you have a skill for the rhythm.
There’s a lot of talk about your new album being the most Indie album you’ve done, probably hinting at the guitar-based Anti folk influence coming from the collaboration with Kimya Dawson …
Aesop Rock: Speaking specifically on Kimya, I’m just a fan of her forever and I’ve always thought – as a person that spent a lot of years writing lyrics – she’s one of the people who I’ve been really been excited by in the lyrics world. Then we eventually met a few years ago and I got to do some work on her last solo record, she sang one song on my new record and then we actually recorded a full album together which will probably come out early next year [under the stage name The Uncluded, editor’s note]
That’s great news, Ian. I was just listening to »Jorge Regula« by the Moldy Peaches again and her voice sounds so good on that recording …
Aesop Rock: … part of it is »Can you write good lyrics?« and another part is »Do you realize what your voice can do?« I think she’s one of those people that has a really good grip on what her voice sounds like and what it’s best for and how it’s best used.
She probably invented this child-like singing when she’s replacing an entire solo instrument by just singing Da-de-da …
Aesop Rock: (laughs) There’s definitely been a lot of copying Kimya going on. It’s hard to say what she’s invented, but almost in every advertisement on TV someone is trying to sound like Kimya.
Let’s talk about your performances again. You’ve got such a continues flow and a wordy high-energy way of rapping. Do you have a certain ritual that gets you going before a show?
Aesop Rock: Well, not really, all you can basically do is rehearse a lot. I’ve been working with the same guys very closely for a lot of years tour-wise, Rob Sonic and DJ Big Wiz are two of my closest friends. We’ve been touring together for many years and we’re used to each other, I think that gives me a lot of confidence.
Do your lyrics sometimes get abstract on stage? Do you reach a point where you’re not actually aware of what you’re saying anymore, a state where words are becoming rather sounds than meanings?
Aesop Rock: I totally know what you mean. I think it’s impossible to avoid that when you’re doing a lot of shows. You’re not gonna be mentally transported to the place where you were when you wrote the lyrics all of the time and you won’t find that emotional connection all of the time. A lot of the times you’ve been on thirty shows and you’re doing your next one and you just need to fuckin get through it. To a degree it becomes a kind of exercise then. And I’m fully aware that no one is going to pick up everything I’m saying in a live scenario. There’s a lot of lyrics where if you really want to hear what’s going on, you should listen to the record.