Soundsphere: Let’s talk about the record. First off, I’m loving everything I’ve heard. I’ve heard Side A, Side B, and I’ve heard Side C. I’m waiting on Side D, and I’m excited! And the ‘Clocked’ video, what was the idea behind that?
Slug: The idea came from a guy named Andrew Melby, but we all call him Melby. He’s done a few videos for us. I think the first time he did a video for us was ‘Camera Thief’. Actually he toured with us [Rhymesayers] once. We brought a camera crew with us back in 2011 around Europe. Anyway, he heard the song [Clocked] and had an idea for it. The premise behind it, like the Easter Egg behind it, was ageing. He wanted the setting to be a carwash, and he wanted me to kinda be disassociated.
Soundsphere: Like you’re keeping some big secret? The whole theme of time seems like a huge thing across what I’ve heard so far from the album.
Slug: Yeah. You know, every time we make a project there is some sort of underlying theme to it. This time around it’s not as obvious. You calling out time as being something that quietly runs through the album is definitely there, but I think we were just a little less concerned with having some sort of grand narrative, and we were more just trying to have a good time. The thing I like about the video that Melby made was, kinda like the ‘Camera Thief’ video, there is a narrative there but it’s kinda open for interpretation. We don’t make it super obvious, you know. But ageing, and death, and time seems like a long-term narrative that runs through a lot of my writing, and I don’t know why. It just kinda works out that way.
Soundsphere: It’s something we all think about from time to time. You’re a storyteller, and it’s classic storytelling.
Slug: I wonder if some day my kids are gonna ask me, “Dad, why were you so obsessed with… death?” But for now, you know, keep rolling, keep riding. Keep rolling until the wheels fall off.
Soundsphere: You’ve been a successful artist for so long now, does that come into play when you’re putting out a new record? Or are you not thinking about that, and just having fun with this?
Slug: Well yeah, with this one specifically, we had a lot less pressure because nobody expected us to turn in another record so soon. I’ve had times when the label has been looking at me like “Hey, you know, it’s your turn. Are you gonna give us something?” whereas this time, they weren’t looking at me, and I suddenly just gave them something. And they were just like, “Oh. Okay!” I kinda feel like I’ve outgrown some of the pitfalls that artists fall into. Artists that create art for a living end up under certain types of pressures, and I used to feel those pressures as well, but I kinda have outgrown them, just because I’m not as dependent on selling this art as I used to be. I used to depend on selling it. Now that I don’t depend on people to buy my album, it frees you up and allows you to just make art without apology, and make art without worrying, without wondering if anybody’s gonna like it. I still wonder if people are gonna like it, but not to the extent of driving myself crazy. You know the real pressure now is trying to figure out how to crack the code, and write the perfect song. But the irony is that the listener doesn’t care about the perfect song. I’ve learned that the listener just wants to feel connected and to feel what they felt from you when they first discovered you. And so they’re constantly looking for something, a spark, you know kinda like… it’s like love. The first couple of times you fall in love is like a rollercoaster. And then as you get older you don’t necessarily look for that rollercoaster any more, you’re looking for somebody that fits you, and somebody that supplements or completes you. But then I think, in the back of your mind you’re always looking at your partner like, “does this person excite me, like they used to excite me?”
Soundsphere: And are they supposed to? Is that really the way that it’s supposed to go? And looking back at your extensive catalogue do you look back and ask “does my material excite me the way that it used to?” Is that a drive when putting out something new as well?
Slug: I think that as I’ve gotten older the drive now comes from trying to crack the code, trying to solve puzzles. Trying to put together words in ways that make me feel I accomplished something different, or new. Sometimes we even set up challenges and exercises before we start so we have something to try and successfully accomplish. There are songs on Side D called ‘Skull’ and ‘Nekst’, and both of those started off as exercises, and they evolved into actual songs, because as you’re trying to accomplish the exercise or trying to create the puzzle, if you nail it, then now it’s a song. I guess that’s kinda the main motivation for me nowadays. In order to excite myself. And again, lets compare it to sex. Somebody who has been oversexed, they could become a little bit desensitized. So when you write enough songs you start to become desensitized to certain parts of your relationship to the song, or to the practice of writing songs. So you have to come up with new positions!
Soundsphere: When I hear this record, the beats from Ant are classic hip hop. It’s old-school. But the narratives aren’t necessarily. I like that intertwining. That’s keeping it exciting for me.
Slug: I’m excited for you to hear Side D. I like the way that the label is releasing this album, because oftentimes people will lead with the… the first single and the second single will tend to be whatever the best two songs on the album are. Or more so, maybe, the most accessible songs. And with the way that they chose to do this, it didn’t leave room for that. It was like “okay, we’re just gonna release Side A first. So which one should be a video?” And when we looked at it like that, it was no longer about what has the most potential to be the biggest song, but more so what song would be the most interesting one to release first. Don’t get me wrong, I still want it to sell records. Or more so, I still want people to hear the music. But to be able to approach it from something that just feels a little bit more clouded in art, it just allows me to feel a little bit more connected to the full process.
Soundsphere: You’re not necessarily putting out the catchy earworm first?
Slug: I feel like if we would have approached this with the more traditional way of releasing music, they would have led with the song that has Aesop Rock and MF Doom because those are two very strong focus points. You’ve got those two on a song together, that’s kind of a thing, you know? Especially, rest in peace, in the aftermath of [MF Doom]. I also appreciate how that song, which typically would have been the lead single, is now likely the last song that a fan gets to hear.
Soundsphere: With Atmosphere you’ve got two of The Four Elements of Hip Hop. You’ve got the rap, and you’ve got the DJ, with Ant on the production. Have The Four Elements been an important part for you as a creative?
Slug: Well, The Four Elements, all four of them are definitely a huge part of my foundation, and of my entrance [into hip hop]. When I was a kid, via media, and books and magazines I consumed as much as I could. So I tried to be a break-dancer, and actually that was my first entrance into trying to participate. Instead of just being a fan of the culture I wanted to participate in the culture. And so I tried to be a break-dancer when I was a kid. And then from there I started to collect records, and trying to teach myself how to scratch. And I’ve always been a participant in visual arts. I draw, I paint, and so I got involved in graffiti. And truthfully rapping was my last activity. Rapping stuck. It’s funny though, the first group I was in, I was the DJ. Even in the first incarnation of Atmosphere, I was the DJ in the group.
Soundsphere: Hip hop culture is so much more than just the music now. But this is a classic hip hop record. Is it important to you to be recognised as hip hop, or do you just want to be putting out great art, despite the label?
Slug: Back in the day when I was a little more insecure in my own skin, I definitely wanted to be recognised as an advocate and a participant, and I wanted people to see what I was intending. Now I kind of reached a space where I know you don’t actually have control over how people interpret what you do, so I’m not gonna worry too much about it, and just do what I like to do. The real intention of this album, aside from having fun, was to not sound like the last album. And the last album’s intention was to not sound like the album before that. When we made the ‘Whenever’ album and the ‘The Day Before Halloween’ album, that was when we were trying to find discomfort. We were trying to force ourselves into spaces. And that was the exercise.
Soundsphere: Are you always writing? And what do you have in mind next?
Slug: The stuff that I’m writing now, I’ve been writing for almost about a year now. It was about a year ago that we started mixing the WORD? album. And so this is probably the one that is a reaction to the times. The WORD? album was the one trying to distract ourselves from Covid and lockdown, the murder of George Floyd and all the shit that was going on. So much sadness, so much trauma. I think we made the WORD? album as a way to distract ourselves and inject a little bit of fun into our year. The one that we’re working on now… you can hear the depression that we might be experiencing. You can hear the worries and the concerns. You can hear more of the trauma. And ultimately I still want the message to be “Hey. You know, it’s gonna be okay. You’ve just gotta power through it. It’s going to be okay”. I want that to be the ultimate message to this next project.
Soundsphere: Do you wanna finish with a little more on Side D? That hasn’t dropped publicly yet. What can people look forward to?
Slug: Side D has a song called ‘Skull’ which might be my favourite song on the project. That’s a narrative, it’s a story. It’s got another song called ‘Nekst’ which is ultimately what began as an exercise and became a song. And it’s got the big song. The song with Doom and Aesop Rock. And I don’t know what else to say about it, other than I do think that it stays true to everything that we were attempting to do. In fact, I don’t think we really strayed from the plan anywhere, so you can hear the smile on my face when I’m rapping on these songs. And I wanted people to hear it. Even on a song like ‘Clocked’, which is a little bit more melancholy. I still wanted you to be able to hear the smile on my face. Whether or not you think it’s a sarcastic smile, I don’t care. But as long as you can close your eyes and see that I’m smiling when I’m saying these words. I pushed myself to actually smile while recording. It makes your words a little different. It puts a little bit of an inflection on your words, that I think people accidentally hear. And it’s like a subliminal. It’s like a note. It’s like a silent note, that people don’t know you’re hitting, but it does affect them.
Words and Interview: Casey Stead
WORD? is out on Friday 8th October- https://rse.lnk.to/