“I look at the Republicans basically the same way I would look at a really horrible rapper.”
One of the biggest names in indie rap for the better part of a decade, Minneapolis duo Atmosphere have just released their latest album, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold (Rhymesayers Entertainment). Comprising beat maker Ant (Anthony Davis) and rapper Slug (Sean Daley), Atmosphere have on their latest moved away from samples and diary-style stories and toward live instrumentation and imagined portraits of locals. The CD also offers beatboxing from Tom Waits, and it comes with a hardcover book that includes a children’s story. Slug spoke with me from his new house in a quiet Minneapolis neighborhood he prefers not to name for fear of being found.
What’s your new ’hood like?
It’s a very standard working-class South Minneapolis neighborhood. I just had to move somewhere where I couldn’t walk to a bar. I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to drive to a bar, because I’m scared shitless of drinking and driving. It’s kind of good to have to take a cab if I want to go drinking. Is it really worth the 60 bucks that I’m going to have to pay, back and forth, for the cab ride? No it’s not. I’m going to sit at home and smoke pot.
It’s you and your son in the house?
Actually, my son does not live with me, he lives with his mother. Me and my girlfriend in the house.
How did you imagine the characters on your album, which include a homeless guy, someone dating a junkie, and a struggling mother?
I would sit at a bus stop drinking my morning coffee. At first it was just because I wanted to walk around my neighborhood and get to know it a little better. But after a while I found out that how I was steering my new stories was through strangers. And I could have done that anywhere, but of course I didn’t. I used to sit at the bar and make my stories with strangers and then write about ’em. Whereas now these problems I’m writing about are not really my problems.
How did you hook up with Tom Waits?
His son started coming to our shows as a kid. We got along really well. Plus, he looks just like his dad, and it kind of spooked me out. So we became friends, and then, a few years later, I was finally like, “Hey man, have we been friends long enough where I can ask you if you’ll ask your dad to hook up for a track?” And he was like, “Yeah, totally.” But Tom didn’t sing, he beatboxed on it, which was just as good. In fact, it was even better. Because, rather than doing what I expected of him, he totally threw a left turn. And I can’t wait to pay back the favor. When he sends me a song, rather than rap, I’ll play the didgeridoo on it.
I hear there’s an embarrassing anecdote somewhere in here.
I made Tom mad. When I first met his son, I got him drunk, and he was underage at the time, like 18 or 19. His dad contacted the people at [Atmosphere’s former label] Epitaph, like, “Who’s this guy who got my kid drunk?” I wonder if, especially now, he even remembers that story. Either way, the reason why I’m humiliated and embarrassed by it is that, I’m about to be 36 years old, and for me to tell a story about how seven years ago I got a fucking 19-year-old wasted, I’m not proud of that at this point.
Is it true that for some of your CD-listening sessions you drove critics around in a van and smoked them out?
In some cities, yeah, I’d rent a mini-van, soccer-mom-style, and drive the critics around, four at a time. I wasn’t trying to butter nobody up, in fact I wouldn’t even offer the weed. I would just smoke it, and if anybody asked, I’d be like, “Sure.” By no means was it payola. If anything it was because, to me, the drive was a great way for people to be able to hear the record without any of their typical distractions that they might have at their office or their house.
Any plans to disrupt the Republican Convention in Minneapolis?
I’m not sure. Sometimes it’s better just to ignore the haters. I look at the Republicans basically the same way I would look at a really horrible rapper. It’s like, is it better for me to acknowledge that horrible rapper, or should I just ignore him? Anyway, what am I going to do, go streak through the middle of their convention? Granted, I’m getting older. If you would have asked me 20 years ago, I probably would have said, “Yeah, I’m going to go down there with a pellet gun, and I’m going to shoot people in the ass! And I’m going to throw dead squirrels at people.”