Q&A: Research based rapper tours eccentric new album

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(Photo courtesy of Astronautalis)

Andy Bothwell, who raps under the moniker Astronautalis, is perhaps the most eccentric and intriguing rapper you’ve ever heard of. Honing his skills as an MC on the Jacksonville, Fla., freestyle circuit, Astronautalis boasts an absurdly high technical proficiency. His flow is his perhaps one of the best in contemporary hip-hop, and his freestyle flow is undoubtedly among the best. What’s even better is that half of his music isn’t even labeled as hip-hop, as he spans all sorts of different genres. If you could attempt categorize his sound, it might resemble some combination of Beck and Eyedea, with a hint of wild mountain rock for good measure. He’s currently touring for his new album, This Is Our Science and has a stop in Austin tonight.

The Daily Texan: How’s the tour going thus far?
Andy Bothwell: It’s good. It’s kind of surprising actually. All the shows are a lot bigger than we’re used to, and venues that don’t usually have a very good crowd, have a good crowd, and cities that have a good crowd have a great crowd. It’s pretty radical.

DT: Would you attribute that to the reception of the new album?
Bothwell: Yeah I think so. There’s a lot of new people in the crowd, and there’s a lot of people that haven’t come out in a long time that are kind of coming out of the woodwork again. It’s a lot of old faces, and new faces too. I’m touring with my band now. Before, it was just always me and a laptop. It was fun, but there was sort of limitations to the size of the energy and the power the show can have, when it’s just one guy with a laptop, and now that I have these dudes with me. I think word’s gotten around that the show has changed, so that has a lot to do with it, too.

DT: You’ve talked in interviews about how you’re an “inspiration junkie.” What is your rationale behind researching tons of different things?
AB: The term is pretty tricky. The guy who produced my records, John Congleton, actually came up with it. It just fit. It’s because we’re both sort of that same kind of person. We’re both relentlessly excited about learning new things, and we’re constantly pouring over the Internet and books. I love to know a little bit of something about everything. I’m always interested in packing more into my brain whenever I can.

DT: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve read about in the last week?
AB: My drummer, Derrick, reads BBC Science online, and he was reading something about how a team of computer scientists, using ordinary table salt, increased the storage capacity of a regular hard drive like six times.

DT: Are there any blogs or websites you tend to gravitate towards or is it whatever comes your way?
AB: It’s whatever comes my way. I really love pouring over Tumblr and Twitter feeds. The purpose of websites is that they are what you make them, and if you just want to follow tons and tons of scientists and keep abreast on that sort of thing you can. And if you want to follow comedians, you can. And if you want to follow pornstars, you can. I look on there, and it’s this sort of endless feed of everything I’m interested in. I just kind of wade through that and listen to the radio and read books.

DT: Does pouring over all of the information all the time affect your writing at all?
AB: Yeah, all the time. All my records are really research based. Pomegranate was based around sort of footnote and lesser known characters from world history, and so that was just a lot of reading books and kind of obscure battles and kind of dead traditions and careers. On the latest record, This Is Our Science there’s a lot of science and scientists and the pursuit of knowledge, and the pursuit of discovery and research and particularly scientists in the Age of Enlightenment involved in the birth of chemistry and the birth of physics.

DT: Why did you change sounds on this album, from the last mixtape, DANCEHALLHORNSOUND? It sounds like you’re always going on different trends, and is emblematic of the fact that you’re just getting stoked off of different things.
AB: I mean, there’s always a difference. I certainly hope I never make the same record twice, as I grow and change. Making music is something that you can do at various capacities in different places, thanks to laptops and cheap microphones and Pro Tools, you can make music anywhere. It was something I wanted to do, because I hadn’t made a traditional rap record in forever and I was listening to traditional rap music, and I wanted to see what I could do. So it was something I almost did as a sort of classroom exercise.

DT: You talked about Dallas being one of your favorite cities. Why Dallas? You don’t seem like a very Dallas-type person.
AB: I love Austin, but I went to school in Dallas. Dallas is one of those cities I think, that kind of gets a bad reputation. More than anything that city really kind of raised me as a musician and really taught me a lot. For a city like that, that’s not New York or Chicago or L.A., the amount of money that goes into art is pretty awesome. There’s a lot of great things people ignore in favor of the story of the creepy weird side effects [of all the money]. Dallas was really good to me, and I always get defensive of that.

Printed on Thursday, October 20, 2011 as: Rapper takes flow on tour, discusses crowd reactions