The TVD Interview

Andy Bothwell, the genius behind the Astronautalis moniker, is very adamant about that name being left on the stage. When he played Weapons of Mass Creation fest earlier this month, he made it very clear to tell the crowd that when they came over to talk to him after his set, his name’s Andy. 

He’s a very laid back sort of man. Approachable. Which is borderline ridiculous because when he takes the stage he spits words faster than you can wrap your head around them. His lyricism is intelligent and crisp, it’s not in the least antiquated, though his subject matter is sometimes a bunch of dead men who we can attribute a lot of science’s great successes to, such as on last year’s This Is Our Science.

Bothwell grew up on a steady stream of music, so it’s no surprise it’s become his life’s work. It’s practically in his veins. He drank it in.

“My mother had me listening to a lot of folk and rock and roll,” Bothwell told us. “The Beatles and Van Morrison, that sort of thing. My father had me listening to a lot of soul, he was a big Rolling Stones fan but grew up in the south, so we listened to a lot of soul and Motown.

I have an older brother; he was hugely influential, he’s six years older than me. When I was young and everyone would listen to New Kids on the Block and M.C. Hammer, I was listening to The Clash, The Smiths, and Blur, a bunch of weird British rock and American indie rock, and ultimately he became a DJ later on—a house music and hip hop DJ—and he introduced me to all that, and that’s sort of where my connection to rap music started. I started listening to New York underground hip hop.”

So, you grew up with a lot of records in your house then?

I grew up in the middle of nowhere in Maryland in an over a hundred year old farmhouse. There’s a lot of work you have to do with houses like that, a lot of chores. I was driving a pickup truck at eleven full of manure to help fertilize tomatoes or whatever. There’s a lot of work you do and we’d just blast music the whole time, it was constant.

We were always listening to Rolling Stones and Van Morrison, my brother would be playing to The Smiths, I remember he was a huge Morrissey fan. I remember one day riding around in a pickup truck, dropping off manure, listening to Tom Waits’ Small Change when I was like eleven years old, and I remember thinking that was the craziest music I’d ever heard. It’s truly crazy music.

What do you think one of the biggest misconceptions about hip hop or rap music is?

Hm. I mean, it has this sort of cliché misconception of being all about getting money and stuff. I think anybody who just holds on to that is dated, they’re dating themselves. It’s already been proven over and over again that that’s not what rap music is all about, even though there will always be that first world, upward mobility—fame will be part of what rap music is, but that’s not all that rap music is. So, that’s one thing, but even that misconception is sort of dated, I think. I think more people have gotten past that.

I think the thing that rap music struggles with the most, the most popular misconception of rap music, is that people who listen to rap music think that all pop rap music is stupid and that all independent, underground rap music is intelligent. That just couldn’t be further from the truth. Especially with the more time I spend in rap music, the more and more time I get to know people who are both successful on a pop level and successful on an indie level, the more that I realize that it is so appallingly untrue.

I very rarely find myself listening to much indie rap music anymore because I find it to be boring and unintelligent compared to a lot of the pop rap music that is coming out right now. I think it’s more exciting.

Why is it important to you to include the freestyle rap with the audience’s suggestions in your performance?

I do it less and less now than I used to. I try to do it because I’m excited to do it, as opposed to it just being obligatory. I really still do love doing it. I think that’s a lot of it. I enjoy the magic of it, I enjoy pulling the quarter out from behind the crowd’s ear. People get so excited about it.

There are people who have seen it and know it’s coming and they sort of appreciate it in one way entirely, and then there are people who have never seen anything like that before, they have no connection to it and it legitimately blows people’s minds. How often do you get the opportunity to do that in your life, you know? So, that’s fun. It’s fun for me. It’s fun for the crowd. Ultimately, there are nights where my mind’s exhausted or I don’t necessarily feel like doing it, but I know that the crowd really, really wants it, and that’s what I’m there for. I’m there for the crowd.

My shows have always really been about entertainment. They’re not about me just playing my songs and you standing in front of me. I really want to entertain the audience. I like doing it in my own right, but in the end I do it because people really like it, they want that exchange.


How did it feel to be a part of something smaller, like Weapons of Mass Creation fest, that’s up-and-coming?

It was awesome! I mean, for me, while I do love playing in front of a huge crowd, the enjoyment of a show very rarely has anything to do with the size of the crowd. I’ve had totally shitty shows where I’m in front of a thousand people and I’ve had really amazing shows where I’ve played for six people. The size of the crowd at a show only dictates what the size of the crowd will be at that show the next time. I played that festival, was it the first time you guys did that?

This was the fourth year of it.

Oh, okay. Has it always been at the Cleveland Public Theatre?

It hasn’t, this is the first year at that location.

It’s awesome. That’s a good location. These things are great, and they take time and they grow slowly. Especially when you’re doing something like that, where you’re not just like getting Bud Light to sponsor it and Mumford and Sons to play it.

When you’re doing something that’s different like that, it takes time and that’s the sort of thing that my entire career is built off of. The first seven years of my career were spent playing in tiny little places in front of a bunch of weirdos who were trying to do something differently. For me, I love doing stuff like that. It was really awesome. The enthusiasm that people had there was really great. To talk to some of the other designers and people who were doing other things there, the fact that people drove from all over to see designers and rappers and acoustic guitarists play, that’s a really cool thing.

Why do you think there’s a resurgence in vinyl?

I think music has become sort of a funny thing. The act of purchasing music is no longer a requirement to listening to music. When you do purchase music, it’s like a political vote of confidence in an artist. I think that people are starting to look at it that way where every time you buy an album, you’re contributing a little bit to this artist’s invisible Kickstarter fund because you don’t have to pay for music anymore, you don’t even have to go through the trouble of stealing music anymore because Pandora is stealing music. You don’t have to bother pirating it, because Pandora allows you to do that. That’s fine, it’s whatever, I don’t even care.

As a result, the act of purchasing music is more significant than it was twenty or thirty years ago. It’s a big deal now. It’s a political experience. As a result, people who are going to purchase music are more inclined to purchase music that is not only music, but a piece of physical art as well. A piece of something that will feel great in their hands and look great, not only just sound great.

The people who are buying music aren’t buying music just to listen to music, they’re buying music because they want to support and they want something that is bigger than the music, emotionally and physically and artistically. Vinyl is perfect for that. It’s aesthetically gorgeous, you can see so much more of the artwork. There’s a weight to it. There’s sort of a strange archaic kind of ritual quality to listening to vinyl, too, that’s of a time. I think there’s something that’s sort of oddly low-level religious to the whole thing. I, for one, don’t buy CDs. I hate them. I haven’t bought a CD in like, ten years. I just buy vinyl.

The reason I do it is because there’s nothing neat about a CD. Buying a CD is like buying a gallon of milk. Sure, it’s gonna have some milk in it, but when you’re done with the milk, what do you care about that plastic jug? A CD is just a means to an end, a vessel, whereas a record is a real piece of art.

What’s your favorite record in your collection?

Well, I sort of had a shitty month a couple of months ago when I moved into my new apartment and the maintenance man didn’t fix my sink that I asked him to fix about three times and it flooded and ruined about half of my records. Yeah, it’s a bummer. What are you going to do? I kept the ones that were damaged that I loved anyway. They’re all warped. Some beautiful, old really valuable records that are totally destroyed, but I’m gonna keep them anyway because the record itself will play. You could bury a record in the ocean and pull it out and it’ll still play, as long as you don’t scratch it.

So, a record I bought in a thrift stop years and years ago in Florida. It’s a record called Rocking Chair by Gwen McCrae. It’s autographed, which is great. That record is a great, great old record. It’s a record that record nerds will get excited about because it’s a great record. It’s also got a couple of songs that have been sampled for pretty famous rap songs. It has one of my favorite long songs of all time which is a song called “90% of Me is You.” The chorus is “how can I do the things I want to do/when 90% of me is you.” Man, what a creepy and sad and heartbreakingly beautiful sentiment that is. I feel like anybody that’s been neck-deep in a relationship knows exactly what that’s like. Where you just all of a sudden can’t even think or be yourself because you’re not yourself, you’re them. Your everything, your world is the other person.

My favorite thing about that record is that I bought it with my older brother. We were in this town in Florida for his college roommate’s wedding. We got there a little early and we saw this thrift store, this Goodwill, right around the corner from where the wedding was. And I’m like, well, hell, let’s go over there and see if there any records until the wedding starts. And we get over there and there’s tons of records and we’re digging through these records and we get all these awesome records and he points out the Gwen McCrae record and he’s like, you should buy that, it’s like fifty cents, you should buy it, you’ll love it. I bought it. It was amazing.

What’s funny is we got done digging and we were so excited and we realize, oh shit, we’re late to the wedding! We come running up to the church to get into wedding and the church doors are closed and we’re like oh crap, oh crap, oh crap, and we open the doors and right as you open the front doors to a church you’re looking right down the aisle. We’re looking right down the aisle and there is the bride and the groom coming up the aisle at the end of the ceremony. You can just see the groom, my brother’s old roommate, lock eyes with us and shake his head like you fucking idiots.

So, I totally missed the wedding, had a great time at the reception, but I got a great record out of it: Gwen McCrae’s Rocking Chair

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Top photo: Courtney Dudley, bottom photo: Matt Hunsaker

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