Sole One: Today's guest is my long time friend Astronautalis. He is a rapper/songwriter, kind of a hip-hop novelist, someone I have a tremendous amount of respect for. I've known him probably over a decade at this point. What I like about Andy is that when I first met him, in the early 2000s, he was playing shows and just realized really early on that what he loved to do was to travel all around and see shit, and interact, and just play shows. And he did it harder than anyone I know. He went on the road for two hundred and fifty days a year for what seemed like the first ten years of his career, playing house shows, playing DIY venues, and he's built up an amazing platform and career for himself by being a really unique artist and individual.
With all that's going on in the world, I think it's a great time to hear from someone like Astronautalis, who really lives out what it means to be someone who lives an unalienated life, someone who lives a life pursuing fucking happiness and not giving up. There's a lot we can learn from that. This music playing in the background is fucking beach house. When I play beach house, that means I'm stressed out. This Trump shit's got me all fucked up.
This interview we recorded at the Marquee in Denver a couple weeks before the election, but check it out, and if you dig what Astronautalis has to say, check him out on tour when he comes to your town, because he definitely will. Pick up his new album, support him; he's an independent artist hustling to survive like everyone else.
Astronautalis, welcome to the Solecast.
Andy Bothwell: Sole, how's it going?
SO: Doing fucking great, man, how are you doing?
AB: I'm good. I'm kind of out of my mind on tour, but good.
AB: We're a long way into this tour, and we're almost done; two weeks from tomorrow I get to go home.
SO: How long have you been out for?
AB: This is show number 49 out of 65. It's been pretty much nonstop. We have a day off every week. We're making our way west, then we do Alaska and Hawaii, and come back to play Minneapolis. We're doing all fifty states. It's the dumbest idea that we've ever had.
SO: These tours bounce all around. One minute you do a Midwest run, then you bounce over to Europe...
AB: Yeah. I did that in the spring; I did two weeks on the East Coast, then two weeks in Europe, then two weeks on the West Coast, like boom boom boom. That was a great idea, but by the end of it I was burned the fuck out. It was a lot of flying.
SO: Do you still love touring? Is it still something you really enjoy?
AB: Yeah, sure. I don't have the emotional fortitude to go out for long periods of time anymore like I used to. This tour is something I've wanted to do forever; I wanted to do the tour of all fifty states forever. This is the perfect intersection of me having enough fans to do it, and still having the energy and mental and emotional fortitude to do it, essentially a two-and-a-half-month uninterrupted tour. I don't think I'll be able to do that two years from now.
It wears on you, for sure. Especially now: I'm married and I live in a city I like. When I first started touring, I lived in Jacksonville, Florida. No disrespect to Jacksonville, it's where I grew up, but it's not a really super tight city. I live in Minneapolis now. I live in a city that has stuff going on that I'm missing out on. Back then I was touring to get the fuck out of a place. And now I'm touring—and I
still like it—a little bit less.
I still go crazy if I don't get applause every few months or whatever. I still go into a deep downward dark spiral if someone doesn't ask me to sign a fucking t-shirt or whatever. I still like it, but I like to do it a little bit less.
SO: It started to hit me last year, just because I'm the same: I love being home, I love my life. And so every time I'm out, usually around the third week I start to think, “Fuck, I'm still in this car for six hours, and then hanging out at this club for four hours, just to play for an hour...” It's like, how can I just do this three days a month?
AB: It's the dream. The way that DJs tour, just every weekend, it's the fucking dream. I would do that. Every other weekend, send me everywhere. Send me to Ibiza.
SO: And then they're getting ten thousand dollars to play other people's music for thirteen-year- olds on molly.
So you've got a new album out?
AB: Yeah, it's doing well. And there was five years between this one and my last record, so it feels good that there was growth. But now I'm back out here on the road, trying to hustle it and teach the kids the words. Even with the big growth that it had, you still have to sell it the same way. You still have to go out and yell it at people.
SO: It's my favorite album of yours for sure. It's fucking real. It touches on some critical whiteness stuff, this Southern identity, and it ties into recent events, and it seems like you're having a lot more radical influence in your art.
AB: With previous records I shied away from it because I didn't know how to do it. I didn't know how to make angry music or inherently radical or political music—though it's not overtly political; I'm not telling people how to vote or whatever. There's political tones to everything. But I didn't really know how to do that and make it good music and good art, so I really shied away from it.
I'm a guy that likes to be liked. My previous record, This Is Our Science, was at the time the most personal record I ever made, but when I looked back on it a few years later I realized that it was a dating profile/job interview version of me. It showed some rough bits, but in a kind of polished-up way that made them a little bit more wistful and romantic, like, that's just Old Drifter Andy, not Shitty Irresponsible Andy. I felt like I pulled a punch there, and I didn't want to do that on this record. I realized I had a lot of anger in me and a lot of disappointment and a lot of frustration. I think a lot of us do. We're in an angry, disenfranchised time.
I felt that connection; I started to feel this weird through-line. I grew up in the South, so I've got a lot of Southern friends. I've got redneck friends, I've got conservative friends. And I'm a rapper and I hang out with black people and radicals of all kinds. And four or five years ago I started to see this through-line of anger where all my punk friends were all buying guns and becoming doomsday preppers, but in a romanticized way, like, “We're growing our own food, we're getting chickens!” But really, they were doing it the same way, like, “Nah, I'm stepping away from the system.” And at the same time all my redneck friends in the South buy more guns and start to move off the grid, too.
It was a really interesting thing to watch these dudes. Two totally disparate elements of society have gone so far to extremes that they're starting to overlap, in a way, and they're disgusted with what's going on in the middle. And when I started to realize that, I felt like I had a creative anchor point to hold onto that wouldn't just be me writing essays. So I felt more comfortable going out on that branch on this record.
Honestly it's the most personal record I've ever made. It's definitely the most real record I've ever made, and the one I'm most proud of.
SO: You were talking about Drifter Andy and Dating Profile Andy. I was just thinking about this. You went to school for theater, right? Another thing that I think is interesting about you is you also play with your identity a lot. I'm curious how that background with performance and creating these characters has fueled your process.
AB: I was a huge David Bowie fan, like everybody; one of the things that I admired about him was his reinvention. I've always admired bands and artists that reinvent themselves, and it's something I try really hard to do on each record. I try to change the language that I write in; I try to change the musical style, the content, everything. I'm trying my best to wipe the slate clean, as best as anyone can (no one can fully remove their fingerprints).
Especially on previous records, it was about a theater of Andy. Astronautalis became this character where I would choose to magnify parts of the actual real Andy and blow the brains out of them, and suppress others, and each record became a different character. That was semi-conscious at first; there are times when it's semi-conscious and there are times when it's unbeknownst to my own stupid self because my own ego is propelling me past that, and then I look back on it and go, “Oh, that's what you were doing, you dummy.” There's a level of blacking out when you make a record, when you work or when you tour, that is required to be fully creative, to be unaware of the strings that are pulling you.
I have no musical education, but I have a ton of theater education, it's something I'm actually pretty well-educated in. So my process of making records is influenced by what I learned when I was in training to be a director and a designer for theater and opera and stuff like that. The techniques that I learned there still get applied to every record I make.
SO: I also feel like you're currently this hip-hop novelist, also. You've had some really nerdy romances in your career. In a great way.
AB: Supremely! One of the things that's been part and parcel with me finding my own voice is embracing those moments and learning to be comfortable with the fact that I am never going to be cool. I get to do cool shit, I've got cool fans, it's all there, but I'm not going to be Pitchfork's darling rapper. I'm never going to get to play Coachella.
SO: That means you'll have a career that lasts more than eighteen months.
AB: This is the thing. I used to be so heartbroken because all the cool art kids didn't care about my art. And then after years and years I got to this point where I was making—in my opinion at the time—the best work I had ever made, my third record and my fourth record, and people were flipping out about it and I was starting to get fans, and my shows were becoming amazing, and I was selling records and I was making money, but still I was kind of bummed that the cool art kids didn't care about my art.
Then eventually I got to this point where I was like, “Oh. They're never going to.” I was looking in the wrong direction; I turned left and I looked at all these people over here that all give a shit about my lyrics and know all the words, and have my fucking logo tattooed...and I was like, “Oh, give up on them, you don't want them. Those aren't actually the people who you want listening to your music. You want these people listening to your music.” And it's great.
SO: And it's not like those hipster blogs are the art kids, either. Pitchfork and Stereogum—nobody reads those sites, none of those mean anything.
AB: It's such a bizarre hierarchy that's now been established. It's almost completely an illusion. Which is funny, because the internet of music and the internet of art came out as a disruption to
Rolling Stone and all this stuff—which was also an illusion, with radio payola and the way that major labels were structured back in the eighties. It was all an illusion, and the internet was going to be this great thing that destroyed that, and ultimately Pitchfork just became Rolling Stone. It all became the thing that it aspired to rail against.
The story of all our lives, motherfuckers.
SO: A couple months ago, some anarchist radio show was asking me which rappers I know who make good political music, and I said, “Well, Busdriver, Milo, Mike Eagle, they have good politics.” And all of them responded like, “I'm not political!”
I was thinking about it today. Why do you think it is—what is it about that title?
AB: It's because there are a lot of people who are making political music that's really bad; there are a lot of well-meaning, thoughtful, intelligent people who are better thinkers than they are artists. That was the thing that made me really nervous about it, because I didn't want to just be a guy yelling my views. I didn't want to be the equivalent of a Facebook rant over a beat. That's what a lot of it is.
SO: Like a drunken book report.
AB: Exactly. For real. It's like a book report with feelings. It's the woman who's crying at a rally and the dude who's fucking yelling because his dad doesn't get socialism. There's passion in there and that passion is beautiful and important, but it doesn't necessarily make good art. Art is about harnessing passion. It's about riding a bucking bronco but not getting thrown off. That's the point when you're thrown off, when you can't control yourself, when you're not harnessing things.
So for a lot of us, yeah, we don't want that title. But what's really funny is that when I saw all those people were like, “I don't make political music,” I was like, actually, we all do. We all make very political music. It's not overt. But there is politics—even in my previous records, if you take the time to listen to the messages that I was conveying and talk about the people that I admire, you could figure out where my politics align.
Most people are political creatures. Even if you're like, “I don't care about the news, I just want to fucking hunt and fish,” that's political. “Fuck the government, I just want to blow glass and grow weed out in the fucking mountains,” that's political. It's all political. It's very rare that you'll encounter someone who is not. Your politics come out in your life; they come out in the things you choose to do. Politics are so involved in life. Politics are not a cute little bubble that doesn't impact how you wash your dishes or who you go to bed with. It impacts all of that. Inherently all of those choices are political.
We don't want that title, but we have made that bed for ourselves. All of us, all those people you listed. And still, I'm not totally comfortable with it. But I've embraced the fact of politics as life, as opposed to politics as a bumper sticker.
SO: That's exactly what I was going to say. Have you ever read the book The Revolution of Everyday Life? I was writing down quotes today. I read it on honeymoon. One of the things that always stood out to me, another thing about you, is that I feel like the reason you're successful is because you always followed the things that made you happiest, at least from my perspective. And to me, that is political. There are so many rappers who were coming up at the same time as you, and they are not here. They're washing dishes, they're going back to school to become a lawyer, they're doing other things.
There's always been something about your approach to life that is inherently political. At the same time if you look at a lot of the people who are hyper-political, they're fucking miserable.
AB: Yeah, that becomes your hobby. Being hyper-political becomes your joy. And I don't know if there's a joy in that. That seems like a suicide mission. And this is a thing that you know as well as I, touring overseas in Europe and playing squats: some squats are very politically active, out doing community work, out donating clothes, homies in Hamburg at Hafenklang are on the front lines in the Balkans helping refugees.
SO: They're driving into Iraq delivering food.
AB: They go to Syria, all this shit. They are super active. And then there are these other squatters who are using the squat as a means to check out. To remove themselves from society. I remember going to this squat in Zurich called Binz that's no longer there, and it's one of the weirdest, craziest squats I've ever been to. It looked like Peter Pan. There were rope bridges connecting all these old train-repair warehouses. I remember talking to those people, they're cooking breakfast in the morning and you're shooting the shit, and I remember climbing all the way to the top, to the roof of the warehouse, and you're in Zurich. You're surrounded by banks. When we were driving in, it was in the middle of one of the Jewish high holidays, so there were all these Hasidic Jewish families going to temple, and we're driving through seas of Hasids, and banks, and crazy ultra- modern Zurich, and we turn the corner and we see this little splash of graffiti, and we go in there and it's this weird little squatter bubble in the middle of this crazy city, this incredibly cosmopolitan, incredibly diverse, epic banking center. And I woke up in the morning and I climb on the roof and I'm looking around at all these other buildings and I see all these people going to work, and I'm in the middle of this place where these people are rolling a spliff at eleven in the morning and cooking me some fried potatoes.
I remember going back down and talking to them and asking, “Do you ever feel like an island here?” It's really like an island in this ocean. And they were like, “Yeah, when you're here you have to go actively seek out information of the outside world.” They're like weird settlers who are out on the edges of the borderlands before the Louisiana Purchase or whatever, and we're going to ride two hours into town to barter with the locals and learn the news of the Civil War or whatever the fuck. There was this weird thing about it: they enjoyed it to a degree; it was a blessing and a curse.
But the understanding of seeing that and seeing both of those things, these people who are railing against the thing, who are diving straight forward into it, who are super active, who are inspiringly productive, and seeing these other people who go, “Yeah, that's not for me. I'm going to remove myself from everything and live my life the way I want to live it.” I saw both of those, and they're both mind-blowing as an American. Mind-blowing, but at the same time I saw them both and realized that I am neither. I am some of both. And there's a need to cherry-pick from both. Because at the end of the day, I am an American and I do like to be happy and I do like to be comfortable. I grew up at the fucking beach, man. I like to have my toes in the sand. I will never be the person who goes to every fucking rally. I will never be that person. Because it's just not my passion. And people can crucify me for it, but I also don't need to be rich; I don't need to be famous; that aspiration has long since gone out the window. But at the same time I would like to own a couple motorcycles. I want to buy an ice bike next year so I can ride it in the fucking snow. I have those things. I have things that I want.
It's a tough thing to do, to be able to sleep at night on your very comfortable bed, but also be able to sleep at night. It's a fucking fine balance.
SO: It's like when people ask me what my guilty pleasures are. I have none.
AB: Exactly. That fucking term is such bullshit. Especially in music. It annoys the shit out of me. Why the fuck should you feel guilty about liking this thing? Why should you feel guilty for a thing that makes you happy, that does not impact anyone? It's goddamn bullshit. It makes me so angry. I
love it when I'm doing an interview and I talk about the first time I heard “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus. I listened to it like a hundred and fifty times in a row. I just put it on repeat in the back of the van. It's a perfect little pop pill. I remember listening to it and thinking it's perfect. Everyone either made fun of the song or loved that song, or loved that song but publicly made fun of it. But if Dolly Parton sang that song, everybody would have loved that song. Because it's a perfect pop song. You could throw in anyone with any instrument with any voice and it would be perfect. I remember hearing it and loving it. And I'll be telling this to people giving interviews, you know, super punk people interviewing me for their fucking zine or whatever, and they get so confused that I like that music. Rap fans get so confused, like indy artsy rap fans get so confused that I tweet so much about being so hyped about the new Gucci mixtape, or I was hyped about the new Riff Raff album that just came out. It's not good, it was a disappointment, but I was hyped to hear it. Because that shit brings me joy. It brings me a totally different kind of joy than sitting and looking out the window and listening to classical music. They're all different joys. I want to sit and watch all of the Fast and Furious movies. They bring me joy. I love them all, I've seen all of them multiple times.
The guy who produced my record, John Congleton, he told me this really great John Peel quote that I will always butcher, I don't know the exact quote. But John Peel in an interview was asked a somewhat similar question, “What's your guilty pleasure.” And he went on this huge rant, laying into the interviewer and basically being like, “When I hear something that I don't like, I have trained myself to think, 'What's wrong with me that I don't find joy in this thing that millions of other people find joy in?' Or just nine other people. But if an album comes out, someone took the time to put it out, someone encouraged that person to put it out.” He said, “At bare minimum, you're looking at ten people who love this thing, who look at it proudly, who are proud of the person who made it, are proud of being part of it, even if it's absolute fucking garbage. So what the fuck is wrong with me that I don't get it? That I don't see the thing that all these other people see?”
That's such an optimistic, idealistic view. But it's still a very good chin check, like, slow your fucking roll. You're not the be-all end-all of taste, and if anybody is the be-all end-all of taste, it's fucking goddamn John Peel.
SO: This is a question from Dane Abernathy: what is the biggest difference in the way venues are run in Europe versus the United States?
AB: Profit is the ultimate purveyor of most of it. Because ultimately American venues are beholden to profit, because they don't get government aid, and most of the venues that you and I play in Europe are small- to mid-level non-profit or semi-profit or government subsidized (either locally or nationally) venues, or squatted and illegally-run venues. As a result, none of those venues operate under the motive of profit, or they just need to break even, or they're not going to fold if they have a bad month.
The other big thing, too, is that a lot of shows are promoted. In America as a club promoter you're oftentimes just one guy who's promoting shows until you become a tycoon and you have a bunch of people underneath you, ultimately running a giant business, or you get bought up by Live Nation or whatever. Ultimately if you're going to survive as a promoter in America you have to either build a company or join a company. In Europe you have the same thing, but instead it's a group of ten people in Duisdorf or whatever who are just bummed that nobody comes to Duisdorf, so they all decide, like, hey, you like punk, you like metal, you like rap, you like techno, but we all want shows to come here so let's team up together, let's pool our money, let's pool our efforts, and everyone gets to pick a show, like every two weeks it's your turn, you get to have a rap show, and we all work together to promote it. It mitigates loss, and it's not just one person doing it. Ultimately all these people are graphic designers or whatever the fuck, and so it's not even about
Those are the two fundamental things. Then there are all those brass tacks things that you and I love, like when you show up and there's meat and cheese laid out, and they're like, “Would you like an espresso? We'll get you some weed. Here's some hash. Here's some coffee. Here's your apartment.” There's a further level of it; there's just an expectation of what their job is versus what an American promoter's job is. An American promoter's job is to let you into the club, to introduce you to the sound man, and to give you some beer. If they show up.
Until you get to the point that you have some kind of clout...I'm just now kind of tip-toeing into an America where I can make demands. In Europe, the expectation is we provide you with housing, we provide you with food, we guarantee you money, we cook you breakfast in the morning. Either you're staying in someone's house or you're staying in housing that's built into the clubs; a lot of the clubs build it in because the expectation is you need housing. So housing is a thing that's part of a club just like soundsystems and backstages and bars and bathrooms and cigarettes.
When I played in the middle of nowhere Romania, or when I've played beautiful clubs in Berlin, it doesn't matter where the fuck I play, every time I play there, 99% percent of the time, my housing is provided for, food is provided for, generally breakfast is provided for, the sound is great. There's a level of expectation of what is required there that is so different in America.
I should say, too, the other thing is that fans have club loyalty there. If there's a small club in Duisdorf, again, there's a group of people who will go to almost every show that's there. Or like when I first started playing in the Czech Republic, I played this club called 007, it's under the university. And they put on the flyer for the show: “Makes music with the Paper Chase.” I don't actually make music with the Paper Chase. John Congleton, who used to be in the Paper Chase, produced my record. But they posted that, and the first time I played Prague, nobody knew any of my music but there were a hundred and fifty people there because they loved the Paper Chase. And so there's this loyalty, and also from a fan standpoint, people go out to shows to discover music still, whereas in America people go out to shows to sing along to songs they already know.
Those are the three big things. The expectations of the club, the lack of requirement on profit, and what fans expect from live music and concerts.
I love both for different reasons. Ultimately it's a lot easier for me to make a living in America because I don't have to pay for plane tickets and stuff like that, and now I have a fan base in America. It's much harder to make a fan base in America. It's much easier to get started in Europe, especially because you're the out-of-town guy, you're the stranger that just waltzed into town so you have a bit more of a desirable quality about you anyway. But it's significantly more comfortable to be a working-class musician in Europe than it is to be one in America.
SO: If you're in France and you play thirty shows a year, you can get like two thousand euros a month from the government just to hang out in your house and read poetry all day.
Then again when I was out there this time, though I used to really admire that, then I was thinking that when I'm super comfortable, I don't want to do shit anymore. I just want to hang out in my yard or play video games and read or whatever. It's only when there's a tiny bit of desperation somewhere that's driving me that I feel like I really produce great stuff.
I hate to admit that, because I actually believe we should all be provided for—
AB: It blows my mind. It's one of the reasons I left Florida: because it's comfortable. It blows my mind. I don't know how Italians get anything done. It's so comfortable in Italy, it's so wonderful there. The food is so good, and everyone just walks so slow, everyone's drunk by noon and beautiful and tan and they are the slowest-walking people in the world. I walk like such an
American, I walk a fucking thousand miles an hour. I don't know how Italy ever got anything done in history. I don't know how Rome developed. I don't know how anyone gets anything done there. It's so comfortable. I would love to live there. I would live there in a heartbeat. Absolutely. And I would never, ever get anything done.
SO: Our last show on this last tour was in Greece. On our way home this time, people were just burning trashcans in the street. It was a Friday night and they were waiting for the cops. This guy told me they were just waiting for the cops to come so they could throw things at them. I was like, you mean molotovs and stuff? “Yeah.” I'm like, who are these people? “Oh, that's just what people do on Fridays here.” They call them the “wild youth.” They're not political at all. They're just hanging out throwing shit. And I feel like that's why I like hanging out in Greece so much, because it's fucked up like America is. I mean, I connect with Greek people more.
AB: Absolutely. I really connected with Central Europeans and Eastern Europeans. Because there is a level of determination. These are people who either grew up in a really fucked up situation or have just recently extracted themselves from a fucked up situation, or are currently actively watching their country descend into a fucked up situation. All my Hungarian friends who had this golden era of Hungary for the last ten years, where Hungary was one of the shining jewels of Eastern Europe, are now watching it being slowly taken over by Ukrainian gangsters at best and incredibly far-right fascists at worst. And they're losing their fucking minds.
For the longest time I didn't pay attention to American politics. For like ten years. Because I felt like most of it was kind of trite, it's on its path. And I was fascinated by European politics because I was watching—not because of any great prescience, but mostly just from talking to people, I was learning about the rise of the extreme right in Europe like five or six years ago from touring over there. And that became really fascinating to me, and learning about PEGIDA and Alternative für Deutschland, and all of the extreme right movements in Hungary and Slovakia and in eastern Czech Republic and in Russia and also then in the Netherlands and Scandinavia and seeing all that, while in America we were freaking out about our own things. It's like, “Guys, there are Nazis being elected to office in the Netherlands.” But we're all just sitting here thinking that Europeans are accepting and open and wearing funny hats and smoking fucking hash, and they are electing fucking Nazis, and they are keeping minorities out at the borders. And in the last year and a half, boy, I got the rug pulled out from under me on what's going on in America. Because the same shit's happening in America; it's just now the “alt right” is getting this voice, they're being inspired by PEGIDA, they're being inspired by Alternative für Deutschland, and they're taking the reins. And their actions and their goals and their desires are fucking insane and scary.
SO: It's the same with the Trump shit, where no one has really been paying attention to all the displacement happening all over the rust belt, and it's just being channeled into this terrible shit.
AB: It's absolute anger, and their justification for being angry and feeling abandoned is totally viable. What they're channeling it into and who they're blaming is completely misdirected, and that makes me really sad more than anything. I don't want to fucking apologize for these people, but I'm not in that situation. I'm not living in fucking West Virginia and watching my society collapse around me. So it's really easy for me, with my fucking art school degree, getting to play squats all over, to be like, “I wouldn't do that. I wouldn't blame immigrants I'll never meet. I wouldn't fucking do that.” But I'm not in that fucking position. I have no apology for what they're doing; it scares me and fucking outrages me, but at the same time I don't know, if I were living in Appalachia, and staring down the dead end of my fucking life, I don't know that I wouldn't be that angry and do that shit either.
Travel has made me very empathetic to a lot of situations that are fucked up, situations that used to appall me, that people could be pushed to this. And now I have a harder time being appalled by
individual people being outraged and taking extreme action. I get appalled at governments; I get appalled at systems; I get appalled at bigger things. But watching individual people getting mad? How could I get mad at people that are mad at Americans fucking bombing their families? How can I be mad at that? I'm mad at them for the way they're executing their dilemma, but if someone were dropping a bunch of fucking goddamn cluster bombs with American flags on them on my house all day, I wouldn't be like, “Well, no, let's hear them out. They're trying to spread democracy.”
SO: One thing that I think is important for white people: actually, as a white rapper, I want to own that shit. I want to own the fact that I'm a fucking white dude, but there's got to be some nuance there. It can't just be this self-flagellating social justice shit. It's got to be like—I have to be able to understand what makes a white dude go shoot up a movie theater. I want to try to figure that out.
AB: Fur sure, and the concept of trying to erase your reality—it all seems to naive to me. There are people I just want to pat on the fucking head like a puppy. Dogg, you're white. Get the fuck over it, man. Do something. Fix something.
SO: Break something. Smash something.
AB: But quit walking around and being like, “Sorry I'm white.” That doesn't do anything.
I had a really interesting conversation—I worked on this art piece, by happenstance I stumbled into this art piece. I got asked to do this thing with this pretty famous British artist named Sonia Boyce. She saw me freestyle at this opening at an art festival in the middle of nowhere Germany, and she was working on the idea of improvisation and performance art, and she recruited me to do this piece. It was a real fun ride for me, and I hope I get to do more. It was a piece for the Venice Biennale, basically the Super Bowl of the fucking art world, and we opened and closed the Biennale, we received standing ovations, people ran off of fucking yachts to congratulate me. And it was literally like I had just stumbled out of the desert, and threw a touchdown at the Super Bowl and I'd never seen a football in my life. It was like that. I was literally a tourist in this reality.
One of the things that was interesting is that everybody I worked on that project with was my age or older, mostly forties and fifties, of Caribbean island descent. Some actually born on Caribbean islands, mostly born in London, but almost all of them were black women older than me. I'm the one white dude there, like “Hey guys, I'm here to freestyle, show me to the microphones.” And part of the process of that piece was a lot of discussion. A lot of talk. You talk for six hours and then you go to the bar and you talk about other stuff for hours. And they were talking about their politics in Britain, we were talking about our politics, and I kept going into these conversations as a thing that I had to train for, as an American white guy discussing politics in a diverse group, apologizing for my opinion before I went into it, being like, “I understand I'm not black, I'm not a black woman, I'm not a black woman living in this city at this time, but this is how I feel about this thing.” I kept doing it like that, and then finally they were like, “What the fuck are you apologizing for? Your opinion is valid. You're not an asshole. Your opinion is valid. And if it weren't valid, if you were an asshole, that would prove itself out.”
So I stopped trying to do that. Not as a “Fuck you, deal with my whiteness!” but because if we're worried about this, we're worried about the wrong shit. If we're worrying about who the message is coming out of, we're worrying about the wrong shit. If it's a good message, it's a good fucking message. And inevitably if they disagreed with something, they'd say they disagree. I'm at a point where I am very aware of these things, the opportunities that I have gotten in my life because I'm a middle class American white guy. I am very aware. I have had guns pointed at me twice in my life, and walked away from it because I am a white guy. I am acutely aware. But I'm not going to fucking cry myself to sleep over that because it's a total waste of my time. If I want to do something in this
world, if I want to create something good, be impactful in a positive way—if I want to destroy white supremacy, it's not going to come from me feeling bad about being white while I'm alone in my apartment. That's not going to solve it. And it's not going to come from me apologizing every time I get into a discussion. “I'm a white guy, sorry...” Everyone knows that, because I look a like a fucking poster boy for Aryan Youth. There's no escaping that. I might as well embrace the fact that I'm a blonde-haired, blue-eyed guy, then get the fuck over it, and then try to do something good with my time.
SO: That's one thing that I've been noticing a lot with Shailene Woodley, the woman from Divergent who got arrested recently at the Standing Rock thing. She made all these pretty solid statements about why she did what she did, and everywhere I looked, people were just attacking her: “Fuck off with your celebrity drive-by activism!” And for me personally, as somebody who specializes in celebrity drive-by activism, I'm like, “Yo, we need everybody to be a celebrity drive-by activist. We need everyone.”
That's the thing about Activism with a capital A. Is the goal to be a threat to power? Or is the goal to tear each other down and find new ways of being cops?
AB: Is it the goal to win, or is it the goal to win an argument? This is what a lot of it comes down to for me; it frustrates me so much. It seems like people are more determined to win the argument, as opposed to actually win and make life better.
Yeah, you see that shit all the time, and I wish—like you said earlier, it needs to be more nuanced. And the same on the far right—you get triggered by what a black person said because it's a black person. So many people are tuning out the Black Lives Matter because it's black people who are saying this thing.
All these Blue Lives Matter people—it's hard for me to wrap my head around, because a lot of these people are Tea Party people, anti-establishment people, anti-government people, but when it comes to cops they're just ready to lick the fucking boot. And then—it's such a weird thing that you'll defend cops in the abstract but if cops come to take your grazing rights, then it's like “Fuck the cops!” There's so much parallel between the outrage that poor to middle class white people have next to the outrage that poor to middle class and lower class black people and lower class Mexican people—there are crossovers there. And granted, it's not the same, it'll never be the same, but there are common enemies for all these people, and for whatever reason, they have a real hard time talking about it, because of this inherent trigger, for whatever reason white people get so uppity when they see Black Lives Matter. And then the second some white person goes to the front lines, it's like, “We don't need that.” And I'm speaking in huge, sweeping generalizations, here, but—
SO: I see white people attacking white people. I don't see that coming from—I can't speak for anybody else, but the only people I've seen posting that shit are white people. Again, that's the kind of shit that I'm talking about. White people internalize that shit.
AB: A very valid point that a lot of my friends who have been involved in Black Lives Matter have made was that there were a lot of white people speaking over black people initially. In Minneapolis there have been so many fucking protests, because there have been so many fucking shootings in Minneapolis. But there's been a good market correction, where people in Black Lives Matter, both white and black, were like, “Hey, white people, we need your support but we don't necessarily need your voice.” And again I feel like there's a need for a nuance there. Maybe what you're saying about Shailene Woodley and the Dakota Access pipeline—maybe there's been a bit too much of a market correction with white people being like, “No, no, we really don't need your voice.” But actually we kind of do. You're more informed on a lot of this shit than me, but it seems like my
armchair view of a lot of activism is that at the end of the day you need all the fucking voices. We don't necessarily have the right to get too snippy about who's riding for us, as long as they're not riding us off a cliff.
SO: In general at the Dakota Access pipeline I want to hear from folks who are most affected. Black Lives Matter, I want to hear from folks who are most affected. I don't need to speak at a Black Lives Matter rally.
AB: Yeah, I want to hear from those people instead. But at the same time, we should be there. We should take time to be there and show support. We should take time to use—though it's a small thing—to use our ample platform to spread the word.
The move to Minnesota was a big thing for me, to become aware of Native American reality. Because I lived in Florida, and we moved all of the Native Americans out of there, Andrew Jackson did that a couple hundred years ago. And even when I lived in Seattle—Seattle was a very diverse city, but super segregated. The most segregated city I've ever been to. And the neighborhood I live in in Minneapolis is like—I'm around a bunch of cool coffee shops, I'm right next to the art museum, but if I go five blocks over, it's the whole Native American neighborhood. That shit is a very new awareness for me. And I think one of the things that's really interesting and important about this Dakota Access pipeline stuff is again—and piggy-backing off of a national simmering outrage regarding the Black Lives Matter movement—is that finally people are paying attention to Native Americans. Which is like, holy shit. The amount of ignoring we have done is appalling. And not even getting down to the mistreatment. Nobody's making movies about the mistreatment of Native Americans. We're making movies about how the Native Americans helped one white guy fight a battle or whatever the fuck. Nobody's making the Schindler's List about Native Americans. Nobody is making Selma about Native Americans. And as a result, if you don't live in the Dakotas or Colorado or Idaho or Oklahoma or Minnesota, you're not encountering Native people. You don't see them. There's not Native presence in New Jersey. You're not seeing them, so you have no awareness of that situation.
So that's one of the things that's profound proof of the importance of diverse voices like that woman going there and throwing herself on the wall. Because all of the sudden, whether you agree with her message or how she's presenting it, all of the sudden a bunch of fucking little dorks who watch Divergent are like, “Wait—she did what?” And that to me is a net positive.
SO: I'm still jetlagged from my flight, and I woke up at five in the morning, and we just got HBO Now on our Playstation, and Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee is on HBO, so I watched it this morning. I've read the book, but I totally—the names didn't stay in my head. I remember Sitting Bull and Red Cloud, but I didn't realize that that shit happened at Standing Rock. That shit happened at Pine Ridge, Rosebud. These abstract things we read about—bam, they happened right here. The important thing for people to understand about Dakota Access is that these are called First Nations, because they are the first nations. These are unceded territories. That adds this whole other dimension to it.
AB: The breaking of the treaty is, to me—imminent domain is an abuse of power by our government that happens all the fucking time, and it's 99% terrible and one percent understandable, because some shit just has to happen: Sorry, grandma, we're going to build a fucking highway through your house. This nuclear missile silo has to go right here. I know we have 450 of these, but we need 451.
It still sucks, and it's still terrible—that notwithstanding, the breaking of the treaties is the thing that is the most appalling to me about it. Because we made a deal. We made a fucking deal. And we're breaking this treaty because we tried to do imminent domain to the city of fucking Bismarck,
and all those people were like, “No, we don't want it here.” So the government did what it has done for two hundred fucking goddamn years: “It'll be fine. We'll run it right through the reservation.”
If we're all going to drive cars still, we all have to embrace the fact that we are going to need oil and we are all part of the problem. This is going to be a thing. We can all debate about the merits of how we're going to get our oil and all these things, but we're all enjoying the luxury right now of the low cost of gas when we're out on tour. And it's because we're fracking the fucking hell out of the fucking country. If I really wanted to talk about it and be about it, I wouldn't ride around in a fucking diesel, but I am because it's the only way I can afford to make my living.
The idea that we can just negate oil is a fool's errand right now. It's going to be hundreds of years until we remove ourselves from this fucking addiction. But we don't need to go breaking every goddamn fucking treaty we made with Native Americans because the pipeline didn't go where we wanted. That's crazy to me. They are sovereign nations and we are just pushing. We don't want it in our country; let's put it on that one over there. That's insane to me.
SO: One of the things that we were talking about in Greece was—they were saying that right now history is quickening. This is a quickening period. History is moving so fast right now. From Occupy to Black Lives Matter to Standing Rock to Brexit to fucking Trump, shit is fast.
AB: Watching how fast the Arab Spring happened and how fast it evolved from the most beautiful, romantic ideal into—for the most part—complete and utter chaos and now the greatest mass migration in the history of humanity, what will ultimately be a humongous genocide...how quickly that happened! In a matter of five years, six years—2011 was when that guy in Tunisia set it off by burning himself. It went from beautiful democracy to total chaos and the worst thing that ever happened, and it's moving so fast.
Have you read a book called Sapiens? It's really good. I heard the author do an interview. The thing he said that really blew mind mind was that he talked about how now more than ever there is less war. Humans on average are less impacted by war than ever in the history of humanity. There are more humans that live in a part of the world that never sees war than a hundred years ago. There is an intense level of concentrated war, but it's significantly less war overall impacting humans. In the same sense, humans are living longer, are living more comfortably. On the whole—there is obviously incredible poverty, and terrible things that happen—but on the whole average human lives are significantly better than they were even a hundred years ago.
This isn't the crux of his book—the book is a study of how pre-humans' tribal tendencies and pre- humans' evolutionary tendencies impact human lives today. But that was the thing that hooked me on this book and made me really think about how from an evolutionary standpoint everything is moving faster. History is moving faster. Technology is moving faster. Our access to information is moving faster. For the first time in our lives, if you so choose, and even if you don't, you can be acutely aware of all the things that are going on in the world. You can fill your Twitter feed with all the newspapers you want, all the bloggers, all the photographers, and you can get ground-level access to everything that you want. Or you can just watch Fox News all damn day and get this weird cursory curated bizarre feed of things. Fair and balanced.
But even if you don't want to—you're scrolling through your news feed and let's say you're following National Geographic because there are pretty pictures of fucking zebras on there, but like once a month there'll be a picture of some Syrian refugee kid sitting on a beach. So there is no checking out. Ultimately we are bombarded by so much more information. And the information tends to be more about trouble and sorrow. Which is a natural human inclination, and it's always been that way. But as a result we are more acutely aware of all the suffering in the world. And not
just like, you open up the newspaper on the train ride and you see that war has broken out in French-occupied Morocco or whatever, or you open up the newspaper and you see some guy named Gandhi is doing something in India or whatever. Now you see video of it. You see people getting shot if you want. You see kids crying on the beach if you want to. You are totally immersed in all of this. And it's gotten me thinking about how a hundred years ago you could just sit on your farm and you could plow the fucking fields and you could pick up a newspaper every once in a while and you could see things, but ultimately your entire existence was whether you're going to marry the girl next door, or, are the crops going to come in, are we going to survive? And that's a very short time. Thirty or forty years.
Ultimately I wonder what it's doing. Our brains aren't evolved to process this much information. They can't. I'm not a neurologist at all. I'm armchairing the fuck out of this. Mentally and also emotionally, we can't possibly be evolved to handle this. So I wonder what that's doing to impact the speed of history or the speed of politics, if that's doing something to expedite it even faster.
Because our zero is outrage. Our normal day-to-day basis is an expectation of outrage and sadness, because every time you look at anything...you can't turn anywhere without seeing sadness, and that's making us numb to some things and incredibly vitriolic about others. I'm really wondering what that's doing to history, doing to politics. I feel like it's a huge factor in the whole reactionary everything that's become a reality.
From a totally abstract scientific theory, I wonder what that's doing to our brains over the next thousand years. This is a new adaptation. We don't have to learn how to climb trees anymore. We don't need to learn how to throw spears. We don't need to change shape; we can walk upright. We need better brains at dealing with shit. Because we're not equipped for it right now. And that's the thing—it's what my entire record is about, how to deal with that shit. How to not check out. That's a thing I think about and worry about constantly. How to be aware but not be crushed to fucking death by it. Because it's easy. People whose entire lives are political action, I don't blame them, because if you look around you see a thousand fucking burning buildings. You've got the tiniest thimble of water and you're constantly running back and forth until you fucking collapse on the goddamn front lines. Or get shot. Fuck.
SO: It's crazy. It's about this form of communication where people are throwing smoke signals. And the thing is: before, these smoke signals might take six months or a year to reach each other, so you hear about these people in Brazil who did this thing where they took over a factory, and then three years later somebody tries it in Germany, and then six years later somebody in Oakland decides to do it. Now, it happens in Egypt today and it's happening in fucking Greece tomorrow, it's happening in Oakland the day after, and then two weeks from now it's happening everywhere, and then nine months later the fucking right wing is using those exact same tactics for themselves. And this election is proof of that shit.
AB: Absolutely. And it can't just be the flow of information, it's not just the flow of information. There's something in us that is evolutionarily geared towards that. The Arab Spring is the craziest thing in the world. It's so crazy to watch how fast that happened. Countries that have all been mired in the same thing forever, dealing with the same problems, and they're small countries, people have friends and family who migrate across the border. It's not like they're all isolated. They're not separated city-states. They aren't islands before boats. The information was already there. But something about the trigger of that guy setting himself on fire, the way it triggered things, and the way that it continues...
One of the real positive things that I've seen out of all of this is the American changing opinion on homosexuality. How fast that changed. How fast that changed from five years ago. One of the most proud moments I've ever had as an American...ten years ago, the idea of gay marriage in a state
like Virginia would have had like ten percent support. And it's legal now. It got legalized before the feds made them do it. Was the first state Iowa or something? It was a Midwestern flyover state that legalized gay marriage before California did. That sea change was incredible, and so fast, and it swept everyone up, and it was beautiful. It was such a positive thing. So there are positives to it. But there's also this weird backwash of co-option, what PEGIDA is rallying with is what they rallied against. It's bonkers.
SO: A lot of Donald Trump shit is straight out of anti-World Trade Organization stuff.
AB: The parallels between—again, this is getting back to this joke about how all my friends with Black Flag tattoos are now starting to have more in common with my friends with rebel flag tattoos. The movement against trade agreements and TPP and stuff like that, those are straight out of the books that we've all been inspired by, these are bad deals. And then you see Trump say it, and you go, “Goddammit.”
It's a weird thing. I fucking loathe both Hillary and Donald Trump, and I look at both of them and they both say things that I agree with, and that fucks my whole shit up.
SO: No matter who wins, we lose this time. It's really bad.
That's a perfect segue to my next question. I don't know if this is true or not, but did you used to
be a Republican?
AB: Yep. For sure. Again on anti-trade, anti-government. It was before I knew what libertarianism was, it was when I thought anarchism was a t-shirt thing. Like 2002. My family is not religious; it had nothing to do with that at all. It's really interesting to watch my father, who was a Democrat until after Carter. He worked on Carter's campaign. He's from the South. Then he became a Republican in the Reagan era. Watching my father struggle in the past few years—my light switch went off real quick. I started to look around at shit and see what was actually going on and realize that these people are not actually representing small government. Bush was one of the most expansionist imperialists of all time. I was like, “Whoa, this is not what I want.” I had shittily put up with a lot of the Christian conservative social issues—a deal with the devil kind of thing...but I learned really quick, because I was young and impressionable and had a lot of people to talk to about the whole thing.
But what was interesting was watching my dad change. He's in his sixties. It was the whole Snowden thing. My dad's military. My dad was a Green Beret. My grandfather was one of the original members of the CIA. He was in charge of the U2 surveillance project over Russia. Almost every member of my family: military, fighter pilots, World War II, Gulf War...I come from a military family. My dad was a Green Beret. He grew up in the South. He was lucky. He's a smart man. He's a compassionate man. But he had his set of beliefs. And the Snowden revelations came out. His first response was that this guy's a traitor. And then he started to read about it. And I watched him, over the course of a year, become like, “This guy's a hero. He's an American fucking hero.” His initial response was that he was putting military lives at risk. He's putting intelligence operatives' lives at risk.
But watching that shift—and it's still a struggle in my father. He is so heartbroken by this election. Heartbroken. And he's not a religious person at all. He's a small government guy. But he's also a two-party guy. He doesn't believe in the third party thing. He voted for Ross Perot and he regretted it, because Clinton got in. That's been the most fascinating thing to watch. And to watch his beliefs just become muddied, confused. He's a fully grown adult—it's important and it's good, but ultimately it bums me out because I can see that it makes him sad because it matters to him. And he worries about my future. He worries about his kids' future, and grandkids and all that. He cares about us. And he cares about America. He believes in America, he loves America. He does believe
that America is the greatest country in the world. It's a struggle for him, though, because he sees America doing things that he thought his country would never do to him, or the world. And he is struggling with it.
It makes me sad because it makes him sad, because I love my dad. But it's also very exciting to me as a person who in high school and college was voting a party line and had a set of beliefs that was just basic and uninformed. And then I saw the world, and the world taught me, and I came back much more happy, ultimately, much more nuanced, and understanding that it's much more complicated than a fucking party. But it's been interesting to see my dad going through that, especially.
SO: That's fascinating, man. How has anarchism influenced you? I know you have a lot of friends who are anarchists. So I'm curious how that has influenced you over the years.
AB: It's ultimately where I've found myself finding the most joy. And again, getting back to what we were talking about before: at the end of the day, my goal is happiness. I want to have a happy life. And I have found joy in this concept of just doing the right thing and doing it on your own or doing it with your friends. The weird collective anarchism of European squatter culture was a real inspiring thing to me. It's changed the way I think about music; it's changed the way I think about the business of music; it's changed the way I think about my own happiness. It's made me much more calm, as a person, about politics and about the future of the world. And it's made me embrace the reality that there is going to be terrible shit that's going to happen—and it's not that I don't get upset when I watch the news sometimes, and it's not that I don't cry when bad shit happens in the world; that all happens too. I'm not a fucking stoic. But it's definitely brought me peace. But I wouldn't call myself an anarchist; I don't know what to call myself necessarily.
When I was a little kid—I wasn't raised religious at all, but my grandmother was Polish Catholic so I was baptized or whatever. It wasn't until a neighbor kid told me that there were people that didn't believe in god that I even knew that that existed. And when I heard that, I went, “Oh, wait. That makes way more sense to me now, that that's an option.” I didn't know that there was a D) on the list. And it was the same thing—for the longest time, anarchism was a Hot Topic t-shirt. It was a punk style and not a life. When I saw it as life in action, I went, “Oh, well that makes a lot more sense to me.” And it was like, I guess I'm kind of that. But I'm not really that. I would never be so bold. We have friends who are anarchists. Straight up fucking anarchists. And I know that I am not completely that, so I would feel a little bold calling myself that. But it's definitely a profound influence on my life.
SO: Have you ever looked at the relationship with rightwing libertarianism and how it branches off from anarchism when it comes to the state?
AB: Yeah. One of the things that's really interesting about what's going on with the Republican party right now is that it already happened with the John Birch Society back in the sixties, and William Buckley and at that time the New Republicans working to reshape the Republican Party, which ultimately led to Reagan's election, because the Republicans were becoming this extreme- right John Birch thing, and Buckley and all these people worked their asses off to expel these people from the Republican Party, to push them to the outside, to separate ties from white supremacists, and ultimately make the Republican Party this party of American prosperity or whatever. Rightly or wrongly, whether it's an illusion or not, that was their goal. And they achieved it. And they had a great run, in their eyes, of Reagan-Reagan-Bush.
What's going on with them now is the same thing. And it's this weird blend of rightwing libertarianism that's terrifying, that's borrowing from—man, when I started reading up on Gary Johnson, and then at the same time I fell down this alt-right meme hole on Instagram (which is a
fucking depressing and sad and outrageous place to be, it's so upsetting), I started to see those alt- right people talk about Gary Johnson and just call him a shill and all this shit. And I'm not enamored with Gary Johnson by any stretch of the imagination at all—
SO: “Shill” is like an anti-Semitic code word, when they say it.
AB: Yeah, and there are so many...I just got my absentee ballot today, and was looking at all of the parties...because I'm registered in Minnesota, and Minnesota gets down. We let some far-out people on the ballot. I was reading it down, and I was like, “Holy shit, I didn't even know about this shit.” I was amazed to learn about that fucking dude in Utah, the weird Mormon guy who may take the state of Utah. And I saw the Delta Party on the fucking ballot—I don't even know who they are; I'm so excited to google them tonight. It's fucking insane.
There are people who are voting for Hillary because they can't believe what Trump wants to do to the country—but they are ignoring that Hillary is doing a bunch of stuff to other people's countries. They are able to block that out as this weird little American imperialism...at the end of the day, you really don't care about people in other countries. You really don't. If you're looking at it like that, you are choosing to block out the Secretary of State years of Hillary Clinton. You're choosing to block that out.
SO: Last two questions. I know you have to meditate and shit before you get ready to play. But I want to shift and talk about career stuff really quick. Brock is one of your best friends, right? You guys have been together since the beginning. Again, when I think about this whole revolution of everyday life and how it ties into you, I think about how one of the smartest things you did was to keep somebody around who you just really enjoy being with. So I guess I want you to talk about Brock and how that relationship has helped you grow as an artist.
AB: Honestly I wouldn't still be doing this if it weren't for him. For a lot of reasons. He was the initial person in Texas who pushed me around introducing me to people, and he had never had any notions of being a music manager. And even when we first started doing this on our first tour in 2003, he had been working as a computer draftsman for nine years, was sick of working in an office, and was like, “I'm quitting; you're graduating from school; let's go try it for a summer and see how it goes.” We never talked about management. It wasn't a thing. We didn't even think that way. It was like, “I want to go and do this. Let's see if it works, and if it doesn't, I'll go do something else, and you go do something else.” And lo and behold, over the course of years, over three or four years, we realized, “I guess you're my manager. You're driving me and talking to all these people. Strong-arming people, taking promoters to the ATM and making them take that $200 out and fucking paying us.”
And over the next few years, we started to figure it out, what does that mean that you're my manager? What are you actually supposed to do? How am I supposed to pay you? Where are we going with this? And honestly—you said “the company of a person I enjoy.” To be clear, there have been times in our relationship where we were ready to murder each other. For extended periods of time. There was a whole month once where we did not speak. We were ready to kill each other. The end of 2012. Interestingly enough, it was the end of the most successful year of touring that I had ever had up to that point, the most I'd ever toured, and by the end of it we didn't talk.
But one of the things that's been the most important about Brock: because we both didn't know what we were doing and we grew into this, we've both been really patient with each other's process and patient with each other's failures and successes. There have been times when Brock was not doing a good job as a manager. We addressed it, he fixed it, and we moved on. There have been times when I was not doing a good job as a professional artist. It's been addressed and it's been fixed. There's been a back and forth, and an understanding that at the end of the day, we
have now gone through so much fire together that we're not going anywhere.
The other thing on top of that: I could leave all of my money with Brock for fucking months, and I would come back and not a nickel would be gone. That's a priceless thing in and of itself. Though sometimes I wish he weren't so fucking honest with me, he will always be honest with me. And there are times when it ruins my day, or week, or show, or tour, but ultimately, at the end of the day, in the long term, that's going to be the most valuable thing.
And we have found our system, which is not traditional in any way. He is not a traditional manager. We do not have a traditional artist-manager relationship. I do a lot of the schmoozy stuff that other managers do, because he's not a schmoozer, and he lives in Texas, and he doesn't want to go out to bars and hang out and talk to people. But he does a lot of stuff for me that other managers would never do. He does shit that a personal assistant would do. There's a balance there.
Honestly, he is the most important thing that's happened to me. None of this would be possible without him. Because I don't have the drive to do it myself. I get too crushed under my own fear sometimes to do stuff, just to answer emails in a timely fashion or whatever. So I would never be doing what I'm doing if it weren't for him. Once I realized that, it was like, “Okay, cool. He's here forever now, and that's the deal.”
SO: That's cool. I just like watching that. I'm jealous of that. I wish I had someone I trusted like that.
AB: I was years into the process when I started to work with other musicians, and talking to people —you've said that to me before; Sims has said that to me before; people have been like, “Man, I would kill for a Brock.” And there was this realization—there were times when I didn't really appreciate what he was doing. And now having seen it reflected from other people and looking at it, it's made me over time really appreciate him. We're like a married couple. We spend so much time together. There was a period when we thought about moving back in together again, and I think we realized that was not a good idea. We do not need to spend more time together. Let's keep the shit going forward.
SO: Any book recommendations or anything?
AB: I've been slowly making my way through the Asian Saga by James Clavell. The most famous book he wrote was called Shogun, which is the fifth book in the series. He's an Australian writer, and it's about the history—if you read them in chronological order (he didn't write them in chronological order, which is interesting), the first book is Shogun and it starts with this sailing ship crashing onto the shore in Japan at a time when the Spanish and Portuguese had already come there around the horn of Africa, but no one had made it across the Pacific. It's historical fiction about the first Dutch explorers—British captain, Dutch crew—and the clash of Western and Eastern cultures. The next book is a couple hundred years later, once trade routes had been established, and then a couple hundred years later, and as you start to go deeper you start to see family dynasties emerge, both in Japanese and Chinese and British and Dutch shipping cultures. I love it. It teaches you so much, and ultimately it's the kind of book that leads you down a fucking Wikipedia wormhole where you start learning about Japanese court ritual or whatever the fuck.
That's my shit lately. I had to take a break, and I'm not reading much right now because I just plowed through five of those, and they're all like two thousand pages long. So I did that for a while. I'm taking a break from reading because I read so much in such a huge chunk. I read in bursts. I plow through twenty books and then stop for six months.
It's hard to read on tour. I'm very much in a podcast zone right now, which is a very tour-friendly thing.
SO: I love podcasts. They've basically replaced talk radio for me. What are your favorite podcasts?
AB: I listen to a lot of sports podcasts. But then I also really like Dan Carlin's stuff a lot. Hardcore History. I tiptoe into his political podcast every once in a while, but I never find it as engaging— though I agree with him on a lot of stuff and I think he's really thoughtful about politics and does a very good job about admitting his own biases—but I have a hard time getting into them because I listen to podcasts to get away from that stuff sometimes. Hardcore History is tailor made for me. Please teach me about the minutiae of Mesopotamia! Please teach me about the details of the Battle of the Somme. Teach me! I want this. It's all about me becoming the best Trivial Pursuit partner of all time.
That's my shit. I get so hyped when a new one comes out. I'll listen to it three or four times. Like you talked about with Bury Me at Wounded Knee—I want to remember the places. I want to be riding through Europe and go, “Oh, shit!” I want to know the things, and remember the details. I have a really good mind for abstract concepts and I could tell you the history of a thing in general, but I'm going to totally fuck up names and dates. I can tell you the arc and progress of things. I can understand systems but I'm terrible with specifics, so I listen to those a lot. I'll listen to them over and over again.
SO: I started looking at my podcast feed...it looks like my Twitter feed. It's so much fun.
That's what life's all about, man, just trying to find out what makes you the happiest. I hate to say
it, but that shit's important.
AB: It really is. And you hope, in that process, you don't become such a gluttonous asshole that you're trampling all over someone else's happiness to achieve that. But at the end of the day, man, I'm about joy. Spreading it, capturing it, maintaining it, living it