Aesop Rock, photo by Chrissy Piper
All he ever wanted, underdog mic controller Ian Bavitz once rapped, was to pick apart the day and put the pieces back together his way.
Under the handle of his long-suffering hip hop alter-ego Aesop Rock, Bavitz put that sentiment to wax on the title track of his now-classic debut EP for Def Jux, Daylight. Time being what it is, Aes Rizzle has since married, divorced, taken a dignified bystander stance in the collapse of a movement he helped create, displaced his NYC paranoia to roost beneath Cali palms and realigned himself under the Midwest stars of Rhymesayers Entertainment, seemingly at ease with the inclement conditions of life on the whole.
Aesop Rock still hasn’t put the pieces back together his way, nor will he probably ever. He prefers to shake them up.
Ahead of tonight’s show — his first local appearance in nearly a decade, with ex-Jux affiliates and Hail Mary Mallon co-disrupters Rob Sonic and DJ Big Wiz — I spoke to him late last month.
(Insert stoned giggles as necessary.)
Darcy MacDonald: I hear you aren’t the biggest fan of phone interviews.
Aesop Rock: Ahhh, wellll, ya know — I don’t think anyone is really the biggest fan of interviews, but I do my best.
DM: I totally appreciate that you gave me a phoner, man. I’m sure a ton of people ask you the same shit they’ve been asking for 10 years, and I promised your publicist I just wouldn’t do that.
AR: That’s totally fine, dude. I more, just — I dunno know why I did that. It’s not even like an anti-interview aversion, it’s more that I’m just not good at meeting people and making, like, a first impression. I just don’t feel confident, but, you know, it is what it is. I don’t really give too much of a fuck, man.
DM: Well, we’ve met before, so you already made your first impression. We met in Vermont years ago. You were there with Mr. Lif and Rob Sonic.
AR: Cool! Was I cool, or was I a total asshole?
DM: You were totally cool, and I’ll try to jog your memory, ‘cause we talked about this at length: the last time you came to Montreal, they fucked with you at the border for a few hours, and then, when you got through, you realized you had a three-and-a-half in your pocket. You told us that from onstage.
AR: Oh yeah! That was bad news. Well, actually, it coulda been way worse news, but yeah. That shit sucked!
DM: So we had a laugh about that, that time in Vermont. I also used to know your ex-brother-in-law a bit at school, Mike [Baker, younger sib to Aes’s ex-wife Allyson, of punk futurist outfit Dirty Ghosts].
AR: Oh, yeah, cool! Mike’s the best.
DM: So I haven’t heard the new record [Skelethon, now out on Rhymesayers and in my ear since last week] yet, but the first thing I wanna ask you about is the production side of things. I listened to [Rock-produced Slug & Murs collab] Felt 3 like crazy, and the Hail Mary Mallon project, and I can appreciate that in your production on those projects, there is a marked evolution from the past. How has that progress as a producer worked for you? Since Felt, let’s say, and not since when you started making beats.
AR: Well, thank you, first of all. That’s very nice to say. A lot of people I talk to kinda identify that time period in general as, uh, “Hey, your production got better!” kinda thing, which is maybe true in a way that I think I was, like, scared into having to up my skills in that department.
Felt was the first time I had a voice in the project, other than the beats. And you know, Sean and Murs are these kinda strange guys that wanna fuck it up, pretty much! Not to mention they had a sorta thread in the Felt project, with Grouch and then Ant. I was excited, but I was like, this is a little bit of a responsibility that I have here!
So I dunno. I guess I hear it, too. But if I’m honestly looking back over my production life, I can tell, or I can hear, that I had some sort of breakthrough around that time with some things. I always played musical instruments, so I always felt like there were things in the beats I was doing that should be working and maybe were falling short, or ideas I had where I was like, well, I think the idea is right, but I’m not, like, pulling this together right, audio-wise.
It’s funny ’cause I was just making beats around that time, and Sean asked “Do you wanna do Felt 3?” And I was like “Yeah.” And I imagined that if I didn’t do Felt 3, then a lot of those beats woulda been the next Aesop Rock record, at least some of them. Maybe not the more happy ones because I don’t like to rap on that shit, but I just had maybe the first five or 10 beats of that album going at that point.
And then Hail Mary Mallon — I did, like, maybe a little more than half of that one; me and Rob did it. But this was all during the last five years. I was also making my solo record simultaneously, and another gig that I think probably helped was doing a lot of the drums in Allyson’s band, Dirty Ghosts, and doing drums over everything that was aimed as a rock band. Not because I was going for it, but because it was some shit I had to figure out how to pull off. I couldn’t really fuck this up! Either it worked or it was gonna be Ally’s bad news!
But it was the strangest thing, having a couple of kinda weird production-y gigs in a row, while simultaneously just kinda collecting rhymes for myself and the Hail Mary Mallon project and these other things.
I had stopped doing, like, a solo record every year around that point! I got the chance to just kick back a little and figure some shit out, which kinda coincided with my life at that time. Things were gettin’ hectic and I felt like, I do need to sit back in a room for a while and figure something out. I just felt like I needed to change up the process that I had been used to at that point.
See Part 2 of Darcy’s Q&A with Aesop Rock
Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic & DJ Big Wiz play Théâtre Corona tonight, Tuesday, July 31, 8:30 p.m., $26.90