When I saw Atmosphere’s God Love Ugly being reissued, I had to stop and think for a second. Had that many years gone by to where this album was in the reissue category? I went back to the Kaffeine Buzz archives and yes, it was during the “Keepin’ It Rural” tour in the fall of 2002 when Slug was talking to me from a van with seven other guys in their “tour bus” of that time.
Hard to believe it’s been seven years. Reminding Slug (Sean Daley) of this during a recent phone call made him laugh, “We’re gettin’ old Kim.” Yes indeed. Time is flying by.
So much has happened since 2002. The world has recovered from the dot com crash, only to wind up back in the stink again, this time from another self-indulgent arm of corporate America. We’ve endured the wrath of one president, demanded change and put in place another we hope will bring us out of the ashes and sludge.
During that time Slug has been on his own roll
ercoaster ride, balancing the ups, downs, sideways and byways as most of us do…but with a pen in one hand a mic in the other. He’s transformed his live set from a two-person act, him and Ant [Anthony Davis], to a full-blown act of musicians, which I first got to experience at CMJ 2006. It was wild to view that transformation, feeling the music in a way you visually feel a 3D movie in your gut.
Hundreds of gigs, tedious interviews like mine, road miles, beers, hours in the studio and several albums and E.P.s later, how has Slug’s songwriting changed?
“I really haven’t changed much about the way I work,” Slug said. “I still listen to the music that Ant provides for me and decide what kind of words belong with the song. Honestly, a lot of times it can be painfully obvious. Like the song, ‘In Her Music Box,’ he samples children’s music and it seemed obvious to me that I should write a children’s story.”
Yes, the unique storytelling is what has drawn so many to Slug’s songwriting, crafting the beginning, middle and end so you can envision the music video in your mind effortlessly. Slug takes you into the pages of his book, as with “Mother’s Day” from the new E.P., Leak At Will, and the dilemmas of a single mother, the emotions that run through her children, along with her own regret and worry. He has always written from a personal perspective, but who’s to say that every character in each song, like “Feel Good Hit Of The Summer 2” is written in the first person? You decide.
As with everything—music, art, politics, the bible–it’s all open to interpretation. When I heard “The Ropes” from Leak At Will I felt like the song was about a boy who was influenced heavily by his negative, antagonistic surroundings, and in turn, put a gun in his hand to avenge himself.
This brought to mind the recent shooting in Pittsburgh where an armed man strolled into a women’s exercise class at a health club, pulled out two guns and started spraying bullets, leaving four people dead, including himself; injuring at least 10 other people. Turns out this whack had been fueled years of by of all things, a problem with women.
But Slug didn’t see the correlation. “The version I was writing in the song was basically saying, ‘We can’t blame these kids for acting out when we’re the ones who showed them the ropes. We’re the ones who taught them how to act wild.’”
This interpretation then led to a whole discussion on society and those of us in it; something I hadn’t planned for but welcomed with open arms.
“In regards to the idiot who [shot up the women’s gym], I do think that people now days are using their unfortunate situations as excuses to act out. I believe that as a society, a community, or whatever you want to call it, I think it’s upon all of us to hold our head up and be classy; to act accordingly. I don’t care what you do with your life. I don’t care how you choose to have fun. I don’t care what drugs you do, as long as you’re not causing problems for anybody else. I think we’re seeing more and more people who are ignoring that basic human rule. I think a big part of it is we’ve been selling self-entitlement to these people for a long time.
“Everybody is taught that they’re special. That they’re the center of the universe. I don’t think it’s bad to teach kids that they’re special, but I think that the self-entitlement that’s going on right now is making people not pay attention to anything outside of their own personal universe.”
Amen to that. Just flip on T.V. and you’re surrounded by narcissism and entitlement. The OMFG antics of Gossip Girl’s rich kids. Big Brother’s self-indulgent “I know you are but what am I” rants. Lauren Conrad from MTV’s The Hills “writing” a book that made it to the New York Times Best-Selling list. And everyone’s lining up to eat it up.
The priorities of people like this on T.V., what they consider to be huge issues, who-said-what-to-whom, what so-and-so is wearing, high-school-mean-girl bickering and fighting is laughable when one takes into account real issues going on in the world. It really makes you wonder why the hell we give a crap about these idiots’ lives and buy into their inane babble.
Slug has some insight on this. “Well, the Internet doesn’t help. Look at things like MySpace and Facebook; the commoditization of people. ‘Here. I’m trying to sell you me. I’m not selling a product or a service. I’m selling you on the fact that I’m awesome.’ I think right now as a society we’re kind of addicted to ‘self.’
“And this [shooter] guy is a great example of that. He had some problems. He couldn’t get laid…he was writing all this stuff on his blog! Who the fuck wants to read that?! What makes you think that people want to go to your blog? Who are you? You’re just another person like the rest of us! What happened to earning a place where people want to read what’s going on in your head?
“I’m not saying that this is why he did what he did. I’m saying the real problem is he somehow, with his low self esteem or whatever that he claimed to have, managed to think that it was all about him. I don’t even think that it’s just America anymore. I think it’s the whole world. Everybody thinks it’s all about them. And we pamper it. We allow this to go on until something tragic happens. And then, quite honestly, it’s too late.
“I don’t want to use this guy as a scapegoat. It’s an isolated incident. It’s a tragedy. I don’t want this to be Slug’s rant, you know what I mean? I feel bad for what happened here, but we’ve made them! It’s not that someone should have reached out to this guy and gotten him therapy. This guy should have pulled himself up by his own bootstraps. But we’re not teaching each other that anymore.
“We’ve gone from a world where people are searching for the next best thing to ‘We’re bored of searching for the next best thing.’ Everybody gave up looking for it. ‘The next best thing isn’t looking for me.’ Of course it’s not! You’re hiding in your fucking house. You’re not doing anything. You’re going to work so you can go home and sit in that house that you’re paying for.
“And say we go to therapy, all we do is blame everything on how we were raised. ‘My life sucks right now, and somehow it’s relative to the fact that I grew up in a single-parent household,’ or this or that. When are people going to stop passing on the blame and start taking responsibility for their own shit?!”
And then Slug pauses for a second, “Man. I’m sorry. I’m starting to sound like a Republican all of the sudden.” This makes both of us laugh, but honestly, the conversation is refreshing because it’s all so damn true.
The all-about-me focus is fed to us 24/7, whether on the Internet, on our cell phones or on the tried and true channel, T.V. Off the new EP, Slug takes a stab at the addiction to “White Noise” and its lyrics relating to the non-stop screen action with no substance that justifies the nickname boob tube. We all know this, but why can’t we all turn away?
“Bunch of reality shows full of assholes / All the popular situation comedy caught up in the oxymoronic hypocrisy / On the couch with remote on search / Seen better acting on them shopping networks / I’d like to put my foot through the glass / But without it I would have to shoot smack to relax…watch it in the afternoon see the people argue / Prime time television is worse though / Surf the shit, I’d rather watch the commercials / Program a nation of clones / Subliminal seeds watch ‘em grow / Tune in for next week’s show like, it if wasn’t on, what the fuck would you know.”
But it all comes back to individual choices, as Slug points out. The white noise is growing in popularity because the masses can relate more to idiots than to those who are out there making a difference in the world. That just makes them feel “bad” about themselves because they’re sitting on the couch. “I don’t even want to blame the reality shows. It starts in the household.”
Switching gears back to the music, don’t plan to hear any if the tracks from Leak At Will from the stage. Slug’s intention was never to bring those songs into the live set, but wrote them just for fun. He explains, “I created some other songs about a year and a half ago called Strictly Leakage. Those things to me are like Easter eggs, like, ‘They’re special things that we made for you.’ But I don’t consider them something that I would put on an official release or something like that.”
As a listener and on this side of it, it’s not that easy to put an artistic divide between tracks “Millie Fell Off The Fire Escape” and “Dreamer.” Then again, I have the luxury of being the listener and leaving the artistic challenges in the studio and on stage to the pros.
“In many cases, like the last E.P., I wouldn’t even know how translate “The Ropes” on stage. Technically I could rap those lyrics and we could throw that beat, but it’s like, what part of that story am I connecting to in order to make sure that I’m communicating something here? I think [these other songs] are more of a footnote to what we do.”
These nuggets of gold gives one a free pass through a doorway into what more Atmosphere has to give the listener. A Whitman’s sampler, if you will, each with their own surprise filling.
“I try to make the music on the official albums closer to home for myself. With the free songs, those are kind of exercises. We’re just making those for fun. So I don’t give those songs the life that I give songs that I really want people to hear. This is probably backwards. I should probably put the serious stuff out for free and put the fun stuff on the records. I’ll figure it out someday.”
Right. If there’s one thing most people our age have figured out, so to speak, is we never really do figure it out. Slug laughs a bit and then corrects himself in a way, “Honestly, I don’t really want to figure it out. If figuring out means to being able to comfortably rest in this fucking mess that we’ve all made, I’m not sure that that’s NOT what I want. I want to live my life more against the grain than when I was 25.”
Our conversation turns back to the tour and the various dates he has coming up, including his show at Red Rocks on Friday, August 14. I warned him about the Stairmaster workout of the place, and he reminded me that this will be his third stint at the infamous venue (Paid Dues in 2007, Monolith in 2008). Correct again.
And, “I know where the secret elevator is.” Huh. I had heard the rumor about such an elevator, but have yet to confirm its existence given that lowly journalists rarely have access to such conveniences. “I don’t think we do either. I guess it’s just wishful thinking.”
I ask that if he does discover it, to please let us know. He laughs, promising to tell “everyone from the stage.” And security will LOVE him for that. He laughs again, knowingly, “They’ll love me either way.”
For the cheap asses out there, which is pretty much everyone I know, head to www.rhymesayers.com/atmosphere to download Strictly Leakage (2007), and the first single from When Life Gives You Lemons Paint That Shit Gold (2008), “Shoulda Known.”
To download the recently released free E.P. Leak At Will, visit the new Rhymesayers Entertainment online store, www.fifthelementonline.com. Register for a user account, add the E.P. to your shopping cart and then click “check out” to download the songs in a .zip file.
If you’re late to the game on the Atmosphere front, the reissue of God Loves Ugly is for you, but this time ‘round it comes with a bonus DVD (and a set if Ginsu knives…or is it a Pocket Fisherman…) featuring two hours of footage, including live performances, guest appearances, music videos, and the all-time favorite—blooper outtakes.
Atmosphere’s tour through the summer of 2009:
August 14 – Red Rocks – Atmosphere, Aesop Rock with Rob Sonic & DJ Big Wiz, Murs, Eyedea & Abilties and Attracted To Gods
August 15 – Paolo Soleri, Santa Fe
August 16 – Club 101, El Paso
August 18 – House of Blues, Las Vegas baby
August 19 – Hollywood Palladium
August 21 – House of Blues, San Diego
August 22 – Fairplex, Pomona
August 30 – Outside Lands, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
September 8 & 9 – First Avenue, Minneapolis – Homecoming Show with Eyedea & Abilities