A few months back, RiffPub had the privilege of sitting down with Andy Bothwell, better know by his stage name Astronautalis, to chat about poetry, hip hop, pop music, and vintage radio microphones. The talk went in a lot of directions, but we managed to always bring it back to our favorite topic: the intersection of poetry and music. We hope you enjoy this ten-minute clip from the interview:
“I try really hard to change the language that I use from album to album. The most formal of my records was the record Pomegranate which was written with an active desire on my part to abandon the caasual nature of rap language and really go full bore into a more heightened, literary form. And a lot of that was influenced by Shakespeare. There’s a chunk of the…the first chunk of “The Case of William Smith” is written in iambic pentameter. Gerard Manley Hopkins, the poem called “The Windhover” was a huge influence on that. He talks about watching a windhover fly. It’s this really, incredibly complicated and incredibly ahead of it’s time poem about the windhover and comparing it to the grace of God and all these other things and it’s really amazing.
“That Pomegranate record is so dense with language. This Is Our Science is slightly lesser, but still pretty dense with language. I mean those choruses are like tons and tons of words. I wanted to try to think more in an efficient use of words. With previous records, the goal was always to add more: add strings, find more words, find the exact word for it even if it’s some dead old word.
“I got on this tear for like two weeks where I could not stop listening to “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus.”
“The goal with the current record was to do more with less. And so, sometimes it’s much more maddening because you’re sitting there and your’e trying to write two lines and you really have to thread a needle. The times when it was off-the-cuff for this record were really magical. It was, it was the first record that was fun for me to make. They’re always challenging, and the challenge is its own kind of fun, but it’s definitely not stereotypical fun. When I’m working on a record I don’t sleep. I’m a total basket case. This was a lot more fun to actually make, and I think it will come out in the music as well.
“I think pop music is important and beautiful and there are a ton of pop songs that I love. Man, I got on this tear for like two weeks where I could not stop listening to “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus. A lot of people discount it because it is Miley Cyrus or whatever. But not only does she kill the performance of that, kills it, but that song is—you know she didn’t write that song—but that song is so beautifully written that if you go back and listen to it…. Imagine Dolly Parton playing it on a grand piano. It would cut you in half. If you had someone that you really admired singing it, it would cut you in half. It’s such and incredible song. I remember listening to it and being like I’ve got to figure out a way to write a song like this. It’s just amazing.
“Pop music’s great, I just think that there’s the potential to make pop music that’s still important. (RiffPub: “How do you know when you’ve done that?) It’s magic. It’s like that thing where you won’t know it unless you see it, and when you see it you know it. That’s when it becomes truly magical. I think a lot of times, it’s when something leaves you still. Some of the most incredible experiences of my life—as a person and as an artist—as creating art and living life and also being around and watching it…. Those moments that are the most impactful are the moments where you are just still. And you can’t say anything, you can’t do anything, you just don’t want to move because you don’t want the thing that is happening around you, the magic and lightning around you, to end.”