Interview: Rapper Astronautalis (Andy Bothwell)

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:

Interview Excerpt:

“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.”


Astronautalis is an active Facebook user, be sure to follow his page here. To purchase his music, find tour dates, and learn more about Andy Bothwell, visit his official website.

“The Truro Bear” -A Poem by Elizabeth Bradfield

The poet Elizabeth Bradfield reached out to Riff Pub way back in May. It was wonderful to have her voice featured in the cast of readers for a previous Intonation feature. We are particularly excited to bring you her voice reading an original poem. It’s a real stunner.

 

Bradfield was kind enough to answer a few of our questions regarding the poem/song relationship. Her insights are sharp and her tone warm. We’d play clarinet with her any day.


“The reason that I wanted to read this poem is that sometimes for me poems begin with a line, and usually the line is there because it has some kind of musical reverberation. And that line I am lonely for the bear just kept running through my head. This kind of origin of a poem used to happen a lot more frequently for me, and less so now, but this is one of the more recent poems where it began that way. And then the job of the poem is to figure out what that means. Why is that loneliness so important? What’s in that song? Part of it is the word lonely and what a long and mournful word it is in and of itself.

Credit: ebradfield.com“What’s the primary difference between a song and a poem? Well, musicality, an attention to the sound of something. In a poem, it’s an attention to the way the words create a rhythmic pattern and the way that hard and soft sounds bounce off each other, for me, the way the line break works against and with the sense of the sentence. But you don’t have a drum set, you don’t have harmony, at least tonally, and so that’s how they’re different than a song. You have to do it all right there with a poem. I guess it’s more like a solo of an instrument like a trumpet or a woodwind, where you can’t create two notes at once. All the music has to be in that simple utterance, just that one voice coming through.

You have to do it all right there with a poem. I guess it’s more like a solo of an instrument like a trumpet or a woodwind, where you can’t create two notes at once.

“I love music. I can’t listen to it when I read or when I write, so it doesn’t play as often as it might in the house. Actually, playing clarinet as a kid and through in to college was really important to me. Classical music, and it wasn’t that it was classical, but the experience of playing in a band, in an orchestra, and having all that noise around you and teasing out how all the little parts came in an out of one another and watching the conductor make all of that happen – I loved that experience. And I think part of what I loved was in losing the sense of self. Just being in that sound, or being really attentive to the self within that sound. It was really important to me. I miss it quite a bit. I keep trying to figure out how I can get back to that.

“Musicians or songwriters more aligned to the world of poetry than most: Im pretty in love with Neko Case. Songwriters like her who really challenge me with their lyrics and bring in, oh, a world of reference, are really exciting to me. Joni Mitchell too, wow! What an amazing poet she is. The list could of course go on, but those are two who immediately come to mind.

“Poems are songs. This is why we listen to them.”


Elizabeth Bradfield is author of the poetry collections Interpretive Work and Approaching IceHer third book of poems, Once Removed, is forthcoming in 2015 from Persea. Her work has been published in numerous venues including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Believer, and Poetry. She runs Broadsided Press, one of the hippest poetry projects on the internet. Learn more about Bradfield and her myriad endeavors at ebradfield.com.

Intonation: “Sestina” -A Poem by Ciara Shuttleworth

Intonation features a single poem by a living poet. Five readers, including the poet herself, perform the poem. Monday-Thursday of the selected week feature readings by poets, voice artists, and musicians. On Friday RiffPub presents the poet’s own voice. How will individual readers affect the meaning of the poem? What, sonically, will each reader emphasize? Discover with us.

This Intonation explores a poem by Ciara Shuttleworth.
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Monday, September 1st:

Elizabeth Bradfield’s work has appeared in The New YorkerThe Atlantic MonthlyPoetry, and elsewhere. Her books include Interpretive Work and Approaching Ice.

Tuesday, September 2nd:

Wrigley is a Moscow, Idaho based poet. His honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. More info on Robert Wrigley.

Wednesday, September 3rd:

Performance poet Lyrically Blessed (LB) can be seen and heard scoring perfect tens at poetry slams around the country. See video of two LB performances online here.

Thursday, September 4th:

Jeremy Loeb is a reporter and radio host for Alabama Public Radio, where he hosts the station’s broadcast of Morning Edition from NPR.

Friday, September 5th:

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About the Poet: Ciara Shuttleworth has become an advocate for the RiffPub project, actively seeking new voices for us to record and feature. Her poetry has been featured in numerous journals, including Tahoma Literary ReviewYemasseeCutthroat, and The Southern Review. “Sestina” was originally published in The New Yorker. Learn more about Shuttleworth and her work at CiaraShuttleworth.com.

Special thanks to WHQR  and Alabama Public Radio for assisting with some of these recordings. Follow RiffPub on Facebook for content updates.
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“When Our House Was Old” -A Poem By Malena Mörling

This poem by Malena Mörling appears in the collection Astoria and was recorded in the public radio studios of WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
malena_morling Mörling’s books of poetry and translation include Astoria, Ocean AvenueFirst Poems by Tomas Tranströmer, and Prison, Nine Haiku (Tranströmer).

Malena was kind enough to sit down with us and talk about the relationship between poetry and music, and how the two play a role in her creative life as translator and poet. Learn more about Mörling, her work, and find links to purchase her books online at MalenaAMorling.com

Intonation: “County” -A Poem by Robert Wrigley

Intonation features a single poem by a living poet. Five readers, including the poet herself, perform the poem. Monday-Thursday of the selected week feature readings by poets, voice artists, and musicians. On Friday RiffPub presents the poet’s own voice. How will individual readers affect the meaning of the poem? What, sonically, will each reader emphasize? Discover with us.

This Intonation explores a poem by Robert Wrigley. Featured readers are Ben Nichols, Michael McGriff, Elizabeth Bradfield, and Terrance Hayes.
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Monday, June 9th:
Singer-songwriter Ben Nichols is frontman of the band Lucero. To find tour dates, purchase music, and learn more about Lucero visit LuceroMusic.com.

Tuesday, June 10th:
Michael McGriff’s books include Home Burial, Dismantling The Hills, and Choke. He is a founding editor of Tavern Books. McGriff was recorded by Beau Thorne.

Wednesday, June 11th:

Elizabeth Bradfield’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, and elsewhere. Her books include Interpretive Work and Approaching Ice.

Thursday, June 12th:

Terrance Hayes is the author of Lighthead, winner of the 2010 National Book Award. His other books are Wind In a Box, Hip Logic, and Muscular Music.

Friday, June 13th:
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About the Poet: Robert Wrigley lives outside of Moscow, Idaho with his wife Kim Barnes. His most recent collection is Anatomy of Melancholy and Other Poems (Penguin, 2013). He is a professor at the University of Idaho. “County” was first published by Northwest Review and appears in the collection Beautiful Country.  For more information on Wrigley and his work, visit his bio at The Poetry Foundation.

Special thanks to WHQR for recording Nichols and WPTS for recording Hayes. Follow RiffPub on Facebook for content updates.

Interview: Ben Nichols of Lucero

Singer-songwriter Ben Nichols said he dealt with writer’s block before making the Lucero album “Women and Work” by allowing himself to lighten up lyrically and to write fun, straightforward rock and roll songs. He speculated for RiffPub about how a writer might deal with a similar creative block. He also spoke about his early experience learning the craft of songwriting. Of course, he directly addressed our favorite topic: Poem Vs Song.

Ben Nichols Interview:

 

“The goal is to communicate, the goal is the same.”

To hear how these concepts work into Nichols’ final work, we have two exclusive videos:

Follow our Facebook Page for updates and previews of RiffPub posts and keep your eye on the YouTube Channel for a forthcoming exclusive Ben Nichols video.

Ben Nichols is frontman of the band Lucero. To find tour dates, purchase music, and learn more about Lucero visit Luceromusic.com. These songs and the interview were recorded with studio time, equipment, and expertise donated by WHQR FM in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Intonation: “Catfish” -A Poem by Michael McGriff

Intonation features a single poem by a living poet. Five readers, including the poet herself, perform the poem. Monday-Thursday of the selected week feature readings by poets, voice artists, and musicians. On Friday RiffPub presents the poet’s own voice. How will individual readers affect the meaning of the poem? What, sonically, will each reader emphasize? Discover with us.

This Intonation explores a poem by Michael McGriff. Featured readers include Wiley Cash, Ciara Shuttleworth, Malena Morling, and more.
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Monday, April 7th:

Wiley Cash Performs “Catfish”

Cash is a bestselling novelist. His most recent book is This Dark Road to Mercy. Learn more about Cash and his work on his website. 

Tuesday, April 8th:

Ciara Shuttleworth Performs “Catfish”

Shuttleworth’s poetry has been published in Alaska Quarterly Review, Los Angeles Review, The New Yorker, and many other venues. Learn more about her work on her website.

Wednesday, April 9th:

Malena Mörling Performs “Catfish”

Mörling is a poet, translator, and educator. Her work includes Astoria: Poems and the translation Tomas Tranströmer’s First Poems & Notes From the Land of Lap Fever.

Thursday, April 10th:

Bob Workmon Performs “Catfish”

Workmon is a stage performer, operatic vocal soloist, and professional radio announcer. More info on Workmon is available here. He can be contacted at BWorkmon@WHQR.org

Friday, April 11th:

Michael McGriff Performs “Catfish”

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About the Poet: Michael McGriff’s books include Home Burial, Dismantling The Hills, and Choke. He is a founding editor of Tavern Books. Learn more about McGriff and his work at The Poetry Foundation. “Catfish” was first published in American Poetry Review and is available in McGriff’s collection Home Burial.  Special thanks to WHQR Public Radio in Wilmington, NC for production space and assistance with recording Workmon, Morling, and Cash.

Two Poems by Lyrically Blessed

Performance poet Lyrically Blessed (LB) recently recorded two poems and a brief interview with us. We’re pleased to present the performances in a simple video format.

“Labels As Curse Words”


Listen to the interview:

LB talks with us about his process, the relationship between hip-hop and poetry, and what he wants to leave his listeners with.

“Griot”

Special thanks to LB for joining the collection of creative voices here. Thanks also to WHQR FM for studio time. Stay tuned this month for more exciting content, including an “Intonation” feature.

Follow RiffPub on Facebook for updates.

“What Sings is The Drunk Boy’s Hands” -A Poem by Ciara Shuttleworth

This poem by New York based Poet Ciara Shuttleworth first appeared in Los Angeles Review and was recorded at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho.Ciara Shuttleworth

Ciara has become an advocate for the RiffPub project, actively seeking new voices for us to record and feature. Expect to hear more of her voice and work on RiffPub. Her poetry has been featured in numerous journals, including The New Yorker, Yemassee, Cutthroat, and The Southern Review.

Interview: Daniel Michalak of Bombadil

Earlier this month, we had the privilege of corresponding with Daniel Michalak of the band Bombadil. RiffPub’s Jason Hess asked him some questions about songwriting and the intersection of poetry/music. He answered graciously, and even turned the stock who are your influences? question into a fun riff. We hope this will serve as a prelude to some future in-studio or field recording with these folks. Enjoy these insights from a musician and wordsmith:

BOMBADIL - 2013
Stuart Robinson, Daniel Michalak, James Philips (Credit: The Artist)

Who is the primary songwriter for Bombadil?
We all write. it is a collaborative process. With that said, there are some songs with a principal songwriter and others that may have two or three.

Are there any poets or writers who have particularly influenced your work?
Roald Dahl is my favorite. I am reading Jules Vernes’ Les Revoltes de la Bounty now to practice my French. I didn’t like Wuthering Heights or The Great Gatsby in high school.

In the song “Angeline” I hear what freestyle rappers might call emergency rhymes. That is, some words are pronounced a number of different ways to make the end rhyme work. Why mispronounce words like this? Does it change the meaning?
These were not emergency freestyle rhymes but I definitely lifted the trick from rap/hip hop. I remember the first time I heard it in rap was with J Dilla and I loved it. I did this in our song “Unicycle” also – changed the pronunciation of “hill” to “heel” to rhyme with the lyric “keel”. Most people probably just think it is my southern accent coming through when they hear the song, though. The french also do it with singing, they can pronounce an extra syllable at the end of a lot of words to help with rhyme or flow. “Why mispronounce?” – because it is fun. Yes it does change the meaning, it is subtle though, not like a banana becomes an apple but a banana becomes a banana sundae! I guess that’s not that subtle.

In the song “The Ring” I do see a focus on a single physical object being used to communicate a particular emotion. Is that a conscious choice, to communicate emotions through objects?
…not conscious concious, but definitely it is human to anthropormorphize things or develop relationships with objects that we interact with. For us, lyrics are important, so we like finding new ways to say old things.Tthere are no limits, except your imagination.

Why don’t people dance at poetry readings?
Poetry is dance music for the mind. I am always having to think double time when listening to poetry. I think that means my brain is dancing.

Who are the band’s musical influences? What do you take from these artists when you write a new song?
I can only speak for myself at the moment, as all our influences are constantly changing – I like listening to the background music in the P90X ab ripper exercise. I also like listening to my brother’s songs. old country. new country. pop music. All songs remind me that there are infinite songs to be written and an infinite ways to write them. It is very inspiring.

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Special thanks to Ramseur Records, Daniel Michalak, and Bombadil. If you’re interested in learning more about the band, tour dates, and finding music, we encourage you to follow Bombadil on Facebook. Video credit goes to Bombadil via Youtube. Photo Credit: BombadilMusic.com