Astronautalis - conducted by Todd E. Jones  

Passed Out In The Dark Theater Of The Ocean

August 2006

The line between hip-hop and alternative rock music has completely dissolved. A myriad of musicians have surprised their fans by experimenting with unexpected styles. Mos Def started in the hip-hop group Black Star, but explored new terrain with his rock and roll band, Blackjack Johnson. Atmosphere began creating hardcore indie rap music, but now performs with a live band on stage. Lauryn Hill once rapped in The Fugees, but her last solo album consisted of her singing over an acoustic guitar. Andre 3000 (of Outkast), Cee-Lo (from Goodie Mob), Ice-T, and Guru are just a few hip-hop emcees who have experimented with live instrumentation as they strayed from a "typical" hip-hop sound. Some artists sustain their hip-hop sound while others travel unexpected musical directions. Regardless of success or failure, music growth from brave experimentation creates an exciting gamble that enforces the spirit of hip-hop culture.

Astronautalis is a white emcee from Florida whose musical growth is marked by incredible transformation. His debut album, "You & Yer Good Ideas" (released on Fighting Records) was a unique independent hip-hop album that mixed country and folk with rapping. Known for clever free styling and wild references, Astronautalis began to experiment with his sound. The young artist began to change his already unique style. He began with hip-hop dominated folk sound to an alternative indie-rock feel with a hip-hop backbone. Friend and colleague, Ben Cooper (aka Radical Face and Electric President) assisted Astronautalis with his musical journey. Creator of poignant indie rock, Radical Face was an unlikely choice for a producer of a hip-hop album. The thrill of experimentation and an unknown final result were just some beautiful aspects of creativity. As the winter of 2006 ended, Astronautalis released his sophomore album, "The Mighty Ocean & Nine Dark Theaters" on Fighting Records. Although the artist and record label may cause someone to categorize this LP as a hip-hop, this Astronautalis album sounds more like indie rock. At the core of the album, hip-hop reigns. The opening track, "Short Term Memory Loss" instantly displays a new side to the artist. Some inimitable beat-boxing ignites "Meet Me Here Later". The upbeat track, "Lost At Sea" is poignantly vivid with a memorable chorus. The deep, bluesy feel of "Xmas In July" has a bittersweet emotion and a universal theme. A modern classic, "Xmas In July" captures the feeling of gratitude for a warm place to sleep. The sing-a-long crowd participation used in the song's finale adds a timeless quality to the album. "The Mighty Ocean & Nine Dark Theaters" may have to grow on fans, but album sounds better with every repeated listen.

Hip-hop has the power to transcend every musical style and genre. A white guy from Florida, Astronautalis has hip-hop running through his veins as he makes unique indie rock. During the gold era of hip-hop, emcees and producers were experimenting. The innovators were not limited by categories. These hip-hop legends have walked a musical path, not knowing where it would lead them. Astronautalis is traveling on is musical odyssey. He's swimming the deep ocean of music, so fans could be entertained in the dark theater of life.

MVRemix: What goes on?

Astronautalis: Laundry, then, packing. Followed shortly there after, by customs, flying, and Mark Helprin's 'Memoirs From An Antproof Case'. Finishing 20 hours later, in a blaze of jetlag and culture shock, I'll land in Shanghai and try and pick out my brother and his bright red mohawk out of over 2 billion Chinese people.

MVRemix: Tell us about your sophomore album, 'The Mighty Ocean & Nine Dark Theaters', which was just released on Fighting Records.

Astronautalis: It is my second full-length record and the first album I made in a real studio, without any real limitations about time, money, or gear. Fearing such limitless possibilities, I decided to make some self-imposed limitations to give me something to push up against. The album is a non-linear story told in 4 acts, a development of a theory, I was working on at the time. A belief that every stage of growth in our lives, be it teenage years, adulthood, parenthood, or whatever, can be broken into 4 distinct acts. It is only in the brief flash, connecting that 4th act with the 1st act of the next stage, that we really have any perfect balance and control over our lives. For 3 months, all is right with the world. Then, the world is quite good at giving us a swift kick into our new life, where we are the same lost little lambs we were when we were born. Only this time, we are lambs with facial hair, or wives, or kids, or a mortgage, and still just as lost, spending the next few years relearning how to live.

MVRemix: What is the meaning behind the title, 'The Mighty Ocean & Nine Dark Theaters'?

Astronautalis: I focused the thesis of the album on the teenage stage of my own life, growing up in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. The two biggest outside influences for me, at that time, were the movie theater that I worked at and the ocean I swam in. Funny how things like that can mold you even years down the line.

MVRemix: The 'Mighty Ocean & Nine Dark Theaters' album is very different from the previous music you created? Why?

Astronautalis: Heaven help me if I ever make the same album twice. Music should always be challenging. The day that this job becomes easy for me, is the day I should go look for a new job.

MVRemix: Favorite song on the 'The Mighty Ocean & Nine Dark Theaters' LP?"

Astronautalis: I am very proud of 'Lost At Sea Part 1 & 2'.

MVRemix: Which song on the 'The Mighty Ocean & Nine Dark Theaters' took you the longest to complete? Why?

Astronautalis: 'Meet Me Here Later' was the longest and most frustrating to complete. I knew what that song needed to be from the minute we started work, but it never came together. Songs like that seem to be the hardest songs to write. When you have such a clear and concrete idea in your head, it can become a maddening pursuit to perfection. What finally made it on the album is, in fact, the 4th or 5th version of that song. There were some other nice versions, but none of them actually sat well on the record as a whole. This one seemed to tie so much together, once I recorded the beat-boxing.

MVRemix: One of my favorite tracks on the album is 'Xmas In July'. What inspired this song? Tell us about that track.

Astronautalis: Through other musicians and touring, we became very close friends with a rapper named JD Walker and his rapper wife, Sontiago. They live in a marvelous house on top of a hill in Portland, Maine. You lose any established sense of home by touring, but for whatever reason, their house has always felt like home for us. No matter what time of year we came into Portland, it felt like Christmas. Comfortable, inviting, perfect.

MVRemix: Do you do many overdubs while recording?

Astronautalis: Yes, we build almost everything in layers and layers of overdubs. For this record, we used a tremendous amount of layers. One song included over 120 individual tracks. The majority of the recording for this record was just myself and Radical Face. There were only a few occasions when we were able to record large chunks of songs live, at once, with session musicians. When we could, we jumped at the chance.

MVRemix: Do you use any first takes or do you usually do multiple?

Astronautalis: If something comes out nicely on the first take, we shoot off fireworks, but it rarely does. I don't mind doing hundreds of takes to make it perfect. It has to be perfect. That is why we spent a year and a half on the damn thing.

>>> continued...

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    "Heaven help me if I ever make the same album twice. Music should always be challenging. The day that this job becomes easy for me, is the day I should go look for a new job."