Oct 30, 2014

Alaska

Alaska

Working as an independent artist brings a lot of ups, downs, and having to deal with the possible short lived memory of fans. But, every so often you get to be a part of something that leaves an indelible mark on the scene as a whole, and you never leave the frontal lobes of audio files like myself. Enter the dude known as Alaska, formerly of Definitive Jux & Atoms Family group Hangar 18, Rap Dad extraordinaire, and co-creator of SYFFAL. I had the pleasure of talking via e-mail to him about his career, touring, family, and the future of his music. Peep the word vomit, buy everything he’s done/ will do, and learn you something about real indie rap stories from the road.

Hangar 18, Atoms Family, Definitive Jux, and the website SYFFAL. Damn fine resume!  What the hell have you been doing bro bro?

It is the resume of the unemployable :). I have mostly been being a dad, doing home renovation, working a day job, trying to finally finish Infinite Jest and working on new music. I stepped down as the king of SYFFAL at the end of August to concentrate more on those five things. I still contribute from time to time but I found that running the day to day operations was taking too much time and turning listening to music into a chore. As for the my own music I have 2 solo albums coming out sometime in the nearish future, one that is dropping on Pig Food Records towards the end of this year or early 2015 that was produced by the genius that is PJ KATZ. It is the album I always wished I could have made in the 90s but didn’t have the skill set to do so. The other one is my therapy. The album I used to figure out whatever issues or ideas that were running around my head for the past year or so. It has production from Cryptic and Jest from Atoms as well as J57 from Brown Bag All-stars, these fellers out of Portland Oregon called Secret Whistle (it is the bass player from Rare Monk – a KILLER PORTLAND BAND and another feller who now lives in NYC working on his PhD or some shit) and finally the god F. Virtue from Fameless Fam. I do a ton of writing, but that is pretty much my focus with rapping, writing, recording. I weirdly tend to lose interest after that. I have what I want to hear and I am good with that. I have to force myself to put it out.  My least favorite part of the music business is the business. I find I allow it to compromise my work. haha.

You recently teamed back up with Cryptic & Wind for a new outstanding record, what made this the right time to reunite?

Thank you, I am glad you like it. We are pretty proud of it. I think being that it was 2012 when we started recording, really made it the right time. Wind lives in LA, Cryptic and I are back on the east coast. The whole album was made via file sharing and conference calls. We have yet to all be in the same room together. After a bit of a hiatus we had all found ourselves making individually making music again. Our mutual friend paWL (former Hangar 18 producer) was making a documentary about what happens when indie rappers grow up titled Adult Rappers, and I reconnected with Cryptic through that. Cryptic was doing much of the score/soundtrack for the film. paWL suggested that we recorded a song or two over the music to include as a special feature for the DVD. These two songs turned into SANDS.

I’m an indie/music nerd in general so I’m going to ask, what happened with Atoms Family as a whole?  There were the two releases end of 98-99/00, the spot on Cold Vein and Same As It Never Was. It seems like from there, the crew songs stopped.

I am not sure what ever really happened with Atoms Family. I think it was more like your home town vs. where you end up. We all met as we were starting to make inroads into the scene. There was the Cryptic One and Jest contingent, the Vast, Vordul, Osirrus contingent, and the Hangar 18 contingent. We pretty much became friends and supported each other and made music together almost out of necessity. Cryptic was the only really self-contained dude out of the crew. He taught us all how to work in the studio and make tracks/record etc. It wasn’t necessarily a guru thing where he sat us down and taught us how, he had just done it already so we looked to him and let him lead. I don’t know if he wanted to be the leader, but it was a roll that was put upon him by the rest of us. It probably wasn’t fair. There was always talk of getting more Atoms projects done, but the reality of it was much more removed. I think we worked better in small groupings than we did in a larger form. Most of the Atoms projects ended up being more a mixtape of our failed side projects with each other than an actual group effort. The group songs were always created to tie everything together. Ultimately I think as each of us got more established in our groups (Cryptic’s solo stuff, Can Ox, and Hangar) it was harder to carve out time to make something happen. We would all either be touring, getting ready for tour, or working on our next individual/group projects. Atoms was the kind of thing that works great when you are young, but once you start living your life away from home you tend to see each other less and less. I see Cryptic from time to time and I see Wind when he comes to town, but I haven’t seen any of those other dudes in forever.

The climate is much different now, as you know having ran a music site, everything cycles quickly. Do you see it as a a good thing that there’s so much access to releasing and finding new music?  Do you think guys like you, Aesop, and Can Ox would’ve gotten the same following if you had come out now versus then?

You know I am pretty far removed from it. Even when Joel and I started SYFFAL it was to talk about the music we loved. We try to stay out of the fray. I find it hard to give a shit anymore about anything other than what is moving me. I think in a lot of ways it is better and in a lot of ways it is worse. I love that it allows younger artists to get out there without having to jump through the hoops and conform to label ideas. I love that the landscape of music feels so much more diverse. I love that, if you plan to be a lifer now, you really have to love it. The money fucking is still there but its not so top heavy anymore. You have fewer and fewer people doing it because its a path to massive success. Now you really have to love what you are doing.

As far as us old fuckers, I think we owe our entire success to the internet, sure some of us were dropping vinyl back in the 90s but that was still early internet days, it enabled the old DIY communities to expand quicker and farther. I think we would have gotten the same following now that we had then, maybe bigger in some cases because we would have been able to release more material in a timelier manner. We wouldn’t need physical copies.

It is a great time for music right now.

Rap Dad to Rap Dad, what’s the hardest thing for you when it comes to being a father, and an artist?

Finding time first and foremost. I have a very long train commute to work, which allows me the time to write, that isn’t an issue. I find plenty of time to write, it is finding the time to record. I finally have my own set up which helps, but even then, by the time we get our daughter down to bed, and then I walk the dogs, get ready for the next day, it is 10pm. I need to go to bed so I can wake up to make it to the gym at 5am. Not enough hours in the day. Other than that it is the balance in the work. I find myself not going down certain avenues of thought because I have a kid now, and I have to think more about how I want to represent myself, it is no longer just about me, I have other people to consider. Also in a way it has been freeing, because I can focus more on the craft and the art of it. Making just what I want to hear and not worrying about worn out rap tropes. One of the great things about having kids is it helps you prioritize and to get out of your own way. You realize how much of the shit you once thought was so fucking important was really about filling the 15 or 16 waking hours every day. I used to obsess about pointless dumb shit, now I really could give a fuck about finales of TV shows, or a movie I had high hopes for sucking. It is the same thing in rapping. I learned how to economize my shit. Finally I really wanted to avoid being one of those parents who makes songs about their kids all the time. Those people are the fucking worst.

Being a 40 something feller telling people to put their hands up makes me wildly uncomfortable…

With the new album you are working on, what are your plans after it drops?

I have no plans after it drops. Try to get it some press, maybe do some interviews, but as far as the business side of the music business, I really do not give a shit about that. I don’t see myself every touring again, unless some freak accident happens where I can get $15k a night, then I will have to consider it, but I really have no desire to live that life again or to be away from my family. The best case scenario, which is the scenario I am still trying to figure out, is the Harvey Pekar mold. Create my shit, but live my day to day existence like everyone. Keep my day job, just be a regular ass muthafucker because for me, that is where I draw my creativity from. Touring and trying to be a professional musician unhinged me, I don’t need that in my life. I don’t even know if I am going to do any shows. I have an unusual amount of stage fright ever since Hangar 18 broke up. My whole professional career was Wind and I on stage. I have no idea how to do it by myself and I don’t have any desire to do that. The high I got from performing was being up there bugging out with my best friend. Being a 40 something feller telling people to put their hands up makes me wildly uncomfortable…hahaha.

Alaska

What’s the wildest story you have, that isn’t legally sealed by the NSA, that you want to share about the Def Jux days/tours?

Two really stand out and both involve low rate drunken violence. The first was one of the big Def Jux shows that they used to throw around the holidays when the label was first taking off. The Hangar fellers (me, paWL and Wind) were drinking absinthe after our set. We had ordered a bottle from Europe, none of that bullshit they used to sell in liquor stores before it became legal again. After the show a grip of us were walking to a bar called Good World in China Town that we used to frequent. Since we were all hammered on absinthe and assorted layers of booze, we decided it would be a good idea to pick up the discarded Christmas trees that littered the downtown side walk and have a Christmas tree fight. We were swinging Christmas Trees at each other like baseball bats. I think at one point Murs threw a Christmas tree at me. Shit was fun. The other was during the EL-P I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead tour, we had a three night stay in New Orleans which is pretty much explains everything. All the groups broke off into teams and would attack the other groups when they least expected. At one point EL and I were in the galley where the bunks were, standing toe-to-toe and punching the shit out of each other’s chests. It was all good fun, my chest was sore for a week. That stay also resulted in the riding of mechanical bulls and one person on the tour getting punched in the face, being appalled that something like this could happen, but when he recapped the story we learned that it wasn’t unprovoked, no not at all, the feller who punched him did so because he started making out with said fellers girlfriend right in front of him. Booze is wonderful.

As an artist and a writer for a music site, how much do you hate yearly lists?

Lists fucking suck. I hate them. They are pointless, unless it is my list or my work is featured on it. Then that list is fucking official.

Any parting words/solicitations/or web sites you’d like to endorse?

Check out our bandcamp: weareatoms.bandcamp.com
Atoms Twitter: @ATOMSFAM
My Twitter: @timlaska_ATOMS
And of course my good friends over at syffal.com

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