TC27: Astronautalis

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The Curator Podcast – Episode 27: Astronautalis

I’ve waxed lyrical on my love and history with hip hop a couple of times recently, so there’s no need to go through it all again.

Andy Hepburn, known as Astronautalis, has been one of my favourite rappers since I heard him on the P.O.S. album ‘Never Better’. His style, delivery and the literary intelligence of his lyrics appeals to the writer in me in ways that a lot of rappers really can’t match.

Upon landing this interview I did a whole bunch of research and found out that he’s related to the 4th Earl of Bothwell, James Hepburn, Better known as Mary, Queen of Scots’ third husband. I won’t bore you with the details of the history and why that’s so interesting to me (it’s covered in the podcast) but suffice to say, the Scottish history geek in me was happy to have a chat about all of that with Andy.

He’s probably one of the coolest, most laid back people I’ve spoken to so far and this chat is one of the easiest I can remember. Honestly, if you don’t love him already I guarantee that you will after this episode.

Highlights include:

  • Being in a Yahoo Newsgroup about James Hepburn
  • Getting teary eyed about Scotland
  • Some history about Mary, Queen of Scots, James Bothwell and the oldest house in Glasgow
  • Why he started to look into his heritage
  • Making the conscious choice to write lyrics based on historical fiction
  • Coming from a line of storytellers and seeing himself as an oral storyteller
  • It was kind of like making a reading list
  • It was rappers who were storytellers that drew him towards hip hop – Lord Finesse, Big L, Slick Rick and Ghostface and underground New York hip hop
  • Battling is not art, it’s sport. It’s not about creativity; it’s about making fun of someone. It’s also about being precise at a thing and really good at a thing. It’s a weapon.
  • But Andy was going to theatre school – battling and studying performance weren’t gelling for him
  • It took a while to let the art knowledge and theatre training to bleed into his music
  • Theatre informs his performance – he is playing an elevated version of himself
  • Seeing the live show and the album as two different things – shows should be parties, albums are made to be absorbed
  • Both punk and hip hop have a need to throw a party, even if the music isn’t about the party
  • Yet there’s also an angry energy which drives the music
  • Moving to Minneapolis because of the hip hop scene
  • Being a rapper for 20 years
  • The way he’s incorporated many different literary techniques into his lyrics
  • How Shakespeare opened his eyes to the sheer complexity of writing
  • And the way Shakespeare essentially gave him a new appreciation for art
  • Becoming a better songwriter as time goes on and taking the influence of pop rap to make things more elegant
  • The lyrics and the music need to combine together to do the job
  • What the vibe of the new album is about
  • Using different vocal styles and developing a new language for each album
  • Making music more simple than ever before
  • And being very proud of his new album

I’m continually blown away by the generosity of the people I’ve interviewed – they really don’t have to give any time at all to some idiot with a microphone but I’m so glad that they do. Andy was an excellent guest and given his storytelling background, you can quite clearly see the raconteur at work in this interview.

I hope you enjoy it. It’s one of my favourites.

Featured Music

Intro: Voodoo Puppets – Electric Chair Blues (used under CC licence, you can check it out here).

Astronautalis – The Wondersmith and his Sons
Astronautalis – Sike!

I make no claim to the copyright of any of the music in this episode.


Go follow Astronautalis on Twitter and like him on facebook. His new album will be out through Side One Dummy next year, but you can check out the song Sike! in the video below. His website is also brilliant.

Image by Marcus Junius Laws. I make no claim to the copyright. See the original here.

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