Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson
(Appeared in the April 26, 2011 edition of Black Book Magazine Online)
There aren’t many artists who’ve attempted to fuse folk and rap, and fewer still who’ve successfully pulled it off. For songstress Kimya Dawson, formerly of the Moldy Peaches and best known for her solo work on the Juno soundtrack, and rap icon Aesop Rock, a member of the Weathermen hip hop collective, the merge was seamless. On May 10, the unlikely pair will hit the road together on a joint tour featuring works from both artists’ upcoming albums, as well as a barrage of collaborative tunes. We caught up with Rock and Dawson to discuss joining forces, memoriam music, and the importance of not shutting up.
How did you connect in the first place? Aesop Rock: I sent Kimya fan mail like 4 years ago. I was like, ‘Dear Kimya Dawson: My name is Ian. I make rap music and you probably hate it because your old band, The Moldy Peaches, had a song called “Rap Sucks.” But I’m on tour and I’m listening to your records a lot and it’s helping keep me calm,’ and she wrote back something like, ‘Coooooool, have fun with my album. Fuck off.’
Kimya Dawson: [laughing] I did not.
AR: Three years pass. I was starting this blog with a couple friends called 900 Bats and then I was like ‘Let me hit up this Kimya Dawson chick again and maybe I’ll fucking see if she’ll write me a nicer e-mail this time.’ I e-mailed her and I was, like, ‘Hey, we’re going to start this weird online little page where we just throw shit up, music, videos, and pictures and stuff. Would you ever want to contribute to it?’ And then Kimya wrote to me and said, ‘YES I WILL contribute as long you give me a beat for my new album Thunder THIIIIIGHS!’
KD: He made me this awesome beat for a song…then I was like ‘Why don’t you do something for this [other] song? Why don’t you do something for that song?’ and then six songs later, he’s all over my record. Then we went to karaoke and made some videos so that I could be on the blog and now we’re making an album together.
Was there a particular moment when you thought, This could be an album? KD: Well, we went on an adventure together in November. It was like a funeral tour basically. We did some memorial stuff and then we were like, ‘Oh, maybe we should try to write some songs together.’
AR: What happened was, a friend of mine named Mikey Larsen, who rapped under the name Eyedea, passed away, and he happened to be a big fan of Kimya. We were both invited out to perform a memorial show in Minneapolis. Around the exact date of that show was the anniversary of the death of a friend of Kimya’s.
KD: It was a birthday of a friend who passed away.
AR: We just lumped [the two events] together and made this trip. It was kind of a sad…but it also was a bunch of discussions over heavy stuff like the death of friends, which is what we both started writing about [after the trip was over]…
That’s a heavy way to get to know someone. KD: It’s kind of a good way, to say, “Wow, we’ve both seen some dark days.”
AR: [laughs] It’s a fucking terrible reason to bond…it was oddly a subject that kind of brought us together, writing wise. We’ve both had some loss so we can write about it. Early on, it was more group therapy than music.
Aesop, you’ve said in interviews that you didn’t want to collaborate with anyone, but you’ve done just that, not only with Kimya but also with Rob Sonic and DJ Big Wiz for side project Hail Mary Mallon. What made you change your mind? AR: I don’t know. For some reason a solo record is more of a task and this collaboration just came at me very organically. It felt right to write these songs at the time.
KD: When I think about the word “collaboration,” to me it feels more intentional. It’s almost choreographed, like this person and this person get shoved in a room together and make a record and that’s their project. I feel like with the stuff we’re doing, we’re like a group. It feels like we’re a band, not like a collaboration. We’re just going to keep writing songs because we write well together and we enjoy it and it’s more natural.
AR: I agree with that. If I said anything bad about collaborating, it’s because it becomes formulaic on a solo record to be like, ‘And here are my two-to-three vocal collaborations.’ At one point you’re just like filling out a form.
Stylistically, you guys are coming from two very different genres. How did you know that your styles were going to mesh? KD: I still have a hard time seeing our stuff as very very different. I feel like I’ve never met someone more like me. The instrumentation is different, but that’s about it.
AR: Listening to Kimya records, she’s got like a 1,000 lyrics on there. She takes writing seriously and that’s probably what hooked me in the first place. I’ve been criticized for overwriting or having way too many lyrics in my stuff. When I heard Kimya’s music, I was like, “Ah, this chick can’t shut up!”
KD: Can I quote that? That’s the best review of me ever. That’s going to be my fucking epitaph.
AR: All of those differences weren’t that different from where we’re sitting. Yeah, she’s a singer and she plays guitar and I do the beats and I rap, but at the end of the day, a lot of what we do is based around the fact that we enjoy writing these hopefully pretty visual, pretty interesting lyrics.
KD: And a lot of them.
You’ve both said that as you’ve gotten older, your views of happiness and success and music have changed. How so? KD: I don’t feel like my views have necessarily changed. I feel like I’ve never had some big lofty goal. I never thought, ‘I want to sell tons of records. I want to make tons of money.’ That’s never been my style.
A: My view of success? That’s the kind of thing that you don’t know what you want until the week before it’s going to come. If I write a line or a sentence down, my view of success is finishing that song. That’s like a big goal. As me and Kimya started making music, we were like, ‘Wow, we can make a whole record together. This isn’t just a one-off thing.’ That would be a great success in my life to finish this record. I think about each project that way. Just try to finish it.
A Night With Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson tour kicks off May 10. Dawson’s solo album, Thunder Thighs, debuts in July. Rock’s collaborative album with Hail Mary Mallon titled Are You Gonna Eat That? is available for download May 3 and hits stores June 7.