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We haven’t heard from Aesop Rock since 2007 but that doesn’t mean the MC isn’t working. Teaming up with Rob Sonic and DJ Big Wiz, Aesop has a new supergroup of sorts under his belt with Hail Mary Mallon. Though the show was billed as Aesop Rock, instead we got his solo hits along with new material, as well as some songs with Kimya Dawson. I sat down with Aes, Rob and Big Wiz to talk about the new record, touring and buying kisses. I’m pleased to present the Spectrum Culture interview with the guys from Hail Mary Mallon.

The tour is billed as Aesop Rock but this isn’t necessarily an Aesop Rock show, is it?

AR: A bunch of stuff happened between the time we booked the dates and the time we actually went on the dates. The two main things being we actually managed to finish the Hail Mary Mallon record and put it out and decided to do a bunch of those songs on this tour and the other thing is that we didn’t know that Kimya (Dawson) would be able to join us on the tour. When I originally booked the dates I was like, “Oh, I should just go out and do some dates. I will do some solo stuff and Rob will do some solo stuff.” But we managed to get that group record done. I still do a bunch of solo stuff in the set and we do a bunch of group stuff. Kimya has her own set and do I some stuff with her and then she comes up during our set as well. It kind of turned into this strange thing that it wasn’t originally planned as (laughs).

I am really digging the new record. But why Mary Mallon?

AR: Why Mary Mallon?

RS: When we were kicking around names for it, we kicked around names for nearly 2,000 miles. When we were coming up with it we were in the van and we were like, “Man, what should we do?” We came across all these weird names. Originally we were like, “Man, we’re so influenced by the old school New York stuff going on pre-anything, pre-us, pre-our parents.” The old school New York, immigrants everywhere, the melting pot. It had its weird things about it and we felt that Mary Mallon encompassed the strangeness of that time. It’s also cool to know that somebody just never stopped doing what they were doing, no matter who it killed or how many times they were being told to stop. So we liked it. It’s kind of like us. We never stop.

AR: We just keep killing.

(Rob Sonic laughs)

The title, Are You Gonna Eat That? is it like, “Hey man, are you gonna eat?” or is it more like, “Are you gonna eat that?”

RS: I think it can be interpreted in many different ways.

AR: That is what we were hoping would happen with everything about the record.

BW: We were hoping to leave a lot up to interpretation. It’s whatever it means to you at that particular moment.

My favorite track at this moment is “Breakdance Beach.” I know that was inspired by a photo?

All: No…

RS: It was inspired by a joke I made.

Oh, someone told me it was…

RS: Ah! No, no, no, no. The original idea was because when I was a kid I was in Wildwood, NJ with my parents. I was like this little breakdancer kid who didn’t ever want to leave breakdancing ever. My parents dragged me there and I was essentially a jerk the entire trip. I basically was so about breakdancing that I was at this beach resort with these families. I was like 10 or 11 years old and I was mean-mugging as they passed. I was just being crazy. Eventually, during a family photo I did a freeze in the sand to protest (all others laugh). This was my way of rebelling against the fact my parents just wanted me to come out and have a good vacation with them. Fuck that shit.

Do any of the other songs also have left field inspirations?

AR: Probably all of them.

RS: Yeah, all of them.

AR: That song “Grubstake” is just because we always eat at this place the Grubstake when these guys are in town. I don’t know, we’ve all been touring together for a long time so there are probably a lot of inside jokes in there somehow. We’ll understand it among each other but not consider that no one else might understand what the fuck we’re talking about (laughs).

RS: We make a lot of funny references in it that are definitely related to things we’ve talked about in the past or just general weirdness that goes on while we travel with each other.

Aesop, collaboration didn’t seem like something you did much in the past but now you’re working with groups of people.

AR: Yeah, what the hell is wrong with me? I don’t know. Yeah, it does seem like that (laughs). I dipped my toes it and realized it was actually really fun. A lot of started when I produced that Felt 3 record and then we started working on this record pretty hard. I’ve been doing solo stuff the whole time but I haven’t really wrapped it up because I found doing this Hail Mary Mallon record to be more of a break and more fun. A lot of the time, the solo stuff can be a challenge and puts you in a different headspace that can be a hard thing to tackle. This just kinda occurred (laughs). It just happened with everyone getting together and enjoying themselves. It seemed like a low pressure project. Same thing with the stuff I’ve been doing with Kimya. We’re just writing songs and not worrying too much. I think you comb over the stuff more when it’s like, “Your next solo record.” You end up sitting there like, “This must be perfect. Every hi-hat has to be in place.” Most of the beats on the Hail Mary Mallon stuff were beats we already had around. They weren’t polished off yet but a lot of it was already done and building off stuff that we had sitting around as opposed to getting in this headspace where you’re sitting down like, “I’m going to make this epic song!” Yeah, I hadn’t ever done the collaboration stuff ever but in the last couple of years I’m just enjoying that a little bit.

Yeah, the Hail Mary Mallon stuff feels lighter than your solo work.

AR: Yeah, I don’t know. People are saying that and I guess it is. I got people like, “This is a party record!” But I don’t think we knew that until people starting saying that (laughs). We were like, “Oh man, this is really sinister.”

RS: We are actually talking about some shit that we never talked about on our solo records on there that is way darker than any of the shit we talk about on our solo records. I don’t understand it.

Maybe it’s the sound?

AR: It’s probably the back and forth.

RS: It’s gotta be that it doesn’t sit in a certain space. It stays light, vibe-wise.

What kind of sinister stuff are you talking about?

RS: Like “Garfield,” the style of that song and the things we’re talking about. Is somebody missing? Because either we did it or not. That chorus is about somebody missing. We’ve either taken somebody out or we’re looking for somebody that’s been taken out.

It’s “Are you gonna eat that?” vs. “Are you gonna eat that?”

(All laugh)

RS: Yeah, there’s just a lot of stuff on that record. “Table Talk” is about pulling into a truck stop and talking about killing people.

To a fun beat.

(All laugh)

RS: Killing a restaurant full of people.

AR: But enjoying it, so it has got to be fun.

RS: But so, I don’t get it. But hey, it’s good. I’m glad we were able to pull that one off.

AR: To me, maybe it’s the fun and playful styles. It’s not that the subject matter gets outshined but the fact that we’re bouncing back and forth and really coming together on the choruses and then everyone has their own parts to add in. I think it makes it more of a playful sound which people tend to associate with parties.

RS: Yeah, my opinion of that is that people think it has an old school feel to what we’re doing. Like the routine-y stuff we’re doing like “Grubstake.”

Yeah, it feels like Kool Keith.

RS: Right, even that stuff back in the day was essentially only party because it happened at a party.

Did you guys have more fun doing the beats or rapping because you trade off?

RS: It was done more like collaboration.

AR: It all snowballed together. We were sitting together doing it for most of it and whoever started the beat, the other guy was right there.

BW: We worked on everything together.

AR: If I was finishing a beat, Rob would be like, “I’ll work on the chorus while you do that,” and vice versa. We just went into a room and everyone took whatever loose ends needed to be tied up for the songs and just did it like that.

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How is working with Rhymesayers rather than Definitive Jux?

AR: It’s been cool! This is the only time we’ve really done anything with them. Well, I did the Felt record with them but it’s the first we’ve had a project signed over there. So far everything’s been cool. We really didn’t get the full push because we wanted to rush the project out so that while we’re on tour we had something new to sell. Originally, we were going to release them ourselves so we could just print them up and sell them on tour. They kinda stepped in and said, “We’ll help you out and put this out.” It really came together quickly. Having all these videos now and having the record actually out there and people are reviewing it and stuff, I think it’s getting more publicity than I think we thought it would because we weren’t going to do that whole thing of putting it out the right way. Rhymesayers helped us do that and at the same time expedited the whole process so we could get it back for our tour. It’s going pretty good. We’re self-contained to a degree, so whatever label it is we’ll just make the shit and hand it in anyway (laughs).

RS: I was going to say I feel like Rhymesayers came in later. It was going to regardless. It was almost to the point where it was done anyway and they came in later and… thankfully they came in so we didn’t have to do it all ourselves and try to manage that whole side of things. It’s much funner to be an artist with any label.

Do you miss Definitive Jux?

RS: I miss certain aspects of it, yeah. It was big for a long time in my life.

How about you?

AR: No.

Do you want to elaborate on that?

AR: Uh-uh.

Aes, like you, I’m an East Coast transplant to the West Coast. What do you like best about being out here and what do you miss most about the East?

AR: I moved out west when I was about to turn 30, that was pretty much 30 years on the East Coast. I was always like, “I’ll never leave New York, growl!” You know? Then one day I was like, “Well, maybe I’ll see what it’s like,” and then I got out of New York and I was like, “Oh shit, I escaped!” (all laugh). I don’t know, there’s just other shit out there. I think the thing I like most is that it’s different (laughs). I really like San Francisco, but it could have been almost anywhere. I think the main thing I enjoy experiencing is not being in New York for a little while. As much as I love it, it eats you alive sometimes.

You don’t have to fight for every bit of space.

AR: Yeah, I don’t know what it is. It’s just a different vibe and it’s not like, “Cali’s more chill.” It’s just different. You’re in a different town and there are different attitudes. There’s just other shit to explore and when you get into that New York headspace you just kind of get stuck and become that stubborn guy that’s never going to leave New York. Even for the first year I was out in San Francisco I was like, “I don’t know. I don’t know if this is cool or not. I don’t know what I’m feeling. I don’t know if I like this or if I’m a long vacation.” Now it’s been five years and I’m totally into it.

What do you miss the most?

AR: I just have a lot of friends back there and that was a little difficult. It’s hard to find food like easily accessible delivery. But now I can drive my car which was something I couldn’t do out there in New York and I really enjoy driving and listening to music. It’s all give and take. You have to be willing to lose some shit and have your eyes open to gain something else where you set up shop.

I miss the pizza the most.

AR: That’s true, but we have a couple of good pizza spots.

Wiz, do you live in New York still?

BW: I’m kind of between New York and Houston.

So you know what I’m talking about.

BW: Yeah. The big things I miss are the food and the accessibility. The culture of New York. All the neighborhoods out there are so full of culture and a sense of community. Other places are just kind of sterile. It’s just like a neighborhood. The 24 hour accessibility to pretty much whatever you want is big.

Aes, the city of New York itself is a big character in a lot of your rhymes. Since you’ve resituated yourself, have you had to recalibrate your art to take in the differences of San Francisco?

AR: I think a lot of the stuff I wrote about New York was because that was my environment. I think it was more my surroundings rather than the fact it was New York. That character is removed from the stories but I live somewhere else now so there is other stuff to absorb. I think with mentioning New York so much it’s an example of becoming a product of your environment. Now San Francisco has a totally different vibe and things to offer that doesn’t have. It is now a character just because I live there.

I am just wondering how it will flavor your work.

AR: I don’t know. Most of None Shall Pass was written in San Francisco. It’s not like I’m coming up with some G-Funk shit now but I do hear that. People are like, “Oh, what’s the Cali influence going to do to your music?” It’s not the Cali influence, it’s just that I’m somewhere different. I’m not going to make a California-style record, I don’t think. I think wherever you live it’s going to work itself into it. If I lived in Juneau, Alaska then that would be the surroundings that crept into whatever I was writing about. San Francisco is another metropolis but there is also so much exploring I’m still doing out there. I have been there for five years but there is shit there I still don’t know about and I’m always discovering new things. That’s a cool angle to take. Being somewhere and not knowing where the fuck you are (laughs) and figuring it out over time. A lot of New York stuff was a relationship I built with that town for my whole life.

Rob, how does this new group differ from the Sonic Sum?

RS: Oh, tons different! Sonic Sum was like way less hip-hop in the way things came about. The way that thing is, those guys would all get together and make beats and they would hit me. I would then decline or accept and then write the songs. It was all very separate. I feel like the focus on that was more about the music than actually the vocals and we were setting out to do that. Sort of an anti-rap rap record. So that had a lot to do with the production more than anything. We were going for a trip-hop sort of thing. We let the music carry everything, we mixed the vocals lower. It’s not really going to be focused on the MC. It’s going to be about this body of work as opposed to just one of us in particular. With this we were all working together to create a record that we wanted to do if we ever did a record together.

Did the idea for this germinate during None Shall Pass?

RS: Probably on that tour. The way it really started was we were like, “Maybe it’s good that we have music to do on-stage that we’re all involved with.”

So tonight you’ll be doing some of your stuff too?

RS: Nah, I’m not doing any solo stuff. I’m just worried about pushing the Mallon record right now. Obviously, people are here to see Aes’ solo stuff too. That has to be done. If it were up to me, we would do a whole thing of Mallon shit.

I didn’t even know the show was Mallon until last week.

RS: That’s fine. That’s all good. So it’s a specialer treat. For me, I don’t even have any of my own merch with me.

You can sell pictures with yourself.

RS: I was going to sell kisses. A dollar per kiss. Would you buy one?

Yeah, sure. Why not?

RS: Sick!

But I don’t have a buck on me.

BW: I’ll loan you one (all laugh).

Are you still New York?

RS: Yeah, the Bronx. Always the Bronx.

The Bronx is an interesting place.

RS: It is. It’s got this hold over me and it always has. My grandparents are from there and I feel an extremely close connection to it. It’s the only borough I feel is untouched by the influence of people from other places with a lot more money than the people from there.

Except for Riverdale.

RS: Well, yeah but even somehow that has always seemed to be like that even before Manhattan got fixed up. There’s now more people from Iowa in Manhattan than people from Manhattan. But Riverdale was always there… and rich.

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And you’re going back and forth between Houston?

BW: Yeah.

I haven’t heard anything good about Houston.

BW: Have you heard anything bad about Houston?

I hear it’s a swamp and it’s hot.

BW: It is hot and humid. But if I’m home, I’m usually in the house working on stuff, so I’m not hanging out. Unless I have a friend in town doing a show and then I’ll go out. But if I’m home I’m usually in my house. I make sure my house is nice with air-conditioning and we have the pool. So I can take the swamp.

Where are you from in New York?

BW: Spanish Harlem and Brooklyn.

RS: That’s the meanest thing I’ve ever heard said about a place.

What’s that?

RS: “I’ve never heard anything good about…”

Well, it’s true! Sorry!

BW: I think it’s fine, but it’s not everybody’s cup of tea.

RS: Usually I’m used to people being interviewed saying things like that (laughs).

BW: It’s got its pros and cons like everywhere else. There’s definitely things I don’t like about it, but there are things that I like.

Notice a lot of political differences down there?

BW: Not really. I don’t think there is anywhere you can go in the country where everybody in that city or state feels the same exact way. You’re going to have people on both sides of the fence.

What brought you there?

BW: I spent half my life there and half my life in New York and I still have a lot of family there.

Let’s end it with Aesop Rock. What are your favorite Aesop Rock songs?

RS: My favorites are “Winners Take All,” “Dark Heart News” and “Face Melter.”

BW: That’s hard for me. Depending on what mood I’m in, I will give you a different answer.

What about “a someone dissed your hometown” mood?

RS: How about the song about the guy that told you Houston sucked?

Fucking up the interviewer.

BW: Yeah, “Face Melter,” definitely. “Fast Cars” and “Night Life.”

RS: Did you like the way that the two that I liked happened to be the ones I produced? (laughs). Did you notice that? Were you paying attention?

I heard ya. I just let it slip because I already cashed in my asshole chips with this guy.

RS: If I had produced more they would have been up there too.

At least you’re modest.

RS: (laughs) There’s no time for that in this world.

Will there be a Hail Mary Mallon Two?

RS: I hope so. It was so fun. I don’t know if it’s ever going to happen again because this thing was like not us doing it. The ease was amazing. I know all three of us are extremely self-critical and really tough on anything we do. But that didn’t play a part here. It was almost like we were looking at each other rather than focusing so much on what the hell we were doing. It was like a comradic, which probably isn’t a word, competition.

How fast did it come together?

RS: Well, it took about a year from the time we really put our nose to the grindstone and starting working. This was a broken up year when I was flying to San Francisco to write and record. So, the actual work time was maybe four or five months.

Were there any ego issues?

RS: That’s what I’m saying. It wasn’t this thing where we were focusing like that. On albums being done there has to be a certain amount of egotism involved or you’re not going to push yourself. I was like, “Damn, man. We’re fucking killing this shit!”

(The tour manager comes in and tells Rob that Kimya Dawson’s daughter has requested that he watches her during her mother’s opening set).

You double as a babysitter too? A dollar per hour?

RS: It’s a little more than that, pal.

You don’t kiss the kids, right?

RS: Do I kiss the kids? What kind of babysitters did you have, bro? Works for a dollar an hour and they kiss the kids? What kind of shit is this?

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