Every once in awhile in the music industry, an artist comes along who can’t really be considered part of the mainstream, but calling them underground doesn’t feel quite right either. Hip hop artist Aesop Rock falls into this gray area. In a genre where tracks and albums are usually churned out as fast and flashy as possible, Aesop has taken the opposite approach, and in doing so has amassed an impressive cult-like following of fans who are more than willing to wait for something more lyrically driven and personal.

While he has released dozens of compilation and collaborative efforts since his debut project “Music For Earthworms” in 1997, he has only released five more solo albums in the 20 years since. Recently Aesop Rock fans have had cause to rejoice, as the artist just released his sixth studio album—his first since 2012. The Impossible Kid’s (Rhymesayers Entertainment) quirky promo videos and preview tracks spread like wildfire among his following. After hearing rumors of barn living and scoring dystopian Sci-Fi films, it seemed prudent to chat with Aesop himself. He plays at the Catalyst on Tuesday, May 10.


After making your name and living in New York and moving to San Francisco, you lived in a barn in the middle of nowhere for a while.

Well, the barn was temporary. I moved from there and have been in Portland now for going on two years. I mean it was just that—a nice temporary getaway. I was just wasting money, and looking for a reason to go chill, make some music, and not think about much else. I’m not sure if I could do it forever, but I’m also at a place in my life where I don’t have much tying me down, so if an opportunity of that nature comes up, I can take it. Ultimately I just made a lot of beats and got a good chunk of the new album carved out, and then finished all of it once I moved back to a city.

Over the years, you and your partner built a whole new genre of music and hip hop. At the same time, you created a new way to make it as a non-mainstream artist before music sharing sites like Soundcloud and Bandcamp. Were you at all conscious of what was going on around you at the time?

I don’t think I really thought in those terms, I was just kinda making my songs and moving forward. I guess I was the right age for when a bit of an indie hip hop movement was happening around me, but really I was just trying to get in where I fit in. I still have a hard time seeing it from an outside perspective, it’s really always just been about making something creative and finding a way for others to hear it. You don’t really realize you’re even part of a scene until way after it happens—at least for me.

While you have released dozens of compilations, singles and collaborations since your debut project Music for Earthworms in 1997, you’ve only released five solo albums in almost 20 years. In a genre where the solo album is usually churned out as fast and flashy as possible, you have taken the opposite approach for the most part. Was this at all intentional?

I mean, I don’t really agree with the premise of the question here. Everyone kinda goes at their own pace, and I don’t sell a few hundred thousand records. My output just is was it is. The priority is to feel like I did a good job. There’s not really any satisfaction in finishing something that you know isn’t that good, or working to hit a deadline that’s gonna compromise the project. The recent solos have been entirely produced by me as well which takes a bit longer. I wanna be involved in the whole sound of the record and try to not prematurely put something out there that’s undercooked. Sometimes I do collaboration records between my solos just to keep a work flow going and keep it fun.

While your songs have examined family, mental health, and life in the past, your new album The Impossible Kid feels different, almost like your personal hip hop thesis. Is AesopRock the impossible kid?

Yeah, it was a term I kinda made up and mentioned in a song called “Get Out of the Car” on the new one. The line is, “Watch the impossible kid, everything that he touches turns promptly to shit”. It’s just me kinda beating myself up a little. I think a lot of it is just me about to be 40 and going over some experiences. I’ve always kinda struggled to be happy so I write about that. I actually had originally named that track “The Impossible Kid” but decided to pull it and use it for the album.

Speaking of new projects, you are scoring a movie filmed in New York called Bushwick. Will all the music be done by you?

Yes. It’s an action movie set in Bushwick, Brooklyn, directed by Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion. They had reached out and said they were listening to a bunch of my beats during the conceptualizing of the movie. I read the script and thought it sounded like a great thing for me to dip my toes in, something new, but not completely outside my realm. I mean the idea of scoring something is new, but they were naming beats of mine they thought worked and I just thought, well, if I made that beat than I could do this. So yeah, I did all the music. It was a lot of back and forth, I’d send in sketches and we’d see what worked where as they chipped away at the movie. Some of it was just about setting the tone, whereas other parts were really about making the piece dip and dive with the scene as it moved along. Those dudes were awesome to work with—really positive and helped me learn the stuff I needed to learn. We’re mixing the music right now. I’m pretty excited for it to come out.

How was your approach to touring changed over the years?

I definitely used to get really worked up about even the idea of touring. I mean you look at the schedule and it looks insane, but if you just treat each day like one day it’s doable. I’m still trying to learn how to just have fun on stage and not worry about it being perfect or whatever. Just kinda say hey, whatever happens, let’s enjoy ourselves. I like to get a good TV show to watch each night so I have some semblance of regularity while everything else is whipping by. Ultimately it’s just a job, and if you take the day hour by hour it usually falls into place.

You’ve come to Santa Cruz and played at the Catalyst before. Any favorite parts of town, activities or people you are looking forward to seeing again?

We’ve been there a lot, but honestly so much of my travel is based on hotels, green rooms, and stages. That’s basically what I see. Occasionally I’ll get time to take a stroll or get a solid meal, but I’d be lying if I said I had specific plans there. Still, that town has been good to us for a long time and it should be a fun one.

Aesop Rock plays The Catalyst on Tuesday, May 10.