Wir sitzen im Verwaltungsgebäude der Arena Wien, Astronautalis begrüßt uns freundlich und versucht dann, seinen Merch wiederzufinden – der scheint nicht wie gewollt angekommen zu sein. Davon lässt sich der Rapper nicht die Laune vermiesen, denn gerade an diesem Tag hat er einen großen Schritt getan: „Her father said yes today„, weiht uns er in seine Heirats-Pläne ein. Etwas verschmitzt fügt er hinzu „Technically, I haven’t even proposed to her.“ So sitzen wir nun einem überglücklichen Astronautalis gegenüber, der uns fast eine gesamte Stunde mit Geschichten, Anekdoten und Lebens-Weisheiten bereichert. Wir hatten sichtlich alle ein Interview der etwas anderen Art. Herzlichen Glückwunsch zur baldigen Hochzeit!
Bilder und Worte zum eindrucksvollen Gig in der Arena gibt es hier.
Fotos: Moritz Nachtschatt
Interview: Nadine Niederhausen & Wanja Bierbaum
Mitarbeit: Nina Nagele & Marlene Rosenthal
The Message: The Urban Dictionary says about you that you’re „the best deep underground rapper. Known for his deep rhymes and different beats. He takes Eminem’s title for best white rapper.“
Astronautalis: I wrote that myself! No. That would be funny. I wasn’t on Urban Dictionary before. That’s hilarious. I think it’s really nice. It’s really nice that someone thinks that and it’s always surprising.
Especially the comparison with Eminem.
Yeah, that’s always a weird thing. I think he is one of the best rappers ever and he makes some terrible music. That really breaks my heart. Once in a while he puts up a verse just to remind everyone: I’m better than everybody. But the music he make is so bad now – which really blows me up cause he’s such a talented writer. His two verses on Jay Z „Renegade“ are my favorites. What’s amazing about those verses and about Em is that he can do the most intricate stuff and than say something no one had done before. And no one did it until Kendrick came on. Kendrick is mind-blowing to me. I do what I do and I do that well, I’m very proud of it but there is some stuff that he does that is just like my brain can’t even think like it.
It’s always good to talk about Eminem or Kendrick! So you are a descendent of the 4th Earl of Bothwell. Is that affecting your life in any way?
No there’s no castle waiting for me somewhere. There’s a lot of adoption in my family so there’s only a very small blood relation. I’m gonna get a Scooby Doo letter that I have to spend a month in a haunted castle to get in. It’s just a good story, a really good story.
So with this background of nobility. How did you experience the gap between rich and poor in the US?
When I was young my parents didn’t have much. We lived on a little farm in the middle of nowhere. My father started out as a train engineer and my mother was a teacher. My father is a lot like me. He got kicked out of college for punching a professor and he got his nose broken in bar fights, he traveled all around, he was in the army, he trained West German soldiers during the 70s and 80s. He’s got a job driving trains and did that 30 years, he worked and worked and became the vice president of institution. So when I was young we were not like crazy poor, but we did not have a lot of money, lived in a crappy little house and by the time I was in high school we were pretty well off. It was very up and down for me, but never in my life was I like dangerously poor.
When I moved to Florida, they take kids from the middle-class and upper-middle-class neighborhoods, white neighborhoods, and lower-class and other middle class neighborhoods and they take kids from the rich neighborhoods and the middle-class neighborhoods and send them to schools in the poor neighborhoods and they take the other half of the kids from the poor neighborhoods and send them to schools in the rich neighborhoods. To force integration, both financial and racial. And in most of the south too there is separation between race, but the separation has more to do, in my experience, with class. Because you have very very poor white people too. And through this you’re forced to mix with each other. My school was fucking rough. I was a little redneck boy and I was walking down the hallway and this huge black kid slams me against the lockers. I’m so thankful for that. I’m serious, I might not be a rapper if I hadn’t been integrated in black culture. If I had stayed in the little farming community I wouldn’t have the world view that I have today. Because I met people that are really poor and I saw a part of the world that I never would have seen. The South is a complex place. You’re forced to interact with each other, it’s not segregated by race. Which is very different from the North. I moved to Seattle years later.
But did you experienced racism at school?
For sure, but not as much. It’s a complex thing too, cause you have white kids with the big pickup trucks with the rebel flag on the back driving around with black dudes listening to rap music. A lot of Americans don’t understand, because they don’t experience it. There’s a whole part of America that doesn’t have this interaction with that at all. So when I moved to Seattle, people’s perception of the South was like what they get from TV. Not saying there are no racists there. Now I’ve seen all of America and a lot of the world – there are racists everywhere. It just takes different forms. You might be a white guying that hates black people but you’re probably on the football team with them and you probably get drunk with them on the weekends. I saw racism, terrible racism in the South, but just as much racism in Seattle, in Berlin, in London, in Paris.
But there seems to be a certain rise, like the Ku Klux Klan is getting more members since Obama has been president and lets not even talk about Donald Trump.
Yeah, I mean it’s the same thing in Europe. With Pegida and all that stuff.
We also have that in Austria. Next week are the elections for Federal Presidency and the far-right candidate has a realistic chance of winning.
The thing is super crazy in America, too. I was in Miami shooting a music video and we went to the Everglades, the swamp. We were riding around shooting this video on an airboat. The guy driving my boat was Mexican. I was talking to him like two hours, the whole time out in the swamps. A Mexican guy, voting for Donald Trump. I think you have people that are racist, but you have also a lot of people who are like „Yeah, that sucks but we’re in a position to pick a candidate that sucks the least.“
That’s why Hilary Clinton will probably win?
Exactly. Nobody likes Hilary Clinton. They are two of the least-liked people in politics. Everybody hates them both, but everybody has such strong opinions about who they hate more. All of my liberal friends hate Hilary Clinton, because she is terrible. It’s gonna be more fucking drone strikes and more fucking spying on our own citizens shit. But they are like: She’s not Trump. All my friends in Florida hate Donald Trump – all my fucking republican redneck friends in Florida hate Donald Trump, but they hate Hilary Clinton way fucking more. It’s such a fucked up thing. And it’s the same thing with Pegida and AFD, Alternative für Deutschland. They have the big state elections and they won like 20 percent in some western states, it’s normally just the east.
In Austria the right-wing has something between 40 and 50 percent. It’s insane.
Even before the migrant crisis, this was already happening in the Netherlands, it was already happening in Sweden, Poland. Eastern Europe is always teetering on the edge. My Hungarian friends have been talking about this forever. That’s so interesting to me: Everyone I knew in Western Germany would sort of laugh about Neonazis. And all my friends in the east, like Dresden, are fighting them.
Would you say the US is a democracy?
No. Not anymore. And that’s my problem. You know, I love America. I’m very proud to be an American. Everything our country is founded on is just gone. The dreams are gone. I don’t see the American dream in America.
You studied directing and lighting design for theater, opera and ballet. Where does that love come from?
My parents suggested that I try theater. I auditioned for a play when I was 11 and I got in and I really liked it. I was playing the knight number 3. I had one line. I still remember it, it was: “I get a robe.” That was my first line. And yeah, I loved it. The whole time in high school and university I was rapping, but it was a thing that I did for fun mostly. But the theater was always my number one.
You developed a deep love for Shakespeare – which piece is your favorite?
No question, for sure: Julius Caesar. The most important characters are Julius Caesars, Brutus and his wife Portia. And the best scene, and it’s one of the most difficult scenes, where Brutus is a Stoic, so it’s like a philosophy that you don’t show emotion. Portia and him had this amazing scene together, where she is begging him to feel – there is one scene where she stabs herself in the thigh and she’s like: “I can feel, I can feel pain.” It’s fucking incredible. It’s such a good play. And I am getting super nerdy.
Can you imagine going back to work in a theater?
Yeah, I would love to. I did a performance art piece for my friend’s music festival last year. I built a church with a confession booth inside and this was a mixture of theater and rap music. I played this southern preacher forestalling the whole time and drinking whiskey with gold teeth and a giant rope made out of Florida flags, my girlfriend made that for me. Then people would come in and confess their sins inside the booth and I freestyled absolution. I heard about 300 confessions over two days and probably 15 were jokes and everybody else confessed very real shit.
In connection with the Biennale you said you felt like a tourist in fine art. How do you define fine art or entertainment art?
Oh man, I don’t know the difference between fine art and entertainment no more. It’s tough. I mean it’s interesting too, because the Biennale is nuts. I’ve never been to anything like that before in my life. It’s like the fucking Grammys, it’s the top of the medium of art. People were coming up to me, literally a guy ran off a yacht. A Rupert Murdoch yacht was parked next to him. It’s the sixth biggest yacht in the fucking world. This guy in his crazy outfit was running off of his yacht and was like „I just wanna congratulate you on the performance.“ And I was like what the fuck man. Cause I’m in music, I have fans, I make my living off music, I’m doing pretty well in music, but like I mean I have no fucking yacht. So it’s a different world. This Biennale was very controversial, because the curators change every two years. And this years theme was anti-capitalism which is a really complex image to send when you have six of the ten biggest yachts in the world parked outside and the number one sponsor is Rolex and Rolls-Royce.
Last year they just had 14 people that come up and read for an hour. For months. These people lived in Venice for this piece. This entire run was the piece. And I was like: “Jesus Christ, this is boring as fuck man!“ Because it was just one guy coming up all black and sits there book down and just starts reading Karl Marx to you. And I mean it’s Karl Marx. There’s nothing sexy about that. An estate, an estate, an estate, an estate … its fucking brutal!
Talking about art. You were named by Pigeons & Planes as one of the top 25 indie artists to follow on Instagram. Is Instagram art for you?
I think more like journalism. „Journalism“ in quotes. Because I take photos. Sometimes I think I take something that’s artistic. I have a harder definition of art than I think most people have. I’m mostly critical about what art is. People be like „He painted a stormtrooper in the middle of Michelangelo, it’s art!“ It’s no fucking art, it’s a postcard.
But it’s a Stormtrooper – it has to be art!
Yeah, it’s art. My opinion is not that popular, because I’m much more critical. I mean that’s cool, but it’s not art. Sometimes I think maybe I come close to taking photos as art but it hasn’t felt like art to me yet. The closest I have come to art is when I’m pushing into territories that make me uncomfortable. My photos almost never feel like that and I have friends that are photographers. My intention for taking photos is that I get to see the world in a way that other people don’t get to see it, or I get to see more of the world than most anybody ever gets to. I show up in a town and there’s always ten- or five hundred people that are so excited that I’m there that when I say „Hey guys, take me around and show me things“ half of them would be like „Come stay with me, eat breakfast with me, here are all the cool things in my town, let me show you this weird cave“. Which happens all the time when we have a day off. I like telling stories and I feel it’s an obligation of mine because my life is a luxury. And it would be a shitty thing to not share that with people.
Ok, so I have one last question. Dimitri Mendeleev invented the periodic system – what’s the connection to your song with the same title?
He also created what is the Russian modern standard for vodka. So Russians are very proud of him and of that – maybe more than of the periodic table. The legend about the periodic table is that it came to him in a dream. He took trains all over Russia to teach classes. And he had a lot of time on the the train and had a deck of playing cards and on the them he wrote down all of the periodic elements. And he sat at the table on the train and just moved them around trying to figure out how to arrange them. One night when he was asleep it came to him in a dream to arrange them by atomic weight.
I’m not a religious person. I’m probably agnostic at best. I lean to that side but I’m not gonna tell anybody that they’re wrong. But when you look at the periodic table and you see all that and you see how that works as a system it’s religious – it’s magic, it’s beautiful. It’s a thousand things that you can’t describe and it’s more than exciting.
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