Yes, it's another good weekend to be a music fan in Tulsa, as a couple of the leading independent acts in their respective genres stop in town this weekend. And if you're in an adventurous mood, you'll want to juggle your schedule to accommodate both, as the shows won't be as different as you might initially think.
While anticipating the opportunity to speak with Slug (aka Sean Daley), of indie hip-hop act, Atmosphere, I looked forward to discussing the creative process and what influenced his lyrics. What I didn't expect was a conversation with the voice of common sense and reason behind the rhymes, but that's exactly what I got -- and that's probably why he's at the top of his game.
Long considered one of the leaders in the independent hip-hop movement, Atmosphere became one of the first rap acts to successfully emerge from the Twin Cities area, better known for its rock, blues and R&B artists. What really set the group apart, aside from its prolific output, which has included the seasonal Sad Clown EP series, are Slug's vivid portraits of characters dealing with the struggles of everyday life.
In fact, the lyrics and delivery are so vivid that the stories within are often perceived as autobiographical, something Slug admitted while discussing the new CD, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold.
"Truth be told, even the older records were fictional," he said. "I think people expect, when you're singing in an I/we voice, that it's from real experiences. If that were true, though, I'd be dead from tequila poisoning by now," he joked.
"Ideally, the point behind the song is taken from personal experience, but the story is changed to protect the interests and privacy of myself or others," he continued.
Perhaps ironically, Slug noted an interesting parallel between rap and country music: "With rap especially, but also in country and blues, the artists often comes from a disenfranchised background and the people listening come from a disenfranchised background, so they identify with the music so much, they believe it's real.
"Being older, I know that not all rap music is true. For 16 or 17 year olds, though, with everything they see and hear, they are kind of conditioned to want to believe it because it's a more exciting lifestyle than what they know," he said. "And ultimately, we end up glorifying that lifestyle and conditioning them to want that.
"The problem is rap music doesn't offer any resolution. It's not glamorous to end up in jail, or shot, or whatever. With country, more so, there's some degree of resolution, even if it's just that tomorrow's another day and I'll get up and do it again."
In contrast, Atmosphere's lyrics, especially on the new disc, show a more realistic balance to life, whether it's the single mom struggling to make ends meet and bouncing the deadbeat dad in "Dreamer," or reflecting on the dark reality of a party lifestyle spiraled out of control on "Your Glasshouse." Even the little girl ensconced in the backseat of daddy's rolling office, lulled by rap music from "In Her Music Box" paints an ironic picture of the daughter and her dealer father in a torn family.
"I guess in my own way, I'm reconciling that with these songs. I think partially, artists are unconcerned with reacting to that, but I always try to offer some kind of resolution, even if it's just with codependent relationships," Slug said.
When discussing his outlook on rap music, and his more positive take on the game, Atmosphere's leader "blamed his influences," crediting artists like Chuck D, KRS One and Slick Rick with balancing the good and the bad, especially before the gangsta rap movement.
"'Each one teach one' was the mantra back then, and I'm a descendent of that. Rap music, especially from '86 to '90 was more from the afro-centric consciousness movement, and I still put community first," Slug said.
Well-versed in the hip-hop and rap scene, Slug shook his head saying that even the gangsta rap movement, which he described as originally being a "beautiful thing, getting guys off the streets and employing their friends," turned into a caricature of itself once the industry got involved. That's probably why Atmosphere is doing so well on its own, eschewing the major labels to follow its own path.
"At this point, all the music nerds already know us and know what they think of us, but for people who aren't aware, anyone who might pick this up, feel free to come check us out. If you absolutely hate it, Myspace me and I'll refund your money," Slug said.
Atmosphere is at Cain's Ballroom this Friday night with Abstract Rude, Blueprint and DJ Groove opening, so check it out.
Hitting the Groove
Did Slug really reference "Each One Teach One?" Yeah, he did -- and whether you reference EOTO as the acronym for that phrase, "End Of Time Observatory" or the Japanese word for "good music," you should move the party to Plan B to catch a killer live, improvised house and breakbeat show by Jason Hann and Mike Travis after the Atmosphere show.
Sure, a concert with a couple of former jam-band allstars (both are alumni of String Cheese Incident) may sound like a conflict of musical interests, but I assure you it's not. EOTO's music may not have lyrics, but once you've opened your mind, you'll still want to dance, and that's exactly what this duo's live show is all about.
Born out of downtime from their former band's rehearsals, night owls Hann and Travis admittedly spent their free time jamming into the wee hours of the morning after String Cheese finished practice.
I spoke with drummer/percussionist Jason Hann last week and he explained that the jam sessions started out as a way to hang out and have fun, but eventually took on a life of their own, spawning EOTO. As the two continued to expand on their sound, they started taking advantage of technological advances in order to loop grooves, which lent itself to the electronic music in which the duo is now entrenched.
Once the two musical partners hit the road in 2006, EOTO really took off and now the duo has played nearly 300 shows -- all improvised on a nightly basis -- during the past year and a half.
Hann commented on the band's affinity for crossing boundaries: "From a jam fan point of view, it's completely improvised with live instruments and mixed on the fly, so it's kind of the ultimate jam experience. From a DJ point of view, we blend a lot of textures and beats in the moment, which in the studio, could take weeks. And from a dancer's perspective, it's non-stop for three hours. So if you're into any of those movements, you can find something in it for anyone.
"Of course, if you're a tech and gear-head, there's more than enough on stage to keep you satisfied," he chuckled. "We're all about using technology to push this as far as we can."
When discussing the live set up, in which the two sample their tracks in real time, loop them and play over the top, Hann admitted that the biggest challenge was learning to get everything in synch. "We used to be happy if we got one layer down." Now, however, Hann revealed that he can control and layer up to 12 tracks at a time while Travis controls up to nine.
Now, the challenges have changed, with the duo striving to mix things up more and keep the music fresh. "At first, we'd be so happy to layer a groove, we'd jam on it for fifteen minutes. Later, we'd go back and think 'how can people listen to this?'
"In comparison, the stuff DJ's are doing is repetitive, but they swap things out every three or four minutes," he explained. "We spent the first year, trying to get it down to about six minutes and now we're down to three or four minutes before we change things up. The key is keeping it changing all the time. You've got to realize the music is very disposable, but it's also very in the moment."
Having honed its craft, EOTO has not only drawn listeners from the members' previous fanbase (which Hann has assured me was no gimme), it is now winning over fans from the DJ and mash-up scene. In turn, Hann said that the band is now beginning to get offers to play more traditional raves and dance parties, especially from those who aren't familiar with the band's pedigree yet find the music fresh and inviting.
Unlike many touring DJ's, who often go into a show with a planned set list, Hann assured me that all EOTO shows are strictly an improvisational affair. Even within a given night, he shared that the two may revisit a vibe, but they never try to recreate a song.
Anyone not familiar with the group can check out samples of live shows via www.livedownloads.com. "It's wild," Hann said. "Our sound changes so much, even though we may have a certain vibe, we'll sound completely different two weeks later. Our shows sound completely different, especially from one region to the next; it's just how we evolve."
If you're ready to dance or check out a new groove, EOTO takes the stage at Plan B, 520 E. 3rd St., around 10pm on Fri., November 7, and keep the dance party going until they have to shut it down. In my book, your best bet is to catch both shows and let EOTO close out the night.
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