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Atmosphere Q & A

The Slug Speaks

The title of Atmosphere's new LP, You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having, is clearly meant with a touch of irony. On the cover, a despondent looking Slug slumps forward on a ragged folding chair with a cigarette in one hand, his head in the other. Things can't be all bad for Sean Delay, however.

The lyrical half of the well-loved indie Hip-Hop duo has a bustling record label, a wildly popular tour, and substantial mainstream success...all without the help of a major record company. Not that the labels aren't interested. Atmosphere has been one of the most sought after indie acts for years, and the critical success of their current album won't do much to abate the interest. I caught Slug on the phone for a brief conversation just before he started the California leg of his current tour.

SF Station (SFS): Slug, how's the tour been so far?

So far so good. No one's tried to beat us up yet.

SFS: The new album seems to be pleasing the critics. I've read several reviews describing it as your best album.

I've read some reviews describing it as a piece of shit though, so there's a good balance going on.

SFS: Well, how do you feel about the album?

I like it man, I had a great time making it. I think it's the best project that me and Ant [the musical half of Atmosphere] have ever done together. I don't say that because of how talented we are, I say that because of how focused and refined we are. I think that it's been a long time coming for me and him to actually sound like we mean it.

SFS: I was reading an interview that you gave a couple of years ago in support of the Lucy Ford EP. I was interested in something you said...how these days you like to listen to music more for study than for simple enjoyment.

Yeah, that's true for new music. I just don't really give a fuck about new records anymore. Well, that's not true. There are a few records that have come out over the last few years that I actually like. I like both Mars Volta records, I like the new Spoon record...but that's about it man. Especially when it comes to hip hop -- if you're not Outkast, I'm probably not going to be a huge fan of your records. But I'll study them, if only just to kind of gauge what's going on. For the most part, I listen to old rap music. 90% of the music I listen to is from somewhere between 1984 and 1989.

SFS: It's interesting that, at least in terms of new music, you primarily listen to rock artists.

Well yeah, that's because lyrically nobody's really going to impress me anymore. I write lyrics, so now when I listen to lyricists I mostly think "Whoa, this guy's better than me", or "Whoa, this guy isn't as good as me".

SFS: Speaking of rock bands, the Hold Steady are getting a lot of exposure right now. You have an interesting history with that band.

Yeah, yeah. Craig Finn [lead singer and lyricist for the Hold Steady] and I. Our girlfriends used to work together at a coffee shop a long time ago…. They got us to hang out one day and we clicked really hard and started drinking beer and smoking pot together on a regular basis. This is back when he was in a band called Lifter Puller. I ended up becoming friends with the whole band. In fact, the drummer from Lifter Puller is on our tour bus right now sleeping on my bunk. You know, it's that Minneapolis shit. It's a small big city. It's the kind of city where everybody has had beer with everybody and everybody has had sex with each other's girlfriends. It's just one of those things, you know, but I would say that Craig and I definitely clicked a little harder than most.

SFS: It seems like Minneapolis has been producing some pretty interesting music of late. Why do you think that is?

It's always kind of had that going for it -- it's just a question of what ends up clicking outside of the city. But the city is very self-sufficient. It's so far away from every where that you get a long time to woodshed your shit.

SFS: Is there quite a bit of locally successful music that never really leaves Minneapolis?

Yeah, actually, Minneapolis is funny because you can have a relatively successful band there, actually pay your rent, and still have nobody outside of Minnesota know who the fuck you are. And it's a catch-22, because I've seen bands that hit that phase and become content. They never even try to reach outside of Minnesota. They create a ceiling for themselves. It's a delicate thing. I mean, we can play a show in Minneapolis and probably attract 5,000 to 6,000 kids. For one fucking show! Shit dude, if I do that 3 times, I can pay my rent for the year! You know what I mean? That's the catch-22 that so many people get caught up in.

SFS: Do you think that Minneapolis was instrumental in your success?

Definitely. It formed and shaped our ethics and defined how we went about distributing our music. You know, being from somewhere like Minneapolis -- we didn't really have much of a choice. You know this whole "independent is fucked" thing that all the rappers have played over the last ten years? Well, we didn't play it because we were so defiantly anti-industry. We did it because we didn't have a choice! The industry just didn't give a fuck about rappers from Minneapolis. Rather than moan or complain or gripe about the fact that labels weren't looking at us, we just said 'fuck it', and started self-releasing records. We started building it all ourselves. And I think that's very important. If I was from New York I'd just be another little fish in a big pond.

SFS: Is there anything specific you'd like to say to your fans?

Stop doing cocaine. It's a stupid fucking drug dude. If it doesn't wreck your life, it'll totally turn you into a piece of shit for a couple of hours. Do pot and ecstasy instead. Do drugs that make you smile. I mean, self-medicating is self-medicating. Everybody fucking does it, whether you're doing drugs, or you're on Lexapro, or you just love music, or you like to fuck the pain away. Whatever you do to self-medicate, that's your business. But be smart about it. Cocaine is just dumb. And beyond that, cocaine is one of the most evil sub stances on the planet in terms of the exploitation of people. You've got children picking coca in South America at gunpoint, so that suburban white art kids can fucking sniff it. That's fucking great. I think there should be a movement to beat the shit out of coke dealers. Especially nowadays. All the coke dealers don't have guns anymore, like they did in the 80's. We should just start whupping the shit out of them.