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Six years spent on the emcee battle circuit wasn’t enough to get Astronautalis to shake his indie rock roots. The grind of defending his freestyle chops across the nation from high school lunchrooms in Florida, to bus stops in Dallas, and on to secret skate spots in Brooklyn, leading ultimately to the world famous Scribble Jam stage in Cincinnati just gave Astronautalis the mastery over the English language necessary to tell the tales trapped inside his brain all along. For when the battle ended, and the mics were cut off, Astronautalis (born Andy Bothwell) would tuck his trophy under his arm, pull his headphones back on, and head home as the walkman filled his ears with everything from Neutral Milk Hotel and The Halo Benders to Tom Waits and The Band. It has been almost 6 years since Astronautalis has entered an emcee battle, but by no means has this wordsmith been in hibernation. With three full length albums under his belt, over 1,250 shows on his vocal chords, and almost 350,000 miles of touring on his Honda, he has been busy crafting his calculated balance between hip hop, folk, and American indie rock, both in the studio and out on the road.
Coming from a long line of soldiers, spies, rapscallions, and railroad men, the life of a drifter came naturally to Bothwell; and it was there, out on the road, that Astronautalis honed his craft. Shaping the spoken swagger and acerbic aggressions of his old life as a battle rapper into a silver-tongued sweet talk that is as much a sermon as it is a seduction. Taking the stage with nothing more than a mic, a laptop, and his requisite handkerchief, Astronautalis has sweat out stories for crowds across North America and Europe, slinging snake-oil in support of artists as diverse as Atmosphere, Daniel Johnston, 2 Live Crew, Bill Callahan, Why?, Gym Class Heroes, P.O.S and more.
Astronautalis finally took a reprieve from the road last year to record his third and most refined album to date, “Pomegranate”. A treasury of tracks that is equal parts folk, hip-hop, and historical fiction; composed under the guidance of Grammy nominated producer and engineer John Congleton (Explosions in the Sky, The Thermals, Modest Mouse) and backed up by the most unlikely band musicians to ever collaborate on a hip-hop record (featuring P.O.S and members of The Polyphonic Spree, Midlake, and The Paperchase). “Pomegranate”, plays out like a collection of short stories, each song as varied in style and sound as they are in subject and character. One moment Astronautalis plays a sweet talking con-man seducing you out of house and home on the dark piano driven, “The Wondersmith and his Sons”; next he is a crossing the Delaware with George Washington himself in “The Trouble Hunters”, an epic fight song that somehow seems to channel the story telling spirits of Bruce Springsteen and Against Me! over funk drums and Miami bass. Each song spins a unique tale of love in the face of obligation and obstacle, told through the eyes of white-collar criminals, haggard opium runners, beleaguered farmers, and noble alpine mountaineers. With such a scope of subjects spanning over the colorful cadre of characters, it seems as if Astronautalis must have lived a thousand lives in his 27 years.
This is where it all comes together, where Astronautalis hits his stride, and those years of battling blend seamless with that endless highway, the pugilist becomes the poet, the storyteller becomes showman, and somehow, strangely, the idea of indie-folk-historical-fiction-hip-hop starts to actually make sense.
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