Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Concert preview: Sims at Club Dada (September 30)
Lazerbeak and Cecil Otter will open for Sims.
Minneapolis rapper Andrew Sims, known for his thoughtful lyrics often drenched with social commentary, has been making music since he was 14. But it wasn’t until high school, when he met local producer and MC Stefon Alexander (better known as P.O.S.), who would sell him beats for $30 a piece, that he became seriously interested in recording hip hop. These days, both P.O.S. and Sims are part of the partially-underground, partially-well-known creative Minneapolis hip hop collective – a rap group and a record label – Doomtree. There was a six-year gap between his first full-length solo project, Lights Out Paris (2005) and his second, Bad Time Zoo – released in February to positive reviews – but Sims really never quit working. Touring, writing new songs and working on Doomtree kept him busy. Now it seems he’s busier than ever.
He'll be back on tour for the second time this year promoting Bad Time Zoo with Lazerbeak and Cecil Otter of Doomtree. He just released his new EP, Wildlife, as a free download (go get it now). And there’s another Doomtree album in the works. Still, Sims let us catch up with him recently to talk about all of that.
BIJLM: Does Bad Time Zoo as an album tell a story?
Sims: I think it’s relatively open-ended for people to figure out on their own and take away from it what they want to take away from it. I feel like it’s a pretty hopeful record, and it’s about wanting more and demanding more. So I think it kind of tells a story … the idea that if you’re not satisfied you should change something.
Now that it’s been six months since it’s release, what’s your favorite song on Bad Time Zoo?
Oh, I don’t know. I think, actually, “In My Sleep” is my favorite song on the record. I don’t know why it’s my favorite. I think it has a good mood to it. It’s sort of gloomy and dark not like a lot of the other songs on the album.
It’s very different than the rest of the album, I think.
I think so, too. I like the way that it feels spacious in a way. I don’t feel like it’s very clouded or condensed or overly dense. I think it’s got a nice feel to it.
You did an interview while you were promoting Bad Time Zoo where you said you thought it was a good record, but not a great record. Is that how you feel about most of your work after it’s done? Do you feel detached from it?
I think so, generally. Usually when I leave the studio, either I’m hypercritical about a song or I’m super into a song, and either thing kind of neutralizes itself and sort of mellows out after its time. I feel ... definitely so. I think I want a lot more out of myself as a songwriter. And I think that everything I’ve done to this point is good, I’m satisfied with it. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of any of it. I think it’s good music and I don’t feel like I’m embarrassed to sell it to somebody or if they come to shows to see the songs. I feel good about all that. But at the same time, as a songwriter and musician, I want to be pushing myself and expand what I’m doing and sort of feel better every time. So like I said, I think it’s a good record. I don’t think it’s the best record I’ll ever make. I’m really pleased with it. I just feel what I want and what I have are two different things, like what I get out of myself currently and what I want to get out of myself.
What can we expect from Wildlife? Are they B-sides from Bad Time Zoo?
For the most part, yeah. Two new tracks and then three tracks that were B-sides. They didn’t make the record mostly because they didn’t fit. Actually one of the songs I like, it’s probably my favorite songs that I made [for the album], it didn’t fit the feel of Bad Time Zoo. I was going to save it for my next album. But instead of doing that, I’m just going to put it out now. I like it a lot. It’s the first track. It’s called “Lighthouse.” It’s a weird little song, but that’s probably why I like it. It’s a little weird post-apocalyptic story.
Are you going to plan on playing any of those tracks at the shows?
Yeah, I’m going to play one or two of them. For sure, definitely one of them, and we’ll see how it goes. It’s always interesting when you play either new material live or there’s material that’s still untested. You know, there’s some songs you think are like gonna totally kill it live, and they just kind of don’t. And then the songs you don’t expect to be good live sometimes are really good live. So it’s one of those things. We’re gonna start off with some new ones and might add a third, depending on how things are doing.
Okay. Which songs do you think have done really well live from Bad Time Zoo?
I think obviously “Burn It Down,” because the energy is so phonetic and it’s a song that I think a lot of people are familiar with. If they’re familiar with my work, they’re going to at least know that song. A song that doesn’t go that well sometimes is “The Vedlt.” That one I felt would go well live. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s funny, the energy is thicker when you’re performing. You kind of have to make a wave of sorts, ups and downs. When placed correctly, that song is pretty good live. It’s just a challenge like that to balance out the energy in the room.
Speaking of shows, what are some of your favorite cities to perform at besides Minneapolis … or St. Paul?
Yeah, um, I have a whole ton of them. But I guess my favorite is ... Dallas [laughs]. Yeah, I don’t know. Generally, coastal shows seem to be better than Midwestern shows for me, although Chicago being a big exception. But you know, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, L.A. are always good to me. Denver’s really good to me. New York and Philly are always good to me. Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal are always good. I really liked actually playing in Florida. I hadn’t been there in years and I got to there this spring. And Denton is always awesome, but I think I like playing Dallas a lot, more than Denton for some reason. I don’t know why that’s true, but I enjoy my time in Dallas a lot.
Lazerbeak wasn’t on your first tour [for Bad Time Zoo], right?
He wasn’t. I went out with Astronautalis, then came home and then did a tour with Dessa, and he went on that one. And then he’s going to be on this one.
How do you think his presence will impact the live show?
He’s got a lot of energy and he’s playing out the beats live. We’re sort of working together to make that a bigger part of our set. I feel like he adds a certain dynamic to it. It’s not just DJing or rapping. He’s actually playing live, so when he makes a mistake you can hear the mistake. I think that’s cool. He doesn’t make very many mistakes, but when they are there it’s cool because it reminds everybody that we’re creating this music live. The same as when I make a mistake, it’s like, duh, it’s a live set. This is music, there’s mistakes. We’re going to put him up in front next to me, so hopefully his energy will compliment mine naturally. He adds a lot to the show. And beyond that, he’s really good with that energy and making sure the set is doing what it’s supposed to do and flowing the way it’s supposed to flow.
Let’s talk about some of your more personal songs like the hidden track on Bad Time Zoo ["Staring Down the Ocean"] and “Osmosis.” How do you think those songs compare to some of your other work that might have social commentary but they’re not exactly personal?
The way I look at the social commentary songs is they’re still personal in a way. Any song I make is sort of me or where my mind is at. If I’m going to write a song like “Osmosis” ... it’s sort of just whatever mood I’m in and I’ll write something like that. Or if I’m in a mood where I’m thoughtful on what’s happening in a geopolitical sense or social economic sense, I’ll write about that.
Songs like “Osmosis” and “Staring Down the Ocean” are both very meaningful songs to me. The only reason I made “Staring Down the Ocean”as a hidden track is because I didn’t feel it needed to be heard every time the record is heard. I wanted to put it out because I think it’s a good song but at the same time I didn’t need you to go there. If you want to go there you can find. I feel like that was one of things about Lights Out Paris for me was putting “Osmosis” where it was in the record. Not because it’s a bad song but because it takes the mood into a different place.
So, yeah, it’s one of those things where I want to make a record that you can just put on and listen to and have different layers to it. If you want to sit down and listen to the lyrics, you can do that. If you don’t want to listen to the lyrics and just like the beats, you can do that. And if you really want to start breaking down what’s going on within the songs and how those songs are relating to each other … I wanted to make something that was as layered as possible.
I read on your bio that you grew in a working-class suburb of Minneapolis. What impact has social class had on you as an artist?
That’s an interesting question. I guess it’s had more of an impact on who I am as a person and what I think. I want to be true to who I am and my background. I don’t ever try and act like I’m from the ghetto or make songs that are about that, and at the same time, I’m not rapping about Mercedes Benzes and stuff. That’s not my existence either. It just shapes who I am as an individual. I think there’s a lot of economic disparity, especially in the United States but also across the world. But I don’t really want to go all the way out there and start breaking down all those lines for people and I don’t really want to draw a line between myself and anyone else. It’s just a way for me to stay true to who I am.
As far as your solo work, it’s featured some guest rappers like Slug, P.O.S. and Cecil Otter, but that’s never been overwhelming on your albums. How do you feel about guest artists on albums? How do you think they help shape an album?
I feel like collaboration is important. And there’s a long tradition in rap music, collaborating with other artists, so I don’t mind it. It all depends on what the beat needs. Sometimes if the beat feels repetitive, another voice on there can help you make it less boring. You find a lot of the popular rap singles have guest rappers on them. Some of that is the product of the artists being like, “Okay, this beat gets a little tired if I rap three 15 line verses.” It just all comes down to what the song actually needs.
So with “Too Much” [which featured P.O.S.], did you listen to the beat first and decide it needed an extra voice?
Well, I had written a bunch to it and felt like it got a little tired. So I decided to call up Stef and say, “Hey man, get on this.” Initially we didn’t want any guest spots on the record at all. But I think “Too Much” turned out to be a good song. At the time, we just made a bunch of songs and then decided that we were going to deal with that whole pile of songs later and pick an album from these 25 or 30 songs and just see what fit together best.
Is that usually how you work? Do you have some songs you’ve never used from Lights Out Paris?
No, definitely not. Lights Out Paris, every song I made was on there [laughs]. That’s what I wanted to change about the process this time. I wanted to say, “If this song isn’t working for me at the moment, I don’t have to use that song. I can use any other song.” To take the pressure off myself and to take the pressure off the songs…If there was a problem with the song, it’s not that big of a deal to say, “Alright, well, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter.” You don’t have to make the greatest song. You just have to make the song and, at the end of the process, decide whether or not you failed in making a good song. You can’t make a brilliant thing every time. It’s just not possible.
A new Doomtree album is dropping in November. What can we expect?
Expect it to be completely awesome. Super awesome. It’s really weird, but super awesome. There’s not a lot of chorus in it, the beats move a lot of different places. It’s sort of experimental in a way. Definitely not avant garde or abrast rap or anything like that, but it’s challenging in its own way. I’m really excited about it. I think we’re going to gain a lot of new fans and probably lose some old fans. Maybe not lose, but we’re not going to appease everybody with this record. But I think that that’s important to do as an artist, to push yourself and continue to move and grow. Sometimes you make a mistake, but you can’t be afraid to make a mistake.
When you guys collaborate for the Doomtree albums, do you ever run into any conflicts about the direction the album might take?
Yeah, but that’s the nature of collaboration. If you’re a reasonable person, you can work that out [laughs]. We’ve all known each other for so long and we know how to deal with each other very well and we can navigate each other’s demeanor pretty well at this point. You don’t have to watch yourself or anything like that. We do definitely run into disagreements, but we work them out pretty seamlessly.
What music have you been into lately?
I like the new Little Dragon record. You know, to be honest, I haven’t listened to a lot of music in the last couple of weeks. I don’t know why. Sometimes I just take little breaks. But yeah, the new Little Dragon record and SBTRKT, a producer from the UK. I still like the new TV on the Radio record. I think it got mixed reviews, but I think it’s awesome. I listen to a lot of rap and then sometimes I listen to softer indie stuff just to switch it up. So much rap in my life, so much rap [laughs].
You were doing a food blog on the Doomtree site. Are you ever going to pick that back up?
I don’t know. I hope so [laughs]. I want to, but I’m so like ... yeah, lazy, that’s the word [laughs].
I was thinking “busy,” but...
Yeah, no, totally, it’s busy, but there are definitely times where I can find half an hour to make a food blog really quick. I made another one, but it wasn’t very hilarious and I didn’t put it out because it wasn’t very funny. What I wanted my food blog to be was hilarious [laughs]. You know, I set high standards for myself.
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