Seattle-based artist Astronautalis, aka Andy Bothwell, is a poster boy for genre-busting. He is often referred to as a “rapper” in the music press, but that description only scratches the surface of what he does on his albums and onstage. Part performance art, part confessional one-man show, part music act, Astronautalis exists outside the boundaries of any one-word description.
“I grew up skateboarding, and when I wasn’t out skateboarding, I was watching skate videos,” Bothwell says. “The amazing thing about skate video soundtracks is that they bounce around like crazy; one minute it’s a Wu-Tang song and the next it’s a Pavement song. Coming from that, there was never a reason for me to stick with one thing.”
Many of Astronautalis’ songs probably wouldn’t be classified as rap music at all if not for the inclusion of glitchy beats and rapid-fire rhymes. There’s quite a bit of singing, and the lyrics have much more in common with classical poetry and English literature than urban street culture.
“My older brother came home from college one year and he was suddenly into rap music,” Bothwell says. “I thought I hated rap — I loved Nirvana — but he gave me a cassette that had Lord Finesse’s Return of the Funky Man on one side. It introduced me to a world I never knew existed.”
It was then, at age 13, that Bothwell decided he would become a rapper. He kept it secret for two years, practicing on his own, in private, often while walking the family dog. It wasn’t until he was 15 that Bothwell unleashed his new skills on an unsuspecting audience.
“I started battling kids at school and it turned out that I was always winning,” he says. “I think all that time I spent alone, a lot of times not even rapping out loud but in my own head, helped me develop my freestyling. It became a kind of discipline.”
It has been two years since the last Astronautilus album, 2008’s Pomegranate, but Bothwell has kept busy touring and working on new material. His next step, he says, is to begin playing out with a full band — something he’s never done before.
“Right now it’s just me and my laptop and the audience,” he says.
“I’ve always wanted to incorporate a full band. I have a desire to see how far I can stretch the genre and find more and better ways to make rap music.”
Astronautalis plays with Bad Penmanship and Flying Spiders featuring Som Jordan • Sun., Oct. 10, 7 pm • Aclub • Tickets: $8, advance; $10, door • All-ages • Visit: http://www.ticketswest.com • Call: (800) 325-SEAT