Singer/songwriter Charles Andrew Bothwell, better know by his stage name Astronautalis, brings a breath of fresh air to contemporary music. Though most would describe him as a rap or hip-hop artist, just a few minutes spent listening to his music reveals hints of so much more than one genre in his lyrics and sound.
He took a few minutes out of his weekend to discuss his musical vision, philosophy and upcoming projects on the horizon including his concert Friday at Mike 'N' Molly's:
Q: Were you always interested in music even from a young age?
A: It sort of came to me after starting school for theater. I wanted to be a director while I was there then, and I was working on music just for fun. And eventually I got some opportunities for tours and stuff, and I figured I would give it a whirl.
Q: How did you decide on the name Astronautalis?
A: I thought it sounded cool when I was 15 (laughs).
Q: Is any of your musical training formal, or is it all self-taught and draw from listening to music?
A: I went to school in theater, so I took most of my process from that and applied it to music.
Q: Your music is heralded for being unique and different. What is your creative process like, and how would you describe your sound?
A: Well, my process is sort of academic. I tend to research for anywhere from a year to 21/2 years for a record and try to find a focus. I take topics from academia and use academics to find a creative path. There is a lot of library work and a lot of research. And so that's sort of everything that I know, so I still kind of work in that realm.
And then it's rescripting and repainting and sort of pinning things on the corkboard of my mind, making sort of a world of inspiration for myself to draw from and formulate it.
As far as the sound of my music, I sort of make what I want to make. Sometimes I make rap music, sometimes I make folk music, sometimes I make rock music. I want to make good music.
But it's not necessarily the artist's job to describe their sound. I think it's the artist job to make what they want to make, and it's the job of people like you to describe what it sounds like.
Q: Is there a particular or consistent message you aim to communicate in your music?
A: There are things that I am constantly interested in and there are definitely some repeated themes throughout my work. I always seem to be drawn to passionate people and people who are audacious lightning bolts with passions and drives. Those are the kind of characters that tend to crop up in my work. People who are working in the pursuit of their passionate drive.
Q: What's the biggest difference in your music now from when you first started? Have you seen yourself evolve at all?
A: I certainly hope so. I would be sorely disappointed in myself if I hadn't changed at all over the course of a decade. I think my music is better. I think I have a better idea of how to write songs. I've been more focused on the record I am working on. I am more confident in my work, too. I feel like the first few records I don't feel like I was truly making my own music ... and now I feel like I am making my own music and it feels really cool.
Q: What are some of your musical inspirations and who are some of the artists you listen to?
A: I'm all over the place but I listen to a lot of stuff. I listen to a lot of rap music, I still continue to listen to a lot of gangster rap and I listen to a lot of west rap music. As of late I still listen to a lot of southern rap music. But I also listen to a lot of classical music.
There are a lot of people I love and musicians who are my friends, and those are the people whose opinions I tend to value the most.
Q: Can you speak a little about the album you are currently working on?
A: Not really. Because I don't like to talk about it too much but it's still sort of evolving and I'm working with it.
It's sort of seeing people come up out of really rough circumstance and live in pretty rough circumstances in other countries that still continue to make amazing things happen because they need to make amazing things happen, and getting some perspective. I'm still sort of trying to wrap my head around how to make that into a record without making a mushy or political record. I never want to be considered a political musician.
Q: You said your music is political and you don't want it to be? I'm interested in how you feel about music being political. Do you think music should be separate from the political?
A: I think that it's a trap. I think that any musician that tends to be self-righteous eventually gets exposed as a hypocrite. I think you're setting yourself up for failure. We're not that smart, and I think it's the wrong thing to do to spend your entire career telling people what to do with their lives.
There are political musicians who do that well, but they are very rare. Not everyone can be the Clash. Being political can be telling a story of a situation without telling people what to do. And so while everyone is inherently political because they pay attention to the world, and there are going to be political ideas and notions in my music, I don't ever want them to be preachy.
I want to show people the world I see and allow them to come to their own conclusions. I am much more interested in the role of an artist to show the listener a way to see the world that they've never seen before.
Q: Who would you describe as your target audience? What's your fan base like?
A: It really just depends on who comes out. I've never had a big ad or press campaign. Our last record was our most successful record, and as far as press and P.R, it was two people working with a P.R. guy and me. So my fan base pretty much goes by word of mouth, and it is pretty diverse. The show is going to be reflective of whoever has heard of it first in that town.
So in Atlanta I got a bunch of weird punk kids, in LA it was this weird mixture of Mexican gangsters and rappers and this weird mixture of all of these actors and comedians and a couple of porn stars. It sort of varies depending on who has heard of my music because my music hasn't been pitched 100 percent to one group or another.
Q: What are your goals for the coming year? Are there any big projects on the horizon?
A: I want more people to hear my music. I make music for an audience and I want people to listen to it. It just comes down to what kind of record label will like it and what they want to spend on me.
Music is changing. I don't know in a year exactly where my music will be, but I guess that's sort of an exciting thing. I change my inspiration and then work and it and work at it until it's something I'm proud of.
Q: Is there something you would like to stay to fans who have been to one of your shows in the past, ornew fans to get them excited about your upcoming concert?
A: Get ready to sweat and yell. It's like going to church with a lot more cursing and yelling and sweating.
If you go Who: Astronautalis with special guests Bus Drive and JELWhen: 9 p.m. Friday (Dec. 21)Where: Mike ’N’ Molly’s, 105 N. Market St., CTickets: $12; available at the door starting at 8More info: astronautalis.com/look-at-all-these-tour-dates/