Atmosphere are back with Southsiders

In part 2 of our interview with Atmosphere, Slug talks about the new record, Southsiders, fans, ego, Snoop Doog, Willie Nelson & more.



In part one of our interview, Atmosphere’s affable orator Sean Daley brought Cult MTL up to speed on five years of new music and a prolonged absence from local stages after what seemed like a near-residency throughout the better part of the this century’s first decade.

Making their way east across Canada on their long-past-due North of Hell tour, Slug, Ant and company stop in Montreal at the SAT, Saturday, and in part two of our interview, we talk Tritt, tracks, Willie and Snoop, illness, health, creating awkward and fulfilling spaces, and how and when to know that the future is right, now.

Darcy MacDonald: Am I wrong in assessing that Southsiders has fine-tuned the older and newer approaches to redesign the classic Atmosphere sound and make it an album for the fans?

Slug: The funny thing is, when making this one, I didn’t know what the fuckin’ fans were gonna want. By putting out the two before it, I felt like – and I’m probably not supposed to say this – we created an environment between us and the fans that they didn’t know what the fuck to expect, and I didn’t expect them to get down with what we did next.

So it challenged them and challenged us. There was no comfort zone there anymore. Because the way people responded to The Family Sign was awkward, man. People didn’t know how to take it, and some people were like, “Yeah, I really liked it,” but I could tell they were lying. Me, I love TFS! That’s my record, I got to be selfish with that one.

But going into Southsiders, me and Anthony didn’t know if fans were gonna enjoy this or not, but it also didn’t matter. In fact, I almost wonder…do you remember when Willie Nelson made a couple of reggae records?

DM: I’m aware of his reggae album but not familiar, put it at that.

Slug:  Here’s the thing: diehard Willie Nelson fans didn’t want that reggae record. It was like “What the fuck’s he doing?” And it was interesting but no one necessarily, like…Rolling Stone didn’t give that record a 10 outta 10, you know what I’m sayin’? But the thing was, when he came back to do country records, people were so fuckin’ happy that it created this moment where it was like, “Well, are you liking this because it’s good, or are you liking this because I’m finally back to makin’ country?”

Consider that and then look at what Snoop Dogg did with the reggae shit. And lookit, like, Snoop Dogg is an outspoken fan of Willie Nelson. And so I’m wondering if there’s some sort of relation between Snoop doing reggae shit, too. Because you reach a certain point where it’s like, look, I’ve made 20 fuckin’ reggae albums, or I’ve made 20 fuckin’ rap albums, and you’re just gonna continue to pee on the shit I do because I’m not keepin’ up with these young dudes anymore. Willie couldn’t keep up with all the new Travis Tritts and new country shit in the ’80s — the early ’80s when country radio took over. And so what did Willie do? He fuckin’ changed the rules, and then when he came back, all those people that were lovin’ the Travis Tritts were like, “Nah, Willie is the OG, he’s back, he’s back!”

You sometimes have to challenge the people that love you and even risk losin’ em in order to get them to go, “No, no, no, you’re not gonna lose me, I fuckin’ love you! I’m gonna stick with you even through your worst shit!” You know what I mean? And by no means am I trying to compare TFS to Willie’s reggae record, but what I’m talking about is just the dichotomy of artists and fandom. Because I’ve learned through this process — and this is another reason why the last two records are really important to our career — that it’s totally okay to make records that your fans don’t like. Make records that you wanna make. And that’s the challenge: “Can you guys get with this too? Oh, you don’t? Well, you know – there’ll be another one! We’ll try again. We’ll see.”

But for me, it was important to learn that, especially in the long-term process of trying to shed the ego. That’s the shit that I been working on for the last fuckin’ eight years.

DM: Oh, and I wouldn’t have wanted to interview you 10 years ago. I mean I was always cool to just say hello to you but I was afraid to interview you — fuck that!

Slug: I sucked until I lost my hair. When my hair fell out, when I got alopecia, that was the beginning of me kinda becoming a human being finally. Prior to that, I’d started becoming a caricature of the sex symbol indie rapper, the caricature that was in the songs. And so when I got sick with that fuckin’ alopecia and my hair fell out, it was suddenly like, “Oh shit! What am I gonna do? Am I gonna hide, like, can I?”

But fuck that, nah man. I went out there with a fuckin’ poorly shaved head, and fuckin’ jumped around, and started making music that had nothin’ to do with it. And my response to my hair falling out, and taking away that part of me that felt important because chicks were liking me or some shit — taking that away from me forced me to figure out how to write stories better. It forced me to take a picture and figure out how to turn my live show into more than a buncha just screaming and jumpin’ around. It forced me to really, really take this rap shit serious, and I think that’s why we still have a career.

Otherwise I would have probably been…I would have totally faded out by now. Because how many more Seven’s Travels and God Loves Uglies could I have actually made before people were like, “Ah, that’s boring!”

DM: Well, going back to the Willie Nelson thing, with our artistic preferences, we love to see a comeback but we forget that we are the ones that pushed something or someone down to begin with.

Slug: You know, I’m 41 now and one of the best things that I’ve learned from all this shit is that I am not the biggest part of the sum when it comes to what I do. And what I mean by that is, yeah, you bought a ticket to my show, but if I hadn’t come, you probably woulda gone to see somebody else’s show.

You’re not here for me as much as you’re here for you. This is your identity, this is your moment to escape. Whatever it is, I’m interchangeable. I’m just another fuckin’ army man on the stage. You can interchange me with a ton of other guys. So in that regard, when you have an opinion about this, it’s not really about what I’m doing as much as it is about reinforcing your identity.

And especially to the younger cats who are in their 20s, it’s a huge deal! It’s a really big deal between 17 and 27 to fuckin’ decide who’s a sellout, who sucks, who’s awesome. Which books are cool? Which films are cool? “Nah I didn’t like Donnie Darko bro, that shit sucked to me.” All that shit is about reinforcing your identity. And so I’m just a piece of that, a tool that you use to express who the fuck you are.

So in that regard, I’m pretty much okay with however you use me. You can hate me, you can love me. It’s all the same. As long as you’re using me. Because as long as you’re using me, that means I’m playing a role in your path.

DM: Do teenagers still catch on to Atmosphere or are us fans now really all in our 20s and 30s?

Slug: It’s crazy man. Right now, our shows, they go from 14-year-olds to 54-year-olds. And I don’t know what other rappers have that right now. You know, it’s not like I have a million fans, but I have 200,000 of ‘em. [Author’s note: Atmosphere has over 1.1 million Facebook followers.]

And those kids aren’t just kids. Man, I got kids who come to the show with their parents, and they’re enjoying the music together. So I feel fortunate about that. I don’t know what we did to tap into that. Like, why the youth are still fuckin’ with us, when they have all these other artists that represent them the way they do.

But I feel like the youth, they have us for different purposes. They don’t put me and Odd Future in the same basket. They put on Odd Future when they need to be rebellious, and then they put me in when they need their fuckin’ uncle to say a coupla things to them.

I’ll tell you what man: If you had told me that I would eventually grow up and love my life, I wouldn’t have believed you. At 25 I didn’t think I was gonna live past 35, you know what I’m sayin’? And I don’t mean like, I thought I was gonna die. I just didn’t have a point of reference for it. The future wasn’t really there.

Whereas now, I’m fuckin’ in love with my life. But I have a point of reference for the future. I’m kinda like, yeah man, I’m gonna be 60 eventually, and I’m gonna make sure that shit is dope!

And so it’s funny because recently I watched a bunch of shit on the Internet about how the ocean is dying and all that shit. And the other day I was having a conversation with a homie about it and he said to me, “Man, the fact that you have time to worry and stress about the ocean dying means you’re fuckin’ there! You found that happiness! The rest of us are still stressed out about our marriages, or whatever…”

And I’m like, yeah, you know, you’re right. And I like to think that I’m doing a really great job of handling it all, too. I’m very fortunate. The people that I have around me are amazing people and I’m gonna do right by fuckin’ all of ’em. ■


Atmosphere plays with Prof and Dem Atlas at SAT (1201 St-Laurent) on Saturday, May 31, 9 p.m., $25