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Atmosphere - Sippin' Lemonade

Author: Carlisle Rogers
Sunday, 20 April 2008
Carlisle Rogers soaks up the Atmosphere, taking in the primitive rhythms and discussing the pangs of citrus fruit.

With Atmosphere’s sixth studio album, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, the music has taken a decidedly more mature turn, with Slug’s lyrics informed by his own personal ‘lemons’, and Ant’s production geared down a notch, sparsely layered and direct.

Slug admits the minimalism on the production front, but says that it doesn’t come through so crystal clear on every track. “Even Shoulda Known is really full when you break down the layers of tracks that are in there,” he says. “I think the reason a lot of it sounds sparse is because they’re not samples; it’s live instrumentation. The drums are still programmed drums, but everything else is all organic and played. When you’re using samples, all those sounds are condensed to one track and in the studio you’re trying to make that fuller and more open and sometimes it’s difficult and sounds compressed. On some of the songs we used 40 tracks, but they sound sparse; there’s a lot more room for everything to breathe because every single sound can be separated.

“When we started we had all these ideas set in motion for this record, but once we got into it, we lost ourselves in it and just started feeling our way through it. In theory, it was a great idea, but in execution we were like little kids again. At one point we looked at each other and realised we didn’t know what we were doing, but we just kept pounding through and looking for what we enjoy. I’m pretty happy and positive about the end results. I don’t know what other people are going to make of it because when you think of live instrumentation on records you think of The Roots. I don’t think any of our stuff really compares to what they are doing. It’s way more primitive because we didn’t know what the fuck we were doing.”

Slug says his lemons are standard issue, traditional lemons – nothing too fancy. “They are the loss of loved ones, dealing with the paranoia of decision-making, the shadow of progression and all the things that people deal with. The truth is that everyone carries weight, but the argument is: how do you compare one person’s weight to another- If you have somebody who lived a life that wasn’t full of tragedy, that person might get really frustrated and stressed out if you get their brand-new sneakers dirty. How is that frustration not any more valid than the frustration of someone else who might not be able to get along with their wife- I was coming from the place of, ‘why do I, as an artist, always focus on the stress, rather than on what causes the stress or how to relieve it-’ That’s the direction I wanted to go in for this record.

“When I was a kid I didn’t expect the art that I digested to always be this compelling. I used to just love hearing a song that made sense to me, and that I could relate to. I went through a phase as an artist trying to outdo the next underground rapper. I wanted to be more clever and more this and more that. Now, looking back, I realise that I spent a lot of time doing things because I was pressured to do them by outside forces. It was either the genre, or contemporaries, or the fear of not having any fans. Now at 36 I’m starting to remember that wasn’t the motive for why I wanted to be a rapper as a kid. I just wanted to relay straight stories about decision-making and about how to make better decisions, cope with the decisions you made and be optimistic about what you’re doing.”

Which rolls right into the illustrated children’s story included in the limited edition packaging of the new album. Slug says he began the book as a joke, but it grew into a lot more along the way. “From people, artists and fans, who were complaining that they felt like I was dumbing my writing down, I thought if that’s the constructive criticism someone is giving me, there’s got to be something to it. I couldn’t just be defensive about it and I didn’t think I was dumbing my writing down. I decided to consider it, instead of telling them to fuck off, and that was what lit the spark in me. I thought, ‘who do I do this for- Do I do this for fans- For peers- For myself- Or to make Ant laugh-’ For this record, as I was writing the stories, I thought that there was a possibility that people would accuse me of dumbing it down again. I decided to sarcastically dumb it down as far as I could as a joke. I figured that children’s books always tell the story well by speaking very simplistically and decided to make a children’s book to go along with this record to serve as my jab back at people who have accused me of dumbing it down. It’s a ridiculous motive, but I thought it would be really fun and cool to do a children’s book and eventually decided to fuck doing it as a jab, I thought it would be fun to do. It is an accessory to the album in the sense that it tells the same story as the album, but it tells it using different characters and a more simplistic look. The theme is to try to make the best of it, just like the album.”

Perhaps the strangest thing about this album is the list of collaborators that the guys aren’t even talking about anywhere on the record sleeve. “Tunde Adebimpe from TV on the Radio lent me some vocals on one of the songs and we used his singing as a sample. I’ve had guests on my records in the past, but I’m not the guy who puts ‘featuring’ stickers on my records. I don’t even think their names are on the back of the records, you have to read the liner notes to find out who the rappers are on. Tom Waits also beatboxes on one of the songs. I sent the song to him and asked him to sing on it and he sent it back and asked me to send it back on a four-track cassette. I was like, ‘sweet, who uses a four-track anymore, that’s awesome.’ We used it as a sample because we didn’t want to exploit him, but if you listen close it’s him. You can hear his breath inside of the beatbox.”

WHO: Atmosphere
WHAT: New album When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold through Rhymesayers
WHEN: Tuesday 22 April