[PUNK HIP-HOP] Minneapolis may be the only city in America where Andy Bothwell’s music doesn’t make him a weirdo. After three years in Seattle, Bothwell—better known as the MC/songwriter Astronautalis—moved to the Twin Cities in June. There he’s able to focus energy on Four Fists, an ambitious and semi-absurd collaboration with Doomtree’s P.O.S. that is entirely focused on reworking F. Scott Fitzgerald short stories into hip-hop songs. The project fits with Astro’s track record of making outsider hip-hop that is just as influenced by Modest Mouse as it is by De La Soul. But Bothwell’s move was about more than just music.
“Seattle is not an incredibly enthusiastic city. Not to say they’re not passionate or ambitious, but the idea of enthusiastic outburst is not a Pacific Northwest characteristic,” he says via telephone from the road. “And I am nothing without enthusiastic outbursts. I think all my friends in Seattle found it completely charming that you get two shots of whiskey in me and I’m fucking Foghorn Leghorn, but my energy was never really matched. And my friends in Minneapolis are enthusiastic and overly optimistic and overly ambitious. It’s always, ‘Tonight is going to be the best night ever.’ And we’re just going bowling.”
Bothwell’s own unguarded enthusiasm is matched by a borderline hyperactive disposition and a knack for distilling striking scenes and gutwrenching dialogue into his razor-sharp raps. It’s an awkward skillset that comes together to form a 20th century music-geek troubadour who moves effortlessly through the worlds of indie rock (he opens the moving, piano-fueled “Measure the Globe” by dropping an obscure reference to Sacramento punk legend Kevin Seconds) and hip-hop (one of his most popular early songs, “Something for the Kids,” raps a quite romantic story about fictional road trips alongside Fat Joe and Tupac).
At least, that’s the idea. For Bothwell, finding an audience to properly appreciate his far-flung musical interests (let alone his sometimes Decemberists-esque thematic interests) has been an uphill struggle. But as his musical vision has coalesced—both 2008 effort Pomegranate and this year’s downright masterful This Is Our Science rely less on the novelty of genre-fucking and more on the strength of Bothwell’s snowballing songwriting and singing abilities—the fans have slowly found him. It’s one of many reasons Bothwell remains an optimist in an ugly time. “America at large is doing what America at large is doing,” he laughs. “But at the same time, I’m able to make indie-artsy, historical-fiction rap music, and through the power and the witchcraft of the Internet, I’m able to channel that to the right people. I’m able to kind of sidestep what capital-A America is doing and make my own little private nation.”
Unlike some of his avant garde hip-hop peers, Bothwell—who now tours with a full band—has not left the art of rhyme behind. “I don’t think I’ll ever totally abandon it. When a fucking awesome beat comes up and I feel that I can kill it on some double-time stuff—I’m just still so addicted,” he says. Then he does something few MCs will ever do: He drops a Dinosaur Jr. reference. “It’s like, as much as I love watching J Mascis sing and play a song, when he really lets loose, it’s fucking awesome. There’s just something to be said for watching someone who’s good at their craft be good at their craft.”
SEE IT: Astronautalis plays Rotture on Sunday, Oct. 9, with iAMe, Hurtbird and Dope Thought. 9 pm. $8. 21+.