One of the most convincing arguments you could make for the overlap between rap lyricists and poets would no doubt include a great deal of the work of Aesop Rock as evidence. His lyrics regularly strike that balance described originally by poet Wallace Stevens in “Man Carrying Thing.” Stevens insists that poetry ought to resist human intelligence, almost successfully. And Aesop’s rhymes tumble out in a tautological stream of alliteration and consonance (“The man-ape translates glam through the visor/ Goes in water lillies Am-scrays Giger,/ and man—ray Crammed in a one-player campaign”). With a bit of pressure, though, the lines unfold into broad, dark, personal narratives. After nearly five years of relative silence, Aesop Rock is back with Skelethon. His writing is a tight as ever.
Describing the way he approaches these almost poetic lyrics, Aesop, also known as Ian Matthias Bavitz says he enjoys playing around, trying to find “sentences that really flip off my tongue.”
“There are tons of grammatical tools out there to be used, and they can be fun to play with if the music and subject allow,” says Aesop.
He describes his writing process as a holistic one, and one that’s connected with spoken word.
“I like to try to make sure each word connects to the next in a way that will sound nice, because after all I’m writing stuff to be heard, not read,” he says.
Skelethon represents one major shift for Aesop: it’s his first album without production partner Blockhead. Aesop says that the decision to produce this album on his own was a pretty unceremonious one.
“There were a couple early versions of songs that I had worked on over his beats, but I ultimately just decided to produce the whole thing on my own.”
Even though Blockhead didn’t technically work on any of the tracks, Aesop says he became a “trusted ear” during the recording process.
“I would send him multiple versions of the same song. I’d change a high hat and send it,” he says, continuing, “Change a snare, send it and on and on like that,” and admitting that Blockhead probably, “thinks the amount that I overwork things is insane.”
With this sort of attention to detail, it’s maybe not hard to believe that it took almost five years to complete Skelethon. Factor in all the side work he’s done — producing a Dirty Ghosts album, working with Rob Sonic and DJ Big Wiz in Hail Mary Mallon, and a full-length with Kimya Dawson under the name The Uncluded — and it starts to make sense that he waited a few years.
Kimya Dawson, of course, is also featured in a few spots on Skelethon, most notably in “Crows 1.” Speaking about what inspired him to work with a folk artist like Dawson, Aesop says:
“I guess folk music is very lyric-based and a lot of what I do I think of in the same way. She’s a pretty important writer to me.”
Aesop says he’s excited about the forthcoming release of the first Uncluded record, Hokey Fright.
“I think we are both able to find something within the collaboration that doesn’t exist in our solo stuff —— we get to explore new terrain.”
Most of Dawson’s contributions to Skelethon have the character of something that could come out of a horror movie. Aesop acknowledges that death is pretty central to this album.
“Things around me kept dying: people, relationships, all of that. The death theme seemed to work itself in. It’s just a reflection of what I was living.”
In describing what drove him to work with a darker palette, and how he ended up unifying Skelethon, he also spoke generally about how he tends to structure his albums.
“Once I have a bunch of songs demoed up, the repeating themes surface a bit more.”
From there, it’s a process of refinement.
“I refine things and accent themes; I try to turn a pile of songs into an 'album.’ Something slightly more cohesive,” says Aesop.
Aesop is visiting the Vogue on Friday, Oct. 5, with Hail Mary Mallon collaborators Rob Sonic, and DJ Big Wiz. That he’s touring with them right now, and that he’s planning a tour next year with Kimya Dawson in The Uncluded is important.
“People do their best stuff when you build on an idea together, but, at the end, you just tell them to do their thing and go with it,” he says.