Atmosphere’s Slug on domestic violence lyrics and songs he doesn’t play live
In this week’s music section we ran a Q & A with emcee Slug (aka Sean Daley), who has been recording his brand of emotionally-charged indie rap for more than twenty years. The Minneapolis rapper, who plays at the Albuquerque Convention Center tonight, spoke about the death of a teenager at one of his Albuquerque shows in 2003. He also spoke about the disappearance of his muse “Lucy Ford” and the death of his close friend and label mate, Eyedea. Here are some parts of that interview, as promised, that didn’t make it to print.
On The Family Sign, what inspired you to write a song about domestic violence ("The Last to Say?")?
Initially the track that Ant gave me. It's almost as if I've been waiting a long time to finally write that song. And when he gave me that music it just clicked with me and was like, Yep, it's just time to sit down and write this song. The big picture was, I had been so far removed from any of those types of situations. As a kid I was closer to domestic violence. And as an adult, I'm so far removed from it that I kind of had to come up with an angle to take ... I just didn't want to rely on my memory. And so I had to come up with an angle that I could take that was almost like an outsider looking in, even though I do have my own personal experiences with it.
How would you differentiate that song from "Primer," which was written earlier in your career and deals with the same subject?
It's me talking, whereas ["Primer"] was a character. You know, I wasn't as good at articulating myself when I was younger so I think what went over a lot of my fans' heads was that the song was written almost in satire. It was written from the perspective of making fun of the guy. Some of those one-liners are so obviously out there that it was almost like exaggerating, like, "You asshole." ... Almost like it could be two women sitting around and making fun of the guy by mocking him and imitating him and whatnot. Not that I'm suggesting that's necessarily what it is—I don't know what the fuck I was thinking. I just knew that I was thinking I wasn't writing such a negative song. When I made it I thought it would be a little more obvious that the actual crux of the song was coming from a place of ridiculing guys that act like that. ...
But I guess I quit performing it because when I would see the audience respond to it it was obvious that these teenagers were not getting that. They just were responding to raw aggression and the asshole nature of the song. It just seemed really awkward.
Speaking of songs you don't play live, why don't you play songs like " That Night" (about the Sunshine killing) or " The River," (about a best friend's death) both of which deal with these very painful losses?
"The River," I felt like that song was ... [pause.] I could probably play that live again. I just had a bad experience playing that live one night. I broke down and cried one night and that wasn't tight. It just made me feel very vulnerable in a way that I wasn't too comfortable with so I just kind of backed off of that.
"That Night"—it's a weird song for me. It's like, even in the writing of it I didn't want to be exploiting somebody else's tragedy to make a song that people would love. I wanted to be cautious about that. So I wrote it, and tried to make sure I wrote it obviously from my perspective and from how I felt, but I just don't know how I would feel seeing a bunch of people in an audience respond to that song. I'm afraid of how that might affect me. And so I kind of stay away from that. And that points to a song like "Yesterday," which is about my father passing away, which is a very personal thing for me and that's something that I guess is my place to speak on. It is my place to vent that. It is my place to project that. And so I guess that's the difference there.
In terms of connecting to the audience, wouldn't there be no better place than Albuquerque to play that song?
Maybe not—because at the end of the day it's still going to be a matter of how the crowd responds to it. ... I'm afraid of how I might be forced to respond to their response.