“We’ve Needed This”: An interview with Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson of The Uncluded

The Uncluded (Photo by Chrissy Piper)

The Uncluded (Photo by Chrissy Piper)

By Blake Garris

Singer-songwriter Kimya Dawson and hip hop artist Aesop Rock recently came together, in a mutual admiration society of sorts, to create the group The Uncluded. We stopped by The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn to speak with them prior to their fourth show ever about how the band got together, how fans are reacting to their debut album Hokey Fright, and much more.

Ghettoblaster: How did the band form? Aesop, I know you sent Kimya a letter because you were a big fan.

Aesop Rock: I did. That was a long time ago. We have a friend in common and a little while after that, after emailing back and forth a little bit and knowing some of the same people, we sort of met up to work on your (Kimya’s) record when we finally got in touch after my fan letterdom (laughs). She was like “Well I’m recording my new record in Berkeley” and I live in San Francisco. And I was like “awesome,” so I went over to see where they were recording and help out in any way I could.

So that was the beginning of us just kind of like being like “oh, we could make songs together.” And that was it, really. Once we wrote one we were like “let’s just keep going.” Cause I was in the middle of writing my last solo record too and I think it was like a perfect distraction from both of our solo records which we both had been working on for a long time.

GB: You mentioned in a previous interview that working with Kimya kind of changed how you wrote songs in a way.

AR: Yeah, to a degree. Writing The Uncluded stuff was like… I don’t know that any of those lyrics would have come out of me any other way, I guess is what it is. I think Kimya’s so direct with what she’s saying. She’s not afraid to kind of go there, I guess is the way to put it. And so a lot of times where in my lyrics, instead of going there, I will be a little cryptic or tend to hide something just cause I guess maybe it’s just nervousness or something. Sometimes Kimya would send me a piece of music that she had started and I’d be like “oh shit, you’re really going there,” you know (laughs).

Kimya Dawson: There were times when I sent him a part of a song and he’s like “I quit. I quit the band” (laughs). He’s like “I can’t write on this, I quit the band.”

AR: It was just nerve wracking cause I feel like I opened up on it; spoke about some stuff that I hadn’t before. And it was stuff that… you know, if someone sends you something and she already started writing about one thing, I’m like “Ah, can’t turn back now! We’re going in!” So that kind of stuff really, just subject matter, which is I guess why you collab in the first place is to just sort of get outside of your comfort zone.

GB: Kimya, you’ve been in bands before like The Moldy Peaches. Did the writing process for you change as well?

KD: Yeah, it was cool because even in The Moldy Peaches, even though it was a collaboration, I never played guitar. And so I brought words to the table but even back then the songs were super different than this stuff. And being able to contribute musically and with words and contributing words to a different kind of music. You know, it’s like you think you can be really open about stuff and you think you cover every topic but then life just keeps throwing different things at you. So there’s always going to be new layers to peel back. So there was a lot of stuff we were both going through and we found that we had a lot of grief and loss in common like that. And so we were able to sort of address certain darknesses in a new way.

GB: How are the fans of both your solo work reacting to this album?

AR: It’s funny. There’s people that obviously from the jump are just like “fuck this stuff, I’m not interested” which is expected and fine. But the people that have been coming to the shows that seem to get what we were going for and get the record like ‘really’ get it. (Laughs) You know what I mean? And there’s been this like weird electricity in the air and like a weird vibe at the shows where the kids are like “this is something special.” And it makes us feel good cause I thought it was. When I was making the songs I was like “this feels like we’re doing something unique.” And I don’t want to like toot our horns, that kind of thing, but I was like “it feels different from what I do and I ‘think’ it’s good.” And that’s as far as my brain will allow me to go. So I mean we’re both divisive, even solo, so when you put us together there’s gonna be a group that’s like “it’s not for me.”

KD: But we have kids crying, like losing their shit, just like “I’ve needed this!” It’s really affecting some people. Some people hate it and some people are like really, really affected by it which is cool.

GB: And you’re rapping now.

KD: A little bit. A little bit, (laughs) I think if you want to call it that. (Laughs) It’s like grandma rap.

 GB: Are you going to do more rapping, you think?

KD: I don’t know. I did a little bit on my last solo album too. It’s kind of funny too. But yeah, I don’t know. We’ll just see how the songs come out (laughs).

GB: What is an Uncluded show like?

AR: For me it’s different cause I’ve never had any semblance of a band ever. I’ve always had a DJ and for the last long amount of time Rob Sonic’s been my partner on stage and so that’s been my show for a long time. And so to look over and see like instruments I’m like “Fuck yeah! I got a band!” But there’s some backing tracks, there’s some live instrumentation. We do a lot of acoustic stuff and then we have a third member, our friend James Lynch, who plays bass and recorder and keyboard.

KD: Ukelele.

AR: Anything that we’re not covering, he’s kind of like… he’s a man of multiple talents.

KD: Yeah, we bounce back and forth between acoustic songs and the tracks. It feels like it has a good flow and some of it’s really dark and some of it’s really silly.

AR: Yeah, there’s a lot of like goofing off and there’s a lot of moments of like “alright, we’re gonna get sad right now” and then we’re gonna goof off in a little while (laughs). So I guess it’s all over. We’re still feeling it out too. I mean this is literally our fourth show ever tonight.

KD: We played a show in my barn, but this is like our fourth club show.

AR: And Kimya and I have played shows together for a few years now and we’ve joined each other on stage for a few songs here and there but this is 16 to 18 brand new songs that we’re just like “here it is.” So hopefully people come to the show and expect to see something a little bit different, I guess. Different than what they would see at a solo Kimya show or a solo Aesop show.

KD: And people are coming in and they’re psyched to hear these new songs. And I feel like there’s been just a tiny bit of people asking for a solo song. But for the most part people are there to hear the stuff… it feels really good cause I didn’t know how that was gonna go if people were gonna come in like yelling out the oldies.

GB: Are you guys going to continue collaborating?

KD: I imagine. Yeah.

AR: I mean we’re friends so it wasn’t like we came together on a call that was like “let’s do this weird collaboration.” It was more like by the time we decided to collaborate, we were pretty friendly with each other. So I don’t see why we wouldn’t make more songs. It’s kind of what we do when we’re bored.

GB: Finally, what’s it like being a fan of somebody and then eventually working with them?

AR: It’s crazy. I mean like she said, I quit the band every day.

KD: (Laughs)

AR: In the beginning it was really hard for me because there’s like a few people out there whose music I’ve put on a pedestal for a while just in my own head and heart and just kind of taken stuff from. And Kimya’s one of those people. And so when I got to the point where I was like “Cool, we’re gonna try and write a few songs.” And then I would get… no matter what I would get from her… whether it could be like a verse and a few chords, I’d be like just overwhelmed a little bit and be like “I don’t know how I can do this.” (Laughs) I can’t grasp that we’re about to do these songs together. I don’t know. It’s weird and it’s scary and awesome. And I built it up too much in my head putting it on a pedestal. It’s like I can’t even figure out how to get through the making of it. After a while we got in a grove with it and the songs just started kind of pouring out.

KD: Well I’m glad you never quit, for real (Laughs).

AR: (Laughs) I wasn’t going to quit. I was just like “Fuck.” I mean I was having that thought of like “I don’t know what to do.” Like, you’d send me a verse and I’d be like “Just finish it. This is an awesome Kimya Dawson song!”

KD: And I’d go “No!” (Laughs)

AR: I don’t know. It’s weird and it’s still weird. I mean I’m still a fan so that’s kind of the cool thing about being in a band like I said cause I look over and I’m like “Aww shit, that’s Kimya, you know?” (Laughs) Like I used to go see her shows and now we’re playing together.

KD: And I didn’t know his stuff at first but now I’m a fan and I would watch him play live every day touring together when we did our solo stuff. I love his music; I love watching him play. So it’s like super flattering too and I’d be just like “Wow, you want to make songs with me.” It’s fucking awesome.