[INTERVIEW] ASHER ROTH: NO LONGER A COLLEGE KID
Asher Roth is an individual who has fully reinvented himself since his breakout 2010 single ‘I Love College’; the squeaky clean, baby faced rapper that embodied that song is no more, and in his place
Asher Roth is an individual who has fully reinvented himself since his breakout 2010 single ‘I Love College’; the squeaky clean, baby faced rapper that embodied that song is no more, and in his place has emerged a musician, singer-songwriter and a man who takes risks with his music. Incorporating rock music and other influences into his brand of hip-hop, Roth has grown as a person as his musical ideas have become more layered and daring, as his two studio albums and number of mixtapes have shown.
The Philadelphia native’s musical growth has also strongly projected his free spirited nature, and it is a willingness to blend in a range of different emotions and experiences that make the 30-year-old an unsung hero in the rap scene. Even talking to him you get the mellow, laid-back feel of a person who is very content with the decisions he has made in his life, with very few regrets about his journey up until now.
Viper caught up with Asher before his recent show in London (which was amazing, by the way) to chat about his recent collaboration with Nottz and Travis Barker, dream collaborations and sweatshorts.
Welcome back to London, are you a fan of the city?
I am, it’s a little cloudy here right now but being in LA for the past two years, it strikes a balance that I’m really happy with. Its good to wear a jacket and having a little weather in my life. LA is pretty much the same thing every day.
There’s this group over there called the Cloud Appreciation Society and they talk about how clouds are really important; how they spark imagination and break up the monotony of blue skies. They say clouds spark thoughts and imaginations. So its kind of the same thing over here – you may not get a lot of blue skies but you definitely get a lot to work with.
Some of the best music of all time comes from here so there’s got to be something in the water.
You released ‘Rawther’ with Nottz and Travis Barker recently, how did that came about?
Nottz and I have known each other for a very long time and he had a joint on the ‘Asleep in the Bread Aisle’ called Y.O.U. and we’ve had a close relationship since then, touring with people like Cudi and B.O.B.
We ended up going on tour with Blink 182 during their reunion tour because of Travis. He was lobbying for us to go on tour with them and Travis and I were already friends, so Travis and Nottz started working together and they both have really heavy drums – Travis more in the rock side and Nottz in the hip-hop world. So we kind of just married the two worlds together and we’re all friends so it was a very natural collaboration, and you can tell the music doesn’t sound forced but an organic lending of the two worlds.
How are they both to work with as individuals?
They’re both sweethearts, in the nicest possible way. They’re really nice dudes yet rough around the edges from their presence alone – from their tattoos and stuff you might be intimidated by them but Travis and Nottz are two of the nicest people you could meet. Very genuine, no bullshit, they’re not going to try to woo you and tell you what you want to hear. But they’re very smart, concise and it’s a pleasure to work with people like that because they just get to the point. There isn’t a lot of buffer.
Do you plan to put out any more videos to go with the mixtape?
What we wanted to do with ‘Rawther’ was make it a visual art project, and the video that came with it had three songs in it out of five. We wanted to introduce the music with the visual art component and I think that’s just what it is going to be. We’ll play it a bit, run around Europe a little bit and then we’ll start pushing new music.
Right now visual art is so important to the music as well, in my opinion anyway, and with the internet you really have a great opportunity to do a really visual art component with your music because people want to watch videos now so we’re just trying to introduce different elements essentially.
You were also in the video for ‘Sweat Shorts’ with Chuck Inglish and Helious Hussain, which had a great concept to it. Who came up with the idea for it?
The story kind of wrote itself. Helious Hussain who’s the third MC in the song, from Detriot, he has ideas for days and he lobbied for the concept as it became and we all got together one day and tod this whole story. But Helious is definitely the one who championed the video and brought it to life.
Nice, and will you ever get your shorts back?
I don’t know man! Its funny because I lost my bag. Flying out to Europe I lost my bag so what I’m wearing is all I’ve got. But if I don’t get my shorts back its ok, life will go on.
You announced a third studio album to drop this year.
Yeah, the cool thing about being independent now is that you’re on your own time and you don’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations or agendas except for your own. The next album is going to be called ‘Red Hot Revival’ and we’re going to bring in all the influence that we’ve been working with. Bring in that rock influence and the indie stuff that we toyed with on ‘RetroHash’ and then some of the older sounds that we were doing on ‘La Di Da’ and others from the first album.
If we want to take that alchemy and bring it together in one place, I think ‘Red Hot Revival’ is going to be a very forward-thinking, special album. Not a lot of people are messing with these sounds right now.
So we can expect that from the album?
Yeah, its going to be music. But for a while I’ve been interested in challenges in general. I’m pretty good at rapping and I have a grasp of rap music and now I want to challenge myself to be a better songwriter, with better concepts and narratives and things like that, and to give the listener and myself a more concise listening experience. I’ve been working on my song writing a little bit and I’ve wanted to bring that more into the music.
All of the artists that I’ve been listening to, like Tame Impala, Peter, Bjorn & John and others; I want to ring that type of feel to hip-hop as well. We’ll see how many genres we can marry but that’s what I’m really excited about because, in the position that I’m in, I have a lot to play with, so hopefully it can all come together exactly in the way I see it.
Yeah, and you don’t want it to come across as forced either.
Is there anyone you haven’t collaborated with that you would love to work with?
I love what (A$AP) Rocky is doing, I love what Kendrick is doing, I love what Chance is doing. Those guys, I feel, are doing it for the right reasons and sonically, there would be spaces for us to collaborate as well. Tame Impala, Peter, Bjorn & John and Damon Albarn of Gorillaz would be great; I would love to collaborate with those guys.
So are those your favourite artists in the game right now?
Those are just examples of what I’ve been on recently, but I’ll be on jazz and listen to some Bobbi Humphrey, Donald Byrd and people like that. I never want to lock myself in one place. Right now in my life, I’m thinking of moving to Europe for a while for at least three-six months and pulling from new inspirations.
So at the moment, those are the artists that I tap into and they’re making an impact. You always want to make an impact and you don’t want your music to go unheard or heard by just 50 people – you want to reach as many people as possible. Those are artists that I look at think ‘you’re doing a good job’.
What music has stood out to you over the past year or so?
I guess it has to be more of the psychedelic, experimental stuff. Being in California I’ve gravitated more towards garage rock, stuff that isn’t very clean and is unpolished or made for the radio.
So like Mac Demarco, for instance.
Exactly. That kind of music is definitely a mood and that’s something I’m really attracted to.
You’ve toured around America and throughout Europe in your career. Which is your favourite city to perform in?
Its tough because each city has a specific reputation and you’ll go on and it will always be your own personal experience. London is beautiful to me, as is the rest of Europe because it doesn’t feel like their choices of music are dictated by top 40 radio, as it would in the United States.
In the States, and this is a generalisation, radio really does dictate who people are going to see and, as an American rap artist coming over here, it seems that my fans are a little bit more up to date because they’re not relying on the radio; they’re getting their music directly from me. So they’re more up to date with stuff like ‘Rawther’ whereas I think some of my American fans think that if I’m not on the radio I’m not poppin’.
I feel a lot of American artists feel that way; they say that European fans pay attention a little bit more.
Yeah, it feels that way and I remember when I put out ‘Dude’ and two days later I had to do a show in London, and the whole crowd knew it, and I was like ‘damn’. So Europe is great to perform in, that’s why I want to spend a little more time here because I feel there is a connection. Berlin was a great city for me, Copenhagen is a beautiful city.
But American cities are amazing too, although some of the bigger cities are harder to win over. The crowd come to check you out, they’re not really there to let loose and get down. Austin, Texas is definitely like that. Chicago is great, and my home state, Philadelphia, too.
So those cities are more of a challenge for you?
Definitely, and even when I mentioned Blink 182, its nice for me to go and perform in spots where people aren’t necessarily there to see you, because you learn a lot about how to put on a show. If a crowd comes to see you, the acts are kind of of a time and a moment. They can come and rap over their own vocals and it will be a great show but because there is so much hype around it, kids are just like ‘whatever’ and are all about it. Whereas I feel like we really want to put together a concise show where, even if you’re not there for me and you don’t know my music, you can still enjoy it.
With a third studio album on the way, do you have any other plans for the rest of the year?
Yeah a lot of touring and I’m working on a collaborative project with Oren Yoel as well, and that will be about three or five songs, and I’ll be singing as well so you might not recognise me. But its fun for me because, being independent, I can experiment a little bit more and we have multiple outlets now. So if I want to sing but do it under my Asher Roth moniker I might lose some people! But now I can make something up and put it out as a side project.
We also have retrohash.com, which will be our multimedia hub, where we can have all of our visual art, photos and music and a lot of our lifestyle stuff as well. We’re huge into the cannabis lifestyle and a sustainable lifestyle. We promote a lot of that on the site and public education reform as well, so all of that will appear on the site. Music is the lynchpin and it brings us all together; that will be the most important part of it but where do you go from there?
Now that people are listening to you because they like your music what do you do next? Some of the things I hold dear is having clean water and public education, so if you can get people somewhat educated and interested, whilst also giving clean water that’s a pretty good foundation to build a life off of.
How do you think you’ve evolved over the course of your career?
A lot of growing up. I shied away from celebrity and from being a product; it wasn’t about not being confident in my abilities; it just didn’t feel right. Making everything about Asher Roth and it all being under my government name was a little weird for me. I wasn’t a band or like David Bowie where I could use different monikers, it was authentic so for that, if I was going to come out under my government name I wanted things to feel really authentic.
After ‘Asleep in the Bread Aisle’ and the success of ‘I Love College’, which was awesome, they started to cater it to more vanilla, mainstream, white music and that wasn’t the stuff I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be famous, I wanted to make music and be part of entertainment and connect with people. So in scaling that back and taking on a career which is driven more by the art that you’re doing and conversations that you’re having and places that you’re going, rather than being popular, has really helped me grow at a much more sustainable rate.
I’ve been able to be present and connect with people on a real level, whereas if I had top radio hit, then I’m going to have radio reps here, and a stylist and this whole created world and we would have 15 minutes and then someone would come in and say ‘your time’s up, get out’. That type of atmosphere is very stressful and anxiety-driven and I see it – I’m friends with a lot of people who are ‘famous’ and when they get a chance to breathe its gold for them, and I would never want to sacrifice that.
I feel I’ve had a natural growth for the past six years. People may ask where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing, I would say I’ve just been growing up at a natural rate rather than being in entertainment where you do all this stuff for other people and by the time you hit 35 or 40 years old you have no idea who you are, you have a bunch of fake relationships in your life and you question yourself.
Now I feel I have a great idea of who I am, what I stand for and what I want to do and it allows me to have calculated and understood actions. So it’s cool, I’m happy man.
I can tell. What do you think the game has taught you the most?
To be patient, and to know why you’re doing it. If you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing, in terms of life, you’ll have a lot of people coming to you and distracting you. There are a lot of distractions out there, but be patient with yourself – we have a lot of time.
Contrary to popular belief, because of instant gratification and people getting things immediately, we’ve lost touch to planting something and waiting to let it grow and water it everyday and care for it. Doing the same thing with yourself is important, and I do want things to happen overnight sometimes and be as impactful as possible and sell a million records. But if you’re patient with yourself and appreciate the simple things, you get rewards that you can’t really put into words. I’m engaged in this journey and this process and finding the rewards along the way instead of striving for the end result.
What would you do if Donald Trump is elected president?
I’d move! I’ve got no time for that but in a way its good because it exposes the underbelly of humans and an intolerance to difference and in 2016, its unacceptable. But that’s why I love music; because you bring together people from all walks of life.
I have to be sensitive to the fact that I’m white, with blonde hair and blue eyes in the world of hip-hop and, right off the bat, people are going to assume certain things about me. But I’ve been able to connect with people all over the world and right now, in the United States, unification and coming together as one is the most important thing, and Donald Trump trying to separate us is just some old white shit that doesn’t fly.
Interview by Yemi Abiade