Performing as Astronautalis, he prefers his name—Andy Bothwell. He started battle rapping in high school while a student in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., freestyling between classes, skipping class to battle. Now the subject of a documentary film project by Hello My Name Is…, he began performing rap in college and recorded his first album after touring with the Vans Warped Tour from 2003 to 2005. Whether writing on a revolutionary war battle or dead scientist, he says, “Every song’s a love song.”
IN: What attracted you to rap?
BOTHWELL: Twenty years ago, kids got in trouble for listening to it. Rap music was really exotic at the time for a white kid growing up in a small beach town. It was very exciting to learn about the foreign concept of a drug dealing culture.
IN: How was touring in Eastern Europe?
BOTHWELL: People are very appreciative and excited that you’re there—for us, for this tour. It’s not a lucrative tour. Bands don’t play these places to make money or get rich. We did the tour just for the experience and the adventure—to go to Bucharest, drive to Romania, see Russia. It was a goddamn adventure.
IN: Which trip did you enjoy most?
BOTHWELL: My trip to China was the most formative for me. That was the first time I really left the country. I went to Canada, the Bahamas, and Mexican border towns, but hadn’t been to Europe or Australia. As an American into art and music, I had the dream of going to Europe. Then I went to China, and that dream evaporated very quickly. It became less romantic. That trip laid the foundation that made me want to go to Romania, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Croatia, to really appreciate the difference between traveling in the East and West. Going to places that are difficult as a tourist and a traveler challenges my understanding of the universe.
IN: How do you feel about playing live?
BOTHWELL: Making an album is sort of a headache, and I mean this in the best way possible, it’s an emotional nightmare. It’s really difficult. I’m not a trained musician. Music is a math problem I’m constantly working out. The live show is the affirmation, the reward after all that work. I spent a year, two years laboring over these songs, trying to get them perfect. The last two lines of a verse. You lose your mind over the minutiae of making an album. That’s the most amazing thing playing a live show—everybody cheers you and says you’re great. Some musicians hate playing live—this is the fun part.
IN: On your latest album “This Is Our Science,” why did you name the song “Dimitri Mendeleev” as you did?
BOTHWELL: There are a lot of other songs that are about scientists. He shaped that story—not necessarily his science, but him. The legend is that no one had a really good way to organize the elements. They were trying to figure out a pattern. He was a successful physicist, traveling Europe, giving lecture tours. He spent days and days on trains, trying to find patterns—a thing he did to pass the time. He did this all the time, something his brain was always mulling over. The idea to order them according to atomic weight came to him in a dream. He wrote a rough shell of the table. The table forms, according to a lot of different factors. There are different patterns that emerge. Did he discover it, or did he develop it? Was the table the universe’s development, or was he so smart that he developed this thing?
That concept really hit it home for me, connected to the path of artistic development. I have this song, this artistic concept, but don’t know how to get there. I sit in my room with my guitar, stare at the computer with drum edits, poke and prod wildly. That’s the connection between artistic development, scientific development and personal development. Development and discovery are pretty much the same thing. That’s the heart of the last record—the most exciting thing for me.
IN: What do you hope listeners get from your work?
BOTHWELL: I like to hear work that makes me want to make work. I hope that people find some sort of emotional attachment to my music—that songs give them goose bumps and want to dance when they clean their houses. But I hope that people take something bigger from it as well—that they’re inspired, motivated to do something—to create, to develop, to advance. That’s the goal.
WHEN: Friday, September 21
WHERE: DeLuna Fest, Pensacola Beach
DETAILS: astronautalis.com, delunafest.com