Known for his fast rapping, George Watsky started out as one of the most prominent teen poets in the Bay Area, having won the Brave New Voices National Poetry Slam back in 2006. Now he is on his latest world tour, with shows scheduled in Australia and India. We received a call from him right before the long holiday break to discuss his latest album, Spotify, and eggplant parmesan.
How does it feel to be home?
[I’m] so lucky to be playing Thanksgiving weekend, which allows me to have Thanksgiving off in my home town, and stay with my parents and see all my friends again. Coming back to San Francisco is always great; the fact that we get to do so in the middle of the tour is just really lucky timing.
Could you briefly describe your latest album and how it differs from your last?
Sure. I think the biggest thing that sets it apart methodically is that it’s pretty acoustic. Or at least the instruments are very organic. There are not a lot of synth drums on it. It’s built in some ways more like a rock album than a traditional hip hop album; there are really no samples on it whatsoever. It’s, in a lot of ways, a tribute album to my parents who raised me on the kind of music that they grew up on, like late ’60s, early ’70s folk rock, psychedelic rock and because thematically I wanted it to be a tribute to my parents — I wanted that sound, so there are a lot of elements of that on some of the songs. The fact that Stephen Stills from Crosby, Stills & Nash is featured on one of the songs — not a coincidence. So yeah, it’s a rap album that’s got a lot of elements of rock on it.
You announced last week on Facebook that you will be releasing a new concert album, to be recorded at the San Francisco shows. What goes through your mind when you release a concert album?
When we did the one in 2012, it actually happened by accident because the Troubadour, the venue in LA that we recorded it at tracked our show without us knowing it. They gave us a full session of everything without charging us, and we were like, “Oh we have this great session, let’s mix it and release it as an album.” And people really liked it.
Our set’s changed a lot since 2012 so we figured it would be a good moment to get it, and San Francisco was an obvious choice, because the shows are going to be really special: we’re pulling out all the stops, hiring a horn section, and we’re also playing two shows so that means that we’re going to try to push our set up as much as possible each night. So we’ll be tracking both of the shows back to back.
I’m sure that you have heard the controversy as of late surrounding streaming services such as Spotify. What’s your take on it?
I’m a pragmatist; I believe in dealing with the situation as it is in the world of music. I can’t just on my own change the fact that streaming is a way that a lot of people absorb their music now. I would encourage my fans to buy my albums, because I have so much free material that’s already out there. If I’m putting something out for pay, it’s because that I think it’s something worth paying for. Spotify obviously just gives you a fraction of what an album sale actually would, so I don’t love it, but I can’t change it, so I’m not going to spend a lot of mental energy getting angry, I’m just going to try to figure out other ways to make my career work for me. That’s why I’m touring.
It is what it is, and in terms of torrenting and stuff like that, pirating albums, my take on it is if you really can’t afford an album, go ahead and pirate it. I would rather have you “steal” my album if you truly are too poor to afford it than not be able to listen to it at all, because I don’t think money should get in the way of people’s access to art.
But if you are pirating because you are lazy or don’t want to spend the money, I would say just go and listen to my other projects that I have up for free. I have like, six albums for free on my Bandcamp, I have like 70 Youtube videos that are all free to watch and I don’t make advertising revenue on them out of my personal choice. So that’s how I feel about it; if an artist is asking you to pay for something, you should honor that request. But I’m also not going to waste my time going after people. But I hope that people respect what I do enough to pay for it when I’m asking them to.
If you knew it was going to be your last meal ever, what would you eat?
Oh man, that’s a tough one. I’m gonna say… eggplant parmesan. And maybe just a really good lemonade on the side.
Article by Isaac Yi