story / Matthew Stolarz
photos / Bradley Meinz
Asher Roth is known to a lot of people as the “I Love College” guy, thanks to his first big single: an extremely literal slice of laid-back hip hop touting the party lifestyle that often comes with higher education. Sadly, this belies just how vastly versatile and sophisticated the man can be. Touching upon a range of styles and sounds, Asher has kept busy with mixtapes and guest appearances since his debut Asleep In The Bread Aisle in 2009, but is finally releasing his 2nd album RetroHash, which has an even more smooth and progressive sound (he even sings on several tracks).
“I’m excited, yeah, but things are totally different. There’s a joint on the album called “Be Right” and I had one of my buddies put together a collage. It’s all old footage: from like six years ago, some stuff from when I was eighteen and then obviously when things blew up with the Asleep In The Bread Aisle/College stuff and then more recent footage, so there’s a whole transformative vibe to the video. I’m like “holy shit!” I’m such a drastically different person, physically and mentally. It’s really a trip. I guess I’m kind of on the fence about it.
“Somewhere in the New York Times I happened across this quote that I’ve always carried with me: “In our lives we’re many people”. But then I hear a lot of times “some things never change” or “people never change” and stuff like that. You think you’re gonna have your constants in your life and I’m sure there are bits and pieces of your personality that will forever remain the same, but from a hard-evidence standpoint on my life… man. When I was young I used to lie a lot, I would lie about lying, not wanting to get caught, all kinds of stuff. But something switched around 18-19, I said “I’m just gonna be as honest as possible”. Things like that, it’s kind of a trip, the person I’m more or less becoming, I don’t even know if I can say that I’ve arrived but it’s crazy to see some of things that I always thought about implementing into my life. You do your progress report or review back on how things are going, especially when you talk to someone like your mother who for the most part is completely honest with you and knows you really well. When you have those conversations you’re like “Holy shit man, I’m becoming a young man.” <laughs>
Growing up can often mean moving to a new city, leaving the comforts of the familiar for somewhere that you can truly expand. Originally from Morristown Pennsylvania, Asher made the move to sunny southern California, a choice that he is more than pleased with.
“I like it out here. I’m definitely and East Coast kid, and whenever I go back, especially when it’s spring or fall I’m just like “Ohhh, I miss it so much! I love it on the East Coast.” But if I have to pick somewhere to live 12 months out of the year, especially after this brutal winter, I have no problem being in LA. It took me a while, it takes some warming up to do because it is a drastically different world. But it promotes activity, I get to get out. It’s 78º and gorgeous. My mom was saying that it’s about to be 28º on the East coast and they’re threatening snow. So, as simple as that, the days here promote productivity. I’ll wake up, I’ll see a gorgeous sun and it’s like “Shit, I gotta get up and do something.” It takes some warming up to do but it is a killer city man. It is kind of spread out, you’ve gotta commit, but there is a little something for everybody, that’s what I do like about Los Angeles.”
Although Asher released a mixtape last year, talk of an official second album has been bandied about for years, with a few tentative titles and other mentions. But seemingly worth the wait, RetroHash sparkles with the energy of a man who knows where he’s at and has had many good things fall into place.
“Man, I think it’s a record that’s just gonna open up my world. I think the coolest and most rewarding thing about RetroHash is the creation of it and the manifestation of it. I went through so much nonsense early on with the creating of music, “We need hit records” and all that kind of conversation, which is so deflating. Having removed that and just being able to make a record with the homies, recording in living rooms, recording in bedrooms, it’s so stress free and such an enjoyable process. When you see that, you can tell yourself “Yeah, this is exactly how it’s supposed to be” especially with so many horror stories that come with the music industry. To get to that place where I’m really enjoying making music, where I’m making it with my friends, where I’m trying to sing, I’m experimenting with stuff, being 28… I’m kind of coming into my own. It’s just a really great feeling. I think RetroHash does a really good job of articulating and representing “getting lost” and “rediscovery of” and that whole transformation. Really it’s all new recordings, it’s all new stuff. It just kind of manifested itself naturally. It didn’t catch all these snags. People say “The best records are the ones that were so hard to make” but I don’t know. We had “Dude” “Tangerine Girl” and “Parties at the Disco” and were like, “Yeah, this is something, this is like a solid pillar, let’s just keep going.” We would just hang out every day. So, I guess it’s been in the making for a while from a sophomore LP or new album standpoint but really it’s all new recordings.”
Any artist wants to be satisfied with the music they make, but following your muse and pleasing the fans can be two completely different affairs, not to mention if you feel torn between making something “highly listenable” versus being “arty”.
“I think it kind of ends up being both because I’m so drawn to all different kind of music. If you go through an Asher Roth playlist it’s like everything. And I think though, absolutely 100%, I just want to please myself. I don’t know if that’s like hedonistic or whatever. But I want to make music that I like and that feels good to me and that I actually firmly believe in. But I think ultimately that ends up being something that’s a little bit different than the conventional hip hop stuff, just because of what I’m taking in and what I’m stimulated by. Ultimately, when I start to output inspired by Afrobeat, or Sergio Mendes “Magalenha” or Paul Simon’s “I Know What I Know,” stuff like that, bringing that into the hip hop world and putting a hip hop spin on it, it ends up being something like “Hey, this is a little bit different, you know?” There’s a bunch of acoustic guitar on RetroHash. There’s not that much cool acoustic guitar in the rap world. It usually winds up being something that sounds similar to Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire” or something that which is more pop oriented. So the guitar on RetroHash is a little bit more classic rock, which is cool. I always think well to try and do your thing and do stuff that doesn’t feel mechanical or formulaic, but at the end of the day is just true to you.”
So as someone whose sophistication has grown beyond being just some drunk college kid, someone who has embraced the past and recognized the present as a door to the future, where does the Asher Roth of 2014 stand in comparison to the Asher Roth of 2009? What are the goals and how are they different?
“I think I’m more in control I guess. In 2009 I was listening to a lot of people, very naïve. I didn’t want to fuck up. You kind of get in that diatribe of “This is your only opportunity, don’t blow it!” You realize down the line that you end up not blowing the opportunity by being yourself, being confident, believing in yourself, and I think that’s really the difference of 2009 to 2014. Absolutely the fun element is still there, but for the most part it’s come down to starting to believe in myself and believe in the people around me rather than trying to appease anybody or anything. I’m listening to myself. When you doubt yourself or there’s some fear there it allows other people’s agendas to get in the way.
“I just want to do this. How I feel about hip hop music and how I feel about music in general, about how powerful of a form it is, I don’t want to abuse it and I don’t want to abuse my privilege of making music. I feel like you do that when it turns into a business and when it turns into selling music. You end up reusing themes just so it will sell. You end up missing out on growth, you end up missing out on fulfillment as a human being. You end up not ever having new conversations with people. You end up missing out on a lot of that stimulation that makes you feel alive. And I guess the difference now is I’m really focused on that stuff, those are my rewards. That to me is the currency of why I do this. Like these conversations that I have with fans, and they’re like “Dude, ‘Falling’ saved my life” and it sounds ridiculous. I’m just a punk kid from Morrisville, Pennsylvania. For somebody to come up to me a be like “Hey dude, your music is literally saving my life,” like “La Di Da pulled me out of such a dark spot.” It’s one thing to see that on the internet, for someone to tweet that to you but then when you’re in fucking Norway and some kid, English isn’t even his first language, tells you that and you’re looking at him and you see his tired sad eyes, you’re just like “holy shit man, this is…” I’m gonna keep going. I’m gonna keep doing this because of that, not because Pepsi brought me in and gave me $100,000 to hold up a can.
“All I really want is for people to hear this music. For the most part I’m in a really really good place. I feel like my priorities are straight, and when that’s the case I feel like there’s a direct connect with the listener and the listener can hear that. And I’ve got faith, I feel pretty good that’s gonna come through with RetroHash, I feel like people are gonna hear this album and it’s gonna be like 1. Keep going, and 2. We appreciate this. We appreciate where your priorities are.”
more pictures here.