Local Current Blog

Slug and Mary Lucia in conversation on legacy, recurring dreams, and Atmosphere’s ‘Mi Vida Local’

Atmosphere perform at the Palace Theatre in 2017. (Nate Ryan/MPR)

When Atmosphere dropped a single back in August and announced a new album, everyone knew a tour was imminent. “Virgo” hit the airwaves, and fans marked their calendars for the Oct. 5 release of the full album, Mi Vida Local. But when the tour schedule was released, locals noticed that there was no stop in Minnesota to be seen…could local legends Ant and Slug have forgotten about us?

Thankfully, the answer is no. Of course not. Atmosphere (along with supporting acts deM atlaS, the Lioness, and DJ Keezy) will perform at the Palace Theatre on Saturday, Dec. 15. The gig will act as a homecoming for all of the artists, with a tour that runs from Oct. 5 to Dec. 8 — and it will make Atmosphere, who headlined the venue’s first public show, the first act to return to the Palace.

This week, Slug stopped in to tell Mary Lucia about the new album, the tour, and, among other things, recurring dreams and urinals.

Part 1

Part 2

Mary Lucia: Tell me a little bit about the instrumentation on “Virgo,” because it’s beautiful and there’s so much acoustic stuff going on.

Slug: It’s a song that Anthony produced. He has a friend who plays the guitar; he plays a lot of instruments, actually. His name is G Koop and he lives out in the Bay. Anthony met him at a Brother Ali show one year. I was out in San Francisco. I had driven up Highway 1 for the first time with a good friend, Dan Monick, and one of my sons and one of his friends.

When we got to San Francisco, we all went to a Brother Ali show. While we were there, there was a gentleman that came up and introduced himself to me. Super nice guy. Then he introduced himself to Anthony and then he found out Anthony was actually staying in the Bay at the time so they became friends. From then on, their friendship and relationship just grew. He is the gentleman that plays a lot of the instrumentation stuff. When you hear live instruments on our albums, a lot of that is Anthony sampling Koop.

That’s kind of what Koop does for a living. You’ll find his name if you dig through the credits to a lot of hot records. He made one of the Migos records. He’s a guy that plays on everything and he’s known for that. People hire him out. But with Ant, the two of them just clicked and connected. So there’s a friendship there that I think when they get together it’s different for both of them, actually. It’s different than anything that Koop does. It’s Koop and all his other musician homies. And for Ant, it’s different as well. I don’t think he’s ever had that kind of friendship or relationship with a musician like that.

It’s beautiful for me, because then I just get all the good stuff that comes my way. It’s broadened the ceiling so much as far as what can be done. Ant still gets to create beats the same way that he always has and so it’s this weird thing where, instead of him having to be the old dog learning new tricks, he just broke through a ceiling or two and found out that the ceiling was way higher than he ever thought it was.

Which is huge, at this point in your career, to have that kind of revelation. The second we heard that you guys were playing shows, we thought there’s no way you’re going to skip us over. The cool thing is that yes, this is home, but you must make yourself at home almost everywhere you go to some degree. Because you’ve been there so many times!

Anywhere that I can validate myself by forcing other people to look at me and listen to me is home at this point. To be fair, we’re from here and we live here. I’ve never moved. This is where I’m likely going to die. But when we go places like California or Colorado, it’s actually crazy. We’re far more popular in those areas than we even are here in Minneapolis. So sometimes when I’m there I do get this feeling of being at home because people are like “Hey man, how’re you doing?” And I’m like “What? Who are you? Why are you talking to me? Is it because you know who I am or are you really just this cool? That’s cool man, I’m doing good how are you doing? You’re getting your car washed too? That’s cool man, alright dude.”

Well, there’s something to be said to the fact that you just said that you’re preparing to be on the road for a year. Presumably there’s going to be chunks of time where you can come home, yes?

Sure, we do a thing. We go out four and then home two. So four weeks out, two weeks home. Four weeks out, two weeks home. That’s been the steeze that we’ve adopted since we started having more children. Back in the day, only one of us had kids and I only had one kid. Now I think between the two of us we have 47 children.

47 going on 48…

Well, yeah, it’s growing.

So, the show, as we should talk about, was just announced for the Palace Theatre. Dec. 15, and that is with deM atlaS, the Lioness, and DJ Keezy. I’m trying to think, the Palace. You opened the Palace? Didn’t you play the first one or two shows there?

Technically, there were bands that played there before us but they were playing private functions and kind of like the christening. We played the first public ticketed show. So, going back is great because it was an amazing show the first time but it was also kind of… “Well, is something going to fall down?” It was all still fresh and new. It still smelled like new urinals. Now, it’s been lived in, it’s comfortable.

I was in there last week, we did production rehearsals in there. They lent it to us. I felt very comfortable in it. Before, when we played it, it felt like we were coming through on tour, that’s all. Now it feels like: “Okay, I’m going to wake up and I’m going to sound check. I probably have to bring one of the kids.” Now that it’s been lived in, I’m looking forward to this particular show with deM atlaS, the Lioness, and Keezy.

The whole campaign for this album is Mi Vida Local. To be able to have a show that’s got a kid from St. Paul [deM atlaS], the Lioness and Keezy who are both Northsiders. I’m a Southsider. To come in here and play a big show in St. Paul that night. It’s going to be great to have the whole tour. These are the same people that are going to be traveling with me for the next year, so I’m pretty excited about this.

You just were telling me that you’re a guy who can fall asleep easily and I’m very jealous of that. My question is, do you have reoccurring dreams?

I don’t know.

Are you going to tell me that you’re that guy that doesn’t remember your dreams?

No, I don’t remember if they’re reoccurring. I’m sure.

You don’t have, like, that one performance anxiety dream where you’re onstage and the typical kind of almost “work” dream?

I don’t have the “work” dream. I can’t even think of any super reoccurring dreams. I have dreams that stand out, and maybe they stand out because I’ve had them more than once, because I don’t remember when I had the ones that stand out. But I get pretty lost in it. To be honest, I kind of blur the lines between dreaming and living the dream often. Some of the same anxieties or some of the same pleasures that show up in my dreams are also in my real world, so I kind of get lost in it. I’m in a dream state right now, to be honest. It’s one big simulation. The moon’s a hologram and the world is not round.

Beautiful. I dream often that I realized I still have an apartment that I haven’t paid rent on and I have a few cats that are there.

What? That’s pretty specific, I like that.

It’s real specific. It’s like, “I’m still living on 33rd and Fremont? What? I don’t think I’ve fed the cats in two years.” Anyway, we are super excited. The record comes out Oct. 5. Are you doing any of the talk shows?

Not sure yet. PR is out there trying to shake up whatever they can shake up for us. It’s an interesting place to be, where we’re at. We’ve technically become a legacy group. We’ve been doing this for over 20 years. We aren’t going to blow up anytime soon, but we’re not getting any less popular. We’re also not the new fresh thing, so oftentimes you’re not going to get looked at to come and play on the talk shows unless suddenly there’s a story.

I kind of feel like there are things happening in the background that are brewing and when some of these things start to reveal themselves…not to say this would be a ploy to get talk shows, but when they reveal themselves, I feel that’s the kind of thing that now plays into the longevity and keeps us the “mainstays.” That’s cool, it’s a great position to be in. The best part is, it’s kind of uncharted territory in a way. There are not a whole lot of groups from my genre of music that have accomplished this. I can’t look at Jay-Z and see what he did because our thing is not the same.

You bring up a really interesting point because when you start a career, ostensibly in your early 20s, and you’ve been doing it for 25 years so now you’re in your mid to late 40s. And, like you sort of said, “Are we growing? Is there some ultimate goal that I still have yet to reach? Have I plateaued, am I satisfied with where I’m at?” It’s a really interesting place to be because you maybe don’t have that same hunger that you did when you were 22, but it just sort of changes as you get older because things become more important to you that you wouldn’t have cared about at 23.

I find that also, the fact that we have been able to hold on to what we have, but also still if I look up right above me I can see stuff above me that I haven’t done yet. So there’s still drive to accomplish these things. For me, I stop sometimes and I ask “What would Neil Young do?”

This is a person I feel like that he’s probably dealing with a version of this. He’s still making records, he’s still touring. What is that pushes that drive for him now? It’s got to have something to do with him looking up and going “Hey, what can I do with my voice? What can I use my voice to do?”

What’s beautiful for me are things like social media and/or just communications. There are places that I’m still allowed to try new things using my voice. Whether that be rapping, talking, writing, what have you. All of this stuff now works together and it’s kind of become one. Now, the goal mainly is to see how long these people will let me get away with this.

Exactly. That is kind of the thing. Maybe as we get older, you lose a little bit of that sense of “Oh God, I’m going to be found out because I can remember that Brother Ali song about…” I own my own house! Quick! People are going to take it away! That’s the thing, maybe at a certain point you realize “Okay, I’ve earned what I’ve got.” You justify this and this but you always have that little feeling of, “Oh God, am I going to get found out? Am I just a big fraud at some point?”

I think they found me out. But I feel like that’s the beauty of my relationship with my audience. There has been a transparency there for awhile that I feel, at least from my perspective, has only strengthened the bond between us. I feel like some rappers didn’t have that privilege to let people see behind the curtain and still maintain that type of credibility that they were building for themselves whereas I feel like the kind of credibility I was building for myself was based on that transparency.

When you first started, were you more focused on being a rapper, being a performer, or how much importance did you put on being a writer? Because you’re an incredible writer.

I really have never considered the writer side of this. I didn’t have a taste for it in school. I actually kind of was grossed out by anything that required me to focus. But rapping was something where I would lose my focus within it. I still do when I write songs. I get lost in it. So, I’m not really sure. I focused on being a rapper. Especially when I first started out. I really just was trying to make other rappers think I was awesome.

In time, when you realize, “Oh, those other rappers don’t really care,” you also realize, “But I don’t care what those other rappers think.” If you’re fortunate enough to start building an audience, you start finding the new things that inspire you. For me right now, I perform a show in any city in the U.S. and I look out at the audience and I see people from ages 18 all the way up to 48 and some of them are there with their parents! They’re sharing this experience and it’s like, now, as funny as that could be from a rap perspective, from a life perspective I think about, “What band could me and my father have gone to see together and share that moment?”

For me to be a part of that, to just be a small part of that moment, man, get out of here. That’s way better than having another rapper pat me on the back.

That is a beautiful thing. Did you ever go to a show with your father?

Yeah, when I was super young I got drug around to lots of stuff. But nothing that, in my head, stands there and makes me have that moment of that bonding. It was mostly when I was younger. By the time I was teenager I wasn’t trying to have much to do with my parents. I was trying to be out there writing on garages.

That’s a really great way to describe it, though. Your perspective on a stage, you’re looking out at people and you’re making these giant, quick assessments like “Oh my God, that could be me…that was me…that’s going to be me…” you make these weird assessments just by people’s faces in front of you. They’re different every time and I just think that’s one of the coolest things about being a performer; that momentary connection or hour long or hour and a half long connection just by looking at someone’s face.

I like that.