Sims: Finding out what makes people tick is my favorite thing

Astronautalis and Sims
Astronautalis and Sims
Ben LaFond

Taking the stage at First Avenue this Friday will be Twin Cities hip-hop favorites Astronautalis and Sims of Doomtree performing a special collaborative set. Backed by a brand new hand-picked band, the two are set to give even longtime fans a brand new live experience.

Gimme Noise spoke to Sims about finding a kindred spirit in Astronautalis, what makes this show different, and their new track together, "This Is the Place."

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Has it been much different preparing for this show with Astronautalis than your shows with Doomtree or your solo performances?

It has for a few reasons. One is we're putting together a band specifically for this show. It is [consisting of] players who we've played with before, but combining teams a little different this round. It's also different because Astro just got back from a five-week tour of Europe, so communication was a little difficult because of the lack of time difference and cell phone use.

What was the genesis of this show?

Well, Astro's house burned down earlier this year. He needed a place to stay, so he moved into my house for three months. One night, we were on my porch drinking whiskey, talking about our bookings and what we had coming up. It dawned on us to combine forces and do a bigger show, and we started brainstorming from there.

You've mentioned that you two first bonded after going on tour in 2011. Do you remember what made you realize you were kindred spirits?

Yeah. There's some people you just sort of see eye-to-eye with. You find the same things interesting or you find the same things hilarious. For me, it's generally humor. If someone has a sense of humor that's close to mine, we become fast friends at that point.

You've been promoting the show with you and Astronautalis's new Cecil Otter-produced song "This Is the Place." You've mentioned it's inspired by an Apple commercial, the idea of sentimentality for a future that hasn't happened yet and the idea that everything is okay right here. What's okay about right here to you?

I definitely am guilty of this pattern of thought where I'm constantly looking forward to the next thing. Every single year after we do the Doomtree Blowout, I kind of get depressed a day or two after because there's nothing huge on the horizon. It's strange because it's a big accomplishment and it's a lot of fun, and yet I don't feel good. It's difficult to remember to slow down a little bit and looking around at your surroundings and realize you're in a very good place. You don't feel necessarily that you're as successful or in the place you want to be just yet, and that's a good thing if it keeps you driving. But it doesn't necessarily equate to happiness. It's about balancing the two things. There's nothing negative about the Apple ad, it's just the psychology of it.

The muse being the Apple Commercial in mind, have you found inspiration for other songs in odd places?

The song "Sink or Syncopate" I wrote after seeing an installation at the Walker and creating a fictionalized story out of a series of images. Other than that, a lot of stuff I pick up on in conversation, whether I'm involved or listening to two of my friends talk, and finding different defense mechanisms that rise up in people when certain things are breached. Finding out what makes people tick is my favorite thing in the world.

As someone who in the mid-2000s was performing politically charged music all over the country at the height of the anti-Bush fervor, now that we're into Obama's second term have you noticed any particular shift in the realm of political hip-hop?

Yeah, for me personally, I think I'm bored of it as a means of expression. When I wrote a lot of those songs on Lights Out Paris, I was 20 and 21 years old. It's not that I'm not proud of that record, or proud of where and who I was, but it's a snapshot of me in that moment in time. And now, years removed from that record, I think and feel a bit differently. For me, there was a lot of outrage in 2005. There should be as much outrage in 2013, it's just less overt and why you should be mad is a little more subtle.

I think it's still important to capture that anger and have that distrust and have a dialogue. However, how overt you can make your political messages has changed and I don't think the audience wants to really hear that anymore. I think the biggest challenge in political hip-hop is finding a balance so it doesn't sound like you're preaching to somebody or telling them that they're always wrong about something like that. It's about creating a dialogue amongst the listeners or being a little more contentious.

I think Death Grips does an interesting job with being political. It's a little more raw and less academic. It's a more emotional response to the world. The political underground hip-hop thing has already been kind of covered. There's people who covered it so well and so throughly. I think Brother Ali's another great example of how to reinvent yourself doing political hip-hop, and I Self Devine as well. You need to approach it as less of a "me against the government" way and then try to go as "us as a society, a more localized level, what are we doing and how can we progress ourselves?"

Sims and Astronautalis perform at the First Avenue Mainroom on Friday, June 14, with Mixed Blood Majority and Greg Grease
18+, $15, 8 p.m.

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