A few weeks ago saw the release of indie icon Kimya Dawson and MC Aesop Rock’s collaboration The Uncluded’s first album, Hokey Fright. Mashing up one part folk with an equal measure of hip hop, the duo’s sound is unique, to say the least. They’re currently touring the US and playing to diverse, packed rooms, and we caught up with them after their Boston show.
Paste: So how did you two meet? What brought you together creatively?
Kimya Dawson: He emailed me a couple of times. We finally met when I was working on my album Thunder Thighs in Berkeley. He came out and worked on a few songs, and I did some stuff for his 900 Bats blog.
Aesop Rock: Then we jammed.
Paste: What was the songwriting process? How long did it take to write and record? How long from the concept’s inception to completion?
Dawson: We worked on the record for about a year and a half, I think. We were both making solo albums at the same time and sending each other stuff back and forth. Sometimes we were able to both be in the same place at the same time.
Aesop Rock: It was a lot of recording whenever we found time, in whatever way was most convenient at that time.
Paste: You have a very unique sound—what or who has been an influence? What inspires you?
Dawson: I don’t feel like the sound of this project is really influenced by anything. It is just the two of us doing our things together. We met with grief in common, and I think that inspired us to cry and laugh our way through it together by making songs.
Aesop Rock: Yeah, the songs are very much like a convo with me and Kimya might sound—we tried to keep it all very human.
Paste: The album sounds upbeat, but the lyrics range from silly to intense. Is there an overall theme or concept you’re looking to communicate? How would you describe the vibe of the record?
Dawson: The record is all over the place, like you said. There is no concept other than friends who make songs solo making songs as a team.
Aesop Rock: Yeah, I think the first few songs started in a place of loss, but we graduated to all sorts of subject matter by the end. I like the mish-mash of vibes.
Paste: How much of the content is autobiographical? I’ve seen it mentioned in other interviews that you both suffered some loss recently—do you want to talk about that at all? Is this album partially a way of working through that?
Dawson: A lot of it is autobiographical. We both had some friends and family members die. We both had friendship fall apart. We are both New Yorkers living on the West Coast. Having a friend who got it really helped.
Aesop Rock: Yeah, it’s pretty much all autobiographical—I think? Perhaps a few made-up tales to get a point across, but a lot of the subject matter is the real deal.
Paste: How has the tour been so far? Is it different when touring together than when you guys tour solo? How so?
Dawson: The tour has been amazing. I love playing these songs with this group. I stand up. We really connect. It’s intense, and it is fun at the same time.
Aesop Rock: It’s been great. I’ve been way more nervous at these shows, but we’ve been doing great and people seem into it.
Paste: Has the audience response been good? I did notice that you had completely sold out of t-shirts by Boston, which was I think the third stop?
Dawson: The energy from the crowds is incredible. Not everybody likes what we do, but some people are really connecting with these songs, and that feels very special.
Aesop Rock: Yeah, we misjudged our merch. Most of the audiences have been really electric. It’s been unreal.
Paste: What has been the most challenging aspect thus far? Is it hard to perform as a duo when you’re used to being solo?
Dawson: When I play solo I have a pretty erratic sense of tempo and rhythm. With a group I have to try to be more consistent. I’m getting there. That seems to be the only challenge. Not speeding up or slowing down.
Aesop Rock: The whole thing is new. Having a band, sharing lead vocals, it’s all new to me. I’m having a blast, but I’m nervous that now my fuck-ups will reflect poorly on my cohorts, so I really try to get in the groove and stay there.
Paste: What’s the vibe like in the van? How do you all pass the time?
Dawson: We talk about Game of Thrones a lot. Do a lot of speculating about what is going to happen in the realm. Sometimes we are all just quiet. Sometimes we listen to music or podcasts. We are pretty low-key.
Aesop Rock: Yeah, that’s kinda it. Game of Thrones and nothing else.
Paste: Is this a one-off project, or are you working on new material? Is there a plan for the future?
Dawson: I imagine we will both keep making solo songs and keep making songs together. I love doing this.
Aesop Rock: Yeah!
Paste: Your respective audiences seem to be fairly diverse, but also very different from each other. Have you noticed the audience to be a melting pot of sorts?What has the response to The Uncluded been from your existing fan bases?
Dawson: When we toured together in the past, it was always pretty easy to determine the “hippie to hip-hop ratio,” but this time around it is harder to tell whose fans are whose. It does feel like our people are merging a little. The people that like both of us tend to be people who like words. We both have words.
Aesop Rock: Yeah, it’s been a great melding of the two types of fans I think, and it’s been really beautiful.