By Ersin Ozer, Explorebigsky.com Contributor
Atmosphere’s fall tour kicks off in Minneapolis, then heads west stopping in Bozeman (Sept. 10) and Missoula (Sept. 11). The band has played many shows in both cities on past tours—proof that the word is starting to spread about how live Montanans can be.
My first Atmosphere show was in the summer of 2004; a friend got us VIP tickets because he knew the right person to email. Back then, I had no idea the band’s emcee would be affirming the importance of those connections during a phone interview years later.
I got the chance to chat with Atmosphere’s front man, Sean Daley, a.k.a. Slug (short for “Sluggo”, his father’s own nickname before it was Sean’s), about traveling, art, snowboarding and life. While the rest of the world glamorizes the hustle in hip-hop, the only part of the hustle Slug glamorizes is the fact that he’s not afraid to work.
When was your first visit to Montana?
We played in 2002 on the God Loves the Ugly tour. We were on the outskirts in Missoula near some strip club, getting out of the van, and Brother Ali’s tour lanyard was flying in the air as he got out and it hit Dibbs in the face. The plastic backstage pass hanging from the cord cut his eye! He went to the hospital, and didn’t know if he was going to be able to play the show, but he put on some crazy eye patch and played.
You played in Big Sky last March during the Chamberlin Rail Jam—
That was a cool show! You don’t want to play a bunch of dark stuff when you’re outside in a festival setting. So, we got to be out in the cold and play all the fun songs. You know what I’m saying—as opposed to some of the songs we would play inside a club with weird lighting. I’m not sure why the rest of the world can’t have as much fun as the people in Montana do. It’s weird.
Did you go snowboarding while you were here? I’ll hook up lift tickets next time.
No, I’m cool! By no means am I short of adrenaline. Every time I get on stage it’s a 120 minutes of nonstop adrenaline. Yeah, plus I’d break something.
How old were you when you started pursuing music?
When I was 11, I fell in love with rap. From there I started collecting records and trying to be a DJ. Then I started to write graffiti, and from there I wanted to be a break-dancer. [Next] I started rapping, performing, putting out tapes, and getting jobs at record stores. There’s still a part of me that thinks this music thing is going to go away at any moment. People could be like, “yeah, we don’t like your stuff anymore.” I don’t know why I can’t embrace that we’re doing great. I’ve never seen it as a career, but something I get to do because I’m lucky.
Who is the woman named “Lucy” referred to in earlier material?
Truthfully I’ve never said it like this before—but she was a metaphor for me. I created this character to signify my problems and co-dependencies, whether with girlfriends, co-workers or my boss, or even booze. I named her Lucy Ford trying to be silly and clever with words, like Lucifer. She was like the devil on my shoulder as opposed to me, Sean, the angel on my shoulder. What’s funny about that is the notion that I made the devil the antagonist and myself the protagonist. Basically saying, “really, you’re an angel, Sean?”
Your lyrics have grown wiser. What has influenced your latest writing?
I don’t drink at all when I write now. If you look at the writing from back in the day you can probably tell. A lot of earlier material was self-centered around my ability/inability to play well with others.
I’m turning 40 this year, and if I was still living and rapping about what I did when I was 22—that would be pathetic! That would be sad that here’s this guy who hasn’t grown and experienced the world in any way. Talking about it makes me feel bad for some of the rappers I know, because they still have to rap about selling crack. It’s like, ‘c’mon bro you’re 43, you’re not selling crack anymore, and if you are, you’ve been selling crack for 20 years—how come you haven’t gotten any sort of promotion? You’re still on the corner. 20 years on the corner means you suck at selling crack!
The thing that has shaped where I’m at now is traveling and all the people I’ve met. Not being quick to judge and think my way is right. In my mid-20s I thought I knew it all. I’m not convinced anymore.
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
Stop hanging out with people who bring out the worst in you. If you want to be more positive—art imitates life and then life imitates art, it’s a chicken or the egg thing—use your art to write yourself to where you want to go. Don’t lie. If you trick someone into believing in you, there’s going to be shrapnel. If you can genuinely convince people to support you, you’ll make connections that will last forever. It’s not about selling records, it’s about connecting. Hopefully that connection will result in records sold, but either way if you can connect with somebody, then you’re an artist.
Who would you choose if you had the opportunity to high-five any one person (living or deceased)?
I would high five one of my grandfathers, either one. Just to be like, “in your face, I make music that you’d probably hate!”