Sean Daley (AKA Slug) changed my life when I was 21 years old. I was a rock kid, mostly into Built to Spill, Nirvana and Radiohead, but when I heard Atmosphere's "Lucy Ford" (2001) for the first time I knew that hip-hop music was the gospel and I wanted to spread the good word. Daley formed Atmosphere with Derek Turner (AKA Spawn), who left and was eventually replaced by Anthony Davis (Ant) and they became an indie hip-hop phenomenon.
Atmosphere's one-two-three punch of "Lucy Ford," "God Loves Ugly" (2002) and "Seven's Travels" (2003) cemented Slug and Atmosphere in the underground hip-hop scene. The slowly-building success of Atmosphere wasn't something Daly expected. "My goal was not to become a rapper or a touring rapper. I was rapping because my friends liked it. We were people that liked rap. I was focused on getting a job in sales that had health insurance and to provide for my family. When the money started to show up I took a gamble on it and it worked."
Even though Atmosphere isn't as huge as acts like Jay-Z or Kanye, it's still hard to meet someone that's into hip-hop music who doesn't have a deep catalogue of his records. He found walking that line of medium-famous to be an interesting challenge. "I wanted to figure out how I could speak to as many people as possible without having to say a bunch of bullshit," says Daly.
Even after touring almost steadily since 1995, Slug still doesn't get caught up in the ennui of touring. "Every night there's an opportunity to improv a new joke or talk some new shit and express what you're thinking about that day," says Daly. "I approach my shows the same way I approach myself: I submit to my music and I submit to my live performance 110 percent. If there's something that occurred that day or something that's going on in my life personally or what have you... I bring all that onstage with me and just deal with it in front of an audience. That's where I go to work through some of the shit that's going on inside my head."
Atmosphere's new record, "Fishing Blues," is one of his most laid back, but his anger still bubbles beneath the surface. There's a track on the album called "Pure Evil," in which he takes on the concept of police brutality from the POV of the cop. His thought process behind the song is fascinating. "I want to find ways to express my moral code without pounding on a chalkboard and telling people to wear a seatbelt and eat their vegetables" says Daly. "That was the avenue to take with that particular idea without being fucking preachy."
Slug's songwriting has always been one of the primary draws of every new Atmosphere record. Daly explains: "It's always been difficult for me to write songs that are super direct and just say, 'Fuck the police.' Because that's how I feel. Fuck the police. Disband the police. Unarm the police and take their fucking guns away. It's so direct it becomes this complicated thing so when you peel some of the layers away and leave the layers laying around and make a mess out of it, sometimes people can come around and pick through some of those peelings of layers and find the parts they feel comfortable singing along with. It's not just 'Fuck the police.' I, myself, appreciate when an artist just says, 'fuck the police,' but in the same breath I realize...it's an easy way out. It's a bumper sticker and I'm trying to learn not to be fucking bumper stickers. It's a hard thing to learn."
The message Daly hopes people get from his records is a simple, yet important one: "Hope. To look at a situation with an eye that isn't so pessimistic. On a regular basis we're surrounded by struggle all around us. It might not be an obvious surface struggle, there's inner struggle, whether you're struggling from systemic oppression that exists here or you're a part of the oppressors, there's still a struggle going on. Existentially, spiritually or straight up physically. With all the things I worry about, the fact that I can still find the hope that I'm looking for to keep me from jumping off the edge of a fucking building. I try to explore, express and communicate that during the shows."
Atmosphere's Freshwater Fly Fisherman Tour
(feat. Brother Ali, Dem Atlas and more)
Sunday, Sept. 18, 7pm
Midtown Ballroom, 51 NW Greenwood Ave., Bend
$27.50 adv., $32 door