Rapper, author, and poet George Watsky spoke with us about his latest album, what it was like to get that email from Lin-Manuel Miranda, and any upcoming tours.
This isn’t the first time Miranda has endorsed Watsky, having praised his book of essays How to Ruin Everything, but participating in The Hamilton Mixtape is just one of the many recent highlights the San Francisco native has experienced in the last year or so.
Interview with George Watsky
What sort of challenges did you face going into ‘x Infinity’?
I was working on x Infinity in secret as I was finishing the essay collection I released in June of 2016. It was a really big album with a lot of moving puzzle pieces — 18 tracks and a lot of orchestral scoring and interconnected songs. So it was an album that took a few phases of planning. I was also coming off a fairly long hiatus (by today’s standards) from touring and releasing music, so there was the added pressure of wanting to return with a bang.
What did you want to do differently with this album to set it apart from your previous ones?
I didn’t set out to do anything that differently than before — all my albums have aimed for a similar mix of irony and sincerity, storytelling, wordplay, melody and gymnastics — but I wanted to take another step towards more nuance, honesty and creativity. Really I’m just trying to do what I’ve always done with each of my albums, which is get better at making music, and I’ll let the audience be the judge of that. One thing I found myself doing a lot on x Infinity is writing songs where, even if they’re not ‘storytelling songs’ per se, the song concept unfolds gradually as the verses continue. A few songs specifically — “Stick to Your Guns” and “Going Down” — purposefully mislead the listener for over half the length of the song to prove their ultimate points.
What were you looking to explore and learn with the visual album for ‘x Infinity’?
I love making music videos. I approach every video with the goal of doing something I’ve never done before or seen before. I started off on YouTube ballin’ on a budget and trying to get creative with very few resources. I have a little bit more money to put toward the videos now, but ultimately a good idea is better than a good toy. A good music video is like a good story plot; it should be unexpected enough to surprise and yet simultaneously feel like the best possible choice. I’m aiming for a ton of stylistic diversity with these videos, while incorporating a bunch of visual motifs that will hopefully make the project feel cohesive when I’m finally able to string everything together.
What inspired you to use Kickstarter to finish the visual album?
I want my followers to feel like a part of the process. Ultimately it’s not going to probably make a huge dent — I hate going to my fans with my hand out and I’m probably not gonna keep pushing the Kickstarter page on them. And with my video expenses going up and an 18 track project, the money from Kickstarter will probably end up funding a part of one video. But the people who support me are engaged, I appreciate their help, and hopefully it’ll help them see how hard I’m working to see this thing through.
Congratulations on getting a spot on the ‘Hamilton Mixtape’! How did that all come together?
I met Lin in person for the first time doing a Ham4Ham event during the run of Hamilton after we’d followed each other on Twitter for a while. He emailed me asking if I’d be interested in featuring on the mixtape, of course I said yes, and then he hit me back with the assignment a few weeks later. I was actually on tour at the time and he had a tight deadline, so I booked a recording studio in London, emailed him the audio stems, and the beatboxer, Shockwave, laid his part underneath mine.
Did you feel the pressure going into the making of your track, or did the excitement outweigh the nerves?
I didn’t really feel that much pressure since the job was so specific. There wasn’t a lot of room to mess it up — it was already written very well and so I was just trying to perform it adequately. At that point I figured whether people liked it or not would come down to whether they like my voice or not, which is mostly out of my control.
What specifically made you want to put your own spin on a ‘Hamilton’ song?
Lin asked me to! :)
Is there another tour in your future?
Yeah, I’m not ready to hang it up yet. I love being on the road, and I’ve gotten better at managing the stress, so I think I’d kick myself down the line if I stopped touring before I had to.
Who are some other artists you’d love to collab with next?
Chance the Rapper, Bill Watterson, The Daniels, Sia, Eminem and Paul McCartney. Are you there God? It’s me, Watsky.
What other projects are you looking forward to working on next?
I’d really like to write a poetry collection. I self-published one over 10 years ago, and poetry’s really at the core of what I do, so I think it’s time. I have an idea for another essay collection too, that’s more travel journalism than memoir, like my previous one. I’m working on new music, too. And I’d like to do some rock climbing in 2017.