Asher Paul Roth
Tangerine Girl (prod. Blended Babies)

For about as long as the arts have existed, creative individuals have been forced to toe the line between commercial success and unrestricted artistic freedom. In contemporary music, going too far in one direction leads to the label of “sell out,” while the other end of the spectrum is categorized as “too experimental”–it is a nearly impossible balance to achieve.

In 2009, a 24-year old Asher Roth released a song titled “I Love College” that catapulted him into the mainstream placing him squarely at this intersection. With a record deal in place, everything was set for Roth to reach material success as long as he was willing to concede that releases like his first big hit were definitive of him as a musician. Five years later, Asher independently released his first studio album since 2009, RetroHash, and it is truly a reflection of the creative, liberating journey he has taken since his initial success. The genre-encompassing project, filled with positive summer vibes, captures the incredible energy of a spirit freed. We were lucky enough to chat with Asher Roth, someone who has decided to pave his own path, about his truly fascinating evolution, both as a person and an artist. Grab a copy of RetroHash on iTunes and check out Asher’s upcoming tour dates on his website.

TMN: First of all, thanks so much for taking the time to chat today. I’m really looking forward to this conversation because, to be honest, I listened to RetroHash when it first dropped and it kind of blew me away in terms what you did with it and how you’ve grown as an artist.

Asher Roth: Very cool, man. Thank you.

TMN: So, let’s rewind a few years back because you’ve had such a unique career trajectory—I hear you describe it as a ’Benjamin Button experience.’ Take us back to when you first linked up with Scooter [Braun] and just how fast everything happened leading up to the release of Asleep in the Bread Aisle?

Asher: I just remember when Scooter called [Tom] Boyd, who’s a close friend, and we had a Facebook fan page with like 40 people on there and Boyd had his number on there. [Scooter] called him saying, “This is the most important phone call your boy’s every going to get.” You know Boyd runs over and we started talking. Anybody that knows Scooter knows he’s a talker—he’s a charming young man. So, next thing you know, we had moved ourselves down to Atlanta. And that’s literally what it felt like, you know. After that conversation, Boyder, myself and Brain [Bangley] moved ourselves down to Atlanta to be in it and amongst it. Because as fun and loving as Westchester is, and Pennsylvania in general, to really kind of do it you have to immerse yourself in it. So we moved ourselves down to Atlanta, put together The GreenHouse Effect mixtape, and kind of on the tail of that mixtape, ‘I Love College’ was written and put out on MySpace.

No album was in the works—it wasn’t like we had a whole album together and ‘I Love College’ was going to be the first single. With that record we were like, “yeah, it’s cute. This is fun and all, but this song sucks. you know what I mean?” [Laughs] It just blew up and that’s when I ended up linking with my buddy Orin (of Blended Babies]. And just trying to make sense of ‘I Love College’ and build an album around it which ultimately became Asleep in the Bread Aisle. And, you know, as that happened, I dealt with some politics through the Universal system with that album. I felt like I made a “responsible record.” We did the best we could do with the hand we were dealt. Just a lot of the promises and expectations, from a structure standpoint, didn’t get met. And that was my first red flag of, “this is an interesting business.”

So, my next step after that was Seared Foie Gras with Quince & Cranberry because I was starting to see the perspective that people didn’t really know me.

I was polarized because of one record and people were like, “that’s who Asher is.” And I hadn’t actually had a proper introduction. First impressions are everything, and for me, it has been quite the journey of properly introducing myself rather than, you know, one side of me. I don’t know many people that don’t like to have a drink, and dance, and be around females, and have a good time. But to say that’s all somebody is—for someone who wants to be here, and isn’t necessarily trying to cash out on the music business, but more so be appreciative of the opportunity to make music—it stung a little bit. So, ever since then, I’ve wanted to step back from the business side of things and make music that felt right.

TMN: Back to the present, RetroHash is your first studio album since Asleep in the Bread Aisle, and the career moves in that time have been insane. You signed with David Sitek’s Federal Prism

Asher: You know, that actually didn’t it happen—it got falsely reported. Dave Sitek is the homie, I love that dude. We did ‘Apples and Bananas’ together, and we released that as a single. For some reason, it got reported that we were putting out a whole album together. Dave Sitek is a close homie, we definitely make music together, but RetroHash was self-released.

TMN: Ah, I did not know that. I’m glad you clarified, because the internet is completely misinformed on that one (Roth was listed on Federal Prism’s roster on their website). Everywhere I looked, it said that was the label.

Asher: Yeah, it’s a trip that you can go on someone’s Wikipedia and it can be actually wrong! [Laughs]

TMN: As far as releasing an album independently, what was it like in terms of the creative control you got as compared with when you working on Asleep in the Bread Aisle? Like you said, it was kind of a safer record. How did that impact the sound of your music and the comfortability in the studio?

 Asher: Ah dude, it was awesome. And its not like we ever felt like we were making an album, you know what I mean? It’s not like we were like, “what’s the single going to be,” or “let’s write a song for the girls.” That never happened. We were just making music, we had pillars and were like, “this is cool, that’s cool. Let’s keep going.” Next thing we knew, we had a batch of songs and we just wanted to put them out. People have kind of been like, “where’ve you been for the last five years?” And, truth be told, I’ve been untangling myself from this web. Instead of digging ourselves in deeper and trying to fulfill contracts, I’ve kind of been patient, asked nicely, been very respectful. I didn’t shit on anybody on the way up and I didn’t shit on anybody on the way down. When it got down to the point when it was like, “Asher do you know what you want to do,” I said, “Yes, I’d just like to leave my contract and wipe the slate clean.” And I feel like musically as well, RetroHash has let me do that.

TMN: I always got the sense that casual listeners labeled you all sorts of things, and kind of tried to put you in a genre box as ‘just a rapper,’ and it’s so clear on RetroHash that they were completely incorrect in doing so. Do you feel like your early music has shaped or limited your artistic growth in any ways, based on the sort of categorization and labeling that came along with it?

Asher: I think it’s pushed me to take chances—to be adventurous and try things. If someone goes, “hey, man, this is great. we love this and it’s perfect.” It’s kind of like, “Okay, I’ll just do this over and over again.” To have people who know me, like my family members, be like, “Asher, this is great but you’re so much more than this,” it hits you and it’s like,”you’re right. I want to be better, I want to be great.” When I’ll be singing in studio sessions when I’m writing for other people and have my friends, who’re Blended Babies, be like, “you should try to sing on a record, “and then do it. That kind of support system, and a fan base that I believe is extremely supportive of me taking chances, being patient through this whole thing, has really allowed me to grow appropriately and properly—rather than being somebody that grows up in the entertainment industry, and is kind of in this bubble where everything you do is great and no one just tells you no. I’ve grown up very appropriately, not had really anything handed to me. All “I Love College” has really done is allow me to have a foundation. It’s like building a house but the plumbing and sewage are screwed. We had to go all the way back in and tear it down to get the foundation really right. That’s what’s exciting for me now is, one, I feel like I can do anything and, two, my foundation is really strong. It might not be as big—and who knows if it will ever be as big again—but just very cool people. We don’t have a lot of people who are just completely out of touch or not inspired. They all want to do cool stuff and we stay around people like that. It’s beautiful.

TMN: Now getting to the fun stuff—let’s talk music. For me G.R.I.N.D. was the time when your sound really started taking on this incredibly positive feel. RetroHash though, takes things to a whole new level as far as organic, good vibrations and just an eternal and triumphant summer feel. It seems like you’ve reached some sort of artistic freedom and inner peace—kind of just not really giving a fuck about outside pressures. What was your psyche like going into the album, and how do you think that personal evolution came to fruition through the last couple years?

Asher: I think all of those experiences have kind of shaped me. Consciously, unconsciously, subconsciously—however they affected me. It got to a point where I felt so many empty promises, expectations, successes and failures. All of that stuff leads you to the point where you’re like, “wow, none of this matters.” Let’s just have a good time doing this. It sounds kind of cliché, but when you stop having fun with it, you stop challenging yourself and the music becomes mechanical; it’s like, “what are you doing?” For me, I was just so free in the sessions because there’s no expectations. We had no A&R coming in and being like, “where’s the hit?” That’s the worst thing to ask anybody. We don’t even know what a hit is; no one does. Put a record out, promote that record and go from there but, yeah man, super freeing. Having early success and then going and doing a show in Tennessee where like 8 people are there and you just realize, “Fuck it, man. I’m just going to do my thing.” I can’t try to meet other people’s expectations, I can’t try to make everyone happy. That’s just impossible. So, just conversations with myself, getting to know myself is what’s been going on for the last 5 years. Because when you come in at 21 or 22 and you see notoriety and a taste of fame, you could totally get deceived in thinking that’s what’s important. But, for me, I’ve been able to kind of have my quiet time to realize that the relationship with myself, which is ultimately the relationship I have with my fans, is the most important part.

TMN: Absolutely, and everything you’re saying is really reflected in the album. I know you and Blended Babies collaborated on the production for the album. As compared with more strictly hip-hop albums, there seemed to be a ton of live instrumentation on this one. I kind of envision you guys all hanging out in the studio with a bunch of instruments jamming out. What was the recording process and environment like?

Asher: We recorded a lot of it in living rooms and bedrooms, laying on the floor and stuff like that, which is awesome. Not only that, but if you have an idea, you just lay it down. If it’s great, it’s great; if it sucks, it sucks. You don’t feel like you’re on the clock. You don’t talk yourself out of ideas because you never know. I think all that kind of stuff just plays into where we are now. We have the freedom to not be on the clock or on someone’s watch in a big studio. Screw all that. You have the opportunity with technology nowadays to record vocals in the car even and you can make it sound good. So, understanding that, my relationship with music as I grow up is a much more intimate and personal one now. I got into music young just as a listener, fan and consumer. Then I got into hip-hop, and hip-hop music opened the world of music to me from when I found out what people were sampling. I’m just getting to a point in my life where I have a very small historical understanding of music. Like the people that used to hang out with each other. Like when the Eagles, Van Halen and Joni Mitchell are all hanging out; and all these kind of crews. And Jimi Hendrix playing for the Isley Brothers. When I was young, like second or third grade, when people asked what I wanted to be when I grow up, of course I was like want to be a football player for the 49ers. Little did I know that I was going to grow up to be 5’ 10”, 145 pounds—probably not going to fly for the NFL. Becoming a maker of music you have to decide what you’re in it for. I could be Flo Rida and just make a bunch of records that are just super formulaic, but that just didn’t feel right.

TMN: From the artwork to the music itself, everything about RetroHash has a sort of psychedelic vibe to it. What were your biggest inspirations, musical or other, as you worked on this project?

Asher: I think definitely the music I was listening to for sure. I’ve been jamming like The Zombies and definitely 60’s psychedelic rock. When you are in hip-hop music and, good or bad, some people start to venture and get too experimental.

Like XXL [Magazine], or somebody, came across my tape and mentioned that I was too experimental or something. Whatever. It’s never a bad thing in my book. But a lot of the stuff I was listening to made me want to challenge myself. Where I was, I just felt like I have nothing to lose and that feeling is awesome. Fuck it, man. Whatever happens happens, and you’re not dictated by fear. It’s like, “Screw it, man. This one’s for me.” I don’t have a bunch of money, but I’m going to work my ass off and put this record out. If people dig it, they dig it. If they don’t, I dig it.

TMN: On a similar note, the songwriting is definitely more genre-encompassing than any of your previous projects. What (if any) were the biggest changes you made in the way you approached each song lyrically? And were there any challenges? For example, singing for the first time.

Asher: It was stepping outside of myself. You don’t need to talk about yourself all the time. Obviously, that is pretty typical in rap. Especially when that’s all you listen to and all you know, you just think that’s what it is. But you start listening to cats like the Bob Dylans of the world, and you realize they’re telling other people’s stories and that’s awesome. That in itself, again, is freeing. You realize you can tell a story about a tree, you know? We get the opportunity to get on the road and listen to all types of music and songs—it was big for me to challenge myself as a songwriter. That played in to writing, “Fast Life,” where I told the homegirl’s story when she passed away. To be able to tell her story was a huge step for me in the direction that I realized I can write about anything. I don’t have to just sit here and talk about how great I am all the time, which is fun don’t get me wrong. It’s always fun to play with words and talk about greatness, but for the most part it has been really freeing to get outside of myself and write songs about anything.

I would imagine touring for RetroHash will have a completely different feel to it than any of your other projects. I’m guessing there’s a live band involved, but what else can fans expect from the live performances?

Asher: This tour, because we don’t have much money, we’re taking it back to the basics. It’s actually just emcee and DJ. Some cool visuals, but for the most part, we do an all-encompassing show—heavy on the RetroHash stuff. It has been really cool to reward the people who have been down since Day 1, and I don’t want to ignore them because they have been amazing. So we do a little bit of everything and tie it all together with RetroHash, and it has been really interesting to see people’s reactions as far as who’s responding to what. People are interested in the RetroHash stuff and I didn’t know if they would because, like I said, the early music was so polarizing and sometimes it felt like that’s all people really wanted to hear. So here I am, like, “Hey, man, here’s ‘Tangerine Girl” and some people are like, “We don’t want that. We just want bars, bro. We just want you to rap.” So it’s important to get positive feedback like from someone like yourself to be vibing with it and encourage me to keep going. The live show is just something that I hope people can just leave all the nonsense at the door and come have a really good time because it’s like a freedom celebration. It chronicles the story and the journey and, at the end of the day, make sure everyone’s smiling and having a good time.

TMN: The range of features on this project are really interesting from ZZ Ward, to Curren$y, to Vic Mensa. Can you tell us a bit about how some of those came about, and if there were any particularly fun or interesting stories behind the collaborations?

Asher: It was all organic. ZZ [Ward] is from Abington, Pennsylvania, which is just around the way, before she ended up moving to the northwest when she was young, so it was crazy to find that out. But we’re all kind of the same family recording with each other. We went on tour with Kids These Days before they broke up and me and Vic became close, then we did “Hard Times” together. The Blended Babies were definitely the kind of the linchpin in all of those relationships, but it is one big family, a big circle of friends. Once you know one person, you start to know everyone. That was really special for me, and I think that added to the feel of the record—nothing felt forced. The only person that I didn’t get in the studio with and be with while writing the record was Curren$y because he was out in New Orleans. But that’s the homie, so we just sent it over to him and he was like, “I got you.” All that stuff was super organic and that’s how I like to keep it.

I’m such a people person first. You can always do the, “Hey, you’re poppin’ right now, let me put you on a feature so I can be poppin’ too,” but I don’t know how long that really lasts. People conceal that too, and I think things are becoming a bit more transparent. It’s important to me to keep an honest approach to my music because once you start lying, for lack of a better word, people are going to know. They’ll feel it and they’ll become uninterested.

TMN: Alright, we’ve got a few fun questions for you to wrap up. If you were a superhero what would be your kryptonite?

Asher: First thing that comes to mind, and the only thing that honestly almost makes me slip up is women. Just because they are so seductive and so beautiful. And I know you’ve seen the Matrix with the woman with the red dress. When women want to turn it on they can. Other than that, I’m pretty much in control of all other substance and any mental games, but the girls can creep their way in.

TMN: What’s your preferred way of blazing?

Asher: You know, I like to roll a joint, I’m not going to lie, but I also do some of the vape stuff. I’m not really down with the dabs. The wax stuff is cool; I understand the concentrated THC stuff and it’s easy and convenient. But if I had to, I would just keep the RetroHash, keep the J.

TMN: So, your name is Asher Roth. My full name is Ash-Raf. What do you think of us forming a rap group together?

Asher: That would be amazing!

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