“Have you ever chewed on a rubber band?” Sean Daley asks me over the phone.
I realize, to my own surprise, that I actually have chewed on a rubber band. I can even remember what it tasted like … a little salty … earthy … very, uh, rubbery. But Daley is making a point.
“It gets you nowhere. That’s what I’m trying to get across. [My music] is not here for you to base your identity on; it’s not here to save your life,” he says. “Take it and use it as an escape. You’re not going to get any flavor. It’s not gum; it’s not sustenance. … Sometimes people are overly flattering, and I usually put them in their place.”
I compliment him on his humility, but he’s not having that either.
“I’m so egotistical. I just tone it all down when I’m talking to the press,” he laughs.
Daley, who goes by the name Slug, is the rapper in Minnesota-based hip-hop duo Atmosphere, a group that’s helped pioneer the independent hip-hop scene since forming in 1993.
“I had dreams of being LL Cool J – strippers and gold chains and all that,” Daley says. “Fortunately, none of that clicked,”
Only it did, sort of. While they’re not in heavy rotation on MTV (when, if ever, the channel plays music videos), Daley, and his partner, DJ and producer Ant (Anthony Davis), have managed to stay balanced on the slippery edge of stardom for 15 years.
“I’ve gone through fazes. When I was 16, of course I wanted [commercial success and MTV airtime], and when I was 26 I wanted nothing to do with it. Now that I’m 36, I really don’t care. If the industry called me up and said ‘Do you want to do lunch?’ sure, I like free lunch, but if they don’t call I’m perfectly fine making myself a sandwich and cracking open a thing of yogurt.”
Following the release of this year’s When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, Atmosphere is back on the road, showing off new material that stays relatively true to form with songs that read like short stories and chronicle things like long shifts waiting tables in “You,” and alcohol addiction in one of Daley’s personal favorites, “Painting.” The pair will be pulling into the Las Vegas House of Blues for a show on September 26.
“We focus our shows on being accessible to people. When you buy a ticket to one of our shows, you’re buying a ticket to spending a day with us. We shake hands; we sign autographs, kiss babies.”
And Daley hopes you enjoy the access.
“I view my career as an actual job. I try to treat it accordingly, because I know I can get fired at any minute. I’ve got 80,000 17-year-old bosses, and at any point any one of them can fire me.”