Beyond the Stratosphere with Atmosphere: an Interview with Slug

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I did not expect that my conversation with Slug from Atmosphere would begin with a discussion about heaven. In retrospect, however, it seems like that was the only way we could start an interview after what felt like ages of battling the time difference and online platforms that separated and connected us at the same time. On one side of the globe, Slug was having his morning coffee at 8AM. I was about to have my dinner at 6PM on the other. Both of us admitted that we are not in the prime of our talking capacities, but now as I skim through the transcript of our conversation I see how that made the interview possible at all. It has the rawness and liveliness of a serendipitous interaction: all scripts forgotten, all preparation gone, only genuine and unfiltered shared stream of consciousness.

A match made in heaven. That’s what we hesitated to say in the very beginning about the connection between Atmosphere and TeenStation. Might be cliche, but it fit so perfectly that it sounded genuinely profound. But it was clear from the start that is exactly what it was. Two independent culture projects that are constantly evolving. We found each other at the right time, too.

Sean Daley, known by his stage name Slug, is the rapper of the “couple” that is Atmosphere in his own words. The other element of the band is Anthony Davis (or also Ant), the producer and “beat maker.” Their journey together began in 1995 when, as Sean described it, “that was the early years of hip hop when it felt like counterculture.” They’ve managed to preserve that rebellious and adventurous spirit over the years because of their similarities in terms of age, background, ethnicity and the fact that they’re “accidental” musicians.


If I had to describe what we were to somebody who didn’t know, I would start by saying that both of us are accidental, like, we were not built for this. This was not something that we could have had a plan to do. This was all very accidental. This happened just because two people were just having fun and following a path to fun, rather than a path to stardom or a path to success



They didn’t necessarily grow up with rap, in fact their hometown was not famous for its “contributions to hip-hop,” as Sean described it. They made their way through an expanding culture on their own, without the safety net of a pre-existing audience. Yet Sean recognized there was still a hunger for rap that talked about the experiences of that community: “They wanted something that felt like their blue collar life, that felt like their every day, every person kind of vibe. And we were accidentally making that kind of music. That is how we ended up with an audience. Many artists, they start a path and they find avenues in ways to transport themselves down that path. And with us, it wasn’t that. It was the audience that was looking for the path and we just happened to be something that could sit on the side of that road, on the side of that band. And it worked. I don’t know how I mean, I just explained how, but I don’t know how I don’t know how it was us, it makes total sense to me that an audience was looking for something like us. But I don’t know how somebody in New York or Florida or California or Texas, didn’t beat us to it.”

At the time, they didn’t even think of becoming career musicians. Slug recalls how they were in their mid to late 20s, already secure in their jobs then, and music entered their lives almost as a hobby or a side-gig. The rise of Internet culture and more music being shared through that world wide web played an instrumental role in their development as musicians. Once they had found their audience, they began dedicating more and more time to making music. Over the years, the process of writing the lyrics and mixing the beats has evolved in many, also accidental, ways. For Slug, the process changed from being impulsive to very organized and deliberate work, a literal wordsmith-ing:

So early, I used to go to [Anthony’s] house with a folder full of notebooks, and loose loose leaf paper and napkins and anything that I could write on. And I would sit there and shuffle through all these different pages of different ideas I’ve written down or different rhymes or different one liners or different concepts, and I would start to forge a song out of all of these ideas. And I feel like you could hear it. You could hear in the music that there were a lot of non-sequiturs inside of the early stuff, where I’ll just go on tangents and then I’ll try to come back to the concept and I really kind of regret that. I regret a lot of the early writing even though I don’t think the audience necessarily holds my earlier writing up to the same standards that I do. And now, I would say slowly from there, I did start to try to teach myself how to sit down and focus on just writing the song that I’m trying to write and just communicating the idea that I’m trying to communicate.


He says that sometimes it would take him months of focused work on a single song in order to get to a point where he feels the project is complete.

Now, Sean and Athony work semi-independently: lyrics and beats emerge separately and then come together to make a song. A key element of their songwriting process (without giving out too much of the secret ingredients from their kitchen) is structuring a project around an exercise. Their latest album, So Many Other Realities Exist Simultaneously, abbreviated to SMORES, was born from an exercise in sequencing, where Anthony would give Sean a beat, Sean would write the lyrics and then that became track one. The process was repeated for each consecutive song on the album, but they did not reorganize the tracks at the end. It was part of the challenge, and it created a project that sounds almost like a concept album even though it was not necessarily meant to be one:


With that, what we were able to do was actually tell a real story. And not so much like, you know, you’re not listening to a story that’s got bumpers or boundaries around it, that it’s like a movie. It feels disjointed, and it’s still me, and it’s still, you know, me grabbing at my thoughts in my stream of consciousness. But to do it in order allowed me to have references in there where like, in one song, I might reference the song prior. Or at the end of the song, I might say something to set up the next song, or even musically, [Anthony] might use a sound in a song that shows up in the next song even stronger, or lighter, you know, so it was really fun. We’d never thought of doing that before.


Sean describes these creative exercises as a way to keep their music muscles “warmed up” and the “peripheral busy.” By constantly engaging with music, it keeps their sound fresh and their motivation to respond to the events in the world with music strong. And they do not shy away from leading difficult conversations. So Many Other Realities Exist Simultaneously is their COVID album, but upon close listening, it becomes so much more. Slug really wanted it to be an album about what it means to be human and what humanity is capable of. COVID opened up the theme for him, but since then so many more layers of interpretation have emerged. And in such a way that our conversation steered into a new direction as well, one that took us beyond the bounds of the planet Earth.

I am so grateful that I was spared the task from Bulgarian literature classes where we needed to answer the question “what did the author want to say.” I got to hear directly from the source what Atmosphere’s latest project is about and, really, it can be summarized as an exercise of hope. Despite the fact that quite a few of the songs have a dark twist to them, ultimately So Many Other Realities Exist Simultaneously is an ode to the complexity and strength of the human spirit. It expresses our collective fear of perhaps being too far along doomsday highway, but still holding on to the simple fact we are alive. Or as Sean put it “even if Earth kills our bodies, my consciousness is now floating through space with the collective consciousness, whatever you want to call it, heaven like we talked about earlier. That collective consciousness is now floating. And now it’s like, just in a place of, you know, considering what life really was. And that’s how the album kind of ends, it ends with the song called ‘Smores’. Which is just kind of like a way of saying, hey, all of this stuff that we overcomplicated, that we try to make into these important things, because our egos are really nothing, but the world is nothing but graham crackers, chocolate and a marshmallow.”

Next year will mark the 30th birthday of Atmosphere, but the celebrations start early. With a new EP, Talk Talk, released a few months ago and an unreleased record already scheduled for the end of this year, there is much to expect from the indie hip-hop duo. Slug is hoping that he will get to showcase his more comedic side in the new songs, write “happy” lyrics for a change. I am just hoping for more of Atmosphere’s music, but I would fully trust the direction they take. With independent artists, experiments are always the way to go.

Among their upcoming projects is also a visit to our homeland for Sofia Live Fest this June. What excites Slug for this upcoming performance is the air of mystery that Bulgaria has managed to retain:

There aren’t too many places left that I haven’t visited. I haven’t been to every city, but I’ve visited every culture. With Bulgaria, I don’t even know what the culture is, you know. I can go to France, and even before I ever went to France, I was already fed information about what to expect. I was already fed information that gave me preconceived notions about what Germany was going to be like, about what South Africa was going to be like, about what Egypt was going to be like, but I don’t have any history of information given to me about what to expect or anticipate going to Bulgaria. And that is super exciting to me. Like, that doesn’t happen very often, where I get to go, you know.

Atmosphere remain equally mysterious to the Bulgarian audiences as well. Rarely do we get to interact with hip-hop artists of this caliber and such a unique style and mode of expression. June 23rd seems to be the day that we will get to experience a lot of that, since the local hip-hop heroes So Called Crew are also going to grace the stage of Sofia Live Fest. Jluch, Grigovor and Gena are also confirmed to perform at the festival, but the date remains to be announced, so tune in to the Sofia Live Fest social media pages for updates. And this is only part of the line-up curated specifically for the die-hard rap fans. It takes only a quick browse through the Sofia Live Fest website to discover that every genre will be represented by a renowned artist.

From what was supposed to be a 20-minute phoner, my interview with Slug turned into an hour-long conversation about music, humanity, authenticity in the age of AI, and so much more. I have material for another ten pages worth of quotes and impressions, but I don’t think I will ever be able to do justice to the artists that Sean Daley and Anthony Davis are. I am already jealous of everybody who will get to experience Atmosphere live this summer in Sofia and get to share a space and a time zone with them.