It's been almost three years since Asher Roth took the frat rap world by storm with his beer pong anthem "I Love College." And though his debut album Asleep In The Bread Aisle didn’t sell an insane amount of copies, he built up an extremely loyal following of fans across the country and overseas, largely on the strength of the passion displayed in his live shows.
And now, with a freshly inked Def Jam deal, Roth's latest mixtape Pabst & Jazz is slated for a 12/20 release, with his sophomore album, Is This Too Orange due out in early 2012. Looks like Asher Roth is ready to get back to where he feels most comfortable: on stage.
We got on the horn with Asher a few weeks ago, before the news of his Def Jam deal broke, to talk about his history of rocking crowds. He took us all the way back to his very first live show in Philly, through his "I Love College" performance on MTV's Spring Break, and even shared a few highlights from the Great Hangover Tour with Kid Cudi and B.O.B.
He also recalled spitting with The Roots during their annual pre-Grammy Jam Session, his impromptu Magic Show freestyle with Mos Def and Beanie Sigel—even some not-so-great moments, like the show in San Diego when he got hit in the head with a glass bottle. Plus, he explains how his upcoming tour with The Cool Kids came about (they’re hoping to head out together at the top of the new year). Asher Roth's on that Willie Nelson shit—he just can't wait to get on the road again.
Interview by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)
What do you remember about your first show?
The first time I had a [real] show was in the Manayanunk, Philadelphia area. It was advertised, and it was my first time that my name was on a bill. It was pretty makeshift, just a buddy of mine selling Vespa scooters in the area who was putting on an event. It was in this backdrop where they usually hold Bar Mitzvah’s and weddings.
There were probably 50 people there total, and 45 of them were ones that I brought out. That was fun because although it was my first experience and there was nobody there at all, it also was the first I learned about the support system that is the live show. When you’re performing, the audience is going to give you what the show is going to be.
What did you spit?
This is before everything, when I was like a young buck just [starting to] really construct a song. A lot of the kids there were my high school friends, so this was maybe my freshman year of college. I remember doing “Alone” and this song “Superstitious” that I had. It was fun because I was running through some songs that I had written and performing them for the first time.
Did you get paid?
No, but you know who was supposed to be there, and then showed up really late? DJ Scribble. [Laughs.] But at that age it was a huge experience for me, just performing and being super impressionable. At the same time, you’re being judged, and [learning to be] okay with that and be comfortable.
What about your first paid gig?
First paid gig...Man, I feel like I still do them for free. I really don’t remember because it just happened overnight that I was rocking at colleges and on rooftops for these kids, and then suddenly the next day I had a show. That’s what if feels like anyway.
I feel like I still do shows for free. I really don’t remember because it just happened overnight that I was rocking at colleges and on rooftops for these kids, and then suddenly the next day I had a show.
Even now, it’s not like someone is putting the check in my hand and I’m walking out with it. It’s wired money, it’s almost like it’s not even real. It’s like a high score right now. But that first physical act of putting a dollar bill on my wall, I don’t really have that.
The Key Club in Los Angeles might have been my first paid gig. If you watch the video from that [Key Club] show, all I did was just flail around and wild out to get people into it. I look back at that now, performing at 20 years old, and I’m just excited as hell trying to get the people in front of me excited.
That was the same thing with Spring Break. I was just happy to be there. I’m on MTV, like, “What the hell is going on?” I’m in sandals, and I don’t even think my outfit matches but it’s all good. I did a stage dive, and it was all graceful, and I’m like 110 pounds so people can just hold me up with one hand. But then [my friend] Boyder jumps in, and he just goes face first right in to the sand. That was his first experience with stage diving, and I don’t think he does it anymore.
What was it like performing “I Love College” on MTV Spring Break?
Overall, the experience was dope. The performance was like, you just go. I don’t really remember thinking up there. But beforehand, hanging out with Jim Jones and just being in that atmosphere where it’s wild, very innocent, and fun. And they were shooting pictures for Rolling Stone, so that was cool because we were walking through being documented after the show, and people were really engaged and into it. Having that footage is really cool for me, because I’ll look back and see how excitable I was.
How was that first tour, rolling around with your boys doing shows with Kid Cudi?
The first real tour for me was The Great Hangover tour. When we first got our bus, we were in Boston, and it was like, “Whoa, this is the kind of stuff you see on YouTube videos of Lil’ Wayne.”
All my boys were with me; Brain Bangley, Boyder, [DJ] Wreckineyez, Salvador, Dave Appleton, [and some of my other buddies]. It was all these people that really had just been champions for me from the jump and really believed in me. It was super special.
For part of our show we had costumes. Boyd used to wear the marijuana full-body leaf, and during “Lion’s Roar,” Brain would come out in this lion outfit [Laughs.] When we left Boston and were coming to New York, the costumes got left behind [by accident].
We’re constantly being judged and criticized. Right when we put something out, we have a million and one opinions. It’s crazy. With Twitter [and all the other outlets for criticism], you’ve got to get really comfortable really fast.
They were a pretty integral and engaging part of the show. It was like we were unprepared for tour life. Boyd had to drive back to Boston to get the costumes and bring them back to New York. We got them back a half an hour before the show. That was when we were like, “Okay, this can be extremely stressful if you let it [be].”
But the tour goes on. The first tour is tough, because you’re only eating fast food and gas station food. That tour was much more than just the experience musically. It was also the experience of being a young adult and disciplined on the road.
You know in Dumb and Dumber, when he hits him in the face with the shit, and is like, “Some people just weren’t made out for life on the road.” And it’s true. The road is a grueling place. But at the same time, it’s how I put food on my table. It’s the life we chose, or rather, the life that chose us.
I haven’t been back on the road lately. When I get back out there, I want to give people another unique experience. I feel like we’ve doing the same song and same dance over for two, three years straight.
It will start to get obvious that I don’t want to be up there [doing the same material over and over]. That’s why I want to always remember that first show in Boston and in New York, and at Spring Break, and even that Vespa scooter show, and to keep it extremely innocent and fun and to never take yourself too seriously.
It’s tough, especially in the art form we’re in—we’re constantly being judged and criticized. Right when we put something out, we have a million and one opinions. It’s crazy. With Twitter [and all the other outlets for criticism], you’ve got to get really comfortable really fast. If you’re not into it, you can get talked out of it really fast by people you come across who aren’t even a part of your life.
It’s been a journey, and the one place I don’t get distracted by the Twitter nonsense and all that stuff is the road. Just getting on the road with my people and my friends. The people who come out to see the shows are the ones who want to be there. And it’s a blast.
Are there any cities or venues you’ve been to in your travels that were particularly memorable?
The largest show we did was in Berlin, opening up for Peter Fox, who is this guy who’s pretty popular over there. We were well received. Once those crowds start expanding, it’s like, “How am I gonna rock 9,000 people as opposed to 900?” I’ll never forget that. It was like an old, stone step Coliseum spot. And it was an awesome experience, just being in Berlin and seeing someone who can draw that many people. To rock before him was unbelievable.
The first show of The Hangover Tour in Boston, I’ll never be able to get over that. Everyone was excited everyone had their hands up. It was [Kid] Cudi and B.O.B., and we were all fresh and un-jaded. The House Of Blues in Boston is three stories high, and when you have that energy coming down at you and coming toward you, it’s impossible to not feel amazing.
In Houston when Bun B came out and showed love [on that same tour]. Those confidence boosters, when people come out and say they had a blast at your show [are really memorable].
You’ve rocked with some pretty big names in the industry over the past few years. Any favorite moments?
The one that changed everything was The Roots Jam Session in Los Angeles. I have a real love for hip-hop. I might not be the nerdiest one in the book, I’m no Peter Rosenberg—he definitely trumps me with the knowledge—but I’m really appreciative. The Roots, especially growing up in Philadelphia, and getting school suspension for [skipping class] to pick up Phrenology, [are a group that I really love].
I'm rapping and Black Thought comes up and starts freestyling after my verse. And I'm like, 'Oh! This shit can't be happening!' I'm lucky I didn't just black out.
They had their Grammy Jam Session, and I wasn’t nominated for any Grammys or anything, but The Roots called and invited me to be part of the Jam Session, and I did this joint called “Dope Shit” that will surface soon, and we kind of jammed out to it. I’m rapping and Black Thought comes up and starts freestyling after my verse, and I’m like, “Oh! This shit can’t be happening!” I’m lucky I didn’t just black out.
I had to give myself a reminder like, “Yo dude, rock with him!” So I got to freestyle with him. It was one of those moments, not caught on tape, just genuinely real. To come from the suburbs of Philadelphia and be such a Roots fan, and go through what I went through and still be able to rock on stage with Black Thought [and the band] in a completely improv moment is something that I have. I can leave now. I have that moment with me, and I’m happy.
Any crazy ciphers you’ve been in?
I remember at Vegas during the Magic Show, and that was the first time I met Mos [Def]. He’s someone I look up to as not just an artist but as a human being. He’s real cool, and he’s done a really good job of maintaining his life and still having a really successful career.
We were in Vegas, and I linked up with Undrcrwn, and Beanie Sigel was there, which is how “Perfectionists” came about, and Mistah F.A.B. And [Don Cannon] was there, and he throws on a joint, and I start rapping, and literally out of left field, I don’t know where he came from, Mos Def has a mic. He starts walking towards me, and he starts rapping, and I’m like, “Oh shit, this is crazy.”
Then from the other end, Beanie Sigel comes out of nowhere and he starts rapping, and it turns in to this crazy cipher. Then Mistah F.A.B. joins in, and he murders it, talking about “Cannon’s gonna have to use another beat.” It was another one of those moments you can’t plan. Those are the most special ones. It’s like New Year’s Eve. You have these high expectations and it always sucks. When you don’t know what’s about to happen, you can’t be disappointed.
Any not-so-great memories from shows, where maybe the mic got fucked up or someone was booing you?
I remember Rosenberg was doing an event at a school in New York. He was having a show and the Kidz In The Hall were there, and I was sort of a surprise. And Peter was like, “And by the way, here’s my homie Asher Roth!” And I come out, and no one is even saying or doing anything. And this one guy is like, “Asher Roth sucks!”
Definitely. We get the middle fingers and stuff like that. I remember Rosenberg was doing an event at a school in New York. He was having a show and the Kidz In The Hall were there, and I was sort of a surprise. And Peter was like, “And by the way, here’s my homie Asher Roth!” And I come out, and no one is even saying or doing anything. And this one guy is like, “Asher Roth sucks!” I came out and gave him a hi-five, rocked, and got it over with.
I’m not a big night club dude dude to begin with, and don’t necessarily feel comfortable there, but every once and a while are known to throw some checks which help keep the lights on. So as artists, we’ll show up, take a bottle, and rock two or three songs that are on the radio.
And that’s tricky, because people are partying, and then they’re expected to all of a sudden watch someone perform that they may not even be familiar with...
Exactly. It’s like, “Everyone look at me and stop dancing and partying and look at me. I’m so fucking important.” It’s already a strange relationship with the crowd. It’s completely different from a festival where people want to hear live music. I’ve always had a weird relationship with that scene.
So we’re in San Diego, and I love San Diego and we’ve had some great shows there. But this one time, we’re [performing at a night club], and I get hit with two glass bottles. One glass bottle hits me in the shoulder, and I just kind of shrug it off.
Then I get hit in the head with a glass bottle. So I finish the song, not the set, and just left. It ends up that a couple of the cats I was with saw who it was and followed the dude out, and he ends up getting arrested with possession of cocaine and marijuana. So there was justice at the end of it.
Did you get hurt?
Yeah, I got a little lump from it. I’m lucky because it didn’t break and I didn’t get cut up from it. But it was just like, “Damn.” You know, you get a little love and a little hate. But getting hit in the head with a bottle in front of mad people is embarrassing.
Getting hit in the head with a bottle in front of mad people is embarrassing. It doesn’t feel good, and you’re down on yourself. But if you fall off that horse, you’ve got to get back up there. It took me a while to go back to a club.
It doesn’t feel good, and you’re down on yourself. But if you fall off that horse, you’ve got to get back up there. It’s like if you get in a car accident, the first few times you drive after it you’re a little more cautious. It took me a while to go back to a club. But hey man, shit happens, and you’ve got to keep it moving.
Is the next move that you go on tour with The Cool Kids?
I hope so. We’ve been talking. There’s always the powers that be. But Chuck [Inglish] and I and some of the other boys are close enough to make sure that nobody gets in the way of it. We have a project that we’ve been working on called Pabst & Jazz.
Chuck’s involved in that?
Yeah, like “In The Kitchen” will be on that project, and some other stuff [we’ve been working on]. I highly encourage people that are involved in major labels to also do side projects. I love my riddle of, “How many executives does it take to put out a project?” Holy moly. It’s crazy.
But you have no choice but to be patient and let people do their jobs. The hardest thing for an artist is to be stagnant and just hang out. You get really frustrated and you want to be on the road. So if I can’t be on the road, it’s best to just be in the studio creating something.
You came out with them a couple months ago at your old school, West Chester University, right?
Yeah, that was crazy. It was on my birthday, August 11th, and I was home, and I figured I’d go to West Chester because I hadn’t been in a minute. Cool Kids wild out, and I came out, and the kids showed so much love.
That was just one of those moments that was like, “Okay, I’m gonna be alright.” They let you know, “We got your back, man. Keep going.” That support system is more important than anything else, because it’s real in the field.
That’s where we got the idea [for the tour]. We were like, “If it’s gonna be like this every night, we should do this.” When Fish Ride Bicycles [finally] came out, so they’re feeling good and they’re really happy. So that’s what we want to do. At the end of the day, the shows for me are the most important part.
How do you prep for going out on tour, in terms of putting together the set and getting the right people involved?
I love performing “Blunt Cruisin’,” because there’s a whole thing that goes into it. We get to play a mix CD of some music that’s relevant to the city [we’re performing in], and that joint just bangs when we ride out to it.
When things are in order, and you have dates coming up and you have to do a show, hanging out suddenly becomes rehearsal, and you get familiar. It’s just like putting together a playlist on Itunes. It’s what sounds right with together, what’s the vibe going to be.
For The Great Hangover for instance, we were getting together for seven or eight hours a day, just smoking pot and going through the songs. It was fun. And then we got a rehearsal space for two weeks and just got ready for it.
Now, since we have that type of foundation, when Wreck and I do spot dates every now and then, we have certain groupings of songs that go really well together. It’s a collaborative effort for sure.
There’s stuff I want to do, but Wreck is obviously really familiar with rocking crowds, so he’ll be like, “This sounds good, let’s try this transition.” Our job is to make sure people are having a good time, and we take that into account when putting a set together.
What are your favorite joints to perform?
I love performing “Blunt Cruisin’,” because there’s a whole thing that goes into it. We get to play a mix CD of some music that’s relevant to the city [we’re performing in], and that joint just bangs when we ride out to it. Everyone puts their hands up.
You come out in a little whip, right?
Yeah [Laughs]. It’s like a Power Wheels. We’re just trying to have a good time.
“Sour Patch Kids” is always dope because it gives me a chance to talk about some shit, because we do want to mix that in, fortunately or unfortunately. I know you’re not supposed to talk politics at the dinner table, but I think it’s important.
I don’t want to waste my time or my listeners’ time, so it’s like, “Check it out, this is some crazy shit. All of you showing up here shows that we can do things.” And “I Love College,” when we perform that, it’s just smiles and wildin’ out.
It’s not like De La Soul saying they hate “Me, Myself, and I”?
Yeah, I mean, everyone has that relationship with that one record. But I kind of have to get over myself on that level because of what it represents for those kids and the people that are there trying to rock. Even if you don’t know the song, you know the lyrics, and you’re like, “Damn, I don’t even know how I know the lyrics to this.”
You can’t hate that.
Like five or six years ago I saw A Tribe Called Quest in Atlantic City. Busta came out. That show was crazy. I was three rows back.
You can’t. And as much as my relationship with that record is really strained and weird, it’s just fun for the crowd. I’m sure in the future we’ll do different renditions of it and remixes. And doing cover songs is always fun. We’ve done “Candy Rain” with the Soul for Real dance, we’ve done the Apache “Jump On It” dance. We mix it up and have fun doing different shit.
Are there shows that you went to that were really memorable?
Like five or six years ago I saw A Tribe Called Quest in Atlantic City. Busta came out. That show was crazy. I was three rows back. I think the whole doing drugs and going to see Dave Matthews Band when I was 16 was [memorable too], but that’s more about the social gathering than the actual show itself.
You’re curating a festival. Put your dream line-up together of artists for me, dead or alive.
The venue is probably going to be an abandoned grass lot in between two buildings, almost Block Party-esque. I would have to put Hall & Oates in there. I would love to see [Bob] Marley rock. I would love to see Rage Against The Machine rock. I would love to see Paul Simon smooth it out for a little bit.
And then, for me, I would love to see The Roots and just chill out. I’m going long term here. It would definitely be a daytime show, start it at around 2:30pm, with the golden hour around 6 or 7pm. Barbeque going, beer garden poppin’.
I’d say Wes Montgomery goes on at 2:30 to start the show. Then Paul Simon follows up, and maybe they jam together? I’d say Marley around the golden hour? Not too late though. And that’s my show.
What’s the future of Asher Roth as a touring artist?
I want to see the world. I think traveling is a luxury, and I want to [take advantage] of it. At the same time, when you’re traveling and doing shows, you don’t always get to see the city and the country itself. I don’t want to be on the road 365 days a year. It’s very grueling and tiring.
I want to put myself in a position that I can make music that’s enjoyed, and that’s going to allow me to play with a band. I’d love to do bigger venues and more outdoor festivals. I’d love to travel and see the world, and rock some pretty cool spots for the next 10, 15 years while I still have the energy and the health to do it. The performance aspect for me is when I’m most comfortable, even more so than recording. If I can do that, I’m going to be okay. I will be happy.