Interview: Big Boi

Photographer Geordie Wood
December 11, 2012

Today marks the release of Big Boi's third (if you're counting 2003's Spearboxxx) solo album, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, named after the title of a book Big says his late grandmother planned to write to air out the family's dirty laundry. He stopped by FADER while in New York promoting the release, and opened up about what his relationship with André 3000 is like now, making his kids use encyclopedias, playing host to new collaborators and why he likes festivals.

This past summer you shared a picture of you and Andre together on Father’s Day. Now that you’re both grown, with families of your own, what's your relationship like? We cool. We talk all the time. He comes by my house, our kids play video games together, we sit in the pool house and play pool and play music. We don’t report on it every time we hook up, so people don’t know. I took that picture on Father's Day just as a gift to the fans, cause they ain't seen us in the same room in so long. Me and Dre can't even go anywhere together in public because it's a fiasco. As much as we'd like to go and sit down and have dinner together, that shit won't work at all. Never. The only place we might go, and we can't even go there no more cause we shut it down, is the strip club. For real. So we usually be at my house, his mom's house, his house. But mostly my house.

How have you made that friendship stick for so long? What it boils down to is, you have to have your own life. If you been around with somebody for so long, it's almost automatic family. All my people that are around me I do consider family. We know each other. We may not communicate all the time, but we know each other. We don't have to be day in day out, because we have done so much day in and day out for years and years and years. You don't have to do that all the time. We got kids. I got shit to do. I got a football game to go to, I got a piano recital. Got to make songs and shit. You know what I mean? Dre's got a son too and he plays football. Like, man. Enjoy your life.

You’ve rapped about your experience of fatherhood since ATLiens. That's clearly still a role you treasure, and on Instagram you sometimes tag family photos "on-hand parenting." What does on-hand parenting entail? I really just hang out with my kids, you know? Be home, be at home. On-hand parenting is about being there. Being there for them at all times, from the beginning all the way till now. My kids now are 11, 12, and my daughter is 17. She just got accepted into the University of Alabama and Auburn University, which was her dream school to go to. It just makes you feel good. I've been there since day one, you know? I'm definitely a proud father. This is age of information: you can find out about anything you want to. World history, politics, fitness, health, whatever. You just have to search for it. But there’s two sides of the sword. With social media, the people can say anything and anything can become a false truth. So you just gotta get yourself out there. You got to fight false truth. I tell my kids it's bigger than that Wikipedia. I have to show them, even on my Wikipedia page, it's not solid facts. I tell them about the days, like we had encyclopedias. Real books, and we got them at home now, too. Dictionary, thesaurus, whatever. Don't just click a button, and there’s your book report, word for word. Don't you want your project to be different from everyone else's in the class? You don't think the teacher knows that y'all just going to Wikipedia and saying the same things? Get the encyclopedia and put some different words in there. Find out what you really want to say about something. That's on-hand parenting.

Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors has a distinctive, electronic sound. What brought you toward that? This particular record is a more soul, electro, funk thing, mostly because I’ve been out and about. Doing the Bonnaroos and the Glastonburys and the Outside Lands. The festival experience is fun, though. You might play at 7 or 8PM, then someone who you love like Metallica comes on, and the next day might be Coldplay or Prince or whatever. I’m a music lover, so I hang around all day long and watch, from the DJs on down. We were always into an electronic sound, but it's heavy heavy on this album, along with the brass and the wood. We were trying to create the Fraken-funk, and to do something that had me excited. A new groove, really bending the sounds and having fun with it.

When you started this album, it was going to be a more purely funk project called Daddy Fat Saxxx: Soul Funk Crusader. Why did you ultimately shift gears? It was always going to be funk. But what we were doing just wasn’t sounding like that kind of deep funk record to me. It was more electro, so it was like, Okay. Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors is about being in search of the truth, the truth to unlock combinations to different grooves for me. The new songs were all over the place at first. Sometimes you get that block. When it happens I look at a lot of documentaries and things that feed your mind. Sometimes you might just have to step back for maybe a week, two weeks. Making this album, at one point, I let it breathe for like a month maybe. I would listen to it every single day, so if I got tired of listening to it then I knew that wasn’t it. But now I can't stop playing it. When you unlock it it's the best feeling in the world.

You hadn't previously collaborated with Phantogram or Little Dragon, but they both play a big part on the record. How did they enter the picture? I discovered Phantogram’s music by chance, on a popup ad on the computer. I’m closing out of a ‘You have just won a prize’ screen and “Mouth Full of Diamonds” came on and I Shazamed it, bought the song, then invited them to Stankonia. Dre introduced me to Little Dragon’s music, at his house. We were going through some records, MGMT and some old George Benson. I met Little Dragon at Austin City Limits and invited them to the studio. We camped out for seven days and just made music. It was similar to the environment of the old Dungeon where you had OutKast, Goodie Mob and Organized Noize all under one roof and we would just jam out. That’s why you see Sarah [Barthel] or Yukimi [Nagano] multiple times on the record, because it was that same feeling.

What's significant about working in your studio? I'm known for bringing out the best in people. [Stankonia] is packed with drums, all kinds of percussions everywhere, people sprawled out all over the studio writing, different rooms going on at the same time. Just creating all day. The last time that Yukimi and Little Dragon came down, they bowled in our bowling league with us. We got a Stankonia bowling team. They stayed for the Big Kids Halloween fundraiser. You form a real bond, you know? Then it’s like, Damn, you just hate to see them go back to Sweden.

Label disagreements kept Little Dragon off of "Mama Told Me," which their lead singer Yukimi Nagano co-wrote. What happened? Peacefrog? Unpeaceful. Little Dragon were still under contract with Peacefrog when we recorded. When they left that label and went to Universal I guess there was some bad blood going on between them two. So I guess Peacefrog felt like this was the last Little Dragon check they were gonna get. So they come in to my song that was already done and try to hijack my whole song. And I’m like, Helllll no. Wait a fucking minute! This shit is unheard of. They trying to rape me for my record that I already have. I still have that version though. You know me, I love the fans. Don't try to tell me I can't put it out. You know how shit leak around.

"The Train Part II," one of the non-singles from your last solo album, was at the center of the ballet you put on in Atlanta. Are there deep cuts on Vicious Lies that are emblematic of its spirit? One is “Tremendous Damage.” It's a good one, about going through hardships that make you stronger. Being inside of a cocoon till you develop all the way to come out and become who you really are. “Descending” with Yukimi is the last song on the album, it’s like the coming down. My grandma passed, and when I make music, it’s a form of mourning for me. I don’t make sad music, but I can really express myself because I’m really in touch with my inner feelings, and I really expressed that on those two records.

Do you think this record's poppier sound will alienate anyone? I don't give a fuck! I don't think they are gonna be cranky, I think they are going to love it, cause I'm growing. You cannot tell a man how to express himself. An honest form of writing and making songs? You have to applaud that. I know how to make music. I try to use my better judgement than do some clown shit.

Have you always felt so confident? Not really. I still see myself as a student. I've made like so many albums and learned so many things, but by trying to expand on sounds, and just really pushing and pushing, you charter new territory. It excites me to make the music. But this being the third solo album, I feel like I know what I want to hear, even if it's the unheard. You can tell that I enjoy making it. There's so much time put into it on purpose.

Do you ever feel like taking a break from touring, or recording? While you're in the groove, it's not really time to take a break yet. I’m still young with a strong back. I'm having fun, I’m touring the world. My kids are getting bigger. It ain't time to rest. When you get away from music for awhile, when it comes time to work yourself back up into a groove, it's like building that shit all over again. So now that I’m riding the middle of it, I’ll stay recording. It’s a non-ending process.

Interview: Big Boi