Bill Murray, sci-fi and ferrets—how Aquifer's blurred lines redefine hip-hop
Along for the ride on Aquifer’s crazy trip to the center of its identity
You can learn a lot about local rap duo Aquifer from its Facebook page.
The two performers are in one photo, standing in front of a colorful background. While holding cats. There’s a photo, too, of a patch that says “Aquifer: Hip-hop music for the advancement of ferrets.”
And their current profile pic is a shot depicting Bill Murray and Owen Wilson from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
In other words, it’s maybe not the typical hip-hop approach.
Tommy Fox and Brannum Goldsmith have worked together for nearly a decade under the Aquifer moniker but it’s perhaps only since earlier this year that the duo has really come to accept its true identity.
“We’re goofy dudes. We’ve started embracing what we’ve become, which is starkly outside of the form of what a rapper is supposed to be: aggressive or money-obsessed,” says Goldsmith.
This isn’t to suggest that Aquifer’s music is silly. Quite the contrary. It’s thought-provoking and personal. But it’s still decidedly left-of-center when it comes to the places mainstream rap traditionally goes. The duo’s latest mixtape, Adventure Club, released earlier this year, is a collection of material Fox and Goldsmith recorded between 2011 and 2015—a period of time they were less active. It’s intimate, lyrical hip-hop with sci-fi-sounding beats produced by Fox.
The record’s opening track is “Carl Sagan” and partially inspired the name of the mixtape. It also set the tone for the band and its return.
“It’s about going on a journey and coming back,” Goldsmith explains. “Carl Sagan sent out sounds recorded from Earth into the stratosphere into space, so if aliens ever got it, that would be the first thing they ever heard from planet Earth.”
The journey in Aquifer’s case is the band itself. They started in high school in 2003 as a trio in Amador County. The three guys lived in different towns in the area, but met on hip-hop forums and decided to get together.
“We were really the only three people in our area in our age group that were actually doing hip-hop. So, naturally, we started working together,” Fox says.
They went at it until 2009, and then whittled down to a duo. Fox and Goldsmith kept the band a priority for a few years but eventually it got pushed to the side as the two focused on other projects. Still, they wrote songs whenever they got together.
During that time, Fox attended college in San Francisco. Once, for a class assignment, he took field recordings of random people and noises on the streets of San Francisco. Some of those clips landed on the Adventure Club mixtape, which gives it a more conceptual, themed sound.
“We … tried to match them to our songs,” says Goldsmith of the field recordings. “After we listened to our songs, we realized we have a lot of nautical themes in our songs. Neither of us know why. A lot of our stuff goes back to water and maritime stuff. And I had a lot of those sounds from San Francisco, which fits.”
The mixtape also serves as a teaser for what’s next as the duo preps to work on a new full length in 2016. When Aquifer started, they say, alternative rap and mainstream rap existed in two separate very different camps. Now with a successful group like Run The Jewels straddling both worlds, that line is getting blurred.
“I love that that’s changing. The stuff that I listen to the most now is like Open Mike Eagle, Milo, Busdriver, all very outside of the old box that a rapper used to have to be,” Goldsmith says. “We’ve been kind of doing that for a long time, but at least now we know that everyone’s not going to hate us.”