You don't hear much positive stuff about Kanye West these days; mostly fury or baffled sympathy since he started cosying up to that creepy old orange dude. For hip-hop heads like Rob Broderick though, that's a little more troublesome, as West's music changed the game. Indeed, his live set-up made a big impact on Rob's own, earlier this year.
Circuit Training should mention here that the interview below happened a few months before the recent West/Trump summit, as Rob prepped for this year's Edinburgh Fringe, and almost exactly four years after he and I previously spoke. Things have evolved since then for the always-entertaining improv-rapper: he's now more technically innovative, too.
Abandoman is a solo project nowadays, accompanied by electronic riffs rather than the old acoustic guitar player, with a nifty new remote-access beat-controller, and a cutting-edge lighting rig. The latter was inspired by Kanye - but his next project might be completely different to anything he's done before.
That's one for the future: right now Rob is on tour with his Pirate Radio show, and in this suitably freestyle chat we ponder kids' shows, compare comedy and music - are music gigs easier? - and discuss his little-known rap-free stand-up background. Well, we did a few months ago anyway. Let's head back to late summer...
Where are you now, Rob?
I'm at a little Travelodge, having done a kids' festival last night that I did not know was a festival for kids. I very much thought it was a festival for adults.
The first time I ever saw you was a kids show, at a festival.
Last night they said 'make sure it's family friendly' so in my mind I thought it'd be a mix, but the front was just kids pressed against the stage. Our rules don't apply to them, you ask them a question and god only knows what's coming back. It felt like playing ping pong with a rugby ball - how will it bounce?
I did one about 'something you've lost' and a seven year-old had lost Scruffy, her toy dog. And mid-song I looked at her face and she's not past the pain. I'm now a grown man, reminding her of something that might have only happened two days ago - ohhh it was weird, I had to acknowledge it.
Those shows must be a challenge - they could go horribly wrong.
Yeah, you're almost back to being a new act, you don't know the rules of being in front of a crowd. Paul Currie was on, and I actually think it was one of the best gigs I've ever seen. Paul was like 'everybody, get on your magical dragons!' And I thought 'ohh, I wish I had magical dragons in my show.'
It's funny what goes through people's heads when the act before is on. I think musicians suffer from this less. Last night I was hanging out with a really good singer called Gecko, funny guy, I asked him about that, and he said 'not really' but I think comedians definitely think 'who am I on after?' Like it's a continuous story, 'am I able to grab the baton?'
At Latitude this year, David O'Doherty came on after a guy who was higher energy and absolutely killed, which could've been awkward - but he always has the songs.
Yeah, the thing with comedy, unless it's a song, you're pretty annoyed that you've heard it before. Flight of the Conchords' tour, people knew a lot of the material, and they're delighted to hear it done live - but if that was straight stand-up you'd think 'this is a little awkward.'
Improving His Improv
You definitely can't fall back on old material, as an improv act.
It's interesting, there was a year in Edinburgh - 2014? - where I thought the show was finished in June, but as we did previews, some of the questions I ask the audience were literally getting near identical answers.
I've had something this year that I've had to change for the same reason - people think that'll make it easier, but I really don't enjoy that. It's like there's a road map laid out, and the brain's gravitating towards it, less impulsive, a murky remembered world.
But if you turn down that suggestion, it looks like you don't fancy it...
I think people do come to see improv as a genre, and in every audience there's quite a few sceptics. The thing I always find hilarious, people think it's written in advance, but imagine the complications of the gig if I was just waiting for specific things, like people's names, hoping they'll come up - how stressful would that life be? All that writing...
You guys do a lot of other prep instead.
A lot of practice. This year I've got a huge lighting rig, and it came about when I saw a Kanye West show, at the start of the year - the energy that came from this wall of lights that he had. So [Abandoman's Edinburgh hosts] the Underbelly went off and found a sponsor, Chauvet, and they're giving me a wall of lights - I haven't seen it yet, it's being built now. So it's been interesting communicating with them, who've been amazing. There are some really interesting technical things happening.
It's like golfers who are brilliant but completely take apart their swing so they're that little bit better...
Yeah, like Kanye. His Trump thing, he's been unpopular, but what I always think: Kanye version one was amazing, soul samples pitched up, three albums that were roughly that genre, and he could still do that and everyone would still really like him. But every album since then, he really mixed it up.
You've changed it up since we chatted four years ago - Abandoman is solo now?
So first of all - like Bob Dylan - Abandoman went electronic. James [Rob's old guitarist] went to do solo stuff, Sam the drummer stepped in and started looping with electronics, then Sam hit the road with Anna Meredith.
Hip-hop has so many different genres in it - emotional, trap, the super aggressive stuff - I wanted someone to live produce, which is what Sam was doing, but it's hard to find someone to do all those things. Now I've got a way of controlling it with a Bluetooth necklace, which I've got really into - and it's now been discontinued! Because nobody else liked it.
You'll have trouble getting parts.
I am online buying them all! On eBay, I've just bought two from California, I am stockpiling these bad boys - I'm trying to get 10. They're really cheap.
They didn't come as a necklace, I've added that. It's a handheld controller, with the idea being that DJs would go into the crowd and DJ there - no DJ wants to do that, it turns out.
DJs don't want to do much really...
I was at a show at a festival, huge crowd, and this two-person DJ team were standing at the front of the stage handing out water. And I remember thinking, 'if you have a show where you can do that, your show isn't difficult enough...'
At least nobody can copy your set-up now, because you'll have bought all the remote controllers...
I'll be leasing them out! So that journey is interesting, it's led me down to the world of vocal processing, there are some really interesting sonic moments that I'm trying to bring into the show.
At the start there's a big autotune number, and it's one of my favourite bits. It's slower - weirdly it's easier to be emotional, those notes sound quite silly, but also really good. It changes the way you use your voice.
But I've got two buttons, and sometimes I end the autotune first, and then that last second sounds shit - you realise the autotune adds a lot. It makes me sound like a shiny robot.
Musicians Vs Comedians
It's interesting seeing musicians playing the Fringe now, like [US rappers] Sage Francis and B Dolan, using it to create a new show.
B Dolan is so good, and I honestly think Sage Francis is one of the best rappers there's ever been. Then I heard they're doing the Fringe - it was a bit like a child hearing that Superman is moving in three doors down. From what I can gather, it was also part of their development process. Comedians, we're fortunate to get 25 days in a row to develop our shows.
But every comic wants to be a musician, and vice versa. I always think with bands, the tourbus, you're a crew. You walk in, there's enough of you to have a party. And I can't help but look at the music world, and I might be wrong, but I think they're easier shows. Having done music shows and comedy shows - they're not judging you on every line you sing.
Music can end up as 'background' though.
And people will go to comedy without knowing who's on, which you don't get with music. 'We had a great night.' 'Who was on?' 'I don't know - a man, he talked about his son.' We just need to impress bookers and we can have a career.
You did straight-up stand-up early on, too?
For a while I saw hip-hop and comedy as two entirely separate things. In Edinburgh in '08 I was hosting a late-night show in the Gilded Balloon every night. It was all improvised, a lot of games, a lot of riffing.
When I first started doing comedy, the people that blew my mind were Jason Byrne and Dara O Briain. The first time I saw Dara, it was nearly all improv: myself and my friend were at the club underaged, and he found out what exams we were doing, and riffed this entire piece about exams - mind blown.
And Jason I saw doing three hours at a university - he was not booked for three hours - jumping from desk to desk; he did a callback to something two and a half hours earlier, and I lost my mind. A lot of what I saw in the Irish scene was improv, it had a huge influence on me.
Last time we spoke, you sounded quite keen to do an album.
In terms of writing at the moment, I'm looking at animation. I'm much more interested in doing something written but surreal. 100 per-cent I don't want to put out an album where Rob Broderick tells you how it is: 'Hey guys...' But I love the idea of doing an animated thing, and maybe getting rappers that I like to do something, work with other MCs.
You can get Sage and B Dolan on there, as they followed your path from rap to the Fringe.
Si, I think the learning between me and Sage... I very much feel that I'm the distant Daniel-san to his Mr Miyagi.