INTERVIEW: Touch AC talks about his new EP with Dr. Dundiff, nihilism, and a life changing breakfast!

February 24th throughout history has had some interesting shit go down. In 1868, Andrew Johnson became the first US president to be impeached by the house; in 1918 the Estonian Declaration of Independence was signed; in 1920 the Nazi Party was founded and in 2008 Fidel Castro retired as Cuba’s president. All of that shit pales in comparison to what is to come this February 24th however, as Touch AC and Dr. Dundiff have teamed up for new music set to drop on…02/24. Live From Anatta puts a focus on the sounds of live instrumentation alongside some of Touch’s more dense and cryptically layered lyrics in some time.

I recently interviewed Touch to find out more about Anatta, nihilism and how a bomb ass breakfast can shift a person’s philosophical outlook on life…

Never Nervous: You describe Live From Anatta as jazzy and poetic. I feel like there’s a strong spoken word influence in almost all of your work. Do you have experience with performance poetry/spoken word?

Touch AC: I do! And I’d like to get more involved with that again at some point. For a few years, it’s all I did. I used to host a monthly slam event in Louisville and it was a lot of fun but I surrendered the reigns when I started getting hard up for time. Performing spoken word was the bridge that took me from “I write raps in my bedroom” to “I rap in front of crowds on stage.” I have been writing poetry and rhymes since I was in middle school but it was never something I took seriously until I met my first guru. I was exposed to slam poetry around that same time. From that point on it was natural to make that my next step.

While we’re on the subject of the new music — on second thought, “jazzy” isn’t the word I should have used to be real. I used it as an umbrella term for a live band-ish feel since I’m a philistine when it comes to describing genres accurately. There are certainly jazzy moments but as an overall descriptor it’s not really accurate. I guess what I meant is that it’s got a live, raw feel where the instruments stand out. The poetic descriptor, though, I stand beside. It’s some of my more lyrically dense stuff, I think. Not quite as personal on the surface but upon further examination it is laden with more hidden meanings in the lines than anything else I’ve done.

“I can be an overly sentimental dude so this was an exercise in recognizing the individual’s (in this case, me) importance, or lack thereof, and place in the Universe.”

NN: I’m unfamiliar with Anatta and a Google search just won’t do. What is Anatta and how was the concept of it used to inspire the project?

TOUCH: Anatta is a little difficult to explain. And now that we’ve named this project that, I have a feeling I’m going to be asked to try way too frequently. We fucked up. As if it’s not difficult enough, the answer will vary slightly depending on who you ask, too! The Buddha himself changed his answer for this very question slightly depending on who was asking. I’ll give it a try but, just like most matters of this type, it just takes considering and maybe trying to apply the concepts to your life to acquire a real grasp of the thing. For those of us that grew up in the Western world, it becomes kinda weird when you try to communicate some of the pieces of Eastern philosophy in a concise enough way to be an appropriate length for something like this, an interview or something. To accurately and perfectly describe Anatta would require a lot more to be written than what we’d want to do here, I mean. So a brief summary is gonna have to do…but it won’t do! That being said, here goes:

Essentially, Anatta is the Buddhist principle of the Non-Self – it’s sort of a reaction against the Hindu idea of a soul. There is no “true self” out there hiding from us, waiting to be discovered. “You” are your collection of experiences. The “self” doesn’t need to be sought out because you’re already it. There is no special thing inside of us that separates us from nature. Therefore, when you die, that’s it. There is no further path that your soul travels. There is karmic rebirth but not reincarnation in the sense that after death, “you” will come back.

Now, for my purposes I used the idea of that state of mind as a symbol to fuel a sense of detachment. When Dundiff approached me with the idea for the title, I made sure I tried to keep the lyrics consistent by talking a lot about meaning, attachment, and identity. I was trying to get to a place where I could analyze how much of myself I pour into inanimate objects, things I do, or relationships with others. To admit to myself with conviction: “I” Do Not Exist. I can be an overly sentimental dude so this was an exercise in recognizing the individual’s (in this case, me) importance, or lack thereof, and place in the Universe.

It’s a fun state of mind to put yourself in – temporarily — but I couldn’t operate within it full-time. I’m too much of a humanist. I refuse to believe that humanity isn’t special. Call it self-importance or whatever – but I believe in the glorious destiny of our species. We are destined to inherit the stars, it is our cosmic birthright. Queue up the Queen song, “Princes of the Universe” and think about sailing the stars my dudes.

“I record songs and never release them because they’re not part of a “project” – I’m making an effort to change that.”

NN: You’ve been on an EP kick recently. Any reason for that? Any plans for a fuller length project coming up?

TOUCH: I think it’s because I like the idea of thinking about a collection of songs as a cohesive art project. I like to isolate an idea or a feeling and just run with that. Build a project around whatever that thing may be. With “Page of Cups” we had references to that Tarot card all over the place. “Odysseus” was exploring that feeling of purposelessness/being lost. With a shorter, more concise collection of songs it’s easier to establish centralized themes – either intentionally from the gate or mid-way through the writing of it when you realize the concept formed itself subconsciously and you just caught on to it. It’s fun to think of EPs that way.

After Anatta I have one more EP this year that is in the germination phase now and a full-length swirling around in the shadows of my mind. I don’t want to say too much about either one quite yet except this: the EP is dark, vicious, and venomous and the full-length will be extremely explorative. Outside of that, I’ve got some random tracks here and there in the works. Collabs with people I know from the Internet. I want to be better about releasing stuff consistently. I record songs and never release them because they’re not part of a “project” – I’m making an effort to change that. If I’m in between projects and record something, then I’ll just drop it for fun.

NN: Your twitter profile says you are an ex-Nihilist saved by breakfast food. Why did you need saving from Nihilism? What particular breakfast foods make a man change up their worldview?

TOUCH: This is gonna be a long one. So I apologize in advance. People have a misconception of Nihilism. I blame that on people pretending or thinking they understand it before they really do. Maybe even perpetuating a stereotype to try to sound cool or get laid or something. “Fuck it man, nothing matters anyway. I’m going to spit in the face of our ancestors by over-simplifying this extremely complex thought experiment to suit my limited scope where I only notice my own suffering” – some emo type bullshit.

Nihilism isn’t a surrender to darkness or anything like that. It’s not a surrender to anything. It can be extremely helpful for certain types of people to think within the understood tenants of that philosophy – I’m not a pessimist necessarily but I get lost in certain ideas or feelings really easily and I do have a somewhat cynical disposition. Sometimes that may get confused for pessimism but my close friends have learned to distinguish the difference. Nihilism appealed to me, at first, because of that pre-existing viewpoint I had on life and existence as a whole. I learned the lessons I needed to learn from Nihilism and in many ways I still identify strongly with the philosophy. My suggestion for anyone who finds himself identifying with it is to also read up on the Tao. I think Nihilism when viewed through the lens of Taoism is more easily reconciled. I know that’s a lot of “ism” but really, it’s all just about acceptance and actualization. When you look at Anatta, Nihilism, and the Tao simultaneously, each helps increase the understanding of the others. Those three sort of twisting around one another like a braid fueled the creation process and the thought process behind this EP.

So, I didn’t “need saving” from Nihilism, necessarily – but I received a new understanding of the concept and finally was able to rationalize it, with the help of the Tao. The symbol I’ve chosen to use to represent that transformation is breakfast food. And there’s a reason! I have a Sunday morning ritual process that I try to not deviate from. It includes waking up early, reading, and thinking about shit – followed by making a bad ass breakfast. There’s some other stuff in there too but that’s the simple version. The breakfast sort of puts the cap on that morning process. Sometimes I take some pretty intense mental roads in those few hours and the breakfast is like the re-acclimation to the “normal world” when I’m ready for it. It quells the freak outs I often have when over-thinking things in that time span. You allow yourself to get “out there” and then you bring yourself back to a stable place. Nothing like breakfast for that.

To answer the other part of your question: eggs over medium, nice and runny but not soupy; bacon; white toast. That’s been my go-to since I was a kid. My arteries are probably brittle twigs at this point. Although, I must say that recently I have learned the value of a good mash. I’ve been being convinced to eat healthier on occasion. It’s not so bad.

“I am pretty content with the state of Louisville hip hop right now. I feel a vibe of acceptance wherever I go.”

NN: What’s something that could improve in Louisville’s hip hop scene/community? What does it get right?

TOUCH: To be consistent, I’ll stick with the Tao here. I don’t think there’s much anyone could isolate and say “this needs improvement” – it just is happening as it is because that’s the way it has to. I’m always careful to just make sure I’m doing my part and surround myself with people who also work hard. I am pretty content with the state of Louisville hip hop right now. I feel a vibe of acceptance wherever I go. There are many unique styles here and I rarely have to be around people who aren’t being true to themselves with their art. Things like the Louievolve Festival and the Sprite block party last summer help out a lot in unifying people. There is a sense of authenticity among the people involved and it’s beautiful.

NN: Who is your favorite Game Of Thrones character? Least favorite? Why?

TOUCH: Book favorites: Stannis Baratheon and Bloodraven. I’m going to answer “why” for Bloodraven because as my homies will tell you once I start talking about King Stannis, I won’t stop. I have his banner on my bedroom wall at the crib. It’s awesome. Anyway, Bloodraven (aka “The Three-Eyed Crow”) is great because he’s a powerful sorcerer who manages to sort of cheat death and still operate from the sidelines. The saying goes, “How many eyes does Lord Bloodraven have? A thousand eyes, and one” and that was BEFORE he merged with the Weirwood network and gained the ability to see all over the world and also INTO THE PAST. Plus, how dope of a nickname is Bloodraven?! He’s a fucking bad ass archer, too. Secretive, shadowy, sinister dude – very occulty vibes.

Book least favorite? Ser Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane. He sucks in the show but in the books you REALLY hate him – which makes his duel against the Red Viper even more of an emotional face-fuck. What a piece of shit.

Show favorites: Bronn (Tyrion’s homie) and Oberyn Martell (aka “The Red Viper of Dorne”). They’re both just swagged the fuck out. The Red Viper is a favorite book character too so I was worried about the show fucking him up. It was a perfect casting. The guy nailed it. His duel against the Mountain was perfect. “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM, SER?!”

Show least favorite? Daario Naharis. If you’re asking “who?”, he’s the guy that’s fucking Daenerys. In the books he exudes swag. He’s like Han Solo, Jack Sparrow, and Vega from Street Fighter in one guy. He dyes his goddamn beard blue! He’s flamboyant as fuck and even more lethal. He wears flashy clothes, brags all the time, and is just a beast on the battlefield. In the show, he’s just another dude with brown hair and a beard. Nothing special about him. It’s not that he’s necessarily bad – it’s just that compared to the book version of that character it’s just pathetic. One of the worst casting decisions in my opinion. I also wish they would have cast Roose Bolton differently – but that’s a whole other thing.

NN: If you could work with a producer in Kentucky other than Dundiff or Filthy Rich, who would it be?

TOUCH AC: For an entire project, Lo Fidel is #1 that comes to mind. I was a fan of his before I met him and we became friends after. When Dundiff and I were making Page of Cups we were kicking it with Fidel pretty often. He’s a bad ass. There are several I’d like to work with on individual tracks, though.

NN: What have you been reading? Watching? Listening to?

TOUCH: I’m reading a book right now called “All The Clever Words On Pages” by Paul Mason which is about his meeting of Aaron Weiss and the friendship that formed. Aaron Weiss is the front man of my favorite band, mewithoutYou. He’s someone I’ve viewed as a bit of a teacher or guru since like 2003. He’s largely responsible for that spoken word style we talked about earlier. He provided my first exposure to philosophical concepts, poets, and religious ideas that I ended up getting really into. I’m also re-reading “Demian” by Hermann Hesse. Big fan of his. Our song “Odysseus” is largely influenced by his book “Steppenwolf” – a few lines are almost straight from the text!

I always put on an episode of Star Trek before bed to fall asleep. Other than that, I only “keep up” with three shows when they’re active (Game of Thrones, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and JoJo’s Bizzare Adventure). Right now Game of Thrones and JoJo are both on break, so I’ve got Sunny but that’s it. Finding free time for me is really hard right now, so if I’m in front of the TV it’s going to be to play vidya games.

What I’m presently listening to is always all over the place. I’m always trying to find new music and I like all kinds of stuff. In Louisville, I’m still vibing with Otis Jr. He’s been blowing my mind for a minute now. His past two projects have been in heavy rotation for months. The new James Lindsey gave my mind a much needed baptism. Also from Lou, that Anwar Sadat album is a masterpiece. I’ve caught them live a few times in the past but not recently. Need to fix that. Outside of Louisville, most recently it’s been Carpenter Brut, the newest Ab-Soul, and the usual five or so go-to albums that I always rely on when I’m needing music. They have stood the test of time for a reason, after all.

Photo of Touch AC and Dr. Dundiff by Chris Smith