It’s early on Thursday in the back room of Fleetwood’s, the combination vintage shop/bar/music venue/wedding chapel in West Asheville. But as Davaion Bristol, aka hip-hop artist Spaceman Jones, gets ready to shoot a music video with Erick Lottary (ShotXLott) for the impending release of Spaceman Jones & The Motherships Vol. 2, the vibe transforms from a grungy garage show into a Sunday morning church service.
Light streams through the purple and orange patchwork of stained-glass diamonds along the back wall as Bristol dons a long, black robe with crosses down its front. He shakes loose a tangle of dreadlocks and begins to walk the space, talking about the inspiration behind the new EP that he and producer Cliff B. Worsham are set to debut at Ellington Underground on Saturday, March 3.
“What’s affecting us the most is how the people who are in charge of us act,” Bristol says. “They want us to go along with what the priests subscribe, what’s already been handed to us. They want the whole world to be an echo chamber: You can be censored for having an opinion that’s against the norm, no matter how ridiculous the normal opinion is.”
Worsham, aka MOTHER HOOD of Asheville electro-soul outfit RBTS WIN, chips in from behind the podium where he’s set up his sampler for the video shoot. “Now, more than ever, they want us not to speak,” he says. “They want people like [Bristol] to not have a voice.”
Their tag-team sermon underscores Bristol and Worsham’s commitment to making meaningful, socially conscious hip-hop. Spaceman Jones & The Motherships, the pair’s initial EP, drew material from the 2016 presidential election and first 100 days of the Trump administration. The upcoming record follows suit — as will Spaceman Jones & The Motherships Vol. 3, already recorded and planned for release around early fall of this year.
The fast pace of releases, says Worsham, speaks to the easy collaboration he and Bristol enjoy in the studio. “The first tape was kind of an experiment to see if we worked together, but recording it went so quickly that we got momentum,” he explains. “The recipe works, and [Bristol]’s become such a good writer that we were able to get a lot done in the past few months.”
Although Spaceman Jones & The Motherships Vol. 2 follows the same template as the first EP, with two sets of four songs separated by an interlude and bookended by an intro and outro, the sound feels more open in both production and vocals. Bristol’s raps are sparser, less hurried, while the backing tracks constructed by Worsham and fellow RBTS WIN producer Javier Bolea give each individual sample more room to breathe.
Bristol may be putting fewer words into each bar, but what he does say hits harder for its precision. On the second verse of “Halfway Crook,” he raps, “Remember lessons from my transgressions / I lost a couple friends and gained a lot of blessings / Messing with ghosts through the smoke / I wonder what was worse for ni**ers, slavery or coke?”
The syllables pop off the crisp tattoo of a snare drum while a church bell sets an appropriately somber tone; there’s little else on the track to compete for attention with Bristol’s lyrics. “I switched up a lot of my cadence for this record,” he says. “I’m kind of rapping in between the space of what’s actually happening in the music, more in the groove.”
Even the duo’s approach to live performance is adapting to this less-is-more philosophy. “We’ve learned that features don’t really work — it’s enough with just [Bristol] and me,” Worsham says. “And we don’t worry too much about trying to translate the studio sound to live shows because we want it to rip!”
Onstage and in the studio, Spaceman Jones & The Motherships continue to tighten their music, finding the clearest ways to share messages that Worsham believes are crucial for the times. “I think people in Asheville and across the board in the U.S. right now are hungry for real substance,” he says. “Once you give them a taste of something like that, they have to have more of it, because once you start learning, you don’t want to stop.”
WHAT: Spaceman Jones & The Motherships Vol. 2 album release party
WHERE: Ellington Underground, 56 Patton Ave., ellingtonunderground.com
WHEN: Saturday, March 3, 10 p.m. $10