Science songster interview #17: Steve Rush

For years, I’ve been intending to interview Steve Rush, a.k.a. funky49. He’s an anomaly among anomalies: a science music guy who’s not a scientist, science teacher, or full-time musician. Plus he’s super-friendly on Twitter. After one of his recent re-tweets of my attempts at humor, I resolved to finally give him the interview that he deserves — or an interview of some sort, at least. Read on to find out how he pays the bills, what his next album is going to be like, where the handle funky49 came from, and more.

Steve in action at the 2012 Science and Engineering Festival
[Steve Rush in action at the 2012 Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC.]

SAS&M: When I interviewed Kate McAlpine (creator of the “Large Hadron Rap”), she named you as one of her favorite science rappers. She said, “I like Steve Rush for pure enthusiasm. He’s not a scientist or science communicator by training – he just thinks science rocks and wants to share it.” So … you’re not a scientist. What are you? A professional musician? Some corporate guy with good hair and a good mixing board?

SR: I AM SO HONORED! I’m just this guy, you know? My day job is an IT guy. I have 2 credit hours of music theory and a few electronic music classes under my belt. It’s mostly experimenting with software at home and learning things on my own. For me, music started in the early 90s with using MOD trackers on the PC. As music making software became more dangerous, so have I. I have learned a LOT of music production from my friend, John Sexton aka @redvoid. Over time I have acquired the gear to do basic home recording. I should read more manuals and watch more tutorials. By the way, ladies have found my hair soft and nice to touch.

SAS&M: Most people singing or rapping about science are science teachers, but you are not. What prompts you to create a science song — some concept that you just find interesting? Or is most of your work done on a contract basis? And who is your main target audience, if not students per se?

SR: Good question. I want to make things that sound good to me and are smart. I recently dropped a song called “Go for Launch.” It was inspired by a trip to Space Camp. For a few days, the nice folks at Space Camp USA had me and some other folks on Twitter come by, experience Space Camp, and tweet about it. (I proudly served as COMMANDER of the ENTERPRISE and successfully brought my crew home.) Some of us had our picture taken at the rocket garden at the nearby Marshall Space Flight Center. In that picture we were posed with our hands in the air like we were rockets. That picture inspired the song.

I honestly do not have a target audience. I would have to guess my audience are fans of both hip-hop and science. Creation comes from inspiration. I wanted to write a sexy song and mention sexual things so I made “Gene Swap.” I heard the local science museum, Tampa’s MOSI, wanted more social media reach so I made an EP tribute album for them. Everything I do as been incredibly selfish, except for the song for Fermilab. That was the one request I have taken on. The St. Petersburg Science Festival is having me back for the third year in a row. I want to come up with new songs to do live for them. The St. Pete Science Festival is really awesome! It is geared for kids but is a true treat no matter your age.

SAS&M: What is the story behind your rapper name, funky49? And how should people address you? Should we say, “Pleased to meet you, funky49?” Or can we shorten that to “funky” or “funk” or “f”?

SR: People should address me as Steve. I have been called funk, funky, and funky49. They are acceptable ways to address me. :) Good eye on you for noticing the lower case f. The story: While working at the IT call center for a large accounting firm, my friend assigned the password ‘funky49’ to an employee. This was hilarious because 1) it was policy for the employees to come up with their own passwords, not us; 2) this employee was failing to come up with a password that had the right number of letters and special characters; 3) this was the first time I heard my chill friend was exasperated. I took the name ‘funky49’ and recorded a cassette tape with all of the mini musical projects, ideas I had been playing with. I gave him the tape after titling it the ‘funky49 mix tape.’ A smoothie was spilled on it and it has been lost since.

SAS&M: It appears that you have a new album, “Area 49,” coming out in October. What non-classified information can you share about that?

SR: I’m excited to collaborate with Coma Niddy. I think our song is going to be about the sun. I want it to sound really awesome live, just in case we share the same stage one day. He’s really terrific, please check out Mike aka Coma Niddy! So far, a lot of the songs are going to be NASA/space-inspired. I have this idea where I fly across the country with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in his personal T-38 visiting NASA facilities and rapping about them. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have his own personal T-38, which is a shame but good for NASA budgetary purposes. I also plan to rap about brain chemistry because dopamine/serotonin means so much to our lives. I have a song about the different Apollo missions. I LOVE SPACE. I LOVE SPACE. I LOVE SPACE.

SAS&M: If you could work with any musician or band on a science-themed album, who would you work with and why?

SR: This is going to be very polarizing. I would work with Kanye West.

First, because I never heard back from his PR people when I invited him to Chicagoland’s Fermilab where I shot the video for Particle Business. Second, he is fellow a rapper/producer and I greatly appreciate that. Being able to blast a rap and a track is not common. He’s reinvented his sound multiple times in excellent ways so I figure I would learn a lot from him. If I could harness some of his enthusiasm he has for fashion and threesomes into science… I know we would edutain a lot of people. I don’t care about his non-musical shenanigans, just his creative output (just like John Lennon).

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