Iman Shumpert on Avión Tequila Partnership and New Music Album - Rolling Stone
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‘We Nerds for This Shit’: Iman Shumpert Talks Storytelling Through Good Tequila and Good Audio

The athlete and ‘Dancing With the Stars’ champ reveals how his new Avión Tequila partnership may be influencing the sounds on his upcoming album

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Iman Shumpert at the Avión Listening Experience in Brooklyn, NY.

Andrew Morales

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As glasses of the new Avión Reserva Cristalino are passed around for an exclusive tasting, basketball star Iman Shumpert steps front and center to propose a toast, smiling ear to ear. He is excited to play us a new song from his new album, This Car Aint Stolen, on a night that has been filled with audio-driven storytelling, through music and tequila. “Anything that has to do with stories, I am all for it,” says Shumpert, who equates his music-making process with the dedication of Avión’s 10-year tequila-making process. “I got two little girls [and] that’s all they want, is a good story. You tell a good story, I’ll be on your team forever.” 

For 10 minutes the alluring audio is played through massive speakers to give you a good idea of how the tequila-making process works. The Avión listening experience featured sounds straight from distillery and agave fields, co-curated by Danny Keith Taylor and Carlos Andrés Ramirez. If you closed your eyes during the experience you could create your own visuals for each step in the process, from the agave piña harvest, cooking and distilling, to even the conversation of the workers. 

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Buy: Avión Reserva Cristalino Tequila at $159

On the second night of the exclusive tasting and listening with Avión, Rolling Stone caught up with the former Dancing With Stars winner and Chicago native to talk abut the partnership, the importance of audio in the art of storytelling and why good music and good tequila go hand in hand.     

How did you get involved in this partnership with Avión?
One of my favorite things about getting a collaboration with brands is really getting to understand what they stand for and where it comes from. I think a lot of the things we have in this world that we begin to like, only become that way once we have an experience with it.

Them having this listening experience really goes hand in hand with everything that I stand for. Me being in a time where I am doing a podcast with my brother right now and doing a promo run. So speaking and engaging people and bringing in an audience to hear about real life things is what we’re doing.

By collaborating with Avión, we felt like it coincides because they’re creating an experience now to make you almost listen to liquor, if that makes any sense; they have 10 minutes that they compressed of 10 years. So you get to hear what goes into making the actual tequila, from the chopping of the agave plant to that crystal clear distillation process. [Plus] they let us listen to it on some $500,000 speakers. So bringing all these things together, it’s a fun opportunity. I’m about to drop my new album and we are in the process of mix and mastering that right now. They’re also giving me the opportunity tonight to play a song on the speakers for everybody to hear and everybody’s excited to hear it on these speakers, with this audio.

When was the first time you heard the sounds of the tequila-making process for Avión? 
Yesterday was my first time hearing it, but they wanted to make sure we heard it on these speakers. I’m sure that it probably sounds good everywhere else. But some special emotions can come over you while you are listening to it. I want to call it a meditation really; we were able to do them, everybody seemed like they needed it. Everybody sort of just shut down, we all closed our eyes, and everybody just sort of listened.

After that, everybody was willing to drink more as well (laughs). But it was a good time as we got to do a toast. And like I said, music and tequila people together. Bringing people together making them knowledgeable about any product is always a good thing. 

You mentioned earlier that you’re in the process of mixing your album, This Car Aint Stolen, so I wanted to know, how important is sound and the quality of audio to you? Especially after this listening experience.
When I listen to music the first thing that jumps out to me is always words. I want to hear a lyricist and understand where they’re coming from. Grasp the story and I want to resonate with the song. But what I’ve learned from experience in the world is that a lot of people could care less about what you got to say until that beat drops. They need the beat to drop correct. They need the music around you before they can even hear you talk.

So when I come here now to listen to my music on these speakers, it is really just to hear all the small things. It makes me think like, ‘Oh, what if I added a breath here or a wind sound right here?’ After the Avión listening experience, I want to really really dive back into my album.

I initially had an idea to make it feel like you were in the car with me and my brothers. My brothers and I could never get on the same page as far as how to do it, so I ended up just making it a bunch of songs that you play through. After this audio experience and hearing that compilation, it almost feels like I was supposed to do it. It could send a chill up your spine, because it feels real. 

You spoke about how storytelling is important to you and your connection with the art form, why is it important to you?
I just think there’s always been a special thing for me about music when you’re able to harness a moment. Even if I tell the moment in my detail, you can still find yourself in it; if a kid can hear it but not understand it, they could feel it, it’s a feeling. I think a lot of my music now you’ll hear it in my voice and how I am delivering. That’s the detail that I’ve been honing in on right now as far as my maturity with music, training my ear. That’s why when they brought this up, they showed me all these speakers and I’m like, ‘Yes, cool.’ You see these speakers? I love audio equipment. Me and my wife, we nerds for this shit. 

One of my favorite things to do is to curate a playlist, so how was it making one for this experience?
The thing about me, is I’m very understanding of a mood. So in my head, I just had the idea behind coming to an event and having a good time. I’m very calculated with my playlists. I got to write that playlist prior to being here, so now, I might try to edit it, you know? Because I’m gonna want it to feel like the room that I was in.

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