Doomtree - Interview - 3/9/2012
And the end of last year, Doomtree, the Minneapolis hip hop collective, released their second full length album as a group, No Kings. 2012 has been spent almost entirely on tour in support of the record so far, only the second time all seven members have toured together at once. During their stop in Madison, Lazerbeak, Mike Mictlan, Paper Tiger, P.O.S., and Cecil Otter took the time to talk about the record, touring, food analogies, and future projects.
Scratched Vinyl: You’ve been doing the No Kings Tour pretty much all year. How has it been going?
Lazerbeak: It’s been good.
SV: The first time you went on the road as a full crew, you didn’t have an album to support.
Lazerbeak: It’s wasn’t as big scale, or grandiose.
P.O.S.: We had no reason to be on tour.
Lazerbeak: Yeah, we just decided to do it. This one is a lot more intense in terms of schedule and pacing and length. We did just come off of like a week-long reset back home, and now we’re going through the Midwest down to Texas. This is the third show on the second leg, so I think we’re all easing into it again. It was kind of a tease going home for six nights, but it’s good. It’s good.
SV: What was the process in translating the album into a live show? Did it take much rehearsal?
Mike Mictlan: We didn’t rehearse. That’s not how we do. Coming up on the first day of tour, though, we knew we wanted to do every song off the record, and it was like let’s figure out if we want to do that within a week or a couple weeks, and we did that.
Cecil Otter: We were lucky - the Blowout was our practice. That was the first time we played those songs.
Mike Mictlan: No offense to those first shows, but those first three shows before Denver were a working out the kinks kind of situation.
Lazerbeak: Yeah, we don’t do a lot of rehearsing, for better of for worse. We just make it happen. On stage.
Cecil Otter: We just envision our favorite rapper, our favorite television character, get on stage, and make it happen.
SV: Where did the concept behind No Kings come from?
Lazerbeak: The title?
SV: The title, and also the artwork, which has become...
Lazerbeak: Synonymous with it? The name didn’t happen until after the record was made. So, we made the record, and that theme had kind of come up in other songs, I don’t want to speak for the rappers...
P.O.S.: Yeah, it had been like “No Kings,” or “Kings Gonna Die,” or…all that stuff has been there throughout all the years of Doomtree. It came up on the list of album names, and it made the most sense.
SV: So it was just coincidence that it came out the same year as Watch the Throne?
P.O.S.: Yeah, yeah.
Lazerbeak: Absolutely. No bullshit. Total coincidence. And then the artwork, Cecil had been drawing that a long time, for I don’t know? Six years? Seven years? Longer than that?
Cecil Otter: Fifteen years.
Lazerbeak: Fifteen years. And a couple of the guys had gotten that tattooed, it was just an image that we really liked. We wanted the artwork to be iconic and simple. It just kind of seemed to fit perfectly. Total coincidence with Watch The Throne. No beef.
SV: What was the process going into the album, since you have a lot of cooks in the kitchen?
P.O.S.: I don’t think we thought about so much who was in the kitchen so much as we thought, we want to make a record. Got time to make a record, everybody make sure they’re free for a week, and we went to make a record. The biggest difference between the last record and this record is not thinking about what cooks are there, just everybody try to get on songs. Not spreading everything out perfectly evenly, just whatever sounds the best, however it ends up working is how it works.
Mike Mictlan: It wasn’t so much cooks in the kitchen as it was a Korean barbecue. We got the meats ready, the veggies, brought it out to everyone, and we all just picked and choose, and how we’re gonna work it out - we just did something that we individually liked, we’re happy with our place.
Lazerbeak: Put some sauce on it.
Paper Tiger: It’s a little like fondue, though.
Cecil Otter: Everybody dips?
Paper Tiger: When I dip you dip we dip.
Lazerbeak: That’s exactly right.
Cecil: It could have been ranch dip.
Lazerbeak: Yeah, we knew we had an allotted time to make it. Everyone set aside time in their schedules, so we just went for it. We knew we wanted it to be really collaborative, and everyone involved, as much as we all could be. And it all worked out. And here we are.
Mike Mictlan: We almost called it All You Can Eat, but then we realized the Fat Boys did that.
Lazerbeak: We were talking about how that record got made - it got made quickly, collectively, we all went to a cabin - that’s kind of the folklore behind it - we all went to a cabin for like five days. We had made the beats together, Me and Cecil worked really hard on the beats, Stef was there, working hard on the beats. And then, brought the beats to the cabin, put them on a loop, and then five days later basically walked out with the demos for the album. We easily could have walked out with zero, but it all worked out. And here we are.
Scratched Vinyl: So was it the opposite of the Bon Iver cabin?
Lazerbeak: It was in Wisconsin, too, so there’s a lot of parallels...
Mike Mictlan: A little bit more like Camp Anawanna than April Base.
Lazerbeak: We did it a lot faster. I think he was holed up for a while. We were in and out.
SV: Lazerbeak, you just released Lava Bangers.
Lazerbeak: I did.
SV: How did that record come about?
Lazerbeak: That, I had all these beats around the time I made Legend Recognize Legend. I had stopped delivering pizza and I was making a ton of music. I had a lot of beats, a lot of them got used on the previous Doomtree record, but a lot of them, there was probably like a hundred and fifty that I had stashed away, that hadn’t gotten used yet. I had decided that maybe they would never get used. And Plain Ole Bill was like, after Legend Recognize Legend, which was this weird pop record, he was like, “We got to put something out to let people know that you still make hard beats.” And so he worked with me, picking, we pick and chose, and kind of tried to do this seamless blend, almost like a workout tape or something. So, it just so happened that I knew we were going to go on tour, and I just wanted to try and put something out and not spend a lot of money on it, just put it out there. And after No Kings, we kind of dove right into it and figured we might as well put it out before the tour.
SV: With it, you did a couple of promos - you did the nachos and the shot. Were these recipes you already had?
Lazerbeak: Those have been cultivated through time. The nachos had been a recipe my mom had made for every Super Bowl party we ever had, and then I just added my special touches, made it a little spicier. The shot we came up with back on this Doomtree tour back a few years ago. It was like a little summer West Coast run. It was our first day in Santa Cruz, and we were trying to figure out what would be in a Lava Banger shot. We knew it had to be lit on fire, so we kind of through whatever in there. It doesn’t taste good - but it’s fun to make.
SV: You also did a contest for emcees to rhyme over your beats. Was this the first time you’ve had random people rhyming over your music?
Lazerbeak: The first time I’ve invited it, I guess. I’ve had people send me stuff, whenever they got their hands on instrumentals, but this was the first time we were like, we might as well try this contest and see what comes of it. So I was pretty impressed with the amount of submissions we got. I think there was something like eighty five, by the time it was all over.
P.O.S.: Some tight rappers, right?
Lazerbeak: Some tight rappers, some not so tight rappers, but eighty five submissions. Not bad.
SV: But you got a winner.
Lazerbeak: We did get a winner. I didn’t even expect Soulcrate to even enter into it, and then they put together a really cool song. Then we let the public decide. Me and Bill picked our favorite fifteen, I think, then we just let it do what it do, and Soulcrate won. So I just sent them a bunch of beats to pick from, that was the prize. We’re not giving out any money. Nobody’s getting any money.
P.O.S.: What was it? A Lazerbeak beat?
Lazerbeak: That’s priceless.
P.O.S.: That is priceless.
Paper Tiger: You can’t put a price on it.
SV: And where did the title of Lava Bangers come from?
Lazerbeak: Lava Bangers? I don’t know how long now I’ve been calling my beats lava bangers, that’s been like how I describe them. I think that derived from my days in Plastic Constellations. We would just make up stupid shit while we were on tour. At that point I had just started to make beats, so we were like, what could we call them? Flame, heat knockers? And we decided lava bangers.
P.O.S.: I always liked heat knockers.
Lazerbeak: Heat knockers for life. Yeah, so it was always lava bangers, so it just seemed right to stick with the brand. Keep it branded. That was easy. No brainer.
SV: Since this album was already half done when you put it together, do you have any other projects on deck?
Lazerbeak: Not really. A lot of the rappers are working pretty hard on finishing up solo records, I know Stef is almost done with his, about to be turned in, a new P.O.S. record...
P.O.S.: It’s done.
Lazerbeak: It’s done! New P.O.S. record is turned in. It’s coming out! I did some work on that. Other than that, I’ve been talking with Sims, he’s getting ready to start on another record...I’m kind of taking it easy, doing more on the business side of things now. I need to get back into it, but I’m taking a little break, ‘cause I think I burnt myself out a little bit...doing...a lot of records. But yeah, I’m excited to get back into once we get home.
SV: P.O.S., do you want to talk about your new record?
P.O.S.: Yeah, it rules.
Lazerbeak: It does rule.
P.O.S.: Yeah, I got a new record, it doesn’t have a name. That’s what I got.
SV: That’s all you got?
P.O.S.: That’s mostly what I got, yeah. It’s a bunch of new songs, it’s good. Doors are close and locked. Party’s over. Flipping over cop cars. Putting bricks in front of the doors to buildings. Those aren’t lyrics or anything.
SV: Can you tell us any artists that you worked with?
P.O.S.: I worked with Beak and Cecil, Cecil’s got some beats on my record, for the first time ever, in our ten years working together. Astronautalis is on it. All the usuals you would expect, plus a few you wouldn’t. Not rappers. The rappers you’d expect. Beats-wise and choices-wise there’s some weird shit in there. I’m excited about it. I don’t know how to start talking about it until it has a name.
SV: Speaking of Astronautalis...
P.O.S.: Four Fists? It’ll be out this year. He’s supposedly mixing it right now. I was supposed to mix it, but I didn’t want to, so I gave it to him, and he said he would, but I’m not sure if he did. It’ll be out this year, though. We got a bunch of dope songs.
SV: And this is all based on F. Scott Fitzgerald?
P.O.S.: This one is. The next one we’re going to pick a different author.
SV: And you picked this one.
P.O.S.: Yeah. I was going through this really serious short stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald Spell.
SV: Are there any other projects coming up?
Mike Mictlan: I’m going to put a record out. I’m going to rap on it. It’s going to have beats on it. It’s going to be really good. I’ll put it out probably by the end of the year. Do some more stuff this summer. This is all speculative, though.
SV: Once this goes to print, it’s a binding contract.
Mike Mictlan: I’ve been talking shit on the internet, so people expect something from me.
Paper Tiger: Yeah, I’m excited, and I think everyone’s just started...a whole bunch of work after making the last Doomtree record. It made everyone confident.
P.O.S.: It got everybody kind of back to where they wanted it. I was halfway through my record, and I stopped to make the Doomtree record. Then I got back to my record like super excited.
Lazerbeak: Cecil’s been busy.
Cecil Otter: Yeah, I finished my album, Porcelain Revolver. Finally. I want that to come out in the fall. That’s what I’m shooting for. I’m also working on three instrumental volumes before that. Probably for free, I think. Depending, on how much I want money. I’m still working on a project with Swiss Andy, who I did Wugazi with. Me and him and a few others are doing a project called bleachers, where I’m doing the production, but it’s not hip hop. Because I like to make other music that isn’t hip hop. With him and my girlfriend and another girl Carissa and some other singers. We’ve got about twenty songs. We want to put that out this year. I’m doing the same thing with Maggie Morrison from Lookbook. Me and her are doing an album with her friend Ben. Where I do the production and just sit in the background. Working on production for Mike as well. For Mike’s badass album, which is going to be the shit. That’s 2% Muck. So me and Beak are helping out with Mike’s record, producing with Muck, kind of swapping out ideas and beefing up each others beats, stuff like that. There’s more stuff, too. I’ve got about eight projects going. They’re all coming out to my liking.
SV: Let’s see if we can sort through some of this. Have you released any instrumental work before?
Cecil Otter: I haven’t. I meant to. I just didn’t want to release it before an album of my rapper songs. I feel like once I get that done, I have like hours and hours of instrumental music. I’ll put it together and just give it to people so they can hear it. Maybe that would set up some other shows where I don’t have to go and rap. I could set up a little group and play monumental instrumental music. With other singers, and kind of be a little more open. Which is nice, because I produce more than I write. Like it takes me a long time to write, but production I can fly right through. So I figure it would be a shame to waste it listening to it myself all the time. Once we announce when Porcelain is going to come out, I want to once a month put out an instrumental record. Maybe just put it on Bandcamp, pay what you want or whatever. I might just do a pay what you want thing with that. And there’ll be singing on it, there’ll be some rapping, just a flood. People have been asking for so long, and I feel like a jerk making them wait, but Porcelain has to be perfect or I won’t put it out. So yeah, I think it’ll be nice to give people a bunch of stuff to listen to, and then Porcelain and then other projects.
SV: A lot of people don’t realize that you do production.
Cecil Otter: People have no idea.
Lazerbeak: I think we need to shine a light on Cecil’s production more. I think people think because he’s a rapper and he’s in the forefront, they don’t realize he produced Rebel Yellow.
Cecil Otter: Yeah, people are like, is that Beak? Is that Paper Tiger? I’m like no, I did that. It says on the record. And it is hard, because I even thought, before we started doing this, and we were going to Rhymesayers shows, any rap show, I always though the deejay did all the beats. And Ant was never there. I found out later, and was like, “Who’s Ant? Oh, I get it - He’s the one who produces and he’s just at home chillin‘ while some other dude spins the records.” I think it is hard, and I don’t fault anyone because I was the same way. I thought I was a hip hop head, and I didn’t even realize that deejays are there to run your set for you, scratch and make it fun, and producers make shit at home. So that’s going to be kind of nice, to get the production out there, because I want to work with a lot of people, too. There’s a lot of awesome artists that I would love to do production for that isn’t hip hop. Like I like to make beats for hip hop artists as well, but we produce so much, that it is a breath of fresh to make something that doesn’t fall into some kind of hip hop tag. Like, “Circle goes here, square goes here - you made a hip hop beat! Now get a rapper!” It’s fun to just take it as far as you can.
SV: What can we expect from Porcelain?
Cecil Otter: Porcelain, it’s way more mature. I think it’s a tough record. Without ego behind that, it just sounds tougher. You know, I wrote a lot of Rebel Yellow stuff when I was twenty three or twenty four. I’m thirty one now, so I’ve had a lot of time to practice and get crackin’ the way I want to, and say the things I want to, and not be early twenties angst all over the record, but it’s also not, “I’m mature now, so let’s talk about real shit.”
SV: You’re not going to rap about doing your taxes?
Cecil Otter: No.
P.O.S.: Who does taxes?
Cecil Otter: I haven’t done taxes since I was twenty. But yeah, it’s not a departure at all, it’s just kind of higher up the ladder, higher up the mountain of what I’ve always wanted to do. Like I have better tools to produce with, so I can produce the beats that were in my head back when I made Rebel Yellow. I think the sound quality for me is going to be different. I think it’s going to be beefier.
Lazerbeak: Paper left, but he’s been working with Dessa on her new record. He had a big hand on her last one, too. I haven’t heard a lot, but I know they’ve got a few tracks done. That’s what he’s doing, that’s what she’s doing, and Sims is getting ready to hunker down and get started again. Everybody’s in one part of the process.
SV: Finally, if there are three artists you could work with that you haven’t, who would that be?
Cecil Otter: Right now, Mountain Man, Fever Ray, and...
Lazerbeak: Do they have to be living?
Cecil Otter: Terry Reid.
Lazerbeak: Luther Vandross, I’ll put Jay-Z in there...I’m just going to do two. Luther Vandross and Jay-Z. All day.
Paper Tiger: De La Soul, Morrisey, and...
Mike Mictlan: I’m going to go with living and say Peedi Crakk, Danny Brown, and Iggy Azalea.
Paper Tiger: I need a third artist...GG Allin.
Cecil: Dude, you would get so much shit thrown at you. Literally.
Lazerbeak: I’ll say Phil Lynott, from Thin Lizzy. Third one.
P.O.S.: There we go. Man, Lazerbeak stole all of mine. I guess Ben from Dillinger Escape Plan, that would be fun. Jay-Z. I’d love to try to rap with Jay-Z. I don’t know, I like making songs. I’ll make a song with whoever’s trying to make a song that’s serious.
To find Doomtree on the road and other information, visit: http://www.doomtree.net/