Doomtree emcee P.O.S (born Stefon Alexander) has announced the fall release of his first LP since 2009, and he’s enlisted a slew of artists to back him up. We Don’t Even Live Here boasts, among others, Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Ryan Olson (Gayngs), Boys Noize, and fellow Doomtree talents.
October’s far away. Whet your whistle with this new video for the album’s first single, “Fuck Your Stuff,” which features P.O.S & Co. creating totally un-sponsored havoc (note Mike Mictlan’s blurred-out GWAR tee) in the streets to an insanely danceable beat.
Minnesota rapper/producer and punk-hardcore musician P.O.S returns this October with the follow-up to his acclaimed crossover album Never Better, and the Doomtree co-founder likens the electronically infused album to an “anarchist dance party.”
In just one more trip around the sun, another swarm of immensely talented but under-recognized musicians has harnessed its collective talents and discharged its creations into the void. This list is but one fraction of those dedicated individuals who caught our ears with some serious jams.
[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Doomtree_The_Grand_Experiment.mp3|titles=Doomtree: “The Grand Experiment”]
Moving from a high-school clique to a crew and record label was a natural transition for the Minneapolis-based Doomtree collective. The unlikely “family” unit went from trading beats in their spare time at Hopkins High to producing albums, organizing tours, and putting on the annual Doomtree Blowout in their hometown with a small but mighty lineup. The label’s foundation was built on the wings of the P.O.S debut Ipecac Neat, which was co-released with Rhymesayers in 2004, but it has since released 20+ solo, group, and mixtape albums.
No matter your tastes, the Doomtree family has something to satiate it, from Dessa‘s singer-songwriter-meets-rap-temptress style to Paper Tiger‘s layered instrumentals to Cecil Otter‘s nostalgic storytelling. Each of Doomtree’s diverse artists also takes a role suited to his or her strengths on the business end of things, which, like their music, is infused with the DIY spirit of punk rock. ALARM caught up with MC Sims to chat about the upcoming Doomtree group album, the challenges of being an independent label, and what the future holds for the collective.
How did the Doomtree collective get started?
A group of us got together back in 2001 and decided to form a collective of artists that would work together to help get shows and record and release music. A few years later we turned that collective into a record label and have been releasing albums since.
What types of obstacles have you had to overcome as an independent record label?
Budgets are always an obstacle. We’ve been fortunate enough to have never taken a loan of any kind to get Doomtree to the place where it is. For years, we took every dollar that any of us made through album sales, merch, and performance to fund the label. At this point, we take a standard 50/50 deal with the albums we release. So though we don’t have the financial resources of a major label, our artists get a good deal. That’s what we wanted from the jump with our label.
Has it been difficult at times to work so closely with friends? If so, can you give us an example?
At times, but for the most part we all get along really well. We sort of have a family dynamic here, so of course you’re going to not see eye to eye with your siblings every time something comes up.
Can you address the dynamic of making Doomtree group albums, including your upcoming effort, No Kings?
For No Kings, Lazerbeak, Cecil, and P.O.S got together a few times a week and starting collaborating on beats. After a month or two, they had amassed enough for us to start writing songs. It’s hard to get all 5 MCs together in the same city at once, let alone have enough time to write a bunch of songs together. So we had to schedule the writing session for this thing a couple months in advance. We went to a cabin in the North Woods of Wisconsin with the idea that whatever we came up with was going to be the album; there were no second chances, and there was not time to not finish. We did just that (for the most part).
We basically played the beats through a stereo and started writing. One of us would come up with an idea for the song and the rest would make something that fit that idea. It was our first time truly collaborating like this. Usually, somebody has a song that’s pretty well done but needs a verse or chorus, and then you take it home and finish it. This process, however, was much more organic in the way that we came up with and executed ideas together.
Sims: “Burn It Down” [audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Sims_Burn_It_Down.mp3|titles=Sims: “Burn It Down”]
Anyone who has seen Twin Cities rapper/producer P.O.S live between the gradual success of Audition in 2006 and Never Better in 2009 has also had the chance to sample the Doomtree crew of which he’s a part. One of the stronger presences at these shows has been Sims, who’s by no means exactly like P.O.S, but is a worthy kindred spirit who gets the crowd in a similar, righteously agitated state of mind.
The lean-built MC is as averse to laid-back songs as his half-rapper, half-hardcore-dude friend. He’s strong through the shoulders and busy with gestures, a good frame for his sharp, often-terse flow. Another vital presence, less obvious onstage but still essential, is producer Lazerbeak, who has made beats for nearly every Doomtree release and doesn’t hear much of a border between catchy synth-based production and scratchy horns-and-soul-vocal melts.
The strength of Doomtree is that no two artists are too terribly alike (see the crew’s self-titled, all-member-pile-on album from 2008). The spectrum runs from the pugnacious Mike Mictlan to the patient density of Dessa‘s 2010 release, A Badly Broken Code. The group supports its members’ identities without intruding on them, something that holds true on Sims’ second proper solo album, Bad Time Zoo.
Sims goes it alone for nearly an entire hour, with just one guest verse during the whole thing (from P.O.S, on “Too Much”). Lazerbeak produces every beat here, making for a collaborative but focused feel. The identity that emerges for Sims, at first, has a lot to do with his opening verse on Never Better‘s “Low Light Low Life.” His specialty is creating the feeling of being sealed into a living nightmare of isolation, reckless corporate domination, and hopeless social ignorance. What comes out over time, though, is that Sims is a straightforward MC who’s brave enough to work through the contradictions of his own emotions.
Minneapolis rapper P.O.S takes political and social issues head-on from an “everyman” point of view. His critical eye and grounded personality come naturally — a product of his modest, Midwestern upbringing.
Among the thousands of under-appreciated or under-publicized albums that were released in 2010, hundreds became our favorites and were presented in ALARM and on AlarmPress.com. Of those, we pared down to 100 outstanding releases, leaving no genre unexplored in our list of this year’s overlooked gems.
Middle-of-nowhere festivals can be real gems, and the first annual Middlewest Fest is doing what it can to get on the map. The two-day, twelve-show event in DeKalb, Illinois is ready to rock the state’s northwestern cornfields with Russian Circles and Born of Osiris recently added to its lineup.
The fest will make its debut on September 10 and 11, featuring a bevy of artists and ALARM favorites such as P.O.S. and William Elliot Whitmore. Other notable performers include Smoking Popes, Murder by Death, Maps & Atlases, Mark Rose (ex-Spitalfield), and more.