Doomtree- Rap Won’t Save You, An Interview.

November 29, 2010 by Chris Grosso

Doomtree is a record label. Doomtree is a rap crew. Doomtree is a family. Over the past five years Doomtree has become one of the most highly regarded hip-hop collectives in the Midwest, thanks to our innovative recordings, explosive live shows, and tireless work ethic. By combining the blueprint of hip hop with the DIY ethos of punk and a slew of disparate artistic and musical influences, Doomtree has won the favor of a broad range of audiences. We are as likely to find fans at indie rock shows as we are at rap shows or basement dance parties. In the past several years the collective has grown to include the lyrical and production talents of more than a dozen core members. The members of Doomtree come from a wide variety of backgrounds and musical interests, but join together to create some of the most forward-thinking beats and rhymes this side of 1987. (doomtree.net)

The following interview was conducted on 11.27.10 at the Middle East Night Club in Cambridge, MA. I am very grateful to all of Doomtree, especially Dessa (and Teal) for their help coordinating this.

The Doomtree Interview

TIS: So the “Wings & Teeth” tour is Doomtree’s first full-on, collective group outing. Why did it take so long to come together?

P.O.S.: Oh man. It’s one of those things we all assumed really wouldn’t have taken so long. You really have to convince people to get on board, book the tour, and coordinate everyone’s schedule. It’s just really difficult.

Dessa: And there’s mouths to feed, you know? You really have to hustle for a long time before tour becomes viable. So we were trying to make sure we were in a place where we had a shot at breaking even, and maybe even making a profit. It takes a lot of building.

Cecil Otter: I think on some level too, it took a while for us as a seven piece band to get the kind of draw where we could bring all of us out on tour and still pay rent, without going totally broke. We’re at the point now where we’re doing the right venues and it’s actually making sense.

TIS: Right on. And some of you guys live together right?

P.O.S.: Me and Mike live together, but there were definitely a couple of points where there were two separate houses  that most of us lived.

Sims: Or squatted.

P.O.S.: Yeah, depending on how you look at it.

TIS: Doomtree draws from a lot of influences including punk/indie rock, r&b, a cappella, and even literature. Can you talk about the importance of incorporating influences outside of strictly hip-hop to compliment Doomtree’s dynamic?

Lazerbeak: I think we all just grew up listening to so much different stuff that it was natural for us to incorporate all of that into the traditional aspects of hip hop. It’s always felt natural, even though it’s gotten pegged in the media as this different thing. A lot of us grew up playing in bands so it was a natural hybrid for us, without it being rap/rock.

Sims: For me personally, I started writing before I was writing specifically rap music. When I would be out of ideas, or needed some inspiration, I’d remember these two teachers I had who told me I needed to “fill the well”, so I’d go to different places, like a coffee shop or wherever, and just listen to people talk, or I’d go to a concert, or check out an art museum. I feel like everyone does that in one way or another, whether they are cognizant of the fact that that’s actually what they are doing at that moment.

TIS: Can you guy’s tell me about some of your non-music related interests? Like how do you relax on your downtime?

Cecil Otter: Work on more music and draw, and that’s really about it.

TIS: Fair enough. Anyone else?

Sims: I like to work on my house, and take care of my dogs. I love spending time with them and training them, going  out to the dog park etc. They’re adorable. I also like to work on my house. I bought a beater.

Dessa: And work on your wife?

Sims: Yeah, and work on my wife. It’s a long term, fixer-upper relationship.

Lazerbeak: You gonna flip it?

Sims: Haha, yeah, I’m gonna flip it.

P.O.S.: Aside from making music, um, I just make tons of music, that’s really it. All of my favorite stuff involves either hanging out with my 11 year old son or making music. 

Lazerbeak: I like to watch sports.

TIS: Any particular sports?

Lazerbeak: Football generally.

TIS: Vikings fan?

Lazerbeak: Definitely, you know how it goes.

Dessa: I don’t really have any hobbies because anything I’d want to do as a hobby has become a part of Doomtree, for now anyway. It doesn’t feel burdensome, it feels like a great fit.

P.O.S.: Dessa always has the very best answers.

Dessa; Yes, I have very professional answers. I’m very smart, haha.

P.O.S.: Usually you can take what she says, dumb it down, and that’s what we would say.

Dessa: Ok.

TIS: It’s rumored Dessa that you have a Masters in Philosophy. Is that true?

Dessa: Wikipedia thinks that I do.

TIS: I’ve heard that mentioned elsewhere too though.

Dessa: I know. It’s just because people check Wikipedia. I left it up there because I figure I’m winning either way.

TIS: Would it be fair to assume that you are into Philosophy though, especially by listening to the lyrical content in your songs?

Dessa: Yeah, I have a BA in Philosphy.

TIS: Ah, so can you tell me about some of the philosophers you enjoy?

Dessa: Sure, I like Bentham, Mill, Locke. I’m into Scottish empiricist quite a bit. And Sims wants a shout out on that one. I really loved his early work in particular before his ego took him down. Hubris, as his want to do.

Sims: I’m dope, therefore I am.

TIS:  And Sims, you’ve recently begun a food blog to help people “step up their eating game”. Can you elaborate on that for me?

Sims: Yeah, it’s life tips on how to improve the food you eat and how to eat better. Not necessarily healthier but better. Ok, definitely not healthier, just better. It’s something I started one afternoon when I was making burgers with some friends of mine, and spent the entire hour I was making them, bragging about how good they were. The beginning of my world empire starts with burgers, and so I decided to blog about it. I haven’t updated the blog in a long time, so forgive me everybody on the internet. But I do have a bunch of awesome recipes that are on their way! I love food.

TIS: Nice, me too. So Lazerbeak, It seems like you’re always working on something, or collaborating with someone. Are there any particular artists outside of the Doomtree family you’d like to work with?

Lazerbeak: Yes, all of them, all of the guys out there.

Sims: Quick response there.

Lazerbeak: I really like R&B music, so I’d like to work with some of the more mainstream R&B artists, and mainstream rap artists. That’s what I end up listening to when we’re not making all of our music. Otherwise, I’m very happy staying really busy with my ultimate team here, so it works out.

TIS: Something I find pretty crazy P.O.S., is that you’re said to have been originally hesitant to doing any type of emceeing, but now you’re one of the most intelligent, well versed lyricists around… Can you tell me a little more about that?

P.O.S.: It wasn’t really that I was hesitant about it so much as I just didn’t care enough about it to do it. I started listening to rap more though, and me and Beak really got into it, but I still didn’t really think about it as a thing to do. Then my band broke up, and my friends went to college, so I was like, I guess could rap, who else do I know that raps? So I called my friend Dave Kelly because he rapped, and we made a record. He was already in the studio making a record and I just kind of jumped on it, and that was it. I liked rap.

TIS: Well you have a really unique form or writing/rhyming. Who would you say were some of the more influential emcee’s you were into when you started taking it more seriously?

P.O.S.: Well definitely Sims. Otherwise, stuff like Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg, Aesop Rock and El-P, Mos Def, stuff like that. A solid mix of that is really what influenced the way I think rap should sound, while I’m rapping it.

TIS: Nice. So Dessa, can you tell me how the process of writing your book Spiral Bound differed from writing lyrical content for your songs?

Dessa: My book doesn’t rhyme at all. But really, if I’m thinking about a new idea, it comes down to its size that  determines the genre it will land in. So if it feels like an idea that can be fully developed in the space of three and a half rhyming minutes, then it’s a rap song. If it’s something that could use a little more flexibility in the pace of development or if I think it’s a five or ten page idea, that would be a monotonous twenty five minute rap song, so I tend to then veer towards essay. If it’s really brief and might not even warrant a minute, then I usually do a poem.

Sims: At what point do you make the decision about what’s going to be what?

Dessa: Right after I figure out what you’re doin’, know what I’m sayin’? I’m just trying to take my cues from you, but honestly, I’d say almost right away.

Sims: So when you sit down, you say I’m going to write this type of piece?

Dessa: Ah, well the idea will usually hit me when I’m not sitting down. I’ll get my ideas at the grocery store, or while walking around, and then I’m like, ooh, how big is that idea?

TIS: Nice, thanks Sims for your help there.

Sims: No problem.

TIS: Cecil Otter, you are one sharp dressed man. Where do you get your fashion sense from?

Cecil Otter: I don’t know, my girlfriend?

TIS: Or maybe Sims?

Cecil Otter: Yeah Sims definitely helps, or possibly this beautiful girl over here (Dessa). But I don’t know, I just started wearing things that fit me, like the right size. 

P.O.S.: It totally does wonders.

Sims: No way, you’ve been one stylish motherfucker since before I even met you, when I was fourteen and you were sixteen.

Cecil Otter: I just wear whatever looks comfortable. I’m really picky. It has to be really plain and hopefully really cheap. I didn’t think I dressed that well when I was younger, but I guess I was a sharp dressed motherfucker. 

Dessa: Yes, even before Sims knew you.

Cecil Otter: That’s right. I think it was one of those things where you don’t really have much, but you want to feel like you do, because I was the brokest motherfucker always, but tried to look like I had something.

Sims: No one has unique styles like Cecil Otter.

Cecil Otter: That’s right. I have that tattooed across my chest.

Sims: Yeah, it says “unique style of…” and then there’s just a picture of Cecil Otter.

TIS: That’s really keeping it real. So P.O.S., you shout some really eclectic bands in your songs including Fugazi & Isis. Can you guys tell me about some of your other current musical interests?

P.O.S.: Actually something Dessa said to me about a year still sticks with me, so I don’t like to talk about that.

Sims: Ooh, what’d you say Dessa?

P.O.S.: I’m not going to talk about any bands I like anymore, at least for the duration of this next record, just to see what happens.

Dessa: Mmmm. Will you tell me later what I said?

P.O.S.: I’ll tell you right now. You said that people don’t ever actually talk about the bands that really influenced them because they don’t know what bands actually influenced them, they just know the ones they think that are cool and that can immediately bring out people who are going to identify with those bands.  And I feel like that’s a totally ridiculous answer for right now, for this particular question, but I’d decided a while back that I wasn’t going to answer that question if it ever arose.

TIS: That makes sense. I was personally interested as I’ve done some stuff with a couple of the guys from Isis on my site previously and thought it was a cool tie in.  

P.O.S.: Yeah, I definitely love Isis and Converge, and I’m always going to love music that’s intense, whether it’s super heavy, or super fast or technical or chaotic. Things that are difficult to listen to, are the things I’m most attracted to.

TIS: Got it. So my last question for all of you was actually inspired from seeing P.O.S. last year on the Pac Sun tour In New Haven, and while your set was great, the crowd response was terrible. As a collective, do you guy’s find that happens often when you play shows that aren’t strictly Hip Hop?

P.O.S.: Yeah, that was a terrible tour. It was a good time and an easy tour where I didn’t have to really worry about anything, but the crowds were just these really young kids that had no idea of what they were trying to do, like people would just stare at me for the entire set without making any noise.

TIS guest mouth Jay: I’m trying to keep my mouth shut but that’s literally what it was. I watched these kids when you came out, and during your set, just looking at each other with blank faces.

P.O.S.: Yeah, that’s what it was like for the entire set, on the entire tour. At the end, they’d make a little noise, but then I’d sell like 70 CD’s. It was a ridiculous tour, but also fun.

TIS: And how about the rest of you?

Cecil Otter: Well I was just thinking that if it was their first time seeing Stef (P.O.S.) that it’d be a lot to take in, but in a really good way. I would get that in my formative years rapping. I would try to say so much in a verse, and the kids  would just sorta be there watching me, but afterwards I’d sell a lot of CD’s and have a bunch of the kids telling me how much they loved the set. I’d be shocked because I went through the set thinking they hated me as they were barely even clapping sometimes, but I guess it was just them getting used to it or something.

Sims: I did a stint on the Warped Tour one summer, and P.O.S. was there and we had Paper Tiger DJ’ing for both of us. Paper Tiger would do his set with Steph earlier or later in the day, depending on the venue. I was stationed between the AT&T tent, and the Trojan Condemns tent, and I was trying to do a rap show. That was one of those times where you would get like ten or twelve  kids standing by you wondering what exactly was going on. When it’s not your crowd, it’s got to be a process of winning.  New things can be a lot to take in sometimes and you have to be cool with the fact that people aren’t always going to flip out for you, and still present yourself as best you can.

Dessa: I think that people can look very different while enjoying a show. Some people may be freaking out and losing their minds, and some people are standing in the back where no one can really see them, but still having a great time. One performer I really respect, because he commits himself completely to every performance irrespective of how the fans seem to be receiving it, was this poet I met at the very beginning of my career. We had this show at Panera Bread in Minneapolis and there were more performers than there were audience members. There was a total of like three people there, two of which were very obviously mashing out their divorce proceedings, but the fact that he gave this world class performance, regardless of whether he was being thanked physically or audibly for it, really moved me.

TIS: Having grown up in bands and being in very similar situations more times than I care to remember, I can totally relate. Thanks for all of your perspectives and insights into all of my questions. Can’t wait for the set tonight.

P.O.S.: Yeah, it’s going to be fun.

Sims: Definitely going to be a good time.

Visit Doomtree Online Here!

Click Here For Pictures From The Middle East Show!

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Chris Grosso is a public speaker, writer, recovering addict, spiritual director, and author of Indie Spiritualist: A No Bullshit Exploration of Spirituality (Beyond Words/Simon & Schuster) and Everything Mind: What I've Learned About Hard Knocks, Spiritual Awakening and the Mind-Blowing Truth of it All (Sounds True). He writes for ORIGIN Magazine, Huffington Post, and Mantra Yoga + Health Magazine, and has spoken and performed at Wanderlust Festival, Yoga Journal Conference, Sedona World Wisdom Days, Kripalu, Celebrate Your Life and more. Chris is passionate about his work with people who are in the process of healing or struggling with addictions of all kinds. He speaks and leads groups in detoxes, yoga studios, rehabs, youth centers, 12-step meetings, hospitals, conferences, and festivals worldwide. He is a member of the advisory board for Drugs over Dinner.
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