For anyone who hasn’t heard of Doomtree, they bring a variety of MCs and DJs to the table in what has become a comfortable and exciting collaboration of individuals exploring how to produce and expand new hip-hop while pulling from other musical genres and multiple rapping styles. Doomtree demonstrates the potential that is created when numerous artists, most from seemingly disparate backgrounds, get together to create something new and different. Last week I had the opportunity to chat with P.O.S. and Mike Mictlan of Doomtree about their style, the idea behind the group, and of course politics. Enjoy.
AC: Hey, this is POS and Mike on the line?
MM: This is Mike.
AC: How you guys doing? Where you at today?
POS: Minneapolis, 32nd right off of Hennepin
MM: Minneapolis, Minnesota, Park and Franklin.
AC: What’s the general hip-hop scene like in Minnesota? People are starting to hear the name Doomtree and before that Atmosphere was real big. What are some other artists?
POS: For the most part, as far as hip-hop, it’s very diverse and large scene aside from Atmosphere and Doomtree, we’ve got Brother Ali, Self Divine, Kill the Vultures on some avant hip-hop, it can go on and on. It’s one of those cities that no matter where you’re at, any night of the week you can find a hip-hop show, and chances are three out of four will be decent. What do you think Mike?
MM: I could go on and on with that list. I’ve got a lot of favorite rappers out here, the scene is very thick in terms of hip-hop and music in general. Not only can you find hip-hop three nights a week, but you can find a lot of genres.
POS: Any number of punk rock, metal, hardcore, indie rock, pop, anything you’re looking for.
AC: You guys are obviously MCs, but there’s a lot of other musical genres and tastes that you bring into it. Talk a bit about your influences and what kind of musical backgrounds you both have.
MM: I’ve chosen rap my designated favorite style of music since I was 4 years old. Aside from rapping on an independent rap label, I’m a connoisseur of gangsta rap and various other hip-hop genres. In terms of doing actual music, right now I just rap my ass off.
POS: As far as me, I came up more interested in punk and hardcore from a very young age, as soon as I heard it, that’s what grabbed my attention because of the energy of it. And then as I grew up I got more into the experimental areas of that stuff, like the Fugazis, as well as underground hip-hop, all the old Rhymesayers stuff. I currently make hip-hop and play guitar and sing in a hardcore band, not really hardcore anymore, but it’s something off the wall called Building Better Bombs, it’s like a dancey, hardcore screamy mess.
AC: What kind of things do you do in order to get ready for these very different shows? Between your more punk and hardcore shows, and then coming in to do a hip-hop show with Doomtree, do you use different methods of preparation?
POS: Not at all. It’s all the same to me. It’s different songs and setting, and hip-hop shows tend to have more people at them, but I’ve been making music since I was real young, and it’s always been about getting a chance to go out and perform it and have a good time, it’s one of my favorite things to do. Preparation is about the same for both, it’s just wait until you get to go do it, and then go do it.
AC: In terms of the group Doomtree, where did the name come from and how did you guys form up?
MM: I don’t think any of us really know where it came from.
POS: It was some non-sensical banter. Sometimes you get something stuck in your head and say it, and then when we were tossing around names for an early stage of it, it was just a production crew called Doomtree. Then that blossomed as we started playing more rap shows. How it came together was me, MK Larada, Bobby Gorgeous and Cecil Otter started doing some shows that I had booked, solo shows. Cecil would come out and do my back ups. He had songs, but he was nervous, but then as he got less nervous we started splitting the sets in half. Sam was somebody we went to high school with, Mike we met in high school, and from there it snowballed into a nice solid crew that we all felt good around.
MM: I met Stef (P.O.S.) when I was in high school, we’ve been wanting to rap together ever since…Doomtree’s a monster.
AC: Obviously we have you two on the line, but you’ve just dropped a lot of names for a lot of people in Doomtree, so for the people who don’t know the crew out there, why don’t you talk a little bit about what the other members bring to the table in terms of their styles and musical input, and how do they form the rest of the group?
MM: Well we’re talking about 9 people altogether.
POS: I don’t want to step on you Mike, but I just thought of a solid answer. It’s essentially 5 solo MCs, myself, Mike, Sims, Dessa, Cecil Otter and Turbo Nemesis is a DJ, Paper Tiger is a DJ and producer, MK Larada is a producer, Lazerbeak is a mega super producer. We essentially make solo songs, each bring our own style, I don’t want to go into everyone’s style, but everyone brings their own favorite elements of music into it and then we pile it on. Mike’s from LA, we all have our own sound, our own individual styles, and when we write songs together we try to balance everything out to make sure everyone gets the proper shine, everyone gets the proper words in to round out the song as well as flex their own personal style, from solid pattern rapping to as poetic as people want to write.
AC: It sounds like you have a great collaboration and you just released your first album. Talk about the tracks on this album and what the listeners can expect to hear.
MM: This album is a long time coming. There isn’t really any filler. We just had a lot of straightforward rap. When I listen to it, I may be biased, it doesn’t sound like everything else, but it fits right in. It doesn’t sound like the new, it doesn’t sound like the old, but it fits somewhere in there, at least to me when I step outside it as a listenter. We all have a solo track on there, and the other 18 songs are all of us together with different styles. I think a lot of it is straightforward.
POS: I think straightforward to us is a little different. I definitely agree with Mike that we don’t sound like new, we don’t sound like old, but we mix right in. We all bring elements of what you expect to hear from hip-hop, but we all also bring out own little flair. I think that’s an accident, being in the Midwest, and kinda being outsiders in the Minneapolis hip-hop scene for a really long time, we ended up playing a lot of shows with a lot of bands, a lot of rock bands, catering to different crowds than rap crowds until we could actually get outselves put on, so I think over the years our style just kinda developed in that way. It’s not like excessively rock music by any means, but the rules are cast aside in terms of how it’s supposed to go, the roots are in raw pattern hip-hop, and trying to be the best possible rappers we can be without having to talk about rap all the time. If people haven’t heard any of us before and they pick up the Doomtree record, they could and they should expect to hear quality hip-hop production, quality raps varied over 5 entirely different sounding MCs with 5 entirely different styles, but it’s all stuff that you’re used to if you’re a fan of rap. If you’re not a fan of rap, the beats can get aggressive or melodic enough to where you’re in, just one of those things where we don’t put on any kind of face for anybody, we just go do it.
MM: And that’s exactly what I meant by straight up.
AC: How would you view the traditional music industry with major labels and CD distribution, and where it’s intersecting now and clashing in some cases with the mp3 and download industry.
POS: That’s something we kept in mind when we went into this record coming out. A lot of these songs were done and started being written 2 years ago, and then the others are brand new, mega fresh. But a lot of that came from trying to find the right people to help us with the right deal and right situation. We ended up talking to some smaller majors, some moderately bigger majors and some indies and we ultimately wanted it by ourselves and looked into who we could talk to to help us do that. We ended up going alone because we didn’t want to give up our digital rights, and people are offering these ancient deals that just don’t make sense anymore. It’s the kind of thing where the artist has more control over the product than ever in the history of music. That’s a double-edged sword because there’s tried and true ways of getting it done out there and getting paid for it, and then there’s this whole experimental new world that we’re kinda just launching ourselves into. So I don’t really know how the music business is supposed to go, but when people say that they can’t do it the way that we want to, we just say sorry we’re going to go do it this way now.
AC: In terms of not giving up your digital rights, you look at Radiohead and NIN who recently had very well publicized free releases and downloads of albums. Do you think it’s beneficial to give parts of your songs to fans in remix contest format? Do you agree with putting your music out there to let the fans interact with your music?
MM: I’m totally into that. Two people I know, their next project is acapellas and instrumentals for free downloads on their Myspace. What it’s really all about is getting your music out there. Especially with CD sales, all that we have left is touring, playing shows and selling merchandise if we’re ever going to make money. So in my eyes, I see using your CDs and music as a tool to get people to your shows and stay current to what you’re making. With the digital insurgence, if you will, we’re definitely at a point where we need to put as much music out as possible, so if that makes people remix it and get it out even more, that’s where it’s at.
AC: That’s demonstrated by the fact that before I heard about you through your PR company, I checked the “Dots and Dashes” track off Indiefeed Hip-Hop. What kind of touring are you doing and where can people look out for you coming up?
MM: After we put the crew record out on July 29th, one of the big reasons we didn’t go with any of the labels is that we wanted a very rigorous release schedule. With the finishing of our crew record, we had almost everybody finishing solo projects. On the 26th of August we had Cecil Otter drop his solo record. Me and Lazerbeak are putting out a collaboration out at the end of this month, September 23rd, and then we hope to have something coming from our camp at least every month until the summer. We just got off a tour with the Flobots, and I believe we’ll probably be going out with POS for his solo record coming out.
AC: You’re up in Minnesota right now and the Republican National Convention is taking place. What’s the atmosphere up there like, and where does Doomtree stand, if anywhere, politically?
MM: We’re all pretty incredibly liberal people.
POS: We’re on the left, like in the corner, talking to ourselves. The atmosphere out here is crazy. We’re in Minneapolis the conventions in St. Paul, but you can still see like 6 police helicopters flying over Minneapolis two days before.
MM: I’ve seen unmarked vans with the doors open with guys in SWAT gear just waiting to pull up, I thought it was a drive by.
POS: Today was the first day of the convention and there was a cop car that got destroyed and a bunch of people got maced. There’s 72 hour holding cells for people if you don’t have a permit to demonstrate. Seems like a total headache nightmare…I’ll probably head down there tomorrow.
MM: There was a raid the night before last. Like 150 people got arrested.
POS: They weren’t arrested…they just busted into peoples’ houses got information and left. It’s bad news bears, but it’s to be expected, it’s the Republican National Convention. They definitely took down anything that isn’t bolted down. They were knocking down stuff 6 miles out from where the convention is, taking down lightposts just in case.
AC: That’s all the questions I’ve got for you guys today. Do you two want to plug anything, talk about any albums coming out, go for it.
POS: I just want to pump Doomtree.net and myspace.com/doomtree. People can go there and figure out whatever’s going on without having to think, they can just go there and look.
AC: I certainly appreciate you taking the time to talking to us at Evolving Music today.
MM: I appreciate you having us.
POS: Thanks man.