As Four Fists, P.O.S and Astronautalis combine rap skill and punk spirit on '6666'

Graham Tolbert

Graham Tolbert

P.O.S and Astronautalis may just now be releasing their debut album as Four Fists, 6666, but they’ve known each other for most of their recording careers.

The two Minneapolis alt-rappers first met on the 2004 Warped Tour, just as the now-defunct rock expedition across North America was beginning to embrace more hip-hop. P.O.S was selling merch for Seven’s Travels -era Atmosphere; Astronautalis, a Jacksonville, Florida native, was “playing these 30-minute time slot shows for no money—just hustling merch every day to get enough gas money to get to the next city,” he says. P.O.S, then a fledgling performer, scored a few Warped shows of his own, and as soon as these rappers saw what the other could do onstage, they knew a future collaboration was inevitable.

“I feel I have a super-natural and easy connection with him and always have,” says P.O.S. “Just like me with Doomtree.”

Later in the ’00s, the two would appear on hidden tracks on each other’s albums (Astronautalis’ Pomegranate in 2008 and then P.O.S’ Never Better in 2009). They recorded two songs as Four Fists, “MMMMMHMMMMM” and “Please Go,” taking their group name from a 1920 F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, but those tracks wouldn’t be released until 2013, at the urging of Doomtree mastermind Lazerbeak. Solo albums, other projects, and various “life shit” (like P.O.S’ emergency kidney transplant in 2012) delayed plans to release a full album.

“Finally, this last year, everyone looked at everyone’s schedules and were like, ‘Oh my God, it’s gotta happen now or it’s never gonna happen,’” says Astronautalis, who relocated to the Twin Cities in 2011.

Making the album, out this Friday via Doomtree Records, wasn’t as time-consuming as they’d expected, thanks in part to the way each rapper’s artistic idiosyncrasies complement the other’s.

“Different friends bring out different stuff,” P.O.S says. “With Astronautalis, it’s more like I wanna be a better writer. I know I rap fine, I just wanna be a real good writer. And I feel like he cuts a little bit looser, ’cause I’m naturally a pretty goofy person in real life. Even if my songs are pretty serious, I’m really silly at times on my records. I let a lot of that stuff in the track, and I think that he does that when we’re working together more than he does that by himself.”

Astronautalis agrees. “I’m an overthinker when I’m on my own shit. That was part of the plan of how these songs were made, too: We threw a song down with our ideas in the roughest form and moved the fuck on. Like, ‘That’s good enough. We’ll figure it out later.’ We moved on, and that really pushed me forward, too, because it was just like I didn’t have time to worry about shit.”

They both recall a quote from Doomtree rapper Sims: “The hardest thing in the world is to make music alone, and the easiest thing in the world is making music with your friends.”

While various producers served up the album’s individual beats, the sound of the completed project owes a good deal to the efforts of Dutch producer Subp Yao. “After we were done with the songs over the beats we got from our friends, we took the whole record, lyrics and beats, and sent it all to Subp Yao to basically remix the whole thing,” says P.O.S. “It’s not ‘remixes,’ but we definitely sent him the tracks and told him to get loose, like, ‘Ruin this. Throw this in the blender.’”

“There’s some songs where he totally guts a song, and totally changed everything, and then there’s some songs where he just tweaks stuff and adds little synthesizers and drums—doing more of the role of what a rock producer does,” adds Astronautalis. “He really shaped the record. It was this funny thing where ultimately it sort of felt like we put the album in a bottle and threw it into the ocean, and it washed up on shore three months later, done.”

6666 is an explosive, fast, noisy alt-rap record, but it’s also thoroughly punk in spirit, specifically referencing the Clash and their late frontman, Joe Strummer. Astronautalis started listening to the legendary London punks as a kid when his brother gifted him their fifth album, 1982’s Combat Rock, (the one with “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go.”)

“Joe Strummer’s life became something I kept finding inspiration in,” he says. “They made this really great documentary, The Future Is Unwritten, about him. Just incredible. I think almost every guy should watch this documentary, but every artist in their 30s should really watch this. It’s really about his life coming out of being sort of an asshole, selfish musician and then going through this huge life change—and then ultimately finding this wonderful inner peace later in his life. His growth, to me, is sort of the prototype of how you handle adulthood as a fuckin’ idiot punk.”

“I consider myself a punk still,” says the now 37-year-old P.O.S, who started playing in punk bands in the late ’90s. “Even the way you look at theories and life, and take lyrics and take energy, and the way you treat people and people treat each other, life changes so much as you get older. I feel like that’s where a lot of the punk comes out on this record to me, more than just the names of some songs and references lyrically. The spirit of being that guy with a mohawk and spiky clothes that slowly doesn’t put his mohawk up anymore and wears a work jacket, but still has the same fuckin’ ethics.

“This record’s about being fuckin’ adults in real life,” he says. “The first half of it punches you in the face about it, and the second half buys you a beer about it.”

Four Fists
When: 10 p.m. Thurs. Oct. 11
Tickets: $21; $20/$25; more info here