Any way you slice it, 2014 was a huge year for the Twin Cities' hip-hop Voltron. Despite concerns about P.O.S.'s severe medical condition, Doomtree never backed off their steady rise, dropping LPs from Mike Mictlan and Sims, playing a final Blowout, and touring like they're afraid of their own beds. So how does our favorite rap collective celebrate a year that saw them level up, yet again? They spent the holidays with their families, then got right back down to work to push the crew's newest full-length, All Hands.
Picking up where the crew's last collective effort, No Kings, left off, All Hands is a Molotov cocktail of heady social commentary, profound introspection, movie trivia, and rap nerdism, this time anchored by an even catchier suite of banger beats courtesy of Doomtree's in-house producers Lazerbeak, Paper Tiger, and Cecil Otter.
Ahead of today's All Hands Day festivities around town, Gimme Noise caught Lazerbeak juggling his newborn twins to discuss Doomtree's ongoing collaboration with Surly beer, the economics of their different projects, and how it all gets done.[jump]
Gimme Noise: Is that a mark of a really good year, when you get a beer and a donut named in your honor?
Lazerbeak: Not bad right? We're thrilled, the collaboration with Surly was definitely a highlight. It was so cool to dive into that world, as a guy who has enjoyed drinking beer for a long time now. We got to learn the ways that another company works outside of music, which is something that we're so deep into. It took months and months of just feeling each other out, just to see if it even made sense, because they, rightfully so, are protective of their brand just like we are. They really didn't want it to just be throwing logos on a can and putting something out, so we were really deliberate and took our time.
We did one on the No Kings tour, I think we posted up in some hotel in Arizona. With All Hands Day being such a Twin Cities-focused day of celebration, we wanted to do something to connect with the fans that didn't have the opportunity to come meet us in person. When we did our first one, I didn't even know what Reddit was, to be honest with you. I'm still kinda... new to that world, but it's a nice way to connect with people.
Now that the album's ready, how is the tour coming together?
Basically we finished recording the record and mixing it at the end of the summer, so the few last months have just been... we're still a very small business and label, so it really is us, and a few people we trust. It's been nonstop behind the scenes stuff basically since we turned in the masters, so it's been crazy, and the tour on top of it. I'll be excited to get those dudes out into the world. I'm unable to go out on this one because of all the babies at home, but I'm gonna fly in to some select cities and hang out.
So you're staying home. Is everybody else in the crew making it out on the road this time out?
We've been able to make it work for spot dates and things like that, but it's hard. Everyone else will be out there, Paper Tiger is gonna be holding down the fort and playing the beats out, and all the rappers will be there.
It's great to hear that P.O.S. is ready to go back out on the road again after all of the health troubles.
He's been feeling good, and this felt like a really good way to ease him into his first tour, since it's not like he's gotta perform all of the verses for an hour and a half. He can kind of pick his points, and it's just kind of nice for those crew sets, because if he does feel the need to sit a song out or anything like that, he's got that opportunity without it being super weird. I'm glad that it worked out this way to get him totally primed for what after this will be hopefully many solo tours to come.[page]
Take me through the decision-making process that the group uses to determine whether the next release on the Doomtree calendar is going to be a solo LP or a group LP.
It's always off of "Who's got a record?" Whenever a record has been made available, then we go into grind mode and we figure out how we put out that record. I end up being the project manager. I like that world, so I get into calendars and making five-year plans and stuff. But at the end of the day, these people are making art and you can't always make art on a strict timeline. We find each other when we're at our creative peaks, and usually great music comes out of that. Whenever that person feels that their project is ready, we'll spring into action. If there's four projects that are ready at the same time, then we'll get creative, so that no one is getting stepped on and everyone is sharing.
Are people constantly writing for the next crew record in the background of their other projects, or do you all generally get together and write these?
We're still learning how to make songs together. You can call us a band, but essentially we were these solo artists that bonded together because we were friends and didn't really know how to traverse all of this stuff alone at the time. So No Kings was really our first record where we were making the whole thing together.
The trick is that it's really time-intensive, getting five voices on a song, that's a lot to deal with. Plus, it's not like everyone just throws in 16 bars, it's a cohesive record, so it usually takes a lot of time. We usually make a decision, and the we come up with a game plan and slowly chip away until we have enough songs for a record. It's been a little over two years since me and Cecil started getting up every week to make the initial batch of beats for this thing. From there we usually go up to a cabin for a week, kind of listen to it and get ideas and continue on from there.
I don't think people know about it enough, but Cecil is kind of the core of the record for me, because he's on both sides, since the producer angle has become a bigger job for him. He's on all of these beats, which is why you don't hear him as much on the raps, because he's taken on such a big role in the musical side of things.
It sounds like it's incredibly effort-intensive to put together these crew records. Does it sometimes feel like more of a headache for you than it's worth?
It's very difficult, I'm not gonna lie. It's less fun than it is more fun, when you're in the moment. We all work very hard and we recognize that it needs to happen, and that we ultimately all have the same passions. But in the thick of it, it is sometimes very overwhelming. I can only speak for myself, but I have to imagine that everyone, at many points in this project, feels like "Man, I'm so glad we only make this every three or four years."
Doomtree has always made a point of being as transparent as possible about the economics of what you do as a crew with your fans. Would you mind explaining pre-orders and how they affect your business?
We're not trying to be an infomercial. So it's always seemed easier to stay as transparent as possible and explain to the people that are actually listening why we need this, and where the money's going.There's so much money being spent before the album even comes out. You're recording it, mixing it, mastering it, but you're also paying for design and artwork, and you've gotta shoot your videos beforehand, and you gotta hire a publicist, and radio people. So the pre-order was a way to avoid "Oh god, we might literally have $0 in the bank next week."
We have to generate income, and the pre-order allows us to continue to make music and put money towards the next record that's coming up. As we were doing that final pre-order push, Stef was in L.A. working on his next solo record, which is going to be on the Doomtree label, and that money was going into paying for plane tickets, and the studio sessions out there. So it's all in a big pool, and it's all helping.
How does a crew record impact your resource pool financially versus a solo record?
This is going to be the biggest record that we've released to date as far as scope, and money in and things like that. We're going all in, because this really is bigger than the seven of us. It represents our label, it represents our crew, and we're really proud of it. No Kings gave us a platform nationally and internationally to build off of, so we're going big. We live a very modest life off of music, but there's no one that's ever gotten rich off of a record. We don't really expect ever for that to happen.
Last thing: I had this theory when you announced that Blowout X would be your last Blowout that you might have something like a festival planned with Surly for this summer.
[laughs] Doomtree really likes working with those guys, and we've got a lot of big stuff planned for 2015.
More details on All Hands at Doomtree's official site.
All Hands Release Show. 18+, $25, Wednesday, February 25 at First Avenue. Tickets on sale Wednesday.
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