Hey Lazerbeak, how's the pandemic treatin' ya?


Lazerbeak Graham Gardner

Like many of us, Lazerbeak, CEO/GM/member of beloved local rap collective Doomtree, is trapped at home with his kids right now.

The timing couldn’t be suckier for Mr. Beak (nee Aaron Mader) and Doomtree, as they had just released a new song and announced two ginormous shows to coincide with First Ave’s 50th anniversary celebration. (Also, his kids are a handful.)

You can’t keep a good producer down, though. Check out Lazerbeak’s Twitter feed to follow his life with his kids out of school and Doomtree as well as the other artists he manages (Shredders, Polica, Sophia Eris, Heart Bones, Chastity Brown, and Solid Gold) on hiatus. Sometimes strange, usually hilarious, Beak knows how to keep busy.

We spoke with him two weeks/a thousand years ago about music in this currently sick world, what really matters, and the value of a good stage name.

City Pages: Thanks for taking the time to talk. This is a strange time; uncharted territory. How’s life in Coronatimes for you, Doomtree, your family?

Lazerbeak: You have to break it down on a lot different of levels. At first, there’s the trauma, stress, anxiety where it can feel weird to talk about what you’re going through because it pales in comparison to what others might be going through. I think everything is valid, though, and we gotta talk about this stuff if we’re going to get through it. On a selfish level, or personal level, it was brutal as a manager or behind the scenes person who has to immediately spring into action. First it was a couple of shows, then it was one leg of tours, then it was all tours… The last week it has been scrambling to postpone shows, figure out messaging for the public, reschedule shows even though none of us know when this thing is going to end. Across seven or eight artists, seventy or eighty different shows that has been kind of a mind fuck.

CP: Yeesh…

LB: Yeah, you know, that’s work, and it’s different than life or death. After the initial three or four days, it was not just music, we’ve got restaurants and bars shutting down. My life has revolved around the arts, and service industry, so my heart goes out to everyone who is up in the air right now.

CP: It’s been like drinking from a fire hose of bad news lately.

LB: Exactly! But on the flip side, I think a lot of us are trying to find hope, is watching people come together. The check ins, even if it is work-related, or the text groups that I have going. “Hey, doing all right?” “Thinking about you.” That stuff is needed, and lifts my spirits. I’m really happy that I implemented a gratitude practice over the past couple of years, otherwise I would lose my goddamn mind. I’ve been trying to find the plus sides in general, a work in progress, but having a roof over our heads, my family is safe, we just got a new puppy a few weeks ago which has been a godsend in keeping the kids distracted. Every day gets a little chiller. It’s hard to be woe-is-me when literally the entire industry is going through it.

CP: Can you tell me about the name “Lazerbeak”?

LB: Believe it or not in the year 2000 there really wasn't the option of just rolling with your government name when it came to your rap handle. Lazerbeak came about because me and my friend Isaac Gale were just throwing funny words around because I had to come up with a producer handle super-fast. It just sort of stuck. Not too long after that, rappers would hit me up asking if I was into Transformers. Turns out Laserbeak is a character in Transformers. I'm sure it was somehow subliminal from watching it as a kid. Either way, I spelled mine with a "z," thank god, and have yet to receive a cease and desist from Michael Bay.

CP: It’s probably unfair to ask, but do you have any news on the First Avenue/Palace Doomtree shows scheduled for May 1 and 2?

LB: As of this minute in time, the First Avenue venues have only made the call to cancel March and April shows. That’s official. As of right now, the shows are still on. Do I think that will hold? No. There’s no way the first half, or maybe all, of May is going to even be a possibility, but who fucking knows?

CP: You mentioned on Doomtree’s site that these shows, and the new track (“Five Alive”), do not mean that you are sitting on a whole new album, but were there plans for more shows or other activity, pre-coronavirus?

LB: After All Hands, five years ago now, which is insane, we did what we always have done with a crew album. We cleared our schedules for a year, toured it really hard, and generally after that year everyone breaks apart to work on their solo projects, side projects. This time around, we decided on a hiatus, for lack of a better word. In the last five years the culture of listening to music has changed so much. We don’t have to make a whole album, we could just make a song. So that was the general idea of it [“Five Alive”]. No pressure, if it sucks, we won’t put it out. There are seven very unique and different solo artists with their own ideas and their own identities that become more independent and personalized every day that we’re alive. It’s a lot to fit into a three and half minute song. Me and Paper Tiger had some beats originally from some Shredders stuff, so we set up a little hang at Cecil Otter’s little recording studio, looped the beat up, and I would’ve given it a 50/50 chance of it going anywhere, but luckily it worked. We’re taking it one song at a time.

CP: Were you surprised by the reaction to “Five Alive”?

LB: I’ve gotten so good at managing my own expectations over the years that I was fully prepared for, “Well, this is it for us. People hate this, no one’s going to get to the shows, and we’re all going to have to get jobs at ad agencies or something”. I was extremely surprised because I had created in my head the worst case scenario. Yeah man, I really like the song, but I’ve never known what’s gonna stick. We made it so fast. We literally started writing it the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and in January people started sending over their verses piecemeal, we mixed and mastered it in a week, whipped up some artwork, and put it out there.

CP: It’s a great track, and Doomtree has always been good at dealing with tension within songs, and “Five Alive” has an almost creepiness to it.

LB: You’re right. It’s got that Doomtree vibe, to be totally self-referential. It’s dark. We don’t make a lot of super happy beats to begin with. It’s got a minimal foreboding sound to it, and I don’t want to speak for the rappers, but our toolkit has revolved a lot around perseverance, going through tough times, and this one is just another extension of that.

CP: What’s the best Doomtree song for our quarantine times?

LB: That’s a great question. I would think “No Way” from No Kings because it sounds like a zombie-hunting mission, and you can knock out any virus in your way. It’ll build your confidence.

CP: Do you think that coronavirus will, permanently, change how we do things? So many artists are live-streaming concerts…

LB: It’s tough. On a personal level, I just have never really enjoyed live-streamed concerts. There is something about being in the room when it is happening, and that is so hard to recreate. Unless it is like a Luther Vandross live DVD from the ’80s, it’s just not gonna do it for me. The cynic in me loves the idea of trying to find another option for people, but I am bummed that’s the one we have right now. If there is a silver lining to all of this, it is going to allow people to sit with music in a way they haven’t in a while. I hope we get back to slowing our roll a little bit, and appreciating the music a little more. Give it a little more of our attention.

CP: Is there anything Doomtree fans can do for Doomtree? Are you even looking for that?

LB: That’s a great question. I was trying to push the idea of a general Patreon over the last year with mixed results amongst the crew [Shortly after this interview, Doomtree indeed launched their Patreon campaign]. It seems like as the economy of how we consume music changes, we almost need to look at music as service we support like public radio or the Walker Art Center. I am hopeful for more general, community-based funds, too. The relief fund that First Ave is pushing, things like that, that are community specific, but benefit more than one artist are what I am trying to wrap my head around as I work my way around these rescheduled shows.

CP: Goofy, Twitter-based question. Did you ever get the ’90s R&B-inspired glasses?

LB: [laughter] I did! I am wearing them right now. They are on my face! I love them. As you know, like you, my kids are home from school. First day, we set up a bouncy castle in the basement, second day the kids dyed their hair blue, on day three I cracked and shaved my beard for the first time in like twelve years. So, I’m beardless, wearing my new ’90s R&B glasses fully prepared for the impending apocalypse.

CP: Speaking of kids, my daughters love “Bangarang” and “Grey Duck,” and they want to know what your favorite Doomtree song is.

LB: God, that’s a good one. I know it is a stock answer, but I have to say “Bangarang” as well because I have great memories of performing that song, whether at First Ave or venues across the world, and that togetherness feeling that people talk about is permanently imprinted on my brain. There’s nothing like a good rallying cry.