Why Four Fists' P.O.S. and Astronautalis love F. Scott Fitzgerald [INTERVIEW]
Photo by Graham Tolbert
Over the years, P.O.S. and Astronautalis have grown close over a shared love of rap music, motorcycles, tattoos, baseball, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Since 2004, they've been working in secret as Four Fists, a project named after one of the St. Paul-bred writer's short stories. In it, a gentleman named Samuel Meredith gets punched in the face at four crucial times, and each turns the tide of his life for the better. Yes, reading be fun!
Fitzgerald is hot again with last year's release of Baz Luhrman's film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, but these guys aren't buying into that glossed-over version of the Jazz Age. Their debut 7-inch, "MMMMMHMMMMM" and "Please Go," deals with the "super-emptiness" tucked inside extravagance, and they're celebrating its release with a show at Triple Rock tonight. Over some hot drinks at Spyhouse in Northeast, Gimme Noise spoke to Four Fists about their literary hero and the lumps they had to take to get here.
Gimme Noise: What do you take away from F. Scott Fitzgerald's idea in the The Four Fists about taking punches as life lessons?
P.O.S.: Taking the punch as literal makes the story more simple than it needs to be. He's talking about the giant, jarring things in life when you realize you were a jerk. Then you change and you grow from there.
Astronautalis: I spent the summer in New York City with my brother the summer after I was a freshman in college. I was 18. He was like, "You can use my passport as a fake I.D., just get some shit job, and you can stay with us." It was a one-bedroom apartment in Fort Greene. I got up there with $300, and never got a job. I was a total fucking loaf and a mooch. He eventually took away my keys and locked me out. I had no money left. I called my parents crying, and they said "Nope, you have your ticket home. Stay and figure it out." It went from being the worst summer of my life to being the best summer of my life. That was a big breakout for me to just stop being afraid of things.
P.O.S.: It's just lumps, man. You know? You can be totally right about whatever you think you're right about for your whole life -- until that is challenged and you realize that you were wrong. That's super important for growing up.
Astronautalis: It's safe to say that Stef and I came from two very different backgrounds, very different youths. But we're very similar people in weird ways. We ended up in the same geographic region, but also mentally and emotionally in the same place. We've been taking the same sets of lumps.
P.O.S.: Yeah man. Girls? Trying to figure out how to be a decent dude to women. I feel like I could count six or seven fists from my life.
Astronautalis: I took a lot of fists for being a fucking know-it-all. And rightfully so.
Gimme Noise: Eventually it becomes about dealing out lessons to others too.
P.O.S.: Whether it's something positive or just "That's life, kid." Somewhere in my mid-20s, I became consciously aware of trying to see the world through other people's eyes. Trying to deal with politics, trying to deal with people, and not flip out and destroy everyone's face every time I deal with anybody. Whatever they believe they're totally right about is the same as what I believe I'm right about, but totally different experiences.
In the construction of the story, Samuel Meredith always has an immediate epiphany after he gets smacked. What do you think about that?
P.O.S.: I don't think that's how it works in real life. It has to sink in. It works for the narrative of the story to have him get punched and then be like "Oh, I see." I've been punched in the face before, and you have to deal with all the heat and anger and the red dying off before you think about anything.
Astronautalis: The strength is being able to realize when you've been punched in the face, and when you are wrong. That's a tough thing to do for a prideful person. There's an overarching idea of knowing when to go against your expectation and protocol. The constant theme in both of our work is the idea of people who go against protocol, and figuring out that it's okay to do that. Enabling the listener and yourself to do that. Protocol has gotten us where we are.
And as trends change, so does protocol.
P.O.S.: We're not necessarily talking about trends, we're talking about life. How about this last two years in America? We go through and ruin other places and destroy other resources. Everybody's mad about that, but in the back of their head they realize that -- as mad as they are -- it's sustaining the way that they want to live. It's a matter of ethics and morals. Knowing when to be selfish, and knowing when not to be selfish.
Astronautalis: And deciding when it's time to fucking buck that system.
What drew you to F. Scott Fitzgerald's writing in the first place?
P.O.S.: I like how he writes women, and I like how he writes rich people and how empty that whole thing is. When we first started talking about this, I was reading him all the time. Our original plan was to base each wave of the project off a different set of stories or a different writer. But we're slow and we have tons of other things going on.
Astronautalis: He just told me, "You need to read this." In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald was seeing what was going on right now -- it's the same cycle now. One thing that was so disappointing about the Baz Luhrman interpretation was he romanticized the decadence, having Jay Z singing songs on it, and completely missed the point and made everything about it sexy. He just goes around ruining everything.
P.O.S.: It's beautiful, but it does completely miss the point. One of the things that makes his writing so strong is showing how, no matter how extravagant, there is so much super-emptiness in there. The new movie makes it so incredibly superficial, as opposed to being the desperation of your entire life.
One of the lines from the story is Meredith "was quite accustomed to finish everything he began--and a little bit more." How does that get into your work habits?
P.O.S.: That's another weird thing with me and him. Both of us have tons of other stuff that we wanna do, tons of other stuff that we actually are doing. Since 2004, it's been understood that this was just one of those things that was in there. We talked about starting to work for years, and sat on stuff for years. This is probably just a thing that's gonna be there forever.
Astronautalis: We had a bunch of stuff in a half-finished state, where these original 7-inch ideas came from. We realized that as a group that we didn't have any connection to a lot of that stuff anymore, so we had to move on. Despite the desire and demand for it, neither of us are really in a hurry.
P.O.S.: These two songs that are coming out are awesome, and we have a bunch more awesome songs that will come out. We might change the name, we might change the vibe, but the two of us working together is staying. It's still rap music, but when I'm around him, I think in a different way.
Astronautalis: Also with our own albums too, we give advice to each other about each others' solo albums. For as similar as we are, when it comes to actually writing, we are very different. That's been really thrilling for me. The growth between Pomegranate and This Is Our Science was a lot.
P.O.S.: Even though it didn't come out until now, we had so much time to discuss life and discuss art and what we liked about each others' styles in a formal way. This dude's good for people's brains.
Astronautalis: This dude's good for people's guts.
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