When I took a trip out to Minneapolis to hang out with a friend before we drove down to Ohio for the brilliant Scribble Jam hip hop festival, I thought I’d stop in with the Doomtree crew for a chat. Little did I know that we’d be kicking it on their porch talking about everything from their music to prices for Stussy clothes to schizo men in coffee shops.
Female rapper Dessa was on holiday and Rhymesayers signee POS was on tour with Turbo Nemesis so for the interview I was joined by producers Lazerbeak, Marshall Larada and Paper Tiger and rappers Cecil Otter, Mike Mictlan and Sims.
Ok, so I guess I wanna start off by just asking how you all got together. Do you guys all know each other from when you were kids, or did you know each other separately and then got together afterwards?
Marshall: I think everyone who is here right at the moment pretty much knew each other from at least 16 or so.
Were you in bands together?
Marshall: Yeah, a lot of us were at different times.
Was it all hip hop? Or did you start off in punk bands?
Marshall: There was some punk stuff – Mike and Stef [POS] were rapping.
Are you all from Minneapolis originally?
Marshall: Yeah, the area. Except for that guy [points at Mictlan]
You’re from LA right?
When did you decide to become Doomtree? Was it gradual, or did you just decide you were going to be a crew and that was it?
Marshall: Super gradual.
Cecil: I think Kai [Marshall] knows this story the best
Mictlan: He does.
Cecil: Start it out!
Marshall: Ok, well, as far as I can remember, Stef and I were making beats for a while and both decided that we should do a record and it’d be fun, where we made beats and had other people rap on them so we started to line that shit up. And that was 6 years ago now, at least. Cecil started coming around, Bobby Gorgeous started coming around and we were just making beats and recording little songs here and there and the record was forgotten about. And it just became a bedroom recording project for a long time.
People started coming through that were already our friends and were like “oh, you’re making beats? You’re rapping? Let’s do this!”
Lazerbeak: Let’s do this!
Marshall: And we just started putting on shitty little shows and putting out shitty little CDs and then it just got less and less shitty.
Cool. So, you had the Doomtree Blowout [where the entire crew play live] this year right?
Marshall: Yeah, this past December.
And was that the best thing you’ve done? Was that the pinnacle so far?
All the crew: Shit yeah!
Lazerbeak: As a collective yeah.
So, everyone I’ve met here so far loves you guys, and I’ve even spoken about you with random people in coffee shops, but the only people in London that know you are the people I’ve sent songs to. Is it nice to have such a big home town following when you do these shows?
Lazerbeak: Its great, its nice to have the support of the city.
Sims: A lot of it holds true for the rest of the country though, we don’t have much of a name out in the United States.
Does it help that Stef is on Rhymesayers?
You [to Sims] went out and did some dates with him right?
Sims: Yep, I went out on tour with him and was opening on the tour and it was great because we sold some CDs and made some money off of that and got exposed and every night at the merch table we’d have people asking about Cecil Otter and stuff.
Did you guys play the Warped tour as well?
Sims: Nope but he [POS] is on it right now though.
And [to Lazerbeak] you’re in The Plastic Constellations as well right?
How’s that going?
Lazerbeak: It’s a blast!
Because one of the guys that writes for the website loves you guys and it’s hard to think you’re in a hip hop crew as well.
Lazerbeak: Yeah, it’s awesome to be able to do both of these things.
We have a Buzz Chart and we put you in and you were really high for ages.
Lazerbeak: Wow really? That’s the shit!
I mean, I don’t wanna kiss your arse too much y’know…
Lazerbeak: No, no [laughs]. I mean, we knew the record came out in the UK recently, like a couple of months ago and I hadn’t gotten to read any reviews or anything.
The reviews I’ve read of it have been really good.
Lazerbeak: Oh really, well that’s good then!
Do you think being in TPC will help Doomtree as well?
Lazerbeak: I don’t know… I think actually being in Doomtree will help the band more than we would help Doomtree. But yeah it’s nice to be in both and its cool how we can all dabble in a bunch of shit and it all works out.
Rachel [Doomtree’s all conquering press girl]: There’s a lot of crossover. You’ll see TPC fans at occasional Doomtree shows and you’ll see Doomtree fans go to TPC shows.
Lazerbeak: We just played First Avenue [venue in Minneapolis] and brought Sims and Mike out and the crowd was just as much, if not more, into their little rap thing than our whole set. It was awesome to see. And it’s cool to be in a city where everyone is open to all these different types of music.
Another thing that’s strange for us is that, the Minnesota scene is really close and where we’re from, you don’t say a rapper is from London or another city, they’re just English. Whereas everyone we’ve met here listens to Minnesota hip hop or Minnesota rock bands, so it must be nice to be top of the pile.
Lazerbeak: Its cool, for sure. I mean, we’ve been working for it for a long time and we’re not by any means at the top, but we’re making progress.
Because there’s so many of you in the crew, how do you pair off? You [Mictlan and Lazerbeak] are doing an album together, so did you just decide you’ll do an album together?
Mictlan: Well the thing was, when I started coming back around, we kept in touch, always down with what he was doing. And he started giving me beats, we made some songs real quick and then he kept sending me beats and we had so many songs we thought shit, we might as well make an album together. We liked each others style and it seemed like a good idea.
Because you guys pair off when you do live stuff right? Like Turbo Nemesis being Stef’s DJ.
Mictlan: He’s been my DJ too, or I go with him [points to Paper Tiger].
Cecil: Yeah it seems like you never know who you’re gonna get at our shows.
Sims: It’s random, I mean we’re all cool together so it’s real easy to just pair off. We’re a nice small group of people so it’s all real natural.
And you can swap round if you piss each other off too.
Sims: Yes! [Laughs] But there’s never any… I mean, there’s a lot of competitiveness between us but that’s mostly to one up each other and do better things, but there’s never any jealousies or anything like that.
And what’s next this year for the crew? You’ve got the crew album coming up haven’t you?
Marshall: Yeah we’ve got a crew record.
Sims: We’re doing another Blowout in December again, this one’s going to be at First Avenue so…
All of a sudden a car goes past and a guy with a megaphone shouts out I LOVE YOU BUNNY! Cue a minute of laughter.
Sims: Did he say bunny?
Cecil: That was awesome!
Rachel: Hopefully the Blowout will be bigger and crazier.
Is First Avenue the biggest venue here?
Cecil: It’s not the biggest, but it has the most history.
Lazerbeak: It’s pretty damn big though.
Marshall: It’s where they shot the Purple Rain video.
Oh really?! Wow, that’s fucking cool!
Lazerbeak: Yeah so we have this big show in December and we’ll try and finish the album off, that’s the main top tier of what we’re trying to do.
Are you guys getting more and more experimental with your stuff as you progress?
Lazerbeak: I don’t know, I’m way into it. I’m always liking it. Every time I hear something new I’m liking it more than the last shit so I hope we continue to do that.
Sims: The new stuff is a lot better than the other stuff we’ve done.
Mictlan: I think we challenge ourselves a lot. With the new record, I see us doing whatever we want. I mean we get tired of ourselves which means we always challenge ourselves which in turn challenges all the others.
Sims: And the new stuff we’re doing is going to be a lot more challenging to the listener. I mean, it’s not going to be poppy… but it’s going to be good.
Lazerbeak: It is gonna be good. Its nice for all of us to be able to check each other. We keep each other in check and motivate each other to make better shit.
Do all you guys live here [in this house]?
Lazerbeak: Not all, but most of the guys do.
Sims: Cecil, Mike, Me, POS and Turbo Nemesis live together.
Marshall: So half the crew really.
And you can kick each other’s arses to get in order.
Sims: There’s a lot of walking downstairs and hearing someone half way through a song and thinking “ah shit, I gotta do something today!”
Are you guys looking to tour collectively further afield?
Sims: We’ll probably get a chance to tour collectively, but it’s hard, it’s financially hard to travel that many miles and make things work.
Rachel: And it’s a lot of people to try and organise!
Cecil: But it’s the perfect time to try it now. Two years down the road we might not ever be able to find a month where we’re free and in the same place. It’s definitely the hope though.
You guys should just all come to London!
Cecil: Bring us out man!
Rachel: We’ll sell all of John [Paper Tiger]’s Stussy shirts to get there.
Lazerbeak: I mean, we hope to get out to a lot of other places, but apart from Stef we’ve not really touched on it.
When we saw Atmosphere in February, Brother Ali namechecked POS and a group of people went crazy for him, so he’s getting known.
Lazerbeak: That’s the design too. Stef will be brought up and in turn we come with him and the cycle continues.
So I hear some of you skate, and the Crossfire site is a skate website as well.
Lazerbeak: That site’s intense! I checked that out yesterday and there’s a LOT of stuff on there, it’s crazy.
So what’s it like to skate here? Because when we interviewed Ugly Duckling, they’re from California, where it’s sunny all the time. But it snows here a bunch right?
Cecil: Yeah, when I was younger it sucked really bad, I had to skate in my bedroom on carpet [laughs]. They started making indoor skate parks, but they were so expensive and I didn’t like parks but now they’re everywhere so its really easy to skate in all seasons. Skating the city isn’t as fun as it used to be, they’ve capped everything, all the good skate spots, guards have mace and will take your board. So you have to find little skate parks everywhere and scoot around.
Sims: A lot of people snowboard here in the winter. I mean a lot of skateboarders around here transition to snowboarding.
We don’t even get snow in England, we just get rain.
Lazerbeak: It does rain a lot there, when I was over it rained the whole time.
Crista [my friend]: They want it to rain here!
Lazerbeak: Well it’s about to!
I don’t think we have much choice really! At least everyone is friendly here. We walk past random people on the street and they say hi. You don’t do that shit in London.
Mictlan: You’ve not been to the north side yet…
Cecil: They’ll play friendly, but really… [evil look]
Lazerbeak: A pizza delivery guy just got shot here recently!
So you’re not going to do any gangster rap shit then?
Lazerbeak: That’s next year, 07 is the gangster rap stage for us. To prove that we can do it all, the re-invention.
So do you guys know any UK hip hop? Other than shit like The Streets and Dizzee Rascal… everytime I speak to someone over here that’s who they say and that’s shitty music man.
Marshall: I know them yeah.
Do you know Lady Sovereign?
Cecil: Didn’t Jay Z just sign her or some shit?
Yeah, which is weird because I’ve seen her play to not many people. But now the NME says she’s good and so half the country like her, all the trendy lot.
Cecil: Like that Tapes N Tapes right?
Rachel: You should tell the NME that Doomtree are the shit and get us started over there.
Cecil: We don’t wanna start getting a bad name though, telling people we’re great and we’ll start to suck too.
Lazerbeak: What’s good hip hop from London then?
Jehst. If you know Edan, he’s like the English version of him.
Marshall: Jehst… He’s in that Behind The Beat book.
Lazerbeak: Does he do his own beats too?
Yeah, most of them. He just put out a production album of his beats with other people rapping over them.
Lazerbeak: We’ll get him to open up for us then [laughs]
He opened for Atmosphere actually a few years ago.
Lazerbeak: We love what the support acts get in Europe. You get beer and they put you up at night. They don’t do that here at all. They have a PA system for you and then you’re on your own.
Marshall: People in America love to go to Europe because they get set up.
Lazerbeak: Yeah they way you guys handle it, it makes people wanna go out there.
I guess you guys know Roots Manuva though?
Lazerbeak: Yeah, I love Roots Manuva.
He’s the guy that people who don’t listen to hip hop music listen to.
Lazerbeak: Right, and that’s how I think we might get pigeonholed as over here. Like people will say “I won’t usually see a hip hop show but I’ll go and see Doomtree”.
Rachel: Yeah, it’s definitely not just rap kids that go to the Doomtree shows.
So, big broad question here, but who are your influences?
Marshall: I’m sure everyone can answer that differently.
Mictlan: Go ahead then [laughs]
Is it primarily rap?
Cecil: It’s all sort of shit. Old classic rock too.
There was a schizophrenic guy in the coffee shop just now who was telling everyone that the FBI killed Jerry Garcia and the guy from Pink Floyd and that it was just the start.
Sims: I would say Jerry Garcia has played no influence in our music.
You reckon the FBI are after you guys then?
Cecil: Not yet maybe. We’re probably Red Flagged. We wouldn’t be doing this interview if they were.
Sims: That to me is crazy, I mean, my cousin won’t get Harpers delivered to his house because he’s worried he’s going to get on the list. That’s a pretty middle of the road left magazine.
Yeah, you have to sign a form when you come to America to say you’re not a communist or a nazi and that you’re not bringing in a disease.
Chris [my friend]: Yeah, we’d have to say we’re Republicans.
Sims: [laughs] I know right? Republican – Come right in!
Yeah we got shit at customs. The guard was like “let’s take a little walk guys”
[Everyone laughs at my awful American accent]
Chris: He thought he was Rambo!
And we had to sit in this empty room, with 10 customs officers there. We had to take a number, even though there was no-one else in the room, and the walls were just mirrors so you either looked at your feet or at yourself looking guilty. And they asked us where we were going and we said a hip hop festival and got the “hip hop huh” dirty looks. But yeah we have to sign a form that says we weren’t allied with the Nazis in the war…
And that I’m not bringing in disease or livestock. Yeah, like I’m going to have a chicken in my bag!
Cecil: Yeah, I just brought a live chicken with me.
And they asked how we knew Crista, and I said the internet. Probably not the safest thing to say, and they asked if she was my girlfriend and I said no and that I’d never met her. Oops!
Marshall: We don’t know each other, but we’re getting married.
Rachel: At the hip hop festival!
What was it like playing Scribble Jam [the festival]?
Sims: It was fun, we played it the last 2 years actually.
You guys should be there for us. Just for us! And Sims and Mike are playing the Twin Cities hip hop celebration the day after we leave!
Mictlan: Delay your flight.
I can’t, I’m saving up my money to fly you guys over remember!
Sims: You’ll love Scribble. The MC battles are great, an Australian guy won it last year. [Cue awful Aussie accent] Oh Moi Gowd!
They have a British guy this year, so we’ll get to support him. [After note: he sucked and went out in the first round.] But it’s a shame we’ll miss you though.
Rachel: They’re good with equal opportunities though and we’ve played the last 2 years.
Yeah it’s a great line up anyway, the Juggaknots are playing, I’m psyched about that.
Rachel: You should back for the Blowout.
Lazerbeak: It’ll be ridiculous!
How many people were at the last one?
Lazerbeak: It had like 600, but they turned 200 people away, which sucked.
Rachel: I remember when we got to the venue last year, they usually have stuff on the floor but they’d taken everything away and we were like “no we need the stuff in to fill out space” because we didn’t know we’d get that many people coming.
Cecil: And this was before Audition [POS’ second album] had come out even!
Rachel: But that’s what’s good about the scene and playing locally, you get a lot of love for it.
That’s awesome. And I guess that about wraps it up.
Marshall: Come back in December to do a follow up!
Photos courtesy of Marshall Larada, Stephen Wayne and Bo Hakala.