Seven musicians, No Kings
Minnesota rap collective Doomtree brings its Twin Cities vibes to Columbia on Friday.
Hailing from the frigid streets of Minneapolis, Doomtree started out as a bunch of high school friends and has morphed into one of the most respected rap collectives in the Midwest. Using elements of punk, jazz and R&B, the group is known for its unorthodox beats and unavoidable crew mentality. Doomtree recently released its second studio album, No Kings, in November and is now blitzing the country on a 45-city concert tour, including a stop in Columbia on Friday. MOVE recently caught up with Dessa, the lone female member of the Doomtree squad to talk No Kings, the logistics of a seven-person album and week-long concert blowouts.
[MOVE] Doomtree released No Kings just before Thanksgiving. How would you describe the sentiment of the album and the title, "No Kings"?
[Dessa] I think with so many writers that probably you’ll find five perspectives, one for every voice you hear on the album. That said, I think that No Kings, as a whole, has a lot to do with the rejection of the status quo, and the status quo involves a lot of hierarchy. Specifically, it’s about self-discrimination. It’s about rejecting any decrees from on high about how you’re supposed to live. It’s a hierarchy thing.
[MOVE] Are you happy with the way the album came out? Was it kind of what you were expecting all along?
[D] I don’t think that anybody, since the very beginning of the creative process, could have provided a concrete description about how this record was going to be at the end. In a lot of ways, this record included a lot of firsts, not having worked as collaboratively on anything as we have on No Kings.
[MOVE] How does Doomtree balance solo acts and collective efforts like No Kings? You guys are running all the time. If someone is recording an entirely separate album, how do you balance that?
[D] I think it’s pretty organic. We wanted to work together to make the record, and we monitored the schedules of each solo member, looking for an opportunity to ferret out some time to work together. So, usually there’s a lot of talk about working on a collective album and we’ll talk and talk and talk for a couple years and then we’ll finally figure out a way to drag everybody to the same place.
[MOVE] During the release week, Doomtree drove around Minneapolis signing CDs and shirts out of a conversion van. How does the community outreach affect Doomtree’s success?
[D] I think it’s tough to correlate any human initiative. You know, I think it’s hard to tell what works and what doesn’t. You don’t know if somebody came to the show because their friend told them about it or because they saw it on Facebook or because they heard a DJ talk about it on the radio. So you just do everything you can think of and at least some of it will work. I can’t say for sure how it affects our view in the Twin Cities — Doomtree piles into a conversion van driving around and handing out cookies — but I hope it does (help). And I think that it at least allows … us to get it out there. I appreciate it when artists are genuine and you have access to some of their real stuff. So I think we try to provide that.
[MOVE] The album was No. 1 in the Star Tribune’s yearly rollout and Minnesota's 89.3 The Current is obsessed with it. How are the hometown Minnesota roots manifesting itself in the songwriting and the group in general?
[D] Well, Doomtree is proud to be from Minneapolis, and I don’t think we could ask for a better response. As for how that affects the songwriting, and I’m just speaking for myself, I think it’s dangerous to worry too much about how it will be received by the wider community and I think we focus more on trying to write the very best songs that we can. And then you worry about how it’ll be received by the critics.
[MOVE] In early December, each member of Doomtree hosted a night of music and artists at First Avenue music club for a week straight. How much fun was the special week-long blowout concert series?
[D] It was pretty awesome. You know, we haven’t undertaken anything on that scale before. And so, it wasn’t a sure bet that we’d be able to sell out each specific night, but we did, and it felt great.
[MOVE] Has the process of songwriting and getting together kind of changed now that pretty much every member has hit the national scene with successful solo acts?
[D] I think that it’s just the nature of the beast. It’s hard to write a whole album in the studio with five different songwriters. Logistically, to get everybody to sound like we went in the same direction… It’s not easy with that many writers. But I think that this time, six years of trying paid off. I mean, it’s a lot of practice and a process to get better.
[MOVE] Doomtree founded its own record label, Doomtree Records, and self-releases its own albums. Can you tell us a little about how that came to be?
[D] I think like 10 years ago, the guys decided that they were going to call themselves Doomtree, but they never really got around to deciding what that would mean. So, we’re a group of friends, we’re artists, and I think that’s exactly what our relationship is to one another. And when we needed a record label, we said, "Oh shit, OK. Let’s be a record label.” So maybe we could be a publishing house or something, we’d say, "Oh shit, I guess we’re a publishing house.” You know? So, I think we worried less about what we were called and worried more about what we could do with our art, if that makes sense.
[MOVE] Doomtree teamed up with dozens of other musicians, including Bon Iver, Solid Gold and Marijuana Deathsquads, to release a “supergroup” album called Gayngs in 2010. Will there ever be another Gayngs album or concert or "regrind" album?
[D] You know, Ryan Olson really just masterminded that project and everybody else just answered his call, so I have no idea. He is the puppet master on that one for sure.
[MOVE] What was it like working with so many musicians, even more than with Doomtree?
[D] You know, most of it was on Ryan’s time. He called me and said, "I want you to be on this record. I’ll pick you up on Thursday," and that was how that went. We went to his house and he had the bedroom studio there and we did it. He called me back a few months later and said "I made the song out of what you did," and that’s how that how that went. So it wasn’t until we were getting ready for performance that I actually got to meet the other people. It’s an honor to be able to share songs with so many people.
[MOVE] Clearly 2011 was a landmark year for Doomtree. Is there anything planned for 2012, collective or solo?
[D] Well, next Thursday we’re heading out on a 45-city tour, so that’s pretty much six months right there.