Midwest rap collective Doomtree shares its crazy year with the fans
2012 was, by all objective definitions, a crazy year for Doomtree. The seven-person rap collective, formed and based in Minneapolis, went on an international tour, watched its second album "No Kings" become its best-selling album to date and was named one of 11 bands you should know by Time Magazine. And that's not including all of the members' personal lives, which included new kids and scary health problems.
All of this excitement and drama was captured by filmmaker Chris Hadland, and the footage was put together into a documentary titled "Team the Best Team." The film – an entertaining look behind the scenes for fans, as well as an compelling introduction for newcomers – has recently been released onto digital download formats, and to celebrate, the band is hosting an online viewing party tonight at 9 p.m.
OnMilwaukee caught up with Doomtree's Aaron Mader, more commonly known as Lazerbeak, to talk about the documentary, being on the road and how Wisconsin plays a part in the collective's creative process.
OnMilwaukee.com: How did all of you guys come together and form Doomtree?
Aaron "Lazerbeak" Mader: Oh man. It's been over a decade so some of the details are even fuzzy to me at this point. Most of us ended up going to the same high school together, and out of high school, we all kind of gravitated toward hip-hop and underground rap music. Some people started rapping. Other people had been in bands and ended up trying to make a shot at making beats. And we all just came together.
In the early stages, it was like strength in numbers. If somebody got a show, they'd put everybody else on and things like that. It just really started organically like that, and through the years, some people have stayed, and that's kind of what it is at this point. This core seven people that are still doing it and still interested in doing it. Seven solo artists that come together to form a band, a collective, a label and then a family-type scenario.
OMC: You guys touch on this in the documentary, but how do you mesh all of these different solo parts together?
ALM: It's gotten more collaborative through the years. In the beginning, I looked at it more as a compilation album where people threw their solo songs on, and maybe they'd throw a verse on someone else's track or whatever. Nowadays, we've gotten to the point where all the beats are made together. For this upcoming crew record – our follow-up to "No Kings" that we've started now – we've got all three producers working together to make the beats so that alters the sound every time because there are so many different directions to go.
And then on top of that, we always go up to a cabin in Wisconsin. We did that for "No Kings," and we'll be doing that again for this one. We just kind of hole up and put a beat on loop for three hours, and people just walk around and write. We come together and see what we've got. You never know what you're going to get. With "No Kings," we got really lucky, so we're trying to stick to that formula this time around again.
OMC: Where is this cabin in Wisconsin that you guys hang out and work?
ALM: I don't even know exactly where. (Laughs) It doesn't even really register on Google Maps. It's in one of the member's families; his wife's family has it, and they let us come up once or twice a year. The directions are classic old before-GPS directions, like at the town bar, take a left. Go until you see the red sign, and I think it's somewhere in the middle there. (Laughs)
OMC: Do you get to venture out of the cabin much?
ALM: Not really. It's pretty secluded. I think when you get there, it's about 25 minutes into town. Since I'm primarily a beat-maker, most of my work is done before we get there so I become kind of the house mom, making sure people stick to the schedule and making the run into town for supplies and booze and groceries.
OMC: Where did the idea come from for the documentary?
ALM: Initially, we had the "No Kings" tour booked, and we were looking for creative ways to document it on a week-by-week basis. The idea was maybe we'll sell some more tickets if people see what the shows are like, and that way people can follow us around throughout the tour and feel like they're a part of it. So initially, it was this theory of these weekly three or four minute videos on YouTube that covered three or four shows at a time.
As we started going, we found out we got an offer to go to Europe, and the record ended up taking off more than any other Doomtree record ever had. It just started to feel like maybe there was more of a story here than we thought. Then Chris (Hadland) started to see it. So we made the decision to bring him to Europe with us. And it just so happened that in all of that, some other things transpired. I had my first child three days after the Europe tour rapped, and Stef (Alexander, known by his stage name P.O.S) had a child on the road and he had his health issues. It was like a lot of things happened, and this was a way to document what it's like, the good and the bad, the hard and the fun.
OMC: How stressful was it being on the road?
ALM: It was a grind. In the moment, it seemed hard but it was, like, this is what we're doing. We just had to take it day to day. In hindsight, not to make it a bigger thing than it was, but I almost feel like there was trauma involved in it because, for me, I missed almost the entire time my wife was pregnant. It just happened that, after I left, we ended up having a ton of complications with that. I was just in the van, trying to console my wife. That's very difficult.
The other stuff, we've all been on tours before so that stuff we're just kind of used to, and it kind of sucks. It was hard. I look back on it now, and I'm like, "Oof. I just can't even imagine …" I kind of helped with the editing process, overseeing the editor and the director, so I've seen it so many times, and I can see it in my face when I watch it now. Like, "Oh man, you were really stressed out. That whole time." But whatever. I wouldn't take anything back. But it wasn't the easiest run, that's for sure.
OMC: So what's next for you and for Doomtree?
ALM: We're waist-deep in this next crew album, finally, a follow-up to "No Kings." We're going to be debuting some new tracks at these shows and then we're actually going back out to that cabin next week after the shows in Minneapolis are over for the second round of writing.
So by the time we get home, I think we'll be pretty close to having most of the material together, and then obviously it'll take some time to do all of the fine tuning and mixing and that stuff. I'm hoping that by the end of this year, a bulk of the songs will be there, and we'll be able to release something late next year potentially.
OMC: Sounds like you guys have another busy year ahead of you.
ALM: (laughs) Yeah, it's looking that way. I'm looking forward to that week in between Christmas and New Year's where hopefully, even for us, things will die down a bit, and we can catch our breath before 2014. But it's a good problem.
The online viewing party for Doomtree's "Team the Best Team" begins at 9:00 p.m. Viewers can use the hashtag #BlowoutEve on Twitter to chat with fellow viewers, fans and various band members. To rent, stream or buy "Team the Best Team," visit their website.
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