An ever shifting concern in their early days, it’s probably fair to say that Doomtree have been in operation for over a decade now – a Minneapolis based alternative hip-hop collective comprising seven members (Dessa, Cecil Otter, P.O.S, Sims, Mike Mictlan, Paper Tiger, Lazerbeak) all of whom operate on their own terms as well as as whole. Released earlier this year, their All Hands album is a breath of fresh air in what has become an often stagnant medium and as such we were more than delighted to spend half an hour in the company of MC, vocalist, poet, writer and Doomtree CEO Dessa ahead of her Dublin solo show next week – discussing lyricism, musical equality, punk, Bruce Springsteen and what being part of a collective actually entails…
“It’s probably somewhere between being in a band, being a solo artist and being in a travelling hockey team. There’s a fraternity about it. Even when you’re on your solo endeavours, Doomtree artists will contribute to each other’s work but also have each other’s backs – whether it be letting our fans know that someone else is on the road or by sharing resources. When a Doomtree record sells that helps finance the next solo album, which in turn helps the next artist out of the gate. We share a lot…and a lot of our lives now too, tough times and the good times”.
Most bands would have a natural leader, or at least a front person. Is doing things equally easier or harder?
“I think we’ve really tried not to present ourselves as if there’s anybody at to the fore, we really are seven distinct individual musicians. That doesn’t mean we have exactly identical careers, no seven artists do, but even when we’ve made different inroads into different cities or had different sales figures, when it comes to making big decisions everyone has an equal say. Lazerbeak is the one who has taken a leadership role on the business side in the past couple of years, he runs all of our operations and I help out a little bit on those. When there’s a strategic planning meeting he and I will get together in my one bedroom apartment and talk it out”.
Is it healthy to have other things to focus on as a group, other than the music?
“It can be. Personally it’s a distraction because if I’m feeling daunted by an artistic project I’ll turn my attention to business and sooth myself that I’m being productive when really what I should be doing is putting in my time being frustrated as an artist”.
Collective is an evocative musical term (thoughts instantly turn to Crass), and always suggests artists working outside of the normal confines…
“For us it’s been the word that most effectively describes how we’re all related, it’s hard to give a quick pitch on what we do. There’s a hybrid between a band and a solo artist, but we’re also a record label, published books, done some cool and creative merchandising. What we’ve really done is say that these seven people are all artists and anything that someone dreams up is a candidate for what Doomtree does. Next year if Lazerbeak wanted to put out a cookbook, Doomtree would figure out a way to do it. The end is the art, Doomtree is the instrument by which we make and distribute that art”.
Do you realise how amazing it is to have made that work for ten years?
“The way our relationships have worked emotionally and financially have been really elastic. Doomtree is what best serves the artist. If you want to step back and reconsider things for a year, there’s no rule that says you have to leave Doomtree. When those first big challenges happened there were times when I was afraid that the whole thing would fall apart but those relationships helped us to figure out a change”.
If Doomtree is the musical point where you all meet, how do you keep it from becoming a mess or just watered down?
“It’s a moving target. Part of what makes our stuff distinctive is that we all come from different musical backgrounds and our tastes are really different. I like sad white guys with guitars singing in harmony, while P.O.S likes hardcore and Lazerbeak likes Steely Dan and Luther Vandross. There’s even King Crimson in there. Every once in a while we find a point where those tastes do overlap”.