P.O.S. goes into the journey behind his first solo record in five years, Chill, dummy, the challenges of writing about yourself versus politics, the things necessary for real change to happen, and why he’s still baffled people like his music.
I saw you’re going up to Alaska this week. That’s pretty different for you.
Yeah, it’s never been done, Alaska. It’s also the coldest time of the year and they’re not expecting the sun to come up for the entire time I’m there [laughs].
[Laughs] Nice. So how’s the health these days? Is everything still going good?
Oh yeah, it’s great. I’m almost three years out from transplant, which means four years out from dialysis. I’m feeling very good.
That’s awesome. This is also your first solo record in almost five years. That’s got to feel pretty satisfying and fulfilling to finally have something new out there.
Yeah, it’s crazy. I didn’t realize it was that long. I knew it was a while. Damn [laughs]. Yeah, it feels good to have something done and on the way out. I’m pretty proud of the record itself as well.
A lot has happened in the time since We Don’t Even Live Here, both in your own life and in the country, so I’m sure you had no shortage of topics to pull from in writing this record. Was that a challenge, trying to narrow down your focus on what you wanted to talk about?
Actually, I think the songs ended up doing it for me. When I really buckled down to start making and finishing the record, it was about four months ago. Maybe less even. I had a couple things I knew I was going to put on the record and a couple beats I wanted to get to, but as far as lyrics the best ones to write a theme to were the ones that made the record.
I purposely didn’t get into too much deliberate politics. There’s lines here and there that cover stuff, but I was much more just naturally writing about what my last few years have been like personally than trying to come up with topics or anything. I was just writing a bunch and those verses are what got used. This is what it looks like.
We Don’t Even Live Here I wanted to make an anarchist dance party. I wanted to do a specific record and had pretty much never done that, so that kind of had a theme going into it. On this one, it had been a really long time and there had been a lot of stuff going on, so it was mostly I would write and then after I had a pile of songs I would pick the best ones and the themes kind of emerged.
Did approaching it from a more personal angle present its own set of challenges then?
Oh, yeah. If you’re going to end up writing about yourself, you’re going to have to look at yourself, which is challenging sometimes I would imagine for most people. That’s really what this record ended up being. Those are the songs that came out as the best songs and are the things that I guess I subconsciously needed to tackle before I could talk about Trump or whatever [laughs].
Where did the Chill, dummy title come from?
That was actually the last thing we did for the record. I was just messing with a pile of songs, and of the ones that turned out to be the best of the bunch turned out to be a slower tempo. Even the heavier ones are a little slower, heavy vibes. The two titles for the direction of the record were HOT DOG!, all caps with an exclamation point, and then Chill, dummy came right toward the end. The record just seemed a little more chill than HOT DOG! [laughs].
Either way, knowing it had been a long time and knowing there had been a lot of heavy shit going on in my life, instead of feeling the pressure of what my next record was supposed to be I wanted to shave all that off by naming it something ridiculous. People then automatically can’t take it too seriously. They just got to listen to it.
“sleepdrone/superposition” was the first song you released from this last year and is probably the centerpiece of the album as the closer. Did the rest of the album come out of making that song? Because I know that song took quite a few months to get right.
It informed what my half of the record would be. Most of my records I make about half the beats, Lazerbeak makes about half the beats, and then we have one or two other people that round it out. This time I had a big pile of beats from Lazerbeak and I had a big pile of beats from Cory Grindberg, who ended up making about half of this record. He’s a young dude out of Minneapolis and Chicago.
I had a bunch of songs that were done over Cory’s beats and one that Lazerbeak had made. The only beat I had made was “sleepdrone.” It was feeling like it was missing my tandem production. I didn’t make too much on We Don’t Even Live Here, but I touched every beat. I added something or I took something out to make it mine. I didn’t end up touching Cory’s beats until the very end.
So I took the bare bones, noisy vibe that I like doing, but the super bare bones of “sleepdrone” where there’s no snare drum I put seven minutes into the song. I made more beats to round out the record that were minimal style. All the beats I made on this record have like three, four parts tops. Synthetic drums, real drums, bass or synth bass, and then some sort of noise to round it out. That was very much determined by the work I put into “sleepdrone.”
One of the other songs you produced is the first single, “Lanes,” which the video for just came out a couple days ago. Can you talk a little about that one?
Sure, same thing. I kind of wanted to try a song in threes. I haven’t been able to make a good beat in three before. That was pretty much playing my bass guitar over a click track in threes until something felt right and then trying to smash that into a good song. It turned out really short because I said everything I wanted to say in there, and I also wanted to keep kind of that vibe.
The bass line gives you, I don’t want to say it feels like a rock song, because it doesn’t feel like a rock song to me, but it doesn’t feel like a rap song, either. So I was just meeting in the middle. That was a fun beat and song to make, that one and “Born a Snake.” Those were some of my favorite beats to make for this record.
I wanted to ask about that one too, actually. That song and “Wearing a Bear” are probably the two most high-energy songs, because as you were saying the record is a little bit more chilled out. What was it like starting the record off that way and working in that high-energy mode again for you?
That’s my typical mode, so it was fun. Even “Born a Snake,” I approached the beat in kind of like a dancehall way. I don’t think you’d know it by listening to it, but the bright yellow color with the hints of red and green and black all over the cover. Beats like “Born a Snake” are the most reggae influence you’ll ever find in anything I ever do, ever. If you take apart the drums from “Born a Snake,” there’s a kick on every snare, like a dancehall beat more than anything, and it’s just turned super up so I can yell at it.
This is also your first solo record that you haven’t put out on Rhymesayers since I think your first one way back in the day. Does that feel different, having it be on Doomtree, or does it just feel natural at this point?
It feels a lot different just because Doomtree is a way smaller label than Rhymesayers. We have to think about what parts of extravagances we can take and what ones we want to scale back on. We have to cross our fingers that our diehards are going to help us spread the word. So far, it seems like it’s working, but I don’t know. It’s definitely a lot different, but it’s cool.
You and Doomtree over the years have grown bigger and developed more of a following, but you still seem to exist below the mainstream radar for the most part. Do you feel like you’re most comfortable in that area?
Yeah. I mean, I would always love to have more people at my shows or sell more records, but there’s just a lot of stuff I’m never going to say yes to. There’s things I’m always going to think are really corny, you know? If I can maintain and take a five-year break to change out my guts, and work with my other bands and my rap crew, and then come back and still have people excited to hear from me, that’s still pretty sweet.
I don’t know that I have favorites in music that consistently stay way out in front, showing everybody every detail of their life and all that stuff. I don’t know. There’s cooler shit to be thinking about than getting all the attention all the time, but I’m very happy I get to do this, don’t get me wrong.
It works out with the release date that this is going to be one of the first albums now released under the Trump administration, which still sounds weird to say. As you were saying, this album isn’t as political as you’ve been in the past, but it seems like the rap genre as a whole has been more political in the last couple years than its been in a long while. Do you have any predictions for what music will be like over these next four years?
That’s the old joke, right? Art gets better when there’s shitty politicians. There was all that punk rock under Reagan, and hip-hop is the same. I don’t know. I know there will be great art reflected in protest, but I don’t care [laughs]. I don’t care at all. I want people to make good music and I want people to fuck with this dude forever.
I got the Twitter app removed from my phone, not because I don’t want to see what people are doing, but because I want to see people do more. I don’t think anybody is really ready to go die for any causes, and I think that’s required to make actual good change.
I’m not saying that violence needs to happen. I’ve got songs for that. I’m saying that people can talk as much as they want. People can feel as much as they want and they can say as much as they want, and wave signs and be mad at the people smashing windows, but in real life if you’re not going to put yourself out there, harsh shit is going to keep going down. I hope that was more articulate than it sounded to me. I don’t know if it was [laughs].
In real life, real change comes with the numbers of the people protesting and with a parallel resistance that is more physically active. It needs to all be there. I do not want to watch Democrats go out and be soft as fuck like they typically are and get steamrolled into all the worst things that it can be. I’ve been watching it happen the entire time. I don’t know. Hopefully the coming protests are fruitful and hopefully Steve Bannon chokes on his spit and dies.
Yeah, hopefully things won’t be as bad as they seem right now, but we’ll see.
So you’ve got this tour coming up that’s going to last the next couple months. Are there any other plans for the rest of the year? Are you going to be doing more tours and shows?
Yeah, that’s the plan. Just like with any new record, you want to get out there and support it as much as possible. So hopefully I’ll get on some festivals, hopefully I’ll get to Europe, and hopefully I’ll get on a big tour with somebody else so we can keep smashing shit up [laughs].
Do you think you’ll be doing anything with Doomtree this year?
I think Doomtree is making music this year. I don’t know if the crew will be touring because I think everybody is in solo record mode. Dessa’s writing a book. Everybody’s on their own spirit quest for a little bit. We just toured really hard on that record last year.
Doomtree has been around for, what? At least 10 years now.
I’d say 15 [laughs].
Yeah, 15. Are you surprised that you’ve been able to stick around and stay this close for this long?
Yeah, I’m always surprised that we’re able to get anything done and that we are able to continue to get anything done. It’s a massive blessing and nobody takes it for granted. I think we all just try to keep doing what we’ve been doing and not really look at how cool it is until it’s over. You get to sit back and look for a second, like that’s tight. We just did something cool. But you don’t get to sit and stop and revel in it until you’re ready to stop doing it.
So what do you hope to have people take away from this record? Is there something you hope people can learn from your journey or find out of it?
I think that my records, all of them in my opinion, take a few listens before you get what I’m trying to say. The people that take the time to really get into a record and listen to it a bunch of times are probably going to hear the kind of shit they say to themselves about the shit they feel this applies with or they feel good about. I don’t know, man.
I never know why people like my music. I’m always baffled at what they do like. The fact that whatever I might mean, people always make it mean what they want it to mean, which is ultimately what I do with music, too. I find once you put it out, it’s not yours anymore. So I don’t know what people are going to take out of it. I don’t know what I want them to take out of it. I just want them to listen to it thoroughly [laughs].
’Chill, dummy’ is out now on Doomtree Records. For tour dates, go to Doomtree.net.