Let the Clatter Kill ’Em: P.O.S. Talks Ten Years of “Never Better”
On the last stop of his anniversary tour, the Doomtree rapper offers some insight into the evolution of his uniquely punk take on rap.
“Ove” Gloves, the cup game, and goddamn recessions—ten years ago these were ubiquitous concepts you didn’t need a Wikipedia entry to explain. In 2019 we’ve entirely phased out these cultural moments, replacing each proverbially tired invention with something much more wired: smart ovens watch over our potential baking mishaps; bottle-flipping presents much more opportunity for viral fame; social, political, and environmental collapse have effectively taken the spotlight off whatever’s going down on Wall Street. And guitar-driven rap? Well, there have been some advancements in that field.
But before there was a Lil Wayne rock record, there was Never Better, Minneapolis–based emcee P.O.S.’s final elegy for the Bush administration which saw the rapper smoothly transit from his grimey, energetic punk roots to the anti-party-rap party rap of his later discography. In spite of the dated references, the record, released in February of 2009, still feels like it could have come out today, since it never quite adhered to any trends in either punk or rap. Stef Alexander’s lightning fast delivery competes with equally supersonic snare hits on “Drumroll (We’re All Thirsty),” later dancing in and out of a fractured Turbo Nemesis beat on “Get Smokes,” all with incessant shoutouts to (and guest verses from) his Doomtree family roots, the anomalies in a quickly burgeoning Minnesotta rap scene.
Two solo albums and one kidney later, P.O.S. has just finished touring Never Better across seven cities in ten days, an impressive feat considering the fact that he’d also just wrapped up a four-month world tour with his high-energy collaborative project alongside Astronautalis, Four Fists, when the trek began. But the final show of this tour, at LA’s Roxy Theatre on February 10, felt like it could’ve been his first in years, eager to return to a beloved set of songs amplified by a decade’s worth of nostalgia. It was impressive that he was able to open the set with several minutes of false starts—over the album’s opening atmospherics, he would deeply inhale before uttering mundane quips about how much time has passed rather than jumping into the first verse of “Let It Rattle”—and only provoke more excitement from the crowd, rather than attracting beer bottles. Besides a brief eulogy for his bed between tracks, the energy Alexander brought was fit for a Warped Tour stage.
Prior to the night’s events, we checked in with the rapper about bad jobs, collaborative writing, and ten years of Never Better—sadly, the subjects of the Octomom, the balloon boy, and Sully were never broached.
I recently saw the documentary Adult Rappers, which you were in very briefly. You mentioned you wrote your first album while you were working in a strip club as a bathroom attendant.
Yep, I was the guy in the suit offering gum and shit. Cigars.
Did that influence the writing of the album at all?
I think I was already mad at people, so it didn’t really do anything [laughs]. No, I don’t know if it influenced my writing as much as it just informed that I didn’t want to have any other jobs, I was ready to stop working. I don’t think I was made for the workaday world. I think every job I ever had I quit to play a show.
You quit that job to work the merch table at Warped Tour for Atmosphere.
Yeah, that was my last day job before I jumped into touring, pretty much right then.
Was that sort of a transition into the world of punk?
I was way, way into punk before that tour. I’d been going to Warped Tours for years and years and years before I went on Warped Tour. That was actually a pretty funny and surreal thing for me.
If there’s one album of yours everyone knows it seems to be Never Better.
That’s what I thought, too. Apparently a lot of people also know We Don’t Even Live Here as the first one they got into. But I feel like Never Better is the favorite.
Why do you think that is?
I really don’t even know [laughs]. It’s not my first record, it’s not even my second record. It’s just the one people grabbed onto the most. Maybe it’s the one that had the most push? I know that I toured relentlessly on that record—I played over two hundred shows that year, stayed out on the road making sure that record got as many places as possible.
To me you sounded more punk before this record, and afterward you sounded more rap. Is that the sense you have?
I don’t know, I think about my music when I’m making it, and then I try not to think about it again until I’m making another album. The last time I listened to Never Better, besides getting ready for this tour, was right before I started chill, dummy. Usually I listen to Never Better and We Don’t Even Live Here and then start a record, and then the next time around I listen to those three records and then I start another record. I feel like I consciously left guitar sounds behind after Never Better for a while, just ’cause people really started associating me with guitar sounds. Which is cool, but the next record after was almost entirely synthesizers with, like, way overdriven distilled beats, super loud. I dunno, man, on Audition I wanted to try a little bit of every single sound I knew how to make at that time so I could just always go wherever I wanted to. I don’t know if it was a conscious thing—it wasn’t “more rap” to me, that record’s more techno.
If you can think back to ten years ago, where did you think Doomtree would be in 2019?
I don’t know, man, I really don’t. I’m not a very goal-oriented person. I’m not, like, looking into the future, building my future house, picking out cars and stuff. I’m very much just trying to maintain the railroad tracks in front of the train. I don’t know that I had a ten-year outlook for Doomtree aside from that it would still exist, that hopefully I’d still be doing this as my job. But that’s about as far as I’d get.
To not go back to working in bathrooms.
Not going back to working in bathrooms.
Going back to chill, dummy being what I think is your most rap album: It definitely has the most guest verses—what was the decision that led to this?
“I don’t think I was made for the workaday world. I think every job I ever had I quit to play a show.”
Honestly it was the fact that I was coming off of being sick for a long time, and all the music that I was making in the time between being sick up to the songs I was picking for chill, dummy were these really depressed songs that were like, “ugh, lame vibes.” So in order to kind of pull myself out of that funk I started having a couple of my friends around almost all the time that I was writing, and that just ends up with you in a kind of collaborative mood. There’s some very personal songs on there, and then a lot of the rest of it’s me just trying to do the chronic thing, where it’s like the people I enjoy being around, the people I’m having a good time around who I want in the room while I’m writing. You just end up writing songs with friends that way. We’ll see about the next one. The next one might just be a hundred percent me playing guitar—just like, speed metal [laughs].
Bush rap or Trump rap? Also, Bush punk or Trump punk?
[Laughs] I haven’t heard too much Trump punk, but Bush punk was pretty solid. Bush rap was actually pretty solid for a minute, too. I don’t know if anyone’s actually trying to make Trump rap, I think that everybody’s just so pissed. For me, I haven’t mentioned it in a song because I feel like it’s just obvious—everybody fuckin’ knows, “fuck this dude.” I don’t know if it’s a challenge at this point anymore. I feel like making songs about it is a lot less useful than, like, speaking up about it in other ways. I was younger for all the Bush years and I felt like I could do something with music. Now it feels like you have to go do shit. FL