Interview: The Four Fists (P.O.S. + Astronautalis)

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be cleaning out my freelancer files to post some stuff that’s since disappeared from the internet (or never made it to internet in the first place).
This time: as far as I know, the world’s first and only sit-down interview with The Four Fists, back on the internet for the first time in two years.

(as originally posted on the (now-defunct), April 6, 2010)

“It Demands Doing”: P.O.S. and Astronautalis On Their Nameless Collaboration

One makes sprawling, historically accurate rap that has been accused of wandering into indie rock. The other rhymes over careening drum-infected beats that have been mislabeled as punk. One alternates sips of tea and whiskey during live performances. The other hops down from the stage into the middle of a mosh pit without fumbling a line. One closed out 2009 as the touring favorite of Canadian indie poppers Tegan and Sara. The other was wrapping up his fourth tour with post-hardcore act, Saosin. These two artists are TPB favorites Andy (Astronautalis) and Stef (P.O.S.), and they’re making an album together.

They’re not total opposites though. Offstage, they’re each lighthearted and disarmingly sincere. On stage, neither shies away from showcasing their serious technical talent. They’re both relentless in their delivery—Astronautalis’s solo work, in particular, is almost completely different when experienced live.

Still in it’s early stages, most of the details about the collaboration are to be determined. They haven’t figured out a name yet, and aren’t sure when the first full-length will be finished. While they both hope for a release date by the end of the year, progress has been somewhat… slow. In Stef’s own words: “Well, in 2004, me and Andy met. Three or four stabs later, we have five songs.” Andy laughs, “Look at that. It just took about six years, that’s all.“

Although only two of those songs have been released so far, the early results are promising. “Story of My Life”—with its rough, stuttering drums and clamoring piano—begins with the duo comfortably trading off every few lines. It’s evident that the two are meeting in the middle stylistically: Astronautalis compacts his usually unhurried delivery, while P.O.S. exhibits some his most melodic vocals to date. “Handmade/Handgun” takes a more traditional approach, with each staying closer to his solo style and delivering verses separately. Still, the crowd’s reaction towards the song during their recent performance at the Middle East is a strong indication of just how well they compliment each other’s sound.

Before they performed together (and individually), we got a chance to sit down with the unnamed collaboration.

You’re in the midst of a collaboration even though you’re touring together as solo artists. Do you have a name for your collective efforts yet?

S: No.

A: Do you have one? We’d really appreciate the help.

But what if I started doing music?

S: You’ll need to think of another one then, because you should give me your name.

A: Can we just use your real name?

Sure. So, how and where did you two meet?

S: On the 2004 Warped Tour. In the Code of the Cutz Rap Tent. Andy was out rapping for a job. Which I was envying, because I was out selling merch for Atmosphere. But before I left for the tour, Slug was like, “Bring a set. People fall off this thing all the time.” Sure enough, I pulled sets pretty much everyday. It was fun.

A: Totally. He gave me the first Doomtree compilation. It sat in our car for like a week. One day, we put it in and we were like “Holy Shit.” Everything on it was fucking bananas. That’s when I was like “I heart Doomtree. Forever and ever.”

S: I was like, “I like Astronautalis, even though he has a weird name because he’s really fucking good at rapping.”

A: A weird name and no crew. I’m totally crewless. I have a crew of two.

S: He’s totally crewless. The thing is though, I’ve always been a fan of crewless dudes—aside from my crew. I like both of my crews and I like people who are in crews, but I’m a big fan of rogue rappers.

A: Thanks. Roaming the Japanese countryside with my Bushido blade.

S: Looking for house parties to freestyle at.

You guys each have your own style with your solo stuff, but I know that Andy is doing a project with Picnic Tyme where you’re doing the gangster rap thing, and Stef is doing a supergroup with Bon Iver—

S: I think one of the reasons we’re both so excited to work on projects together is because we both have a really good time getting out of our elements. Our original elements are fucking weird to begin with. So, it demands doing.

A: And I feel like we both bring a similar approach—partly because we’ve both come up doing sort of different things. When we’re recording Stef will be like “You should do it like this.” And we try it. There’s really no wrong idea, so we just try everything.

You most recently worked on the album in January, right?

S: Right. I had got off tour. I had been on tour for a year. Pretty much right when I got off tour, I moved from Minneapolis to St. Paul. And then Andy came and lived in my house.

A: Right after I got off tour for about a year.

When Andy went up there, did you both already have stuff written or were you writing on the fly?

S: I had a few beats.

A: I had a few beats. And we had some ideas about content and framework. It’s kind of still really loose.

S: Very loose. But we had a discussion about the lyrical vibe we were going for beforehand. And then we just kind of got there and, you know. I would get up in the morning, get my son off to school, we’d drink some coffee and then start.

Are you mixing and matching verses or will you decide on a song and each write a verse for it?

S: I’ll be sitting at the MPC or the computer playing beats. He’ll say, “Stop” and then we’ll let the beat run for a while. He’ll be sitting on the floor and I’ll be sitting on my bed smoking out the window. And then one of us will be like, “I got something.” The other person will hear it, and then depending on where we are, whoever is further along will lead the way on what that song is going to be about and the other person will bend and fit.

A: For one song in particular, I was like “I got something but I don’t know what the hell it is.” He read it and was like, “That part’s the chorus. That part’s your verse. Write another part for another verse.”

S: It’s all just a matter of however it works; however it’s heard by either of us.

Is it a big change for you creatively to go from solo work to being part of a duo?

A: For me, it is. Even with the stuff with Picnic Tyme, he gave me stuff and I wrote to it. It wasn’t really a collaborative back-and-forth. I really never worked completely collaboratively before. I’ve had tons of people work on my record, but it’s ultimately my record. So, for me this has been super exciting because I’ve always worked alone on my own things. I’ve never had this process creatively. It’s been awesome. I could see how it could go terribly wrong with people, but fortunately he and I work so well together and get along so well that it’s just super easy. Now I’m totally spoiled. I want to start all these bands because this has gone so well—I’m sure it’s all going to backfire …except for this one.

S: I like collaborating with people but I’m not very good at it. I love doing it with Doomtree because we all bounce stuff off each other. I love working with Building Better Bombs and working in the band format. But when it comes to rap music, I feel like I’m bossy. I’m open enough to hear stuff, so it’s all good. Even it feels like I’m bossy, it never comes off being that way. I don’t know, it’s easy. It’s totally easy.

A: I think we both appreciate each other’s opinions enough that we can both be forward and kind of bossy with each other and we can take it into consideration. It doesn’t come off as jockeying for position or anything like that. It’s just creative input.

Have you noticed any of the effects of the collaboration filtering back into your solo stuff?

A: Yeah, definitely. When I’m on tour with anybody, I feel like I definitely—by the end of the tour—there’s always little things I take from other people’s live shows. That’s why I change the people that I work with on every album, and why I want do this. Because I don’t know how to make music. I never taught myself how to make music, I just kind of did it. So, for me, working with people—whether playing live or making music—is a music school for me. Because I’m learning his tricks and learning other people’s trick and kind of slowly adding to my repertoire.

S: [pauses] That’s real.

So, you two have five songs, but you’re both in the middle of a lot of projects and touring-

S: Yeah. I’m actually about to be done for a minute. My rule for 2010 -besides complimenting male friends-

A: That’s a great rule.

S: Girls already know we think they’re pretty. We gotta leave them be for a little while. They can start being nice to each other too.

A: It’s time to compliment your boys.

S: So, aside from that, it’s also the year to only play the funnest shows ever. I’m doing Coachella, some cool festivals. That’s what I’m on. I am going to make a new record. I am going to make a record with him.

A: I’m trying to play more shows than I did last year. And I played a lot of shows last year. And I’m trying to spend most of my free time in Minneapolis making a record with him-

S: Except for when I’m in Seattle making a record with him. I played too many damn shows last year and I am not playing that many shows in year again—ever. I played 225 shows last year. Nobody else is fucking with that. Including me.

A: I’m trying to. I think I hit about 200 last year. Without doing Warped Tour either. Three European tours. Three American tours. And a couple of dates in Canada.

Is there an expected completion date for this record yet?

S: I’d like to have it done and ready to come out by the end of the year. We’ll see if it comes out this year or next, but I’d like to have it done by the end of the year. And I’m trying to have my next P.O.S. record done by July.

A: That was my goal as well. I’d like to have both this record and my record done and ready to come out by either the end of the year or early next year.

If you could add anybody you want to your group, who would it be?

S: to our group? A rapper or a beatmaker? Or just anybody?

Anybody you want. 

A: Porn star?

Dessa: No.

A: Dessa, you can’t veto. This is our group. Don’t you have some magazine to do an interview for?

S: Barry Gordy.

A: I would go Nigel Gotwritch, but Barry Gordy would be cool as well.

S: Nigel Godwritch wins. Maybe.

A: If we’re talking music, I would go Nigel Godwritch, or ….

S: Nigel Godwritch actually sounds like the perfect person to produce our record.

A: Yeah. Dear Nigel, please waive your $150 million dollar fee and produce our record.

S: Fuck that, let’s pay his fee and… You know what dude? 2010. Anything and Everything.

A: Funnest shows ever. Anything and everything. Compliment Male Friends.

S: Best records. Best attitude towards life.

A: Tons of awards.

S: Mega-vitamins!

A: Mayoral sashes. Bringing back the sash.

S: Huge, huge bags of money.

A: Pillowcases with dollar signs on them full of money.

S: Gold hats.

A: Solid gold hats? Like a Gold 59Fifty?

S: Or a solid gold jacket so my back will stay straight.

A: For posture? I like that. You could have different jackets for different poses.

S: Wiggle your way in. No one can say shit. It’s gold.

A: I wouldn’t mind having Mickey Rourke in our band either. He’s got an awesome goatee.

S: I heard Sasha Grey can rap.

A: Game over. Sasha Grey in the group. Everybody else, fuck off. Dessa made fun of us for wanting porn stars, and there you go. We were like, “No way. We’re going to go with classy musicians.” Three artists later: porn star.

S: It’s true. Actually Nigel Godwritch still sounds better than Sasha Grey.

A: Yeah, Sasha Grey would be really handy but—

S: “Really handy”?! Oh man.

A: That was really gross. I can’t believe I said that.

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