January 21, 2011

Cecil Otter

Cecil Otter

Photo by Luke Muyskens
Hailing from the illustrious Doomtree crew of Minneapolis, Cecil Otter is an incredibly talented and unique individual who is blazing a trail for artists in the Midwest. Doomtree just returned from their first national tour as an entire crew, and are swiftly rising in the national indie rap scene. If you haven’t heard of them, they are a remarkable assembly of seven musicians (five emcees and two producers), each of whom bring unique talent to the collective. You may have heard of POS, who is signed to Rhymesayers, or Dessa, whose newest album was highly critically acclaimed, but each member of the crew is exceptional. Cecil Otter is signed to Sage Francis’ Strange Famous Records, and has released one full-length album Rebel Yellow as well as some False Hopes EPs, and his second full-length album will be released this year called Porcelain Revolver, through Strange Famous, as well as a collaboration with Doomtree producer and solo artist Lazerbeak. I sat down with him in his Uptown apartment last month to try and delve deeper into the smooth fedora-ed renegade known as Cecil Otter.

So you guys just returned from your first national tour, as a whole crew, how was that experience?

It was 100% outstanding, it was really cool. It was the first time we did it with everyone there, so there were definitely thoughts of like, something’s gonna go wrong. But, man, nothing went wrong, it was just perfect, everything was great, the response was great, the cities were awesome. Fans in each city, a lot of ‘em differ, like some people are just crazy, some people are more like quiet and listening, dancing, screaming, whatever, but they were all great. Hands down, every show was…the shit.

Are there any memorable moments from the tour that stick out?

There are a lot man. The tattoos on the road, Stef, or P.O.S., brought a tattoo gun with him, and those dudes were just giving each other tattoos every chance they could get. And I did not get one. Me and Mike Mictlan sang karaoke in Austin the night before we had to play. We did This Is How We Do It by Montell Jordan and we destroyed it, we did not miss a beat, and that was really fun.

Just to back it up a little bit, how did you first get into rap music?

When I was younger we had MTV for the first time, I saw dudes on stage head spinning, and that was really, really cool. I was a really insecure little kid anyways, and I wanted something to kinda like, make me look cool. And I was not good at it, but I just always liked the whole like, camaraderie, and weird clothes they were wearing, and it was from a different city, and I had never heard of it, so it really spoke to me. When I got older, my sister Tracy was really into like Eazy-E, and NWA and all that stuff, and she ran away, and she was like thirteen and left her box of tapes, and she had renamed all of her tapes for me so my dad wouldn’t be like what is this? They said like Bon Jovi and Kenny G, and all this shit like Metallica, so he never said anything about it, just put the headphones on, and my plan was to memorize every rap, from every tape she gave me so when she came home I would be like, rapping ’em with her. She came back with her friends, and I got to rap all that stuff, and I wrote all my own raps and stuff like that. It was always fun free styling and making up little funny phrases for people’s names and shit like that all the time, so it kinda clicked, and I just always freestyled all through high school like doing graffiti and stuff like that like me and my friends would just be in the car and I would just freestyle and try to go for as long as I could, and I was getting pretty good at it I think. I never recorded anything or anything like that, and my friend Carl had a four-track and he made beats on some kind of…contraption. They weren’t good, but we would just write and write and have these songs that were like eight minutes long cause we didn’t write in bar form at all, and none of it made sense after we did it cause we wrote it so quickly, but we started doing that, and that’s where I started rapping..

Can you give us a little bit of the history behind the Doomtree crew?

I’d known Stef and Paper Tiger and MK Larada and all those dudes, like we all went to school together and I’d known them since I was really little. I went to go skate with John, Paper Tiger, and he brought Stef around, and I hadn’t seen Stef in years, and, you know, I didn’t really like Stef actually. I mean, I didn’t hate him or anything I was just like eh, I don’t really know the dude anymore. We were in the car to go skate, and I started freestyling for him and he was like, damn dude, I got this group Cenospecies, you’d be like the Cappadonna of that shit man. They ended up splitting, and me and Stef started playing shows together. He wanted someone to like back him up and play some songs, and I was like I have like one song that I can do. And I was scared as shit, so I would have to like drink before I played and most of the time I’d fake illness to not go up there. And we just started crushing more and more and making more songs, and started inviting more people in like Lazerbeak, and I started producing. Me and Stef and Kai (MK Larada) started Doomtree with our friend Bobby Gorgeous, it was just us, and then Lazerbeak started coming around with these beats that he made on the MPC. Coming together like that was just the shit.

You have such a unique style, what are some of your musical inspirations?

Everything man, every style of music there is, if its good and honest, I’m gonna like it if there’s good qualities in it, and it all really speaks to me. For the most part I grew up listening to classic rock, and eventually when I started digging for records and stuff like that, classic rock was the first thing I went to. They had the coolest covers, the drum breaks and the big bass lines, the melodies I was looking for like bittersweet and kinda epic, so that really helped with my writing too, I always end up telling a story or something, I didn’t really try to force anything, it just kinda started coming out that way. I just learned to embrace that, and that’s kinda where it came from, just trying to be, like a better person, like self-taught, so you gotta listen to a lot of other people, gotta hear what some people say and rethink it and refine it, and then try to put it down into words.

Who do you think is out there right now making good, honest rap music?

I think there’s a lot, obviously like Sage Francis, Buck 65, The Grouch, Atmosphere, everyone in Doomtree, Sleep, Old Dominion, man I don’t want to leave people out now, there’s a lot.

Going back to Doomtree, are there ever any conflicts in a group as big and musically diverse as you guys are?

Yeah, but it’s just like if you were working in a business or at a coffee shop with seven people, you know, everyone’s gonna have a different idea. All the cooks are in the kitchen and someone’s working on a different dish, and then they’re like I like this one better, so it takes us a while to really hash it out, then when we do it’s just a stronger idea. Whatever small idea that one person had, everyone’s like okay, let’s work with that idea and then make it great. So we meet every week, and whatever ideas we have, we build together. But I mean there’s always gonna be a little bit of conflict, like I think you’re totally wrong about that, like I don’t think that’s how it is, well explain, and then you can explain. Sometimes you find out that you were right, and sometimes you find out that you straying off path and it wasn’t real. I think conflict is really good, ’cause if we just agreed that what everyone says is great, then I don’t think we would be where we are now.

Where did MK Larada and Turbo Nemesis go?

Turbo just started doing his own thing. He was in it from the beginning, he’s one of my best friends, he’s one of the greatest dudes in the world, but he’s also to himself, and he just wanted to do his own thing, you know, do his own music, he didn’t want to rope himself in to anything. He’s a very brilliant man, and so I kinda just don’t question him, you know. He’s like ah, I’m training myself to box right now, at home he trains seven days a week, boxing, and he just does it for himself. So he’s off doing that and MK, he was doing all the art for Doomtree and stuff like that. And we put all of our money back into Doomtree, like we do a Blowout, we don’t get money. We put everything back into Doomtree so we can pay for these records and be self-sustained. And he does such good artwork, such good graphic design, his ideas are amazing, and he wanted to try to do it, you know like with a company, someplace he could like build a home and make enough money to sustain himself. People are heading into their thirties and stuff like that, you know, it gets scary. Like, am I gonna make like a hundred bucks a project that I do in Doomtree, and the beats are free you know, like every beat that we put in, its free, so there’s not a lot of money to be made that way. So I think he just went off to like see if he can progress in that field, and really make a career out of it. But he’s still considered a part, in my mind, both him and Turbo will always be a part of it.

Last year Dessa released a book of poetry, have you considered doing anything outside of music, maybe getting back into spoken word or skateboarding or anything?

I love skating, more than anything, that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Yeah, I still skate, stuff like that, I gotta work out, it’s tiring to skate now when you get a little older. Spoken word, nah, I just did spoken word because I didn’t have anything to make beats with, I didn’t have any beats so I just did it all spoken word-ish. I’ve been writing screenplays and stuff like that for a long time, and coming up with these ideas, I’ve got friends that make movies. I’ve always wanted to do that, so I’m writing a couple things with my friend Bo, and I wanted to do a graphic novel to go along with my next album coming out called Porcelain Revolver, cause there’s a really long story behind Porcelain Revolver that you really can’t get out, you know, 4/4, you have to make everything rhyme, so I don’t wanna like forgo the actually story to make it rap. But there’s hints of that story in there, like the bravery and vengeance and all that kinda stuff and like the real beautiful like, romantic kinda shit that’s in the story behind it. My friend Michael Gaughan, or Ice Rod, does a lot of art around town, he did like Eyedea and Abilities art for their last record, super good, he talked about doing all the art for it. And then Bo is gonna help me write it cause I have a short attention span, so if I start writing things down I forget what I was really meaning to say, he’s gonna help. And we’re gonna try that, and Doomtree can publish it, that’s just an idea. I’m also like, an artist, like I do pen and ink and brush art a lot, and I put some up in the last Doomtree show and we made some posters, I plan on doing that a lot more too. Also side projects with another band that we’re starting called The Bleachers. It’s not rock and roll, it’s just kind of like production over like good written songs, like with my friends that just come over here and we hang out, and just start doing the production for them, and, you know, that’s really awesome, it’s fun.

What else do you do when you’re not making music?

I cook a lot. I play guitar, I work on other music. Really my desire is always just to make music, it’s either like, digging for music to listen to, writing things on guitar, playing keys, slangin coffee to people at Muddy Waters, but yeah, that’s mostly it. Drawing, skating, music, being with my girlfriend, watching movies, researching. A lot of researching, I just like to research everything that I love to do.

What releases can we look forward to from Doomtree in 2011?

We have Sims’ new album, Bad Time Zoo, which he just put a 12-inch out, which is really sweet. Mine will be coming out on Strange Famous, called Porcelain Revolver, me and Lazerbeak are gonna try and finish up this record, where he’s gonna produce for me for like the first time. You know, I always wanted to rap on my own production, but we’re gonna try to do this album called Eephus Pitch, where he’s singing on my production and I rap on his. Mike Mictlan’s got something new in the works, Stef is gonna record his album in January, and that’ll be coming out real soon. So I think for the most part, that’s what’s gonna be coming out in 2011. And then just grinding really hard, it’s like these releases might have come out two years ago but we still wanna push ‘em to the people who haven’t heard it yet, that are just getting to know us through Dessa, or through me or through Stef, we wanna make sure they know everyone else on this label is very exceptional, in their own way.

Any last thoughts or shout-outs?

I’d like to shout out to anyone that’s honest out there and is having a great time making music, and also having the most terrible time making music.


2 Responses

  1. rebel yellow is one of my favourite albums.
    it was really slept on even by those who I think would love it.
    establishes a unique and cohesive sound start to finish; very genuine folk influence.
    too ill!