The tour didn’t get off to a great start. Then the election results came in, and “everybody just felt numb.” And then he and his tourmates had all their gear stolen from their van.
Somehow, though — not long after that last calamity befell him on tour in early November — Sims wound up sounding more excited about making music than he ever has before.
“Any artist often wonders if the things you do and the art you put out in the world is worthwhile and actually reaching people,” said the Doomtree rapper, whose tour comes home Friday to First Avenue. “This proved it to me: I’m reaching people. This was feedback that meant more to me than you could ever imagine.”
He’s talking about the fact that just 24 hours after their van was broken into during a stop in Brooklyn, his crew was able to get on with their tour, thanks to a GoFundMe online campaign started back home in Minneapolis.
With $19,000 in donations, he and his tour mates — including beatmakers Ander Other and Makr (Mark McGee) and opening trio Air Credits, with Steve Reidell and Aaron Brink of Chicago’s Hood Internet — were able to replace most of the gear in one day.
They didn’t miss a single gig, “just a sound check,” Sims said with pride.
Keeping the tour on track was a professional triumph that he took very personally, since he’s also touring behind his most personal album to date.
His first solo LP in five years, “More Than Ever,” dropped Nov. 4 and marked two years of accumulated “shell shock” over some very scary and lengthy health problems suffered by his wife, Sarah Schrantz (co-owner of Dark Horse and Muddy Waters eateries), plus the deaths of some of their loved ones.
Part of the Hopkins High alumni portion of the Doomtree crew — “Stef [P.O.S.] was the one who kept calling me up, hounding me to make music,” he said — the real-life Andrew Sims, 34, met up the day after he got home (three days before Christmas) to discuss the tumult of the past two months, and past three years.
Q: What was it like when you found out all your gear had been stolen?
A: We took a day off in Carroll Gardens, which is like a total farm-to-table, yogaville part of Brooklyn with every gluten-free stroller you can find. It’s where [Doomtree producer] Paper Tiger lives, and it’s safe. Steve from the Hood Internet went back to the van in the morning and said, “Yo, the lock’s been popped out of the van!” We opened it up and saw it had been cleared out. I just looked at him like, “I’m so sorry.”
And then we went and dealt with the NYPD for like six hours. In the end, I knew the cops weren’t going to do a damn thing for us, and to their credit they never really led us to believe they would. It happens all the time, but bands don’t really have much alternative. You could unload all your gear into your hotel room every night, but then you need another hotel room to hold everything.
Q: How were you able to perform a show that night, and in Philadelphia, no less?
A: We hauled ass. Luckily, Ander still had his laptop with him, so we were able to perform with the beats off that. We essentially did a tracks show, which isn’t what we do. We have our set broken down with all the [parts] split up, and we sort of reintroduce the live element to the music again, the human-error element.
The funny thing that night was Makr was in the crowd instead of onstage. He was dancing alongside everyone else. For him to have lost his laptop and all his other gear, but he was still having fun — not pouting — made me admire him all the more.
Q: How did you react to the GoFundMe campaign?
A: People back home were asking, “What can we do to help?” Mary Thayer, who works with Doomtree, started the page without really even asking. She was just like, “This is what we’re going to do. It’ll work out.”
I felt really humbled and embarrassed to have to ask for help, but since a lot of it wasn’t actually my stuff, I felt a responsibility to everyone else whose gear got stolen. But whatever. The response was what it was: just amazing. I feel indebted to the community now. Truly.
I gotta say, I think the election may have played a part. This was right after that. I think people — our people — were so shook up, they were thinking, “Is there any good left in the world? What can I do to help others?” Our cause was small potatoes, of course, but it was a little nudge toward doing something positive.
Q: How were you able to put all the pieces back together on the fly?
A: We went to music stores and grabbed whatever we could find: cords, pedals, mics, mixers, knobs. We ordered a bunch of stuff on Amazon Now, and had it delivered to the next club. We all worked together. That was the other great part of it: The teamwork everybody in the van put in. Nobody got pissy. We all did what we had to do.
Q: How did the rest of the tour go after that?
A: It was great, really. We came home for Thanksgiving and had a little breather, which was really needed, given the tumultuous start. And then we did the West Coast. A lot of the shows were packed, more than on the East Coast. And we just really got on a roll.
I’m so excited for people here to see the Air Credits set at First Avenue [Friday night], because they got really, really good as the tour went on. That’s what I call being “tour tight.” That’s why I always book a Minneapolis show at the end of a tour, because we’re always so tight by the end of it.
Q: What was the personal turmoil that defined the songs on “More Than Ever?”
A: After Doomtree toured for “No Kings” in the fall of 2012, my wife Sarah went into the hospital for the fourth attempt at a pancreas transplant. The organ didn’t take and started to reject, which led to all types of other problems, including a lymphoma scare. She was in the hospital for 180 days. She got pneumonia there a couple times, one of which almost took her life.
So I was sitting really closely to death in that time, and then my friend killed himself, and Sarah’s dad died. It was all these different encounters with death: really slow, toying-with-you death, and a really fast and unexpected death.
Fast forward: I went on tour in 2014, came home and wrote the “Field Notes” EP, then went into the woods with Doomtree, wrote and finished “All Hands” with the dudes, and toured that in 2015.
At the end of 2015 is when I woke back up from feeling shell-shocked. I’m fairly sure I had some kind of PTSD that whole time. I was forgetting people’s faces that I had known. I was just kind of going through it for a couple years there.
Q: How did you finally shake all that off and use it toward making this record?
A: When people are dying, or close to dying, you stop worrying about littler things. In my case, I stopped worrying about how I approach music, worrying about what people will think of it. I decided I could write whatever song however I wanted. I wrote like 35 songs from January to April of 2016 in that spirit.
For instance, Icetep [a beatmaker on the record] sent me a drum-and-bass beat, and I laughed about it because he’s only 22 and thinks he just invented drum-and-bass music, because he’s never heard it before. But I got super-stoked about it and made a song off that, not caring what people would think.
Q: How did Icetep fit in with [longtime Doomtree cohorts] Paper Tiger and Lazerbeak as the album’s three co-producers/beatmakers?
A: I got beats from other people, too, but they were the three guys I was connecting with most. I started thinking of ways to bridge their three distinct styles and making it sound cohesive. So Beak and I sat down and worked on meshing it all together. I’d record a demo and send it back to all three of them. We’d all compare notes and produced the album together that way.
Icetep, he’s just hungry and sends me great stuff. He and I have had some great conversations about music. Those of us in Doomtree come from a very maximalist standpoint, and he thinks more minimally, in an impressive way.
Q: Doomtree had a pretty quiet year as a group, and now P.O.S. also has a record coming in January. Will you all continue focusing on solo work in 2017?
A: We came off of “All Hands” and planned it this way, but we always focus on our solo stuff. We don’t think of ourselves as one act; we think of us as seven acts. We only became a rap group because we started a record label together, and it served the label to work together.
That said, we still love working as a group, and we’ve got some things cooking for 2017.