They say that if you want to stay creatively inspired, you should do something that terrifies you at least once a day. Well back in April I had the opportunity to do something that was unbelievably nerve-racking, yet so inspiring: I recorded an episode of my mental health and wellness podcast, The O.K. Show, in front of a live audience.
I honestly wasn’t sure how this was going to go. Over the past year, I’ve been recording interviews for this podcast series in my own home with musicians I admire; the only audience I’ve ever had to worry about in the past is my cat, who occasionally interrupts my guests with curious meows.
Thankfully, my guest — Stefon Alexander, known in his professional life as the Doomtree-affiliated rapper P.O.S, and to friends as simply Stef — happens to be one of the most charming men in the Twin Cities area. Once the ice was broken and the nerves faded away, we had a funny, intimate, and at times incredibly vulnerable and revealing conversation. And having the audience there just made the experience that much more powerful.
Stef has been through a lot over the past three years. I believe he described it as a “total, super ordeal.” And though we often think of mental and physical health as separate realms, it was clear that the physical pain he had endured and the way his body forced him to stop working and focus on his recovery had left a deep imprint on his psyche and creativity. Toward the end of the interview, Stef graciously performed a new song, the epic “Sleepdrone/Superposition,” and spent some time reflecting on the experience of finally making music again.
Here it is! The O.K. Show, Episode 19: A conversation with P.O.S.
Andrea Swensson: I’m fascinated by the idea of music as catharsis. When you started making music as a teenager, what do you think you were getting out of making music?
P.O.S: From fifth grade up through junior high, it was all Nirvana covers, and Black Flag and Minor Threat covers. Then I was writing songs, but not writing any lyrics. It was just a matter of “this is how you write songs,” and then I’d freestyle at the show. To me, it was always “make music so you can play shows.” I didn’t make music to make myself feel stuff until way later.
What was it like to get up on stage and play at that age?
Good. I think anybody who has that urge – for me anyway, I can’t speak for everybody. I feel more comfortable halfway through a song that I have since the last time I’ve been on stage. I get to be all the way fully me, and it’s not weird because I’m the artist up there. And if it is weird, it’s funny. Whatever my mood is, it’s going to be fine because I’m in a performance mode, and then I can be off stage and be goofy while I’m still sweaty, and as I dry off I’ll calm down, and then sneak off and go home.
What happens afterwards? Do you crash?
I don’t crash. I’ve been doing it long enough to know how to manage. I’m so into performing and so into doing my job and getting that comfort, that it’s not a comfort. It’s like, now I’m tired. Or now I’m going to use the juice from that show to have the greatest night of my life. I don’t care that much about how the show went, as much as that I did it… I don’t make huge mistakes all the time. I make little mistakes, all the time.
Thinking about the worlds you came up in, hip-hop and punk, those are both very ego-centric and macho worlds. But you’ve carved out this path where you can be a person who isn’t like that. Who can express a wide range of emotions, and be vulnerable. Did you feel a pressure at any point to appear strong? How did you carve that path?
I don’t know that I ever really thought about it. I think, coming into the hip-hop scene at the time I did, battling, the freestyle battles where you pretty much get up and listen to the same beat for 30 seconds and then talk trash about the other person — I just thought it was so stupid, right off the bat. And I think I was lucky enough that the main chunk of hip-hop culture felt like I did. Like these people are entertaining, but they don’t make good songs. So that turned into its own world; the battle world. Especially being from the Midwest, we are a pretty polite culture here, whether it’s passive aggressive or not. There is a vibe where if you’re not super macho, if you’re not super aggressive and in people’s faces, nobody cares. There’s a very small section of people who are like, “No, it’s done like this.”
The first serious rap group I was in was called Cenospecies, and there was one song on there that was sort of personal. And the other rapper in the group was like, “Why would you write that? Why would you say something personal? Someone could use that and come after you in a battle.” And I was like, “Well I don’t battle and I don’t care.” The music I listen to bears its heart. If pressed, I am tough. You know? I don’t need to act like anything. And people don’t press it, so it’s fine!
And you mention the Midwest — we’re not great at talking about feelings.
No! We’re not great at talking about anything. And I’m a lyric writer. That is my job. And in my day-to-day life, I don’t say anything to anyone about anything, ever. To the point where it’s destroyed all my relationships, at least once. And I only put out a record like once every three years. I’m in here, until something drags something out, whether it’s a relationship going south, my mom saying “What’s your problem?” or it’s time to make a record. And that’s not tight.
Listen to more of P.O.S’s thoughts on his health, recovering from his kidney transplant, and making music about feeling alienated and sick, in the audio above. And don’t forget to subscribe to The O.K. Show on iTunes or Feedburner.