Director Lotfy Nathan on His New Documentary ’12 O’Clock Boys’

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For director Lotfy Nathan, what began as an art school project has flourished into an acclaimed documentary, which has garnered praise from both critics and audience members alike. Set on the streets of Baltimore, Nathan’s 12 O’Clock Boys takes you inside one of the city’s most notorious subcultures—the world of urban dirt biking. Beginning his work on the film in 2008, Nathan told me that, “At first I was into the sensational presence of the group as whole,” but later realized that the best point of entry into their world was through the eyes of a young boy named Pug, who himself was fascinated and immersed in the inner-city biking culture from a young age. Spanning three years, we see both Pug’s evolution, as well as a distinctive and visceral look into both the  fatal dangers and the wholesome attraction of the controversial past time—and its effect on one family’s life.

Last week, I got the chance to speak with Nathan about him introduction to the 12 O’Clock Boys, what makes for a compelling narrative, and the process of bringing the documentary to life.

Can you tell me a little bit about your background as a filmmaker? 

Well, this is my first film. I was studying fine art in Baltimore and I wanted to be a painter. So I come at film as a failed artist. No, I’m being silly, I don’t think it’s failed. I was studying fine art at first and this started as a school project. I was attending a really conceptually-driven art institution, and it was easy to entertain any kind of platform. So I was taking a video class there, and applying an art background was my start with this. I tried to employ that while making the film as well, but I don’t have a formal background in filmmaking.

So how did you happen upon this idea for a feature—did you know a lot about the 12 O’Clock Boys? How far away was your original intent than from when you first set out?

I was taking a documentary course and I had seen these guys around a few times. I was really living in a bubble in Baltimore—I’m not from there originally—and I thought it would be an interesting thing to try and follow, and they were really open to being filmed— to my surprise. From there it was really staggered and everything was really uncertain up until 2012; I didn’t know that it was going to be a feature. Initially the effort was to make a student eight-minute short film, but that served as proof of concept for myself and I started to get the help of friends and peers. So as more people got involved and lent their talents and came onboard, it was more validated—and that’s how it grew. We got into IFP in 2009 in New York, which was right out of college, so I was able to show that eight-minute piece to members of the industry and to other directors and filmmakers, and that was really exciting. So there were all these points of validation along the way and that was just the start. There were mentors that came in and it was an insecure process but it became crystalized as time went on with the help of an amazing editor and amazing producer.

Did you know you wanted to focus on one central character and one family? Were you looking for that and what was it about Pug that appealed to you?

At first I was into the sensational presence of the group as whole, but I realized that I didn’t just want to make a subculture portrait—that’s not enough nowadays. I’ve seen plenty of movies, but I didn’t realize you really have to have a central character; you have to have somebody that the audience can connect with. And I think the way to gage that is if you’re connecting with that person as well, and if you’re engaged with the mundane everyday moments around that person’s life. So I found that with Pug in 2010 after about a year of just fishing for material and it became something different. But even then it was still uncertain; I didn’t know exactly how he would play into it. He doesn’t necessarily offer the same exposition that’s expected out of documentary subjects, he kind of had a wall up—which is tricky, but ultimately I think there was some expression and transparency on his face that was very telling and poetic.

How was building his trust and the trust of the community? Did you have any push back when it came to what you were filming?

I don’t think that my presence was all that intimidating. I didn’t have a full camera crew; it would usually just be me with a friend. Very rarely was it more than two people. I was just kind of there and because it did start off as such a small thing, our comfort grew as the film grew. If anything, also, Coco for example, was so open to sharing her story. Within 30 seconds of meeting her, literally, she was talking about her life and her story—her family is so colorful and extroverted. Also the nature of the dirt bike riders as a whole is one of performance. So I think that really helped too, to have these subjects that are already documenting themselves and wanted to get their point across. They had been doing it in a certain capacity in this sort of instant gratification YouTube one off thing. Some people weren’t really sure what I was doing filming this long form thing where I wasn’t really releasing stuff. The wheelman Steven, he kind of got it, I think he had a lot of faith in what was being made based on our conversations, and despite not having done that before, I think he had an intuition with sharing and re-sharing and allowing these moments where nothing is happening to also transpire.

Had you seen the old footage and videos on YouTube?

I’d only seen them on the street while I was living in Baltimore, maybe three times over the first few years while I was in school. So approaching them, I didn’t really do any research, just asked around on the street who these guys were. As soon as I stepped out of my neighborhood, people seemed to know where they congregated, so I just showed and up. Then there was  a long, awkward moment of walking up to them across this baseball diamond in the park, and you know, like I said, they were receptive to being filmed. It was during the production that I educated myself. So when I looked on YouTube, I saw Steven and his brother’s YouTube page and they were getting this really inside coverage. So I contacted them and met them at a car wash in East Baltimore and got in their truck, and that’s how the really dynamic action stuff got started. And then I went deeper, I learned about the information act, requesting closed case files from the Baltimore police, figured out who to contact to try to get interviews, things like that.

It’s interesting because although riding is so dangerous, it’s the almost the wholesome alternative to life working on the street.

Yeah, I think it’s challenging and that’s why it’s interesting. It doesn’t sit well, and it doesn’t necessarily sit well with me. But it is something to acknowledge that there is context behind everything and there are lesser offenses where somebody really needs to express themselves through rebellion, especially kids—and knowing that they have these other options where it could be so much worse. Pug literally had dealers right outside of his house in West Baltimore, and he was temped and seduced by a much deeper criminal world from a young age. He was seeing the most successful people on his block were selling crack. So this becomes a wholesome sport at that point, and it’s like he wants to get on the Varsity team. It’s kind of an edifying thing, but it has to be unconventional and it has to be renegade, because he’s fighting against a very treacherous and very difficult environment that he’s being brought up in.

It was pretty amazing to see how Pug and his family death with death and kind of resilience they had. Were you effected by that both personally and as a filmmaker?

Yeah, and it’s remarkable. If I learned anything personally while filming this, it was that kind of resilience and the turn around of grieving and mourning and carrying on in that environment—it’s so fast. It’s daunting and it’s kind of unsettling, but at the same time it’s a requirement. So that was really incredible. And it’s not that it doesn’t stay, but life and death is a different concept.

What do you hope the audience walks away with after seeing this and inhabiting these lives for the time you’ve permitted?

It’s amazing that so many people seem to want to know about it. It was our ambition all along, everyone that was involved—from the subjects wanting to tell their stories to the crew—there were so many first time talents. And people were doing things with just the faith of making a good project were able to see that their work is being seen. It’s really incredible. It’s nice that people want to know the story and they want to be challenged by the question of crime and context and understand. It’s a success that people connect with Pug and seem to identity with Pug. I think identifying is the only way to really understand a place that you’re not from, and Pug is a charming point of entry for people from a world away.

And you’re not seeing him fully grown or set in his ideas—we’re watching him at the most formidable period of his life. Do you still regularly keep in contact with he and his family?

Yeah I do. I’m going to see Pug and Coco this week. They’re coming to New York for a special screening, and then on Friday we’ll all get together for the Baltimore theatrical release. I keep in touch more with Coco than Pug because there’s a lot of stuff to talk about with how the movie’s been going.

How do they feel about the film now seeing it completed?

I think they appreciate it. There’s a lot of stuff to register: what the roll out means, managing our expectations on what it means for people’s futures, and the thing to realize that it’s still a small movie and ultimately. I think there’s an appreciation for the story being told in a way that works. And it’s important that it spoke to the riders first and foremost. Showing it to the founders and getting their blessing and from Coco and the family as well, it’s important that they feel it’s real and authentic.

The Sounds Make Some News in New York

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Swedish new-wave revivalists The Sounds are in New York to play a couple of shows as part of their North American tour, in support of their fourth album, Something to Die For. More accessible than previous efforts, Something to Die For is ten songs of danceable power-pop, which would explain the raucous crowds that have greeted them at recent shows. Lead singer Maja Ivarsson set aside time yesterday while in Philly to discuss bridging the gap between rock and pop, her die-hard California love, and getting too old to party like a rock star.

Something to Die For has more of a pop vibe than the last album. Can you speak to this stylistic shift? I’m super proud of this one, too, since we actually did everything ourselves, instead of recording it in different studios with different producers. I’ve always thought that our demos, our pre-production stuff, sounded so much cooler than the finished product. So, for the fourth album, we just decided to pull this off on our own. We have so much experience now from being in the studio over the years. Let’s produce it and record it and write everything at home. It came out exactly like I wanted it. I love the electronic elements of this record. I think it’s more of a reaction to the third album, which was more mellow, more piano, [more] guitar-based sound. This one is more electronic, and I love that. We’re all really proud.

It’s okay not to classify. From day one, we’ve been the kind of band that mixed rock music with electronic music. I remember when our first album came out; I think it was a little bit ahead of its time. Nobody really knew where to put it. Radio stations didn’t know. Is it rock music? No, it has dance-y songs. Is it pop music? No, because it has guitars in it. We’ve always had those two elements in our music. A lot of keyboards, but rock and punk attitude on stage. For the fourth album, we emphasized the electronic more than the rock. I still think we have all those elements throughout all albums, it’s just that the latest one is more dance-y. I like that.

Are you the primary songwriter? I used to be. The first and second record I wrote almost all the lyrics and a lot of the music, too. The guys have actually been writing a lot more lyrics now, which is really cool. I love their lyrics. I’m happy to sing their lyrics.

What’s life like on the road? I turned 32 on October 2nd. I’m feeling a little older now. I love to drink before the show. I love tequila, by the way, and I love to drink a couple beers. But I don’t go out after the show as much anymore. That is only because I will lose my voice. After a week, I won’t be able to sing if I go out and party. Naturally, I have to slow it down a bit and take my job more seriously, [take] care of my vocal chords. But the guys still go out. We’re not as party animal as we used to be. We were so young when we started the band. Who in their early twenties doesn’t want to go out five times a week? But now I don’t need to go out five times a week. I’m fine. I have my party on stage.

What defines a phenomenal live performance experience for you? When you can feel the energy is almost electric. When the air is almost electric because the vibe in the room is so fucking great. When you can make the crowd feel involved in the show and vice-versa. I love that kind of feeling. I think we’re that kind of band. We always put on a good show, every night. We put in all the love and passion that we have for music and for live performances. We do that every night. We give the audience what they deserve. They pay money to see our band perform; I’m going to give them everything. They deserve that. We’re in it together. That’s what I want a show to be.

Where’s your favorite place to play? California is our favorite place to play. We love California. We played a show in Anaheim at the beginning of the tour and it was amazing. Shows in Quebec and Montreal were really, really, really good. I’m not gonna say the other shows were bad or anything. I’m still waiting on New York. We have a couple shows coming up in California at the end of the tour. And I know for sure that Texas is usually really good for us. It’s been a great tour so far.

Why so much Cali love? The first time I [went] there, I did not like it at all. It was too big, I didn’t have a driver’s license, and I didn’t know anybody. Now, it’s my home away from home, LA. We have a lot of friends over there. I know East Hollywood, I know every street corner, every street, every coffee place, every kind of cool vintage store. It’s that kind of feeling when you go somewhere and it’s not your hometown, but it feels like your home away from home. Our crowd in California is amazing. They always put up such good energy anytime we play somewhere in California. I just love the weather. Obviously. I’m Swedish. The sunshine and the palm trees and all that? Love it. Everyone in the band has a really strong connection to California and LA in particular.

Given all that West Coast love, what for New York? I love New York. We spent quite some time over there when we recorded our third album. When it comes to fashion, I don’t do any shopping in LA. I don’t think they have good fashion. In New York you can find the best clothes ever. It’s more European than any other city. New York is New York. There’s only one city in the world like that. New York has always been good to us.

What’s it like being the only female in the band? I don’t think I would have wanted it any other way. I’m so used to it now. We met in 1998, in high school, and I’ve been the only girl in the band since day one. Of course, there’s times I’m extra emotional. You know, that time of the month when you’re a little extra girlie and vulnerable and miserable? Then it’s kind of hard to explain to the guys. Apart from that, I love touring with them. I feel like we’re brothers and sister. We’re really close. We’re like a big family. We’ve been together for so long. We have a good vibe in the band. Me being the only girl, I don’t think about it too much. I love it. I think it’s the best.

How do you keep in such great shape? Thank you, dear. Honestly, I think it’s really unfair. I eat whatever I want and I drink a lot of beer and I smoke cigarettes. I’m not really taking care of my body, but I have good genes. Our shows are so energetic, and that’s a workout every night. I just stay in shape by doing shows. I never go to the gym. I probably should, but I don’t. I never do anything like that. I’m just lucky, I guess.

The Sounds play tonight at Music Hall of Williamsburg. You can buy tickets here.

Mayer Hawthorne on Collaborating with Snoop Dogg & Signing to a Major Label

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“I’ll admit I took some singing lessons,” says 32-year-old Mayer Hawthorne of performing live during his current tour. Singing lessons or not, Hawthorne’s voice is atmospheric; a potent brand of seductiveness, the kind of crooner-style soul to make love to, and his command of it is all the more striking given that during the first 31 years of his life, he hasn’t taken a single singing lesson.The record Hawthorne speaks of is How Do You Do, his second since being signed to Stones Throw in 2009, and his first since inking a deal with Universal Republic. Has major label-backing changed the way the neo-soul singer from Ann Arbor, Michigan works? We’ll let him answer that one. Here is Hawthorne on maintaining his silky voice, collaborating with Snoop Dogg, and the pressures that come with success.

How’s the tour coming along?
It’s been great. The best part is that you always get to see new reactions to the new songs, which is fun. Detroit is always a special stop-off for me, since it’s home. Orlando was surprisingly really good too. It’s always the ones that you’re not expecting to be good like Orlando that end up being the most fun.

I actually saw you in Toronto in 2009. You were getting over strep throat and had to cancel a bunch of shows beforehand. How is your voice holding up this time around?
It’s actually fine now that I’ve learned my lesson. I mean, it’s always a struggle when you’re doing really long tours, but you learn. When I first started singing I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I was having to figure my voice out all the time, and now I’m a lot more comfortable on stage. I’ve learned so much in such a short time about how to use my voice properly and take care of it and I’ve had no real issues lately.

I’ve always found it hard to believe you’ve never taken a singing lesson in your life before.
Well, I’ll admit I did take a few lessons for this album, from John Mayer’s vocal coach, actually. But, I’ve learned a lot about my voice. Mainly it’s just doing 400 shows over the past 3 years.That’s where you really learn from experience and the trial and error of it all, seeing what works and what doesn’t. I’ve also toured with Amy Winehouse, Bruno Mars, I did a few shows with Bilal and Erykah Badu, all these amazing vocalists, which always helps.

What was touring with Bruno Mars like?
Oh man, all my tours and all the artists I’ve performed with have been so fantastic in their unique way. The Bruno Mars tour was interesting. There were a lot of screaming 12-year-old-girls all the time, but I had to learn from experience that those people are really fun to play for too. They were some of the best crowds we’ve played for, because you know, young people get the most excited for music, it’s awesome.

How did recording for this album differ from the first one? There must have been a lot of lessons applied there, from getting so popular so quickly.
Yeah, well I went back to Detroit to record the majority of this record for that reason. I didn’t want to lose that grittiness that everybody loved about the first record. I recorded everything myself, and I played even more instruments on this record than I did on the first one. But it’s definitely a step up from the first record in every area. The singing is obviously elevated, because I took lessons. I’ve actually learned how to sing a bit. I’m also better at all the instruments that I play, I’m a better producer, and arranger of songs, and all that just adds to making a better record.

You’ve been with Stones Throw since 2009, but when did you actually sign with Universal Republic? That must have had an influence on this album.
I actually signed with them about halfway through recording the new record. A lot of the recording was already done before I signed. It’s always a really scary thing signing with a major label. I was pretty terrified that they were going to come in and change the whole sound of the album. But so far, it’s been an incredible experience and I think that every little success we have and every person that comes to the show and knows the words and sings along, that gets the label more excited and more on my team. It’s the whole “trust my vision” approach.

How did you convince Snoop Dogg to sing on that track “I Can’t Stop,” and not rap on it? What did that conversation look like?
Well, he asked me what he had to do to get on this album, and I told him there’s no rapping on my album, you’ll have to sing. He was like, “What up, let’s do it,” and of course, the whole time he was dropping some Snoop-isms with a whole bunch of his own flavor. He was calling everybody ‘nephew.’ He’d be like, “Okay, let’s do it, nephew. I ain’t scared, nephew.” I didn’t really know how he was going to do it, I’ve never heard him do anything like that before, but that’s always the goal, when working with another artist, especially one that’s as well known as Snoop, I’m always trying to get them to do something that hasn’t been done before and get them out of their comfort zone.

How did your song wind up in the Spike Jonze and Kanye West collaboration, We Were Once a Fairytale?
One day some Spike Jonze people hit me up and said that they wanted to use my song in the film, and all I knew about it at the time was that Jonze was directing, and it was starring Kanye. And, you know, Kanye has looked out for me a lot. He’s blogged about me and tweeted about me. I hadn’t met him yet at the time, but I’ve also always been a huge Spike Jonze fan, so of course I was excited they wanted to use my song. I was actually really pleased with the film too, I thought it was fantastic.

You’ve also become something of a style icon these days, with GQ featuring you recently in a style profile. Does that put pressure on your image?
Kind of, but I’ve always taken a lot of pride in my style, and you know my motto has always been “flashy but classy.” Style is something that I’ve always held to, so it’s just about the idea of wearing whatever you feel confident in. If you’re walking around wearing whatever you think is dope, as long as you walk around and you say, “I feel like a million bucks,” then everybody will say “Hey, that guy looks like a million bucks”.

How would you define your sound at this point in time?
I just call it soul music because that’s what it is. Really, I could give a fuck about what people want to call it. They can call it space orchestral punk music, but as long as they’re listening to it and talking about it, that’s all I care about.

Patrick Stump on His New Album & Life After Fall Out Boy

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Patrick Stump rose to fame as the soulful lead singer of the successful punk rock band Fall Out Boy. But while on an “indefinite hiatus” from the band (rumors of their breakup have been unsubstantiated), Stump went ahead and recorded a solo album called Soul Punk. Apparently, he took the solo part literally, since Stump wrote, performed and produced it all by himself. On the record, Stump bathes his songs in synth, recalling ‘80s new wave, but there are, as the title suggests, elements here of soul and rhythm and blues. Here, Stump talks about his new sound, diagnoses mainstream music, and sheds light on his post-Fallout Boy career.

You recorded Soul Punk by yourself. What was that like? It was weird, because it was so day-to-day and I didn’t really have to work with anyone but myself. It felt freeing and there was a different kind of vibe. There weren’t really a lot of like big experiences, since most of the time when making a record with a band, there would be arguments about something, a fight, some sort of roadblock. If anything, it was the most relaxing experience. If I wanted to go get lunch, I could go get lunch.

Why did you name the album Soul Punk? A lot of reasons. Obviously, one of the things being that I always felt a little out of place in the punk rock scene. While I was listening to a lot of the same punk rock bands, I was also listening to a lot of R&B, soul, jazz and hip-hop. Those were all great influences on me. And in the same way when I was producing and writing, I would still refer to a hip-hop or R&B record. I also wanted to put my stake in the ground about the two genres, and invoking what those things mean to me. A lot of people use ignorant words to explain what those words mean. The idea that punk is just pink-haired mohawks and complaining about school lunches. I always saw it as a state of being rather than a fashion statement. I found a correlation between the two and I wanted a catch phrase. I also wanted to play with people, because when you say “soul punk” there are expectations of what that should sound like.

Do you have any favorite artists from R&B and soul that you look up to? The renaissance of Charlie Wilson has been amazing. He can make his voice crazy. I never just listen to something that is exclusively R&B, but at the same time, I also can’t think of any rock singers that I appreciate that aren’t also inspired by R&B. We could go way back to Jackie Wilson, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, to the artists of Prince’s time in Minneapolis. And now, they are some talented new people coming out. I’m excited about Frank Ocean.

What is the first sinlge “My City” about? I kind of wanted to make a statement about our city culture and the suburbs, because the suburbs are the city. They are an extension, and it was a way to talk about my personal relationship with it. There seems to be this idea in America that you’re not real unless you live in a small town, that people are realer in smaller towns. I don’t think people realize how arrogant that is. Most people live in a city in the United States, and I was thinking about that. Something really stuck with me after Katrina, and I was thinking about New Orleans. I remember someone said after everything had happened, “They can move.” I was like, No, they can’t. The people that live there, their homes are there, their culture is there. You can’t just get up and move. So it’s a very simple song, and easy to get, but I wanted a song for that feeling. I wanted something that people could stand up and say, “No, this city is my city”.

Do you have anything to say about mainstream music? I think the mainstream is always one step behind what’s happening everywhere else, but I also don’t feel there is anything wrong with it. I think for the most part, music right now is cool. I’m a little worn out on the bounce-off-the-floor dance beats. I think there is a lot of great music out there, but it would be nice to have something else on the radio.

What’s the song “Dance Miserable” about? That song is openly political. It’s one of the more impassioned times for American politics. There’s the Occupy Wall Street protests, and then on the other side, you have the Tea Party movement. With all of these different movements, I was thinking about how a lot of times an answer for people in protest is to attach religion to politics. I was a little bit concerned with the idea of separating church and state. If you are religious, you’re faith can’t determine what happens after our lives, but it is supposed to take care of what happens here. And why I wrote “Dance like you’re disappointed” is because people are focused. People are voting, and laws are getting passed about what goes on in people’ lives, and it’s like, people are out of jobs, losing homes, they need clothes and food, and all you’re concerned about is who they are sleeping with and whether they are smoking a blunt? I don’t care about any of those things. What they need is food and shelter. People are going wild, losing their jobs and families, and I just feel like it is irresponsible.

Did you ever feel pressure or a need to prove that you’re not just the lead singer of Fall Out Boy? Whatever it is I’m not trying to, I don’t go into anywhere, any room, any radio station, and assume that anyone gives a shit because I’m the guy from Fall Out Boy, you know what I mean? I don’t rest my laurels on that. While promoting Soul Punk, I’ve got a lot to bring. If you’re going to use a word like “soul,” you’ve got to prove you have it. If you’re going to use a word like “punk”, you’ve got to prove you’ve got it. I’m trying to get to a place in which I feel I deserve to be there.

John Hawkes on Elizabeth Olsen & His Battle to Remain Anonymous

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The buzz out of Sundance was that Elizabeth Olsen gave a career-making performance in the subdued cult drama Martha Marcy May Marlene. While that turned out to be true, Olsen’s work isn’t the only acting jewel the film has to offer. The supernaturally reliable John Hawkes—who, after years of solid character work finally got his due with an Oscar nomination in last year’s Winter’s Bone—turns in a quietly menacing performance as Patrick, the magnetic leader of a cult-like”family” that Olsen’s character flees.

Next up, he’ll segue into blockbuster filmmkaing, with a part in Steven Spielberg’s presidential biopic, Lincoln. When we recently sat down with Hawkes at the Greenwich Hotel, we found the 52-year-old actor lamenting some of the trappings of his recent success. Here he is on paparazzi encounters, giving interviews, and playing the bad guy.

I know that you don’t like to use the word “cult” when referring to this film. It’s funny that this has gotten around, that’s so amazing. It’s like, boom! That and the “press shy” thing. And that I don’t want to do big movies. It’s interesting how it all gets started.

Have you been slapped with the press shy label? A tiny bit. Doing press is the least interesting part of the job, no offense. I’d rather the work speak for itself. And it is odd to be here talking to you, but I’m talking to you because I’m trying to help this film. My micro amount of fame is about more than I can handle. I am a private person and there are guys on bicycles, paparazzi, chasing me around in New York, which is bizarre. Were the big stars all out of town? I kept discouraging them, and finally I said I’m a private person, and they kind of left me alone.

Is this a result of your Oscar nomination? Oh, I suppose. Little pieces before that, I was in Deadwood, and people love Eastbound and Down; I’ve been working for many years, but, yes, when your name suddenly gets tossed around with the big boys and they consider you part of the club….

Does your desire for anonymity color your decisions at all? No, it doesn’t color my decisions so much as, you know, I’ve been kindly invited to talk shows and things, but look, it’s all for selfish reasons. I just want to be believable on screen. It’s really hard for me to believe someone that I know too much about, I like to retain an air of mystery about myself, which is great to talk about in an interview because it’s all very ironic! I’m here against my will! I’m tied to the chair! But really, I want to help this movie and it’s a joy to discuss things, but we live in an age where things travel so quickly. It used to be you could do an interview for the Peoria newspaper, and it wasn’t going to go anywhere. But now everything you say or do is potential fodder taken out of context. It’s hard for me to believe a movie star in a role role, no matter how great an actor they are. Especially if I know too much about them.

What about acting opposite movie stars? No problem. They’re wonderful actors. It’s just that when I go to a movie, even the best of stars, if I know too much about them, I associate. And so, wow, that movie star is doing an incredible job playing a busboy. But hopefully if they see me, they see a busboy. I’m not interested in too much hype because, it’ll be like “Oh, I saw that guy in Jimmy Kimmel last night.” I love that show, but I’m trying to be effective in my work and I don’t know how else to do it other than to try and duck the light as much I can.

You’ve had success at Sundance before with two films in particular. This is your third. Are you now able to tell beforehand when a film is going to break through at that festival? No, I wish I could. There have been many, many disappointments along the way, and surprises for certain films that get in, that you think don’t have a hope in hell. I like to think I’m a decent judge of material. I think that I’ve come around to being able to find things that I don’t regret doing. I’m not going to do any small movies and later on regret it because I’m a slow decider and I’ve got to really make sure it’s something to put time into, and I guess large movies are the same. I’ve turned down a lot of average sort of roles in average studio movies.

Is Lincoln something you chose because it’s a Spielberg film, and you just don’t say no to Spielberg? Partly that, but I’m also really fascinated with that period and I’m a fan of Daniel Day-Lewis. Now there’s a movie star who is such a cipher, I know that I can still look at him and believe him and he can disappear in his roles. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against movie stars. Some of them are terrific actors. And I don’t think the general audience may feel the same, but for me personally, I just don’t like knowing much about someone if I’m going to watch them act. For the Spielberg thing, it’s a large cast, a lot of supporting roles, people with more visibility than myself playing a lot of those supporting roles. It’s a fantastic script and a great chance to learn more about the period.

What kind of preparation did you do for Martha Marcy May Marlene? I read not much. Yes, that’s true, but I may be selling myself short a little bit. I did a great deal of thinking, but a lot of it was subtraction. It’s always, what is the story and how can the character I’m playing best tell that story. It felt like a lot of it then was just trying to figure out the best way to actually make Lizzie’s character a credible person you would want to follow for an hour and forty minutes. If the character of Patrick is too obviously a cult leader, an evil Svengali, then I think it’s less interesting for us if she can fall under the spell of someone like that. Now an audience member could think, That guy has decent ideas. He just needs to be credible rather than her just falling under the spell of the cliché. There had to be more nuance, more depth and surprise behind it.

He’s sort of a likable guy. I hope so.

But at the same time… He’s just misunderstood, really (Laughs).

He’s frightening, too. Was that in the script, or was that all you? No, it’s just in the script. It’s whatever the scene calls for. If the scene calls for him to figuratively take a character and shake them and throw them against the wall to get them to shape up or listen, all to the greater good by the way, then so be it. And if the scene requires a figurative caress and smooch on the cheek, that’s fine too. It’s really what the story wants.

When during shooting did you realize that Elizabeth Olsen was giving the kind of performance that would be talked about as one of the year’s best? I think as soon as the camera rolled, to be honest. We didn’t rehearse a great deal, but I know that I enjoyed meeting her and I didn’t know her family history, or who her sisters were. I came early, getting the lay of the land, spending time with our director and other crew members, and as soon as we began to work, she surprised and amazed me in a similar way Jennifer Lawrence had a year and a half before. You could just see that something was going on. There was an element of truth that was surprising and an element of just proficiency at the craft at such an early age, which are things most of us strive for our whole acting lives, and to see someone bringing it like that is shocking and beautiful. It was great.

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DJ Shadow on Technology, Music, & Glorified Wedding DJs

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In the fickle world of dance music, where consumers and producers chase after new sounds and styles, only to abandon them once something fresher and edgier comes along, DJ Shadow (born Josh Davis) has admirably stuck to his guns. After two decades in electronic music, he remains relevant as ever, as evidenced by the excitement surrounding his latest release, this month’s The Less You Know, The Better. But as well-regarded as he is in the States, he approaches deity-like status across the pond. It was in 1996, with London’s legendary Mo’ Wax label, that Shadow recorded Endtroducing…, an album built solely on samples, and widely considered to be one of the best of the decade. We recently sat down with the notoriously press-shy DJ in the back of his tour bus to talk about his new album, his ambivalence towards technology, and why a laptop doesn’t make you a DJ.

Could you tell us a little bit about your new album, The Less You Know, The Better? Well the last album, Essential Mix, was a provocation—it was designed to be one. So it was, I guess, a bit of a deviation in terms of what I consider to be the lineage of Endtroducing to The Private Press to now this album. Which is not to say I think in any way that this record is not challenging or that I’m just sort of giving up and going back to a default mode. Definitely not. I do think that every record has a different design and this record was more about going “OK, I cleared the air. That was accomplished.” Now it’s just time to kind of get back to refining my art with samples and making music that will resonate with people. Because ultimately that is always what I want—for the music to matter to people and for them to feel invested in it and for it to speak to them.

Let’s talk a little bit about the campaign illustrations that accompany this new album. It’s really just to have a little bit of fun. I’m the subject of the satire.

Like with that “You’re either with us or against us” line I saw on one of the drawings? I live in Silicon Valley, and it’s well-established as the world’s best testing ground for any new gadget. So as a result, the message that I receive on a daily basis is that my life is incomplete and my soul is unfulfilled unless I have this new product or this new app. It’s just sort of accepted, especially in this country, that that is our salvation, and I think that has come at a cost for a lot of art. I didn’t grow up wanting to start my own tech firm. I grew up loving music. So I think naturally, my reaction is to be a little suspicious. I think it’s OK to have a little bit of pushback and to say that maybe this isn’t the healthiest message. I think it’s just kind of not going to rock the foundation of any of these major corporations by one artist saying, “You know, hey, if anybody else out there is feeling a little bit ripped off by this whole philosophy, then you’re not alone.” And I think that for some reason, I feel like a lot of artists are sort of afraid to take that stance because they don’t want to be beaten with the Metallica schtick. And I just sort of feel like it’s apples and oranges and it’s really not about that for me.

I see you have these big cases of cassettes on the bus, which you rarely see anymore. Let’s talk a bit about how much DJing, and music in general, has evolved—not only the sounds but the actual forms—how DJs started by spinning and scratching vinyls, to hopping onstage with just a laptop. And just pressing play. What’s astounding to me about all of that is not so much the methodology or the technology. It’s the fact that we have access to 10 millions songs, and yet they’re still playing the same fucking 100 songs over and over and over again. That’s the part I don’t get. It’s not like they’re going out there saying ‘I’m gonna expose these people to 50 songs they’ve never heard of.

And now you don’t even have to get your hands dirty crate digging. You can just go on the Internet, so I’m sure the lack of astonishment is compounded by the fact that it’s so easy to access some pretty obscure music now. I understand where technology has a place, and it’s hard for people to understand that you can say these things without being a Luddite. Technology isn’t going to make you less of a lazy person. And if you are a DJ that really doesn’t care all that much about making a personal statement or trying to break any new ground with your audience, then essentially you’re just a glorified wedding DJ. There’s people who are like, “What’s wrong with giving people what they want?” Nothing. But that makes you a wedding DJ. For me, it’s a compulsion to expose people to music.

What are some particularly memorable finds during your career? It happens almost every other day. But where it really matters is, for example, working on this record. One of my ways of sort of clearing my head and stepping away from my workspace would either be to make some lunch, or go out and just wander into a thrift store and there’s kind of this karmic element of “Am I going to find the ingredient that’s gonna get me out of the arrangement issue I’m having.” So there’s been so many times where I go to a thrift store that I went to last week, and there’s a box of new records there and it’s like, “Woah, this looks really crazy,” or “This looks interesting.” Or you just get this sort of vibe where you’re holding it and you’re like “I think I know what this is but I’m not sure. It’s only 50 cents so I’m gonna buy it.” So many times I’ve taken those records back and within the first 5 minutes, it’s like “Ah, that’s it.” You know what I mean? And I really like that. Like I said, it’s almost like this karmic element that you’re meant to find that record at that time. And I just don’t personally feel like the same thing would happen if I just start googling peoples’ names.

You’re from Northern California but you’ve made quite a name for yourself in the UK. How does the UK scene compare to the scene in the U.S. for a DJ? You know how they used to say about New York, “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere?” I feel like London is that for electronic music. It’s the most discerning and most forward-thinking—and not just London but other cities in the UK. The UK is a music-loving country, there’s just no other way to say it. As an artist, you want to go where people care about what you’re doing and it just seems like people care there. These days, when you touch down in the States—no matter who you are, I’m sure a lot of artists would identify with this statement—that it just seems like people care a little less about the arts in the U.S. right now. It just seems like it’s not a priority, it’s not where people are getting their emotional fulfillment. I don’t know what that means, but for me, it’s a truism. I don’t see a lot of people running away from home and defining their life on any one genre of music right now. I don’t think anybody’s gonna be doing that for your average pop catastrophe that’s ruling the charts right now.

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Jesse Williams On ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ & Ending His ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Sex Drought

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Jesse Williams arrived at the BlackBook offices wearing a t-shirt that bore the unmistakeable silhouettes of Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins. (They’re unmistakeable if you’re as big fans of the actors as we are.) It was a tantalizing piece of promotional swag for The Cabin in the Woods, and was given to Williams by the film’s co-writer and executive producer, Joss Whedon. For horror buffs and the Whedon faithful, Cabin could not come out soon enough. Initially slated for release in February of last year, it was delayed until January 2011 for 3D conversion, a decision that nearly proved fatal—for the film, and for Williams’ budding acting career.

In July of 2011, MGM financially imploded, and The Cabin in the Woods was one of several anticipated films to find itself in distribution purgatory. Williams, a former high school teacher who had little acting experience, thought the film would be his big break. He was forced to regroup and embark on a career where his high-profile calling card collected dust on a shelf. It didn’t take long for the 30 year old to catch another break. After nailing a guest stint as Dr. Jackson Avery on the immortal ABC soap Grey’s Anatomy, producers awarded Williams with a full time gig beginning last season, the show’s seventh. Somewhere along the way, Lionsgate picked up The Cabin in the Woods, which is finally hitting theatres on April 13. So when Williams sat down with us for a quick chat recently, he was all smiles.

Under what circumstances did you become a regular on Grey’s Anatomy? It was supposed to be two or three episodes and then they said, stick around for a few more weeks, because it’s a performance-based contract. I didn’t know if I had a job each week, and ended up doing like twenty episodes. But every week it was like an audition like shit, am I going to be around?

Did you really want to stick around? I did. I hadn’t done anything that big, and I admired the work being done there.

Did you watch the show before? I didn’t. I was aware of it, and I was kind of aware of the music on it, because they break a lot of artists. But I got the audition the night of my birthday. I was on my way out, but I stayed in so I could see what this show is that I was auditioning for. So I watched a bunch online, and gave a shitty audition the next day.

Your show is infamous for backstage drama. What’s it like now? We had a bad couple of years, and I landed right afterwards. I kind of regret that because I wish I got to see all the good stuff, because now it’s like one functional family. I got there and Katherine had her last episode on my first episode. So we worked together for one or two episodes.

Was there a big goodbye for her? Yeah I think there was. I didn’t work there on her last day, and I was brand new. She’s a tough cookie, but she respects being pushed back. I don’t know her, but my experience on set was she’ll stomp all over you if you let her, and she’ll respect you if you push back

What happens to your character that lets him stay for the long haul? Well, they’d laid some of the groundwork before I got the offer, and I think it was probably a bit of a try out for me. My grandfather is character that’s been talked about for seven years on the show, this legendary surgeon, and I’m his grandson who shows up, and I resent him for the burden of his legacy.

Is your character a ladie’s man? I might have the record for the most amount of episodes without banging anybody. It came to a screeching halt with an out-of-the-blue shower scene with Lexi Grey, who’s the main character’s half-sister. We’re talking and flirting outside her car, and the next thing you know it’s us having sex in the shower.

What do you like best about working on Grey’s? I’ve been in this business for only five years now, but it feels like a luxury to be on a show as a person of color where the characters are complete people. They’re just individuals, not leading with race and not self-identifying all the time with some sassy TV bullshit. We don’t have to talk in slang, we’re just people. I think Grey’s has been a leader in that field for network TV, to have people from all backgrounds just be human and not have to wear that on their sleeve all the time.

I think your most watched performance in Rihanna’s video for “Russian Roulette.” It has 60 million views and counting. That was her first song back after the Chris Brown thing. They called me up and were like, She’s a fan of the show and her manager is also a fan, so it was just one of those random things.

Did anybody mention Chris Brown on set? Absolutely not, but I felt like I was playing the Chris Brown character. I’m a guy of similar complexion with tattoos, so I read into it.

Tell me about The Cabin in the Woods. There’s a lot of anticipation surrounding it, among a certain set of film fans. It’s creepy and unnerving, but it can’t help but be really funny.

Do Bradley Cooper and Richard Jenkins play the villains? I don’t know if I can say that, but in many ways, they’re not. I think it also really questions what a villain is, and how much damage you have to do to become a villain. I worked at a law firm defending people who did some pretty bad things, but were they villains?

You worked in a law firm? Yeah, I actually wrote a comedy about working in a law firm that I’m starting to circulate. I worked in one on Park Ave. for a year and a half. I was a case manager, and I hired and fired contract attorneys who were way more qualified than me. It was stupid.

Has it been frustrating to watch Cabin in the Woods get pushed back repeatedly? It was, because these are our calling cards. I’m nothing without my work, and we’re out here selling that I’m the lead in a studio film. It was coming out in 2009, and they pushed it back to make it 3D, and then MGM folded. I worked on that movie for three and a half months, and we became very close, and were all trying to do our thing. None of us were famous. And we were all waiting on this thing, and it puts you in a very vulnerable position, because you have no control over it, but in some people’s eyes, you’re nothing without it. This is a business of followers. If you’re in a movie, I don’t need to see your work. Someone could be in Twilight with no lines, but they’ll get something, because they’re in Twilight.

It says something about the studio’s faith in the film that it’s still getting a theatrical release. It looks like Lionsgate is very serious about it, and that’s exciting. It’s a memorable film. There’s nothing indifferent about it.

The Drums’ Jonny Pierce on Their New Album, Rejecting Religion & Being a New York Band

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It’s an important moment for The Drums. Coming off the international success of their self-titled debut, these NME darlings have shed their beachy, boyish sound for more honest lyrics and textured melodies, while remaining true to their pop foundation. Now, with the release of their sophomore album, Portamento, the New York-based band is finally getting the homegrown attention it deserves. We recently caught up with Drums frontman Jonny Pierce during their current US tour, to discuss his love for pop music, the strains of touring with his best friend, and the American taboo of rejecting God.

Where are you right now? On tour? Yeah, just woke up in Seattle. We were in Canada last night, in Vancouver, and drove through the night, had a few hours of sleep, and we have a show tonight in Seattle.

Who is doing the driving? We have a driver! Named Jeremy. He’s an older man with a long grey beard.

How has this tour been? It’s pretty exotic for us, actually. With our first album, we toured America and played really small bars, except for maybe New York and LA, where we played bigger shows, but it was that first US tour: very small in scope, and sometimes frustrating. But it was that sort of thing where I guess we had to pay our dues. And with this tour, and Portamento, it’s just been night and day. So we’re really pleasantly surprised. We didn’t expect much. The tour seems to be selling out every night, and it’s really kind of shocking to us. It’s nice to be able to play new songs as well.

How has the feedback been for the new album, especially on tour, considering how different it is from the rest of the music that you’ve put out? One thing I was saying to Jacob the other day was we were both commenting on how surprised we were that people are singing along to all these new songs, even more so than the older songs, and we thought that it would be the opposite. And people are shouting out and requesting songs off the new album, and rarely do we hear any requests of anything older. I feel like Portamento has really gone over in a great way in America. We sort of had America in mind when we wrote the album. Not in the front of our minds, but subconsciously. Our last album barely came out in America, and a lot of people never heard it, so we weren’t really sure what to expect, but when we made Portamento, I think we did want to make an album that represented the fact that we are an American band. We wanted to channel that sort of thing. And I can’t help but think that that’s maybe why people are responding in that kind of way.

Do you see yourselves as definitively a Brooklyn band? Is there such thing as that? I don’t think so. I like the fact that we’re from New York. But we’ve never really felt like we were part of any scene, really. Strictly from a geographic standpoint, yes, we are a New York band, but I don’t think we ever really fit into the Brooklyn scene so much, especially when we first started. We put out our Summertime! EP three years ago, at sort of the height of bands like Animal Collective and bands that are much more experimental. Even a band like Grizzly Bear, there’s something multilayered and textural about what they do. And we came along, and we were releasing two-and-a-half minute straight up girl-groupie weird pop songs. And I think the directness and the bluntness of what we were doing kind of isolated us from that kind of Brooklyn scene. We found ourselves on our own, and I think we kind of like that. It wasn’t that ‘If you cant beat em join em’ thing,’ but more like a ‘who cares’ sort of thing. We had a very specific idea of what we wanted to do, and a very specific thing that we were in love with, and that was pop music. We’re proud to be from New York. It has such an incredible history of putting out amazing music, so I can’t say that I don’t have a sense of pride in that.

And of course, you’ve had so much success internationally. It’s funny to see different places in the world, and to see what we do in very different ways. Sometimes it’s like black and white. In Europe, Japan, and the UK, people went really insane for what we were doing, and in the US I think people were a little more apprehensive. But that’s coming around, and you see more and more bands who are straight up pop, like Twin Shadow. I was so excited when he put that album out, because to me it was the type of thing that we’re trying to do. I see more and more bands dropping the whole experimental thing and just writing interesting pop, and that’s always the music that I’ve loved, so it’s nice to have new music like that, rather than having to go back to the same old albums that I’ve been listening to all the time.

I want to talk about the themes on Portamento, specifically the rejection of god and the constant revisiting of death. Can you speak a bit about those themes? When we started Portamento, we decided that it would be a very personal album. We were at a point where the dust had sort of settled. We were very hyped at the beginning, and things felt very surreal, and there wasn’t that much that felt tangible to us. We made Portamento to put an end to that. We wanted to write an album that was nothing but exactly how we felt. So there is some bluntness there. In America, I think saying you are an atheist is a pretty taboo thing, and being an atheist is kind of a lonely place to be. Even with my closest friends, they’ll sort of tolerate it, but I can kind of see in their eyes that they think I’m crazy. But I guess at the risk of looking like a lunatic, I’d rather just put something out there. I think we’ve always been a band that kind of likes to push buttons. Life is truly boring, so it’s nice to kind of poke a little bit. Even our management asked us, “Are you sure you want to open the album with a song that says that you don’t believe in God? Because that could be very polarizing.” And the fact that that concerned them made me all the more excited to put it at the beginning of the album. I grew up in a really religious household, and my mother and father are both pastors of the church, and I had a pretty extreme upbringing. They sort of enforced these ideas that I never really agreed with, and never really owned them myself, so now that I’ve grown up and have moved away, I’ve really been able to come to terms with how I actually feel. And in writing an honest album I didn’t want to leave that out.

Some lyrics are very literal, but there are also a lot of songs with really ambiguous lyrics, which have led to extreme interpretations. How do you feel about that ambiguity? I think ambiguity is a really powerful thing. I’ve always been drawn to it. It adds a nice texture to a band. It’s really funny because there’s been allegations that all of us in the band sleep with each other. To us it’s really exciting when people say something like that, because just from being a fan of bands, you kind of have those same rumors going around. I always just find it so fascinating. I’m not afraid to use a gender-specific term in a song, but I do like the fact that people can sort of take it however they want. At the end of the day, people really want an answer.

Is that why you released a track-by-track commentary to Portamento? What was the motivation behind that? I was just asked to do it. I had never heard of doing something like that before, and I thought it would be interesting. You know, when we record an album, we record a song and then put it away and start the next song. Before we knew it, we had this album of songs, and we released it as Portamento. But I hadn’t really gone back and re-examined the songs until I was asked to do a commentary on them, and I found them to be really exciting and nostalgic. When you’re dealing with something that’s right in your face, you look at it in a specific way, and then a month could go by, and when you return to it, you examine what it was and why it exists and you kind of view it in a totally different light. So that was really interesting to me. So much had changed since I wrote a lot of those songs. In a way, it’s kind of like looking through an old scrapbook or something.

Speaking of scrapbooks, can you tell me a bit about the photo on the cover? That’s a photo I found. We weren’t sure what we wanted to do for the album cover. And I thought it really needed to be a photo of my childhood, because so much of it is weaved throughout Portamento. And because it’s an autobiographical album, I thought the cover should also be autobiographical. So I was looking through old photos that I took with me to New York, and I found that one, and I showed it to Jake and Connor, and they both instantly said ‘this is it’. We painted my eyes red, and the reason behind that is, because growing up I didn’t really buy into what my parents wanted me to buy into.

Who’s the woman in the photo? Oh, I don’t know.

Given that the album is so much of your childhood, I was wondering how it is making music with your childhood friend, having grown up in the same world and now exploring those themes in your music. Can you tell me a bit about your friendship with Jacob? It’s really nice, and there are parts that are really difficult. It’s really weird when you start a band. All you have in your mind is, We’re making these songs and we love them, let’s start playing live. We certainly didn’t expect what happened to happen. When we started, we thought we’d write a handful of songs and play a few shows here and there, and keep our day jobs, and that that would be our lives. But things went a really different way, and you don’t think about the fact that you’re going to spend every living second with somebody, or a group of people. It’s essentially almost like a marriage. It’s kind of worse than a marriage, because typically two people who are married go off and do separate things during the day, and then at night they’ll spend time together to relax. Being in a band is worse, because you’re with the same people 24 hours a day, and you’re sharing hotel rooms with those people, and you’re crammed in a van or a bus or a plane. You’re always seeing the same faces non-stop, for three or four months straight. It’s funny because I learned so much more about Jacob than I ever thought I would. I thought I knew everything. It’s a lot of learning and growing that you have to do, and thankfully we made it through this hard period. It’s just funny because we always said we wanted to start a band together, and make music together. It’s a weird life.

Does he share your views on the themes on the album? I don’t think so. I don’t really know how he feels. He doesn’t agree with everything, but he does support the things I say. I never really run lyrics by him, I just say, Here’s the song, and he’s always been cool with that. But I have asked him before if he agrees with what I’m saying, specifically the religious aspect of the album, and he doesn’t quite agree. But I don’t know if that just means he doesn’t want to let go of something from his past. I think he sort of views religion in a very nostalgic way. I don’t think he had a tough childhood like I did. He looks back and it’s sweet, whereas I look back with a lot of disdain.

Jesse Marco on His Thriving DJ Career & What’s Next

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Music is often looked at as a means to bring us together and to take us far away from the troubles and challenges of our daily routine. Today, a great divide exists between the clubs that offer house music and its derivatives, and the clubs that feature what has been called mixed format or mash-up. Without going into all the convolutions and left turns that got us here, my addled memory remembers people like Mark Ronson and Stretch Armstrong—and I’ll throw in Kid Capri and Funkmaster Flex into the mix—as innovators who took music without labeling it, and mushed it all together to put smiles on our faces and movement in our feet.

To many in the house community, this type of music has little merit. They are true believers who worship at the altars of DJs who require stadiums and 6 figure fees. The mixed format types are doing well with a global movement of table service and venues with a multi-city presence. They bounce around from city to city as their names are used to fill seats and sell bottles of swill that wholesale at 40 bucks, but retail with a sparkler, a strawberry, and a hot server for $500 and more. To some, this era marked some sort of end to some sort of perceived era of glory and nightlife perfection. To those young men like Jesse Marco, they are public enemy number one. They see these guys and a few gals as sweet faced pretenders with the computers doing all the work.

In some cases, the point is valid, but the technological revolution that allows almost anybody to try to DJ (even me) creates even more competition, and those who ride to the top have earned it. I could spill off a handful of superstar names like Cassidy, Sevigny, Jus-Ske, Mel DeBarge, Ani Quinn, and Rashida, who have risen through the ranks. But no conversation about this type of player can be complete without mentioning Jesse Marco. He has made his mark in a short time, and became undeniable just about when he turned legal. Yes, there was a time when he was not old enough to drink , but he is now one of the most sought after New York-based DJs. Jesse is smart, polite and respectful, but you can catch a hint of brashness when the dimples come out. DJs need that sassy side. I asked him a few questions. We are sitting in the basement of Snap, which I’m building, 10 feet from a new DJ booth which I’m also building. I’m building a great deal of DJ booths lately. Are there enough DJs in New York to fill them? Yeah. Are there too many? Absolutely not. If you’re a DJ and you love what you’re doing and people are liking what you’re doing that’s good, you should keep doing it. If you’re a DJ and what you’re doing is the contrary, then you should stop. I may be stopping soon, but that’s a whole other story. I’m not knocking you. Everyone else does so, don’t worry. You’ll have to stand in line. How old are you? 22. You’ve been DJing in clubs before you were allowed in them. Yeah .The first clubs I was up in were Snitch and Vella, when I was around 16. Snitch was one of my favorite places. Well, I was carrying other people’s records and doing that whole thing. How did that happen? When did you decide you were going to be a DJ? My best friend growing up got turntables for Christmas Where did you grow up? I grew up downtown in New York, in Union Square. I had friends of all types; poor, rich, everything. One of my friends had turntables. He had the scratch records and this hip-hop record, and he was like, ‘Yo listen to this, watch me do this,’ and I was like ‘What?’ I got turn tables after that, the little starter kit ones, but you know, it was just a hobby, it was just something I liked doing. And when did you know it was going to be a career? It became a business after I knew what I wanted to do, after I decided just to do it all the time, no matter what, or just be around an industry based on that. Whether it was interning for record labels or carrying other DJs records, I just chose to surround myself with it.

That opportunity is no longer there because nobody carries records anymore. Now a DJ can carry his own computer. He doesn’t even need the headphones anymore. Yeah, but you can have someone download music for you too, I guess. I have not gone to Serato. I’ve been fighting it. I like CDs. I like the feel of going through the book and finding the record; the spontaneity. It’s a great feeling. Is that feeling lost in Serato? Is there something in the Serato that has to be fixed? It’s not lost because it just depends where you’re playing. Depending on the venue, or wherever you’re playing, especially in New York bottle service clubs, which I’m trying to get away from, to be honest, you kind of have to please the audience. It’s a game, like Donkey Kong. How many bottles can you sell with your music, and that’s how you get hired, let’s be honest. And of course, you’re hot. The girls like you, the guys like you. There’s a certain image you need. Yes, but maybe it’s more along the lines of, this person comes in and how hyped up can you get this guy? I can do that all day, and there’s more things you can throw in and be creative with that, which can be fun, but that’s not really what I’m trying to do. So you’re moving more towards being an artist rather than a worker bee. Oh yeah. The difference is that everyone’s gotta experience all different facets of what they want to do to really hone in on what they like. I’ve been around the world twice at a young age, and people have given me great opportunities all over the world to DJ, and I love it. But right now I have a record deal, I have music coming out, I’m recording music all the time. I still do the clubs because I enjoy it.

Tell me about your music. The word mash-up has been used—maybe overused—and sometimes not really recognized. House culture doesn’t recognize mash-up DJs as being talented. Many people discount the entire genre. Is it a genre? I think if a DJ is wack, or not good, and he’s playing a bunch of pre-made mash-ups, there’s reason to tell the world that he’s no good. You’re saying the word match-up as opposed to mash-up? Oh, mash-up, but I don’t even know what the words mean anymore, to be honest. It means you mix genres, and you mix records up, the easiest example being a hip-hop track with a rock track. Think, Aerosmith and Run DMC’s “Walk This Way.” I think Mark Ronson really started it, and Stretch Armstrong, too. Funkmaster Flex and Kid Capri from the hip-hop side also did it, and there were many others who weren’t afraid to be locked into the labels. Tell me about your music, and where are the lines blurred between hip-hop and rock? Is it all just good music? To me it’s just good music. The whole proverbial line in the sand, it’s all bullshit. If you’re a good DJ, you play good music. You make people dance, and people respect that. It’s about taste and timing. I’m a rock and roll dude. I go to rock clubs like White Noise on Friday night, or Lit. If you like rock, you’re gonna like my shit. If you want to hear hip-hop, you have listen to you. I don’t play it. When I’m in that booth and I’m putting on Alan Vega, The Hives, Iggy, or The Verve, somebody will walk up to me and say, “You got any Gaga?” And I’m sure you get this all the time, but how do you make records that are unbelievably great but completely played out, work in a club? Do you just abandon it or give them what they want? It’s a balance. You know that they want to eat dinner, but you gotta give ‘em a little appetizer, you gotta be courteous, but maybe you throw a little flare in there and make ‘em laugh, and then you drop the steak that they want.

So you give them what they want, but you manipulate it into your set. You sort of teach them. Well, yeah. I mean, it’s all about having fun, so if you’re giving them what they want, they’re not going to have as much fun as if you play around and have fun yourself. There’s an old saying in the business: “That particular DJ plays to the DJ booth.” Meaning, he’s only playing for himself and the four or five friends that are hanging out with him—the crowd is being short-changed. They like what he’s doing but want to hear the other stuff also. How much do you learn from other DJs? I’ve learned a lot from a shit ton of people, to be honest. Do you still go out and hear a DJ and go “Jesus, shit, what was that track?” I go out sometimes, but not to clubs, unless it’s a really awesome DJ. I’ll go see Clark Kent or someone like that, someone old school. With them you know what you’re gonna get. Who was the greatest DJ you ever saw? Gotta be DJ AM. He was my favorite DJ and, coincidentally, I became friends with him, which I was very lucky to do, and he did a lot of stuff for me. The last time I saw him, he was playing with I can’t remember I think it was at Quo. They were tag-teaming. Oh you mean Jazzy Jeff. That was crazy That’s right, I knew I was missing it. It was fucking unbelievable. Yeah, I was there too. I opened for them that night. Yes you did. It was unbelievable. Yeah, it was pretty unbelievable. But feel like everyone likes to talk about him and Mark, and I’m more like rest in peace, he was our friend, and that’s it. Where are you going to be when you’re 30 years old? I’m going to hopefully still be DJing, not so much, probably doing more stuff that I like to do. Producing? I’m producing right now. I have a record deal with Atlantic, so I’m doing that, and a couple of singles I have are coming out in December. Roll out in December, push in January. And I’m working with other artists. Is it all encompassing, or do you have other interests? It’s far reaching. I have interest in film and TV, and writing, clothes and fashion, and all this stuff. But it’s good to have a focus. I think a lot of people try to do too much. I mean, just on the table now, I’m starting a label called Canvas Creative Group, and we’re just gonna be a digital label, release music and stuff. Coincidentally, I acted in a movie last year that’s coming out in March. It’s a Todd Phillips movie called Project X. I can’t really talk about it, but it’s pretty cool.