BlackBook Interview: As a New Season of ‘Riverdale’ is Prepping, a Chat w/ Series Fave Mädchen Amick

Mädchen Amick as Alice Cooper in ‘Riverdale’

 

Unlike most teen soaps, the parents of Riverdale go through just about as much drama as their teenage counterparts. Consisting mostly of young heartthrobs of the ‘80s and ‘90s, the grownup portion of the cast (including Luke Perry, Skeet Ulrich, and Molly Ringwald) has portrayed the likes of brothel madams, drug kingpins, gang members, and serial killers.

But perhaps the most complex of these is Alice Cooper, brought to life by the indomitable talent that is Mädchen Amick (Twin Peaks, American Horror Story, Witches of East End). The type-A mother to Betty (Lili Reinhart), Alice has been the subject of a once-hot affair with FP Jones (Ulrich), an impostor claiming to be her abandoned son, a tumultuous marriage to a masked serial killer, and now the protégé of a charming cult leader. Why should teenagers get to have all the fun?

“Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa, creator of Riverdale] and I talked about the concept that Alice was a lot like Annette Bening’s character in American Beauty, where she’s trying so hard to be perfect, and she’s super uptight,” she tells BlackBook. “But she’s a complete mess underneath it all. The higher we build her up and the more you hate her, the farther she can fall, and hopefully the more you can feel for her about what her life circumstances are.”

 

Mädchen Amick as Alice Cooper in ‘Riverdale’

 

As Season 3 was in full swing, and Season 4 has just been announced, we caught up with Amick at the Chateau Marmont, the historic Hollywood hotel/hangout, and a particular fave of hers.

“This used to be my home away from home when I wasn’t living in LA,” she recalls. “But this was before the big renovation when it became fancy again. It was super cheap and kind of rundown, but really cool.”

Admittedly, she’s still possibly most known for playing Shelly Johnson in the original Twin Peaks. One of her first roles, she admits she perhaps didn’t fully comprehend the opportunity to work with David Lynch so early in her career – but now understands how lucky she was to have the chance.

“I can look back on it now it’s more than rare – it’s one of a kind,” she said of working with iconoclastic director. “Then, I had another layer, going back to it 25 years later, after all the experiences I’d had since then, being able to appreciate how special of a set David creates, how collaborative he is with everyone.”

Amick indeed reunited with Lynch in 2017 for the show’s long-awaited return. It featured the original cast, including Kyle MacLachlan and Sheryl Lee, as well as new faces to the series, such as Naomi Watts, Laura Dern, and Amanda Seyfried – who played Shelly’s troubled daughter.

Although originally reluctant about the idea of a Twin Peaks reboot, Amick did not hesitate to work with Lynch once again. The chance to return to the set proved to be an emotional trip as well.

“It definitely felt familiar for me because I was back in the diner in my waitress uniform,” she explains. “I was an emotional wreck the entire time. When I went to wardrobe for my fitting, I looked down and saw the initials they put into my uniform originally were still there. I was just bawling.”

 

Mädchen Amick as Shelly Johnson in ‘Twin Peaks’

 

Amick has discovered an intersection of her following that loved Twin Peaks and has also become fans of Riverdale, as well as vice versa for younger fans just discovering Lynch’s opus. Given the similarly dark stylized aesthetic of the CW series, the overlap isn’t all that surprising. Even the creators of Riverdale acknowledge the homage.

“It’s funny, I didn’t see or know the comparison at all until we filmed it and the critics started talking about it. And that’s when Roberto and [Executive Producer] Sarah Schechter admitted they were huge Twin Peaks fans, and they were paying homage. They didn’t tell me the entire time we were shooting the pilot.”

Three seasons in, Alice has evolved more than most characters on the show. Since finding out the truth about a son she once abandoned and the shocking discovery that her husband is a serial killer, her character has coped by joining what seems to be a cult. As the season continues to unfold and the cult’s charming leader (portrayed by Chad Michael Murray) is introduced, we’re still hooked on Amick’s masterful performance of such a complex character.

“The first season was fun to play as just an overbearing mother,” she smirks, “screaming at people, hitting people. And in the second season, we see all of her baggage behind the perfect red door and the skeletons in her closet from her past – and what emotional wreck she was, how heartfelt and passionate she was about her family and her children. It’s a nice journey to play.”

Amick’s personal experience with motherhood has been a completely separate journey. She and her husband chose to raise their now adult children away from the glare of Hollywood. Since then, their family has returned to LA, and she’s begun to include them in her career.

 

 

Still challenging herself, she made her directorial debut in 2016 with her daughter Mina Tobias’ music video for “Kings & Queens.” Most recently, they collaborated for the Destiny’s Child inspired video for “Another One (featuring Gabi DeMartino and Kai Lucas).”

She’s also producing a docuseries about mental health in America. An extremely personal project, it was inspired by her son Sylvester’s diagnosis with bipolar disorder, and the family’s struggle to find resources.

“I’ve been a reluctant celebrity my entire career,” she admits. “I never really wanted to be famous, and I always felt a little weird – though I knew it came with the job. But when we went through what we went through as a family, and knowing how hard it was to get our son help, I just immediately wanted to reach out to everyone else going through this to help them navigate. There’s no path, there’s no communication, it doesn’t even feel like there are resources. It just gave me a meaning behind my celebrity.”

 

Mädchen Amick at the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood (Photo by Glenn Garner)

BlackBook Interview: Emily King On Leaving NYC, Sounding Like Queen, and Getting Tweeted by Prince

 

A girl from a humble bohemian upbringing on New York’s Lower East Side, Emily King had a major record deal at 19, and that same year (2004), guested on Nas’ album Street Disciple. By 2007 she had released her debut album East Side Story, nabbed a Grammy nomination for that same album, toured with John Legend, and opened for Alicia Keys.

She went sort of “underground” for awhile, not releasing her follow up full-length (The Switch) until 2015. But grabbed up by ATO in 2017, she escaped from Gotham to a quiet corner of the Catskills in Upstate New York, to summon new inspiration for her latest, which was released earlier this month. And indeed Scenery is a decidedly more personal, introspective affair – though it’s also her most adventurous effort to date.

The album opens majestically, with the lush gospel funk of “Remind Me,” betraying a remarkable musical maturity. No surprise, it deals with new beginnings: “Been asleep inside this dream / I’m trying to wake up / Waiting for something to come and rescue me / Give me a reason, yes.” Elsewhere, she sets an ’80s sounding R&B track to a calypso rhythm on “Can’t Hold Me”; and lays Brian May style guitars (!) over retro soul on “Look at Me Now.” But the most striking track is the stunningly confessional “Running,” for which she gives a chill inducing vocal performance, courageously professing, “I can stop running from all the things that I have done / And I can stop running from whatever I’ve become.”

Her voice has never sounded so confident, so attuned to emotional honesty.

We caught up with her as she prepped for a string of 18 tour dates throughout Europe and North America, kicking off at London’s Bush Hall on February 26, and ultimately ending up on a stage at Coachella.

 

‘Paste’ Magazine Session, February 5, 2019

 

You recently left New York City for Upstate – were there specific things about NYC that had ultimately disillusioned you?

I grew up in New York and stayed most of my life. When you live in the city, you almost feel like you never have to leave – or should [have to], because the whole world travels to you. So it can kind of keep you there if you let it. Plus there’s major FOMO whenever you try to leave. Especially if you have cheap rent.

Have you found a renewed creative inspiration in your new home?

Windows with big, bright light coming through them! It’s been such a peaceful experience to stare out at nature and instantly leave my own thoughts and join whatever outside is up to.

Your music is a little hard to pin down – what have been and are currently some of your top musical influences?

I grew up listening to a lot of jazz and R&B; when I was ten my uncle gave me a cassette of Nirvana’s Nevermind, and that kind of blew me away. I’ve always been drawn to catchy, melodic songwriting from all genres. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Slow Dancer, Michael Kiwanuka, Rick James, Shania Twain, Cochemea, Fleet Foxes.

“Look at Me Now” sounds like Marvin Gaye and Queen at once. How did you actually get that guitar sound?

Whoa cool, thank you. That’s J Most, my producer. He started playing that guitar line and it just lent itself to the Brian May type guitar harmonies. It was so fun hearing him record it, he’s such a great player. I believe we tracked that at Like!Minds Studio.

 

 

The lyrics are seemingly about running into an ex lover – did that really happen?

Ha, well…not necessarily. I think the lyrics were heavily influenced by social media. Instagram mainly. We all post that cute photo of us that we want somebody else to see, probably just one person in particular. It’s the highlight reel! Look how great I’m doing! Even if the truth may be slightly different.

“Remind Me” has the feel of ’80s R&B – but is also kind of gospel-ish. Is that indicating a forward direction for you?

I love gospel music and gospel singing, I think it’s the essence of true joy, love, sorrow, feeling. Straight from the heart, no filter. I guess I aspire to write music like that. I hope to write more songs with big, belting vocals that just soar freely.

Prince was a fan of yours – did you get to meet him?

I never got to meet Prince. He tweeted my songs a few years back. The first time he did, he deleted the tweet shortly after posting it…just as I was about to show all of my friends! Haha. The second time I took a screen shot so that I’d have proof. He invited us to play at Paisley Park, but passed away a few months before we were scheduled to go. He remains a mystical figure to me. Rest In Peace.

 

Santorini Chic: Vora Villas Is Greece’s Poshest New Island Hideaway

 

Surely among the most beautiful places on Earth, Santorini’s soaring cliffs, sweeping ocean views, and charming whitewashed villages are the antithesis of those gritty Athens streets. But while her breathtaking beauty is unquestionable, she’s become increasingly thronged with international tourists in search of those perfect Instagram opportunities. But we still believe the Aegean gem to be one of Greece’s “must” destinations – especially if you can find an out-of-the way spot from which to indulge her charms.

And just such a place is the newly built Vora (the newest member of Design Hotels), which offers three private luxury villas that have been artfully hand-carved into the caves and cliffs, and suspended dramatically above the sea. Secreted away in the quiet residential community of Imerovigli, the location is a hideaway for those who crave tranquility, but also want quick access to the buzzing cafés, tavernas, and shopping opportunities in Santorini’s capital, Fira – only five sunny minutes away.

 

 

Designed by one of the hottest Greek design firms of the moment, Athens-based K-studio, the villas were inspired by classic Cycladic architecture: think gentle arches, whitewashed cement exteriors, elegant lines, and strategically placed staircases. In a nod to Santorini’s history, volcanic rock dapples the exterior and is extensively used in the interior of the villas. A mix of custom-made furniture by local craftspeople and K-studio designers, give each space its unique aesthetic and character. All three boast a private terrace and infinity plunge pool, set against breath-stopping views of the Aegean Sea.

They’re also more reasonably priced than one might expect: rates start at approximately $700 per night and include breakfast, Wi-Fi, and other amenities. As per the norm with European villa rentals in these times, Vora will also coordinate private chefs, drivers, winery tours and exclusive local experiences.

 

 

Where to Go in 2019: Tallinn and Graz

Above: Tallinn Old Town

 

We were plenty busy in 2018, museum-hopping in Paris, flirting in Rome and clubbing in the Berlin Kreuzberg underground. But cultivated Europhiles that we are, we’re always feeling the call of some of our less-trodden, yet still favorite cities on the Continent.

Nothing beckons us to Europa quite like the turning of winter, with its exhilaratingly crisp evenings, stylishly scarfed locals, and those transcendently evocative fragrances that fill the air of each city (the latter a particular treat for those forced to breath the noxious fumes of New York and LA every day).

On our list of fave under-the-radar European cities, we last visited Antwerp and Maastricht. Next we head further east, to the Estonian capital of Tallinn, and to Austria’s second city Graz.

 

Tallinn

 

Clockwise from top left: Hotel St. Petersbourg; Tallinn streets; Kaerajaan restaurant; Kumu Museum

 

There was a moment around say 2005 – 2007, when Tallinn, bolstered by the success of companies like Skype, became sort of the new Prague: a former Soviet satellite which was now drawing young dreamers from the US and Britain. Only this time they were tech geeks rather than boho literary aspirants.

Now, we would probably love the Estonian capital if only for the fact that it’s home to the Depeche Mode Baar (quick, guess the theme). But its Old Town is as strikingly beautiful and symmetrical as any in Europe – and just strolling the streets is reward enough in itself. There’s also a bright, gleaming modern city (the City Centre) right outside the medieval walls.

On the culture tip, the Kumu Museum is one of the largest in Northern Europe, showcasing two centuries of Estonian art (with an impressive collection of Socialist Realism), as well as special exhibitions of top international contemporary artists. Cold War enthusiasts should check out the KGB Museum, actually located inside the Hotel Viru.

Tallinn is also a notable epicurean city, with chefs drawing on the considerable bounty of the Estonian countryside (their local black bread is to die for). Art Priori is the avant-garde choice, focusing on creatively realized (mostly) vegetarian dishes in a stunning, art adorned space; MEKK specializes in inventive seafood plates, and its sophisticated bar is a bit of a scene; for something a bit more…Middle Ages, Olde Hansa cooks up wild boar, elk and venison, in an interior that could only be described as 13th-Century chic.

Stay in Tallinn: Both the Telegraaf Hotel and the Hotel St. Petersbourg combine classical elegance with cool postmodern design, and each has a notable restaurant (Tchaikovsky and Tabula Rasa, respectively.) The chic Three Sisters hotel has strikingly theatrical rooms – one even has its own grand piano.

 

Graz

 

Clockwise from top left: Island in the Mur; Graz City Hall; Hotel Wiesler; Kunsthaus Graz

 

After losing its Empire in the wake of WWI, Austria pretty much keeps to itself now, content to have traded influence on the world political stage for more, shall we say, sybaritic concerns. Yet the fact that right wing demagogues have been angling for power there does genuinely matter within the scope of the wider EU situation.

The country’s “second city,” Graz, is actually one of its bastions of left-wing ideology, home to more than 30,000 university students, out of a total population of 270,000. A UNESCO City of Design, its rather imperial looking city center, with its elegant baroque edifices, is complemented by some of Europe’s most radical works of contemporary architecture.

Indeed, the Island in the Mur is literally a steel island in the middle of the river of the same name that splits the city, with a designy cafe and amphitheater; the Chapel of Rest is a stunning minimalist cathedral by Hofrichter-Ritter Architects; and the Dom im Berg is a spectacular performance space carved literally into rock. The Kunsthaus Graz contemporary art museum (by British architects Colin Fournier and Peter Cook) is the city’s showpiece, and looks like a giant blue heart and valves.

Not much of a foodie destination, Graz is more of a cafe town – and you’ll find dozens of boho spots as you stroll the streets, many packed with students. Mitte is one of the artier ones, while Aiola Upstairs has a chic crowd and awe-inspiring views. Design junkies should hit the Kunsthaus museum’s namesake cafe. For nightlife, there’s great bar-hopping around the area nicknamed the Bermuda Triangle.

Stay in Graz: The Augarten Hotel (a member of Design Hotels) has stylish, loft-style rooms, and a pool that doubles as an art gallery. The Hotel Wiesler‘s Philippe Starck designed restaurant hosts a “soul brunch” every Sunday, while the rooms have a cool-minimalism and river views. And Hotel Daniel has affordable rooms, a lobby espresso bar and Vespas available for guests.

 

 

BlackBook Interview: Peter, Bjorn & John on Melancholy, Climate Change and What They Love Most About Stockholm

Photo by Johan Bergmark

 

Despite their significant international success and recognition, Peter, Bjorn & John have always been dedicated supporters of the music scene back in Sweden, where they run the artist collective and label INGRID (even David Lynch and Lykke Li have been collaborators). And since their 2016 album Breakin’ Point, they’ve also been signed to that very same label.

The second such release under that arrangement is Darker Days, which is out this month. It’s a bit of a departure for them, especially in terms of the overarching mood. To wit, “Gut Feeling,” feels like somber, mid-’80s Cure; while “Velvet Sky” is chilling, melancholy noir, with lyrics to match (“There’s a sign saying ‘Don’t fear the reaper'”). But while the solemn “Heaven and Hell” sends a decided chill up the already tingling spine, “Wrapped Around the Axle” – with its more upbeat Sergeant Pepper psychedelia – at least attempts something a bit more sanguine, less bleak…to striking effect.

Proving their unending cleverness, they also released a special 3-in-1 video, which sort of pits each member against one another for attention. Spoiler alert: no one really wins. As well, they’ll launch a short, 9-date North American tour on November 19, taking them from Allston, MA to San Francisco on December 9.

We caught up for a quick chat with PB&J, and also asked them to tell us what they love most about their home city of Stockholm.

 

 

 

What was the reasoning behind releasing the 3-in-1 video for all three singles?

John: The total “band-consensus” method we used on our previous album nearly killed us. So, this time we split up the band in three parts. In every part of the process. We wrote, sang and produced our own songs separately. We even choose to wear our own clothes in the press-photos this time. And, the 3-in-1 video was a natural extension of this process.

So it ties in conceptually with the album itself?

John: With PB&J you always get three for the price of one; but this time it’s personal…

What were you influenced by when recording the new album?

John: Swedish winter darkness, American political darkness and private mid-life darkness. I’m selling this album pretty badly, aren’t I?
Peter: There is no shortage of darkness to inspire in the present day. The idea behind the title was indeed mainly the Swedish winters, originally. But Trump, Brexit, old Swedish Nazis forming the third biggest party here at home, and above all climate change and the possibility that we are actually getting near the end of the world thanks to our western capitalist lifestyle isn’t exactly cheerful stuff. And it’s stuff you constantly think about; so it’s hard to keep out of songs.

It does seem the title is telling in regards to the content.

John: Yes, you can expect Swedish melancholy, Stockholm break-up mysteries and some Ingmar Bergman indie rock. There are hints of light in between all the gloom. I think it might be one of our strongest albums so far.
Peter: The lyrical content takes in ten shades of different darkness, from politics to personal. And actually one very positive hopeful song as a counterbalance. Composed, laid back, desperate and anxious indie-pop. It’s all a mess, but a good one.

What inspires you most about Stockholm?

Peter: It’s so varied. You can take a one day holiday to a part of it you haven’t been to in a while and get a completely different vibe just by looking around you. We’ve got water, nature, archipelagos, green lush suburbs and parks. And it’s got everything that a common big city offers, too: great food, exhibitions, theater, arts, lovely architecture and historical places…and lots of concerts to see.

And the music scene?

Peter: It’s wide and varied; and if we’re talking music, I get inspired by seeing musicians in different fields perform live. But also love to just talk to them and discuss and learn and jump between genres and personalities.

 

 

Peter, Bjorn & John’s Stockholm Favorites

Peter

One of the best things and maybe the most unique thing about Stockholm is the nature.That its so green and that water is everywhere. That you don’t have to go far out of the city centre to experience wildlife. To me that’s the biggest sell. As a country boy, I get the best of both worlds.
In the suburb where I live, there’s even a huge nature reservation area, perfect for strolls and running; and I’m fifteen minutes from the centre.
If you have time, take a boat out to an island in the archipelago. Or at least take a walk round one of the half-islands, like the lush Djurgården. Lots to see and do there, too.
One area where I spend lots of time is the phonily called SOFO. (South of Folkungatan, sort of like a business idea from the boutiques in the area I think –  but it is a convenient name to throw around). Some of my favorite bars, restaurants and cafes are here – like the pub Harvest Home and the Waffleplace Älskade traditioner; and there’s also the lovely Nytorget square and Vita Bergen (“the white mountains”), as well as some great record shops in An Ideal for Living and Pet Sounds. So I would definitely spend an hour or two strolling round this area.

 

SoFo

Bjorn

If anyone is into sports, I recommend going to a game with Djurgården’s ice hockey team. Their home crowd is nothing but unbelievable. The best and coolest team of course is Skellefteå AIK…but they’re located in Skellefteå.
If anyone wants to come say hi to us in the band, your best bet is probably a café called Kaffebar – it’s connected to the INGRID Studios where we hang out a lot. It also has artwork from our Gimme Some album hanging on the walls.

 

Kaffebar

 

John

We are proud of our Swedish public libraries. Some are bigger than others, though, and the Stadsbiblioteket at Odenplan in Stockholm is big and worth a visit. Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund drew this simple but fantastic cylinder-formed library in the 1920s. The outside doesn’t look that impressive, but the inside is kind of magic. When you walk in there you feel like this: “So many books, so little time…”
Siv och Åke is a superb vintage store, conveniently located between the INGRID Studios and the INGRID label office near Mariatorget. Over half my wardrobe is filled with items from here. Not sure if that could be considered to be the best selling point….but…..anyway….nice place and a fantastic staff.

 

Stadsbiblioteket

BlackBook Interview: Leon Bridges on Style, Red Rocks + Playing Gil Scott-Heron Beside Ryan Gosling

 

Leon Bridges has a way of making it all feel so easy – as the soft-spoken Texas singer has managed to go from unknown dishwasher to twice Grammy-nominated fashion plate in less than a few years.

Fresh from LA to launch the limited-edition AHLEM sunglasses inspired by his sophomore album, Good Thing, he quietly glides between interviews, photo shoots, stage set-up and soundcheck as if he’s just sitting down to dinner. Today, the place is Missoula, Montana, and Bridges has managed to sell a packed stop on his tour, even here. He warmly smiles and stands against a wood-paneled trailer wall, casually talking about his role as Gil Scott-Heron in the new Ryan Gosling film, First Man. Directed by Damien Chazelle, it tells the story of the years leading up to and through man’s first walk on the moon.

 

 

Photo by Scott Hoeksema

 

The year is 1969. America is a country torn apart by extravagantly priced, questionable government agendas and deep social strife (sound familiar?). The Vietnam War rages on, set against deepening poverty, social inequality and of all things, the space race. From the perspective of the late, legendary musical poet Gil Scott-Heron, it was a blur of inspiration for his politically charged spoken-word performances, from drug addiction to a nuclear meltdown to the Detroit Riots.

Today, Gosling stars as Neil Armstrong, a man largely hailed as the hero who made history aboard the Apollo 11. And Bridges performs Scott-Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon,” during a protest, underscoring the unthinkable price that was paid for…a white man to walk on a planet far away from the issues that burned so deeply at home.

Bridges’ demeanor suggests that it is perfectly no big deal that his young career has culminated in an appearance in a film that is going to be, actually, a very big deal. And considering today’s political climate, Scott-Heron’s words ring truer than ever.

 

 

Wearing a vintage jacket he bought in London and black pants with a maroon side-stripe, Bridges leans back on the sofa and adds up how it all came together.

“I met Ryan while we were both on Saturday Night Live together,” he recalls, “but Damien had caught wind of me and felt I would be great for the part. I perform the piece during a protest scene; it was cool – they really let me just be myself. I didn’t even have to change my hair, which is in a freaking perm. I don’t even look like [Gil Scott Heron] – his hair was always in a fro.’”

And while he connects the dots in his nonchalant style, it’s even easier to forget how green Bridges is. He reflects back to the difficulties he had when his tour stopped at Colorado’s Red Rocks amphitheater. 

“I just have never performed in a venue that size,” he says. “I had to get a sense of what my show really was and how to fill it into a space that size.”

 

Photo by Scott Hoeksema

 

The 29-year-old is, of course, known as much for his trademark style as his music. Dapper, fresh, yet somehow effortless, his interest in fashion was born when he was still just a young child.

“Even as a kid, I was so into it. I just couldn’t afford to do exactly what I wanted to do,” he recalls. “I studied dance in college. When we performed a Bob Fosse repertoire, African or even a jazz piece, we had to pick out outfits for dance. The costume shops were filled with vintage clothing, and that is where my love for vintage started. I would steal pieces from the costume shop and wear them.”

 

With Ahlem Manai-Platt at the AHLEM for Leon Bridges launch party, image courtesy of AHLEM Eyewear

 

Today, Bridges has broken into completely new ground in just one album’s time. Blazing past the sepia confines of hi ’60s, soul-inspired debut album Coming Home, his latest Good Thing is indeed a colorful, hi-fi affair and draws inspiration from influences as varied as ’70s southern country soul, to R&B, à la Jodeci. Each track is completely different from the next, yet each is still steadfastly rooted in Bridges’ personal style. The result of studio sessions he took to LA with producer Ricky Reed, he calls Good Thing a collaborative affair and shyly nods in agreement that it’s a glimpse into his true musical wingspan.

“I just knew that if I was to make another project similar to the first one that I’d be stuck forever,” he says. “I’ve been able to grab more of the attention of the black community with this album, which I really wasn’t able to do before.”

Looking a bit like David Byrne crossed with James Brown gyrating through his setlist, whatever box Leon Bridges may have been in, he’s popped right out of it. Comparisons to anybody, much less Sam Cooke, be damned. And he makes it all look and sound like the easiest breath of fresh air.

“I just like to live within the rhythm,” he adds. Just like that.

 

BlackBook Interview: The Knocks Chat w/ Foster the People About Break-Ins, Kardashians and ‘Ride or Die’

The Knocks image by Dusty Kessler 

 

When Foster the People had their breakout moment in 2011, the curiously infectious single “Pumped Up Kicks” seemed something of an unlikely hit. Yet with its languid groove, psychedelic vibes and Mark Foster’s oddly effected vocals, it propelled the LA quartet to genuine stardom (it’s since wracked up almost half a billion YouTube views). Their debut album Torches, and its 2014 follow-up Supermodel, both went top ten. A third album, 2017’s Sacred Hearts Club, was perhaps their most musically adventurous and ambitious yet.

Across the nation over in NYC, The Knocks‘ 2010 debut single “Make it Better” grabbed national attention when it was picked up for a memorable Corona commercial. The prolific DJ-production duo of Ben Ruttner and James Patterson would go on to release a string of excellent singles, collaborating with the likes of M83, X Ambassadors and Cam’ron, before finally birthing their debut album 55 in 2016. But back in 2011, one of their first high profile remixes was – you guessed it – “Pumped Up Kicks.”

 

Image by Mats Bakken

 

So surely it was inevitable that the two entities (The Knocks + FTP frontman Mark Foster) would creatively converge – which is exactly what happened in an LA studio earlier this year. The result was the awesome single “Ride or Die” (under the banner The Knocks ft. Foster the People), which has been picking up momentum since its March release, going Top 20 Alternative just last month. The song is taken from their eagerly awaited upcoming album New York Narcotic, to be released on the 28th, through Neon Gold / Big Beat (it will also feature a collab with Sofi Tukker).

Both had chosen to skip the summer festivals. But they will converge this Monday, September 10, for what will surely be an unforgettable appearance together on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. But for the full Knocks experience, catch them at their record release party at NYC’s Public Arts on the 27th, or at the Neon Gold X: 10 Year Anniversary bash at The Knockdown Center.

Foster the People will play 17 dates in North and South America this autumn.

In the lead up to the Colbert appearance, we sat James, Ben and Mark down for a chat about how it all came together.

 

 

What actually brought you guys together for “Ride or Die”?

Ben: We got together through a mutual friend Kenny Laubbacher, who went on to direct the “Ride or Die” video for us. I actually met him through a songwriting camp in Nicaragua called SOCAN.

Were you guys already fans of each other?

Ben: Yeah, definitely. As you know, one of our first remixes back in 2011 was of “Pumped Up Kicks.”

Both Foster the People and The Knocks were sort of unexpected successes, in that you didn’t fit any particular musical trends. But that was still a pretty exciting time in music, a time of possibilities. 

James: Yeah, the song has the feel of around 2010, which was a really good time for indie music.

What was the actual process? Did you actually wind up in the same room together?

Mark: I flew in…do you remember where I was coming from Ben?
Ben: You were coming from doing a radio show somewhere…
Mark: We basically had a day in the LA studio, since they had to get right back to New York. They already had the foundation for the song, and we got about 90% of it done that night.
James: I got in that day also, and we wrote the majority of it that night. And the whole thing actually ended with Mark getting his car broken into!

Wow, you mean right there at the studio?

Mark: Yeah, I had parked in a guarded lot. At the end of the session, the LAPD called my cell phone, “Hey Mark, this is Officer Johnson, why don’t you give me a call back about your car?” So we walked out into the lot, and my windows were broken. The stole everything I had from my flight, even my toiletries. It was such a low blow!

It doesn’t really seem to be worth it – why would you steal toiletries?

Mark: Desperate times, man.

I guess in Trump’s America, now you have to resort to stealing shampoo.

Mark: Bernie Sanders in 2020!

Were you genuinely thrilled with the final “Ride or Die” – is this the start of something more between Foster the People and The Knocks?

James: Yeah, I think so. After all, why do collaborations have to just be rappers and DJs?

It does seem like these days everyone is pushed to do these collabs to make an event out of everything. It’s like, “Rihanna and Keith Urban” – together for the first time!

James: Yeah, absolutely.

 

Foster the People

 

But this one didn’t feel at all staged. Was there a real sense of musical kinship between you guys?

Mark: You never really know what you’re getting when you go into the studio with other people. Artists are sensitive, and musicians tend to be lone wolves. But you’re all there for this common goal, which is to create something great. Music is a language within itself, and we quickly bonded, because we complemented each other so well musically.
James: And it’s not always that way!
Ben: We both came up around the same time, which I think also gives us a common perspective.

The music scene does feels like it’s become a bit polite and orchestrated now, no?

Mark: I think you’re probably right. That’s why The Weeknd and Post Malone have become so big, because they’re individuals and not afraid to be themselves. Marilyn Manson did that awhile back, of course, but time finally caught up with him. He was so ahead of his time.

He couldn’t be controlled by the music business. 

Mark: Like it or not, that’s why the Kardashians are the biggest thing on TV. They are so over the top, and just don’t seem to care what anyone else thinks.

This would seem to be a good time for artists to be speaking up about things that are more…urgent.

Mark: I would love to see more activism. But a lot of artists are afraid to make statements, even though they have the chance to make real social change. I guess they don’t want to, because they don’t want to risk losing any of their fanbase.

Making statements seemed to just be more organic to making music back in the day.

Mark: If you look at Bowie cross-dressing in the ’70s, everything that John Lennon did with Yoko Ono – it was all so radical.

If you had the chance to go into the studio with anyone right now, who would it be?

Mark: I think Kanye. But I think it would also be great to sign someone new, somebody that nobody knows about, and do something fresh and forward.
Ben: We’re trying to get more into artist development. We’re working with this new girl Blu Detiger, 20 years old, born and raised New Yorker.

Is there a reason you’ve chosen such a provocative title for the new Knocks album, New York Narcotic?

Ben: New York Narcotic is just a comment on how you get to a city like New York and it becomes like a drug – it’s basically about not being in the suburbs. It really does get to be like a high.

 

BlackBook Interview: The ‘Sharp Objects’ Set From The POV of Its Roller-Blading Teen Stars

Photo: Anne Marie Fox/ HBO

 

We’re assuming by now, five episodes in, HBO’s Sharp Objects has you trembling with fear and anticipation, as you await the next chapter of the limited series each Sunday night. The Amy Adams led adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel is equal parts gripping crime thriller and heartbreaking exploration of a woman deeply troubled by her childhood and her battle with alcoholism.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the show is its handling of children – particularly the three young roller-skating party girls at the plot’s center. Eliza Scanlen plays 13-year-old Amma, the younger sister of Adams’ Camille Preaker. In the most recent episode, we saw her popping pills on stage with her two cronies, played by real-life sisters Violet and April Brinson.

We’ve seen their backlit silhouettes gliding down the nighttime country roads of Wind Gap, Missouri all season, their miniskirts fluttering as a psychopathic killer of young girls remains on the loose. As the show progresses toward its sure-to-be grisly conclusion, we couldn’t help but wonder: what’s it like on set in the deep south (Barnesville, GA), alongside a somber Amy Adams, a sinister Patricia Clarkson (playing Camille and Amma’s cold-hearted mother), and several fake corpses?

Who better to answer that question than the true flies on the wall: the Brinson sisters, who watched the show unfold from the comfort of their roller skates.

 

Walk me through the casting process – how did your audition(s) go? 

Violet Brinson: Well, before we even got in the room with casting, we had to submit a roller-skating video. April and I filmed separate videos that we sent to casting. It was really funny because they called up April’s agents and asked them if April had a sister, and her agents didn’t know, so they said she didn’t. Then casting called again asking if she had a cousin or something, because our last names are the same and our videos look very similar. April’s agents called our mom and finally asked whether or not she had a sister or cousin auditioning and my mom confirmed that, yes, April has a sister that is also auditioning. Everyone got a good laugh out of this. After we read for casting the next step was the director’s session with Jean-Marc Vallée.  At first, it was a bit bittersweet because we were both going in for the same role. We really had to channel our inner Serena and Venus Williams (sister goals).  We were so thrilled when we both got cast!

Had you read the book before coming in? 

April Brinson: As soon as I found out I was going to be reading with casting I read the book. I loved it and became attached to the characters and story almost instantly. I had previously read Gone Girl, so I was already a fan of Gillian.

How familiar were you with Amy Adams, Jean-Marc, and Patricia Clarkson before signing on? 

Violet: Oh my gosh!  I knew exactly who all three of them were!  I’ve seen Dallas Buyers Club and Wild and Demolition and they are some of my favorite movies of all time. I’ve grown up watching Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson. They are such successful and talented actresses, who I have looked up to since I was young. Being on set with them was so surreal.
April: I had seen almost every project each of them had worked on. I had grown up looking up to them. While I was going through the auditioning process, Big Little Lies was being released and I was obsessed. So I couldn’t help but be thrilled to work on Jean Marc’s next HBO series.

 

 

What were your feelings toward your fellow cast members going in versus how you feel about them now? 

Violet: I was terrified! Going onto a set with such extraordinary artists who have been my idols was very nerve-wracking.  But they were all so welcoming and so warm. They really put me at ease and made me feel comfortable enough to do my very best work.
April: I was extremely nervous. They all are such talented and hardworking people, I really felt like I had to step up and be the best I could be. As soon as I arrived on set, everyone made me feel at ease. Because of everyone’s kindness I was able to do my very best work and since it was such an inclusive environment, I was really able to soak up so much knowledge from everyone around me. I was really fortunate to work with them and get to know what amazing and compassionate people they are.

What was it like on set? Was it scary and serious, or lighthearted? 

April: It was a very passionate and hardworking set. Everyone really loved what they were doing. That being said, the content is very dark and difficult. When we were working on some of the more difficult scenes, there was a respectful and professional tone so that the actors could stay in the emotional state they needed to be in. However, overall it was a very warm set.

Did you know how to roller skate before this, or did you learn for the part?

Violet: It’s funny, because both April and I were competitive figure skaters when we were young, but we haven’t spent much time roller skating. However, I do believe our figure skating along with our dance training helped a lot when learning to roller skate. Eliza, April, and I were taught by a World Champion for about two months before we even started filming and it was so much fun!

Did you both become close friends with Eliza Scanlen? How was it working with her? 

Violet: April, Eliza, and I connected really well right from the get go. Learning to roller skate together really gave us the opportunity to bond. We all became great friends. Eliza is such a hard worker, she is so sweet and talented and getting to know and work with her was such a blast! We love her and are still great friends today!
April: Working with Eliza was not only incredible because she is so talented and hardworking, but because when the three of us are together, on or off set, we have a total blast. It was so nice being able to form such a close bond with her, she is such an amazing and thoughtful person. We both adore her.

BlackBook Interview: ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Star Fiona Xie on Respect, Cultural Nuance & the Inimitable Charms of Singapore

Images Courtesy of Warner Bros

 

It’s not hard to imagine why, with Hollywood in full ownership of the concept of “blockbuster” cinema, films spotlighting other cultures continue to find mainstream U.S. success fairly elusive. But the lead up to the release this weekend of the Singapore-based Crazy Rich Asians has all the buzz of a massive superhero sequel.

Based on Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel about wedding-focused extravagance amongst the Singaporean one-percenters, it also happens to be coming at a particularly socio-politically charged moment – with journalist Sarah Jeong’s hiring at the New York Times setting off a heated debate on the context and boundaries of racism in America. Interestingly, the film actually kind of pokes fun at the strict class delineations in Singapore, something pretty much anyone anywhere can relate to. But perhaps most importantly, it features bold, memorable female characters.

But what you should really come to CRA with, is the anticipation of seeing a riotously funny film, through the exotic lens of Singaporean culture, with tradition butting up against contemporary life – as it tends to do. And much like so many English costume dramas, it also plays as something of a Singapore travelogue, showing off the city’s sultry, dynamic charms. (It’s currently on so many “hottest destination” lists.)

We caught up with one of those particularly awesome women, actress Fiona Xie, who plays social-climbing actress Kitty Pong – a character viewed with suspicion by her rich boyfriend’s family…providing some of the comic tension that is at the heart of the film’s universal appeal.

 

 

Asian stories are often told in film through Western perspectives here in the West. What do you think has been missing in that point of view?

Integrity and a diversity in terms of culture, as Asian and Western cultures alike are nuanced in many ways.

What attracted you to the film version of Crazy Rich Asians? Had you read the book?

I was actually introduced to Kevin Kwan’s New York Times bestseller by a CEO of a respectable watch company. I didn’t expect him to be reading something with that title. I was intrigued by everyone’s interest and the wide spectrum of audience that it actually reached. It was such a buzz, everyone loved and raved about it. I was [generally] not one for such trends. I did however, pick it up and to my surprise, devoured Kwan’s wicked humor gleefully, chuckling away at how close to home it was.  In the U.S. alone, there have been over 1.8 million copies in print. Genius.

Why do you think there is so much advance hype in the U.S. for this film in particular?

Goldrush. Everyone wants in on what’s good. For the Asian community, it’s also a movement to have a platform to share their real stories and to be heard equally. Ultimately, we are all humans that want to be understood, loved and accepted and to transcend all boundaries for great opportunities.

 

 

What will a Western audience take away from the film about the differences in our relationship issues and traditions?

Curiosity and respect. The same way you would want an Asian audience to appreciate and celebrate the Western culture.

How does Singapore as a place figure into the story in Crazy Rich Asians?

Location, location, location. The ultimate wedding of the year! Technicolor avatars like Super Trees at Gardens by the Bay, synchronized swimming atop the world’s only floating pool above the three-joined towers on the rooftop of Marina Bay Sands, and a glorious assortment of street food at the Newton Circus Hawker Centre.

Are there cultural references that are specific to Singapore?

The entire movie is interwoven with Singapore culture and you will also see a lot of cultural touch points referenced in the movie – and how multicultural Singaporeans live their life.

Ultimately, how do you think Western audiences will connect with the film version of Crazy Rich Asians?

With laughter, tears and a newfound interest in all stories that are ultimately well told.

 

The Real Singapore Locales Featured in Crazy Rich Asians

Images from top: Marina Bay Sands Skywalk; Newton Circus Hawker; Gardens by the Bay