You may already know Drew Mac from his role on the reality show EJNYC, or from his stint as a member of the boy band I Am Him, assembled by Grammy-winning producer Steven Russell. Now, the rising musician is gearing up for the release of his first solo single and album, and today releases the teaser for his new song, “Again,” featuring the band Exes.
We caught up with the singer to talk abot his transition from reality TV into music, coming out, and the sound he’s going for.
Have you always been a musician, or is this something you’ve become recently?
I’ve always been obsessed with music. I grew up – I started by competitively dancing, and training 40 hours a week, when I was 9. That’s what got me into music and everything, and then I thought, ‘Why don’t I make my own music?’ I was using Garage Band, and had Britney tracks on it and was singing over them. Without music I don’t know what I would do. I’m completely obsessed.
Where were you competitive dancing? Kansas City?
Yeah, I started in Kansas City and travelled all over the US, and that got me out to LA and New York. And that got me obsessed with the coasts. So I always knew I’d come out to one of them and do my thing. And then I went to be a dance major at Loyola Marymount, in LA. I trained with some really awesome people and that was such a great experience. Out in LA you get a lot of choreographers from the area, people from So You Think You Can Dance… and then New York has a lot of choreographers there, too, because it’s obviously a huge hub for entertainment.
So how did you meet EJ Johnson and get involved with reality TV?
I was going back and forth between LA and New York, but was based in LA. And I kept running into EJ all the time – we have a lot of mutual friends in our social circle. And then around his birthday we were all in LA, about three years ago, and we were at a club, and it was my friend’s birthday. EJ shows up in a fur, and Beyonce was playing, and he and I immediately started dancing. We were the only ones dancing in our group. So him and I looked at each other, and thought “Wait a minute.” And we immediately became best friends and started hanging out every single day. To this day we remain best friends.
How long after that did the reality show start?
About two years later. He’d been on Rich Kids of Beverly Hills, and a lot of my friends were on that so I made a few cameos. And then he said he was getting a spinoff show, and he’d love me to be on it. And I thought it would be a really cool experience, and it made me move to New York, which I’d always wanted to do. I have a lot of friends in New York, and I wanted to work on my music in New York. So I jumped at the opportunity, and two days later the producers said “You’re moving to New York. Tomorrow.” It was a lot to handle, but you do what you have to do.
What about this album and new music?
The first single is called “Again,” and I’m working with one of my favorite bands – their name is Exes. I’ve been obsessed with their music, and I’m actually really close with the singer, Allie – we went to college together and she used to sing me to sleep at night. She would come to my dorm and literally sing me to sleep. We just clicked immediately. And then she started this band with Mike Derenzo – they’re amazing. I really wanted to work with these guys – their sound is similar to mine. So we got in the studio and wrote this pretty quickly – it was very organic. It’s my first solo music coming out.
What’s the music like? Pop? Folk?
My solo music – it’s kind of Jack White meets Robyn. I love rock, but I also love pop, and I was raised on pop, and I was in a boy band. So I pull from everything. This first single with Exes is slowed down, and kind of a ballad, but has this rock feel. It’s a breakup song. When I wrote it – I write all of my own lyrics, and I draw from experience. So it’s emotional. A lot of my other songs that I’m working on right now are more upbeat and rock n’ roll. The whole album is written. We’re just in the studio every day finishing it up.
It’s based on personal experience? What experiences most influenced you?
As I listen back, sadness and stuff has a big influence on my lyrics. It’s very therapeutic when I write. So alcohol and drug abuse – I fell into a hole for a minute and had to go to treatment for a month. I used to party a lot. Then there’s also some breakup songs in there. That’s been my experience. So a lot of the songs are kind of sad, but the beats behind them pump them up. You might be sad, but you have to keep going and turn up.
“Again” and Drew Mac’s debut album are scheduled to come out next month.
Lol Tolhurst founded iconic punk band The Cure with lead vocalist Robert Smith in Crawley, UK in 1976. After performing as the band’s drummer and keyboardist for over a decade, his alcoholism caused him to leave the band. After a quarter of a century of legal battles, divorce, and pain, Tolhurst and his lifelong friends in The Cure made amends and played a series of reunion shows at the Sydney Opera House in 2011.
Chronicling his journey to international stardom, down to the darkest depths of addiction and isolation, and back to inner peace and creative fulfillment, Tolhurst has penned a memoir of his time with Smith in The Cure and on his own, aptly titled Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys, out tomorrow. We chatted with the artist about what it was like reliving such wild, sometimes painful memories, and what it means to be a true artist.
The book feels like a celebration of the band, and then an admission of guilt, an apology, and an atonement. What prompted the book? Was it part of your healing process? Did you feel like you owed fans the whole story?
That’s an interesting question – I wanted to explain my life to myself. I got to a point where I was wondering, “What has gone on?” And I had an epiphany in 2013. I was in Hawaii, on vacation, and I went to see Robert, because The Cure were playing for the first time in Honolulu. I went to see them play, and we were sitting on the beach at 4 o’clock in the morning, chatting away, and I woke up the next day and thought, “I have to write this down. I have to record this, because otherwise I’m not going to understand the story.”
But also, as I went along in it, I realized, “Ok, there’s a bunch of people out there who I haven’t seen in years, who would like to know as well.” I wanted to set things right. I don’t want to leave all of that crap for other people to deal with. I want to be rid of it, because I want to go out just the way I came in.
In the process of writing the book, and talking to all these people you wanted to give the story to, did you find there to be a lot of difficult conversations you had to have in your research? Or was it mostly positive reunions?
Mostly positive – I didn’t really call people up and go, “Do you remember what happened?” Because I didn’t want it to be somebody else’s view of what happened. You’re bound to incorporate that into your thought process. So I thought, “I’m just going to mine my memories and find out what I want to write from them.” But what I did do, is if I hadn’t seen these people, I’d talk to them and say, “Ok, get out all your old albums.” And that’s what they’d do. And I went to London last year, because I live in California, and I visited people I hadn’t seen in 25-30 years, and I said, “Show me your photo albums. With me in it.” And that way we’d start a conversation.
Have Robert, or Porl, or Simon (other Cure members) been able to read the manuscript? Have they had any reactions?
Definitely Porl has, because he designed the cover. He lives in California now. I gave the manuscript to Robert in probably April or May – this year’s very busy for The Cure, and the thing about it is, I know that with Robert, if I don’t hear anything from him, that’s fine. Because if he doesn’t like something, he’ll call me up straight away and be very direct with me. We’ve known each other for a million years. I did hear from Simon – he told me he thinks it’s a great idea I’m writing a book. I think overall it’s all positive. A lot of memoirs tend to be score-settling exercises, and I really didn’t want to do that – the book was a vehicle for something a bit different for me. I didn’t want to be “Behind The Music Part 1000.” I wanted something that would evolve. That would be the framework, but it wasn’t going to be the story. I really loved Patti Smith’s book about her and Robert Mapplethorpe. That’s a beautiful story about two people finding themselves in a very different world. So that’s how I felt I could write about me and Robert, and then out of that comes the healing.
You get super personal in the book. You talk about your mom passing. And that’s what you’re saying – it’s not just a “Behind the Music” story, but an emotional chronicle of feelings and experiences. So I wonder how this compared to writing a song. Did you find it to be more emotional?
If you look at the whole catalogue of The Cure’s material, that’s the area we go into anyway. It’s always very connected with emotions, and that outsider stance. So for me, writing the book, to connect to my emotions, it seemed very natural. But unlike a song, it’s a much longer process. It was a year of being in that space, every day. That’s what I did. I thought, “If I sit at home and try and write it, it won’t happen.” I rented myself a little office about a mile from where I live. It was a co-working space. I went in there every day 5 days a week, and tried to bash out as many words as I could. Sometimes I’d be sitting there, and one of them would go, “Are you OK?” There’d be a tear that had come up, because when you write something like that, that’s close to the emotional side, it’s like reliving it. Writing about my mother was very painful. I wanted the book to have weight and depth. Before I wrote it I read a bunch of memoirs – the ones that struck me the best were always the ones that were honest and open about their emotions. Not just a commercial for somebody’s life.
Whose memoirs did you like best?
A couple I found really good. One was surprising, but not really since I’ve talked to him. It was Duff McKagan’s, from Guns N’ Roses. And I also liked Steve Martin’s, Born Standing Up. It’s the ones where people reveal themselves. It’s much more human.
There’s a passage in the book where you talk about the process of songwriting that you and Robert experienced, where you go into “the abyss.” And you and Robert were able to go into the abyss and come out unscathed. I’m wondering if you can say any more about that, because it’s so fascinating.
My basic premise there is what unites most artists of any fashion is that they are willing to look at things that most of the time the rest of society tells us we have to keep hidden. And that’s the abyss. I know that for us, our most intense moments as musicians were going a little further and looking at this stuff, and writing about it, or reliving it. Sometimes, though, you can fall over into the abyss. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened to me for a couple years. And I’m just glad I came out the other side, and didn’t fall into this club – most people in bands die at about 27, if they’re going to die from misadventure, it’s about then. Luckily, I’m about twice that.
You talked about going to these dark times with alcoholism. And you mention a few different low points in the book, with the divorce, and the court drama. What would you imagine is your lowest low and highest high, if you can pick.
My lowest low in lots of ways is that point, and I can see it in my mind as I’m talking to you about it, where I got the letter (asking Tolhurst to leave the band) from Robert after Disintegration, and I went for a walk with my dog and I’m sitting up in the Moors, which is a very lonely, wild place – there’s nobody there, and there’s stormy skies, it’s very evocative. And I lay on a rock, and I started crying. And I couldn’t feel anything. That was about my lowest point. I had the emotional response, but I felt dead. Highs – it might sound cliche, but having this book done and finished is pretty much a high for me. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, and it’s surreal at the moment because I’m going through a whirlwind of press. But that’s what I’d call a high-class problem.
When did you first have the idea to do this book?
Twenty years ago, I got a tattoo on my arm that’s two feathers my son found, crossed like writing quills. So somewhere in there, twenty years ago, I wanted to write this. I’ve talked to my book agent, who said “I have clients in their thirties who are writing books about their lives, and they have no perspective. Things that happened in their twenties are really close, so they can’t see what the true meaning of those events were. You’re at the perfect time to do it, because you’re not so old you can’t remember, but you also have a little space between the events.” I’ve always thought about our music – people will say “some of it’s depressing.” It’s not depressing, it’s a willingness to feel how you feel. It’s not always pretty.
Musically, do you have a proudest contribution or moment? A song, a moment onstage that’s your proudest moment in the band?
I think it was really awesome, in 1985 we played a festival in Athens. One of the other bands that was playing was Culture Club, and Boy George had a terrible time, because he had to stand behind a screen, because people in the audience were throwing rocks at him. And about a week ago George and I did the same TV show in England. And I was talking to him, we’ve known each other from back in the club days, and I said “Do you remember that? Remember the festival?” And he was laughing, but he said, basically, “I’m still here.” That’s one of my best memories. It’s awesome to walk onstage to a hundred thousand people, but it’s also awesome to remember, “I’m still here. I’m still doing stuff.” When you think about memories, you bring them from the past into the present.
Do you have a favorite gig?
I liked in 2011 when I met up with everybody again and we went down to Australia and played at the Opera House. In the space of about a few minutes onstage I was transported back to being a teenager, instantly. We were doing the same thing again that we used to do. It felt great. It was a high point.
Are there any musicians of the moment now who you like, and listen to?
It’s funny, because a lot of people my age will say “There’s no good bands anymore.” And I’ll tell them, “That’s not true!” What’s true is you don’t know where to look anymore, you’ve forgotten where to look for it.” My son is 24, he lives in San Francisco. So I go to him, and I say, “Show me what you’re listening to. Something you think I’d like.” And he showed me an electronic artist, Caribou, who I liked a lot. Things like that. I try to keep an open mind. Although I do know that as I get older, there’s not that much new. There’s variations on a theme from a while back, but there’s not much startlingly original. But there are good permutations. Meg Myers, I saw recently. I liked her. So I like different things. I like anything that’s honest.
Cured is available for pre-order now and in bookstores tomorrow.
“I attribute so much of my success to the fact I got cancer as a kid.”
Paul Iacano and I are wandering through the East Village, sipping iced Flat Whites. The actor, writer, and nightlife host is fresh off his raunchy, queer cabaret show at Joe’s Pub, Psychedelic Hedonism, and between puffs from his pipe, he’s now recounting to me his incredible, barely believable life story.
Iacano was born in Secaucus, New Jersey – “I’m not the biggest fan of Jersey, because when you’re an outsider, and you’re queer, and you don’t fit into boxes, you feel like it’s all your fault.”
His grandfather was the Republican mayor of Weehawken for twenty years, and his dad followed suit, serving as a right-wing political figure and City Administrator for two decades. Not exactly the prime incubator for a boy who would later wail “I don’t wanna be a twink no more” onstage in a little black dress.
Right away, Paul proved a showbiz natural. “When I was 3 years old, my family discovered that I had this incredibly unique talent – they used to listen to a lot of Frank Sinatra. And the legend goes that I was in the back of the car with my Aunt, and Frank was playing, and she turned “The Summer Wind” off midway and I kept singing it. The way kids learn the ABCs, I had this insane memory, essentially.” Little Paul was soon doing impersonations – of Ethel Merman singing “No Business Like Show Business” on The Muppets. Capitalizing on their boy’s charisma, the family put him in local theater – by six he had signed with Abrams Artist Agency. And when he was 8, the Iacanos got tickets to attend the Rosie O’Donnell Show.
“Despite dad being so in denial about my gayness, being the literal theater queen I was at age 8, he knew Rosie O’Donnell would appreciate me.”
On the day they attended the live taping of Rosie, luck would have it that the star was two hours late to her own show – she was out to lunch with Madonna (the only excuse for keeping a crowd of paying audience members waiting). After the first hour and a half, the warm up comic ran out of standup material. “Anyone in the audience have any talent?” he asked.
“My dad must have manifested this somehow, and sure enough, he was like, ‘Go!’ And the warm-up was like, ‘Oh my god, Rosie has got to meet you.’”
Meet him Rosie did. She called him up in her opening monologue, had him do his impressions live on air, and ended up being brought back onto the show for various sketches ten more times over the course of six seasons, the most of any other child guest star.
A month after Paul’s first spot on Rosie, his life took an unexpected turn: he was diagnosed with leukemia. After a call from his family, Rosie had him back on the show to plug a community theater version of Oliver he was set to star in in the coming months.
“It made me face my mortality, at age 8, and realize that you only have a second to do everything that you want to do. So whatever it is you want to do you should be doing ASAP. I had this crazy ambition because of it.”
Paul’s ailment propelled him to work ferociously hard toward his dreams. When he was eleven, he landed a major role in Noel Coward’s musical Sail Away, at Carnegie Hall, starring the show’s original leading lady: Elaine Stritch. It was this show, and this star, that would shape Iacano’s career for the rest of his life.
“I didn’t know who she was when I was 11. But I fell in love with Elaine Stritch. This bitchy old – I’ll never forget, at the first rehearsal she came in late, wearinn this beige, matching pantsuit, raincoat, and hat, and she was ranting at director Jerry Gutierrez, and wagging a wet newspaper about why she was late, and just complaining, and I was in love.”
The show was basically a black tie affair – everyone in New York wanted tickets to this show. At the second to last of twelve performances, all sold out, little Paul was flitting about backstage, wishing everyone to break a leg, when he slipped and toppled down a flight of stairs, breaking his wrist moments before the show was to begin. There was no understudy.
“I’d just finished two years of chemo, where if I was doing a show and I felt sick, they’d go, “Honey, don’t you worry.” And for the first time ever I was met with this indomitable force that was not going to take no for an answer.”
The title of Paul’s first cabaret show, “Where’s the Fucking Kid?” comes from what happened moments later.
“I’m there, with the broken wrist, and everyone’s gathered around, the show’s about to start, there’s no understudy, no one knows what to do… and Stritch comes tearing out of the dressing room and yells, “Where’s the fucking kid?” She goes, “Look kid, I’ve gone out there with fractured ankles, broken ribs – your limp wrist won’t kill you.” She gives me half a codine. And goes, “If you make it until intermission, I’ll give you the other half. If you make it til the end of the show, I’ll take you out afterwards and tell the audience what a little trooper you were.” And I’m thinking, “I don’t give a shit, lady, my arm is fucking broken.” But she wouldn’t take no for an answer, so I do it, I’m great, I make it through the whole thing, and at the end of the show she takes the last big bow, obviously, and then she drags me out by the broken wrist, and goes, “This little trooper fell down a flight of stairs, we think he broke something, and he went on anyway, give him a round of applause!” Standing ovation, Elaine and I, at Carnegie Hall. The spirit of survivor.”
After going into full remission, Paul’s Italian family began shoving home-cooked meals down his throat, ushering him into the inevitable awkwardly-shaped middle school years, where he took a break from acting and, like most of us, tried to grimace his way through.
But Paul and Elaine kept in touch, continuing to run into each other on the streets of Manhattan, until she gave him the direct line to her room at the top of the Carlisle.
He’d call her up on holidays, and let her know about big parts coming his way. After finishing high school and attending acting school for a year, Paul began to really work on his artistry.
“In that year I began writing all the time. I was reading play after play, I wasn’t in school so I was educating myself – reading everything – Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee… all the classic playwrights, and I wrote my first play, Prince Elizabeth, which refers to the intersection of Prince and Elizabeth. So I had this incredible year of artistic growth and discovery, and that summer I auditioned for the remake of Fame, and I read the script and went, “Oh my god, this is me.” This geeky Jewish kid obsessed with being a filmmaker. And it was just one of those things that clicked immediately.”
Fame led to the title part in MTV’s The Hard Times of R.J. Berger, the story of a geek whose giant penis inspires him to step outside his social rank. But Paul’s meteoric success came with newfound problems.
“To have two major things like that click back-to-back. I had a horseshoe up my ass for a couple of years. During my R.J. Berger days I was kind of destructive. I got the show when I was 20, and by this time I was openly bisexual to all of my friends and most of my family, and there was definitely some pushback on MTV’s part about whether I was public about this. And no one ever said directly to me, ‘Don’t come out.’ But through backchannels I heard conversations, and it was very clear.”
Trying to navigate his new world of excess and indulgence, while hiding his sexuality from the mainstream media, proved incredibly taxing.
“I feel like a lot of my partying and self-destructive habits came from trying to fit into this image. One night I’d go clubbing with Paris Hilton and Andy Dick, and then another night I’d go to Moustache Mondays, which is a very cool, down LA thing. And my agent at the time – everyone around me – was enabling me.”
R.J. Berger was unexpectedly cancelled after two seasons, leaving Iacano blindsided.
“I went through this period where I was just unhappy, and going out too much, and creatively frustrated. And really wanting to claim my queer identity but not being able to. Because – you can’t come out, you limit yourself. That’s the thought process. I took time off from auditioning. I sold another show to MTV. It would have been their first queer show. It was called Kenzie Scale. And it was sort of like Will and Grace: The College Years.”
While Kenzie Scale seemed promising, it would only add further salt to the wound when MTV picked up a different queer show, Faking It, and cast Paul’s ex, G.B.F. co-star Michael Willett, in the lead role.
Back in New York, Paul found a fresh beginning in his (somewhat forced) decision to come out. He had been cast in a small queer play by Justin Sayer at Ars Nova, and agreed to do some gay press for it.
“Michael Musto sort of put me on the spot, and asked, ‘So, you’re openly gay now?’ And I took a second, and I said, ‘Yeah. I wasn’t planning on saying this, but yes I am, and I think it’s the right time to say it, because it’s not about me, it’s about a bigger picture. About visibility.’ I felt like I had a duty. And there was this crazy weight kind of thing that I never even knew was on my shoulders. Or I did know, but I didn’t know that coming out would be so liberating. In retrospect, I know for a fact that there are opportunities that didn’t go my way, because of that. However, it freed me as a person, as an artist, to really live my truth. It sounds so cliche.”
But free him it did. Paul has become something of a queer icon in the New York nightlife scene. When Elaine Stritch passed away in 2014, he staged his first New York cabaret show, “Where’s the Fucking Kid?,” inspired by relationship with her. He began hosting nightlife events, including the famous “Pretty Ugly” party that happened Saturdays at Diamond Horseshoe, and, now, “Hump,” a raucous party happening every Wednesday night at The Rumpus Room.
“I’ve always loved nightlife. I’ve always been fascinated by nightlife. A good party is not just a party. It’s a place for creatives to meet and mingle in a very low key way. It’s that Andy Warhol thing, of creating this space where ideas blossom.”
It’s this love of nightlife that prompted Iacano to write and perform his second cabaret spectacular, which went up at Joe’s Pub earlier this month. Titled, “Psychedelic Hedonism,” the show is a hilarious, quirky, extremely gay celebration of downtown’s nightlife scene, and pokes fun at twinks, cocaine, and “the 27 club.”
“Where’s the Fucking Kid?,” was, sort of, “How I Became Paul Iacano,” and Psychedelic Hedonismis sort of “Being Paul Iacano.”
“Hedonism” enlisted the help of some of New York nightlife’s brassiest and brightest, including guest appearances by Sophia LaMar as the voice of the Universe and Molly Pope as Paris Hilton. Iacano wrote the script and most of the music, produced, and starred in the sensational show, which lit up the room with it’s weirdly wonderful irreverence.
Iacano returns to the screen October 14th in Baked in Brooklyn, alongside Alexandra Daddario, and, later on, in the indie films Extracurricular Activitiesand Dating My Mother.On October 17th, Iacano’s latest play, “The Last Great Dame,” based on Stritch’s life, will go up at the Howl! Festival at 6 East 1st St.
“When I went to see one of her last cabaret shows at the Carlisle, there was a documentary crew there filming Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me. And they had me tell them the story. I finally had the chance to tell her as an adult how much she meant to me, and how she taught me that invaluable lesson, “The show must go on.” And that survivor spirit. Someone who’s been through those horrible, fucked up things and still gets up everyday and fucking kills it.”
Lisa Hanawalt’s childhood doodles have morphed into one of the most popular, critically-acclaimed smash hits in Hollywood.
The comic artist, illustrator, and published author (most recently of the food-themed art book Hot Dog Taste Test) now serves as Production Designer for Netflix’s “Bojack Horseman.” But she never intended to get into the TV business at all.
The California native hunched over notebooks all through school, doodling animal-human hybrids in patterned sweaters for as long as she can remember, much to the chagrin of her teachers. It was through high school theater that she met Raphael Bob-Waksberg, who would go on to pitch, create, and executive producer the massively successful show about a horse-human who’s past his celebrity prime. Flipping through sketchbooks during downtime at rehearsal, Hanawalt and Bob-Waksberg invented stories for the characters living on each page.
“I found some of my old sketchbooks, and in them I’m basically drawing the same stuff I do today,” she explains, chortling at her own predictability. “There’s cat people, and horse people, and they’re having relationships. I was really into this one character I made up that’s a cat with a guitar, based on Weird Al Yankovic, because I thought he was the coolest person. I wanted to be him. But a cat.”
After attending UCLA for visual art she began to do portraits of people’s pets for $20, or else just a case of beer. It was these portraits that Bob-Waksberg would later staple to his pitch for “Bojack,” eventually steering both his and Hanawalt’s lives in a completely new direction. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.
Selection from Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt.
Hanawalt soon found herself in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, working as an illustrator and cartoonist, writing and illustrating a food column for Lucky Peach magazine, getting her work into such niche publications as The New York Times, and having her first anthology, My Dirty Dumb Eyes, published through Drawn and Quarterly in 2013. She was also a member of an all-female comic’s studio, Pizza Island: “It was awesome. We didn’t collaborate on anything, but it’s kind of cool to be next to each other and complain about things. About dudes treating us badly. That solidarity.”
“The feeling of space in New York is very different, almost claustrophobic,” she explains. “Being down in the subways is very new to me. It’s very frightening and loud, and I felt a bit trapped. So I immediately made a lot of artwork about the subway, and how nightmarish it can be.”
She wouldn’t have to deal with the train for long thanks to her friend Raphael, who sold his show, and her drawings, to Netflix in 2013, and pleaded with her to come on as Production Designer, bringing her vision to an entire world of televised animal-people. With no animation background whatsoever, she nervously took the job.
“I had to figure out how to adjust my designs a little bit to work better for animation. It’s so different from what I do in my solo work, because every decision I make on this show is going to impact the lives of 40 different people, at least. Actually more like 100, because there’s animators in Korea, too, who work on the show. So if I make complicated patterns on the arms and legs, I’m going to hear it. People are going to be mad at me. Sometimes I do it anyway.”
Hanawalt’s sensibility quickly proved to be exactly what the show needed – every visual gag, every silly t-shirt, or background painting, or poster, or menu – it all comes from her and her team. The subtle wordplay and visual nods to the animal-human hybrid universe of the show are easily one of its best features, and a main talking point in glowing reviews from top publications like Varietyand The Hollywood Reporter.
Selection from Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt.
Some of Hanawalt’s favorite creations in the Bojack universe: “I really like the manatees. I like Sextina Aquafina. The whale strippers. I guess I like the aquatic ones best.”
In episode 4 of the show’s latest season, a silent short film unfolds underwater, where we see an entirely different habitat for the stars and wannabes of Hollywoo (the show’s name for Hollywood).
“Oh god, that episode was so fun, and I kept trying to cram more stuff in there. I was like, ‘We need a jellyfish lady!’ We only see her briefly, but, man, she’s important.”
Since starting her own Hollywood career, the admittedly anxious artist has been forced again and again out of her comfort zone. In addition to working on the show, she directed, animated, and edited a stunning music video for Tegan and Sara and published Hot Dog Taste Test, a hysterical, absurd, gorgeous collection of some of her favorite pieces.
Selection from Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt.
“The book’s hard to explain if you aren’t looking at it, which I think is true of a lot of my work. It’s like a one woman anthology. There’s a collection of food-related essays and comics, but then you also find comics about birds. And autobiographical work. I think it’s good if you are a funny, silly person who also has feelings.”
Taste Test flips from pages detailing chicken vaginas to raw, emotional confessions about deaths, fears, and embarrassments in Hanawalt’s real life. It’s this combination of goofiness and vulnerability that reminds me so much of Bojack.
Hanawalt gave a talk at the XOXO Festival in Portland in 2015. For someone who’s explained she feels weird talking about herself and her work, it’s perhaps the greatest test of her nerve thus far.
“I was really nervous about doing it, and I didn’t want to. But I’m glad I did because I think it resonated with a lot of people, and their own issues with anxiety and creativity. So I’m happy it helped some people, and made them feel less alone. That’s the problem with anxiety, is it’s very isolating and you feel like a fucking weirdo. But basically everyone I know has panic attacks, so it’s very cathartic to be able to talk about it openly.”
When I ask her about which character she identifies with most on Bojack, she muses, “Maybe a mix of Diane and Princess Carolyn? I am ambitious like them, but Diane can be a little up her own ass, in a way I’m hopefully not.”
Ambitious she certainly is. The artist hopes to direct more music videos, dabble in video game design, and even pen a graphic novel. But she doesn’t link career achievement to personal joy.
“I’m very happy with what I’ve done so far, and there’s other things I want to do, but they’re not things I have to do to be happy. I want to keep working, and I want to make work that people like, and that’s really all I care about. So I don’t care if what I do in the future is hugely popular, or just reaches a few people. I’m just going to keep at it.”
In Sian Heder’s debut feature film, Tallulah, the title character steals a child from a drunk mother when she feels she can take better care of it. Starring Ellen Page, Allison Janney, and Tammy Blanchard, the movie offers a darkly comic take on motherhood, redemption, and the meaning of family.
We sat down with the up-and-coming director to chat about her experience working with such a talented cast, what inspired her to write and direct a story about kidnapping, and how she dealt with being pregnant during the entire shooting process.
One of your earlier movies is Mother, about your experience babysitting in hotels in LA.
Yeah, it was based on the experiences I had working as a nanny. And it started as the short film called Mother, and had a whole life, and went to Cannes, went to film festivals, and then I developed it into the feature. So it became Tallulah.
So they’re born of the same egg, if you will. This is your first feature. What has that been like, to develop an arc from beginning to middle to end?
There’s three times that you make your movie. You make it when you write it, and then again when you shoot it, and then again when you edit it. Each time you’re delving into your story and trying to pull out the core of things, and things you write into the script that feel brilliant, and then you get onto the set and realize you don’t need it. The performances were so important to me in the film, and the big emotional journeys these characters had to take.
Of course you shoot everything out of sequence, so there was a lot of prep work with me and my cinematographer, looking at each scene and realizing what was the single important image or moment key to the scene, so that when you get into shooting, and everything is going to shit and you’re losing your light, that you have the essence of the scene. That’s so important to me, because when we got in the editing room, we got what we had needed to get because there was that emotional truth that we had pre-planned.
Does Tallulah draw from real life in the same way as Mother? Did someone from your life kidnap someone?
I worked as a babysitter for high-end hotels in LA. So I had just moved to LA, making ends meet for a living, showing up at night at the Bel Air, or the Four Seasons, and I had this really strange, absurd encounter with this mother, who was honestly a shit show. She had come to the hotel to have an affair. And she was drinking. And had never been alone with her toddler before. After spending the night with this child, I desperately felt like my body wanted to take that kid with me when I left.
Oh my god.
And I didn’t. Because I didn’t want to go to prison. But I left feeling like I wouldn’t have been kidnapping her, I would have been rescuing her. And that concept really played out for me in a profound way. Societal norms tell us kids should be with their parents, and that’s the only way. But could I make a pro-kidnapping movie? So it definitely spun out from there. I went home and wrote some things down, and wrote it as a tragedy, and then when I reread it later, and heard it read aloud by actors, it was so funny, and that was interesting because I think all of my work has this dark combination of tragedy and comedy, and finding humor in our darkest moments. And illuminating our scariest thoughts as human beings that should probably be pushed down.
But I was Tallulah. I wasn’t living out of my van, but I was living out of a hand-to-mouth existence at the time. And then during the making of the movie into a feature, which took a really long time, after the short, almost ten years, I became a mother, which is really fucking hard. I had a lot more empathy for my villain, so I rewrote my script from that place. I’m actually really grateful it took a long time, because I think I created a much more nuanced, complicated story than I would have told eight years ago.
So you became a mother. How’s motherhood going? Is it a big reason you felt this movie was important to make?
I’ve always felt the movie was important to make, long before I became a mom. But motherhood has been insane. Because it’s magical, and revelatory, and obviously any parent who’s going to complain about their kid will tell you first, “But I love them so much!” I’ve been trying to make this film for ten years, and for eight and a half of those years I was childless. I could have gone and flown to film festivals all over the world, and gone to Sundance and partied my face off. I was six months pregnant when we shot the movie, and I had a sixteen-month-old. I went into labor the night I locked the picture. I left the editing room at 3 PM, I went home and ate a piece of pizza, I had my first contraction and delivered my son that night. I went back in the editing room and was breastfeeding while we did visual effects and worked with my composer. My composer has seen more of my nipple than anyone should. Then I went to Sundance with a two-year-old and three-month-old, which is the least sexy kind of entourage you can have. And then I had Ellen Page tweeting pictures of me pumping my breasts in the bathroom between sets.
How crazy that in a movie about babies and motherhood, you were going through that whole process yourself off camera.
Honestly, I think it was borderline performance art.
I imagine the cast and crew thought you were doing a private performance piece for them.
And then the amazing thing was there were all these babies on set, and we had these twins. These fifteen-month-olds. Our star babies. And we were working with toddlers, and they were crying and not behaving, and I was thinking, “Why don’t I use my own kid? I can tell her what to do and she’ll do it.” And so my daughter became my booty call baby. If the other kids weren’t behaving I’d call my husband and say, “Get her into costume and bring her to set.” So she’s in the movie with the back of her head, or Ellen running with the baby, where you can’t really see her. She was my backup baby. We decided that all white babies look the same.
On the subject of Ellen, we need to address this crazy cast you have. Star power. How was it working with Ellen, Allison Janney, Uzo Aduba, Tammy Blanchard, Zachary Quinto… it sounds like you really put together the best cast possible.
I did, and that’s part of why the movie took so long to get made. Because I wasn’t willing to compromise. I knew these were complicated characters and parts, and the success of the movie was going to completely be performance-driven. Because every character in the film on the page is unlikeable, except maybe Uzo’s character. They are morally ambiguous. And I knew all of the actors needed to have multiple qualities, and charm, and wit, and so finding people who could embody all of those things was challenging and took a while. And I was definitely able to call in favors, from Uzo and Zachary. They were my friends.
You’d worked with them before.
Well, Zach is one of my oldest friends. We went to college together and he’s one of my best friends since I was eighteen. And Uzo I met on Orange, and I’m just in love with her as a person and as an actress. I’m glad because those parts, they’re small, but they’re so important, and rich, and needed to feel like real-live, compelling human beings. And Uzo particularly in that role, she’s the truth-teller in the movie, and I knew she’d bring a grounded feel to the part. For all of the actors I had a no-asshole policy, and that worked out for me, because as a first-time director I think your big fear is you’ll end up with actors who are not collaborative, who are doing some little indie movie and not throwing their hearts into it. These guys had a rough shoot. We shot twenty-two days, had a packed schedule, there were no trailers. Ellen and Allison were sitting on the floor of the subway station in one-hundred degree heat all day, and never complained.
When the cold just won’t let up, the best solution I can think of is staying inside, using Freja’s look as the best kind of inspiration. The newspaper, a cup of tea, a stack of books, a cozy sweater, a frosty window, and a view… what could be better?
Photo: Freja Beha Erichsen photographed by Mikael Jansson for Interview, September 2013
This Thursday, Sam Valentine and I will DJ at our weekly “Generation Wild” Rock Party at Hotel Chantelle. We will be joined by the legendary Lüc Carl. Luc is famous for lots of stuff and real good at things that get lost in the fluff that surrounds him. Although we have different approaches to life on this planet we are both grounded in rock. At Chantelle we play the stuff that makes them gag at most saloons. You won’t hear Blondie or the B-52s – not that those fantastic acts don’t have a place in my heart or my playlist… but they just don’t have a place on Thursdays, on the lobby level. Miss Guy and Michael Cavadias offer that downstairs and sometimes it can be mixed in on the glorious roof …but the lobby is rock and roll hoochie koo. If you, like my editor, don’t know what rock and roll hoochie koo is (editor’s note: watch it, Steve.), come by and ask one of us …although I think Nicky Delmonico, the tattooed go-go vixen will be better at explaining it.
In this photo by Eric T. White, Luc looks like the rock star that he is. I asked him to tell me all about it:
On Rock ‘n’ Roll At the age of 8 I got my first drum set. That same year in my father’s Dodge I discovered Playboy, Peppermint Schnapps, and ZZ Top. That’s the day I became a rock ‘n’ roller and I’ll never go back.
On St. Jerome’s At the age of 25, the woman I’d been working for handed me the keys to a brand new bar. A shitload of hard work and booze later, it became one of the world’s most significant rock ‘n’ roll bars. I left the bar just over a year ago, yet it remains the driving force of rock ‘n’ roll in New York City. It may be falling apart (good luck getting a cold beer or a working air conditioner) but they’re always fully stocked with Jameson and 20-somethings talking about decades they weren’t alive to experience.
On Lady Gaga At the age of 25 a girl walked into my bar and we instantly fell in love. (I found out later that at the time, she was only 20 years old with a fake ID). We dated off and on for over six years. She wrote a bunch of catchy pop songs and realized that if she walked around in public with a potted plant on her head the world would say “who is that?” and the tabloids would write stories about her. Her life, needless to say, completely changed, and I’m not the type of guy who can sit on someone else’s yacht sipping champagne. Unfortunately, to date someone who is never in the same country, let alone zip code, you had better be rich or be willing to live off of their money. I was neither.
Unfortunately, I get a bum rap. I could write four bestsellers and have 100 radio shows per week and the general public will still be more interested in the ex-boyfriend title. (You already thought about skipping the rest of the article…see what I mean?).
She’s an amazing woman and I wish her all the best in the world. Although I think we all know she already has it.
On SiriusXM I’ve been on-air there for nearly a year now. I love it. It’s the only place in the world where real-deal rock ‘n’ roll remains relevant. I can be found seven nights per week on either 38 Ozzy Osbourne’s Boneyard, or 39 Hair Nation.
On The Drunk Diet Somehow between all the partying and working my ass off I found time to write a book. It’s in stores all over North America and in Europe. It’s been featured in The New York Times, Penthouse, Vanity Fair, USA Today, Fox and Friends, Mens Health, Runners World, Bicycling Magazine, Self, etc. I also have a blog that features my insanity on a daily basis and gets over a million hits per year. LucCarl.com
On Ludlow Manor/ The DL Last summer my good friend and bandmate for nearly a decade, Georgie Seville, came to me about a business opportunity. The space was gorgeous and I was ready to get back into nightlife so it seemed like a win-win. I was hired to staff the second floor with bartenders and DJs and basically make sure no one was fucking up. A month later, I was in every local newspaper as the “owner” of Ludlow Manor with, of course, my ex-girlfriend’s name right next to mine because that’s the only way the publicists could sneak their way into the papers. I came to find out that the actual owners had lied to the entire staff, including myself, about having liquor licenses. It seems to me that if you want to open a club of that size in an old Jewish/Hispanic neighborhood and fill it full of uptown idiots listening to pop music, the first thing you should do is get all the proper permits. But what the hell do I know: I’ve only been in the business for 12 years.
On Hotel Chantelle Recently I was approached by Hotel Chantelle to DJ their Thursday night party and I was instantly excited. They’re doing something real. There are very few places in the world where I can play the music I want to play and actually have someone want to come listen to it. That’s the beauty of this city. When one bar fucks you over, there’s always another one right across the street.
Onward and upward. This Thursday the bar will be packed full of beautiful people with nothing to lose but a few useless brain cells. I’ll be behind my Mac playing music that was written before anyone ever heard of the Internet, with a smile on my face as big as my hair.
If you see my Harley out front, please don’t sit on it.
Despite my big hoopla Tuesday night at Avenue, today/tonight is my real birthday. It is very common in clubland to celebrate your special day on another day. I remember, back in the day, every time a Quentin Crisp or another not-so-rich celebrity needed $500, we would throw them a birthday party and give them the loot and a phony club dinner. Sometimes six months separated the event and the reality. A rival club honcho asked me why I did my bash at Avenue and I referred to yesterday’s article and told them that "they asked." It was wonderful.
Tonight I will work on my birthday; I guess I’m working right now…writing this, but I never think of what I do as work. My DJ agent Adam Alpert of 4AM is constantly reminding me of that. Tonight I will be a working DJ at Richard Alvarez’s art event at Stash. That will be from 9 to 11pm. I will then rush off to Hotel Chantelle to DJ from 11:15pm till around 4am. Miss Guy, Michael Cavadias will also spin. It’s been fun. Please come and say "Happy Birthday" if you wanna.
Richard Alvarez and I have been friends for generations. He is often seen at the chicest joints, doing the door…"WORKING IT". He is unbelievably fabulous and dear to my heart. He is also very talented. I asked Richard to do the paintings that adorn the entrance sequence of Stash. Tonight’s soirèe celebrates that work and the ridiculously wonderful Richard. I asked him about tonight.
What is this party about?
I’ve always sought alternative spaces in which to showcase mine and friends’ work, a residual of the whole DIY ethic, so having a space which is open and wants alternative sort of events is always on the radar. I was fortunate in being asked and delivering the sort of work that doesn’t require a masters in fine art to understand. I always get off when all sorts of people have an opportunity to view art. I believe we should be surrounded by and allowed to bask in ART, so any chance I get in pushing that agenda, I grab – an open bar, in a well developed space where everything is designed for the feeling of transporting you, and great music!!!!!! That just sounds like somewhere I would wanna be at so that’s what the party is all about.
Like many people in nightlife, you are an artist supporting yourself; tell me about your night work.
Steve, I am so LUCKY!!! I really have been given such great venues to work at. I always say I want my place (which I really do see as my house) to be an interesting mix; all of anything is boring. People go out to meet and be inspired. I mean, if you work in a law firm you would rather go to a venue that wasn’t filled with the sort of people that inhabit your office!!! You know I always try to create a space that I would wanna go to. Music is also such an important element, with a good sound system and music that isn’t being blasted on the radio, mainstream tunes are just as exciting when sandwiched between obscure dance tracks. The whole experience has got to be about having a night, being fun, easy on the ears, eyes, and wallet!!!
Where have you worked, and are you currently working?
Nightlife seems to be making a comeback after a few years of doldrums. Why is it happening again, and where do you go when you’re not working? Where do you send hip friends?
I think everything has cycles, everything. I would also imagine the current financial scene has a lot of people staying put, not travelling as much but still wanting to have some fun. Brooklyn has the hot parties (illegal). Brooklyn is really the cool-school. I think more and more venues will be opening on that side of the city. I’m gonna get sh*t for this, but the subMercer is KEWL, Le Bain is also, Top of The Standard is so grown-up I LOVE!!!!!! Santos Party House is fab, Cielo has the best sound system, Pacha stays open late and has some fierce after-hour vibes. I mean, the city is still hot, but I really do follow the DJs, so wherever they play I’ll go. Competition is the best cause we gotta stay on top of our game. The more, the better… I think.
Tell me about your art: where it came from, where it is today, and where you are taking us.
As a kid, my mum used to read all the newspapers. I would always wanna take the type and create new verse with them (I did not grow up in a enviorment where art was even a proposition). Years later I learned of Andy Warhol and the whole idea of art for the masses. In the Bronx, most of the men in the building I grew up in were locked up, so they would always send these foil and glass crafty art pieces. They would also send there mums, wives, sis etc. those velvet paintings so I was exposed to the cheesy, crafty art projects that had an impact on me. Of course, I didnt realize it until much later. I also worked at Patricia Field as a teenager. Keith Haring use to sell his shirts in the store; we were the only store to carry them for awhile. In fact, every Sunday, after a long Saturday night out at The Garage, I’d be in the back folding his t-shirts all day!!!! Anyway, Keith created a free South Africa t-shirt and for a display he painted this huge mural on the 8th Street store window facing the street. I think that had a major impact. See, I paint on glass. I paint on the back, so I paint in reverse. I use a concoction that I’ve developed, my "Bitches Brew," if you will, adhesion. It’s all about the glue!!!! Glass is tricky to get paint to stick to, so I use polymers glitter paints that react to light and movement. If you dance looking at my work, you see things that you’d miss from just one angle. I LOVE that because then the viewer and the art really create this relationship that really is a personal thing, which is what good art should do; it should speak to you, create a feeling in you. I try to get that out of the work. It really is difficult since creating feelings it is hard, you know, making somthing that will still dance after I’m gone!!!!! That’s what I hope to achieve. As you can imagine, I’ve got my work cut out for me!!!!!!