Interview with Award-Winning Film Director, Christina Xing

Budweiser: This Bud’s For You (DC)

Hey, guys! Long time, no blog. Things have been crazy hectic on my end. Lots of moving, job changes, and general ‘adulting’. However, I’m back with another interview. An American blog called Oneul asked me to interview a great talent, and as someone that loves to get into minds of artists, I couldn’t say no. So unfortunately, this isn’t original and so the interview can also be found on the site. But sometimes I like to reshare the work I do on to my blog too, just to expand the reach. Read the feature below, enjoy!

Christina Xing has created an alternate world that everybody wants to be a part of. Saturated with youthful yet nostalgic imagery along with surreal dreamscapes, she has made it impossible to look away. Seeking inspiration from watching classic Americana and the French New Wave movement, the Asian-American director looks everywhere in hopes to find herself.

The director’s catalogue ranges from the most influential brands and companies, collaborating with Crayola, Snapchat, Tinder, and dabbling on the music side too, with Sony, Warner and Atlantic records, having created music videos for Kenzie, Frances Forever, Victor Internet and many more.

But her creative reach doesn’t end there. She directed her first musical feature, ‘How the Moon Fell From the Sky and No One Even Noticed’ at only 17. The former garnered national attention on Twitter in Thailand, and it all snowballed from there. At 19, she was selected to be a ’Semi-Finalist’ for MACRO (the studio behind Oscar-nominated ‘Fences’) and The Black List’s episodic lab.

With nothing short of a bright future ahead, we caught up with her to discuss wanting to collaborate with Apple, coping with imposter syndrome and the value of friendship.

This Old Dog (2020) – Short Film

First of all, how have you been lately? Do you work according to how you feel?

It’s been really strange for me lately. There’s a lot of horrible things happening to my fellow AAPI community so I’ve been trying to navigate my emotions towards that. I’m also taking some time off of work to finish my vaccination rounds and also to write my newest short. It’s the first break I’ve had in over three years. It’s been so strange. I usually make a checklist of all the things I need to have done and organise my week that way. So often, my emotions don’t impact what I need to do.

When did you know you wanted to become a director?

I was always making little films around my house and telling stories ever since I was in 4th grade. I was always sure I wanted to be a screenwriter, but then I went to film school and completely realised I was a terrible writer and that the parts I was good at and felt the most at home doing, was working with actors and the more intuitive parts that come with making a movie. I dabbled in a bit of everything before that realisation sunk in because I always felt like the world didn’t need more directors (haha). But I think the moment I really knew was when I’d find myself reading screenplays and thinking about the ways I would execute them, rather than reading screenplays and learning the craft of how I’d write them, if that makes sense!

How the Moon Fell From the Sky and No One Even Noticed (2018) – Featurette

How do you best come up with creative concepts?

My real life plays such a huge part in my creative concepts. I’ve written so many music video treatments for people from afar. I’ve used the emotions of being hurt and my dumb fantasy sequences as fuel to make creative things. As corny as it sounds, I would say real life experiences mixed with my love of old films and movies. I try to watch a film a day to expand that vocabulary.

What has been your favourite project to work on so far? And why?

“Space Girl” by Frances Forever was truly a passion project. I’ve loved the song for a long time and when I first heard the song I had a slight idea for a creative but never thought it’d be possible. But by some crazy miracle I got to work with Frances and their incredible team and amazing partner. It was such a blast.

That sure sounds like a blast! How did you come about working with Frances Forever on the music video of ‘Space Girl’ and how do you feel about it?

It was so much fun. It was really difficult because the idea was very ambitious for the budget we were working on along with a lot of my core crew being from LA having to go to Boston for the video. It’s def the first video I’ve made where I’m like, wow, that was 100% the treatment and came out better than what I saw in my head.

How the Moon Fell From the Sky and No One Even Noticed (2018) – Featurette

If you could collaborate with anybody or any particular brand, who would you work with?

Apple! I love the risks they take in their commercials and I love how they value story in a lot of their work.

How have you kept inspired during these times?

My friends are everything. They keep me going through their work, advice and friendship.

You have a signature style of nostalgic, surreal yet dreamy landscapes and saturated visuals. How did you come to this creative conclusion? Will you ever evolve even further?

I think in my personal work a lot of my work has become quite the opposite of that, strangely enough. I think there is so much room for me to explore and discover more about my creative voice as I mature as a storyteller. I’m so young right now there’s so much more I haven’t tried yet. I came to that style of dreamy and saturated through my love of classic musicals and classic films. I loved how those movies made me feel and really provided a spectacle for me. I always hoped to do the same in my work.

How the Moon Fell From the Sky and No One Even Noticed (2018) – Featurette

How do you cope with imposter syndrome – if you have ever felt it?

I feel it every day. I think the best way to cope is to not look too much into your work and just focus on moving forwards. I find myself spiralling and hating everything I’ve made when I let myself think too much about it all. When I get in those mindsets I always try to push it to being productive and focusing on the next thing.

Your bio says that you strive to eat vegetables and always keep your nose clean. Is there anything else you aim to always be in life? What are your ultimate goals for the future? Where do you hope to be?

I’d love to make a feature in the next two years or start directing TV. That’s the real dream. But overall, I value my friendships and family above all. I hope to spend more time with them in the next few years.

Lastly, do you have any advice for young creatives who are interested in the film industry?

Watch as many movies as you can! The movies have taught me everything I know in film and in my life.

Claud – Wish You Were Gay

KEEP UP WITH CHRISTINA XING:

Website : https://christinaxing.com/

Instagram: @christinaxing

Twitter: @christinaxingg

Blackbear: an interview

Ahead of his latest album release, I talk to hit-making sensation Blackbear on his first Father’s Day, a future collaboration with Elton John and his feelings behind making “everything means nothing”.

As we’re all aware of now, 2020 has been a year of many grievances, brutal truths and realisations. Amidst this, people are looking everywhere for positivity and light, whether through memes about our current climate, seeing how our favourite celebrities are coping despite living in mansions the size of an island, and so much more. For Matthew Tyler Musto, otherwise known as ‘blackbear’, it’s been about satirising the seemingly shallow aspects of our concerns and educating ourselves on the significant ones, such as the Black Lives Matter movement. As well as this, blackbear has spent 2020 navigating newfound fatherhood and creating new music for his upcoming album “everything means nothing”—all lowercase, exactly like his name.

His summer defining bop ‘hot girl bummer’ has over a billion streams on Spotify alone, and he’s collaborated with Justin Bieber, Machine Gun Kelly, Linkin Park, G-Easy and Ellie Goulding. Yet, blackbear is an individual who still, as the kids say, “slept on”. The self-made music prodigy has a loyal fanbase and is making waves nonetheless, with Elton John even giving him a call as of recent. So with this in mind, I gave Matthew a ring, and we chatted about all things quarantine, changes and our favourite quotes.

How do you like to be referred to as in your day to day name wise?
People call me Matt or Matthew. Sometimes my therapist calls me ‘Bear’, I do not know why. Think he is trying to be all supportive like, “Come on Bear, you got this!” as if he’s cheering me on [laughs]. You can call me Matt, that is totally fine!

So, the story behind the name Blackbear, I heard multiple stories. From gangs being in relation to an addiction to Haribo gummy bears, but I need full confirmation.
Yeah, I had to go to rehab and the whole thing because I could not stop. Now we cannot have them in the house, every time I think about gummy bears or even see a gummy WORM, it is a gateway drug for me. No, I’m just being cheeky [laughs]. I like to see how far I can fucking take things to the point where it’s not even funny anymore [laughs]. When I was a child, I thought that God was this black teddy bear in the sky that you could just cuddle with. I came to find out slowly and later in life that this could both be true and not be true. You cannot tell me whether that is real or not, but it was one of my first true beliefs. So, I just named myself Blackbear because it was one of first creative thoughts.

Father’s Day has just passed, how did you celebrate?
Father’s Day was surreal for me. It was just one of the most beautiful, normal days for a normal guy that anyone can experience. I don’t want to take away the experience from anybody, but you just have to experience it, it’s just unexplainable. Just so amazing. It’s like…I’m someone’s DAD. That is the coolest part, this weird guy that you’re talking to right now is a parent of someone. It’s so strange, like we’ve gotten in the car before and my song was playing on the radio. That’s definitely a lifelong achievement for me, I just think that it’s just such a big flex, like, “Look how hard daddy worked!”, you know? I don’t know whether he’ll remember it, but maybe I’ll have songs in the future that will play on the radio.

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Photo by Sam Dameshek

What was the meaning behind the name Midnight for your son?
It just means new day, 12 o’clock. Fresh start, it’s a new chapter. So that’s what Midnight is for me in my life. He’s already smart in some way, he already has such a personality and is already his own person at 5 months old, it’s just so strange because he’s this little person that we made together.

How has becoming a father affected your creative process?
Oh! Good question. If it’s done anything relatively massive in my life…it’s made me more keen to the idea that I have to provide for someone. I need to make music that people are going to resonate with and really relate to, and really love, and keep me touring. I need to keep working so that I can support my family and I think that overarching idea has set in. I made Hot Girl Bummer as soon as I found out Michele (girlfriend) was pregnant. So, I thought, I need to step this up into high gear. No more fun and games.

How has quarantine changed the way you have seen life given recent events?
That was well put. Amazing. That was amazing. Is this my interview or yours? [laughs]. As soon as the death of George Floyd hit the news and started becoming such a massive thing, I will admit that THAT was the moment for me and a lot of other White people, like, that was our changing moment where we were like, you know what? I am going to post about Black Lives Matter, I’m going to make a pledge, I’m going to bring my child up the correct way, buy the books on Amazon and I’m going to teach him about racism, about these things. All I can say is that we are the teachers of the next generation. When I look at Midnight I see opportunity and I see change.

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Photo by Sam Dameshek

Have you been getting creative this time? Hot Girl Bummer part 2, 2020 edition? Or another summer-defining anthem?
So…you’re asking whether I’d make another satire record that pokes fun at our times? I just see it as this, I have a platform to say what maybe everyone is thinking but nobody is saying, thinking or even feeling. I know that the reason Hot Girl Bummer took off was because people really related to it. I stood in the club before and wandered why I was spending so much on a drink, on a table and why is it so important that I wear my fake diamond necklace when I’m going to be in the dark? It’s just all of these ridiculous little things that we do that I’m guilty of as well and so, the title was definitely more of a satirical take on our culture. We are generally getting into a time where it’s harder to not fuck up and not say something wrong and whatever it is as long as your intentions are right. I’m not worried about making someone angry because yes, I am sensitive to the way people feel today but at the same time it’s kind of my own therapy.

You’ve worked with a lot of accomplished artists- do you prefer the song writing process and working behind the scenes or releasing your own?
I enjoy making music for other people, especially when Justin Bieber or Linkin Park or somebody who is totally different from Blackbear. Like, Blackbear would never come out with a Linkin Park song! Mainly that is what I get out of writing for other people, I like to read the vibe of a room and get something out of them.

Speaking of which, you said in another interview that when you’re not creating Blackbear songs you’re writing songs of your own- is there a particular artist who you really want to write songs for? Dead or alive.
I actually recently spoke to Elton John, I know- it’s so insane. He called me on the phone and said that in the future that we have to work on something. That’s definitely something that we’ve been talking about.

A lot of your fans were heavily anticipating your new Queen of Broken Hearts EP which is now going to be a full-blown album! How come you are splitting the release dates?
So that it will be more digestible. I just want people to spend time with the songs. It’s kind of like eating a sandwich!

Having looked at the track list I noticed your album features LAUV and Trevor Daniel who I actually interviewed this past month. What made you decide that those were the artists to best collaborate with?
It was not the matter of these being the artists that I wanted to collaborate with, as much as it was the case of working on a song and just HEARING Trevor Daniel on this song. With if I were you, I thought that this sounded like the perfect LAUV song. I just had to ask Ari (LAUV) if he will do this. They are also just my good mates, they’re just great friends. It’s just really cool to take the opportunity for my friends to be on. We all sing about the same topics.

Your social media is typically littered in quotes, what would you say is your one mantra in life? A quote you like the most?
The last quote I posted was in my own words, it said “If you don’t learn from the past you will live there”. I love quotes, and in this album, I want people to feel…I think, I want people to feel validated in their individuality. I want people to feel empowered, I really want them to feel like they can be who they really are. Sorry, that is so deep.

Last question. What quote do you swear that you live by?
Live. Laugh. Love. [Laughs]. Okay, I love you.

album cover

STREAM ‘EVERYTHING MEANS NOTHING’ ON ALL PLATFORMS.

The Game: a conversation in lockdown

My 4/20 took a turn for the better when I received a DM from Jayceon Terrell Taylor aka, The Game. With this in mind, I decided to turn it into an interview. He was cool about it.

This feels quite surreal to write out, these words may not properly reflect the reality of how I’m feeling about this particular interview, so apologies in advance if this reads awfully (it will). When I first begun to fully pursue journalism as a career around two years ago, I never thought that I’d come across the people that I have, or been in the rooms that I’ve been in; not a flex, just a real and honest reflection of how far I’ve come throughout the years. So, no matter the popularity of the individual, I’ve always been immensely proud of the work that I have produced despite the amount of times that I’ve been rejected, dismissed or undermined.

Journalism has allowed me to explore all territories of music and speak to artists of any genre, from mainstream American acts like Sabrina Carpenter (pending), Madison Beer; Blackbear; Chantel Jeffries; Charlotte Lawrence to the more urban UK scene with Hardy Caprio, Bru-C and Kojo Funds. I have even spoken to Disney actors that I grew up watching, such as Bailee Madison (Wizards of Waverley Place, Bridge to Terabithia) and Alyson Stoner (Camp Rock, Phineas and Ferb, Suite Life of Zack and Cody) as well as an array of Indie artists too, like Mac Demarco; Girl In Red; Two Door Cinema Club and Charli XCX…you get the gist. What I’m mostly trying to say, is that journalism has taken me far and wide and so for that, I couldn’t be more thankful.

However, for a lack of better words; The Game is different gravy. He’s the Compton-raised, Dr Dre and Jay-Z mentored, raucous voiced, mesomorphic rap icon of the 00’s who embodies NW mother-effing A. Along with a golden discography featuring a long list of legendary collaborations of artists under his belt that are both old school and current; the entire ordeal is beyond comprehension.

Even the approach to this encounter differed from the usual, there were no managers, PR’s, no editors or any publicists- it was just The Game and myself on a sunny 4/20 with nothing but a screen between us. So for that reason, this interview will be as informal as the circumstances in which it stationed. I simply asked whether I could question him on anything that came to my head, to which he responded “Shoot 🙏🏾”. So without further ado, because honestly he needs no formal introduction- here is a painfully simple Q&A with the man himself, by me.

In the entertainment industry or life in general, do you feel it is more important to be liked or respected?

It’s far more important to be respected.

In your honest opinion, what is the meaning of a “good life”?

A life that is lived without fear.

Speaking of fear, we’re living amongst some pretty scary times right now. Has this time of social distancing taught you anything? How have you found it?

This has always been my normal life. I’m usually keeping me to myself and out of the way.

Always?

Ever since I was a child.

Who do you think is changing the landscape of rap music at the moment?

I think Future is responsible for what music has become in current day hip- hop.

What do you think of the way that rap is redefining its genre and shifting sonically?

I appreciate hip-hop in all facets. Whatever it recreates itself as every 5-10 years is appreciated. What I love the most about it, is that it keeps young African-American men with a source of income.

Which feature of yours are you most proud of?

Mary J. Blige on the Love It or Hate It remix! Goes hard.

Which song of yours means the most to you and why?

Like Father Like Son, I wrote it while my son was being born.

If you could only give one piece of crucial advice to your children, what would you tell them?

Don’t trust a soul.

That pretty brutal advice. Not even immediate family?

A soul. Family is sometimes your worst enemy.

Damn. You were famously in a coma for around three days, most people claim that once they got close to death’s doors they saw a bright light. Did you have the same experience?

Naw… it was just like an extended dream and I don’t quite remember what the dream entailed. Random, I guess!

What have you found to be the most fulfilling part of your career as a rapper?

That I’ve gotten to work with everyone that I have ever wanted to, I think.

Just because the people are asking…how’d you get them eyes?

Girl…[laughs]. From my grandmother. All love.

 

STREAM ‘BORN 2 RAP’ ON ALL PLATFORMS.

Hardy Caprio: an interview

I spoke to grime sensation Hardy Caprio ahead of his album release where we discuss exceeding expectations, giving back and taking over the world.

A few years ago, a video was released of a fresh-faced, admittedly “broke” and “dead trim” Hardy Caprio in a car park with friends rapping his first Hollywood H freestyle. A young Hardy spits, “I do grime, do rap, do ends, do uni and when I’m back in Croydon I’m making a movie”. Little did he know that this eventually would lead on to become the catalyst into revealing his full potential. Between studying full-time and grinding towards his dreams, Hardy knew that his route was unconventional compared to his contemporaries, yet the South London didn’t let the naysayers define his future and is continuously looking to push that for himself.

Now, ready more than ever to drop his debut mixtape in the new year, Hardy is coming in with teeth. Having already dropped infectious summer Afrobeat swing of tracks like “Something New” and “Drop Top” with T Mulla, these pre-release collaborations show Hardy as one of the breakout stars of a hyper-fertile period for homegrown, authentic UK grime. Proclaiming the close of 2019 and 2020, as “The years of Hardy”- his vision as to what he wants is as clear as ever. To show our excitement, we spoke to the grime star ahead of his album release about taking over the world, being straightforward, giving back and exceeding expectations.

If there’s one thing you would like people to understand about you, what would that be?
That I’m always going to be myself, unapologetically.

Songs that best describe your life and journey.
Kelis and Andre 300 ‘Millionaire’ and my song ‘Wifey Riddum’.

Most significant lesson you have learnt since entering the music industry?
It’s best to make your own mistakes because no one is going to earn the ramifications for you.

Unsigned was basically your breakthrough record- did you know that as you were creating it?
Yeah! It was either going to be my breakthrough or not, we thought that if this one wouldn’t work then we have no idea what will. We tried our best to make it the perfect three-minute song; from the beat to the lyrics and how they’re being said. We put all our bets on it.

hardy

What’s your usual thought process when creating new music?
It depends what we’re trying to get out of it. For now, it’s more about how it feels, but in general moments where there are moments as an artist where you have to prove yourself and take it further. I’ve consciously said to myself, “Yeah, you need to take it to the brim with this song”.

You recently stated that there is no such thing as the perfect rapper. Do you set the same standard for yourself or are you your own worst critic?
I am my own worst critic but at the same time I am also my own biggest fan. I say stuff that I want to hear from rappers. As a rap fan, I’ve heard a lot of things being said and overtime it all sounds the same. So when it was time for me to rap, I wanted to say and hear something different. I want new stuff, new imagery, new slang, everything! I mean, I like my stuff [laughs] you just need to be the best version of yourself, I know it sounds cliché but that’s all it is.

Have you ever had a moment of major doubt within yourself? You’ve spoken a lot about people not believing in you- how do you usually work to get over it?
It’s more THEM, it’s a ‘them’ problem and not a ‘me’ problem. If I had a problem, then I would crumble much earlier, I believe in myself. I believe I can do it, so there’s nothing that anyone can tell me, to be honest. If I can’t do something, I’m going to learn how to do it, and do you know what? I’ve done that time and time again, so I feel like I just need to make music for me at this point. Every criticism I’ve heard is so silent right now, but I just want to say to them, “Thank you very much”.

Going to university and graduating with a degree in accountancy is quite contrasting to being a rapper, and having such an unconventional route to success compared to other rappers must be quite isolating. Do you ever find it to be a challenge?
Within myself, I know that it is not a hindrance. The people that see it as a problem don’t even matter, I don’t care about them. If you have an issue with it, then you’re not even in the real world. I think people attribute rap music to struggle, violence and other negative stuff, and so to think that I haven’t seen any of that because I’ve been to university then you’re one of the dumbest people in the world. It can be seen as a challenge but I don’t see it as that- it’s just my story. If you want to hear the same story over and over, then I’m probably not the guy for you.

What was it like generally balancing both university and your side rap hustle?
When I look back on it, I didn’t think it was the hardest thing in the world. I’m a workaholic though, so now I look at it and I realise that it wasn’t very healthy. I would be staying up in the studio then I would go to uni without any sleep at all. At that moment, I knew that it was all what I wanted so I didn’t actively see it as an obstacle, at that time I didn’t see it as challenging.

You’re only in your early 20’s- what do you hope to achieve by the time you hit your 30’s? Is there any defining moment that will have you think, “Yeah, I’ve made it”?
I just want to take over the world [laughs]. There is not a lot to ask for, I’ve done a lot of things that I didn’t ever expect to do like doing things for my family. And now, I want to change the lives of those around me and help other people, too. Not even when I “get there”, but now I just want to be helping people because the more of us there are too lift up, the better. I want everybody to feel like they can chase what they want because some people might think that because they don’t come from a certain background that they can’t take part and it alienates them. If you know your characteristics, you can find your way.

 

 

Freya Ridings: an interview

”The things that you think of as weaknesses now, will one day be your biggest strengths.”
Originally posted on The National Student.

With vocals that are both portentous and glacial, Freya Ridings is here to grab you by the hand and whisk you off to somewhere you’ve never been before.

Freya Ridings has never struggled to keep an audience transfixed and present. The singer’s ambient and, at times ethereal, sound places her somewhere in between London Grammar’s Hannah Reid and Florence Welch in terms of range and vocal power. To someone that has never heard her music before, she sits somewhere in between pop and piano ballads with a punchy hook, and her talent hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Similarly to the likes of George Harrison, The Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, John Lennon and Katy Perry, Freya has just been signed to Capitol Records ahead of her much anticipated debut album. “It’s so thrilling getting to play and to work alongside some of my songwriting heroes on the other side of the planet…they’re all absolutely lovely people”.

Freya-Ridings
Image courtesy of Freya Ridings

When searching for inspiration for her songs, Freya Ridings looks at her own personal encounters, “I always write based off personal experience because that’s what feels most authentic to me but I love listening to different genres for melodic inspiration. It’s weird but I always shut my right eye when I’m playing piano and only recently found out that’s the creative part of your brain.” But like many of us, Freya struggles to shut out the noise to focus on what’s important: “The hardest part for me is getting out of the way and letting my subconscious speak what it needs to say”.

Freya’s favourite songs to perform live are most certainly her own, in particular, her poignant new single that has found success in the Charts, comfortably sitting in the Top 10. “The connection that ‘Lost Without You’ has given me with so many new people around the world has been a life-changing. As a song I wrote on my own in my little front room in North London, I still get whole body chills when I hear thousands of people sing it with me. To go from singing it in such isolation to singing it all around the world might be the most humbling experience of my entire life”.

Freya has just completed her debut nationwide tour which had completely sold out across the U.K. “After years of playing open mic nights in London where nobody knew me, to go from that to walking out to a sold or crowd every night on tour felt like something out of a movie. Honestly, I have no words for the feeling of being welcomed so warmly with open arms in cities I’ve sometimes never even been too”.

Speaking on tour life, there’s no doubt that the events can get tiring and overwhelming, however Freya has a playlist that kept her upbeat and motivated. “We had a tour bus for the first time ever with the whole band and crew, it was so much fun and it honestly felt like being magically teleported around the country in a tardis. We watched a lot of old films and also tried to come up with a pre-show chant with my band but we always ended up laughing because we got it wrong! In terms of listening, I loved listening to the new Rex Orange Country And Tom Odell Albums.” And what would she do just before shows? “Pre-show rituals I always eat an apple (the pectin helps breaks down vocal clicks) and have a massive group hug with my band and crew, very rock and roll- I know!”.

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Image courtesy of Freya Ridings

Freya has been frequently forthright about her struggle with dyslexia throughout higher education and has used music as a method for learning. “After really stuffing at school with dyslexia, finding that I could play music by ear felt life-changing and after all my teachers gave up on trying to teach me how to read music I started to write my own songs as a way to anchor me through the storm of school.”

Reflecting on her growth, she has some helpful words of advice for other young people challenged by dyslexia and reminds us that it’s important to accept and love everybody’s differences. “School really does not define who you are as a human being…The things that you think of as weaknesses now will one day by your biggest strengths. Also…being dyslexic gives you the ability to see things from another perspective and that’s one of your best qualities. The biggest lesson I learned is that everyone is battling with something growing up and just to be as kind and understanding as possible”.

However, with a career that is expanding before her very eyes, Freya Ridings is first and foremost, all about grace and gratitude: “It’s a universal bond that I’m so humbled to be a part of in any small way and I can’t wait to repay that kindness”.

Andrew Thomas Huang: nature, aliens and the resurrection of FKA Twigs

An interview with American-Chinese director Andrew Thomas Huang on collaborating with artists such as Björk and FKA Twigs, connecting to his heritage and finding inspiration within nature.

Andrew Thomas Huang is someone that has never been just regular, proving himself time and time again that he is a creative force within the art world and beyond. Expressing his passion and interests through a deep immersion of digitally-rendered figures, puppetry, fine prints and surreal live action performance; Andrew has cemented his mark as a truly unique and pioneering individual who is definitely worth keeping on your radar. Just ask J.J. Abrams. Seriously.

I actually reached out to Andrew a few days after a very recent and special project of his became popular, in which to my surprise he responded almost instantly with great enthusiasm!! But due to exams, planning my 3-month trip to America and other errands, I’ve had to unfortunately delay the publishing of this interview. However, we are finally here and this feature is something that I have been looking forward to getting out for such long time as I couldn’t get enough of his saturated and phantasmagoric visions; and so with that in mind, I spoke with the artist about the creative process behind Cellophane, reconnecting to his roots and finding inspiration within nature.

Image courtesy of Andrew Thomas Huang

Since graduating from the University of Southern California in Fine Art and Animation, he has become a master at intertwining futuristic elements of future folklore, ultramodern queer cyborg and mystical surrealism; ultimately creating a universe of his own. Andrew’s imagination began to run wild through elementary and middle school when he was first introduced to puppeteer Jim Henson and his iconic 80’s films such as The Muppets (duh!), The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth; which originally inspired him to begin playing with his video camcorder where he would start creating stop motion. As he got older he got more into the fantasy adventure franchise of Star Wars which then further inspired his work “I would watch the behind-the-scenes making of those movies and try and replicate the process on my own. I started learning Maya and After Effects in high school and got hooked on building my own worlds!” Being such a diverse creative who works across an array of mediums, his catalogue of pieces and instalments stretches far and wide, however, when it comes to his favourite type to work with, he tells me “I think puppetry is the best combination of everything – performance, dance, bringing inanimate things to life, while also being sculptural and craft-driven”.

After his successful debut Doll Face in 2007, he has brought forth many other moving pieces; from his nine-part video series titled Flesh Nest, which explores and constructs a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by digital immortals “It is essentially my sci-fi Fraggle-Rock inspired trash opera, and so I built this project around the concept of afterlife. I wanted instead to construct imagery that had the same efficiency, weirdness and mythic vastness as a Hieronymus Bosch painting in which a multiplicity of characters and edifices are building up and crumbling down in the same hellish scrolling tapestry-like space. It was important for me that there is an honesty about the artifice of this universe”. To his newly short feature Kiss of the Rabbit God which premiered just a few weeks ago at the Tribeca Film Festival, where Huang explores his own personal identity, cultural heritage and queerness to which he proclaims to be a form of personal revelation.

The film follows a young Chinese restaurant worker’s journey of self-discovery through a sexual awakening, after falling in love with an 18th century Qing dynasty God named the Tu’er Shen (兔兒神) “This is my first narrative short in 10 years and also my most personal film to date! I started out directing narrative films, but left to pursue more art and experimental video-making. Rabbit God is my attempt now to return to narrative but more on my terms. The film is really a love story and I’ve never been brave enough until now to create a romantic film between two queer Asian men. So, this film in a way is a confession as much as it is a love letter to my LGBTQ+ Asian community”.

Everything about Andrew’s work opens up a portal to illustration of a digital multiverse- which hasn’t gone by unnoticed. He has championed a collection of awards and honours for his creative work, becoming more popular through music videos that he’s directed for the likes of Björk, Thom Yorke’s supergroup Atoms For PeaceKelela, Perfume GeniusSigur Ròs and many more; emerging through the mist. He tells me, Music videos are a wonderful medium to experiment and build worlds and draw people into the emotional message of a piece of music. I’ve learned nearly everything I know about directing from creating music videos: how to collaborate, delegate, communicate with a team of people. But, I would also say it’s my own personal work that has informed my videos. Doing the work on music videos has helped build my vocabulary of techniques to bring to my own work as well as my own practice that has fed the ideas that I bring to the music videos. It’s a two-way conversation! I need to know what each artist is trying to say and where they’re coming from in order for me to formulate a clear concept. I prefer to have personal conversations with each artist and really get to know them as people. I don’t like to go into a collaboration guessing what they’re going to like or what they’re going to respond to. Making videos with artists, in the best scenario, is building a relationship with them and dreaming the same dream together.”

Image courtesy of Andrew Thomas Huang

Back to the recent and special project that I mentioned earlier, just last month he collaborated with FKA Twigs on her emotionally charged single; Cellophane. A video that is filled with vivid mechanical creatures and bionic figures, accompanied by a blend of renaissance imagery and dystopian scenes, showcasing a contrast of life and death, birth and destruction. An idea that embodies a new chapter, to start anew and welcome a path-breaking world that hums with possibility; Andrew also added that it is an “miraculous Icarus tale: a dance-of-death striving towards unattainable perfection, the fall from grace and the fragility of putting yourself back together”. Alongside him and Twigs graced production designer Fiona Crombie, who was nominated for an Oscar last year for her work on The Favourite. “We really did have the perfect team come together on this. Cinematographer Dani Abello came on board who shot beautiful videos for Rosalía, and pole choreographer Kelly Yvonne, too! I actually started to develop the story with Twigs in June 2018, and then Twigs, Kelly and I would rehearse together in a dance studio in Los Angeles where we brainstormed to create some of the emotional and physical beats of the performance”

Since it’s release, Andrew has been extremely candid about the inspiration behind Cellophane, admitting to outlets that the concepts of the video stemmed from Twigs’ own personal struggles; from laparoscopic surgery that she underwent to have six fibroid tumours removed from her uterus, to public scrutiny and blatant attacks regarding her ex-fiancé Robert Pattinson. Yet, the formation of the video did not arise as naturally as the ideas behind it seemed to, the process to creating such a visually compelling film was complex as it was enjoyable. “I drafted my own visualisation and storyboard for a couple months before we shot the film in Kiev, Ukraine for two days. Fiona also worked with the Ukrainian team to build some beautiful sets, namely the 360° curtain world and the large clay pit. I edited the video myself and then worked closely for four months afterwards along with Analog Studio in London to create the visual effects”.

Taken from ‘Cellophane’.

FKA Twigs in ‘Cellophane’.

Despite the constant use of extraterrestrial figures in his art, it isn’t always deliberate, confessing “I actually always thought that Martians were kind of boring! (with the exception of the Martians from Mars Attacks). Extraterrestrials aren’t though, alien life is always fascinating…like the aliens in The Abyss or The X-files”.  yet, with everything that’s been going on in Andrew’s life, I concluded the interview by asking him what he does to unwind and how he finds new creative energy “Hmm. Detaching from society, for sure! And going into nature are the most nourishing things for me. My most vivid and connected moments in life have occurred when I’m hiking or by the ocean, or just spending time with my grandmother! I’m eternally working on the challenge of being present in the moment”.

Keep up with Andrew and his work;

Website- http://www.andrewthomashuang.com/Art.htm

Facebook Page- www.facebook.com/AndrewThomasHuangAndrewThomasHuang

Instagram: www.instagram.com/andrewthomashuang/

Twitter: @Andrew_T_Huang

Youtube Channel- http://www.youtube.com/andrewhu

Vimeo Channel- https://vimeo.com/user1293099

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Sarah Close: an interview

From struggling undergrad to YouTube mogul and up-and-coming pop sensation, Sarah Close has passed every checkpoint in record time and is flying towards the finish line.

From struggling undergrad to YouTube mogul and up-and-coming pop sensation, Sarah Close has passed every checkpoint in record time and is flying towards the finish line.

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Thanks to the internet, making your dreams a reality can all begin with just a single upload, and for Sarah, it all started way back in 2010 with a cover video of Katy Perry’s pop nostalgia hit ‘Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F)’. Since then, Sarah’s channel subscribers skyrocketed, and in March 2017, she was able to release her debut single ‘Call Me Out’, and a debut album Caught Up, the following month.

Growing up on the small island of the Isle Of Wight, Sarah has admitted that the size of her hometown limited her options creatively; “I think feeling so isolated was one of the reasons I got into music, I didn’t have other kids in my village to hang with so I had to find things to keep me busy! I don’t think my home area has an obvious influence on my songs and writing, but I do have a couple songs that explore growing up and feeling like a bit of an outsider because of a different childhood to other people”.

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Fantasising about a what life could be past the small island, Sarah got light of the idea of putting herself out there through by pure coincidence from her covers rival Taylor Swift. “I was hugely inspired when I found out that Taylor Swift wrote and performed her own songs, that made me believe that I could do the same! That and ‘Naive’ by the Kooks is what made me pick up a guitar and start teaching myself.”

Sarah was inspired to follow in Swift’s tracks but found herself held back by a feeling we all know a little too well. “I’d known I wanted to do it for a while, I’d been watching other singers on YouTube and saw that they were doing what I wanted to do. What worried me most was people at school finding out and teasing me for it, I told a friend what I wanted to do and she encouraged me so much that I just did it. People at school found out about my channel earlier than I expected them to, but luckily everyone was super nice and supportive which only spurred me on more!”

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The confidence to put yourself out there, exposing your innermost thoughts online, is by no means easy.  Since the whirlwind success of her debut album, she’s encountered both sides of the social media beast – good and bad – but remains positive in tackling comments head-on. “I like to think that there are two different Sarah Close’s. There’s me, that wakes up in the morning and phones her parents and does whatever I do, and then there’s the Sarah Close that is making music and putting out her songs. When I see negative things, they’re commenting on who they perceive Sarah Close to be, they don’t know me so they can’t hurt me. Creating that distance is important and really helps, and criticism is sometimes healthy. I would say, do what you wanna do and deal with anything negative as it comes!”

As an individual that has explored the industry in all its glory, Sarah does not shy away from being vocal about her frustrations within the belly of the beast. “I think the industry is lacking in diversity, especially in the behind the scenes roles. I’d love to meet more women and PoC working as A&R’s and managers.” However, that’s not to discredit her experiences to date – having worked alongside Parlophone Records and now coming back to a point where she’s in full control of her own music. Releasing independently through The Kodiak Club and self-directing her own music videos can be intimidating, but Sarah takes it all in her stride. “At the end of the day no one really knows what song is going to bang or not, so trust your gut and put out songs that feel right to you!”

And that’s exactly what she’s been doing, and with huge success. The singer-songwriter has hit number one on many global viral Spotify playlists, accumulated over three million streams in a year and has completely sold out her debut UK tour, but is staying true to herself and her big ambitions: “I want to perform all over the world, I’m really so excited to be doing some more live shows soon and I’d love to do them in places I’ve never been to before and I hope that becomes a reality for me! In 5 years time, it would be great to have a second album out, and I’d like to have ticked off some of my dream people to work with!”