Tony Scalzo [Interview]

The 90’s were an amazing time for music in so many ways.  Catchy, thought filled songs by “alternative” bands were all the rage, weren’t they?  Yes, there was a time before the girl and boy groups came around to kick of a shit storm that hasn’t quite subsided (fuck you very much reality TV), but is definitely getting better.  But, as time goes by, and we all get a bit older, those of us who spent the 90’s actually enjoying those video things they used to show on MTV are beginning to realize that the days that once felt like yesterday, are slowly being swallowed by time.  It’s our turn to feel the grunt of pain when millions of “those damned kids” who were too young to remember when Gin Blossoms ruled the airwaves, and even they shitty music wasn’t that bad (i.e. Hootie & The Blowfish).  But, thankfully, many of the finest acts that formed during that time are still alive and well, and touring the world.

One group that epitomizes the awesomeness of that time is definitely Fastball.  They ruled the charts for a period of time with their #1 single, “The Way”.  And while they may not be all over MTV (what musician really is anymore, right?), the crew is still very much alive and thriving in their own right.  Fastball continues to be one of the striving forces in the world of actually talented musicians.  They continue to record, tour, and be merry.  And frontman and ring leader Tony Scalzo has been kind enough to inform us on what they have been up to these days.  So without further ado, a legend in his own right, Tony Scalzo!

You began your musical career in a punk group.  How did you manage to make the transition from punk rock to a group like Fastball?  What was that transition like?

 I think it’s a stretch to say I was ever in an actual “punk” group. I have played with guys like Jack Grisham from TSOL and Mike Ness from Social Distortion. I was in a band for about ten seconds called the Flower Leppards which featured Tony Brandenberg from the Adolescents on lead vocals. Also Naked Soul with the late Mike Conley from M.I.A. I would say that while all these guys were pioneers of SoCal punk/hardcore, none of these bands was playing what you could call punk at the time. More like mid-80’s alternative rock, especially with Naked Soul; that was like the Replacements or Soul Asylum. So the transition was more one of geography than music when I move to Austin in 1993. I feel like I brought a bit of the SoCal thing with me to Texas and in Fastball it’s been that combination of elements that’s made it work.You have collaborated with some of pretty amazing artists both in the studio and on the stage.  Who has been your favorite artist to work with in any setting?  Why? 
 I have been super lucky. Right place-right time you might say. The late Billy Preston played some piano on “You’re An Ocean” back in 2000, Brian Setzer played guitar on “Love Is Expensive and Free” on that same album. We played in Amsterdam in 2001 and Steve Earle got up with us do a Stones song. Texas rock legend, Joe Ely has played with us onstage as well as super genius, Al Anderson from NRBQ. I did just recently have my friend Ian McLagan from Small Faces/Faces/Rolling Stones fame play some organ on my upcoming solo album. It’s all good, I couldn’t name a favorite because we’ve never jammed with Elvis Costello….yet!
Your hit single “The Way” is pretty straight forward lyrically.  But, is the track specific towards somebody you know?  How did the character development come to life?
 It’s a long, true story that’s been told many, many times. I had heard that an elderly couple from nearby Salado, TX had been missing for a week or so. I didn’t know the people involved but I got the story from the newspaper and speculated what may have happened to them. I’ve since met members of the family, they are nice people.
What is it like to have SXSW right in your back yard?  Do you still enjoy playing and attending the festival? 
 SXSW has been a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that it’s made Austin a major music industry player, the curse is that it’s made Austin a major music industry player! The place turns into a sort of theme park for music. But it attracts a lot of marketers and opportunists which sort of spoils it a little. I got nothing against ambitious hipsters, live and let live!
What do you think it is about Austin that makes it such a musical city?  Aside from having more bars in one area than anywhere else in the world.  Is there an influence or certain element that you believe creates the obvious diversity?
More bars in one area makes for a lot of bullshit, btw….More violence, more bad smells, more hit and run traffic accidents, etc. There is always something good to hear, any night of the week here, but it’s not necessarily happening on Sixth St. There’s Antones for Blues and Rock, The Continental for everything from Rockabilly to Alternative rock. Emo’s for alternative/Punk and Metal. Stubb’s, The White Horse, Beauty Bar, Hole In The Wall, ACL live at Moody Theater, the Paramount.  There’s Jazz, Hip-hop, classical, latin… I could go on and on.
I always have to ask this question:  Where do you keep your platinum record?  Any sentiment involved with its placement?  Why or why not?
I have a few of them, gold and platinum made by one of those trophy companies out of LA. One is hanging in my studio out back. One is in a guest room at our house. A few others are sitting in some corner of the studio. I see no reason to put up a shrine to myself!
Can we expect a new album, solo or with Fastball, in the near future?
New solo album is in mix process right now, should be available for download soon. Not sure when it will be formally released as an actual product…Fastball may record at some point in the near future yet no plans. We continue to play live on a regular basis. We actually have a busy fall coming up. See you all out there!
What was the last thing that made you smile?
My 8 mo. old son, Henry, rolling down the hotel hallway in his walker yesterday; we took him to our Fastball gig in Houston.
Keep up with Fastball at their Official Website, and be on the look out for Tony’s solo work at his own Website, currently under construction.  Cheers!
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Stephen Chiodo [Interview]

The bewilderment of what happens behind the scenes in making a film is astounding.  The immense amount of  details that go into the production side is one that is often left unappreciated.  But, in the world of animation and special effects, these are the guys who make all the difference.  And there are few people who have mastered this art of necessity as the legendary Chiodo brothers.

Yes, the guys who brought us the main stars of the film Critters – you  remember, Gremlins, but scarier – and the creators of the cult classic Killer Klowns From Outer Space, have been the master of puppets (all pun intended) and the creators of some of the finest animation, puppetry, and production designs are without a doubt the best in the game.  They know it all.  From stop animation in Elf starring Will Ferrell, to being the strings and fingers behind the South Park boy’s massive hit, Team America: World Police, these guys are the masters of it all.  Sure, they probably aren’t as appreciated as they should be, but it’s hard to see if they care.  They love what they do.  And it shows with the amount of effort they put into everything they do.  It’s their love for their work that proves evident.

One of these fine brothers was kind enough to share a few words with us.  We discuss clowns, puppets, and critters.  You know, the scary stuff!  So enjoy!  And remember, it takes more than one director to make a film.  Let’s honor the rest of people who make dreams happen.  Or at least a valid source of entertainment, right?

You and your brothers, Charles and Edward, are a notorious team in the world of film and animation? What would you consider the greatest upside of working alongside family?? What is a real downfall?

Charlie and I have been making films together since we were kids. Edward joined us when we moved to LA in 1980. The similarity in our background makes collaborating easier. There is an ease in our communication and the exchange of ideas that makes the creative process extremely constructive and fun. The ideas generated during a brainstorming session are varied due to our individual personalities but not too off the mark of the our original intent to be unproductive or frustrating.

On the other hand the closeness of siblings can sometimes raise the “temperature” of a heated discussion to a point where we would say things to each we would never say to someone outside the familiar relationship. Civility is thrown out the window and critiques are blunt and ruthless.
And after over 30 years in the business, what has been your favorite project you have been a part of in your career?


I have been fortunate to work on a number of memorable movie moments in my career so it’s difficult to choose just one. I’ve enjoyed many projects for different reasons.

Animating Large Marge in “Peewees Big Adventure” was a cool because it’s an unforgettable moment in a pretty funny movie.

“Critters” was the first movie Chiodo Bros was the key effects company on, responsible for designing the creatures, creating and performing a wide range of special effects for.

We created a Saturday morning kid’s show called “The Amazing Live Sea Monkeys” for CBS in the mid ‘90’s. Although it only lasted for one season it was ours creatively and we had loads of fun working with actors in prosthetics and stop motion and puppets. It was during a time when networks wanted educational elements in kid’s programming and we were proud to be declared the stupidest show on Saturday morning by TV Guide. Go Chiodo!

The stop motion work we did in “Elf” gave us the opportunity to animate a character in the same scene with the star of the movie, Will Ferrrel. That was fun.

But I’d have to say directing “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” was probably the greatest creative experience. Having the chance to make a feature based on my own idea was a blast. Seeing my concept come to life through the production process was exhausting and rewarding. And the fact that people still watch it makes me happy.

You were the principal puppeteer for Team America: World Police? Was that a different experience in the puppeteer field?? Was that the most adult oriented performance with puppets you have ever done?? 

Team America was a completely different experience for me. Marionette puppetry was not a technique we were familiar with. But as effect producers we mounted a production that built all the puppets and coordinated them on stage for shooting.

We discovered why they don’t produce many marionette movies. They are extremely difficult and time consuming to make. It was absolutely the hardest I have ever worked in my career.

We did the smart thing and hired the most talented puppeteers and let them do their best. Matt & Trey were great to work with. Rather than forcing the puppets to do things they were incapable of doing the guys found their comedy in limitations of the puppets.

The sex scene was definitely the most adult performance we ever produced. After many hours rehearsing ways to create realistic sex acts we were happily surprised to see Trey direct us toward a simple and crude performance. It was much funnier than our attempt at reality.

How did the idea for the now cult classic Killer Klowns from Outer Space, in which you wrote, directed, and produced, come to life?? What were your influences, if any?

While trying to think of the scariest thing I could think of I imagined driving down a lonely mountain road at night. When a car pulls up and passes me I see a clown behind the wheel, smiling an evil grin at me. Now that’ scary!

I’ve never felt clowns were particularly funny and a clown being where he shouldn’t be was scary to me. Charlie suggested what if he wasn’t in a car? What if he was floating in the air? Well then he must be from outer space. And that was it. We started brainstorming every clown gag and circus motif we could think and turning them into candy coated kills. We had too many for just one movie.

Rumor has it that a sequel is coming out? After 23 years, what has made you and your brothers decide to revisit the story?

Ha! We’ve been trying to get a sequel off the ground since we released the original and have met numerous obstacles over the years. I would like to report that we are closer than ever to getting the production going but things in Hollywood take a long time.

Business aside, one creative issue we had was what kind of story to tell after all these years.

It has been such long time since KKOS was released we wondered if a sequel would work for a new audience who may not be familiar it. We considered maybe a remake would be in order.

Well after much thought we decided to make a Re-Quel; a story with elements of both a remake and a sequel. We came up with a story that will introduce a new audience to the klown phenomenon and have a recurring character that will continue the original klown invasion. It’s all part of a long range story arc: a trilogy in four parts. I know the fans will not be disappointed.

You were the designer and supervisor for the legendary Critters character? What was the inspiration in designing the critter itself?? Where you given creative freedom on developing 


We had great fun on Critters. We had specific direction from Stephen Herek, the director and Domonic Muir, the screenwriter concerning the Krites. They wanted the nasty alien criminals to simply be “fur balls with teeth”.

My brother Charlie did a series of sketches and after a few adjustments I sculpted a small scale prototype and got it approved. It was a great creative collaboration.
What is the process like in developing stop animated sequences?? Is it as tedious as it seems to an outsider?

Working in stop motion is not unlike developing a scene in live action. We create storyboards to work out the action ahead of time so we shoot exactly what we need. Doing this avoids re-shooting, which wastes time and money.

It’s funny that people are under the misconception that stop motion is tedious.  I suppose the meticulous attention detail over long hours to produce only a few seconds seems mind numbing. But it’s the exact opposite. An animator is constantly thinking of hundreds of details to create a performance and the hours go by quickly. It’s a real kick to see your puppet come to life.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

Why just the other day someone on Facebook sent  me the dvd cover art for a porn parody of KKOS. The tile reads;

This isn’t KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE… it’s a XXX spoof!

Very bold, very trashy and very funny, to me.

It made me smile. I wondered if having my film knocked off for a porn parody signified some level of success. I mean if other directors could tolerate  “Jurassic Pork” and “Whores of the Rings” and “Tits a Wonderful Life” I could take pride to be in their company.

I’m still smiling.

Keep up with Stephen and the rest of the Chiodo brothers at their Official Website.

Tom Thurman [Interview]

Documentaries are a wonderful thing, wouldn’t you say?  They are the truth in life, spoken to us in such a fashion that one can not help but feel both informed and entertained.  Unlike a ficitonal based story, a documentary manages to offer excitement in things that actually happened, yet still leave us in awe.  And documentarian Tom Thurman has been a mastermind behind the art of documentaries in his long lasting career.

Tom may be known to folks for any number of documentaries he may have done.  But, for literary junkies and drug culture fans such as myself, I fell in love with Tom’s work when he created Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride:  Hunter S. Thompson On Film.  Essentially the film is simply a who’s who, star laced cast talking about how they knew Hunter.  But, if you look beyond the surface, you will see something far more phenomenal.  Thurman documents it best when he catches a certain celebrity mentioning that other celebrities never really fascinate a celebrity.  But, Hunter?  Hunter was the man people from every accord wanted to know.  The likes of Sean Penn, John Cusack, Nick Nolte, Johnny Depp, Bill Murray, and on and on.  They all wanted a piece of Hunter.  And Hunter wanted a piece of them.  It might have been a piece of their ear in which he would shoot off with a .45 magnum at his first liking, but it was a piece.  Hunter was  a man who lived the life he wanted to know, and didn’t give a damn about the fame.  Fame was simply the sort of being that could keep him on a steady diet of Chivas Regal and grape fruits.

And Tom Thurman brought the power of Hunter out better than any documentarian has ever managed to do.  But, given the man’s reputation and past bodies of work, it’s not hard to imagine he could do such things with the likes of Hunter S. Thompson.  He is one of the hardest working cats in the business, and you may not know it.  But, you should, and you should feel ashamed for not recognizing it.  It was a rare treat to get Tom to sit still for a few moments to answer a few questions I have been dying to as the Master of Nolte, the cinematographer of truth, if you will.  So, take a moment to see what Tom has to say, and then get your ass some education through Thurman himself.  Start with Netflix and see Hunter S. Thompson in a brand new light.  Enjoy!

What is it about documentary filmmaking that you love?  What is it that draws you to this format over feature films?

I love storytelling.  And the simplicity and intimacy of working one-on-one with people has many advantages over dragging around the bulky apparatus (logistically and financially) of a feature film.  Opportunities for distribution for docs have really improved over the past two decades, so the fear of making something that no one will ever see has diminished as well.

 From a professional stand point, how does one prepare an interview with the likes of someone like Johnny Depp, Aretha Franklin, Charlton Heston or George McGovern such as you have in your illustrious career?

You have to do your homework.  Enjoy yourself, and not take yourself too seriously.  And be patient.  Aretha made me wait for 2 days, but everyone has to wait a while on The Queen, right?

Out of everyone you interviewed during Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride, who would you say was even as close to being as eccentric as Hunter S. Thompson?

Nick Nolte.

Hunter S. Thompson.  John Ford.  Harry Crews.  And…..Nick Nolte?  How did the idea of specifically profiling Nick Nolte come to life?

Nick narrated my Thompson doc, and we got to be friends.  We wanted to do something together, but we didn’t know what it would be.  I wanted to profile him, but I wanted to approach this one differently.  The breakthrough came in a late-night conversation with the British film critic and historian David Thomson.  He suggested the idea of having Nick interview himself, and right then I knew that—if I could get Nick to agree to it—I would have something special.  That simple suggestion changed the course of the entire project.  Sometimes, you just have to be open to the ideas of others.  Of course, coming up with an idea is one thing; implementing it is another altogether.  But it worked.

You’ve drawn from very diverse subject matters in your work.  How do you usually decide what are you are going to research and sub sequentially shoot?

American film history is often my topic.  And in some ways, my projects are liked filmed essays.  But I’ve gotten to an age where I now have promised myself to have the funding and distribution in place before turning on the camera.

Is there any subject out there that you absolutely refuse to take part in documenting?  

I am not particularly interested in documenting a subject that comes with the guarantee of losing money.  I’ve done that before, and I’d prefer not to return to that arena.

If you were to create a film based on your own life, what would the title be?  Why? 

First of all, I wouldn’t make a doc about myself.  Secondly, if I did, I would call it “Do Not Watch This Film.”  Thirdly, given the subjects I’ve covered over the past twenty years (film history, literature, sports, etc.), maybe I’ve been making a film about myself all along without knowing it.

What do you feel is your greatest artistic achievement to date?

It is not one particular project, but the fact that—in addition to teaching, producing programs for Kentucky Educational Television, producing programs for ESPN, and being a father and husband—I have directed and produced 18 independent documentaries within the last 20 years.

Can you tell us what you are currently working on?

 

A doc. about Wendy Whelan for Kentucky Educational Televison’s Kentucky Muse series.  She has been a dancer with the New York City Ballet for over 20 years, and she is a remarkable talent.

 

What was the last thing that made you smile?

I was thinking about the writer Harry Crews this morning, and the film I made about him.  Every time I think about Harry, I smile.

Dustin Tri Nguyen [Interview]

We all remember Dustin Tri Nguyen from the cult classic 80’s sitcom 21 Jump Street.  Even those of us not really old enough to remember the show being on air.  But, Nguyen’s career as yet to cease in it’s own right since the show ended over 20 years ago.  Dustin has continued to appear in the acting world in the states as well as gaining prominent notarity in his home country of Vietnam.  He recently made a splash with a huge role alongside Cate Blanchett and Sam Neil in Little Fish.  Critics were awestruck from this performance, and we are sure to hear more from this amazing actor.

Dustin Tri Nguyen is an actor who feels the struggles of his work from all angles.  He’s an Asian male, for one.  The stereotypes associated with their race makes things pretty damned difficult.  Secondly, he is will probably never be able to lose the stigma of Ioki.  Not a bad stigma really, but constant recognition for a role that ended over 20 years ago can truly carry some weight.  But, through pure charisma and grace, Dustin has continued to advance his career, just as he chooses to.

We were fortunate enough to have a chat with Dustin to discuss what he has been up to lately, the stigma of 80’s stardom, and joys and struggle of acting across the globe.  Check it out!

How does the Vietnamese film industry differ from the U.S.?  Better?  Worse?

THE FILM INDUSTRY HERE IS INCOMPARABLE TO THE USA; IT’S SO SMALL AND FLEDGING – 18 FILMS MADE THIS YEAR. IT’S VERY DIFFICULT TO SAY BETTER OR WORSE. WHAT IT LACKS IN FUNDING, IT MAKES UP FOR CREATIVE FREEDOM. FILM MAKERS HERE ARE BURDENED AND TRIED BY THE SMALL BUDGETS, BUT ARE GIVEN LOTS OF CREATIVE FREEDOM BECAUSE THERE’S NO STUDIO SYSTEM; NOT YET ANYWAY. I CAN LITERALLY FINISH A SCREENPLAY, GO RAISE MONEY FOR IT AND BE SHOOTING WITHIN 6 MONTHS.

You’ve been quoted as saying you weren’t satisified with the oppurtunities of Asian males in the acting world.  In your opnion, have things gotten better?  worsened?

FIRST OF ALL, I’M ASSUMING YOU MEANT HOLLYWOOD WHEN YOU SAY THE ACTING WORLD, YES? WELL, IT DEPENDS ON HOW YOU DEFINE BETTER.  IF IT MEANS MORE JOBS; QUANTITY, THEN YES, IT HAS GOTTEN BETTER.  BUT WITH THE EXCEPTION OF JUSTIN LIN’S FILMS, THERE ARE NOT TOO MANY EFFORTS THAT GO INTO HAVING A THREE-DIMENSIONAL ASIAN CHARACTER.  THERE ARE MORE ADVANCEMENTS IN TV, I HAVE TO SAY, MORE EFFORT THERE, WITH SHOWS LIKE LOST – I HAVE NOT WATCHED AMERICAN TV SINCE LOST, BUT I’D LIKE TO THINK THAT CURRENTLY THERE ARE OTHERS. AT THE END OF THE DAY, I’M AN OPTIMIST, SO I HAVE TO SAY THAT THERE ARE SOME ADVANCEMENT, TO SAY THAT THERE ARE ABSOLUTELY NONE WOULD BE TOO EXTREME! IT IS WHAT IT IS, IT’S UNREASONABLE TO EXPECT HOLLYWOOD TO PUT ASIANS IN LEADING ROLES, OR TO PUT SOME SERIOUS EFFORTS INTO WRITING  STRONG ASIAN CHARACTERS. WOULD YOU EXPECT THREE-DIMENSIONAL WHITE CHARACTERS IN LEADING ROLES IN CHINESE FILMS, OR JAPANESE FILMS?

You have quite the extensive background in the martial arts.  What style do you participate in?  How long have you been doing it?  And why do you do it?

I FIRST STARTED STUDYING TAE KWON DO. THEN LEARN TO BOX, WHICH NATURALLY LEAD TO KICKBOXING.  BUT I DIDN’T LEARN TO KICK PROPERLY UNTIL I DISCOVER MUY THAI. BUT MY BIGGEST INFLUENCE WAS GURU DAN INOSANTO AND THE FILLIPINO ARTS THAT HE TEACHES. ALL AND ALL, I HAD STUDIED MARTIAL ARTS FROM THE TIME I WAS 15 TO 35. WHY DO I DO IT? IT WAS THE ONLY PHYSICAL THING I WAS GOOD AT. I COULDN’T PLAY FOOTBALL OR BASKETBALL OR MOST SPORTS, SO MARTIAL ARTS GAVE ME A HOME, A SENSE OF BROTHERHOOD AND FAMILY. AND MOST OF ALL, IT GAVE ME A STRONG FOUNDATION AND A BELIEF THAT I CAN OVERCOME ANY OBSTACLES, WHICH BECAME INVALUABLE THROUGHOUT MY ENTIRE LIFE.

What has been your favorite role in your decades spanning career?

IT’S A DIFFICULT ONE TO ANSWER… IT’S LIKE OF ALL YOUR KIDS WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE?!  FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF CRAFTMANSHIP, I’D HAVE TO SAY LITTLE FISH BECAUSE OF THE CALIBER OF THE PEOPLE I WAS FORTUNATE ENOUGH TO COLLABORATE WITH. I MEAN FROM THE DIRECTOR ROWAN WOODS TO MY AUSTRALIAN CO-STARS CATE BLANCHETT, HUGO WEAVING, SAM NEIL, ETC… I MEAN YOU’RE IN THE RING WITH THE GREATS, SO YOU BETTER BRING ON YOUR BEST OF BEST.  ON A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE, I TREASURE A LITTLE VIETNAMESE FILM I DID CALLED THE LEGEND IS ALIVE. IT WAS POSSIBLY THE MOST RIGOROUS AND MOST CHALLENGING AS WELL AS INFECTIOUS CHARACTER I’VE EVER ATTEMPTED.

How often are you stopped and recognized for your role as Ioki in 21 Jump Street?  Does it grow old?

IF I’VE GOTTEN A DOLLAR EVERY TIME I WAS RECOGNIZED FROM JUMP STREET, I COULD RETIRE NOW! YEAH, IT DOES GET OLD, ONLY BECAUSE FOR SOME REASON I CAN’T FATHOM THE LONGEVITY OF THIS SHOW. I MEAN IT WAS A LONG TIME AGO, AND PEOPLE STILL REMEMBER IT!!!

Tell us a little bit about your upcoming film Saigon, CA.  How did you become involved with Death Row Records?

JUST BY ASSOCIATION I GUESS.  THEY BECAME INTERESTED IN THE PROJECT, AND AT THAT TIME I WAS ALREADY ATTACHED TO IT.  IT’S A LITTLE FILM BASED ON A REAL EVENT OF A COMPUTER CHIPS ROBBERY IN SAN JOSE I BELIEVE.

What sort of projects can we expect to see in the future from your Early Risers Media Group in the near future.  Where did you come up with the name for the company?

IT WAS A BUNCH OF GUYS GETTING TOGETHER SO WE THOUGHT WE DIDN’T WANT A SERIOUS NAME, SO… WE’RE GUYS, SO WHAT DO GUYS GET FIRST THING IN THE MORNING?  HOWEVER, I’M NO LONGER A PART OF EARLY RISERS SO I DON’T REALLY KNOW WHAT THEY’RE GOING TO BE DOING.  WE PARTED WAYS A YEAR AGO DUE TO MANAGERIAL DIFFERENCES.  I, MYSELF, AM IN MID PREP FOR MY DIRECTORIAL DEBUT OF A SCRIPT I WROTE.  IT’S A MARTIAL-ARTS/FANTASY/SERGIO-LEONE KIND OF THING.  IT EXPLORES WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A MAN AND A REAL HERO.  SOME PEOPLE HAVE TRACKED IT AS “MONK ON FIRE”.  I’M THINKING OF MAYBE CALLING IT “ONCE UPON A TIME IN VIETNAM”, DON’T KNOW YET… BUT I’M GOING TO WORRY ABOUT SHOOTING IT FIRST!  WE’RE STARTING THIS NOVEMBER IN VIETNAM.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

THIS VERY QUESTION.

Stay in touch with what Dustin has going on at his Official Website.

Mopreme Shakur [Interview]

The 90’s were a strange and triad time for the world of music.  Much like so many protest about the chaos of 60’s when it came to watching young stars parish far too early, the last decade of the 20th century proved just as tragic, yet inspiring.  Grunge music and gangster rap music burst out into the limelight.  And before the decade was over, the most formidable figure of the grunge music scene took his own life, and we lost two of the finest MC’s to emerge during this chaotic time due to unnecessary violence.  The realities and pain of the world that the era’s musicians felt every day eventually claimed these three lives, and several more who didn’t even receive the same notoriety.

Tupac Amaru Shakur was gunned down 16 years ago to this very day.  His dead began the symbolic statement that something had to change in the way artists were living and creating.  Unfortunately, the message was reached in time to save the life of Christopher Wallace, a.k.a.  The Notorious B.I.G.  Both what can be said for both of these slain artists is that they not only left a strong legacy behind, they left some wonderful friends and family who continue to support the life and work of their slain brother.

And few very truly exemplify the treasures that their family left behind that Tupac Shakur’s own step brother, Mopreme Shakur.  Mopreme is a talent all in his own right.  The son of famed freedom fighter Mutulu Shakur, brother of one of the most notorious rappers in the music’s history, and most of all, and amazingly talented artist all on his own.  You heard him along with Tupac throughout his short career.  You knew him as a member of Tony Toni Tone.  He was a key figure Pac’s finely developed group Thug Life.  And, of course, the man has never ceased working and producing his own work.  He has a new album out.  He’s celebrating his brother’s legacy at a special performance with The Outlawz, Bone Thugs N Harmony, Nipsey Hustle, and many Swedish musicians and poets.  And if you find yourself in the Las Vegas area, you will find him stealing the stage at the Fiesta Patrias celebration sponsered by Hennessey.

Mopreme is a figure of the hip hop game who has proved his own independence, but has never ceased to detach himself from the legacy that his brother and his inspirational father created before and alongside him.  For the true fans who remember the days when hip hop reign supreme, Mopreme Shakur will be the perfect example for anyone looking to remember the good old days.

I managed to steal a few words with Mopreme just hours before he boarded a jet across the glove directed at Stockholm.  Sit back listen to the man spit his thoughts on today’s music, his influences, and what the future has in store.

What is your relationship today with the remaining members of The Outlawz and Thug Life?  Do you work with them very much these days?   

We are like family, we don’t run together like we used to, but when we see each other it’s love.  The Outlawz have grown up and have families now so everyone is doing their own thing.  The Outlawz are opening for me at an event in Sweden this Thursday, 9/13.

After over 20 years in the business, what is your current view of the hip hop world today and the artists who embody it?  

I believe Hip Hop here in the US has been watered down and censored. I believe that after Pac and Biggie, the powers that be were scared to death and decided to censor and stifle certain artists and types of music, messages and themes.  Or the machine makes it financially impossible for an indie artist to get some light.  This was already happening before the whole music business shrunk from digital impacting the business of music.  The bubblegum artists get the big machine, but they often sacrifice their message.  The machine has totally immobilized some artists and nearly all reality rap, aka Gangster rap.  At the same time, globally, these same artists are not being censored due to the internet.  Fans are still getting it raw and uncut, and are still able to enjoy it the way they wish.  The labels have less control of distribution in the digital space, but artists have a harder time making a living because the internet hasn’t proven that it can protect artists from having to give their craft away for free.

What would you say are the Top 5 influential albums of all time?  Why? 

I would have to say six. Sugar Hill Gang (Rapper’s Delight), Paid in Full, Criminal Minded, Raising Hell, Public Enemy, All Eyez on Me.  All mark the heights of Hip Hop culture and are our best artists.

What would you say is your fondest personal memory or accomplishment thus far from a creative perspective?

Performing “Keep Your Head Up” on stage with my brother when we toured.

Your father’s life, struggles, and incarceration are world renowned.  How would you say your father has influenced you as a man?  An artist?  

My father is still one of the most impressive people I have ever known. His accomplishments and his struggles inspire me constantly. I always seek to accomplish with my music what he accomplished in his life: to mean something as well as to have fun.

Do you and your father have plans to work together artistically upon his release?  

We do have several projects planned when he is released. He is going to be very busy.  Book, film, as well as television and music projects. All are the family business.

Word is that you will be making your acting debut in Lyndon Howard’s upcoming film 3 Day Notice starring Noel Gugliemi and featuring fellow musicians Yung Joc and Bobby Valentino.  What will you playing?  And what inspired you to move over to acting? 

I have been casted for the project but don’t know when it will come out. I will be playing a cousin to a hilarious character.

What else does the future hold for Mopreme Shakur? 

My mantra is to stay positive and progressive. That’s what I do. I am trying to do a film about my life story, I’m writing my book, working on a television pilot for Fuse Network, with another series in development. It don’t stop!  The Hollywood shuffle baby!

What was the last thing that made you smile? 

My wife and my daughter always make me smile.

Learn more about what Mopreme Shakur has going on by visiting his Official Website.

R.I.P. Tupac Amaru Shakur
June 16th 1971 – September 13th 1996

Chuck Klosterman [Interview]

Trainwreck’d Society has managed to draw in some very fine actors, writers, musicians, etc. to share a few words with us.  But, what happens when we ask a modern messiah of the world we pretend to be a part of on a daily basis to say a few words?  Well we just might find out that despite an effervescent presence to so many, maybe they are just like the rest of us!
Chuck Klosterman may not be a name that the average person gets too excited about, if they know of him at all.  But for music nerds and journalism enthusiasts alike, he ranks supreme.  Even if you aren’t a vinyl collecting, Starbucks swilling hipster, you have probably read his work.  In fact, if you’ve ever read a single article in Spin, GQ, The Washington Post, and on and on, the odds are in his favor that you have read his words.  All of this on top of the fact that he has penned 7 books including novels, essays, and a hilarious memoir/history of glam memoir.
To be frank, it was pretty nerve racking to come up with questions to ask this cat.  I’ve been doing the music blogging thing for about 4 years now, which is probably just enough time to become comfortable with associating with or around musicians, but to still feel grateful for their existence.  But, this guy?  If you were given the chance to talk to one of the founding fathers of the profession you pretend to be in on a daily basis, what the hell would you ask them?  Interviews are a part of this man’s way of life.  He is the master of his trade.  Or at the very least, he actually gets paid to do it!  While hopeful degenerates such as myself continue to wallop in the muddy waters of semi-professional blogosphere, guys like Klosterman continue to reign supreme as one of the real creators of the majestic words.  Chuck is one of the last great successors of pop culture journalism to come out of the wood works, and sadly will probably be one of the last.  One of the last writers to come out just as the internet was becoming the number one source for everything, but before we relied heavily on a social media outlet to get “news”.  For better or worse, times have changed since Chuck released his first book in 2001.  Thankfully though, we still have legends like himself around to keep the whole scene grounded.  Let’s hope he doesn’t give up on us, as we as a collective seem give up on something that was once so pure and beautiful.
Alright, soapbox is gone!  Now, sit back web based fans and check out what the legendary journalist Chuck Klosterman has to tell us about journalism, Germany, and so much more.  Enjoy!
What initially drew you into the world of journalism?  Hunter? Lester Bangs?
Oh, neither of those guys. I was just the kind of teenager who always read the newspaper, so when I went to college I majored in journalism, mostly because it seemed like a field of study that led to a definable job (i.e., you got a degree in journalism and subsequently became a journalist). I was naturally interested in writing and talking to people, so it worked out. I had absolutely no idea who Lester Bangs was when I was in college. I’d read some Hunter Thompson books and really liked them, but I never thought to myself, “I want to be like this person.” Although I must admit: There is no better person to be compared to than Hunter Thompson, even if that comparison is totally inaccurate. Because the moment that happens, people start giving you free drugs.
It’s been a decade sing your first book was released.  How long did it take for the shell shock to wear off when you realized you are now a famous journalist.  Did you ever realize a journalist could still be a celebrity?
I have no idea how to answer this question. What basically happens is this: You go through a phase where people suddenly ask, “How does it feel to be famous?,” and you invest a lot of time and effort into denying that this is true. You exaggerate the degree to which it is uncomfortable, and you act totally shocked my the accusation. But then you eventually realize that the only people who get asked that question are people who are already semi-famous, so you kind of conclude, “Well, I guess that happened.” And then you try to stop thinking about it, because it seems so idiotic. But you never really do.
You have been quoted as saying “it’s better to be known for one thing than for nothing”.  If you’re career didn’t become so diverse in subject matter, and it all ended today?  What would you want to be your “one thing” to be remembered for?   
That’s a difficult question. Maybe DOWNTOWN OWL or this story. [http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/6625899/three-man-weave] But it will probably end up being my participation in that LCD Soundsystem documentary, assuming they eventually start showing it on TV. Television defines people far more than writing; this is why appearing on television is dangerous.
Journalism or fiction: which is more difficult to create? 
Journalism is a reactive art form. Fiction is a creative art form. I would say fiction is at least twice as difficult.
What is the most interesting and/or frightening experience you have had in your career?
The way people reacted to SEX, DRUGS AND COCOA PUFFS.
What are your thoughts on hapless bloggers (such as myself) trying to move into the world of music journalism with little to no experience?
Go for it. It’s a good way to make a living. If you enjoy thinking about music and writing about ideas, there isn’t a better lifestyle. You might not get rich, but what kind of person  believes they deserve to be rich? Only people who were born that way to begin with.
Wikipedia informed me that you spent a summer as the Pcador Guest Professor for Literature at the University of Leipzig.  How did a summer in Germany treat you?  Enlightening in some way?  What exactly were you doing abroad?
That was a goofy four months. I was asked to teach two classes at the University of Leipzig. I’m still not sure whose idea this was. One class was on 20th century popular culture. The other was just a regular creative writing class. I somehow overlooked the difficulty of living in a country where I did not speak the language. I rode my bike a lot. I ate a lot of spaetzle and rotisserie chicken. The students were smart and super-interesting. They were both obsessed and repulsed by the U.S. They would argue that America has no actual culture, yet they were unilaterally fascinated by hip-hop and David Foster Wallace. I showed them an episode of FAMILY TIES and it blew their minds. They had a lot of questions.
How do you choose the publications you write for?  Is there a criteria a magazine or paper must meet in order to have you appear in their pages?
Everything is situational. I can sometimes be convinced to write anywhere for free. But the two main criteria is my specific level of interest and the amount I’m being paid. “I just work here, man.” I’m no different than anyone else.
Considering that your words are holier than Truthspeak to so many musicheads and wannabe music writers across the globe, I have to ask:  Is it officially “okay” to have your music featured in advertisements?  Was it always actually “okay”?
Selling a song to a commercial does not change the reality of the music whatsoever. The song is still the song. However, there’s a certain kind of serious, judgmental music fan who will always view a song differently if it’s used in an advertisement, and that person will subsequently question the motives of the musician. So the real question an artist needs to ask themselves is, “Do I care what serious, judgmental strangers assume about my artistic intentions?” And I think the answer for most rational people is, “Sort of.”
Also in your obviously professional opinion, what city do you consider the epicenter of rock and roll music today?
Some place I’ve never been before.
What was the last thing that made you smile?
Either my wife or Hannibal Buress.
Chuck Klosterman is also a sports nut!  Check out sports related column at Grantland.com.  Also check out the trailer for Shut Up And Play The Hits, an LCD Soundsystem documentary Chuck has had a big part in.   Learn more at his he website.  His latest book, The Visible Man is available now from Simon and Schuster.

Anna-Lynne Williams [Interview]

Anna-Lynne Williams as demonstrated time and time again that she is one of the greatest talents out their singing today.  All with the humbleness and grace of a precious little bird, she tells tales of love and loss and all things sacred, just from a few notes and a few simple strums of a guitar.  Whether as a solo act (Lotte Kestner), or alongside Matt Brown (Trespassers William), or with fellow art smith Robert Gomez (Ormonde), Williams has proven to be one of the hardest working women in the indie music world.  And not only does she produce, she produces magic!

Last her second album as Lotte Kestner album came out which truly rocked the earth.  It was truly original, inspiring, and innovative beyond belief.  And yet, ironically, it was a cover album.  Stolen was a collection of cover songs like you have never heard before.  You may have recognized a Vic Chestnutt or Trashcan Sinatras song from the album (or even the now classic Beyonce cover if you bought the deluxe edition), but you never heard them like this before.  This is what she does.  It seems as though Anna Lynne greatly realizes that to cover another artist does not simply mean to play the song, and hope somebody likes it better or equally.  For her, it means to re invent the wheel each time you do it.  She applies her own personal touch, and makes the song completely her own.  This becomes extremely relevant in her recent cover of that Gotye song that seems to be getting on everybody’s nerves, “Somebody That I Used To Know”, and perfectly exemplified when she re-established the brilliance of Elvis Costello’s “I Want You”.  Yes, she is a craftsman when it comes to the cover song.

But, this year it’s all about the originals!  Trespassers William is no longer available, but we will be fortunate enough to have one more giant release coming soon, A Lotte Kestner album is coming soon, and Ormonde’s Machine (check out the music video for “I Can’t Imagine, directed by Gomez himself, here)is already out and thriving and contending to be one of the greatest albums of 2012 (check out my review from Fensepost.com).  You can also catch her randomly performing across Seattle with the excellent band, Ghosts I’ve Met, and she also happens to be featured on Seattle MC and fellow Trainwreck’d interviewee Sadistik’s new album!

Obviously, Ms. Williams is a very busy woman these days.  So, we are very fortunate that she was willing to take the time out of her busy life to swap a few words with us.  I have had the pleasure of communicating and working with her for the better part of two years now, and I have always made it a point to introduce her music to any and everyone who appreciates brilliant musicianship.  And so should you!  So, sit back and bask in the brilliance that is Anna-Lynne Williams.  Enjoy!

What brought you from SoCal up to the rainy city of Seattle so many years ago?

Everyone in Trespassers William had been born and raised in California, and we were all ready to see another part of the world (or coast, at least). We had just signed to Nettwerk and decided to record our next album (Having) somewhere new. We voted and settled on Seattle, and at that point we decided to quit our day jobs and just stay in Seattle after we finished the album. It was a toss up between Portland and Seattle, at that point it really didn’t seem to make much difference, we just wanted to move somewhere different, cooler, north. Seemed like a good climate for our music and our personalities. Of course decisions like that end up guiding your whole life, but at the time it just seemed like a question of backdrop.

You recently suffered a serious hand injury.  How are you feeling?  And how is the guitar playing going these days?

Yeah I ruptured a tendon, and it ended up almost paralyzing my arm last summer, the long term effects lingering in my hand.  I spent a few months unable to move around or do much, which affected me in a lot of deep ways besides just not being able to play the guitar. I went through a cycle of physical therapy, tried to ease back into the guitar in the winter, but I still haven’t really healed up. It’s so much better than it was that my general feeling is relief, but I have given up the guitar for the most part. I just play for a few minutes at a time if it’s for something important, like recording. I’ve taken to leaning more on my voice and my wurlitzer. And other people.

How did you come up with your surrname Lotte Kestner?

I love Goethe’s “Sorrows of Young Wether.” Lotte was a character in the book, and Charlotte Kestner was the woman who inspired the character. It’s a great sounding name so I borrowed it.

You appeared on the The Chemical Brother’s amazing album Push The Button, which was certified Gold.  Where do you keep your Gold Record?  Any significance?

That’s funny that you ask that, I do in fact have one and it’s in my kitchen in a sort of out of the way place. But we inadvertently got it in a shot in the homemade Ormonde video and I was worried someone would spot it and think I was showing off. 🙂 Being an artist for a living is a bizarre thing, every week you have to juggle crushing insults with excessively generous compliments. You learn to believe something in between the two.

How did your new duo with Robert Gomez, Ormonde, come to life? 

Robert and I met in a recording studio in Texas, had some friends in common, ran into each other a few more times while I was in town. We exchanged cds and must’ve listened to each other a lot, because we both became convinced we should make an album together. We have a lot of the same sentiments in our music, but none of the same weapons.  So it was exciting and natural to merge. I think we saved each other from our writer’s block and spent a full month together making an album in a rented house. I came out of a chrysalis.

If you were chosen to sing the national anthem for a major sporting event, what would be your choice of sporting event?  Why?

I would probably have a heart attack. 🙂 Do they do the national anthem at tennis matches? Maybe that.

You’ve had much of your music featured in film and television.  What has been your favorite to date?

“Different Stars” in A Love Song For Bobby Long is probably the most prominent and fitting placement we’ve had. That was really lovely. I’m also really excited to see Pin-Up Dolls on Ice when it comes out because Robert and I actually wrote a song for the movie, which I’ve never done before.  It’s a horror film.

So, I hear we are fortunate enough to get one more dose of Trespassers William this year.  What would that be?

Yeah, Cast is coming out on Saint Marie Records in a matter of days. On New Years Day I announced that the band was breaking up, and to soften the blow for us and for listeners I put some unreleased material up on bandcamp. That’s when Saint Marie offered to release the songs properly,  said we could make a whole double disc affair of it. So we took everything down that was floating about on line and compiled our favorite rarities, and recorded a few brand new tracks.

Ormonde (w/ Robert Gomez)

And Lotte Kestner?  When will we hear a follow up record from your solo project?

The album is very finished and ready, and I’ve got a long play EP done as well. I’ve been nesting on them for a while, waiting for the Ormonde and Trespassers William to come out and have their proper moments. And artwork and videos and other things that can slow things down. But they should both be out very early next year. I can’t wait. The Bluebird of Happiness album is very much a best of times/worst of times sort of album. There’s a lot of love on it, of the hopeful variety, and then there’s all the agony of giving up guitar and not being able to get out of bed on there too. Last year was a big one for me, and that’s when I wrote all those songs.

Your label Saint Loup Records is over a year old now!  What else can we expect to be released in the near future?

Well, since some bigger labels came along I decided to put out all my main releases in the traditional fashion this time around, labels and PR companies and everything. But I’ll be releasing my EP myself. Almost as an experiment. And because it feels good to do things with your own hands sometimes.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

A picture of my new nephew.

Discover more Anna Lynne goodness at her Lotte Kestner tumblr.  Discover more releases at the website for Saint Loop Records, and pick up Ormonde’s new album from Hometapes. Also, be sure to watch for new releases via Saint Marie Records as well!