Taking a Seat to Make a Stand with ACLU Texas

In the past few months, we’ve been fortunate enough to work with amazing creatives who support worthy causes, like Secret’s “No Stress Test” supporting transgender women and Avocado and Coconut’s short films encouraging people to get involved in the global Women’s March movement. Most recently, our friends at GSD&M and five-time Academy Award-nominated director Richard Linklater teamed up to help the ACLU of Texas and Legacy Community Health spread a message of equality, and we’re honored to be a part of it.  

The film takes the viewer through the GSD&M bathrooms, shadowing a range of different people saying, “I pee with LGBT” and urging them to “take a seat to make a stand” against Texas’s Senate Bill 6, which would prohibit transgender people from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. Featuring “Midtown Maxi” by Ron Lewis and “It’s a Good Life” by Sea of Cortez, the video takes a lighthearted approach to a serious issue, while aiming to glean support for the LGBT community and encourage opposition of the Bathroom Bill. Check out the full campaign below.

Posted on February 21, 2017 .

18 Songs You Need in Your Life Today

Mondays are hard, we get it. Luckily, we’ve got a lot of the one thing that can make them a little easier -- new music. Including songs from Norway’s newest breakout electropop band, Hajk, calm crooning from Mountains Etc. and contagiously fun British dance anthems from N.A.I.V.E.S, this curated mix of new songs is the perfect way to kick start your week. Go on and hear for yourself and enjoy.

Posted on February 20, 2017 .

Behind the Scenes with 'Lucia, Before and After' Filmmaker, Anu Valia

This year, 34 percent of all films screened at Sundance were directed by women — one of these being Anu Valia. This was somewhat of a milestone for the film industry, which is often criticized for being male-dominated, especially when it comes to directors. Valia’s story is especially remarkable. Not only is she a female director, but her film, Lucia, Before and After, showcases a female protagonist and focuses on a women’s issue — and it won “Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction” at the famed festival.

We were fortunate enough to catch up with Valia and chat about her road to success, the making of her award-winning film and what’s next for the up-and-coming director.

 


Anu Valia on set of Lucia, Before and After.

Anu Valia on set of Lucia, Before and After.

To start out, I know that you also have experience with acting. What’s your background in filmmaking, acting and writing, and how did you end up doing all three?

Anu Valia: I have really always wanted to be a filmmaker. I went to NYU and studied film at Tisch...I've always wanted to be a filmmaker, and I just have loved all sorts of films and wanted to be able to make them...

I think people are interested in multiple things. I don't think you self identify as one thing. I think it's just the world that puts you in different categories -- like, “Oh they're a filmmaker, they're an actor, etc.”

I really enjoy acting a lot, I just I feel like I only have the capacity to pursue one thing at a time professionally. I do act when I can and when I'm asked to, but I really have been trying to focus on writing and directing.

Do you feel like your experience in acting has informed your process of writing and directing at all?

Definitely, but acting and directing are two things, so there's no, one singular correct way to do it. While acting has helped me as a director -- or it just helped me maybe understand certain ways to approach scenes -- every actor is different and every director is different. Something I do as an actor is something another actor doesn't do. I think it's actually more helpful to just be open and be open to what each project really means.

Let’s talk about Lucia. What is the story behind this film? What inspired you to make it?

As a woman growing up in Indiana -- a place that has pretty restrictive women's reproductive rights -- It's always something I've been really interested in. Then, a few years ago, I started writing this feature script called We Strangers, about a woman who's trying to get an abortion.

I was doing research for that and finding out how different it is for different women in different states, how the law is different in each state, and the small, very specific stories and how they affect actual people. They say “Roe vs Wade, abortion is legal in America,” but there are certain states where it basically feels like it's not legal. It's so hard to get abortion or the rules make you feel ashamed or dissuaded to even get one.

I've been writing this feature for a couple of years. I got really focused on this very specific law in Texas and some other states called “informed consent law.” Basically, when you go to get an abortion, you have to have a sonogram. Then, 24 hours after the sonogram, you come back for your abortion.

From my own health care experiences, going back and forth to the doctor is so tiring. As an artist, I have maybe a little bit more free time in the day than other people have. It's just so hard to multiple visits into a nine to five schedule.

The short [Lucia, Before and After] came out of zeroing in on what is it like if you've traveled hundreds of miles to a clinic, and then you're made to wait. What does that look like?

Was it challenging fitting in everything that you wanted to say in under 20 minutes?

I'm a big fan of using whatever medium you want to explore or express your ideas through. There is a longer version of this specific story that I do want to tell in the future, but this very specific, focused idea on waiting -- it should have been short in my opinion.

Was this your first film that premiered at Sundance?

Yeah. It's nuts. It's crazy. I think that anybody who makes films in America, or internationally, is always secretly hoping you get into Sundance. When you don't get in, you remind yourself that that’s not the only reason you make films. Then to get in was a complete surprise.

To win this award was not only a surprise, but it was so exciting as a female filmmaker making a film about an issue that affects women and men... and then being Indian American. It was very exciting. It's hard for me to wrap my head around. It was very exciting.

Did you notice a lot of other female filmmakers and female-centered films or did you feel like yours was unique in that way?

Actually, something I noticed that was really encouraging and exciting was that the two other films that won the Documentary Shorts Awards and then the International Fiction award were both written and directed by women.

That's such a hopeful thing. I thought that the topics that were covered -- at least in the shorts programs -- were such a wide array of topics. There was a short that dealt with sexual assault on the subway. The doc short that won dealt with a woman having to live her life without her boyfriend, who was in jail. There were a lot of female stories. I think women were really celebrated at this year's festival, which was necessary.

Aside from what you talked about of wanting to offer an vignette into somebody's life and how certain laws affect actual humans, do you have a broader message that you hoped to get across with your film?

Yeah, I feel like all filmmakers have a different way of how they want to approach narrative storytelling. I really want to focus on characters and human's actual stories as opposed to issues that they represent.

I feel like, once someone's turned into an issue, they lose their humanity. They're just like, “this is an abortion story. You are a woman who needs an abortion.” No, you're a woman who has a job, loves somebody, is in a fight with someone else and is really struggling to get her screen door fixed. There's a lot more going on in a person's story than the one thing they're going through. I just think movies can either reduce a person to an issue or they can include that issue into the wider story of someone's complete character.

I really want to do the latter. I want to make sure everything I make is focused on characters, humans and the complexity of human emotion. That's so much more interesting to me than one issue.

One thing that I really like about Lucia was how a lot of the soundtrack was made from more natural sounds, like the whispering and breathing. Can you talk a little bit about that and how you chose to go that route instead of using traditional music or soundtrack?

That was actually a lengthy conversation with my composer and my sound designer. The film also features the body in so many different ways, like visually intimated moves with the body. We hear the body making noises. In the film, she's speaking to herself, making noises in her mouth as she's driving around. Our sound designer really liked that and he elevated that and used that to transition into scenes in an interesting way.

Our composer really picked up on that. His name's Jay Wadley, he's really great. He really loved this whole theme of the body. He loved the humming, the whispering, the patting on the knees. He used that to create this cacophony of sounds that layer on top of each other. That was used as musical transitions because we didn't want to have a traditional score, but I wanted to have musical transitions to separate our vignettes and to emulate the process of driving across country and looking, seeing all these things outside your window.

Our temp music was based off of Evelyn Glennie. She's a deaf composer who works a lot with percussion. We used that as a jumping off point.  

When you make a film, do you always work with the sound designer and composer or do you license music?

I always work with a sound designer. This is the first time I ever worked with a composer. Before that, we usually licensed music. I just haven't had the luxury of having a composer. It's hard with licensing if you don't have a big budget. It's been hard for me to get too much music.

I'm excited to be able to play around with composed music and licensed music. I like a mix of both, because I feel like there are places in film for a composed score that takes you along the ride, but there are times when you just want to hear a song that will bring you into it. Just like in your life, you want to hear that great song that's on the jukebox. Then you play it and it's great.

I feel this about all art. It's so much about whatever makes the thing that you're viewing and experiencing the best it can be. Sometimes it's composed music, sometimes it's licensed music.

I know you talked about how Lucia was inspired by a feature film that you're working on. Are you still planning on working on that feature film and releasing it? What's it going to be about?

Yeah. Now that I'm back and I can really concentrate on this feature, We Strangers, I've been writing for a couple of years. It's much more about the complexities of human nature than the short is. Also, because it's a feature film, you have more time to explore people.

It follows this young motel cleaner who is trying to earn enough money for an abortion, but while she’s earning that money, she keeps increasing in her term, so her abortion becomes more expensive. That's the through line that takes us through the film. While she's going through this, the relationships between her mother, her best friend and her new coworker at the motel, they all begin to change.

The film is really about these four women and how they struggle to interact with each other. It's just focusing on the lives of these four women. That's what I'm trying to make.

A lot of your films focus on female protagonists. Is that just a coincidence or do you try to make an effort to highlight the lives of women?

I think when you're starting out, you write what you know. I'm a woman, and I go through the world as a woman, so it’s just a very natural thing for me to write about. I would love to write more men, but I just don't know what it's like to be a man. We all grow up in a patriarchal society, so you can assume, but I don't know what it's like to be in a room with all men and one woman, then the woman leaves and the dynamic shifts a little bit. I don't know what it's like because I've never been a man in a room full of men. At some point I'm sure I'll write more complex men, but it's not as easy for me.

What is the project that you've had the most fun working on?

Well, actually, I know it doesn't really seem like it, but I do work on a lot of comedies. I direct this series called Womanhood that stars Aparna Nancherla and Jo Firestone, two really funny comedians. It was created by Julie Miller. That show is almost completely improvised. It's so funny.

I've ruined so many takes laughing. You can hear me laughing very, very faintly in the background in some of the episodes. That show, it's such a blast. It's about being a woman too, but it's such a different take on it. I have never had more fun doing anything else than that show.

Posted on February 16, 2017 .

Happy Valentines Day from Onry Ozzborn

Not to be confused with The Prince of Darkness, Onry Ozzborn is is a Seattle-based hip-hop artist making a name for himself in his own right. Originally from Farmington, New Mexico, Onry co-founded the Seattle hip-hop collective, Oldominion, and has since released a number of collaborative albums under the names Grayskul and Norman, to name a few.

Today, Ozzborn gives us the gift of a different kind of of valentine — a dark, apocalyptic music video, celebrating the release of his upcoming album, c v p ii d. The film, + h 3 B1RTH of c v p ii d, combines Ozzborn’s reinvention of the classic mascot of love with his portrayal of the relationship between man and woman. Set to a compilation of songs from his new record (including “Contractions,” "They're There," “Bed Bugs” and “The Pits”), the video follows Ozzborn through dystopian Seattle streets, weaving vignettes of personal relationships into a broader narrative about the complexity of human nature. See the full music video below and listen to Onry Ozzborn’s full Marmoset songography here.

Posted on February 14, 2017 .

Remembering the Crown Prince of Reggae, Dennis Brown

On February 1st, we celebrated what would have been Dennis Brown’s 60th birthday. Passing away in 1999 at age 42, Brown falls within the ranks of legendary artists that left us much too soon -- but not before gifting us with a prolific body of work and inspiring countless artists in his wake. Deemed The Crown Prince of Reggae by the genre’s golden child, Bob Marley, Brown’s career started at age 12, in his hometown of Kingston, Jamaica, when he recorded his first song, “No Man is an Island.” After that, Brown went on to record more than 75 albums and achieve international success, comprised of multiple UK tours, deals with A&M Records and RAS Records and Grammy nominations for his albums Light My Fire and Let Me Be the One.


Known for his incredible voice, Brown’s carefree, vibrant legacy lives on in his music and all of the artists he touched along the way -- including Whitney Houston, Bob Marley and Slightly Stoopid, to name a few. We’re honored to represent a small piece of his iconic songography and spread the contagious joy and good vibes embodied in his work.

Posted on February 13, 2017 .

Artist Spotlight: Tigers in the Sky

Music has a way of bringing people together. For Lionel DeGuzman and Casey Lui, it all started in high school, writing a song together about To Kill A Mockingbird. From then on, they were inseparable. Under the band name, Tigers in the Sky, the duo writes bright folk-pop, influenced by the easy vibes and pedal-steel swells native to their home state of Hawaii.

Currently spreading their roots in their new home of Long Beach, California, we caught up with Casey and Lionel to chat about their story, what’s next for Tigers in the Sky, and the joys and pains of creating with your significant other. Enjoy.


How did you end up making music together?

Lionel DeGuzman: I started playing music just by myself. When I was 13, I got my first guitar. I used to be really into acoustic songs. I think I learned all of Jack Johnson's music -- that was the first thing I tried to do.

Then, when I was in high school, a friend of mine played the drums. He played the djembe all the time. That's when I had my first experience writing music with a friend. I always did it in my spare time. It wasn't something I was pursuing, it was just something that I had fun doing.

Casey Liu: Lionel really always loved to play music. I think he wrote more and performed more mostly because people made him and wanted to.

LD: The first time we played music together was for a class project she did. We had to write a song. We wrote a song about -- what was the book?

CL: It was To Kill a Mockingbird. It was a school project where we had to write a song about or based on To Kill a Mockingbird. I can only write love songs, personally. So, I was like, I want to write a love song, but there's not really romance in To Kill a Mockingbird, obviously.  I chose to write about Dill and Scout, which were these two kids who had this really odd friendship. It was cute. So, we wrote this song about it.

LD: We sang a duet.

CL: I was 16. I played it for my class -- I didn't tell them that it was me or my boyfriend -- It just was anonymous. They really were shocked.

LD: They kind of liked it. It was pretty funny.

What was the song called?

CL: It was called “Dill and Scout: A Love Song” -- It was super lo-fi garage band. We wrote it on her porch.. That’s when we fell in love.

LD: A lot of music started right on her porch. It's where a lot of it came to fruition. It's funny.

CL:  Yeah. Personally, I wouldn't consider myself a musician. I think a big reason why I even play music is because he one day came home from California and just told me we were going to be in a band together. Because I would play and write little songs, but I had never performed. I never saw myself as a performer or musician. He just worked it out for me.

It's taken me a lot more and a lot longer than him. I feel like he is a lot more natural as a musician, but I do it because I enjoy doing it with him.

LD: Yeah, we just have fun together.

Going off that, Casey, you were saying Lionel really encouraged you with your music, and to sing in front of people and write. What does that process look like now, when you two write music together?
 

CL: It changes pretty often, our writing process.

LD: Yeah, our band is changing because sometimes we'll go through periods where I'll write all the music, and then I'll write Casey's part and she'll sing. But then lately, we just get together at night when we're all done with our work and--

CL: We'll just play.

LD: Yeah, we'll just play. We'll just jam songs out until we come across something that really strikes.

CL: It depends on the season of life we're in. I also do photography, and I have a bunch of random things I do. For a long time, music was last priority to me because I didn't feel like I was talented enough -- I don't know. It just wasn't the forefront of my life. So, a lot of time he was writing the music. Lately, I think, I've been a lot more intentional about playing music and making time for music. Now, we just hang out and bounce ideas off of each other.

Sometimes, it's just me really psyched on something he's written. I won't even have anything to do with it, but I'll just make him record it.

LD: It's a team effort.

That's awesome. Do you think that your style of music has evolved since you started Tigers in the Sky?

CL: Yes, especially moving to California. That's been huge for our growth as artists.

LD: Yeah, I think we just heard different kinds of music. We're just inspired by other things that we haven't seen. I think that's affecting the way that we see the world and the way that we interpret it, so that changes our music.

CL: Yeah, I think growing up in Hawaii, music used to come late to us. We're always the last. Folk music came at the back end of it. So, we started writing folk music.

LD: We really were inspired by it in Hawaii. I remember never hearing it before.

CL: Yeah, and being on an island, a lot of Golden Lights, our first album, songs were really inspired by travel, getting out of your comfort zone, and being a kid. Being from an island really influenced that. It's just this big world we're writing about.

Do you think any of the music that is traditionally associated with Hawaii influenced your music starting out?

LD: Yeah, for sure. That laid back, acoustic guitar sound, that's what I really was drawn to because I heard it all the time. It was on the radio.

CL: I think people from Hawaii really appreciate music that makes you dance and music that makes you happy. I think reggae music is something that you hear so much in Hawaii that, to us, we were almost--

LD: I thought it came from Hawaii. Growing up, I thought that was just a sound from our island.

CL: Yeah, it's just because you hear it so much and because it's so common, it almost is a turnoff, or was a turnoff to us.

LD: Not a turnoff. You just become numb to it. I stopped being able to appreciate it.

You mentioned that you get together at the end of the day and start playing music after you're done your work. How do you navigate that balance, between work and music?

LD: I think I'm just passionate about it. So, it's not hard to make time for it.

CL: Music has always been something we've done just because we enjoy it. We moved from Hawaii to California for a bunch of reasons. He wanted to skate; I wanted to travel and take photos. But also, we both really wanted to put out music. We knew that we had to come to California, or just away from Hawaii, to play music.

Do you think being in a band together and writing music while also being a couple creates more challenges? What is that like?

LD: It probably creates more challenges.

CL: I feel like because we're a couple, and we've been together since we were 16, when we write music, I'm pretty critical. Not normally will a band member just tell another band member, "I hate it." Because we're so close, I'll just be, like, "Nah."

But when I'm really psyched about something, I won't shut up about it. I swear. He just wrote this other song last week and I recorded it yesterday. I feel like I've listened to it in front of you 50 times within the last 24 hours.
 

LD: Yeah, for sure. But then, also just being a couple, of course that presents challenges because of being critical of each other. But it's all in good fun.

CL:  Yeah. We grow faster, I think, because of that, though. I grow faster as a musician because Lionel will tell me exactly where it is that I'm falling short, or what I can improve on without me being offended, or thinking he's trying to hurt my feelings. I know that it's well-intentioned. With other band members, sometimes you have to think about how to do it and how to say it without hurting feelings.


What do you two have planned for this year?

CL: We want to press vinyl and CDs. It's a little bit of an investment, so I think we're just trying to devote more time to making merchandise and perfecting our performance.

LD: At the moment, we're still writing music -- we always are. I think in a little bit, we're going to start recording again. We just want to start putting out more merchandise this year. We're going to have some music videos coming out, too.

Posted on February 10, 2017 .