Monday, July 16, 2012

Port Jefferson Patch's First Impressions Artist Series

This week a portion of my year-long photo diary shown above (week 13) was chosen for the Port Jefferson Patch's First Impressions Artist Series in which local artists show work and the community reponds to them.  You can click on the image above to see a larger version and check out the project on the Patch!

Interview with musician Pat Grossi of Active Child

I recently chatted with Pat Grossi, aka Active Child, about his musical career—from singing in choirs and chilling with Snoop Dog and Dr.Dre in his youth, to currently eking out a living through touring, remixes, and oh yeah, actual albums.

I read a lot about you doing the choral thing when you were younger. Was it religious, or was it just a public chorus? What was that experience like?

Well, it wasn’t religious at all. I was just singing in my school choir. The director of that choir inspired me to try out for this bigger choir in Philadelphia, because I was living in New Jersey at the time, so I went in and auditioned and got in, and it was amazing. I didn’t really realize how big of a deal it was until I had been in it for about a year. It was kind of a big choir, a hundred boys my age—I was nine years old when I got in—and then there was about seventy-five in the chorale, men who sang bass, baritone, tenor. I mean, we toured the world for four years. I traveled to Australia, South Africa, Europe, and really toured as a performer for the first time, so it was pretty amazing.

That’s really unbelievable as a nine-year-old. That’s amazing. How much did that inspire you to go out and become a musician, you know, having your first couple tours under your belt and an idea of what it was like?

Yeah, it’s funny, I didn’t really think about those days as a touring experience until I started touring with Active Child, and then I started doing a lot of interviews and had questions like this, and it made me really recollect all that stuff and think back on what that was. It was a tour, but I was so young at the time. I grew up, and a lot of the memories from that period kind of just faded away naturally, like a lot of things do, but yeah, definitely, I think it had a massive influence on at least the way I sing now and just the fact that I chose to pursue music in this way. I’m not sure I would be where I am now if I hadn’t been in that choir. Who knows?

Yeah, that makes sense. I read that your dad was working at Priority Records early on, so you had a chance to meet rappers like Snoop and Dr.Dre. Was that around the same time? What was that like for you?

That wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles. My dad was working out of the house in New Jersey for Priority, and then in Hollywood. That’s actually when I left the choir, at age thirteen, then moved to Los Angeles for his job. Once we were out there, it was really flip as far as lifestyle and setting and just everything you know. I went from going to public school to a kind of small private school, and ended up going to his office fairly often in Hollywood, which was pretty cool. You know, I was just this young kid and seeing different artists that I was listening to, like Mack 10 or Ghetto Boys or whoever it was, random artists who don’t really put albums out anymore. I met Bone Thugs, Eminem early on, when he was just getting his sart. It was pretty cool to be into that music, and to be able to connect with artists was a really, really cool experience.

Did you learn a lot from your dad and seeing how a musician’s career works?

You know, I didn’t really get much, as far as that kind of angle on the record industry, until I had record contracts and publishing contracts and lawyers and all of these things falling into my lap once my music starting taking off a little bit. Then he really came in and gave me advice and became my number-one fan, and helper, as far as anything that happened to come in as far as the record industry. He’s been doing this job for thirty-plus years. Still to this day he is my number-one man, other than my manager, of course. We all work hand in hand with whatever is going on, which is great.

That’s great to have that support and that knowledgeable background.

Yeah, it’s amazing because I have my manager, who’s a little bit more my age, and he’s very much on top of what’s current and the reality of the industry now, and my dad’s a little more old school, and so I get a good mixture of both.

Yeah, you might be able to answer this question better than anyone. How much has the industry changed? Active Child is a pretty big name, and you’ve had a lot of success. How difficult is it making a living as a musician?

You know, it’s tough. I always let everyone know that things have changed drastically as far as sales, and it’s just not the same level of people actually going out and buying actual records because everything is digital. When that all changed, the ability to actually make an income from selling your music dropped drastically, and there’s such a tiny fraction of people who can actually pull it off. But you know, there’s still a lot of ways to make it a career and make it financially feasible, and the way that we’ve been doing it, touring nonstop and just playing a lot of shows, trying to build a name. There’s just a massive market for live music, so festivals, obviously, merchandise…There’s all these things. I do a lot of remixing, a great way to keep creative on the road and brush up on production skills and also make a little cash on the side.

But yeah, it’s definitely not easy. I’m not stacking any kind of money in my bank account right now, but I’m definitely surviving, and it’s paying my bills, so I’m happy with that. I’d like to put a couple more zeros in my bank account, but yeah, that might be a little ways off.

You know, you mentioned remixing. One of the things that led me to hear your music in the first place was the Cold War Kids “Louder Than Ever” remix. Who are some of the people you’ve worked with in terms of remixes, and how does it come together?

I’ve done a dozen or more remixes for artists all over the place. I did a recent remix for Julia Stone—she’s kind of a big Australian artist—Anna Cohen, Marina Skyvan, Beta Band, just a lot of different people. It seems like the whole remix world is kind of a polarizing thing with the artists and musicians. Some people are down with it, and they’re cool with the music being remixed, or they are cool with doing remixes. Other people seem very kind of concrete in what they made and they don’t want it touched or reworked in any way or any fashion. I’ve always been very open to having my own work remixed and rethought, and having a chance to rework someone else’s stuff. I just find it interesting. I just have a fun time doing it, and I have a lot of fun listening to what other people have done to my music.

But as far as how it all goes down, I get the e-mail from an artist, or my manager gets an e-mail from someone who is interested and feels like I can do something good with what they’ve got, and we go from there. When I want remixes of my own album, I usually try to put together a list of artists I am listening to or people I think would do something cool or more interesting, and I reach out to them.

When I hear you described, it’s usually “this guy who does this choral thing, and he’s mixing electronic music and harp.” How did you even come about learning to play that these days?

You know, I just approached it the same way I approached playing guitar or any other instrument that I’ve played throughout the years. I was very curious about it, and living in Denver at the time, and I sought one out, went and picked it up, and just taught myself how to play it. I’ve always been pretty adept at picking things up, whether it be a music program or an instrument or whatever and, not necessarily being trained or a mastermind at it, but using it in a way that I think is interesting and that works with the music. Now that I’ve been touring so much, I’ve just grown leaps and bounds from where I started because I play the harp every night and it’s become a big part of my life

That’s cool. One thing I love about your music is it seems to embrace an ’80s pop electronic sound, and it’s funny, because that music gets a little bit of a bad rap these days, and I don’t really know why. How aware were you of an ’80s pop influence when you were figuring out your sound early on?

Yeah, I don’t know. I think maybe it’s gotten a bad name because people look back on it as kind of a novelty. It’s something we can throw on and all laugh and dance to, and have a good time to, but we don’t take it seriously or something.

Yeah, someone like Peter Gabriel was so influential. It’s funny that ’80s pop has such a bad name even though people are ripping it off all the time. It’s crazy.

Yeah, in the future, I will continue to play with those sounds, but really be a little bit more picky in what I choose. I don’t necessarily want to be pigeonholed into this ’80s vibe, which I kinda think I stepped into briefly early on. I don’t know, we’ll see where it goes.

Yeah, I can tell it’s already changed. Your sound has developed from the EP to the full album quite a bit, actually. One thing I wanted to ask is would you ever consider covering one of the classic sort of choral songs, like something you spent all that time singing back in the day? Would you ever do one of your own versions of one of those songs?

Yeah, I’ve been messing with that idea for a long time now, but haven’t seem to put anything together that I like.

I would love to hear it. You seem to know it, and live in both worlds, really well.

There are definitely a few pieces that stick out in my mind that I would like to try to work into the style I’ve kind of created, so hopefully I can put something together. That would be really cool.

Looking forward to it. So I know you are on tour. Where are you right now?

Yeah, we’re wrapping up a five-week tour. We’re actually driving right now to San Francisco. We have a show there tonight, then a show in L.A. on Thursday, and then were done. So we’re finished up here in the US for about three weeks, and then we go to Europe for a couple weeks, and then we’re pretty much wrapped up for this album and can start writing music for the next release.

Oh excellent. Do you have any ideas for the next release? Have you guys been working on the road, just coming up with the stuff, or you’re going to wait, put that off?

I usually don’t do anything on the road, so I’ve been getting a little bit anxious to get home and start diving into some new ideas, new recordings. I really don’t know where it’s going to take me. We’ll see what happens.

For: Kevchino

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

2012 Photo and Art Diary Project: Halfway there

We just passed the mid point of the year and I hit the half way point of my 2012 Photo and Art Diary Project on my way back from Savannah, Georgia where I was attending the Savannah College of Art and Design's Art Educator's Forum (as pictured above in the last week of June and the begining of July).  To see all of the photographs from the project click the link below and follow me on instagram!

Interview with actor/director Rob Reiner

Rob Reiner started acting early in the footsteps of his father Carl and eventually landed the role as Michael ‘Meathead’ Stivic on All In The Family, which earned him two Emmy awards. He went on to develop into a writer and director with a string of Oscar-nominated movies such as: This Is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride, Stand By Me, and A Few Good Men. His new film, The Magic Of Belle Island stars Morgan Freeman and opens in theaters this week.

So I have to start off by asking about Nora Ephron who passed away recently, you are so associated with her because of your work together on When Harry Met Sally so I just wanted to ask you about what it was like working with her and how she’ll be remembered.

Well, she’s going to be remembered as one of the greatest most brilliant observers of men and women and that awkward wonderful dance we do with each other. She was a joy to work with. I mean she’s funny and aside from the fact that she’s brilliant and added so much to all of the work, she was also fun to be with. I mean she made every meal an experience. She ordered just the way Sally did in the movie and she did it one day [while] we were working on the script and we were at lunch and she was ordering like that and I thought- Nora do you see yourself? Look at how you order? I said we gotta put that in the film. I said we gotta make that part of the character and she said ok and we put it in there. When Harry says she orders a meal in a way the chef didn’t know how good it was going to be, that is the way Nora was. She loved to have dinner parties either at her house when she was cooking or at a restaurant and she always loved to order things for people and she loved their reaction to eating them because she got such pleasure out of life. She loved to almost orchestrate each meal, you know, and so you had a great time and a lot of fun and the food was great and the conversation was always good. It was always fun and smart and one of the great thrills was getting an invitation to a Nora Ephron dinner party because you knew you were gonna have a great time and so I miss her for all those reasons.

Ah, that’s fantastic! You know you mention that famous “I’ll have what she’s having” scene from the film, which made an iconic place even more iconic.

Oh Katz’s, you know, you can go to that place, you can sit at that table, there’s a sign there that tells you that table that Harry and Sally ate at.

Yeah, I was there the other day and everyone still comes in and takes pictures with the sign, what made you choose Katz’s?

Oh, I don’t know, it was one of the most famous delis. We always thought we’d do the scene in a deli, you know, just the idea of her faking an orgasm in a public place, and so you know Katz’s is a great famous deli and so we thought we’d do it there.

That’s great. Well one of the things you’re particularly good at is romantic comedies with equal parts romance and comedy and as a man I never feel embarrassed walking into one: When Harry Met Sally and The Princess Bride. Your new movie The Magic of Belle Island is a lot like that, I was wondering, you have a major star in Morgan Freeman and a great young actress Emma Fuhrmann and it seems like it would have plenty of appeal, I was just wondering why it’s an independent film?

Well because this is the kind of movie that studios are not making at all right now. Studios are only interested in big action franchise tent pole kind of movies, comic book type movies with a lot of visual effects and R rated raunchy comedies. I mean basically those are the only two types of films they make, so everything else you either have to finance independently, very low budget like this one was or go and try to sell foreign presales for like, thrillers. You know, the next one I’m gonna do is a thriller and we’ll have to sell all the foreign rights ahead of time to finance it because the studios are not interested in these kind of films anymore, but they get made and people like them. You know for me as a filmmaker I just wanna tell stories and whatever the best way to finance, that’s what I try to do. I’m not trying to say okay, well studios are only interested in this kind of movie so therefore I’m going to make that kind of movie. I would do it if the story was something interesting to me but I like this story because it’s very similar to what I did with The Bucket List. It’s about you know, embracing life when you don’t have, when you think that that’s all life has to offer. It’s about a guy who’s given up and just like the guys in Bucket List, they realize we only have a short time left, so let’s try to live it as best we can. That’s what this is, it’s about a guy who’s given up on life and he learns to live again because he finds these people that live next door to him in this lake side community. To me, when I turned 60, I started becoming very aware of my own mortality and you have to embrace life and unless you’re Shirley MacLaine, you don’t get another shot at this, so that’s why the story interested me and I didn’t really care whether or not studios would make it because to me, I just wanna tell the stories that I want to tell, you know.

Thanks to Netflix I was watching the first season of Saturday Night Live the other day and you’re in one of those first episodes, and it made me realize that you were like “Mr. 70’s” between All in the Family and I know you wrote the first episode of Happy Days and you had all that stuff going on. What was it like at that time? Did you embrace that tremendous fame?
Well, I’ve always tried to. I learned this from my dad and from Norman Lear. They found a way to express themselves through their work and also to, you know, express political ideas and social ideas through the work and outside the work and have the work inform your real life and have your real life inform the work. That’s what I’ve always tried to do and I was lucky to get with All in the Family. You know we did a lot, we got a lot of people talking.

Yeah, that was an amazing show and then you went on into the 80’s to the 90’s with a string of successful films that are just tremendous: Spinal Tap, A Few Good Men, Misery, The American President, and one of my all-time favorites, Stand By Me.

Oh thank you, that’s my favorite of all the ones that I’ve done.

Is it really? I know that you named your production company Castle Rock after Stephen King’s town. What was it like working with Stephen?

You know, he was a pleasure because once we had done Stand By Me he, at the time, he said this was the best thing that had ever been done of his work [and] he was more than happy to work with us and we did Misery after that. We did seven Stephen King movies and he would always go to us first with his projects because he felt it would be in good hands. We did a couple of supernatural things, but most of the pictures we did of his work were more character based you know, Stand By Me and Misery and even though it was a thriller it was more of a character thriller and certainly Shawshank Redemption and Dolores Claiborne and so on. He’s such a brilliant writer, I mean he’s so underrated because you know, I think people get tricked by the fact that there’s horror or there’s supernatural but if you look underneath it all he writes great characters. I mean the dialogue is sensational and the characters are great so we always had a great relationship because he always respected that we were not going to mess up his books.

That’s terrific. That one book of novellas with Stand By Me and Shawshank Redemption is amazing. Those are two of the best films of all time.

And they both come out of the same collection of short stories; those two stories were both in a collection called Different Seasons.

Yeah it’s pretty tremendous. So I wanted to ask you, looking back on your career, you’ve done all these things, you’ve won Emmys, you’ve had the number one TV show, you’ve had all these successful films, what’s your thoughts looking back on your career now, what is your advice?

Well you know, for anybody, try to find something that you really love to do that you are good at and it can’t just be one or the other. In other words, if you are really good at something but you don’t enjoy doing it then don’t do it and you really enjoy doing something but you are not good at it then don’t do it either because you’ll ultimately be unhappy. Find something that you really love doing and your good at it and just do it and follow your own instincts about things, I mean, you can’t look at other people. That’s never going to help. You just have to go your own way. Always find your own way but find the thing that you are really passionate about that you care about and that you are good at and it doesn’t matter what it is and it doesn’t have to be show business, it could be flipping pizzas, I don’t care what it is, if you really enjoy it. Ultimately it is all about process, about the time we spend on the planet, it’s all the journey, it all the getting to, you know, there is no end result to any of it except death you know? So it’s all process so when I make a film or do anything I just want to enjoy what it is that I’m doing, because the experience of making the film is what you look back on. You don’t think about is this good or bad or what is it, did people like it, didn’t like it, the critics they liked it, they didn’t like it, did it get an award, it didn’t get an award. None of that stuff matters because it’s all the process of doing, just doing it, getting up every day and doing this thing and enjoying it if you can, then that’s all there is and then at the end when you’re done then you won’t be doing that anymore.

You know you work as an actor, a director, and as a writer. How different is the process as a creative person? Is it similar in a sense or not really?

Well, I try to take my experiences as an actor, I started as an actor, and try to inform all the work that I do. I don’t ever put an actor in a position that I’m asking him to do something that I knew I couldn’t do. I’m not the best actor in the world, I’m not the worst but I know if I can do it then I know another actor can do it so when I’m working on a script it’s always with that in mind and how it’s ultimately going to be performed. I mean the thing about being a director is you’re like a jack of all trades, a master of none- kind of good at a lot of little things, not great at anything because there’s somebody who can shoot it better, there’s people better with music, there’s people who are better actors, better whatever, but you have a good sense of all of it. You bring your entire life’s experience and all of your abilities to bear on the job and hopefully you have some good instincts and you can make some decisions because that’s what it is, you have a million decisions to make and if you have good instincts then you can do it, you know, you don’t have to be great at any of these things but you have to be kind of good at it or at least have a working knowledge of all these different aspects of film making. I try to bring them all together when I do it and for me acting is just fun, I mean it’s just a fun thing to do, but directing is more all encompassing.

For: Short&SweetNYC