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April 2017

Wingman Wednesday

Echo Kellum

EchoKellum_Wingman_wednesday
Photo Credit: Lesley Bryce

It’s a super terrific day and here’s why. Echo Kellum who plays superhero Mr. Terrific on The CW’s “Arrow” stopped by TrunkSpace to let us pick his brain about his skyrocketing career, including his laugh-inducing work on standup stages across the country where many first fell in love with the Chicago native.

With “Arrow” set to return for a sixth season in the fall, Kellum will be continuing his crime fighting ways, but in the meantime we sat down with the “Girlfriend’s Day” star to discuss the first time he suited up, navigating the passions of the fanboy landscape, and… Mr. McGibblets!

TrunkSpace: What was going through your head the first time you saw yourself in the full Mr. Terrific persona?
Kellum: For me, I grew up loving comic books and knowing that I wanted to be an actor, it’s always been a huge goal of mine to be any type of superhero. (Laughter) So, to do it with a character like Mr. Terrific… going through the audition process and then seeing him become a character to finally putting on the suit to getting his suit upgraded and to finally getting his feel out in the field… it’s been such an amazing world-changing experience for me. Like, I’m actually on a show that my friends actually like for the first time ever. (Laughter) It’s such a cool, wonderful thing to be a part of and every day I count my blessings and I’m just so grateful that I’m getting to bring this character to life.

TrunkSpace: It definitely seems like that in this day and age, the holy grail for an actor is getting to play a superhero character because not only does it look like a hell of a lot of fun to play, but it usually means a recurring role, right?
Kellum: Yeah, for sure. Absolutely. And that was another thing… the fact that they wanted me to come on as a series regular was huge. I was so thankful for that.

TrunkSpace: And congratulations are in order because you’ve been picked up for next season as well.
Kellum: Yeah. Season 6!

TrunkSpace: We know you probably can’t give away too much with how the current season winds down, but is it safe to say that you’ll be back next year as a part of season 6?
Kellum: You know, they keep telling me I will, but you never know. (Laughter) It’s like, “I’m back!” and then dead on episode 2. You’re like, “Nooooooo! Why?!?!” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: We’d imagine it can be pretty intimidating stepping into a show that already has an established on-set atmosphere and tone. How long did it take for you to feel at home and a part of the “Arrow” family?
Kellum: If I’m being honest, like the first day I walked on the set, I felt so at home and at ease and that was mainly because of Emily Bett Rickards. And then meeting all of the other actors and everybody involved with the show… they really did make it so easy and seamless and just a wonderful experience to be a part of. They treat you like one of their own and when I became one of their own, it felt so right. They treat every guest star, every recurring character… they treat with such respect and class and humility. It really just makes you feel welcome.

And in the other aspect of that, as far as the character… I think he’s still trying to find his way. He’s still trying to get to that place where he feels like he’s a working cog in the team and somebody who they can really count on. I think the fans are still trying to figure that out too and connect with him more. It’s been a really cool journey.

TrunkSpace: Do you have him figured out as a character? Do you feel like you’re in the headspace of Curtis Holt?
Kellum: Yeah. I really do. And thankfully we have some amazing writers who really come up with so much great material work-wise. But yeah, I really do feel like I’m in the headspace of how they want Curtis and where they’re going with him. Obviously he’s definitely a different iteration of the comic book persona, but I kind of like to think of him as early stage Mr. Terrific… Michael Holt kind of until he gets himself together. Because on this show, obviously he’s a little more awkward and quirky. It’s really about finding that balance where he can still be this awkward, silly guy, but then still kind of be badass in other aspects too.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned that fans were still trying to figure Curtis out and connect with him. Were you comfortable stepping into this world where people are already so attached to these characters as lifelong fans and as such… particularly in the social media age… aren’t afraid to speak their minds?
Kellum: Oh yeah. They’re my people. (Laughter) I know how they can be. I think when it all boils down to it, mostly everything you see is positivity. When you’re fortunate enough to be in a position that any of us are in while in this industry to work on a hit show or a show that people are passionate about, you’re going to get both ends of the spectrum from everyone. It’s just how it works. And if we weren’t in that position we’d be getting zero ends of the spectrum from no one. You just have to be thankful that you’re working out there and living your dream, doing the best you can, and getting paid pretty good to do it. So for me, it’s definitely a thing where you’ve got to take it all in and be thankful for the good love that’s coming in and learn from the negativity that’s coming in and just keep pushing forward.

TrunkSpace: Is there anything in your life, either growing up or now, where you could relate to that passionate comic book fanbase? Is there something that you were drawn to in that same passionate way?
Kellum: For me, definitely anything in the X-Men realm as far as comics go, but really it was video games. For me, video games were my life saver. Video games were the things that I geeked out the most about as a fanboy. I was definitely tough when they would make different adaptations of video games to movies. I’d be like, “What the heck… why isn’t this great?” (Laughter) So I can definitely understand some of the hate. If I would have had Twitter then, I might have let a couple of actors know it. (Laughter)

So I can definitely understand the passion, but the thing is, if you don’t have passionate people about it, it’s not a popular project and you’re probably going to be canceled.

TrunkSpace: What’s so cool about video games today is that it’s now an accepted medium for established actors to voice characters in that world. Is that something you’ve dipped your professional fanboy toy in the water of yet?
Kellum: I have not had the opportunity to perform in a video game, but that’s definitely an aspiration. I would love to voice some video game characters. I definitely want to get into that.

TrunkSpace: You established yourself first in the industry as a comedian. That’s a medium where you write and perform your own material. Was it an adjustment delivering lines from other writers when you made the transition into acting?
Kellum: You know, honestly for me it wasn’t an adjustment because I’ve always considered myself an actor first and a comedian second. Acting was kind of something I just started doing when I was 5 years old in church plays, so I’ve always been saying people’s words. (Laughter) But when I got into comedy, it was like, “Oh, I can say my own stuff.” But it feels very normal and natural to be getting scripts and just going for it, but I also just love ripping and improvising and creating new stuff on it too. But I think I definitely kind of look at myself as an actor first.

TrunkSpace: So how much time do you still save for yourself on the writing/standup side? Are you still currently writing?
Kellum: I always write. I’ve never stopped writing standup material, even when I’ve taken a year or two off. I need to get back into it more… definitely something in the next year. I definitely want to be doing more shows, especially when I’m shooting in Vancouver. I want to be out there pushing the pavement and hitting up a lot of shows. But I never stop writing. I’m always writing. I’ve just got to perform more.

TrunkSpace: Do you think you’ll transition that writing skill set into television and film where you can develop projects for yourself?
Kellum: Oh yeah. Absolutely. I’m writing a feature right now that I hope to shoot next spring when we wrap season 6.

TrunkSpace: It definitely seems more accepted within the business for actors to diversify and be a little bit of everything these days. You’re not as specifically labeled as you would have been two decades ago, for example.
Kellum: It’s true. And what’s funny about that is that it’s not even about being allowed but it’s how you survive now. You can’t depend on just the one thing. Back in the day you’d book one commercial and you’re good for the year. You have to be out there completely diversifying yourself. You have to be into acting and into writing and into director. You have to do it all. You have to be a multihyphenate nowadays.

Photo Credit: Lesley Bryce

TrunkSpace: Well, and they always say content is king, but when you’re an actor and developing your own content, you also then control your own destiny.
Kellum: Very true. 100 percent true. You get to really say “yes” or “no” and determine the flow of how you want things to go.

TrunkSpace: It does seem like standup is one of the few mediums were you literally control every aspect of things. Even in music, you’re still having to give some control away, even if that control is not ownership based.
Kellum: Yeah. That’s why I think standup is the toughest form of entertainment to tackle. Because it is just you. In music, like you say, even if you don’t have someone else, you have an instrument to help you. You have your singing voice to help you. You have all of these other tools. In standup, it’s just you and your words and are you funny. Period. Also, a very solitary experience, but it’s so worthwhile.

TrunkSpace: It must have prepared you for the social media age a little bit because standup audiences seem like the first iteration of the internet troll.
Kellum: (Laughter) Oh yeah. Standup audiences were definitely the first trolls. 100 percent.

TrunkSpace: Finally, you’ve got to tell us how Mr. McGibblets came to be?!?!
Kellum: Mr. McGibblets! (Laughter) “The League!” I auditioned for it and it’s just a fun little role. I was a big fan of the show. Love Nick Kroll. Yeah, they just had me come in and do a little one-off. It was great.

TrunkSpace: See, it wasn’t Mr. Terrific who was your first superhero role. It was Mr. McGibblets!
Kellum: (Laughter) Truth right there!

“Arrow” airs Wednesdays on The CW.

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Musical Mondaze

Noam Pikelny

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Photo credit: Justin Camerer

It’s feeling a bit like a Monday, so that means Musical Mondaze!

This time out we’re sitting down with Noam Pikelny, a founding member of Punch Brothers and one of today’s premiere banjo players. His latest solo album, “Universal Favorite,” not only highlights that superb picking, but it also features something relatively new to the Illinois native’s repertoire… lead vocals.

We recently sat down with Pikelny to discuss how he felt about stepping out from his band-based comfort zone, the misconceptions surrounding the banjo, and how the instrument is going mainstream.

TrunkSpace: The album has been out for a little over a month now. What is that experience like for you in terms of releasing new music to the public?
Pikelny: Well, there’s a great deal of anticipation any time you release a new record. I can only speak for myself and speak to the process of musicians I have witnessed or have collaborated with over the last few years, but a record is really a chance to make something permanent and I don’t know what the point of the process of making a record is if you don’t give your all to it. So, records are fairly all-consuming for me and I think there’s always this sense of permanence with a record in that with every experience I’ve had with a record, it’s always been down to the wire… always just trying to make sure you’ve got your point across and that you’ve gotten the right material or that the material is in the right sequence. Even down to the amount of space in-between each track. The silence. The sense of permanence really kind of raises the stakes on the record making process. And so, it was really all-consuming for me until I finished it last November. I think the process of releasing a record is this unveiling of something that has been so close to you… that you have kept so close… but by design it is made for everyone else. I don’t sit around and listen to my own records. It’s something I created for everyone else. And so I think the process of releasing a record is… (laughter)… certainly cathartic and I think touring right when you have a brand new record makes it a lot easier to see the reaction that the music is having on people. When you release a record, you don’t see the reaction on people’s faces or see how they’re moving. You don’t get applause when people are listening in their living rooms or in their cars hundreds of miles away. I feel like an album release tour right around when the record comes out kind of makes the album more of a living being because that brings it to life and animates the release of the record. So, some people are coming to these shows having picked up the record on release day and wanting to hear them performed live. Some people might not have heard the record and they’re wanting to check out the show and then leaving with the record. So I feel like it makes it more of a sort of living experience.

It’s one of the brief moments of relief in a musician’s life when you actually have that record finally in your hand for the first day. That day that it shows up, it’s finished and it’s hard not to get reminiscent or sentimental thinking about just how long ago that these songs started materializing and now it’s something concrete playing on the turntable. So for me it’s always an enjoyable process and… well, I enjoy the final release. As hard as it is to let go, it’s necessary and a relief.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned how you write the record for other people. With that in mind, do you focus on the expectations of a particular album or do you take the approach of, once it’s out of your hands it’s out of your control?
Pikelny: Once the record is done, there’s only so much you can do. I guess you could try to spin the record or spin the story behind it so people will listen to it with something in mind, but I think at the end of the day people are going to put the music on and it’s either going to resonate with them or it’s not. I spend most of my time post-record just making sure people know it’s out. I made a kind of silly promotional video, which was designed first and foremost to let people know that there is a new record… just to kind of rise above the din. You know, the 200 releases that are happening every day.

TrunkSpace: It’s great because technology has enabled people to create art and put it out into the world more easily, but at the same time, it’s overwhelming.
Pikelny: It’s the golden age in the sense of the amount of content being created and/or being disseminated. And that’s not just in music. It’s just overwhelming if you think about just how much great art and how much great media is being created. I don’t know when people find the time to listen or watch. If you consider how much great television there is and now with the number of podcasts there are, it’s like… it’s just disorienting.

TrunkSpace: You can sit down to watch something, spend all night trying to decided what that something will be, and then realize that you have no more time left to watch.
Pikelny: Yeah. I’ve fallen into that trap.

TrunkSpace: You’ve released other solo albums in the past, but “Universal Favorite” was really sort of the first one where you did it all. Does that make it a scarier undertaking knowing that everything rests on you?
Pikelny: I think initially there was a real sense of challenge, like personal challenge, to see how I could pull it off because it was not something I was gearing up for for decades. I have mostly spent my entire career on stage with four or five piece bands and there have been very few instances… I can’t even think of an instance… where I played a solo song on stage prior to two years ago when I started brainstorming this project. So it was a fairly new idea, but something I was always drawn to. I’ve always thought that a solo show really kind of brings you closer to an artist in a way that’s just not possible when there are lots of musicians on stage. The intimacy of a solo performance or a solo record, it just seems so direct to me and I’ve always loved seeing people play solo, whether it’s been something recent… like I love what Julian Lage is playing on guitar. There’s an old-time banjo player named Adam Hurt who put a beautiful record together of old-time music on Gordon banjos called “Earth Tones” and if you just kind of go back, there’s so many wonderful examples of solo performances. There’s some live records of John Hartford that to me are just the gold standard of a solo show. It just provides a glimpse that’s not possible in a larger group setting. And so it was something I was always drawn to as a listener and I kind of felt like any good musician should be able to do this or should have to do this at some point, but I kind of called myself exempt from that kind of idea. Things were very comfortable playing with a five-piece band. You get used to your habitat and then anything outside of there can be a little intimidating. So, I kicked the can down the road and then eventually it became clear to me that this was the time to do this solo project.

My last album, which was kind of a tribute to the music of Kenny Baker and Bill Monroe, was with a five-piece bluegrass band in the studio and we were playing kind of the most classic Bill Monroe material and I was getting to play with all of my bluegrass heroes. It really shaped up to something that I was really proud of. It was a labor of love and it was such a joyous experience playing with this five-piece band and it was very well-received. The idea of following up a record like that with the same instrumentation was really daunting. I felt like, “Why would that come next? I’m just setting myself up for disappointment.” (Laughter) People were hearing me play the most classic bluegrass music that they had an emotional and sentimental connection to with the best players in bluegrass and I’m not going to go back into the studio with the same instrumentation. I wanted something that would provide a lot of contrast and I thought there was no more contrast than just doing something completely solo.

Photo credit: Justin Camerer

TrunkSpace: So as you dove into the process and into the studio, where did you find yourself being hardest on what you were creating? Where were you your own worst critic?
Pikelny: Singing kind of being the newest endeavor on this record, probably more time went into reshaping that than anything else. Not that I transformed myself into this maestro of a singer, but I had to really figure out what the best use of my voice was on this record. The album was initially conceived as a kind of solo, more instrumental type of record. There are all of these aspects of the banjo that really shine in a solo setting that a lot of people haven’t heard before. The banjo can actually be really warm. It can have sustain. It can fill a room and not just be the kind of bright or fast staccato instrument that a lot of people kind of conjure up when they think of the banjo.

TrunkSpace: You brought all of those aspects to “Universal Favorite.” The banjo play is so warm and it’s married so naturally with the vocals.
Pikelny: Thank you! That was kind of the initial motivation and as I was putting together a list of material and writing material, I felt like there was a real blind spot in the fact that there were no songs on the record. Especially when I was getting ready to play this show live. I was getting ready to take this out about a year and a half ago… a little over a year ago just to kind of test the concept and workshop the idea of playing solo and to teach myself, essentially, what it takes… and as I was putting that set list together it became obvious to me that I had to have some songs on this. I love playing vocal music. It’s such a huge part of my musical being… my musical fabric… to be playing songs and playing in-between the lyrics that I didn’t want that to be missing from this record just because I’m not known as a singer first and foremost. I figured it would be worth investigating singing just to kind of fill in those holes in the tapestry and so the songs were chosen to kind of help fill in the arc of the set list and it was fun to all of a sudden have this opportunity to pick songs that I would get to sing and kind of curate the material. It was a chance to finally record some songs that I had in my back pocket for a little while. Like “Old Banjo” was a song that I first heard and started playing when I was a little kid. When I was 10 years old, it was actually the very first song on the very first album I ever owned, so it had been something I’d known for a long time.

TrunkSpace: Do you think that people underestimate what a banjo can do musically?
Pikelny: I would never argue that I’m the first person to shed light on this instrument in new ways. The banjo has been explored in so many settings… in modern settings outside of the five-piece bluegrass band ensemble by so many people. A record that really inspired me when I was coming up was a collection of solo banjo music by Béla Fleck and Tony Trischka. It was the two of them and they split up the record. They made a record together where they both played solo and then there was a duo to close out the record. It was called “Solo Banjo Works.” That was probably one of the first experiences that I had that kind of enlightened me to the possibilities of the instrument or just how intriguing the banjo can be in a solo setting.

I think to the world, to the people en masse, the banjo is still the instrument you hear in a car chase. Or you’re now hearing it as like a texture in the background, barely discernible on a lot of pop country stuff.

TrunkSpace: And you can hear it a lot in Irish-inspired punk.
Pikelny: Right. Yeah. So it’s starting to be utilized in all of these different settings. If someone had told me 20 years ago that one of the biggest bands in the world was going to have a 5-string banjo featured prominently as one of their main textures, I would have thought they were completely high. (Laughter) Mumford & Sons, one of the biggest bands in the world and using a banjo. The banjo used to be kind of anathema to anything commercial. In the late 80s and early 90s when I was getting started, people were taking the banjo out of anything because it was a liability. I think New Grass Revival, which was the band with all of these Nashville super pickers… Sam Bush and Béla Fleck… they were playing music that should have been on country radio. There’s no reason that they couldn’t have had number one hits on country radio and for whatever reason it didn’t happen, but I’ve heard of these struggles of the label wanting to turn down the banjo in the mix and that’s with Béla Fleck in the band.

So, there’s been a major transformation as far as cultural appetite for the instrument, which is probably the reason I have a roof over my head. (Laughter)

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Next Up

Tim Drier

TimDrier_NextUp

Name: Tim Drier

Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri

Current Location: Los Angeles, California

TrunkSpace: When did you know that you wanted to act for a living?
Drier: I fought this question for a long time. I still do. I’ll say this, a friend of mine once told me, “Sometimes the hardest thing to do on this journey is accept that you ARE an artist.” I believe this to be true, especially today. Now, every day, I take steps to accept what I believe I was created to do. Work in progress!

TrunkSpace: Was there a particular performance or actor/actress from your childhood that you remember being drawn to and inspired by?
Drier: Jim Carrey and Robin Williams. Both are always so exciting to watch! I was always so entertained. I try to carry that same energy into my own performances whenever possible.

TrunkSpace: How did you decide to approach your career as an actor? Did you formulate a plan of how you wanted to attack what is known for being a hard industry to crack?
Drier: One step at a time! I just started doing something. Classes first, advice from other actors, online research. Being proactive. This industry is too unpredictable for a plan.

TrunkSpace: When did you decide to move away from your home and pursue acting as a career? How old were you at the time?
Drier: I was doing a play back in St. Louis, venting to the woman playing my mother in the show, Anita Lipman, about my dreams of acting, adventure and a possible move to a bigger city. I had been throwing the idea around for quite a while. She said one thing after my rant. “What are you waiting for?” I had no answer. I left for LA two weeks after the run of that show. I was 24.

TrunkSpace: Was that move an easy transition for you initially? How long did it take you to feel at home and find a good support group of friends and peers?
Drier: It was like a dream. I loved the adventure aspect. The drive from home, exploring a new city, meeting new people. Quite different from Missouri, but I loved it! Then money started running low and it all got very real, but, I stuck it out, by the grace of God, and three years in I had a steady income, good people around me and found a good church. All I need.

TrunkSpace: What has been been your biggest break in terms of a particular role or project thus far?
Drier: Becoming a union actor sticks out. I had booked a nice costar role on an independent SAG pilot project, “Medicinally Approved,” and that put me in a SAG “Must Join” situation. Time to play in the big leagues!

TrunkSpace: Is there a specific type of role you’d like to take on or a specific genre that you feel more at home in?
Drier: I’d Love to work on a Christian Faith-based project. I’m really a fan of all genres and characters though!

TrunkSpace: What would you say is the greatest strength an actor/actress can have outside of acting ability itself?
Drier: Self-motivation. You gotta figure out your journey alone most of the time. Do something every day.

TrunkSpace: What is your ultimate dream when it comes to your acting career? Where would you like your path to lead?
Drier: I want to inspire the world! I’d like to be in a position of major influence. Where I can share my experiences and beliefs and tell stories that support these values.

TrunkSpace: What advice would you give another young aspiring actor/actress who is considering moving away from home to pursue their dream?
Drier: Save money. You gotta pay to play this game. Work hard developing your craft and business, and take time to live life! Travel, meet people, explore, fall in love 1000 times and even let your heart break.

TrunkSpace: Where can people (and casting directors) learn more about you?
Drier:
IMDB: www.imdb.me/timdrier
YOUTUBE: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCntJqHQJJHtRrnG32mT8zlA
FACKBOOK: www.facebook.com/timmybuilt
ACTORS ACCESS: http://resumes.actorsaccess.com/timdrier
LA CASTING: http://www.lacasting.com/timdrier

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Musical Mondaze

Handsome Ghost

MusicalMondaze_HandsomeGhost
© Meredith Truax

It’s feeling a bit like a Monday, so that means Musical Mondaze!

This time out we’re sitting down with Tim Noyes, the brainchild of Spotify sensation Handsome Ghost. Over 30 million streams and counting is quite a feat, but don’t let that number distract you. What’s important is that the teacher-turned-songwriter is creating music that extends well beyond the streaming world. He’s writing songs that are not just driving up digital counters in an impressive manner, but he is writing songs that are leaving a lasting impact on listeners in profound ways and that’s what art is all about, isn’t it?

We recently sat down with Noyes to discuss his songwriting process, how personal he gets when creating music, and James Taylor going metal!

TrunkSpace: We read a recent Tweet of yours that said it’s been a strange few months for you with a lot of high highs and low lows. Are you someone from a songwriting perspective who taps into those experiences and integrates them into your songs?
Noyes: Yeah. Absolutely. I tend to write more about the low lows, to be honest. Just because with the good times I’m more willing to go out and have fun and experience things. It’s the tough situations that are a little more inspiring to sit down with a guitar.

TrunkSpace: Is songwriting a form of therapy for you?
Noyes: Absolutely. It’s been that way for me now for years. It’s the easiest way for me to kind of get that all out. I don’t write a ton, but when I do, it’s 10 or 12 songs at a time. I kind of bang them out and then stop for awhile.

TrunkSpace: When you’re going through that songwriting sprint, is it structured and disciplined or do you work as the inspiration strikes?
Noyes: I just try to ride it as far as it can go. It’s usually like a month or a month and a half where I’ll start with a guitar and then I kind of build the songs around the guitar and vocals. I haven’t written in a few months, so I’m actually excited to get back at it. I’m feeling inspired.

TrunkSpace: When you look at your songwriting now and compare it to when you first started writing songs, where do you see the biggest growth?
Noyes: Well, I think I’m a better songwriter now because the more you do anything, I think the better you get at it. I can remember when I first started, I wrote a lot of bad songs. But I wrote some good ones too. Just because I didn’t really know anything about it. I just kind of lucked into it. And that can be nice too because you’re not really thinking about, like, “Oh is this good or is this bad? Does it follow any rules?” So, I try my best not to think too hard or try too hard. Just like anything, it’s a progression and now having done it for several years, I’m pretty comfortable with it. I do kind of miss that innocence of when you’re just starting out though.

TrunkSpace: In those early days you’re not directly influenced by anyone or any particular ideological focus. You’re a clean slate.
Noyes: Yeah, it’s definitely different when you don’t expect anyone to ever listen to it… ever. There’s definitely something cool about that, but I prefer knowing that there are people who are going to be interested in the songs. It does come with a little more pressure. It’s not quite as intimate.

TrunkSpace: You said you write more about the low lows. Do you ever hammer out a song and then have to step back and question if you’re putting too much of yourself into it?
Noyes: I typically write relatively abstractly. It’s all personal, but it’s pretty rare that I’ll write something explicit and just really straight ahead. But yeah, I think about that sometimes. I’m always kind of balancing how personal I want to get because songwriting is a really personal thing. If someone asks me a question about a song, I don’t necessarily want to share my deepest, darkest secrets… unless it’s someone that I’m close with. So yeah, I do think about that, but I also don’t want to trivialize anything or have everything just be kind of general. I guess there’s just a fine line between being personal and letting people in, but also kind of keeping some things for myself.

TrunkSpace: Well, and by not being so explicit, doesn’t it enable people to take from the music what they interpret as opposed to what you’re telling them?
Noyes: That was my favorite part of music when I was growing up and before I started writing myself… that I could listen to a song and just kind of take what I wanted out of it. Those are the kinds of bands that I was obsessed with… the writers who are less direct and more image based and allow you to pull out what you want. I think about when I was just starting songwriting it was a lot of bands like Death Cab for Cutie or I was really into The Shins, Band of Horses… those kinds of bands. Like a Shins song, I could never figure what those things were about and I used to love that because I could just pull out little lines and take what I wanted and I think that influenced my writing. The songs are for me, but I love hearing when people can take their own meaning and it’s kind of refreshing when they think they know what it means and then it’s totally off. That’s always kind of fun.

TrunkSpace: And that’s the beauty of music and we talk about that all of the time here. It’s the connective tissue between people who would never have anything in common otherwise. Two people can be standing next to each other at a Handsome Ghost show and they’re both there for you, not for any other reason.
Noyes: Yeah and I think that’s a really great thing about music. Whether it’s at a show or if you’re just listening on your headphones, I think that’s great.

TrunkSpace: When you look at your music as a whole, where do you think you’re the most critical of yourself?
Noyes: I think it’s the songwriting. The vocals for me… they are what they are. I know how I sing at this point. If you like my voice, great. If you don’t, I can’t really change that. But the songwriting is tricky because for our band where we’re kind of somewhere in-between folk and pop and indie rock… we’re kind of somewhere in no man’s land, which is a really good place to be, I think.

TrunkSpace: That’s great today, but back in the days of record stores it would have been difficult finding you a home on the shelves. (Laughter)
Noyes: (Laughter) Right. You’d be like, “What do we even do with these guys?”

I still feel like there’s an element of that. It’s not quite as the way it was when you’d literally walk into a record store and go to the pop section. But I still feel like there are some listeners, and not all of them, who really like to know exactly what they’re listening too. I try not to allow that to seep into my head, but I think that’s the most difficult thing… just writing and not worrying about who’s going to like it. Particularly with pop. I like to write melodies that are catchy, but that’s where I want to leave it. I don’t want to push it any further towards traditional pop music. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s just not for me. So that’s just kind of the fight… just write how you want to and if people like it, great. If they don’t, then you’ll just listen to it. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: It seems like one of the most difficult things about being an artist is that once you’re established and people connect with your sound, you’re never really allowed to grow as an artist and try new things. You end up becoming what they know you as in that moment that they first fell in love with you.
Noyes: Yeah, that’s actually a pretty amazing thing. When I started writing, I played in a folk rock band for years and I started Handsome Ghost specifically because I wanted to get away from that. And now after having been in Handsome Ghost for a couple of years, I’m finding myself wanting to kind of get back closer to that. And it’s funny because you think you have it figured out and then time just kind of changes your tastes and your inspiration. You’re right, no one wants to make the same record 10 times because it just gets kind of boring.

I think it’s the rare band that can progress or change sonically and not alienate and have their fans accept it. I do think that’s interesting though. If you listen to a Neil Young record, you may want “Harvest” eight times, but it’s hard to ask someone to do that.

TrunkSpace: At the same time though, if you’re a James Taylor fan, you probably don’t want to listen to James Taylor playing heavy metal.
Noyes: Absolutely.

Actually, I would be really curious to hear that. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Handsome Ghost’s music has been a streaming machine since you started releasing it. As an artist, how do you translate those streams into the business side of things, turning it into income in order to maintain your career and continue to release new music?
Noyes: That is the million dollar question right there. I think we’re lucky and grateful that we’ve been able to kind of crack into the Spotify world and get a lot of streams, but for me right now, we’re focusing on the live shows because at least to this point, that is something you can count on. People still want to go see live music. I mean, I’m one of those people. I love to go to live shows. So, we’re trying to figure out how someone who listens to us every day on Spotify… how we can convince them to come out to a club. So far the results have been pretty promising. We just did our first little headline run and we’re starting our significant headline tour next month. I think we’ve seen a lot more people come out who had heard us on Spotify than I expected. We’ve been opening for other bands for the last year plus and we don’t get to talk to people after the shows. I just really had no idea whether anyone was coming to see us who had heard us on Spotify, but it does seem like we’re seeing some good response there.

And then in terms of how to make it a living, the touring is really important because you can continue to do it and you can kind of plan it out.

TrunkSpace: You can control your own destiny a bit in that regard.
Noyes: Yeah. If you want to go do a tour, you can book a tour. The streaming stuff, I honestly just try not to think about it because it’s just not… if it’s significant, wonderful. But if it’s not, I have to find other ways to keep the band afloat and to keep us healthy and continuing to make music.

Handsome Ghosts’ latest release, the 6-track EP “The Brilliant Glow” is available now.

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Wingman Wednesday

Michael Masini

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Photographer: James DiPietro

Michael Masini is a dual-threat. When he’s not wearing his artist hat and starring on the small screen in John Singleton’s BET series “Rebel” and the CBS megahit “Blue Bloods” opposite Donnie Wahlberg, he is tapping into his business roots, working with James Franco’s production company, Elysium Bandini Studios, executive producing big budget blockbusters-to-be “Black Dog, Red Dog” and “The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards.”

We recently sat down with Masini to discuss his acting inspiration, working on “Rebel,” and his road from hockey to Hollywood.

TrunkSpace: You have a really interesting career path from professional hockey player to Wall Street to where you are today acting and producing. How much of that was planned and how much of it was life doing what life does?
Masini: I’d say 90 percent life doing what life does. (Laughter) All I knew was hockey growing up. I just ate, breathed, slept hockey. That’s it. And then when I was 17 I made it to the Junior Olympic training camp up in Lake Placid, NY and then after that you kind of get selected to go to pros or juniors. Juniors is like the best 20 and under players in the country. So I went to the San Jose Sharks training camp. It was like a mini-camp… the rookie camp for San Jose, the Detroit Red Wings, and the Florida Panthers. And out of that I got a hip pointer… kind of like my hip got twisted in the socket the wrong way. I was about 17 or 18 and it never really fully came back. I kept playing on it, but I never was as good as when I was 17. So, your mind just naturally starts to wander. I knew nothing but hockey. I went to prep school and I was groomed to play hockey when I was there. So then my mind just kind of went, “Okay, what else would I like to do?” I always loved movies and I loved telling stories and in the summers to make money I would work for my dad on Wall Street. He was with Salomon Smith Barney and Lehman Brothers. So I worked with him in the summers and then once hockey ended… my hip had enough. I played over in Germany and played in the minor leagues over here, but I couldn’t sustain a season. I could play like three or four games and then the hip would go out. Then it would be months of recovery to try and get back to normal. It wasn’t the life that I wanted at 19 years old. So then I went to college and got my economics degree because my dad was like, “If you’re gonna pursue anything in entertainment, I at least need to know that you have your economics degree so if you wanted to fall back on Wall Street, you have it.”

TrunkSpace: Well, and not even to fall back on… having that knowledge is probably a great thing to have while working inside the entertainment industry.
Masini: Oh yeah, but I didn’t know that. I had no clue. I knew zero people in entertainment. I knew zero people in the acting world or the producing world. I knew no one. I was just going to come out here and start grinding away to figure it out. Honestly, “The Basketball Diaries” is one of my favorite movies and when I saw Leonardo’s performance, that always drew me and I was like, “I want to do that.” So I loved that side, but then I also loved the business side. I wanted to be like a Spielberg. I was like, “How do these movies get made? How does it happen?” It was all just a dream. Then I started to break it down with that business mind I grew up with… with having Wall Street people around me and my brothers are all business owners. With any dream, there are definite steps to take to get there. So then I just started taking the steps to get there. I finished school. I went to Seton Hall and… I went to three different schools because I was also a scratch golfer so a part of me was like, “Can I at at least teach golf or learn how to run country clubs while I’m pursuing all of this stuff?” (Laughter)

I loved it all. Life’s short. Why not do everything? (Laughter)

So, I graduated college and then I got booked on my first movie “Fifty Pills” and it went to Tribeca with Kristen Bell and Michael Pena. I was on set and I’d be talking to the directors and the producers as much as I was talking to the other actors. I loved all sides of it. So then I interned at a sales company to learn how distribution works.

TrunkSpace: That’s another great skill to have because it’s one that a lot of people overlook.
Masini: Yup. And again, my business mind just immediately goes to there. I never would think of starting a company, whether it be as an actor… I think of myself as a company as an actor or a company as a producer… or any company. If you’re going to have a pizzeria or a hot dog stand or something, you need to figure out who your clientele is, where the best place to be is, and how your income is going to come in. You can’t just start it randomly. So my business mind always works backwards. “Okay, this is where I want to be and this is where I want to get to, so what people are in that side of the industry where I can learn from and I can learn backwards.” I know what it takes to get a film distributed. I know the 15 points it takes. When I’m reading a script, there are 15 points… eight that it has to have, but there are 15 that I kind of look for… and then at the end of it, is it going to be too much work to get the script in place and to get these points met so that it’s going to make a return? And I’m talking like a guaranteed return before it even… I mean, you always want to make a great movie, but I’m saying, if it doesn’t turn out to be the best movie, you still want to make a return.

TrunkSpace: And that’s your business mind, which is great, but your creative mind was drawn to “The Basketball Diaries,” which wasn’t a huge financial success.
Masini: Yes. (Laughter) That drew me in as an actor. That was like, “Wow!” It just felt so real and that was my turning point movie. Watching that movie is when I started getting more immersed into the craft of being an artist and being an actor. So, the good thing is, I have the best of both sides. I know what it takes to be an artist and that side of it, and then I also know the business sense, so I try to bring them together in projects that I’m associated with. So, that’s what drew me in as an artist, but always those big budget blockbuster projects are what draws me in as a creator and wanting to be a producer.

TrunkSpace: So how do you separate the two worlds for yourself in terms of the business side and the acting side because what we found interesting is that you don’t always appear as an actor in those projects you’re also producing?
Masini: And I kind of like it that way. One, it doesn’t muddy the waters. When I get brought on to produce or executive produce or oversee… I’ll get brought in on projects just to oversee and to make sure everything is running in sync. I just make sure that everything is in alignment for the best possible chance of getting a distribution deal. So I don’t like to muddy the waters. If I’m going to visit a set or I’m making a decision and all of a sudden I’m popping on the other side playing around with a scene, it’s kind of like, “Wait a second, this guy was just over here trying to keep everything streamlined and now he’s jumping in and doing a scene.” Even the ones that I’m in, I think I only give myself one take because I don’t want to be the guy that’s jumping in. I’m about everything running on schedule and making sure we get the most bang for the buck… I don’t want to be in there getting like nine takes. (Laughter) So I go in and get out.

But yeah, it’s mainly because I don’t want to muddy the waters. They’re separate jobs and I treat them as separate jobs. When I act I act and it’s like full force for that. I just booked a great role on “Stitchers” today. It’s like one that I just get to be totally… it’s a lot of fun. And if I was producing it… sometimes when you’re producing you’re thinking about so many other things and you can’t be totally in the scene.

Photographer: James DiPietro

TrunkSpace: You’re currently starring in the BET series “Rebel.” Outside of your early work in soaps, is this the character you have spent the most time with?
Masini: Yes and I’m so grateful for it. Since I’ve booked that, I just keep booking everything. I’m in seven of 10 episodes, but because a couple are flashbacks, I was actually on set for six episodes. It was fun to have the arc. And my first couple of episodes are small and then it’s all about everybody coming after me to bring me down and you’ll see why. It was great because I had to figure out what makes this guy tick. He’s not the most likable character because he’s a racist cop who killed a kid, but I had to find a heart within him to find the reason why he did that. I had to find an underneath part of why. I couldn’t just make him kind of generic. I had to find an underneath. So, you’ll see little kinks in the armor of why I am the way I am.

TrunkSpace: So if an opportunity came along where you landed a series that went on to do five seasons and over a 100 episodes, would you welcome something like that knowing that you’re also producing these big features at the same time?
Masini: Yes, because like being an athlete… being a hockey player… that’s the player in the game. I like to be the player. That’s my first love. Producing feels more like being the owner of the team or being the coach of the team. But being the player, that’s my main love because that’s why I got into this industry, mainly for that side and then my business sense drew me to the other side as well. But the thing is, with a lot of the producing stuff I do, like with James Franco and Vince Jolivette (Elysium Bandini is the company), they brought me on to oversee, so I can do that kind of at my leisure. They know I shoot and again, I don’t muddy the waters by being in these movies. I was in New York shooting “Blue Bloods” and I came out here and I’ll shoot “Stitchers” and I’ve got some commercials that I’m shooting. I go and shoot and then when I have free time I go and I look at all of the materials, I look at dailies, I sit with the editor, and I go over stuff to kind of executive produce and oversee the project as a whole to see what we can do to maximize our chances of getting the best distribution deal. So, I know a lot of the business side of it where I can still do that and not have to be boots on the ground.

 

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Wingman Wednesday

Sean Cameron Michael

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In this, the golden age of television, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to find original content in a sea of “original” content. With so many quality productions showing up on the small screen, it’s hard to get excited for every new series because, frankly, there’s only so many hours in a day. So, when a concept comes along that oozes inventiveness and cleverness, it’s hard not to take notice.

Enter Syfy’s upcoming grindhouse series “Blood Drive.” While clearly not developed for every television viewer in mind, those who harbor a love for horror and comedy are revving their engines in anticipation.

We recently sat down with the series star Sean Cameron Michael to discuss his South African roots, the wondrous absurdity of “Blood Drive,” and how his character will kill anybody who gets in his way.

TrunkSpace: You’re a chameleon in the roles you take on in that you’re never afraid to change your appearance. Is that something you always strive to do when you step into the body of a new character?
SCM: That’s very kind of you to say. Thank you. I think with every project that I take on, even before I start working on it… in the audition or in the casting… I really try to figure out who the character is. So I’m quite method in that sense. So once I figure out who that character is… what they look like, what they sound like, what they walk like… then it sort of makes it easier for me to sort of climb inside of their heads and their emotions. I don’t think I specifically go out and say, “For this job the character needs to have a mustache and for the next one he needs to have a wig.” I think it just happens that I’m like that because over the years I’ve been fortunate to work in so many different kinds of projects, which happen to be with different kinds of looks and accents.

TrunkSpace: You mention figuring out the physical movement of the characters. Does that internal search stem from your theater roots?
SCM: I think theater is always a good place for actors to start when you’re young. It was always sort of taught to me that with a theater background it’s really sort of putting down your roots and then sort of building up from there. But, specifically for TV and film work, it’s a case of… because I’m originally from South Africa and really sort of started out when I was 12 years old and I’m now 47… it’s a case of a lot of TV and film productions were being shot in South Africa and I got to play sort of, you know, smaller roles. Little cameo roles or costar roles. And when you play in these small supporting roles, if you’re only going to be on screen for a few minutes, your look and your feel needs to be 100 percent convincing and believable and authentic. So, I think it’s really that. That’s where it started.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned growing up in South Africa and starting your career there. How is a career in acting perceived in South Africa and is it different than here in the States where actors are often held in a high regard?
SCM: South Africa has got a very small, local entertainment industry where they do TV and film with very, very low… sometimes nonexistent… budgets. With a result that the majority of the time, unfortunately, something is only as good as the amount of time and money that you put into it. South Africa has really, over the past 15 to 20 years, has been a really big servicing industry… servicing a lot of big productions coming from the States and the UK and Europe. So as an actor in South Africa, it’s certainly a great place when you’re starting out… to get the opportunity to work on so many different productions and sometimes really big productions from around the world. But, because we don’t have any actors unions in South Africa, which I suppose is another incentive to film in South Africa… there’s the result that today you can play the lead role in a film and tomorrow you’re playing Doctor #3 who has one line of dialogue. There’s no real ladder that one can climb in South Africa whereas over the last few years that I’ve now been working in the States, it’s great because over here you can really start at the bottom doing background work and then you go to TV and do costar work and then guest star roles and recurring roles and eventually series regulars and leads. So that’s really exciting for me about the States, that there is this ladder and that there is this sort of respect for actors and that they do have the ability to really add something to a production.

TrunkSpace: So having lived in different places and experienced different cultures, does that make it easier to tap into different roles and characters when an actor has global exposure?
SCM: Absolutely. When I first moved to the States and got an agent and manager over here… I was working in the industry for two or three decades already… and I spoke to my manager and was like, “Do I need to maybe go to a couple acting classes over here and just sort of get a feel for the industry over here and maybe work more on my American accent and all that?” And my manager said to me, he said, “Sean, you’re in your 40s and you’ve been living in South Africa all your life. You were in the South African Defence Force for two years. You have had such a rich life and such wonderful experience of living in South Africa during the years of Apartheid and then seeing the fall of Apartheid and seeing Nelson Mandela released from prison. And because you’ve worked on so many different productions playing so many different characters with different accents… you’re this amazing international actor, so why would you want to change that and become another stereotypical American actor?”

So, to answer your question, absolutely. Growing up in South Africa and working with all of those different experiences and having sort of experienced some of the things in that country, I think has certainly helped me whenever it comes to playing different roles and climbing inside the head space.

TrunkSpace: One of your next projects and one that we’re very excited about is called “Blood Drive.” This is the official premise we read online.

Los Angeles in the near future: where water is a scarce as oil, and climate change keeps the temperature at a cool 115 in the shade. It’s a place where crime is so rampant that only the worst violence is punished, and where Arthur Bailey — the city’s last good cop — runs afoul of the dirtiest and meanest underground car rally in the world, Blood Drive. The master of ceremonies is a vaudevillian nightmare, The drivers are homocidal deviants, and the cars run on human blood. Buckle Up, Lube Up and prepare for everything you know about Cable Television to Blow up!

That sounds like the craziest TV show of all time. Is the tone handled in a serious way so that it’s grounded or is it played up for fun?
SCM: You know what, Syfy just released today, some teaser trailers from the show, so if you have a look at those, you’ll have a very good feel for what the show is going to be like.

They’re really paying homage to the grindhouse movies of the 70s, so it really is, I think… maybe I’m mad in my head… I think it’s beautifully done. It really sits completely into that genre. It’s beautifully filmed and the attention to detail and everything that has gone into it. So, yeah, it really, really grounds itself into that world. Obviously a lot of it is sort of tongue in cheek because some of it is just so over the top, but I’m really excited for audiences to see it when it premieres in June. It’s such a wonderful mix and it’s one of the first times in my life when I had been sent a script for the first episode and I really burst out laughing. (Laughter) It was just so over the top and crazy and clever and funny. I’m really excited for audiences to see that.

TrunkSpace: And where does your character Old Man Heart play into things?
SCM: The whole story of “Blood Drive” is that you’ve got these death racers… these guys go on a race to win a lot of money or save their lives or whatever, but the whole game that they’re in or race that they’re in is being controlled by a big company called Heart Industries. I play the head of Heart Industries. So, Old Man Heart is the head of this big, big, big corporation who is basically running the whole show. A really interesting character in the sense that, I think in the original brief that they sent for the character, it said that this guy will basically kill anyone who gets in his way. So, a very unsavory and interesting character, I think, for the audiences to meet. And as we were talking about different looks and being a chameleon in a way… on this job I spent about an hour and a half to two hours in prosthetics and makeup and costume each morning before I actually went on set. So I don’t think anybody is going to recognize me at all. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: You mentioned that the show is over the top. Are you able to take a more theatrical approach in the delivery of your performance because of that?
SCM: I think what’s wonderful about playing something… if the writing and the set up is already so big and so over the top, you actually are able to do less as an actor. With everything going on around you and with what you’re saying… it’s all there. That actually makes it more comedic. It’s funnier when a character is actually being more intense and more serious even though what’s going on around them is just absurd. (Laughter) The show is one of those things that I think people are going to watch and go, “Oh my goodness… I have not seen anything like this before. This is the most over the top absurdity that I have seen, but in the funniest, cleverest way.”

So, no… I think if I had pushed any harder… if I in anyway sort of turned the role that I was playing into any kind of caricature, it really would have been too big. Some of the directors that I worked with on the show were just awesome. These guys really knew and understood that genre and really knew what they wanted. From a performance point of view, I always go for less is more, so I was sort of coming from under the radar. I try to go for a subtle performance and then if they want me to push it up a bit more… because I think the character that I play is also a bit schizophrenic in a way, so he will go from being very businesslike and corporate to just losing his shit. So, it’s kind of nice and funnier in a way when that kind of comes out of nowhere and you don’t expect it. I think it makes it more interesting and exciting to play a character who may be a little bit more mysterious.

TrunkSpace: There’s so much incredible content circulating throughout television these days, but again, “Blood Drive” just seems so unique even in that massive sea of TV originality.
SCM: Yeah. I think audiences today, as you say, there’s so much good television out there, which has obviously attracted a lot of the big movie stars to work in TV because you’ve got such a big audience. But at the same time, audiences have become really, really intelligent and really demand a high level when it comes to production values and content. If you look at a show like “Game of Thrones”… if you’re going to try and make a TV series in that era or in that period, you’re really up against something that’s really big and audiences have been spoiled in that way. So, I think with “Blood Drive,” because it’s such a specific genre that hasn’t really been seen on TV, I think the writers and the producers have a lot of leeway to kind of make it their own.

TrunkSpace: Your film “Last Broken Darkness” is set to screen here in the States beginning this week at The Sunscreen Film Festival in Florida, but that was a film that you actually shot some time ago, correct?
SCM: Yeah. We started shooting it in May 2015 on location all over Johannesburg, South Africa. That was 26 night shoots on location in winter. (Laughter) In South Africa. That was a really challenging… one of the most physically demanding and challenging productions that I’ve worked on.

Sean Cameron Michael in “Last Broken Darkness”

TrunkSpace: In watching it, it certainly has the feel of an intense shoot.
SCM: Oh yeah. And it’s a South African indie film, so it was on a small budget. And so obviously when you’re doing indie film, you don’t have a lot time, there isn’t a lot of money, and you really have to make it work with what you’ve got and what you’re able to get in that moment. If the final product looks great and sounds great, then that really is a sort of a feather in the cap of the director and the producers… to be able to produce something that looks and sounds great and works on a limited budget in a short amount of time. We shot that two years and then there’s some scenes in the movie that were quite sort of visual effect heavy, so it spent over a year in post. And so yeah, it’s finally doing the festival circuit and they’re hoping to get international distribution for it so that the whole world can get to experience it.

TrunkSpace: Is there a moment in the film from a performance standpoint that you’re the most proud of?
SCM: Yeah. I think actors, especially character actors, we love those really dramatic and really challenging scenes. I think the big moment… sorry, it’s kind of difficult to say because it’s kind of a spoiler in a way. (Laughter) What I can say is that somebody relatively close me… let’s put it that way… I have to deal with death. So, when there’s an emotional breakdown scene, what I love about doing on-camera work is that the camera zooms into your eyes and when you’re having to express an emotion of loss and an absolute breakdown in that sense, you can’t lie to the camera. You can’t have makeup come in and put in some fake tears and go, “Okay, well just act it.” It really doesn’t work like that. You really have to actually go through the emotions and what that character is going through. That can be really hard and really tough, but as an actor, my God… it’s what I love. It’s what I live for.

“Blood Drive” premieres June 14 on Syfy.

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Just Another $@!#*? Column

The Top Ways Pop Culture Taught Us To Say Hello

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Everyone’s got a TOP WHATEVER column. You know the type… a list of arbitrary best ofs, worst ofs, or does it really matter ofs. Well, TrunkSpace didn’t want to be left out, so we decided to come up with our own JUST ANOTHER $@!#*? LIST COLUMN. Whereas other lists on other sites may have a point, rest assured, ours will have none.

This time out we’re honoring THE TOP WAYS POP CULTURE TAUGHT US HOW TO SAY HELLO.

Annyong
Sometimes the best joke is a reoccurring one. For the folks behind the beloved series Arrested Development, the Korean word for “hello” became a running gag that ran straight through our hearts thanks to the performance of Justin Lee as the adopted Annyong Bluth. Sure he was misunderstood, but at least he was polite!

Hellooooo! La, la, la!
“The Voice” premiered during the final season of Seinfeld in 1997 and has been quoted by childish folks like ourselves ever since. In the episode, Jerry becomes obsessed with using a cartoon voice that he has assigned to his girlfriend’s loud stomach. He eventually is forced to give up the voice, only to have it come back into play at the end of the episode, a formula that was worked masterfully into all great Seinfeld episodes.

How you doin?
Love him or hate him, Joey Tribbiani knew how to deliver a greeting. We’ve all repeated it at least once, either playfully with a possible love interest or to a very large sandwich, another passion of the actor playing an actor who once played a neurosurgeon named Dr. Drake Remoray.

Ollo
The movie was overshadowed (rightfully so) by the similarly-premised Despicable Me, but what Megamind had that the Steve Carell-starring vehicle did not is a snappy, memorable way to make an introduction. Despicable Me may have turned into a bonafide franchise, but does that billions of dollars in profit help the writers sleep at night knowing that they didn’t come up with an “ollo” of their own?

It probably does.

Hello, Newman!
We’re reoccurring on the reoccurring, including another Seinfeld reference in our list. Like Annyong in Arrested Development, this was a running gag that helped to establish the tumultuous relationship between Jerry and his neighbor Newman. We’ve included it on this list because we know a real-life Newman and that poor bastard has heard this line more times than Jerry has said it in syndication.

Annyeong
(That means “bye” in Korean)

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Next Up

Chelsea Mee

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Name: Chelsea Mee

Hometown: Pickerington, Ohio (Just outside of Columbus)

Current Location: Los Angeles, California

TrunkSpace: When did you know that you wanted to act for a living?
Mee: I did theater as a kid, took some courses in my teens, and absolutely loved it, but I think I truly knew about two years ago. I did a gig for my friend Cody Carson and his band, Set It Off. We shot that music video for two or three days straight, barely ate anything or got much sleep, but I was absolutely in love with the job.

TrunkSpace: Was there a particular performance or actor/actress from your childhood that you remember being drawn to and inspired by?
Mee: I was always drawn to Leonardo DiCaprio, Heath Ledger, and Johnny Depp. Not only is their acting craft immaculate, but the fact that they can completely go into a third dimension and truly create their characters, it is a dream. Creating is the dream.

TrunkSpace: How did you decide to approach your career as an actor? Did you formulate a plan of how you wanted to attack what is known for being a hard industry to crack?
Mee: So, it’s tricky, because I’ve always known that I wanted to be an actor. I’ve been a musician my entire life, but acting was always a focus of mine. Unfortunately, acting and music had to take a back seat while I dealt with some personal life problems, that I now find important to talk about. In September, I’ll have five years sober, and I truly believe that it has taken a big part of where I am in my career today. After I shot that music video, I decided that acting was definitely what I wanted to do full time, forever. Then things, and people, started to just, kinda, show up in my life. Jessica Cameron showed up in my life, introducing me to my first agent, Ali Ferda with PCG Talent. From there, I started auditioning, doing the suggestions I was told to do, and then, boom. “Dog Eat Dog” happened. Then BOOM. I shot “Bring Me a Dream” down in Atlanta. Then BOOM, I shot “First Kill” in Columbus. I still honestly have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m taking suggestions as they come and just putting the work in every day.

TrunkSpace: When did you decide to move away from your home and pursue acting as a career? How old were you at the time?
Mee: I made the decision when filming “Bring Me a Dream” down in Atlanta. My friend Jesse Kove suggested it to me, and I think that’s when it truly became real in my mind that I needed to. It wasn’t so much of a want anymore. I was actually supposed to move here, to LA, last September, but I ended up getting a role in “First Kill,” so I held off for one more month, gladly. So I’ve been officially living here in LA for about seven months now! Flew right by.

TrunkSpace: Was that move an easy transition for you initially? How long did it take you to feel at home and find a good support group of friends and peers?
Mee: The move was scary, yes, but I’ve made a big move like this before. I lived in South Florida for a couple years while I was getting sober, so the move wasn’t as terrifying as the fear of failure. The transition was interesting. Traffic here is no joke, but I had some friends out here already, luckily, who helped me feel right at home.

TrunkSpace: What has been been your biggest break in terms of a particular role or project thus far?
Mee: I feel like they all been some sort of break for me. I mean, my first role in my first movie ever was with Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe! What?! Working for Paul Schrader?! Then another movie with Martin Kove?! Then another movie with Bruce Willis?! It still honestly doesn’t feel real to me, but I hope to continue on working and feeling more of this gratitude.

TrunkSpace: Is there a specific type of role you’d like to take on or a specific genre that you feel more at home in?
Mee: I find comfort in comedy, it feels more natural to me; but then again, I love being able to lose myself in a character, such as a drama. Tapping into those feelings, that in real life may make me feel uncomfortable at times. I think being able to show vulnerability is strength, acting or not.

TrunkSpace: What would you say is the greatest strength an actor/actress can have outside of acting ability itself?
Mee: Self-worth, absolutely. Without knowing your worth or loving yourself, this industry can make you quite miserable. Patience is another good thing to practice, because there tends to be a lot of waiting as well. Just keep your head in the game and do not give up. Hard work pays off.

I’m talking to myself as well. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: What is your ultimate dream when it comes to your acting career? Where would you like your path to lead?
Mee: Obviously it would be nice to make this my only source of income, but that’s not the dream. The dream is to not only grow as an actor, but as a human. Each role, I’ve learned more about myself, and have been able to take a piece of each role with me.

TrunkSpace: What advice would you give another young aspiring actor/actress who is considering moving away from home to pursue their dream?
Mee: Man, that’s a tough one. This industry is SO full of many talented people, especially in Los Angeles. I’m in a HUGE pond, and I’m still a tiny minnow. There are a lot of No’s, an abundance of rejection, and even some heartbreak. Be able to be vulnerable, but have a smart mind, a good entrepreneur work-ethic, THICK skin, and low expectations. Makes it easier for me, that is. It’s a business. Learn the business. Be your own CEO and find good people to have in your corner. Don’t let the No’s turn you away from that Yes that’s waiting for you.

TrunkSpace: Where can people (and casting directors) learn more about you?
Mee: I’m pretty much everywhere, except for Tumblr, because I have no idea what it is.

Facebook- ChelseaMeeOfficial
Instagram- ChelseaMeeOfficial
Twitter- Chelsmeezy
Vimeo, Youtube, Soundcloud, Musical.ly, Snapchat, IMDb, Actors Access, LA Casting, Backstage

And I want to make it known, if you are out there struggling with drugs and alcohol, you don’t have to. Reach out to me, I will do my best to help you.
Email: ChelseaMee.talent@gmail.com

 

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Musical Mondaze

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes

MeFirstandtheGimmeGimmes_MusicalMondaze

It’s Monday and that means Musical Mondaze.

This time out we’re down with Spike Slawson, lead singer of the punk supergroup Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. Slawson, former bass player for the Swingin’ Utters and current frontman for The Re-Volts, started up with the tongue-in-cheek cover band in 1995. Since then, he has belted out a record collection’s worth of punk versions of very un-punk classics like “Over the Rainbow,” “Uptown Girl,” and “End of the Road.” The band’s latest album, “Rake It In: The Greatestest Hits” is available now.

 We recently sat down with Slawson to discuss what keeps the band together, how performing covers can still lead to creative conflict, and the current state of punk.

TrunkSpace: You guys have been performing as Me First and the Gimme Gimmes since 1995. What is it that keeps you guys going?
Slawson: The good times… rolling.

TrunkSpace: It does seem like, as far as bands go, this would be one that is consistently fun.
Slawson: Yeah. It has its moments. It certainly has its moments. When your heart and soul and blood and sweat and tears are not in it, that leaves a lot of room for casual, lighthearted fun.

TrunkSpace: Does it make it less stressful as far as the band atmosphere because you’re not necessarily creating from scratch, but adapting what has already been created?
Slawson: Yeah, but when you’re dealing with musicians, they create tension where there is none. I think people should be required to do a year of compulsory, I don’t know, food service. Not military, but just one of those shitty jobs so they won’t forget it.

Like, you would think, theoretically, just doing covers, all you have to worry about is arrangements and blocking out some time on your schedule, but we always find a way to make things difficult.

TrunkSpace: When it comes to the live shows, it must make it a fun sort of singalong party atmosphere because of the fact that you’re playing songs that most people are already familiar with?
Slawson: Absolutely. Yeah. I try, like I said, to deliver the tension in a live scenario and make people feel, at least somewhat, awkward and uncomfortable because I feel that’s my job as a master of ceremonies to bring up things that make people feel…

Awkward and uncomfortable.

I guess I already said it. I finished my thought. I’m sorry. My mouth kept going.

TrunkSpace: And what’s probably nice with that is, when you do introduce new material into your catalog of tunes, again, because people already know them, even the new stuff gets a reaction.
Slawson: Yeah. I would think that they do. It’s easier for them to enjoy and easier for us to do.

This music seems like it’s for something different than it was in the 70s. Like, if you’re trying to wake people up to facts… or uncomfortable facts, alternative facts… there’s already so much information and stimuli in that regard that it seems like your job, even as a punk band… a so-called punk band, whether you believe one of those could still exist in 2017… even as a punk cover band your job is just to show people a good time.

TrunkSpace: Do you think bands are saying more these days than they have in recent years? Are they taking political and social stances?
Slawson: Yeah, but punk has sort of become an echo chamber. It’s like, on the one hand it’s like an echo chamber of preaching to the choir and then on the other hand it’s just sort of like a notch in the mainstream dial. I don’t know that punk is necessarily the medium that you’re going to hear the kind of radical thought and expression that actually changes people’s minds… that actually changes a lot of people’s minds the way it seems like it did in the 70s.

TrunkSpace: So is there another genre or platform that has stepped up and taken over that role?
Slawson: Well, what I think is that there was a dearth of information before. Or that information was more tightly controlled and brought to you by fewer sources. And now that there’s a big competitive market that brings information, and “information” as well, I think that what we would like to provide is a break from all of that information. Just because you put it to music, doesn’t make it anymore relevant. I think people know what’s going on in the world.

TrunkSpace: It almost feels like people know too much because they’re inundated with that information and then it’s hard to shut it off and just escape.
Slawson: Yeah, and they’re sort of paralyzed. So I don’t know that punk, in specific, or music at large is any place to sort of address it. I think it is what it always was, which is the soundtrack that people listen to while they come up with their own solution. To me, punk is just sort of this expression of, “This is who I am. I was born weird and now I wear what used to feel like flaws as armor.” But I don’t know that any political ideology attached to it has any relevance in our current context.

I heard that 200 people went to a rave in a sewer. And that sounded kind of punk to me, even though I hate the music. Just by nature, it seems like kind of a cool, weird expression of people that wanted to have fun and they couldn’t go anywhere but a fucking sewer.

TrunkSpace: You’ve been at music professionally now for a few decades. Have you seen the crowds age with you or are you still drawing younger crowds of kids who are trying to figure out the scene themselves and trying to find punk.
Slawson: A little bit of both. It’s not so hard to find anymore. And when it was hard to find, it’s why people were so protective of it. It’s why these sort of elder statesman in any local scene kind of made the kids feel really green because it took them… they had to go to the shitty part of town to find weird comic books or weird records or go to weird shows and nobody held their hand and did it for them. They were just born weird and went to go find it. It wasn’t really a choice for them where it’s sort of more of a choice now.

TrunkSpace: It was like when you’d have to go meet some sketchy guy who peddled illegal bootlegs just to get some new music of your favorite bands.
Slawson: Yeah. And what does illegal bootleg even mean anymore?

TrunkSpace: Exactly.
Slawson: I don’t know though. Hip-hop kind of had that feeling to me in the late 80s and throughout much of the 90s, as sort of this revolutionary musical movement. It was definitely, at least partially, political, but most of it to me had to do with, like, “This is who I am… society’s pariah, but I’m proud of it and fuck you!” “This is my music. This is my scene. Go fuck yourself.” That was my takeaway from that and that to me, whether the music was different or not… like I know you’re not allowed to call hip-hop punk, but I don’t fucking care. The differences are not really that interesting to me.

And the reason I love punk is because those early guys didn’t have anybody. Iggy Pop didn’t have Iggy Pop to look up to. Like, he dug The Kinks apparently and there were all sorts of other musical cues that he took, but as far as his persona and who he was going to be, he didn’t have any him as an example. And he’s the only one who didn’t. Those early punk bands with their sort of sense of style and that weird knack for outrageous behavior and statements and kind of image propulsion… they didn’t have anybody else as an example either. They were creating something almost out of a vacuum. Just by definition, that doesn’t happen with punk. All it does is turn into this like, sort of weird emo thing… this weird entitled, white people feeling sorry for themselves. And that’s not a good look either.

Me First and the Gimme Gimme’s photographed in Half Moon Bay, CA
April 6, 2006
© Jay Blakesberg

TrunkSpace: Nowadays everything has a sub-genre as well. Nothing just is anymore. It needs to be broken down and defined to the most miniscule sound.
Slawson: Yeah. I’m not going to say it speaks to the wrong person because I think that’s elitist and exclusive, but I think it should guide them in other directions. Like, you have nothing to feel sorry for yourself for. That’s where I find there’s this weird kind of self-indulgent, white middle-class thing that I really dislike and that has come to sort of define punk to me… rather than any politics or revolutionary spirit. Punk in this day and age to me has come to mean middle-class white kids.

TrunkSpace: Whenever something shows the ability to turn a profit, that’s usually where it tends to become a little muddied.
Slawson: Yeah, but then my issue with that is, why didn’t it end it? Usually that smells the death of it and I’m still waiting.

Maybe that speaks to the resilience of punk music and punk culture that I’m not seeing or acknowledging. I guess you don’t think of heavy metal as being political music, but it energizes people. It makes them feel brave when they’re going to go out on the streets and face people that are going to fuck with them for looking a certain way. That’s what that really hyper-masculine hardcore music did for me when I was a kid. I understand it’s appeal just musically and it’s fast and all of that sort of stuff, but I question sometimes where it takes people. And I think sometimes that’s not the band’s problem. They don’t consider that they’re… I don’t know.

The fact that it was co-opted by the mainstream means that it should have died some time ago, to me, and turned into something else.

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes are currently on tour. Find dates here.

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Opening Act

Marie Danielle

MarieDanielle_OpeningAct

Artist/Band: Marie Danielle

Website: www.mariedaniellemusic.com

Hometown: Harrisburg, PA

Latest Album/Release: Hustler

Influences: Joni Mitchell, Conor Oberst, Bruce Springsteen and Lucinda Williams are the biggest influences on the whole. I love storytellers. Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Father John Misty and Fleet Foxes. Television, Cate Le Bon and The Beach Boys.

TrunkSpace: How would you describe your music?
Danielle: Folk. My first record “Hustler” definitely had an Americana vibe to it. The one I’m working on now is darker, more electric. And definitely weirder. With a different sound than anything I’ve done before. We were talking about it in the studio… Interstellar Folk was the genre that stuck.

TrunkSpace: We’re all our own worst critic. Where are you hardest on yourself when it comes to your music?
Danielle: I always criticize my writing. Except for those songs that are rare bolts of inspiration, when they come pouring out of the universe, I find myself changing lyrics, altering chord progressions and just agonizing over what I’m trying to say and if it’s coming across.

TrunkSpace: We read that you have lived in both Los Angeles and in New York City. Have the cities themselves affected your songwriting? Did they elicit a particular mood that trickled into your writing?
Danielle: Absolutely. Right now, when I’m writing it often seems as if I’m still walking down Hollywood Blvd, even though I’ve been gone from LA for half a year. I had wanted out of Los Angeles for so long. I felt stuck. It felt like purgatory. It’s been a long time since I lived in New York, so it doesn’t have the same effect on me or my songwriting.

TrunkSpace: Honesty is always a powerful tool in songwriting, but do you ever worry about putting too much of yourself into your songs?
Danielle: I don’t think you can put too much of yourself in songs. I worry about it being disingenuous, worry about it not being me. About being phony. I like it when I’m a little afraid of playing the song, scared to give too much away. If it isn’t a little dangerous, it isn’t worth doing.

TrunkSpace: It sounds like that for a long time, your music was something that you kept very private and to yourself. Now that you share your music with the world, how has that creative openness changed your life?
Danielle: The more public my music became the more I wanted to make music. I left LA and started touring and working on a new record. I’ve gotten to play with a lot of amazing artists I really admire and met new artists that are fantastic as well. But, it does put the pressure on. Now I can’t just sit down and write a song the way I used to. There’s always the next record to think of, if it fits, if it’ll be done in time… thinking about all the professional aspects and then hoping it all still comes out authentic.

TrunkSpace: What does your songwriting process look like? Do you need to be in a particular mindset or creative zone in order to write?
Danielle: It really depends on the day. Sometimes it’s a chord progression, sometimes it’s a melody, or even just a title. And then you just have to keep chipping away, without forcing but without being lazy either. It’s a struggle. I hate writing but love having written.

TrunkSpace: You spend a lot of time on the road. Are you someone who feels at home on the highways and byways or is the physical aspect of touring a strain on you emotionally/physically?
Danielle: I love the road. There is a solitude about it, kind of like removing yourself a step away from society. And the driving is so meditative. I do a lot of writing in my head while driving. But it does get tiring. And lonely. I think I want a band just to share the driving.

TrunkSpace: Where are you most at home with your music? Is it on a stage or in the studio and why?
Danielle: I love being in the studio. Right now, I’ve gotten really lucky and have this great band from Mississippi backing me up, Young Valley. We just clicked and the next record will be interesting, it’s a bit of a departure from “Hustler.” I don’t think you can get that kind of transformation on the stage.

TrunkSpace: In your opinion, what is the most universal subject matter to write about… the thing that all listeners can relate to? It is love? Is it loss? Is it something else?
Danielle: I think that depends on who is listening, but to me, it’s love and loss. I don’t know if people want to hear about your happy days. Happiness tends towards the shallow. Losing someone you love is dark and tortuous. It has a depth to it. It’s unique and universal at the same time.

TrunkSpace: What can fans expect from Marie Danielle for the rest of 2017?
Danielle: I’m finishing the new record down in Mississippi. I’ve been working at this fantastic studio in Water Valley. Dial Back Sound with Bronson Tew. We have found such a great vibe for this record, we just hit it off and it’s like we’ve been playing together for years. I probably won’t release the new one ‘til early 2018, but it’s what this year is about. I’ll be heading back to Europe in the fall and touring some more in the US before and after that.

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