June 2017

Between The Sheets

Matthew Sullivan


In our new feature, Between the Sheets, TrunkSpace picks the imaginative brains of authors to break down what it takes to create the various worlds and characters they breathe life into via the tools of their trade… sheets of paper. While technology continues to advance and change the pop culture landscape, the written word has remained one of the most consistent and imaginative art forms.

This time out we’re chatting with “Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore” author Matthew Sullivan to see how growing up in a family of eight children impacted his storytelling, how he felt upon turning in his manuscript, and where he’s hardest on himself as a writer.

TrunkSpace: You grew up in a family of eight children. Did that set the table for you to become a storyteller?
Sullivan: Most definitely. My brothers and sisters and I entertained ourselves a lot by telling stories from real-life about teachers, or camping trips, or our many misdeeds. Of course with each telling, the stories would usually gain another layer of detail or exaggeration, so there was always a joyful, one-up quality to our storytelling. The Blarney in our house was through the roof.

My brothers and I also spent a lot of time making up these elaborate, often absurd characters and had them interact with each other. We’d draw them and do voices and playacting. Some of those characters went on and on for years, like Art, and Cousin Art, and Bart—these giant guys who injected oil barrels full of heroin, only ate eclairs, and beat up everyone they interacted with. We were bizarre kids. It was the 70s.

TrunkSpace: Do any of your siblings also make a living as storytellers and if not, why do you think you were drawn towards that creative space while they were not?
Sullivan: My mom was a nurse but she also was a writer on the side. She published stories and articles and a few middle-grade novels in the 1990s, so there were always writing magazines in the bathroom, and a number of us inherited those genes.

I was child number five, right in the middle, and was a pretty quiet, observational kid, so the writing thing made sense to me. When I was little I would sometimes wander around the house just crying and crying for hours—kind of like that kid Wilder in Don DeLillo’s “White Noise.” I think it was because I wanted to be noticed, or maybe because I was just sad, and everyone would just yell at me to shut-up already. To me, that’s a precursor to the writing life: Something is wrong! And I have something to say about it! Maybe novel-writing is just an adult way of roaming around and crying?

TrunkSpace: “Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore” is your debut novel. What was the journey like for you in terms of when you first came up with the concept to when you learned it would be published? Was it a long road?
Sullivan: It was a very long road, but that’s just the path I was on, so I have no regrets. The initial seeds for the story were planted in my twenties when I was working at Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver, but I didn’t sit down to write it until many years later. Then when I finally did, it took 3-4 years to write the first draft, and another 3-4 years to revise, and sat in a drawer for a long time in between. All that time I was raising babies, working overtime, quitting smoking, burying my mother and my sister—in other words, a lot of important things were getting between me and the page. But it worked out in the end.

TrunkSpace: Are there butterflies as you gear up to release the book to the world?
Sullivan: For sure! But then I remember how this book was sitting in a drawer for quite a while and I wasn’t sure I would ever get it out again, so I can’t help but feel overjoyed at how it turned out. And my friends and family and early readers have been really supportive of the whole thing, which also helps.

TrunkSpace: Knowing that this was your first novel, was it hard to let go of the manuscript and call it “complete” or did you want to keep tinkering?
Sullivan: By the time we reached the very last edits, I felt like it was as ready as it could be, given the writer I am right now. Of course, there’s always more to do, but it’s also refreshing to face a blank page again, to start something new and begin to apply whatever I’ve learned along the way.

TrunkSpace: What did you learn about yourself as a writer in the process of writing “Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore” that you hope to apply to your writing career moving forward?
Sullivan: On a level of craft, I now pay more attention to a story’s pace and structure than I ever have before, both as a writer and as a reader… it’s so important to keep things moving, even in a character-driven story. On a more personal level, I realized how necessary it is to be persistent, even when things get bumpy, and to be ready to do what it takes, no matter how time-consuming or painful, in order to create a better story.

TrunkSpace: When you’re writing a mystery novel, what is more important to establish first… the plot points or the mystery elements themselves, which we’d imagine, have to be unique to compel readers familiar with the mystery genre?
Sullivan: The initial crime needs to be imaginative and intriguing. But for me, once the initial crime and general arc are established, a lot of the steps involved in getting to a resolution come out of characters—how they behave, what motivates them or catches their attention. Plot points and clues are important, but I’m always far more interested in the people involved. After all, the characters are intertwined with the crime, so I think their personalities steer the discoveries as much as anything.

TrunkSpace: Regarding the process, is writing a labor of love for you or does it feel more like labor? Do you enjoy the process?
Sullivan: I really love to write. I do. There are times when I am in that creative trance and everything falls into place, but more often than not, it’s difficult, even to the point of drudgery. But that’s all part of it. Creativity is a healthy compulsion, even when it’s tough. I love it.

TrunkSpace: And what does that process look like? What are the ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing?
Sullivan: Like a lot of writers, I find I’m most productive when I get away from social media and the internet. That’s a good start. Ideally, I also try to arrange times when I can really be immersed, even if it’s only for a day. I have an old 1960s “canned-ham” travel trailer, and I sometimes will take off in it by myself, with a laptop, a bicycle, and some books, for days on end. Those are productive times. But that’s also not real life. In real life, it’s more like I grab an hour to write on a Tuesday after work and another one on Sunday night, and try to cobble together the week that way.

TrunkSpace: Do you self-edit as you write?
Sullivan: I do. I have a hard time seeing something as valuable to the story unless it’s pretty polished on a sentence level, so I’m always reworking. The downside of that, of course, is that I eventually end up deleting a lot of really polished scenes because they don’t fit the story as it evolves. Ah, well.

TrunkSpace: Where are you the hardest on yourself as a writer?
Sullivan: I don’t trust myself enough. Even when I like something I’ve written, there’s always a sense of doubt creeping in.

TrunkSpace: What are you working on now and what will people be able to read next?
Sullivan: I have a short thriller being published any day in Joyland magazine, and an essay in Lit Hub, and some little things elsewhere. And I’m working on another literary mystery novel, this one about a woman who ends up living all alone in a strange small town in the Northwest. I’m excited to get deeper into it.

“Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore” is available today from Scribner.

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Listen Up



Showmanship has entered the building!

He rocks. He rolls. He rhythms. He blues.

Los Angeles’ own Clownvis is a unique island in a sea of interchangeable acts. You can’t quite put your finger on just what the enigmatic entertainer is all about, but then again, mystery is as sexy as a cotton candy body spray so let his undefinable talent pour all over you.

We recently sat down with Clownvis to discuss his Thin Lizzy tradition, his wacky early shows, and if we’ll ever see him on a bill with Andy Kaufman.

TrunkSpace: When you take the stage and look out at the audience, what’s the first thing that goes through your head?
Clownvis: Usually, “Damn, what town is this again!?”

TrunkSpace: Do you have any rituals or follow any pre-show superstitions?
Clownvis: I suppose there is lots of little rituals I have while getting ready. But I shouldn’t really jinx myself by talking about them. I can tell you I always listen to Thin Lizzy in my dressing room.

TrunkSpace: What about post-show? We’d have to imagine those jumpsuits of yours get funkier than the music itself!
Clownvis: Suit funk is a real problem, cause I do work up a sweat on stage every night. Plus booze being splashed and big guys squashing me into their sweaty armpits for photo ops. But in the frenzy of a post show meet and greet, there’s all kindsa smells going around. The cotton candy body spray has been my saving grace, cause even when the suit smells bad, people notice the cotton candy smell first.

TrunkSpace: When you’re performing live, is it more enjoyable to pop the Clownvis cherry of someone who is unfamiliar with your music or to rock the socks of existing fans?
Clownvis: I’d say it’s 50/50. Usually the crowd is made up of people that are into my stuff, and then their friend that they dragged along that has a fear of clowns. A common compliment I get is, “I hate clowns, but I actually liked you!” I appreciate that response. It’s fun to win people over. It’s cute.

TrunkSpace: How has your stage show changed since Clownvis first climbed his way out of the primordial music ooze to where you are today?
Clownvis: My early shows were wacky as hell. And not so much in a good way. I didn’t really have my hands on the wheel of what I was doing, I just knew I liked to sing and goof off. I’d call my early stuff performance art bullshit if I saw it today. But my years in the Los Angeles comedy scene really shaped the act that I tour with these days. Night after night. Do or die crowds. Nobody gives an inch unless you really pull it out of them. I learned to take people on a journey and dance around reality in a way that makes it easy for them to suspend their disbelief.

Also, I fill the suit out better these days.

TrunkSpace: People mature as they get older, and as a result, their art matures. Would you say that is the case with your music?
Clownvis: Unfortunately no. I can’t say the word mature has anything to do with the progression of my music or stage show.

TrunkSpace: As you’ve mastered the art of your art, have you also mastered the art of makeup application? How long does it take you to get show ready?
Clownvis: People always say that, ask me about my makeup. Look, I’ll tell you right here and now, I wake up like this. Before I hit the stage my stylist hits me with some mousse or gel or whatever and I pull up my socks and slip on the suit and go put on a show. Other than that there’s not much prep besides a drink and some Thin Lizzy.

TrunkSpace: Your belt buckles are BIG. What else about Clownvis is big?
Clownvis: Thank you very much. I have big expectations. I have big dreams. I have big plans.

TrunkSpace: We can’t imagine that it would ever be the case, but if there were Clownvis haters/hecklers at a show, how would you handle it so as not to interrupt the cotton candy body spray love of the rest of those in attendance?
Clownvis: Hecklers are generally pretty easy to deal with, but I rarely have them. My tactic is to just talk over them and then go into a song that drowns them out. I have a microphone so I really can’t lose.

TrunkSpace: Sticking with the idea of cotton candy body spray love… is there anybody in existence who can fight off its overwhelming (odorwhelming?) powers?
Clownvis: Honestly noone has ever said, “Oh my God, what is that smell?” in a bad way about the cotton candy body spray. It’s got 100 percent approval ratings from every nose that has had the pleasure to sniff it.

TrunkSpace: You seem a bit like a super hero stuck in a world of everyday folk. If this was a very special world, what would your super power be and would you use your great power with great responsibility?
Clownvis: I would be able to fly and I’d fly all the damn time. I don’t think I’d do anything bad. Just fly around.

TrunkSpace: We can’t help but imagine a show where the bill was Andy Kaufman and Clownvis. If Andy was alive today, how do you think that would play out?
Clownvis: Hard to say how anything with Kaufman would ever play out. But some people say he is still alive, so I’ll have my agent look into putting something together.

TrunkSpace: What do you want out of your career… nay, your LIFE… that you have yet to achieve?
Clownvis: I really want to be a spokesperson for a product. I don’t really care what product. I’ll hawk anything if the price is right. I want to be like Larry the Cable Guy and have my picture on products at Walgreens.

TrunkSpace: What else can fans of your music and cotton candy body spray look forward to for the rest of 2017?
Clownvis: LOTS of touring between now and the end of the year. All across America. See dates at Dates being added all the time. Also, I am currently working on an album with some amazing musicians. Not sure when that will be out, but it will be worth a listen for sure!

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The Featured Presentation

Jenn Lyon

Photo By: Rachael Shane

With the new series “Claws” on TNT, Jenn Lyon is literally clawing her way to the top and forcing us all to pay attention. The North Carolina native relishes in portraying a “real” woman on television and hopes that the show’s success will lead to Hollywood moving further away from representing women based on preconceived standards.

If women could be freed from that… I think that would be wonderful,” Lyon says.

We sat down with Lyon only days before the premiere of “Claws” to discuss her favorite part of playing the character Jen, how she embraces the current moral backlash that the series has received, and why Timothy Olyphant is just so damn good at what he does.

TrunkSpace: We’re only a few days away from the premiere of “Claws” on TNT. From your perspective, while exciting, do you also worry about it finding an audience in this current TV landscape where there is so much content vying for the same eyeballs?
Lyon: Yeah, because you know, I’m ancient and I remember when there was just the three big networks and maybe like, USA and Nickelodeon. You didn’t have all of these different avenues and platforms showing produced content, so yeah, it makes me feel a little worried. I think what we have is real special though and you haven’t seen it on TV before. It’s such a show about female bad assery and I feel like it’s the right moment for it to happen. I’m just hoping everybody likes it as much as we do. I really believe in it.

TrunkSpace: It does seem like shows are given a bit more room to breathe and find an audience these days. In that time when there were only three major networks, if a show didn’t come out of the gates with 15 million viewers, it was axed immediately.
Lyon: Absolutely. TNT is really stoked about the show and they love it as much as we do, so I hope that it will be given a chance to develop. The pilot is spectacular, but I think it gives you a tiny window into these women and what their life is about. Then there’s this great cliffhanger and you get sucked into this world and I hope audiences will give it a shot.

TrunkSpace: Not only is it a female-driven concept, but it’s a full ensemble of women, which sadly, still seems rare even in this golden age of television.
Lyon: Oh yeah. Super rare! And all of us are of a different ethnicity. That’s also refreshing.

TrunkSpace: Is “Claws” an example of how networks are trying to be more focused with their content as opposed to being so broad that they are developed to be a little bit of everything for everyone?
Lyon: To me, it has something for everybody. We’ve got comedy. We’ve got sex. We’ve got drugs. We’ve got violence. We can really run the gamut. BUT, it’s also not for the children.

Apparently One Million Moms has a petition to stop the show from airing and they’re just really upset about it. I don’t know why that makes me so happy. (Laughter) I think good art should be kind of polarizing and so to be involved in something that is, it makes me proud.

TrunkSpace: That kind of moral push back from groups always seems to help ratings as opposed to hurt them.
Lyon: Absolutely. I remember when they protested “Angels in America” in North Carolina. People are going to want it more. Your actions are doing the opposite of what you think they’re going to do.

TrunkSpace: So when it comes from strictly a performance standpoint, what’s your favorite part of playing Jen in the series thus far?
Lyon: My favorite part about playing Jen is that she’s messy. She’s rough around the edges… tenuously sober. It gives me the leeway to sort of experience this full spectrum of emotional life within her. She has two kids and she has two different baby daddies and she’s just a real person. She’s like a size 12 or 14. This is a real woman on TV and that gives me so much joy because I’ve been on TV before and was super thin, never ate, played lovely things and was so sad and worried all of the time. And now I’m able to eat food AND be on TV. (Laughter) That is like a miracle to me. I think it’s so great for women to see other women of size in the show. And all the women in this show are at their natural weight. Nobody is dieting. We get to eat New Orleans food. It’s just amazing.

TrunkSpace: So if the show hits and becomes a mainstream success, do you think that will continue to force the hand of networks to present women in a more “real” light?
Lyon: I hope so. I think we have been turning that corner in the last few years, with women of size being more prevalent in mainstream shows. “Orange is the New Black” is full of all different sizes of women. So yeah, I think we have been turning the corner and I think comedy has really helped in that sense. I hope it continues to change.

I read this quote the other day and it said, “A cultural obsession with female thinness is really a cultural obsession with female obedience.” I was like, “Oh my God! That feels right!” It’s like you’re being told to keep in lockstep with some sort of standard that doesn’t have to apply to you. It presses you down all the time and to be free from that is huge. If women could be freed from that… I think that would be wonderful.

TrunkSpace: And it starts so early. Looking at a doll like Barbie, the body type is just not realistic.
Lyon: Yeah. They did that study where it was like, “If Barbie was a person, her real measurements would be…” And it was something ridiculous. It was like 48-16-20. And girls are being sexualized earlier too, so it’s like this pressure to be beautiful and sexy and an object starts so early. I don’t know what I would do if I had a daughter. I would just want to wrap her up in overalls and just keep her in a cabin. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: You’ve done so much great theater over the years. Is that something you’ll continue to pursue as you navigate the film and television landscapes?
Lyon: It’s what I went to school for and it’s what I’ve been doing since I graduated. I think I only started doing film and TV like four years ago, and so I’ve been doing theater in those four years as well. I’ll go shoot something and then I’ll be unemployed and working at a pizza restaurant while I’m auditioning and then I’ll get a play and do a play and then I’ll go back to the pizza restaurant.

This (“Claws”) is a huge opportunity. I can’t believe it.

I’ll do theater whenever though. It’s my best love.

TrunkSpace: There just seems something special about it. Once you’re doing a play, you never really want to leave the theater itself, right?
Lyon: Yeah, that’s true.

Well… that’s not true. (Laughter) Sometimes you’re like, “I’ve got to get out of here!” It’s a grind. People don’t realize that. Eight shows a week is a real grind and it’s like you’re always preparing for or recovering from the show. It’s your life. But, it’s so immediate and wonderful and I think what’s really cool about it is that it evaporates. It’s between you and this audience. You’re sitting in the dark and it’s a weird ritual that we do and then it’s just gone. And it only exists in their minds and your mind. It’s not frozen forever like TV and film and there’s something about that that gets me excited.

TrunkSpace: It’s so funny you say that because in the day and age of streaming when people can rewatch stuff whenever they want, that makes theater even more unique.
Lyon: Yes. I was doing “Hold On To Me Darling” at the Atlantic in April and we had to constantly tell people to stop recording because Timothy Olyphant was in it and all of these “Justified” fans would come and they would try to record it on their phones. We were like, “You just can’t do it.” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: As you transitioned into television and film, did you sort of have to retrain yourself because acting for the stage is different, correct?
Lyon: Yeah, it is really different. People that say it’s not different, I’m like, “What are you talking about?” Everybody is so quiet on TV. (Laughter) Nobody talks at an acceptable level. You’ll be across the room from somebody and you’re like, “(whispering).” And in theater, you’re trying to reach the old lady who can’t hear who is sitting in the back row of the balcony. You have to fit the frame. So yeah, I had to sort of scale it back.

TrunkSpace: And to learn that out of the gates with Timothy Olyphant when you appeared alongside him in “Justified”… that had to be a great learning experience because he sort of epitomizes that quiet delivery.
Lyon: Oh yeah… that mother fucker can just do everything with like a little squint and you’re like, “Fuck you, Timothy!” He’s so good.

We got to make fun of him when he was doing the play because he always wanted to be doing something. Actors on TV… you’re always inventing business for yourself. You’re grabbing a cough drop when you’re talking to your boss or putting a file folder together. And he was always wanting to adjust the table or do whatever and we were like, “Stand there and say the words!” (Laughter)

“Claws” airs Sundays on TNT.

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Listen Up

Dave Depper

Photo By: Jaclyn Campanaro

Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Dave Depper is stepping out on his own with his first solo album, an endeavor that is both thrilling and terrifying for the Portland-based multi-instrumentalist. “Emotional Freedom Technique” was released last Friday and features a family of synth pop songs with an underlining emotional arrested development theme, one that Depper admits he has since climbed out from underneath of. With two more solo projects already in the early stages of creation and a new Death Cab album due out next year, the future is looking stage light bright for Depper.

We recently sat down with Depper to discuss his musical boyhood dreams, his inspiration for becoming a solo songwriter, and the experience of watching other musicians learn his songs.

TrunkSpace: We’re starting with a heavy question out of the gates. If we asked 15 year old Dave what kind of musician he wanted to be when he grew up, would his answer be different than how your career has ultimately played out?
Depper: Well, it would probably be pretty similar. I think I am kind of living out my teenage dream at the moment, which is pretty nice. I guess if I was really living my specific dream, I would be playing guitar for Blur or Pink Floyd, but Blur has a guitarist who is still doing quite well with them and Pink Floyd is not a band anymore.

But yeah, I always wanted to be a guitarist in an active rock back and I’m doing that. It’s great.

TrunkSpace: So did that early snapshot of a dream ever involve a solo career?
Depper: No. Not at all. I really didn’t have any designs on being a solo artist at the time, other than it seemed like one possible avenue to being a musician. But I wasn’t one of those tortured teens who had music fighting to get out of me like I hear so many of my favorite songwriters say. “Yeah, I just wrote songs all through high school and they were bad but then they got good and then I got a band.”

It wasn’t something that really called to me. I was just more interested in honing my craft as an instrumentalist. Early on I really enjoyed joining lots of bands and playing in as many different styles of music as I could. That’s just kind of the way things went seemingly forever, up until they stopped doing that. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: So did you consciously set out to take a solo side path or did it just sort of happen?
Depper: It’s kind of a combination. As music became more and more a component of my day to day life… like, I spent most of my 20s with a day job and playing in bands and moonlighting on the weekends or at night and then I gradually started touring more. By the time that I had played with several bands in my mid to late 20s, I was curious why I hadn’t been compelled to write my own music, so I started doing it. I was like, “Okay, I’m doing this. I’m writing songs.” And I just really disliked everything that I did. I just felt like that everything I did sounded like a bad imitation of whoever I was into at the time, whether it was R.E.M. or The Police or Death Cab for Cutie. Every time I did something, I asked myself, “Does this have a reason to exist? What is this doing better or differently than anything that I enjoy?” And I couldn’t answer those questions.

Fast forward a couple of years and I randomly agreed to play this thing called The 20 Song Game with a group of friends where you are challenged to write and record 20 complete songs in 12 hours. You did this with three or four friends and then you all get together at the end of the day and you play each other your songs. It’s this crazy kind of creative exercise that puts you in this sort of panicked creative state where you just have to use every single idea possible because otherwise you won’t have anything. You have so little time to work on everything.

I definitely wrote a lot of terrible songs that day as well, but there were a couple of things that really stood out that just sort of weren’t like anything that I had ever done before. When we were all listening back to each others’ songs, my friends commented on them. “That was really interesting. I didn’t expect to hear that out of you.” And they were these two songs that actually ended up on the “Emotional Freedom Technique” album… in different forms. One was only a verse and chorus and one had different lyrics, but the genesis of those songs were that day and it was like a lightening bolt struck me. I was like, “Oh, this is what I sound like and this actually doesn’t sound like anybody else but me.” Once I figured that out, it was like this dam had burst and I just started writing dozens and dozens of songs and it was just an amazing gift to realize that about myself that day.

TrunkSpace: So did that creative exercise also inadvertently change up your songwriting process?
Depper: Yeah. I think what it made me realize was that in order to effectively accomplish a goal or work towards something, I need to have a framework to work within, otherwise I get paralyzed by option anxiety. I’ve played in the hard rock bands. I’ve played in gentle folk bands. And I just couldn’t decide what to do and once I figured out this template of melancholy synth pop, I was like, “Okay, I can work within this.”

And so I think that no matter what kind of music I end up making or albums that I set out to do, as long as I have a mission statement of a sub genre at least, I’ll be a lot better at working on something.

TrunkSpace: A lot of times when an artist releases their first solo album to the world, they’re doing so in a way where they are working on building their fanbase, but due to your involvement in Death Cab for Cutie, you have an established fanbase. Does that put added pressure on you?
Depper: Definitely. It’s a strange double-edged sword. I actually started this album like five years ago and it was largely complete before I even got the call from the guys to play with them. A lot got done on the album since then too, but really this album was made in my bedroom by a person who kind of didn’t really know what he was doing and it certainly was not intended as this big solo bow from Death Cab for Cutie’s guitarist or anything like that. So it’s coming out in this very different situation than I expected it to.

That said, it’s amazing to have a fanbase who, even if they don’t directly all come over from Death Cab world, at least there will be some curiosity about it, I figure. It doesn’t sound like Death Cab for Cutie at all, I don’t think, other than there is a similar thread of emotional sincerity going through it, but… I’m very happy that it doesn’t sound like Death Cab because I really don’t want to be compared to them and not because I don’t like them. Ben Gibbard writes incredible songs and is beloved and I’m pretty terrified to be compared to him in any way. I’m happy to kind of have this weird, separate sort of spacy thing going on. And they have been incredibly supportive and wonderful about the whole thing. I was pretty scared about presenting it to them and being like, “Are you guys okay with me doing this?”

So, I’m happy about it, but it is a little bit nerve wracking, yes. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Does it feel different playing songs that are wholly yours?
Depper: Oh God, absolutely yes. With Death Cab, it’s this feeling of being a part of this amazing machine that is so good at what it does. Before I was in the band, they had been honing their craft for a decade and a half and it was an amazing kind of spaceship to board and to be a part of it.

I’ve so rarely been in a situation where I’m sort of calling the shots. The first rehearsal we had for the record a few weeks ago… you should have seen the look on my face. These four people learned my songs and the bass player was playing bass lines that I had made up and… it was this crazy feeling hearing this thing come alive that sort of wasn’t alive before. But then it’s kind of up to me to be like, if we have played the song three times, is it good enough? I don’t know. Do we need to run it again? That’s sort of an objective decision making thing that I’ve never really had to be in charge of, so I’m definitely learning as I go. And we haven’t played a show yet, so I can’t really report on what it feels like to play a show yet, other than I’m super terrified about the whole thing. (Laughter) But looking forward to it as well. It’s sounding amazing in rehearsal and the band is great.

TrunkSpace: Because this particular project was five years in the making, do you feel like your creative brain has already moved beyond where some of the messaging in these songs is at?
Depper: Absolutely. And the album was finished… mastered… a year ago. I’ve been sitting on it this long. So with the messaging, yes. The record addresses a very specific period in my life that was three or four years long of sort of this emotional arrested development and disconnection from relationships, both romantic and platonic. I was very much in that when I wrote the record and was sort of getting out of it by the time I was finishing it. And I’m firmly out of it now, but I’m really proud of the statement that it makes on that level and I think it’s kind of all I have to say on that subject. I love how it turned out, but I’m definitely turning my mind to other areas for future things that I’ve already started working on and that I’m stoked about.

TrunkSpace: So as you look towards the future and your career as a whole, where do you see your solo career falling into things?
Depper: Well, it’s cool. I think barring unforeseen circumstances, Death Cab is going to be Death Cab and we’re going to release an album next year and tour it. And before that, things were much more freelance for me. I would kind of join touring bands for six months to a year and then the second that I would be done I would need an income and so I would have to join another. It was very hard to plan my life, even three months in advance. Now I’m part of Death Cab and I don’t need to jump around. They’re home for me. I can kind of be more methodical about how I plan things out and so my goal is just to record, record, record… kind of all the time. And I can do that whenever with them… on tour or whatever because I have a mobile rig… and just release things whenever we have a lull in activity. It’s super freeing and super exciting to look forward to that.

Photo By: Jaclyn Campanaro

Emotional Freedom Technique” is available now.


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Chilling Out

Russell Geoffrey Banks


Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work in the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re talking with Russell Geoffrey Banks whose latest film “Who’s Watching Oliver” continues to create waves amongst horror fans, due in large part to his gripping performance as the mentally unstable Oliver.

We sat down with Geoffrey Banks to discuss the dark places that he had to go to, how he is surprised by the positive reception that the film has received, and why he isn’t worried about getting pigeonholed in the horror genre.

TrunkSpace: Does playing a character like Oliver force you to go to a dark place in your mind at times, and on those particular dark days, is it hard to leave that emotional heaviness on set?
Geoffrey Banks: Yeah. Definitely. Oliver was definitely a dark one for me. I’ve done a few other characters, like in the first film I did called “Goodnight, Glory.” That one had, again, kind of a dark character. And then “Cam2Cam” was about a serial killer.

I guess different actors do it different ways, but for me, you’re trying to put yourself in the worst possible place ever in those moments. And then afterward… for sure, it took a little bit of time to get my head right.

TrunkSpace: It also seemed like you had to strike a balance between the very dark side of Oliver and then the side with the childlike vulnerability that was attached to him?
Geoffrey Banks: Definitely. And I’ll tell you, when we were shooting it… the first part we shot was without Sara (Malakul Lane) and then she came in near the end of the film. And when she came in it was a real nice break because we had been doing all of the dark stuff up until that point and to be honest, I needed that time to do the nice stuff just to get my head right because it felt like we were just forever in a room killing people and doing dark stuff. Without a doubt, it definitely helped to have her come at that time to get my head right.

TrunkSpace: Strictly from a performance standpoint, what was the most difficult scene you had to shoot?
Geoffrey Banks: I’d say the rape. For sure. Kelly Woodcock… I had already known her for a really long time before, but that was without a doubt such a hard day. And surprisingly enough, it was one when it kind of hit me at that moment as being hard. Before that, I was just like, “Oh, it’s acting. This is going to be fine.” And then when we started shooting, it was like, “Jesus… fuck this is quite intense.” That was a hard day. I’d say, without a doubt, the rape scene with Kelly was probably about the hardest day to shoot.

You’re doing it and you’re in this character and you’re playing it and then you’re going ahead and you’re doing it, and then all of a sudden your brain is telling you, “Jesus, what the fuck am I doing?” That was the first rape scene I had ever done and it was definitely the hardest.

TrunkSpace: When you have to go to those dark places in a film, do you question the commitment and having to go there knowing that the film is an independent production and has the possibility of never being seen by an audience?
Geoffrey Banks: No. To be honest, that didn’t cross my mind. I had no idea if it would do well or not, but at the time… I don’t know, you just get into the character and you’re just going on emotions more than anything, I guess. I wouldn’t say that the whole independent film thing was a factor in my mind at all in those periods. I think if it had been a massive film, I would have felt exactly the same way. We know what’s right and what’s wrong in life.

But that was one of the main things, which I could always tell myself was… Oliver is very much a victim and he’s being forced to do that. His mother is forcing him to do that and that was the logic that I could put myself in. This is a guy who had a lot of mental abuse and physical abuse over the years and he’s being forced to do it.

It comes to mind with an old film called “Bad Boy Bubby.” That’s a similar type of thing. He’s a guy who’s very mentally unstable and put into a situation where he doesn’t feel like he’s got control. So I think you just suck up and go there.

TrunkSpace: We read one review of the film where the reviewer said something along the lines of it being difficult to believe that you were not that “mentally unhinged” character in real life. Do you take that as a compliment for your acting abilities and at the same time, as something that kind of gives you pause?
Geoffrey Banks: Well, nobody knows me, but if this does well, then everybody’s going to find out about all of the real bad stuff I did.

I’m joking. That was a terrible joke. (Laughter)

Russell Geoffrey Banks in “Who’s Watching Oliver”

TrunkSpace: (Laughter) It does seem like the film is getting a great reception, particularly from fans of the horror genre.
Geoffrey Banks: We’ve been blessed. I’ve been really surprised with the reviews. It’s a little film and when you’re filming it you don’t expect it. To be honest, I was more worried that everybody would… because you go into character, you do this stuff, and you make it as real as you can. It messes you up a little bit in your head when you do that stuff, but then you have no idea how it will do. I was worried. “Oh my God. They’re going to hate me and think that I’m this serial killer rapist.” So, seeing the reviews, I’ve just been blown away. I couldn’t believe it. If you had told me that when we were filming, I would have said no way.

TrunkSpace: And you have won a number of awards for your performance as Oliver.
Geoffrey Banks: Yeah. Again, I couldn’t believe it. And it’s been really nice with Margaret (Roche) as well. It’s funny… if you ever met the mother, you would never believe it’s the same woman. (Laughter) People say that about me being different, but if they met her… she’s this little religious old woman. They would never believe it. Jesus, you wouldn’t believe it’s the same person.

So when she got an award, that meant a lot as well.

TrunkSpace: Just about an hour before we chatted we took a look at one of the YouTube channels that has posted the trailer of the film and it was up to over 400,00 views. When will those 400,000 people be able to see the film outside of the festival circuit?
Geoffrey Banks: To be honest, I’m not sure. I’ve got my fingers crossed and I’m hoping that it gets sorted and everything, but it’s film. We’re in those days when it’s harder. It’s not easy to sell films and it’s not easy to get people to watch your films. Again, that’s why it means so much that we’ve been getting these reviews because it has been unexpected.

Hopefully it releases soon.

TrunkSpace: If the film goes wide and becomes a cult horror hit, which seems possible based on the feedback so far, would you be comfortable being labeled in that cult horror genre knowing that it could pigeonholed you as an actor?
Geoffrey Banks: I’m going to give you the real response and not the one that is made up and what I should give you.

Dude, I’ve done a million jobs. I’ve worked minimum wage. I’ve done every single thing in the world. I’ve grown up on horror films. I’ve grown up watching a million films. If somebody ever told me that I could be an actor and pay my bills, I wouldn’t care.

Fuck, if something does well, that’s amazing. That’s what you want. That’s what we’re after. And with being pigeonholed… the fact is, if something does well it does well. I could work my whole life and do a million films and nobody could ever watch them… because that’s where we’re going. We’re going into that thing where films don’t make money. It’s getting harder. Just to get some attention… and this is why the awards and everything means a lot.

I’d like to play it cool and I’d like to give it the James Dean approach, but no… it means the world if people write nice stuff about you. It’s the same with any actor. Everyone will lie and try to play it cool, but we’re all liars. We love it. (Laughter)

Read our exclusive interview with Russell Geoffrey Banks’ “Who’s Watching Oliver” costar Sara Malakul Lane here.

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Chilling Out

Sara Malakul Lane

Photo By: Matthew Comer

Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work in the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re talking with Sara Malakul Lane whose latest film “Who’s Watching Oliver” is scaring the pants off of festival goers all around the world.

We sat down with Malakul Lane to discuss the emotional heaviness of the film, her costar’s performance, and how the Kickboxer franchise has impacted both her career and personal life.

TrunkSpace: How did you become involved in “Who’s Watching Oliver?”
Malakul Lane: I had worked with Russell Geoffrey Banks on a movie at the end of 2015 and he mentioned that he had a script and asked if I was interested. Russell is one of the best actors I have ever worked with. I learned so much from him and was so inspired, so I jumped at the opportunity to work with him again, especially on a script that he co-wrote.

TrunkSpace: The film is a dark ride with lots of deeply wounded and complicated characters. From an acting standpoint, did you worry about delving into that world and having some of that emotional heaviness stay with you?
Malakul Lane: I was actually feeling very emotionally fragile (due to some personal issues) while we were filming the movie so it was kind of cathartic in way to have to go to those places every day and immerse myself in such dark, heavy material.

TrunkSpace: What was the most difficult scene you had to shoot in terms of where you had to go emotionally?
Malakul Lane: I am good friends with Russell so we felt at ease with each other, so even though he was in character a lot of the time, I didn’t feel threatened in any way and the vibe on set was fun and lighthearted despite the kind of movie we were making.

TrunkSpace: A lot of times independent films can be shot, but then linger in post-production and then possibly never see the light of day. Is that something you think about when signing on to star in a film like “Who’s Watching Oliver” where the content itself is heavy and could be difficult on you emotionally as well as physically?
Malakul Lane: I respond to the creative side of things and don’t really worry about the business aspect. If I love the script and the people involved and it works with my schedule then I usually don’t go into the details of when/how its getting released. It’s not my problem. I don’t really have any aspirations to be a producer so once my job is done I let it go and hope for the best, hope that people see the movie and respond to it in kind.

I think part of the job of an actor is to take on the emotional baggage, to go to those dark places and feel icky, and I personally enjoy it and find it healing. It’s not that fun during the process, but I always learn from it, and since I have been doing it awhile, I have ways to cope when things get too heavy.

TrunkSpace: The film has been getting rave reviews and winning a number of awards as it circulates throughout festivals around the world. Is it surprising to see how well of a reception it has received thus far?
Malakul Lane: I am always happy and surprised because you just never know how people will respond. There’s been times when I am on a set and everyone is convinced we have a hit and when the movie comes out no one watches it, so I have learned to have low expectations. With Oliver, I did have a good feeling because Russell’s performance was just so magical and the script was really raw and original.

TrunkSpace: Is accepting roles a risk/reward scenario? In that we mean, does an actor/actress need to take risks in the roles that they take on in order to propel their career forward?
Malakul Lane: Like I mentioned earlier, I never think in terms of “propelling my career forward.” I read a script and I research the people involved and I always make the decision with my heart and not my head. Maybe I would have a different career if I used my head and strategized more, but that is just not my philosophy. Life is short. I have to know that I am going to have a good experience on a film. I have to have some sort of visceral response to the material otherwise in my mind there is no point. There always has to be a strong, heartfelt “WHY” behind each decision I am making.

TrunkSpace: With that in mind, what is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken in your career?
Malakul Lane: I’ve definitely taken a lot of risks, in life and in my career choices. If I wasn’t a little risky there is no way I would have left Thailand and moved to LA… I would still be doing Thai soaps, which isn’t a bad choice but it wasn’t the life for me. I think comfort is the enemy to growth so when things feel little too comfy I tend to shake it up because I always want to be growing, as a person and as an artist. In terms of risky movie choices, “Jailbait” was definitely one, but it was a great experience and I learned a lot from it… but there were definitely times during the shoot that I felt extremely uncomfortable and I whispered “whatthefuckamIdoing” to myself.

TrunkSpace: You’ll soon be returning to the Kickboxer franchise in “Kickboxer: Retaliation.” What can you tell us about where Liu will be going in terms of her story and arc?
Malakul Lane: I am really looking forward to “Kickboxer: Retaliation” coming out. The cast was so phenomenal, and some of the actions sequences are just mind blowing. My character Liu is now married to Kurt Sloane. She has an unfortunate run in with “The Mountain” and without revealing too much, gives Kurt Sloane a reason to kick some serious ass.

TrunkSpace: Kickboxer is an iconic action franchise. Is there another iconic franchise, from any genre, that you’d like to be a part of?
Malakul Lane: I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of the Kickboxer franchise. It’s been a wild ride and everyone involved has become family. There’s so many great franchises out there, I don’t have a particular one that I would want to be a part of, I just take the opportunities as they come.

TrunkSpace: Throughout the course of your career, what project had the biggest impact on you from an acting perspective and what project had the biggest impact on you in terms of your personal life?
Malakul Lane: Definitely the Kickboxer franchise has had the biggest impact both personally and professionally. It expanded my fanbase because its such an iconic brand and to be able to work side by side with incredible athletes such as GSP, Mike Tyson and Alain Moussi was inspiring and life changing. And both movies were filmed in my home town of Bangkok so it has been nice to come home every year, hang out with my family and make a cool movie. I hear rumblings of a third one happening soon…

TrunkSpace: When you look at your career moving forward, what would you like to accomplish? Do you have bucket list items that you want to check off in your career?
Malakul Lane: I don’t like to separate my career and my life. I have life goals/bucket lists as opposed to just career ones. I want to finish my degree in psychology, learn a new language, travel the world and make a few more cool action movies.

Malakul Lane in “Who’s Watching Oliver”
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The Featured Presentation

Heather Kafka

Heather Kafka_Wingwoman_wednesday

Heather Kafka is the kind of actress who fully and fearlessly immerses herself into a character. She not only becomes the woman inhabiting the fictional world she was cast to portray, but does so with a physicality that is just as much camouflage as it is performance. She doesn’t just star in a project, she lives within it, becoming a part of the narrative in the most organic of ways. It’s a skill set that most actors spend their entire careers striving to obtain and one that seems to come so naturally to Kafka.

We recently sat down with the Texas native to discuss her memorable turn in “Longmire,” why there may never be a set like it again, and how many of the characters she has portrayed have been through hell and back.

TrunkSpace: When we spoke with Adam Bartley a few months back and asked him who the most memorable guest stars were to have appeared on “Longmire,” he instantly mentioned your name.
Kafka: Aww. Adam is the best. Huge compliment and I would return the compliment. He is really an awesomely genuine, full of life, warm-hearted, easy to access… just a wonderful, loveable person. And so, so talented. Even more talented than I realized just from “Longmire.” I saw his reel recently and the range of characters he’s able to do is really awesome. He’s amazing. I have a big soft spot in my heart for him.

TrunkSpace: It seems that everyone we have spoken to who has appeared on “Longmire” has had the same experience in working on the show and that is that it was one of the most welcoming sets of all time. Did you have that same experience?
Kafka: Listen, and I’ve said this before and I’m happy to say it again for all of eternity… I’ve worked a long time in this business and I’ve been on many, many television sets and I have never been on a set like “Longmire” ever before and maybe won’t ever again. There’s just something really special with that group of people. I don’t know where it begins and ends. I don’t know who’s responsible, but everyone is in the same place in their heart and it’s very much like a family. From the day that I arrived, I felt like I was part of that family and that is super rare.

The guest star circuit is really hard. I’m not going to lie. You show up on a TV show, surrounded by people who have been working together constantly for however long, and you’re the new kid at school. The way that we do a lot of TV shows these days is that one episode is beginning and concluding within that episode and so there’s a huge arc that you have to cover. It’s usually very dramatic and intense and there’s a lot of heavy lifting for you to do right out of the gates. It’s difficult to feel comfortable doing that anyway, let alone when you show up to, in this case Santa Fe, New Mexico, a place where I don’t live and I don’t know and I’m in a hotel that I don’t recognize and I’m not transporting myself to and from set. You really relinquish a lot of your control and it’s very easy, I think, for people who are already in that established situation to sort of just dismiss you, and not necessarily in a cruel way, but you’re just passing through.

TrunkSpace: And they know that you’re only there temporarily, so there’s probably a bit of a defense mechanism involved as well. Why make friends when you know that person will not be sticking around?
Kafka: Exactly. And to do it well it’s probably going to take more time than you’re probably going to have with them. And so, it makes sense why it is the way it is normally, but for “Longmire,” it kind of doesn’t make sense why it’s so amazing. Literally the day that I showed up on set, people were just so welcoming to me. They treated me as if I had been there the whole time. Lou immediately came up to me as if he had known me his whole life and invited me to the cast and crew dinner that he was going to have at his place that night. Apparently it’s something that he does at the beginning of every episode. And so immediately I’m at Lou’s condo in New Mexico where he has made a full spread of food. Not catered. Not hired. Not brought in. He made every single dish from scratch in his kitchen, cooking while we are all there… producers and actors and crew. Everyone was welcome. It was like Thanksgiving. It was just so warm and welcoming and everybody was just so lovely. And that right off of the bat, eases so much of your fears.

TrunkSpace: It must immediately set the tone.
Kafka: Yeah. And it helps you to do your work quickly and better because you feel supported.

And what I will say about “Longmire” is that even to this day, I still feel a part of that family. It’s been a couple of years now and I went to Santa Fe last year as I was traveling and I called up one of the producers and she was like, “You’re coming by set, right?” So we went by the set and we all had a meal. It was like I had never left. It is a very unique family that they have over there and it’s obviously an incredible show that has moved a lot of people and for good reasons.

TrunkSpace: Do you think part of that family atmosphere is nurtured by the fact that the show doesn’t film in LA or Vancouver and instead is sort of set off and isolated from the rest of Hollywood?
Kafka: Absolutely. And it’s one of the great things about when you go on location for a film. You know you’re going to be there for like three months, you hunker down, and you just live in that experience for that time. This is similar to that because nobody really lives there. They live there while they’re shooting and they’re also the kind of people who will thrive in that environment. When they have a few days off, they’ll go camping or they’ll really take in the goodness that New Mexico and the surrounding areas have to offer, as far as quality of life. It definitely helps make you a tighter knit family when you’re all there and that’s all that you’re there for… doing it every day and you don’t have to be like, “Oh, I’ve got to get to the post office today.” All of that is stripped away and you can just focus. So it’s a beautiful environment with these lovely people.

But it could also go the completely opposite direction. You could be stuck in that place where people are miserable and everyone is screaming at each other and being a dictator or being a diva or whatever. There’s just none of that. It’s pretty amazing with “Longmire.”

TrunkSpace: We would imagine in a lot of ways it’s sort of like doing a play where you’re spending so much of your time at the theater that you get to the point where you almost don’t want to go home?
Kafka: Absolutely. To be honest, when I was there and the day that I was supposed to wrap and fly back, the airline’s whole system went down and the planes couldn’t fly. So all of a sudden I was sort of “stuck there” over the weekend and couldn’t go back until a couple of days later. I was A-okay with that. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: At the time that you shot your episode, the full embrace of the “Longmire” fandom hadn’t really taken hold yet, right?
Kafka: No. It was definitely on the rise though. I got the feeling that the fanbase had just started to get rowdy at that point. There was the Longmire Posse on Instagram and not long after my season wrapped, I remember there being a big fear that they weren’t going to bring the show back and there was a big campaign. They were already having Longmire Days. But I know it has just exploded even more since then. I mean, they’ve managed to keep the show on… whatever it’s going to take. They’ve managed to keep it going.

TrunkSpace: What we find so interesting about your work is that you always go all-in on the physicality of the characters that you’re playing and at times you’re not even recognizable.
Kafka: I like that. That’s the part of it that I like to do. There is so much product these days, I think you can get lazy and you can get away with not going any extra mile in that regard, but I’ve always really liked that element of it. And a lot of times with characters, I’ve found over the years, I start from the outside in. It helps me immensely when I have different shoes on and different clothes and my hair is different. Just those starting points often help me get out of my own habits that I’m not even aware of and discover new ones that I can make habits for my characters and how they hold their pencil or whatever.

TrunkSpace: Where does that embracing of the physicality come from? Is it rooted in theater?
Kafka: You know, I’m willing to bet that it is theatrical. I started in theater when I was about six years old and did theater up until…

I went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts right after high school and that was the last bit of theater that I did. Those elements are really more emphasized in theater because they’re part of your medium. There isn’t going to be any real background music or editing or whatever, so those physical elements are an aspect that is more at the forefront. I think I have just carried it over into the fact that I’ve always felt most comfortable as a “character” actress, as opposed to any sort of ingènue or leading lady type. I’ve just always been more comfortable molding myself into something that I’m not usually in real life. Even if that means I look like shit! (Laughter) 90 percent of the times my characters have been through shit… hell and back… and they look like it. (Laughter) They look rough.

TrunkSpace: (Laughter) But if a character has been through hell and back, then they should look rough!
Kafka: Exactly! I would feel weird if I was doing all of that and someone was still trying to make me look pretty. (Laughter)

I clean up alright in real life though. I feel okay about it. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Are there more of those interesting characters to play now because the content in television has matured and become more character-driven?
Kafka: It is absolutely more character-driven and that’s exciting. The trick now is, as a woman, to be able to get as many interesting characters written for you as there are for men. And also ones that don’t always hold dramatic interest because of some sort of atrocity that has been put upon them. A lot of the times I’ve found that when I’m doing television work, the female characters have had horrible things happen to them that day or that year or whatever and I don’t think it always has to be that way. There’s plenty of fascinating male characters that I can think of… from “Die Hard” to whatever… but with females there’s still an awful lot of, “She’s so and so’s husband.” Or, “She’s so and so’s wife.”

TrunkSpace: It does seem like a lot of strong female characters are strong because something terrible happened to them and that made them who they are, as opposed to just being born and raised to be strong.
Kafka: Right. Exactly. Or, you could just be an interesting person as opposed to having to be a plot device for the interesting person or for someone else. Just to have a life of your own… one that doesn’t necessarily revolve or depend on a male lead or whoever the main protagonist is that we’re supposed to be interested in. And they’re definitely out there. They’re just being played by Glenn Close. (Laughter) So you’ve got to get in there because all of the great actresses are getting them and going for it, as they should.


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The Featured Presentation

Amin El Gamal

AminElGamal _Wingman_wednesday
Photo By: David Gabe

Television fanatics will recognize Amin El Gamal as Cyclops from the revival of the popular series “Prison Break,” which launched on FOX back in April. Those who follow the actor on social media will also know the California native as an outspoken critic of social injustices and an advocate for equal rights of all individuals regardless of race, creed, sexuality, or religion.

We recently sat down with El Gamal to discuss how the current social climate has inspired more people to speak out, the positives (and negatives) of the Internet, and why it’s a big deal that you can see him on your TV.

TrunkSpace: We know that you have been outspoken regarding human rights and social injustices for a long time, but do you think the current political and social climate has inspired others to speak out whereas in the past they may have remained silent?
El Gamal: Yeah. I think that’s been the silver lining of a lot of the terrifying executive orders and impending fascism… that people have come out and have begun to see that they have something at stake and are finally willing to stand up for their rights and for the rights of other people. That’s been really inspiring. I find that encouraging.

I think it’s easy when you’ve been in the activism game for awhile to be like, “Oh, you’re coming out now! Now you care!” But I don’t see it that way. I kind of see it like, “Yes! Everyone is welcome! All hands are needed on deck!” Everyone has something different to share. They have their own perspectives and different resources and different points of view that are all useful. Everyone has a place somewhere.

TrunkSpace: It also seems like the other side is just as energized and motivated, especially on the Internet where they can remain sort of hidden behind their hate.
El Gamal: The Internet is like a double-edged sword. It’s very easy to organize and mobilize people to rally over something, but it can also be used to manipulate people and misinform them. You’ve seen the rise of big social movements that I think are really positive like Black Lives Matter or the Women’s March, but on the other side of that coin… and I hate to say it… but it’s ISIS. It would not have existed without the Internet. Or it wouldn’t be as pervasive. So again, it’s a double-edged sword.

That’s sort of the double-edged sword of globalization in a certain way as well. That said, I think once you know how to deal with trolls and how to take in or not take in what they’re saying… and I think there are trolls on both side and people who don’t want to listen on both sides, which is part of the problem that our country has gotten into… but I think as long as I operate in a way that’s dignified and respectful of other people while speaking my truths and not hiding or not spewing hate in either direction or using catchphrases that become meaningless at a certain point, I feel like I’m doing my duties responsibly online.

TrunkSpace: As your profile continues to rise, do you feel like that it gives you a bigger platform to discuss the issues that you believe strongly in?
El Gamal: I hope so. I don’t have a massive social media following, but I have been really active… before Trayvon Martin, but I think Trayvon Martin was sort of the switch for me. I was just kind of completely enraged and I had nothing, no outlet, except to hit the streets and scream and support my black brothers and sisters and to take pictures and Tweet about it. And then that became… part of my role has been magnified through the voices of people who have less of a voice than I do. And that’s what I think is really cool about social media.

I’ve noticed that since my following has gotten bigger a lot of people are just concerned about my character on “Prison Break.” (Laughter) Some of them are into my social injustice stuff. There are also fans who are queer Muslims from all over the world… which has been kind of amazing to witness… who post about gaining inspiration from me sharing my story.

Yeah, I haven’t been any more vocal in the last few months while I was on “Prison Break” than I have been before. Nothing has really changed. I think I may have taken on a few projects too many and have been spread a little thing. (Laughter) But, I’m doing everything I can because honestly… acting can be a very narcissistic endeavor and it’s easy to fall into the trap of people saying great things about you and giving you attention and seeing your face on TV. So it’s good to even it out with giving back. I have to do a lot of looking inward, which can be kind of exhausting, so it’s refreshing to look outward. If I’m given a platform, especially a platform where I’m playing this somewhat stereotypical character on TV, then it’s my duty to speak out for the reality of what an Arab American, a Muslim American, and a gay person looks like in this country.

TrunkSpace: It does seem odd that, at least in the current landscape, that people don’t believe that entertainers and athletes should speak out on what they believe in. It feels like there’s a real push back on that these days. Would you agree?
El Gamal: (Laughter) Yeah. “You don’t know anything! Do your job! I want to enjoy the show and you’re ruining it for me with your opinion!”

I think that’s ridiculous. I think acting is activism, in my point of view, at least for me as a queer person of color. If I’m showing up on your TV screen, in whatever I’m playing, it’s sort of a big deal. And as a Muslim person too.

I started acting, not professionally but in really small school plays, starting in preschool. I’d put on my own shows in my backyard. Feeling like I wasn’t allowed to express who I am… it was almost a protest in a way disguised through story. That’s always how I’ve seen it. I’ve always explored something in myself or would try to say something that I wanted to say in the container of the character I’m given.

And even with “Prison Break.” As much as they would allow, I really tried to make a character that, even if you hate him because he does things that are completely unforgivable, that you sort of feel like…

A lot of fans will come up to me and say, “Even though I hate you, I felt so bad for Cyclops when he gets his other eye taken out.”

So it was interesting to see how these long term “Prison Break” fans see a guy who almost kills their most beloved character getting some sympathy. I was like, “Okay, I did my job.”

El Gamal as Cyclops in “Prison Break: Resurrection.”

TrunkSpace: With a character like Cyclops, it could have very easily gone into the stereotypical comic book villain-like area.
El Gamal: Yeah. And there’s moments where it was like that in the script and because of time and logistics, some of that got cut. There were times when I thought we lost a few physical insights into how this person is who he is, but at the same time, it’s a genre show and it’s an action/adventure about breaking out of prison. So, I needed to fulfill a certain conflict and role. It’s not about me living in the character and having lots of acting moments, which is what actors want. (Laughter) So there’s a balance of fulfilling the story and playing your own fiddle.

But in terms of the stereotypes, I actually auditioned for Kunal Sharma’s character originally. He was called Sid and was a character that I was like, “I can do this in my sleep. A gay Muslim Arab guy!” (Laughter) And then in my second round, or I guess the third round, Paul Scheuring was like, “Read this thing!” And when I saw Cyclops initially, I was like, “This is ridiculous. A, this character is absurd, and B, there’s no way in hell this is right for me.” (Laughter) But I guess I just committed to it. The way I accessed it was through someone who has never felt like they belonged and who has been bullied and who has sort of lost it because of continual abuse and exclusion. I sort of could relate to that and that was kind of my approach to it.

And I think by casting someone like me who is ethnically right and who comes from the same background and who is queer even… it added a lot of complexity there. But I think just casting it against type… I haven’t heard from anyone who was like, “Oh, you’re so offensive!” Which I was really surprised about. There were two things that terrified me. One was because I’ve been so open and because I’ve been so critical of the business, I thought there would be people who would lash out. And then the other bigger concern I had was that we haven’t seen that many ISIS-like characters that have been as fleshed out as Cyclops on a broadcast show. So I was kind of worried that I’d be on ISIS’ radar and that terrified me.

I think those fears are a little bit unfounded. (Laughter)

But, I had to explain it to my community… and not just one community. I was really grateful the Persian American comedian Maz Jobrani did a Facebook Live with me before the show. He had been in my position before early in his career and so he gave me a platform to talk to a lot of the Middle Eastern Americans and Middle Eastern people from all over and sort of explain that… this is the situation for actors like us and unfortunately it has been for a long time. Sometimes you have to make some compromises. Understand playing a terrorist is not ideal and is even harmful, but I would love to have their support so that I could do something better in the future.

And that’s a big thing. A lot of immigrants don’t want their kids going into the arts and media because it’s not stable and it’s a heartbreaking business. And they’re not wrong. (Laughter) However, at the same time, they complain about how they’re not represented or that they’re not portrayed correctly or portrayed in a harmful way and a way that puts them down. So, until we encourage our kids to do that and support them, even when they do things that they might not necessarily approve of or even if it isn’t what we want right away, we won’t get there without that support.

TrunkSpace: Has the industry made any improvements? Are you finding yourself going to auditions where the part you’re reading for doesn’t have any assigned ethnicity or religion attached to it?
El Gamal: Well, no. I was really disappointed this pilot season. I thought for sure that because I worked last year on multiple shows and in film… I have a film coming out and I did a big play… I thought that there was no reason why I shouldn’t be going out for characters that are just like me. And that hasn’t started yet.

There’s a lot of talk like, “How can we get more Arab and Muslim people in writer’s rooms.” They’re kind of patching us into stories in ways in which they think are positive. And sometimes they’re good and a lot of times they’re just sort of sainted, kind of naive characters, which are also not human. (Laughter) They’re either evil or they’re like, “I’m so holy and pure!”

Photo By: David Gabe
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Seez Mics


Artist/Band: Seez Mics


Hometown: Kensington, Maryland

Latest Album/Release: “With” via Crushkill Recordings, February 2017

Influences: Atmosphere, Eyedea & Abilities, Sage Francis, Freestyle Fellowship

TrunkSpace: How would you describe your music?

my music

is a mirror

looking back

at you

I’m a very reflective person, so the image of an unwavering reflection revealing perspectives and details that may initially go unnoticed or deemed unimportant fits what I’m trying to get across.

TrunkSpace: You cut your teeth freestyling in the DC area. What was your very first freestyle experience? Did you have to psyche yourself up to take the stage or were you itching to take the mic?
Mics: I went to high school with Deep of the 2 Hungry Brothers and he was the person who introduced me to freestyling, so my first experience must have been with him in his dorm room in 1997. I don’t remember anything specific from that experience beyond feeling like I’d been introduced to the perfect outlet for my personality, but I have many fond memories of my early freestyling adventures. One such memory was in the late 90s when I battled a handful of other MCs in front of a huge crowd during a Lyricist Lounge event at the famous nightclub Nation in DC. There were a few mics among the MCs, so I used both mine and the one I grabbed from another MC to tell him, “You’ve got a fat face, just another rodent finishing last place in this rat race” long before it was common to do the now cliché move of grabbing someone else’s mic or rhyme “last place” with “rat race.”

In my early days I needed no more incentive to “seez” the mic than an opportunity to rap. I now have far more responsibilities and thus less free time to take advantage of such opportunities, but still don’t hesitate to get loose when they present themselves.

TrunkSpace: As you look back over all of your battles, what is the one that is the most memorable to you and why has it stuck with you?
Mics: I put my battles in two categories: Scribble Jam and all the other battles. Scribble Jam gets its own category because of the notoriety it afforded participants. Unfortunately, I never had my A-game going at SJ and didn’t win, but my battle with Rhymefest was regarded by many as a close call and is the one most people bring up when my battle history is being discussed. To be perfectly honest, my SJ experiences taught me that I wasn’t the world’s best battle MC and therefore I should focus on being the world’s best Seez Mics.

Personally, my most memorable battle took place in the early ‘00s in DC. There was a weekly event called Tru School and it brought out the most talented MCs from the DMV, so the battles were always intense and challenging. One week in particular, I got in the zone and beat a few MCs who were at the top of the food chain during that time period. I was absolutely flawless, came completely off the head, and honestly believe I could have beaten any MC on the planet that night. I had a few experiences like that as time went on, but that was the first battle during which I was locked in beyond error.

TrunkSpace: What is your approach to freestyling and has the approach changed from your early days to where you are today?
Mics: Freestyling requires a certain mindset that becomes easier to attain the more you do it. The mindset is very primal and survivalist, but also requires a level of conscious direction… I’m just now realizing it may be the most evolved thing a human can do! I may have just freestyled the key to mankind’s existence.

But back to your question: I don’t have as many opportunities to freestyle now as when I was younger, so my approach is now more cautious while I wait for that mindset to settle whereas a younger me was freestyling all the time and could readily snap into the necessary headspace.

Depending on how much notice I have that an opportunity to freestyle is going to happen, I’ll chamber a few lines based on what’s happening in the environment and sprinkle them in to get comfortable. Eventually, the goal is to go completely extemporaneous and zone out so as to be as “in the moment” as possible.

TrunkSpace: When you’re freestyling, do you ever surprise yourself and go, “Damn, that was a great line,” only to forget it when all is said and done? It must be easy to get caught up in the moment.
Mics: I’ve actually always been pretty disciplined about remembering my highlights from freestyles. In fact, some of my best punchlines/hooks/concepts were born during freestyle sessions so I make an effort to write down anything noteworthy as soon as possible after freestyling it. I’ve also always felt that writing rhymes is technically freestyling, and the more I write, the better I freestyle.

I co-host a podcast called Chrome Bills (available on iTunes and SoundCloud, please subscribe then share with your friends and enemies) and we freestyle a lot, which is great because it’s being recorded and I’ll eventually hear it again even if I do forget something worth remembering.

TrunkSpace: What was the process like for you transitioning from freestyling to taking your art into a recording studio? Did it take some getting used to?
Mics: It’s never been an issue for me, but I’ve definitely noticed how some MCs are incredible off the top and mediocre-to-terrible in the studio. I think that’s because some MCs are not comfortable with the restraints of having to practice a verse to the point where it becomes second-nature and perhaps even boring to them. There’s an inherent rush to being in the moment that dissipates the more you try to replicate that moment, and that rush alone may be the only thing that motivates some MCs.

I think the best freestyles are the result of your brain and spirit simply reacting every element of the moment, and not allowing fear or doubt or distractions of any kind to impede the flow. The trick with bringing that same energy to delivering a prepared rhyme, at least to me, is to have the rhyme memorized cold both in terms of content and delivery so none of the variables inherent to recording in a studio prevent the flow from having that same sense of freedom as when you first thought of it. Sure, Pro Tools may crash for the billionth time or the engineer might spill coffee on the mixing board, but at least the verse is stashed in your brain.

This question comes at an interesting time for me; I’ve spent almost two decades resisting purchasing gear to demo songs at home because I am very impatient and resistant to change, but I recently got an iPad and the Garageband app that comes with it is so simple that I no longer have an excuse. I’m in the process of making a new album and have spent the last few weeks demoing songs I wrote awhile ago, so it’s almost like I’m freestyling when demoing a line that is faintly familiar. There’s been several moments of “I should enunciate the word this way” or “slow the cadence here to accentuate the flow” during this demo process that I often only experience when freestyling. I’ve demoed material in the past, but never to this degree and I expect this new album to reflect that.

TrunkSpace: We’d have to imagine that there’s so much energy and excitement involved in freestyling and it must be difficult to translate that energy to the studio. How do you channel that vibe when you’re away from a stage and can’t feed off of a crowd?
Mics: For better or worse, I spend a lot of time in my head. The difference between being alone in my basement demoing a song and performing that song in front of an audience is really only what’s happening to me physically, such as the adrenaline rush. I do breathing exercises before going onstage to account for how my body will react physically to being in front of people, but mentally I have no problem bringing the same intensity when I’m alone.

I don’t mean this answer to minimize the impact of performing in front of people. It’s certainly important to recognize the moment and react if something happens that can bond you with the audience beyond the music. Maybe don’t respond to every heckler, but going after the one guy with the bad comb over who keeps spilling his drink on everyone might help you build a rapport with the crowd.

Also, every artist is an overly sensitive narcissist who believes the world will bend over backwards to consume what they’ve created. So even if I’m alone, I still sense the presence of the interested eyes and ears that will eventually have the grand fortune of being engulfed by my genius. I am impossible.

TrunkSpace: Do you try to say something with every song that you write or do you have tracks where you’re just letting the words marry up with the beat and the ultimately take on a life of their own?
Mics: In the same way that freestyling requires a certain mindset, writing requires its own way of thinking and nuances. For example, if I haven’t written in awhile but I have a beat that grabs me and a concept I’d like to explore, there’s always this roadblock of impatience with the writing process that I have to first recognize and then work my way through. If I’ve been writing a lot, the lyrics will often easily flow out of me so I try to at least piece together the standard 16 bar verse once or twice a week just to keep the writing muscles loose.

For the same reason I think all MCs should at least practice freestyling, I’ll wait for the beat to tell me what to do and then start doing it instead of imposing my will on a beat that isn’t the right fit. That may happen upon my first listen, or that may take a few days of just letting the beat play on repeat. Some beats want a heavy-handed concept with dense lyrics, some want a light-hearted concept and lyrics that allow the beat to do the heavy lifting. I pride myself on meshing the vibe of my words with the vibe of the beat, not just doing impressive raps over the most impressive beat I can find. No shade towards anyone who approaches it that way, but I did that so many times that it became boring to me as a writer.

My last full length project “Cruel Fuel” is the only album I’ve made that wiped my conceptual slate clean when I was done writing it. I think that’s because each of the beats have a visceral, tangible concept of their own that provided me with a road map to follow, not to mention that as entirely beat-box based they were extreme alternatives to the typical sample based rap beats I’ve worked with and therefore drew extremely alternative concepts from me as a writer. I’m not sure I’d have been able to make “Cruel Fuel” if I pigeonholed my writing process, so it propelled me to remain open minded about how I approach writing.

TrunkSpace: It’s often said that it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. That being said, what do you hope the destination is for you? Where would you like to see the journey take you?
Mics: I’ve stopped hoping to make this a career because I never made enough money to quit my day job. I’m now married, my wife’s pregnant, and we recently bought our first home so I can’t financially justify going on tour for weeks at a time only to return with ketchup packets and 11 new Twitter followers. I spent my 20s and part of my 30s doing that, and while it was fun and even sometimes lucrative, I no longer have the desire or ability to make the necessary sacrifices for this to be my sole source of income.

So with that chapter over, I’d like to be able to do all of the parts of making music that don’t involve leaving my home for more than a day or two at a time. I’d strongly consider hitting the road if the money is worth it, but I’d have to check with the boss first.

TrunkSpace: As you look over your journey thus far, what has been the musical highlight?
Mics: I’ll go to my grave feeling like “Cruel Fuel” is the most artistically interesting thing I’ve ever made. Maybe not the most accessible or enjoyable, but the most interesting.

While it’s immature on my part to revel in validation from the artists who I’ve looked up to like Atmosphere and Sage Francis, there have been a few pats-on-the-back that are now memories I’ll always cherish. I grew up in suburban Maryland, so playing venues like the 930 Club in DC or the Ottobar in Baltimore were bucket list shows. My favorite shows were the 3 years in a row that a rotating cast of groups led by me sold out the Strathmore Mansion in Rockville. The validation of being able to sell out a great venue in my backyard was… well, validating. I need to improve my vocabulary.

Besides what I’ve actually created and who has told me they liked it, getting to tour with Eyedea & Abilities has definitely been the highlight. Their live show was the most impressive performance I’ve ever seen, and getting to see them do variations of a few different sets was indescribable as a fan let alone as an artist. I also really valued developing a friendship with Eyedea before he passed and consider Abilities a homey, plus all the other wonderful people I met through Eyedea.

TrunkSpace: What do you hope your legacy is as an artist?
Mics: I would like anyone who comes across my art to think to themselves, “I can’t believe this volume and variety of quality material all came from one person.”

TrunkSpace: What can fans expect from Seez Mics in the second half of 2017 and beyond?
Mics: I have joined the Strange Famous Records SFdigi label and they will release my album “Live Long Enough To Learn” either later in 2017 or in 2018. In the meantime, spend all of your disposable income on my merch and check out the Chrome Bills podcast, which I co-host with DJ Steve Bills and K-Cromozone.

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Listen Up

Joe Dias


Boston native turned LA transplant Joe Dias is looking to move music forward, blending elements of rock, hip hop, and pop to make his own definable sound. Born from a diverse range of musical influences, Dias’ songs are given life on the guitar, an instrument he took up at age seven, and are placed into a cocoon within the studio where they emerge as something entirely different.

We recently sat down with Dias to discuss his love for rock, his desire to create musical uniqueness, and where he’s hardest on himself in the songwriting process.

TrunkSpace: You’re set to drop a new single “Something Better” to the masses. What does that feel like?
Dias: Man, I can’t wait, honestly. It’s going to be incredible. I’ve got nothing but good, positive vibes for the release of this song and I’m hoping that it goes very successfully and I can broaden my fanbase and entertain the fans that I have.

TrunkSpace: Is it a track that you recorded recently?
Dias: I’ve actually had this song for about six months now and I’ve just been waiting to plan the correct release for it because I wanted to release it professionally instead of just dropping it because it’s a really good song. I wanted to take the right steps.

TrunkSpace: That’s got to be difficult… to have something you’re proud of and have to sit on it for so long?
Dias: Trust me! But I’d rather people actually hear it… a good amount of people… instead of just dropping it. I want to use it as a tool to build myself up.

TrunkSpace: So as you look forward in the career, is a strategic approach to releasing new music something you’re going to try and do at all points now?
Dias: Definitely. I’ve been thinking about that a lot more. I used to just make whatever I wanted to make, whether it be a Hip Hop track or a rock track or a pop track. Now I’m trying to create a definitive sound and create a vibe that can be a brand. That’s what I’ve been focusing on mainly. I want this to be a long career. I don’t want to have to do something else. I want to do this.

TrunkSpace: And that seems to be the real trick in a career in music… maintaining longevity.
Dias: Yeah. It’s maintaining it AND creating something original because if you just follow the trends, the trends are always going to change on you and you’re never going to stand for one thing.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned creating tracks based on varying genres. You cite a wide range of influences in terms of the sounds that inspired you and we’re curious if you always had diverse tastes when it came to music or did you enjoy different genres at different points in your life?
Dias: I grew up listening to nothing but classic rock. My dad had all of these CDs and I would find a CD and listen to it over and over again, whether it be Led Zeppelin “IV” or the Eagles’ “Hotel California.” I would listen to all of those tracks and they really, really spoke to me. Then I started learning how to play all of those songs on guitar. So, I would say that it started out with rock, but then as I grew up, I got into a lot of Hip Hop… listening to 90s Dre, NWA, and stuff like that, in high school. And then recently I’ve been into 60s R&B like Sam Cooke where people just sing and you feel their pain. That’s the kind of singing that I want to do.

There’s just so many good singers. I love Percy Sledge. (Singing) “When a man loves a woman…” I just love those songs when you feel it. I know I like it when I hear it.

TrunkSpace: You listen to someone like Smokey Robinson on vinyl and man, it sounds so warm and inviting. You can’t always capture that in a digital space nowadays.
Dias: Yeah. Vinyl is really coming back. People are all about the vinyl nowadays. It’s pretty cool. People are just sick of not holding a record.

TrunkSpace: Some artists are even releasing cassettes as well.
Dias: Times are weird right now. Things are all over the place. I feel like we’re going backwards and forwards at the same time.

TrunkSpace: We actually saw a photo on your Twitter account where you posted a picture of yourself wearing a Pantera shirt.
Dias: “Cowboys From Hell,” man! (Laughter) Actually what happened with that shirt… a friend’s mom is obsessed with Pantera so we’ve been listening to Pantera and we were at a thrift store and I was like, “No way!” I have been listening to Pantera going to the gym and stuff. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: So as you’ve absorbed all of those influences into your own songwriting, how long did it take you to sort of find your own voice as a songwriter?
Dias: I would say very recently. I’ve always known that I didn’t want to abandon my rock roots. So many people love rock music and there’s just no one making… there’s a lot of bands making rock music right now, but there’s not many people pushing it forward into a new realm. That’s kind of why people say rock is dead, but it’s definitely not. I work at this rock store and teach little kids how to play “T.N.T.” by AC/DC and I watch them get so hyped about it. It’s definitely not dying any time soon. People just need to say, “Rock is still cool and let’s push it into new directions.” People are pushing Hip Hop into new directions, but not really rock music.

I want to be on the charts. Who doesn’t want to make a million dollars on a song? But I also want to stay true to everything that I’ve done. I like the sound of electronic music, but I don’t like how every single EM track is formulaic. It’s predictable. I hate predictability in music.

TrunkSpace: So was the guitar your gateway into music? Was that your first instrument?
Dias: First instrument, definitely. I started when I was seven. I miss the guitar. I miss the guitar on stage. That’s very lacking right now, but it’s still kick ass in my book. I’m trying my best to promote that.

TrunkSpace: You write most of your songs on the guitar, but when you put on your production hat to bring your other influences into the mix, do the songs themselves change a lot?
Dias: Yeah. Completely. And sometimes lyrics get rewritten. Melodies get changed. Everything kind of switches up a little bit. The original production demos are a lot slower. They just change up and you get those drums in there and you can feel it. Usually your gut, when you’re making music, will tell you where it needs to go.

TrunkSpace: When you’re working on the songs, where are you the hardest on yourself as an artist?
Dias: The lyrics. The lyrics are really hard for me sometimes because I know what I want to say, but I just don’t know how to say it all of the time.

TrunkSpace: Do you write from experience or do you take more of a storyteller’s approach?
Dias: Usually from experience, but sometimes I do these weird stories that don’t happen, but I like to tell it like they’ve happened. Sometimes I write little fictional stories in songs. It’s fun.

TrunkSpace: Well, and what’s great about that is, it might mean one thing to you when you wrote it, but the listener might have a completely different interpretation.
Dias: Yeah, that’s the magical thing about it. At the end of the day, everyone’s going to think of it in a different way and that’s the coolest part.

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