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September 2019

Opening Act

Jessi McNeal

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Artist: Jessi McNeal

Socials: Facebook/Instagram

Hometown: Seattle, WA

TrunkSpace: Your latest album “The Driveway” dropped in August. As you gear up to release new music into the world – and ultimately relinquish control over it – how do you prepare? Is it easy to let the universe have the art you have created or can it be difficult to say good-bye to it?
McNeal: I never really feel like the music I create is mine to keep. In fact, one of my deepest joys as an artist is having the opportunity to share my work, and getting to hear how my songs speak to people. And thankfully, I don’t feel like I really have to say good-bye. As I share my songs live I feel like I get to continue to hold them, and watch them take on a life of their own. I love watching a song find its way in the world!

TrunkSpace: You were raised in a very musical family. As you listen back to “The Driveway,” can you hear where your roots – particularly those early influences from your mom and dad – have directly impacted your songwriting?
McNeal: My parents had artists like Emmylou Harris and Vince Gill on repeat on the record player in my house growing up. And most evenings my dad had a guitar in his hands. Stories, melody and old-school country were the soundtrack of my youth. It just feels like home, and as I found my voice as a songwriter, I think it was just a natural outpouring – something I never really thought too hard about. Emmylou remains a huge inspiration to this day, and I can absolutely hear that influence on a song like “When the Fire Came.” When I was sending early mixes to my dad and he heard “Radio Station,” he said, “Finally! A country song!”

“The Driveway” has a bit darker color palette, but those country roots are absolutely still there, and it’s so much fun to get to share that process with my parents.

TrunkSpace: You have said that, as a teenager, you moved away from the genres of music that your parents listened to and performed in, and now you have found your way back home, so to speak. Do you feel like, as a songwriter, it was important for you to experience everything else that you experienced musically before you could fully invest in the sound you’re currently writing and performing in?
McNeal: For sure. My biggest musical hero as a teen was Prince (and honestly, he still is!), and while most people would consider his genre to be the complete opposite of where I landed, I see it differently. He was probably one of the most prolific writers of our time – he took risks in every aspect of songwriting, and I learned a lot about melody, improvisation, and storytelling from his work. Beyond Prince, some of my favorite artists in my late teen and college years were Edie Brickell, Sarah McLachlan and Sting. So I while I wasn’t listening to Americana or country, I don’t feel like I wandered too far. All of those artists were at their core, storytellers, and regardless of genre, I think that’s what I’ve always been drawn to.

TrunkSpace: If someone unfamiliar with your music sat down and listened to “The Driveway” front to back, what would they learn about you as an artist and person?
McNeal: I think they would hear someone who’s not afraid to sit with grief and hardship, and hopefully within some of that melancholy they would also hear someone who is bent toward hope. As an artist I definitely love songs that have an achy, moody feel both sonically and thematically. However, as a person, I’m actually pretty light-heated and upbeat – hopefully that comes through on a song like “Little Log House.” Overall, I hope that people will hear a bit of themselves in these songs, and feel less alone in what they might be going through.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the album?
McNeal: I’m really proud of the process with the team, especially with my producer Ryan McAllister. When I write a song, just voice and guitar, I quickly hear all of the sonic possibilities in my head. I often have a pretty good idea of where I’d want to go with it in the studio, but because I only play one instrument it can be hard to articulate exactly what I want. I feel like Ryan hears the same things I do, and he knows exactly how to make it happen. Same thing for the players – they all connected with these songs right away and seemed to know instinctively what to play. I’m just really proud of what we all created together.

TrunkSpace: What would 12-year-old Jessi think of your musical journey thus far? Would she be surprised by the path you have taken?
McNeal: Oh, I think she would be giddy, and so would 20-year-old Jessi! I’m a late bloomer for sure, but this has always been a deep-seated dream. I think the younger version of myself never thought I’d actually make it happen. I was always a strong student and became much more career-minded during college and the years after. Being a musician just never seemed practical, but with age comes boldness, and a whole lot less to lose. If not now, when? I’m so glad I took the leap.

TrunkSpace: We love great lyrics… the kind that stick with us well after the song comes to end. What’s a favorite lyric of yours that you have written and why?
McNeal: I think my favorite lyric from this album is “Now you’re a shadow up against a pink sky” from the title track. I just love lyrics that have visual beauty, and there’s just something about the imagery of an airplane in a sunset sky. To me it’s a symbol of both adventure and loss, hello and goodbye. That’s a big part of what this album is about – the in-between, and that particular song is about the hope of reunion and reconciliation. I love that this lyric holds both beauty and ache – it just feels very true to me.

TrunkSpace: Are you someone who can shut off the creative brain or is the porch light always on? Are you constantly processing melodies and lyrical snippets?
McNeal: I am almost always in a creative mode of some sort. In fact, in one of my past jobs my boss called me “the singing bookkeeper” because I was always humming or singing! And even if I’m in a stretch of time where I’m not actively songwriting, I’m always taking in ideas and mental notes. I’m a painter as well, so in addition to stories and melodies, I love gathering visual inspiration. I’m grateful to be in a season where I can do both full-time. It’s such a gift to have the time and space to just grab my guitar or head to the easel when inspiration strikes.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take you to discover your voice as a songwriter, and do you think that creative point of view is constantly evolving?
McNeal: I was still experimenting quite a bit on my first album in 2013, but by my second album in 2015 I had developed a clearer sense of my genre and style as a writer. I definitely still evolving, and I don’t want to box myself in, but I think it’s safe to stay that you’ll find me in the folk/Americana vein for as long as I’m a musician. I love this genre because I feel like there’s a lot of room for me to experiment and grow, but there’s something about roots music that keeps me grounded. I love poetic language, but I also think there is a pure and relatable beauty in plain-spoken lyrics. I feel like I’ve found a sweet spot there, at least for now.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
McNeal: Absolutely! I recently told my producer that I plan to make records with him until I’m 80, and I feel like I am only just getting started. I am so grateful for artists like Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin and Patty Griffin who just seem to get better with age. They’ve paved a way female singer-songwriters to keep at it for decades, and I can’t wait to see what’s ahead.

The Driveway” is available now.

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Wingman Wednesday

Dan Payne

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Photo By: Charles Zuckermann

Although he is no stranger to Disney Channel audiences thanks to roles in shows like “Mech-X4,” Dan Payne continues to be in awe of his “Descendants” experience, one he sees as exposing him to an entirely new generation of pop culture fans… even those found closer to home.

I think one of my favorite things, though, is that this movie makes my kids think I’m cool… for now,” he joked in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace.

We recently sat down with Payne to discuss shaping the Beast, becoming a set dad, and how being a professional volleyball player prepared him for a career as an actor.

TrunkSpace: The “Descendants” franchise has tapped into a younger generation in a way that is difficult for new properties to do in this current day and age. What do you think has enabled the ongoing narrative to hold audiences through three movies to date, especially at a time when so much other content is available?
Payne: I believe the success of the “Descendants” franchise has a great deal to do with the underlying messages and concepts within the movies. The most important idea being, quite simply, love. These movies deal with the idea of love by addressing the concepts of inclusion, standing up for one another, not judging a book by its cover and acceptance, to mention a few. The story is told by an unbelievably talented cast of young artists who can dance, sing, and act brilliantly with Kenny Ortega masterfully at the helm of it all. I just feel like it came together in a way that connected with people of all ages and I am truly grateful to have been part of it.

TrunkSpace: You have returned to the role of Beast in “Descendants 3.” Is there a different vibe – or even a different approach – to reprising a character in a film franchise as opposed to a television series that checks in with audiences more frequently?
Payne: I think each character could ‘grow’ with the story and express how their character had been affected by what happened previously. Each movie afforded a new challenge, which could hopefully inspire more growth. Some characters’ ‘growth’ might seem more drastic than others since the audience does not get to check in as frequently with movies as they do a television series. And, for me, Beast is a father. He has to learn to grow as a father and help his son as he matures in to a fine young king.

TrunkSpace: Obviously the films, though enjoyed by people of all ages, are geared towards a younger demographic. Do you think the “Descendants” franchise has opened you up to an audience that has yet to see your work, and if so, how do you use that in your career as an actor to carry momentum forward?
Payne: “Descendants” has been an amazing opportunity for so many reasons. I think it has opened me up to a new audience. I have been fortunate to be a part of the Disney world prior to “Descendants,” having played Traeger, the main villain on “Mech X-4” for a season as well as Gabby Duran’s father, Bruce on “Gabby Duran and the Unsittables.” I hope the exposure the “Descendants” movies has brought opens up more opportunities and audiences because it would mean more chances to do this job that I absolutely love. I have an amazing team around me, and I think we will work together to make the most of this shift. Disney has been very good to me, and I hope our relationship continues and that audience continues to grow too! I think one of my favorite things, though, is that this movie makes my kids think I’m cool… for now.

TrunkSpace: Your character is based on a very famous fictional beast, who to date, has been enjoyed by various generations over many years. However, this still feels new enough in the narrative and tone that it wouldn’t feel like history has had too much say in how you approached him on-screen. While the past is there, did you feel like you were taking on a character that audiences have never seen before?
Payne: I was very fortune to have Kenny Ortega help me shape our version of the Beast. Kenny let me know that we would collaborate to create a King Beast very specific to our world of “Descendants” while honoring the famous classic character as much as possible. In essence, the most important trait of the Beast I got to play is that of a loving father.

TrunkSpace: For fans, the final product of a film or series is always the most memorable part, but for those involved in a project, we’d imagine it goes much deeper than that. For you, what is something about your time working on the “Descendants” franchise that you’ll carry with you through the course of your life/career?
Payne: I will always cherish the relationships that began with the cast and crew. We came together as strangers on the first film and now continue as friends. It’s not often for me that I get to revisit film relationships for the course of three films and six years. I got to see some of the young actors grow up and got to become, in a way, a set dad to some of them. They are truly brilliant young stars.

TrunkSpace: You have been involved in many facets of artistic exploration, from acting to photography to stand-up comedy. As a person, are you someone who needs a creative outlet to feel your whole self? Is artistic expression a must have for you?
Payne: I think artistic expression and having a creative outlet are an extremely important to part of me. I would almost say essential as if part of my DNA. I don’t believe I need it to feel my whole self because there are other equally, possibly more important parts, like that of being a husband and a father. Those parts give me tremendous joy and fulfillment. I’m very fortunate that I have an amazing support group around me so that I can pursue those creative outlets that fulfill that part of my being and also be a father, husband and the other parts of me that all add up to the whole.

TrunkSpace: Prior to pursuing acting as a career, you were a professional volleyball player. Are there parallels between pursuing sports and pursing acting, particularly when it comes to training?
Payne: I believe that my experience in professional volleyball taught me to bring an excellent work ethic and sense of professionalism to everything I do. I also think it has paid major dividends in the less structured career path of acting. Auditions are like tryouts. Do the homework, put in the work, and give it everything I have to succeed. I learned to work in a team environment. I also learned the life lesson to get up one more time than I get knocked down to find success – big or small, whatever it means to you – on the journey of trying to be the best version of me I can be. I’ve said it before, I think you have to be a warrior for your own cause and battle for the right reasons!

Photo By: Charles Zuckermann

TrunkSpace: We’re suckers for “Supernatural” here, a series that you appeared on back in 2014. It is about to begin its final season, so we’re curious how important that show has been to performers and crew in the Vancouver area and how much of a void it will leave behind?
Payne: Jared and Jensen are ambassadors of awesome! They have relentlessly been a brilliant part of the Vancouver film community. I think it will leave a fairly substantial void. But I have to say, Vancouver is an amazing and resilient community of tremendously talented actors, directors, crew – you name it – and I’m excited to see what fills those big shoes!

TrunkSpace: What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
Payne: That is an extremely tough question to answer. There have been so many milestones along the way that I could say are a highlight. I mean, I have met and worked with people that have inspired me beyond belief, been part of projects that altered the course of my career and traveled to foreign countries to do a job I love! I truly hope the highlights are still coming and THE highlight is yet to come! If you are asking me to pick one as I sit here, filming a movie in Thailand was surreal. It was the first time I left the continent on an acting gig. What a gift!

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Payne: No… yes… no.

Okay, admittedly, there was a moment of curiosity that arose as I thought about being able to know. But it faded quickly, and I can now confidently say, “No, I would not take that journey.” I guess the lesson of Faust in a way? I would rather continue this crazy journey as an actor and be excited by what may be just around the corner. I have loved the wild ride it has been so far and look forward to the next adventure… whatever it may be!

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Wingman Wednesday

Michael Roark

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Photo By: Dante Swain

For actor Michael Roark, connecting with a character is a visceral experience, but when it happens, the Illinois native dives headfirst into bringing that person to life on screen, even when the project’s future is not clearly defined.

I’ve worked in front of and behind the camera and also had a spell working in distribution (on the legal side)… and the truth is, no one ever really knows how a film may end up from concept to final cut or which way the wind may be blowing when it’s finally released,” he said in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace.

Fortunately for his latest project, the drama “Bennett’s War,” the wind has blown in a direction that has enabled the film to find an audience eager to escape the big budget/big brand onslaught of the summer movie season.

We recently sat down with Roark to discuss peeling away the layers of a character, how law has impacted his acting career, and why there’s always a sadness when embodying someone for the last time.

TrunkSpace: “Bennett’s War” feels like the kind of film that isn’t greenlit a lot these days. Almost a throwback. In terms of the big picture, was that part of the appeal in tackling a project like this in that it isn’t the kind of film we see arriving in theaters each week?
Roark: No matter how appealing a project may be, I need to connect to the character and to the story and I did with Marshall Bennett in “Bennett’s War.” It’s something that is visceral and tends to happen on the first read and I was sold. Yeah, it does have throwback vibes and I also love that about it, who doesn’t love a good throwback? I have never had a problem going the other way from the crowd and I didn’t here.

TrunkSpace: On the opposite side of things, is it a bit of a leap of faith signing on to a project like “Bennett’s War” not knowing what the future journey of the film will look like as far as distribution is concerned?
Roark: In that sense, the entire business is one big leap of faith. I’ve worked in front of and behind the camera and also had a spell working in distribution (on the legal side)… and the truth is, no one ever really knows how a film may end up from concept to final cut or which way the wind may be blowing when it’s finally released. I think that’s part of the charm in this business. You can sign onto play the lead role in an indie film and it may never see the light of day or it may end up playing in 1000 theaters across the country before a long life on streaming, which is what we have with “Bennett’s War.”

TrunkSpace: Again, this is a character-driven film, and your character Marshall has a lot of layers to peel back and explore. How much deeper did you go in terms of who he was beyond what we see in sitting down to watch the film? How deep of a dive did you have to take to understand and take on Marshall?
Roark: One thing I love about acting is the sky is really the limit. The work is never done in getting deeper and deeper in a character. There is always another layer to explore, always another color that may be found. With Marshall, there were several specific demands such as injured vet, former motocross champion, new daddy, financial struggles, life on a farm, etc. That’s just the beginning. Then I need to sit in the story and do my work to find what hooks me. It’s really a thrilling process, if not a bit nerve-racking.

TrunkSpace: Did you feel pressure in taking on a lead in a film like this, not only in terms of performance but also because, in a way, you become the face of the project?
Roark: Any leading man or leading lady will tell you that pressure is just part of the gig. I would always rather be in the ring facing that pressure than ducking an opportunity. That’s why instinct and trust is so important. If I feel I have something to offer to the role, to the story and it’s a story I believe it, then I’m all in. I think it’s a bit like being an NFL quarterback. Win or lose, the lead tends to get too much credit or too much blame.

TrunkSpace: For fans, the final product of a film or series is always the most memorable part, but for those involved in a project, we’d imagine it goes much deeper than that. For you, what is something about your time working on “Bennett’s War” that you’ll carry with you through the course of your life/career?
Roark: It’s always the journey, the making of the thing that stays with me more than the final product. Some of the people on this project became extended family to me, we shot in such beautiful locations and between the motocross, farm and military aspects… it felt like three movies in one. I typically have a soundtrack for every character I play and, usually, one song that always takes me right back to him. Moving forward in my life, whenever I play that song I think I will remember the sound and the feel of the KTM bike as I look out at the desert or the countryside.

TrunkSpace: You had previously worked on “The Young and the Restless.” Soap operas are known for their breakneck shooting schedules, so we’re curious, are their similarities between that day-to-day need to get a set amount of pages done and working on an independent film where resources and time is limited?
Roark: With big budget films, you can take a bit more time. With indie films like this one, we need to keep it moving. That said, there is nothing that quite compares to acting in daytime. The speed that it moves and the amount of pages covered in a day… it’s a machine.

Roark in Bennett’s War. Photo courtesy ESX Entertainment.

TrunkSpace: You went to law school and passed the bar before fully committing yourself to acting. Do you think your journey with law has had any direct impact over your journey as an actor? Has it helped you in places that you would have never expected?
Roark: I think everything we do in life leads to the next thing. Law revealed to me a whole other level of preparation needed for trial team, finals, the bar exam… it supercharged my analytical ability and my brain and I’m sure feeds many, if not all aspects of what I do as an actor.

TrunkSpace: Is there a character – even someone you inhabited for a guest spot – that you wished you had more time to explore, and if so, why?
Roark: Oh yes, there are too many to count. A sadness sets in when suiting up as a character for the last time… but with experience it has become easier. For the ones that seemed to come and go too soon, I think there is a sense that there may never have been enough time with them.

TrunkSpace: What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
Roark: I have had such beautiful moments in this career. Walking Mom down the red carpet at the “Dolphin Tale” premiere, seeing my name in the lights for the first time, being whisked away to beautiful cities and locations…

But it’s always the behind the scenes moments that stay with me most. If I had to pick one… it’s facing my fears and stumbling onto the stage for the first time to struggle through a monologue I picked off the library shelf at Fall general theater auditions at Illinois State.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Roark: Nope. It’s all about the ride. I don’t want to know everything the roller coaster does before taking it for a ride.

Bennett’s War” is in theaters now.

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Wingman Wednesday

Elizabeth Roberts

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For actress Elizabeth Roberts, tapping into a character – understanding that person inside and out – goes beyond the page. In fact, a portion of that journey of discovery comes from playlists that she creates with a character’s particular musical tastes in mind.

“Next to the words on the page, nothing allows me to connect with a character like music,” she said in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace.

The Virginia native’s latest project, the creature feature/family drama hybrid “Itsy Bitsy,” is available now on VOD.

We recently sat down with Roberts to discuss sharing the screen with a giant spider, discovering the hunger for horror, and why she considers herself a flower nerd.

TrunkSpace: Spider fears aside, did you have any fears – or self-doubt – about taking on the role of Kara in “Itsy Bitsy,” because there is a lot more going on with the film and the character than you’d generally find in your standard movie monster scarefest?
Roberts: I knew there would be challenges. I had never worked on a project that combined family drama and horror like “Itsy Bitsy” does. It was important to me to keep Kara grounded inside of a creature feature. And because Micah (Gallo) wanted to use practical effects, that added a choreography element to the performance. I have a background in movement and dance, but sharing the set with a giant spider was whole different ballgame.

TrunkSpace: There is also a lot of backstory going on with Kara, but not a lot that the audience sees. How much of that pre-journey did you build out to get an understanding of her and to be able to present it all on screen?
Roberts: Kara is a single parent trying to make ends meet. She also struggles with addiction, born out of loss, exhaustion and insecurity. I needed to approach her without judgment. I wanted to tap into that past, but never downplay her strength or her love for her children. I drew from friends and family through much conversation and observation. I was (am) in awe of what the mothers in my life are capable of on a daily basis. In awe of the sacrifices they have made and continue to make for their children to not just survive, but thrive.

Next to the words on the page, nothing allows me to connect with a character like music. I make playlists to help flesh out roles. Music is incredibly visceral for me. I chose music that reflected Kara’s core. I would often listen before shoots and in between scenes to help me focus.

TrunkSpace: As a performer, is there a bit of a leap of faith involved in taking on a project like “Itsy Bitsy” when you don’t necessarily know what the future will look like for it in terms of distribution?
Roberts: Kara resonated with me immediately. I wanted to do the work, because I wanted to learn from her, and from the process. So much of what happens after you wrap is out of your control. You have to trust the director and production team. It was clear from the beginning that Micah cared deeply about this film, so seeing it being released across so many platforms is exciting but not surprising.

TrunkSpace: The early reviews of the film have been really great, talking about the psychological creep factor that floats above the spider scares. As buzz continues to build for the film, what are your hopes for it and what it could ultimately mean for your career moving forward?
Roberts: I hope that people enjoy the creep factor while resonating with the family drama.

This versatility means there is hopefully something for everyone. Micah and the writers were passionate about developing a strong female voice. My hope is that I continue to play women who are complex, vulnerable and fierce.

TrunkSpace: Horror always seems to have a bit of a built in audience in that fans of the genre are always willing to try out something new and more independently-focused. Is there appeal in working on a project like “Itsy Bitsy” knowing that there will be eyeballs waiting for it when all is said and done due to the appetite for horror as a whole?
Roberts: The built in audience is certainly a bonus, but honestly I wasn’t thinking about that element when I took the part. I’m learning more now about the genre and the hunger for these types of films. I’m grateful fans are excited to see “Itsy Bitsy.” It’s innovative and I’m proud of what we’ve done.

TrunkSpace: For the audience, the end result of a film or television series is always the most memorable, but for those working on the project it must go must deeper than that. What is something from your time on “Itsy Bitsy” that you’ll carry with you throughout your life/career?
Roberts: Working with Bruce (Davison) and Denise (Crosby) was a gift. They each have had such strong careers, not just because they are immensely talented, but because they continue to explore and show up to learn. I loved sharing scenes with each of them. They both give so much. A reminder that we are all perpetual students and that each project gives us an opportunity to grow our craft.

TrunkSpace: Obviously the film highlights a common fear people have, and that is, spiders. Break it down for us reality-wise. You’re in your house, you spot a spider, how do YOU deal with that 8-legged intruder?
Roberts: Well obviously, I panic immediately. But then I remember that we keep a “spider jar” in the house to rescue spiders and release them back outside. In fact, I just used the jar today! Although if it was something a bit more of the “Itsy Bitsy” variety, the “spider flamethrower” is in the closet.

TrunkSpace: What does your absolute BEST best case scenario look like for your career? If you could line up all of the pieces perfectly, what would the future hold for you in terms of acting?
Roberts: Film has always had my heart, so it’s something I hope to be doing for many years to come. I adore seeing new parts of the country, meeting new communities and being able to really invest in a character for weeks at a time. If that trend continues, I will be thrilled. I feel like I’ve won the lottery every time I step on set.

At some point I would like to produce. Projects that promote positive social change really appeal to me. I feel it is important to look for ways to give back. Especially since I have been given so much.

TrunkSpace: On Twitter you refer to yourself as a flower nerd. We’ve got green thumbs here and burn off our stress in the garden all season long. What are some of your favorites to grow and why?
Roberts: Gardening creates a space for calm in my life. Succulents yield the most reward for me here in Los Angeles. I thought for so long that relegated me to cacti only, but holy kalanchoe there are so many succulents! I’m also a sucker for a colorful coleus! I have never had an orchid reblossom before last week, so things are looking up on that front. I took Latin in high school so I love to learn their Latin as well as colloquial names. Some day that is going to make me a trivia hero.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Roberts: I don’t think I would. I don’t think I could live life organically knowing the exact future. And honestly, I believe in infinite possibilities. That gives me hope. It’s a lot more fun to be surprised along the way. So far so good!

Itsy Bitsy” is available now on VOD.

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Musical Mondaze

Skux

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Photo By: Matilda @ Wolfpack Creative

Having worked behind the scenes of the music industry promoting other artists, Ayisha Jaffer, the crux of Skux, has a unique perspective on bringing music to the masses, though she admits that there’s no magical equation in capturing the ears of listeners.

It’s always kind of a guess and check, hit or miss, but I actually have fun with that side, trying new things, trying things differently, and seeing how people react,” she said in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace.

The new Skux EP “Kudis” is available now.

We recently sat down with Jaffer to discuss party punk, chart topping in New Zealand, and why you need to love what you do to keep doing it.

TrunkSpace: As an artist – a creative person – and you gear up to release something into the world, how do you prepare yourself for sending your art out into the world and relinquishing control over it?
Jaffer: How do you prepare yourself for that as far as just letting the world have it? I guess, you kind of can’t. It’s kind of just up to the people if they like it or not. I like it and I’m proud of what I put out, so for me, I’m just excited that other people can hear it. Hopefully they can hear it and have fun with it, because for me, it’s just a fun EP. I think a lot of people take themselves to seriously, so hopefully it lets people relax, chill and have fun, which is why I call it party punk, because I want it to just be enjoyable. I’m just having a good time, and I hope everybody else can feel that and have a good time with what I have.

But yeah, there’s nothing to prepare you, and usually on the day of release, I go out of service somewhere so I don’t see what happens, and just kind of focus on something else and come back. And then, it’s cool to see the reactions people have to what’s out there.

TrunkSpace: That’s got to be a healthy approach to take in the digital age because you aren’t refreshing to see the reactions. You can put some space between yourself and the release and then come back and get a lay of the land.
Jaffer: Absolutely. There’s no normal formula anymore for putting stuff out, and there’s so much stuff out there that it takes a while for people to discover it sometimes. And sometimes they don’t, because there’s so much. So, I honestly think people choose what they like, and I think that’s awesome. Spotify… it’s not curated as much as it used to be, and so, I think that’s pretty cool in itself, so if people hear it and they like it, great.

I used to have a professor, a long time ago, tell us about… because I worked in music on the other side, as a manager… and he was like, “Yeah, okay, so what? You have 20 likes on Facebook.” This is when that was normal. (Laughter) He was like, “Think about that. You have 20 people who have listened to your music, who like your music, who are influenced by your music, who are fans of your music.” And that’s a lot of people, if you think about it. So to think I have 900, or 1000, or more, that’s just crazy. So I think that’s a pretty cool way to look at it.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned being on the other side of the music for a while. Do you think that has given you a unique perspective in how you gear up to a release and put music out into the world?
Jaffer: Yeah, for sure. I’m totally conditioned to the way that I put out music, but every artist that I’ve ever worked with, and every project I’ve ever worked on, we always tried to do something different because we knew there was no formula from the beginning, even when there was a formula. And the music industry is always evolving and changing by the day. That’s why I liked working in it because it kept my days different.

So yes, because I’m aware of some of the different, new things happening and things people have tried, and no, because like I said, it’s always evolving and changing. It’s always kind of a guess and check, hit or miss, but I actually have fun with that side, trying new things, trying things differently, and seeing how people react. I actually never intended Skux, the project, to be a serious project. It was always just a fun project. And because it’s punk – at least I know from the industry perspective, punk is not a very sellable music, normally. For me, it’s just a passion. I love punk, and I miss it in the scene. I miss hearing it as much as I used to. It seems to be having a little bit of an emergence, but I was really surprised that it (Skux) did take off as well as it did, especially in New Zealand. One of the two singles I put out was number one for several weeks on radio, and that was nuts to me, because I was like, “What?”

TrunkSpace: And that’s what’s so great about the journey of art, you never really know where it will go when all is said and done. People take from it what they want, and in this case, we’d imagine you’d have never dreamed of having a number one single in New Zealand.
Jaffer: No way. My friends were like, “We’ll pitch it to radio or something.” And I was like, “That’s cool, whatever.” They were like, “Do you want to focus on one track?” and I said, “I don’t care. Give everybody both tracks. I don’t care.” And then, it was number one, and I was like, “That’s stupid. What!?” (Laughter) So you really can’t… you can plan to a point, but you can’t.

My way of planning with this, for the EP, was I just planned the way that I like with old school releases, which was having a concept. I loved a concept when I was younger, so I just kind of did it how I selfishly wanted it to go. If people like it, great, and if not, that’s fine too. I just wanted to selfishly put out a concept EP. And I wanted it to be ridiculous.

TrunkSpace: You never intended Skux to be a serious project, so, now that it has taken on a life of its own, do you feel like that takes the pressure off and allows you to just keep having fun with it?
Jaffer: I’m stoked that it is. Because in my goals with music, anyway, it’s just to tour and be able to do that because that’s my favorite thing to do from the industry side as well. So if that can happen, that’s awesome. And, yeah, it does take some pressure off, but you still get… it’s funny, because I never really felt the…

I hear from artists, on the vulnerable side, be like, “Oh my God, why isn’t it doing well? Why isn’t anyone liking it? Oh my God.” And I kind of get that, in a sense, because once you hit something, you’re like, “Oh, why am I not number one all the time forever?” Because that’s the ridiculous thing for artists to think, but I totally get where they’re coming from because it’s vulnerable. You made this thing. This is your art. This is you putting out your real self, theoretically, or at least your real fun self, or whatever your alter ego is. So I get that. But it does take some pressure off that I’m happy with it because I think that if you’re not happy with it, then, of course, it makes it harder if you’re doubting yourself about your music, and you’re not sure if it’s good, and you care about what other people think. I think punk is inherently… we don’t care. It doesn’t matter if you like it or not. That would be against the punk ethos, so for me, it’s just like, “I enjoy it. You enjoy it? Cool, let’s all have fun together.” That’s kind of how I view it.

TrunkSpace: Well, and, as an artist, if you’re working on something that you’re not enjoying, and then, like you said, going out on the road to support it for eight months to a year or more, that’s a miserable year if you’re not in love with what you’re doing.
Jaffer: Oh yeah. I’ve seen it too. It’s the worst. So you’ve got to like it. And you got to not care what other people think. Essentially, I think, the best music is music that is part of your experience, or your outlet, or something you just really enjoy. And if it’s not, and you made if for someone else, and they don’t like it, or whatever, or you just made it for someone else – you made it for only someone else, I should say – because a lot of it is, of course, for the people. They’re relatable, they can go through what you’re going through or whatever, or you’re trying to say a political statement, or you’re trying to just have fun. But if you made it only for someone else, then you’re going to be miserable no matter what, I think.

“Kudis” is available now.

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