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December 2019

Monica Aben

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Artist: Monica Aben

Latest Release: In Your Universe

Hometown: Venice, CA

TrunkSpace: How do you think you will look back on 2019 as it relates to your music? Where did this year impact you most as an artist?
Aben: This year was a wild ride. I think 2019 will go down in history as the year of new beginnings. I can’t help but feel that the last several months set me up for the rest of my life. It was a big year for songwriting and meeting new collaborators who I now consider great friends. I traveled a lot (NYC, Nashville and London) and was reminded that songwriting is forever my favorite part of all of this. Realizing that allowed me to see the doorways that were previously hidden by my indecision. When you are trying to write, book shows, be an artist, create content of all forms, and have a life without going broke you miss half of the opportunities in front of you because you’re just trying to stay afloat. I have a gut feeling that in 10 years, wherever I am, I’ll look back at 2019 and see how the events of this past year helped get me there.

TrunkSpace: You released your album, In Your Universe, in November. As a listener, the release of that album becomes a part of our present, but those songs have been with you for some time and in a way, also represent your past. As an artist, do you feel like you have emotionally moved on from a song – at least in the way you first found a connection with it when writing – by the time it reaches the masses? How do you stay present with songs from your past, particularly in a live setting?
Aben: I don’t know that I’ll ever outgrow any of these songs, emotionally, mostly because of what they mean to me. Every time I sing them live, I get to relive the most beautiful years of my life to date. Everything still feels fresh. Even the sad ones make me feel good because the experiences that inspired them still matter. This record is the chronological story of me falling in love with my now fiancé, so playing these songs live just feels like my dramatic answer to someone asking me, “So how’d you two meet?”

TrunkSpace: If someone listened to In Your Universe front to back, what would they learn about you, both as an artist and as a person?
Aben: They would learn that as an artist, I put the most weight in my lyrics. I’m a big fan of keeping the production as simple as possible, then adding in other melodies and harmonies that help, but not overpower the story. I love poetry because it’s evidence that a string of words placed in a certain order can be poignant, powerful and important. I want my songs to mean something and tell a story. They would see how passionate I am about preserving highly emotional and important moments, and that I adore the piano. If they are into astrology, they would likely guess that I’m a Libra and they would be 200 percent right.

TrunkSpace: We read that you grew up on your father’s vinyl collection. Did that appreciation for front-to-back albums – a collective musical experience – inspire your own writing, because for us, In Your Universe feels like a collection of songs that belong together?
Aben: YES. Absolutely. The vinyl we played the most ranged from the ‘50s-‘70s and they weren’t just timeless pieces of work, they were stories I loved trying to decipher. Back then, I feel like albums were released with purpose. The goal was to make music lovers smile, to be the soundtrack to someone’s life, to make someone feel seen and understood. I know some music still does that today, but it just doesn’t feel the same to me. You see, these songs were written (almost) in the exact order they appear on the album. The first few tracks are about me letting go of an almost lover, but as the album goes on, the songs get happier because I met someone new, then we fell in love, and now we’re getting married. This album is the literal documentation of me falling in the greatest kind of love. I know I sound like a sappy romantic, but these songs were my way of processing everything that was happening and it will forever be my most personal timeless masterpiece based on the content alone.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the album?
Aben: I’m proud that it sounds exactly the way I wanted it to sound in my head. So many people told me to make it more “current” – I’m still not sure what that means. I didn’t understand why everyone wanted me to make it sound like everyone else. These songs were written as ballads. I wanted them to make the listener feel the way I felt when I wrote them. It doesn’t matter if these songs don’t get on a playlist or get thousands of streams, because every now and then, a stranger sends me a message about one of the songs, and every single time, the way it made them feel is exactly how I felt when I wrote it. That means I did it right.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take you to discover your songwriter voice and can you recall the moment when, creatively, it all clicked?
Aben: I feel like I found my voice as a songwriter when I was working on an EP called Sweet Dreaming that I impulsively released in 2017. I had these three songs that didn’t feel like anything else I had written before, and sort of came out of nowhere. I don’t really remember writing them. I just sat down with an instrument and let out my feelings. I wasn’t trying to choose certain words or make everything rhyme. I just wrote what I felt, and to this day that’s exactly what I do. I think it’s the only way I can actually stay true to my voice. I write by myself 90 percent of the time, so no one’s there to reel me in. It forced me to learn how to let everything out, but still be able to edit, and I think that’s made me a stronger writer. However, when I can’t do it myself, I’ve got some wonderful collaborators that help me dig my way out of very wordy verses.

TrunkSpace: Where are you hardest on yourself as an artist and how do you overcome those self-critical insecurities?
Aben: I really beat myself up about being in the music industry and not being edgy or cool. In a world of “no labels” The music industry seems to have a handful of them. My aesthetic is that I don’t really have one. I love ‘50s & ‘60s vintage dresses, I host dinner parties for my friends, wear big curlers, and have been called “too wholesome.” I say this from a place of love, really. But it’s hard when people take the things that make you who you are and phrase them as negatives. So, I try to tune it out, live my life, write and sing my truth because I’ve known who I am since I was 16. If I tried to be anyone other than me, my music wouldn’t be honest, and neither would I.

TrunkSpace: Tell us about The Sweatpants Series and how bringing this experience into existence has impacted you as an artist?
Aben: The Sweatpants Series is my passion project and really the only way I perform. We raise funds and awareness for Safe Place For Youth (S.P.Y.), where I am also a member of their Next Generation Committee. Everyone comes in sweatpants and we have performances from a S.P.Y. youth member, myself, and other local singer-songwriters. We share our songs and the stories behind them in an effort to reiterate that we’re all in this together. Growing up in Venice, and seeing it explode with wealth and poverty at the same time really haunted me. This was my way of not only giving back to my community, but also preserving the culture of Venice. I think when you are gifted with a talent and a voice, you should give back to the people and place that raised you and inspired you. With a voice, a platform, and a whole lot of determination you can create change. I actually have a song coming out in 2020 called “Last Local in Venice” and it might be my greatest love song yet.

TrunkSpace: If you sat down with your 10-year-old self and gave her a glimpse of her future, would she be surprised by where her musical journey has taken her thus far?
Aben: Ten-year-old me would definitely be upset that I haven’t been on Broadway yet. I was a very theatrical child. I don’t think she ever would have expected herself to be a songwriter. I’m pretty sure she didn’t even know that career existed. Ten-year-old me wanted to be a singer first, archaeologist second. But at 26 I’m totally still a science nerd.

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?
Aben: Nope! I know the highs of this career are unlike any other joy known to humankind, but the lows are where you learn the most about yourself, and personally, where I wind up writing the most songs. I am here for the ride and I like to be surprised. This entire YEAR was a surprise. I also think that people who go looking for answers about the future end up living their lives differently. I like the twist and turns and the unexpected mishaps that sometimes change your life for the better. I’ve always said that I want to feel every moment that I’m given no matter what… how else would I know I’m alive?!

In Your Universe is available now.

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The Featured Presentation

Clarissa Thibeaux

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Photo By: Storm Santos

For Runaways star Clarissa Thibeaux, tapping into the personality of an existing character, in this case Xavin from the Marvel comic book universe, meant having to cull what she could from past sequential pages while simultaneously tapping into the vision of the series’ writers. The result is a memorable on-screen role, and although she had plenty of inspiration to pick from, there are still aspects of her own personality that make their way to the viewers.

I think the reality is no matter what I do a little bit of Clarissa will always shine through the characters I play,” she said in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace.

We recently sat down with Thibeaux to discuss personal awareness, finding her place in Los Angeles, and remaining blissfully unaware of what the future holds.

TrunkSpace: You discovered you first landed the part of Xavin in Runaways the week of your birthday. How has your journey on the series impacted your life and career? What has been the greatest gift of your Runaways ride?
Thibeaux: Yes, it was an amazing birthday week! It has been an eye opening ride so far. Being part of the series has given me the opportunity to audition and test for some amazing projects. I think the greatest gift has been getting to interact with the fans of the show and really hear about their connections to both the characters in the TV show and in the comics.

TrunkSpace: Xavin will have been the longest run you’ve had with a character in episodic television. What is that experience like for you… discovering new things that you can use day-to-day in your performance with a character? Does it make you ever second-guess the earliest choices you made with her?
Thibeaux: Having the opportunity to play such a muted yet layered character has been a great challenge. A lot of what I discovered acting-wise, with Xavin, is what is truly needed to communicate an idea of feeling. Since Xavin doesn’t have the same emotional range as some of the other characters on the show, it was a lot of fun to work with the directors to give just enough information visually to communicate Xavin’s myriad of feelings. I think my earliest choices of Xavin’s characteristics were close to what I brought to Xavin this season… Xavin has a huge shift during their arc but I think with all of the information from the new season maybe I would have done a few things differently. I’m not sure. I’m happy with my performance. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: When you’re shaping someone who is based on an existing character, in this case a character who had a history in print, how do you approach staying true to what is already there, but at the same time, bringing yourself into the character? Is it a thin line to walk?
Thibeaux: I did my best to see where Xavin’s personality came out in the comics and did my best to layer those brash or comedic moments in with the writer’s vision(s). I think the reality is no matter what I do a little bit of Clarissa will always shine through the characters I play. Xavin, however, is such a calculated being, and that gave me a lot more to use when playing them.

TrunkSpace: As you were moving into production for Season 3, did you feel more comfortable in Xavin’s shoes, even with a new and unfamiliar story arc in front of you? Does tapping into a character and her motivation get easier the more time you spend with her?
Thibeaux: Definitely! It was also easier to fall into this season because I had already built budding relationships with my castmates and had a better understanding of what each day would be like. I also knew more about Xavin after Season 2 came out. So many wonderful fans gave me a lot of insight into how they felt when they read the comics and what Xavin meant to them. For me, playing Xavin had a lot to do with awareness. Awareness of my body, my breathing, and how each word left my mouth. I did my best to make everything (at least for me) feel a little foreign and intentional.

TrunkSpace: Runaways is grounded in reality to an extent, but at the same time, is very much a part of the fantastical as well. When you’re going to work every day where literally anything can happen on camera, does it keep things interesting for you as an actor? Does 10-year-old Clarissa give you high fives with the stuff you get to do as a part of the series?
Thibeaux: (Laughter) Ten-year-old Clarissa would be AMAZED. Since a lot of fantastic things happen on the show, it makes each day really feel like a dream. Some of the most interesting parts for me were all the camera set ups. There were rigs I had never seen before – those were pretty magical.

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 Runaways that you’ll carry with you through the course of your life career?
Thibeaux: I think one part of Runways that will stay with me is how supportive the whole cast and crew were. Since Xavin is a shapeshifter, it was a trip to have so many actors that I admire asking for my advice on how to play Xavin. Lots of very fun conversations!

Photo By: Storm Santos

TrunkSpace: You’re starring on a show that is a part of the Marvel brand. Given how big all things Marvel has become, do you feel lucky to be a part of this very unique period in pop culture history, particularly on a show that is helping to define the future of television by offering such quality content on a streaming platform?
Thibeaux: I feel extremely lucky. I could never have guessed that my career would take me on the path I’m on but holy moly am I grateful. It is such an amazing time in TV and to be on a show of this caliber… I still pinch myself.

TrunkSpace: You moved to Los Angeles after graduating college. As look back on your experience, locating to a city where so many people are dreaming the same dream, was it a difficult transition or did you feel right at home right away?
Thibeaux: I stumbled a bit when I got to LA – it’s not the easiest city to live in or navigate. I don’t know if I feel at home now. (Laughter) This is an interesting city. It’s a love/hate relationship. Some days I feel on top of the world and other days I feel like I have no idea why I’m here. In LA there’s a little bit of everything.

TrunkSpace: What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
Thibeaux: I have to say Runaways! It has changed so much for me and opened so many doors.

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?
Thibeaux: Hmmm… I don’t know! What if it’s really bad? That would be depressing. I think I wouldn’t do it, just in case. I rather live blissfully unaware. I’m happy now – it’s better to live in the present.

Season 3 of Runaways is available now on Hulu.

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Sit and Spin

Wilmette’s Carol From HR

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Song Title: “Carol From HR

Single Sentence Singles Review: In a season packed with easy-listening melodies meant to tug on nostalgic heartstrings, Wilmette delivers the goods on a riff-filled one horse open sleigh that skips melting snow and goes right for melting your face!

Beyond The Track: The band’s latest EP, Anxious Body, is out now on Mutant League Records. Get it here.

And that means…

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Listen Up

Matt Megrue

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With his first solo album, The Mourner’s Manual, set to drop in February, Matt Megrue is no longer blending into the background of a band. Now front and center with his name the only thing standing between the music and the audience, he knows that he can no longer stay camouflaged, but it’s an experience he is ready to grow from, both as an artist and as a person.

It’s not about commercial success or failure as much as it is continuing to grow, evolve and giving myself the space for creative mistakes and coincidences to shape what I am doing,” he said in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace.

We recently sat down with Megrue to discuss staying present, looking beyond those bottles of lightning, and why it’s important for people to spread the word (and music!) of their favorite artists.

TrunkSpace: Your new album, The Mourner’s Manual, is set to be released on February 7th. What kind of emotions do you juggle with as you prepare to release new material into the world?
Megrue: It’s a weird mix of a lot of different emotions: excitement in that this creation is finally leaving your hands and making its way out into the world, anxiety around making sure everything is planned and you’re doing everything you can to support the lead-up to the release, hope that the songs might resonate with some people, as well as a degree of disconnection, in not putting too much into the inevitable highs and lows that come with releasing a new album.

TrunkSpace: Is there a different vibe with the build up in releasing this album as a solo artist as compared to when you were in projects like The Unusual Suspects and Loners Society? Is there more pressure involved when it’s your name and your name alone above the album title?
Megrue: Absolutely.

I was the primary songwriter in all of my other bands and, if I am being honest with myself, I think that was why I avoided putting records out under my own name for so long: if something were to “fail”, I could always hide behind a band name. Obviously, you don’t get that luxury when you put things out under your own name.

But for me, lately, it has become more about redefining why I continue to create music. It’s not about commercial success or failure as much as it is continuing to grow, evolve and giving myself the space for creative mistakes and coincidences to shape what I am doing.

TrunkSpace: You started your The Mourner’s Manual journey in 2016. Because it has been a part of your life for a number of years now – and as excited as you are to have it finished – is there a part of you that feels like you have a bit of a creative void now that you have to fill, and if so, what are you filling it with?
Megrue: There definitely is a void once you wrap up a recording, and like most creative people I know, I also have a tendency to say, “Okay, on to the next thing.” without really taking the time to be present in what I just did. It is something that my drummer (Kyle Polk) pointed out to me, and I recently caught myself doing that. I was already moving on, writing for the next record, but have since taken a pause so that I could be present in the process of putting out this record and getting ready to tour it a bit.

TrunkSpace: In a message on your website, you wrote that the album is… “Loss. Love. Anger. Hope. Longing. Vulnerability. Spirit.” In a way, is releasing this album a bit like a therapy session because you’re sharing so much of who you are with those who choose to listen? Does that vulnerability on the album translate to vulnerability for you as an artist on the eve of its launch?
Megrue: It does, somewhat, but I think that’s where the disconnection I mentioned before comes in. For me, it’s not only about disconnecting from press, praise and negative critique, but also the material itself, to a certain degree.

The goal for this record was to leave it all in the studio and on tape, so to speak. The studio is the moment to dive into the raw emotion and vulnerability; but once that is over, I have to disconnect in order to perform certain songs over and over again. Otherwise, without that disconnect, I feel like I’m functioning but completely exposed.

TrunkSpace: If someone sat down to listen to The Mourner’s Manual front to back, what would they learn about you both as an artist and as a person?
Megrue: That is a really difficult question to answer. I think I can answer it best by telling you what I learned about myself in those regards.

As an artist, I learned that maybe I am a little more capable than I wanted to believe. What I saw as “writer’s block” leading up to recording this album, was probably more me not allocating the time to really put in the work. I was waiting for the “lightning in a bottle” moments and kind of forgot the “10 percent inspiration, 90 percent perspiration” rule. Once we got the gears going and got into the rhythm of doing the work, everything started falling into place.

As a person, I think I found a more empathetic lens with which to view the world than I have ever had before. I dug into some fairly heavy topics with this record, but I wanted to balance that with a sense of hope. Beautiful things can be birthed from darker moments if you allow yourself to be open to it. I hope people pick up on that.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the new album?
Megrue: I’m just proud that I made a record that I am proud of. Granted, I have “new album fatigue” right now from listening to all of the various phases of mixing and mastering, but I am really proud of it as a representation of who I am and where I am at. Again, my hope is that some of that will resonate with people.

TrunkSpace: As an artist, can it be daunting looking out into the musical landscape and seeing how many artists are releasing new material at any given time? How do you cut through that noise and make a real connection to listeners in 2020?
Megrue: That’s a great question and, honestly, one that I wish I had a better answer for. I just try to be as honest as I can in how I write and release material. I believe people are yearning for authenticity more than ever before, and I just try to make music that is a true, authentic representation of who I am.

As far as cutting through the clutter, a lot of that onus is on the listener. If you love a band or an artist, tell your friends, tell the band, blow up social media. I know that I have found most of my favorite bands through the recommendation of a friend or someone whose tastes I really respect.

TrunkSpace: Where are you hardest on yourself as an artist and how do you overcome those self-critical insecurities?
Megrue: Lyrics. Definitely lyrics. I put a lot of sweat into trying not to say the same things the same way, and it makes it really easy to get lost down a rabbit hole. It’s something that I still work on constantly to overcome, but having people around who you trust and won’t just tell you what you want to hear helps a lot! You can reach the right destination a lot faster that way.

TrunkSpace: Finish this sentence. “I wouldn’t be able to create music if I didn’t have…”
Megrue: “the goosebump moments.” If you’ve ever played music, you know what I’m talking about.

There were so many of those moments making this record where we would just drop a sample in or write a riff and things would fall into place around it. It was almost creepy at times.

Even playing live, you get those moments where everyone is so perfectly in sync that you almost want to play a wrong note just to make sure your amp is still working.

Those moments, and doing it with people you love and respect, is what it’s all about.

TrunkSpace: If you sat down with your 10-year-old self and gave him a glimpse of his future, would he be surprised by where his musical journey has taken him thus far?
Megrue: Probably. When I was 10 I was really deep into that 90’s country music. So, he would probably be quite confused at how he got from there to doing the kind of music that I do 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?
Megrue: I don’t think I would. The fun lives in “the not knowing”. Again, for me I love creating the space to let the “mistakes” and “coincidences” happen and allowing that to lead where I go next.

The Mourner’s Manual drops February 7th.

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Sit and Spin

Coco Reilly’s Christmas With You

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Song Title: “Christmas With You

Single Sentence Singles Review: We love the standards that come along with the holiday season, but when every Bing Crosby and Burl Ives cheer-giver are playing in heavy rotation from the day after Halloween to now, it’s nice to inject the seasonal playlist with a song like “Christmas With You,” which decks the halls in an entirely new way while still giving us the classic feels.

Beyond The Track: Want to hear what Coco Reilly sounds like when not writing for the holiday season? Check out her debut single, “Define You,” here.

And that means…

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Trunk Stubs

The Brother Brothers

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Artist: The Brother Brothers

City Attended: Waltham, MA

Venue: Charles River Museum

Concert Date: 12-13-20

The Reason We Went: The harmonies that identical twin brothers Adam and David Moss displayed on their 2018 full-length debut, Some People I Know, were a mesmerizing window that peered into the duo’s potential as artists and songwriters. Getting to see them in the intimate setting of an industrial museum, surrounded by items from our collective pasts – including old cars, bikes, steam-powered contraptions and various equipment that helped to shape our present – was an opportunity too good to pass up.

What We Thought: Although getting out of the cold New England air and into the venue proved to be a difficult task (watch the instructional video on the Charles River Museum’s website so you don’t make the same mistakes we did!!!!), the music that The Brother Brothers offered up to the audience was so warm and welcoming that it melted the Boston-area chill. The magical, historical feel of the space combined with Adam and David’s almost-whimsical way of engaging an audience through song made this a very special night. Those in attendance familiar with Some People I Know relished in live takes of “Mary Ann,” “Frankie,” and “Colorado,” while it was an acoustic rendition of Peter Rowan’s “Angel Island” to close out the night that served as the perfect exclamation point on an exceptional evening on the Charles.

Bonus Takeaway: If the new tracks shared by Adam and David are any indication, The Brother Brother’s upcoming follow-up to Some People I Know will be an even more noteworthy collection of songs than their debut. Stay tuned for that one in 2020!

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Holy Pinto

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Artist: Holy Pinto (Aymen Saleh)

Latest Release: Three new singles, Holy Trinity Singles Club, located here.

Hometown: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

TrunkSpace: You recently dropped three new singles. What was it about these songs that you felt would work better as singles instead of holding them for a future EP or album?
Saleh: I think this singles series is a (pretty fun!) identity-crisis project. In the last year or so this band has really opened up to being solely me doing all the writing/recording and I wanted to mess around with what I could do musically and try figure out what feels right, for right now at least. The songs are really different in style, subject matter, mood and delivery and I took that opportunity to dress them up in their own ways.

I feel a requirement for a full-length album is to be really coherent both lyrically and musically, and I didn’t think any one of these songs/ideas/statements could be expanded into a full album if I kept pulling at the string and unraveling it. So I kept them alone and bundled them together as a little collection of misfits. Holy Pinto’s album #3 is yet to reveal itself to me… BUT I’m gonna try to force it to soon!

TrunkSpace: What are some of the benefits to releasing tracks independently of an album in 2019? Does it give more focus to the individual songs when they aren’t part of a collection?
Saleh: Honestly – I think it’s an absolute disaster of an idea for a band in the position I’m in. Releasing singles as a small artist (at least for me) hasn’t worked that well – I’ve always needed a full album campaign to move forward. I actually reckon the songs are getting far less focus because of it, but that’s okay and I kind of knew it going in.

I guess the benefits that some people find are that it could potentially give you more shots at having a single song ‘break through’ and gather steam, rather than releasing an entire album of songs and watching it sink or swim. Someone recently referred to this approach as “Spotify Roulette” to me.

I just really liked the context for the release of these songs and believed in them as a mini-misfit collection, so kinda went with that, for better or for worse!

TrunkSpace: Let’s go back to that first single, “Acquaintances, Friends – Love Ends.” What could someone learn about you as both an artist and as a person in sitting down to listen to that song, had they never been exposed to your music before?
Saleh: (Laughter) Maybe quite a bit?! All the silly metaphors come from a very real place. I don’t think there’s a moment where I’m telling a lie or exaggerating something… I did wanna drive tractors as a kid. I guess objectively you could learn about some of my upbringing and likes/dislikes. There’s strong allusions to my current life in America – not sure whether it lands as strongly outside of the context of knowing the band/me/our story, but it’s in there!

TrunkSpace: Creatively, is “Acquaintances, Friends – Love Ends” coming from a different place than those songs that appeared on your recent full-length, Adult? Would this track – and the two singles to come – have been at home on that album or would they have felt out of place for you as an artist?
Saleh: Yeah, a different place from the full-length, for sure. I think it’s a lyrical, beat poetry type song. I heard this song called “Presumably Dead Arm” by Sidney Gish and it seemed like a very quirky, fun, stream of consciousness type ramble that seems to have nuggets of true pain in it. It really inspired me to want to write a stream of consciousness or super word-y song again, which is something I don’t think I’ve done since maybe 2015’s “Best Pals.” It’s something that’s definitely within the scope of what I’ve done in the past, but not on a full-length record, which have always felt more ‘serious’. Maybe that’s the wrong approach, I’d probably be okay with an album full of those kinda tracks, maybe the next record should be ‘anti-serious’!

TrunkSpace: We read that a big portion of these three new singles involved you taking on an experimentation in sound. How important is it for you as an artist to continue to grow and adapt your sound? If we were flash forward three albums from now, would you hope that you’d be creating in different way sonically than you are today?
Saleh: I just hope whatever I’m creating feels right, is enjoyable and inspires me. I did “Malady” and was like ‘this is an awesome new direction! This is what LP3 will sound like’. Now, two months on from it’s recording, I’m like… ‘that was fun for what it was, I got to throw a cloth over a snare drum so it sounded muffled and make a cool sound,’ but there’s something right now in me that makes that approach feel sterile and I would hate to move forward with sounding like that full-time. My opinion could easily change again in two weeks time. This is quite a pivotal time for me in that retrospect, I have no idea what I want or what’s going to come out the other side. I’ve promised myself (as of today) to just focus on the songs and after they’re finished, the songs usually tell me what they want. I’m trying hard not to overthink it. Maybe these singles were a way of playfully interacting with and distancing myself from the overthinking.

Photo By: Kelly Bolter

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the three new singles?
Saleh: Upon reflection – I love the song “Acquaintances, Friends.” It made me cringe for so long, but it was exactly what I wanted to do at the time, I find it kind of funny (in a good way) and there’s a couple of lyrics in there that are some of those that I’m most proud of. Whenever I have a lyric pop into my head that distills exactly what’s on my mind into one easily digestible sentence, that’s where I’m super proud of the writing. The drum sound, style and groove of “Malady” I’m very proud of too, it was a cool thing that I wasn’t sure I could do or pull off. Taking that approach with “Malady” on the drums came as a direct response to being deeply disappointed with how I played ‘Bully’ – its reckless intensity shaped the song in a way I didn’t originally envisage. So, I switched it up in a big way for “Malady,” which was recorded afterwards. I’m truly figuring out what I do and don’t want to sound like – in real time, even – it’s a tough process but hopefully rewarding.

TrunkSpace: You had Adult out earlier this year, and now three new songs on top of that. Do you envision that 2020 will be just as prolific for you as a songwriter?
Saleh: I really, really hope so. I’m dropping an EP in February 2020 that contains songs about my adopted hometown Milwaukee – that’s already recorded and finished. Next year, I want to write a record I feel really passionate about. It wouldn’t come out ‘til 2021, but I’d want to see it taking shape and bloom.

TrunkSpace: Where are you hardest on yourself as an artist and how do you overcome those self-critical insecurities?
Saleh: I struggle with feelings about my voice a lot. That can be daily, both in live performances and listening back to recordings. I honestly can’t say I’ve been able to overcome it, but having just sung in this band for a few years, because I’ve had to, means that it’s objectively become a bit better to the outside observer and sounds a little bit better to me. That expression about comparison being the killer of all happiness – how if we look to our peers, social media, etc all the time we’ll never be happy in ourselves – rings true right now, in all of life, creativity and career. So for that, I guess I just switch off social media as much as I can and try be present with my own friends, environment + endeavors.

TrunkSpace: If you sat down with your 10-year-old self and gave him a glimpse of his future, would he be surprised by where his musical journey has taken him thus far?
Saleh: (Laughter) Definitely yes, but on a scale of evaluation that would take far more than an interview question to delve into!! I’ll say – I wouldn’t have thought I’d ever be singing, in any way at any level, and I wouldn’t have thought I’d be living in America.

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?
Saleh: This is an awesome question. I wouldn’t, because it’d inform my life choices, and it’s those choices or random tangents that have always proved to have made life more colorful. My life has been weird, and I’m happy for it to keep being so. I reckon the certainty would get rid of the meandering nature of the journey. I’ll embrace the adventure and stomach its difficulties along the way!

Check out all three of Holy Pinto’s latest singles here.

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The Featured Presentation

Adwin Brown

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Photo By: Shanna Fisher

Adwin Brown has a really great outlook on fame, which a good thing considering how his career continues to build upon itself, recently joining the cast of the Netflix hit “You” in its second season. While fans have sunken their teeth into the psychological thriller, the Florida native is just as excited to be a part of it as the audience is to take it all in.

I can’t even begin to describe how thrilling it is to be on a show that has such a strong and dedicated fan base,” he said in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace. “It’s so fun to go on social media and see how passionate fans are about the show’s characters and the choices they make.”

We recently sat down with Brown to discuss joining a successful show mid run, not having to worry about character variables, and his views on fame in a fame-hungry society.

TrunkSpace: First, congratulations on joining the cast of “You” in Season 2! Not only is it a feat to get a show on the air, but it seems like, more than ever, it’s difficult to keep one on the air. That being said, what is it like joining a series that already has an established on-set tone? Is it a bit like being the new kid at school?
Brown
: It is definitely like being the new kid in school! You’re coming into a situation where a lot of the cast/crew from Season 1 already have established relationships with each other, so the idea of trying to enter their space, personally and artistically, can be intimidating! But from the first table read, everyone was so warm and welcoming that I knew I had nothing to worry about.

The majority of my scenes are with Penn Badgley, who is truly the most genuine and humble guy; his energy alone made my whole set experience pretty dope. Thankfully, we also had a handful of actors who were in the same position as me, so we were all able to bond over similar feelings. I’m grateful I didn’t have to go through this experience as the only newbie!

TrunkSpace: There must be something nice about booking a job that already has a fan base. Is that something you think about going into a project like “You” where you know at the end of the day, people are going to be watching when it premieres?
Brown: I mean, if I said no, I’d be lying! I can’t even begin to describe how thrilling it is to be on a show that has such a strong and dedicated fan base. It’s so fun to go on social media and see how passionate fans are about the show’s characters and the choices they make. People all over the world loved following Joe’s journey in Season 1, so I have to admit there is a part of me that feels a responsibility to make sure the fans enjoy Season 2 just as much, if not more!

TrunkSpace: From an acting perspective, did you know your character Calvin’s full season arc when you joined the cast, or did elements of his journey become revealed to you throughout production? Does that impact how you make choices for a character in the early going – if in fact you don’t have the full picture?
Brown: I didn’t know Calvin’s full season arc at all! Which as an actor, not only made things pretty exciting but it also allowed me to really live in the moment and focus on the situation at hand in that precise moment. I think when you know the outcome of your character’s arc, it can sometimes give you too many variables to worry about at once, so I’m glad the writers let me learn about Calvin on a week to week basis. When we would have our table reads, it was always really exciting for me to learn new details about Calvin and try and figure out how I could use those new discoveries on set.

TrunkSpace: “You” is the kind of series where there is no guarantee that everyone we’re following along with is going to make it to the end. Does that give the work a sort of creative high stakes in that, in a way, you’re kind of acting on a tightrope not necessarily knowing (at least for the audience) who is going to fall and who isn’t?
Brown: Yes, absolutely! The stakes for this show are unbelievably high and I honestly think that’s what makes it so addicting! You get attached to these characters and you want what’s best for them, but in the back of your mind… you know exactly what Joe is capable of, so you’re on the edge of your seat the entire season. I mean, I distinctly remember certain table reads where the entire cast/crew in the room audibly gasped about certain outcomes in the script. So if we were shocked about what happens in Season 2, I know our audience will be too!

TrunkSpace: Without giving away any spoilers, what are you most excited about for people to see heading into Season 2?
Brown: I’m really excited to see how fans react to the new setting of Season 2. Joe leaves New York City, and ends up living in Los Angeles… and that idea alone is so intriguing to me. He’s on the run trying to escape his past and lay low, so he decides to move to a city where everyone is literally desperate for attention? That juxtaposition is iconic.

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 “You” thus far that you’ll carry with you through the course of your life/career?
Brown: When I look back on my experience working on “You,” one of the first things that comes to mind is how much I respect Penn. “You” isn’t really an ensemble kind of show, right? Yes, there are other lead characters, but the show is told from Joe’s perspective… Penn Badgley is THE lead. Meaning he’s usually the first actor called to set that morning, and usually the last actor to leave at night. He’s pretty much in every scene, and he has to do all that voice over work – which I think we can all agree is a huge part of the show’s identity. Mind you, Penn is originally from NYC where they shot Season 1, but Season 2 takes place in LA, so he had to relocate away from his family for almost five months! And not once, not once, did I ever hear him complain about anything. He showed up to work every day with a smile on his face and was nothing short of professional and pleasant. The way he treated the cast/crew is a real testament to the kind of guy he is, and I hope I can bring half that much energy to every future set I’m on!

Photo By: Shanna Fisher

TrunkSpace: What are your views on fame as it relates to your acting career? Is it part of the package that you have come to terms with it, or, would you be comfortable focusing on your craft and never having to be recognized outside of the work itself?
Brown: This is a good question! I do believe that when you get to a certain level in your acting career, fame does seem to become a part of the package. And to be truthful, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that necessarily, it all just depends on what your motives are.

For example, if I shoot a feature film that I’m extremely passionate about, of course I want to do my best and make sure that people are aware of said film. So, maybe I would be a guest on “The Ellen Show” or get a spread in a popular magazine… those things could potentially make me “famous” but my motive for doing them is to further share my art with a larger audience. The issue that I think a lot of people face is they get a taste of fame, they become addicted, and they want more… and in order to get more, they change their motives. When it comes to fame, I think the real important question to ask yourself is “Why are you famous?” and if you’re satisfied with the answer, that’s all that really matters.

TrunkSpace: If someone came to you tomorrow and said, “Adwin, here’s a blank check. Go and greenlight any kind of project that you want for yourself,” what kind of project would you put into development?
Brown: Hmm… I’m not good at answering questions like this because I’m too Type A to let my imagination run this freely, but I can give you some cute highlights. It’s definitely a comedy. Will Smith and Queen Latifah play my parents. Maya Rudolph plays my bougie Aunt. Keke Palmer plays my sister. Hilarity ensues. Oh, and at some point, there is a dance number and I slay it.

TrunkSpace: What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
Brown: I feel like I shouldn’t say “You” because I’ve already been talking about it so much! But honestly, I’ve always wanted to be a part of the Netflix family, so it really has been a highlight for me. Another great highlight was doing “Will & Grace,” that’s something I’ll never forget. It’s an iconic show with a hilarious stellar cast and I can’t believe I got the chance to watch them work for a week – a definite crash course in doing a live comedy television show! I soaked it all in like a sponge.

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?
Brown: Wow, we love a time machine question! My answer would have to be a solid NO, simply because I’m enjoying the present too much. Life is meant to be full of surprises, right? Why would I skip all those chapters in my book of life when the one I’m on now is so damn good?! I’d rather just keep going page by page.

Season 2 of “You” streams on Netflix December 26.

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The Featured Presentation

Ashlie Atkinson

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Photographer: Emily Assiran/Makeup: Tommy Napoli/Hair: Ben Martin/Stylist: Lisa Tinglum

Even with her recent roles as Janice on the immensely-popular series Mr. Robot and as Peggy in the upcoming season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Ashlie Atkinson is not willing to jump into the future to see where it all leads, but she’s certainly looking forward to living it it. The Arkansas native hopes to direct episodes of a series she is a regular on while also lending her creative insight to a writer’s room on a project she created, but until then, she’s going to enjoy the ride her career has taken her on thus far.

It’s been straight highlights for years now,” she said in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace. “I hope it lasts.”

We recently sat down with Atkinson to discuss being the “new roommate” on Mr. Robot, internal poodle discovery, and the project with a stacked cast that we would have all sat down to watch.

TrunkSpace: Is there a level of nervousness involved for you when joining a series that already has an established on-set tone? Do you feel a bit like the new kid at school who has joined the graduating class in its final year?
Atkinson: That’s a really good analogy! The one I’ve been using is, “the new roommate” because it’s not about a fear of being bullied, like at school or anything, but definitely is a big decisive movement into an atmosphere that the other people have come to think of as a second home, right? And you’re, like, all up in their scenes and their work friendships and asking where the toilet paper gets kept and what day the trash goes out. And, of course, I can’t ignore that I’m moving into Bobby Cannavale’s old room, and he’s genuinely one of the best actors of my generation and yes, now that I think of it I probably should have been more nervous!!!!

TrunkSpace: Mr. Robot is such a critically-acclaimed series. When appearing in a project like this, with so many eyes on it, does it feel like a “game changer” moment? If work begets work in this industry, does the bigger the project lead to even bigger projects?
Atkinson: I meeeeean, we’ll see? Of course, yeah in some ways I’m doing things I’ve always wanted to do in Mr. Robot, and it is a big splashy exciting series, and I would *love* for it to lead to other opportunities to work with more folks I admire on impactful, cool work. But as far as any concept of “making it”, I’ve never really felt like that was a real journey I would take as a character actor, y’know? I’ve been acting for 15 years, and I have had peaks and valleys and right now is definitely one of the most exciting times of my career, and it’d be great if it could stay busy and exciting, I’d love that! But I can’t get too spun out about “staying relevant” or anything buzzy like that.

TrunkSpace: Walk us through what your first day on set was like for Mr. Robot. Was it a whirlwind, or did you take time to savor the moment?
Atkinson: Well, I had costume fittings and table reads and camera tests to see how Janice’s look worked, so I got to meet folks beforehand and have some casual contact without the pressure of shooting. But my first day of shooting was for the dinner scene with Dom and her mom, and then the crazy reveal outside the house, and it was SO. COLD. It was 2 o’clock in the morning and we’re outside, and there’s a huge crane, and my nose is running like I’m a third-grader, and Grace Gummer is making me laugh, and there’s just no time to overthink it. It was heavenly.

TrunkSpace: Your character is described as a “chatty taxidermist.” When we hear “chatty,” we think, “That probably means a lot of dialogue to remember!” What did your pages look like and how did you prepare to bring Janice to life?
Atkinson: What was new for me was how many scenes were me on a phone, talking to Dom as I did taxidermy. In the table reads, there were stage directions in those scenes that were literally “Janice up to her elbows in a poodle.” And I got super excited about the idea of learning that stuff, so my manager arranged for me to meet a taxidermist and work through the steps of the process. It feels so good to do scenes as a character and be able to perform the specific action the character is doing with even a small amount of ability.

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 Mr. Robot that you’ll carry with you through the course of your life/career?
Atkinson: I’m gonna play pretty close to the vest here and just say that the conversations I had with Grace, with Rami, with Sam, with John Lenic, with Jeff Muhlstock… I learned a lot about what goes into making a show this rare, this special. Sam was kind enough to let me shadow him on some days where I didn’t have to act, and I got to really focus on his process and the collaboration between him and Tod and the crew and the actors. It was priceless.

TrunkSpace: You have appeared in so many memorable series over the years. Which for you was the most special in terms of an experience that you’ll never forget?
Atkinson: God, okay, a series. I mean, can I narrow it down to three? Rescue Me was special because it was my first recurring, and I made my first “camp friends” there – meaning the folks you meet on a job who you may or may not keep up with after it’s all over, but who you will always love. Then there’s Us & Them, my greatest heartbreak: the US remake of Gavin & Stacey, which Fox ordered 13 episodes of and then buried before we could ever air in this country. The cast was comprised of the nicest, funniest people to populate a prime time cast: Jason Ritter, Alexis Bledel, Dustin Ybarra, Jane Kaczmarek, Kerri Kenney, Michael Ian Black, and Kurt Fuller! It was RIDICULOUS, the talent. I’m still mad about that one. And finally, One Dollar on CBS All-Access, where I got to reunite with one of my favorite directors (and really good friends) Craig Zobel and go to Pittsburgh for five months in the summer with a rambunctious cast of collaborative character actor types and make a drama about the death of the American Dream. We shot it in 2018, and I’m still talking with most of those folks at least once a week!

Photographer: Emily Assiran/Makeup: Tommy Napoli/Hair: Ben Martin/Stylist: Lisa Tinglum

TrunkSpace: Is there a character you had previously spent time with – even in a guest role capacity – that you wished you had more time to explore, and if so, why that person?
Atkinson: There’s that old saying: “Give an actor a week, they’ll take a week; give them a year, they’ll take a year.” I don’t think there has been a single role that I have ever been like “Okay, nailed it, moving on.” If I had to pick one to go back to, it would be a stage role — IMOGEN in IMOGEN SAYS NOTHING, a play I did at Yale Rep. She’s a bear masquerading as a human prostitute in Shakespearean England, and I would kill to get to inhabit her for a little while longer.

TrunkSpace: Beyond acting, you’re also a writer and producer. In the BEST best case scenario, what would your career look like moving forward? If you could greenlight your own future in the way you wanted it to play out, how would you split your time between acting, writing and producing?
Atkinson: I’d love to direct episodes of a show for which I am a series regular. I’d love to be in a writer’s room for a show I created. I have three films I’m working on developing, a jukebox musical concept based on an ‘80s movie that I am obSESSed with writing, and I want to keep directing plays. I’m writing a web series with my friend – I think having any super-detailed idea of how things are going to progress will only keep me from enjoying how things are actually progressing.

TrunkSpace: What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
Atkinson: Oh man. That’s too hard. I have been given a ridiculous number of high points in this life. BlacKkKlansman was one, getting to work on Mr. Robot with Sam was another, working on One Dollar with my friends was another. I made a bunch of rap videos for MTV as “Chunky Pam,” that’s another. I went back to my alma mater to direct a verse play about lesbian pirates, for God’s sake. I’ve been the lead, I’ve been the love interest, I’ve been the villain, I’ve been the comic relief. It’s been straight highlights for years now. I hope it lasts.

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?
Atkinson: No way. I think I’ll just let the mystery be. Also, how self-absorbed would I have to be to be like, “I have access to an honest to god time machine, so obviously my first priority is going into the future to see if I ever get to direct for TV” or whatever?

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