Tuesday, November 27, 2018

it's a jungle out there

These photos were taken in a little storage cubby I have in my room. The family that lived in the house before my family did had a daughter that loved to paint murals. When she ran out of walls to paint, she painted fantastical scenes inside cubbies and closets. She often painted in secret, as her parents became annoyed with her hobby (it did cost them their walls).

I have been thinking a lot about the things that might have metaphorical value in my life. The artist of this jungle mural (in addition to the mural itself) is certainly one of them. Sometimes it feels like I'm retracing her footsteps. We went to the same schools. One time I checked out a library book and discovered that years earlier she had checked it out too. It feels like her past self is alive on the walls.

Sometimes my life feels like a movie, or a book, and I really wish there were an audience for it. Not because I want the attention, but because I want someone to figure out what things in my life mean. Yes, there are things I've encountered that I've assigned significance to, but there's also aspects and objects in my life that I feel the importance of, but can't quite pinpoint what it is they represent.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if someone could watch or read your life and tell you the things that matter, the lessons that your supposed to learn, in other words the symbols and themes? I often think about this. I don't really want to know the future, or how I die, or even what I'm supposed to do, but I am interested in figuring out what matters right now.

I guess that's a pretty common desire. But my life doesn't have an audience. And I'm not a character. There's no objective party watching me, assigning meaning to objects, figuring out the gravity of my actions. I have to create these meanings myself. 

Outfit is vintage

And normally, I'm very happy to have complete control over my life. But this mural reminds me of the things that are beyond my comprehension, not even in a great philosophical or cosmic sense, but just at surface level on the scale of my own life. What does this mural and this artist mean to me? Is she a testament to creative perseverance, her beautiful depictions of nature relegated to cubbies I can barely fit into anymore? Or is she the passage of time, nostalgia, the way that where we've been bears the marks of who we are? Or is she representative of something else entirely, a manifestation of my own anxieties regarding change?

Sometimes I think that if I really wanted to, I could look deep inside myself and figure it all out-- psycho-analyze myself into revealing the meaning of all these objects of mysterious power that I collect, the way Gatsby's green light loses its meaning once his fantasy became a reality. Maybe I could even take this a step further and try and track down the artist of this mural, see where she ended up and determine what meaning that has. And sometimes I think that would be a very rewarding process, to know myself completely. 

But of course I never do, because there's a risk there: the risk of losing magic, something that I've decided is worth holding onto, when appropriate. This mural, although not expansive, has meaning that feels so immense-- to evaluate its meaning would only reduce it. I don't want to know how things ended up. I am content with my daydreams. 

I know this is not always a good approach, to divorce from reality and live in a world of endless possibility-- there are real issues we can't ignore. But I think it's also important to retain a little mystery in one's life. I have a good enough sense of self now, so I'm comfortable leaving a few things unsaid, a few stories untold, a few parts of me still unfinished, a few artworks undissected.

Friday, November 23, 2018

don't be sorry if you know that i'm lonely

Dress - Bonne Chance Collections|Clutch - Soramugi Shop|Shoes - Adidas
Hello all! Thanksgiving weekend has been super productive for me so far. I have a few projects (video work, interviews, my third book!!) that should be coming out soon and I'm super excited to share them with the world. I wish I could focus on creative projects but with finals coming up, most of my time is devoted to studying.

Luckily, my studies haven't been too boring. My favorite class this year is philosophy. It's just an introductory course, but we haven't read too many canonical works. Although I can definitely see the need for reading well-known works to build a good foundation, because I'd already read The Republic, Either/Or, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, etc, I welcomed the chance to read more obscure texts. 

This week we read Life's Too Short to Pretend You're Not Religious by David Dark. In the past I've been very critical of religion and spirituality, and while I remain very skeptical of organized religion, through works like this, I've been able to accept a broader definition of religion: the routines we have, the inspirations we turn to in times of need. 

Life's Too Short to Pretend You're Not Religious brilliantly articulates on this sentiment and how we can use it to apply to our daily lives. We often forget that our inspirations, our knowledge, etc. is a collaborative process. We got all that from somewhere. And it's our duty to continue to add to the ongoing list of interpretations of and desires for our world and the human experience, which Dark calls "attention collection." He writes, "We live off the generosity of those who pay heed. Will we answer the call to do so ourselves?" Those two lines perfectly describe my outlook on everything, from art to my journalistic philosophy.

Although I was not yet familiar with Dark's work, last year I wrote about this sort of thing a lot in my personal essays for college applications, explaining why I was passionate about journalism and telling people's stories (and my own). I often think that I haven't changed very much over the course of my life, because I honestly look like I did when I was a kid, and my interests have pretty much remained static. But writing those essays last year and reading Dark this week reminded me that I have changed in considerable ways. I used to be quite jaded and protective over my interests. In fact, this blog stemmed from that sort of desire to set myself a part. It should have started because I wanted to share my interests with the world, which would've contributed to the sort of attention collection Dark speaks of, but instead it was much more about marking my turf, saying I was here before anyone else. 

For those same reasons, I went out with guys who said I was "not like most girls," regardless of the fact that they were using that line as a way of isolating me so that they could take advantage of me. I was a self declared feminist, yet I took this phrase, which reinforces the patriarchy in the most dangerous ways, as a compliment. This was, of course, because I feared social rejection, and it was easy to imagine this abstract concept of pumpkin spice latte sipping, yoga pants wearing normies, and to superimpose that over my (in reality much more three dimensional) peers, than it was to actual say hi and form a genuine connection with the people that surrounded me. My plan was to reject them (or the concept I'd created of them that was so easy to reject) before they could reject me.

This, of course, was incredibly stupid for many reasons. Firstly, Dark is right, we get our interests, our passions, our hobbies, our knowledge from other people. I learned about all the indie bands I listened to, artists whose work I slipped in the cover of my binders, movies whose posters were plastered all over my room precisely from other girls. By definition, I am other girls, because I'm a combination of the interests and traits of other girls who I admired. And even by the standard of normal-girls-watch-rom coms-and-go-to-Starbucks, I like rom coms and Starbucks, and I always have! Sue me!

Anyway, reading Dark reminded me of how much I now reject that sort of hipster culture. It also helped to redirect me to practice my definition of religion better. Now I use this blog and my various other platforms to share my interests in a very genuine sense of the word, and contribute what I can to the ongoing conversation and collaboration of sharing influences, inspirations: religious practices (as Dark might say).

I've been much happier and more successful with this approach than I was in the beginning. I am fully aware of the fact that I don't have much of a following -- in fact, any following -- but publishing my work on here is a spiritual act for me. It's allowing my personal life to become accessible. It's making my story part of a much bigger story. I don't care that no one reads it, the point is people can read it. And the few people that have told me my blog, my attention collection, has given them newfound inspiration-- well I'm eternally grateful for that.

I'd like in the future to make my projects, even this blog, a more communal process, more of a dialogue than just me shouting into the void. I suppose that would be one benefit to having more of an audience-- it would be possible to have more of a conversation. But regardless, I always love hearing what inspires you all, so please share in whatever ways you're comfortable.

Friday, November 9, 2018

a new place for interviews...

Hello all,

Over the past few years I have mainly been using this blog as an almost online magazine. I've been able to conduct interviews with creatives who I admire immensely, and it's been great having the opportunity to talk to such talented people. It's crazy how much the blog has grown over the past year, and I'm so thankful for all the friends and connections I've made through this little space.

But I've really missed having a personal blog, and although I occasionally post other things, it began to feel really chaotic with all the interviews mixed in with fashion/lifestyle posts. So I decided to launch another blog, Hype Zine, for my interviews. I plan to do everything exactly the same as before, just in a different area so this blog looks a bit cleaner. Hype is all about celebrating the people that I find inspirational and just giving myself the all-too-rare opportunity to talk positively about people I fully support. You can read more about the mission statement on the About page.

Interviews that were previously published on here will stay here, and I still plan to post interviews on here from time to time that fit more with my personal career goals and interests-- just not as much. I already have several interviews posted: chef prodigy Flynn McGarry, artist/designer Adam J. Kurtz, fashion designer/artist Joe Corre... check it out!

Friday, October 12, 2018

it's so cold in alaska

Lately I've been thinking about what it means to be a part of something. There are many aspects of my identity and groups that I'm a part of that I didn't necessarily choose to be in. 

A few years ago, I was telling a friend how I didn't feel like I could get along with people in most of the writing programs and workshops I've been in. They were either too serious, leaving their daydreams of somehow writing bestselling novels from their isolated wood cabins suspended in the air, looming with condescension over anyone who dared to view writing as an actual possibility for a career rather than a concept. Or they were too silly, hungry for fame but lacking the talent to achieve it, truly believing that fan fiction had any sort of literary merit. I said that I didn't know where that left me, and that I would never be able to fit in with these people. 

"But that's not really an option," said my friend. "You can't not fit with those people." 

"What do you mean? They're not so fun and so inclusive that it's impossible to not get caught up with them." I rolled my eyes. 

"No, I mean you don't have a choice. It doesn't matter that you aren't a cosplayer, or that you don't have a Thoreau-related tattoo. It doesn't even matter that they don't talk to you. It's not those things that make them a part of the group, it's the group that attracts those things. You're a writer, so you're with them."

With them. The words made me cringe. But he was right. It wasn't like we would suddenly be best friends because we all wrote, or even that we had anything besides writing in common. But giving myself the label of writer in a strange way bound me to this community even though it appeared to be a solitary act. I am one in millions of hopefuls across the world typing, writing. It doesn't matter that  I haven't watched Doctor Who and have no fantasies about becoming an aloof novelist. It doesn't matter that I'm writing profiles and personal essays, not fan fiction and heartfelt defenses of the oxford comma. I am writing, and that simple fact nullified any of the characteristics I clung to to feel superior.

But then, I thought, if I am a part of this group, why doesn't it feel like it? Why do all of these people connect with each other so effortlessly while I am left in the corner with my own thoughts?

It was a familiar query, one that could be applied to other labels as well as writing. I often found myself staying silent while others chatted away at school functions, family parties, almost everywhere. And I suppose, you could say, with validity, that I didn't feel like I belonged because I wasn't making any effort to belong; the superiority I felt would prevent me from every becoming a part of the group. And to a certain extent, you would be right. I was acting superior.

But like most people who act superior, I didn't actually feel superior. It was a coping mechanism I'd developed. And no, I'm not going to tell you some sob story about how I was bullied or how some great tragedy befell me. I had an easy, perfect, picturesque childhood. I just happen to possess interests and attitudes that no one near me seemed to have. Because I already didn't fit in, I decided to not want to. If life was a series of arbitrary humiliations, then the less witnesses the better anyway, right?

The cultural narrative that those who don't feel included should feel superior rather than trying to make a connection ("I'm not like other girls," etc etc etc) did not help. Maybe I did develop a bit of an ego, but it developed from alienation.

But to other people, it wouldn't seem like I was isolated. It would seem like I was surrounded by so many groups of people who were attempting to understand me, and I wasn't making any effort to understand them. I began to think that perhaps this perspective was more true than my own, that maybe I hadn't really tried to connect with anyone, still sore over minor rejections and dismissals in elementary school.

And so after that conversation, I tried to build communities around my interests, and connect with the communities I was already a part of as a result of certain aspects of my identity. And I didn't fail. I met people who I could be intellectually challenged by, who could make me laugh so hard that my laughs no longer had a sound, who watched the same movies and shows as I did and shared my philosophies. But I still felt like I was missing out on something. Even though I loved my friends, whenever they would describe their experiences with other friends or in different programs or groups, it always sounded so much bigger than whatever I was experiencing. I wanted the ecstasy of wandering around the streets at midnight, and the serenity of gazing out onto my city's skyline with people who understood me as completely as anyone can understand someone else. I wanted to be, I wanted to feel like I was a part of something. I still want to.

There have been a few brief incidents when I thought "This is it. This is what I was missing out on this whole time." Telling scary stories in a friends' parked car at a local park and watching the windows fog up with the condensation of excited breath til streetlights became abstract shapes shrouded by a prismatic glow, eating tacos at a friends' house her room crammed with the entire neighborhood (the door open to welcome more) and leaving her bed littered with the debris of the evening (mostly shredded cheese and olives), swinging on swings meant for children (emblematic of the childhood we were about to outgrow) in Central Park with a group of kids I'd only known for mere days though we hugged each other as if we knew every tragedy and heartbreak the other had experienced-- in these moments I felt I understood the human experience with more beautifully poignant clarity than I had ever before.

But I have a lot to catch up on before I will be given more of those ordinary luxuries. I still don't know why I often find myself unable to talk to people the way other people can. I still don't fully understand how to connect with people. But I want to.

Oh lord, I want to.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

An Interview with Jake Silverstein

If I had to cite one magazine that most inspired me to go into the journalism industry, it would be The New York Times Magazine. I think I was initially drawn to the sort of brand name of The New York Times, but what really piqued my interest about the magazine in particular was that, as an extension of the newspaper but also a separate entity, it didn't really have to sell itself, which gave it a distinctive quality that enamored me.

When I visited New York this past summer (through the School of The New York Times no less), through relentless emailing, I had the chance to talk with Editor-in-Chief Jake Silverstein. Prior to taking over the magazine in May of 2014, Mr. Silverstein worked for The Big Bend Sentinel, a newspaper based in Marfa, Texas (and later published a partially ficticious memoir Nothing Happened and Then It Did based around the early years of his career). As an aspiring journalist living in a relatively small town, I was especially interested in getting his perspective on how small town newspapers differed from world-renowned publications.

Below we discuss how an issue comes together, what qualities a young journalist should develop, and the difference between having a lesser but direct impact as a journalist in small communities versus having a larger but more abstract influence working for a company as prestigious as the New York Times.


First of all, I was wondering if you could describe the process of putting together an issue?

It's like a form of organized chaos really. There's not a straightforward routine that we use every time. Obviously, an individual story goes through the same sets of steps [every time]. It's edited, it gets sent to the photo department, or the art department to figure out what the visuals will be. It gets copy edited. It gets fact checked. It all gets put together, and then re-edited to make sure it's smooth and perfect and seamless. And then it's read a few more times after that. So that's just a standardized sequence that every single piece that's in the magazine-- no matter how large or small --goes through.

But as far as how all of those pieces come together into a given issue... it's not the case that we design issues really far in advance. We make assignments for stories in some cases very far in advance, and in some cases the very shortest would be 6-8 weeks in advance. And then we have this very big inventory of stories. And the inventory has some stories that are like ready to go, and some stories that are not quite ready to go, and some stories that are really not ready to go. They're all at varying levels of readiness. The fundamental fact of a weekly magazine is that you're just burning through you inventory all the time. It's very different from a monthly magazine in that way. And as we chug through the year, we're just kind of constantly grabbing what's ready in the inventory.

Usually it starts with what the cover story of the issue is, because obviously there are fewer of those than other kinds of stories, and an important part of the issue is what's going to be on the cover. So you kind of work outward from that. You don't want three or four politics stories in an issue. You want to have a nice balance. Often one big story that has to be in the issue, either because it's a cover story or because it profiled somebody that's pegged to like an album coming out or whatever, will start the process. And then we figure out what would pair well with that.

It's funny though because the thinking that goes into putting together an issue and figuring out what stories will be part of it is all very much about what makes a good print magazine, because, in print, they're all clustered together and turned into this package. Online, they just scatter completely. The same sort of thinking wouldn't really apply if we weren't focused on a print magazine. But we do still think about what's the right mix for the print magazine. That determines what goes out on a particular week.


What draws you to the print magazine medium?

We're an interesting magazine because we're a part of a newspaper, and that's what makes us different from our peers at The New Yorker or Vanity Fair or any other big magazines. We're the only one that's part of a newspaper. It makes us different in a whole bunch of ways, one of which is that we're not on the newsstand, which is a huge, huge freedom that we try to take advantage of by running covers that aren't really commercial in nature, but might be creatively really interesting or visually very powerful.

But it also means that we're within an organization, The New York Times, that is rapidly transforming itself into a digital organization, as they should. For them, shedding the print product and really focusing entirely on the digital product makes a lot of sense because newsprint is purely a delivery mechanism. People have nostalgic attachment to it, but that's just because it's what used to exist. It's not because it's better than, like, a phone. If you want to get the latest Donald Trump story from The New York Times it's better to get it on your phone. There's no way around that.

But I don't know if that's true for magazines, because a magazine isn't just a single story, like we were talking about earlier. It's a package of stories. It's like, smaller ones in the front, and then you build to the big stuff. It's like a meal. It's designed in a certain way. The material product itself is special. It's on glossy paper, the photographs are reproduced very nicely. And if the magazine is big enough, it's perfect bound and it doesn't even have staples. It feels really, really lasting in a way that a newspaper never does. So, the value of a print magazine is a little different from the value of a print newspaper and it's not as easily surpassed by the value of a digital version of it. It's harder to throw aside the print magazine and embrace the digital future.

That said, obviously we are equally about our digital presentation as we are our print presentation. But we're a rare department in this building that still focuses very hard on print. The rest of The New York Times, it's a badge of honor if you don't really pay attention to print. I'm kind of exaggerating, but it's encouraged to put your emphasis on your digital product, and the print product is what they call downstream from digital. Here, we can't quite do that because the magazine has a certain special value in print that I think is likely to be there for some time.

All of that said, your question was what attracts me to the print product. I mean, I think it's some of the stuff I was just saying. It's that as a reader, when you're reading a package of stories in the print magazine, you get a real sense of who the editors are and what their sensibility is, how they pair things together, and how they think about how a reading experience might go out of casual small stuff in the front to bigger stuff in the middle. And when you just read an individual piece in a sea of content online, you don't have the same experience. You don't feel like somebody's created an experience. I often say that a good magazine experience is somewhat theatrical. It's like you're sitting down in a theater, and somebody is putting on a show for you. First they come out and they do a little small thing for you to get you comfortable, and then they like bring you the main attraction. That appeals to me as a reading experience, and it appeals to me as a type of product to create as well.

It's something that's fun to create, to think about the mix and to think about what balances well. Not just in editorial terms but in terms of art as well. We constantly talk about things, like if two of our stories in a given issue have two portraits of people on the beginning pages, we definitely need to have a third story that's got an illustration or that has an environmental shot of a landscape. Creating a package every week that's rounded, and varied, and feels complicated and complex is part of the fun of working in print media.


You've experienced both extremes of the publication world. What are the good and bad sides to both?

The Sentinel is a small town newspaper that serves about 2400 people, at least at the time that I was working there. It had a really small newspaper staff. I was one of two reporters and then there was an editor basically. Because of that, we wrote all the stories ourselves. I would probably write five stories a week, and sometimes more. So that in and of itself was kind of interesting, just because there were not beats. You just did everything.

And also, it's not that the stakes were low. Obviously, in some ways, the stakes could not possibly be higher, because this was the news source for this town. But on the other hand, because of the size of the staff, there was no working your way slowly up before you got a break to cover the city council meeting. You were just thrown in the deep end every single week. It was always learn this, learn that. Learn about border patrol. Go down to Mexico and do a story about crime, immigration, what have you. There was just huge opportunity for a young journalist to learn about so many different aspects of, in this case, small town Texas life. I was 24 when I went there.

But I think what has stayed with me the most from that experience isn't so much the fast learning curve or the ability to write a lot of stories, but the relationship with the newspaper to the community it was a part of. You don't have the sense, when you're participating in producing The New York Times, that you're creating a paper that's for the people around you. I mean, it is, sort of. But it's such a crazy, huge, diverse town that it's not the same. And that's true for pretty much any place. Whereas, with the small town paper, you write something, and you're likely to see the person you wrote about at the post office the next day. For a journalist, that's a valuable lesson. Too often I think we imagine we write stories and publish them, and it's not that the subjects of the stories aren't real to us, but they're somehow far removed from our lives.

So starting out my career in Marfa and literally writing stories sometimes about touchy material, like, there was a drunk driving accident and some people got killed. You write that story up, and then the uncle of the person that was driving that car and was drunk is in front of you at the checkout line. Did you tell the story right? You better hope so, if you're standing next to the guy's uncle. And that was a really good lesson. Not just about sensitivity, but how important the newspaper or any type of media can be in a small community, or a large community, but you really see it at the level of a small community. You know how important it is for people to get information from that paper. It came out every Thursday, and people spent time on Thursday reading it. They would often come in to the newspaper office, buy the paper for fifty cents, and just stand around reading the paper. I think it's different now because there's more of a web presence than there was back then for the paper. But back then it was really like a moment for the week, everyone standing around reading the paper, and they'd be like 'ok, got the news!' That's something that really stayed with me.

And if you fast forward to here, obviously The New York Times is a completely different type of operation. The size of the platform is thrilling and exciting. You get to do a tremendous amount of stuff and the resources are off the charts. I think of this as the greatest job in journalism. There's no but in that sentence. It's not like I'm going to say "but I missed seeing my subjects in the checkout line." That's actually not the case. But I think that it is valuable to have that experience, and it does sort of inform, in some ways, the way I work here.


What do you think is the most vital skill for a young journalist to develop?

Having a sort of combination of natural curiosity (which I imagine that anyone who at some point decides they want to be a journalist has), tenacity (like you're going to get the door slammed in your face but you're going to keep knocking anyway), and then also having an innate ability to know when you're being lied to. Or when you're being told 85% of the truth. Something like that. Because it's not that people are always going to lie to you, but people are always going to shade the truth when they're speaking to you.

I think one of the things that journalists who are really good at their jobs have is just this ability to be non confrontational with subjects, but deeply skeptical at the same time. Because if you're just an asshole, and you just go around accusing people of lying all the time, they're never going to talk to you. And obviously building trust with sources and subjects is a huge part of how you get good stories and good quotes and great moments and scenes and all of that stuff. But if you're too cozy with those people, then either you're willingly deciding to not press them for the truth, or you're just kind of a fool and you don't realize that they're soft pedaling stuff. So having the ability to both win people's trust but also maintain a level of necessary skepticism about what they're telling you, and push them further, and being able to combine that with a tenacious streak and an innate curiosity about the world, I think that's the magic combination.

Obviously, there's a huge number of technical skills that are necessary now and like personal brand building, but I tend to think that's secondary to the core qualities of being a good journalist. A really good journalist is somebody that has sort of a preternatural ability to not care so much about how a story turns out. They just care about getting it right. So if your own personal politics are liberal in nature, but a particular story leads you down a path and you realize the liberals in this particular story are wrong and the conservatives are right, you don't care. Because what you care about is getting it right. Having that natural instinct to subordinate your personal beliefs in the service of figuring out exactly what happened. It's not right to say that you don't care, but the part of you that cares is not involved in the making of the journalism. That's a particular talent, and it's a particular talent that's in short supply now because there's so much advocacy journalism, and a lot of journalism that doesn't even call itself that because advocacy journalism is journalism. That neutrality that's not a soft neutrality of "this side says this but this side says this and I don't know," but goes hard at the truth no matter what, that's really important.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

An Interview with Dweeb City

Earth, prepare to be rocked by the cyberpop tunes of the neon-clad, glitter-drenched girl band Dweeb City. If their melodies sound otherworldly, it's because they traveled all the way from their home planet, Dweebtopia, to the human world, armed only with the dream of winning Eurovision. The group is comrpised of Suman, Taxman, Steelman, and Scabman-- all of whom bring their own unique alien superpower to the table. 

What started as a spur-of-the-moment decision to enter a uni band competition has now snowballed into elaborate gigs complete with costume changes, visually stunning music videos, and--most importantly-- their debut album, Dweeb City. A delightful mix of the wildly personal ("Spent A Year in Bed Watching Degrassi Jr. High"), hilariously fangirlish ("Nico the Unicorn We Miss You"), and universally poignant ("Duckie"), it proves that these extra terrestrials have an uncanny ability to understand what it is to be human. Perhaps that's because they give up all pretensions in the name of fun, entertainment, and having a positive impact.

I've been following the band since before their win at the music competition (before the fame hit)  and it's been such a pleasure to watch them come into their own as musicians. I've always believed in these dweebs, but it's been so incredible to watch them develop a distinct style into an impressively diverse yet cohesive, must-listen album. In the transcript below, we discuss the album, their journey to Earth, and everything in between. 

Hannah: What are the origin stories of your nicknames?

Taxman: While I was in art school I had to do this stupid exercise where we had to put cardboard boxes on our head. My friend wrote "Taxman" on my box, and I didn't know because I had a box on my head. So that's how I got Taxman.

Suman: In high school I got Suman and there's no real explanation for that, other than it just happened.

Scabman: She was like Susman at first I think.

Suman: Yeah, I had a nickname; it was "Susman," and then it turned into "Susnanny bitch" and then that was too long. So it just reverted back into Suman.

Scabman: In high school, we had this friend that used to scream at me "Scabigail Angel of Death!" I had an early 2000s emo aesthetic and I guess she took that to heart. Scabman kind of came from her calling me "Scabby Abby" and "Scabigail Angel of Death."

Taxman: Princess Sally gave Steelman her name because she loves Steel Panther so much!

Hannah: How did you come up with the name Dweeb city?

Taxman: Well, we only had like an hour before it was due, so I just wrote Dweeb City because I didn't know what to write. I think in art school there were a lot of people trying to be cool, and we just kind of did what we wanted to do.

Hannah: I was wondering about the origin story of Dweeb City. I know you entered a competition and stuff, but can you describe your rise to stardom?

Taxman: On our home plant Dweebtopia, we were trained to be the Eurovision champions. We would grow up watching Eurovision, except we're 20 years behind. So we were coming to Earth to win Eurovision, but we went to the wrong place because Dweeb City is not that good at making technology.

Scabman: Taxman ended up at art school and was like 'oh no! How will I win Eurovision now?'

Taxman: And then I found out about this competition and it wasn't Eurovision but we entered anyway. And we won! To the dismay of some of the other bands.

Suman: I think that some people were a bit like 'aw this is funny!' But then, when we won, they were like "Fuck those guys!"

Hannah: What was the best show you played?

Taxman: I really loved Psyfari. It was a bush doof. I don't know if that's a thing in America.

Hannah: What is that?

Taxman: It's like a party where you take lots of drugs and like listen to rave music. We don't take lots of drugs though.

Suman: It's like a psychedelic dance party basically.

Scabman: And they make a mess.

Taxman: It's a bit gross.

Scabman: You could spend a long time talking about the problems. But the cool aspect is that they set up amazing lasers that bounce off the trees.

Suman: Huge sound systems in the middle of nowhere.

Taxman: And there's artists that design the stages. It's really cool.

Suman: And then there's like adult jungle gyms.

Taxman: Anyway we played a really hilarious gig at Psyfari. We were on at like midnight.

Suman: It was so cold. It got down to like -4 degrees Celsius. It was like below freezing. And we were in our tiny costumes onstage.

Scabman: Because it was so cold, the strings got really tight and they were so high pitched.

Taxman: And we were on for like an hour, so we just put lots of dance breaks.

Scabman: We had like this ghost buster's dance break. And some people came up to us, and they were like "Your set was really good, but then it got really dark and scary and I had to walk away."

Suman: There were a lot of people that were like, "We loved it, but it was just too much."

Taxman: I had this person come up to me a couple of months ago that was like "You guys exist? I saw you at the bush doof and I didn't know if you were real or not!"

Scabman: Personally, when we played with Toy Death for the first time, that was just a nostalgic moment. Because they play with old toys, and we really looked up to them in high school. They were-- and they still are --like, the coolest people. We wrote them this fan letter that was like "Hello, we are from Dweebtopia and we've loved you since we were teenagers." And they played with us! And they turned out to be the nicest people ever.

Hannah: What's your favorite song on the album?

Taxman: It changes every time I listen to it. I really really really love "Clementine." I think that one is a total bop.

Suman; That was one of the ones we recorded in the actual recording studio. So we had some help with making it sound more like real music.

Taxman: The first time I heard it, it glitched. So it was playing at like 4 times the speed.

Scabman: I just had really bad, broken speakers. And it wasn't really finished yet.

Suman: "70s Stairway to Hell" was a really good song. Steelman wrote that.

Scabman: It's got that "Hello Moto!"

Suman: I really like "Drogo." It's got so many layers.

Scabman: I like all of them for different reasons.

Suman: My parents' favorite is "Mrs. Pink."

Hannah: Who are your main musical inspirations?

Taxman: I reckon The Shaggs are a pretty big one for me. Abigail and I also listen to lots and lots of early 2000s indie pop music.

Suman: I really really like Sufjan Stevens, like weird atmospheric stuff. And The Flaming Lips as well. Like when you can hear random sounds but they just really work together. I love that stuff.

Taxman: I also really love like the eighties. So like Devo.

Scabman: Cyndi Lauper,  The Strawberry Switchblade Sisters. Oh my gosh.

Hannah: What's your favorite music video you've done?

Scabman: I had so much fun when we filmed Luna Luna. That was so cute. Because we went to Luna Park. And it was just such a fun day. We just went around dressed as aliens and everyone thought we were part of the theme park attractions.

Taxman: I love Luna Park! It's a very derro Australian theme park that's like really tiny.

Suman: It's in the middle of the city and they've had a lot of noise complaints, so they've had to make all the rides miniature. It's very derro but very cool. It's very old too. It's like Australia's version of Coney Island.

Taxman: I can't watch Duckie anymore. I was so sick [when we were filming].

Scabman: I like the bedroom scene in that. I watched it the other day and I was like "That's so cute." But I agree that was a rough day.

Hannah: How did you develop the visual aesthetics of Dweeb City?

Taxman: It's all based off of what you can get really cheap at Kmart. I go to supermarkets and to shops and buy stuff. I really love neon. You have to find neon stuff which is a task.

Scabman: Any inspirations?

Taxman: My inspirations are outsider art, so like all those crazy people that build epic houses and stuff. I really love Harajuku and that layer on layer on layer, pop culture, trashy aesthetic. So there's a lot of nostalgia, mixed with outsider art, mixed with 60s sci-fi. And whatever you can find at Kmart.

Suman: Retro futurism meets Kmart. That's what our aesthetic is.

Hannah: What's next for Dweeb City? What are your plans for the future?

Scabman: Eurovision.

Suman: Eurovision.

Scabman: We have music videos we're halfway through. We've got other songs we've already written that we'll put on the next one.

Suman: But not for a while.

Scabman: We really want to go to Japan and play a gig there.

Suman: We were talking to Toy Death about it and they said we could potentially go together.

Hannah: Using an analogy, how would you describe your creative process?

Taxman: For me, it's a bit like putting everything into a microwave and microwaving it until it explodes. That's how I roll.

Scabman: I feel like it's like poking at a calculator that makes a beeping sound endlessly, and just going "Yeah, I like that!" Is that an analogy? I don't know if I really identify with my analogy.

Suman: I feel like [for me it would be] spicy shaker fries.

Taxman: Do you guys have shaker fries?

Hannah: No, I've never heard of that before.

Suman: They're like McDonald's fries, and they give you a packet of seasoning. And you put it in the bag and shake it.

Scabman: Sometimes you get like too much flavoring on a chip, but you're just like "Cool."

Taxman: Yeah you're like "I'm in Salt City but I'm loving it."

Suman: What's an analogy I don't know!

Taxman: Shaker fries! She shook me to my core. Suman did most of the mixing and mastering on our album. It took a million years.

Scabman: We kept having these, like, riots in the car where we'd be like "We'll listen to the album!" And then we'd be like "Oh no. We can't send it off. Susan, what do we do? Back to the drawing board." And she'd just like fix so many songs. She's definitely the mastermind of the shaker bag.

Taxman: She's the shaker for sure.

Hannah: How long did the album take to finish?

Taxman: A year and a half. It took us a long time.

Suman: It was worth it though. When you actually get the CD in your hand, you're like "IT"S WORTH IT!"

Hannah: When did you decide to get serious about your music?

Suman: I'm not sure we're totally serious even now. Like, we are in some aspects. We really love playing music and playing gigs and stuff. But in terms of the music we write and the lyrics we write, we don't generally take it too seriously. Well, some of them are quite serious. It depends.

Scabman: I think that the fun is still there. Some of them are very personal.

Taxman: The stuff that we write on our own is more serious. More rooted in real life.

Scabman: We were never like, "Ok, we are very serious now. Get it together friends!" It's fun.

Suman: Even if we do have a serious song that deals with a serious topic, often we'll add a weird instrument or a weird sample or something that makes it a little more accessible.

Taxman: I guess, for me, when I started taking it seriously was when other people started saying I should take it seriously. I was like "Oh it's just this silly thing me and my friends are doing." But then the guy who ran the band competition was like "No, this is actually really good." And I was like "What?" I didn't realize what we'd done was actually affecting people and I thought that was really cool. When I was thinking of making a band, I saw a lot of bands that took themselves so seriously that it was like the audience didn't really exist, and they were just playing for themselves, which is fine. But I saw bands that were really engaging the audience and making really accessible music and I was like, "That'd be really fun!" And, of course, Toy Death really puts on a show for people to enjoy, so that was a big influence for me.

Suman: We've had some experiences where people would come up to us after gigs and be like 'I really needed that." Or "That really changed my life." Or "I was having a really bad time and you guys just made me feel so much better." When I heard that kind of stuff from people, [I realized] that our music has the power to help people in a way and make them feel good. That makes you take it a lot more seriously.

Hannah: What's been the best moment since forming Dweeb City?

Suman: The novelty check [we got from winning the competition] was pretty great.

Scabman: I think just all the time spent with friends. I don't really have one epic moment personally. It's just like hanging out and having tea. And eating junk food. Just a collection of really hilarious memories. I'm just like "Life's just really nice."

Taxman: And I think that having Dweeb City means you have to meet up and you have to hang out and you have to do stuff. At our age, people kind of drift apart a little bit. But we can stay aliens forever.

You can listen to Dweeb City on Spotify and all other streaming services!

All photos via Dweeb City's Instagram

Sunday, August 19, 2018

An Interview with Chris Uphues

The world needs the vibrant heart(s) of Chris Uphues. The artist and designer (he co-founded the shop Beautiful Days with his wife, Jen Koehl) is not only a huge personal inspiration of mine but has become a cultural phenomenon over the past couple of years. Best known for his bright-eyed cartoon hearts, Uphues draws from an eclectic range of inspirations to create his iconography. He simply and beautifully distills his "spread love" philosophy into imagery that's attainable rather than elitist, welcoming rather than exclusive. This is especially true of his street art, which is not only accessible in terms of medium, but also possesses an almost aggressive luminosity, so energetic it's infectious, impossible to ignore. Inspired by Keith Haring, he is well on his way to entering the pop art cannon himself. And for good reason. In the current tumultuous political and cultural landscape, we need the vigorous cheerfulness of his work.

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What work are you most proud of?

I don't think I have a piece I'm most proud of . I think my answer changes every time I make something new. Mostly I just really enjoy getting in the studio and continuing the work everyday. That's where the real action and fun really is.

Who do you think the most creative person alive is?

One of my favorite creative people is theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, most well known for his work on string theory.

What is your favorite color combination?

Anything that vibrates when you set them side by side -- like a fluorescent over a pastel.

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What's the best advice you've ever received?

"Leap and the net will appear." - zen proverb

This is the one piece of advice I find to be completely true 100% of the time.

What's the strangest thing you've painted on?

I once painted on these giant bins in a farm in Montana to look like great big robot heads. Still one of my favorite projects.

What would you change about the art world?

Nothing. It's perfect just the way it is. Or actually every single thing but it's too much to list in a single interview.

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What's the best reaction anyone has ever had to your art?

Hmmm I'm not really sure , but it's always nice when people appreciate something you've worked hard on. There has been a recent wave of art teachers teaching my work in class and I really love seeing those projects develop.

What was the first thing you painted?

That's a hard one... I think it was probably a water color of a bowl of fruit in my very first painting class. LOL

What do you hope you'll be remembered for?

I used to have big ideas about this but now I just hope I brought a little joy into the world and more specifically, to my wife and family, and I hope they know I love them.

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Using an analogy, how would you describe your creative process?

My creative process is like a galactic cloud of gas. The molecules in the cloud gather and collide, and gather mass until they start forming planets, suns, and star systems of ideas and imagery.

Lastly, if your body of work were an animal, what kind of animal would it be and why?

I genuinely can't pick just one... so all of them.

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