Music & Culture

Alyssa Mastromonaco

On Her Years in The White House

Former Deputy Chief of Staff for the Obama administration, Alyssa Mastromonaco, on her years in The White House.

Live Your Truth

NeueHouse x Kiki

Watch the cast of Kiki live their truth at NeueHouse Madison Square’s Gallery Penthouse. Created by The Shop, in collaboration with Sara Jördano and IFC Films.

YAA GYASI

"HOMEGOING"

YAA-FEATURED

Yaa Gyasi’s debut book and New York Times bestseller, “Homegoing,” (Penguin Random House), traces the generations of family who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history, each life indelibly drawn, as the legacy of slavery is fully revealed in light of the present. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, “Homegoing” makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

 

Directly following her discussion with visual artist Toyin Ojih Odutola at NeueHouse Madison Square, Gyasi sat down with NeueHouse member, Larry Ossei-Mensah, to share further insight into her world and the world of “Homegoing” including, putting a name to the lost faces in history, her fascination with Yaa Asantewaa, and her mantra in life.

 

Larry Ossei-Mensah: You were born in Ghana and raised in Alabama. Did the juxtaposition of your upbringing influence the initial storyline for Homegoing? If so, why?

 

Yaa Gyasi: The juxtaposition is really what Homegoing is all about. It’s about putting these two worlds, Ghana and America, against one another. It’s about having them in conversation with one another to inform each other and look at all of the ways that we became separated between Ghanaian and African American culture. It’s also the way that we connect the two. I think it’s everything.

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LOM: Homegoing is your debut book. What was the curation process like when creating a compilatory book that focuses on several different centuries at a time? How did you decide what particular periods to focus on and what to not focus on?

 

YG: I knew that I wanted this book to cover a long period of time, to start in the 18th century and end in the present. As I was writing, I was thinking about different moments in history that might be nice to have pit stops in and some of those moments include the advent of cocoa farming in Ghana or the Fugitive Slave Act in America. Once I figured out the places that I was interested in exploring, I would structure the novel so I could stop at these places and let people see what life in that time and place might have been like.

 

LOM: You mentioned that each of the characters taught you something as you were going through the process of writing. What is the most significant thing you’ve learned from writing this book?

 

YG: The most significant thing I’ve learned is that it is important that we see people as individuals. It is imperative that we recognize the people who faced these extreme circumstances by speaking their name and not allowing them to become part of this nameless, faceless mass. It’s important to draw out individual stories, so that we can see the people who were thrust into these circumstances are just like us with the same kinds of hopes, fears, and dreams that we have for ourselves.

 

LOM: Was it difficult to come face to face with the horrific realities that you discovered through your research when writing the book?

 

YG: It was really difficult. Some of the moments in this book are really traumatic. I felt how traumatic it was for me to research it and write it, and, of course, it was ten-fold more traumatic for the people who were going through it. I felt like I had a responsibility to them, to these characters, and to the people that they represent from our reality to tell their stories and to talk about them.

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LOM: I read that reading and writing was your best friend growing up. How would you describe your writing style now, particularly working on the next project? What do you keep from Homegoing and what do you let go of?

 

YG: From Homegoing, I will always keep this privileging of storytelling over some of the other things that writers sometimes privilege. It’s important to me that you tell a good story as well as learn something and write beautiful prose, but it’s important to me that people enjoy the story that they are reading and so, I will take that with me to the next book.

 

LOM: When you were writing the book, was that something you were constantly thinking about in terms of these parallels between the past and present? Many of the characters dealt with a variety of issues such as how people of color engage with the police, people in uniform, familial  relationships, loving each other, and loving themselves. Was that something you were consciously thinking about when writing the book?

 

YG: Yes. I was thinking about all of that. What we inherit–physical inherencies and emotional inherencies, these scars that we carry with us from these decisions our ancestors made, from the decisions that our governments make–it impacts our life in a very real way.

 

I was also thinking about repetition, these moments in history that come back and the ways we can recognize them. In Kojo’s chapter, when he makes his children present their free papers to him, that kind of looks a lot like the way black parents talk to their kids today about interacting with the police. So these moments that I think have a rhyme and this repetition to them, I wanted to bring them out.

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LOM: If you could live in any other period in time, thinking about the generations that this story spans, when would it be?

 

YG: You know, a lot of these periods, it’s hard to be black and a woman, so I don’t know if I would want to go back to any of the times that I write about. If anything, I would want to go forward. So, the future.

 

LOM: Which historical figure do you most identify with?

 

YG: I don’t know if I identify with her most, but I am so fascinated by Yaa Asantewaa who I write about in one of these chapters. Just the fact that she rallied her people against the British in this major war –she’s our Ghanaian Joan of Arc, yet so many people don’t know her story. It was great for me to be able to write about her.

 

LOM: What do you want readers to walk away from after they’ve read your book?

 

YG: I want readers to recognize that a lot of things we are dealing with in the present today, they have a precedent, they’ve come from these other historical moments. This current political climate didn’t appear out of thin air. It was built and we can see exactly how it was built. I want this book to kind of connect this present to our history.

 

LOM: Which living person do you most admire?

 

YG: I suppose I would go to some of my writing heroes. Toni Morrison has to be one of them.

 

LOM: What is your mantra in life?

 

YG: Be kind.

 

Credits:

Larry Ossei-Mensah is a Ghanaian-American independent curator and cultural critic who has documented contemporary art happenings for various publications including Uptown and Whitewall Magazine. Ossei-Mensah is also the Co-Founder of ARTNOIR, a global collective of culturalists who design multimodal experiences aimed to engage this generation’s dynamic and diverse creative class. ARTNOIR serves as a tangible extension of Ossei-Mensah’s curatorial vision of “bridging cultural gaps” through the power of art.

 

Photography: Andrew Boyle for NeueJournal

Arianna Huffington

'The Sleep Revolution'

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Arianna Huffington has no shortage of innovative and transformative ideas — the Greek media mogul’s determinedly feminist approach to the written word has transformed journalism as we know it over the course of her career. Last time she visited us, we celebrated her book ‘Thrive’ – where she extolled the virtues of a work-life balance. This time around, the author, columnist, Co-Founder, and Editor in Chief of The Huffington Post stopped by NeueHouse Madison Square with her daughter Isabella Huffington to talk about her new book ‘The Sleep Revolution,’ the obnoxious roommate, and the buffoonery that is Donald Trump.

 

NeueJournal: You’ve referred to the sleep revolution as a feminist issue. Why is that?

 

Arianna Huffington: Our current notion of success, in which we drive ourselves into the ground, if not the grave— in which working to the point of exhaustion and burnout is considered a badge of honor— was put in place by men, in a workplace culture dominated by men. But it’s a model of success that’s not working for women, and, really, it’s not working for men, either.

 

For far too long, we’ve been operating under a collective delusion that burnout is the necessary price we must pay for accomplishment and success. Recent scientific findings make it clear that this couldn’t be less true. Not only is there no tradeoff between living a well-rounded life and high performance, performance is actually improved when our lives include time for renewal. And as we try to create a world where walking around sleep-deprived becomes stigmatized instead of lauded, women are uniquely positioned to lead the way.

 

NJ: Do you think you would have had the same level of success had you worked a bit less and slept a bit more?

 

AH: I’m often asked a question that goes something like this: “Arianna, it’s great that you get all this sleep now, but would you have had the same career if you had done this earlier in your life?” And my answer isn’t just a categorical yes—I also believe that not only would I have achieved whatever I’ve achieved, but I would have done it with more joy, more aliveness, and less of a cost to my health and my relationships.

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NJ: What is the last great idea you had while sleeping?

 

AH: Adding the disclaimer at the bottom of every HuffPost article about Donald Trump pointing out the truth, along with supporting links, of who he is. Early on we decided to not cover him as a normal candidate since it’s clear he’s a dangerous force in American politics. So we initially covered him in our Entertainment section, which seemed a fitting place for his buffoonery. But as his campaign gained steam, along with the buffoonery, we had to take him more seriously. So now we run the following disclaimer at the end of every HuffPost piece that mentions him:

 

“Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.”

 

And I was waking up from a great night’s sleep when I had the idea to launch our HuffPost Sleep Revolution College Tour, which we’ve now taken to more than 300 colleges across the country, drawing on the latest science to raise awareness and spark a national conversation about the importance of sleep and the dangers of sleep deprivation. It’s had an incredible response.

 

NJ: New York is known as ‘the city that never sleeps.’ What do you think the benefit would be, city-wide, if we became more well rested?

 

AH: Our lives – not only as individuals but our collective life as New Yorkers – would improve in nearly every way. We’re living in a golden age of sleep science—revealing all the ways in which sleep plays a vital role in our decision making, emotional intelligence, cognitive function, and creativity. New York is already doing pretty well in all these departments! But imagine how much the city would improve if we were all operating at full capacity, instead of feeling burned out and depleted all the time?

 

It’s particularly important because a city that prides itself on never sleeping is particularly susceptible to “second-hand sleep deprivation.” When you’re sleep-deprived, it doesn’t just affect your own life – it also makes life worse for everyone around you. If you’re moody, irritable, and depleted, that affects everyone you come into contact with. And when it comes to drowsy driving, which is responsible for 1.2 million car crashes and 8,000 deaths a year, our sleep deprivation can truly endanger the lives of others.

 

NJ:  What is your proudest achievement so far?

 

AH: I’m most proud of everything we’ve been able to accomplish at The Huffington Post. Eleven years after our founding, we strive every day to innovate and seize new opportunities, but at the same time stay true to our DNA. We’re committed to covering our core editorial pillars — news and politics, wellness, and solutions to the world’s biggest problems — and using every available tool and platform, including virtual reality and immersive storytelling, to inform, inspire, entertain and empower. With editions in 15 countries, we’re able to reach more people than ever before, and voices that once would have gone unheard have a chance to join the conversation, and maybe even have a chance to change the world.

 

NJ: If you could sum up the current presidential race in three words, which would they be?

 

AH: Media’s ultimate test.

 

NJ: What is your most prized possession?

 

AH: As I thought about this question, I realized there is absolutely nothing I couldn’t live without. But something I love and wear all the time, to the point of my friends asking me if I have another pair, is a pair of gold hoop earrings with a pearl, which a dear friend gave me for Christmas one year.

 

NJ: How would you define happiness?

 

AH: For me, happiness is living life, as the poet Rumi put it, as though everything is rigged in our favor. By this I mean that we are never going to avoid upsets, obstacles, heartbreaks. Our happiness is determined by our attitude to what happens in our life.

 

NJ: If you were given the ability to never feel an emotion again, would you accede to this? If so, which emotion would you get rid of?

 

AH: I would give up judgments, especially self-judgments. I’m a big proponent of silencing the voices of self-doubt in our heads, which I call the obnoxious roommate. It’s the voice that feeds on putting us down and strengthening our insecurities and doubts. I wish someone would invent a tape recorder that we could attach to our brains to record everything we tell ourselves. We would realize how important it is to stop this negative self-talk. It means pushing back against our obnoxious roommate with a dose of wisdom. I have spent many years trying to evict my obnoxious roommate and have now managed to relegate her to only occasional guest appearances in my head!

 

NJ: What do you believe is the meaning of life?

 

AH: I strongly believe that we are not put on this earth just to accumulate victories and trophies and avoid failures; but rather to be whittled and sandpapered down until what’s left is who we truly are.

 

Photography: Manolo Campion for NeueJournal 

Timothy Bloom

Inherited Spirituality

Timothy Bloom is as smooth and honest as his music. In fact, as he tells us in the photo studio of NeueHouse Madison Square ahead of his performance, “honesty…is the most important thing in all aspects of life–friendship, music, and this conversation right now.” With a silky voice and lyrics that encompass matters of life and love, it’s no surprise why the North Carolina native has made a fruitful career as a producer, singer, and writer, the latter of which earned him two Grammys for songs he helmed for Ne-Yo and Chris Brown. The multi-talent sat down with us for an intimate chat, where he talked about the power of childbirth, walking around naked, and an inherited spirituality.

 

NeueJournal: What is the biggest difference between writing material for other artists and writing material for yourself?

 

Timothy Bloom: The big difference is I don’t mind giving songs away to other artists that I’m not going to use for myself, but songs for myself I can’t give away. This record that I’m working on right now, I can’t imagine giving it away and the songs not being for myself. The majority of the time I write music for myself, but I’m always creating and always working, writing, or producing so it’s a natural thing.

 

NJ: How does your religious upbringing inform who you are as an artist?

 

TB: My religious upbringing as an artist today has been very convoluted, as I don’t call myself a religious person. I’m much more of a spiritual person. I think my mom and dad influenced some of my spirituality since they raised us to pray and be respectful. I do believe there is a God and I do believe Jesus was the Son of God, but I don’t really get into that too much when it comes to them raising me on a religious side, because they were just great parents.

 

NJ: What musicians made the biggest impact on you as a child?

 

TB: Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Prince (RIP)…Goodness gracious, there’s a long list of amazing artists and musicians that influence my music, from gospel, to classical music, to country, to rock n roll…the list goes on.

 

NJ: It’s Saturday morning. What are you doing?

 

TB: I’m walking around the house naked. No, I’m lying (laughs), I have my kids on Saturday. But when I don’t have my kids on Saturdays I am walking around the house naked.

 

My kids wake me up super early and it’s interesting because they are in this very educational phase so they’re like, “Daddy, I want to do multiplication.” They are on this path of education and it’s really cool. Their mom is a teacher and I’ve been very active in their education so I’m like, “Hey let’s do some math.” They take it to a whole new level. My oldest is ten and my youngest is three. They’re very smart kids.

 

NJ: How old were you when you first fell in love?

 

TB: I first understood love when I saw my mom and my dad as who they are. When I first fell in love I was 14 years old. She broke my heart, which happens. Heartbreak teaches you to watch the mistakes we all make.

 

NJ: What would constitute a perfect day for you?

 

TB: Going to the beach. Just being in the sun and relaxing with no care in the world and taking in life. In the summer, winter, spring or fall.

 

NJ: What do you value most in a friendship?

 

TB: Honesty. For me, it’s the most important thing in all aspects of life–friendship, music, and this conversation right now.

 

NJ: When is the last time you laughed until you cried?

 

TB: I can’t remember. The last time I cried was when Prince died. I felt like one of my heroes passed. It was a mournful cry.

 

NJ: What, to you, is the meaning of life?

 

TB: Living (laughs).

 

NJ: What is your most treasured memory?

 

TB: That’s easy…it’s almost cliché. When my kids were born. To see life come out of a woman is amazing. It’s very powerful.

 

 

Featured Portrait: Ira Chernova for NeueJournal 
GIF: Mr. Gif x Ira Chernova for NeueJournal 

Jason Rohrer

Game Worlds & The Freedom of Simple Living

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‘The Game Worlds of Jason Rohrer,’ which runs until June 26, 2016 at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College, is an unprecedented exhibition that coalesces designer Jason Rohrer’s video games into an experiential art show. Featuring celebrated games, such as ‘Passage’ and ‘Gravitation,’ the exhibition aims to portray the world of Rohrer’s craft in a different setting. Ahead of the exhibition’s opening, NeueHouse Madison Square became the setting for a precursor show, allowing members an opportunity to play some of the famed games before being led by Rohrer himself in an engaging and lively conversation. The California-based programmer talked to us about the experience of tactile exhibitions, the philosophy of designing with meaning, and the freedom of simple living.

 

NeueJournal: What do you think is the biggest difference from a traditional exhibition as opposed to an interactive one, such as this one? What is the biggest benefit of this?

 

Jason Rohrer: Well, it’s complicated because video games sort of have trouble in a museum context. When people go to museums they usually interact with a piece of art for about 30 seconds, which even then is longer than expected. Even with something like video art, which is probably on a loop and provides a longer bit of content, people kind of wander past it. So the problem with interactive works is that, given the spectator time frame, many of them don’t get their point across.

 

Take for instance Passage, which, at five minutes long, is a really short video game, but, in the context of a museum experience, where people aren’t used to spending a long time in front of a piece, those five minutes are longer. Passage, for example, is a game that gets its point across at the very end, so I’ve seen people at the MoMA or another gallery setting playing the game and walking away a minute or so later thinking, “Hmmm, I don’t know. It’s just a little guy walking around in a maze.” They don’t get to the punchline, either because they’ve walked away, or because they become nervous about the public performance aspect of playing a video game.

 

All of these things serve as challenges, so we tried to navigate them as best we could when designing the show, but even so you’re met with unexpected aspects. We did a donor preview with people who were generally older, and they were very nervous about playing the games or even touching them, even though we had explained the games. The normal crowds that go to museums might be out of their element with the technological aspect, which is another challenge. On the other hand, it’s a very exciting show for people who are thinking of ways to revolutionize and revive museums to make them relevant to today’s audiences. Part of the appeal for museums and galleries to show this kind of work is to interact with non-traditional audiences.

 

NJ: What is your philosophy when creating a game?

 

JR: I look back at the things I’ve done and pursue to make something different, but also, I’m hoping to do something different than what other people have done in games, as well. Making a game is a tremendous amount of work, and it’s hard to put that in an outsider context because the end experience of playing the game might be relatively simple and quick. The games I design can take anywhere between three months to three years of very intense work, so I have to be careful about what I decide to make since I’m going to be wedded to it for a long time.

 

As a creator and as an artist I also want to do something that I feel has some aesthetic meat on its bones, that it’s going to make a contribution, not only to the design or novelty space, but also, in terms of its weightiness or its importance. I feel it’s important to make something with meaning, so I look at my life and the things that are important to me, or the things I’m arguing with friends about, and try to figure out how to make work that tackles those bigger topics. I want the end result to be something that’s new, but that also deals with something I feel is important. Those two elements are always together across the spectrum of my game designs.

 

NJ: You designed A Game For Someone to be discovered and played in 2,700 years. What was the impetus for this decision? Who do you ideally fantasize will discover it?

 

JR: A Game For Someone was designed for the Game Design Challenge, where the challenge was having all the winners from previous years come back and design the last game humanity would ever play, and we could interpret that however we wanted to, like some of the designers made games that involved launching the world’s nuclear stockpile.

 

Video games are very fragile and transient and ephemeral, because what we create depends on other aspects of computing that we have no control over. The fact that even Passage, my most famous game, doesn’t work anymore on a number of platforms makes me worried about that kind of stuff and makes me think about how to make things endure. We are working in this medium that’s very much about the “here” and “now.” So thinking about making something permanent, or not as transient, really pulled me away from making any kind of video game at all and into making something that has no tech requirements in order to experience it – to make it some kind of physical board game.

 

That decision then got me thinking about what kind of materials would stand the test of time and be playable toward the end of humanity. I thought making it out of titanium and preserving the instructions in a vacuum-sealed tube would be the most enduring way, as well as thinking about how to preserve instructions in a way that could be understood by people who no longer speak English, or maybe not even people, at this point, but a sentient being that comes post-humanity. The design made me think deeply about the long-term history of humanity, while at the same time thinking about how to hide the game so as not to be discovered during this lifetime, but making it findable in a practical way through a long algorithm, so as not to be lost completely.

 

NJ: You are a practitioner of simple living. Where did this decision come from? What was the hardest aspect of making this change and what has been the most beneficial aspect?

 

JR: I could go work as a computer programmer for somebody else and make quite a bit of money doing that, but that would involve 60-70 hours a week’s worth of tedious and intense and soul-crushing work in exchange of making money to support my family. When I think about the time that I have, and my time being the most valuable thing, it put things into perspective. I read this book, called Your Money or Your Life, which poses the situation of somebody coming up to you and robbing you, and the conclusion that you’re not going to try to keep on to your money at the expense of your life. Clearly, you’d give any amount of money to save your life, yet at the same time we throw most of our lives away chasing after money while doing things we don’t even like.

 

I had to figure out how to have a life where most of my time is spent doing things that are really important to me, and where I achieve a balance of getting to see my family a lot more, and not be so stressed out all the time, and do something that I’m passionate about, even if it’s not necessarily bringing in the most money possible. Along with that comes figuring out how to have this freedom, by making whatever budget my wife and I have to make this stretch as long as possible, before falling into the necessity of giving up our lifestyle to go back to a job we don’t like in order to make some means. When we first started out we had a little bit of savings, so we trimmed down the idea of how we can live on the least amount of money as possible, wondering, “Can we live on $10,000 a year? Is it possible? And if so, how and how long could we sustain it?”

 

Over the course of the five years of seeing what would happen, the things I was working on became popular enough that I could start making a living doing the things I wanted to be doing. It took a while. There were a bunch of things that didn’t work out, a bunch of projects that didn’t take off, a couple of video games along the way that weren’t popular, but having that freedom to explore those things and not feel like I had to go work all day long doing something I don’t like, and then squeeze these passion projects in on the weekends, allowed me to achieve the career you see today. I’m not making a ton of money, but I’m making enough to keep surviving and to keep my family supported.

 

NJ: If you were to describe the current presidential race in three words, what would they be?

 

JR: It is refreshing.

 

NJ: If you could have any special ability, what would it be?

 

JR: I’ve always wanted to be invisible.

 

NJ: What is your motto?

 

JR: Don’t give people advice unless asked for it.

 

NJ: What do you believe is the meaning of life?

 

JR: My grandfather used to say, “Life is to be enjoyed.”

 

Photography: Andrew Boyle for NeueJournal

FORM Arcosanti

Bonobo, Azul, & Dawn
on the Groundbreaking Festival

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In a day and age where festivals are few and far in between, it’s often a challenge to create a unique and original experience. Cue FORM Arcosanti, a three-day festival held in a small surreal city in Arizona, which amalgamates electronic performances from the likes of Skrillex, Four Tet, and Perfume Genius, with an immersive cultural series presented by NeueHouse, with work from Doug Aitken and Sanford Biggers, amongst others. Ahead of the festival, which will take place from May 13 – 15, 2016, NeueHouse Hollywood hosted a cultural preview, which included music and a short film screening. We sat down with three of the musicians who make up the lineup, Bonobo, Azul, and Dawn, where we talked about migrating to the moon, the presidential election, and hanging out with their heroes.

 

NeueJournal: How would you describe FORM as being different than other festivals?

 

Bonobo: This is my first time being here. I’ve heard from other people who have said it’s a very unique experience. Skrillex described it to me as feeling like you’re playing a party for your friends, which reminds me of a festival called ‘The Big Chill’ that we used to do back in the day. It was a very low key, very fun experience, and it sounds like this is going to be the same.

 

Azul: It’s different in so many ways. A lot of festivals are kind of impersonal and feel corporate, in a way, but at FORM it feels more communal. You get to know everybody’s name, and everybody’s there to be a part of the art – it’s a more inclusive experience, and it feels like something out of Star Wars.

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Dawn

 

Dawn: First of all, the whole setup is interesting. The tents they create to make hotels, and the architecture they use to make the structure surrounding it matches nature very well. I think they blend art with nature in a very cool way. I was telling my friend that if I were to do any music festival, FORM is the one I would want to do because it seems so different, and it creates a structure that is different from the Coachellas and the other festivals. It has its own personality.

 

NJ: What is the first song you listened to this morning?

 

Bonobo: Something from Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds, from a solo piano record called ‘Trance Frendz.’

 

Azul: ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ by Led Zeppelin.

 

Dawn: Normally when I wind down or when I wake up I listen to Debussy’s ‘Claire De Lune.’ It’s been my favorite song since I was a child. My father was a classically trained musician and that was the first song he played for me on the piano. I actually covered it!

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Bonobo

 

NJ: If it’s true that ‘you are what you eat,’ what are you?

 

Azul: A slob (laughs). A burrito – I’ve been eating a lot of those lately.

 

Dawn: Crawfish, but I’m vegan now, so I’d have to be Daiya cheese (vegan cheese). I keep telling people, if Daiya needs a commercial, I’m your girl (laughs).

 

NJ: You’re relocating to the moon. What do you take with you?

 

Bonobo: Beyond the practical things, I’d bring a zero-gravity piano and some space gloves.

 

Azul: Some crystals and some sage. Maybe it wouldn’t burn well, but I’d take it anyway.

 

Dawn: A good pair of moon walking shoes (laughs). Probably a really good moon suit. Is there oxygen available? I mean, that’s the logical question and the practical answer, but it would be a really cool suit, I’d attach some frillies and stuff.

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Azul

 

NJ: What is usually the first thing you think about in the morning and at night?

 

Azul: In the morning I usually try to meditate, if I can. I try to have a clear mind. At night my head races for a couple of hours, before going to sleep. I think about design, stage things, and music.

 

Dawn: How do we figure out how to beat the system again, today? It’s like ‘Pinky and the Brain.’ In the morning I try to take over the world, and at night I realize that I didn’t do it that day, so I try to do it again the next day.

 

NJ: Using three words, how would you describe the current presidential race?

 

Bonobo: All day breakfast (laughs) – no that doesn’t make sense. All at war.

 

 

Dawn: A fucking joke.

 

NJ: If you could hang out with anyone for a week, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you do?

 

Bonobo: I would probably hang out with my dad circa 1972, which was three years before I happened, so I wouldn’t have to deal with myself in that situation (laughs). But those were his wild, hippie folk years, when he would buy a lot of records, so I would hang around while my dad bought records.

 

Azul: Probably Joni Mitchell. I would sit and watch her and talk to her.

 

Dawn: Stan Lee. He’s older now but he seems like he’s still 20; in every movie he’s done he always has a cameo. I like his sense of humor, so I’d love to know, in a world that’s so cynical, how does he still manage to stay a big ass kid? His house must be insane (laughs), but I’d really just like to pick his brain and see how he figured out how to stay himself while at the same time profit from it.

 

NJ: Who do you admire the most?

 

Azul: I admire a lot of people, but probably my dad. He’s passed, but he was an artist and an amazing and loving person.

 

Dawn: My parents, no question. I know that’s cliche, but they’re just fucking awesome. My dad has cancer, and the way he’s handling it is just pretty damn cool, and my mom is so great for dealing with him and all of the things that come with this process.

 

NJ: Desert or beach? Forest or jungle? Morning or night?

 

Azul: Beach, jungle, night.

 

Dawn: Beach, forest, dawn – in between.

 

NJ: You win a million dollars, but only have 24 hours to spend the money. What do you do?

 

Azul: I’d probably give away a lot of it to fund certain projects, like for homeless people to have psychiatric help. I would want to help someone out.

 

Dawn: Create the best software ever in the history of humanity (laughs). No, I’d figure out a way to give it to the world and make good use of it. I don’t think a million dollars would help everything, but if we could figure out how to clean this Earth that’s what I would use it for.

 

Photography: Shane McCauley for NeueJournal 

Baby Alpaca

Chris Kittrell & Theresa Wayman

With song titles such as ‘Sea of Dreams,’ ‘Wild Child,’ and ‘Teenage Graceland,’ it’s unsurprising how symbiotic Baby Alpaca’s music and NeueHouse Hollywood are. After all, this is the band fronted by Chris Kittrell, who, although originally a Cincinnati farm boy, fits right in with the California vibe – tall, good looking, with a head full of blonde curls and a warmly deep oceanic voice that harmonizes beautifully with Warpaint’s Theresa Wayman’s characteristically crystalline voice as they duet on a new love song called ‘In Your Eyes.’ Wayman and Kittrell, who are both releasing new material this year, sat down with us to discuss fear, nicknames, and the relief of a good cry.

 

NeueJournal: Your first LP, Under Water, is set for release soon. How was putting this together different than working on your past material?

 

Chris Kittrell: For the debut EP I did most of the production myself, and then had some help mixing it and polishing in the end. I recorded various friends and myself in multiple cities. It was an EP made while traveling you could say.

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The album was produced in L.A. by Filip Nikolic, in his Los Feliz studio. Most of the songs were written and arranged before we started. It was experimental for me, because working with Filip, who is also an electronic musician, made things start to blend the organic side of me with his side. We started calling it “futuristic folk” when we were recording ‘Will I Ever See You Again?’ and that became the “model” or “mold” of what we are going for sonically.

 

NJ: You have a past with fashion and design. How do you feel Baby Alpaca marries both of these interests and where is fashion most evident in your music?

 

CK: I designed a knitwear line that has a similar look and aesthetic as the visual show. Right now I am into cloudy, painterly, under water, in the sky, rolling in the waves type things. I designed a projection visual show and color wash lighting to go along with the concert. They are pulled together most in that way. Soft, colorful, painted with acrylics and water.

 

NJ: 
If Baby Alpaca’s music were a place, where would it be?

 

CK: I think the video for ‘Wild Child’ sums that up well; a post-apocalyptic dream world that is both minimal and vast.

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NJ: When is the last time you had a good laugh?

 

CK: I watched ‘Hot Shots Part Deux’ last night and laughed basically the whole time. I love slapstick comedies.

 

Theresa Wayman: This morning. Hmm, what was it about? That’s the kind of stuff that’s so hard to explain. I actually never went to bed last night, so I didn’t even wake up. I’ve been on like this stress work mode, but also it’s been really fun. My band is finishing an album, so we’re in crunch time. We ended up staying up all night, and this morning we were talking, chatting, and whatever. The stupidest things can make you get the giggles, you know what I mean? I don’t even remember what it was. If I did, it probably wouldn’t even sound funny at all.

 

NJ: When is the last time you had a good cry?

 

CK: When my boyfriend was traveling in Europe for fashion week. Pains of the heart are hardest for me to swallow, and I write music to make myself feel better in those times.

 

TW: Really recently, and I haven’t had a cry like that in a long time. It was so relieving. There’s been a lot of pressure with getting the album done, as well as everything that happens in life – so I just stopped and sobbed, the kind of sobbing where you double over and can’t stop. I was actually so happy it happened, because all the feelings I had pent up washed away and felt relieved. It made everything shift.

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NJ: What is the strangest nickname you’ve ever had and where did it come from?

 

CK: Baby Alpaca! It was a nickname from my friends before I started going by it musically. People said I looked like a baby alpaca, and I also have a warm fuzzy attitude.

 

TW: One of my bandmates calls me T-boner.

 

NJ: Do you find more inspiration in happiness or in sadness?

 

CK: I’ve celebrated by in song and find inspiration in both and all the in-between. Even stasis.

 

NJ: What do you prefer: horror movies or comedies? Ocean or mountains? Breakfast or dinner?

 

CK: I love comedic horror movies like ‘Mommy Dearest,’ ‘Scary Movie,’ and ‘Freeway.’ I love the ocean, but in Big Sur you can have both! And I love going out to dinner.

 

NJ: What are you most afraid of?

 

BA: Letting down a friend.

 

TW: Fear itself is what I’m most afraid of, because it can be so debilitating. I think it’s just a common thing that can be felt constantly on many levels. So knowing how to deal with that is a big thing in my life…having fear and learning how to work with it.

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NJ: Are you fearful or nervous getting on stage?

 

TW: Yeah. It’s definitely better than it used to be when I first started, but I always think, “How am I gonna open up this time? What’s gonna happen this time to make it something authentic?” Sometimes opening yourself like that could mean doing something that feels weird or wrong, so you have to be okay with that.

 

NJ: What does the last text message you sent say and who did you send it to?

 

CK: Mom: I don’t have to get surgery! (I sliced my finger open last week by dropping a jar on a marble counter and got 7 stitches).

 

TW: I was talking to my best friend about some personal shit. It was more overly deep shit and ‘thinking about stuff’ type of texts. I’m a complicated woman.

 

Photography: Chris Swainston for NeueJournal

Video: NeueHouse Media 

Betty Who

Perpetually Heartbroken

Love and heartbreak are two of history’s oldest muses, their power stemming from the universality of the overwhelming array of emotions that one feels – from the initial elation to the final helplessness and grief. Betty Who, the Australian pop sensation who broke into the music world with her viral love anthem ‘Somebody Loves You,’ is no stranger to using both of these muses for writing, even telling us she’s “kind of perpetually heartbroken.” Ahead of a dynamic performance at NeueHouse Madison Square, where she had everyone on their feet, the singer-songwriter sat down with us to give us a hint of what her new album holds, the possibility of friendship after love, and Beyonce inspiring her work ethic.

 

NeueJournal: Your sound has been described as taking influence from past music and mixing it in with the emotions you’re actually living through. Who are your musical heroes and how have they influenced you?

 

Betty Who: I am very very influenced particularly by singer/songwriters. I’ve always loved pop music; Britney Spears is my OG ultimate girl, but because I’m a writer I’m really inspired and driven by Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Ingrid Michaelson, Sara Bareilles, John Mayer…I listened to all of them when I was around 15. People who are telling stories that are real to them are my biggest inspiration. I like hearing things that feel real and sound real.

 

NJ: Take Me When You Go focuses on past love and the struggle to move forward from there. Does your new album evolve from this theme? Can you let us in on your upcoming thematic agenda at all?

 

BW: I haven’t really thought about my thematic agenda yet. I definitely think there’s a little less heartbreak, although I’m kind of perpetually heartbroken, so that’s of course still a part of it. I definitely think there’s a little more ownership and a little more confidence in my ability to be unapologetic about my feelings, as opposed to constantly apologize. On the first record I felt like a lot of those songs were romantic and sweet in a young way. That’s how they sort of felt to me, sort of like a big apology for feeling too much all the time, because I do feel too much all the time. So I think there’s less insecurity in this record.

 

NJ: Have you had the opportunity to become friends with an ex? Do you think it’s possible to rekindle a friendship after a heartbreak?

 

BW: It doesn’t always work, does it? I have not really been able to keep up a friendship with any of my exes. There’s one particularly whom I don’t think I’ll ever be friends with. Maybe 20 years will go by and we’ll be friends, and that’ll be great. That would be my dream. I don’t like cutting anybody out of my life, it’s not fun. You always miss the person, regardless of whether or not you were supposed to be together or if it was working out or not. I have yet to be able to make it work. Maybe it’s a maturity thing! Maybe it’s nature. I would love for it to just come very naturally to me and have that be how it works.

 

NJ: Who was your first love?

 

BW: I went to all girls school until I was fifteen, and there was this boy I saw on the first day at a new school. He was so pretty and had long hair. I was obsessed with him for about two years and he knows I was completely obsessed with him. I could just write songs about him for days; he was like my OG inspiration for all of my sad songwriting. He ended up actually dating one of my best friends, and they were very happy together for a couple years. So it all kind of happened the way it was supposed to.

 

NJ: What is your first memory of music?

 

BW: My school made all the kindergartners pick an instrument, so I picked the cello when I was four. I sort of have a memory of being in kindergarten and me and my other two best friends being like, “we’re all going to play the cello.” We stuck together in the cello section for a couple years and we all played together. That’s one of my first memories of actually being engaged in music. My first tape was Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time.” I was four years old when that came out and it was pretty spectacular. That will always be a very deeply engraved first memory of my musical inclination.

 

NJ: What is the first song you ever wrote?

 

BW: The first song I ever wrote is called ‘Gone’ and it was about my brother, actually. He was in a car accident and in a coma for a little while, so I wrote my first song about being sad about my brother being sick. I was fourteen and my music teacher made me play it in an assembly in front of everyone, like six months after my brother was fine and the wounds had healed. His name was Mr. Spencer and he was one of the first people to say, “You’re good at this. Keep doing this.”

 

NJ: What song best describes your work ethic?

 

BW: I’m sure it’s a Beyonce song. Probably ‘Run The World.’ I would like that to be the theme of my work ethic. Although sometimes it’s like, Bruno Mars or something. I think pretty much any deep Beyonce track is probably the embodiment of my businesswoman habits.

 

NJ: Who deserves a grammy that hasn’t ever won one?

 

BW: Katy Perry. She’s fucking worked so hard and had the best record. ‘Teenage Dream’ is in my top ten pop records of all time. It sold better than any fucking pop record that’s ever come out, and it’s not fair. ‘Roar,’ I mean… There’s at least six songs from every single record she’s put out, where I’ve thought any of them could have won song of the year, and it’s crazy that they didn’t. So I’m kind of like, #JusticeForKaty on that. 100%

 

NJ: When and where are you at your happiest?

 

BW: I think i’m probably at my happiest when I’m at my parents’ house. They live in Michigan now and they have this log cabin on a lake. My parents are my favorite people in the world. I just drink wine with my mom and watch movies with my dad and play with our dogs. It’s the most healing and happy place in the world for me. My happy place is in the kitchen, grazing all day, just eating constantly.

 

NJ: Who was your last text from and what did it say?

 

BW: My last text was from Sara who’s my best friend/assistant, and she was coming over. She bought me a shirt today and is handling my life for me. Taking care of business!

 

Video: Mr. GIF & Ira Chernova for NeueJournal

The Drums

the eclectic encyclopedia of influence

While The Drums might cite their band birthplace as Brooklyn, NY, their sound is multi-locational, something that comes from their eclectic encyclopedia of influences, which range from U.K. cult bands Joy Division, The Smiths, and Orange Juice, to classic Americana staples like The Beach Boys and The Shangri-Las. As part of NeueHouse Sounds, the indie pop band took the stage in our Hollywood location, getting everyone dancing with a set that included songs from their three albums, ‘The Drums,’ ‘Portamento,’ and ‘Encyclopedia.’