Featured, Interviews

The Astronaut: An Interview with Lights & Motion

From the embers of a thousand stars comes the music of Lights & Motion; the musical project of Christoffer Franzen. A self-taught musician of introspection, his music is a dream-like journey into the stories of his imagination. Written through the clouds of insomnia, Franzen has painted the night sky with his latest album Save Your Heart. Released via noted indie label Deep Elm Records just months after his debut, Save Your Heart has received praise and accolades from countless sources, all citing Franzen’s ability to turn the greatest of human inspiration into music.

We sit down with Franzen to talk about his craft, his passion and where his journey will take his listeners.

Congrats on the release, how does it feel now that the album is out after all those months of work?

Thank you!

Well you know, it’s sort of a weird feeling, because I have been working so hard and so focused towards making this album a reality that I haven’t really stopped and taken a look around. I never took a break after releasing Reanimation, my first album, because once that was done I got this feeling that I kind of have right now, which is a feeling a completion in the sense that this has been the big goal all along, but also a bit of emptiness due to the fact that this is something thats been taking up most of my life for this past year. You go from working 40 hours a week non-stop on this thing and then all of the sudden it’s done, it’s out, and people hear it for the first time and it’s somewhat scary. It’s been yours alone for such a long time and then you get to share it with the world, and I think that this is something that all creative people experience, the gratitude of having your work being noticed and the fear of letting it go, and to say that this actually is the finished thing, and I’m not going to work on it anymore. It’s out of my hands. I feel proud

What about all the overwhelmingly positive feedback?

The feedback, as you said, has been overwhelmingly positive and that’s so humbling, I can’t tell you. Because you don’t really think about this things when you are in the middle of the process, or the eye of the storm as I like to call it, because then it seems so far away until a possible release, so you sort of just focus on the music and that lays before you. But to get this much appreciation is extremely fun and something I never count on because who knows what people are going to think. But for the most part, the thing that makes me really amazed is that people still take time of their day to actually sit down and listen to something that I’ve created. That still blows my mind, and to be able to share this music with people from all around the world, it gives me endless joy. The feeling is like you are alone in the creation, because I always work alone on these Lights & Motion albums, it’s just me in a dark studio all through the nights, but then you walk out the door when it’s all finished and suddenly I feel like I’m in a band of 30,000 people, it’s absolutely amazing. I really feel like I have a close bond with my fans, and maybe it has something to do with what I just mentioned before, being alone in the creative space, but I feel such a commitment to them, and it’s that personal interaction that makes me work that much harder in order to achieve my goals.

How did you get started with the “self-learning” of music?

That’s a good question. I first started playing guitar when I was 16, that was the time I got my first ever acoustic guitar for christmas, so I began pretty late. Then I practiced for probably 4-5 hours every day (my poor mom and dad) and then I got into bands and all these things that you do as a young musician.

After a few years of things not really taking off, I started to feel this itch to not having to depend on other people for creative purposes. I used to wish that I was a singer and not just a guitar-player because then I actually could steer the ship a bit more and not be forced to check the schedules of 4 other people with busy lives.

I managed to get access to a studio, a very simple set-up, and during a time of sleep depravation and insomnia I started to basically spend all my nights there by myself, just fiddling on different instruments and ideas. I used to record small pieces of music that sounded awful, but I loved it because it gave me such creative freedom.

I would go there on saturday nights while everyone was out partying, and I wanted to join them but I just couldn’t let go off the studio. Just 30 more minutes I would say when they called and I would be there until 5 am.

Eventually after battling with this thought that I wanted to do something by myself, I decided to buy a bass-guitar, some drumsticks, I started to play the piano, and even though I didn’t really know any theory, I could hear when it resonated and that was a big kick. So I would try all these different instruments and record myself over and over in layers so that I could make it sound huge and not just like one guy in a dark room. I just had such a need for control and I knew exactly what I wanted, so I ended up doing every single sing by myself. I learned all the instruments I needed for what I could hear in my head, I recorded and recorded and recorded until my ears bled, and slowly I got better at it

I now have two albums out, and still I have no formal training. I have been responsible for composing, playing, arranging, engineering, producing and even mixing. And that’s what I always wanted. To be able to go from the first fleeting idea to a finished product without breaking the chain of command, which in this case is just me.

I have never actually considered myself to be that musically gifted. I always just said that you just gotta put in the hours and practice. And a lot of that self doubt was blown away after I took the courage to record Reanimation. And that I owe everyone out there who has emailed me, written on Facebook or soundcloud about how they enjoyed the music and made it a part of their day. That was incredibly humbling for me, and for that I will always be grateful.

Save Your Heart comes less than a year after your debut, how did it come around so quickly- was it just natural inspiration to keep writing?

After Reanimation was out I felt that I had so much creativity left that I didn’t want to stop. I jumped right in and started recording ideas, the first of them being ”Heartbeats”, the opening track. Even though it was written probably 1 month after the first album was out, I already knew it was going to open my second album, whenever that was going to be or whatever it was going to sound like. Then of course I would sit on things for months, just listening back and forth and adding sprinkles of sonic fairy dust and try to really make it shine in it’s own right. I tend to work like that; very fast and effective when laying down the foundation, but then I spend an enormously long time finding the sound for things, getting into the arrangements and the production side of things. In the opening track there is probably 80-90 different tracks layered, and if you listen really carefully in good speakers I’m sure you would be able to make it a lot of details in the background, ambient movements and stuff that you might not think much about but if you were to take those sounds out, a lot of the magic of the song is lost.

How did you and Deep Elm come together? It seems like the perfect fit for both of you.

Deep Elm signed me back in 2012, after hearing one of my first tracks called ”Home”, which was released on my first album, but back then it was only a demo. I knew them through Dorena who I had met in the studio, and I thought that they would be a perfect fit for my vision of this project. Since then, John (who runs Deep Elm) and I have been working very close throughout this entire process. They give me complete trust and creative space, and I look to them for everything surrounding the releases to the day to day givings of me sending them tracks and asking for their opinion. Its’s been working really well I got to say, for the both of us. I’m just grateful we got the chance to meet because it was a series of small stuff that led us there.

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Listen to music from Save Your Heart:

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You talk about music similar to painting and how your songs have a certain hue to them, what are your favourite “colours” to paint with at the moment?

Yeah that’s right, and I understand that it might be a hard and abstract concept to grasp but I really do think of music in terms of colors. If something sounds earthbound and calm I immediately think of colors like yellow and brown, whilst sounds that have a big quality and a sort of distance to them are blue/violet to me, and blue/violet was exactly what I wanted to bring into this record, Save Your Heart. This is all very visible in the artwork as well, done by an amazing artist called Elias Klingen. I went to him and I pretty much said; “Look. I have all these colors in mind and I want to make em shine and blend together to represent the music I’m writing for this album. It’s called ‘Save Your Heart’, so maybe that could be a starting-point for you. I want the colors to feel alive and to illustrate the sonic identity of this record.” He did an amazing job, I couldn’t be happier with the results.

I wanted this album to venture higher up in the skies, towards the stratosphere, and then stay there. In comparison, Reanimation is more earthy for me, it takes place down here while Save Your Heart is up above the clouds in terms of the sonic identity.

What was your process for writing Save Your Heart, did you write a lot of the material at once, or was it more of a gradual process?

I never really took a break, but the process was different. Some stuff came right away and then I worked on it for months. Snow was an early one, and I probably did 3 different versions of the outro before settling on the one you hear now, and that’s also how I work. I search for that, in my mind, perfect thing.

Some of the tracks like “Save Your Heart” and “Atlas” came to life just 3-4 weeks before the mastering was scheduled to begin. Then we have tracks like “Sparks”, “Bright Eyes” and “We Are Ghosts”, who have in one way or another been sitting around on tapes for years. I tried to dust them off and I obviously changed a lot of things within them but It’s kind of funny to think that these demos I made back when I was just alone in a studio with no name or anything, would end up on this album all this time later. Very rewarding for me personally.

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Your songs have a very dream-like, stratospheric aura to them— would you say that Save Your Heart has a distinct “theme” or story to it?

I always try to think conceptually and visually while I write. Reanimation came from me not being able to sleep, and by chance discovering this amazing world which I would get lost in, and I never wanted to wake up. I would sit in my studio at winter, 4 in the morning, looking out the window and see everything being lit up and covered by snow, and I would feel like I was the only living person awake in the entire city. That was pretty magical sometimes. For Save Your Heart, I really wanted it to be an escapism as well, but the main thing for me with this one was that determination of having the courage to go with your passion, and not cave in even though it’s easy to do. This project takes up a huge amount of time and effort in my life, and sometimes it’s hard you know? You see friends and family doing “proper” jobs and giving in to the “conformity” of society. At times it’s a struggle not to let your passion go because it’s hard doing this. And that is really what Save Your Heart is for me. It’s an encouragement to stick with the things you love and see them through. If you find that thing, you owe it to yourself to keep it alive. I think that’s extremely important. For me it is.

Do you have a particular track on Save Your Heart you can say was the most satisfying to complete?

Well it’s hard because every song has different things related to it, but if I have to pick one I would say “Heartbeats”. Simply because that song turned out exactly as I had hoped, and it was the foundation on which I would then proceed on with the other songs of the album.

Will you be touring in support of the record?

I would love to tour, but right now it’s not planned at all. I spend so much time writing this music that once I’m done, I sort of step out into the world again from my studio and realize that it’s a much bigger place then I remembered, and so if I were to tour I would want to do it just as had envisioned it, like I did with my music.

It would take a lot of planning and ambition, and I have simply not had the time to do that properly yet with touring. But I’m thinking about it a lot now so who knows..

Now that you’ve conquered the stars so to speak, where do you go next with Lights & Motion music?

Haha, well I definitely want to keep writing. I might release some new music next year and in the meantime I want to keep writing film music which I have been doing a lot this part year in between the more traditional L&M songs, and these pieces of music has become quite popular on Soundcloud, so that’s a big ambition right now.

I would love to score a film someday. That’s a big dream of mine for sure. I am such a movie-goof and I probably check IMDB on my phone 5 times everyday for new trailers, so being able to score one one day would be so cool.

Who knows..

If listeners can take one thing away from your music, what would you like that one thing to be?

A sense of hope.

 

Lights & Motion’s new album, Save Your Heart, is available now via Deep Elm Records. You can read our review for it here.

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Film Interviews, Interviews

Trading Spaces: An Interview with Make Money director Sean Monteiro

In all the years I’ve known Sean Monteiro, one thing has always been crystal clear; his passion for films and the art of making them. He’s been at it on a smaller scale for years- from short films to screenplays, his ambition and drive to succeed on a big level has never waned. Now after years of hard work, Monteiro’s big screen debut is just weeks away with the release of his first feature film, the Indonesian comedy Make Money.

He spent years in Australia doing what he loves, and I saw the products of his craft when he filmed and directed in Australia, but when he told me he was flying home to Indonesia to do a feature, I only imagined how difficult it would be to do a feature in Indonesia’s complex and multi-layered film industry. Yet as I spoke to him about it, he seems more poised then ever, with the challenges he and his production crew faced giving credence to his dedication towards the art form.

I spoke to Monteiro as he jetted back and forth from Jakarta to Bangkok just a few weeks before the film’s November 14th premiere.

So the film is finished? Ready to go?

We’re in Bangkok right now, last night we just finished color grading the movie at Technicolor. So I guess the film is now officially finished. Wow, that feels good to say, it’s been a long journey!

What is Make Money about?

Make Money is about a rich advertising mogul named Pak Tri who has succeeded in business but failed as a father. His two sons, Aris and Rachmat are spoiled and arrogant. So to teach them a lesson Pak Tri leaves everything in his will to a poor garbage man that accidentally saved his life. Later when the old man passes away the two rich sons lose everything and the garbage man inherits it all.

How did you conceive the idea for the film?

I was really inspired by Trading Places and thought that structure could work really well for an Indonesian comedy. But instead of focusing on race, I wanted to focus on class and how wide that divide has grown.

This is your first feature length, was the process and outcome just as you hoped it would be?

I wrote a synopsis for this idea in 2009 and it’s getting released in November 14th 2013 so it’s almost taken 5 years to complete. So the process was more challenging than I ever imagined and there were a few moments where we almost didn’t make it. But I gotta say, the outcome has been so sweet and made it all worthwhile. I think the film has improved so much since that first synopsis.

You’ve made films in Australia and now you’re making films in Indonesia, what are some of the key differences between the two industries?

The biggest difference is that Indonesia produces around 200 movies a year and Australia makes far less than that. In terms of shooting Indonesians work long hours, and the tropical heat makes it feel like an all day bikram yoga session. But as a testament to the Indonesia crew they never complain or get lazy.

For those who may not be familiar with the cast- they’re some pretty noted names.

Our more senior actors like Ray Sahetapy who was the villain in The Raid and Tarzan who is a comedy legend from Srimulat are very well known. But I wanted to pair them with fresh young talent so we searched around for a long time. Our main actor was Pandji Pragiwaksono is a well known stand up comedian but had never acted before. There are other comedians like Ernest Prakasa and Arif Didu making their acting debut alongside veteran actors like Verdi Solaiman and Aida Nurmala.

As a director of an international background, did that have an influence on the film or did you want this film to be 100% Indonesian?

If you own a good camera I bet you take lots of pictures when you travel because you know what’s unique and interesting about that place. But you rarely take pictures of the place you live in because it seems ordinary. I think living outside of Jakarta gave me a good eye for what is really interesting and unique about this city. One of the most exciting locations for me was shooting at a garbage dump, I was loving every minute of it!

So what is the plan from here and until release date?

We’re going through the censorship process. The rules about sexuality are very, very strict here in Indonesia and religious parties pay close attention to this. This is a family friendly film but there is a really funny sex scene and a pool party with lots of bikini clad babes. So we’re fighting the good fight right now.

Will the film see release in the major cinemas in Indonesia? Will there be international distribution as well?

We’ve had a really good experience working with our distributor Cinema 21, who are releasing the film nation wide. We are still looking for major distribution throughout the rest of South East Asia. Most likely we’re submit the film to the Asian film festivals.

That divide in class, its your commentary about Indonesian life? The divide is pretty big isn’t it?

This film is my own observation about life in Jakarta, more than a commentary about Indonesia. Jakarta is unlike any other city in the country and it’s very capitalistic. That’s where the title comes from. And yes, the divide between the rich and poor is huge, it’s unfortunate but it’s also part of what makes this city so unique.

How did the mostly experienced cast take to you, as a first time big film director? How did you approach the situation coming from your perspective?

That’s an interesting question and I’d love to hear the cast answer that. There is a certain leap of faith that an actor has to make when working with a first time director. The reverse is also true because I cast a lot of first time actors, but thats exciting to me. We had an intensive 2 week rehearsal before we started shooting, which was invaluable. It really helped bond the whole cast together and established a trust between them and myself, so that when shooting started we were all working toward the same vision.

What’s the most important thing you’d like the audience to take away from this movie?

I want this movie to remind people that money means nothing unless you have someone to share it with. Family and friends have to come first. It’s a simple message but an important one.

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Make Money is in Indonesian cinemas starting November 14th. 

Bonus video: Watch the trailer for Make Money below

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Interviews

The Warmest Heart Attack: An Interview with Gameface

Vocalist and songwriter Jeff Caudill has spent a great deal of his life writing and recording songs with his band Gameface. They started making a name for themselves with their melody-charged, pop-tinged punk debut Good (1993), before going on to record albums for Revelation Records through the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Unafraid of fusing punk urgency with catchy choruses and heartfelt content, the band proved to be the perfect crossroads between punk, hardcore and the original formation of emo. In 2003, after the release of their Doghouse album Four To Go, the band members went their separate ways but never kept too far away from music.

In 2012, the band reformed to play selected shows and not long after, signed to Equal Vision Records. Now on the doorstep of their first recorded material in years, a new 7”, and a decade removed from their last album, Southern California’s Gameface are back doing what they love most.

You recently said that getting back together as a very natural process, did you all want the same things when you first go back together? Does this feel like the next chapter or starting over?

Jeff Caudill: Yeah, it was natural in that it took a long time to actually happen. It took the last few years to really understand the reasons we gave it up in 2003. We had to put all that to rest before we could pick up our instruments and really move forward. Now we’re all back on the same page and we all have the same expectations. That’s important because that was one thing that destroyed us before. We’re very fortunate to even have this opportunity at all so our only real goal is to make great music again. This band means a lot to us. It’s really a gift to have it back in our lives.

During Gameface’s hiatus, what kept you all busy? Jeff, I know you’ve been writing and performing as a solo artist and in Your Favorite Trainwreck, does this mean those projects are on hold?

Yeah, I never stop. For better or for worse I just can’t stop making music. I’m proud of all that I have done with my solo projects and the YFT album…but Gameface is different for me. Gameface is my guts. I know the other guys feel the same. They’ve done other bands and whatnot but there’s just something about Gameface that couldn’t be replicated with anyone else.

Gameface is my guts. I know the other guys feel the same.  – Jeff Caudill

Equal Vision is a great fit, what was the reasons for signing with EVR? And were Revelation interested in doing new Gameface material?

EVR was at the top of our list from the beginning. They come from the same place in the scene that we do. Their label has found a way to grow and stay relevant and maintain itself for over 20 years and that’s impressive. The label roster is really diverse and the staff is great. We’re really fortunate that they believe in our band like we do.

It’s been a decade since we’ve had Gameface music, are the reasons why you write songs now still the same as back then?

Yeah. That never changes. I write about my life, as a way to deal with things and share and express myself. I write about myself but for others – hoping to connect with people that feel the same things and need an outlet.

Your new song, “Come On Down”, has some personal and important meaning behind it. Did this become the catalyst for the rest of the new material, the creative spark so to speak?

Yeah. I wasn’t sure Gameface was going to write any new material. I figured we’d do some reunion shows, play the “hits” and that would be it. But that song changed everything. An avalanche of new songs followed after that one. It was that Gameface feeling all over again.

Listen to Gameface’s new song “Come On Down”:

 

What are the plans for the next few months, is it all new album or will you be out on the road?

Just recording the album and making sure it’s as great as we think it is. We’ll start playing in 2014.

Have you guys ever been to Australia?

We haven’t but would absolutely love to go someday. If you’re offering, we’re already packing ; )

Looking back at your discography, are there particular songs or albums you’re still most fond of?

There’s a decent list of songs that I feel are the standouts in our catalog. The ones I like most may not be the ones you do but I think there are some obvious ones… “My Star”, “Only Souvenir”, “Laughable”, “Gibberish”, “Mean”, “Friday Matinee”, “Only Chance We Get”, “The Pirate Song”, “Chasing The Sun”, “How Far is Goodbye?”…

This question is a little self indulgent on my part, but the song “How Far Is Goodbye?” has always been a favourite. Do you remember why you wrote this song or whether this was about a particular person or place?

Yeah, as I was saying a lot of the songs are pretty autobiographical and that one is no exception. The song is generally knowing when it’s time to move on from a group of friends that you are obviously not happy being around. I drew references from a few times in my life where I was living somewhere and with people that were ultimately holding me down. I don’t like to be very specific when I talk about my lyrics mostly because I don’t want to ruin anyone else’s interpretation of them. Sometimes their vision of what the song says is way more interesting than mine. But when we get to Australia I’ll tell you all the details about this one.

 

Gameface’s new 7″, Come On Down, is available from Equal Vision Records starting November 5th. A new album is due in 2014. Photo by Kip Terry

 

Bonus video: “How Far Is Goodbye?”

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Interviews, Music

All the Best Dreams: An interview with Codeseven

Like the breaking of a new dawn, the interstellar sounds of Codeseven have returned after a five year hiatus. Taking to the road once again, the one-time hardcore act are no strangers to shedding personas, trading discord for the realms of space rock that culminated with critical acclaim for their 2004 album Dancing Echoes / Dead Sounds.

Looking to once again leave a lasting memory, their future now is an open palette for their craft. We spoke to Codeseven member Jon Tuttle on their current tour with Circa Survive and Dredg about their return, the reasons why and what they look to do in the years ahead.

Welcome back, how does it feel to be back together and on the road again?

Tuttle: We started this band when we were in high school or had just graduated, and spent our entire adult life concentrating solely on Codeseven. When we split five years ago, there was soon a giant void or a feeling like something was missing from our lives. Playing these songs again and now back on tour is absolutely awesome. Stopping playing music and touring etc. is not an easy thing to do, not matter how tired of the process you were at the time of the break-up.

How’s the tour going so far?

Tuttle: We are a couple of weeks in and everything has been running great. Every night has been sold out or close to, and much bigger than we expected. Obviously the bulk of the crowd are fairly young Circa fans but it’s been great seeing so many old faces from years ago.

How important was it for you to be touring with friends Circa Survive and Dredg on your first tour back?

Tuttle: It was pretty much the main reason we agreed to do the tour. We had planned a reunion show but hadn’t really gave a lot of thought about doing anything else but when Brenden (Circa Survive) called and asked if we wanted to extend the reunion to a tour, we all agreed this we would be a great thing to do with some of our oldest friends.

What has kept you busy these past five years?

Tuttle: All of us, but our vocalist Jeff, formed a short lived multi-media project called Telescreen. We experimented with the blending of visuals, music, and storytelling. It was really cool but a lot of work, which caused us to burn out on it. We may bring that back to life someday if we come up with the right ideas for a story. For the most part though, we lived life like normal people which was nice. I have a six-year-old and spent the last five years raising him which was really important for me to be around to do that.

Was there a specific catalyst for the reunion- a reason for the return?

Tuttle: We just finally got everyone on the same page. The idea had been tossed around a couple of years ago but Jeff had never really wanted to do it and Matt was living four hours away from everyone else. I don’t know why but it just finally happened.

AUDIO STREAM: “Roped and Tied”
Codeseven – Roped and Tied (from the album Dancing Echoes / Dead Sounds)

Equal Vision are re-releasing Dancing Echoes/Dead Sounds, is this album still the most accurate representation of Codeseven to date? Is this the album you’re all happiest with?

Tuttle: I think if you look at the darker songs on that release like “Nasty Little Revolution” or “The Devils Interval” then yes, this pretty closely represents us in our current state; Although I like the organic feeling The Rescue had a bit better. It really just depends on the mood we’re in. We have our core sound but we can easily shift the layers around to meet whatever vibe we want to create.

You’ve been playing a lot of the older material on your current tour? Are they still as great to play as when they were first written/recorded?

Tuttle: I still think Division of Labor holds it’s own in the metal world and those songs are really fun to play due to the fact that it is so much more technical. As far as the The Rescue and DEDS, they both feel  good. There are a couple of songs we don’t feel as strongly about as we once did but overall it’s been great to perform these songs again.

Will you be writing and recording new material?

Tuttle: Our main focus right now is to complete this tour in one piece. Writing is our first love so once this is done I’m sure we will start banging out some ideas.

What kind of direction are you looking to take Codeseven once this tour concludes?

Tuttle: Right now it’s wide open and impossible to say. I would imagine a bit darker and maybe even more aggressive based on our song selections for the set every night but we’ll have to wait and see.

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Dancing Echoes / Dead Sounds is now available via Equal Vision.

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Featured, Interviews, Music

21st Century Digital Store: An interview with Missing Link Records

Melbourne’s Missing Link Records is more than just a record store. Rich with history, it is less an outlet for selling and buying music than it is a local institution for both national and international based music. Regardless of genre- be it grindcore, metal, punk, hardcore, indie or hip hop, Missing Link Records is ground zero for getting your inside look at music outside of Top 20 Charts, music video hit shows and stadiums.

The store recently went a drastic upgrade as it propels itself well into the new music industry market, opening up an online retail arm to help integrate the name into the massive online terrain of digital music. We spoke to owner Nigel Rennard about Missing Link’s storied history and their burgeoning digital venture.

For those uninitiated, share with us a little bit of Missing Link history and its importance to Melbourne’s underground music scene?

We took over the shop in 1981 after the punk/new wave era had spawned a wealth of new energy and sounds around the World and have continued to import most of the new styles of music since that time. We have always had a strong emphasis on Australian Independent music and have encouraged the sale of all formats brought into the shop, either directly by these artists, or via a distribution network. From Nick Cave to Eddy Current Suppression Ring we have nurtured new talent often losing it to the mainstream after commercial success beckons. Without outlets like Missing Link there would only be gigs and the internet where an artist could sell their music and this is not enough to expose them to both the local and international customers we are in touch with.

Missing Link is now part of the digital world of music sales with its brand new online store- what prompted the change and adoption of the new venture?

We see digital as just another sales format that is now available to music lovers and a format that is becoming a bigger part of the sales environment every year.Unlike some of our fellow store owners we do not see it as a threat or as degrading music.The only threat that all of us should be worried about is the illegal downloading of music through file sharing,etc, but we cannot ignore it and hope that it fails or goes away because it won’t.I remember the change from vinyl to cd and all the doom merchants or purists with their myriad of complaints but here we are 30 years later and both formats still survive.Digital is just another format to offer and rather than just giving up and accepting illegal downloads we decided to try and beat them by joining up.

How important it has been to adapt to the digital age?

It is the format of choice for everybody I see walking around or sitting on a tram on my way to work.I have never seen so many people with headphones or earplugs everywhere.So that tells me that it is big and getting bigger.The dinosaurs were unable to change and adapt and if we don’t our end will come as theirs did.

What have been the immediate benefits to the new digital store?

We haven’t really seen any benefit since we put this together in July and to be frank it is a very long term project. We have no illusions about competing with Apple itunes and we are only offering what we sell instore, if it is available for download, as an option to our customers. We have a lot more to upload and a lot more to do to promote what we have to offer but as mentioned we will not have Justin Beiber or Lady Ga Ga to offer which is where the bulk sales action is. It may take years before we see it being a commercial success but it is the fact that we offer it that counts.

Does an online store mean less in-store staff?

We continue to have a very large focus on our hard copy sales and have increased our stock, diversified our stock and increased our vinyl range and second hand content and in order to do this we need to maintain our staff levels.

You’re working with a select group of indie labels- how important has this partnership been?

Our indie relationships have always been a big part of our business and are important to us and we thank them for getting on board right from the beginning as we are still very much developing the digital part of what we do.

What if the majors come calling- would you consider stocking their goods in the digital store?

Of course we have a history of artists like The Clash, The Cure, Tool, Nine Inch Nails and so forth that are distributed by majors and phase 2 or 3 of our development will hopefully involve the gradual introduction of artists relevant to our store and its history.

What are Missing Link’s plans (both digital and instore) for the upcoming Australian summer?

We are looking at plenty of activity right now including cd reissues of music from Strange Tenants, Corpse Grinders, Huxton Creepers and a new release by Cosmic Psychos, plans for limited edition vinyl 7 inch releases of unreleased tracks by artists from the past and we are also looking at putting together special Missing Link Presents gigs, on a Monthly basis and are in contact with various venues with this in mind. Along with that just an increase in stock levels and ploughing on with more digital material to upload until Xmas.

VIDEO TRAILER (for new digital store):

If you are in Melbourne, be sure to visit the store in person to get the latest in underground music:

Missing Link
Basement
405 Bourke Street
Melbourne, 3000

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Featured, Featured Video, Interviews, Videos

Exile in Oblivion: An interview with Oblivion’s Mike Cuenca

Mike Cuenca is not one to hold back. A self-proclaimed “no budget filmmaker”, he makes movies the DIY way; pulling together resources from every aspect of life with punk rock attitude and a passion unmatched. The Los Angeles based filmmaker takes the bits and pieces of the life around him- the music, the people, the atmosphere- and infuses them into the characters, scenes and settings of his moving pictures. Upon the completion of his movie Scenes From Oblivion, Cuenca took the colorful elements, styles, characters and ideas into episodic web television; the spin off series Oblivion. We chat with Cuenca about the many testing aspects of DIY filmmaking, the drive it takes to get it done, and what it feels like to be exiled in Oblivion.

You can catch the latest episode of the series streaming above.

Tell us a little about Scenes from Oblivion, the film in which this series spun off from.

Scenes from Oblivion is my first feature film. It’s somewhat of a drama and it’s influenced by John Cassavetes’ Shadows. The story is basically: straight-laced boy meets eccentric girl. Straight-laced boy falls for the girl but doesn’t know she’s eccentric. The girl likes the boy since she’s never received much attention. But then boy discovers girl is really a punk rocker and is appalled by it. He wants to change her to fit his idea of the perfect mate. Conflict ensues. It’s also interlaced with my Cuban-American upbringing. It was a great idea at first but it’s poorly executed. There was a lot of tension on set. I had major issues with one of the leads and some of the crew. The leads hated each other. And on camera they were doing a complete role-reversal. Lou Wright who played Tommy was the punk kid in real life, Jen Baute who played Misha was the straight-laced girl….

So the project completely unravelled and because of the conflict I had with the aforementioned lead and I wasn’t able to properly complete it. So we had to improvise with stand-ins, writing additional scenes to further the plot without her. There were reshoots after reshoots after reshoots until I just went, “F-it. I give up. But I’ll make sense of it SOME day.” Since Scenes hasn’t been released, that’s the main critique we initially received on the series: that there are too many characters and we don’t get enough time to become acquainted with them in the pilot. But now that we’re on, what, Episode 6, the same people are saying the opposite. Now they’re saying we love that there’s a million characters on this show, “It keeps things fresh, there’s not a lot of filler, and we have no idea where you’re going with the story.”

What is Oblivion and the motley cast you’ve assembled?

I’m a huge fan of those coming-of-age, large ensemble teen comedies. But specifically Dazed and Confused. I love how when you watch that movie, in its opening scenes, you’re jumping from character to character to character. And they’re all having these interesting conversations. And when the movie ends, you don’t want it to be over. You want to keep hanging out with all these folks. I’ve always wanted to watch a serialized version of that. And so that’s where Oblivion came from. The thing is, unlike Dazed, which is more of a hang-out type of movie, Oblivion is incredibly heavily plotted. The cast of Oblivion is comprised of mainly non-actors, with the exception of a handful of folks who auditioned through casting ads.  Most are friends of mine… Jeff Rice (“Vince”) is one of my best friends. Kim Higgins (“Darla”) is my former girlfriend, and she and Jenn Higgins (“Louise”) are actual sisters. List goes on and on… Most of the cast are also Los Angeles-based musicians, people who are deeply-rooted in their respective music scenes. Max Jones (“Cliff”) is an actual DJ. He has his own soul night called The Velvet Lounge and also runs a Rods vs. Mockers soccer game in Downtown LA every Sunday. Brian Waters (“Cutter”) has his long-running band the Flash Express and is in the amazing Jail Weddings;  Rikk Agnew who plays Ziggy’s publicist “Mud Guts” is of the ‘80s hardcore band the Adolescents and of Christian Death; Don Bolles (“Peyton Shockoe”) is of the legendary Germs.

Where is all the filming done?

All over LA. But we’ve decided that the principle setting for Oblivion, Holwenstall, is pretty much Highland Park, California. It’s one of the oldest cities in LA and one of LA’s few walking districts (everything is in walking distance and the Gold Metro Rail runs right through here). There’s the American Legion Hall music venue, there’s Mr. T’s Bowl which used to be cool. A lot of rockers hang out in HP. You’ll see a bunch of teens that are discovering underground/alternative music roaming around. My buddy Jeremy Price has a punk rock night called “Kick Out the Jams” at the Little Cave (a bat-themed bar) every Wednesday night. In the ‘50s it was also prime spot for Hot Rod enthusiasts and greasers. Hence, it’s the ideal filming location for Oblivion.

Have you created an entire season’s story arc or do you write and change up the story as the season progresses?

Oblivion, as a whole, was envisioned with a beginning, middle and end. We know where all these characters are going to end up at the end of the series. Hence, the first season’s story arc has been entirely plotted out. But the thing is…Oblivion writes itself. Season One was originally going to be 12 episodes. Well, we’re now filming episode 14 and we’re barely hitting the point in which we start confronting this season’s arcs and start tying things up. Why?  Ideas flourish. Something will happen while we’re watching a particular episode in post-production where we go, hmm…what if we did this instead? It’s very much scripted. But I encourage a lot of ad-libbing on set. I tell the actors to make the dialogue their own (which is where most of the non-stop swearing comes from).  So sometimes during rehearsal so-and-so will ignite some spark of genius and so we immediately jot down what they’ve said and write it into the script so they don’t forget.  And then I make these actors rehearse what they’ve ad-libbed. For instance…the opening scene in Episode 4 with Cutter and Bepop. All ad-libbed. They got the basis for the scene, and just rolled with it. Brian Waters is the king of ad-libbing. And it helped matters that he was in a scene with Steve (“Bepop”) who is a contributing writer. But addressing the original question: if what we write is set in stone, or if it’s changed up as we go along… Some stuff is definitely set in stone…

There is a lot of color in the series, and the visuals are rich- how important is this cinematic quality to you as a director/writer?

Incredibly important. Oblivion to me, and you’ll notice as episodes keep airing, is pretty much a live-action comic book. So I wanted that pop-art look. Jessica Gallant (cinematographer) and I, with our budgetary restriction, have come pretty close to the look I’m going for. And then you’ll notice flashback scenes are a bit washed-out and grainy, like a stomped-on old film.

What is it about “punks, mods and rockers” that appeals to you?

Everything. And you can laugh at this…but to me punk falls into my absurdist philosophy on life.  What is the point of finding meaning in anything if no meaning is to be found?  Where is the logic in that?  Which is where a lot of the humor in Oblivion comes from. It becomes very non-sequitur…random at one point. I mean, look at Repo Man one of Oblivion’s biggest influences. But to many, punk is all about thinking outside the box. It’s about not caring for inhibitions and insecurities. WHY should these inhibitions and insecurities become a hurtle? Don’t ask why you’re insecure about something; ask why SHOULD you be insecure? It’s about just DOING what YOU want to do…deep down inside.  You hate your job, you’re tired of living a routine, and you want to travel the world, then quit and become a nomad if that’s what makes you happy. You want to play music but you don’t know how so someone tells you you can’t and you go, fuck it, I’m playing anyway.

To relate, I’ve lost a lot of friends who told me that I was insane for even considering working on Oblivion and that I couldn’t do it without a crew and untrained actors or whatever. I didn’t set out to prove them wrong, but I have. If you have the will, it can be done. Regardless of said friends thinking the show is good or not, I still did it. But another appeal is how seriously these counter-culture lifestyles are taken. Kids in the ’60s in the UK were KILLING each other because of the music styles they were into…Mods vs. Rockers…because of the way they were dressed. And the folks who don’t get this, argue that this is idiotic. But the same people also state that it’s completely reasonable when fans of opposing sports team get into fist fights in a parking lot because one of their teams lost. It’s the same shit. People are passionate about what they’re passionate about. It gives them meaning. Something to root for.

Now me? Do I believe in this conflicting music genre divergence? Hell no. I listen to everything and have been associated with people from all walks of life. And even though the punk rock community has been supportive of us, for the most part, we’ve gotten a lot of angry emails saying what the hell is this? Since when does a punker hang out with a Goth and so and so and on and on. But when I was growing up, the weirdo kids, no matter the genre of music that they were into, ALL hung out with the other weirdo kids because that’s all we had. It’s all about finding someone you can relate to. Are you going to be spoon-fed something by the radio and MTV who say, hey, listen to this because this is what we’re trying to sell and you take it and go yay I don’t like thinking for myself and like what everybody likes because it’s easy to.  Or do you go, well, maybe I could go look for my own thing and make up my own mind about how I feel about music in general. You discover things on your own.  And you also want to discover people like yourself. But I really want to inform the mass public about these alternate lifestyles. I don’t like things being misunderstood.

What is a Mod?  Is punk a music genre, a way of life, not to be taken seriously, a pretentious form of thought, a broad term? Is it called selling-out, or is it called being smart and having a business plan? When do you give up? How long can you live this way? The series addresses all of these things and satirizes it.

There’s a rich quality to your characters too- plenty of them as well- are they inspired by real people in your life?

Not any specific person. Just types. Ziggy is that over-the-top egotistical frontman who believes he’s God’s gift to the music world. We’ve seen plenty of those. Pox is that obnoxious poseur who tries too hard to fit in. And then we break stereotypes too. It turns out Pox is pretty smart and uses a high vocabulary between cuss words. Cliff, a Mod, his best friend is Vince, a greaser. Blair is not this somber Goth girl…she’s happy and full-of life. And we’ve mentioned this before, but most of the actors in true life resemble a lot of the characters. It just happened coincidentally. It’s like most of these people were mean to play these parts. So when we write for the show, we hear the characters voices in our heads. We take some of the actors’ quirks and then incorporate them into their characters as well.

How does a “no budget filmmaker” like yourself create a textured, thoughtful and active series- what techniques, short cuts and methods have you used to help overcome any financial obstacles?

Pull in a lot of favors. That’s how we overcome financial obstacles. Yvonne Trinh gets the wardrobe form thrift stores. We ask bands who donate music to the soundtrack to give us merch (posters, T-shirts) as a form of cross-promotion. We don’t have a location locked, we go in the spot, tell them what we’re doing, and woo our way in. We compliment owners by saying, hey, if you let us use your place, you can be an extra. And they get flattered. We couldn’t afford a certain prop? Well…then let’s experiment with something else. You get very creative. As for techniques on how we get it done and come off like we have a high-budget?  Well, that’s a “superhero secret”.

What are the goals for you and Oblivion in the foreseeable future?

Everyone involved wants to keep this show going. It’s addicting to work on. Incredible fun.  We’re laughing, in tears, on set most of the time. Everybody gets along. We’re friends. I would love nothing more than to focus my attention 100% on the show. But we have day-jobs.  I do 19 hour days. I rarely sleep. I’m writing, editing, rehearsing, scheduling, directing, promoting, etc. etc.  I need to get a proper crew…right now it’s just Jessica, Steve, Gina Clyne (web guru) and whoever else volunteers on whatever set day.  Jessica Gallant and the actors need to get paid. We have to work around everyone’s work schedule.  A few cast members don’t live out here because they can’t afford to live in Los Angeles. You see the conflicts… And we need to keep reaching our audience. Viewers that discover Oblivion love the show.  Especially teenagers. But the first message we receive is them saying that they didn’t know a show like this even existed! Now how do we keep reaching our audience? Word of mouth and the DIY promotions we’ve been doing are great but we need to market the show properly and to market it properly we need secured financing.

Will there be a physical release of the series once the season is complete?

We have a handful of interested distributors. So, yeah, there will be a season one DVD with a slew of bonus features, bloopers, interviews, that sort of stuff.

What can we expect from you and your film company after Oblivion?

I want to help produce a few film ideas some friends have. Round up their resources and cast. I’m currently developing an untitled black and white kitchen sink movie about friendships and sex and comic books told through vignettes. It’ll take me five years to do ‘cause I want the actors to age in real-time. Despite tone or genre, all of my unproduced scripts are set in the same world as Oblivion…so one or two Oblivion characters make a cameo in it.  I also want to do a few interconnected videos for my band The Dignitary Loss once we get our situation worked out. But I’m going into pre-production on a noir period-piece Odium for Ardor. It’s a bit like Sunset Blvd. meets 8 ½ and Faust.  And it doesn’t resemble Oblivion in any form.  It’s pretty grim.  I’ve talked to Gabe Hart (front man of the Jail Weddings – visit jailweddings.net) about playing the lead.  Hopefully we can get rolling on that in January.

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Watch episodes of Oblivion on the official Oblivion website.

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Featured, Interviews, Music

From the Heartland: An interview with the Blacklist Royals

Nashville, Tennessee: the heartbeat of American rock n’ roll and one of music history’s bastion cities. Steeped in tradition and iconic figures, its landscape is the home of some of the most memorable moments in music history. From the prominence of homegrown country music to rockabilly and traditional rock, the denizens and artists who ply their craft within its borders continue to be some of the most passionate in the nation.

The Blacklist Royals are a fine product of this Nashville brewery; distilled in rock n’ roll’s rich history and sharpened by punk rock’s sneer, they are both the present and future of this past. We recently spoke to drummer and founder Rob about their recent touring, their terrific album Semper Liberi and what their city’s (and genre’s) history means to them as they continue down the rock n’ roll highway.

How was the tour, crowd reception good?

Rob: The tour was great! It was our first tour in Canada, and it went really well. We were out with Orphan Choir, who are an amazing band and dudes, so it was a blast. Toronto, Montreal, and KOI Festival had great crowds and we met a lot of really cool people.

What were some of the best memories of the recent run?

Rob: The memory that will stick with me the most is from our day off in Toronto, a crazy drunk girl at The Bovine Sex Club beat the shit out of this girl who worked our show the night before, then attacked Nat and Alex as well! Part of me wanted to stop her, and part of me couldn’t help but want to watch some random maniac drunk bitch try to fight everyone in the bar for no reason. I think what started the whole thing is that Alex told her she was pretty, haha! She chased us all the way back to the van! Canadian girls are intense.

Did you guys all get along?

Rob: We get along great most of the time, regardless of our different personalities and the obvious tensions of being on the road constantly. Alex can definitely get a little wild sometimes, and since Nat and I are twins and have lived/played music together our whole lives we can get into it the way brothers do. But we all love each other and love being out on the road experiencing life and getting into all kinds of fucked up misadventures together, so it works out well.  Right when I think we don’t get a long I watch other bands we tour with interact and realize we are a lot closer than most.

Semper Liberi is one of our favorite records of 2010. In our review, we said, “It’s all about the feeling, the essence, and the movement of what made the likes of Johnny Cash, Elvis, Chuck Berry and their kind so memorable.” Your city of Nashville is steeped in such a rich rock n’ roll culture, how much does rock n’ roll history influence your songwriting if any?

Rob: We are definitely students of rock and roll history, and it is a bigger influence on us than anything else. Nat and I grew up on 50’s and 60’s music, and moved to Nashville years ago in hopes of connecting with the things that made early rock and roll so great and real. So I definitely agree it is all about feeling. Semper Liberi was honestly kind of a concept album to us, an attempt to make a punk rock oldies album, but still keep it relevant. Classic rock and roll has been and will always be our bands compass, no matter where we go from here.

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AUDIO STREAM: “Howling at the Moon”
Blacklist Royals – Howling at the Moon (from the album Semper Liberi)
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What are some of the important topics you consider as influential when it comes to writing the songs?

Rob: We write a lot about what we know, like life on the road and of course love songs. But we also had some songs about social issues on Semper Liberi such as “Jolie Blonde” (a re-working of the unofficial Cajun national anthem about hurricane Katrina), “Church Bells are Ringing”(about a mining disaster in my home state of West Virginia) and “American Hearts”. For the next record we have been writing much more personal songs, which are a little different from the straight forward rock and roll lyrics on Semper Liberi but still completely Blacklist Royals.

What is the natural progression for all of you now after Semper Liberi?

Rob: Well like I said, we are trying to get more real with our songwriting, more personal. We tried to make the songs on Semper Liberi more general so they were more accessible, but now we want to really take it to street level and sing about topics that we weren’t ready to cover with that record. But at the same time we want the songs to be even MORE hook oriented, and I am really excited about what we’ve been coming up with so far. Jamie, Alex, and Eric bring a lot of different influences and ideas to the table, so I expect our next record to be a real step up.

Paper + Plastick are a relatively new label- although Vinnie is no stranger to this- was it a natural choice for you to sign with them?

Rob: Definitely. Matt Drastic (who produced out record) is Less Than Jake’s tour manager, and turned Vinnie on to the band. Those two dudes have believed in us more than anyone ever has, so I couldn’t imagine being in better hands. They’ve really done a lot for us and P+P is becoming a really awesome label as other labels seem to be dying around them, so I am stoked to see what the future holds.

You guys are playing The Fest next- do you prefer these massive festival settings or do the open roads and endless rock n’ roll halls appeal more to your sensibilities?

Rob: It depends what time slot we get at the festivals, haha! They can be really amazing because we get to play to audiences that maybe haven’t seen us, or that generally wouldn’t go out to a show we play at a random shitty bar on a weeknight in their towns. So festivals are great, The Fest especially! It is always my favorite weekend of the year, and I have no doubt anyone who makes the trip down to FL will see us running around all night acting like idiots.

What are your plans after The Fest?

Rob: It is kind of up in the air right now. We are trying to work out a tour in November, and probably take December off. At the start of the new year there are a lot of cool things in the works including Europe, Canada again, and a Paper + Plastick tour with some of our awesome label mates. Basically we are just going to continue touring our asses off until people have no choice but to notice us.
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Semper Liberi is out now via Paper + Plastick

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