Twin issue XVII: Wham Bam Andersen
Photography Clare Shilland, Words India Doyle
Olivia Bee started taking pictures in her early teens, one of those rare precocious talents who already had the basics nailed before most of us had figured out how to make our lava lamps work. And when I say basics, I mean being commissioned to shoot commercials for Nike and Converse by the time she was 17…
Having emerged during the peak Tumblr years, Bee has continued to carve a name for herself with candid photographs that capture the intensity of youth; the fragile nexus of love, and the yearning for the wild. Her photographs are often situated within nature, away from the obvious limitations of the city and the responsibilities that lie therein.
With a knack for powerful juxtapositions, Olivia Bee’s photographs have a corpuscular quality that capture individual moments in time but which together weave a wider narrative about the transient nature of youth. With a beautiful new tome, Kids in Love, out now, Twin caught up with her to talk hanging out in Oregon and the future of the Internet.
Starting with Kids in Love – your photographs embody a fantastic energy. What’s your process when shooting?
Kids In Love came about because I was taking pictures of the world around me — I wasn’t really trying to make anything in particular, other than the things I gravitated towards. When it was finished, I knew, and I knew it was a show and a book. The energy in Kids In Love came from the universe that I existed in and made for myself when I was a teenager. I was observing that universe.
What was it about the camera that you were originally drawn to?
The ability to create and make art simultaneously; to directly document your experience.
What I like about Kids In Love is that you immortalise the transient state of youth through movement and these wonderful juxtapositions with the natural world. Was this an aesthetic that came naturally to you? How did your style develop?
I mean this just came with living in Oregon, living in nature but being around kids my age and exploring that universe. In Oregon you just go to the river and to the mountain and to the beach and to the forest, that’s what you do for fun and that’s where you get drunk. it was just part of every day. Green was my studio.
You started working professionally when you were pretty young, did you ever feel that this inhibited your ability to develop creatively? Was there less freedom to make mistakes, experiment etc.
I always kind of did what I wanted and didn’t think much about it. There were times I’d get feedback from people who were selling my work saying what i was doing was less marketable, but i’d just be like, “dude. i’m just documenting my world.” It was (and is) a natural process for me to document. I still experimented and made plenty of bad pictures.
What is it about intimacy that interests you as a subject matter?
It is so innately human.
Instagram has bought this generation a whole host of really exciting creatives who otherwise might not have had the capacity to promote their work to a global audience, but do you ever feel that sheer scale of the platform – and its millions of contributors – might come to negate the power of a singular image?
I’m getting less and less satisfied with the internet. It’s all controlled by money at this point and our information is getting sold so that companies can market for our demographics. It’s terrifying. We have to fight back and play that game to our advantage. My work belongs in galleries and in books and in theaters — not just the internet. I get depressed when my pictures I love are just on the internet and then they’re gone or stolen because people think the internet is an equal playing field and ownership is lost.
Also with the internet, people skip over movies, books, tv shows, people, and minimize them into one single image on their tumblr when they haven’t seen that movie, tv show, read that book, or researched that celebrity. Everything is aestheticized. Even the notion of “liking” or “loving” something or someone has been aestheticized. Authenticity has been aestheticized. People have to remember what’s real and I really do think a big part of that is existing in your world and participating and reading and talking to people and watching movies in the theater and on tv and going to museums and being in nature if these kinds of things are available to you. That shit will keep you human.
Who and what are the major influences for your work?
My life and my emotional experiences. The wonderful people i surround myself with. Nature.
What do like to listen to when working?
Right now I’ve been listening to a fuck ton of Leonard Cohen. I just discovered Emily Eeo when I was in a coffee shop in Portland and have been playing that over and over. The Lemon Twigs are wonderful too.
What’s your favourite camera to work with?
That’s a secret 😉
What’re your plans, concerns and hopes for 2017?
Time is a marker that we created — it doesn’t actually exist. It’s fluid. So I don’t always believe in setting goals for certain periods of time but I do feel that with 2017 and the upcoming Trump presidency it is especially important to stand up for the things you believe in. I want the people I choose to be in my work, especially in fashion, to be more diverse, and I want to write a book? Or a movie? I want to quit low balling and I want to stand up for myself and the ones I love more! Also establish some sort of place to live in the future in nature.
‘Y…O….L….O’ sings Natalie Mering in her wistful, luscious composition, ‘Generation Why’. The letters come so elliptically that you almost don’t piece the word together, especially as the sarcasm is delivered in angelic tones, packaged with fleeting guitars. Elsewhere on ‘Seven Words’ the same emotive voice offers a more morose, melancholic narrative. These two songs offer a survey of range of Natalie Mering’s (aka Weyes Blood) canon, and it’s no surprise that she’s considered to be one of America’s most exciting female artists. Whether she’s contributing to other records or delivering her own kind of ephemeral gospel, the music is rich, immersive and often sardonic – the fact that she’s supporting Father John Misty on tour (and is regularly photographed by his wife, and Twin favourite Emma Tillman) seems a perfect fit.
Her third album, Front Row Seat To Earth is filled with West Coast meandering melodies which encompass personal stories and wider musings on the world. Sloppy listeners will find themselves caught off guard in the same way that attentive ones wait with anticipation to see where the lyrics will bend next. Either way, you’ll find yourself surprised and likely with a grin on your face. In the midst of touring, Twin caught up with the Californian singer to chat about the state of music, collaborating with Perfume Genius and the duality of performance.
In the last two years, there’s been a lot of talk about the rise of the 70’s singer-songwriter. Do you consider yourself to be part of this movement?
In some ways, but not entirely – I love music from all decades, all time periods. The 70’s thing is convenient because its definitely a convergence of a lot of different influences, it was a vibrant time that set the pace for the time we still live in now. I can associate with that aspect of it, but I don’t think of myself as 70s.
What does a 70’s sound mean to you? What was magical about that era of recording?
Music started to expand into different micro genres, things were becoming less homogenised. That’s pretty magical. Also most people were recording to tape and collaborating with a lot of different, smart, creative people. Producers, players, arrangers. It was the hey day of money being thrown into interesting projects because mainstream music hadn’t been totally strangulated yet— big record labels were still taking risks and culturally we were discovering the future as we know it now.
How did you go about shaping the sound for your record? What specifically were you influenced by, and what were you listening to?
I was listening to a lot of Soft Machine and classical music — I wanted to make something epic but also personal… Chris Cohen had a really good ear for this concept, we used a very limited amount of microphones while recording and did a lot of things live to capture that feeling, make it all feel like it was recorded in the same sphere. I was also was listening to a lot of Weather Report which is a pretty strange non-sequitur – I have a tendency to listen to things that are very different from my own music while I’m creating.
There’s a strong visual element that runs through your cover and videos, do you think in ‘the digital age’ image has taken on a heightened significance for music?
Not necessarily — we’ve always been a civilisation driven by imagery. Things probably changed the most in the 80s when music videos become synonymous with artists – suddenly people had to look really good, seem young. I think now more than ever we’re less interested in innovative music, which makes the imagery seem more important. It’s like the music is an afterthought. Music has been congealed into a very specific “industry standard” that’s numbed peoples tastes a bit, made it a more narrow experience for the masses as a whole.
In the album the emotional nuances are very powerful – do you have to access and inhabit the original emotions that you had when writing the songs when you’re performing them, or can you do it with a certain level of detachment?
I’ve learned to replace it with other emotions if I don’t want to conjure the old ghosts – I try to avoid detachment in an apathetic sense, but sometimes I do let go and stop thinking and just feel whats happening. That’s like detachment in the zen sense.
Your fashion sense is impeccable. Do you see your style as part of the Weyes Blood persona, or is it an expression as Natalie?
It’s a part of Weyes Blood— if I, as in Natalie, had my way with clothes I would be mostly naked or wearing huge swaths of fabric. I do like a good suit, its like a huge swath of monochrome fabric but organized a bit more. If it fits super well you can climb a mountain in a suit, live in a suit. Classic hobo.
And thinking more broadly about that potential duality – why did you want to work under a different name when putting out your own music?
I wanted it to be a different world. I’m not that much of a realist with my art – there’s a lot of fantasy and imagination involved, occupying an archetypal space, my lyrics are the most Natalie Mering thing about it all and I think that stands out just enough. It’s still not too late to release under my own name someday, but I’d rather just make films or do stand up comedy under my name. Those are more Natalie Mering things.
You have worked and toured with Perfume Genus. Tell us more what that collaboration means to you?
Mike is an incredible soul — he carries very powerful and moving musical ideas that I feel a kindred spirit with. Singing with him is always an elating experience. I think we have the same knack for a certain kind of musical drama and vulnerability. He’s definitely been an inspiration to me.
Generally you’ve worked with a lot of exciting artists, who would you like to work with in the future?
I’d love to work with somebody who’s very different from me, see what that’s like. I’m first and foremost a really big fan of music, so there’s lots of people I can imagine working with. It’d be fun to dip into a top 40’s world or make a Nashville country record. Sky’s the limit.
What are your plans for the rest of the year, and what are you looking forward to?
I’m going to be touring with Father John Misty in the states, UK and Europe this fall – right now I’m writing my next record and cultivating a new sphere to take back into the studio with me for the next one. I am most looking forward to getting back in the studio and recording!
One of the pleasures of seeing bands in small venues (when they’re good) is that you get to witness how much they enjoy playing with each other – which was certainly true of Alex Cameron and his gang on their most recent visit to London. In amongst a slick delivery of the latest album, Forced Witness, were plenty of banterful asides, whispered knowing eye catches and asides made while sweat poured and Stella Artois spilled.
Such synchronicity is hardly surprising given that frontman Alex and saxophonist / business partner Roy Molloy have known each other since they were 5, when Alex was sent round to play with Roy because he was lonely ( “don’t put that in” (sorry, Roy)). That they wouldn’t tell me the name of the band they had when they were 17, or their worst lyrics, also speaks of a deep, artistic bond that means some ten years later, they’re more on it than ever.
Cameron himself likes character, starring on his first album cover ‘Jumping the Shark’ as a Scarface-esque bruiser. For Forced Witness the physical performance may have changed, but the album delves deep into various personalities and identites, unpacking as it does ideas around gender, specifically the ‘Alpha’ males of rock and roll, and the wide world beyond. And although the video of ‘Stranger’s Kiss’, a record that features Angel Olsen, Alex Cameron and Jemima Kirke play with sexuality and identity on screen, the best and most surprising expositions are most definitely to be found in the lyrics.
Co-produced with Foxygen’s Johnathan Rado and recorded partly in Las Vegas (“a completely rational and sane place”) it’s a record to pay attention to.
Read Twin’s interview with Alex Cameron (guest starring Roy Malloy) below.
Where do you get ideas for your characters?
A lot of it is dialogue with people that I’m on the road with. Someone like Mclean Stevenson who is a photographer from Australia. I worked in a government legal office working with victims of corruption, so a lot of my process is to do with taking that skill of being an assistant to an investigator; what I is a breakdown or a study of a story that I’m interested in.
Do you have a favourite one?
On the new record I really like Country Figs. My car broke down on a highway, it was me and Roy and our two ex-girlfriends and we got towed. That whole song came from a conversation with a tow truck driver.
How do you come up with melodies to support to the character?
I just try and focus on whether or not it’s a good song. The melody is quite natural, I’m kind of drawn towards them. I’m more interested in the stories and the melodies, they come together after a while. You have to be patient, and I tend to let things happen over time.
Do you find yourself looking at people on the street and get a sound to them?
Um no, I wouldn’t say so. I’ve written songs on the bus before but that comes more from absentmindedness. I do a lot of song writing when I’m walking and when I’m on public transport.
Some people write very confessional lyrics and you choose to write through the lens of character, but how much of yourself do you put into it?
I’d like to think that if you get a sense of moral awakening then that’s me trying to put some humanity into the characters, even if they are bastards or misguided. I wonder about the process of everyone having a bullshit detector, I’m fascinated by that. Some people have a strong edit before they speak and others just speak based on their emotions,without contemplating the fact that they’re an animal. So I think a lot of stories are just me wondering about certain circumstances, and I just try and let the characters take me to where they want to go. Often that’s somewhere decrepit because when I’m writing it feels like I’m writing a tiny world where someone can behave, that I’m not in control of; I’m just there. Part of it is just based on the flow of emotion and not so much trying to ruthlessly understand something and then examine it in retrospect.
Was music the most instinctive form of doing that to you?
Most of my song writing comes from words I’m constantly taking down; long sentences and utterances, lines, poems and things like that. Then I’ll find the ones with the right cadence and the right syncopation that fit with certain melodies I have recorded as well. I write short stories, but I felt that there was no way for me to access that industry. Some of my favourite authors have been more responsive to my records than they ever would be to a story.
What was it like starting out in Sydney?
Sydney was really hard. Not in a knocks way, but it’s not the place to write music with a sense of realness to it; it’s very much a paradise over there. I don’t think Sydney is the place where groundbreaking music happens. The only way for me to make a living was to leave. Sydney has been taken over by investor money, it’s corporate. It doesn’t has any nightlife. You’d have to go up against the laws and the corporations to really get a subculture going.
ENTER ROY MALLOY
Hello Roy. How did you meet Alex, and how did you get into the saxophone?
I met Alex because we went to stay at friend’s when I was kid, and that was two doors down from Al’s, so we lived next door to each other when we were 5 or 6. We met each other because his mother made him come and play with me because she thought that I was lonely. But I wasn’t lonely. Don’t print that I was lonely.
And the saxophone I came across because the school had a program where you could rent them, and I thought Lisa Simpson was pretty cool so, that’s how it happened?
Have you ever been tempted by another instrument?
I guess between the ages of 16 – 25 I didn’t think that the saxophone was suitable for rock music so I was playing the bass guitar. Then 4 or 5 years ago we started doing this live thing with the horn, and it just came into it I guess.
So were you guys in bands together when you were younger?
Yeah we played in a band at the end of school –
What was it called?
(Inaudible shouts from Alex)
That’s a secret (laughs).
EXIT ROY MALLOY
Hey again Alex. I wanted to talk to you about the video for Stranger’s Kiss and the way in which you play around with binaries in it, and also in the album more widely. Do you think that music has a specifically female or male sound?
Well the whole record was kind of intentionally made with the intention of subverting those masculine qualities in pop rock music. And so when Jemima came with the idea with this video that also challenged that it was kind of natural and perfect.
The song was produced in a way that was really strong, but the lyrics suggest a lot of denial of weakness. I certainly view the record of being a direct challenge to those tropes of masculinity, those male-dominant forms of song. Like that song Jesse’s girl I always think is pretty interesting – it’s oestensibly a song about a woman but it’s actually a discussion between two men. It doesn’t even mention Jesse’s girl’s name.
Interestingly when Angel came into the studio and laid down her vocals it became really evident that she was the strong one in that world. So we made her the one that was really not giving a fuck about the breakup, so we made her tender but brutal – which is exactly how I like a character to be.
This interview was originally published on Twin.
Indian brand The Summer House make sustainable clothes with designs that draw on traditional craftsmanship and render them in modern, timeless silhouettes. They also offer homewares, working directly with local creatives and NGOs to ensure direct benefit to the makers. As such, The Summer House represents a new kind of brand, working towards a more sustainable, global future. KEIN magazine caught up with founders Shivangini Parihar and Rekha Datla to talk about creating a brand with a conscience and the future of Indian fashion.
Presenter of Culture Trip’s original fashion series, Behind Closed Drawers.
Introducing new shirt brand Bruta: the label washing romance into the most ubiquitous form of clothing. Founded by Arthur Yates in 2015, Bruta marries art and design in the form of loose-fitting shirts that feature hand-drawn detail and embroidery. Alongside the shirts, Yates has employed his artistic background to create pots and urns, an unexpected yet fitting compliment to the clothing. As part of our ‘Behind The Seams’ series, we delve into Bruta’s Spring Summer 2017 collection.
How did Bruta come about?
I used to have a business that supplied high street stores with fast fashion and at the same time I was putting on art shows around London. I decided to bring those two worlds together and build a brand that I was proud of and that was in line with the art I was showing. The name Bruta means different things in different Romantic languages – crazy, stupid, ugly. I also like the design of the word, phonetically it’s a exciting name.
What is it about shirts that you were drawn to?
I have a big collection of shirts and it is what I have always worn. Shirts are a classic staple in both men’s and women’s wardrobes. It seemed like a good place to start! The shirt is a relaxed, slouchy, and loose fitting. I wanted the shirts to be casual and easy to wear everyday.
You had no formal fashion training, how has your experience been of moving into the industry?
Designing and creating the collection isn’t that different from painting. However there is a whole logistical side which I have had to learn quickly. Designing a collection is only the tip of the iceberg – there is so much behind the scenes that you need to master if you want to survive!
You make shirts and pots, what unites the two surfaces?
The pots are more liberated as they are all one-off and hand painted where with the shirts you have to take in to account manufacturing, costs etc. When designing the shirts I need to be more pragmatic.
In general what are you influenced by? And how do you translate this into your designs?
Your latest collections were based around a trip to Italy – where did you visit and what were you inspired by?
I have been to nearly everywhere it Italy – whenever we have a moment free my girlfriend and I will rent a car and drive through a different area of Italy. It is such a beautiful, dramatic country. The collection is inspired by everything Italian fromThe Medici family to spaghetti pomodoro.
Where would you like to take Bruta over the rest of 2016, and beyond?
We want to build the collection into other categories other than shirts, but we don’t want to limit ourselves to just clothing. We want to develop more homewares and Bruta artefacts as well.
First published on The Culture Trip, 24 August 2016