Thursday, 20 August 2009

Tommy Boy

Since the advent of high speed internet connections an almost forgotten aural and visual landscape has slowly been unearthed by those willing to search for it; miners of lost disco gems and yuppie ores have found a past that looked to the future. A future of electric dreams and exploration of the unknown.

One such excavator is Tommy Boy - half of the seminal and consistenly enviable he also pieces together films and music videos from the more esoteric and synthetic fragments of the past 35 years, creating soundtracks for the likes of CFCF, Telepathe and most recently Spectral Empire.

-When did you first start experimenting with video?

Well, I’ve always been enamoured with video, even as a kid. I vividly remember the moment I knew what I wanted to do as an artist. There was a show on MTV in the mid to late 90s called AMP. It was an hour block of mostly electronic and experimental videos. Most of the videos were generic and formulaic, however 2 artists really stood out. E.B.N. , and Coldcut's brilliant video work inspired me. Their video aesthetic consisted of sampled video, cut to the rhythm of the song, and rearranged to tell a story with syncopated imagery.

A few years later in Austin, Texas, I started to VJ with friends in a multimedia outfit called "Loose Id Studios" with the intention of emulating this style. It’s crazy remembering how much time went into making those productions. Video encoding took forever and our tools were so archaic. I was using one of the first multimedia apps at the time, VJAMM on my old IBM notebook. The output wasn't always the best, but I learned tons in that time. I definitely caught the bug for film then.

-You mentioned on Arawa that 20JFG asked you create a video for Spectral Empire's Black Shark - are you always commissioned in this way or do you find yourself starting something just through musical inspiration?

20JFG initially approached me to do a video for Telepathe based on my previous personal video work and my massive image dump on myspace the they often borrow from for posts. I think they just trusted my vision and decided to throw me a bone. From the Telepathe video, Patrik North from Ac├ęphale contacted me privately to do the CFCF video. Soon after that, 20JFG referred two more jobs to me, Spectral Empire and Gatekeeper (TBR). So, yeah, 20JFG have really made my year! Love those people. Plus, I really like the work that’s been sent to me. Fortunately, all these artists resonate with my interests, so the projects have been a blast. I like client oriented work since it keeps me on task. However, I do like to strike a balance between work and play. I definitely take time to make videos for myself. I like making music videos for bands that never had the chance. I did videos for Phill & Friends Band and Casco because I love them so much.

CFCF - 'You Hear Colours' commissioned by Patrik North of Acephale records

-The video for CFCF's You Hear Colours is a really great synthesis of sound and visuals - what was the process of making the video like?

Most projects start with me getting very familiar with the song. If it’s something new to me, I’ll listen to it on repeat for days, everywhere I go. It might take me a couple weeks to really get the song and find the right imagery for a story. With CFCF, it was the middle of winter when I got the song. I remember driving my car in the barren early morning light on my way to work, watching joggers stride by as “You Hear Colours” played in perfect harmony. I knew almost from the start that I wanted to do something that would capture that feeling. With that in mind, I began researching source material. I remembered a movie my Dad had turned me onto as a child. It had been probably 20 years since I’d seen “Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”, but after revisiting it I knew it would be the perfect backbone for my story. I intended for the video to be vintage. I think black and white footage frees the mind to fill in the colours as you see fit. If you were hearing colours from CFCF's gorgeous song, I wanted you to see his sound. So for me, this song will always end up looking like those early morning drives felt like, which is great.

-Your videos seem to exclusively use sequences and sections of other films and pictures, do you think you'll ever pursue making original content or is that not how you work?

This is a constant source of contention for me. I recognize I’m abusing certain copyright laws; however I feel I utilize video clips the same way a DJ selects songs to tell a story through a carefully selected mix. I have no intention of taking credit for the original footage I use. I hope people can see the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I’m always striving to tell my own story with borrowed footage. I would love to start using more of my own original footage, but with limited budgets and lack of equipment I’ll most likely rely on sampling for the near future. If someone wants to do an all expense paid shoot with me, I’m totally game. Seems like the only people who can afford that kind of work with me are corporations who want me to make a widget demonstration video for their website. God help me if I have to keep doing those. My career is totally upside down, as I’m sure it is with most artists. I get paid for shit I hate to make, and I do stuff for free because I love to do it. Besides, there’s a vast archive of video out there just ripe for the picking. I really enjoy researching film history. Dissecting and rearranging existing footage is still a thrill for me. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Telepathe - 'Devil's Trident' remix by Diamond Vampires commissioned by 20 Jazz Funk Greats

-Do you see a career in what you're doing at the moment with videos with or do you see it more as a past time?

I don’t really see a career in making music videos the way I’m making them now. I run the risk of being a one trick pony at best, at worst I could face litigation. So, yeah, the time for doing this stuff is finite. I experiment with video as a means to express myself as an artist. I'd like to make a career of it, because I have so much work I still want to do. I spend my time VJing when the video projects are slow. I recently enjoyed doing work for the Butthole Surfers fall ’08 tour, as well as the Maker Faire in Austin, TX, Crystal Castles/VEGA, and Nancy Fortune shows in ’09. I like taking video out of my house and on the road. So, maybe there’s a future in VJing. Who knows. It’s all still up in the air.

-Your music tastes seem to be centered on the dark and synthetic output of the 70's and 80's, what is about this sound and era that appeals to you?

My artistic interests incorporate a healthy respect for retro-futuristic ideals. I’m a child of the 80’s, that era of romantic futurism in the grip of the Cold War. Science Fiction has always been a major influence on my life. My first memories of sound were from a Fischer-Price plastic record player with my own 45” copy of Disney’s “The Black Hole”. I have a profound sense of nostalgia for all the sights and sounds from my childhood. I remember spending entire summer days at my neighbour’s house who had MTV. I sat mesmerized by the crazy “New Wave” videos that often mirrored the futuristic vision of my favourite movies. I spent my formative years in music education researching anything and everything electronic. My heart fell in love with the roots of electronic music and all which sprang forth from that creative force. I don’t necessarily feel I’m drawn to the darker side of electronics, but compared to my ARAWA.FM partner, Sean Donson, I can see why you drew that conclusion. Ok, sorry for this lame analogy, but the 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle explosion is closely related to how I see music. It’s the promise of the future coupled with the tragic reality of the present. It’s the beauty in tragedy, the shortcomings of technology, the human will to break barriers and forge new territory. All of that. Music from the late 70’s and early 80’s embodies those ideals for me. Synths were just coming onto the scene, people were embracing the future, music was sublime, transcending time and place. Most of this music sounds more relevant to me today than I’m sure it sounded when it came out. Especially the left-field, obscure, bizarre tracks. Maybe my taste does lean to the darker sounds of synthdom. I guess I like my dystopian disco to sound like it was actually made in "1984".

'Repossesed' a submission for Moon Illusion

-Mixes are another interest of yours, do you DJ as well?

I have been DJing about as long as I have been doing video work, but with mixed results. For the moment, my biggest gratification is to release mixes on the web. I hope my mixes swim in the same circles as my mentors. The biggest influence on me right now is DJ JAZ aka John Zahl. As long as guys like him are killing the tables, it’s best for me to stay at home and work on video. DJing for me is like making mixtapes for high school crushes. I miss those days. I have always loved the art of a good mixtape. So, I guess I’m just making 21st century mixtapes for all my internet lovelies. But I digress.

-What's the story of how Arawa came into being? What inspired you and Sean Donson to collaborate?

ARAWA.FM is actually Sean Donson’s brainchild. Sean’s from San Francisco and we’ve actually never met face to face. I think he started blogging about a year before I did. This would’ve been around ‘06-’07. When I started my own blog, I noticed his name popping up in comments from time to time. And vice versa. We started talking and one thing led to another. I think the partnership came out of necessity and a mutual respect for each others work. We’re not the most consistent bloggers, so strength in numbers seemed to make sense. I officially became partner after an insane Halloween posting juggernaut we produced last year. It was as if stars were aligned and a cosmic force was unleashed once we teamed up. Besides, Sean is like the ying to my yang, I absolutely adore his style and direction. Sean has a real talent for graphic design, an area I’m sadly lacking in. I was more than happy to jump on his bandwagon. He had already made a strong foundation for ARAWA. His posts are always fresh to me, consistently supplying me with treasures I never knew existed. Sean and I have had a lot happen to us since we started to collaborate. We recently completed work for JAZ, Nancy Fortune, and Gatekeeper as a result of our blog endeavours. Things keep coming in too, which is a real amazing since this is a just result of us just doing what feels good. Sean added a quote to our blog which really drives home our mantra. It’s from one of my favorite works by David Lynch, from the epic series, “Twin Peaks”. It says “"... I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange." This is really the story of Sean and me. My brother from another mother, my cosmic twin, Demian to my Sinclair, the best friend a guy could ask for. Aw shucks, love me some Sean, love me some ARAWA.FM too.

Obligatory Fleetwood Mac reference - 'Gypsed'

-Lastly, do you have any current infatuations, be it videos/songs/links that you'd like to share with us?

I don’t know if these are current as much as they are things I have loved for a long, long time. For the video enthusiast in me, I consistently draw inspiration from these sources:

TV Carnage, Paperrad, Animal Charm , Church of the Subgenius , 5minutestolive , Totally Wreck Production Institute

And as far as music is concerned, anything these guys are up to usually rocks my world:

Lovefingers , Donnaslut , Dream Chimney , Bumrocks

And lastly, ARAWA.FM has a new sister site for all the things that just don't make it on the blog. Please bookmark for more ARAWA related fodder. Stay tuned, there's lots more to come

Tommyboy can ofcourse be found online at (ofcourse) and also at Vimeo and Youtube.