Margot : Violinist & Singer : 061 : Transcript

inspiring, career, interview, geny, millennials, generation y

Please enjoy the transcript of Episode 061 with Margot:

Since she was 4 years old Margot knew she wanted to be a violinist when she grew up.

Margot is now a professional musician, performing full-time as one half of the DJ-violin duo, The Dolls, alongside DJ Mia Moretti, and is set to release her debut solo project this summer.

You’ll hear Margot discuss how she made her way in the music worldthe opportunities that come from being open and that the best way to move forward is to do the best you can do:

“You have to give your all. Always.” – Margot

Margot: Hi, this is Margot, I’m a violinist & singer, and you’re listening to Prologue Profiles.

[Intro Music]

Margot: I grew up in Gainesville, Florida.

Dan: College town…

Margot: College town. Big ‘ol college town.

Dan: What was it like in Gainesville, Florida?

Margot: I don’t know if I’ve ever been asked that before.  I guess…

Dan: We go there. [Laughter]

Margot: You know I was actually so consumed in violin and with my school that, for me, there wasn’t much outside of that.

Dan: All right so you are a musician. 

Margot: Yes, I’m a violinist.

Dan: So talk to me about what you do, what you’re up to, all of that? 

Margot: I’m one-half of The Dolls.  We’re a DJ/violin duo.  I play with DJ Mia Moretti.


Mia Margot The Dolls
(Margot & Mia, via Diggy Lloyd on the Dolls’ Tumblr)

Dan: So you’re the violin…

Margot: Yea [Laughs], I play the violin, and we play a lot of dance, a lot of soul and funk, and disco.  We’re inspired by all sorts of genres and it’s mainly focused on instrumentation with the violin and bringing her tracks in, but I recently started singing as well for our live shows and whatnot so it’s kind of a combination of all three.

Dan: Are you doing this full-time now?

Margot: Yes, definitely.  I have my own solo project that I’m working on.

Dan: Is there a name for that?

Margot: Well I’m going under just Margot, so it’s just gonna be Margot and it’s me singing and lots of strings and it’s kind of pop/electronic-ish [Laughs].

But I’m doing that and then I’ve also been composing for some orchestras and film, but I’d say that The Dolls have definitely been the main focus over the past couple of years and we’ve just been touring so much and playing out so much that it definitely is a full-time job.

Dan: And you guys are supporting yourselves as musicians?

Margot: Yes, I’ve actually, I can very, very fortunately say that I’ve never had a real job before.

Dan: Wow.

Margot: Yea and it’s scary to say that and sometimes I wonder how exactly that happened.

Dan: Like you looked over your shoulder just now [Margot laughs] “The man’s comin’” [Laughter]. 

Margot: I actually started, I guess, considered a professional at the age of 12 or 13.  I started playing at weddings when I was in Florida and that’s how I started making money.

Dan: …What? [Laughs]

Margot: I know [Laughs] And when I think back on it, I think about the way people used to react when I walked in the room, they were like, ‘What is this little kid doing about to play music at my wedding?’ [Laughs]

Dan: So Margot, let’s talk now about how you got here.  What was the path you took to get to this point?  Where does it all start for you?

Margot: I guess it all started, technically, when I was four. My mom said that I came home from pre-school during the summer and she was so excited it was summer, she thought I was going to be a really relaxed kid and the first day I came back, I was like, “Mom, what are we gonna do?”  And she was like, “What do you mean, what are we going to do?  It’s summer.  We just hang out.”

And she realized that she needed to actively do something with me, so she put me in ballet and violin lessons and I studied under [teacher’s name] for 15 years, almost 16 years and that’s where I received really all of my training on the violin, I was classically trained.  My teacher was really adamant about group lessons and group involvement, so we would have concerts almost every couple of months and really big competitions once a year.  It was completely my life.  Some days, before competitions, on the weekends, I would practice anywhere from 8 to 12 hours a day.

Dan: Were you the youngest there?

Margot: Not at all.  She actually had tons of students who were kind of my age and I was really fortunate to grow up with really passionate and incredible musicians-turned-friends who actually, most of them, now live in New York and we even play together to this day.

So it was a really positive environment to be constantly surrounded by other kids my age who love the violin just as much.

Dan: Wow.

Margot: Which also I think stems from the Suzuki method, which is what I was brought up on.  And Suzuki was a Japanese violin teacher, he kind of created this method that a lot of people use to this day.

Dan: And that involved playing violin on jet-skis? [Margot laughs]

Margot: For a long time I really thought that I was going to do classical music, and I was also really fortunate to have an incredible music instructor in high school, Mr Roger Newburn, and he kind of opened me up to jazz and bluegrass and folk music, and I realized that there were other ways that I could express myself with the violin.  I think that I thought it was like a one-headed road.

Dan: And so what did you do after high school?  Did you go to college?  Did you go to a music conservatory? 

Margot: I always thought I would go to conservatory, but when it came time I actually didn’t apply to one conservatory, which was really bizarre and my teacher wasn’t very happy with me.  I think I was a little burnt out, I think I was a little tired, and I think it needed to happen.  And so I eventually went to school in DC and, ironically, found myself not really going to class and practicing violin in the basement of the music school there.  So that was my first heads up that ‘Hmm, this might not be [Laughs] working out so well’.

Dan: And what was drawing you to the violin?  Like why stick with it, and why, even when at college, that’s what you were drawn to? 

Margot: I think when I was little, you know people always, when you’re growing up were like, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  And for me it was such a silly question because I always knew, even when I was four, that I was going to be a violinist.  Like there was no other option.  Everything else just seemed, I don’t know, I guess I already just knew what I wanted to be.

Dan: Really?

Margot: Yeah, and I loved the violin, I mean sure, there were days that my mom had to kind of pull teeth for me to practice, but overall, I have to say that I truly, truly loved playing.  And whether it was learning a concerto on my own, or playing with my fellow musicians, it felt right it felt like what I was supposed to be doing. So I guess that’s why, even amidst not pursuing it in a college atmosphere, that it didn’t feel right, but I knew that I wanted to do music.

So I ended up finishing one semester [Laughs] and I had met someone, who gave me an opportunity to move to Poland, to play violin in a soft rock band, I guess, and I had an opportunity to travel around a lot.

So I took a leave of absence from college, thinking I was going to go back, and I moved to Poland.  I was 19,  on my own [Laughter], with my violin and a suitcase. And I was really fortunate, I got to travel to India, Japan, and Argentina, Russia and Italy and all these places.

Ok pause. Dan here by the way.

So Margot takes a huge risk by leaving college after one semester to move to Poland, but as you’ll hear, this leads to an opportunity that takes Margot to where she really wants to go.

Ok back to the show:

Margot: When I was in India I met a producer who said, “Move to New York and I will help you with whatever you want to do with your record and whatnot” and as much as I loved living abroad and living in Poland, I did miss the States, I did miss home.  So I decided, “You know what? I’ve always” when I was even growing up I knew that I wanted to live in New York at one point, so it just felt like, “Yeah, let’s just try it.  Let’s see what happens”.

Dan: So in the summer of 2008, you moved to New York.

Margot: Not knowing anyone again, and slowly just started, just kind of researching the places to go and I would just spend all day walking around and I eventually stumbled upon places like Rockwood Music Hall or The Bitter End, and I would read Bob Dylan’s autobiography and another artist and whatnot and kind of try to [Laughs] retrace their steps and see where all those musicians were hanging out.

And slowly just started, I would walk up after people had performed and I was like, “Hey, if you ever need a violinist let me know.  I’d love to play.  I’ll do it for free.”  And eventually, I can’t even remember who the first person was that was like “Alright, I’ll give you a shot.” [Laughs]  But eventually I started playing with a lot of singer/songwriters and some rock bands and whatnot and that’s kind of how I stumbled upon the music scene here in New York.

Dan: And what did your parents think when you moved to New York?

Margot: [Laughs] That’s a hard question.  I think, they are both extremely supportive of me, and I think at the time I had my head on pretty straight, so they trusted me.

But I honestly think that it was hard for them to see me throw away all of my classical training, in a sense, ’cause even though I was still playing music, to them it felt a little bit like I was just throwing it all away, because I had spent so many years really slaving over the craft and slaving over the discipline of it all, that it seemed like, to them, I was just kind of playing in these dark, grungy bars for drunk people. [Laughter]  Instead of like at pristine concert halls in a flowy gown in front of an orchestra – which I understand, I can completely kind of see where they’re coming from, as a parent concerned about a child just fresh out of leaving home.  But, at the end of the day, you know I’m able to support myself and I think that as long as I’m supporting myself they can’t really tell me ‘yay or nay’, in a sense. [Laughs]

Dan: I’m on your side! Don’t worry! [Laughter]

So what was driving that, though, for you to kind of explore this new world for you, this other side of music?

Margot: I honestly think it was having been introduced to jazz music in high school, ’cause if you ask me or any of my friends, it was kind of hilarious, my knowledge of music.  I had kind of missed a gap of 100 years. [Dan laughs] I knew everything from about the late 1800’s, like prior to that, and then maybe post 1999. [Laughter]

Dan: Great year.

Margot: So I literally missed about 100 years in music. I had heard of the Beatles but I couldn’t tell you what one song was, I didn’t know what the Rolling Stones were, I didn’t know who all these people were.  I kind of was familiar with Spice Girls and T.L.C. and Lauryn Hill and Mary J. Blige [Laughs]. So, for me, moving to New York also was opening up to all these different types of music.

Dan: So how did things progress for you from there?

Margot: Things were difficult.  My first, probably 3, 4 years in New York were really rough, in terms of, you know New York is an expensive place to be and there were sometimes months of no work and just being like “Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?”  And I would try to get any kind of session work or get any sort of work as playing with people live and whatnot.

Ok pause. Dan here again. 

So even though Margot was finding difficulty supporting herself in New York, she was spending her time networking in the music scene, meeting people and making connections, and in a sec you’ll hear how her network came through, in a major way that she did not see coming. 

Ok back to the show:

Margot: So I had called my mom probably in 2009, and I was like, “I think I’m done.  I think I want to come home.  Maybe I’ll go back to school.  I can’t really seem to be making enough money and finding enough work and whatnot.” I was like, “Maybe this isn’t the right path for me.”

And literally the next day I got a call from one of my friends who was like, “We need a backup violinist for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  And I was like, “Done.”

So I called my mom the next day and I was like, “Just kidding.  Got a job!” [Laughter]

And it was a really great gig because being backup meant that I got to stay in New York and rehearse in New York and make a little money on the side.  And then the next year I took an audition and I actually got to go on the road with them.  So I went on the road with them for two years, on the West Coast Tour, and got to play arenas.  It was a 3-hour show, some days we did two shows a day, and I think we did, one year, 72 shows in 60 days.  So it was a pretty grueling tour, but it was an incredible experience to have arena experience.  And just to be able to tour that kind of capacity and that lifestyle, real tour buses and the only other tours I had done were crammed with fellow musicians in a little car and everyone takes their turn to drive kind of situation. [Laughter]  So in a sense that was my first real break.

Dan: And during that time, you and Mia formed The Dolls. 

Margot: We met about four years ago.  We both happened to be playing at the same venue down in the Lower East Side.

Dan: What was it called?

Margot: Ella.

Dan: Oh Ella!

Margot: It’s on First and First.

Dan: Friend of Prologue Profiles.  We’ve had events there. 

Margot: Oh really?  Yeah, it’s really cute, little, fun downstairs venue.

She was doing a DJ solo gig, and I was doing a solo performance, and our managers at the time happened to be good friends and they introduced us and we decided to see what would happen if we kind of joined forces and played together in a sense, like kind of combined our sets.

Dan: And how’d you guys know that you worked well together?

Margot: I mean we, at first, we had no idea what we were doing, [Laughs] for sure.  And I look back on footage that I’m still trying to remove from the internet. [Laughter]

Dan: Google never forgets.

Margot: [Laughs] It’s terrible.  It’s scary being an artist today.  Anyone can take out that phone and upload any sort of video of you.

But it all happened organically.  No one else had come in and said, “This is what you should do” or “This is how you should do it.”  And I don’t think we ever even sat down and said, “This is what we want to accomplish.”  I don’t think we thought more was gonna come of it.  We happened to get booked for a couple of gigs.

Dan: How’d that happen?

Margot: Mia’s manager, they put on a bunch of events, throughout the city and throughout the U.S. and whatnot, and a lot of them are coordinated with music festivals, too.  And our very first gig, actually, was the official after party of Lollapalooza, out in Chicago.

Dan: Cool.

Margot: And that was our very, very first gig and a lot of industry people happened to be at the music festivals and whatnot, and were like “Oh we should book the girls for our next show” and we both were very surprised [Laughs], I think.

But yeah, we started getting some gigs and we were able to make some money, and slowly but surely we both were able to make a living out of it, which was something that we definitely never saw coming.  It really started as something that was fun for us, and new and exciting, and I had never imagined playing with a DJ, I never really imagined playing dance music and I got to express myself in a way with the violin that I never thought possible.

Dan: So what was key in getting The Dolls to the point where you can make a living out of it?

Margot: I think we both are very free-spirited and spontaneous people at heart, that we were open to anything.  So, and I totally understand how important it is to kind of maybe set out a map, in a sense, but for our first couple of years, I don’t think we set out a map.  I think it was just free game.  So we literally took every gig that came our way and it didn’t matter if that meant hopping on two planes a day or sometimes we were doing five or six shows a night, just literally hopping [Laughs] everywhere we could and whatnot.

And I think it was because we were just so excited to play that we took every opportunity that came our way.  And you know we would approach anyone and everyone we could and say, “Hey, we would love to play here.”  And it took a lot of playing free shows.  It took years of so many free shows and then eventually people start remembering you and are like “Oh, we should book those girls” or “We should book that weird DJ/violin duo.”

Dan: And what’s been the highlight for you so far?

Margot: We’re fortunate, where our setup is pretty easy, she usually always has a computer, and I usually always have my violin because we are either coming from a gig or coming from somewhere.  And there’s been time where we’ve just jumped on and decided to play a set and I think it’s been the most unexpected moments that have been, for me, the best in a sense.  But you know we’ve also been spoiled and we got to open up for both Janet Jackson and Diana Ross at the Louvre in Paris

Dan: Whoa.

Margot: And we opened for Stevie Wonder one New Year’s Eve in Vegas, and we recently went on tour with Eve.  E-V-E.  And she’s just so incredible.

Dan: Pitbull [Margot laughs] in a skirt.

Margot: And we collaborated with her on two of her songs on her record, and we’re planning to go on another tour with her, and maybe even doing a record together, so.

Dan: Really?!

Margot: Yeah.

Dan: What?

Margot: I know it’s…she’s literally the nicest person ever. [Laughs]

Dan: How’d that happen?

Margot: We play at a lot of fashion events, especially like during New York Fashion Week.  We didn’t do any this year.  We did one show and it was our first ticketed show at Glasslands in Brooklyn, because we had been doing all these incredible shows, but they were all shows that already kind of had an audience.  Like there were already going to be people there for an event or whatnot, so we decided we needed to start building our own audience, in a sense.

But, going back to when we did play shows at New York Fashion Week, it was for the after party of Prabal’s show and it was at, I think it was at Bao, or whatever it is now.  I think that’s one of the ever-changing [Laughs] venues down in kind of the Bowery in Chinatown.

And we happened to do a set and [Eve] was there, and she was like, “I love you girls. I’d love to collaborate. Let’s work together. Let’s maybe tour together.”  And Mia and I are looking at each other like, “Is she being serious?” because also, people say things and it’s one thing to say and it’s another to actually follow up on it, and there’s been so many times where we’ve had conversations with people who have been like, “Yeah, let’s do this”, but then it never happens.  So, for us, I think it was just a, “Well it was really cool we got to talk to Eve.” [Laughs]

And then we ran into her again while we were at Lollapolooza, and she’s like, “Hey I’m going on tour in like three weeks, you girls wanna come?”  And of course, I fanned-out, and was like, “What?! Yeah!”  I was like, “No, I’ve got to calm down, Margot, calm down.” And I really, really nerd out sometimes, really hardcore, [Laughs] I’ve got to contain it.  But yeah, that’s kind of how it happened, and she was serious and so we went on tour with her!

Dan: So what would you say you love about what you do?

Margot: I mean I think I love too much, what I do.  I feel really fortunate just to be able to play my violin every day and to sing and write, and I haven’t had to get that other job.  And there are days where it gets daunting, ’cause sometimes you don’t know when that next paycheck is gonna come, but I feel really blessed to be surrounded by extremely passionate and inspired, especially women, and just creatives, in general.  I just have so many strong forces in my life that no matter where you are, they’re always inspiring me to want to be better or to be greater.  And it took a while, I didn’t have that at first when I moved here, and I think it’s only been like the past couple of years that I’ve had that really incredible relationships and bonds that way.

Dan: And what else do you love about what you do?

Margot: I get to travel the world.  I always wanted to travel the world, and I always wanted to do music, I don’t think I necessarily thought they would go hand-in-hand with one another.  I think I thought maybe I would teach violin somewhere, which is something that I still love doing and would completely be open to if I ever wasn’t doing so much.  But, yeah, I definitely didn’t ever foresee the two going together for me. Especially as a violinist, like there aren’t that many opportunities, well, I shouldn’t say there aren’t because actually for strings, it has been incredible to see the growth in the past couple of years, especially like with bands like Arcade Fire or whatnot.  There’s been so many prominent string players, and I love, love, love seeing a string player on stage, whether it’s for a classical show or someone’s solo show or with a rock band, or with a pop singer, or whatever it might be.  But, at the end of the day, you know that’s only x-amount of jobs and positions for string players.

So I feel fortunate that Mia and I kind of created this niche for ourselves and we’ve gotten to travel to all over Europe, Asia, and the U.S. and I just get to write music and perform every day, and that’s pretty damn cool.

Dan: What would you say you dislike about what you do?

Margot: I don’t like waiting in lines at security. [Laughter]  That’s never fun.  I love touring on the road, either in a car or a bus, that lifestyle, to me, is so much easier than hopping on a plane every day.  That can get really draining and I get sick a lot.  I’ll sometimes get sick every two weeks or so, it’s like a vicious cycle, so that can be not fun.  Some people say that they miss home, and I do, there are times when I miss New York and I have been touring for eight or nine years now, but it still feels new.  I think that you get to wake up every day and sometimes go somewhere new and it doesn’t really get boring or tiring.

Dan: Where would you say you are in your career right now?

Margot: It’s weird cause I don’t even feel like I’ve started because I’m finally about to release my own record that I’ve been working on for like five or six years, and obviously, the things that I’ve been doing with Mia and The Dolls and all the other projects that I’ve been working on have been incredible, but this is definitely the closest to me, so I think that’s why it feels like I’m just beginning to sort of release myself out into the universe.

Dan: And where do you want to take things in the future?

Margot: I think if I didn’t love performing so much, I would want to only write scores for film and for orchestras.  That’s definitely like a passion of mine, which I’m trying to tap into now and I hope to do more of in the future.

Dan: You’re scoring some things?  

Margot: Yes, just kind of friend’s films and whatnot, but, yeah, I definitely see myself touring really heavily for the next ten years or so.  And I’m gonna start touring Margot Music, and I think Mia and I are always going to be evolving and touring, and I hope to also one day perform the pieces that I’ve been writing for violin and orchestra.

Dan: What would you say is the biggest challenge looking forward, for you? 

Margot: The biggest challenge, you know, for me a lot of it has been knowing when to say “No”, like knowing when to say “No” to certain shows and certain tours.  And you know I took all of January off, which was something I hadn’t done in a long time.  I had literally been touring extensively since ’07, and I’ve hardly had time off from tour, like there was always just something that was going on.  And so it was the first time that I was able to sit down and really put myself in a creative mindset, instead of the performing mindset as well, because it is, it’s two different mindsets and it’s two different worlds, and it’s so easy to get excited because someone has given you an opportunity, but I knew that in order to actually [Laughs] finish something for once, I had to really kind of sit myself down and just do it.

Dan: What would you say inspires you?

Margot: I recently started going to the orchestra again, and I went and saw the LA Phil, and I also saw the New York Phil, and when I was down in Gainesville I got to see Itzak Perlman perform who I think is probably one of the greatest violinists of all time.

And it’s not just through music, but it’s through the travels that I get to do.  Every culture, every country has such specific musicalities to it and specific energies to it and different kinds of brightnesses, in a sense.  Whether it’s hearing the call for prayer in Istanbul or like hearing a little French jazz band in Paris, or hearing a brass band on the streets of New Orleans, or going to see the New York Phil in New York, it’s definitely been a whirlwind of inspiration.

Dan: What fears do you have?

Margot: I definitely have a fear of, it’s going to be good enough, or just, what’s going to happen, like you know, I took a huge risk in saying “no” to a lot of shows this year.  Whereas last year we were probably playing shows every three to five times a week, and they were all money gigs.  Like last year we were really fortunate and this year, I said no to everything so that I could actually create music instead of perform music.  And not that performing isn’t part of music and it’s part of my path, but it wasn’t what I deep down wanted to be doing, I deep down wanted to do my record and I wanted to do all my orchestral stuff, but I was too scared to stop doing shows and having the financial security of that.  And instead focus on my art and the things that I know that I was put here to do.

Someone once told me that you are meant, and not saying me, I just mean artist in general.  Like, you are meant to share your work with the world, and it is your gift and it is your duty to share your gift with people.  And for me it was, “Okay, you’re right, it is my duty to share my gift and music with people.”

[Clip of  ‘Glass’ off of Margot’s upcoming solo record]

Dan: So, Margot, what advice would you give to someone who sees what you’re doing, and is wondering if it’s possible for them? 

Margot: You know I think, most importantly, don’t force anything.  I think we sometimes get caught up in our own goals too much that we forget about how to get there, in a sense.  And sometimes when you are so focused on something, you don’t see all the other open doors that are all to the side of that main goal that you have in your head.

And don’t be scared of “No.”  Don’t get discouraged when someone tells you “No” because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told “No” to.

But also, you don’t want to work with someone who doesn’t want to work with you.  Just like you don’t want to be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t want to be in a relationship with you, you don’t want to work with someone who doesn’t want to work with you [Laughs].  Trust me, because I’ve tried that.  I’ve been in positions where I was like “Well, they’re the best name in this business” like “They’re the best manager or the best this or the best that. I have to work with them.”  And then nothing happens, because they are not interested in you.

And so it could be the smallest name to the smallest person and, you know as long as someone is willing to work hard and hustle, you’d be surprised at what you can do together with someone.  And you just have to keep pushing no matter what and you have to give it your all, always, because there’s times when I forget how like how six years ago me would have died to have the gig that today, me has sometimes.  And I’ve been in rooms or situations or at shows when I’m like, “Aw, man, I’m really not in the mood to do this.”  But if I had been given that opportunity six years ago, I would have died to have that opportunity, you know?.  And I think that that’s important too.

Dan: Just give it your all.

Margot: Yeah, just always give it your all.  You never know who’s gonna be in the room.  Really, you never know who’s going to be there.  You never know what it’s going to lead to.  There’s been gigs that seem like the most miserable thing and then we ended up playing Chelsea Clinton’s wedding because of it, you know?  So just be open to anything.  I think because we, at first, just we didn’t say no to anything.  You never know what it’s going to lead to.

[Outro Music]

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Margot’s episode page

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063 : Randy Class : Singer & Songwriter

singer, songwriter, career, creative, geny, millennial, music

Randy is a full-time student, he’s also a musician.

This Wednesday Randy drops his first EP as a solo artist, called Metanoia, produced by his good friend and classmate Jerry Almonte and available for streaming and download on SoundCloud.

You’ll hear Randy discuss his path to making music his main focus, the importance of selective forgetfulness and that to go for what you want you gotta go all in.

“You know that feeling of uncertainty? When I feel that, that means I’m doing the right thing.” – Randy Class

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062 : Dr. Shailvi Gupta : Surgeon-in-Training

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You’ll hear Shailvi discuss her unexpected path of becoming a surgeon, the motivational force of being valuable to others, and that to do what you love, you have to do what you love.

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2014 – Update

Where I'm At 5.2

Hey there,

What is up?

As you may have noticed I didn’t send out a new episode last night. I hope you were still able to get some sleep. Actually I’m sorry I didn’t send an update last night and left you in the dark.

Ok here’s what’s up:

As you may know, I handcraft each episode for your listening enjoyment (episodes take several days to edit/produce), and after releasing an episode a week for 11 weeks, I pretty much have only had time to work on the show.

Meanwhile some new potential pathways of how to grow my career as an inspirationist have become clear to me recently and I’m excited to put the time in to make them happen.

And for me to take things to the next level (involving creating a way to add more value to you and those looking for what I do and creating a win-win way to get paid) I have to free up my time.

So I’m going to be switching to a bi-weekly schedule. 

The next episode of Prologue Profiles will be this Sunday at 8pm. It’s going to be a very interesting and powerful addition to the series. The episode after that will be Sunday June 25th (also sounding very cool so far).

More to come! Have a great week!

Dan

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Becca Feld : Quarterlife Career Changer : 060 : Transcript

inspiring, career, interview, tech, ux

Please enjoy the transcript of Episode 060 with Becca Feld:

During and after college Becca had no idea what she wanted to do for her career.

After working four years at a non-profit she still didn’t know what she wanted to do.

That all changed when in May 2013, Becca discovered the tech concept, User Experience Design (UX) and fell in love.

Literally four months later, Becca landed a full-time job in UX as she now works as a Digital Optimization Analyst at the Soho-based agency, Maxymiser.

You’ll hear Becca discuss her journey from career frustration to no hesitationthe power of networking, and that maybe the most important meetings you can have are the ones with yourself.

“Back then I saw that this is where I wanted to be – and it’s where I went – and now I’m there.” – Becca Feld

Becca: Hi, this is Becca Feld, I’m a quarterlife career changer, and you’re listening to Prologue Profiles.

[Intro Music]

Becca: Well, we could go back pretty far but…

I guess what’s pretty important to say, as part of my story, is that I did not know what I wanted to do when I grew up.

Or really when I even went to college, I didn’t know what I wanted to study.

I knew what I didn’t want to do, for sure.

I always know what I don’t like, but then it’s always a matter of deciding what I do like enough to chose that one.

So ultimately I decided to go the University of Michigan.  I got into the engineering school, because I know that I like math and science, I know I don’t like history and English and that kind of stuff.

So I did my freshman year in engineering.  It was tough, but it was great.  And then ultimately I decided before my sophomore year that I did want to switch to the main school, and I found this program called Brain Behavior & Cognitive Science, which now I think they’ve renamed it to Bio Psychology Cognition Neuroscience.

Dan: Much better. [Becca laughs]

Becca: And then I had enough math credits that I kept a minor in math.  So I still had that math/science schedule and it was great.  I felt great in my classes.  I was loving the material.  Everything was good and then, at the same time, I just didn’t know what I wanted to do with that.  I didn’t want to go pre-med, which a lot of people in that program were doing, I didn’t want to do research, I didn’t want to go into even like marketing.  A lot of people go to advertising from that route.  Or I was being told you know that’s what the career counselor were saying you could do this or that…I was like, “that doesn’t do it for me.”

Dan: So what year did you graduate?

Becca: I graduated in 2009.

Dan: So going into Michigan, did you have a game plan?

Becca: Not at all.

Dan: And did that change, leading up to graduation; did you have a game plan?

Becca: Nope.

No, I had random,  mm not random, but summer internships that weren’t really of purpose.  I worked at the office that our mom works at, two summers in a row, and before that I think I did you know, day camp counselor…but no.

Dan: So was that playing a role in your day, were you aware of that or what was that like?…

Becca: I was, yeah.  I just felt that when I would know I would know, and in the meantime I would just figure something out to keep going.

I’m not gonna just do nothing, just because I can’t think of what I want to do.  So I still was doing things, it just wasn’t really ever the right…it didn’t feel like the right thing yet.

Dan: What do you mean by that?

Becca: It wasn’t what I would pick on purpose.  It was more things I was doing because I want to keep moving and be doing things, but not necessarily things that I decided “this is what I want to do.”

So after I graduated, I was lucky enough to be able to go to Tel Aviv for the summer.

Dan: In Israel.

Becca: In Israel.  So I did a program that set you up with an apartment and you were a volunteer in different industries, I mean people in my program were doing things across all industries and I decided I wanted to do something with kids, something that helps them.

So I got a volunteer job at the local hospital there.  And I spent the summer working with kids in the oncology wing.  I would go there for the day and spend time with them, we’d have activities and I didn’t really even speak Hebrew and a lot of them didn’t speak much English or Hebrew, some of them were Arab, so it was a really interesting experience.  But again, it wasn’t, “Oh this is it, I want to be a nurse” or “I want to be director of a hospital”…it still didn’t click, yet.

It was a great experience that I’m glad that I was able to have, but it was not really a turning point yet.

Dan: So that was for the summer?

Becca: Yeah and then I came back in the fall of ’09, when no one was hiring at all, still, and people were still being laid off.

And what happened was, I was told that there was this organization that needed an extra hand on deck.  That I could go in a couple of times a week, they would pay me minimal, it wasn’t really for the money, it was more just to get some office experience, and it was also in support of the Israeli soldiers.  So for me it was like pretending I could still be in Tel Aviv while being back in New York.

So I definitely jumped on that and figured, “Yeah, let’s do that.” Like I said I want to just keep busy.  I didn’t want to just sit at home and be like, “Oh I have no job and I don’t know what to do, so I’m not going to do anything.”  I was like, “Yeah, I’ll just do this and see where it goes.”

Dan: And after the two weeks they offered you a full-time job, and then you were quickly getting promoted…

Becca: Yeah – I was being encouraged at work and it was well received what I was doing, and I was enjoying it, I guess, for the most part.

Just in the back of mind it was always saying, “I didn’t seek this out.  It kind of sucked me in.”  And it got harder to like keep that quiet.

No matter how well I was doing and for a charity I was getting paid pretty well and I had accrued a whole host of contacts that other companies were now taking my phone call because I was their contact at this company and led committees of lay leaders and really important people.  I mean I had a lot of value in this company and I couldn’t ignore that, but I also knew it wasn’t the be all/end all for me.

Dan: What do you mean?

Becca: I knew that as good as it was there, and as well as I was doing, there was more out there for me and a still a better match of my talents or of what I wanted to offer that maybe I wasn’t even exercising in that role.

Dan: So what time was this around?

Becca: This was around 2011.

It was about halfway through my whole career there, about two years in.  You know you hit that mark, two years, like “All right, I’ve been here two years, that’s legitimate and that’s on my résumé and I have things to speak of that I’ve done here, but now what?”

I was just doing well there and I kept getting promoted and it was like another two years were already creeping up on me after that.

And then it’s been four years and I was like, “All right, let’s take a step back here and really figure out what’s going on” because once you’re hitting four years, you’re creeping on five, you know, then it’s like, “Well is it going to be ten years?”

Dan: So when did you start making things happen for yourself?

Becca: 2013 is when I started making moves.

You know I was already complaining, I guess, for like a year to myself, but I was getting paid a lot for someone who’s 23 and people respected me and I respected them.  I just stuck it out for that whole year of 2012, and by 2013, I guess it hit a point where I just said, “That’s it, I’m not going to just do this anymore. Just because there’s no reason not to do it, isn’t a reason to do it.”

So, then I had to really have moments with myself.

Dan: What does that mean?

Becca: I had meetings with myself. [Laughter]

Dan: Where were they held?

Becca: Probably just in my apartment.

Any free moment that I could, I was thinking about “What is it that I really want to do?”  Or “Where is it that I really want to be?” because I just knew it wasn’t in the non-profit world and it wasn’t fundraising, so I had to look outside of that.

So I was forcing myself to do it, and at first it sucked.

Like I said, I usually know what I don’t like and that can be really daunting because you’re just finding more and more things that you don’t like.  When that list gets so long and…

Dan: Like what was happening…

Becca: I was just crossing everything off the list.

Dan: Like what?

Becca: [Laughs] Every career I could think of.

Real estate, accounting, retail, public health, I thought about being a physician’s assistant, I mean everything.  And nothing my friends were doing was really doing it for me.  I just wasn’t seeing anything, at all, remotely interesting to me.

And I was like, “How can that be?” Like, “There’s no way that everyone feels that way.  People must like what they’re doing.  Why can’t I like what I’m doing?”

Becca: So yeah, I was just on my computer all the time, looking up things and reading different articles.  I don’t even know where I would come across things, on LinkedIn or, wherever I could I was just looking at things and kind of getting lost in my own search.

And I remember at a certain point I started to see the abbreviation UX/UI.

I would see it here.  I would see it there.  I’m like, “What does that mean?” [Dan laughs]

I was looking at job postings maybe, and some jobs were listed as like “UX/UI” and I’d never heard of that, I didn’t know anyone doing that, “I was like, “What is that?”

And the more I was digging deeper the more I was like, “Wow, it sounds really cool.”  I mean I think I looked it up on Wikipedia at first, like really basic searching.

And I just remember feeling like I was reading the definitions of what these things are or reading even just what the job descriptions were, for these positions, and it was like, I felt like lighter.  I was like actually interested in reading more. [Dan laughs]

Dan: Your eyes kept going down.

Becca: Yeah, whereas typically was like, I was actually like, I hit a point where I was nervous to read more.  I didn’t want to read too much, because I was afraid that if I had read too much then I was going to find something that I didn’t like about it. [Dan laughs]  Like that’s [Laughs] ridiculous but that’s how it was, though!

Dan: Like you had your hand over your eyes. [Becca laughs]

Becca: Because there were so many things I had read and programs I had looked into and grad school things and I was like, “Yeah it sounds okay, but no I don’t really want to do that.” Over and over and over and then I finally found something like, “This sounds cool.”

This actually sounds cool and I actually…it touches on so many…I’m like, “Oh it touches on that, too?”

It was a mix of everything I liked.

I mean I studied neuroscience and cognitive psychology and math. I mean those themselves are not that similar, but like this user experience world really puts it all together, because you have to really be in the mindset of the user, you have to understand their wants and their needs, what would turn them off, what would turn them on, and then you have to build that platform or change that platform accordingly, and then be able to understand if it’s working or not, you know and that’s where the data comes in and the numbers.

So it’s like…I just almost couldn’t believe it.  I was like, “Where has this been?!” [Dan laughs] “Why has nobody told me about this?”

Becca: I started going to more things, you know, outside of my apartment [Laughs] and talking to people who were in the world.  And I was asking them that exact question.

Dan: How were you meeting these people?

Becca: There’s this place in New York, it’s actually in other cities as well, but it’s a school called General Assembly.  It’s an awesome place and they host courses and workshops and classes on all different topics.  One of which is user experience design.

So I signed up for a one night/two hour evening session.  The topic was literally, ‘What is this UX thing all about?’

Dan: Hm.

Becca: And it was led by a really nice young woman who had been doing information architecture for the majority of her career and was now a consultant on her own and working at huge companies like Nike that were signing her on to help reorganize their internal structures of like…I don’t even know, I mean she just was so impressive, I was like, “I have to go to this.” like there was not even a doubt for a second.

So I went and then ultimately I was that person who was like, “This was awesome.  Can I take you to coffee and pick your brain?” [Laughs]

Which is really…it’s hard not to try to do that, but also you feel like a burden to these people, but she was great and she met me.

And then I just was jumping into it more and more, I was going to Meetup.com, which is also a cool company that hosts events and stuff for people to learn about whatever, and they had a ton of UX meetups.  So I would go to those when I could.

And [Laughs] I even got to a point where I was recognizing people at different meetups and they were recognizing me.  They were like, “Didn’t I see you on Tuesday night?” And I was like, “Oh, yeah, yeah that was me.”

Dan: And you were still working at your previous job…

Becca: Yeah so at that point I was still the Director of Long Island Chapter [Laughs] and, yeah, I was doing this all on the side, weekends and weeknights, when I could.

So at a certain point I decided, “I’ve never liked something as much as I’m liking this and I’m gonna totally go with it.”  Like I was waiting to feel that way about something and I was starting to feel it and I was like, “This is my cue.”

So this place, General Assembly, has these long-term courses and I decided to sign up for one.  It was in the evenings, it was like three hours, twice a week and then stuff on the weekend.

And I said, “I’m gonna make it work.  I’m gonna make sure I don’t have donor meetings those nights and that I don’t have committee meetings those nights” and whatever. And I’m going to use this as testing the waters.

So I took this class and then it was a no-brainer.  I didn’t need to test the water, I just knew this is…I was surrounded by people of different backgrounds, I mean primarily creative people who were working in maybe graphic design or visual arts or things like that but, some people in business, some in marketing, some in education, but yeah we all kind of clicked in that same way of understanding the user, wanting to improve the digital interface and make awesome experiences for people.

Dan: So what led to you…so you were in this class…

Becca: So I was in the class and it was like weeknights and the weekend.  We had homework, we had assignments, we had a big project that we were gonna lead up to, and at a certain point I was like, “I don’t want this to be my like ‘on the side’ anymore.  I want to give this my full attention.”

I mean I was going to work every day, for ten hours or whatever, and then coming home and then getting to just think about this class and what it means and what I want to do with it and I wasn’t taking full advantage of it because I just couldn’t.  It just was too much with everything else and so I again had a meeting with myself. [Laughter]

Dan: “Everybody gather ’round.” 

Becca: I sat down and I just said like, “I want this to be…I want UX to be number one.  And I want to make it what I’m doing full-time.”

So I need to give..if I want to be taken seriously I need to take it seriously.

So I decided I was going to leave my job.  Which I had always threatened, you know, “I want to quit.  I’m sick of this.  I don’t even like it”, whatever, but I never actually was gonna quit, until now.  I was like, “I’m doing it.  I’m going to quit my job.”

Dan: And this was when?

Becca: I signed up for the class in May, so that’s when I was already like “This could happen.”

I started the class in June and I was like, “This is happening.”

And then I quit by…I gave my notice mid-July.

Becca: Once I did it I felt like a new woman. [Laughs]

I mean it was scary still, because I still didn’t have a job or even the glimpse of a job or anything.  I was still a person just taking a class in the evening.

So once I was finally done with my day job [Laughter] I made the self-education of UX and getting into the tech world my new day job.

And what that meant was waking up in the morning, like a normal person, and getting on my email, getting on Meetup.com, getting on a whole different slew of like webinars about tech things.

And I had a whole list of people I was talking to and every time I talked to someone, I’d get a name of someone else to talk to next and then I had this notepad of 35 to 40 names of people, who I had never, six months ago even knew they were on the Earth.  And I had met with these people or emailed these people or called these people, and I was just cultivating this territory for myself.

So I was talking to everyone about what I want to do, I mean you never know who’s gonna know somebody.  And being in fundraising taught me that, too.  I mean I learned a lot in that four years of networking and fundraising is a lot of talking to people.

Dan: So how did you find out about Maxymiser?

Becca: So I was doing that personally and my friends definitely knew I was exploring this new career and some of my friends knew somebody who they thought, they weren’t sure exactly what he does, but it sounded close enough, and they were like, “You should talk to him.”

So I was like, “Sure!  I’ll talk to anybody who’ll talk to me.”

Dan: What was his name?

Becca: Michael.

So we were introduced and we met for coffee on a Saturday.  And it was more just like I wanted to tell him where I was at, how I had just quit my job,  I’m in this course and this is like like so new…I was like this excited puppy.  I mean I saw myself as being this excited puppy like, “And now I’ve found UX!  And I love it!  And this is what I want to do, and this is why I like it, and this is why…this is so cool!”

And he’s like, “Okay.” [Laughter]

He’s like, “Yeah, it sounds like you’re right in the money.  That is what it is and this is what I do.”  He told me what he was up to.

I don’t know, like after maybe our second or third time we met he said that his company was looking to expand and they’re looking to hire analyst positions, more kind of entry level positions, and that he would suggest I try to apply.

And like, that was crazy.

Dan: Really?

Becca: I mean this was like…I was still in the class and so I didn’t think I was ready.

Like, “What kind of company’s gonna hire me? I mean I have nothing to show for my experience.  I’m only now just learning about this whole thing.  Like who am I to be an asset at a company that’s doing this stuff full-time?”

And I was like, “That’s stupid.” [Laughter]  “Why not try?”

You know I think also I was going to all these meetups where, I remember there was one I went to that was like a panel that was discussing new designs.  They were talking about flat design and all these new trends that were, like skeuomorphism, which like, I never knew what that was before.

Dan: Yeah you’ve lost me.

Becca: So at this panel, they wanted the crowd to participate in the talk as well, and I found myself raising my hand and being part of the discussion.

And there were a lot of people there.  It was probably like 50 or 70 people there.

And I couldn’t believe that I was actually participating and giving my point of view on whatever design topic we were talking about.

Dan: Like you had an opinion.

Becca: Yeah.

And then it got to a point where I knew enough about the terms and the lingo and all those buzz words that happen, that, yeah, maybe I wasn’t in UX as a designer or anything yet but I was in UX.

Like I got it.  I understood it.  I knew it.  And I liked it.

So that kind of helped convince myself that I should apply for a job.  It’s not too soon.  And especially if someone else says that I stood a chance.  So I decided I would apply.

Becca: The interview process was really intense.  Ultimately I had to do a mock-client presentation to the VP of client services.  The whole process took almost two and a half months.

I didn’t know what I was going to do if I didn’t get this job.  I didn’t know if I would apply for other jobs yet even.  I almost thought that maybe this one was just a fluke and that I still needed to grow more, get a portfolio, or do things to prove myself.

And then I heard from the VP of client services and he basically said that if I was still available that they wanted to make me an offer. [Laughs] And I was like, “Yeah, definitely.  I’m available.” [Laughter]

Dan: Can you believe it?  Like how did you feel about it? Like that you’re doing this now?

Becca: It feels really satisfying that I made this happen and that I am in the spot where like I saw ahead of me.

You know back then, I saw that this is where I wanted to be, and it’s where I went, and now I’m there.

[Outro Music]

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Paul Jarvis : Web Designer & Author : 059 : Transcript

inspiring, career, interview, entrepreneur


Please enjoy the transcript of Episode 059 with Paul Jarvis:

After college Paul (@pjrvsworked up the ranks at a web design agency and hit a wall – he wanted out. 

Based in Vancouver Island Canada, Paul now works on his own terms with his own web design business and on top of that makes the time to write and self publish books based on what he loves which happen to sell thousands of copies.

At the time of our interview a few months ago Paul had released his 3rd bookEverything I Know about the entrepreneurial life. This June he’ll be releasing his latest bookThe Good Creative where he shares “the 18 habits of the world’s most respected artists.”

eik-cover.jpg-e1398375712632               tgc-cover

On this Skype interview you’ll hear Paul discuss his path to creating a business he loves – which involved creating one he hated – the power of saying no, and that what lies outside your comfort zone is what you want:

“I just want to be valuable.” – Paul Jarvis

Paul: Hi, this is Paul Jarvis, I’m a web designer & author, and you’re listening to Prologue Profiles.

[Intro Music]

Paul: I had steel cut oats with a bit of soy milk.  There’s a bit of a back-story on that.  My wife is in school for phytotherapy, which is plants and herbs as medicine, and she learned the previous day about the healing qualities of oats.

And we have two pet rats, one of them is hairless and is currently sick, and some of the healing properties are good for her respiratory infection.

So my wife made oats before going to school today and I had some of the oats, which were, initially destined for the rats but the rats don’t eat much because they’re quite small.

Dan: You say you have pet rats like it’s the most natural thing. [Paul laughs]  Do they have names?

Paul: Yeah, the hairless one who has a respiratory infection right now, is called Ohná, which means skin in Mohawk and her sister is fur-enabled, and her name is awe:ri, which means heart, because she has a black patch on her back in the shape of a heart.

Paul Jarvis rat awe:ri
(awe:ri, fur-enabled, via @pjrvs)

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 5.34.06 PM

Dan: You put a lot of thought into that.

Paul: Yes. [Laughs]

Dan: So Paul you are a web developer.  Who do you make websites for?

Paul: I pretty much specialize in the niche of female authors with online empires [Laughs] which sounds kind of funny.  But the people that I work with are typically, I mean I do work with some guys, but it’s mostly women, who write books but also really focus on online communities and building products and services for their audience, directly for them, as well as writing books and that sort of stuff.

Dan: What are some names?

Paul: I’ve worked with Danielle LaPorte, Kris Carr, Marie Forleo, Alexandra Franzen, Justine Musk, Diann Valentine.

Dan: And you also write books.  Talk to me about your latest book, “Everything I Know”.

Paul: It’s kind of two tracks and the first track is the story of how I went from working for somebody else to working for myself, and trials and tribulations of that and figuring out what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, where I find meaning and value, and how I overcome my fear of everything.

And then the second track is really just taking those personal stories and making them a bit more universal for kind of ‘this is what I learned when I did this and failed that’.  Or [Laughs] ‘this is what I learned when I did this and succeeded at it’ kind of thing.

Dan: So that sounds like great practice for this interview.

Paul: Yeah. [Laughs]

Dan: You’re primed. 

So you’re building websites, you’re writing books, let’s talk about you are able to make this happen for yourself.  What was the path you took to get to this point?  Where does it all start for you?

Paul: It started when I started working for somebody else, because I was at an agency in Toronto doing web design and I was a creative director, managing creatives and realizing that, yes I was learning about business…

…and I had never done anything in school that related tangentially to business, I was focused on math and science and a bit of creative stuff…

…so when I started working for somebody, I started to learn about business, but then I realized I hated it.

But then I thought, as all entrepreneurs do, entrepreneurialism, a lot of it is about ego, and not in a bad way but in a way that…entrepreneurs think they can do something better and then they have the guts to try to do something better.

Dan: [Aside to listener] Okay pause.  Dan here, by the way. I just want to call out what Paul just said right there because it’s pretty key.  It’s not just about having a better way to do something, but acting on it, making it happen, actually going for it.

And in a sec, you’ll hear that Paul takes action by quitting his job and doors open that he didn’t even see coming!  

Okay, back to the show.

Paul: So I decided to leave that job and I was going to first figure out how to write a résumé because I got hired out of school, and so I went to the library.

Dan: So what was your plan when you quit your job?

Paul: My plan was to go work for somebody else.

And then that plan quickly changed when I got back from the library and I got a book on how to write résumés, my phone kept ringing with people, clients of that agency calling me saying, “Hey, we know that you’re the one who did all the work.  We just want to take our business to the agency that you go to next.”

So after, I think, the third or fourth call I was like, “Bing! Lightbulb’.

Dan: And so when you decided to start your own website business were you on the fence about anything or was it a no-brainer for you?

Paul: It was both.  It was a no-brainer that I wanted to do things where I thought I could do things better than my boss or my previous employer and also that, “Holy fuck I do not know how to run a business, and I’m going to start a business.”

I know how to do my job, but I don’t know how to do all the corollary things that surround my job, like accounting and contracts and all of that stuff.  I had no idea!

Dan: So what was it like starting out and not really knowing what you were doing?

Paul: Painful and expensive [Laughs], if I’m being honest.

I mean there were some months where I don’t think I even made any money because I was trying to get paid by clients and they weren’t paying or some clients that I was working for, for some reason they would have like net 120 days on invoices and stuff and I didn’t know that until I submitted the invoices to them and that sort of thing.

Dan: So how’d you deal with that?

Paul: I tried not to make the same mistake twice.

So I tried to, okay, say I got screwed out of this, I didn’t get paid for this.  Why didn’t I get paid for this?  What can I do next time to make sure that I do get paid for the work that I do?

I really tried to not just be like, “This sucks.  I hate you.  And I hate my work.”  And tried to be more like, “Okay, I tried that,  it failed.  Why did I fail and how can I not fail at that specific thing a second time?”

Dan: [Aside to listener] Pause. Dan here again, real quick, what’s a mistake that you’ve made that you keep bringing up with yourself? 

Drop it, let it go, move on, let’s go.

Back to the show. 

Dan: So while building your web design business, when was a moment when you hit a wall and you weren’t sure how to move forward?

Paul: When I first started out and the clients were coming to me from that agency, they were all pro sports, like I was working mostly with athletes and athletic organizations and that sort of thing.

And I mean on the surface it seems like, “Oh my God, that’s the coolest job ever.”

But I hate sports.

And I was like flying around then going to games and stuff and I just didn’t care.

And I got to point where it was like, “I don’t like the business I’ve created myself’ and the only person to blame is me.”

It’s like, “What the hell am I doing?”  I left this job that I had that was paying well and that was fine, I guess, but I didn’t really like it, to start a company where I was doing work that I didn’t really like, so it was like kind of, “What’s the point?”

And I was just like, I don’t know, I kind of felt like closing shop and having a think.  And then I just realized that instead of doing that, I could just start saying “no”.  And I could say “no” as much as I wanted to.

So I just started saying “no” to a lot of those projects and I started really focusing on the one or two projects that weren’t pro sports that were something more interesting and something where I actually felt like I gave a shit if the client succeeded or failed.

Dan: So even though you’ve attracted all these high profile clients, you’ve chosen not to build a team and have remained a one man show.  Talk to me about the intention around that.

Paul: There’s a type of person that’s really good at managing creatives and setting deadlines, dealing with clients,  all that sort of thing.

And then there’s the type of creative that just likes to get in there and do it. And I was a manager as a creative director, but I was still that guy who wanted to just get in there and do it.

So a lot of the time I was just doing the work and not giving it to my team but also trying to manage…it was just a bad scene.  And I realized that I’m not that guy.

So when I started my business I knew that I didn’t want to grow it, because if I grew it I would end up being the creative director of my own company which would not serve me at all.

So I’ve always kept my business one person because what I like to do is the work. And I’m not a team player,  like I’m a good collaborator with my clients, but I’m not a team player.  I don’t hire contractors or anything like that, because if I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it myself, and that’s just the way it is.  That’s my personality type kind of thing.

Dan: And in 2012, you published your first book, “Eat Awesome”.  How’d that come about?

Paul: People were always coming to me like, “Hey, Paul, can I get some recipes?”  Or “What is the nutritional information for being plant based?”  Or “How do you get your protein?”

I was answering the same questions so many times, that I just figured, I guess my engineering mind kicked in and I was like, “How can I process-ize this to be able to share that information right at once and share it multiple times?”

So I was like, “I’m going to put it into a book.” And  I was like, “Maybe it will sell a couple of copies” but it’s sold probably 4,500 copies now, which is just ridiculous.

Dan: [Aside to listener] Ok pause, Dan here again. 4,500 copies of your first book sold is pretty amazing. 

I asked Paul what was key in reaching that number and I love what he says: It’s in seeing people as actual people, rather than as just another customer. 

Okay, here’s Paul.

Paul: I was kind of more focused on connecting than selling.

So all I was doing was taking pictures of all of the recipes in the book and all of the recipes that I was making and posting them on Instagram and people were like, “Oh, I like that.”  And then they could click to my bio and see that I had a book.

Dan: [Aside to self (to listener)] Note to self.  Use Instagram.

Paul: Or I would just share the recipe with them on Instagram, like I didn’t really care if they buy the book or not.

And I think that kind of attitude where I’m more concerned about connecting with people as people, instead of potential like purchasers of something.

It’s just people see through intentions pretty easily, so I think really just approaching it like, “I just want to be valuable” and that, in itself, is being helpful to other people, right?

So people would rather buy something, I think, from somebody that’s like, “Hey, that’s that guy that helped me that one time.  He gave me a recipe when I was stuck or helped me with a web design question that I had that I didn’t know the answer to.  He has a product now.  I’m going to buy it.”

Instead of like, “Here’s some guy trying to sell me this.”  “Do I want to buy it, uhh maybe, maybe not?”  But it’s, people remember when they’re helped, kind of thing.

People remember when you’re of service to them, so I’ve really just approached it that way.

Dan: So Paul, what’s a typical day like for you, what time do you wake up?

Paul: Usually at about 6 or 7am and that’s just, I’ve never had an alarm clock, that’s just when my body kind of like kicks into gear and then it’s like: make my coffee and sit down and get to work.

I know some people like don’t open email for an hour and that kind of stuff, I open email right away, I don’t care [Dan laughs] I like to get stuff out of the way and kind off my plate, and then get down to what I need to do.

Dan: [Aside to listener] Okay, Dan here. 

So Paul has written four books while building his own business. 

How has he made that happen?  

In talking about his day, Paul shares his level of discipline and commitment to mastering his craft each day. 

Okay, back to the show.

Paul: So I like to write at least 500 words a day and I like to get that done by 4 o’clock, and it’s not a focus on writing 400 good words, it’s just a matter of writing 400 words.  It’s just like flexing your creative muscle or flexing your idea muscle or whatever.

The more that I write the better writer I am.  I don’t know how else to do it.

Same with design, the more I design the better designer that I become.

But I also have client work, so I just look at what needs to happen for that and I get it done.

And then I don’t really spend that much time on social media.  I like to kind of get my work done and then leave, so I like to go for a walk, go for a hike, hang out with my wife, hang out with the rats, or go for a coffee kind of thing [Dan laughs] I like to do as much non-work related stuff as possible.

Dan: Some rat chillin’.

Paul: Exactly!

Dan: And what would you say you love about what you do?

Paul: That I can do things my own way.

And I find that the happier I am with my work the more in-line I am with paying attention to what matters to me.

So working with the type of clients that I enjoy working with, or that are doing things that I actually give a shit about, or writing about topics that I care about.  That might be totally tangelical, like that’s why I have three books on three different topics, just because I really like to go where my passions go with that kind of stuff because I like to write…I don’t have like a list of ‘these are the things that I need to write about next’.  I just write about whatever I feel like.

Dan: [Aside to self (to listener)] Damn this guy just does what he wants.

Paul: So, I find, yeah, the more in line I am with my values, the more happier I am with the work that I do.

Dan: And what would you dislike about what you do?

Paul: I don’t know, sometimes there’s stress, right?  Because if you’re working for yourself, you can’t bitch up, [Laughs] because you’re at the top.  So you can’t go to your boss and say, “Oh this is totally unreasonable” or “these client expectations are unreasonable”.  You gotta have some hard conversations with clients if that’s the case.

So sometimes people don’t know that what they’re asking for is difficult or unimaginably tight to do in a certain amount of time.  So you kind of have to, kind of have to be the bad guy sometimes when you’re working for yourself.  Otherwise you end up hating it a lot more.

So I found, especially with web design, there’s a tendency for web designers to just complain of their peers, “Clients are stupid.”  There’s a million websites about like ‘Clients from Hell’ and that kind of stuff, and, I don’t know, I call bullshit on all of that.  Like if you took all the energy you put into complaining to your peers into actually having real conversations with your clients, you probably wouldn’t be as grumpy or bitch as much about that kind of stuff.  So you gotta deal with stuff.  That’s what’s tough.

Dan: And what character trait would you say has helped you get to this point?

Paul: I think just being driven.

Like I’m not goal oriented but I am driven. So I know that when I get up in the morning, I don’t know specifically what I’m going to do, but I know I need to put in like a full day’s work.  I can’t just be looking at like pictures of cats with captions or something like that all day.  Like I said, this is my home office, so sometimes like the door’s going, or my wife is home or like, there’s always things happening, but I still know that I need to put in a solid day of hard work every single day.

Dan: So you’re not goa;-orientated.  Talk to me more about that.

Paul: The reason that I don’t like setting goals is because you have to put everything in to get to, like you pick a point and then you just need to work towards that point constantly.

But what I like to do, instead of that, is to just check-in with myself, like “Am I doing something I’m actually stoked on?  Am I providing value?  Am I getting paid to do what I think is providing value?” kind of thing. So as long as I keep checking in with that, I think I’m good.

Dan: And what would you say inspires you?

Paul: Um, everything inspires me.

A lot of it comes from nature.  Like the more I’m outside the more I’m connecting with the actual world, the more I’m inspired to do things, like sit on my computer and write, or sit on my computer and design.  It’s kind of funny, but like the more I’m off of my computer, and the more away I’m away from my work, the more driven and passionate I am about my work.

Because it’s not just work.  The work isn’t what consumes my life.  It’s having like an actual full life and then taking some of that time to do work that I actually enjoy.

Dan: Are there people out there who inspire you, that are doing work that you admire?

Paul: There’s lots of people.  I think what Colin and The Mins, I think what Asymmetrical is doing is really awesome.  They really kind of…

Dan: Shout out, friend of the show [Episode 032].

Paul: What they’re doing with independent publishing and providing value to people with teaching other people how to do that, I think it’s just awesome.

Dan: And what fears do you have?

Paul: I’m afraid of everything. [Laughs]

As somebody who’s pretty introverted, like I’m not good with people or groups or being out in public and that sort of thing, so I struggle with that a ton.

I also struggle with every time I present a mock-up to a client, I’m like, “Fuck what if they hate it?  What if they fire me?”  And it happens, like sometimes I get fired, whatever! [Dan laughs]

But like it’s the same with writing, it’s like “What if my book flops?  What if somebody leaves more one star reviews?”  And I’ve got one star reviews and stuff like that but it’s not the end of the world and I really think of it like this:  it’s like, if I’m afraid of something, it’s like, “Is this cause me to never-ever do anything ever again?  Or is this going to cause me to die?”  And 99.99% of the time neither of those two things are likely, so I can always try again because I’m alive and I can always try again because I don’t run out of ideas or wacky things to do or write about or design, or people to work with so, yeah, I just kind of keep it…

…And James Altucher also talks about that too in ‘Choose Yourself’ a lot, where as long as you’re probably not going to die, you can at least give it a shot and see if it works.

Dan: Love him.  That man helped me save my life. 

So, Paul, what advice would you give to someone who sees what you’re doing and is wondering if it’s possible for them?

Paul: [Laughs] The advice that I like to give everybody is ‘Fuck advice’.

It’s good to learn from other people, but, for me, the more I follow my own path and follow what matters to me, the more benefit I get out of it.

So when I started my company I was kind of working towards something that was right for somebody else and I was kind of successful with that, but I didn’t like it, I wasn’t happy, and I should have just been working for somebody else.

So I think that trusting your own journey, like it’s good to listen to people, it’s good to learn from others, but nothing really takes the place of first-hand experiences and trusting the journey that you’re on yourself.

Dan: I love that.  And so what if they hear that and that means for them to kind of go out of their comfort zone, but they’ve never done that before, right?  And they’re on the fence about it.  What would you say to them?

Paul: Comfort is an illusion.

Nothing good ever comes from being comfortable other than being exactly in the same place that you are.

So if you’re completely happy with exactly the way everything is for you right now, don’t change a fucking thing. But I don’t know anybody that’s like that.

So if you want something different, you need to venture outside of that comfort zone, because that comfort zone isn’t serving you.  It’s serving no purpose other than this allusion of like ” Oh I’m safe and warm and cozy” but you need to step outside of that in order to accomplish the things that you really want to accomplish, but might be afraid of.

[Outro Music]

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Shamikah Martinez : Writer, Producer & Performer : 058 : Transcript

Shamikah Martinez Transcript


Please enjoy the transcript of Episode 058 with Shamikah Martinez:

 

After college Shamikah (@smart_inez) worked as a video producer but through improv got the performance bug and hasn’t looked back.

After creating viral videos with her YouTube comedy group Candy Slice, Shamikah teamed up with friend of the show Molly Austin to create the comedy duo, Emotistyle.

Shamikah’s continued to expand her creative palette and has written her own one act play which she’s debuting this month at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York City and is co-creating a short film with her boyfriend and business partner, Adam Donald (MAD Pictures).

You’ll hear Shamikah discuss her path of creative exploration, the power of joint ventures, and that it’s less about whether someone will reject you than about how you react when they do:

Stop waiting for someone else to give you opportunities</em>.” – Shamikah Martinez

Shamikah: Hi, this is Shamikah Martinez, I’m a writer, producer & performer, and you’re listening to Prologue Profiles.

[Intro Music]

Shamikah: Loud and uncontrollable [Laughs].

I didn’t quite know what to do with my energy yet, so I would just always get in trouble in class. Because when someone’s trying to teach you geometry they don’t want you making up character voices in the back of the class.

And there was this one that I loved doing that sounded like a helium voice.

Dan: …Whenever you’re ready.

Shamikah: Oh – You want me to do?…

Dan: Yeah – you’re basically cueing yourself up.

Shamikah: Oh God, I haven’t done this in a long time.

Dan: I know.

Shamikah: Um, there’s a part of your throat that you have to close to get it.  Hold on.

Dan: She’s adjusting her scarf, looking down.

Shamikah: [In wild helium voice] Okay. [Laughter]

Dan: Holy sh…

Shamikah: [Continuing in helium voice] It sounds a little bit like this.

Dan: I swear she’s still in the same chair.  No one else came in here.

Shamikah: So my mom, I grew up on a military base.

Dan: Really?

Shamikah: And she ran like a kind of kindercare, so I always had ten kids at my house. [Laughs]

So I was always into like making shows in the backyard.

It was like, “Oh, playtime. This is the voice for this Barbie and the bear sounds like this.”

And then around middle school/high school I started discovering like film is all of these things that I love.  It’s drawing, it’s acting, it’s writing, it’s literally everything that makes me happy in one package.

It was realizing what filmmaking was and realizing, “Hey, somebody wrote the story, somebody filmed the thing, and then there people in it, are those are all the fun things that I like.”

Because I don’t think I really discovered a love, a true love for film until I was studying it in college and I remember watching Sunset Boulevard and just being blown away.

Dan: Where’d you go to school?

Shamikah: George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

And I moved to New York, uh [Laughs] I was an intern for TRL.

Dan: And so it was 2006,  and so you moved to New York with an internship lined up not like a job…

Shamikah: Yeah.

Dan: So how were you paying the bills?  Where were you living? How’d that work?

Shamikah: [Laughs] I was living in Bushwick with my friend Megan and we were sharing a room that only had a futon on the floor, with no other bed, just a futon [Dan laughs], and we both worked together at The Coney Island TGI Fridays.

Dan: And how did you start getting into comedy?

Shamikah: I’ve always loved SNL and I especially loved Amy Poehler.

And I was Googling her, trying to find out every little thing that I could…and I had never heard of UCB Theatre, actually.  And it was talking about the founders.

Dan: Upright Citizens Brigade.

Shamikah: Oh, yes.  So I found an article where Amy Poehler was talking about the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and I was like, “What is that?”

And I took one class and I fell in love.

Dan: What was it about improv that was drawing you to it?

Shamikah: Before studying improv, I didn’t think that there was any kind of art form where you could just play.  It’s like, “Okay go.”  Everything your mind could possibly want to do right now, do it.

I started writing again, because I was working in production and just doing that.

Dan: Right, you were also working for a production company at the time.  What was that like?

Shamikah: At first it was confusing, because I was like, “I didn’t move to New York to be a producer.” Because it didn’t feel very creative.

And I think that’s what studying improv did for me, was I started writing, I started creating my own stuff, performing, meeting so many of my friends, my very dearest friends came from the improv community.

Dan: So improv was this gateway for you?

Shamikah: Yeah, for sure.

Shamikah: So while studying at UCB I met a great group of girls and we formed a group called Candy Slice Comedy and making videos. We did sketch and we did improv. So I spent two or three years always performing with them.

And I think what Candy Slice did is that it got all of us into the habit of making our own things, because up until then it was making things for other people or helping other people make their things, or trying to get cast in another thing someone else made.

Dan: And in 2010, Candy Slice joined up with a YouTube network.

Shamikah: Right when I started doing a lot of YouTube stuff with Candy Slice, little networks started popping up and Next New Network was like the big, I think probably one of the first guys to really be doing it. So they would pick channels and put them into networks.

Dan: How did Next New find you in the first place?

Shamikah: Candy Slice made a Beyonce/Lady Gaga parody that Perez Hilton posted and then it just got like five million views and it was insane.

Dan: Who were you in that?

Shamikah: I was Beyonce.  “I was Beyoncé.”

Dan: [Laughs] Should I have even asked?

Shamikah: [Laughs] Yeah, I was Lady Gaga. [Dan laughs]  We did a color switch.

 

Dan: That was the twist.

Shamikah: And they asked Candy Slice, “Hey, will you come and do this program with us?”  And we were stoked! It was like, “Oh, somebody wants us to be part of the…” Because we were making these things for ourselves.

And when I got there for the meeting, as we were leaving, I was like, “Do you guys have any jobs?” [Laughs]  Because this is how I’ve gotten all of my jobs ever, is I ask for them.

Dan: [Aside to listener] Okay pause right there.  This is Dan by the way.  I just want to focus real quick on that part Shamikah just said because it’s so key.  How often do we not ask for what we want?  Whether it be a job, a promotion, a new opportunity. Shamikah clearly does not hold back and she just asks for what she wants!  

And in this case she got the job with Next New and in a sec you’ll hear what this leads to. 

Okay let’s keep it moving.

Shamikah: And then Google bought Next New and it turned into the YouTube Next lab, so then I was working at YouTube.

Dan: Really? So what was your job at YouTube?

Shamikah: I was helping manage and strategize people’s YouTube channels, like how to get more views and how to make your content better and how to look at your analytics and all that stuff.

Dan: And you would use this expertise in the creation of Emotisyle, your YouTube channel with Episode 019 guest, Molly Austin.

Shamikah: [Gasps] Ohhh, have you seen it?  Are you a subscriber?

Dan: For sure!

Shamikah: Yes!

Dan: Me and like 34,000 other people. [Shamikah laughs]

Shamikah: Yeah so Molly and I are doing Emotistyle and we’re really doing a lot of music videos.  We’ve found a common love for those kinds of comedy and music together, really good rappers.  I mean not really good, but really good. [Dan laughs]

So when Molly and I got together I had all these little like things.  I was like, “Okay, this is what we’ve gotta do.”  It’s like we need this and it’s got to be collaborative and we need something where like the audience does this.

Dan: [Aside to listener] Okay pause again. Dan here again, by the way.  When I had Molly on the show back in 2012 I really didn’t understand why Emotistyle had such a big audience and it didn’t come up in our interview.  So here Shamikah lays out clearly how they are able to grow like they did: through collab’ing with more established channels. 

Okay back to the show.

Shamikah: And I was working at YouTube with the guys from Barely Political, which is a huge channel.  We did some collaborations with them, they featured us on their channel, and so right away, because we had such a supportive friend group within YouTube, we collaborated with maybe five different channels.

We did Hanna Hart, Daily Grace, Chescaleigh and they really helped boost our channel in that way because then they are subscribers found Emotistyle.

Dan: And your most recent video was the Beyoncé parody called Morning Face.  

[Aside to listener] Okay, pause Dan here again.  What I love about this next part is we get a glimpse of how Shamikah and Molly come up with their ideas and it sounds simple, but the key is that they acted on their intuition and made it into something that they love. 

Okay back to the show.

Shamikah: On Instagram there were a lot of hashtags that were, “I woke up like this” with, girls had full faces of make up on.  And I was like, “No you didn’t!” [Dan laughs]

And I get that they weren’t being serious but we were also like, “Why are none of us okay with our faces?”

Even Molly and I had never filmed any video without makeup on before that. And we were like, “What’s the big deal?  It’s our faces!”

So we just thought it was very funny.  I was actually in Puerto Rico at the time and I sent Molly a picture of myself, a terrible picture of me waking up and I just said, “I woke up like dis. Literally.”

And she sent me one back and I took a screen grab of it and I laughed for 10 minutes.

And I was like, “We’ve got to do suh’n.  This has to be suh’n.” Because these are our faces.

Dan: That caught on!

Shamikah: Right?! That was so great.

Dan: [Aside to listener] Okay pause.  Dan here.  So I asked Shamikah if getting a lot of hits matters to her, and this part’s really interesting to me since she is someone whose work has gone viral.  And as you’ll hear, there’s always someone who has more hits than you.  

And so for her, it’s more about having your work genuinely connect with others than getting mass attention, which I really appreciated hearing. 

Okay, back to the show.

Shamikah: Coming out of someone that was working at YouTube those numbers didn’t feel like anything, because I was working with guys that had two million subscribers.

The things that felt really great were like the comments.  Like a little girl just us a comment that was like “I feel okay being myself sometimes because you guys say that on your show.”

What?

Dan: Aw.

Like sometimes we just like read comments and almost weep together because that’s what feels really great.  You know, does a super viral video feel really, really awesome?  Yes. But what feels even better is if someone, not just blogs about it, but gets the message that you’re really trying to put across.

Dan: And meanwhile, as she’s experiencing all of this success as a sketch writer and video producer, Shamikah continued to challenge herself and in 2012 wanted to build up her acting skills.

Shamikah: I was performing on a Maude Team at UCB, which is a sketch team, a house sketch team.  So that’s when I was performing all the time and rehearsing all the time.  And I was like, “Oh, I never studied actual acting.  I wonder if I can get better at this.” [Laughs]

And I asked my director, Leslie Meisel, at the time, “Where can I study acting?  Like I want to learn.”  And she gave me the name Suzanne Shepherd, who was a lovely and wonderful scene study teacher.  And I started studying Meisner with her.

Dan: Privately? Like one-on-one?

Shamikah: No, it’s a group class.

Dan: [Aside to listener] Pause, Dan here again.  What I love about this next part is how the intimidation that comes with learning something new and how dumb you might feel, especially in a group setting, doesn’t get in Shamikah’s way of doing what she wants to do. 

Okay, back to the show.

Shamikah: It was very intimidating at first.

We had to go around the room to like introduce yourself and it was like, [In proper voice] “Hi, I’m, you know, John.  I just finished at The Neighborhood Playhouse.” [Dan laughs]

It was like, “Hi.  I’m Ruth.  I just come from Esper.”

And I literally was like, “I’m Shamikah.  I came from UCB Theatre [Laughs], studying improv and that’s it. And that’s it!”

And but everyone was so welcoming!

Like I was ready for people to be like, “You’re not a real actor.  Get out of here.”

Because that’s how I felt.  I was like, “Oh I shouldn’t be here…”

Because also it wasn’t comedy.  She was like, “Okay, no comedy for you, for your scenes.”

I was like, “Um, I’m sorry, I’m pretty sure that I just said that I do comedy.” [Dan laughs] And I was like, “And I don’t do the other stuff.”

And she was like, “Yes you do.”

And then when someone tells you you can do something that you had no idea that you can do or that you want to, I was like, “But I don’t want to.  I don’t like dramatic stuff.  It’s crap.  So melodramatic.  It’s this and that.”  I was judging it.

Two months later, here I am, like bawling my eyes out in Shakespeare and I am loving it!  And I was like, “Wait, I like theatre?!” [Laughs]

Dan: And now you’re getting involved in creating theatre.

Shamikah: I recently did an ensemble workshop at the Labrinth Theatre Company.

Dan: What does that mean, an ensemble workshop?

Shamikah: Basically there are 14 of us and you learn how to work in an ensemble.  How to create your own work.

And I’m doing a project.  It’s a night of one acts.  There’s five 10 minute plays and they’re all written by females.

Dan: So you’re writing your own one act.

Shamikah: We did this really great exercise in the workshop where they gave you a line of dialogue.  The line is, “Are you happy now?” [Dan laughs]

Dan: Nice.

Shamikah: And everyone took that one line and all wrote different things.  So that’s going to be on the 22nd and the 23rd and it’s going to be very fun.  It’s at Cherry Lane.

Dan: And to pay the bills, you and your boyfriend, Adam Donald, have your own video production company. And after being inspired by your experience at the Dogfish Film Accelerator, you two are making a short film that’s a comedy/thriller, which you plan to make into a feature!

Shamikah: Here’s the thing that I’ve found lately.  It’s like stop waiting for someone else to give you opportunities.

If you want to be in a feature where you get to play this role, and that’s not the way people would usually cast you, there’s probably a way to make it yourself.

Dan: Mhm.

Shamikah: You know what I mean?

And I was sitting down and I was like watching True Detective, which I love.

Dan: Oh we just started that, Fab and I.

Shamikah: Oh my god you guys!

And I was just talking about like, “I want to play a role that is this more in a thriller but has comedic elements but can be that raw like, “What is this person doing?”

And I was like, “How long is it going to take me to get cast in something like that?”  Especially since my resume is like comedy, comedy and comedy, and then, “Oh, a little bit of theatre at the bottom” [Dan laughs]

And I was like, “Wait.  Why am I waiting?  I have a production company. [Laughs] What am I doing?  We should just make it!”

And even if you don’t have a production company, chances are you can find some film school kids that need to practice their craft that want to collaborate with people.

We are in New York.

We are in the most collaborative city ever.

We are amongst artists all day long.

We could be making things every second of every day.

Dan: [Aside to listener] 

Pause.

Dan here. 

Why are you waiting? 

Back to the show. 

Dan: How are you so positive?

Shamikah: You have to be.

Oh my god, in the entertainment industry.  Okay, operating on someone’s brain is probably harder [Laughs] in a different way.  But this is such a negative space to be in, if you look at it in any other way besides positive.

Because think about what we do, right?  We go to auditions.  Someone looks at you, “No, no, no.”  All day long.  You send in your script “Nope, no, no, no, no.”

We’re surrounded by “no’s.”

And so you either can be swallowed by it, or you can say, “Oh, that’s just part of it.  It’s okay.  That’s all right.”

Because if you’re not positive it’ll destroy you.

[Outro Music]

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The Nepotist : Alternative Soul Band : 057 : Transcript

The Nepotist Post Transcript

Please enjoy the transcript of Episode 057 with the 3 members of the alternative soul band, The Nepotist – Chris Frank (guitar/vocals), Hayden (bass/vocals) Frank and Jacon Colin Cohen (drums/vocals):

Originally from Ithaca NY, Chris Frank, a guitar player, spent 10 years trying to get his band IY off the ground which broke up after college.

In 2012 Chris joined forces with his younger brother and bass player Hayden Frank to form The Nepotistbut something was missing.

They wanted to to be a real band.

With the addition of drummer Jacob Colin Cohen this past JanuaryThe Nepotist are now a trio and are releasing their first video EP this spring.

This is also the first episode of Prologue Profiles that features multiple guests at the same time. That’s right, the band’s all here.

You’ll hear The Nepotist discuss their journey to becoming a band, the ups and downs of being a musician and that to get others to believe something about you, you first have to believe it yourself:

“This is only happening once. You’ve got this amount of time [on earth] and what do you want to look back and see when you’re older?” – Hayden Frank, The Nepotist (bass/vocals)

The Nepotist: Hi, this is The Nepotist. We’re an alternative soul band, and you’re listening to Prologue Profiles.

[Intro Music]

Chris: Lots of fighting, for a long time.

Hayden: Yeah, I don’t even remember why.  It’s not like we had any major philosophical differences over anything. [Chris laughs]  I think maybe it was…

Chris: We had too much in common.

Hayden: Yeah our natural inclination was to be really similar in a lot of ways, so…

Dan: What’s the age difference? 

Hayden: Chris is three years older.  Well, two years eleven months, if you want to be technical.

Dan: No let’s get technical yea. 

Chris: I wasn’t going to get technical.

Dan: I want the truth here.

[Chris laughs]

Jacob: You can’t handle it.

[Hayden laughs]

Dan: That’s true.

Hayden: But yeah I’d say around later adolescence is when we started to realize “Oh you’re actually a cool human being and we can enjoy things together.”

Dan: All right, so this is a Prologue Profiles first.  We have three guests here today – one band. We have The Nepotist in Make it Work Studios. 

And so who do we have here, who’s here, what are the roles in the band? 

Hayden: My name’s Hayden Frank.  I play the bass and I sing and I write some stuff…and occasionally tell jokes. [Dan laughs]

Chris: My name is Chris Frank.  I play guitar and I sing and I write and I…don’t joke much.

Dan: [Laughs] “I’m the straight man.”

Jacob: My name’s Jacob Colin Cohen.  I play drums, I sing, I am writing…and I’m middle of the road when it comes to jokes.  A happy medium.

Dan: [Laughs] You play it by ear, and see how things are going.

Jacob: Yeah, sometimes, I chime in where I’m needed.

Dan: So Chris, how would you describe The Nepotist sound? 

Chris: Alternative soul, is what I would tell you.

Hayden: Lately, Chris has started playing with a slide on his guitar, so there’s definitely a strong old-timey blues element to it, like Buddy Guy blues influence.

But also some of the influences of really good 70’s rock like Little Feat, on top of, I think Jacob and I have a lot of R&B influence in our rhythm section, we try to, like D’Angelo’s Voodoo is both one of our favorite records. The kind of Questlove, drumming feel.

Jacob: Also Bill Withers.

Chris: Yeah, that’s why we include the soul element.

The thing missing from alternative soul, for me, is the blues that we’ve been incorporating lately because we can, lately we really rock out hard on some just real, simple, dirty blues [Dan laughs] real stanky stuff. [Chris laughs]

Dan: Are you guys doing this full-time now?  Are you able to support yourself from the music yet? 

Chris: No not even close.

Dan: So talk to me about the situation, how you’re making it work.

Jacob: Uh, this is Jacob. Uh, yeah, currently…

Dan: Nailed it. [Laughter

Jacob: I’m letting everybody know, “I am here!”

No, I do real estate during the day to pay the bills.

Hayden: I work as a bartender and as a waiter.

Chris: I’ve been making websites.

Dan: No way.

Chris: I used to do it full-time and it slowly dawned on me that this was something I could do when I needed to do it to keep my bills paid.

Hayden: It’s also sweet because we don’t have to pay anybody to make our website.  Chris doesn’t bill the band.

Chris: …Yet. [Hayden laughs]

Dan: So, Hayden, talk to me about you and Chris got into music growing up.

Hayden: My first memories of music are when we took…our family took a road trip cross-country to California when I was two.

And I remember hearing The Beatles for the first time and our parents tell us now like every time we stopped anywhere, we would make them pick up whatever Beatles record they didn’t have yet, on compact disc.  ‘Cuz they had them all on vinyl but you know we were just getting CDs of them and I just remember just devouring it and not understanding why I was having such a reaction, but loving it.

I didn’t really even know that there was a difference between a bass and a guitar.  I just saw them with things that looked like guitars and I said, “I want to do that.”

We have a photo of me, I think I was like six or something, holding my dad’s old guitar that he never played, and I didn’t know how to play it all.  I just tried to make a Paul McCartney expression and I said, “Dad, take a photo!  I’m Paul!”  [Laughter]

Dan: So, Chris, did you know what you wanted to do when you were older at that age, or…

Chris: I think when I was a little kid I wanted to be an astronaut and a musician and an actor and a couple of other things, but musician’s always been on there.

I started violin when I was five. Which I remember was my idea, I don’t remember why on earth I wanted to play classical violin, but I remember announcing to my mom that I wanted to play violin.

But Hayden actually started guitar when he was seven and I immediately thought, “Yes, I want to do that too!”

And I mean the second I picked up a guitar I knew that this was my instrument.

Dan: What was it about the guitar that you felt so connected to it?

Chris: From the first day I was playing and singing.

And now I know that there are people who can play violin and sing at the same time, but as a little kid, I had no idea that that was something you could do.

So guitar was a way to play an instrument and sing and that felt like a revelation to me.

Just the first time you try it you go, “Yes, this is what I want to do.”

Dan: But Hayden you didn’t stick with the guitar…

Hayden: I never took to the guitar, really. It was a struggle to get me to practice.  I didn’t fall in love with the instrument.

So I stopped that and I learned piano.

And I think if you are going to learn music, piano is the instrument to start with because it gives you such a better appreciation of theory.  You feel it.

I see people who are musicians but haven’t had any piano training and they just don’t understand things in the same way. It’s a nice visual layout of music.

So yeah I took piano and then I was starting to get more into R&B and funk and soul. And when I tried to put my finger on what I loved about that kind of music it was, “Oh, it’s the bass and the drums”, and you know the great singers, too but I was like, “If I’m gonna pick a role in this, I want to lay down a funky bass line.” [Dan laughs]

Dan: And Jacob what were you into as a kid?

Jacob: I had two loves, I guess:  I was obsessed with basketball…more so watching than playing. [Laughter]

I was a very non-active kid.  I had so many allergies and I couldn’t really be outside and enjoy the beautiful nature of my neighborhood.  So I was mostly sitting looking out the window [Laughs].  I mean I would touch a tree and then touch my eye and my eye would puff up three-times its size and I would have to go to hospital.  It was intense.

Dan: My god, I’m glad you’re here right now.

Jacob: Yeah, me too… [Laughs] Sometimes I think I’m not supposed to be.

But my dad was like an amateur drummer, but more than anything he was just a music enthusiast.  So from the age of two or three I was sitting and listening to records and singing.

Dan: What kind of records?

Jacob: Oh man.  One of the first things that I listening to was Frank Zappa, and this was when I was like three.

Dan: Wow, getting right to it.

Hayden: That explains a lot.

Jacob: There’s a live album from the 80’s called The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life and I remember sitting in my dad’s collection in the living room and it was this double CD and I just always put the same thing on.

But then Steppenwolf Born to be Wild was the first song I ever played on drums.

Dan: And how’d you get into the drums in the first place?

Jacob: I got into the drums watching my dad.  He had a beautiful, blue sparkle, Rogers Drum Set from 1967, which I still use to this day.

Dan: Wow.

Jacob: He would take me in the basement and give me little lessons.  And then I started playing the records and he would stand down there and coach me while I was playing to them.  And I was hooked right away.  I identified myself as a drummer from age five or six.

Dan: Wow. So what was it about the drums?

Jacob: Well, I think the main motivation at the time, or maybe not motivation but the draw was, “Oh, my dad does that.  I want to do that.”  I just think and thought the world of him.

Chris: Hm.

Jacob: And he was feeding me all this music, and he would play drums and I would watch and I’d be like, “I want to do that.  I want to do it better than him.”  And so I did. [Laughs]  He admits it now, he’s like, “You’ve surpassed me.”

Dan: How did that feel for him to say that to you?

Jacob: Great, even to this day, I don’t really say this to him, but if he’s listening, I still think the drive underneath everything is to be able to call him one day and be like, “Dad, we’re playing Madison Square Garden or we’re gonna be on TV”.  Whatever, just to tell him…you know he is the reason I love music.

Dan: So were you in a band in high school and stuff like that?

Jacob: I actually didn’t have a band until high school.

I was always by myself in middle school.  I actually ended up finding this incredible summer camp, called Summer Music Programs that I started at when I was in sixth or seventh grade.

Every week the kids would get split up into different bands and the first three days of the week we would learn cover songs.  We’d all pick songs that we wanted to play.  Thursday they would take us into a studio, record a CD, and then on Friday we would play a concert!

Chris: Wow.

Jacob: So that’s what I did every summer for eight weeks every summer until maybe sophomore year of high school.

But in high school, I started a fusion band.  [Laughter]

We were playing Mahavishnu Orchestra, we were playing Herbie Hancock and The Head Hunters, Weather Report.  We were actually called Tribal Fusion. [Laughs]  It was so lame.

Hayden: I wish I knew you then.

Jacob: Oh my god, no you don’t.  I had a mullet and a diamond earring and wore extra large band t-shirts from Hot Topic.  Very specific.

Hayden: I definitely wish I knew you then.

Dan: And Chris you formed your first band in high school…When did you form your first band?

Chris: Oh no I didn’t want to wait that long.  I started the band, the first one was in fifth grade…

Dan: What were you called?

Chris: That one was called Bite Size because we were very small. [Dan laughs]

But then I got to middle school, that one fell apart and met the guys from what became IY. It was a four-piece band and we were trying really hard to make that work up in Ithaca.

Hayden: They were good.

Chris: Thanks.

Dan: And what happened after high school?

Chris: We were doing it full-time before we went to college, we took time off between high school and college to do that project, but all of us felt like we wanted to get a better education and learn a little more.  So we went to school.

Dan: And where’d you go to school?

Chris: NYU.  I graduated with a philosophy degree.

Dan: And why philosophy?

Chris: Well I was a musician before college and it was working, but I wanted to think more and write more and be exposed to ideas I had never thought about, and argue with people. [Dan laughs]

So I went to study philosophy.  It was all I ever wanted to study.

Hayden: It makes winning arguments in the band really difficult. [Chris laughs] You’ve really gotta be on top of your stuff.

Dan: And Chris, so how’d things play out for you and your band, IY, in college?

Chris: I’ve heard you talk before about, you know in school you’re sheltered from the real world. So it was enough to do to get through school and just keep the band going that we weren’t really thinking about it past that.

And then as soon school ended and it came time to decide what was next, we realized that there wasn’t anywhere else to go from where we were.

Dan: What do you mean?

Chris: We all lived in different cities at that point.  We were done with school so nobody was going to help us out with anything.  Nobody’s parents were going to pay for health insurance or anything.

We needed jobs and we needed to make life work.

Dan: So it was 2010 and what was that time like for you?

Chris: I felt so lost because that was 10 years of my life I’d put into that band, and now it was time to be earning some money and time to get an apartment and a job and pay rent and I had really nothing to show, musically.

So I wasn’t sure if music was going to be able to remain part of my life.

Not having a job exacerbated that, too, because you know I didn’t have a band, but I also didn’t have anything to do with my time that somebody wanted to pay me for so I felt literally worthless.

Dan: So what’d you do?  What was next for you?

Chris: I started sleeping on my dad’s couch and surfing craigslist for jobs.  Anything I could do, I was working sound at a couple of different clubs, briefly. And found a marketing agency that was looking for a developer who could build stuff on Tumblr and I happened to have built a ton of stuff on Tumblr so I said, “Oh I can do that.”

And landed there and that kind of took off accidentally and before I knew it I was working full-time making websites for a creative agency in downtown New York.

Which should have felt great and I think to someone else would have felt great because it was a pretty sweet job and they’re good people, but it was making me miserable.

Dan: Really?

Chris: Yeah.

I would go to work and spend a full day there and leave and feel like it was time to start my day, but that there was no time left in the day.

I’d be waking up at five in the morning to work on writing a song and then go to work after and get home and be exhausted.

Dan: You were writing some songs?

Chris: Yeah – there was a short stretch where I was barely playing any music at all, but it didn’t last more than a month or two.  I quickly discovered that I had to be playing guitar, I had to be singing, I had to be writing songs.

Dan: So let’s talk about The Nepotist came together.  Now Hayden were you in a band early on as well?

Hayden: I held off starting a band for a long time because Chris had his own band and they were the cool band in high school, so I was like, “Well, shit I can’t…I can’t get in that because he’s already doing that.”

And it wasn’t until like I was a junior or senior in high school that I said, “No wait, I can do my own thing because my musical preferences are so different at this point that I can start and R&B funk band and it will be way different and it will be its own thing.”

Chris: The first thing was getting something musical going.

Hayden and I had been making music together sort of informally in college.

Dan: Because Hayden you went to NYU as well.

Hayden: I did, yes.  I studied anthropology of all things. [Dan laughs] I like monkeys.

Chris: Probably the first whole year out of college Hayden was still in school, so very busy.  I was living in the Bronx that year which was not all that far from downtown Manhattan, I guess, but psychologically really far.

Hayden: There was just no momentum.

I remember trying to go into the studio at some point and it just felt so wrong and bad.  You could just tell that we didn’t know what we were saying yet or we just didn’t have anything to say and it just wasn’t right.

Dan: So what led to the two of you getting serious about creating music together?

Chris: I think it took you finishing school and getting to that same place of, “Well, now what?  What am I gonna do?”

Hayden: That was definitely a huge part of it.

Dan: So what year was that?

Chris: I graduated in 2012.

Now I have to think about, you know the older I get the more I realize this is only happening once, you know.  You got this amount of time and what do you want to look back and see when you’re older?

It really wasn’t until this past summer.

Chris: Yep.

Hayden: We took a break from New York this past summer, moved back to Ithaca.

Dan: And you guys were doing what?

Hayden: Our parents have a place on the lake, Cayuga Lake in Ithaca, and we were spending time out there.

And that was kind of the last straw, at least in my mind.  I said, “If this doesn’t feel right by the end of the summer I gotta move on and figure out what the hell I’m doing.”

And it was hard. You know like the first month and a half we were, it still didn’t feel right.  I thought maybe a change of scenery would fix everything.

He was really putting in more of the work I was just kind of hanging out and recharging my batteries.

Dan: And what does that mean, “putting in the work?”

Chris: Just living on the lake, waking up every morning and working on a song or learning other peoples’ music.

This was when I really started getting into slide guitar, too.  So I was listening to old blues records and trying to copy them.

Dan: Like what?

Chris: Working through the Muddy Waters catalogue, but before that Buddy Guy, who doesn’t even play with a slide but, I listened to Buddy Guy play and I go, “Well I can’t possibly do that so I gotta try something a little different that’s almost as expressive.” And that led me pick up slide.

But we had really been struggling because I’m trying to start something from nothing and get a project going and make music, and Hayden at the time was the only other member of the project, so to put a ton of energy into a song and then try to do something with it, but have him not be all that excited about it, it was like, “What am I doing? If I can’t even write something that the other person in the band is excited about maybe I just shouldn’t be doing this”.

But Hayden suddenly felt empowered to be a whole rhythm section unto himself.

Hayden: It was around this time we started experimenting with the loop pedal.

And before that, there was just no way we were making the duo sound work. As a bass player I need percussion to play along.  I want to feel that hump to it and you can’t really do that just bass and guitar.

So I started experimenting making little drum beats on my bass.  Like tapping out like [Beat boxes] and then looping that and then throwing some textures on top of it up in the higher register and that was a really empowering feeling.

Dan: Really.

Hayden: For the first time the rhythm section felt completely in my hands and if it didn’t work it was on me, so it motivated me to invest myself more in the band.

It was was the first time since I was 14 that I would just sit for hours and play and have a blast.

When I was 14 I would dive into Motown records and just hours on end try to learn those, copy those, and then for years after that I didn’t really play the bass unless it was for a gig or something.  I didn’t take any time to get better at it, and it was very pure and very nice to fall in love with the instrument again, with this loop pedal.

Dan: How key was this for you guys?

Chris: Before that Hayden felt like we would never be a band until we convinced a third person to join and could make a fuller sounding arrangement happen, but I felt like we would never convince a third person to join until we were a band.  So it was this horrible catch 22 where we were not what we wanted to be but had no way forward.

And suddenly we had a way forward, because we could make a fuller sound with just the two of us and start moving.

It was like suddenly we knew what a set was gonna sound like.  So then we had a concrete goal, it was like, “Okay we need an hour of material with this set up because we have a band now.”

So we started working really hard, putting together an hour of material with that set up, and we ended that summer in Ithaca with a show there just to sort of test the waters and see how it worked.

Dan: Where was the show?

Chris: A beautiful space called the Carriage House up there.

Dan: All right so take me now to the creation of The Nepotist in its current form – with the addition of Jacob.

Chris: We had the show we put together for Ithaca and then said, “Let’s try this in New York”, and we went down to New York to play a set there for the first time as a duo and I was more nervous for that show than I’ve been for any show.

Dan: How were you able to get that gig?

Chris: I’ve wanted to play at Rockwood Music Hall forever and ever so that was an angle I had been working for several years at that point.  It was very hard to get a show there the first time.  I had to send them an email every week for six weeks and then go and stop by in person a couple of times just to get them to respond to an email because they get so much mail I guess.

And then we were playing Sunday afternoon sets there at first.

So we had played there before, but we had just gotten to the point before leaving New York where we could book a night-time show there.

So by the time the stakes were high and it was time to book it for real, we could do that.

Hayden: And that was the show where Jacob first saw us.

Jacob: I was playing a gig with another artist at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2, in the Lower East Side, and I had about 10 minutes to kill before we started, so I just figured, “Oh, I’ll wonder over to Stage 1”  This was in September.

And I walked in and it was mobbed.

And I just watched these two dudes killing it on stage with Hayden would start the song by muting his strings on his bass and playing over them and looping it in place of a drum set, and I was floored and I decided that I had to play with them.

So I approached them and I said, “I really love what you do and here’s my card and I’d love to play with you”.  And they said, “Okay, sure, nice to meet you.”

The next day actually the other restaurant, owned by Cafe Orlin is Cafe Mogador in the East Village and I went there for breakfast the next morning and I was sitting next to them. [Laughs]

Dan: Just randomly?

Chris: Yeah!

Dan: What…

Jacob: Completely random and said you know, “Hey. By the way, I really meant what I said.  I’d love to play with you.”

So I left.  Didn’t hear from them for a month and…

Chris: To be fair we were not living in New York that month.

Jacob: Right.

Chris: We had escaped.

Jacob: But I wasn’t angry.  I was just, “Damn, I really loved those guys and I see they’re playing at Rockwood again.  I’m just going to go.”

So I showed up.  It was packed again.  Great music.  Still floored.  And went up to them and I was just like, “Guys.  Remember me?  I really want to play with you.”  [Dan laughs]

Hayden pulled out my card from his wallet and he’s like, “I still have your card!”

So I got their numbers and I think we texted the next day, and Chris told me about a month ago that they didn’t expect me to be very good because why would someone who’s begging us to play be good? [Laughs]

But he was just, I guess, intrigued by my persistence.

Chris: Yeah, you were persistent and I thought what could possibly come out of this that we wouldn’t like?  We’ll have a jam session and it will either be fun or it won’t.

Jacob: And I have to say, I’ve never gotten together with musicians that had songs written already that I wasn’t a part of, and sat down and played and felt so connected right away as I did with them.  To the extent that I was catching hits and breaks that normally you would have to be taught in a rehearsal room before jelling together.

And so after two hours we finished and Chris, I don’t remember exactly what you said, but he asked me to join the band and we’ve been playing ever since.

Chris: And I’ve never experienced anything like that.  You know the first five seconds I could immediately tell this was gonna be fun and the first 30 seconds I was immediately like, “I don’t want to play another show as a duo.  We should make this the band.”

Chris: The thing we’re working on right now is a video EP that’s supposed to be sort of as close as you can get to what we do live.

So we put the whole band in the room and put all the amps in the same room sang with no headphones, and just recorded it, on film.

And this is the first thing we’ve ever put out as a trio. Which I’m just tremendously excited about because I’ve always wanted The Nepotist to be a band.

Dan: Does it have a name yet, the EP?

Chris: Oh I’m not sure we’ll name it.  Do you guys want to name it?

Hayden: I was thinking we could call it Beyonce, you know, like Beyonce’s video EP.

Jacob: Yeah, yeah, that’s good.

Hayden: She’s hip.  She’s with it.  We want to be hip and with it too.

Dan: It’s get like good search engine traffic.

Hayden: Yeah exactly.

Chris: I haven’t figured out whether to answer yes or no to that question.  Every time I tell someone we’ve made a video EP they say, “Like Beyonce?”  And I mean yes…

Hayden: The answer to that is always yes. [Chris laughs]

Jacob: Why not.

Dan: Where do you guys rehearse?

Chris: In Jacob’s studio almost all of the time.

Jacob: It’s called the Music Garage. It’s got a waiting list a mile long and I knew about it since I moved to Williamsburg four years ago.  It has some beautiful equipment.  I share it with four different people, but we all find the time to get our projects in there and so the three of us go in there almost every week right now.

Dan: Yeah, I saw like some of these video EPs and I was like really blown away by the quality of sound you have.  Like the way the reverb sounds and the echo sounds and each of your notes.  Is that intentional or do you ever work with an engineer or something like that or how does that work?

Hayden: Chris is actually a highly skilled audio engineer, in addition to being a web developer, we’ve got like all in one with this guy.  So yeah, he mixed those himself.  This guy, Brian Forbes, who runs the studio we recorded at, he did the tracking, but Chris did all the mixing and stuff and, I mean, I can say this because I didn’t do it, but I think it sounds awesome.

Chris: Thanks brother.

Jacob: As do I.

Dan: That was a sweet moment.

Chris: Growing up as a musician, I grew up during the home recording revolution, and for as long as I’ve been making music people have been recording themselves, so that has never seemed like an optional skill to me.  That’s always seemed like a requirement and has always been something that I wanted to get really good at, recording and mixing, because if we can make records for almost no money then we can make way more records than somebody who’s got to spend thousands and thousands of dollars every time they want to record.

Dan: So what pieces are you most proud of right now, you’re feeling the most, or it is getting the best response?

Hayden: We’ve got three that we’re about to put out as the video EP and I think those three, I mean, we chose them because we think they’re definitely our best material right now.

There’s a song called Firehouse that we do that a lot of people respond to, especially people living in New York.  The refrain goes, “Don’t know why I live in New York City anymore…”

Dan: Jersey! [Laughter]

Hayden: It was born out of Chris’ dark days at the ad agency just sitting at his desk wondering, you know…

Chris: “This is what I came here for?” [Laughs]

Hayden: It’s also, you know, like it’s got a kind of sad message, but it’s got an upbeat danceable groove to it so… A lot of our music has that combination of kind of dark or sad lyrics combined with a more of a fun groove under it.

Dan: And you recently brought on a publicist, Holly Garman, which is how we got in touch.  Were you looking for a PR team at that point?

Hayden: We were looking for something.  I mean we needed help. Because we had finally gotten our sound in order, but at that point to us, releasing a song just meant like, “Here Facebook, look at our song.  Hope we get likes.”

Chris: Right.

Hayden: We had no strategy.  We had no larger…we were clueless really.

And she came along and it’s just been such a marked improvement, in terms of not just our approach to releasing stuff but she arranges interviews, she got us in the Village Voice, The 10 Best Shows of the Upcoming Week, we were on that.

And that’s kind of a feedback loop because once you start getting that kind validation you start to feel good about yourself [Laughs] and you want to fill that role.  If the Village Voice says your upcoming show is one of the 10 to check out, then you should make it one to check out.  You should kick ass.

Dan: What would you guys say you love about what you do?

Chris: It’s a wonderful, wonderful feeling to be on the stage in a room where people have come out to have a good time and to basically be responsible for making everybody have a good time.

And as soon as you start you can feed off of what the crowd is doing and it’s never the same twice and the stakes feel really high because everything you’re doing is happening right now and it will never happen again.

And there’s nothing like that in office work. [Dan laughs]

Hayden: TPS Reports, yeahhh.

Dan: Shoutin’ out office work.

Jacob: Did you get that memo?

Hayden: Lately I’ve really enjoyed it, because I’ve been writing a little bit more of my own stuff lately,  I’ve really enjoyed the feeling of having made something.  After I have a song completed, I feel a load off my shoulders.  Like, “If all else goes wrong, I’ve made that.  That’s me.  That’s part of me and it’s there.”  I think I’ll feel the same way when I have a kid, eventually.

Dan: [Laughs] You’re going to say those words?

Hayden: Yeah, “You, you! I made you!” [Chris laughs]

Dan: “And you’re there.” 

Hayden: But I’m really driven to distraction.  I feel the pull of my computer, my phone, it’s always calling my attention, but when we’re playing, it’s not like I can tweet while I’m playing the bass, so it forces you to be there.  Right there.  It’s its own way of meditation.

Jacob: I’m also addicted to my phone [Dan laughs] and my computer, to an extreme [Laughs] and I actually find that one of the only times, if the only time, I find true like peace and focus is when I’m on stage or in the studio or writing or in a rehearsal.  It’s just we’re all connected and we’re making something and we can’t divert our attention to anything else because it’s so important.

Dan: So what would you dislike about what you do?

Jacob’s like get the mic away from me. [Laughter]

Chris: This is cheating because it’s also something that I like about it, but it continues to be really hard and there’s no clear path to success for me.

Dan: What do you mean by that?

Chris: I don’t know what to do, in what order, to make sure that this becomes the way that I pay all of my bills.

You know, it’s not like, “Well you do this, and this, and then you’re done!”

So some days that’s crushingly difficult and you think how can you possibly keep doing this?  But most of the time that’s something I love about it, I love that I don’t have that figured out and that it’s something I have to throw my head against every day and fight with.

Dan: Why do you love that?

Chris: Well because what’s the alternative, right?  To have that figured out?  That sounds horribly boring.  Then you’re just doing the motions every day.

I’ve done that.

I don’t want to do that again.

Hayden: The most difficult thing for me is the extremes that I feel.

You know there’s nothing like the euphoria you get after a really good show, where you are on, the crowd was a good energy, just everything clicks.  That is a high like no other.

The flip side is there’s very few things that make me feel as shitty as coming off stage after a show I didn’t feel good about.

Dan: Hm.  

Hayden: And then having to go up to people…they’re there to see you, and so you owe them not to spread your bad mood to them.  So you have to smile even if you’re feeling absolutely awful inside.

And then, you know, along the same lines there are times where I feel like, “Oh, yeah, we’re on!  We’re making something worthwhile!”  And then other times where I’m sitting alone in my room in the dark thinking like, “What the hell am I doing with my life? [Laughter] Is this ever going to work?”  So it’s a world of extremes and that can be a little emotionally taxing.

Jacob: Ah the list is too long man. [Laughter]  I’m not sure.  I think one of the most consistent questions that always come up into my mind is,” Is this really going to work out?”

Dan: And what happens when you ask that question?

Jacob: Lately I’ve actually been thinking, “As long as I’m making music with people that I care about and genuinely enjoy being around and I love the music, then I will be happy” and I’m not sure how far the success will go, but it doesn’t matter so much, at the moment, as long as I’m happy.  And with these two dudes, that’s how I feel.

I tried, actually, doing music full-time for about two and a half years. And the thing that I’ve realized the most having the day gig is that I truly appreciate and enjoy the music that I play now a lot more, because I’m not just taking a gig, you know per se, just to make money.  So to me, having another avenue to generate income while pursuing the project that I truly care about in hopes that that will one day make money, to me, is ideal.

Dan: What’s like the biggest challenge you say, looking forward?

Chris: You have to pick one? [Dan laughs]

Hayden: Yeah, just the biggest one.

Jacob: There are many.

Chris: I’m not worried about this right now, because I have at least a couple of things I want to try next that we haven’t done yet, but I do worry about what happens if you run out of ideas?

Like right now it’s so exciting because we’ve made some stuff that we’re going to put out and I want to make a ton more stuff after that that’s very different from the stuff we just made, but that’s as far as I’ve got figured out, so what if we finish the next batch of material and I don’t have another idea for what’s totally different?  Then what do we do?

Jacob: But what’s cool, sorry to interrupt, what’s cool is that…

Dan: So polite.

Jacob: Hayden’s written one song in the past, Slouch, right?  Is that the only one you contributed?

Chris: That we currently play with The Nepotist, yeah.

Jacob: Right, okay, but Hayden just wrote a new song that’s beautiful, and I’m writing my first contribution to The Nepotist, so if for some reason you had a dry spell, we have two other writers in the band so it’s cool…

Chris: Yeah, that’s true.

Hayden: We’ve got a deep bench.

Jacob: The three of us call all write now which is…I love bands like that.

Dan: Do you guys need a fourth? You need like an MC or something?

Jacob: I always enjoyed that, whether it was Led Zeppelin or Queen, bands like that were everyone contributes because you get so many different sounds, but the three of us have enough in common that I think it would still all fit, no matter whose composition it is.

Dan: Let’s talk about fears.  What fears do you have?

Hayden: I fear looking back at like age 43 and thinking, “Hey, I spent most of my 20s and early 30s working on something that didn’t really work out” and coming to terms with that.  That’s something I fear.

Dan: Why do you fear that?

Hayden: I imagine that would be a shitty feeling, to look back and see all that time you invested, not doing…it’s time you can’t get back.  You only get time to get really good at a couple of things in life and if the one thing that you tried to do and got good at, but just for whatever reason didn’t work out, that’s not going to feel good.

Dan: So what do you do when that fear enters your mind?

Chris: Oh, I just drink. [Laughter] Drink a lot of whiskey.

No, it’s about perspective.  Even if we were super successful, I’m still just another human walking this planet for 80 years, if I’m lucky, and it wouldn’t matter if I was in the biggest band in the world or if I played in empty cafe’s for the rest of my life.  It’s kind of a depressing way to look at it, but I find it centering.  I’m gonna give it my best shot with these guys and I think we’ve got something really good here.

Chris: Have you seen Star Wars? The Empire Strikes Back, actually.  Han Solo’s gonna fly into an asteroid field and C3P0 starts saying something about the odds being so many million against. And he says, “Never tell me the odds!”  And switches him off. [Dan laughs]

It takes a tremendous amount of arrogance, I think, to start a band and try to make it work, or any business, any business, because most businesses fail and most bands fail.

And the overwhelming statistical likelihood is that this band will never go anywhere and will break up within a few years.

But I don’t believe that.

And to say that and to really believe that this one is going somewhere, takes a tremendous amount of, I don’t know whether it’s arrogance or confidence, and I used to feel really self-conscious about it, but I don’t any more.  I just feel like, “No, this is what I’m going to do.”

Dan: So what allows you to say that?  Like what is it about you that…because it is, people see it as a risk – it’s not a typical life.

Chris: I think it’s being…well I’m 27 now and I haven’t been able to give up music yet and I feel like if there was going to be that outside force saying, “No, you have to give up on your dreams and do something else now.”  It would have already happened. That hasn’t happened.  I don’t feel that somebody came and shut me down.  I don’t feel that I’m suddenly an adult and need to act like one.  Like I just kind of, I realized that that would never happen.

Jacob: Hm.

Dan: What do you mean?

Chris: I realized that every other musician just decided to be a musician and pretended to be one until other people started thinking of them as a musician.

Okay – so I used to do a lot more audio engineering work for other people, and I got into it because I wanted to learn how to do it.  But I also thought it would be a great way to meet people at clubs and other musicians and I was right, sort of, I met lots of people, but I met them as an audio engineer.

Dan: Right.

Chris: So then that doesn’t help you as a musician at all.  People think of you as an audio engineer.

Dan: Hm.

And I started realizing, “No one would ever think of me as a musician until I thought of myself as a musician.”

And making that switch, I don’t know, it might take a long time for me to make a lot of money as a musician, it might never happen, but no one can ever take from me that I feel like a musician.

[Interlude – The Nepotist – Weekend Clothes]

Dan: So guys, what advice would you give to someone who sees what you’re doing and is wondering if it’s possible for them?

Chris: The best advice that I ever got about being a performer was that if there is anything at all that you can possibly do that will make you happy, that’s not this, do that. [Hayden laughs] Do the other thing. Because it will be easier and you will very likely be successful and happy, but if there is nothing else, then this is what you have to do, so you do it.

Hayden: The only advice I would give is: have fun.

Dan: Hm.

Hayden: You know, if this isn’t fun, what the hell are you doing it for?  In the beginning there’s not money, there’s a lot of stress, there’s a lot of work, but if for some reason that combination of stuff is still fun, then you got a chance.  I’m not going to tell you the odds, but you have a chance. [Laughter]

Jacob: I would also say: do it from the heart.  Whether you’re writing, you’re singing, you’re playing drums, anything, make sure you’re getting into it for the right reason.  Just to build off of what they were saying because, like they said, you can do so many other things that are not going to be as difficult as this.  So if it’s not from the heart then don’t do it.

Dan: So what’s your reason?

Jacob: When I’m playing drums, I feel it in my bones and my spine, to quote Chris Frank.

Hayden: He’s so cool.

Jacob: I feel like it is my duty to be the backbone for a band and have the deepest pocket possible, which is a drum term.

Chris: Bam.

Jacob:  I want to make people feel it,  I want to hit a drum and have the person in the back of the room feel it in their stomach.

Dan: What if they want to do it, but they don’t think they’re any good?

Jacob: Well you don’t have to put so much pressure on yourself right away to be the best person, as long as you’re growing and learning and enjoying it, that’s all that you really need to worry about.

Hayden: I mean Bob Dylan wasn’t, and isn’t, a very good singer.

Chris: I disagree.  I think he’s a great singer. [Laughter]

Dan: Here we go.

Hayden: Okay, if you’re using a certain aesthetic, Bob Dylan does not fit, and especially back then, you know, there were stricter standards of what constitutes music, good music.  And he didn’t care he had something to say, so he said it.

So if somebody’s out there who doesn’t think they’re good enough.  If you think you have something to say then A) practice and get good enough and B) say it, because people are going to listen if they really feel like you’re saying something.

[Outro Music]

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061 : Margot : Violinist & Singer

interview the dolls margot inspiring mia moretti

Since she was 4 years old Margot knew she wanted to be a violinist when she grew up.

Margot is now a professional musician, performing full-time as one half of the DJ-violin duo, The Dolls, alongside DJ Mia Moretti, and is set to release her debut solo project this summer.

You’ll hear Margot discuss how she made her way in the music world, the opportunities that come from being open and that the best way to move forward is to do the best you can do.

“You have to give your all. Always.” – Margot

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