The Best List

This is very likely the best list ever created on our site: “Best Xmas Present Ever

Feature #28: Thomas Brodahl

Screen shot 2013-06-19 at 5.24.43 PMThomas Brodahl is a self-identified “creative polymath,” – a truly multidisciplinary creator with a palpable love for design, art, ideas, and most importantly, people. Born in Bergen, Norway, Thomas spent his teenage years in Luxembourg, where he founded his first design studio in the late 90s. After starting the influential Surfstation project (in 2000, with Yohan Gingras and German Olaya), he launched his first product-oriented company, Stolen, in 2004 (in L.A.), simultaneously tackling projects for a wide range of clients along the way. In an effort to facilitate the creation of beautiful, easy-to-realize websites for people in need of an alternative to current tools, Thomas recently launched Nubook. We’re grateful he took the time to chat with us about this exceptional new platform while sharing some inspiring thoughts on design, technology and humanity. Be sure to check out his excellent Listgeeks lists after you read the below interview.

Listgeeks: How did the concept for Nubook come about (and evolve) before you launched it?

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Thomas Brodahl – “The Darkness”

Thomas Brodahl: It was twofold: A) Websites are too hard to make/manage, and B) most of them are boring to look at. Considering that most websites are 4-5 pages, we felt that we should be able to come up with something easier and faster to use than the existing systems. Inspired by the new iPad magazines and all the resurgent rage about desktop publishing, we figured we would try to make the same level of design quality for the web. So we started with a blank 990×620 page and built from there. We ended up with a pretty simple system that works a bit like HyperCard. You create pages and link them together using simple tools. The whole thing is really visual and intuitive to use. Drag-and-drop and edit-in-page.

LG: What are some of your favorite examples of how people have used the service and templates up to this point?

TB: Mostly people use Nubook for portfolios – artists, actors, photographers, directors, architects, designers, etc. – but every so often people take it and go in unexpected directions. We had a woman create a 40 page job application for a non-profit organization that she really wanted to work for – she told an amazing story, full of photos and videos. If I was an employer looking at candidates, I would have been thoroughly impressed.

Our youngest Nubook user is probably Josie Scout – she’s had a Nubook since before she was born. Her parents use Nubook to share her growth with friends and family. I feel like a proud uncle whenever new pages are added to her book. We’ve also had some great weddings (Kimberley & Nikolai + Ariel & Jonathan) and even a castle.

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One of the earliest Nubooks was actually by a woman who made a really beautiful site for a memorial service to her Uncle who had just passed away. You could tell that she needed to make a site in a short period of time and didn’t know how. Nubook allowed her to tell the story of this man through photos from his life. I remember seeing the pages come in, and them bringing tears to my eyes. There have been many others that surprised me, but that one sticks out in my mind. It made me feel like we had contributed to the world in a tangible way by helping her make this beautiful tribute.

LG: What are you focusing on with Nubook, update-wise?

TB: Right now we are focusing on growing our user base so we can keep expanding the platform. We didn’t take any funding, so we need to make sure we can pay for future development.

There’s a long list of things we’d like to add down the road. Password protection for private presentations, multiple Nubooks on one account, more themes, possibly opening up the template builder to pro-clients . . . I could go on for days about the potential of the platform.

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LG: You’ve been involved with a wide range of your own projects (in various disciplines) over the years, while simultaneously taking on work for various clients. Do you find it difficult to maintain a balance between those two things? How does your work with Nubook fit in?

TB: It’s difficult, but I think I’m coming to terms with it. I’ve always been interested in so many things, and being a creative spirit I want to explore all these areas. Sometimes I think I would benefit from more focus on one thing – since that is what is always hailed as the secret to success – and other times I accept the fact that my life is far more interesting and full thanks to my many experiences and pursuits, whether they were “successes” or “failures.” Everything I do teaches me more about myself and the world around me – to me that is true wealth.

To illustrate my point: Currently I’m developing another publishing platform, working on an iPhone camera app, planning a documentary about web design, and designing a new religion. On top of doing client work to pay the bills.

I can’t help myself, and I think I’m fine with that.

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LG: What have been the most compelling innovations, from your perspective, when it comes to Web-based design over the last few years?

TB: Fonts, ajax, s3. Technology basically catching up, and making life easier for people developing in the medium to be creative.

I still think that creative web publishing is beyond the reach of most people. They can figure out Facebook, but not much else. I look forward to the day when everyone feels empowered to create on the web in their own space, outside of the rigid structures of social networks. I hope Nubook is a step in that direction.

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LG: You started Surfstation nearly 13 years ago, and you’ve championed countless innovative designers and projects over the years. Though there was always a political/socially-conscious component to what you curated (and to your work, generally), it feels like bringing attention to causes you feel passionate about has become more central to what you do. Do you feel that’s the case? How do you think design can best help bring about positive change?

TB: I think when I started out I was just curious about design and learning the trade. I wanted to work for Nike and all the sexy brands out there. As I grew older and more seasoned I started to realize that design and advertising are often confused with each other, but are very different disciplines. One solves, the other sells. Sadly most of the great designers/communicators are hired to make advertising on Madison Avenue, much like the best scientists and mathematicians are hired to crunch numbers on Wall Street. I believe design has the chance to make this planet a much better place, but we need to elevate our profession from its current position, and use it to create the “design revolution” that Buckminster Fuller was championing 40 years ago. Designers are uniquely positioned to recognize the problems we face and come up with creative solutions to them. If we would take our sights away from profits and towards people, we could come up with the designs that will save life on this planet.

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For the past 6 years I’ve been studying and researching for what will hopefully be my opus – United People – a human operating system based on the best thinking from all human disciplines. As a designer you are always looking for problems to solve, so I decided to go for the biggest problem I could find. How do you change people’s thinking on a base level, so that they can take personal action to elevate themselves and others? A secular religion for the 21st century. Hopefully I only have a couple more years to go. Stay tuned. ∆ UP.

Links:

Thomas Brodahl Homepage | Twitter
NubookThomas Brodahl on Listgeeks

Feature #27: Berlin Design Guide

Credit_Chrischa_OswaldThe Berlin Design Guide is the latest in a series of books initiated by Viviane Stappmanns and Kristina Leipold (aka Alphabet Press). It’s a city guide and design directory rolled into one – the perfect companion for design-savvy travelers and Berlin natives alike. We are thrilled that Viviane and Kristina have shared a group of Berlin-related lists on Listgeeks from the guide – the results of their extensive research and visits to places all over the city over a course of a year. Lists as carefully curated as these are pure gold! Also, thanks to Viviane for being kind enough to answer a few questions for us:

Listgeeks: In which way would you say the Berlin Design Guide is different from other travel or city guides?

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Viviane Stappmanns: The Berlin Design Guide is the latest in a series of experiments that started in 2006 in Melbourne, Australia. Back then, we – a couple of design journalists – figured that people interested in architecture, urban design, fashion design or any other kind of design usually have a very specific approach to getting to know cities. They are interested in the development in a city as a creative place, and they look for experiences through which they can get to know the very local character of a city – whether it be art galleries, restaurants or a look behind-the-scenes of local designers. Our first design guide, published in Melbourne late in 2006, provided such a resource for both locals and visitors – and it was unexpectedly successful. Over the years, we’ve expanded and continued our experiment until we developed it into a blueprint that could technically work in any city of the world. The Berlin Design Guide was the first book to be published under this new umbrella.

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LG:
How did you go about researching content and finding specific locations?

VS: There were two distinct parts to this process. First, we developed – as described above – the blueprint for the entire series. In a roundabout way, we did this by coming up with a set of questions relating to various areas of the design scene. Questions such as: In which ways are historic buildings re-purposed to serve the purposes of the creative community? What are the current developments in architecture, and which buildings illustrate these developments? Also, we interviewed many local designers, academics, journalists, curators and so forth. All of the individual places and designers featured in the book – when viewed together – form a picture of the city as a creative place, and they each contribute a piece to the puzzle.

BerlinDesignGuide-7084wLG: Berlin has a reputation for being extremely attractive to creatives and artists from all over the world – mainly due to its low cost of living. What other things have you identified as being driving forces in making Berlin so attractive to the design and art community?

VS: Aside from the low cost of living, which is indeed an often-cited characteristic of this city, most artists and designers refer to the abundance of space – both literal and metaphorically – as one of the things that makes the city so attractive. All those re-purposed, derelict and abandoned buildings are the perfect incubators to grow a creative dream.

LG:
You have already published Design Guides for Melbourne and Sydney. What’s next?

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VS: We do commit to updating the guides every couple of years or so. Next, we are looking at publishing Melbourne and Sydney again – both in the new format of the series. We are also looking at creative cities in Europe such as Antwerp, Zürich and Istanbul, all of which are interesting for different reasons.

Links:

The Design Guide

The Design Guide on Listgeeks

 

 


Feature #26: Catrina Dulay

catrina_portraitCatrina Dulay is a compelling, San Diego-based designer and illustrator. Having recently graduated from design school (she attended Otis College of Art and Design, among other schools), she has written both for Design Milk and Holiday Matinee while tackling a wide range of projects for clients. Just a few weeks ago Catrina launched a beautiful new personal project, Catrina and Mouse – a shop for cat-themed art and design. Apart from her obvious design/illustration skills (samples below) Catrina is a prolific and thoughtful list maker, and we’re very happy she’s a part of the Listgeeks community. Be sure to check some of her lists out after you read the below interview.

Listgeeks: What first got you interested in pursuing design as a profession?

Catrina Dulay: My interest in art was a precursor to my interest in design. In elementary school, art was the only thing I felt good about doing because I wasn’t very good at anything else and being an only child gave me a lot of solitary time. I knew right away that I wanted to go to art school, but I had no idea what design was yet. I just liked pictures, colors, and putting things together.

I discovered web design in middle school and played around with Geocities sites until early high school, which was when I became interested in graphic design instead. Around this time, I also developed an interest in photography, but design was always my number one interest. After high school, I attended Otis College of Art Design in Los Angeles and finished my studies at a smaller design school in San Diego a year and a half ago.
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While I was studying, I discovered how much I enjoyed the creative process and how much it affects the work that I do. It affects any creative endeavor. I was watching the Anthony Hopkins episode of Inside the Actors Studio and he explained that he modeled Hannibal Lecter after reptiles. I thought, “That was a good idea.” Because it worked! It made that character terrifying! These ideas, these ways of approaching things… all of it has a big impact on the results. It’s also a major part of what makes the job fulfilling, because I’m not just creating stuff. I’m figuring stuff out. I’m solving problems. I’m finding answers to questions that I never thought of asking myself and reasons for things I never thought about. I really love that. That’s my favorite part of being a designer, and that’s how I knew I was pursuing the right profession.

LG: How long have you been a contributor to Holiday Matinee? How did that come about?

heartCD: I have been a part of Holiday Matinee for three years and two months now. When I started out, I was an intern and it was still based in San Diego. I discovered Holiday Matinee through another internship I was doing for Design Milk. At the time, I was taking online classes so I had enough free time for a second internship, so when Holiday Matinee had one available, I met with Dave (the founder) and took it. I was really excited to surround myself by like minded people, especially since I wasn’t in a physical classroom environment for a little while. I’m really grateful to be a part of this team of awesome people who are all about sharing creative inspiration and letting other people know that it’s more than okay to pursue what you love (in fact, this encouragement is a demand). Also, I should note that if it wasn’t for Dave forwarding me the Listgeeks launch announcement two years ago, I would not have discovered Listgeeks in the first place!

LG: You recently launched Catrina and Mouse, a shop for cat-themed art and design. Tell us how the idea to do that evolved.

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CD: The idea evolved about a year ago when I was unhappy with my creative work. It was about six months after I finished school and my inner confidence as a designer was low because I couldn’t find my niche. When you’re young and hungry, it’s disappointing because you want to satisfy your hunger, but you don’t know exactly what to satisfy it with. I knew what I wanted, but I did not know what I wanted (imagine the word “wanted” in a magnificent and gaudy lighted signage style). That made it easy to compare myself to other people who found their niche. I would look at some of my talented peers and think, “I could’ve done that! I could’ve created that!” But I could not have done this or created that. It wouldn’t have suited me and I probably wouldn’t have been able to do those things as well as they did. Making those comparisons was was a bad way to deal with self-doubt. I had to figure out what I could do to rejuvenate myself and my work. Whatever it was, it didn’t have to be groundbreaking, but it had to be done well and it had to make people happy. That was how Catrina and Mouse was born.

catsI thought it would be a neat idea to combine two things I love: cats and design. It’s not a unique concept (there is a lot of cat-oriented design out there already), but I thought that I could do something special with it. At first, it was a hypothetical idea, but I thought about it a lot. I thought about it in the shower, at night before I went to sleep, and in the morning when I woke up. That had to mean something. Eventually, I allowed myself to get lost in the fantasy of it and it became a more fully realized picture of everything I wanted to do as a designer. I thought, “Gosh, how fabulous it would be to make this happen!” And then I decided to go for it.

I wrote a plan long enough to fill a notebook and I worked on it a couple of hours each day for eleven months. When I approached the eleventh month, there wasn’t much I wanted to say about what I was doing. When you invest a lot of your time and energy doing something like that, you don’t want to explain it. You just want people to see it. So when I finally launched the shop, I was happy because I made something and I grew in the process. I think when you’re a young designer just out of school, you never stop being a student. At least, that’s how I feel. I think that a lot of master designers can still be students in a sense that they’ll always be learning something new about what they do and who they are as designers. I still have so much to learn because I’m new and I haven’t been broken by the wheel of design and business ownership yet, but I’m sure it’ll be a good hurt. So far, I’m glad I learned this: if you don’t make something, it doesn’t exist and if you want it to exist, it can, but that’s up to you.

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LG: What are some of your favorite sources of cat-related Internet madness?

CD: Surprisingly, I don’t visit a lot of cat-related sites. My favorites are Hauspanther, Cat versus Human, and Cash Cats. Most of my cat dosage comes from Tumblr (I follow a lot of cat Tumblrs). There are a lot of nice cats there. Most of the time, I come across a cat I like and I think about how fabulous it would be to know that cat. The rest of my internet cat dosage comes from Flickr, YouTube, BuzzFeed, Pinterest, a LiveJournal community I frequent, and stuff that my friends send me because they know me so well. I’m quite certain I cancelled out the first sentence in this paragraph three sentences ago.

LG: You’re an avid list maker – in fact one of the most prolific on Listgeeks. What is it about lists that you think make them compelling? What are some of your all-time favorites on the site?

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CD: I’ve always loved making lists for practical reasons and amusement. I think they’re compelling for many different reasons, and the more specific they get, the better they are. One really good example is the list, “Possible Names for a Pet Owl.” It’s not just any bird! It’s an owl! It’s a bird with a certain personality! Someone listed Wrathgarden and Serpent’s Madness, which are perfect names for an owl. I love the thought that went into that list, and I see a lot of that in many other lists on the site.

There are also lists that are really thought-provoking, like “Songs I Don’t Want to Hear While I’m Drinking a Smoothie” and “Famous Actors in Two Words.” Those are mental exercises. The “favorites” lists are great, too, because I enjoy discovering movies, books, and music. I also appreciate the informative lists (especially the design-related ones) and the lists that express frustrations because I love learning about people’s annoyances (not just the things they like). The lists I love most are the ones that help me discover new things about myself, like the “Things I Observe Upon Meeting Someone” list.

My all-time favorite lists are:

1. A Typeface is Like a Chair
2. Potential Kimye Baby Names
3. Animals I Want To Put Party Hats On
4. Ben & Zooey Breakup: Best Comments
5. Things Required in Black
6. Favorite Company Tag Lines

Catrina-related links:

Catrina’s Portfolio Website
Catrina and Mouse Shop
Catrina on Twitter
Catrina on Listgeeks

Feature #25: Peter Baker

baker_profilePeter Baker is a versatile, Ann Arbor-based photographer who has worked on a number of high-profile projects (with clients as diverse as I.D. Magazine, Hermann Miller, ESPN, and Zara) and had his work featured in an impressive assortment of publications (including How Magazine and American Photographer). While a meaningful percentage of Peter’s commercial work involves portraiture, his body of personal and professional images features a broad and compelling mix of beautifully captured landscapes, editorial subject matter and lifestyle shots. We’re grateful that Peter took the time to tell us about some of his influences and interests, and to give us a little insight into his process. Be sure to check out his lists after you read the below interview.

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Listgeeks: What originally got you interested in taking pictures?

Peter Baker: When my drawing skills couldn’t keep up with my imagination, and when I realized I was forgetting about some of the great places I was going. I also had a great professor in college who got me a lot more in to photography as a documentary art, rather than a purely visual art.

LG: From the outside, it seems like you and your wife Michelle, with whom you partner on design-related projects as Elevated Works, take on a pretty wide range of projects. How do you figure out where to focus your creative energy?

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PB: That’s a tough question, I’m not sure we’re terribly good at that, the focusing of creative energies. We both get obsessed with different things at different times, and just try to keep the bills paid while getting side tracked on whatever shiny thing is in front of us at the time. I’m a dilettante about a lot of things, but try to get good at all of them a little at a time. So one week I’ll play with lamp making, then woodshop projects, then tinkering with circuit boards, all while trying to keep up with skills we’re actually paid for. I’m sure there’s some rationalization to be made about variety being a valuable thing, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say we spread ourselves a bit thin.

LG: You’ve captured some quintessentially American images in a few of the personal projects featured on your site (Go West, These Great Lakes, Scrubbed and from your travels in Alaska) and a fantastic group of images from a visit to Iceland (Iceland) – if you could pick two or three places you’ve never been to spend a week shooting, where would you go? Has travel/being on the road always been an important inspiration?

PB: That’s actually one of the first lists I’ve made on Listgeeks. I would kill to shoot in North Korea for a while, or any of the post-Soviet eastern bloc areas. There’s something magical about the unified architecture and really heavy-handed aesthetic of those areas.

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I’d also go back to Iceland in a heartbeat, and southern Chili/Argentina. I like the edges of places. Kamchatka looks pretty too. Travel is really important to me, I get bored with my immediate surrounding (visually) really quickly, no matter where I’ve lived. Once I’ve photographed an area, I sort of feel done with it, and want to move on.

LG: Who are some of the photographers/artists you find inspiring these days?

PB: Doug Dubois, Ben Huff, Bryan Schutmaat, Daniel Shea, Peter Bohler, Hin Chua

LG: While your commercial photography work has involved a wide range of clients (I’ll list a few here), it also seems like you’ve made an effort to focus on local/regional projects as well. How is working in photography different for you, do you think, compared with photographers working primarily in places like L.A. or New York?

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PB: Not being in a major media market like New York, LA, or even Chicago is definitely an impediment against having a full-time career as a commercial photographer, no doubt about that. But it’s not like it’s exactly easy for everyone living in those cities either, and I’d hate for photography to ever feel like a grind, so I’m lucky that I can do other things that people want to pay for that aren’t as dependent on my location, and keep a healthy mix of pursuits, both personal and commercial.

Links:
Peter Baker’s Website
Elevated Works
Peter Baker on Listgeeks

Feature #24: Derick Rhodes (Listgeeks Co-Founder)

derick_portraitListgeeks co-founder Derick Rhodes is a man of many projects and interests. While his professional life is currently divided between Listgeeks and fStop (the Berlin-based image library he works on with Listgeeks collaborator Max Zerrahn), he is also an avid photographer, songwriter, and – as of earlier this year – filmmaker (more on that below). When he’s not busy making lists (752 to date, whoa!) Derick enjoys strolling around NYC and hanging out with his daughters.  Check out the below interview for more on how and why Listgeeks came to be – and to learn about some of Derick’s influences and current obsessions:

LG: How did the initial idea for Listgeeks come about?

Derick Rhodes: Max and I have have been friends for a long time, and on many occasions our shared love of lists has been a topic. While it’s easy to find out what your friends are listening to, or maybe which movies they’ve found interesting lately, we thought it would also be cool if there were a way to share a wider range of interests, so that people could explore the inspirations and interests of others across a variety of categories.

LG: What have been some of your favorite lists since you launched the Website?

DR: As Max mentioned in his interview, we’ve been surprised by the ways in which people use lists not just to catalog the things they like, but to communicate something about who they are. In this fantastic interview with Spiegel, the novelist Umberto Eco argues that the list “is the origin of culture,” and I think it’s true that there’s a very fundamental satisfaction in arranging things (from feelings to least favorite sports teams) in list form. Lists give life order and help us to more easily process the world. Here are some favorites:

Morrissey Vs. Technology by Derick
Artists in Love by ollygolightly
A current to do list copied and pasted from my phone by Girls
Best ways to hide you’re a tourist by limboyouth
Hip Hop Tracks that Won’t Happen by wired

LG: How can you imagine Listgeeks changing/expanding in the future?

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DR: We sent a message out to the Listgeeks community a few months back, trying to see who might be interested in partnering with us to evolve the site/project, and the feedback has been really interesting. We’re currently in discussion with a few different potential partners, and we hope to have an announcement of one sort or another in the coming weeks. From my perspective, the priorities in further developing the site are pretty simple:

  1. Launch an awesome mobile app, so that people can easily make and read lists on the go, and
  2. Find a smart way for people to include images/video/sound with each of the items they add to a list.

LG: Are you a big user of social media apart from Listgeeks?

DR: I (mostly grudgingly) use Facebook daily, and I’m relatively active on Twitter, but I prefer Listgeeks.

LG: Tell us about the movie you made – how did that come about?


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DR: It’s called Secret Everything, and I shot it with some friends last year in Brooklyn (where I live) and Vermont. It was a low budget affair – I’ve been obsessed with filmmaking since I was a teenager and decided to write something that could be produced relatively quickly (the shoot lasted 8 days) with a minimal crew. Film Threat published the first review a few days ago, and now I’m waiting to hear back from a bunch of different festivals – fingers crossed it will be released on the major digital platforms (Netflix, iTunes) later this year, but if not I’ll find a way to make it available.

LG: What are some of your  favorite Websites at the moment, apart from Listgeeks?

I really like:

Justin Ouellette’s Blog, JSTN
Emily Keegin’s Blog, Proper Nouns
Craig Robinson’s Blog, Flipflopflying
Kathleen Hanna’s Blog
Kentucker Audley’s Blog, NoBudge
Max Zerrahn’s Blog, limboyouth

Derick-related Links:

Derick on Listgeeks
Derick on Twitter

Feature #23 – Kentucker Audley (NoBudge)

tumblr_m695d3UYqc1qamjk8o1_r2_500Kentucker Audley is a Memphis-based independent filmmaker, actor, writer and curator. He released his first film, Open Five (which the New Yorker called “One of the Top 25 Films of the Year”), in 2010, and posted the follow-up, Open Five 2, to the Web (where you can watch it free of charge) just yesterday. Working beyond the realm of traditional film distribution and the hype-driven festival circuit, Kentucker has become an important voice in American independent cinema over the last few years. His website NoBudge, which launched last year, showcases an inspiring collection of “truly independent,” carefully curated films. After you’ve had a chance to read the below interview and check out his lists, we highly recommend you spend some time exploring the below-the-radar-but-seriously-deserving work he’s featuring.

Derick Rhodes/Listgeeks: Before we get to NoBudge, what’s the latest on Open Five 2, your current film?

Kentucker Audley: It was just released on NoBudge – it was made for the web. I love the idea of making a film and then it’s immediately available. It’s very time-consuming and expensive submitting to festivals, traveling with the film, and chasing down distributors. And usually it doesn’t amount to a significant boost in exposure, or financial gain.

LG: In the last few years, you’ve written/directed/acted/curated. If you could, would you spend the bulk of your time in one of these areas exclusively, or is doing a little of everything important to you/your process?


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KA: I like mixing it up. They all play off each other – maintaining each makes me better at the others.  Running the blog keeps me up on new films. Acting gets me out of my comfort zone. Writing and directing is how it all started, my first love, how I defined myself initially.

LG: How did No Budge come about?

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KA: I remember searching iTunes one day and on the front page was “The Ryan Reynolds Collection,” featuring, you guessed it, all of Ryan Reynolds’ movies! Seeing that was like touching a hot stove. I had that same recoil. That’s a common problem trying to find movies online or VOD. Search any major platform and try to find a truly indie film without having having to wade through Total Recall or The Watch. It’s like having to walk through McDonalds to get to the farmers market. It kills the vibe. After a couple of these experiences, I started to think it was important to create a home for only small films, free from Hollywood eyesores. I had no web experience, but keeping it simple was fine, so I just started a Tumblr blog and began posting under-the-radar films.

LG: On the one hand, it seems like it’s nearly impossible for microbudget/small-scale films to get conventional/mainstream attention these days, and on the other, there’s tons of great work being made, and it couldn’t be easier to push movies to the Internet. Do you think we’re at the point where the traditional film industry is going to (finally) be disrupted in a serious way?


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KA: Yes, exactly. It’s incredibly easy to make your film available across the world, but getting it seen outside your friends is difficult. There is an unprecedented amount of great new films being made independently – you can make a professional looking film for $1,000, and therefore don’t have to be accountable to investors. But inevitably it’s harder to find the good stuff. That’s why I think curation is increasingly important, and why I wouldn’t be surprised to see more and more hyper-focused distribution/curation “labels” pop up. But something like NoBudge is not competing with the industry. It exists below it, in spite of it, to help validify or classify personal cinema. The subset of films I program on NoBudge are like mixtapes – they have a raw quality, their edges are jagged. Maybe they are experiments, maybe they are imperfect, and probably that’s the point, and what makes them intriguing. I think the digital transition is starting to settle, and despite inevitable power shifts, the traditional Hollywood structures are still very much in place. But that’s not concerning because I’m not trying to disrupt – I’m trying to build something new.

LG: If you had to select 3-4 seriously low budget films (made, say, for less than $20,000) as essential viewing from the last few years, which films come to mind first?

KA: Joe Swanberg and Frank V. Ross are two names that immediately come to mind. All of their films are interesting and made for nothing. I have a soft spot for filmmakers who keep making tiny movies. In the old days, you made one movie, and if it wasn’t a springboard to a full-fledged film career, that was it – you didn’t get another chance. Now, films are so cheap to make that you can make movie after movie. Joe Swanberg is one of the bigger names in indie cinema and until this summer, he didn’t make a movie for more than $20,000. Frank’s latest movie, Tiger Tail in Blue, is essential viewing, I’d say. Just in the last year, movies like Richard’s Wedding, and Marvin Seth and Stanley are funny and great. The first film we had on the site – Wishful, Sinful - I would classify as essential.


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LG: For people trying to find films like those you showcase . . . apart from visiting festivals or coming across a site like yours – what’s the best way to go about discovering quality work at this point, from your perspective?

KA: A boutique distribution label called Factory 25 is putting out great, small movies. And the website Hammer to Nail has smart writing and covers only indie films. But overall, it’s a tough landscape for audiences who want to see edgy movies. Your average arthouse theater won’t touch small, or self-released films. If you don’t live in New York or LA, there’s very little opportunity to be exposed theatrically to an eclectic view of indie cinema. If your idea of arthouse ends with Fox Searchlight or Focus Features, or Sony Pictures Classics, I think you owe it to yourself to dig a little deeper.  Most opportunities to watch true indie films now are online.

LG: What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers who want to try to make a career out being involved with making their own movies?

KA: I would say try it as a hobby first. Don’t expect to make money. If you find enough meaning in the process itself, without regard to audience response or financial gain, then keep doing it, and eventually maybe there’s a way to make it career-wise. It’s an incredibly rich endeavor in of itself I think.

Links:
NoBudge
Kentucker’s Home Page
Kentucker’s Blog
Kentucker on Listgeeks

Feature #22 – David Bazan (Pedro the Lion)

bazan-solo-van480David Bazan has been writing and releasing emotionally evocative, beautifully crafted songs since the mid 90s, when he formed the influential indie band Pedro the Lion (who were active for ten years). His unique ability to tell rich, detail-laden stories – often intricately weaving a comprehensive narrative into the brief span of a three minute pop song – has earned David comparisons to such great American songwriters as Neil Young and Elliott Smith.  Having spent the last few years playing house shows (intimate gatherings in fan’s homes in which he performs acoustically) and touring in support of his last full-length release, Strange Negotiations (Barsuk), David made the move to re-master and re-issue the entire Pedro the Lion back catalog earlier this year. We’re grateful he took the time to chat with Listgeeks’ Derick Rhodes about those re-issues and his current tour, in which his band, David Bazan Band, performs Pedro the Lion’s influential Control album in its entirety.

Derick Rhodes/Listgeeks: You recently reissued all of the Pedro the Lion vinyl. How did that come about?


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David Bazan
: Vinyl has begun to start selling a lot better – we’re selling way more vinyl than we did five years ago. And that’s exciting, for me – I like listening to records on vinyl. It’s a more committed monster – and since albums are kind of going the way of the dodo, I think it’s an interesting trend that makes someone like me pretty happy. So we started hearing from people that they wanted to get the Pedro the Lion records on vinyl, and the only way they could do that was to spend $150 per title on eBay, and we thought, well that’s not cool – let’s see if we can’t reissue those.

LG: Why did you decide to play Control, rather than one of the other records?

DB: It’s a little bit of a financial risk to press all this vinyl, and we realized we’d need to promote the re-releases somehow. It was suggested that we tour with the name Pedro the Lion, and I said no to that.


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LG: Why was that?

DB: Well, I stopped using the name for several reasons. The “band” Pedro the Lion wasn’t really the issue, because that was me and, like, 25 other guys – a rotating cast of characters. I’ve spent a lot of time since quitting using the name trying to develop – we’ll talk about it in the crass term “brand names” (which to some degree, it is). . . and it’s a tough thing to do – to develop brand recognition or name recognition, however you want to talk about it. So touring like this, playing the album Control under the name David Bazan Band plays. . . should help to connect the dots. If we just toured as Pedro the Lion people would think, “Oh, well I’m just gonna wait till they come back as Pedro the Lion again,” rather than realizing what the tour is about. Also just using the name Pedro the Lion feels like a cash grab to me in a way that I don’t really like.

bazan_sandwich

LG: The themes you wrote about on Control still seem very apt, in terms of American politics at the moment.

DB: Yeah, unfortunately it’s not an outdated bunch of tunes, in terms of theme. I think the political and cultural tension which 9/11 – and the official response to 9/11 highlighted – the fire that stoked is still burning pretty strong, and that’s deeply troubling. Unfortunately a lot of the themes on the record are still pretty fresh. In that sense I suppose cynics will always be better predictors of the future than other folks. To finish the answer to the question “Why Control?” – it’s the only record from all the Pedro records that I can play every single song from…that I enjoy every single song from. So if we were gonna play a record all the way through, this would have to be the one, and as it turns out it’s also the most popular Pedro record, and it’s also 10 years old this year.

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LG: How did the idea to do the recent living room tours come about?

DB: The idea came up in late 2008, knowing that Branches was going to come out in September 2009. The record label, Barsuk, they wanted me to kinda lay low in preparation for the album release, so that we didn’t use up all the tour press capital in the months before the record came out. We wanted to honor their approach, so when we were looking at the year financially – and realized there was no way I could stay off the road that long – we tried to come up with a way of touring that still honored the agreement that we had to lay low. So we came up with this idea to do house shows, which weren’t listed in press/weekly papers or featured on blogs…so I did probably 75 of those shows in 2009, and again in 2010 & 2011. I like it so much as a way of touring that I just keep doing it.

LG: Does touring like that give you a different sense of your fans?

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DB: I’m pretty aware that my perception of people who come to my shows or listen to my music is imprecise. I’d have interactions back in the day at a rock club with probably 5 or 10% of the people in a personal way, and even then you can’t really tell what people are like in any meaningful way. That said, I have a lot more individual interactions of the living room tours, and the thing I come away with is how honored I am to have such normal, cool people be into my music. I couldn’t say for sure, but I think people get a way better sense of who I am because of the access they have at those shows. It’s easier to take the temperature of the room at those shows – you can feel the texture of a person a lot better in that situation.

Check out David’s lists on Listgeeks

Other Links:
David Bazan Home
David Bazan Soundcloud
David Bazan Facebook

Feature #21 – Danny Lane (Sofa Club)

Danny Lane is a compelling, NYC-based musician, actor and visual artist, and his band Sofa Club recently released their first EP, “Actual Video.” When he’s not working on a film project (Danny appears in the forthcoming indie film “Secret Everything“) or taking pictures for his excellent tumblr blog, Danny can usually be found hunched over an 80s synth, looking for the perfect sound for one of his upcoming tracks.  Danny was kind enough to take the time to chat with us about Sofa Club’s history and the terrific new video for their song, “Gotta, Gotta, Gotta” (check it out below). After you’ve had a chance to read the interview, be sure to spend some time with his impeccable collection of lists.

Listgeeks: How did Sofa Club, as a project come about?

Danny Lane: It started about a year ago – a little over a year ago – when my last band, Paragraph, broke up. I wanted to make music by myself – to see what that was like – but it was hard to do alone, and I needed people to play shows/develop songs with. I asked my friend Dave, one of the best musicians I know, and then he and I got our friend Max to play piano. We tried out a couple of drummers, but we end up going back to electronic drums. So it’s me, Dave and Max.

LG: But you write the majority of the music?

DL: Yeah – I write the majority of the music . . . though we also write and record together at this point.

LG: So on some tracks you’ll do everything, and there are other tracks where it’s more of a collaboration?

DL: Yeah. The collaborating experiences are getting more and more comfortable every time.

“Rachel,” by Danny Lane (to see more of his photography, visit doasplit.tumblr.com)

LG: So the four songs on the EP – are those all recent?

DL: The songs from the EP that just came out were written and recorded about a year and a half ago. I wrote them on my own, and then recorded a couple of them with Dave and Max, and recorded a couple of them with my friend Billy. Autre Ne Veut did some additional engineering on the EP and recorded Alice Cohen’s keyboard solos on “Gotta, Gotta, Gotta” and “Danny Boy.”

LG: Most of your music has a synth-oriented, 80s aesthetic – do you feel like you share influences with many of the other 80s-inspired artists who are busy at the moment?

DL: Probably. You know, I like dance music from any time. The 80s thing is partially a product of the equipment that we use. If we recorded the songs on newer synths, the music wouldn’t sound like it sounds.

LG: Do you use mostly analog synths?

DL: Yep. I also use a recorder from the early 90s – an 8 track recorder – and we used mostly 80s synths and drums machines, otherwise.

LG: Are there specific sounds you like from those eras of music?

DL: Well, the idea for Sofa Club came from the Halloween time of year. I really wanted to make dance music, but spooky dance music, and I wasn’t really finding the sounds for that from modern synths.

LG: For people that don’t know Sofa Club, who would you cite as some of the bands or musicians that have influenced you?

DL: I always say it’s sort of like early Madonna meets Talking Heads. Madonna’s first album – her self-titled record – is probably in my top five records of all time.

LG: What do you see happening with Sofa Club down the line?

DL: Well, Chris Moore – who we mixed the album with – I really want to work with him on something from the ground up. He got involved towards the end of this EP, but I’d love to have the second EP produced, recorded and mixed by him. He had a lot to say about Sofa Club, and I want him to be able to get his voice in there more. Otherwise, I’m hoping to find a label to support a full-length.

LG: How did the “Gotta, Gotta, Gotta” video come about?

DL: Well, I was writing about the conflict between boys and girls, and I always pass this dance studio on the way home from everywhere I go, “Brandy’s Dance Unique.” So I went in there one day, on impulse, and I told them I needed six dancers, and wanted them to choreograph a dance, and I didn’t want to see it until the moment we starting filming. So I choreographed my own dance at home, and the idea was that we’d do both dances at the same time, and let whatever was going to happen happen. We were knocking each other over and stuff. I see a lot of dance studio-oriented videos where the girls are hip and very sweet, and I wanted this to represent Staten Island more. My close friend Marc Maffei directed the video, and as usual did an awesome job.

LG: Did they have a reference for the music you were making?

DL: They just kept saying, “Oh, so you want it weirder? You want it real strange? I think he wants it weirder!”

Sofa Club on Bandcamp
Sofa Club on Listgeeks

Listgeeks Interviewee Updates

We thought it would be fun to provide a mini update on what some of the people we’ve featured on Listgeeks over the last 7-8 months have been up to since we published their interviews:

Designer Khoi Vinh (interviewed here and on Listgeeks here) recently released the fantastic Mixel iPad app to great acclaim.  Mixel is, “a social art-making tool for people who don’t think of themselves as artists.” It’s addictive and inspirational and you can download it for free here. Khoi will be speaking on April 5th at TYPO San Francisco.

Illustrator Christoph Niemann (interviewed here and on Listgeeks here) has continued to create fantastic illustrations for The New Yorker, among other clients, and will have his first stamp designed for the German postal service released in May. Christoph will participate in an AIGA-sponsored talk, “Post Illustration” in NYC on April 18th.

Musician Kathleen Hannah (interviewed here and on Listgeeks here) has been putting the finishing touches on a new album with her new band The Julie Ruin, and also took part in mixing/releasing a live EP from Le Tigre’s world tour in 2004/2005, which is now available via iTunes here. Check out Kathleen’s blog for her latest inspirations and activities.

Australian musician Catherine Kelleher aka Catcall (interviewed here and on Listgeeks here) released her new single/video for “The World is Ours,” taken from her upcoming album, “The Warmest Place,” and she also launched a brand new Website to support the album release/current Australian tour. Talking about the inspiration for the album, Catherine said that, “The Warmest Place is what I feel when I listen to music that makes me happy, when I listen to music that is really giving and unpretentious. But it’s subject to interpretation for everybody; it can be heaven, your bed, an island, sex, love, a summer’s day, a womb, a cup of tea, freshly baked bread… anything that brings comfort. I want this album to be comfort food and to keep people warm.”

NYC band Cookies (interviewed here and on Listgeeks here) just released an addictive new single called “Crybaby,” featuring the saxophone work of Colin Stetson (touring member of Arcade Fire and Bon Iver), which you can listen to/download here. Cookies will perform at Glasslands in NYC on May 16th. You can keep up with Cookies on Facebook here. Also note that the cover shot for this single comes from another collaboration with photographer Emily Keegin, who we interviewed here and (who posts to Listgeeks here.)

And finally, designer Erik Spiekermann (interviewed here and on Listgeeks here) drew his ideal future office (for Arte TV), was awarded the 2011 TDC Medal, stayed involved with a number of high-profile projects at Edenspiekermann, and will be facilitating at TYPO San Francisco on April 5th and 6th.

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