Pt 2. Interview: James White & the Broken Spoke

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George Strait. Photography by the Broken Spoke. 

On May 1, 2019 —For the second year in a row, I interviewed James White at the Broken Spoke sitting at table B2 next to a replica of Willie Nelson’s guitar, Trigger. The same booth where Willie Nelson and his wife, Annie, used to dine in decades past. Coincidentally, one year ago I interviewed him on the exact same day. This was not planned and I just so happen to notice this coincidence whilst uploading the audio files post-interview. Last year, the story was published in a local rock-n-roll zine in ATX and I titled it “James White talks 54 years at the Broken Spoke“. The first interview was a bird’s eye view of the last 54 years. Audio from the interview in 2018 can be found online, too. Mr. White talked to me about his quest, the dream of opening a honky tonk and meeting his wife and falling in love with Annetta. He told me about the volunteers who made the building by hand, one of which was a man so drunk he fell off the roof. The first time they booked Willie Nelson back in 1967. Back when Willie wore short hair, clean shaven and wore either a turtle neck, a vest or a sports coat. White told me about the time Dolly Parton came to film “Wild Texas Nights” in the eighties. He told me about the film “Broken Arrow” featuring Jimmy Stewart and how it inspired him to name the Broken Spoke after it. The time Rowdy almost got shot by a police officer when someone stole his father’s silver saddle that is now kept in a glass case.

“A lot of people, you know, they ask me, why did you go into this kind of business? All the way down to my childhood, my parents would take me to different dance halls in this area, and that’s where I got the love of country music in my veins… When I was in the Army, I didn’t know what I was gonna do when I got out of the Army. So I thought it would be kind of neat to open up a place of my own, similar to the places when I was growing up in Austin. It just became like a quest of mine the day I left the Army. And when I came out under the big ole oak tree out front (on South Lamar), I just kind of visualized a place like no other and when I got it built: I named it the Broken Spoke. The reason I thought up that name, I wanted something original. I wanted something country, I wanted something western. Texas style”. – James White

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Over the decades, Mr. White has become friends with the likes of Willie Nelson, Alvin Crow, George Strait, Garth Brooks and the list goes on and on like a jukebox with endless vinyl’s to play. Thankfully, the Broken Spoke isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. In fact, their business is booming right now! This recent kaboom is due to a delightful visit from one of Texas’ most adored and esteemed country western musicians: George Strait.

Last winter, during a daytime walk I noticed an entourage outside of the Broken Spoke and became very curious. True, I see photo shoots and video crews outside the building all the time. People travel from all over to photograph and film this beloved Texas classic. However, this was a larger than usual crew of people. A few nights later, Steven Mark and I trailed in for a few libations. At which point, Mr. White informed my boyfriend and I that the infamous King of Country, the one and only, George Strait was at the Broken Spoke for his latest album Honky Tonk Time Machine.

Universal Records and Spotify came out to film and photograph George Strait at the Spoke, as well as interview Mr. White. On the one hand, I was stunned that George Strait came back to the Broken Spoke for a photoshoot — the sheer idea George Strait was in my hometown at a local bar right around the corner was mystifying. I’ve never seen him in person. Strait is a cowboy I’ve heard singing to me all my life through radios, stereos and televisions. All my life, his face has been all over Texas and the south, and yet, he has no bloody clue who I am. And yet, here Mr. White is just hanging out casually with a long time friend. So, on the other hand—I was not stunned or shocked—it’s just another sunny day in the colorful story of Mr. White, his family and life at the Broken Spoke.

“You can find a chisel, I can find a stone. Folks will be reading these words, long after we’re gone. Baby, write this down, take a little note, to remind you in case you didn’t know. Tell yourself I love you and I don’t want you to go, write this down. Take my words, read ’em every day, keep ’em close by, don’t you let ’em fade away. So you’ll remember what I forgot to say, write this down.” – George Strait

Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, James White booked George Strait for seven years. At the time, Strait was a part of band near San Marcos called Ace in the Hole. Once he became more and more famous, the booking fees outgrew the Broken Spoke. Decades later, true to Texas form, Mr. Strait never forgot his roots and came back to the honky tonk dance hall in Austin. George Strait also brought his wife, Norma, and his driver, Leroy. Weeks later, Broken Spoke was featured on the front cover of George Strait’s latest album “Honky Tonk Time Machine”. The album was released on Feb. 11, 2019. Later on, when George Strait performed at the 2019 Academy of Country Music Awards in April. The backdrop featured a photo of the Broken Spoke and by the graphic effects, it almost looked as if they were playing outside the building. The bright colors of the Texas flag blowing in the wind against the woodwork, the wagon wheels and the honky tonk dance hall. This is outstanding publicity for the Broken Spoke! Ever since, more visitors, from all over are flocking to the Broken Spoke. Which is fantastic news because the city of Austin treasures the local hotspots and it’s comforting to know business is alive and well at the Spoke. I liked hearing James White tell the story about when he finally informed George Strait about the ladies bathroom Annetta adorned with his cowboy pictures. Apparently, Strait was very flattered and had a real good sense of humor about it. I was told he even gave Annetta a kiss on the cheek!

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With only five cases of beer to sell, James White opened the Broken Spoke in 1964. After he was released from the U.S. Army at the age of 25 – Mr. White decided to pursue the quest, his dream, of opening a honky tonk in Austin, Texas to feature live country music and a dance hall. In the beginning, Broken Spoke was a local roadhouse where beer cost .25 cents a bottle and customers could get ice and a soft drink for .30 cents to chase down their liquor. Back in those days, before the peak of craft cocktails, people could bring their own liquor bottles to the bar in Texas. Now in 2019, over 55 years later, Broken Spoke has become a worldwide famous dance hall with a full bar and restaurant. By the late 80’s the Broken Spoke started to gain more and more fame. Featured in Texas Highways magazine, The Food Network, The New York Times, Nat Geo Traveler, CBS News, Texas Monthly, The Smithsonian and more; Broken Spoke is a historical landmark. The Broken Spoke is owned and operated by James and Annetta White. The two met at a dance hall in 1961 when she caught his eye and have been married 52 years. Annetta and her husband have worked together for decades to keep the Broken Spoke running successfully. Amongst her many contributions to the Broken Spoke, I discovered that Annetta is the one responsible for the George Strait photographs covering the women’s bathroom, giving the ladies room some cowboy vibes. For which, I am grateful.

“I ain’t got a dime, but what I got is mine. I ain’t rich, but Lord I’m free. Amarillo by mornin’. Amarillo’s where I’ll be”. – George Strait

Days prior to meeting Mr. White for a second interview, I felt anxious. Over the last 14 years, I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews. But I still got intimidated before interviewing James White. Even though the first interview went very well and the story was appreciated – even though I had no reason to feel anxiety because Mr. White and his entire family have been so friendly to me. Secretly, I still felt intimidated like, “What in the world am I going to ask this man that another writer hasn’t already inquired about? Is my story going to be any good at all? Where do I even start the second interview? How do I condense so much history into a few pages?” Instead of delving into my self-doubt as a Texan, I chose to chase the story. And I am glad I did.

Mr. James White is one of the kindest and most down-to-earth individuals I’ve ever interviewed. Out of all the celebrities, artists and entrepreneurs I’ve interviewed over the last 14 years – the White family will always linger fondly in my memory for making me feel welcomed. Not everyone I interview is so kind or humble, and the kindness is forever permeated into my brain. In a way, the Broken Spoke now feels like it’s become part of my own Texas history, too. I can understand wholeheartedly why people have coined the Broken Spoke as “the country western version of Cheers“.

During the second interview, late that morning, there was some commotion in the background. People looking for a key to the walk-in freezer. Beer shipments had arrived and the freezer was locked. Throughout the interview, you can hear people coming and going, including one of his daughters, Terri White. She teaches dance lessons at the Broken Spoke. Terri was kind enough to bring me some fried okra she’d just cooked in the kitchen. Walking over to table B2, she asked me if I wanted a bite, I said yes and took only one piece, as to not feel greedy. I guess she read my mind, because she reached into the basket and placed a handful of okra onto the table and left me with a napkin. It made me smile and I thanked her, again. It was a very sweet moment and reminded me that one of the many reasons why I’m grateful to be a Texas girl: southern hospitality and the love of sharing food and drinks together.

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Artwork by Kevin Geil.

Mr. White has another daughter, Ginny White Peacock. There is a fundraiser for Ginny on May 17, 2019 starting at 8 P.M. CST. Last year, I met her at the previous interview, and she was also very lovely and polite to me. She talked to me about the buildings electrical oddities and asked about my artwork. Recently, after many serious, life-changing health concerns that caused Ginny to lose both her feet and legs, below the knee, and nine fingers—as well as undergo a lot of painful surgeries she’s still recovering from—the Broken Spoke is hosting a silent and live auction to raise money for Ginny to obtain prosthetic legs. A wife and mother to two young boys, the fundraiser is a chance “to celebrate and come together to raise money so Ginny can get back on her feet”. Two Tons of Steel, Derailers, The Wagoneers w/ Monte Warden and other special guests will play music for the benefit. The auction entails over 100 items and collectibles. Including an autographed Limited Edition George Strait guitar (and an autographed cowboy hat) donated by George Strait & Tom Foote. A round of golf foursome with celebrity Ray Benson at Barton Creek Country Club. Ginny’s artwork will also be featured at the benefit. Please come on out to support the White family! If unable to attend the event, there is also a GoFundMe campaign where donations can be made to help Ginny on her road to robot legs.

Music and drinks aren’t all the Broken Spoke has to offer. Their barbecue is quite delicious and they are notorious for their chicken fried steak. On occasion, Mr. White still chops wood for the kitchen. Out at his ranch, there are some gullies and ravines that he uses a tractor to find wood for the fire. Live oak, Spanish oak and Heritage oak are the kinds of firewood he and his crew brings to the Broken Spoke to smoke meats. “It helps zap the taste in there and it’s sort of a flame-kissed smoked process”, stated White. The Spoke has had a BBQ pit from day one and way back in the day, James White and Bobby Flay used to cook together.

It would take several books to document all the history of the Broken Spoke. There is simply no way to condense it all for a literary journalism piece for the web. I hope to compile all my recordings into a short story and get it published elsewhere. Meantime, if you’d like to hear James White talk about the time Garth Brooks played a surprise show at the Broken Spoke in 2017. Booking George Strait back in the 70’s and how White was contacted for the cover of his latest album. Please stay tuned for the interview to go live!

“It’s a heart thing you feel good about. At the end of the day, I take more pictures now than I ever took in my life before now. Hell, no one wanted my picture in 1964 but now everyone does and I’ll make up for lost time. There were fun times in the 1960’s and everything was new. I just had so much fun here at the Spoke. But I think the one (press) thing we did with Texas Highways stood out the most. It’s like the gift that keeps on giving. Now we’re on every roadside park in Texas at the rest stops. I mean you come in and there’s a picture of the Broken Spoke and the Cadillac outside. And then on the left there at the state Capitol, it’s right there you know. You got music, you got Texas and then you got the Broken Spoke. It’s a very good compliment to us. Since then we’ve been voted the Best Country Dance Hall in the nation, home of the best chicken fried steak in town, a lot of metropolitan awards. We’ve won a lot of awards. I’m in the Texas Hall of Fame and the Smithsonian. I’m in the Country Music Hall of Fame… I never expected it. All I really wanted was a honky tonk dance hall. So I got what I wanted, but then I got a lot more. Which is fine, it’s fun, a hell a lot more fun to have people brag about you than bitch about you. It’s always more fun to get compliments”. – James White

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The Filigree Theatre presented Anna Ziegler’s play “A Delicate Ship” at The Santa Cruz Theater in ATX

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Photo of set from “A Delicate Ship” at The Santa Cruz Theater performed by The Filigree Theatre. Photography: Nicolette Mallow.

The Filigree Theatre premiered Anna Ziegler’s poetic play A Delicate Ship in Austin, Texas on Feb. 15, 2018. A theatrical performance that marked the second production of The Filigree’s inaugural season, their first play was Betrayal by Harold Pinter. A Delicate Ship and Betrayal were both hosted by The Santa Cruz Theater. Champagne and cookies were served after each performance. The cast of A Delicate Ship consisted of David Moxham (Sam), Laura Ray (Sarah) and Nicholaus Weindel (Nate). Directed by Elizabeth V. Newman (Artistic Director) and Produced by Stephanie Moore (Co-Managing Director) the play premiered until closing night on Feb. 25, 2018. 

What is the synopsis of A Delicate Ship and what does this story entail? “It’s Christmas Eve, and Sarah and Sam are celebrating like New Yorkers: flirting over wine and debating the nature of existential suffering. Then there is knock on the door, and Sarah’s childhood friend Nate stands at the threshold. And suddenly suffering becomes a whole lot less sexy. A kaleidoscopic look at one night in New York City that changes the lives of three people forever.” 

Weeks ago that was the exact synopsis I read on the Press Release sent to me by a publicist I’ve worked with many times, and immediately I was intrigued and knew I wanted to attend. Theatrical performances are like taking a mental and emotional journey in time whilst sitting still in the audience. It’s like pulling back the curtain to someone else’s life and being an invisible guest. As beautiful as film and cinema may be and as much as I adore all the arts: theatre arts and theatrical performances hold a beloved place in my heart, like music, because it feels as if I am experiencing a daydream that I can immerse myself into, like diving into an Olympic pool and imagining I am a mermaid out at sea. Like a daydream, theater arts lets me float away in imagination. I can watch the play and forget about my life and my characters for a few hours at a time. Generally I read a play in its entirety before attending a performance to know the exact story, dialogue and characters. But this time I read nothing but the Press Release and did not delve into the minute details. I wanted to walk into A Delicate Ship with an open mind.

Immediately upon entry into the theatre I saw blue windows, blue lights, a brown leather sofa, a guitar, a birdcage, The New York Times newspaper, other trinkets and home decor like books and a modest at-home bar. The stage was set in someone’s NYC apartment and it looked like a cold December night by the wool and flannel jackets hung by the door. The venue space at The Santa Cruz Theatre is very intimate in size and it makes for an evocative, memorable and vivid experience with the audience and the actors on stage so close in proximity the eye contact can feel magnetic. 

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A Delicate Ship was my second experience to see a performance by The Filigree Theatre. The first play was so delightful that I came back for more. This time I attended on the opening night as a member of the Press and I had the pleasure to interview Elizabeth V. Newman: Co-Founder, Artistic Director & Co-Managing Director of The Filigree Theatre and A Delicate Ship. 

Nicolette Mallow: The set on stage was beautiful! I loved the integration of music, spotlights, blue lights and windows… Does the theatre intend to keep expanding light and sound into plays? I feel like Betrayal was a lot more subtle in regards to sound and lighting effects. I adored the colors and sound effects in A Delicate Ship

Elizabeth V. Newman: Thank you! As a director, I really love working with my designers to build each distinct world for every show, which are totally dependent on what the needs of the particular show are; i.e. which elements are in the forefront and which underscore more subtly. Chris Conard is our set and lighting designer (also on the advisory committee of Filigree) and Eliot Fisher is sound. We all collaborated previously on the Austin Premiere (and the the Filigree pre-season Los Angeles Premiere) of Any Night by Daniel Arnold and Medina Hahn. The challenge of Any Night was to create a world that was evocative of a ‘fever dream’ so I worked with both designers to create a more wild, impressionistic, surreal/nightmarish. (Eliot was nominated for B Iden Payne for Sound, Chris for Lighting for the pre-LA premiere/Austin premiere of that show)… The next performance (Betrayal) for me was all about restraint and repression and about things simmering underneath a very polished, clean, hard surface. For Betrayal I wanted very straightforward, simple, white, almost clinical lighting. I wanted the production to be all about Pinter’s words and the silences between. The only sound was era specific music (English, 1960’s/70’s) between scenes to evoke the era and emotions bubbling up under the surface.  

Eliot and I discussed sound for A Delicate Ship and talked about how it was, in a way, the inverted universe of Any Night. For Any Night, each distinct location in the play had a sound-scape with amazing interstitials of a car crash and glass breaking – we hear the aftermath, in a dreamy/impressionistic way – of a major accident.  In A Delicate Ship, the sound sneaks up on you. Eliot used some sounds from some of the pre-show music and slowed them down beyond recognition and added other elements into the mix to create the design –  to ‘feel’ the nostalgia inherent in A Delicate Ship – familiar but unrecognizable. In terms of the set and lighting for A Delicate Ship – the environment of that Christmas Eve is intentionally naturalistic: cozy, warm and then, lighting-wise, we are pulled out of this Christmas Eve present moment and thrust into a memory space (blue light) as the characters need to reflect upon Christmas Eve. The goal was to provide a visual analog to the ‘woosh’ feeling that the character, Sarah, describes overcoming her at times.Our next show, Trio, by Sheila Cowley, which will be going up at the end of April, is set in an old garage that is inhabited by magical, child-like  beings so the tone and the ‘world of the play’ will be a universe unto itself and the set, lighting and sound design will come from bringing that kind of a world to life.

Mallow: How does The Filigree Theatre go about choosing their selected plays of performance? I’ve seen two performances now, both very different and delightful. They seem to revolve around love, sex, family, the human psyche and time/memory. And they require very few characters, three to four people at most. Thoughts? 

Newman: Thank you! Our Season structure is “Past (part of the theatre cannon) – Present (playwrights living and working today) – Future (new works/world premieres)” with each season revolving around a theme. For our inaugural season the official theme is: Trios/Triangles – but there are ‘secret’ hidden themes that have emerged for Season 1, namely memory, deception, passion/time. Trio will have six actors on stage: two ‘trios’ – one of characters who are actors trying to rehearse children theatre and one of the ‘trio beings’ who are akin to elves or sprits. Right now we are in the process of setting the season/choosing the theme for Season 2. I personally like to direct smaller casts a bit like chamber music: it is ’chamber theatre’. For me, when there are only two or three or four bodies on stage, each look, gesture, silence is meaningful and powerful. We have Stage One, our staged workshop reading series, to have an opportunity to get to know different writers (playwrights/screenwriters – help them develop their work – build a relationship – grow projects). In terms of selecting a play, I reach out to resources: NY based Playwright Eleanor Burgess, our Literary Advisor; Alex Timbers, our Artistic Advisor; New Play Exchange and of course actors, writers, or artists who have a sensibility that is simpatico with my own and with Filigree’s. 

Mallow: What is the auditions process and how many actors/actresses do you have on board right now?

Newman: We had double auditions for Betrayal and A Delicate Ship last May (because we knew we were going to Los Angeles with Any Night for the summer and had to set auditions before we went) it was a kind of big round robin casting two plays at once.  We saw such great talent – and I’ve subsequently worked with some of the actors who auditioned for us last May in our Stage One readings and other short plays I’ve directed in festivals. We recently had auditions for Trio. In May, we will have our Season Two auditions (why cast only two shows at once when you can cast three, right?) We are intentionally not a actors rep. company – there are some great companies who are doing that already. For us, the season structure/theme is the guide and for us, and our priority is it that casting be based role by role as required by the individual plays and that play selection not be based on what fits our standing acting company. That being said, I love revisiting collaboration with actors and designers as we develop a short-hand and common references and I get to see the wonderful range and talent of the folks I’m working with. 

Mallow: From a lot of reading and studying articles about depression, and losing friends to suicide and looking back on their behavior prior to their death… I could tell Nate’s character was suicidal from the get go. I have written stories about unstable characters and I was wondering… Was it difficult or cathartic for both directors and actors to portray such delicate signs of dark depression? Does repeating such intense words night after night ever become heavy on the heart?

Newman: A Delicate Ship definitely deals with some pretty serious topics. In the work that we did to prepare for the show, the cast and I delved into how the ramp up to, and ultimately the playing out of the tragic event affect not only the character of Nate but also Sarah and Sam. I’m very proud of my cast for giving it their all each run and not shying away from the difficult material. They are pros and have the courage and stamina to go there each and every time. In some ways, I would imagine it is tough for Sarah (Laura Ray) and Sam (David Moxham) as it is for Nate (Nicholaus Weindel) as they have to relive the discovery and the repercussions of what transpires night after night;  Nate is convinced that he is going to get his happy ending right up to the horrible moment that, he feels, it is yanked right out from under him. Up to that moment he is living what is, in his mind, a sort of big climax of a romantic comedy or a Nicholas Sparks story/plot. 

Mallow: Why do you think the characters were playing a battle of the wits and playing passive aggressive mind games, taking intellectual jabs at each other to hurt one another, as opposed to directly getting to the root of the matter right from the get go? Christmas Eve nostalgia? Fear? Pride? Inexperience to deal with uncomfortable situations since they are all fairly young? 

Newman: That is such a good question. I feel like Anna’s characters are so nuanced and complex and well-drawn that they function as fully formed humans who are sometimes making choices or using tactics that they are fully aware of and sometimes going at their goals sideways, and at times without any self-awareness. At times each of the characters are reacting from a primal place: self-preservation, fear, anger, lust, longing. Sometimes they act from their ‘best selves’ and sometimes from their ‘worst’. Our job as an ensemble of actors/director is to pick apart these different moments and tease out how aware each character is of their own actions/words and their effect on each other.

Mallow: Memory is a topic that comes up a lot because we all take walks down memory lane every day… but, why does Sarah’s character often block out good memories: sex with Nate, talking marriage with Sam… generally we block out only the bad but her character seems to disassociate a lot even from joy. Why is that?

Newman: One thing that Laura (playing Sarah) and I discussed quite a bit was the process of mourning and grief and how the loss of Sarah’s father (just weeks before sex with Nate) and not even a year before this Christmas Eve has become intertwined with her experience and history with Nate. We discussed how the sexual encounter may well have meant wildly different things to each of them and that the memory and association with it may have each taken on a different hue with time and distance from it.  We joked that really Nate may be ‘The One’ for Sarah if he weren’t such an ‘emotional vampire’ and how that contradiction and conflict might play out for and within Sarah. Similarly, I feel like Sarah’s time with Sam becomes pierced through with the loss of Nate which overshadows any of the happiness Sam and Sarah had.

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Artwork provided by The Filigree Theatre.

For more information about The Filigree Theatre please visit https://www.filigreetheatre.com. The Santa Cruz Theater is located at 1805 East 7th Street, Austin, TX 78702. 

About The Filigree Theatre: 

“Co-Founded by Elizabeth V. Newman (Artistic Director/Co-Managing Director) and Stephanie Moore (Co-Managing Director), The Filigree Theatre is committed to producing high-level, professional theatre in the city of Austin and to collaborating with local artists working across creative disciplines including fine arts, dance, film and music.

The company’s name, ‘Filigree’, meaning “the complex intertwining of delicate threats of gold and silver,” was derived from the Latin words for thread (filum) and seed (granum), which serves as the basis for the company’s dual mission: to serve both as a ‘thread’ by connecting Austin to theatre communities in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and London, as well as a ‘seed’by incubating, supporting and celebrating emerging theatre makers in Austin.  The Filigree Theatre is likewise dedicated to forging connections with diverse audiences across the region.

Newman and Moore have structured each season of The Filigree Theatre to be comprised of three shows connecting the “Past” (honoring the theatre cannon) “Present” (playwrights living and working today) and “Future” (world-premieres and new works) that are tied together with a common theme that runs throughout.  For The Filigree Theatre’s 2017-18 inaugural season, the theme is “Trios” and the three productions are (Past) Betrayal by Harold Pinter (Sept. 28-Oct. 8); (Present) A Delicate Ship by Anna Ziegler (Austin Premiere; Feb. 15-25); and (Future) Trio by Sheila Cowley (World Premiere; Apr. 26-May 6).”

“The Long Road Home” military series by National Geographic Channel is showcased worldwide

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Recently in honor of Veteran’s Day I attended a screening in Texas for a National Geographic Channel military series on TV called The Long Road Home. Nat Geo and the Texas Film Commission delivered a sneak peek into this Texas-filmed series based on Martha Raddatz’s bestselling novel The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family. The first episode premiered on November 7, 2017 and the show is now featured worldwide in over 171 locations and 45 languages each week on Tuesday’s via National Geographic Channel. The Long Road Home is presently the largest active set in the U.S. built on Fort Hood Army Base. Creator and showrunner of this TV show is screenwriter and documentary filmmaker Mikko Alanne.  

“On April 4, 2004, the First Cavalry Division from Fort Hood was ferociously ambushed in Sadr City, Baghdad—a day that later came to be known as Black Sunday. Based on Martha Raddatz’s best-selling book, The Long Road Home chronicles their heroic fight for survival, as well as their families’ agonizing wait on the home front back in Texas. The cast includes two-time Emmy-nominated actor Michael Kelly as Lt. Col. Gary Volesky; Emmy-nominated actor Jason Ritter as Capt. Troy Denomy; Kate Bosworth as Capt. Denomy’s wife, Gina; Sarah Wayne Callies as LeAnn Volesky, wife of Lt. Col. Volesky; Noel Fisher as Pfc. Tomas Young; and Jeremy Sisto as Staff Sgt. Robert Miltenberger.”

The Long Road Home tells a story of the ultimate sacrifice made at war. The series gives a voice and a proper acknowledgment to the Veterans that have served and their families that supported them. I absolutely loved the episode we were showcased and as I sat there watching the screening of The Long Road Home on a Sunday evening. I felt a wild and extensive mixture of emotions, light and dark. Mikko Alanne does a fantastic job of intertwining beauty and humor into a darker story. Right when you want to look away from Baghdad, the series keeps you hooked with light-hearted moments back in Texas. Alanne is also a master of flashbacks and retrospective storytelling. Viewers are watching the episodes with ease, without confusions as to the different times with different characters, past and present. I was also impressed by how the set is so accurate in detail that even the military personnel that helped advise Mikko Alanne on set described it to be almost a mirror reflection of Baghdad. One of the Veterans of the U.S. Army that helped Alanne in the production process, as well as attend the Q&A in Austin, is Eric Bourquin.

“While on the set he and other 1st Cavalry Division Soldiers endured in Iraq, Eric Bourquin managed to get the emotional healing he had sought for years. ‘There’s no way I could just take a stroll through memory lane [in Iraq] if i wanted to,” he said after a panel discussion about the show at the Defense Information School. “But I was so fortunate that I was able to do that and walk through it’. The Army assisted the film crew at Fort Hood, where producers claimed they built the largest working film set in North America on a 12-acre site. More than 80 buildings were erected at the Elijah urban training site at Fort Hood, Texas, where the division is headquartered, to resemble homes and streets in Sadr City. For Bourquin, who worked as a production consultant for the show, the fabricated town gave him tangible closure”. – U.S. Army

At the end of the screening I was able to ask Eric Bourquin a question and it was definitely an intense moment for me. I respected his honesty and bravery to retell this story and to heal from it. [A recording of the Q&A can be found on YouTube.] For me, even though I never served in the military, it was hard to ignore my personal feelings at a Press event like this being a military brat myself that grew up with nearly all Veterans and men of the military: Air Force, Army, Marines, Green Berets and so on. As a member of the military family, this was an intense but heartfelt episode for me because I’ve experienced and seen what the military and wartimes can do to a person, good and bad. I’ve seen the affects of PTSD and trauma. It hurts the Veterans and their families to see loved ones struggling. Even if the Veterans are most affected of all. Thus, any safe place of healing is highly commendable and needed. Ultimately I respect the vision of what The Long Road Home is hoping to accomplish because that is really what Veterans and their families really need: to be heard, seen and to heal so that they may readjust back to normal everyday life and recover from the past. 

I highly recommend this TV series for all Veterans and members of the military family. Even if you’re not a Veteran, active duty or part of the military family. This show can be appreciated by all civilians because it’s deeply important for those uninvolved or unrelated to the military to gain enlightenment and second-hand exposure as to what military personnel have to endure overseas at war whilst away from home. We all need to see and to empathize with the difficulty Veterans face (and their families) when returning back. We need to see their long road home to recovery and healing. I really valued this series as an artist and a member of the military family, because when a member of the military is deployed and goes to war, it affects the families, too. 

Stay tuned for tonights episode of The Long Road Home titled  “In The Valley of Death” at 10/9 PM Central on Nov. 21. For more information please visit their website on National Geographic Channel at http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/the-long-road-home/.

 

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Jimmy Chin: A Photographer’s Eye View

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Jimmy Chin. Photography provided by REVO. 

WideWorld sent US writer Nicolette Mallow to Washington D.C., to interview 37- year-old National Geographic photographer and explorer Jimmy Chin at The Madison Hotel. Chin is also a sponsored athlete for The North Face. Throughout his career, he has shot climbers thousands of feet up in the air, glued to ice-capped mountains, with storm clouds billowing in the distance, and, as WideWorld discovers. Jimmy Chin’s ability to capture shadows and light, sunrises and sunsets and nature at its most breathtaking is nothing short of incredible. The interview took place prior to a banquet held in his honor at Nat Geo headquarters to showcase Chin’s career, life stories and photography. 

Nicolette Mallow: What was it about your first trips to the mountains that inspired your career?

Jimmy Chin: Well I always loved being outside. We had a ravine behind our house and I was always tromping around in the woods. When I showed up in Glacier National Park it was just like my ravine on steroids! I just knew then that I wanted to live a life in the mountains. Although the trails were very beautiful I didn’t ever want to stay on the trail. I wanted to explore.

NM: How exactly did you turn all this from a hobby into a lifestyle and a career?

JC: You know, there is a lot of pressure when you’re in college from peers and the professors and your parents to get an internship or to have this goal of becoming a lawyer, a businessman, or a doctor; I think it’s hard for anybody to aspire to them when the title sounds great but you don’t really understand what the day-to-day life of an attorney is. And I had no real connection to any of it. It just seemed like all these abstract ideas and it just seemed really boring to me. For some reason I was struck by the idea that you only live once and that you shouldn’t waste your time being something for other people or being something that other people wanted you to be. It didn’t seem fair. I struggled with that a little bit for sure. Education was hugely important for my parents. They were both librarians at a university and they had come from China and they had made a life for themselves here.

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NM: What got you into photography?

JC: I always loved looking at photography, but I think that everyone does. I am a very visually stimulated person. But while I was visually oriented, I never thought of it as a career. I never took photo classes in school.

NM: So you’re self-taught?

JC: Oh yeah. Still teaching myself. Still learning. But, overall, photography felt really natural and probably one of the easiest things for me to learn or pick up. So in that sense I feel like, perhaps it was meant to happen.

NM: In one article you describe dangling above endangered antelope in Tibet, but what did it feel like when you guys found them?

JC: In some ways it was like we were chasing mythical creatures. It’s so funny because it was like being a kid, again, and trying to follow these animals across the Chang Tang plateau and hoping to find this supposed birthing ground. George Shallow, one of the greatest live mammal biologists and conservationists, couldn’t find these animals or their birthing grounds after two to three expeditions. My crew and I knew this was going to be extremely difficult. We’d been traveling for weeks and weeks and there was nothing. We lost them, once, and then we found them, again. When we finally found them and I saw the first baby chiru: it was a mind-bending experience.

NM: Is there any expedition in particular which you are most proud of in terms of your finished images?

JC: I think shooting Everest and skiing Everest. I was always trying to get this photo that no one has ever seen before and there were a couple photos in there that don’t necessarily have the best light or the best compositions ever but they’re just… Well, there is an image of Kit and Robert DesLauriers skiing down a slope over 28,000 feet. Two people on their skis, on the southeast ridge of Everest. And I just love that photo as there is also a storm cloud coming up in the distance.

NM: Throughout all the places you’ve seen, where is some of the most beautiful light to capture?

JC: Sunset when you’re up really, really high above base camp in the Himalayas holds perfect, mesmerizing light. Any mountain range up high where you can see the horizon line is amazing. After the sun has set and it gets that kind of blue mixed with pink –I love those colours; like pastels in the sky.

NM: In 2004 you had a close shave with death when you were on Everest and the avalanche came down and threw you guys back over 30 feet. Have you had any experiences as intense as that one since?

JC: Not as intense. I think as you get older you start to understand and become much more aware of all the different ways to die. I’m a lot more conservative these days, but there’s always the fluke accident. As a climber you have to take a certain stance in how you look at the world. When you do what I do, you must accept, “When you’re time comes, it comes.” I have to think like that otherwise I wouldn’t get out of bed!

To see a selection of Jimmy Chin’s images, see our gallery below. For more, visit: www.jimmychin.com

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Note: This interview was originally published in Wide World Magazine in 2010. Wide World is an adventure travel magazine based in London, United Kingdom. 

The magic of Euphoria Music Festival lingers

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The 2017 Euphoria Music Festival came to an end and yet the magical feeling of experiencing music with over 50,000 people in Austin, Texas lingers vividly in memory. I can still hear the crowd chanting at Chromeo, and I can relive the hypnotizing light show alongside Moby’s DJ set in my mind. Perhaps this is one of Euphoria’s most lovable and endearing traits: the music festival exerts a natural high of happiness and contentment that stays with you in silence even after it’s all over. For a few hours, everyone that passed the gates entered an intimate and intense world of music, dance, art installations and light shows. There were three stages on the map: Euphoria, Elements and the Dragonfly. The first two stages are the larger set-ups, but the Dragonfly stage is a beauty, waterfront to the Colorado River. A map of the grounds can be found on the official Euphoria app that was released in April. 

Upon entrance to Carson Creek Ranch, the eyes are filled with bold and bright colors, canopies, giant tents, kites, butterflies, swing sets, hammocks, bubbles and an artisans alley. The festival even has a volleyball court, wedding chapel and a giant Tree of Life. There is a sign below the Tree of Life that reads: Write down wishes, hopes, dreams, etc. and set ’em Free. It was very moving to see the thousands of notes left on the tree. Watching the festival with digital eyes that changed moods and colors as the sky shifted from day to night — at the Elements stage there was a steep, tall fox (or wolf) overlooking the crowd. Several times I got lost staring into its round eyes as the music played. 

Founded by Mitch Morales, the 2017 festival included headliners like Chromeo, Knife Party, Moby (DJ set), Oliver Heldens, Post Malone, The Disco Biscuits, Wiz Khalifa, Zeds Dead and many other artists; bringing the sum total of the line-up to 70. As the region’s largest independent music festival, Euphoria attracts over 50,000 fans each year, all while maintaining the qualities that land it on many annual Top 10 lists. Conveniently located just minutes from Downtown Austin, the multi-stage music and camping festival returned to Carson Creek Ranch on the banks of the Colorado River and offered world-class visuals, unique stage designs, artist workshops, interactive experiential installations, enhanced camping options and much more.”

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Euphoria showcases the professionalism, style and acute qualities equal to a global event like Austin City Limits, Burning Man or Lollapalooza. Festival goers can see the time, love and energy invested into the decoration and preparation for the festival. However, unlike the ACL Music Festival that draws 450,000 people—Euphoria is much smaller in attendance and exposure. This independent festival deep in the heart of Texas provides a more intimate experience. Using the power of music to bring everyone together, Euphoria is a festival made for the community. The Euphoria Music Festival feels personalized and charming. The size of Euphoria provides a natural, easy going way of drawing people together. Even if you are attending alone as a member of the Press, like me. That is one of the nice aspects of a festival is various walks of life coming together for the love of music. 

Ultimately, the magic of Euphoria re-awakened my love for music festivals. It brought back the fun and joy of a festival that I used to feel when I was younger. As a local Austinite, I’ve been blessed to attend live shows and music festivals since before I could drive a car. I was one of the lucky people from Austin to experience the live music scene before it morphed into what it’s become today. (True, the music scene has improved with better venues, more esteemed artists and a boost in the economy, but it also came at a cost for the locals.) Years ago I was so sentimental about live music, I saved all of my ticket stubs that are now in a box. Honestly I don’t know how many times I wore a costume or got dolled up for a live show, like the night when I was the absinthe fairy covered in metallic glitter with green wings for Galactic’s Halloween show at Stubb’s. Countless days and nights, my friends and I would gather in masses to rock out, dance and let loose. Alas, after too many festivals and concerts for my stamina-—after one too many expensive tickets, late nights that lead to hangovers and dating too many musicians—the magic began to fade out. Secretly I started to become a little jaded: been there, done that and bought many, many t-shirts. The thrill of live music had begun to alter from love to stress. My heart no longer felt that spark like it once did when I was younger and I really only attend concerts these days at specific venues and no more festivals. Fortunately, Euphoria brought that nostalgic, familiar adrenaline rush back into my heart and it reminded me why I used to love festivals so much. Euphoria made my heart feel lighter and made me feel younger. Frankly I did not know what to expect at Euphoria. And to much delight, Euphoria Music Festival captured the intimacy of the art scene that used to be in ATX. I hope as the festival grows more and more each year that Euphoria will never lose its unique charm.  

I highly encourage music enthusiasts to mark Euphoria Music Festival on their bucket list. A strong indicator as to whether or not a musical event was a success is greatly determined by if the audience transcended time. Meaning, while the band is playing, the DJ is spinning or the musicians are on stage, those in attendance lose track of time. We forget our worries, stresses and anxieties for a while. We are present in the moment and feeling alive in the rhythm of the music. Euphoria Music Festival can and will take you to a transcendental place. 

To view the 2017 recap videos or purchase official merchandise of Euphoria Music Festival please visit www.euphoriafest.com. #FindYourEuphoria

West Coast artist Raven Felix will perform at 2017 Euphoria Music Festival in Texas

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Raven Felix. Photography provided by 740 Project. 

Born in The Valley of Los Angeles, Raven Felix is an artist best known for her music and this year she will be performing at the 2017 Euphoria Music Festival held at Carson Creek Ranch in Austin, Texas. A Latina from the West Coast, she began her exciting music career at a young age after being signed-on by Snoop Dogg at 18. Raven was discovered after posting music videos on World Star hip hop and that’s when Snoop Dogg took notice of her talent while he was in Amsterdam. Raven Felix is also a member of the entertainment company, Taylor Gang, as is Wiz Khalifa, and the two artists will both be performing (separately) at Euphoria Music Festival in Texas. Even more exciting for us all, even though this isn’t Raven’s first rodeo in the spotlight or on stage—it will be her first time to showcase her music in Texas. Ravens’s performance at Euphoria on Friday, April 7, 2017 marks Raven’s first ever show or festival held in Austin, Texas. 

Prior to my phone interview with Raven, I did not get to meet her in person. But through the photographs and music videos on social media: I noticed her strong voice, her dark brown hair that resembles silk, luminous skin, big brown eyes and how she always seems to have a chic manicure. Raven Felix is facing a successful future and a vivacious career in music, and she’s off to a great start. She is not only talented at rap and hip hop, modeling and music videos—Raven is also a writer and you can find some of her poetry online. Writing is something she has been doing since she was a child and holds very dear to her heart. 

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Photo of Raven Felix’s hands from her music video “6 in the Morning” feat. Snoog Dogg.

Nicolette Mallow: Here in Texas we have an area called The Valley near the border and it’s much different than LA. I heard on a radio interview with Power 106 that part of what motivates and inspires you to excel in your career is to pave the way and make a lane for younger girls, especially the young Latinas back home in The Valley… Giving back to the community is important and I am also a Latina. So I am curious to hear about The Valley and I was wondering if you’d tell me more about life in the valley for young girls?

Raven Felix: Everyone in The Valley is super close and it’s a tight-knit community. It also encompasses a large portion of the Hispanic/Latino population in LA. There is a lot of backyard parties and a lot of shows. It’s a really interesting place to be and I certainly grew up partying, too. A huge part of the culture in The Valley is community, art and entertainment. 

Nicolette: The music video for “Hit The Gas” with Snoop Dogg and Nef the Pharaoh looked like it was a lot of fun for the cast and crew to film… I also saw the video “6 In The Morning” … Will you tell me about how  you came to sign and work directly with Snoop Dogg after he found you on World Star at the age of 18?

Raven: It all happened fairly quick. I think I started putting out videos on World Star when I was 17. And when I was 18, he was in Amsterdam and saw me online and thought my tracks were dope and wanted to be involved. So, he found me and my people, and I feel very lucky. After that, all of a sudden we are making music a month or two later.

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Nicolette: What was it like touring with  with Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa during “The High Road” tour in 2016?

Raven: I think for me it’s just a blessing to even have these huge artists that are insanely talented as my friends and colleagues. They are monsters of artists with amazing careers and to be involved with me. It’s definitely cool. And we all bring different songs and styles to the mix. Tour was amazing in general. 

Nicolette: I read one of your poems on Instagram. And I liked your line in the track “Me” when you say “Tell ‘em kiss it like I was your Bible”… How long have you been writing?

Raven: Well I’ve been writing since I was a kid, really ever since I could write. I wrote. But I think middle school is when I really started being interested. I had notebooks in drawers and boxes of handwritten notes. I still really very much want to branch out into writing novels, poetry, screenplays and scripts. Poetry, for me, is something that is a completely different outlet than my music. I keep it separate and I think its something that relaxes me. If I am having a road block. I think poetry can be my outlet. Writing is important to me and I seek to become a multifaceted artist as I move forward in my career. I can do much more than rap and sing on stage, which is dope. Writing is just one of many things like modeling, acting and other art forms I would love to explore in the future. 

Nicolette: I read the interview with VIBE that stated your top female artists are Eve, Missy Elliot and Nicki Minaj.. I recall listening to “Love is Blind” a lot as a teenager, dancing to Missy Elliot in college and playing Nicki’s track “I Lied” a lot while I lived in Ireland… Will you share a little about how these artists inspired you and your musical craft?

Raven: Nicki Minaj is the biggest inspiration to me out of all three women. I am 21 and so when I was in high school. I think I was in 9th grade. I had a mixed tape of hers and it was so hard and so dope. I fell in love with her then because I had never really heard an artist like her during my era, growing up. I heard a lot of rock and alternative stuff as a child because of my mother. So when people turned me onto Nicki and opened up doors for me to discover others like Eve and Missy Elliot, it’s amazing to hear all these talented women.

Nicolette: I read Southern Comfort was your first drink. What’s your poison (choice of alcoholic beverage) these days?

Raven: I usually switch back and forth between Bombay and Hennessy. Wiz and them from Taylor gang really like gin. At first I hated gin, but like now I really enjoy it. 

Nicolette: So when you aren’t touring or traveling for work, which sounds like a lot of fun. What do you do for fun and leisure with such a lively schedule?

Raven: I love being able to travel and do all this stuff for work. But I was just in London for Christmas for leisure. Just for me. Just for fun. So yeah, I love to be on the road and being on tour, but when I get to be home. I spend a lot of time with my mom and it centers me and keeps me grounded. She is my best friend and spending time with her is important; being near my mother relaxes me. I also like to keep in touch and be around my west coast friends that I grew up with in The Valley. The ones that cared about me from the start. Because, often we got lost and lose track of time out on the road. Coming home, back to your roots, it’s important for my friends to know that I’m still the same person they always knew and loved—and they’re just as important to me as always. 

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To purchase tickets to the 2017 Euphoria Music Festival to hear Raven Felix and 70 other artists in Austin, Texas please visit www.euphoriafest.com

ill-ēsha: Canadian musician, producer, songwriter and vocalist will perform at 2017 Euphoria Music Festival in ATX

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Recently I had the pleasure to interview ill-ēsha. Music producer, vocalist, songwriter composer, DJ, musician and more; ill-ēsha radiates artistic talent and the more I read her artist’s bio. It was very clear what a vast range of art forms within various industries that her skills could be applied to. On April 9, 2017—ill-ēsha will be performing at the 2017 Euphoria Music Festival at Carson Creek Ranch in Austin, Texas. Euphoria Music Festival is showcasing over 70 artists this year and even though ill-ēsha has visited ATX many times for festivals like SXSW and feels at home in the capital of Texas. This will be her first show at Euphoria and Austinites are delighted. 

Formally known as Elysha Zaide and casually known as Elle, “Vancouver-born and Colorado-based music producer, artist and DJ ill-ēsha has crafted a long-standing soundscape of electronic bass music throughout her career, continuously evolving her musical stylings and bridging gaps between hip-hop, dubstep, R&B and future bass music. Ill-ēsha is recognized as an extremely rare and diverse, burgeoning artist in the EDM scene, as her live set showcases her incredible talent to sing, DJ, and simultaneously rock her keytar. She is one of few electronic artists to blossom throughout the progression of different musical trends while still focusing on her artistic vision and authenticity. Constantly evolving a dynamic stage show, ill-ēsha is a perfect example of electronic music’s transition towards live instrumentation and indie pop sensibility.”

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Nicolette Mallow: You have one of the most interesting music backgrounds out of all the composers I’ve interviewed. Your skills are so vast and you’re so musically gifted. A producer, DJ, vocalist, composer, songwriter and more. I loved reading your Bio… Did you always know you wanted to make music? Or did music and the arts choose you? 

ill-ēsha: I was always very drawn to many different forms of art. As much as I loved music. I was also into theater arts and that was a potential path for me. Even in high school when I was already DJ’ing, I also partook in a theater company and visual art. Performing arts was my artistic expression for a long time. But yes, I’ve had a tendency towards the arts since I was a kid. I was born into a  family with lots of artists. 

NM: I read you love classical, world jazz and cinematic music—and that you completed Royal Conservatory piano training. That program sounds so fancy and challenging. Is this where you began to learn music?

ill-ēsha: (she laughed) Well, it sounds fancier than it is. It’s just another method to learn music, like the Suziki method. Royal Conservatory is simply one of many systems similar to a competitive sport or grade levels. The more you learn and excel at each level you pass on to the next. My mother was passionate about piano and she always wanted to play. I began taking lessons at 4 years old. I continued to take piano classes until I was 12.

NM: You have a spectacular voice. I loved the demos, especially the animation video… How did all this begin? Can you tell me a little about Speech Level Singing?

ill-ēsha: Seth Riggs created Speech Level Singing (SLS) in the late 70’s. It was a school of thought to help train vocal muscles. Artists like Michael Jackson and Aretha Franklin studied it. Since I am a self-taught vocalist after years and years of rigorous piano. In my 20’s I got into Speech Level Singing to learn how to control my breath better. SLS was sort of a style that purely worked out your vocal chords. It appealed to me because I am not jazz or an opera singer. I’m not an Ariana Grande or Celine Dion with a big, booming voice. I am a musician of all types, not just vocals. Once you have a voice: you go all directions developing it and SLS was a way of developing mine. 

NM: What did it feel like to place in the top 3 finalists for The John Lennon International Songwriting Contest?

ill-ēsha: That was a long time ago, but the coolest thing about that award is I was given a few hundred dollars and I used it to buy my first Serato. (A DJ program with turntables and a laptop.) Up until then everything was pure vinyl, so, thank you John Lennon Songwriting Contest for helping me buy my first Serato. But yeah, songwriting is something else that I do. My roots is songwriting. 

NM: What is the title of the lyrics you wrote and submitted for the contest?

ill-ēsha: “Broken Windows”. 

NM: Vancouver is your hometown and I hear it is beautiful. I hope to visit Canada next year. Now that you’re based in Colorado, do you feel like it reminds you of Canada in any way? I would imagine it’s easy to miss the seaport of Vancouver but the climate in CO perhaps reminds you of home?

ill-ēsha: It’s 50/50. I love the mountain life in Colorado. Before I moved here, I lived in San Francisco. Honestly I considered moving to Austin because I love it so much there, too, but I chose Colorado. 

NM: Speaking of Austin, how did you come to be involved with Euphoria Music Festival? And what can we expect to enjoy during your live set at the festival? 

ill-ēsha: ATX is one of those cities that’s been supporting me for a long time, all the way back to my tracks with Gravitas. Over time I’ve interacted with most of the promoters. I feel very lucky to have played at SXSW and so many other venues. Austin has become a home for me. Really I was torn between Denver and Austin. Ultimately, the weather in CO won me over. But I love Texas and I feel like its one of my strongest markets. It’s very cool to be involved with the music scene in Austin… Euphoria is one of the first festival types I’ve performed, and I will be sharing a lot of new content. Anyone who sees me, even old fans, will have something new to look forward to. Over the years I have evolved. Now that I make so much music in the last few years. What I’ve found is that I want to divide the sets I do and remain conscious of the environment. Live shows are compelling and people enjoy festivals. But for instance, nightclub people want the DJ energy. They want to dance and they want the drum and bass. The booth is tall and people can’t see me or my live set up, they just hear me and my music. However, festivals are more intimate with an open stage. There are more live elements, like my keytar. I’ve been taking a lot of time in the studio to write, collaborate and create new art to suit the time and place of each set. 

NM: Will you tell me about your transition from DJ to headlining performer and Producer? I liked your quote about wanting to participate in the music and not just the culture. 

ill-ēsha: I’m not much of a bystander. I enjoy art from being part of the process. I love film but I don’t actually sit around for long periods of time watching movies. I want to score and write for them. I wanted to be part of it. I started off with singing and DJ’ing. I wanted to control beats and make music. The deeper I got into it, the more deeply I realized I wanted to be part of production… About 10 years ago was sort of the turning point. All in all I’ve been in this industry for 20 years, since I was really young. The first ten years were very much passion projects and you could really tour and do live shows. I worked other jobs, too, and went to college. Touring and other jobs helped pay off student loans. Right around 2008 or 2009, I started feeling discontent. I was not feeling inspired. So I decided to go back to music as contractor and post-production for TV shows and editing. I regenerated and began making a new style of music. It was fun and different. It wasn’t simply drum and bass. At that point I just kind of discovered new people without the pressure. Re-inspired an online chat forum and people became receptive and started signing it. And that’s when I moved to SF and production became a full time priority… Ultimately my passion project and my true underlying goal is to give back and inspire young creative people. I was sort of an angsty teenager. Bummed out by life. Music saved me. Being a mentor, a guide and to give connections to the young artists and young creatives means a lot to me. 

NM: What was it like touring with Bassnectar? I adore his track “Butterfly” featuring Mimi Page and listen to it all the time. 

ill-ēsha: Touring with Bassnectar was pretty magical. I feel so lucky I got to experience that. It was only a few Southern tour dates and New Year’s Eve shows. I loved it though! Bassnectar is a big symbol of my music scene. Bassnectar created the west coast music sound within the DJ world. It was an honor to get to open for him. This is the guy who took it from A to Z.

NM: Last question, listening to your music on SoundCloud I heard a track called “Ghostwriter” with opening audio talking about computer hacking. Why did you choose to write about a computer hacker? 

ill-ēsha: In the 1990’s there was a children’s TV show called “Ghostwriter”. A lot of the samples in that track are from a single episode that I found to be cute. “Ghostwriter” was an educational kid’s show and that episode was about early internet. Teaching kids about hackers. At the time I was learning more about computers and I definitely enjoy digital nostalgia of different era’s because I’ve been through them all. As a child of cross generation analog and digital and I remember both… it’s always on my mind. 

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For more information about ill-ēsha:  please visit her website at www.ill-esha.com. To listen to samples of her music please visit ill-ēsha’s SoundCloud page at https://soundcloud.com/ill-esha

Příliš hlučná samota: Production crew raises funds for film about Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal’s novel “Too Loud A Solitude”

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“My education has been so unwitting I can’t quite tell which of my thoughts come from me and which from my books, but that’s how I’ve stayed attuned to myself and the world around me for the past thirty-five years. Because when I read, I don’t really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart and coursing on through the veins to the root of each blood vessel.” – Bohumil Hrabal

An imaginative production crew seeks to fundraise resources to launch a full-length feature film about Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal’s novel, Too Loud a Solitude.  Directed by Genevieve Anderson and starring Paul Giamatti as the voice of Hanta, Too Loud A Solitude (Příliš hlučná samota) is a feature adaptation of Bohumil Hrabal’s beloved book made with live action puppets, animated sequences and visual effects.

This globally famous novel is about a book crusher, Hanta. Watching the trailer of Too Loud A Solitude is like entering a magic portal to another dimension where Bohumil Hrabal’s book takes place in a world of puppetry.  An intimate, sneak peek to Hanta’s daily life and his private love affair with the books and their stories. A mirror reflection of Hrabal’s writing voice and how each book he created almost seems to be a personal letter written to each individual reader as opposed to the masses. As the camera soars in over the skyline of the town and we see gears grinding, scraps of papers tossed about and a city that seems to be very cold and quiet. Characters bundled up in many layers, speaking to each other without speaking as they go about daily life. The music is hypnotic and dreamy with its romantic yet haunting tune of a melancholy violin. 

Too Loud a Solitude is the story of a waste compactor, Hanta, who was charged with destroying his country’s great literature in his humble press, and who fell so in love with the beautiful ideas contained within the books that he began secretly rescuing them – hiding them whole inside the bales, taking them home in his briefcase, and lining the walls of his basement with them. It became one of the defining books in Czechoslovakia’s history for its unsentimental, humorous, painfully relevant portrayal of humankind’s resilience. The story of Hanta’s quest to save the world of books and literature from destruction is often cited as the most beloved of Hrabal’s books. Too Loud a Solitude has a global fan base and an active community of support has emerged for our feature film project. The book has been translated into 37 languages and sold over 70,000 copies of Michael Henry Heim’s English translation alone. Bohumil Hrabal wrote the novella as an unsentimental account of what happened to him during the Russian occupation of Czechoslovakia during the 40’s and 50’s. Many of Hrabal’s books were banned by the Russian regime and other great books by many authors were physically destroyed, an act Hrabal characterizes in Too Loud a Solitude as ‘crimes against humanity’… Our team has been committed to bringing Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal’s beloved novella Too Loud a Solitude to the screen since 2004. With the assistance of The Rockefeller Media Arts Foundation (now the Tribeca Film Institute), Heather Henson and Handmade Puppet Dreams, and The Jim Henson Foundation, we completed a 17 minute sample of the film in 2007. The film has been playing nationally and internationally in the Handmade Puppet Dreams program, and in 2009 was awarded an UNIMA-USA citation of excellence. We are currently working on financing the feature project, first through a Kickstarter start-up funds campaign and then through partnership with other financing and production entities. Our intention is to enlist the support of the book’s global fan base and expand its already impressive audience. We’re down to two weeks left in our Kickstarter fundraising campaign and are continuing to do outreach work to drum up more support for our project. We seek to raise $35,000 to cover the costs of puppet design, armature creation, motion exploration, character development, costume design, and visual effects.”

For more information about the film, please visit www.tooloudasolitude.com.screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-8-16-58-pm “For thirty-five years now I’ve been in wastepaper, and it’s my love story…I am a jug filled with water both magic and plain; I have only to lean over and a stream of beautiful thoughts flows out of me.”screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-8-16-25-pm

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“I felt beautiful and holy for having the courage to hold on to my sanity after all I’d seen and had been through, body and soul, in too loud a solitude.”

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Composer Pieter Schlosser enriches television, film and video games with his musical vocabulary

Pieter Schlosser

Pieter Schlosser. Photography provided by CW3PR.

Pieter Schlosser is an award-winning television, film and video game composer known most recently for scoring NBC’s hit show You, Me and the Apocalypse. Based in Los Angeles, Schlosser grew up traveling the world with his family, enriching his musical vocabulary with each new culture and each new country.

This summer Pieter Schlosser was interviewed by a writer in Texas, Nicolette Mallow, to discuss topics like how world traveling influenced his music, the differences between scoring for the UK versus the US, what lead him to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston and other miscellany.

Pieter spent a great deal of his childhood traveling, living in Guatemala, Austria, Panama and Costa Rica. He attended Berklee College of Music in Boston before moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in television, film and video game composing. A multi-instrumentalist and polyglot, Pieter has had his work featured in the music of Grammy-nominated world music group Editus. Last year, he worked with the Costa Rica National Symphony Orchestra, arranging a full orchestral performance of his original music. In 2014, he won the ASCAP award for Top Television Series for his work on Freeform’s The Lying Game. Pieter Schlosser also composed the music for Lifetime’s The Client List and provided additional music for ABC’s Resurrection and The Astronaut Wives Club. Pieter worked on Desperate Housewives and is credited with bringing the signature Latin musical styling to the show. Currently, he is composing the music for the highly anticipated IMAX film, In Saturn’s Rings. He is also scoring the major motion picture, What About Love, starring Sharon Stone and Andy Garcia, set for release in 2017. Pieter worked in Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions studio for 5 years alongside many high profile composers on various projects, such as Friday The 13th and the Transformers film and video game franchise. In addition to Transformers: The Game, Pieter demonstrated his versatility by providing additional music for some of the most popular video games of this generation with Gears of War 2 & 3 and The Sims 3.”

Nicolette Mallow: Will you tell me about your childhood background in music and how growing up in so many countries influenced your career?

Pieter Schlosser: Music was always around when I was growing up and it was always playing in the house. My mom played piano, it was an old upright piano that ended up in our house. My dad was always a big fan of music, too. Dad loved to play jazz. Classical was favored by my mom. The love of music was inherited from my parents. When I was in Guatemala, I didn’t play an instrument. I just listened to music and sometimes I even stole my mom’s tapes and records. When we moved to Austria I was 8 and that’s when I began to start playing piano. There is a mecca of music in Austria. Everyone plays music. I wanted to join choir and that’s where it all really began. After spending three years in Austria, my family and I moved to Panama. I kept singing in the choir. It was a Swedish choir in Panama and we sang around Christmas time. There was one person who played saxophone and I thought it looked really cool and so I began lessons. Then we moved to Costa Rica and I made a friend with someone on the island and I joined band and played jazz. As I became obsessed with music, my grades began dipping… I loved moving around the world, even if my brother didn’t like it so much. My dad worked for BHL and that’s why we moved around the globe so much.

NM: Did you have a favorite place out of all the countries that you and your family resided? Was there one musical style or culture that inspired you the most, or did they all equally fulfill your musical talents?

PS: It’s hard to say because, as a kid it was pretty normal having all these different cultures and musical styles around me. I cant say or pinpoint one thing that influenced me most. Growing up in Guatemala, Austria, Panama and Costa Rica is like having a little book of musical notes and rhythms that I can use—and the combination of all these things is a nice balance that enriches my craft.

NM: What lead you to Berklee College of Music in Boston?

PS: While I was in Costa Rica, the Costa Rican-North American Cultural Center had a series of Universities do a Master class followed by a concert. Berklee College of Music in Boston was always there including many other amazing programs from Miami and Texas. At one point I called or wrote a letter “Hey can u send me a Berklee sticker with the logo?” And I put it on my saxophone case. Suddenly I decided that’s where I wanted to go. It was the only college I applied to and I sort of felt a calling to enroll. Austria was a back-up to study jazz, but I was set on Berklee. So I applied and sent in an audition tape to Admissions and eventually I was offered a partial scholarship to attend. I accepted.

NM: How did your professional career in film and television begin?

PS: After college I moved to LA. “The Record Plant” (a recording studio) in Hollywood was my first gig and I was a runner: food orders, trash, coffee and other office errands. During that time I met a scoring mixer who works with a ton of composers including Hans Zimmer. At the time he was working on the remake of “Italian Job”. Eventually we reconnected, and he hired me for little things in the studio. I got to attend a scoring session which was amazing. Ultimately, through him and my contacts with Berklee: I became an intern at Hans Zimmer. There’s no other place like working at Remote Control Productions. Anyway, that’s when I met Steve Jablonsky and later on Jablonsky hired me for “Transformers”. And then I started working on other film & TV projects.

NM: What is one of the biggest variations between scoring for television in the US versus music composition the UK?

PS: When we scored the UK version of “You Me and the Acopalypse” there are no commercial breaks. In the US version of the show, it’s 45 mins divided into 5 acts. Most shows in the US have commercials breaks excluding HBO or Netflix.

NM: Have you always liked video games?

PS: Yes, I like video games. When I was younger, I enjoyed watching my brother play video games much more than I liked to play myself. I am not entirely sure why I didn’t enjoy participating but I preferred to watch.

NM: In regards to the The Costa Rica National Symphony Orchestra, what original music of yours did they play? Is there a link or audio to hear this performance?

PS: The music community in Costa Rica is fairly small so everyone knows each other. I became friends with members of a band called ‘Editus’. In 1998 they were putting an album together which was titled ‘Calle Del Viento’ and released in 1999. I was just starting to write music then and I dared to pitch them the first piece of music I ever wrote.  They loved it and included it in their album! Fast forward 16 years to 2015 and I got an e-mail saying they would be putting on a concert over 3 nights of that very album but this time, playing with the Costa Rica National Symphony. They asked if I’d do an orchestral arrangement of the piece.  You can find the original recording of this piece called ‘El Sendero Menos Caminado’ (or ‘The Road Less Travelled’ which is a line in a Robert Frost poem called ’The Road Not Taken’). The orchestral piece recorded in 2015 I believe is currently being mastered and prepared for release. The song can be found on iTunes and Spotify.

NM: Now that you’ve obtained success and first-hand experience within the industry, do you have any advice or helpful insights for other aspiring composers?

PS: The best bet when it comes to writing music to picture, whether it’s film or television, the best route is to find some sort of mentorship with another composer so you can hopefully be getting paid while learning on the job. I wish there was a more solid answer. But I think its different for everyone and you have to figure it out as you move forward. It’s important to remember that there is not one way or one path to success in this field. Just remain passionate, and even stubborn to your craft, but keep a smile. It’s tough but hang in there and you’ll persevere

For more information about Pieter Schlosser, please visit his website at www.pieterschlosser.com. Schlosser also has a SoundCloud page that features various tracks of his music.

Roc Chen: Music Composer and Asian Creative brings cultures together around the world with the magical power of music

Roc Chen

Roc Chen. Photography provided by CW3PR.

Roc Chen is a Sichuan-born, award winning composer who has created music for film and gaming. Recognized within the U.S. and China, Chen’s music has the power and the beauty to bring cultures together form around the world, which is no easy task. His film roster includes “Chinese Zodiac” with Jackie Chan,  “Forbidden Kiss” and the Chinese adaptation of “Everybody’s Fine” (American adaptation ft. Robert DeNiro). Roc  also partnered with DreamWorks to create music for the film “Kung Fu Panda 3” and his music is present in the award winning, internationally broadcasted documentary TV series “A Bite of China”. Chen’s video game work even dabbles into “World of Warcraft” and “God of War” orchestrasas well as the “Might and Magic” series and his latest work underway with “Prince Adventures”. Recently partnering with Danny Elfman to bring music to Disney Shanghai’s newest ride, Alice’s Maze; Roc Chen’s music brilliantly celebrates the fusion of the American story line of Alice in Wonderland with Chinese culture native to the Shanghai location.

This summer Roc Chen was interviewed by Nicolette Mallow. The two discussed his background in music, technology, and the power of music and how it can feel like time traveling. Mallow also inquired about the challenges and rewards of merging Eastern and Western cultures for film, Disney, DreamWorks and much more. And Chen opened up about how his music can be like an invisible, magic mirror that reflects everything inside the listener’s heart. The written interview proceeded as follows.

Nicolette Mallow: Will you please tell me about your background in music? Did you always know that music composition was your life calling? When did you begin to play music and write music? As a child, what did music feel like?

Roc Chen: When I was a kid, sometimes I woke up in the middle of the night humming the melody from “The Godfather”, and I thought to myself, “Maybe I should be a film composer when I grow up!” Like many kids I learned to play classical piano at the age of 4, but unlike many kids I loved to keep the sustain pedal down to create a bigger reverberation (just like in film scores). And of course my piano teacher would always get mad at me for doing that. I’ve always known music, especially film music – it’s my life calling. However I spent my college life in what is considered a Chinese Stanford (University of Science and Technology of China). We had a large and great orchestra band there and the conductor asked me to be the assistant conductor, so I’ve had the chance to learn from each and every different instrument – not from a book but from a real orchestra band. Later on I also obtained a Master Degree in Composition from the Conservatory of Music. I consider myself pretty lucky to have a background in both music and technology!

NM: Art has the power to take us places, particularly music. Music can take listeners back in time within seconds. Music can evoke feelings or fantasies within us and it’s almost like time traveling… What do you feel are the most powerful components of music that allow us to transcend time, space and imagination?

RC: All the components of music such as melody, harmony, counterpoints are powerful enough to allow us to transcend time, space and imaginationbut personally I think the most powerful one is the abstract part within the music. Pop songs take us into a specific world because the lyrics/words are quite specific and straight-forward. But instrumental music such as film scores without any lyrics or words are abstract, so it takes people to their own and unique places, to the different secret places deep within each person’s heart. This is also the beauty of scores. Film scores, though there are specific picture/scenes synced with it, can allow us to re-create those scenes and characters in our own way when we hear music outside of the cinema. It’s like everyone is a director and everyone directing his own version of that film in his brain. This is the beauty of film scoring. And of course, there are certain skills and ways to evoke those feelings or fantasies in the way of composition.

There’s a music piece of mine, “Deep in Their Hearts”, which is originally composed for the most renowned documentary in China called “A Bite of China Season 2”. It has moved nearly a billion people in China and around the world. I tried to tenderly and beautifully play the piano with a melancholy and nostalgic melody. It was performed by beautiful strings, woodwinds, with some abstract inside harmony, fine orchestration and counterpoint. The result is this music cue, which has moved lots of people and has surpassed pop songs to reach the top of the Chinese billboard. Thousands of fans came to my Chinese Twitter to express their feelings hearing this music to me and it’s actually quite interesting to read those comments. Some people say it reminds them of their childhood loneliness, some say it reminds them of some moving moments in that documentary, some people say it makes them cry with happiness and some people say the woodwinds in this cue are funny and playful. It’s all different and I feel like my music is like a mirror – each person saw and found their secret place deep in their heart by hearing this magical mirror.

Roc Chen_Head Shot_1

Roc Chen. Photography provided by CW3PR.

NM: What are some of the distinct differences between Eastern and Western styles of music pertaining to film?

RC: Well this is a little bit of a huge topic that I could talk for days and write a book about. The scale of notes and melodies are different between the eastern and western worlds but as for the relationship between music and film: I think one of the most distinct differences is the eastern style is more implicit while western style is more straight-forward and passionate. As I’ve been traveling between LA and Beijing a lot, I also found this difference within people’s behavior between the two countries. I guess one of the benefits of my goal as trying to be the most international composer is I can always get to know more about people from both worlds.

NM: Would you please share with me the challenges of integrating Eastern and Western music? Is it difficult to please both audiences?  

RC: A lot of Hollywood films with pure western music are also enjoyed by lots of eastern audiences, but most of this music hardly reaches their hearts. So sometimes with only a few elements from the East can really move the eastern audience and ironically enough it moves the western audience too! Also each film project is different and I’m always very careful with this challenge by always listening to the director’s ideas regarding the direction of the film. I always offer my suggestions and opinions on the direction of music but I would respect my director’s opinion because it is the film – a combination of many arts. It’s a whole project we’re going to present to the audience, not just music. There’s a project I did, “Heroes of Might and Magic VII”, the 7th game of the famous “Heroes of Might and Magic” video game franchise. I write some of the cues in a pure-western style and some cues have a little bit of East and West combined flavour, it all depends on the specific occasion.

NM: What lead you to working for Disney Shanghai?

RC: I guess people loved what I did for “Kung Fu Panda 3” as Chinese music consultant and then I got introduced to Disney by my friends at DreamWorks. But really, I think it’s because of my specialty of knowing both East and West which lead me to working for Disney Shanghai.

NM: In regards to Asian American crossroads within the entertainment industry – how did you begin to infuse the American story line of “Alice in Wonderland” with Chinese culture native to the Shanghai location of Disney?

RC: First of all, it’s always teamwork! It is done by Danny Elfman, myself and another beautiful lady from Disney Imagineer. We put Chinese lyrics such as the translation of “Alice Are You Lost” and other lyrics originally written by Danny into the melody and make sure it really sounds great in Chinese. A lot of times you’ll hear directly translated songs sounding very, very weird after translation. This requires a lot of experience of the Chinese culture and customs along with musical experience of the tone, pitch and rhythm of each note and its relationship between other notes. We tried many different ways to avoid a common phenomenon in the Chinese music which is called “Dao Zi”, meaning the pitch of the notes will not violate or conflict with the tone of the Chinese words. I also had my female choirs friends at Beijing singing the melody in Chinese beautifully while we remote-recorded them here in Los Angeles. We also did a lot of tweaks during the recording session.

NM: Do you have a favorite genre of music that you love to write? You are obviously talented at composing many forms of music. But do you have a favorite style?

RC: Well…. It’s really hard to pick one favorite style for me as I’ve worked in a lot of different styles and genres. But my favorite one is the one that best supports the film. As long as the form of music can really do a good job to support the camera and film – that’s my favorite!

NM: Your career is most impressive and I have watched many of these films. However, I must admit that I have a fondness for “Kung Fu Panda”… Was that your first time writing music for animation? What did you enjoy most about this DreamWorks project?

RC: With this film, Hans Zimmer is the music composer while I worked alongside him as the Chinese music consultant. I offered direction and guidance on the Chinese instruments, Chinese musicians, the articulations and specialty of Chinese instruments. I also consulted on how to combine the instruments with Western orchestra music to the DreamWorks music team. I enjoyed turning the song of the last scene of “Kung Fu Panda 3” into Chinese and recording 40 amazing pop choir singers from Shanghai so when the film released, everyone was able to hear the final product of “animal” singing in Chinese happily in the end scene!

NM: Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to highlight?

RC: I just finished recording with an orchestra in Nashville for a new animation feature I scored, and I’m also going to score some new exciting feature films, animations and TV series but due to NDA reasons I’m sorry to say I can’t disclose them right now.

NM: Lastly, I grew up reading the book “Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan about four Chinese American immigrant families living in San Francisco. It’s a bittersweet, tragic and beautiful story that I still enjoy reading in adulthood. Since I was a child, I’ve always been fascinated by the history of China and I hope to visit someday. And of course when the movie came out I really enjoyed the soundtrack. My point in mentioning “Joy Luck Club” is because for years I’ve always wanted to learn more about the roots of classical music in China. But I never know where to start… Is there a book you’d recommend or a certain time period to study for those who want to learn about the roots of music in China?

RC: This is a great question! But frankly, I personally think the best book of Chinese music history or Chinese musicology is not in English but in the language of Chinese. Just like if you wanted to learn the western musicology: you’ll have to read that greatest musicology book in English. When I was in the Conservatory of Music, there was a school book called “History of Chinese music” which nearly covers all different kinds of music from pre-Qin Dynasty times, to Tang Dynasty music, to Qing Dynasty and even modern music of China. It also covers the musicology of a lot of different areas of China such as the music from the north of China – which is so different from the south of China. Music from HeBei Province is also so different from the music from the ShanXi province or the ethnic Uygur group in Xin Jiang areas. I have this book in my Beijing studio and I’ve always wanted to purchase a English-translated version to keep in my Los Angeles studio. Without any luck, I Googled and searched Amazon and didn’t find this book or any book just as great. Maybe some book publisher could work with me to translate a classic book into a new one in English. For those who want to learn about the roots of music in China, most people will probably say the Tang Dynasty is the best time period to study as it is one of the most brilliant time for all kind of arts. But I would personally recommend the eras around the Qin Dynasty such as the Three-Kingdom era, Warring States period, etc. If you research it and dive deep enough, you’ll see music in those ages are clearly fundamental not only to Chinese music, but also to the music of the Eastern world.

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