► I’m not going to ask you about your favourite video because that’s always a bit of an unfair question. But which one or which ones surprised you the most when you watched them for the first time?
There are quite a few. For example Mille, the vocalist and lead guitarist of the thrash metal band Kreator. We shot that video in a small backstage room. When I came back in, and he was still sitting there the way I had left him. But suddenly he goes, ‘So, I brushed my teeth. Did anyone ever do that?’ It made me crack up right there. No, no one had ever done that, and from looking at this thrash metal legend you wouldn’t expect him to do that on camera either.
► One of the first ones I have seen must have been quite a surprise when you first saw it, too. I am talking about the band New Politics…
Yes, that was another case of coming back in and finding them the way I had left them. You know, their PR lady said that they were going to be fun, and I had actually seen them perform before, so I knew they can get crazy. But I had no idea how crazy. When I was waiting outside the room, I could actually hear the banging from them moving the furniture around, but when I went back in after the two minutes were over, everything was back in place. So I didn’t know what they had actually done. And they put on a whole production. (laughs)
► Since there are no restrictions, I guess technically a video can’t ever not work, right?
Well, yes and no. The video with John 5, who is the guitarist for Rob Zombie and used to play with Marilyn Manson, is a great example. I explained the concept to him, and he seemed really into it. He told me he had an idea and started setting up his guitar. After a while, he asked me how it would sound on the video. It was obvious that he was really concerned to make it sound good. So I reminded him that there is no sound, and told me that what he had planned wouldn’t make sense then. I could see that he was really disappointed because he was super into the idea and wanted to make a special video. But then he suddenly came up with the idea of going side stage and show all of his guitars in the two minutes, and it turned out to be a really cool video.
► That’s one where my initial reaction was, ‘I wish it was in colour’. Thinking about it, though, it might be better exactly because it is in black and white.
You just described exactly the thoughts I had while I was shooting that video. This was one of the few videos where I actually staid there while it was recording. So I watch him pull out guitar after guitar and I started thinking, ‘Why am I only doing this in black and white again? This would be so much cooler in colour’. His guitars were just so amazing – like the one with the liquid inside it, or the glowing guitar. But I also came to the conclusion that the colour would have distracted because in the end it is more about what he is doing than about the individual guitars.
► Have you ever thought of adding an element, at least for when it becomes an exhibition? Something like a written piece that explains what the musicians were thinking while they were doing the video?
It’s an interesting thought, but I’d rather let people come up with their own interpretation. Even I don’t know what the artists were thinking. All I could do is tell the stories around the video shoot, like I just did with John 5 or Mille. Recently, I’ve been asked to do a book, but I’d have to come up with a concept for it. Maybe that would be an idea. But then the Musician Portrait Project as a book with still images wouldn’t be the same as the actual video project.
► Unless you did in a digital way. XCENTS itself doesn’t take full advantage of the possibilities of this medium yet, but video implementation is certainly possible.
That’s interesting. I haven’t thought about that yet. Now you’re giving me ideas. (laughs) I can see that in digital magazines in general. It doesn’t even have to be a full video. It could be just a slightly moving portrait or image.
► Also, websites with video background are becoming a trend. Short loop video portraits could be a new thing for that…
That’s something I’ve actually thought about, yes. Have a video portrait session, rather than just a regular photo shoot with a band – or have both, of course. Yeah, that would work. If record labels want to do that for band websites, they can contact me for sure. (laughs)
► But of course the Musician Portrait Project isn’t done yet, correct?
Absolutely not. I started shooting the videos about three years ago. And I started putting them online in March 2014. That’s a lot of videos that you can already explore, and there is a large backlog that I still haven’t put up yet. Plus, I still keep shooting new videos and I’m always looking for new bands to shoot a video with.
► So there is not a set number of videos that you’re going for?
No. I just want to keep doing it. There are a few names I have in mind that I’d like to work with, like Slash, who I have talked to before backstage at a concert, but not about the Musician Portrait Project. Or Amanda Palmer, who was on the cover of XCENTS already, just like Kina Grannis, who I’ve already shot a video with.
► Which is how I discovered the project in the first place.
And that’s funny to me. Some people just seem to make sense for projects like this, because you know they have a story to tell or because you know they’ll make a great video. You look at Amanda Palmer and you just know her video would be amazing. I’ve seen her perform live – it’s spectacular. But I’m also willing to discover new artists and do a video with them. As I’ve said, the goal is to get the Portrait Project into galleries. We’re already talking to a few galleries about it, and every exhibition I plan on doing should be different. And of course I want to keep releasing a new video online every Wednesday and I don’t see why that should stop anytime soon.
► Talking about making the exhibitions different: Is there a plan to expand this beyond musicians?
Not really. Of course it could work with actors, for example, but I never wanted to do it with anyone but musicians. I’m more interested in getting more genres of music represented in the project. Some genres have been more difficult to get than others. I’d like to get orchestra people, for example. I also don’t have enough country music or rap music. So it’s a goal to expand it that way.
► Why are some genres more difficult to get?
That sort of goes back to the portfolio thing. If a manager or PR person doesn’t see any names they recognise from their field in the list of videos I’ve already done, they are less likely to set something up with their artist. Rock has been quite easy. Singer-songwriters are getting easier, also because I now have more names that one would recognise. But other genres are still difficult to get. Perception often plays a huge role. It’s the same with the numbers. If a manager goes to the YouTube channel and looks at the numbers there, they get a certain perception of how big the project is. What they don’t know is that they are not seeing the actual numbers. On the website, the videos are played in a loop, and YouTube doesn’t count that. So those numbers aren’t representative of how many people are actually watching the videos. And yet I’m sure some people make a decision based on that. But if you do any kind of project for which you need other people, whether it’s musicians or actors or someone else, you have to be prepared to hear ‘no’ a lot.
► And you should neither take a ‘no’ personal, nor should you be discouraged by it…
Correct. When I started this, I didn’t know how well it was going to go or how difficult or easy it was going to be. I just started doing the videos because I loved the idea. I didn’t really waste any thoughts on how I am going to do it or how I am going to get this person or that. I thought about the concept a lot, of course. But beyond that, I didn’t overthink it. I simply believed in it, like I believe that one day this will be in a gallery, maybe even in cities all over the world. Maybe even with it’s own truck that has all the screens and technology in it, so I can take the exhibition from gallery to gallery very easily. But none of that can happen if I don’t do it. So there is nothing more valuable to a project than actually starting it. If you start doing it, doors will open. Of course not all doors will open, but some doors will, and possibly some very unexpected ones. That’s what’s been happening for me, and it can happen for anyone with any kind of project, as long as you have to courage to start it. And seeing these things happen is very exciting, too: Who knows where the Musician Portrait Project will go and who will be part of it in the future?:x:
This interview first appeared in issue no.2 of XCENTS.
photo credit featured image: Derek Brad
Interview by Ewan McGee.