Category: music

ISLEY REUST : actress, musician, documentarian & transgender activist

Isley has her hands in just about everything. Google her. You’ll find enough articles to fill up your entire day with reading. She’s an actress, a musician, an up-and-coming documentarian, and a transgender activist. Her creative output is inspiring, but more than that she’s just an inspiring person. She’s out there in the world trying to make life a little easier for someone else.

01. What’s your typical morning routine? How do you get your day started?

My mornings tend to start different all the time but, there are a couple routines that are a must for me. I usually get up around 7am and have some tea. Tea is a must to start my day off right. Then I check my e-mails and depending from then on out my day can vary from working on music, to shooting a video, or brainstorming a project, traveling.

02. Can you just tell me a little about who you are? Where were you born? What did you want to do with your life when you were young?

My name is Isley Reust and I’m what I’d like to think of as a well rounded artist. A jack of all trades in a way. I was born in Whittier, California to a German immigrant mother. I’m first generation on her side. I spent my summers in Germany, Austria and France growing up, while going to high school in a small desert town in California.

When I was growing up I wanted to be a National Geographic photographer, play in a rock band and be a movie star. I’ve been in films, played in a rock band but yet to have had any work in National Geographic.

03. You’ve been involved with music for a while. What were your first bands like? Did you always want to be a singer?

I started playing piano at age 8 then picked up the bass at age 12 and guitar at 13. I played bass in my first band at age 12 and it was a Nirvana cover band. From the first time I picked up a guitar I was really into the classical techniques of playing and finger picking. To this day I incorporate that style into all of my songwriting. I didn’t always want to be a singer. Music and writing music was something that always inspired me more.

04. A simple Google search of you brings up an impressive list of press (New York Times, Huffington Post, Rookie Mag, etc.) What’s that been like for you? Has it been a positive experience?

It’s been great but it all came with a lot of responsibility that I don’t think I was ready for at first. I never really wanted to have any acknowledgment from helping others. It was just more of me giving back to those who were looking for the right path in life, or struggling. I’ve had more people than I can keep count of who have said I saved their life, and just knowing that is rewarding enough for me. But like I said the recognition that came with that was great but I didn’t at the time want it. I was just being the best version I could be of myself and living my authentic life. I was trying to lead by example to show that others can do that also and be happy.

Now in my life I can’t see myself not helping others. The world needs more positive influences to make a better change, and I’m happy that I’m one of those people now. It’s been the most rewarding thing ever.

05. Your band Spectacular Spectacular has been touring and you recently released an album. How’s that been for you? Any new developments with the band?

Yes, we have and it’s been absolutely amazing. We’ve recently been writing new material for another release due sometime next year.

06. Can you describe a moment when you finally felt happiness? What did that feel like?

I think it was around 2010, possibly late 2009, that I knew life was going to get better and that I was on the correct path. A path I wanted to be on and knew I would eventually be on. Each day gets better and the the happier I become. Life has a funny way of working out. I always knew from an early age that I would do and be where I am now in some aspects.

07. Are you working on anything new right now that you’re excited about?

I just spent some time in Quebec and Ontario Canada directing a documentary about a trans woman named Zoey. I also have a documentary I’m directing in October that I’m thrilled about. My band is working on new music, which is great, and I also hope to do some more acting when the right roles come around. I wrote music for an Emmy-nominated show last year which was so cool.

08. I’m really interested in the documentary you’re working on. Can you tell me a little more about how that came about and what the process has been like?

For a little over a year now I’ve been trying to develop a series which I can’t go too far into detail at the moment. I got the idea of creating a doc-series about the lives of normal everyday transgender individuals across the U.S and Canada. I wanted to share what they go through on a daily basis. Starting this project has been a real eye-opening experience. Some of these individuals go through so much hate, hardships and also beautiful moments everyday just to be their authentic selves.

I remember a couple weeks ago in Canada, as I was half-way through one of the episodes, I was laying in bed and just started crying for about 2 hours. This particular transgender woman deals with so much on a daily basis that it would make the strongest people crack. The confidence that she exudes was so inspiring. I’m filming a episode on a trans police officer this month and I’m really excited for that one as well.

09. What is currently inspiring you and in what way? (book, movie, song, podcast, anything really…)

As far as films go…Casey Neistat is pretty inspiring. Currently I’m just trying to make the best of my time and who I spend it with. When I was in Canada this last month shooting that documentary it was such an emotional and inspiring experience, and it’s something I will treasure and remember for the rest of my life.

Musically I’m inspired by my surroundings and life experiences. It’s really hard for me to force sincere music when I’m not feeling inspired.

10. How do you end a typical day? What do you do to unwind? 

I usually edit my videos or work on music until about 2am. Then I plan out my next day.

You can find Ms. Reust on the web:

ALEX HORWITZ : Director of HAMILTON’S AMERICA

Alex is a New York based director, writer, editor and producer. He directed and produced HAMILTON’S AMERICA, a RadicalMedia feature documentary that explores America’s founding while following Lin-Manuel Miranda through the creation of his pop culture sensation, Hamilton. We talked about fatherhood, theater, the creative process, and getting films made.
HAMILTON’S AMERICA premieres Friday, October 21st at 9PM ET on PBS’ Great Performances.

01. What’s your typical morning routine? How do you get your day started?

I became a father in the course of making this film (we shot over a period of three years). So when I wasn’t following Broadway actors with a camera around Valley Forge, I was taking my son to daycare every morning before going into the edit suite. On a good week, I go for a run with my border terrier.

02. Can you tell me a little about your background? Where did you go to school? What did you want to do with your life?

I’m from New York originally, but grew up mostly in and around DC. My mom was a classically-trained mezzo soprano and my dad won a Tony for creating Ain’t Misbehavin’, so theater nerdery is in my blood. I’ve always been a film geek though, always wanted to make films of all kinds, and went to Wesleyan University, where I majored in film studies.

03. How did you meet Lin-Manuel Miranda? I’m curious to know what your working relationship is like and how the idea for this film came about.

I suggested the film to Lin, but someone else would have if I hadn’t happened to be first. Lin and I met at Wesleyan and were housemates senior year. We were friends long before I asked him to let me roll cameras on him as he was writing Hamilton, and I’m guessing that it was more comfortable for him having a friend documenting his writing process than it would have been with a filmmaker less known to him. Still, as open as Lin was with my camera, I tried to maintain a respectful distance of the creative process as much as possible. I got great stuff, then got out of the way so that he could do the amazing things he does.

04. I love that people who haven’t been fortunate enough to see Hamilton will now finally be able to see bits of it in your film. What were your goals in telling this story? Is it simply a record of the phenomenon or did you want to try and touch on something bigger politically or culturally?

The film was always designed to be about history seen through the show’s eyes, rather than a straight-forward “making-of” look. I love creative process films, but I had seen that movie before, and wanted to do something different here. Lin was always onboard with that mission as well. To be sure, I’m excited to share parts of the show with a wider audience and give them a backstage peek at the musical, but this film is about creating a companion piece to the Hamilton experience, in which we go to places and hear from people far removed from the Richard Rogers Theatre.

05. What kind of research, if any, did you do when going into the project? Were there any documentaries or films that you looked to for inspiration?

Al Pacino’s Looking for Richard was always the cinematic inspiration for the film’s thesis: history seen through the lens of a company of actors. As for the history itself, I did what Lin did and started with Ron Chernow’s incredible biography of Hamilton. I crammed a lot of studying, especially for the two interviews with former Treasury Secretaries. The film — like the show — barely scratches the surface of how rich our early American history is, but what we do cover is accurately and evenly presented (I hope).

06. At what point did RadicalMedia and PBS become involved in the project? What’s it been like working with them?

I started filming Lin on my own, for about six months, and developed a little demo reel, which I took to RadicalMedia. We continued to develop it together for another couple years before we officially partnered with PBS. But really, we were just getting the band back together. Radical had made In the Heights: Chasing Broadway Dreams for PBS’s Great Performances, and I had known Lin for a long time and worked as an editor at Radical for years, so we’re all family.

07. You interviewed so many amazing people for the film. What it was it like talking theater and history with such high profile people? Are there any moments that stand out for you?

Certainly, rolling on President Obama in the White House and having the better part of an hour of President W. Bush’s time are privileges I won’t soon forget. And this is to say nothing of Stephen Sondheim, Nas, and many other impressive characters. It was such a joy to make a film in which such a heady mix of people all had a valid reason to be commenting on the subject. That’s a testament to the universality and deep reach of Lin’s creation. He opened the doors, we just walked through. I don’t expect ever to have it that good again as a filmmaker.

08. People now have the ability to shoot, edit and distribute films entirely via their smart phones. Technology has made it possible for everyone to make something and get it out there. Do you have any advice for young people wanting to become documentarians?

Ultimately, just start. That’s the hardest part. Have a nose for a compelling subject (but you can make any subject compelling if you’re passionate about it), and use personal connections to stories where you can (I certainly exploited my proximity to Lin to get my foot in the door before anyone else did). True, not every doc subject will be as big as Hamilton became, but when I started, almost no one had heard of it. So just be first and be tenacious. And although technology is getting tiny and cheap, I would recommend some extra care. Take your time to make it a cinematic experience if you can. Even in the early days of Hamilton’s America, my cinematographer and I laid down some dolly track to get some elegant shots. We took our time capturing more visuals than we needed, which made the film better years later in the edit room. Also, don’t skimp in the sound recording department. It’s the first giveaway of amateur work. It doesn’t cost much money or time up front to make things look professional, so just be thoughtful.

09. What is currently inspiring you and in what way? (book, movie, song, podcast, anything really…)

I’ve been so plugged into Hamilton for so long — not to mention rearing a toddler and expecting a second kid soon — that I’m way behind on everything else. I watch very little TV, but do still like Game of Thrones. I try to go to the movies as much as possible, but it’s tough. I think the last gut-punch I had in a theater (in a good way) was The Witch. But I’m really a curmudgeon who prefers to listen to older music and catch up on films and books I missed. I guess living in the past explains why I made a movie about American history.

10. How do you end a typical day? What do you do to unwind? 

Netflix and chill — but literally. This film has been an amazing journey and its month of rollout and screenings leading up to release has been a great joy, but ultimately, there’s nothing I’d rather do than build magnetic tile castles with my son and relax on the couch with my very pregnant wife, scratching my dog’s head. But after they go to bed, sometimes Daddy gets to watch a movie by himself. Life’s good. Can’t complain.

You can find Mr. Horwitz on the web:

Hamilton’s America
Alex Horwitz

photo borrowed from Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images.

PAUL TAZEWELL : Tony award winning costume designer of HAMILTON

Have you heard of a little musical called HAMILTON? Paul Tazewell designed the costumes for it and won a well-deserved Tony for his amazing work. He’s been designing costumes for theater, opera, dance & film for over 20 years. I could go on and on about his incredible life and achievements, but let’s let him speak for himself…

01. What’s your typical morning routine? How do you get your day started?

Oh Dear. Well, it depends on the day. I tend to wake up between 7:00 and 7:30. If I have early fittings that start at 9:00 then I am up earlier (5:30-6:00) because I live in Westchester one hour north of Manhattan and have to take the train or drive in. Coffee, shower, yogurt & granola and then I’m out the door!

02. You were born in Akron, Ohio and I believe you went on to higher education in North Carolina, New York, and Pennsylvania. As a young kid in Akron, when did you know what you wanted to do with your life? Did you always know or was it more about getting out of your small town?

I did grow up in Akron Ohio. I was one of four boys born to my dad who was a research chemist for Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. and a mother that was a French and English teacher, but also very proficient in painting, puppet making and performing. My mother, even to this day, is my biggest fan and cheerleader. I painted and created puppets alongside my mother early in my years and was exposed to both professional live theater productions as well as school plays and productions. When I was old enough to take part in productions in junior high I fell in love with theater and performing. In High school, I was in the performing arts program half of the day and then took academics the other half. We were all fortunate to get to intern at Akron University. I did mine with the costume shop in the theater department. Even though I was designing the costumes and sets for the productions I was playing a role in while in high school, my greatest love was performing. After I graduated, I entered into Pratt institute in Brooklyn NY to major in fashion design. My hope was to spend my off time from school taking dance and acting classes to further my skills as a performer. That was what growing up in Akron gave me. I was able to be inspired to look outside of Akron for the most proactive way to succeed in theater, whether designing or acting.

After a year I decided to transfer to The University of North Carolina School of the Arts. I received a BFA in Costume design after three years and then went immediately to NYU Tisch School of the Arts to pursue my Graduate degree. Three years later I was graduating from Tisch with an MFA in costume and set design. That was the spring of 1989. After graduating I was fortunate to start designing regularly around the country for multiple regional theaters.

03. Can you tell me a little about the first productions you designed for? Does the project always inform the work, or does your own personal style come into play?

As a costumer I have learned to be a bit of a chameleon. I think many designers would say that of themselves. That is the fun of designing. As a costume designer I live vicariously through all of the characters in a production. Whether those characters are young or old, male or female, Asian or Latino. It changes as the stories change and the need of a specific production changes. I adapt to how the director has decided to tell the story.

04. So…HAMILTON. What was your initial reaction when the idea came across your table? A hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton seems so crazy. Were you hesitant at all to the idea?

I have to admit that the only historical facts that I knew about Alexander Hamilton when I was asked to join the team were that he was killed in a duel by Aaron Burr, and that his portrait lives on our Ten dollar bill. So to answer your question, yes I was skeptical. But I had also already designed a musical that Lin had written and starred in and that Tommy Kail had directed, IN THE HEIGHTS. I had full faith and trust in the brilliance of HAMILTON.

05. I know you’ve talked about this before, but how did you initially tackle the costumes for Hamilton? Was there an immediate spark of inspiration or did it take lots of research digging into 18th Century looks?

I worked for a long time developing the design of HAMILTON, starting by collecting a large file of research on 18th Century and American Revolutionary uniforms and clothing. I also developed a file of images of 18th Century inspired contemporary clothing. The challenge was to find within the clothing spectrum of 18th Century, through to contemporary fashion, the most compelling way to present the story that Lin had written. Also to keep within the contemporary style that it had been written.

06. Can you tell me a little about working with Lin-Manuel Miranda? How important is it for you to have a connection with the creator you’re working with?

First, let me say that it is very rare to work with someone as talented but also as accessible as Lin. I think the great trust that I have in Lin and Tommy Kail allows me to do my best work. It’s very important.

07. Can you describe a moment when you felt like you really made it? Was is winning the Tony, or did it come before that?

I feel like that idea of “made it” has continued to evolve and change throughout my career. I would say that designing HAMILTON, experiencing all of the joy around the show, and receiving the Tony Award for my work has moved me closer to feeling like I have arrived.

08. Are you working on anything new right now that you’re excited about?.

I am currently in the middle of shooting The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks. It is a very compelling film for HBO that stars Oprah Winfrey and Rose Byrne and is directed by George C. Wolfe. It is about the woman whose cancer cells became known as HeLa.

09. What is currently inspiring you and in what way? (book, movie, song, podcast, anything really…)

I am inspired by any story of people being good to each other and taking authentic care of each other, especially stranger to stranger.

10. How do you end a typical day? What do you do to unwind? 

I usually have a lovely dinner with my husband or friends and then crash into sleep from the exhaustion of the day. If I am working on a current design project that might happen much later in the night.

You can find Mr. Tazewell on the web:

Paul Tazewell

photo borrowed from The MET ARTIST PROJECT.

AMY FLEISHER MADDEN : author & indie record label entrepreneur

I’ve known Amy forever, she’s incredible. I saw her at every local South Florida concert when we were growing up. When I moved to Los Angeles I would show up at her house unannounced every week just to bother her. She is the founder of Fiddler Records, a very important institution in the history of South Florida indie music. Her book, A Million Miles, was recently published and has been getting rave reviews. Be sure to check out her links at the bottom because it’s hard for me to wrap up everything she does in a quick intro. I think you’re gonna like this one!

01. What’s your typical morning routine? How do you get your day started?

I wish I could tell you that I run five miles or that I write a thousand words by 10 am… But I can’t because I don’t. My morning starts when my five month old daughter, Elle, wakes up. Sometimes it’s at 5:00 am… Sometimes it’s at 7:00 am… But no matter the time my day starts with her. There’s a lot of singing, some dancing, and of course diapers… Lots and lots of diapers.

02. I’ve known you since the late 90s. We met in those exciting days in South Florida when everything seemed possible, every band was going to get huge. How did you get involved in that music scene? And is it still part of your life?

I have no idea how not to answer this without sounding like a total asshole… But I’m on a bit of a tight schedule (see answer #1) so let’s just get to the good stuff.

03. Your record label, Fiddler Records signed some bands that actually did go on to huge success (New Found Glory, Dashboard Confessional, etc.) This is probably a complicated question, but how did you go about negotiating these artists’ contracts away to major labels? Was that hard?

You’re right, that’s a very complicated question. To put it simply, I didn’t. Bands get big and when they do they don’t always play fair (and to be fair that doesn’t only apply to bands). It was hard because there really wasn’t any negotiating. I worked with bands and put out records that no label would have touched in a million years… Then when a few thousand copies sold it was clear to people what was going on and I had bands muscled away from me with the illusion of points and royalties that were never paid. To be really fucking honest, it sucked. It still sucks.

04. You moved from South Florida to Los Angeles forever ago. I believe you’re living in New York City now. Was moving away from home a necessary step in your personal growth? If so, did you know it would be then?

I’m back in LA now, but yeah I knew. Something in me always knew I needed to leave Miami. I traveled a little bit with my parents when I was growing up and as soon as I could drive I was never home. I’ll make something up and call it the Oyster Theory–let’s just say you’ve got to get a little itchy to make something beautiful.

05. You had your first book A Million Miles published last year. Just the task of writing a book seems like sort of an impossible endeavor, but you wrote it, got it published and it’s gotten incredible reviews. What made you want to write a book?

I thought I was going to die. I had a tumor growing on my thyroid and doctors couldn’t tell if it was cancerous or not–so I started to really think about ‘the end’. I’ve always wanted to write about music and touring and nothing gives you quite a dose of the hurry-ups like terminal feelings. I think I’ve really only talked about this publicly once before–at my Miami book signing–one of my doctors was there and someone asked a similar question and it felt wrong to withhold the truth with my doctor looking right at me. I don’t usually like to talk about it because I don’t want the whole story behind my book to be clouded with the big ‘C’, but I guess you caught me in an extra truthful mood. It’s late. I’m tired.

06. What advice would you give to someone wanting to get a new indie label started? Is that type of bedroom business completely dead?

I think that type of bedroom business is more alive than ever, but I’d tell whoever this wonderful young entrepreneur is that being a label is a lot like being a bank. Sure there’s an art to it, and there’s a need for talent, but at the end of the day the bottom line matters–and that’s a bummer. If you’re the softy emo type (like me) it might not be the best use of your time. Or maybe it is. Just go into things with your eyes open, and read everything you can. And email me if you have a question!

07. Can you describe a moment when you felt like you really made it? What did that feel like?

No, never. I still stare blankly into nothing at all and daydream about different careers and projects I want to start. I feel like I haven’t really accomplished anything. My mom is pretty psyched about the book, though, so that’s nice.

08. Are you working on anything new right now that you’re excited about?

I’m writing what seems to be the next installment (I really don’t want to say sequel) of A Million Miles. I’m also messing around with something that could maybe be a movie? I don’t know. I’m learning how to be a mom, so that’s wild.

09. What is currently inspiring you and in what way? (book, movie, song, podcast, anything really…)

Ugh. Is it horrible to say nothing? Maybe it’s food. Food, yes, let’s go with food. Jon and Vinny’s on Fairfax is fucking inspiring, that’s for sure. Try the meatballs. And my family. My family inspires the ever living shit out of me. Oh, and this young kid, Troye Sivan. His record ‘Blue Neighborhood’ is all I listen to these days. My friend Malia James directed a video for him and it’s stunning.

10. How do you end a typical day? What do you do to unwind? 

What is this unwind that you speak of!? If I have an hour of mental stability left at the end of the day I enjoy a good snuggle on the couch with my husband. You know that scene in Titanic with the old couple holding each other on the bed as the water rushes in? Yeah, that’s us at the end of a long day, just add two cats. It’s adorable.

You can find Mrs. Fleisher Madden on the web:

PAUL GELLER : founder of Dialect NYC

Paul is one of my all time best friends.  He’s a musician, freelance philosopher, app developer and e-business entrepreneur.  Developer of Socialist app, founder of Dialect NYC, & Former Executive Vice President of Gov. Affairs for Grooveshark.  This list could go on and on.

01. What’s your typical morning routine? How do you get your day started? 

1. I wake up before my alarm usually — not that I even set one anymore.

2. 20 minutes of connection and meditation.

3. Shower.

4. Athletic Greens (Life changing. Raw greens and probiotics)

5. Sunwarrior Warrior Blend (Chocolate). It’s Vegan. Non-GMO, all raw plant protein.

6. 16 oz of Bulletproof coffee with ghee and MCT oil

7. 1 hour of reading the Zohar / Torah and if I am feeling really energized I’ll read an essay by one of the great Kabbalists. Rav Ashlag is the most widely published. It’s a great way to remember why you are here.

8. I try not to check my email or RSS feeds until after I’ve accomplished 1-2 hours of spiritual study every morning. There is nothing in my inbox that requires an immediate, reactive response. Ever. There is nothing in yours either.

On RSS Feeds: I don’t consume my news any other way. I don’t like news surfacing algorithms that try to predict what I will be most interested in. I only use RSS. I skim the most recent (not most popular) 700 or so stories of the day, send the ones I want to read later to Pocket and then move on. If you are only reading what is in your Facebook feed then you are only seeing what people like you think is important. We all know where that gets us. I use Feedly as my reader. Then Producthunt. Then Redditedit – Boom.

02. We became friends in high school when we took a guitar class together. We went on to form and play in a fairly successful band. Why music? Does music still fit into your daily life? 

Music, the industry, my passion for the industry and for the artistry hasn’t waned. I still wrestle with it. What if that’s what I was supposed to do with my life? I try not to think about it. I listen to music all of the time – mostly while I am walking around the city but I don’t spend any time on “discovery.” Though I have developed great products that helped do that when I was at Grooveshark.

03. You got into e-businesses very early on, late 90s-early 2000s. So many internet businesses fail, so few succeed; Is there room out there for someone with a simple good idea? 

So many people confuse “having a good idea” with having “a good business.” See: Quirky – I am guilty of this first and foremost. I’m full of ideas and I have this innate ability to manifest them. When I built Sociali.st it was a good idea. It was a product I wanted to to use so I built it, but did it deserve to be a business? Probably not. Building your app or your web product is the easy part. Getting people to care is the real challenge. Time and attention is a zero sum resource. Your web “idea” will be competing against everyone else’s even if it is not directly competitive. It’s competitive in the same way that a video game is competitive with a movie. There is only so much time in the day. Is there room for it? Only if you make room.

04. You moved to New York City a few years ago. What is it about that city that made you feel like you needed to be there?

I want to look tragedy, hardship and failure in the eyes every morning. And then have an almond milk latte and an organic juice.

05. Grooveshark was famously sued and you worked with them for years. How did that feel? Did you ever feel like just giving up and getting a regular job? 

I was actually a personal party to that suit. Myself, the two co-founders and 4 other non-founding employees along with the company itself were sued for $17 billion. At that age? It’s scary. You can go crazy. I almost did. Maybe I totally did. Maybe I still am. I’ve always wanted a regular job. No one would hire me. I could go be a line cook at Carrabba’s again maybe. That sounds nice. I think I’ll do that.

06. You’re one of the most successful people I know…What advice would you give to someone trying to get a new idea/business started? 

I’m not successful. But when I do get to where I am going, what I will say is this: Money is an effect.

07. Can you describe a moment when you felt like you really made it? What did that feel like?

Terror and Panic. I had just gotten off stage at the Billboard Conference in San Fransisco, November 18th, 2012. I checked my phone and there was a voicemail from a CNET reporter asking me if I had a comment about having just been sued for $17 billion. That was the first time I felt like I’d made it… and the emotions were terror and panic. I went ice skating.

08. Are you working on anything new right now that you’re excited about?

Yes. I’ll share it with you if it comes to be.

09. What is currently inspiring you and in what way? (book, movie, song, podcast, anything really…) 

1. Kabbalah – For me, this is the answer I’ve been looking for. The fusion of math and mysticism.

2. We Have Concerns (Podcast) – I share their concerns. It’s comforting.

10. How do you end a typical day? What do you do to unwind? 

The Rick & Morty Show. Spaghetti.

You can find Mr. Geller on the web: