A Dark and Fluffy World: An Interview With Galen Pehrson

text by Summer Bowie

 

Watching one of Galen Pehrson’s films, like his most recent, The Caged Pillows, starring the likes of Jena Malone and James Franco, is like stepping into a psychedelic cartoon where you can’t help feeling a tinge of déjà vu – you’re not sure if it was a dream, a childhood memory, or an omen. It’s as though a mixture of real life memories and old movie scenes were plucked from your brain and rearranged into a brilliant new narrative. They’re the renderings of a world that most of us have inhabited for all our lives, but for Galen, who spent the first 12 years of his life in rural Nevada City, without access to cable TV or any other means of consuming pop culture, this world can be seen from a slightly outside perspective.

His exposure to MTV was a wild awakening that led him into making music videos and working as a cartoon artist. His harrowing tale of running away, moving to New York, studying at RISD and eventually spending the first 7 months of his life in Los Angeles at a halfway home for dual-diagnosed criminals with psychiatric disorders in South Central is one that deserves a film in itself, but it certainly set the stage for the world of Caged Pillows that he has been creating for the past several years.

Former iterations of this world are clearly seen in previous projects such as El Gato, a collection of hand-drawn, animated vignettes that was part of James Franco’s Rebel project, a multi-artist exhibition presented at MOCA during Jeffrey Deitch’s sadly missed reign. You can also see further developments of this vacuous, celestial world filled with characters that behave like humans but look like ducks, dogs, cats, wolves and mice in Mondo Taurobolium. This short film that is as much a music video for Devendra Banhart’s track Taurobolium as it is a film that carries its own, not only features the same starring cast and characters as his other films, but the score is also masterfully mixed and produced by the brilliant Noah Georgeson.

His new film, The Caged Pillows, is a short that was originally intended to be a feature, but Galen says this introduction is just a pinprick into a world that will encompass several mediums and film projects in the future. Until then, in under ten minutes, this short is a vortex of mind blowing musical and visual narrative that will be premiered this Wednesday night at MAMA gallery alongside a celebration party for Ruins Magazine, an editorial content site that produced the film and will be launching online with the premiere. We sat down with Galen over green tea in his Hollywood Hills home/studio to talk about his process, his inspiration for the film, and the meaning behind the Caged Pillows.

AUTRE: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or none of the above?

PEHRSON: I think of myself as a director. But the art is cartoon art. I more closely align to cartoon art than animation. The style is taken from my memories; when I was a kid and would watch DuckTales. I’m interested in how those worlds could mature with you. So as an adult, what would that be like? You can always trust cartoon characters. You don’t have to build up characters like you would in a film. There’s this consistent moral overtone. It’s very light. If there’s a bad guy, it’s clear he’s a bad guy. With a cartoon-style arch, you can get away with a lot that you couldn’t get away with in a shorter amount of time. It helps with the compressed stories.

AUTRE: Are you drawn to any other mediums?

PEHRSON: Cartoons are just one facet of it. I have other projects that I’m working on. I produced a bunch of audio on this, like music stuff. I see it as all under the umbrella of this world of Caged Pillows. 

AUTRE: What mediums were you drawn to when you were a kid?

PEHRSON: I’ve been painting since I was a kid. But then painting seemed pointless. As though everyone had already done everything you could possibly do with it. What could I contribute to this? It’s a medium that is so deeply covered. And it didn’t resonate very deeply with me. We’re in such a pop culture-driven society that paintings feel like something people do to remind them of the past. It seems extremely irrelevant. For me, the excitement of creation is bringing out people’s imaginations, immersing them in a different place for a while. I think that’s what the old painters did, like Heironymus Bosch. They had these whole worlds. During that time, it was very contemporary and edgy. For me, it’s trying to be innovative with technology and to create a reflection of our current society.

AUTRE: It’s interesting that you feel Caged Pillows is a reflection of the present. It feels like an ambiguous representation of what could be the present, or likely a dystopian future. It makes sense that you’re working in a medium that is present/future.

PEHRSON: I wanted to be reflective of our current society, which has fascinated me since my childhood. I was raised off the grid until I was twelve years old. I didn’t have television, electricity, any contact with popular culture. We had a Magritte book, and a few others. That was my connection to art. Besides that, we had nothing to do. I drew, painted, or played with dirt. That’s all there was.

AUTRE: Was that a conscious decision that your parents made?

PEHRSON: There was nothing else to do. We were really poor, so we had pens, paper, and dirt. It was something I always did. There are photographs of me, in diapers, smearing paint all over something. I never thought, “Oh, I want to be an artist.” Most of the time, I wished I could do something else.

AUTRE: What was your first introduction to pop culture?

PEHRSON: MTV.

AUTRE: What was that experience like?

PEHRSON: To me, it seemed so bizarre. Pop culture in general does this. Imagine landing on Earth and seeing people singing and dancing like this. That never went away for me. A lot of my work is coming from this place of being young and seeing all these images on TV. “Dress like this to be cool.” I think it’s different if you grow up with it naturally and slowly. It becomes something you adapt to. But at 12, I was like, “I don’t have the right shoes. I have to wear these pants.” There was this extremely fast rush of information on how to fit into society. Plus it was so limiting to be an individual. There were these groups you could be in – nerd, jock, bad guy, whatever.

AUTRE: When you first started watching it, did you feel indoctrinated in it? Or were you immediately critical?

PEHRSON: I loved it. I went on to do music videos.

AUTRE: How long have you been developing your style, these psychedelic, celestial, animal worlds?

PEHRSON: The first time I used the duck characters was 2005. That was for the cover of Adam Green’s Jacket Full of Danger. I didn’t know what to do with it yet. I sat around with a lot of ideas, with a very particular aesthetic in mind, for a while. In 2012, for the Red Bull exhibition, they wanted to commission an animation. So I was like, “The ducks!” That was the launching pad for it.

AUTRE: That one was very erotic too.

PEHRSON: Yeah, each one has its own experiment to it. That piece focused on the erotic. What’s interesting, all the dialogue in that is dialogue from Rebel Without a Cause, just mixed up. That was the first iteration of the characters. They’ve become more and more human over time. I think eventually they’ll just turn into humans.



AUTRE: Your work deals a lot with Hollywood, fame, and money worship. Where do you see yourself in this landscape?

PEHRSON: I have a pretty patronizing point of view. I was never asked to be a part of society. I find myself with all these rules, conditions, and responsibilities that don’t make any sense to me. I constantly feel like I’m walking through a preset maze. It’s so limiting.

AUTRE: It seems like people don’t know they’re in a maze, and that's the scariest part.

PEHRSON: Yeah, it goes back to pop culture. The best artist is not the most popular. Everything is essentially a commercial, even music, and now in art. We’re in an art renaissance. There’s so much content. But it’s all funded and propelled by how and who is making money. Art, to me, has been an honest, accurate reflection of society, without commercial interests. That’s the kind of stuff we get from design. Though they are close, design is for a purpose. Art isn’t necessarily for a purpose.

AUTRE: In many ways it seems like artists are starting to ask themselves how they can commodify their own work before they've even made it. Or a brand is already finding ways to commodify it for them.

PEHRSON: Exactly.

AUTRE: Originally, this was going to be a feature length film, but then Ruins came to you?

PEHRSON: Yeah, I was really excited. I thought of it as an introduction to the world of Caged Pillows. What started as a very linear feature film morphed and grew in many directions that go beyond the film. They gave me a lot of freedom to do whatever I want with it, which is rare and very refreshing.

AUTRE: Who are the Caged Pillows?

PEHRSON: We are the Caged Pillows. Our world is very comfortably jailed. We’re sedated, distracted by television. Everyone is on medication. Our society as a whole, Western culture, has completely driven itself away from the natural human state. That’s such an interesting topic. The Caged Pillows are us. I’m susceptible to this. We’ve been programmed to respond to what success, beauty, and happiness look like – and from a young age. The film is about that. People get these ideas, that success is a beautiful pool, a Bugatti, probably some gold chains.

That’s what the gem in the film represents. At one point, he says, “I’ve been with you since you were a baby. Touch me and I’ll go crazy.” It’s the phones, the screens, touch-touch-double-tap, the instant gratification. There’s a line, “I fed you a lifetime of lies. I can’t even look in your eyes.” The screen can be talking to you, but it’s a one-way communication. There’s no singular accountability because it’s a culture.

AUTRE: We’re all victims inflicting culture on one another.

PEHRSON: Exactly. That’s the overarching idea of the film. There’s a fantasy that we will someday break that and learn more about ourselves as individuals rather than an idea of a society.

AUTRE: Did these ideas become more pronounced when you moved to LA?

PEHRSON: Yeah, definitely. This is Los Angeles. Everyone here is here for a reason. You can separate your friends into two categories: people you would actually call if you had a problem, and people you call for a drink or to go out with or whatever. It’s not a negative thing. Everyone here is ambitious, and acceptably so.

AUTRE: It’s a superficial fame factory. Your work really dives into that.

PEHRSON: The whole film in itself is commercials and the commercials are starring so-and-so. Everything is tied to the celebrity. Even unconsciously, we’re drawn to these figures and the meaning assigned to them.

AUTRE: And the isolation on the other side of that.

PEHRSON: Yes. I made Mondo from a very personal experience. All I had been doing was sitting on a screen. The only experience I had to tell was the experience of sitting on a screen.



AUTRE: Do you ever have to go through a digital detox?

PEHRSON: Every time I finish a project, I go hiking to the Sierra Nevadas for a week. Or I drive through the desert. I go out there and there’s just nothing. I have to hear my own voice. It’s a very strong contrast from, like, literally listening to top forty while I work, because I’m so fascinated by pop culture.

AUTRE: What’s your work process like?

PEHRSON: I’ve worked twelve to fourteen-hour days for the past few years. I wake up at 4[pm], I work from 5[pm] to 9 in the morning. Working all night, I don’t see anybody. It’s all done from a very isolated place.

AUTRE: When people do voiceover, do they have to conform to your schedule?

PEHRSON: No. I do all the voices first. There’s a fun version, which is just me. I send them that version and then they work independently. This piece being so much about pop culture, celebrity, dreams of “being something,” I wanted to involve people that live that lifestyle. I don’t give them much direction. They’re collaborators. They all seem to find joy and release in it. And all the actors are able to find the cracks in the system. They are involved with other things. They appreciate the art. But still, it is pop culture. If that’s the palette we have to work with for people to see it, that’s the right medium.

AUTRE: What about the process do you enjoy the most and the least?

PEHRSON: I enjoy all of it. The hardest part is sitting still for so many hours, and the isolation of not having connection or touch for weeks, or months even. I also feel like this piece called for it. That’s what it was about. It was a bit of method animating (laughs). The best part about it is working with my friends and people I’m genuinely a big fan of. Bar none, to collaborate with a community of ideas and artists who are like-minded.

AUTRE: Is this world going to keep developing?

PEHRSON: Oh yeah. This is just the entrance. It’s a primer to a much larger narrative, extending across music, film, sculpture. There’s a whole set of stuff. As a creative person, it’s all communications – writing, music, art. Any time you can take your vision and make it work in a different medium you’re improving that communication. I think that’s so important, to set outside of one channel of expressing something. I think everybody in the project feels that way. The Caged Pillows world is going to provide a place for people who are stuck in a genre to come and do something completely new.

AUTRE: Are you excited to share it at MAMA?

PEHRSON: I’m very excited. One side is that I made the piece in isolation, as I wanted it to be viewed in isolation. I asked people to call a 1-800 number when watching the film, and I got over 20,000 messages. They’re all about people feeling isolated, feeling like an alien. There’s this disassociation from the world around them.

AUTRE: Can you tell us about Ruins Magazine?

PEHRSON: Yeah, this film is kicking off the launch of Ruins Magazine. It’s a cultural digest that focuses around urbanism and the future of cities. It’s architecture, design, prose and imagery that all somehow express the human condition in present urban environments.

AUTRE: Like a crossover between urbanism and art?

PEHRSON: Yeah, urbanism, art, and culture. And it’s an amazing set of people. I think they’re going to publish a lot of content that otherwise wouldn’t get made.

AUTRE: When does the site launch?

PEHRSON: June 1st.


The Caged Pillows will premiere at MAMA Gallery on June 1st, in conjunction with the release of Ruins Magazine, at 7pm. Follow Galen Pehrson to learn more about the world of The Caged Pillows. photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Text by Summer Bowie. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Casual Burnouts, Lovable Weirdos: An Interview With Actor, Artist and Jack of All Trades Mel Shimkovitz

About a month ago, Autre was asked to cover the second Summer Sacrifice for How Many Virgins? at the Ace Hotel. Little did we know that we would be introduced to one of LA’s most enigmatic, energetic, and multifaceted performing artists by way of a hilarious mock acting reel spanning 10 years of highly varied and absurdly captivating film projects. From parodic audition tapes for films like Pretty Woman, to the superimposing of her character on iconic 90s infomercials, to abstract layerings of sound and industrial imagery, Mel Shimkovitz’s work is at once arresting, captivating the viewer with a chameleon-like quality that leaves you anticipating the next impressive transition. It is perhaps that chameleon-like quality that makes Mel so fascinating. The moment the reel finished playing, I immediately scanned the audience for this curious specimen in hopes of a handshake and the prospect of an interview. Little did I know the magnitude of the Pandora’s box I was about to open.

Researching Mel’s work before the interview, I found a wide range of recent, mostly acting work (she’s popped up in skits on Funny or Die and has made cameos in varied televisions series), but struggled to dig very deep into the past. She would later explain that this is due to a slew of pseudonyms she used throughout the early naughts in order to protect the Shimkovitz family name; a nice Jewish family from Chicago. In the following conversation, which took place at the Autre headquarters downtown, Macho Mel – as she is known in some circles – covers a dizzying gamut of work and life experience. There was her meeting with William S. Burroughs as an adolescent in Lawrence, Kansas. There was her founding of the Voodoo Eros record label, which released music by the likes of Devendra Banhart, CocoRosie, and Antony and the Johnsons – the media called the music they were putting out “Freak Folk.” Voodoo Eros also took the form of a retail store that she ran with CocoRosie’s Bianca Cassidy – it was more an elaborate conceptual art piece than a real retail experience. But next year may change everything for Mel, because she will find herself in a reoccurring role on Jill Soloway’s groundbreaking series Transparent, which just cleaned house with five Emmy awards. We can’t wait to watch.

Indeed, Mel’s approach to her work is wacky and unbridled, yet focused, professional, and somehow she seems to be completely devoid of pretension. She is familiar, but also alien in her virtuosic comedic talents that have an almost vaudeville vibe – maybe it’s just her willingness to fall over to make an audience laugh. It’s the best kind of comedy, because it’s real and authentic. Who doesn’t fall? Most comedy these days seems put on or manufactured. In the following interview, we have a long chat with Mel about Trans vampires, her Zelig-like position in the music, art and Hollywood worlds, and the media’s sudden shift in focus toward the lives and rights of the LGBTQ community.

Summer Bowie: So, I loved the video screening of the Melvira work you produced with Amy Von Harrington at the Ace Hotel. Can you talk a little bit about how that came together?

Mel Shimkovitz: Ben Lee Ritchie Handler and Ava Berlin have a project called How Many Virgins? They asked me if I had any videos I wanted to be shown, because I had been making videos with Amy for a long time. My former life was all music and art. But I’ve always been an actor. I grew up in the theatre. So, I had all these years of work and I thought it would be a nice opportunity to dig into the archives. We had some extra time, so we made a new reel that was really influenced by the Hollywood vibe. When I came out to LA, being an artist quickly transformed into being an actress. Not just in art stuff, but in the semi-mainstream as well. Amy has been making reels for me for a while, and we got the idea to make a fun reel for once. She’s obsessed with Elvira, so we created the character “Melvira”—Elvira’s cousin, who came out to LA wanting to make it. She’s an awkward trans vampire—Melvira: Mistress of the Stage and Screen. So the video screening was Melvira’s acting reel.

SB: That seems pretty surreal. How did you meet Amy Von Harrington?

MS: I was running a record label at the time. I was doing a huge mailing of promos in Brooklyn. She was standing behind me at the post office, deciding if she hated me or not, as I spent an hour holding up the line. Later that night, she showed up at a party that I was throwing with Bianca Cassidy for our project Voodoo Eros. We had a fried chicken party that night and I recognized Amy from the post office. That was it. We just started hanging out and working together. And it’s been like that ever since. We’re casual burnouts. Lovable weirdos.

SB: Can you tell me about the Voodoo Eros project?

MS: Yeah, we had a store on the Lower East Side called the Voodoo Eros Museum of Nice Items. This was 2007. We were a record label, so we would record in there at night. But during the day, we sold XXXXXL sweatshirts and sweatpants that we had hand-painted. Our thing was “the biggest clothes on the Lower East Side.” It was such a small store that we could only put up one thing on each wall. They were all horribly priced. Some were $2 and some were $2,000. We also sold items from the 99¢ store across the street, but we would mark them up about 1,000%, but with really nice price tags. The only people who came into the store were Japanese tourists and dudes who would come in to gay bash us. Bianca and I decided that we were going to play shopkeeps for a year. To be a shopkeep, though, you have to have a long attention span and a will to make money. We didn’t have either of those things.

SB: Where are you from, and when did you first know you wanted to become an actor?

MS: I grew up in Chicago, but I left when I was 17 and went to Kansas. I was really obsessed with the Beats. I was obsessed with William Burroughs. This was before I knew what misogyny was. I was happy to meet him; he wasn’t happy to meet me. But he was very happy to meet the very good-looking guy I was hanging out with. Lawrence, Kansas is really a cultural mecca in the Midwest. There’s a legacy of major progressive hippies out there. It’s a major abolitionist town. That’s not to say that the Westboro Baptist Church isn’t down the street, and didn’t protest every play when the Harlem Choir Boys came to town.

Growing up in Chicago, you do a lot of improv and sketch comedy. I grew up doing community theatre and plays in school. When I went to Kansas and didn’t know what to do with myself, they took me in. There were so many communists teaching at the University of Kansas in the theatre department. That was a really political education—political theatre. I went from there to New York.

I was there for a number of years before I met Bianca Cassidy. We started this feminist collective called “Wild Café Theatre,” and no one was coming. But then Bianca and her sister started this band, and I started doing performance art for their shows in front of thousands of people. We were making videos and fictional worlds. We were queering the world. That time in my life, everything was a creative choice.

SB: Tell us about your period with the CocoRosie. 

MS: Our first album that we put out was just for fun. It was a box filled with tapes that friends had made. We put it out as an album called “The Enlightened Family.” We had songs by CocoRosie, Antony and the Johnsons, Jana Hunter, Vashti Bunyan, Metallic Falcons—just before anybody knew who these people were. All of a sudden, people were buying it! It was a cool project; we were doing whatever we wanted for a couple of years. It was a pure aesthetic project.

SB: Wow, that's amazing. Now, let's fast-forward to your life in LA for a second. As a performance artist, it seems like you’ve become this integral part of LA’s creative community, but it also seems like you’re gaining footing in the more mainstream Hollywood industry. Where do you feel most at home?

MS: In the past, I always would have said in the art world, because of my interest in all things beyond theatre and narrative — I’m super interested in poetry, abstraction, and psychedelic visualscapes, etc. But amazing things have happened in the past year. I’ve met such a great community of writers, directors, and performers. I have this super amazing TV and film community that I never had in the theatre and music worlds of New York. I found a really good tribe. Now, I would say I feel really good in both places, which is so cool. So, I don’t know, I’m really just trying to be very charming, super polite, show up on time, do whatever’s asked of me, have no ego at all moments, and be ready to humiliate myself. I think that’s it.

There’s this idea that nice guys finish last, but I’m getting the feeling that nice guys are getting ahead. In the art world and the Hollywood world, the thing that they have in common is negative competitiveness. The art world is held back by its own self-reference, which makes it super exclusive. The Hollywood world is held back by its own nepotism. Which doesn’t work for anybody who isn’t a straight white cis male — there’s no community for them. People are realizing the patriarchy of that doesn’t work for them. We’re seeing change now. When the first Whitney opened, there was not one woman artist. In the new Whitney, there is amazing work by female artists on every floor. It’s a mindful and purposeful choice, but that’s how equality happens. The cameras are finally being put in the hands of women, queer people, people of color, trans people, people of different ages even. I’m working on a short film written, directed, and starring a 16-year-old girl, and it is more professional, and there’s more heart in this than anything I’ve done in a long time. And this story of a 16-year-old girl – which is not something often made through the gaze of a 16-year-old girl – is so fascinating. This isn’t just because more people have access to these instruments. People are getting bored of seeing the same thing. How many white, ex-skater photographer dudes are making work about process and the sunlight? How many of those can we see before we demand to see more emotional stuff? Some of us want to see more important things.

Film is an emotional medium. So, why have we given all the cameras to the men when we’ve been told our entire lives that women are emotional? Why aren’t we telling our stories? The dudes don’t want to give up the cameras. It’s a frat house mentality, especially in New York.


"I’m really just trying to be very charming, super polite, show up on time, do whatever’s asked of me, have no ego at all moments, and be ready to humiliate myself."


SB: Have you noticed any differences coming to LA from New York?

MS: Coming here, people are starting to collect and to pay attention. All kinds of people can be a part of it. It’s so optimistic out here. Being an artist in New York feels like you’re part of an industry, part of the company. But being out here, especially for the first few years, it felt like being an outsider. And isn’t that who should be creating new culture in a community? The people for whom the current culture isn’t working? 

SB: Definitely! And clearly these days, there’s a lot more acceptance and embracing of queer roles. What would you say has been the catalyst for the boundary pushing we’re seeing in regard to gender and sexuality in the media today?

MS: I want to say that it’s been people who identify as queer rising up and forcing their voices to be heard. But nothing happens without the majority paying attention to it. So that makes me think the majority of people just want to see different stories and experiences. The thing that’s so interesting about the civil rights movement of the LGBTQ community, versus the racial civil rights movement of the 60s, is that queer people are born into your family, which forces us to face it. In recent years, numerous legislators have had to contend with their children coming out. How can they go and say their child doesn’t deserve marriage equality? And so it was passed. Also, when an American hero comes out as trans—that really pushes things forward.

I wonder where we would be in gay rights if AIDS hadn’t happened. Not only did we lose so many great artists and leaders in the community, but all of the resources had to go to screaming for help and taking care of each other.

In the trans community — which is related, but separate from LGBTQ in a lot of ways — trans people have fallen in and out of being accepted throughout humanity. Being trans is something that indigenous communities throughout time have upheld as a shamanistic trait. It’s only been a few hundred years in white society in which a trans person has been an unacceptable thing. We love Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, but 20 trans women of color have been murdered this year. I’m all for marriage equality, I’m happy that went through, but I’m kind of like—fuck getting married, can we save these lives?

My family—who didn’t want to talk about me being gay—is suddenly so interested in talking about trans people. I was on the show Transparent, and these old Jewish people are in it, which really helped my parents with understanding the show. I did a short documentary (which is part of a series of short documentaries) called “This Is Me,” produced by Wifey.TV. They were nominated for an Emmy. I star in one, and my family saw this. Suddenly, I’m getting phone calls from my sister, who has never talked about my queerness. Now, she’s asking me what I want my niece and nephew to call me—Aunt or Uncle. We’re having this conversation now.

Everybody, all of a sudden, decides that they have to be cool with it, because it’s not cool to not be cool with it, and then everybody just gets on board. These days several of my friends have kids, and six-year-olds totally understand trans people. They don’t get separated by boy’s lines and girl’s lines anymore. I’m going into more spaces that have gender-neutral bathrooms. Even for me, hearing a guy peeing in the stall next to me feels like a radical act. It’s not a radical act, but it feels so radical. We’re all just people peeing now.

There are all these new stories to tell. There’s a huge society of people that haven’t been telling their stories. We want to know what their stories are about. I mean, look at how many stories about gay couples and trans people are coming out in Hollywood this year. So many! Everybody is really into it. I mean, I’m already hearing people say things like, “Isn’t it enough already with all the gender stuff.” But this is the first year after 100 years of filmmaking history that these stories are starting to emerge - a lot of people have had enough with the same straight love story.

SB: Are there roles that you feel more comfortable with, or do you jump into all of them with an adventurous attitude?

MS: If the camera’s rolling, I’m there. I’m ready to perform. I’ll jump into anything. I’m lucky now that I’ve been given really fun stuff to play. I didn’t grow up like that. I’m a writer because I had to write my own stuff. I couldn’t get casting. I’ve always been like this. My mom got my ears pierced when I was one so people would stop calling me a “cute little boy.” I’ve been told by so many people that this was going to limit what I was able to do. But recently, I’ve realized it means I can do anything. I’m performing male and female all the time. What I love doing now — which horrifies a lot of other butch lesbians — is to wear a dress. I have a bunch of stuff coming out where I’m the ugly best friend, or I’m the prostitute, or whatever. That’s drag to me, but I can get into my femme side. I feel like an artist when I do that. It’s so powerful.

I always used to stick to comedy. Now, there are parts written where I’m playing a character closer to my own experience. That’s really challenging, and totally new.

SB: So, what kinds of projects are you working on at the moment, or in the near future?

MS: I’m finishing up shooting the second season of Transparent. I have a really cool, fun, scary role in that. I’m finishing writing a feature that I’m supposed to shoot next year. It’s called The Sangres. It’s a dark, comedic, anti-Western with queer themes that Devendra is writing the soundtrack for. It’s influenced by Bob Dylan and Sam Peckinpah. And the fucking desert. I’m doing anything people ask me to do. I starred in a webseries. I’ve been drawing a lot. Just creating my own content.

I’m doing embarrassing things all over town. If anyone has anything embarrassing for me to do, I’m there. If you want me to cry, I can do that too. I’m always on time…congenial…I’m always sober on set.

SB: There’s definite progress being made in terms of acceptance and rights for those within the queer community, but is there an ideal destination and what does it look like to you? 

MS: The part of me that came out in Kansas—the person who had to hide for so long—wants to say that the destination would be to not have physical violence done upon you because you are Other. The more optimistic thing to say would be that there would be no Other. Or rather, that we would all be Other. I see us opening up our gaze on gender, and seeing it as a broad spectrum. But I think that’s only one little domino to knock down. Okay so we stop seeing people of other genders as Other, when are we going to stop seeing people from different countries and religions as Other?

I would love to see a year in which people who have consistently been at the back of the line take a move to the front. I would love to see them take over in film and in art. Just for one year. Take the director and turn him into the PA—see what happens. That would be a good short-term goal. Just a year, just sit down, shut up and watch!


You can catch Mel Shimkovitz in the new season of Transparent on December 4, 2015 on Amazon. Click here to see more of Mel's work. text and interview by Summer Bowie. photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Preschool Tintoretto: An Interview With Adam Green

Adam Green is standing under the fluorescent pink glow of the Veniero’s Pasticceria sign on East 11th Street. Lanky, shaggy-haired and clad in olive green corduroy pants, a red paisley 70’s Western shirt and a somewhat ironically ostentatious two-toned fur coat to fend off the icy December air, he could almost pass as another twenty-something traipsing about the East Village—yet I immediately recognize him as the anti-folk wunderkind. Most know Green as one half of the Moldy Peaches, the quirky indie duo that achieved sleeper mainstream success via the Grammy-winning soundtrack of Diablo Cody’s Juno (2007). Green met Kimya Dawson, the other half of the Moldy Peaches, in the 90s in Mount Kisco, NY, where they both grew up. “She worked at the record store, and I worked at the pizzeria, so I would come to her on lunch break and I’d bring my guitar,” he recalls. At seventeen, Green moved from Westchester to Manhattan and began following the path of the New York troubadour, playing his guitar and singing on the street and in subway stations. “For a time I almost became one of the kids that’s just sort of like at Astor Place near the cube,” he laughs. Green has come a long way since then—between releasing seven solo albums in just eight years, exhibiting his paintings and drawings both in the U.S. and abroad, and releasing his first feature film, which was shot entirely on his iPhone—the “screwball tragedy” The Wrong Ferrari, which he wrote, directed, produced, and acted in (along with Macaulay Culkin, Devendra Banhart, BP Fallon, Alia Shawkat and Sky Ferreira. In just a few weeks, Green’s duet album with Binki Shapiro (of Little Joy) will be released. The album, which Green describes as “a nighttime album,” is sweetly melancholic, a fluid indie-pop mélange of the two singers’ styles.

Green, who describes himself as “basically an adult who likes to draw with crayons,” is pensive, focused and effervescent. As he talks, sipping peppermint tea and twisting the various silver rings on his fingers, he radiates enthusiasm and passion. He possesses an endearingly neurotic, Woody Allen-esque demeanor and an offbeat, deadpan sense of humor. He shows me a photo on his iPhone of the engagement ring he designed for his fiancée, using one of his own cartoonish color-block paintings as inspiration. Later on, at his covetable Gramercy Park studio, strewn with oil pastels, tubes of paint, guitars, books, records, paintings and playful set pieces from The Wrong Ferrari, he shows me a framed drawing that Pete Doherty did of him, using, of course, his own blood as ink. What’s next for the charmingly unpredictable Adam Green? Anything is possible. “My next venture is to make my own [film] version of Aladdin,” he says. I’m going to play Aladdin… I already have the lamp.”

ANNABEL GRAHAM: My first question is about 3 Men and a Baby.

ADAM GREEN: 3MB. [laughs]

GRAHAM: 3MB. Can you tell me a bit about that, how it started, what your most recent projects have been?

GREEN: Yeah. It was an extension of The Wrong Ferrari. I made this movie, The Wrong Ferrari, and it’s an iPhone movie, and it stars Macaulay Culkin. And Toby Goodshank, who I used to play in The Moldy Peaches with, he was the cameraman on The Wrong Ferrari, and he helped me to build the sets of the movie. So I guess me and him and Mac were working pretty closely at that time, and I think as an extension of that, we began to treat his house as an art studio. At first it was because some of the sets of The Wrong Ferrari were in his house—for example, in the corner of the room—and they would become like an installation, kind of. I remember we were shooting a scene from The Wrong Ferrari around the time of Halloween a couple of years ago, so the set from that scene sort of became a part of a Halloween party. And I think that he liked that, he liked the idea of having art in his house, and installations… so it grew from there. Mac does a party at Le Poisson Rouge called “Macaulay Culkin’s iPod,” so he has a relationship with that club. So they asked him if he’d like to do an art show, hearing that he was doing paintings, and he said that he would, and that became the reason why we did that show. Because they asked him to. I think it’s kind of funny, I guess almost in a way… you know, people would do lots of stuff, but it’s just that no one ever asked them to.

GRAHAM: So you’ve been painting for a while.

GREEN: I was always really interested in art history. When I was young, I read art history books. Even when I only did music, I would still continue to read art history, and I was a frequenter of museums and exhibits. But for some reason I just hadn’t really had the confidence to make my own artwork. It was actually a weird situation where I got divorced, and I returned back to my old house and found a huge stack of paper, and so I started to paint on the paper, and I kind of made the house really messy, I think I wanted to… mess up the house, and make it my own again, or something… so I think that’s how I started doing artwork. I’d always sort of done drawings, I’d even had an exhibit of drawings at a Swedish gallery called Loyal, back in 2005. Also, I guess I could say when I was a kid I did comic books; I was interested in comic book art and cartoons.

GRAHAM: Your prints are reminiscent of comic book imagery.

GREEN: I was interested in it, but I started to take it more seriously, and I think definitely making a movie, which was largely… the sets were made out of papier mâché, and they were sort of my own visual aesthetic… I think that was my introduction to really doing visual art, and then I guess I really concentrated on it for a few years, probably the last three years, I did mostly visual art, except I did the duets album with Binki [Shapiro]. But besides that, I mostly painted. I made so many paintings… I had three art shows.

GRAHAM: Making music, making films, painting… do you feel that you get something different from each of those forms of expression?

GREEN: I like painting because I almost attribute it to having a social element… I like to just listen to music and hang out with friends and paint at the same time. I like that I can sort of zone out and do it. I think painting, for me, is in the category of something I’ve been doing the longest. I’ve probably been drawing pictures since I was five or something, so I feel really comfortable… it’s relaxing to me. But I guess I was looking for a way to connect all of those different things. I’m obviously always looking for a way to paint the way that my songs are, to sing how my paintings are… I want to all sound like part of the same universe, and I think The Wrong Ferrari was a good attempt to fuse those worlds. It’s written in a half-poetic style, almost like song lyrics, and the script is much in the same pool of writing that I’d write my songs out of. The difference is that songwriting for me is special, because it’s very soothing for me. It’s almost like a meditation, I can kind of walk around and… I just sort of, I guess maybe at my core I think of myself as a singing man, maybe like if there was a circus attraction, or something, I’d be the “singing man” in the tent. I guess I grew up wanting to be a folk singer, and now that I have so many different songs… this is my ninth album, so I guess I’m more of a folk singer now than I was when I was a kid, and I was just thinking of it more as just a style or something. I do think that my songs are kind of like cartoons. I also feel like maybe my artwork is a little bit like a preschool Tintoretto. [laughs]

GRAHAM: A preschool Tintoretto. That’s great.

GREEN: I guess ultimately you just look for fulfillment in any creative area. My next venture is to make a film, my own version of Aladdin. I’m going to play Aladdin. In doing that I think I can write the music and combine my music with the film.

GRAHAM: Would you shoot it yourself as well?

GREEN: I don’t know if I’d shoot it, but I want to direct it, I want to have it look like my paintings, to have my music in it… it’s a cool chance, to have the wishes and stuff. I already have the lamp, so…

GRAHAM: Oh, wow. Where’d you get it?

GREEN: Antique store.

GRAHAM: Have you tried rubbing it?

GREEN: I haven’t rubbed it in a while. [pause] So, the unifying theory of art, music, writing… I think I’m pretty close to being able to do it. Sometimes I think when I’m at my best is when I’m tracing exactly what’s in my head and just making it real. I feel like there’s a world inside of me and I’m just pushing it out through my skin. So I’m taking an inside world and pushing it into the outside. And that’s a good feeling.

GRAHAM: Where can we see The Wrong Ferrari?

GREEN: It was released in a weird way. I wanted it to come out with a bang, and I guess I wasn’t even really sure about the protocol of how to release a film, because my background is in music… and I thought it’d be cool to do it over the internet, and to release it as a free movie. Even though it’s really long, it’s 72 minutes, so it’s a feature-length film. I decided to have the premiere at Anthology Film Archives on 2nd and 2nd, and I decided to release it on the internet the following morning. So I got to have the premiere, and then they released it to the whole world at the same time. And that actually worked pretty well, I think the movie got 300,000 downloads in entirety, which is really cool. So actually a lot of people have that file of The Wrong Ferrari. At the time it was up on thewrongferrari.com, but I took it down because it was really expensive to host it, and now if you go to the film section of my website, there’s a link to download it. You can stream it. But anyway, as it was, the movie got… I don’t know how I feel about the way it was released. I went to Italy and did a screening of it, and I played it in Mexico City, and I played it in LA. But aside from that, I didn’t get to do as much traveling as I wanted to do to promote it. Because of the method that I chose to release it, it was ineligible for any film festivals. So basically, I released it, and a bunch of people downloaded it, and that’s what it is. My intention wasn’t to make it an internet movie at all. I didn’t want people to watch it on their computers, I want people to put it on their TVs and watch it in groups, or to watch it in a movie theater. I think it’s an unnerving and tense movie that I think is interesting to watch in groups. The plot is… we take Ketamine and turn into pets… and I think that’s well-suited for a midnight movie demographic. On a broader spectrum… I really thought that the whole point of the movie was that, you know… the movies we see in movie theaters, like romantic comedies, are so old-fashioned. I thought that all movies in the future would be things that people would make on their phones. I’m surprised that now we go and there’s a new 40-Year-Old-Virgin type movie in the theaters right now. I thought that was over… I don’t understand why the world always stays the same. Have you ever had a friend who was in a bad relationship, but they stay in it for like five years? That’s like our culture with movies.

GRAHAM: So you grew up in New York?

GREEN: I grew up in Mount Kisco, which is a small town about an hour away, in Westchester. It was nice. My parents lived in the city and they moved to Westchester to raise kids, which I think is really noble. I think it’s really good to grow up around trees, parks, fields, fresh air… I think that’s nice. I just got in an argument with this lady who was like “It’s perfectly great to raise kids in Manhattan.” I was like, “Yeah, you’re saying that ‘cause you have some nanny or something…” I think my parents made the right decision, they were pretty selfless in doing that. I think my parents were pretty good. I’ve got a high opinion of them.

GRAHAM: When did you move to Manhattan?

GREEN: Well, my parents moved back when my brother and I grew up. When I was about seventeen, they moved back here, and I just kind of started wandering around. I became a folk singer.

GRAHAM: Did you ever play in the subway?

GREEN: Definitely. I played in the subway, on the N R train, on the 8th Street stop, quite often. Sometimes by myself and sometimes with Turner Cody, who’s a really great singer. We would alternate. I also played on the street. I guess for a time I almost became one of the kids that’s just sort of like at Astor Place near the cube. For a little while I was kind of a cube kid. But then I also found my way to the Sidewalk Café, which is a folk club, and I started performing there. I think I was a decent subway singer, and I played mostly original material… I think that was cool. I don’t know why, when I get on the train, I don’t see as many people doing it. Maybe they’ve cracked down or something. I definitely think I wrote some pretty barbed lyrics to get the attention of people walking by. It was cool, because I met the local peers of mine in the subway… they were my first friends.

GRAHAM: Is that when you realized you wanted to make music a career?

GREEN: I really, really didn’t want to work at McDonald’s or something, and I didn’t have any training to do anything but fine arts, so I knew I had to do music or something like that… and I guess I got cracking really young, I was just everywhere. I was always on the street, and I always had a bunch of CDs and flyers, I was just on a mission. Maybe also because I think my parents didn’t really want me to be a singer, so that helped to motivate me. I feel like for years, my dad really couldn’t look me in the eye because he thought I was delusional.

GRAHAM: Doesn’t it feel good now to prove him wrong?

GREEN: Sometimes, and then sometimes I feel like they were right. [laughs]

GRAHAM: How did your first album come about?

GREEN: Well, I recorded a set of songs around the same time as The Moldy Peaches album came out. The Moldy Peaches is a collection of different home recordings that are mashed up together. I think the main difference between my first album and The Moldy Peaches is that it’s just songs that Kimya [Dawson] didn’t sing on. I think I’d probably offered or showed

GRAHAM: How did you and Kimya Dawson meet?

GREEN: She’s from Mount Kisco… from a neighboring town, Bedford Hills. She worked at the record store, and I worked at the pizzeria, so I would come to her on lunch break and I’d bring my guitar. I met her at a poetry reading at the art center in Mount Kisco. She’s a lot older than me, and I think at the time everyone thought we were really an odd couple. She was like 21 and I was like 14… She’d come over to my house, and my parents would think, like, “Who’s your older friend…?” But that seems to be in keeping with me. I’ve always been friends with whoever I thought to be friends with, and I never really cared if people thought they were the “right” friends that I should have.

GRAHAM: Can you tell me about your collaboration with Binki Shapiro? Your album’s going to be released next month, right?

GREEN: It was my idea to make a duets album with her, just because I thought she was really talented, and I really liked listening to her sing. I thought it’d be fun to try to write with her, and work with her, and we’d known each other as friends for a bunch of years. I’d toured with Little Joy in Brazil; I was a supporting act. Little Joy is really popular in Brazil. I think [Binki and I] had kind of bonded on that tour, and then a couple of years later the idea popped into my head… it wasn’t like there were a bunch of other people I wanted to work with, she was really my first choice. So I just went with it. I think I also wanted to write with somebody because I’d just done something like six or seven solo albums that followed The Moldy Peaches. That’s like a decade of having no one ever give their opinion about anything I did artistically. So it was pretty fun to work with her creatively, because I hadn’t let anyone in for a long time. GRAHAM: I read about it being a breakup album of sorts… can you elaborate?

GREEN: I definitely think it’s a nighttime album. I would encourage people to get the vinyl and listen to it like that. It’s far from a collection of pop singles, it’s much more of an album –album. It’s not very long, only about ten songs. I think in my head I can sort of piece together a narrative about a dysfunctional relationship inside of the track listing. The track listing was one thing that Binki and I really agreed on, so we must see some sort of picture of the album as a whole that we share. But I don’t know, we both were going through different kinds of weird relationship stuff during the writing of the album. I think when we both started writing, she just came over to my house… we drank a bottle of wine, we were writing a bit, we went out and got Chinese food… maybe it was our third writing session that we started to realize that we were in some really messed up relationships. We didn’t even really talk about it, but during the course of writing the record, we found that our relationships fell apart. So we were using each other as confidantes in the writing process, and it was great to be making these composite situations, sort of Frankenstein-ing together different things… also putting ourselves in the head space of each other, so that we could know or at least propose things for each other to sing, which was interesting, and I liked the result of it. We did a lot of articles and interviews on it, and really now we’re just waiting for it to come out. I just feel like… are the people that are reading the article ever going to hear the thing? So that’ll be cool, when it comes out. I feel like it’s a bit like Groundhog Day, it’s like every day of the year I wake up and think, “Oh, this album’s not out yet?” It’s been pushed back quite a bit. We recorded it without knowing what was going to happen, we just made it to make it. And then we both had to change management during the course of it, so it slowed everything down, which was kind of annoying. But I’m really proud of it, and excited for everyone to hear it. And honestly, people have been so kind about it. I think most of my things have a punk element to them that is distasteful to many… People brush off a lot of my stuff immediately, but people seem to be acting kinder about this album. Maybe they’re able to hear it because they think I’m not trying to be a punk about it. I guess my natural inclination’s always been to punish the world until they learn to love me for who I am.

GRAHAM: Do you think you’ll stay in New York forever?

GREEN: I’m certainly not tempted to spend any more time in LA if I can help it. When I was there, I found myself to be really isolated, because I don’t drive, so I was kind of at the mercy of anyone who had a car. I think I’ll probably stay here, but you know, you have fantasies, touring around… But this is how I know that they’re fantasies, essentially that whenever you tour anywhere vaguely vacation-y, like Italy or Spain or something, I think to myself, “Oh, it’d be so nice to live here,” but I probably need the hustle and bustle of New York to feel good. I spend almost every weekend at the Met, or somewhere, and it would be really disappointing for me to not have access to the things in New York that I like. It’s also the only place I know how to get around. I don’t have a good sense of direction, and I’m actually starting to feel confident that I know how to get around everywhere in Manhattan.

GRAHAM: What inspires you?

GREEN: Probably the same things that inspire everybody… definitely love, sex, anything romantic… seeing visual art, anyone that’s interested in analysis, I love critical thinking. I hate when people are like, “Oh, you’re overthinking that,” that’s the worst thing you could say to me. I love when someone wants to go straight in, really deep on something. In art, I love when something’s so mind-blowing that you don’t even have to question how amazing it is. Something like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “Holy Mountain.” I really, really like him. When you see something that is unquestionably so amazing. I think I’m basically an adult who likes to draw with crayons, I guess I’ve accepted that I’m sort of charmingly a man-child. I think I’m basically a naughty boy who’s grown into a man.

GRAHAM: Who are some of your favorite artists and musicians?

GREEN: I like visual artists like Georges Rouault and Erich Heckel. I like Jodorowsky a lot. I like that new Dirty Projectors album, Swing Lo Magellan. I’ve been listening to that a lot. I’ve been listening to George Jones, Nick Cave… I really like that album Let Love In, I’ve been listening to that a lot lately. Shirley Collins, just because I think she has a really natural voice, I love that album Oar by Skip Spence. Eddie Martinez… and George Condo.

You can purchase limited edition artwork prints by Adam Green by going to Exhibition A. Adam Green and Binki Shapiro's album will be officially available on January 29, but you can preorder here. All photos and text by Annabel Graham for Pas Un Autre