Interview: Jon Sandler of Brooklyn Pop-Synth Duo Great Good Fine Ok Talks New Music, the Challenges of Fame, and Outer Space

Originally published on Verge Campus

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It’s been five years since Jon Sandler and Luke Moellman ran into each other on the streets of New York and decided to make a song together. Their paths had crossed many times since Moellman lived with Sandler’s friend and old band’s pianist, but after countless instance of saying they’d someday collaborate, the time seemed finally right.

They finished “You’re The One For Me” in one night and sent it around to friends. “We got such a positive reaction, we knew we had to keep going,” shared Sandler. He had been sitting on the moniker “Great Good Fine Ok” for future use, and since Moellman “didn’t hate it” they had settled on their new persona. They released the track on SoundCloud and racked up over 500,000 streams in no time. The track offered something many hadn’t heard before. It was a marriage of pop and electronic that created a sound rarely found exclusively in either genre. Moellman’s stand-out production paired with Sandler’s unique falsetto voice made it clear to the two that GGFO was onto something.

They released their first EP in 2014, and have been creating together ever since. “We didn’t even think this would become a band when we first wrote [‘You’re The One For Me’], we were just messing around,” revealed Sandler. Their initial success, though, catapulted them into a very different mindset. “It was definitely really surprising, but we knew it meant we had to maintain that momentum and keep doing this together,” he asserted.

Since their debut they’ve released two EPs, one album, and numerous singles with an EP currently in the works. Together, Sandler and Moellman’s talents combine to create something musically ingenious. “Both of us had been making music for awhile before we got together so we were really able to develop our own talents individually,” Sandler explained. “Because of that, when you put us together you’re going to get something you’ve never heard before.”

Sandler considers GGFO as falling under the “alt-pop” genre, but was too humble to admit their strides as innovators or genre-benders. So much of pop today can be repetitive, but GGFO is working to change that tune. The alternative category itself is kind of a mixed bag, so bringing those two worlds together usually means you’re going to get something unique for a dynamic audience. In simpler terms, GGFO’s music has something for every type of music fan. It’s a little bit of pop, a little bit of techno, very lyrically focused, and just a good vibe with every track. “I do hope we are doing something different,” said Sandler on their impact.

Their interesting sound didn’t just come from nowhere. Sandler shared his musical inspirations today and it’s a broad spectrum. From classic artists like Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston to synth-backed vocal groups like Betty Who and The 1975. A dream collaboration of Sandler’s is jazz artist Quincy Jones. “He’s the man,” Sandler said, with a laugh. “He knows music.”

When I spoke with Sandler on the phone, he was elated to share news of their upcoming EP due in 2019 which is expected to take their sound to a new level. “We tried a lot of things we hadn’t ever done before in our music,” he said. “There’s some piano stuff, acoustic, it’s definitely showing the extent of our talents and musical capabilities.” In the last five years, Sandler has watched him and Moellman grow together as musicians and sees this EP as a chance to share that growth with fans.

Fans have a lot to work with already though. So far, the duo has released three singles from the EP, “Easy,” “Touch,” and “Change,” and music videos for “Touch” and “Change.” The singles are a mix of up-tempo dance tracks and mellow synth-pop ballads, each encapsulating meaningful lyrics written by Sandler himself. “’Change’ is definitely my favorite of the three,” The song is about commitment in a relationship and hoping someone doesn’t change their mind about you along the way, it is certainly one of the most emotional of the three singles. Sandler’s pre-chorus and chorus lyrics are: “Moving on but the scars ain’t healing / Things went wrong and now we’re dealing / You told me that you’re tired of feeling / Is having a change of heart a real thing?” followed by “Are you gonna change your mind? / Are you gonna leave this incomplete? / Will you leave it all behind? / Find a way, don’t change on me.” The melancholy lyrics communicate heartache but Moellman’s production is uplifting with its light, synth beats that solidify the track in the alt-pop genre. “the lyrics mean a lot to me and it’s a song I really hope people can listen and feel the same way I feel,” said Sandler. It’s a sad, but hopeful song and already a standout from the EP. To me, it’s the most relatable of the tracks because it touches on the miscommunication aspect of relationships today that we’ve all sadly been through. It’s this paradoxical amalgam of an upbeat measure and sorrowful libretto that makes this track so great. Less paradoxical is “Touch,” a more traditional dance-pop track that is borderline EDM with its electric beat drops. My favorite track of theirs so far, it still remains unique with Sandler’s romantic lyrics and unparalleled falsetto vocals. “It’s a really fun song,” Sandler admitted.

According to Sandler, the visuals for the aforementioned tracks are of equal importance to the EP. The videos for “Change” and “Touch” respectively combine as a short film about two lovers who dream of going to space, and eventually reunite there. The videos are expertly shot with crisp cinematography that features vibrant pastel colors and abstract details. In “Change” Director Colin Michael Quinn uses continuity editing by combining closing detailed shots of household objects like light bulbs, eggs, a sink head, etc. and pairing them with similar shaped shots of space, planets, and rocket ships. Quinn takes a similar approach in “Touch” with close ups and detailed shots of plants, eyes, and glitter to draw comparisons to outer space. These are both coupled with bright pinks, oranges, yellows, teals, and greens that create a visually stunning approach to visualizing the protagonists dreams of the cosmos. I’ve never considered going to space more in my life. Sandler explained that the video uses outer space as a medium for the couple to find each other and show that “you can’t escape your destiny. The theme of space has been apparent in their other projects by way of their album art, but this time around it’s a more concrete concept. “We’ve been using these pictures of little guys on a planet with outer space around him for a really long time because space was something we were always drawn to as a visual space for our music to live. Now, if you look at the cover art for the new singles, the guys on the planets are me and Luke, so it’s like this new EP is more us and a more developed version of who we are.”

In a sense, GGFO has taken a more personal approach to their music now, using their art to communicate their own stories and feelings rather than conform to a generic sound. Sandler admitted that their primary goal is to “make music that puts into words those feelings we can’t usually describe.” But they aren’t leaving out the fans in that equation. “If I can perform ‘Change’ at a live show and make someone cry because they can relate to it, then I’ve succeeded” added Sandler. In 2019, that goal might become a reality for Sandler, with hopes to go back on the road and tour. “We’ve been working really hard to make music but we constantly get messages from fans asking us to do another tour and we really really want to” said Sandler. Without seeing them live, according to Sandler, you’re only getting half of their musical experience. “Our live show is something else. We use so many visual elements with lights and costumes, its really a show. We aren’t just playing music on stage.” Sandler even revealed that if you go to a GGFO show, you’re most likely going to see him dance his “ass off,” which I would definitely hate to miss.

2019 is looking like a good year for these guys, with an EP on the way and a prospective tour, there’s no reason to not keep them on your radar.

Beautiful Boy is a Sensationalized and White Washed Version of the Opioid Crisis

Originally published on Verge Campus

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The main question digging at journalist and father David Sheff is “why?” Why has his gifted son become addicted to crystal meth? What is it doing to his body? How can he fix it? There are two perspectives working together in Felix Van Groeningen’s new film Beautiful Boy that tell the grim narrative of a youth’s battle with meth addiction and how it became the object of his father’s anxieties.  The memoirs of the real life Nic and David Sheff were adapted to create the new release which has received critical acclaim for its powerful depiction of a pressing subject matter, the opioid crisis. The film uses the experiences of both characters to create a moving and sympathetic story that is sure to captivate audiences, though its overly sensationalized storytelling and glaring flaws in representation should not be overlooked.

The film begins in medias res, with David (Steve Carell) asking a doctor about what meth use does to the human body in search for a solution to his son’s addiction. From there, the film’s narrative becomes non-linear, cutting backward and forward in time. This structural choice makes sense, since too many movies have tried to fit the addiction story into a standard three-act formula: substance abuse, rock bottom, then recovery. The story of Nic’s (Timothee Chalamet) addiction are presented as episodes and events, some positive moments of family bonding like the scene of Nic playing with his young step siblings in a yard sprinkler and when he walks across the stage to receive his bachelors diploma at graduation. Scene like this are quickly followed by quick declines like when Nic relapses in his dorm room or meets his father at their favorite diner after being AWOL for days to ask for “just a couple hundred dollars.” The constant contrast in tone plants false hope into the viewer with every few scenes, and like David, you gradually lose faith in Nic.

The choice to structure the focus of the film on key moments is an effective tool in the subjectivity of the film through the eyes of David Sheff. Groeningen’s film attempts to present both sides of the story but Nic Sheff’s doesn’t always seem worth rooting for. After countless months in rehab followed by relapse after relapse, Nic’s addiction becomes a heavy burden on his family, specifically his father. Carell’s performance as the caring and loving father is established from the very first scene and he is the main source of the film’s empathy. Carell’s depart from the comedy realm to that of dramas has not suited him well in the past, such as his somewhat forced roles in films like Foxcatcher and The Big Short, but in this role he did not disappoint. His convincing performance was easy to empathize with, proving an ability in him to fully shed his comedian identity. As you watch the narrative unfold, you can feel the hurt in his eyes searing through the screen as he himself watches his son’s life crumble in front of him. His performance might be one of the few redeeming qualities this film has to offer. Timothee Chalamet, the film’s main selling point, couldn’t hold his own in this more dramatic role. After riding the wave of award recognition for Call Me By Your Name, his strengths seem to lie in lighter, romantic roles. His portrayal of Nic Sheff was overly angsty and one note. Having a central character that can’t be sympathized with kills half of this story, but Carell managed to carry the rest of the narrative with ease.

The film relies mostly on empathy for and sensationalization of the emotional consequences of drug addiction. It keeps the opioid epidemic far from realism, and consequently relate-ability. Beautiful Boy is advertised as a film that hopes to bring to light the horrors of an issue worsening in America today, but at times it can be overly emotional and borderline melodramatic. Almost every “episode” of the narrative had some sort of overwhelming musical montage with a powerful crescendo. This was rather annoying after the third or fourth instance of it because it seemed overly stylized and ingenuine, not to mention it made every other scene seem like the movie was about to end. This made the two-hour feature stretch to what felt like almost four. You can only tease an audience so much. The first few instances of this were moving, I will give it that, but when it just kept happening I was almost desensitized to it. There reached a point about halfway through the film when my tears had dried and I could see right through it. The film had the potential to maintain that emotional captivation throughout, but something about the execution was too over the top for me to be entirely convinced.

As a film, Beautiful Boy is successful in doing what most aim to do (whether you fall for it or or not) and that is make the viewer feel something. When you take a step back and place it in a grander social context, though, there is a severe flaw in its representation. The film advertises itself as rooted in realism, telling a true story of addiction with the memoirs as its selling point.  But what strikes me is the obvious problem many critics have failed to address since the release of Beautiful Boy, and that is how blatantly Hollywood has attempted to white-wash the opioid epidemic to make it more publically accessible and relatable for a mass audience. The opioid crisis effects all demographics, and statistically speaking it typically effects more impoverished and underprivileged communities. So as a viewer, it is incredibly frustrating to see the epidemic sympathized with because the new face of it is a privileged white man from a wealthy family who was a gifted student and athlete. Why does Hollywood want to evoke realism, but choose stories that stray so far from it? Not to say people like Nic Sheff can’t fall victim to addiction, it does happen. But why is Hollywood scared to tell other stories? Is the narrative of, for example, a young black teenager less “glamorous” than one played by screen-favorite Timothee Chalamet? This just further shows that the film is doing nothing to promote the reality of the drug crisis in America as it would much rather hide behind melodrama and Hollywood, white, glamour.

Netflix’s Maniac is a Highly Stylized and Cinematic Approach to Modern Television

Originally published on Verge Campus

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Netflix’s newest original mini-series Maniac is truly an example of television at its most impressive. Comprised of ten episodes, the series accomplishes more stylistically in each 40-minute block than most films can accomplish in two hours. This isn’t entirely surprising considering the project is directed by Carl Fukunaga (Sin Nombre, Jane Erye, Beasts of No Nation), an auteur of contemporary cinema. Since its release in September, Maniac has received immense critical acclaim for its interesting storyline and exploration of capitalism, mental health, and the weight of human connections. What some seem to overlook, though, is its elevated production quality seen in elements like its set design and casting/performances. Its detailed visual stylistic choices alone bring it to far surpass most television series’ today by giving the series an almost cinematic grandeur and presence.

The starring duo of Maniac, Jonah Hill and Emma Stone, are most likely why people have decided to give this show a shot. As highly acclaimed actors who have been nominated for and won countless awards for film, their shift to television has been instrumental in placing Maniac on a more dignified pedestal. Though many expectations come from having widely known names pinned to a new original series, these were exceeded by their amazing performances as Owen and Annie, two people from a dystopian New York City who volunteer as guinea pigs for a new pharmaceutical drug. Hill leaves his comedic antics behind for the black sheep, schizophrenic Owen Milgrim with a redeeming yet misunderstood innocence that is portrayed so convincingly you’ll want to give him a hug and tell him everything’s going to be okay. Stone drops the cute act for a manipulative bite that is Annie Landsberg, a drug-addicted, cold-hearted woman that you want to hate, but you can’t. Her performance is so raw that you can see directly through Annie’s icy exterior into her heart, and you’ll root for her all the way through. The acting done by these two is awards-season material, and since the Emmys are the new Oscars, we’ll all be watching.

But, Maniac’s casting isn’t the only thing that has kept our eyes glued to our screens. The elevated production quality of its set designs make each scene more visually stunning than the next. There’s an intense focus on color from frame to frame, each more vibrant than the next. The pharmaceutical lab is the main indicator that Maniac is not of our era. It’s filled with rich pastels and electrifying neons which read like something out of a 1970s sci-fi flick. The retro dystopia of Maniac calls back to its vintage inspirations, almost as an homage to that era of science fiction. If Maniac does take place in the 21st century, it is in the way someone like Stanley Kubrick would have imagined it. The antagonist (slight spoiler) of the series is even is a large computer with a capacity for empathy and communication a la 2001: A Space Odyssey. In simple terms, Maniac is visually rooted in the realm of cult-science fiction films and finds its place among them effectively with ease.

Maniac’s impeccable design also shines through the dream sequences of the series where the two protagonists find themselves in several different realms spanning from fantasy to film noir as an effect of the drug they are testing. These different dream worlds are fun, and shockingly fleshed out considering only less than an hour is devoted to each one. With each world as its own mini-movie, Fukunaga wholeheartedly devotes all available resources, making sure to do each story justice. These dreams could inspire spin-offs of their own, and are treated with the same importance as the primary plot line in terms of design and quality. Each “world” is filmed on location with elaborate costuming and set pieces. Minimalism is not on Fukunaga’s mind, and for that reason, his cinematic approach gleams through.

Maniac is just one of many television shows to come out in the last several years that has prioritized a heightened visual experience, pushing television into a realm equal to film. HBO’s Game of Thrones would be the most mainstream example of this television phenomenon. The introduction of the “mini-series” seems to have taken that one step further. With a mini-series, there’s a predetermined amount of episodes, maybe only ten or twenty, for the entire show. As seen in HBO’s Big Little Lies starring Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman, Sharp Objects with Amy Adams and now Netflix’s Maniac, the mini-series could really just be “the extended film” rather than a shortened version of the series’ we know today. In any case, Fukunaga’s approach to Maniac resulted in a wonderfully cinematic experience, visually captivating from start to finish and highlighting the strengths of two noteworthy actors in the most unique of fashions. Give this one a watch, especially if you’re more of a “movie guy.”

 

Berklee Bands Perform at Anonymous Allston Venue, “The Garden”

 

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Last Friday, three Berklee College of Music bands performed in Allston, MA to raise money for the organization SeriousFun.

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Vinamre Kasanaa and Jackson Jost of The Garden

The bands Minervuh, Lithic, and The Cotones played at “The Garden,” a low-key venue located on Gardener Street in Allston. The Garden, surprisingly, is just another house in Allston and is home to four Boston University students, two of which started and run  The Garden. Vinamre Kasanaa and Jackson Jost  (pictured above) were members of the fraternity Phi Kappa Tau when they were struck with the idea to start a music venue in their home. Last fall, when the fraternity needed a basement to hold their annual philanthropy event, a concert to raise money for SeriousFun and Planned Parenthood, Vin and Jackson stepped up to the plate. They thought their space was perfect and continued to host shows from that point on. Vin had always loved the idea of house shows, saying they were a “better use of an Allston basement than a frat party.” “I went to my first house show as a freshman and I loved it,” explained Vin. “I would always look for shows in Allston on my Friday and Saturday nights.” Now, as often as they can, Vin and Jackson host their own shows at The Garden, not only as a platform for local bands to showcase their talent but to support great causes like SeriousFun and Planned Parenthood.

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“The Allston underground scene is the place to be right now,” said Taylor Pollock, lead vocalist of Minervuh (pictured above). “It’s so much more intimate and fun than an actual stage,” she said. Taylor found out about The Garden through word of mouth from other Berklee bands who had performed there and was more than enthusiastic to make connections there. Allston is famous for its house shows which have drawn interest from many Berklee musicians in recent years who don’t have similar opportunities to perform outside of the classroom on their campus. A major spot for performers and music lovers of Allston to see a good house show is a house named “The ER” (formally called “The Womb”) located relatively close to Boston University’s campus. The ER has gained major buzz in recent years, but Vin and Jackson believe what they are doing is a whole lot better. “We try to have really professional relations with our bands,” said Jackson. “We use graphics and social media to promote and advertise the events and our bands, it’s very professional.” Vin added that The ER is a “passion project” while The Garden is “very serious” and handled like a legitimate venue.

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Minervuh

But unlike The ER who rely heavily on their popularity on campus, The Garden raises their appeal by remaining completely anonymous. No explicit acknowledgment of who the hosts are can be found on The Garden’s Instagram account, not to mention their address is only available to people who directly message their account. Their anonymity only adds to their underground and rugged appeal, and it is a strategic marketing move on their part.

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When asked about the future of The Garden, Vin said he believed it wouldn’t be an easy project to pass down to someone and that it would likely die when him and Jackson graduate in 2019. That being said, both Jackson and Vin hope to pursue careers in the business or creative agencies of the entertainment industry, so they are thankful for the skills they are learning which they plan to take with them into the workforce.

Newstrack: IndieWire

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IndieWire is advertised as a niche site focused on the world of Independent cinema, but often covers topics and films throughout the industry regardless of production. The site proclaims themselves as “the leading news, information and networking site for independent-minded filmmakers, the industry and moviegoers alike.” In short, it is a movie and tv lover’s haven.

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The site is dynamic in its content, ranging from movie/tv reviews, lists (i.e. “Top 10 Horror Films of 2017”), in-depth interviews with directors/actors/producers, etc., film industry news, and film festival coverage
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The site’s interface is minimal while still including all the necessary information. The homepage features the most relevant articles as a large slideshow while the most popular and trending stories are listed in their own bar on the right. The middle of the homepage lists out each article of the day with the most recent at the top. From observation, it seems about two or three articles are posted an hour.

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The top bar of the site splits it into categories of “News,” “Film,” “TV,” and “Awards.” Each category then has its own drop-down menu of sub-categories such as “Lists,” “Galleries,” “Reviews,” and “Interviews.” The site is generally very organized and easy to navigate.

Though the site features a vast mixture of content on film and TV, the writing for most of the articles, even the lists, is very professional and almost scholarly. The writers of IndieWire aren’t average film fans, they are educated filmmakers and analysts that go to great lengths in their reviews and write-ups. They all have extensive knowledge of film that goes deeper than surface level insights which adds an extra dimension to their articles that I believe is lacking in many other entertainment-focused news sites.

No Water Needed

Taken March 17, 2018

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A display of succulents and cacti for sale at the Boston Flower & Garden Show held at the Seaport World Trade Center. The event lasted four days and was a massive convention showcasing floral arrangements, garden exhibits, vendors, and art.