I met this next artist at a talent competition for local hip-hop artists around the surrounding areas in Dubuque, Iowa. We connected on our similar backgrounds, prior to our civilian purpose as artists. Now I sit down and converse with another veteran turned artist about his music, his philosophy with art and life, and how the military shaped him as an artist.
You have an astounding resume prior to your music career. Care to tell the readers about your background?
Klazik: Sure, I’m originally from East Cleveland, Ohio. I joined the Navy in 2003 and did nine years active duty. After going through training in Great Lakes, Illinois, I was a Tomahawk missile technician on board the USS Mason DDG 87 in Norfolk, Virginia. I did three deployments from ’05-’09, and went on to be an Instructor in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Now I live in Marion, Iowa.
First and foremost, thank you for serving our country. As a fellow veteran for the armed forces, do you feel art is therapy or an essential outlet for people like us? Why or why not?
K: Some type of healthy release is definitely necessary, everyone isn’t artistic, but alcoholism is heavily encouraged in military culture. I’ve never smoked anything and have only taken a handful of drinks in my life. Making music is an escape for me, all creative expression. I’m confident in my music and comfortable on stage, it’s fun.
During your time in the armed forces, has your service strengthen your philosophy with life or had it evolved during those years?
K: It shaped my philosophy on leadership, because I saw first-hand the type of leader I don’t want to be. The nature of military leadership is abusive and hypocritical and there are a lot of people that meet qualifications for positions of authority that don’t deserve to lead.
Have you ever found a time where it has weakened your beliefs? If so, how did you overcome those moments?
K: Something that really affects me is when people that I have committed myself to show me they don’t care about me. I don’t like being taken advantage of or manipulated because its something that I have had happen to me from people that I trusted. Times like that can make you bitter if you allow it and the way I’ve learned to deal with it is by reflecting on the situation and everyone involved once it’s over. When you look back you can gain a better understanding of who you were at the time and why you allowed those people in your life, then you can grow from that understanding.
Presently, what is your philosophy in life?
K: The law of attraction is very real to me. The things in your life are drawn to you. They echo who and what you are back.
Where did your name “Klazified Sick” aka “Klazik” originate from?
K: It actually came from a line I wrote in a verse. It was during a time where I needed to come up with a new name for myself because a name I used previously was taken. I came up with the lyrics and thought “that’s pretty clever” and ran with it.
When it comes to your music, not only are the lyrics leaning towards a spiritual deliverance, but you carry an old school vibe in the beats. Who in the old school era influenced your flow and sound?
K: My style is directly influenced by the music of the mid 1990s to early 2000s, so that includes Notorious B.I.G., whose my primary influence, as well as, Jay-Z, Bone Thugs -N- Harmony, Fabolous, Kanye West, 50 Cent, etc.
I’m also studying and learning the history of rap music and hip-hop culture, so I connect with older artists like Big Daddy Kane and Rakim. However, I don’t hate new music, that’s just my style of creation.
Is it your path in life that influences the lyrics you deliver, or do you feel the influence from within?
K: I guess it’s from within because I don’t think about it, I just let it come to me. I haven’t written a verse down in over ten years.
Music isn’t your only creative outlet. You are also an amazing photographer. Is that another career move you have considered in the past or currently? Or is it just a hobby of yours?
K: Well thank you! It’s just a hobby now. I’m not as confident in it as I am with my music. I got into photography, because I wanted to learn to shoot videos. My thinking is, since video is just a series of pictures and if I can take a good picture that would help my videography. I am going take a more professional step forward with pictures this year though.
In 2018, you dropped six singles for your fans. What should we expect from Klazik in 2019? Can we expect any music videos from you?
K: I like to release music in small doses, so its either a single or a three to five song project. I have a single that I just need to get mixed and get cover art for and Ill put that out in the first quarter of 2019. Also, I want to book some more live performances this year.
Is there anything in life that you haven’t done yet, that might be on your bucket or goal list?
K: The biggest goal I want to accomplish is to be able to make enough money from my music or any work that’s music related to fully support my family, and I’d like to make a song with Big Daddy Kane.
I interviewed this guy with two other essential individuals last year for Coffin II. Now, I sit alone with Johnny Alonso in this interview where we talk about his upcoming film projects, his philosophy in life, and the tricks and trades that has kept his longevity and freshness in the film career, as well as, his life in general after twenty years of hanging tough as the individual he is! (smiles)
You started 2019 already with one impressive schedule. You just got done shooting your promotional video for your new mob film, The Driver, out east this week. Along with that production, you are also preparing to head to the Sundance Film Festival, not only to be apart of the Click on This! crew, but also the showing of your film What Death Leaves Behind. You must be excited for how the year is starting off. Yes?
Johnny Alonso: This year has already started off like a rocket to the moon, and I love it; however, I’ve been planning for 2019 for the past eight months. I’m more than ready for this inhuman schedule, Sundance, Click on This!,What Death Leaves Behind, The Driver, and The Riddle House. This is the short list of what’s happening in the next four months.
In this industry you need to keep moving forward and not worry about what everyone else is doing. Focus on yourself, period. Make a better you without relying on others. For the past six months, I’ve been pushing the motto, “2019 is about change and about being positive.” I have a saying, “Never listen to anyone who has never done anything.” and that includes change.
This isn’t your first trip as a Click on This! host for the Sundance Film Festival, is it? Who has been some of your favorite artists to interview at the Sundance Film Festival previously, and who are some of the artists you are looking forward to interviewing this year?
JA: I love Click on This! I’ve been with Elena and the revolving cast and crew for ten years. TEN YEARS! I’ve been through two jeeps in ten years! I’ve interviewed so many great people on the show. It’s hard for me to say who’s my favorite interview. If I had to choose, I’d say it’s between Kevin Bacon, Keanu Reeves, and Kevin Smith at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015.
Another favorite memory of mine was when I ran into Rachel Leigh Cook randomly at Sundance, our interview was like two friends trying to catch up at the mall, while your friends are trying to pull you away from each other (laughs).
Add the guys from Steel Panther, because they were just hilarious and wore as much patchouli as I do.
To top off my favorites, my most recent Gotham interview with pretty much the entire cast. Robin Lord Taylor kept telling Gotham producer Danny Cannon “Johnny Alonso is Gotham alumni!!” It was so rad and an unforgettable moment for me.
Is What Death Leaves Behind your first film project to be featured at the Sundance Film Festival?
JA: Yes, What Death Leaves Behind is my first film to screen at the Sundance Film Festival. I’ve always covered the festival with the Click on This! crew and nothing more until this year.
I’ve always loved the opportunity to work with Elena Moscatt and company, but this special screening at Utah Film Studios is going to be so rad. In fact, I did a couple interviews, I think back in 2015, at Utah Film Studios for Clickon This!, so it’ll be cool to be back, but this time on the red carpet, and then getting interviewed on the panel.
Can you share a small synopsis of What Death Leaves Behind?
JA: I can say this, it’s a nonlinear film like Memento, Dunkirk, and Manchester By the Sea. The What Death Leaves Behind story-line is not spoon fed. It carefully jumps from one idea in the time line to the next systematically forcing you to pay attention. It’s dark, intelligent, and it’s one of my favorite projects I have worked on to date. That is all I can really share, other than the link to the trailer. So below this answer is the trailer for the film, What Death Leaves Behind, for the viewers.
You are known as an extrovert in this field of work, but you must get exhausted from all the travel and demands that comes with it. How do you stay grounded with your type of schedule? What are some outlets you lean towards to re-energize yourself when you do get burned out?
JA: Honestly, I have never been an extroverted guy, especially with typical choices like sports. It’s my lot in life to be exhausted (laughs). I do find great downtime with snowboarding and horseback riding. Unfortunately, I don’t get enough time to do those things as much as I would like, so it’s just that much better when I do find the time to disconnect, escape, and snowboard or horseback ride.
My brothers and I go bowling. That’s another way for me to decompress. We bowl several games, order bowling alley pizza, and drink gross bowling alley beer. That is the Alonso recipe for success (laughs).
Otherwise, I’m a musician by nature. So, another way for me to decompress is to play music. I love writing and playing music. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been interested in making short films and recording in the studio. I have hundreds of short films that I’ve shot through the years, but these are just for myself. I’ve never shot these short films for anyone or written music for others. It helps me know where I am in a film on set, to be a force without being forced.
On the downside, you’ll have those who have to say, “…but, how is anyone going to appreciate what you’ve done?” Here is my answer, I appreciate what I’ve done, and I like looking at my work for myself. So, when there’s a time when I must perform or show my work, I know you’ll like what I’ve done, because I don’t put myself out there like everyone else. I don’t need that recognition. I do it for me.
Where does this drive and passion for your work root from?
JA: A lot of my drive and cloaked ways comes from my upbringing. My parents are super driven in their lines of work. They’ve built their empire on relying on no one else, but themselves. I get a lot of my lone wolf qualities from my old man. He’s never really ran with the crowd. When all his friends were finishing their residency in Boston, as surgeons, my dad said he was going to go on to be a plastic surgeon. They all laughed at him and said, “Cool, we’ll see you when decide to drop out and hang back with us at the hospital.” He didn’t listen to them and signed up for another several years of school, residency programs, and being bossed around by doctors you know you could dance rings around. All that hard work and perseverance has helped him where he’s at today. With that, he continues to be the best at what he does.
As for my mom (laughs), if there was one person in this world my brothers and I get our artistic, non-conformist qualities from her. I don’t mean that in a bad way. She too built her career as a well-respected pediatrician, where she has cared for baby patients that grew up to become mothers and fathers who wanted their kids under the care of my mom. That’s a very valuable skill in life, and that commands respect.
My mother, when we were kids, would play classical piano at the old house and persuade us to play instruments. She has a voice, so she also encouraged us to sing. Her entire family is very artistic with the lively arts. To this day she’s still a little off center when it comes to being in the “norm”. We never really subscribed to being in the norm, but that’s a good thing. That’s where I get my “art weird” from. I could go on about this for days… (laughs)
(Laughs)… Alright continuing on. You’ve been working in this line of work for over twenty years. Inquisitive minds must know, what motivates you to keep up in such a fast-paced life? How do you keep the longevity in your career?
JA: Holy God has it been that long? I’m just getting my stride! (Laughs). I was an individual who was coined an outcast back in my early adolescent days, but I took it was a compliment and just ran with it. It was all that i knew. I didn’t care about the crowd. Fuck everyone. I really enjoyed being an individual, and not follow other’s flaccid ways.
Even within the outcast crowd I still would find myself an outcast within this group. I really believe this has helped me to come up with my acting choices. You know, being a little off center. I never go with the usual choices. I can’t. It’s not me.
As for the longevity and remaining youthful, my brother, James, says that I live in Peter Pan hour and can’t find my way out. In all seriousness, a lot of it’s genetic. I have this surfer build that I’ve always sported. I also work out and try to stay healthy, so I can stay toned with my body.
Rumor has it, there is still no sign for you slowing down this year. In fact, you have another production lined up for your return to Los Angeles after the Sundance Film Festival in February? Can you share some details about it and what your role(s) are for this project?
JA: I’ve never felt like I’m going too fast. I’ve set a standard and this is the speed I’m cruising at. Like i mentioned earlier, in this industry, you have to line up your work and not just any work, but legitimate work that’s going to help you advance your career.
The production I have lined up is called, The Riddle House. It is a new horror independent film that is going to knock your socks off. With one of the most solid casts I can’t wait to work with. This new haunted house horror is going to be the one to break us through to keep producing films and television projects.
I will be playing one of the main characters, Peter Gunn. I also am a producer for the film. We recently produced one of the coolest concept trailers ever. The way we shot this thing it looks like the film has already been shot. It’s sick. I’ll want you and your readers to chime in and give us feedback.
Are there any other projects in the works for you in the producer field?
JA: I’m currently producing another project, aside from The Riddle House, in Los Angeles. The other project is a television series a writer and I have been throwing around for a while. We’re not waiting for one project to happen. We’re trying to make things happen, so all these projects will happen. One will springboard the other, so to speak. My good friend, Irv Becker, has always said that I’d make a good producer.
You have some returning cast and crew members from previous film projects joining you for The Riddle House like Robert Mukes, Richard Siegelman, etc. There must be some comfort already knowing how the work flow will progress throughout the production with these individuals.
JA: Yes, of course! If I could produce and cast every awesome actor I’ve ever worked with, my film would look like the carnival end scene in Grease. (Laughs) There’s a comfort working with actors you admire and trust. A lot of the actors I admire are power actors. What that means is the actors really go against conventional thinking to get to the level of acting they show on screen and on stage. I like real risk takers; actors that have put in the time have lived through the battle. Those are people I respect and will work with again and again. So yes, working with repeats means we have an admiration for each other’s work.
Is there anyone who haven’t worked with that you are looking forward to working with?
JA: Vincent Young was on that list. I always admired his career and how he handles his craft. He also comes from the dark method acting some actors, including myself, need to use to get to our characters. After we worked on What Death Leaves Behind, Vincent calls me and said he’s preparing for his new film Escape Plan II with John Travolta. He continues to tell me how he’s getting mentally prepared, but this also requires him getting physically prepared. We talked for hours about his routine. We compared notes and laughed at how we both do similar things to change and become serious character actors.
Another individual I am looking forward to working with is actress, Tracey Fairaway. We’ve known each other for over seven years. We really know each other way too well. This is one of the main reasons I’m dying to work with her. I cannot wait to see how she’s going to test me and make choices I’m not going to be able to catch. Of course, I must do the same to her.
I told Tracey, “When I’m on set and when it comes to my dialogue, I punch and I punch hard. I hope you punch back, Fairaway.” Her reply was “Go for it. Let’s see what you’ve got, because I’ll break you, Alonso!”
It’s like a game of chess. You’re always thinking several moves ahead. Tracey is always ahead of the curve which gives her those Jedi qualities. So, when we become our characters in The Riddle House, you will see a tug of war like no other. And that’s what gets me motivated to act.
So, I’ve mentioned two actors off my (not-so) secret list. The other nine will remain secret. You’re just going to have to wait and see. (smiles)
Speaking of Vincent Young, you got to work with him on What Death Leaves Behind. What was it like to work with another prestige seasoned actor?
JA: Vincent Young and I became good friends since working on the project, What Death Leaves Behind. I remember meeting him at a pre-production meeting a few weeks before filming in Philadelphia. We were getting wardrobe measurements, hair and makeup tests, producer questions answered, etc. I remember saying to myself, “Christ, this guy is as hyper as I am. We’re going to get along really well!”
I was familiar with his work so I was a fan from jump, then we got a few drinks, smoked cigars, and the next thing you know, we’re talking about four film projects we can each find our way into. (laughs).
There are some actors you meet that you gel on and off screen with. I really dig his character in What Death Leaves Behind. I’ve always described his character Andrew as the small town, blue collared guy that everyone has known or met in their past.
Andrew is the type of guy that you remember from when you were growing up. He’s the type of guy who would mow your parents’ yard, deliver appliances to the house, check your oil when filling up. It’s not easy harnessing that into a character. It goes beyond and it should always go beyond with what we just see visually on screen. That’s what I love about all the characters in What Death Leaves Behind. Everybody came prepared. Our performances force you to watch the film and take us seriously. I am very proud of this project.
So, you mentioned the dark method acting technique. Can you describe to those not familiar with acting techniques, how one would get into a character by using the method that only a few are drawn to use?
JA: For sure! For example, if you watch me in Coffin, Coffin 2, or What Death Leaves Behind, I walk, slouch, and twitch. I also don’t use my left dominant eye, or left dominant hand. I also lower my voice register, and slow my reflexes. The trick of all of this is done consciously and unconsciously. That’s just for starters. It’s a mindset we have to create to successfully deliver to the viewers. Physically, we’ll lose weight or even gain weight to make an internal statement. I know for the next project, Vincent and I work on we’re going to go in full force with the dark method technique, and I can assure you, it’ll be a mental and physical ride.
With the Johnny Alonso brand that’s developed over the years, you seem to be drawn to the horror, thriller, and suspense genres more. Were those genres always preferences from the get-go, or did it create itself naturally?
JA: It was more created naturally. The Johnny Alonso brand was created out of necessity. I, as a person, am not interesting enough to just walk on stage and play these dark, macabre characters without little theatrics behind me. So, through the years, I’ve learned to create a version of me that is acceptable for camera that would be interesting enough for people to understand and to enjoy on screen. Like any organic acting, it just takes shape, whether you want it to or not. I don’t like to dilute myself or my acting like other actors. I do this for me.
Are there any roles or genres you haven’t done yet, that you’d like to challenge yourself with?
JA: I’d love to be in a chick flick/light-hearted romance like the film, Serendipity. Come on! Who doesn’t love Serendipity? (laughs) I don’t see myself in a film like that, but I am totally game to challenge myself, and love to try my hand at more of a light-hearted film and acting. I believe I could do it.
Are there any other announcements you can share as we head our way into February? Do you foresee it to be a good year for the Johnny Alonso brand?
JA: I’d love to share one project that’s happening in the next couple months, but I’m under contract not to mention it publicly yet. When I’m allowed to say, the whole world will know in fifteen minutes. That’s how exciting the news is!
In this business we never stop working. It’s a continuous cycle. I sincerely enjoy what I do. Seriously, the best is yet to come. (Smiles)
Thank you, Johnny, for taking time out of your chaotic schedule to sit down for an interview with me, yet again! If any of my readers are at the Sundance Film Festival, make sure you make some time in your schedule to head to the Utah Film Studios on Saturday night, January 26th, to watch the Sundance premiere of What Death Leaves Behind, and capture the cast and crew, including Johnny Alonso, at the panel!
Random Tanner is a hip-hop artist who has held his own while representing Clinton, Iowa since the beginning of his career. He has been heard on various radio stations, including Eminem’s Sirius XM station, Shade 45. His resume speaks for itself.
Now, I had an amazing opportunity to sit down with this musician who’s re-emergence exploded in 2018. We talked about his presence in the hip-hop community, the changes with his current brand, who he would love to collaborate with, as well as, future plans and goals going into 2019 as Random Tanner.
Back in 2014, when we first met, you were going by the stage name of Skeez. Even though you built a successful platform through that name, you decided to change your branding to the name of Random Tanner in 2017. What influenced that change?
Random Tanner: Plenty of things influenced the change and transition from Skeez to Random Tanner. One, being that I was tired of the word “Skeez” being so unrelatable to who I was as an artist. Another huge reason was wanting to be more marketable and searchable. By that, I mean that when you google search “Skeez” I was a tiny fish in a huge sea.
When you search “Random Tanner” I am the only thing that pops up so it just made so much more sense. I think people have really taken to the name change well, especially the entire new fan base I’ve gained over the past year & a half. I’m honestly not sure the majority of my supporters even know I was anyone besides Random Tanner.
What’s the story of how did the new name come about?
RT: I linked up with a long-time music friend, DJ K Yung, and we decided to ink a management deal. She helped me make the decision as did my family and a few other close music friends. It actually took a while for me to pull the trigger but when I did, I had an amazing response from my followers so it made it a lot easier.
What is the difference between the persona Skeez and the new persona of Random Tanner?
RT: I don’t think I’ve really changed because of the name change. I think when I was finally ready to change the name, I decided that I was going to go all-in with it which has really been an enormous change, if that makes sense.
This process has always been a growing experience and I invested way more time, energy and money into the new brand, Random Tanner. I have an officially merchandise line. I am always trying to be innovative and creative when it comes to pushing my name. To me, Random Tanner is a direct reflection of who I’ve always wanted to be as an artist.
Along with the name change, the message in your music has shifted. What’s allowed you to be more open and vulnerable in your music? What sparks or influences the topics and passion you have put into your art recently? Has that influence or spark changed from the past material under Skeez?
RT: I don’t think the message has really shifted in my music. I think my outlook on life has matured though. I’ve always talked about things that are important to me, but finally connecting with the right producers, engineers, and support system has been a major influence on the quality of music and image that you’ve been hearing and seeing lately.
Looking back into this year, you’ve released five singles so far, “Clockin’ In”, “Go Away”, “Back When We Were Kids”, “M-80”, & “Here For You.” Which of these singles were your favorite to produce?
RT: My favorite song that I’ve put together out of all of these is probably “Here For You” with “Back When We Were Kids” being a very close runner-up. They both feature Alex Fischbach but “Here For You” has singing from me in it along with a proposal in the music video to my fiancé!
A pause in the interview to share the song “Here For You” and beautiful music video! A huge congratulations to RT & Liz! Such a beautiful proposal! 🙂
Now back to the interview…
Which of the new singles are your favorite to perform live?
RT: This answer always depends on the crowd that I’m performing for. My most consistent song out of all of these to perform has been “Clockin’ In”, because it’s the first single I dropped. I really love performing “M-80” as well though.
Do you still perform songs from the Skeez era? If so, what are your favorites to perform?
RT: This question is funny, because my DJ, DJ Smokey, was just trying to tell me that I should perform one of my “Skeez” songs, because it gets crowds super hype. While I do agree, I told him that it feels like a step in the wrong direction to perform music that isn’t available anywhere for people to stream, download, or buy. Plus I wanted to completely “shed” everything Skeez when I transitioned.
Over the past decade as a recording artist, what is the most (bad or good) you have gotten out of the experiences?
RT: Being a musician, especially a hip-hop artist, is one giant roller coaster of emotions, successes, failures and all of the above times 100. I have lost friends, gained friends, seen things that no one else will get to see, experience the times of my life and more. There are definitely bad memories, but in no way, shape, or form do they outweigh the good memories. Every single part of this journey has been worth it to me and that’s one of the main things that keeps me going.
You have an astounding resume when it comes to live performances with some heavy hitters in the hip-hop industry. Which of the artists you’ve performed with was your favorite over the years? Who would you want to perform with again in the future?
RT: I have two artists who were my favorite to perform with. Machine Gun Kelly and Tech N9ne are hands down the best two shows to be a part of. I’ve opened for MGK four times and Tech N9ne three times and the crowds that show up to those concerts are beyond supportive of the music, including the openers. The biggest deal to me is rocking for a crowd who actually is there to possibly become a fan of you. I would want to perform with both of them as many times as possible in the future until I can start headlining shows that bring in 1,000+ people on my own!
Who have you not yet collaborated with musically, that you’d love to work with? Should we expect more collaborations with you & Jon Young in the near future?
RT: I’d love to collaborate with Tech N9ne, Rittz, Twista, NF, Witt Lowry, Kevin Gates & so many more. Honestly, I’d collaborate with any big name if it fits my message and makes sense for both of us. Yes, actually I have a song on my upcoming album with Jon Young called “Never Be” and it’s exactly what our fans would want to hear from us together.
Should we expect an album in the coming year? What else should we expect in 2019 for Random Tanner?
RT: Yes, I will be dropping my “debut” Random Tanner album this year entitled “Fast Forward” which will feature all of my recently released songs plus more. 2019 is going to be filled with all kinds of things that I’ve never accomplished as an artist. A lot more traveling, touring, festivals, strategies and hard work! I honestly can’t wait for whats to come!
Do you want to expand beyond music with your brand in the future?
RT: I don’t think I’d really be all the way in with my brand if it didn’t involve music. Music has been so good to me over the years and has morphed me into who I am as a person that I’d feel guilty trying to force the brand on people if I decided to stop music. If that time does come, where I call it quits, it will be at a point of self-appreciation. A point where I can say I did every single thing that I wanted to and I am truly happy with everything I did with it. At this point, I don’t regret any part of it. With all of that being said, I want to say thank you to everyone who has ever supported me and to everyone who has yet to find out that I exist, thank you in advance!
K. Sankofa isn’t your ordinary music artist. With a dab of hip, a splash of jazz, and a spruce of Caribbean flow, he surely knows how to keep his sound original, while eclectic in the ears of his listeners. That isn’t the norm produced in the music rooted from Wisconsin, or from the stereotype from Wisconsin, but here we are. K. Sankofa isn’t going anywhere else anytime soon. Music isn’t the only knowledge K. Sankofa possesses. He proves that with us in this recent interview with the young man, himself, as well as the song lyrics he creates for his content.
K. Sankofa is such a unique stage name, yet a beautiful name as well. Would you tell us the story of how you came up with that name for your musical presence?
K. Sankofa: For the most part, I learned of the term ‘sankofa’ while in college. It is a proverb from Ghana, Africa that means, “Go back and get it.”
Being involved in many social justice efforts I was able to see how the term was used in fighting for justice. Reclaiming culture and heritage in roots of indigenous, as well as, revitalizing the spirit of justice that swept over those who fought through momentous periods like the Civil Rights Movement.
For me, personally, it has become a motto for continued self-development, while never leaving behind the upbringing that made me who I am. I celebrate every part of my past and every lesson that I have learned. This includes being raised in south central L.A., and being raised to reverence God in everything.
I started writing and experimenting with music early on in life. However, when I got to college, I told myself that I’d have to leave music behind to focus on things that I believed to be more important. I soon realized that when times got hard it was music that could make me feel whole and revitalize me in the way that I needed to move forward and carry on. With that I took on the stage under the philosophy of sankofa, going back, and getting the music.
For someone who might not have listened to your music before, can you tell us a small description of what your music is about?
KS: My music is about liberation. For me, I feel a sense of freedom in the creation of my music. Even more, I hope to reflect the struggle of the people who may not have the voice to speak out against injustice. My music is spiritual. I try to keep God in everything I do.
My music reflects my own pain and my own adversity that I have experienced. I feel like it might have a blues feel to it with how saddening the content can be sometimes. My music is about rising up against the forces that are here to keep people in inequitable socioeconomic conditions. My music is about love, hope, truth, and justice.
How did you find your voice for the music industry and how did you find your gift for writing music and your ability to rap?
KS: I started rapping in the 7th grade. I first discovered my love for rap music during that time, because a friend of mine urged me to get into some writing sessions with him. I loved putting the pen to the paper and expressing my thoughts. I try to make sure I let my influences and life philosophy speak through me. I try to stay in tune with God. I think it is a confluence of these thing that helped to develop the voice that I have.
Are there any current musicians who have helped influence your style of music?
KS: Definitely. Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and Jay-Z are a few people who influenced me the most, but even today I have been influenced by newer artist like Chance The Rapper.
Even though your music focuses on your life stories, music is actually not your priority goal is it? Care to tell us what is your main goal in life is?
KS: My main life goal is do what I believe is right. I want to do what God has set out for me to do in this world. I believe that encompasses organizing towards justice and being a voice for the oppressed and the unheard. I believe that it is our great mission as a race of humanity to serve our fellow man and put our focus into achieving a well-fare state. I know that the task is endless and bigger than any one individual but I believe that we all have a part to play. My main goal in life is figure out the part that I am best suited for and fulfilling the duties of that role to the best of my ability.
You’re not actually from Wisconsin, but you are originally from California. How did you find yourself in Madison?
KS: I got the Posse Foundation full-tuition scholarship to come to UW-Madison.
Not only are you gifted and talented, but you are a young, well-educated human being. Can you tell us what you are studying and/or majoring in for your Bachelors degree? What drew you to choose your field of study?
KS: Sociology was my major. I chose this, because I had a mentor who opened me up to the major. I fell in love with the pursuit of understanding the development of our world through a societal lens. I was drawn to how interdisciplinary sociology is. You will learn about the law, history, the economy, politics, and so much more. I graduated back in May.
Does Sociology have a part in your influence to make music?
KS: Most definitely. It gives me perspective. If there is one thing that I have learned it is that we are social creatures, and that people are generally a product of their social environment and upbringing. I try to equip a broader lens of understanding of this in my music.
In December, you dropped your first mix-tape album, The Audacity. I must say my top three songs on that album are “Young, Gifted & Black”, “Surrender”, and “Say Less.” What were your top three songs you enjoyed creating the most in the studio process on this album? Why?
KS: I enjoyed creating every song because they are all different and require different approaches in the creation process. But if I had to pick a top three it would be “Sing Sankofa,” “Surrender”, and “Go Down.”
“Sing Sankofa” was the first song I recorded for the tape, so it was exciting to jump into it with full intensity. I got to work with the brother, Lucien Parker, at Strange Oasis Entertainment. Lucien is cold with the audio setup and the vocal production.
“Surrender” was an interesting recording process, because we incorporated live instruments. I was literally rapping the track to the beat while the homie, Mandell, went to work with the saxophone. Then, later on, we brought in the home girl, Jada, to hit a violin outro. So overall, music collaborative process was just powerful in “Surrender.”I can’t forget to mention that I was able to record the first hook with DJ Pain 1 who actually made the beat for the song.
Last, but not least, I gotta go with “Go Down”, because of the intensity of the recording process. I felt like I put my all into the spitting that song in the booth.
With all the access to many independent artists on various music platforms like Spotify, ITunes, SoundCloud, and ReverBNation, I see a transition within the music industry in itself. Do you see or feel a change with the music industry changing or reconstructing?
KS: With social media and a wave of independence it seems like music is in the hands of the people. There is no telling what’s to come. Hopefully major labels don’t get to control what we listen to in the future. Hopefully that power is transferred to the hands of the people.
Do you feel the polarization of modern politics has an influence with the transitions of the music industry? Why or why not?
KS: Not really. I think the music industry changes are because of social media, technology, and massive access to information. However, I think these same factors have shifted modern politics too.
Where do you see the music industry in five years from now? Where do you see yourself?
KS: Nothing new is under the sun. I think the music industry will still reflect a variety of perspectives and thought. However, I do think as we evolve as a society drawing nearer knowledge, purpose our music will reflect that growth. Hopefully we elevate the musical leaders in such a society. I hope to be one of those leaders.
Majority of artists out there, whether it be actors, musicians, painters, singers, or whatever, always has that one role model or influence with their pathway in life and/or artistic missions. Who has been the most significant role model in your life?
KS: My older brother Eric. He was the first in my family to go to college. He was amazing. He lived a life of service and integrity. He was also a rap artist.
If you could write a letter to your younger self in one sentence, what would it say?
KS: Don’t let anyone try to define you and always stay tight with God.
This is simply a challenge, rather than a question. Give us a random playlist with the first ten songs that come to your mind.
Jay Rock: Win
Michael Jackson: Human Nature
Outkast: Ms. Jackson
Ice Cube: Today was a Good Day
Kendrick Lamar: Mortal Man
Lauryn Hill: Ex-Factor
Cardi B: I like it
Bob Marley: Get Up Stand Up
Oh, there is plenty more coming from this young individual. Currently on a light tour, just to increase his presence in the scene. K. Sankofa also has a new album in the works! Stay tuned for how the founder of #RebelGang turns up!
For now, enjoy the new single, “State of Emergency.” Make sure to just hit play right down below and check it out.
This is certainly a first. A film recommendation becomes a two part with a interview feature with the director and writer, himself! Saul Pincus, thank you for taking the time to sit down with me and discuss the world of film! It’s truly an honor to be able to do this with you. Let’s dive right in, shall we?
How long have you been working in the film industry? What or who influenced you to dive into the film industry?
Saul Pincus: I’ve been doing this for the better part of four decades, roughly four fifths of my life. The first ten years were comprised of a lengthy string of experiments on Super 8 – experiments that grew and grew in challenge and complexity, thanks in part to the fact that it was the heyday of Super 8, and there was a lot of advanced gear available to get you results not possible with just a consumer camera and projector. I would cavort around Montreal, my hometown, with my camera, having a blast.
My dad, an astronomy buff, had played ball with William Shatner when they were in high school together, but no one in my family was in the entertainment field. The original Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind opened when I was seven. I went to the library to research how these sorts of films were made – but there was nothing available, only a book on “trick photography” with still cameras. But I was hooked – and at just the right moment, because for the first time in the history of cinema, science fiction was no longer a ghetto genre. We got rafts of films with new visual achievements every six months, and some of them had great stories, too.
For me, the thought of making films professionally was never much of a question. But when I left Montreal for Toronto in the mid-90s, I was starting from scratch.
What were some of the greater aspects working on the production of La Femme Nikita in the ’90s? What are some things on the production end that were difficult to do then, that might be easier now to do? What parts of the film industry hasn’t changed since you started in your career?
SP: LFN was a cool show, in part because it a show with a large international audience that was produced by American and Canadian minds hand-in-hand. It was also well-budgeted for an off-network show of that time, so it could look the part and not often look silly doing so. That was unique, and it helped lend the show the kind of character it has.
The difference between any series or film now, versus then, is the ease with which you can lend scale or realism to the images after the fact. But if you take a look at season two versus the first season, you can already see an improvement in the visual effects, which is less due to the artistry in this case, and more due to the availability of new tools – tools which were still evolving. The first season VFX seem a bit too “video-ey.”
But other than technology, the basic process of producing a series really hasn’t changed since the advent of the medium. You still need money, great writing, a great cast, a great crew, a supportive broadcaster and a loyal audience.
Could you go into detail on how your day went while you were an assistant editor on the show?
SP: When I was there, two assistants would alternate odd and even numbered shows, which meant we’d work with one editor though the season. LFN was shot on Super 16mm negative film, which meant that the previous day’s footage would be have to be first processed by the lab in a chemical bath overnight. Then it would go to Magnetic North, a post facility, and into the hands of Bill Holley, who would transfer it with care and a keen eye to Digital Betacam tape. This process would take till the early afternoon, so I’d arrive at work around 4pm.
I generally worked with Dave Thompson. When his episode would be shooting, I’d check his dailies and feed them into his Avid, ready for him to edit. There are many checks and triple-checks when dealing with film transfers to video, especially at that time, when you’d be shooting @ 23.98fps and wind up with 29.97 video. And it wasn’t just a one-way street, because Warner Bros. would want to archive a cut negative of the finished show. So you had to be certain the metadata of each and every piece of camera negative was correctly transferred to tape, and in turn, made it into your Avid intact. Otherwise you couldn’t instruct the negative cutter with confidence. Today, that process is much simpler, because we rarely use film.
It’s a technical job, yes, but it’s also a political job. And creative – though how much depended on the project and the editor.
So, you are not from Toronto, but from Montreal. What helped you decide to relocate to Toronto, from Montreal? Was it for work purposes? What helped you to decide to stay in Toronto, instead of returning to Montreal?
SP: I left Montreal largely because my girlfriend was returning home after going to school there. She and I later married, so I guess I made the right call!
But the other reason was the political climate in Montreal, which was in the throes of Quebec’s second referendum on sovereignty in two decades. It was not a healthy environment in which to seek gainful employment or a predictable financial future.
I always believe you can read a city by its food. Toronto was just starting to get interesting food-wise. On several levels, Toronto of the mid-90s was transitioning, getting more inviting.
You are still based in Toronto decades after shooting LFN. I understand access to budget for films in Canada differ than the access here in the United States. Could you share the difference between the Canadian film industry compared to that of the US and can you share the process that is done to get budget for a film project in the industry up there compared to what is done here in the U.S.?
SP: Well, that’s a really big question with a week-long answer. In a nutshell, the English-speaking film/television world is driven by the U.S. market. Traditionally this had meant we in Canada have taken the scraps, or produced alternative programming in a bid to secure what we consider to be our Canadian identity in broadcast or theatrical form. There are government agencies set up to ensure projects with a Canadian identity get made. But as with any project anywhere in the world, the total project budget comes from several sources. Cobbling all those sources together is the big challenge.
The US isn’t as concerned with its cultural identity per se in large part because the machinery to export American movies was set up over a hundred years ago, and is still functioning at top efficiency, in great numbers, with well-worn distribution channels allowing access into nearly every country on the planet.
I actually had the privilege to personally meet you with numerous cast and crew of LFN back in May 2017. When you walked into the reunion convention, what was your first expression and/or your whole experience like all weekend spending time with the fans and your previous coworkers?
SP: I was amazed, in part that so many had traveled so far to celebrate it. But I’ve gotten on planes to see the late Jerry Goldsmith and then John Williams (both widely considered the greatest film composers of our time) conduct concerts, so I get it.
I’ll admit though, that the first time I was approached to autograph Chris Heyn’s book on the show, it was a strange feeling. Strange because I didn’t create this show, nor was I a key creative force. I was more like red shirt #28576 at a Star Trek convention. But it’s all about love, and that’s a beautiful thing.
Do you feel there is more expression freedom in the art of film in Canada as a whole compared to the film art expressed here in the States?
SP: Not necessarily, because if someone trusts you with a million dollars, no matter where you live, very few people on this planet are going to ask you if you achieved maximum artistic expression. They just want to know if what you’ve made is exploitable and whether it will bring returns. It’s probably healthier to find an exploitable concept, but carefully craft it and then lace it with artistic expression that does not undermine the exploitable aspect.
Your most current project is the independent film, Nocturne. Was there a specific person or event that influenced you to write the story for Nocturne?
SP: Nocturne was borne from my desire to make a silent film about characters that struggle to communicate. Obviously it’s not a silent film, literally – but it’s a story lends itself to visual language and I hoped to stress that. It’s about an insomniac who falls for a sleepwalker, and how they eventually must come to grips with the fact that their intimate, almost myopic “relationship” has larger implications for them both.
How long did it take to create a film project like Nocturne?
SP: About a year to write, a few months to shoot, and several years to finish. The reason is because it was entirely self-financed, but also because the film contains five minutes of hand-drawn animation playing in tandem with the dominantly live-action portion of the film. That took a year to actually produce, but before doing so, I had to cut and shape the live-action very precisely to know exactly how much animation I really needed. So it took time to finish, for sure, but once we started getting invited to film festivals in the US, Canada, and in Europe (Nocturne had its World Premiere in the Free Spirit Competition at the Warsaw Film Festival), won awards for best feature film (at the New Jersey International Film Festival and at Cinema on the Bayou Film Festival, with an excellence award from the Rincon Film Festival), and landed our distribution deal with Random Media, it left me feeling gratified.
What was the difference between working on La Femme Nikita and your work with Nocturne? Do you feel you had more control as an editor or as a director/writer for a project?
SP: LFN was Joel Surnow’s vision; Roy, Peta, everyone – we were all hired to execute it. Your own project is just that, and you work with or hire people to help you execute it. Depending on what your arrangement is with your investors, you are answerable to them to some degree. But in the end, we make things for audiences, and you are always answerable to them on the basis of the work itself!
What is the difference between working on a film, compared to working on a television series in general?
SP: In the late 90s, you worked on a TV show for the better part of a year, there were semi-regular hours, each episode took roughly eight days to shoot, and you shot six to ten pages of script per shooting day. There were distinct limits as to how many locations you could visit in that eight day schedule, what caliber of guest stars you could cast, etc. And each episode had to run a specific length.
Even low budget features of the day shot for at least four weeks, often months. So you shoot less per day, meaning you can introduce more detail into the story and take a bit more time to craft the result. But the hours were crazier.
Today, the lines are a bit more blurred. A season no longer equates to a definitive number of episodes, and even the duration of individual episodes doesn’t matter as long as they remain under a certain length. In general, series work is much better funded across the board, with broadcasters (including the likes of Netflix and Amazon) having realized that to compete with features, their product must be as good as features traditionally were.
Do you have any new projects you are currently working on or a part of whether it would be in pre-production, production, or post-production phase? Can you tell us what to expect from you in the near future when it comes to projects or work?
SP: Well, oddly, Nocturne is still very active. Earlier this year, Nocturne was released on special edition DVD – which means that the two lead actors, Mary Krohnert, Knickoy Robinson and I, went into a studio to record a screen-specific audio commentary that describes how we made the film. And we had fun – but we were serious about it, too. If you’re curious about movies, it’s a great way to learn – sort of a film school in a box.
Also exciting for me is that Tribeca Shortlist, the digital arm of the Tribeca Film Festival, has just licensed Nocturne for a two-year run in the US. Tribeca Shortlist is a real home for the kind of “filmmaker’s film” that Nocturne has often been called. It’s also available on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Xbox and certain broadcast networks in more than 50 countries across the globe. This is the thing about movies – they can go on for years, even after they’re done!
And yes, I have other projects in the works. Sorry for being coy, but that’s all I can say at this stage!
The film industry isn’t an easy career to pursue in general. What helps keep you motivated in your craft to help keep you focused and allows you to keep pushing forward in your career?
SP: The simple answer: it’s just what I like to do, and has been for as long as I can remember. I like to build things.
What is some advice would you like to share, based off of your own experiences, for those who are in film school or interested in the film industry?
SP: Another simple question! But seriously, the real trick is just knowing yourself, what you want to eventually be doing, and chart a path from there. And remember, it’s not so much about where you see yourself in a year, but where you’d like to see yourself when you’re fifty or sixty. Pick an area that will keep you passionate on little or no sleep, in horrible weather, even if your health fails. I’m being dramatic, but also truthful. If you can’t do that, walk away!
I don’t know about you, but I would love to see what other film art you have the ability to cook up in that articulate mind of yours. Any last words you’d like to share for the following readers before we conclude this interview?
SP: Well, I’m going to put in another plug for Nocturne. From the story, through the performances, through the crafting of the film, I never approached it as a date movie, never frivolously, but made it hoping it would satisfy in a similar fashion to the way you return to good book that’s been waiting patiently on your shelf, tempting you to return to it for another read. And when you told me you had to watch Nocturne twice, but still found that second viewing rewarding, you gave me hope that my plan may not have been in vain.
*Disclaimer – All photos are of courtesy and rightfully owned by Saul Pincus.