You’re working on a multitude of projects – how do they all fit together, and how did they all come about?
I’ve been doing music since I was 13 years old. I’m always working on songs, but in my early 20’s I started Late July. I put out a record every year to two years, and I’m putting out another one this fall called “Marathon”. It’s a reflex at this point, I like to do it and constantly am doing it.
The dog stuff started later. I started volunteering at a local municipal pound when I was 21 and then I started photographing homeless dogs. When I would photograph them, they were more likely to be adopted. A couple years ago I started Redemption Dogs, I was photographing the “happily ever after” for the animals so you could see everything come full circle, rather than just the sad photos of dogs looking for homes.
I started thinking about the redhead documentary because my family physician had said many of her patients who were red headed children would get bullied and treated differently by their peers. I began with the Canadian Ginger Association and from there so many people started sending me their stories. I wanted to find a way to share the story. I started researching about the genetic history, the culture, and started realizing there was something I was a part of that I didn’t know existed. We start to shoot in May, and now we’re in pre-production.
It’s pretty amazing to see something come from a seed of an idea, to becoming something as definitive as “I’m going to create a documentary”. What are the things that you do to coach yourself to explore and make things happen. How do you know these are the right things to be doing?
The first thing I do when I start any project is to remind myself that it’s not about me. It’s about a greater purpose and story. Everything I do is to give people an opportunity to share their narrative. It’s other people’s journeys. We’re in a culture that’s expected to celebrate ourselves constantly. It’s different when someone takes the time to ask you the questions.
“The first thing I do when I start anything is to remind myself that it’s not about me.”
What are the key things that you’re finding in your documentary, that people want to bring light to?
In terms of red heads, it’s all about people who want to share a part of themselves that they don’t really understand. People are bewildered by it – they have red hair, freckles, what’s the big deal? A lot of it is also sharing stories about mistreatment, bullying, being targeted. I know redhead’s that travel the world, whether in New York City or Tanzania and they would get the same weird and aggressive comments from strangers.
Moving over to Redemption Dogs, what are the themes that you’re finding there with the stories you’re telling there?
I started shooting in March 2014, and have been doing it religiously ever since, every weekend. I try to shoot about 2-3 families every weekend. It gives everyone an opportunity to talk about their dogs, and gives a shoutout to the rescues. There’s times where I’ve done the series and years down the line the person that fostered the dog will get to see them happily in their new life. There’s a really cool connection created. It highlights so many canine issues. It’s important for me to showcase why it’s important to adopt versus just buying it at breeders. I want to share this information in a positive way.
How do you do so many different things for very specific causes? When someone meets you, they can see how you embody all these things, but for those from the outside, how do you keep everything sorted?
I wouldn’t say organization is my number one skill strength. But I would say I do this because it’s a message that’s important to me. I have strong convictions to these things. In the end everything is a form of story telling. The most difficult one of them all is music for me, because they’re all personal stories.
When you have so many creative outlets, how do you find that you’re able to properly express what you have internally to the world outside?
I’m not a perfectionist. I don’t think with anything that I do that I can be, you’d never get anything done. You have to do it and keep doing it. I wasn’t a trained photographer whatsoever, I felt like a fraud when I started. Often times you feel like things aren’t going anywhere. It’s hard to be vulnerable constantly too. I just remind myself that it’s something I like to do, regardless of how people interpret it.
How do you get others to feel comfortable with their vulnerability and sharing it with you? How do you do it for yourself?
Being sincere – people have a good sense of sincerity, especially when they can relate to them. Doing music I remind myself that it’s satisfying to know that I can hear an entire album back. Some of my favorite artists, I wouldn’t like them as much if they were really safe or prohibitive. It’s often about showing something versus just telling people. It’s about being poetic and letting people paint their own picture, versus just stating the facts.
“It’s safer for an artist to be really direct.”
How did you decide to do a documentary and put it into motion?
I had talked about it with a producing partner before, and she wasn’t able to anymore. I reconfigured it, and thought about my personal experience. I became a red head in my 20’s, and when I took that perspective, I was able to map out a different way about discovery. New facts came up like red heads have different pheromones than other humans. Things that fascinate me, there’s a good chance that others may feel the same way.
I love that when you decide to do something, you know that it’s going to happen. People talk themselves out of things by saying they don’t have the money, the time, or they don’t think they’re the right person to do this. You don’t have that.
I think that’s very much it. I come from a very strong willed family. My mother grew up poor on a farm, and my father was an immigrant who fled Sicily after WW2. My father became a successful entrepreneur from taking risks and getting things done. My mother was a part of the pioneering generation of women in management roles and put herself through school. I have these very determined parents that are a big part of that mentality that I have. I’ve always been addicted to biographies. I love hearing about stories – like Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the greatest architects in history, was in unimaginable debt. There are so many great examples of resistance – if you get through it, you will usually accomplish something. What you want to accomplish might also not be what you thought it would be, it could be something greater. Johnny Depp started as wanting to be a rock musician…and ended up being an actor. I think he’s doing okay.
“What you want to accomplish might also not be what you thought it would be, it could be something greater.”
When I started music, I wanted to be a lead guitarist in a metal band. I had a shredding guitar when I was a kid. Now I’m a singer / songwriter, and that works for me. Don’t manage your goals or come up with a plan B, but know that there’s all types of plan A’s.
What are factors of resistance?
When I refer to resistance, it’s about the serendipitous things that happen when trying to accomplish things. For example, on the day that we were supposed to mix my second record, I ended up losing my hearing – a double ear infection which has never happened before. It was a freak thing that happened. That’s a very specific type of resistance. When I was a kid someone was pushing one of those large tv’s on a stand and it fell on my head. It crushed my vocal box and so I started vocal lessons to rebuild the damage, and that’s how I started to sing. When you work hard towards something, the harder the resistance you get, and the more rewarding it is when you push through it.
What’s the next iteration of music, Redemption Dogs, and your activities for red head support?
On a day to day basis I need a huge whiteboard in my living room to organize all my efforts and thoughts. Hopefully the documentary gets picked up, if not I’ll make sure people see it. For music, I’m working with some great talent, and potentially get grants and film / tv placements. For Redemption Dogs, I’m working on a book and continuing the series maybe in more places (New York, San Francisco).
You can have multiple passions, and I do worry sometimes about spreading myself too thin. But there’s ebbs and flows, and you decide what you want to put focus into it. Most times I can’t imagine doing anything else. I don’t see time as passing quickly, I feel like I don’t do enough. I work in sprints like a greyhound.