“Having money obviously is a thing, but having agency or control over your destiny is another.”
Our next episode goes to Sam Valenti IV. Sam is the Founder and CEO of Ghostly International – home to the record labels Ghostly and Spectral Sound. Ghostly is the cultural nexus of some of the best music, design, technology, art, clothing, stuff, and good ideas made today.
Listen to what Sam had to say about creating work with intention, building communities, operating out of your comfort zone, becoming yourself, and finding meaning. Subscribe on iTunes
The transcript of the conversation below was lightly edited for clarity.
Sam Valenti IV: We were just talking about this before we turned the mic on – the idea of never quite getting there. Because even your best work you compare against the best. That’s the opportunity we have with “post-social,” “post-everything” times. It’s not “as good as,” you know.
And that’s being leveled, but not really. 3D printing and what not can’t yet replace, and won’t, my home tools in the near future or home computing, or circuit bending has not yet replaced a lot of electronic goods…
Anyway, my sort of “bootstraps up” kind of moment… I guess it was community, in a weird way. I always felt like I had to kind of “align” groups of people.
As a kid I remember it was this traditional “don’t fit in here, don’t fit in there.” So you have to fortify your own platform or place.
The social construct of making friends and building networks, or creating fun, or identity, is still what I think is my job.
My first job, besides working at a clothing store, and interning for a record label, and working at a record store, was DJing.
It was literally “back-of-the-truck” taking my speakers out and playing a high school dance, getting a hundred bucks or whatever, and then doing it again.
I just co-founded a venture-backed startup, so I thought I thought a lot about the difference between that and Ghostly – what it means to go ask for money versus worry about your own money.
And they’re different. It’s different ideology. I liked seeing the coastal differences. New York obviously has a very revenue-centric, business-first thing and then going out west and spending time in the bay… obviously it was sort of this gold rush moment. It made me think about what “venture culture” meant.
It’s dreams, and it’s hope. And there’s a lot of crap that comes with that. But I also appreciated that the ability to get excited about ideas on daily basis is and was possible.
But however, who’s footing the bill? And so obviously we’re in this weird moment right now where have to define: “What’s a good life?”
“What’s a good life creatively?”
That’s obviously what you cover with your show, and I think about it a lot.
Having money obviously is a thing, but having agency or control over your destiny is another.
Having a “lifestyle business” (I use air quotes there) is kind of seen as a negative. And in big startup terms it’s seen as if you’re playing it too safe, whereas I think a lot of people would love to have a lifestyle business, were they can afford to feed their family and do something that they like.
I think that those terms are up for grabs. And I think “bootstrapped” is going to become sexier again. It was not as popular in the last 10-15 years.
Jenna Matecki: Going back to when you’re DJing high school dances… can you answer the next series of questions that I have as if we were back in time at that moment. So for instance, I’m going to read out the beginning of an answer, and then you’re going to finish that answer as if we were back in time at that time, okay?
1. “Detroit feels like?”
SV4: Detroit feels like a forbidden place to discover what’s important.
I say that meaning that it was not glamorized or popularized – being a kid from the suburbs.
Going to Detroit unless it was for a class trip or to the art institute was not something that was advised or encouraged.
I was having to sort of sneak into clubs and raves and convince my Dad to take me downtown to go to a hip-hop shop or a record shop.
I was having to push into it in order to experience an influence that in a pre-internet context wasn’t available.
JM: 2. “I’d love to”
SV4: I’d love to get involved with music.
DJing was start, but it didn’t feel like it was in the industry. It was a DIY version adjacent to the music industry. It was home creation, pre-internet taking of two records and putting them together. It was discovering music, discovering producers, connecting the dots… but it was the very end of the channel.
So it was getting into the making, not only of the products, but of the music itself or the distribution of it. I wanted to understand where it came from – the physical, actual art itself. Who made it?
I was reading about Motown, David Geffen, any of these enterprises. Even Disney I was curious about as a creative company, what that meant. How does one get that job?
JM: Have you read his biography?
SV4: Which one?
JM: It’s like the main… the official biography of Disney.
SV4: Oh A “Walt Disney: An American…” I’ve read one or two.
Yeah, I’m trying to get away from sort of glomming on to heroes.
Because obviously that veil has been lifted, and maybe you don’t want to meet everybody. What are the attributes or the things they did that inspire you? Motivate from there.
JM: Who were your initial heroes?
SV4: Outside of family and friends… I remember keeping scrapbooks. I had the photo albums, the fake leather ones with the sticky pages, and I’d just rip out stuff that I liked. I’d take polaroids of my stuff and things I liked. I was interested in comics. And artists, and I didn’t know who ran those companies, but I was interested in Marvel Comics, DC Comics. Who were these people? …Stan Lee from Marvel.
Film directors, that was the first job that I remember wanting as a kid, not really knowing exactly what that meant. The idea of putting together a little world with actors and a story. …Tim Burton in his early days with Pee-wee and Batman was like someone that I really admired.
Musicians too, but not necessarily because I wanted to be one, but I just obviously was interested in them. And some athletes like any young person, stereotypically boys, in that era. You’d look up to athletes, but it wasn’t necessarily because I thought I could be one, it was more fascination with the culture around them. It included fake athletes like wrestlers. I think that the marketing of entertainment culture was on blast in a way in the eighties, and into the nineties that was particularly captivating to me.
JM: [Silently offers tea from across the table]
SV4: Thanks. *Sounds of pouring tea* Is this the ASMR portion of the program?
JM: *Laughs* What?!
SV4: The sort of soft sounds to get your brain tingling
JM: *Laughs* no! This is.. *laughs* no, I noticed that you inhaled your water so I wanted to give you something. I’ve only kept the pouring of the tea in there [in podcast recordings] at certain times because it made sense, but for the most part this will be edited out.
SV4: It’s very meditative, I think your fans might like a gentle poor. It’s very symbolic.
JM: *Laughs* Yeah, I mean for this there’s decidedly no, I mean I’m not like… playing a track and then like asking you about it. That’s not really how this show works, it’s more like what you hear is two people talking and if pouring tea is part of that, great!
SV4: True *Laughs* That’s fair. Cool.
JM: *Sips tea* Okay, I have a question about curation. So, in order to curate something you have to be intaking a lot of information, and arts, and music, and stories from a variety of different places and then decide which ones make it into a larger narrative, right?
And being a DJ is kind of a very direct metaphor for that. You’re taking certain tracks, and you’re deciding which ones are going to go where, and you’re reading a room, and you’re watching the people kind of interacting with music and listening to it (and hopefully dancing if they’re at a school dance), and enjoying that, and feeling that, and feeling that energy.
What about curation in that sense before Ghostly interested you, and why did you gravitate towards it, so early on?
SV4: “Curation” – I obviously didn’t know that word then. I liked magazines a lot. And I still do. I guess “editing” is probably better word and some ways for what I think my job is sometimes. Maybe because curation has kind of been appropriated into the language of the internet where it’s seen as this sort of click-and-save thing.
For 10 minutes I wanted to be a magazine editor. I thought that would be cool. I loved the behind-the-scenes although it’s not always as romantic as it looks. But yeah, you’re putting together a point-of-view, a perspective. You’re aligning talent, you’re finding talent. I think that was what I assumed “film direction” meant. Getting to pick the players and be part of the coaching, or involvement with that team.
I’ve been think a lot about collecting lately too, which is a form of curation of stuff you own.
And I guess it’s kind of a weird way, it’s like you’re kind of trying to make yourself feel better, by making sense of the world.
With records, each record is a sort of emotional memory.
It’s like when you’re in school and you hear a record, you think “this record always makes me feel good,” or “this record makes me feel a certain way.”
You’re kind of stockpiling moods and creating. That what people do with photos, or what people will do with a lot of things.
You’re making sense of the world through collecting and curating and editing. You’re trying to invoke a feeling, and communicate.
The communications that reached me as a kid were very meaningful. Whether it was music, or a magazine, or a comic, or zine, or what have you.
I found that it’s the DIY aspect. Not seeing myself as a creator. Or an artist. Curation, or editing, is a form of working alongside creative people or with creative people, so I guess it was a shortcut to be able to work with artists.
JM: Oftentimes when someone goes to school it’s their first experience of truly editing their world and making decisions about what they want their world to look like. So for instance, you’re away or far enough away from home, and you’re making your own friends, you’re choosing who to be around, what type of person you want to be.
And then when you’re there, you start actively creating your world, what you’re gonna say, how you live, and what environments you’re to find yourself in.
From Detroit, to London, to New York / Detroit / International… *laughs*…. What decisions are important to you when creating your world? And what I mean by that is, when you approach a new situation, what are you looking for, and what makes it good?
SV4: You know obviously theres the whole “feel” thing, buy trying to get more granular than that – it’s your gut.
And comfort… I don’t think comfort is necessarily the sign of success. If you want to be better, or faster, or smarter, or the thing you want to be, being around people who are exponentially or further along is actually what you want, so you’re not going to comfortable.
I guess people like a good challenge right? For me, I suppose with what I’ve done is… trying to find people. Maybe you’re kind of predicting it in a way.
When I got to college, I knew a couple people because I was in a state school at Michigan, but I also knew I wanted to use this opportunity to meet people. I didn’t have it all flushed out, but I had like a little logo that I was drawing, and the Ghostly records name. But no music or artists to work with.
My first week of school I met Matthew Dear, and he was playing a party, and the music was good. It was not necessarily the music that was blowing me away. It was just like “here’s somebody doing it on their own, that’s accessible, let me say hi.”
It’s almost like forcing yourself into it. It’s not necessary my personality to run up to someone and attack them or say “let’s be friends.” I have that in me but obviously there’s a shyness too that competes.
JM: What did you say to him?
SV4: I probably said something like “hey, this is a good set. I love to catch up sometime.” He was probably in the middle of playing and I got his email or his number or his UMich Email. I probably followed up the next week, and said “let’s get lunch, I’d love to catch up sometime”
To answer your question, everything that’s been good, the decisions I’ve made, it’s all been about putting yourself a little out past your comfort zone and not really knowing what’s going to happen.
You can be super methodical, and think you have everything organized, but really it’s interaction between people that creates possibility. Or if you’re that good, or that smart, you can just do it on your own, but I don’t have that capability.
My interaction with other people is how I get to feel, and to experience, and to share experiences, so socially I guess it’s putting yourself not necessarily always out there, but, making yourself available to serendipity.
I think it’s a Noah Briar-ism, who’s a really smart guy, you should talk to him one day if you haven’t yet. He’s a friend of Rick Webb’s.
JM: Yeah, I was actually his strategy intern at Barbarian Group.
SV4: There you go. I mean, you know everybody, and Noah knows everybody too.
So… it’s a serendipity thing, and I think it’s a Behance-ism. It’s just being open to it. Because the self-talk, I think for creative people, or independent people, or any people, is really challenging to get over.
“I’m not good enough” or “pretty enough,” or “I’m not smart enough,” or “I shouldn’t be here.” I think it’s really easy to let those voices dictate you, where you go. And I think they’ll never go away. I think it’s just part of being human and your brain trying to protect you from discomfort.
But ultimately on the other side of that voice is the thing you probably should do.
I guess for me it’s been putting myself a little out ahead of myself. My capabilities probably catch up after my mouth, or my idea.
I don’t mean run your mouth and figure it out. I mean be excited about something, and then figure out how to do it, as opposed to only doing things that you’re great at.
I think I constantly push myself out of my comfort zone. Not because I’m such a wizard, but because I know that’s the only way I can motivate myself to fall in completely.
And I’ll figure out who to work with to finish it. You can’t learn this stuff in isolation, I don’t think.
JM: It’s interesting that you talk about this in the context of creating your own world.
SV4: Yeah, I mean, I guess that means a lot of things now. It can mean your Pinterest page, or your social media banter back and forth, and trying to defend your identity, or cultivate a brand.
I look at it as if you are not completely subject to the whims or the perceptions that other people may have.
That’s what I mean by “world.” It doesn’t mean shacking up in Northern Michigan with a lot of guns. It means that you’re able to see things, assess them, feel them, and still have a competing or an alternate opinion, and be okay with that. And not have to constantly defend it or refute other people. And have enough people around you that share those values. Then it’s fun. You can actually have a conversation.
I guess it’s more ideological – being able to withstand the pressure of negative or polluting interests. I think it’s a lot of what we complain about – media and dogma and what not.
JM: Speaking of like-minded people in terms of ideology – internally at Ghostly you all are known for your curation, for your voice, for the people that you’re choosing, for the art that you’re putting out there.
The people that love Ghostly love Ghostly for a variety of reasons, but that’s a main one. You see this stuff come out and you know that there were people that were very intentional and very “feeling-first” about choosing these things.
What types of questions do you ask as you’re sorting through and finding the good stuff, and is it a little nerve-wracking knowing that your choices are so revered in the community?
SV4: Yeah, I think you want to know people are living it, and this isn’t just like “I’m going to submit some music and art, and hope people like it.” This is their best work. That’s what you want people to know. Many people have to touch a project for it to be released.
Yes, we are in an era where you can upload an album or an image. But there’s a lot of effort and care that goes into the making of a thing, beyond me.
You want to know if it’s sincere. And if it’s not sincere you want to know that it’s intentional.
I think some people revere us, but, I think whoever does – they like our work because we take risks and because we’re not always serving the same thing. We try to train ourselves not to get comfortable. If you had success, doing it again does not necessarily mean that’s the right thing to do. You have to do different things.
Or maybe we just haven’t hit on the thing that we do really well yet.
Maybe it’ll take 20 years to find the thing that we can sort of repeat.
Putting out music is something we do consistently – it’s just different kinds of music. I think there a sincerity, an intention there. I suppose there’s an ambition – to reach people because it’s going to push them.
What motivates people? I find I get along with people who care about the nature of the work, who want to be part of positive projects, who want to be a good influence on people around them. I guess these words are are loaded, but yeah.
A good group of people, compassionate, excitable people is to me important, because that’s who I want to be around. That’s going to make me better too.
I think the audience… we are the audience. And we’ll pick up on that. Obviously if the artists that trust us with their work don’t feel that, they’re not going to want to work with us.
JM: What do you mean by “excitable?”
SV4: Willing to get excited about, willing to experience or try new things. It’s like going to a new venue, or being open-minded to new art, or coming back from the weekend and saying “yeah, I found this thing.” I think it’s an ambition to experience art and culture that’s not readily available.
You have to have a thirst for it. Everyone does that I work with.
JM: Going back to when Ghostly was a new thing. What was exciting about it at the time, and what what made it something that you threw yourself into so wholeheartedly? I mean it’s one thing to to start it right, and it’s another thing to sell out a great record like Hands Up For Detroit, but what made it something that you were like “no, I’m actually going to continue doing this, and this is going to be a thing.”
Years later you’re sitting here in Brooklyn talking about it, and you’re still working on it, so…
SV4: Maybe it’s the “forever-challenge.” You’re trying to find something that you can really immerse yourself in. It’s always different too, The people are different, the project is different.
Early on it felt… important. It felt like there were artists that we’re not getting their due. This is edge of commercial internet, so the distribution was available, but nothing we did was inherently that different. We’re just using the tools that were available.
But I liked mixing old and new, and doing stickers. Doing vinyl, which is a kind of archaic format. Having events, but putting up letterpress invites.
It was kind of almost misrepresenting the company as something it wasn’t, with the “Ghostly International” name. It’s supposed to be this sort of fake, big company.
And that’s been obscured over time. It not supposed to look like a sort of bedroom project. Even though at times it was, and still is. *Laughs* It’s supposed to take on the attributes of a larger entity.
And I don’t know why that appeals to me. Maybe it’s because I grew up looking at that stuff, and being kind of fascinated by the work. Maybe it’s like a pop reflex.
It always excited me more when stuff had that kind of veneer. Not a falsehood but of craft or that there was like a letterpress company, or a serious maker behind it. I thought that if we could affect that at lower budgets and release our work at a fair price, that there was some sort of subversion in that. Putting music in a commercial to me felt subversive. It felt like a win for the little guy.
The artists made interesting music, and it was being used as a part of the language of culture. I think that is still, to me, kind of magical.
JM: “In the life of the man his time is but a moment, his being an incessant flux, in short all that is body is as coursing waters, all that is of the soul as dreams and vapors.”
What does that mean?
SV4: I don’t know, but I put it up on a wall around the corner. We did a mural for this Adult Swim project. And I wasn’t sure what art to put up so we put up this Marcus Aurelius quote.
I don’t have a full grasp on stoic philosophy, I just know what I know.
There’s a great part in Orson Welles’ movie F For Fake which a lot of people think is his last great movie. And he’s first person talking into the camera and he’s looking at Chartres Cathedral, and he’s talking about how generations of people built it, but no one has their name on it. It’s not attributed to an architect necessarily but that’s not the point. The point is the doing.
Maybe a man’s name is not worth much at all, so what of it? Go on singing.
And I think the point is that you’ve got to keep creating, keep building. You got to keep connecting without fear. All of our works, all of our names will be scrubbed out. Even the even the heroes that we hear about. But the action is in the doing. The things we do have, have value, even if it’s not attributed.
To me, that quote resonates. I learned it from my wife, she got me into that quote.
It means you can create all the meaning in the world, or all the fame in the world, but it’s all moving. And you can’t stop it.
And you can hope that you’re immortalized and hope that the work you do is meaningful, but it’s the doing, it’s the experience, in a finite world. That in itself is the glory.
JM: When you wake up in the morning and walk over to your office, and get to your office, and do the work that you do, what work is it that you’re doing?
What you just said, correct me if I’m wrong, feels like what you’re trying to do is continue to build upon a narrative that’s already existed in a way that’s meaningful and tangible. Day-to-day, what are the little things – the small, incremental, tiny, almost bullshit parts of that? Is it sending an email? It is saying “okay, we listened to this record from this amazing new artist. Let’s bring her in and talk to her about X…”
SV4: A lot of it is, most of it is bullshit, right? It’s like pushing email, reminding people to do stuff, being reminded to do stuff. Finding, hearing that song by that woman that is amazing, and forwarding it to a friend, or sharing it with a colleague and asking “what do you think of this?” That’s how people get signed. It’s a conversation. There’s very few eureka moments. There are a lot of little decisions. You have a Skype conversation, an after-show talk, some feedback that you get or give.
Today so far I hit however many emails… in the hundreds I’m guessing.
I joke that our job is like curling. The thing is moving and we just have to sweep it and make sure it goes in the right direction. The object itself is a thing that can’t be touched, you just have to make sure that the edges are curved off.
JM: I kind of love that you’re actually miming curling over here… *laughs*
SV4: I’ve never watched a full curling event. I just think I know it from a GIF or something *laughs.* We’re furiously scrubbing the ice, trying to make sure, trying to hope that the thing arrives at the place it goes. Which I kind of dig because it’s not necessarily trying to manhandle a thing into a shape. It’s that you’re trying to affect the environment to allow this thing to manifest.
We’re trying to create serendipity, encourage, support, sometimes push. There’s millions of micro moments that make up the stuff that we do. Very little of it is, on the surface, heroic. That’s why the intention is so important.
It’s that sort of subliminal belief that what you doing is meaningful, which makes people like their job, or not like their job. It’s “why.”
We have a mission statement. It’s about connecting great art to people through different mediums, being medium agnostic. Whether it’s a Ghostly pair of sunglasses or a record or an email – it doesn’t matter. It comes from a real place. It comes with a sense of sincerity.
It’s not like people are waking up in the morning reciting the Ghostly mission statement. It’s not drawn up a lot. It’s a weird, intangible thing.
We work with people that we really admire and we want the help artists reach people in a meaningful way, and to reach more people.
And we want to help ourselves and other fans to find more cool work.
So a lot of our discussions are not about our stuff. It’s about other people’s stuff, or kind of connecting dots, or putting events together where we’re trying to create a space where people feel good, or feel connected.
It’s what record labels meant to me as a kid. Publishing. Film studios. They had that power. What a Miramax film meant in the nineties was a thing. A Motown record in the sixties was a thing.
You’re creating recognizable trust out of the millions of micro moments that a group of people invested themselves in.
JM: On August 23rd you Tweeted “Another boyhood hero cosigns on the Ghostly record, strange days.” And you shared a Ghostly tweet about the record of the year from Trent Reznor.
Why is it strange?
SV4: I still think of us as being “other” or “apart” and maybe I like it that way. We’re kind of annexed off of the music industry. Because obviously it’s so confusing, and so treacherous…
JM: The music industry is?
SV4: I think so. I find the music industry confusing and treacherous. Not necessarily intentionally. I’m not playing at a level where I’m fighting tooth and nail for the number one slot in the billboard charts – that’s a different game.
You’re dealing with people’s dreams. You’re dealing with the marketing of people’s dreams. And that’s that’s very intense. So you want to do a good job.
It’s strange days. Trent Reznor to me is… even though he rallies against the music industry and rants against how bad it is… he still is a key mover, both as an artist and a business person. So if someone like that validates a record by an artist we work with, it’s a bit back to the subversion thing. It’s funny. How did this get to this person?
I find that fun. Because it’s like the world’s are smaller than you think. And access to people is greater than you think.
It’s fun when stuff we do falls into different people’s hands that you can didn’t intend or expect.
JM: What are some beautifully strange days and moments that you’ve had, up until this point, as you’re sitting across from me at this microphone?
When I say that what comes to mind? And “beautifully strange” I would assume can be taken in a positive way, but there could be some “strange strange” moments too.
SV4: I think about the live context a lot – hearing our records played for the first time. Hands Up For Detroit at the Detroit electronic music festival in 2000 was fun.
It’s a cool experience, and it’s not necessarily charts or sales. It’s a nice sort of flag in the mountain – but you don’t take that home.
For me, I like meeting people who are into what we do. Whether it’s at a merch table or we’re doing a talk… to me that’s been meaningful.
We have an annual team summit where we get together as a team and talk about the future and past, and everything else. And I have a lot of good memories of those. Just the conversations and how they’ve evolved.
There have been some “ah-ha” moments as far as working with artists where we’ve developed certain language around what a non-musical object meant. For instance, this beautiful.. vase here. What would you call it?
JM: Yeah, it’s a vase. Vaaase. Whatever you know.
JM: Depends on your accent. We’re from the midwest, you know. *Laughs*
SV4: “Vaaase” has a nice nasal feel so I’ll go with vaaase.
Statues. Maybe this is the future of music. That these are musical objects. That they make music.
Calcutt, an artist we worked closely with for a long time, said “maybe this is music.” Not that these play music or that they’re a future format, or that they’ll fit into a player, but maybe they’ll represent bodies of music.
Maybe the musicians themselves made this as an object to represent music. It’s fun, just being able to play with those sorts of ideas. So whether it’s making a totem or a statue that represents music, or coming out with our first bag of co-collaborated coffee from a local roaster in Michigan – you’re transforming. It’s a way it’s like graffiti. You’re getting to hard to reach places and put your stamp on things. And so yeah, showing up where people don’t expect you to is fun.
In those moments people may say “what the fuck, this is stupid, I don’t like this, why is this company doing these things?” Or they may say “This is amazing! I love that Ghostly takes these risks.”
That gets me excited. Or when the music comes out, and it finds fans. Whether it’s a couple passionate ones, or many thousands of less passionate ones – it’s always always a risk.
The gambling aspect is interesting. That there’s an unknown. We’re not a supply and demand computer where where know that X number of people are going to buy this thing, so we’re going to make X number of units.
We’re making a thing and hoping people like it, every time. There’s very little market research beyond what the person did last time. We don’t pay too much mind to that, which could be our downfall.
Things happen, and people find stuff what you didn’t expect. To me that’s exciting.
JM: So that’s the consumer-facing end of it right? You’re providing, creating this world for people to engage with. Whether that’s coffee, or sunglasses, or music, or a musical object in that definition.
That’s the consumer end of it. From a business-to-business or specifically person-to-person and of it, what makes you want to collaborate with certain people and companies? What are some collaborations that really just show you that it’s awesome to work with other people?
SV4: The biggest collaboration that we do is with artists, musicians especially. And to your point, the magical, best moment is also, beyond the audiences, just hearing a song from an artist for the first time.
I’ve done a lot of time sitting in artists’ homes listening to music with them, going over tracklists. I’m not editing because I don’t really try to do that or push that as part of my job. It’s sitting with an artist, figuring out a plan, and just enjoying that.
That creation process to me is still the most fun.
That’s a collaboration that constantly happens, and then we have the artist collaborate with a visual artist. So there’s multiple collaborations that happen within a project.
As far as companies – companies like Warby Parker… or Patagonia, who I have not worked with but admire, have an ethical standard. That’s important to me.
Also, it’s really small mom and pop makers that we’ve done little musical instruments with. That feels more exciting because you’re validating eachother. It feels more exciting, because you’re validating each other by trying something new.
I’m also not part of every single aspect of the collaboration. Sometimes it’s just the idea. Sometimes it’s just a piece of it.
And I think in some ways maybe it’s a form of getting over my own shyness.
Collaboration feels like a success because it’s you’re able to do something together, and then it creates a social construct that feels like it’s a way back to pushing outside of yourself.
You’re kind of overcoming shyness by doing that, and then what comes of it is interesting.
We did video game called Hohokam. We worked with Sony on a Playstation game. We did a soundtrack for it, and Jeremy, my colleague who runs the Ghostly Songs Division, worked really hard on it. He put together a bunch of artists and they created the whole musical landscape for the game.
And I think that is a great example of a collaboration and how it reaches different people. It was immersive, it was built with the product in mind. It was a whimsical game, and the music followed, so it was like really enjoyable to witness.
That work comes only out of lots of people trusting each other.
Which is, I suppose, a utopian view of what a collaboration can be. It’s never quite that clean, but that’s the platonic ideal that I like to try to shoot for.
JM: If you could construct some perfect days, like a week that would be perfect both for the Ghostly/Spectral side of things, and then for you… what would those weeks look like? And how different are they? So just satisfying you – what does that look like? Or just satisfying Ghostly/Spectral? Or is it even fair to try and separate those things?
SV4: It’s funny, at first I was moving towards the work stuff because that’s what we’re talking about. But they go hand in hand. That’s the harmony. Back to the ideals – you want the harmony between the creative life, the work life, and the personal life. That’s never really totally in balance. That’s the venn diagram that people want to achieve.
I went on a big hike in Wyoming which was my first proper backpack camping trip, tented trip. It was extremely unpleasant in a lot of ways. In a first world context obviously.
In retrospect, there’s an emotional memory and there’s an actual memory. What you felt is not necessarily what the thing meant. It was difficult physically, but also life-affirming philosophically or conceptually.
There’s the regular day – like today. Today was an awesome day. I got to be around a lot people that I like and admire, and be a part of projects that I care about.
And relatively nothing in there is sort of exotic. Whereas being outside, and being totally removed from technology and being with your thoughts is also a perfect day. It’s just what your ambition is.
I think that’s where the challenge for creative people, or ambitious people is.
In a culture with success and money, how can you ever reconcile the self, when there’s followers to be had or acclaim to gain? I think that’s what all creative people deal with.
“ Well, I’m not so-and-so.”
And there’s one quote that’s one of the best I’ve heard. It’s a Bernie Brillstein quote. His clients always asked “what’s so-and-so making?” or “what’s so-and-so doing?” and he always said “Eyes on your own paper. This is your story.”
So trying to be someone else isn’t going to work.
I think it’s a balance of having adventures that challenge you – emotionally, physically, personally. You’re rewarded for those efforts, in ways that you don’t expect.
And that’s what I’d like to continue to shoot for.
JM: Is this what you were supposed to do?.
SV4: I don’t know. Yes, there’s the idea that I had it in me, that’s the sort of artistic concept, that you’re expressing what’s in you. But there’s a concurrent push-back on that where there’s no “essential you.” You’re creating you, right? There’s proclivities and interests and “I like this taste and not that” or “I’m from a certain place so I identify with it” – but that doesn’t mean that you’re inherently that thing.
To me, it’s a way of doing things. It’s an approach.
For me it’s a small team. And creative, flexible, modes of success where the metrics are able to be changed depending on the project or the day. It’s the variables and a high degree of uncertainly with acclaim or feedback.
Maybe I enjoy that “anything can happen” quality.
As far as the job, it would’ve been a different thing twenty years ago. I’m guessing I would’ve worked at the Whole Earth Catalog or I would have been a librarian, or a sound mixer.
I think the work that we all do is inherently already a thing, and we’re just trying to sort of cultivate it. I think some things are bigger than we can comprehend, as far as manifesting ideas that aren’t ours.
There’s a zeitgeist-y quality. The work of people is fulfilling a need that we don’t always know – because it just feels right. I think my job is just a thing that I was able to… to use a rock climbing metaphor, you’re just trying to find a foothold. Ways up. Ways to meaning.
And this is one that continually ascribes meaning to me. And hopefully other people.