Future Nostalgia

I often worry about the future. Stuff that is, for the most part, of my control. I'll even worry about the present– whatever is happening right in front of me. Kinda this permanent state of semi-anxiety going on.

But the past. Damn. Those were the days. Harkening back to a fond memory makes you feel awesome. Warm and fuzzy. It's similar to the feeling of drifting in and out of sleep. Peaceful. Relaxing. Good vibes. Nostalgia is like that. It's the good stuff you can't get enough of.

So what if we could project the concept of nostalgia onto our present moment and even our future? What if we could constantly remind ourselves that this daily grind we're trudging through will become another fond memory? If you can sustain that realization, then you can live your life in a perpetual state of warmth and fuzziness. Future nostalgia, bro.

Interview: David Perry of BLK RBN

David and I first worked together last year on a short film to introduce his brand, BLK RBN. Since then, we’ve casually kept up. The following volley is somewhat of a recap. We had met for lunch, had a great discussion, and I was inspired to log what was said.

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David in our short film for BLK RBN's debut

 

KS: The primary thought I took away from today's chat was that BLK RBN is first and foremost a runner's brand. Sure, running was embedded into the brand identity from the beginning, but you seemed like you had a different level of understanding today. Like a fervency around running vs. fashion.

 

DP: My intention for BLK RBN has always been to keep the product and identity from a runner’s lens. Originally, I wanted the brand to be fashion focused, with running inspiration. When we first collaborated with Empire Green, I was fully immersed in my collegiate running career.

Every day was purposeful around pushing my body to the edge. To win medals, cash checks and snap necks. Just kidding, I really only was out for medals. So when I was in the running scene, I was influenced more to understand the depths of fashion. I was so overwhelmed from the running scene trying to go pro and get paid, that it pushed me away. Running at that level was fucking exhausting mentally, physically, and spiritually.

Fashion was an outlet. A much needed one at that. I was reading the Alexander McQueen Bio. I was on business of fashion every morning. I was writing a thesis in school on LVMH and how the luxury industry gives direction to everything in consumer behavior. This lead me to want to influence those beyond running mainly. I wanted to influence the fashion guys I looked up to and show them athletics through my lens. How it could be an identity for them as well.

Six months later, my belief behind the brand is even stronger. The ethos is just as progressive. The consumer however, is totally the opposite. The runners that I thought wouldn't push out $120 for a tee, were at the door for new products. I had collegiate runners buying one of everything. I had thank you notes from young dudes in high school thanking me for creating a brand to give our sport a voice. Mainly to give them a voice, identity, and prowess of a bad fucking dude. So as the runners were buying, I was stepping away from the sport. My body was broken, and I wanted to live a normal life partying and chasing girls. After months of treating my body like shit, I showed up to the Marathon Olympic Trials in LA to watch the races and pay a store a visit. This was the first time in 6 months I'd watched high level racing. I felt pre race nerves, and I wasn't racing. I found myself sweating when the gun went off. My heart was beating out of my chest watching Galen Rupp crush the last 5k. Watching this level of running again was my push to start running again. More importantly, it was the reminder I needed about why the brand began.

I wanted to build a brand to tell this story. Pursuit for something greater. Guys that truly know what hell feels like; and on the opposite end, what it feels like to look down from the medal stand. This sport has made me a man. It's given me purpose, and understanding of what focus on the process, and not compromising will do for you.

I'm not here to change fashion really. I'm here to change the sport of running forever.

 

KS: Reiterate why you think running deserves fashion? Why do you think it's important those two worlds collide?

 

DP: Fashion is a vehicle for expression. Not to be cliche as fuck, but that's the truth. Fashion can help you identify with your story. From Saint Laurent to Ralph Lauren, these brands are a vehicle to tell your story and form your identity.

Until BLK RBN's arrival, no one has EVER done this in running apparel. No one. Maybe Nike or Adi were on this path in the 80's but where are they now? What do they stand for? I get that they make tons of cash, advance the technology for athletes, and pay some runners. But seriously, what do they stand for as a brand?

BLK RBN is a style. Style is the story or temperament that your clothing brings to you and your identity. Style and your demeanor collide to create your fashion and aura. Running deserves a brand that is a vehicle for the story of pursuit. When you're pushing your body to the edge, doubt creeps into your mind.

Am I pushing too hard? Can I handle this? What if I hurt myself? Are these other athletes better than I am? I want these men to feel like a god in their garments. To excel, you can't give a fuck what anyone else is out there doing. Runners deserve the style of BLK RBN because it stands for what they're out there doing every day.

Running hard, being fucking tough, and battling.

I'm in the business of selling armor, not clothing.

 

KS: How do you personally balance the passion between being an artist vs. a businessman? The former focuses on the raw passion behind a body of work while the latter focuses on the money behind it.

 

DP: The balance between this is challenging every day. As an artist / creative, that has to be first and foremost the focus. I'm creating a garment that's fucking expensive. Everything around the product ( packaging , copy , social , digital , etc.) has to mirror the level of the product and brand.

The level of product we put out in our Freshman year went above and beyond. I only intend to build on that. From a business perspective, selling a luxury item takes finesse. It also takes time. I'm lucky to have a BA and an MBA in entrepreneurship and strategy, respectively. My approach to an apparel brand is really different than someone who studied fashion.

My brand offerings and areas of value are all strategic. The next five years will show why my education positioned my brand for success.

The raw passion behind BLK RBN keeps the business heading toward the avenue it should exist in. As much as I'd love to stack cash by whoring out the brand with over banded, low function garments, I know that's a death for the brand in the long run. Chasing trends is another way to ruin your vision.

When I'm designing, I'm not looking at what other brands are doing. I give a nod to good work out there, but I don't feel a need to knock anyone. A lot of designers say that... But truly designing from your kitchen is the hard way to do things.

Owning the brand gives me the ability to not sway from the brand ethos. It's always tough though. I'm looking away from a lot of potential money by not taking those routes.

At the end of the day, I have to trust my education as an entrepreneur, and my pursuits as a designer.

 

KS: Lastly, you seem overwhelmingly committed to BLK RBN. What will you have to do to make this your life's work? Do you have an idea what you'll have to do to die feeling like you completed what you were after?

 

DP: I'm beyond committed to BLK RBN. I owe this to my sport. To my teammates, colleagues, family. I owe it to myself. This brand has the ability to change lives and disrupt an industry that needs disruption.

To make BLK RBN the brand I see it as, it will take a few things. First and foremost, I have to remember why it began. It began on my feet, over thousands of miles run. BLK RBN was founded amidst battle, both physical and physical. The process that helped me become the man I am today.

The brand exists for men that are focused on the process, to achieve something greater. Secondly, I can't compromise the product quality or principles I founded the brand upon. Every garment is to be run / competed in. I can't compromise when it comes to the product. Lastly, I have to take risks. I have to create the brand that will polarize itself amidst the industry.

To disrupt, you have to look in the eyes of competition and and be prepared to take them to the end of the earth. As an athlete, the fuck you mentality burns within me. That mentality has transferred itself to the brand.

At the end of the chapter / lifetime with BLK RBN, I just need to take a hard look at where the sport stands. I just want to look at the state of the sport and see growth. Exposure for these athletes. For their endeavors. For their story. Running is the toughest sport on the planet. They deserve a brand that stands for that.

 

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You can read David’s own musings on different subjects here.

Going from How to Why

Written as if speaking to a large group of students.

As you grow older, you go from wanting to know how things are done to why you do them. Right now you want to know how to get into a good school or how to get a good job or how to get good grades. You want to know how the world works because you haven't really been in it yet as a contributing factor.

Yet as you get older, and the more you figure out, the more you do, the more you question why you're doing it. And all of a sudden, that kinda sucks. It's like asking how the universe was created vs. why are we on this planet. How did I get here vs. why am I here. And let me tell you the former is much easier to hypothesize.

So to give context as to how I got to where I am today, I had parents who were music teachers, an uncle who designed lights and a grandmother who was a painter. All of a sudden how I got to where I am today makes a lot more sense. I was always pushed in the direction of the arts. It's what I was surrounded by and it's what I was naturally good at.

So when electives were a question, I avoided any math or science and went straight for art. Not a second thought. That was my jam and I was sticking to it. So very quickly my position in life turned into how do I draw better or how do I sell my art or how do I land a job making art vs why art mattered. They were all questions that someone else could teach me. Perfect situation for a college student.

So I went through school and I loved it. I think the majority of people that go through college feel this way, but I totally went from a kid who hated school my whole life to absolutely loving every single moment of college. I felt like I was finally free to do what I wanted with my education and was finally in control of honing my skills. I would dive into all this art history and check out endless classical CDs from the library and burn them onto my computer. I loved my philosophy classes and took an ethnomusicology class. I took figure drawing and anatomy for artists. And during a short, four years, I learned how to become a better artist, both a draftsman and a thinker.

But at the end of college, that question of how becomes a little harder. Instead of a professor showing you how something is done, for the first time you have to show yourself how. How do you get a job? How do you make money?

For me, that transition felt easy. I landed a design internship for a small sports company four blocks up from my school in my last semester of college. Immediately after graduating I applied for a full time position and got it. I worked there for the next 5 years. I learned a lot. Met a lot of people. Saw how other professionals did it. Met my business partners of today. So once again, an invaluable time of learning how the world works and how people work together.

Yet here I am today, finally asking myself WHY. Why have I done the things I've done, why am doing what I'm doing. Should I do something else? Should I do something differently? Waaayyy harder shit to answer. Because nobody can teach me that except for myself. What I'm finding out is those questions will probably be with me the rest of my life now, unanswered until the end when you can look back on everything and understand why you did what you did. But now the question of how is shifting off of me and onto the next generation. It's up to you guys to figure out how to do things and I guess up to me to think about why we do them.

Wait. That doesn't sound very fair. Piecing out some of the creative pie to one side of the room and leaving the rest for the other. You don't have to work that way. I think that if you can ask how and why, what you do will become far more meaningful than just well-done work. If you can answer other people's questions with your work, then you're helping them understand the "why" in life.

Storytelling vs. Art

When I initially started writing my thoughts here, I contacted a few of my colleagues to contribute as well. Garen Barsegian was one of the first to reply. A seasoned producer and director out of New York City, Garen has worked with Empire Green on multiple NYC-based productions.

The last time Garen and I worked together, we began a conversation about symbolism vs. storytelling in filmmaking. I was fresh off some Winding-Refn films and digging the concept of beginning with abstract symbolism then crafting a story around those symbols. Garen was like “Uh uh uh, buddy. You got it all wrong…”

Garen writes,

As a person that’s excited about art, photography, sculpture and design it’s difficult for me to create something that doesn’t embody or focus on one of those elements. It took me a long time to realize that there was a fundamental flaw in this approach. It’s a common problem that exists in content creation today – of which I’m guilty of as well. The problem is - often times the visual impact of a film takes precedence over the narrative. In many ways it feels like we’re doing it all backwards.

It should be noted that in film making so many variables exist and personally the most incredible films are those that harmoniously balance or focus these many variables to service the narrative. In this way – the story takes precedence and all of the variables (sound, music, camera choice, lensing choice, talent, art, props, etc..) simply function to tell this story in the most authentic way possible.

If the story is weak, nothing you can ever do will correct this. Sure you can improve it or mask it – but you can never correct it. That’s why it’s so important to make sure the story is strong and well thought out. What’s also amazing about filmmaking is that it’s a collaborative medium incorporating many different people (department heads), which specialize in these various areas. They can all help to elevate your story and tell it in a unique way. The more experience you have the easier it is to find the harmony between the story and how to execute it – sometimes developing both simultaneously.  

The best example of this is in two films created by my favorite director & cinematographer duo – Wong Kar Wai & Christopher Doyle. It should be noted that Fallen Angels & In The Mood For Love are two completely different films. One (Fallen Angels) set in the 90s in the fluorescent-lit Hong Kong about a serial killer who's fallen in love with his partner and the second a period film (In The Mood For Love) about two neighbors who discover their spouses are cheating on them.

Fallen Angels, 1998

In the Mood for Love, 2001

The best example of this is in two films created by my favorite director & cinematographer duo – Wong Kar Wai & Christopher Doyle. It should be noted that Fallen Angels & In The Mood For Love are two completely different films. One (Fallen Angels) set in the 90s in the fluorescent-lit Hong Kong about a serial killer who's fallen in love with his partner and the second a period film (In The Mood For Love) about two neighbors who discover their spouses are cheating on them.

The two films, although created by the same team, utilize uniquely different techniques in cinematography to help tell their respective stories. While in Fallen Angels the handheld, neurotic and fluorescently lit city helps evoke the disillusioned inner psyche of our protagonist, In The Mood For Love employs incredibly steady and carefully composed camera movements to align with the careful preparations the two cheating spouses engage to see each other. In this way, both films let the story dictate the visuals – not the other way around.

The other side of this argument - art for the sake of experimentation and self-expression – is entirely excluded from this conversation. The point is - art for the sake of art and art utilized to tell story are completely acceptable – it’s the midpoint that does neither well that should be reconsidered.

You can view Garen's collective work, Whooden, here.

Knowing your audience vs understanding them.

I'm not a football player. Never was. Definitely never will be. Yet the majority of my work has revolved around the sport. This made me think of the difference between knowing your audience vs. understanding them. They’re two, different levels of comprehending something or somebody.

Advertising tends to be rooms full of awkward creative people like myself that make artistic assumptions about other cultures. Sometimes we get it right when we find that hidden, truthfulinsight, and other times we totally get it wrong.

My thought is if you do your homework, get close to your subject, and you research what you’re talking about, you’ll get it right… probably. Maybe.

Better Than Everyone Else

What I'm about to write is going to come across egotistical at a certain level. But what I'm trying to do is make a point that I think a lot of people can relate to.

The impetus of what I would call my "talent" since I was a child, was that I could always draw better than anyone else around me. I was always told it was a talent or that I was gifted, and so I felt like I was gifted. And even today when I think about it, I still feel the same way. It was definitely a natural thing that I was good at.

But what I'm interested in today is how feeling gifted or talented can shape a person. How does it affect their behavior in society with other people? Because lying behind the actual talent is this mentality that goes along with it. It's the notion that you know you're good at something. It's like you know the cheat code for the video game of your life and it's awesome and it's easier for you than anyone else.

So obviously there are people who view their talents in two different lights: those who abuse the value and notoriety it can garner, and those who selflessly wield it and don't expect it to yield anything different from the next person in line with them.

One point I want to make is that it's not always a really definitive talent either. If you ask a large group of people what they think they are individually really good at, I'd venture that the majority of people wouldn't know. Think of this abstractly or indirectly. What are emotions or social strategies you subconsciously act on that help you navigate the world better? You probably don't know right away without thinking about it deeply. And that's all I'm trying to say. If you think differently about what a talent really is, I'm sure you can think of one or 100 that you have.

Commercial vs Fine Art

The difference between commercial art and fine art is when you work commercially, you are focused on someone else seeing the work. When you create fine art, you're making it for yourself. When these practices truly blur together is when some of the most exciting work happens.

Human Imperfect

I'm listening to jazz on the radio and this sax or trumpet solo starts playing. I say "or" because I'm not really sure which instrument it is: the sound is so altered. It was like someone was singing through a trumpet and forcing their vocal chords to move enough air to actually make the trumpet sound.

It made me remember how perfect and beautiful the imperfections of jazz can be. It's one of the most important factors to jazz music: that organic, imperfect tonality that oozes with human emotion.

This made a clear impression on me at that moment in time. We find beauty and emotional connection to things that are slightly imperfect. So much so that being human is synonymous with being imperfect. But obviously this isn't the case the majority of the time. We create order to chaos. Machines help us control our lives and create automation. Yet we're all still attracted to elements that are random and unorganized in our lives. Maybe it's the inspiration we take from nature and where we come from as living breathing creatures vs. perfect machines.

Remember. You're worthless.

One of the most inspiring things is thinking of all the people who don't give a shit about you or what you do. It's a humbling reminder that you and your work doesn't matter to a lot of people. A lot.

The Musicality of Sound

Most of the time what can set apart a great film from an absolutely amazing one is the choices made with sound.

I have been a fan of NPR's Radio Lab for years now. When I found out Jad, the host of the show, had a background in music, it made sense. The sound design and the pacing of each episode was fresh from anything I had heard before.

But it wasn't until recently when I listened to a new show from NPR, Invisibilia, that I realized what really made Radio Lab so effective and impressive.

Invisibilia, like Radio Lab, is another show that takes an investigative approach into deep subjects of human thought and emotion and extract unforeseen stories that act as great anecdotes for amazing life can be.

Immediately I noticed they were pulling little auditory tricks to bring the listener into the story; repeating sound bites from an interviewee to emphasize importance, or background chatter to give ambience to a certain location they were visiting. They even used the classic screen door opening sound when greeting one of their subjects at their office. All the pieces were there to aurally create a radio piece similar to Radio Lab.

But of course something was missing. Something was off. The timing was wrong. The levels weren't just right. The filters felt cheap or misused. It felt like all the puzzle pieces were there, but they were forced together in the wrong order and the image painted on them was just a sketch.

Listening to this only elucidated my reasoning for why Radio Lab just sounds so damn good. Musicality. It is the rhythmic nature of sounds and silence that creates a subconscious pattern-like flow to an edit. I believe this is something extremely important when using sound as a storytelling device. You can embellish all the emotions of drama and comedy just by the ebb and flow of sound.

But my underlying question is what does it take in someone to sense those musical qualities and know when it is and isn't working? I think most of us don't even know that this is happening when we watch a film or a commercial or listen to a radio show. One the most obvious examples of this having such a profound effect on editing is the world of movie trailers.

Look at any number of trailers today and you'll find another hard hitting, shoot-em-up, booming music track that creates the flow of the edit. It has become a blatant device to cut a pulsing edit, wrought with epic emotion.

To wrap this up, how sound and image come together dictates the impact that a film can have. The more they are deftly aligned and hinged on each other, the better the end result becomes.

A ham and cheese sandwich. It's what's for dinner.

Why are we so cheesy? Look at movies. The soundtracks. They're ridiculously over the top. So dramatic. When you're not in the moment, it can seem so, so cheesy.

This plays out with advertising too. Why do we ham it up? And I don't mean making things funny. I mean making things dramatic in a distasteful way. Maybe this is more prevalent in America. I really don’t know. Maybe if we overdramatize our emotions, we can call it art, or use semi-existent words like “impactful.”

So now, with all this hipster minimalism, natural lighting, heroic solitude and epic melancholia, are we on a path of evolution towards making our work less and less cheesy? Are we getting closer to realism and raw, subconscious emotions that we don't usually tap into? Or are we just making another caricature of ourselves at the other end of the ham and cheese spectrum?
ONLY YOU CAN DECIDE.
~INCEPTION “BWAAHM” SOUND~