Video Mutants: Kalup Linzy washes your eyes (and mind) out with soaps


Welcome to the party, welcome to the show. What are sweetberry club cakes? Wouldn't you like to know!

To find out, you'll just have to listen to "SweetBerry Shuffle" by Kalup Linzy, where Labisha will break it down for you. It's worth the search: Whether it manifests as phone-crazed soap opera societal satire, animation, painting, or music, Linzy's creativity -- which can be glimpsed and heard on his own site and MySpace pages and seen in person through his gallery, Taxter and Spengemann -- is pointedly funny. I recently spoke to him for a profile in this week's video issue.


Guardian: I want to begin by talking about the role or presence of soap opera within your videos. Did you have affection for the soaps and for melodrama?
Kalup Linzy: I grew up watching soap operas. I was raised by grandmother, but it sort of goes back to my great grandmother – she used to listen to Guiding Light on the radio. When it switched over to TV, she grew deaf, and somehow she would sit and watch soap operas all day long. We couldn’t turn the channel. If we were playing and went over to one of our aunt’s houses down the street, the same soap opera would be on.
By the time I turned 10 or 11, I knew what was going on [on the shows] and I started watching them as entertainment. They sort of inspired me to want to act and write. They struck that chord in me.

The Pursuit of Gay (Happyness)

G: You work on most, and sometimes all, of the facets of your videos, from acting and directing and writing to the scene design.
KL: That goes back to my thesis project in college [at the University of South Florida]. We had to do all this research – putting family history and art history in a social context. During that process, I started developing characters and making sure there were objects in the scenes that told the story or referenced the background of a character.
In terms of the titles, [2003’s] All My Churen reflects a theme – it’s not like its satirizing All My Children. It’s the same with [2005]’s Da Young and da Mess.

G: One of the contributors to this video issue was remarking how Ryan Trecartin’s A Family Finds Entertainment is one of the best things he’s seen about getting ready to go to a club at night, and you get comedy out of a similar theme in [2002’s] Ride to da Club. Does club culture play a role in relation to what you’re making?
KL: I made Ride to da Club while I was in school. I’d made a CD of all these different characters. It was intended for me and my cousins and family, as something they would relate to.
Ride to da Club is about how, when you get ready to go to the club, there’s always someone who needs a ride, and there’s always someone who is slow because they had to go to the mall to find an outfit to wear. That [link with club culture] started for me in the South, and now I’m showing correlations between there and the culture here [in New York]. My friends back home and my friends here can look at [2007’s] That’s Wassup and identify with it.

Conversations wit de Churen IV: Play wit de Churen

G: The energy and look of That’s Wassup reminds me a bit of the animation that someone like Harry Smith did for jazz. Can we talk a bit about music? I like it that you’re playing around in different realms. Often when people have a name in the art world, the music they make is really rigid or codified, but there’s a loose quality to your songs.
KL: Once I debuted “Asshole” at this PS1 [Contemporary Art Center, in NY] show, people said “You should do a dance mix,” and I thought, “Yeah, whatever.” But people kept talking about the Apple program GarageBand. I’d thought it was really difficult until I saw that it worked the same as [Adobe] Premiere and other video editing programs.
I just started experimenting. The beats are simple – I try to make the lyrics interesting. I want to make a music video for every song on the CD I’m working on, like Beyonce did; I want to marry the video and the audio.
The CD is called SweetBerry Sonnet.

G: Is there a theme or story to the album?
KL: It starts out with Taiwan at home. The CD opens with “Asshole,” and then goes into a parody of “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” called “Sittin’ on the Edge of My Couch” [laughs]. We just finished the video this morning for “Sittin’ on the Edge of My Couch.” In the video, [Taiwan’s] sitting on the edge of his couch, and subtitles are talking to him, saying things like, “Child, stop.”
The album then goes into a song about Taiwan getting drunk in the house waiting on his friend to come by. He decides to go to the bar, and the song “Bed” is an illustration of that: he sees someone he wants, and someone else wants him, too.
After that, LaBisha comes in with “SweetBerry Shuffle,” and the album goes to “Melody (Set Me Free)” and “That’s Wassup.” In the next song, five of the characters rap. Then the album returns to Taiwan with “Dirty Trade,” which is sort of based on Prince’s “Scandalous” – the video will be similar to the video for “Scandalous.” Next is “Water,” which is about being home after the club with a hangover. It’s a parody of Nina Simone’s “Take Me to the Water,” though in this case it says, “I need some water.” Then it ends with “Asshole (Remix)” and the instrumental version of “SweetBerry Shuffle.” Basically it tells the story of someone sad at home who goes out to the bar and ends up getting laid by the trade and wakes up the next day with a hangover [laughs]. It revisits “Asshole,” and it’s over.

That's Wassup

G: Sounds like a day in the life.
KL: When I tell people I’m doing a video anthology, they always ask if it’s going to be like R. Kelly. It will have a narrative -- if you listen to the CD, it will tell one story, but I don’t want to be singing one tune for 30 minutes.

G: I like the notion of a thematic album of club or electronic cuts, because so much club music cops little more than a “Here’s the vocal” attitude. Chelonis R. Jones’s Dislocated Genius is one of my favorite albums of the past 5 years because it’s so ambitious in terms of theme. What kind of things – past and present, visually and musically – are inspiring to you right now?
KL: In terms of videos, I try not to look at too much when I’m in production mode, so I can have that detachment – you know, sometimes other people work in similar ways. Also, that way I won’t talk myself out of doing something.
I watch a lot of music videos. Ones from the ‘80s, because it’s a period when you can tell the equipment was new to the people making the videos. It’s funny to go back and see how some people actually illustrated their songs.


G: Someone I know who makes no-budget music videos for bands here in SF feels similarly – ‘80s music videos are big inspiration for him.
KL: Back then, the medium was new to them [bands and video makers] – they were excited, and it came across, even though some of the videos are cheesy. I don’t like slickness so much.
In terms of music, I’ve been going back and listening to stuff like Betty Davis, some Dionne Warwick albums, and Dorothy Moore. And of course the regulars like Gladys Knight. I’ve been listening to the delivery – a lot of those artists are telling stories in their songs.

G: I’ve been listening to Stacey Lattisaw.
KL: Did you say Stacey Lattisaw? I have that song “Where Do You Go From Here?,” with her and Johnny Gill. I’ve gone back to Shirley Murdoch and Tony Terry. One day on TV they showed an anthology of Evelyn Champagne King and I was just sitting there glued to the TV [laughs], for whatever reason.
I didn’t see a lot of those early music videos [originally], because I was in a rural area and we didn’t have MTV. The first thing I saw was a making-of show for En Vogue’s “Giving Him Something He Can Feel.” So with a lot of songs, when I’m seeing the video for the first time, I know the song.

G: One of my favorites of your video pieces is [2007’s] “The Pursuit of Gay (Happiness).”
KL: That piece continues along the same line as [2006’s] “Lollypop.” I’m also getting ready to do a film in that vein – I’m going down to New Orleans to shoot – that will be an old black-and-white satire of Hollywood.
The Pursuit of Happyness was out when I shot it [laughs]. In old Hollywood movies they used to use the word “gay” all the time, so I was commenting on that, not on Will Smith.

G: Can you tell about how you treat voices in your work? It seems like you use a lot of filtering and manipulation to change or magnify the pitch of character’s voices.
KL: Early on, [the soundtracks to] Ride to da Club and all those videos were a CD first, before they were expanded into video. I would give people the CDs, they would memorize them, and do a lip sync performance at the actual shoot. Later on, when I didn’t have certain equipment, I would overdub my voice. It creates a certain distance, and plays with overdub the way that old Hollywood movies do.

Ride to da Club

G: In Ride to da Club, two of the characters are sitting on a porch with a sign that says “Philip Guston Dorm.”
KL: That was early on, when I was developing the videos. We were at Skowhegan [School of Painting and Sculpture]. They had a Philip Guston Dorm, and I just shot a scene there. For whatever reason, people thought what the funniest thing. I read a little bit about him and was like, “Oh, ok.”
We always hung out at Philip Guston Dorm – I just turned it into a little neighborhood for the churen while I was there!

KK Queens Survey

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