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Director Erik Rojas On The Art Of Music Videos & Chasing His Dreams In L.A.

Erik Rojas

Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Martens Music & Film Series

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Director Erik Rojas On The Art Of Music Videos & Chasing His Dreams In L.A.

Just a few years after relocating from Boston, the young filmmaker has already directed music videos for the likes of TROYBOI, Dillion Francis, Jessie J, JAMESDAVIS, Chase Atlantic and more

GRAMMYs/Nov 12, 2019 - 05:47 am

Meet Erik Rojas. He's a young, energetic director/photographer who relocated from his hometown of Boston to chase his dreams of being a filmmaker in the City of Angeles. After just a few years into the L.A. grind, he's began to make a name for himself with his striking visuals, having directed music videos for TroyBoi, Dillion Francis, Jessie J, JAMESDAVIS, Chase Atlantic and more, as well as commercial spots, PSAs and art pieces (L.A. multimedia artist Ginger Q's epic "Cabroncita" video).

As he reveals in our recent conversation, what Rojas really wants to do is create a film in collaboration with his friends, and to lift up fellow creatives in his circle. It's pretty clear he's on the right path; the event we met at is one he was tapped to curate, the second instalment of the L.A. edition of the new Dr. Martens Music & Film Series. The featured artist for this show is his friend De'Wayne; they met a few years back when they were both new to L.A., with not much more to count on than big dreams.

We caught up with Rojas during the event to learn more about what he thinks is the key for making a great music video, what his biggest creative dreams for the near future are and how his father's story as a Colombian immigrant has inspired him.

So, you've been filming De'Wayne for a short film for Dr. Martens. What has this experience been like for you?

Working with Docs on this project has been amazing, because not only is the brand so authentic, and kind of a huge part of music culture and just culture in general. But the ability to have some creative freedom with such a global brand has been amazing, because they really believe in you and your ability to tell a story, and the story of the artists. It's great, because it feels super organic. They're an amazing brand to work with. Everyone on the team—and the message they have—is so sick. I think the message of the campaign is amazing, I really resonate with it. We're two months in, and it's been amazing. I love it.

What's the biggest thing you've learned about yourself from this project so far?

Oh man. That's a good one. Like I said, there's so much creative flexibility with this campaign. What I've really learned is how to take my storytelling ability and apply it to the stories of these different artists. And myself. I was able to learn how to tell a story about myself, which is a really interesting thing.

Also, there's a different way of crafting a film for each artist, because each have their own voice. The film that I make about De'Wayne; it's not going to be the same film that I made about PJ, because they're completely different people with completely different stories. And I've definitely learned how to adapt my craft to really help push the story and the craft of another person.

And, if I'm not mistaken, you're curating the L.A. events in the series, right?

Yeah. So, it's cool, it's a partnership with Docs, and we're working together to find six artists or bands that have a story of resilience; they didn't have the easiest time in life, in the music industry. Kind of telling a story of how they got over that sh*t, and how it's inspired the music that they make now, or who they are as artists. De'Wayne's lyricism pulls a lot from his experiences moving here with no money, living in his car, sleeping on the floor, having little to no success starting out. He worked four jobs before he started to get a little bit of a success in music.

That to me, their stories, are super inspiring. And it's great, because every single artist that I've worked with or I will work with, has such an inspiring story. It's been great to work with Docs to find these talented people and even just help tell their story to more people.

How did you choose who to work with?

Yeah, it was cool because in addition to Docs, I've mostly been working with a really dope creative cultural agency called Collide. And when we were in the initial discussions about who to feature, I had a list of people that I work with and are friends with, like De'Wayne. And, because they're super in the music scene as well, they had a lot of great options that I was able to go pull from.

And just living out here [in L.A.] for a few years and meeting really dope people has been amazing. There's such a wide network of talented artists with crazy stories, so there's a large swath or spectrum of people to go for.

Yeah, where do you even begin when you're looking for artists living in L.A. doing cool, inspiring stuff like that?

Yeah, there's such an immense amount. Everybody's out making something and everybody's going through sh*t. That's the reality of it is, no matter what success level. De'Wayne's a great example and I can really relate because I went through the same thing living out here, coming out here with an intent to be a filmmaker.

You go through the same sort of trials and tribulations of questioning yourself. Like, "Did I make the right move? How am I going to pay rent?" Then you get those little breaks, and it's like, "Well, something's working." So I'm just going to keep at it. So I think there's a trend with all the people that are out here who are doing cool sh*t. There's a trend of toughness and resilience that I think is really key.

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I think it's an important story, too. Nowadays, with SoundCloud and social media, it's technically easier to put your music and art out into the world. But it's also harder to actually get noticed, for people to pay attention for than more than a scroll.

Absolutely. There's such a high volume of people now, and the democratization of like, "Well, I can get a hundred people to listen to my sht now." Now everybody can do that. So, how do you rise above that? That also makes you question your own heart. Whether it be the medium of music or the medium of filmmaking or whatever. If you're a painter, there's so many other dope people who are getting their sht out there.

There's a lot of like, "Damn, am I doing the right thing?" Or it makes you question yourself as an artist. So I think we're at a very interesting time in the history of creativity in general. We're at a really pivotal time in music and culture, everything.

I was looking on your website, and you've made some really cool music videos. I'm curious about what you think are the key elements of collaborating with an artist, to get a visual that brings new life to their music?

With music videos specifically, at the end of the day, it's like reverse scoring. You're creating the visual score to their music. I think it's always important for it to be super collaborative and for the vision of the artists to be the driving factor in every creative decision. Even if there's just one nugget of creativity that they want to give you, it's going to allow you to build off of that.

And like I said, every artist is their own story, vision, etc. So being malleable, being able to adapt, and being stoked in the process, stoked in their music, is key.

In terms of the way I work with artists, I always walk in with an idea, and then it's important to be super collaborative and mold that idea. No project will ever be [exactly] what was written in the treatment, because there's always going to be stuff on set. There's going to be ideas turned around, and that's dope, because that's the creative jazz that happens on anything, whether it be a photo shoot or a music video or a documentary. With this De'Wayne project, we were like, "Dude, you rap about a lot of heavy sh*t, especially racial injustice." We went to Home Goods and bought a bunch of little pig statues and destroyed them with a sledgehammer.

He's reinvented himself so many times as an artist; at least three times. He's gone through this dope re-envisioning of what his music is. We were like, "What if we just set your name on fire a bunch of times on paper." So we were in an alley and he was burning his hand setting his name on fire on a piece of paper. And it was dope. Those are the really cool things that happen when you're working with somebody and creating together.

So yeah, I think that being super collaborative, and being flexible and malleable is one of those key factors in working with artists, and in that process you develop a voice. You can look at something and be like, that's an Eric and De'Wayne project, or that's a De'Wayne music video.

Touching on your own story, your father is a Colombian immigrant. How do you feel that the different cultural identities you've experienced play into your own identity and the art you create?

You know, it's funny, on every project I'm ever on, people are always telling me how super energetic and happy I am to be doing it, regardless of the scope or whatever it is. It's funny because my dad came from Medellín, Colombia, at a time that wasn't the best.

In the '80s?

Yeah. It was pretty violent. They wanted to get out of there and he didn't grow up very wealthy. So, when he moved to the States, even though he became a normal immigrant worker, he was so stoked on everything, because it was the best thing he'd ever experienced. And to me, having his super optimistic and positive influence growing up, has kind of helped me just be stoked about everything I do.

Even if it's tough, it just helps you. If you're stoked about something, it helps make that final product better. Whether it be a music video, a photo shoot, a branded spot, a commercial or your own film. Having his optimism instilled in me helps me push through sh*t.

Whenever I'm feeling down, or kind of being whiny about something, I think about the fact that he could have died living down there. He busted his ass to get a green card and come up here and give everybody else, his family and his future kids a better life. So I'm just going to push through this, even if it's a tough job, or something I don't want to do or a really rough day on set. I'm just super grateful to even be out here. That super positive energy that he's always had has definitely helped push me in the right direction.

I love that. A positive attitude is important but sometimes can be pretty hard.

Literally, that was one of the only things he'd tell me is, "Just be grateful. Don't be ungrateful. Because you're healthy, you're alive and you have a job." He's literally worked a maintenance and a factory job his entire life. He's the happiest guy ever. I think that's dope, I want to be like that. Whatever I'm doing, I just want to be happy, but I want to stay positive and make sure that I'm just doing it to the best of my ability.

Would you say he's a big role model for you?

Absolutely. He's a role model, for sure. He is the American immigrant archetype. He came from a really rough time in Colombia and he was able to make a new life up here, and give the best to me and my brother. So he's a huge inspo, one hundred percent. I'm just super glad to have him as my dad. He's the man. My mom's amazing too, for sure.

If you could manifest one thing in the next year, what would it be?

Oh man, manifest one thing. One thing that I always say is, I just love working with my friends. It's a long shot because I know a lot of work goes into it; if I make a short or a feature or something and get my friends to work on it, be in it with me, score some music for it, and we're all just a part of this fun, creative process, we make a good film. I'd love to manifest that. That's why I'm out here. I'm here to tell stories, make films, and just have a good time with my friends. And if I can manifest that into something, that'd be dope.

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam's Mike McCready says "if you love music," record stores are the place to find it

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2019 - 04:05 am

Record Store Day 2019 will arrive on April 13 and this year's RSD Ambassadors are Pearl Jam. Past ambassadors include Dave Grohl, Metallica, Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and El-P), and 61st GRAMMY Awards winner for Best Rock Song St. Vincent.

McCready was also the 2018 recipient of MusiCares' Stevie Ray Vaughan Award

The band was formed in 1990 by McCready, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Eddie Vedder, and they have played with drummer Matt Cameron since 2002. They have had five albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and four albums reach No. 2.

"Pearl Jam is honored to be Record Store Day's Ambassador for 2019. Independent record stores are hugely important to me," Pearl Jam's Mike McCready said in a statement publicizing the peak-vinyl event. "Support every independent record store that you can. They're really a good part of society. Know if you love music, this is the place to find it."

With a dozen GRAMMY nominations to date, Pearl Jam's sole win so far was at the 38th GRAMMY Awards for "Spin The Black Circle" for Best Hard Rock Performance.

Pearl Jam will be performing on March 3 in Tempe, Ariz. at the Innings festival, on June 15 in Florence, Italy at the Firenze Rocks Festival and at another festival in Barolo, Italy on June 17. On July 6 Pearl Jam will headline London's Wembley Stadium.

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Original Misfits Unleash One Night Only L.A. Reunion Show

Glenn Danzig

Photo: Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images

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Original Misfits Unleash One Night Only L.A. Reunion Show

Dark punk legends to play first show with Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only since last year's Riot Fest reunion

GRAMMYs/Aug 22, 2017 - 05:28 am

There's big news today for punk-rock fans aware that the Misfits made much more than just T-shirts.

The massively influential punk band announced a special show touted as the "only 2017 performance in this world… or any world" and billed as "The Original Misfits" in Los Angeles at the Forum on Dec. 30.

This will be the first Misfits show featuring original singer Glenn Danzig and original bassist Jerry Only with long-time guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein since the band reunited for a pair of Riot Fest appearances in Chicago and Denver in 2016. Last year's Riot Fest gigs, which featured drummer Dave Lombardo, marked the first time in 33 years the original Misfits members played together.

"OK Los Angeles, you've waited almost 35 years for this, here's your chance to see the "Original Misfits" in this Exclusive L.A. only performance." said Glenn Danzig. "No Tour, No BS, just one night of dark metal-punk hardcore brutality that will go down in the history books. See you there."

Tickets for this "one night only" show go on sale Friday, August 25.

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Lady Gaga Steps In To Support Youth Impacted By Hurricanes

Lady Gaga

Photo: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

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Lady Gaga Steps In To Support Youth Impacted By Hurricanes

GRAMMY winner pledges support for those impacted by hurricanes this year through Save the Children’s Journey of Hope program

GRAMMYs/Oct 12, 2017 - 11:03 pm

On Oct. 10 Lady Gaga announced she is devoting her $1 million donation in support of those impacted by the recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico and the earthquakes in Mexico, to a specific cause — the mental and emotional well being of children and youth.

Gaga announced on her Born This Way Foundation website she will support Save the Children’s Journey of Hope program, which uses a variety of tools to help young people deal with trauma in the wake of natural disasters.

"Through a curriculum that includes cooperative play, discussion, art, meditation, and mindfulness practices, young people learn to recognize and understand their emotions and develop healthy coping skills," Gaga wrote. "Tens of thousands of youth have benefited from the program since it’s development in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Save the Children is working to bring it to hundreds of thousands more in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico."

The announcement came on World Mental Health Day, and the Fame Monster has invited all of us to step up and consider making a contribution to the Journey of Hope program to support to mental and emotional needs of children.

"Mental health is just as vital to our wellbeing as physical health. That’s true for each of us, everyday, but it’s especially important for those coping with disaster and recovering from trauma," wrote Lady Gaga. "We must do everything within our power to support the full, vibrant recovery of these communities, from meeting their immediate needs to helping them to rebuild sustainably."

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

 
This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.