Interview: Maranda Pleasant
MP: At the heart of it, why do you do what you do?
AG: Because I’ve been given the opportunity to be alive in this day and age, and it’s rare.
MP: What makes you vulnerable?
MP: Another fun one. How do you deal with pain?
AG: (laughs) Uh…
MP: I know, right?
AG: Yeah, that’s pretty intense. In, I guess, many ways, but with my eyes open.
MP: What is it in life that most excites you right now?
AG: Watching some of my projects actually come to life that I never thought would happen.
MP: What is it that breaks your heart the most?
AG: It’d be missed opportunity, with regards to governmental leadership.
MP: What is SHFT? It’s amazing, by the way. I think it is shifting the planet and I am excited about it. Why did you feel like this needed to be born?
AG: We saw a lot of preachy condescending unattractive environmentalism. Sort of an extremist dogmatic annoying smelly hippie (laughs) trying to get us to make changes through duress and force, and we thought environmental passion should be more acceptable and could use an aesthetic makeover, and become something that’s aspirational, exciting, and positive—that tastes good. That way we wouldn’t have to become violent and bitter in order to make changes. So we could actually do it with a smile and a wink.
MP: What are some aspects/elements of SHFT that you’re most stoked about?
AG: I’m so proud of SHFT. It really is a beautiful and inspiring place to hang. If the future of society, its lifestyles, business options and industrial commitments, looked like SHFT, I would want to live there. I think we are in some ways telling the future. Except the future is here. more and more, SHFT is a reality.
MP: Why is it important?
AG: Ethical systems and practices need to look good. They have to be desirable, well-designed and work well. You can’t expect people to do the right thing or else they will go to hell. We are already in hell! Let’s show people how desirable it is to step it up and climb towards heaven.
MP: What’s your favorite part of SHFT at the moment?
AG: Well, I think that we’ve grown to a point where now we’ve expanded to include a nonprofit, which is called SHFT Initiative. And our first initiative is called The Mobile Kitchen Classroom. It’s pretty awesome, because it means really basically that we’re not only surviving but we’re doing well enough financially that we can move into nonprofit.
MP: Is it based in New York? Do you have plans to take that to other cities?
AG: We are planning on hopefully expanding beyond New York, but right now we are trying to do New York right, first and foremost.
MP: How can people support that right now?
AG: Right now we’re starting to fundraise. We’re in the very early stages, so check out our website, MobileKitchenClassroom.org. You can also like us on Facebook, and then when something happens we can let you know.
MP: Cool. So is that connected to food empowerment? You just seem very involved in food.
AG: I mean, food is just the greatest joy on the planet.
MP: (laughs) Okay. Is there anything else you want to say about shifting food in schools?
AG: Well, yeah. I think that is very important; it’s the building block of all life. I think you can find a lot of joy and inspiration through food. I think when you find depression and sadness and hopelessness, many times it’s connected to certain food and access to quality and nutrition. By the way, on mobilekitchenclassroom.org, at the very bottom of the page you can also sign up if you want to help us.
MP: Great! And speaking of food, you have a Churchkey beer? That did make me laugh today. What is that about?
AG: So we basically brought back the Churchkey can. It’s a flat top can. This is the way our forefathers and mothers used to drink beer. The only way to actually get into the beer is by using a tool. So it’s a quality craft pilsner in a unique can for a unique experience. The idea is to bring back the little bit of effort into how we consume, so we’re actually participating and we’re conscious about what we consume and how we consume it. The problem with modern consumption and mass-produced products is they’re designed to just literally be shoved into our mouths and rushed. We want people to take a moment to breathe and to experience again every moment, and relish and cherish every one. So it’s a symbol of craftsmanship and the effort that these craftsman put into making these quality products. That’s really what it is for us.
MP: Did you just sit around with your friend and say, “We’re gonna do this”?
AG: That’s pretty much it. I had a beer with a friend and we were reminiscing about the old flat top cans that didn’t exist anymore and how we wished that we could try it. And we shook hands right there and we vowed to do it, and we did.
MP: Love it. And what about the Wreck Room Recording studio you started? All this stuff going on and you have a recording studio in Brooklyn?
AG: Wreck Room TV is basically my studio in Brooklyn and a place for people to come and share songs, music, ideas. We basically provide a service to bands to record them, make a video, and put it up. I guess we curate the bands, so that everything we put up we’re proud of. And really it’s just an opportunity for a lot of unknown bands kicking around the city to be part of the collective.
MP: Which bands are you excited about?
AG: The Skins.
Yeah, they’re a young band and they’re gonna kill it. I mean, they’re all under 18 so they got a huge career ahead of them. MP: You’re also in a band?
AG: I like playing music, and we record in the studio. And we have an album out.
MP: What’s the name of your band?
AG: We’re called The Honey Brothers.
MP: And what instruments do you play? It looks like you play a lot.
AG: Yeah, I’m a self-taught musician, so I never really had the restrictions of any one instrument. I would always just sort of pick up instruments and make noise with ‘em. I can play a lot of things, but I haven’t mastered any one. I use music really as a form of raw expression; escape from the real world.
MP: Do you write?
AG: I do write.
MP: Where do you pull from when you write?
AG: My naive optimism. (laughs) I have a couple side projects. You can see on Wreck Room I play music with a mini project called Caldwell. There’s a couple of my songs on that. But to me, it’s like back in the day, when people would sit around the piano and play music, you know? That’s sort of what I do in lieu of watching too much television; I like to play with my friends.
MP: Whether it’s humanitarian or eco, what is the biggest issue you think that’s facing us?
AG: To try and invite people to relish in our fantastic human experiences. There’s never a better way of living than just improving our quality of life. And the problem to me with environmentalism is the idea that we’re all gonna die and we need to save ourselves. I don’t think it’s necessarily the right way to go about it, because I think we need to really just improve our every moment and improve our quality of life. And that will, sort of by default, save us. That lets me become more connected. Everything I do right now, whether it be the food stuff, or the SHFT stuff, or Wreck Room, or Churchkey, it’s all about making every moment a quality, meaningful moment.
MP: Beautiful. Do you have any kind of yoga or meditation practice?
AG: I should do more yoga than I actually end up doing, but I actually lift weights. (laughs) I enjoy pumping iron, but I do try and get the yoga, ‘cause it’s a nice balance to the weightlifting.
MP: I’m interested in knowing how you maintain your center in the middle of chaos.
AG: When I feel myself getting overwhelmed, I take a deep breath and eat a piece of chocolate.
MP: What are the most important elements of your life right now?
AG: Maintaining the fact that happiness doesn’t come from commercial success but from the quality of work that you give back to your immediate community. I am happy to have success in the entertainment biz, but the root of my happiness comes from my neighborhood, NYC.
MP: What relationships have shifted you the most? Why?
AG: I would say my relationship with my manager Lev (Stephen Levinson). He’s always been a stable and supportive mentor. Kinda like a father figure. I look up to him, and he treats me less like a client and more like a son. He expects a lot, but lets me be free to find my own way.
MP: What’s been one of your biggest struggles?
AG: Making a feature-length documentary. I think it’s more difficult than making a feature-length narrative. The story can be so elusive and hard to pin down, and you have to fight to find it. And when you are dealing with real life, there is no way to control it. In narrative films, you set up reality, so you can limit the variables. You don’t have that luxury with docs.
MP: What art projects are you focusing on?
AG: I’ve been touring with my film teenage Paparazzo and going to colleges to talk about media literacy and empowerment. I travel with an art exhibit of eight curated pieces by a handfull of great artists like Shepard Fairey, Banksy, Simmons and Burke and Tim Kent to name a few.
MP: How do you carve out time for your personal art?
AG: I am not an artist except that when I envision a concept, I sometimes indulge it. I have a piece in the Teenage Paparazzo Exhibit.
MP: What music are you listening to currently?
AG: Wreckroom.tv radio. So many great local bands. Everyone is about local food and local businesses, and now add local bands. I really like The Drums’ new album. Gonna ask them if they want to do a song in the Wreckroom.