INTRODUCING MALA FOREVER – THE MULTI-PURPOSE PLATFORM OF 2019 0 40

As a platform that as a whole is a hugely impressive creative lab for the radical femme revolution, with original film projects, an editorial digital magazine and commissioned work, Mala Forever, set up by Nina Reyes Rosenberg and Jessie Levandov and launched in November of last year, is leading the way when it comes to new and upfront platforms that champion the art of creativity and expression. With a busy year ahead, ThisIsTheLatest caught up with Nina and Jessie to find out more about the creation of Mala Forever, the power and impact of social media on its audience and their two upcoming film releases.

TITL: Please introduce yourselves if you would.

Mala Forever: We are Nina Reyes Rosenberg and Jessie Levandov, the co-founders and directors of Mala Forever – a radical feminist film studio, digital platform, creative agency, and community.

TITL: How do the two of you know each other and how did you come up with the idea for Mala Forever? Why did you feel that now was the right time to launch the platform?

MF: Mala Forever is a concept we have been dreaming up pretty much the whole time we’ve known each other – we met as film students at NYU where we bonded through our love of queer feminist stories, and have been best friends and creative partners ever since. Mala is the culmination of our diverse leadership experience in film and video, community-based social justice, and fine art and design.

We are part of a unique cultural moment, in which sexism, white male supremacy and heteronormativity in media and entertainment are finally being discussed at the level of national discourse. Now is the time for us to band together and build lasting creative infrastructure, not just for ourselves but in community with marginalized creators.

TITL: What would you say the other brings to MF? Do you each put your own ‘stamps’ on the site and its content in some way?

Nina: Jessie is a very earthly being. She keeps me grounded with a lot of warm energy and her genuine love of people. She’s amazing at documentary and verite filmmaking, and super crafty. We each have really distinct personal aesthetics, and it’s been fun crafting a brand that satisfies both of our sensibilities, kind of like a shared, essential feminist language that we both have. It’s always helpful to have each other as thought partners, and I think we both understand that the most brilliant ideas we have tend to be the ones we’re both really excited about.

Jessie: Nina is brilliant and fierce and I feel lucky every-day to have her as my vision partner. She brings fire and conviction to decision making – which is grounding and inspiring for me and something I struggle with. I love her aesthetic and sense of color – and have always been not only her collaborator and bestie but such a big fan and admirer of her work as an artist. We each bring distinct strengths and experiences to the table, and our shared core values, politics, and vision for Mala Forever makes it really exciting to be building this together – the work is better for it and so are we.

TITL: How would you sum up Mala Forever in a few words?

MF: Bold creative fempire.

TITL: What makes Mala Forever different from the many other online platforms/sites that are out there?

MF: We are not just a film studio, a digital content platform, or a creative agency – we are all of the above! It’s important to us to build a creative engine that truly addresses our audience and customers’ needs, puts resources directly into the hands of marginalized filmmakers and creators, and builds community around radical feminist stories and values. There’s a lot of lip service to inclusion and representation, but not enough creative companies are building community equity into their business structure, and are still falling back on the same systems and modes of production that have contributed to our industry’s toxicity all along. As Audre Lorde said, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” We have to do things in a radically new way, and that’s what we’re doing.

TITL: Who/which age range(s) is MF specifically targeted to and how are you ensuring you accommodate to the needs of those individuals?

MF: Our core audience is intersectional, millennial, and engaged in political resistance. There is a real hunger in our community for representation that crosses cultural boundaries and reflects our community as a complex but powerful coalition of people who share a feminist world view and lived experience of cultural otherness.

TITL: How important is and will social media be in order for you to grow your audience? Do you think eventually all physical content platforms might fade into obscurity and EVERYTHING will be online?

MF: Both the physical and digital worlds offer important possibilities for how we can connect with our community. Social media is critical to how we build and grow with our community; that being said, the physical realm is where our sense of home and community is born, and where many of us are threatened simply for being who we are. So it’s equally important to invest in physical spaces where we feel safe, can share stories and create together, as it is to invest in the digital spaces where we can communicate in revolutionary and evolving ways.

TITL: You’ve shot a short film, “Baby”, set for release in June and a feature film, “The Wild Ones” in the works. Is there anything you can tell me about either of these two projects?

MF: Baby​ is a queer coming-of-age love story set in New York City that confronts themes of LGBTQ identity and toxic masculinity. Shot stylistically as narrative cinema verite, Baby introduces us to the world of Ali, a Dominican teenager from the Bronx, on a Saturday afternoon. ​Baby​ will be released to our community during PRIDE month, June 2019.

It was the first film we produced together as Mala Forever, and was very much made possible by the support of our community. Jessie has spent the last ten years working as a youth media educator in New York City public schools – and this work was inspired by her deep love for making media with young people – many of whom starred in the film!

The Wild Ones​ is our first feature-length film, which we are co-directing. It is a coming-of-age road film about two best friends who go on the ride of their lives with a nomadic tribe of lesbian separatists. We co-wrote the screenplay, and are currently shifting into early development, building the project and community around the film from the ground up.

TITL: As two people who create original content, run a digital magazine and complete commissioned work for/with brands and organizations, how do you find time to unwind, and when you do have a minute or a period to yourself, what do you like to do? 

N: Honestly, work has never been more fun! But making time for myself and the people in my life is key to my happiness. I journal a lot. I love to sing and dance. When I’m feeling emotional, I’ll write poetry or paint. Exercise, home cooking, meditation, and getting enough sleep all do wonders for my health. And of course – watching movies!

J: I’m an Aries, and thus historically have had a hard time being still – so stillness and quiet is something I am excited to cultivate more of in 2019. When I’m not working on Mala, I love making things with my hands (I have a secret life as a jewelry and clothing designer), spending quality time with people I love over meals and on dancefloors, seeing art and films that inspire me, and taking long walks in Brooklyn.  

TITL: What’s the long term goal for Mala Forever? As a newly launched site, how worried are you about the competition and market, and how do you plan to overcome any bumps in the road you might face?

MF: We are building the creative studio our community has been waiting for, brick by brick, by any means necessary. The challenges are manifold, but we keep each other strong and grounded in our vision. Our radical, inclusive, feminist, queer audience is much larger than we’ve been led to believe, and is growing rapidly. The whole landscape needs to change, through a communal effort that goes beyond any individual company or artist. So when it comes to fellow filmmakers who are telling authentic stories from our community, we are rooting for them. Our real competition is not each other, but the existing systems of power and oppression that we’re all working to change.

For more information on Mala Forever, visit the website. You can also follow Mala Forever on Twitter and Instagram.

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CHRIS STILLS TELLS ALL ABOUT HIS NEW ALBUM & THE IMPACT OF SOCIAL MEDIA 0 69

Having just released his first album in 10 years titled ‘Don’t Be Afraid’, it’s safe to say the last few months of 2018 in particular have been pretty big for Chris Stills. With the collection already championed by the likes of Mojo among others, while playing a few shows here in the UK, ThisIsTheLatest caught up with Chris to find out more about his artistic influences, the one venue he’d most like to play and how it felt to have his work featured in two Oscar winning films.

TITL: For those unfamiliar with you and your music, how would you sum yourself and your sound up in a few words?

Chris Stills: I grew up with the fundamentals. A folk, blues and rock foundation. Dylan, Stones, Beatles, Pink Floyd, CSN, Neil Young, The Police, U2, AC/DC, Motown… all of it. Depending on my mood and what I’m trying to achieve with a song, I reach to the music I love for inspiration. That also includes my contemporaries like Rufus Wainwright, Radiohead, Jeff Buckley etc…What you get is a nice mixed bag of songs… kind of like a mixed tape you’d make a friend.

TITL: With so many other bands and artists around, what makes you stand out? If you had to sell yourself to a music fan, what would you tell them? 

CS: I write songs, then I work hard to record, mix and master them. I play them in various venues large and small with different formations. I’ll sell you at the show. And maybe over dinner.

TITL: To what extent have your musical influences changed over the course of your life and how do and have those influences impact the music you’ve made and make now?

CS: Music has a funny way of influencing you at different times for different reasons. I hate to admit it, but I’ve only recently discovered the Harry Nilsson record Pussy Cats which is at this very moment affecting me profoundly.

TITL: Which one band or artist might you say you sound most similar to? 

CS: Only the best ones.

TITL: Who or what is your biggest inspiration when it comes to music and song-writing? 

CS: It’s a funny thing that one… you don’t wanna look too high otherwise you get cold feet and wanna give up because your heroes can make you feel like you just pale in comparison. I think my biggest inspiration is making the time, then actually taking it, and not taking myself too seriously. Things tend to get better and better as you go.

TITL: Your new album has been praised by the likes of Mojo and Classic Rock among others, but do you actually care much about what critics think or are you more concerned with the thoughts of your fans? 

CS: It’s always nice to get a nod here and there but if I was here for it I might as well be selling yogurt. My favorite place to know whether people are into what I’m doing is on stage. It’s immediate and clear. No filters.

TITL: The album features co-writes/collaborations with Ryan Adams and Zac Rae of Death Cab For Cutie. How did those collaborations come about and what did each bring to the writing/creative process for the album?

CS: I met Ryan when we were just kids. We were guys in the 3rd room at the time of The Rolling Stones who were working on Bridges to Babylon. We were just a couple of kids back then but really became close when he and Ethan Johns asked me to come play on Gold. At some point later Ryan had built his studio, PaxAm and invited me to come be creative there. With him… without him. He was ever so supportive. He ended up helping me finish Criminal Mind.

Zac Rea is force of nature in his own right. If you want that X-Factor in your music he will deliver every time. He’s one of my favorite people to work with and like Ryan and really everyone else really helped me make this record.

TITL: If you had to pick your favourite song on the album, which would it be and why? 

CS: They all hold a very special place. I guess some of the more fun sessions were the ones that were recorded with the most folks playing at the same time. “Lonely Nights”, “Don’t be Afraid”… those were some exciting times in the studio.

TITL: Your music has been included in several films, including I, Tonya and American Hustle as well as in the US version of the hit show Shameless, in which you also appeared. What impact did having that happen have on your career in terms of audience/fan base interaction and interest? 

CS: Well, it doesn’t hurt to be a part of Academy Award winning film. Or working with David O’Russell, Mark Batson, John Wells or Sue Jacobs. I mean, they’re the best in their fields. If anything it’s a good confidence booster, isn’t it?

TITL: As a modern day artist, and given how long you’ve been in and around the industry, how are you finding social media’s impact on your career? Would you agree it’s a vital tool in today’s world or do you think we as a general society have become far too reliant on it?

CS: I think social media has leveled the playing field. Sadly it also seems to have sucked all the life out of any mystery in this world. But you really have to have lived when that still existed to know what I’m talking about. Is social media vital? Yes. It’s running everything and everyone into a big opaque blobby data mine.

TITL: You’ve got a final number of 2018 shows coming up. For anyone who hasn’t seen you before, what can people expect from your performances?

CS: For me, my shows are like a release… all the energy that goes into it… the work, the travel, the road, the life… it all culminates on stage.

TITL: If you could play one venue that you haven’t yet, which would it be and why? 

CS: I have always dreamed of playing the Royal Albert Hall. Do I really need to ex.plain that one?

TITL: Finally then, now that 2018 is almost over, have you started planning for 2019 yet? What can fans expect to see and hear from you in the near future? 

CS: Plan nothing. Be careless. Enjoy yourselves. And somewhere in 2019, another Chris Stills record will come rumbling in.

To keep up to date with Chris Stills, visit his website, give his page a like on Facebook or follow him on Twitter and Instagram. His album ‘Don’t Be Afraid’ is available now. Photo credit: Dove Shore.

FOX & BONES CHAT ‘BETTER LAND’ AND LOOKING FORWARD TO 2019 0 73

Described by the duo themselves in their Twitter bio as “The Bonnie and Clyde of folk pop”, Fox and Bones, AKA Sarah and Scott, have had a busy time of things lately, culminating in the release of their album Better Land. But, with still a month to go before we all bid the year goodbye, the pair aren’t resting on their laurels and spoke to ThisIsTheLatest about their favourite tracks on their album, how they’re rounding out the year and what 2019 has in store.

TITL: Exactly who are Fox and Bones?

Fox and Bones: Fox and Bones are fictional characters we created so that we could be more imaginative with our songwriting. We didn’t want to limit ourselves to only writing about our own experiences, instead, we wanted some breathing room and the option to use our imaginations a little bit. That said, the adventures of the characters Fox and Bones closely mirror our own lives, and we use their story as a canvas on which to paint the picture of the life we want to live.

TITL: Given the success of duos such as The Civil Wars over the years, what makes Fox and Bones different? What’s your unique selling point?

F&B: I think we are a lot more lighthearted than many of the indie folk bands like the Civil Wars. Someone once told us at a show, “You guys sound just like The Civil Wars, except that listening to you doesn’t make me depressed.” We don’t write about love and heartbreak in the traditional sense, we write stories about traveling, unconventional modern love and what that really looks like, rather than just the intense puppy love of pop music or the depressing breakup vibes of indie folk. And we write about the world as we see it, and what we want to see come into the world. Our songwriting feels a lot more versatile, and the music is generally heartwarming and uplifting. If The Civil Wars represented the brokenness of a human being, Fox and Bones represents the cure.

TITL: Which bands and artists are you most inspired or influenced by, and how do those influences impact the music you make?

F&B: Lately we’ve been influenced by the new retro and neo-soul movements, like Nathaniel Rateliff, Lake Street Dive, the California Honeydrops, Mingo Fishtrap, and Paolo Nutini as well as artists who are true storytellers and have compelling lyrics like Brett Dennen and John Craigie. We also love older stuff, Scott was very influenced by the Beatles, The Band, and Dylan, and I’ve always loved Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, Janis Joplin and CCR.

TITL: Which band or artist might you say you sound most similar, or are you most compared to? Do you mind such comparisons or do you take them as compliments?

F&B: We hear The Civil Wars a lot, I think mainly because they are one of the most famous male/female duos out there. But we also get Johnnyswim, Of Monsters and Men, and Johnny and June, which we definitely consider a compliment. And of course, everyone thinks Scott sounds just like Cat Stevens.

TITL: You released your album Better Land recently. How have you found the reaction to it to be so far?

F&B: I think we both feel it’s the best musical work either of us have ever put out and the sentiment from fans definitely reflects that. We’ve had a solid reaction from press as well. We knew when we were making it that we had something special, and it’s so nice to discover that we aren’t the only ones who feel that way.

TITL: Is there a song on the album you’re most proud of and if so, which is it and why?

F&B: I think we’d have different answers.

Sarah: Mine is “Roots.” I’d been on a songwriting dry spell for a while, and that song came to me just before we went into the studio to record. We put a gospel choir on that one and something about that song still gives me the shivers even though I’ve heard it and played it a million times by now.

Scott: Mine is “Better Land.” It is the song that I’ve been trying to shake out of me for a few years and finally, after staying up all night, it tumbled out in one sitting. We tried to keep the recording as true to the original demo as possible and I just love how it all came together.

TITL: Who or what is your biggest inspiration when it comes to music and song-writing and with that in mind, which song would you say is the greatest ever written and why?

Sarah: For me, it’s a hard choice, because I have so many. But I’m going to have to go with “A Case of You” by Joni Mitchell. The first time I ever heard that song I had all over goosebumps – the songwriting is so deep and so interesting, I don’t know what some of it even means but the way Joni puts words together is genius, and the melody of that song gets me too. She has these amazing high notes that she hits, and it’s just so real and vulnerable. Brett Dennen’s “Sydney” is also a brilliant song, and it always puts a smile on my face.

TITL: You’ve been championed by and featured in/on the likes of Glide Magazine and Pop Matters. How big of an impact are you finding coverage like that has on your career?

F&B: It seems vital these days to have major outlets backing up your music, it kind of legitimizes you in a way. Someone at that level telling people your music is good goes a lot further than the artist themselves going on about how their music is good. It’s just an extra layer of legitimacy.

TITL: As a modern day duo, to what extent are you finding social media to be a vital tool in getting your name and music out to people? Is it fair to say you might not have the fan base and support you do without it?

F&B: Social media is such an amazing tool if you learn how to use it! We’ve been growing our socials quite a bit over the last year and I don’t know how musicians ever promoted themselves without it. It’s amazing to have direct contact with our fans and I think they enjoy seeing what we are up to, especially when we are on tour. Plus, as a creative, I love coming up with fun content to post.

TITL: With the year coming to a close, do you have any performances coming up people can look forward to?

F&B: We have a bunch! We are spending the few days left in November and half of December on tour all over California – we’ve got 25 dates on that tour. Then we come home to Portland and have a number of shows in the area to close out the year. We like to stay busy.

TITL: Aside from your album release, what’s been your highlight of the year?

F&B: We just finished an incredibly successful, two month long European tour booked by ROLA music. We’ve been there three times now but this time blew the others out of the water. We are seeing a real following developing over there, and it’s really exciting.

Finally then, what does 2019 have in store for you? What can fans expect from the two of you in the coming year?

F&B: We plan on spending the majority of the year on the road. We embark on a US tour in February that will last through June, stay in Portland in July, then head back to Europe mid-August for festival season. We also hope to get back to songwriting and crafting our next record, although it’ll be a nice to ride the tails of Better Land for a while before we start that process again.

We are also hosting the 2019 Portland’s Folk Festival on Feb. 1st and 2nd, an event that Scott and I created and curate each year. We have 20 acts over two evenings at McMinamen’s Mission theater and are partnered with Breedlove Guitars, Iheart Radio, Jim Beam, Vortex Music Magazine, ROLA music and Royale Brewing.

For more information on Fox & Bones, visit their website, give their page a like on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. Their album ‘Better Land’ is available now. Header photo: Amandala Photography.