LA-based music photographer Sterling Andrews' Gooseberries -- a collection of 11x11 portraits of great local (or "local-ish") bands like The Silversun Pickups, Great Northern, Earlimart, The Happy Hollows, Afternoons, Rademacher, The Henry Clay People, Rogue Wave, The Pity Party, Death to Anders, Le Switch, and One Trick Pony w/ a DVD of time-lapse videos, interviews, and still images, in gatefold LP packaging -- is coming out quite soon.
We asked her a few questions about what went into putting it together.
But first? A trailer.
How did the project first come start?
Everything happened very quickly, actually. At South by Southwest last year, Reiko and I had dinner and talked about doing a project together; I'd just started painting my own backdrops, so it seemed to make sense. All but one of the images were shot between April and August of 2008.
But there was still this tricky matter of pitching such a weird idea to the bands. I mean, how do you explain this to someone? Paper and paint? It sounds absurd. So I made a time-lapse video, and showed it to Rademacher - who suggested doing a music video. Brad Basmajian (who was in Rademacher at the time) used the time-lapse footage from their shoot to make the video for "What I Want," which I then used to pitch to the rest of the bands.
Which bands are involved in the book? How did you choose them?
I had a photo shoot with The Happy Hollows early last year; I painted my first backdrop for that shoot - well before I'd even thought about doing this project. I rode with them out to South by Southwest a few months later, where I met Rademacher, and I'd already worked with The Silversun Pickups and Great Northern and Rogue Wave.
So, there was already a handful of bands I had in mind - but I knew I wanted to shoot at least ten. With the help of some local blogger friends (yourself included), I came up with a list of about 20 bands and sent out a few emails. Basically, everyone who wasn't on tour while I was shooting the project ended up being a part of it - 15 bands, total.
Unfortunately, we ended up having to narrow it down to 12, which drove me crazy; I was so attached to all of the images that I wrote down the names of the bands on scraps of paper and had someone else draw them randomly from a bowl. The three that were drawn were three of my favorite shots - Christian from The Transmissions, Jessica Fichot, and Michael Compton. The remaining bands were Earlimart, The Henry Clay People, The Pity Party, Le Switch, One Trick Pony, Afternoons, and Death to Anders.
What sort of prep was involved for each shoot?
All of the backdrops were painted by hand, and took about 4 - 6 hours each. Additional work included choosing props, wardrobe, creating other objects for the environments (like paper 'straw' for the floor, which was really shredded Trader Joe's bags), on which I spent an additional 2-6 hours. There was usually a full day of prep before a shoot.
As for the backdrops themselves, I started with a color palette. I knew I wanted Great Northern's to be red and black. I knew I wanted Earlimart's to be shades of blue. I knew that Afternoons 'needed' green with flecks of red. I don't know why, but those colors just made sense - and in my mind there weren't any other options. If Rogue Wave had told me that they wanted to be shot with purple and orange (I used yellow and black) I would have drawn a blank.
And because of these color palettes, I was very specific about what the bands were allowed to wear; I dressed most of the women in clothes from my own wardrobe collection - which largely consists of dresses that were made for my grandmother in the fifties and sixties. I really wanted the final products to have the same feeling as those stiff, posed oil portraits which were commonly commissioned in Europe by elite families in the 18th and 19th centuries, so I kept my subjects moving in ways that felt very unnatural. Of course, that makes for a miserable shoot, so we'd shoot for about twenty minutes, then take a break and have a drink and relax for a half hour, then go back to shooting.
What were some of your favorite experiences shooting?
The thing that struck me the most about doing this project was how serendipidous everything was. There were a few times I had come up with a concept that I thought would be really hard to explain to the band - and I'd find out that the band already had that idea in mind.
When Sarah from The Happy Hollows saw the tree I'd painted, she squealed "Oh my gosh! It's just like the trees I've been drawing!" I hadn't the slightest idea how to tell Afternoons what I wanted to do with them (gothic dust bowl migrants in Oz?) until I got an email from Steven that said "We'd love to do something with a dust bowl feel... or something dark, and yet still vibrant. Does that make sense?" And I wanted to do some sort of "Rudolph Valentino/Lawrence of Arabia meets silent movie heiress" theme with The Pity Party, but I wasn't sure they'd go for it if I told them beforehand, so I decided to surprise them and hope for the best.
Oddly enough, when they arrived, M brought a swatch of fabric and a headband and declared "I want to be Lawrence of Arabia for this shoot!" I immediately handed Julie a dress from the late teens, and said "Perfect!"
When is the book out? Where can people find it?
It's not really a "book." It's actually a collection of individual lithographs packaged in a gatefold LP sleeve, along with a DVD of timelapse videos, interviews, and a short documentary made by Jeff Mizushima (who has directed music videos for several bands including The Happy Hollows and Great Northern), mounted on hand-painted, recycled 12" records.
The official release date is April 4th. It will be available in select stores, and through EenieMeenie.com. We'll also have some copies available at the release party on April 2nd - Afternoons, (Gram LeBron who plays in Golden GramRogue Wave), Le Switch, and One Trick Pony are playing - and I'll be showing all of my backdrops. That's presented by Filter, EenieMeenie, and the Eagle Rock Music Festival at the Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock, and it's sponsored by Red Stripe. It should be a really great show, and it's free with RSVP!
Photos by Sterling Andrews.