An Interview with Gary Thompson
As the respective worlds of film and music continue to collide and merge in myriad of interesting ways, many artists, small or large, are trying their hand at new takes on an integration between the two. Add Gary Thompson, a senior here at GU, to the mix. I sat down with Gary to discuss his upcoming project, LOVETAPES, a visual album under his own creative direction. With roots at the URBAN house, where I visited him, and in many of Georgetown’s creative communities, Gary is sure the project will showcase some of Georgetown’s best in many different fields, from rapping to cinematography. Listeners can expect a distinct neo-funk and hip-hop feel to it, with many unique and topical sounds synthesized under the guise of a radio show. Be sure to check out LOVETAPES when the music portion of it drops on Valentine’s Day!
Gary, why don’t you kick us off by introducing yourself.
I’m Gary Thompson, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I’m a senior at Georgetown studying film. As a major I’ve got a mix of JUPS and SFS… my major is international humanitarian action and conflict resolution.
Well, why don’t we get to my main reason for being here, which is your upcoming project LOVETAPES. Can you tell me a little bit about the project? When’s it set to drop?
So basically it will be dropped in two installments. There’s the music aspect that will be dropping on Valentine’s Day, so February 14th. And then there’s the film aspect which will probably drop around May 5th.
I’m interested to hear more about this medium that you chose, the visual album. Can you describe what that is and why you chose to present your project as a visual album?
The whole basis of the film is to show love in every instance. From the beginning of the relationship to the end and all the in-betweens and difficulties, and even how that intersects with class, and race, and our college lives. But I chose film because I’ve always been a believer of film as the perfect medium. Film is the only medium that can hold every single other medium. If I’m a guitarist, I can be in a film. If I’m a writer, my writing can be in a film. If I’m a dancer, I could be dancing in a film.
Part of what we do at URBAN house (Under-Represented Brothers Across the Nation), is foster a community. What I noticed is a lot of the men and women of color here [at Georgetown] are creatives. Nothing really fosters community like having a bunch of people working on a project together, and I figured the radio station set-up would be the perfect way to have a bunch of people coming in and out, performing what they can, but also to get all my photographer friends involved on the back end of cinematography, my designer friends on the back end of making the album cover, or whatever it is. My friends who wanna get in to music management can help publicize the album. If Jerome wants to do radio, to be a motivational speaker, I’ve got a role for him as the host. Just trying to find a way to include everyone.
You mentioned URBAN house. What is that and why is it important to you?
The URBAN house is Under-Represented Brothers Across the Nation. A dude named Ladarius took me in personally. He was in the film minor already and he wanted me to be in his film, and I was very interested. It seems like everyone who’s living in the house now had sparked a connection with an upperclassman who was in here. They really took us under their wing. We were all able to connect doing something creatively that we wanted to do or that we liked to do.
You also mentioned the radio concept for LOVETAPES. Can you talk more about that?
Have you ever seen the film Do The Right Thing? Samuel Jackson’s character is Señor Love Daddy. And he is this radio show host. In many ways, he is able to narrate on a level that would be too obvious for the other characters to say. He can diagnose situations in a way that if it came out of another character’s mouth, it would seem unnatural. So I originally thought of that as the jump-off point for Jerome. I wanted to have him say things that are refined, that are about love, about the things that the other characters in LOVETAPES are going through. But eventually, man, the radio just became, in my mind, this nexus, where so many artists can come in. And whatever music playing on the radio can be traced to whoever’s listening to it. But the basis of the entire radio show for LOVETAPES is that Jerome is having a special Valentine’s Day show, and he’s telling his callers that they can call in, and tell him about their experiences, what have you… and he will find music that will fit that mood. He’ll play something, maybe, or he’ll just speak to them directly. My own character is a musician, a rapper, and he’s beginning to notice that the call-ins are taking him through every stage of his romantic relationship up until today, which is the day that it will all end, actually. We start off, we get a call in, that’s like, “Yo, I just got this girl’s number.” Then it’s, “Aw man, that reminds me of when I first approached a woman and talked to her… let me speak about that.” And then it goes through the full breadth of emotions, through my first contact, then falling in love, through initial fights… a little bit of disillusionment. Less and less of star-crossed love and more realism that this is kind of rough, eventually leading to the breaking point.
So you said you’re a film major, but you’re obviously very musically-minded. I’m curious, which was your first interest, music or film? Which is more central to who you are?
I loved movies long before I knew I wanted to do them. In Philly, a side hustle is selling pirated movies, right? It’s just something that people do. But if you’re the kid of someone who sells pirated movies… you have so many movies! I watched so much film at that stage, but then also, I mean, you see the Jimi Hendrix poster over there. Around the first "Guitar Hero," me and my brother had a Metal phase. Like a real, heavy Rock phase. Pantera, Zeppelin, AC/DC… it was ridiculous. But of course I was always listening to rap; it’s the music I could never run away from. So I bought a guitar, and we had a piano… I had a keyboard. So I think my musical aspirations came first. I’ve always loved film, but it was only when I was older that I really began to realize that film is the encapsulation of sound and visuals, in the way that music just kinda isn’t. I love both. I just think film is more of a passion. I remember in the 10th grade, I had this love for photography, which then flourished into a love for cinematography. I was doing music videos for the rappers at my high school, getting $35 or something to edit their little music videos. But then, at the same time, I was producing my own beats! So, the love kind of cultivated together. I think I’ve always imagined films that were an intermingling of music and drama.
For LOVETAPES, what kind of sound can our readers expect from the project? On top of that, is it representative of music you’ve made in the past? Or do you feel like you’re changing and evolving with this project?
I definitely think I’m being topical. These are the sounds I would equate with love. But it’s a spectrum. What does the sexual part of love sounds like? Probably Funk. But what is the “I feel no love” part? Or “someone just broke up with me?” It could be a cool Jazz melody, or it could be some really gritty rap. There’s a range of emotions that are inspiring the music. I think there's a lot of hip hop influences obviously, and R&B. Just the type of music I was conceived off of, basically!
It sounds like there’s going to be a lot of live instruments as well, right? Do you play a lot of that yourself?
Oh, for sure. I played a good bit of it. I played all the interface instruments. There’s a few piano riffs I have. There’s some guitar I have from my brother that is just… phenomenal. A lot of it is sample-based, but I do a lot of keys, for example, where I’ll place a synthesizer on it, or have my brother plug in and play guitar. And then I can get live drums from a homie back in Philly.
What would you say are some major influences on this Album?
Andre 3000. One-hundred percent. The Love Below. I think a good artist can take a big idea and make it small, or take a small idea and make it big. And he just talks about a lot of the same things I wanna talk about—obviously through a different lens, every storyteller is gonna bring something new to the table: their own sensibilities, jokes, lines, different tastes. But if I were to look at my project—and obviously his didn’t have a visual component—but [thinking about] what it represents most in the real world, it would be [The Love Below]. Beyond that, visually I’ve always like Tyler [the Creator]’s videos. A lot. And Hiro Murai. He’s the director of Atlanta [and "This is America"]. He’s amazing. He did the Chum video, the video for Hive. He shoots with Earl [Sweatshirt] and stuff. He’s just next level. His imagination of cinematography juxtaposition… you can just tell he has the idea in his head of how the music looks. What does this music look like? He’s fantastic at that.
I want to bring the conversation back to the context of the Georgetown/D.C. area. We get a lot of different perspectives on being an artists in the area, sometimes pretty negative. What’s your take on being a creative here?
It’s hard to say. I’m an artist very much for myself. I sit in this dungeon down here, and I make music until I like it. And then I’ll share it. But I’m not trying to find gigs. I’m not trying to back-up sing for anybody, or play drums, or find a collective, or even find studio space for that matter. I’m not trying to link up with producers. So I could see how there might be a lot of hurdles that I just don’t have to jump over. I’ve just found my team of creatives, and even people who will master a track. I don’t know, everything has just sort of worked out for me.
I think the hardest part is taking something really intangible and making it tangible, fleshing it out until it’s not a thought that sounds stupid when you say it to people. When I first started telling people about this idea for my project, they were like, “Oh, cool…” because I had no basis for it, I hadn’t really sat with all the ideas and done the mental work. Now when I tell people the idea, they’re like, “How can I get involved?” It’s about having the time to realize your vision. And prioritizing—you have to do work on your music every single day. At least a little bit. Or else you snapshot through four months and you’ll have no new music made, and you’ll feel like a failure! It’s hard to constantly motivate yourself to put in a little chunk every day, but I do.
And you do your production right here at the desk in your room?
Most of it, yeah. I produce, like, 75% of my beats sitting right here. Candle lit, you know… I got my whole interface right here, mic and everything. I just need an artist to come through, and then get it mastered after. I’ll sit here for 5ever, bro.
That’s awesome, man. I’m really excited to hear this project and to see what’s in store for you for the future. Anything else you want to mention before we wrap up?
Not much to say, man. Valentine’s Day!
Blewett is an Undeclared Freshman.
PC: Gary Thompson.