Jared P. Scott is a busy man. He’s the lead singer of the Brooklyn based band Northern Bells, (who just released their first album “Keep it in the Dark”) and an award winning filmmaker. Here, he discusses with me how Northern Bells formed, his film at Sundance and the balancing act of combining two art forms.
1) For those of us who don’t know, tell us a little about Northern Bells. You’re all from different bands. How did you guys decide to come together and create your own sound?
We had all been playing in the NYC/BK music scene for quite a few years and came together through friends, strangers, and happenstance.
We all brought sensibilities from our other outfits: Pete Sustarsic (drums) also plays in Oberhofer. Dan Neustadt (keys) was a touring member with The Hold Steady and played on their album Heaven is Whenever. Previously, I played in the post-punk trio Demander – and sometimes record/perform with Future Brite and Franz Nicolay . Chris Loxely (cello) recorded with Akron/Family. Travis Tonn (bass) also plays with The Library is on Fire and was a founding member of The Spies/Rails To Russia/Eytan & The Embassy.
We knew we wanted to make songs that started a bit brooding in the intimacy of your bedroom and swelled into anthemic sing-a-longs in a crowded music hall.
2) The video for your song Animal Kingdom is so incredibly unique and well done. I loved the animation. How did you get in touch and collaborate with Eric Power?
We came across Eric’s work a few years back online – Travis actually reached out to him initially through craigslist. This is our third video collaboration, and we still haven’t met face to face.
We simply send Eric the lyrics and he internalizes and interprets the song and just runs with it. It is incredibly satisfying to me as an artist to have another artist re-imagine our work visually with complete creative control and poetic license. We have this creative reciprocity – and I’m always moved by how Eric gives our music new shape and meaning.
I don’t even know if Eric realizes I spend most of my time as a filmmaker. We have never discussed it. I sometimes like to keep the worlds separate – I feel the less he knows about me, the more pure the creative process.
3) I was surprised to learn that you juggle the additional duties of film producing, editing and directing. You just wrote, directed, produced and edited “The Artificial Leaf” for Focus Forward with amazing success. How did it feel to win an award at Sundance?
As my friend Karen Kanan Correa would say, for some people creating is compulsive. To do it all, juggling becomes fundamental.
I spend a lot more of my time making films with my talented friend and producing/directing partner Kelly Nyks. Our partnership really gives me that creative spark that draws my energy more toward filmmaking.
The best thing about being a Focus Forward Jury Prize Winner was being in the company of some of the greatest documentary filmmakers out there – Alex Gibney, Morgan Spurlock, Albert Maysles, Lucy Walker, Ross Kauffman, Steve James – it was simply an honor to screen The Artificial Leaf alongside their films.
4) When did you decide to go into filmmaking?
By the time I was a high school sophomore, I knew I wanted to make film and music. It is hard enough to balance the two – let alone balance the documentary filmmaking alongside other production demands within PF Pictures. Kelly and I are always looking for more support through private investors and grants to make our films with greater efficiency and to develop partnerships that increase the reach of our social-issue driven films.
5) Which do you enjoy more? Making music or making films? Or do they both go hand in hand for you?
I enjoy both outlets. Both are compulsive. They satisfy different parts of my brain.
Film naturally became a more viable vocation – but there is always an overlap – sometimes putting a film together feels like writing a concerto. There is also a strong synthesis of film and music when I work with our incredibly talented composer Malcolm Francis at Popular Beat Combo. His collaboration from the onset of a film really makes the music/film union that much more principal in the process.
6) How do you adequately juggle your duties of making films, creating music and playing shows?
Another juggling question – I don’t know – there never seem to be enough hours in the day. I stopped watching TV, exercising and sleeping awhile ago – that helps.
7) Tell us a little bit about Split: A Deeper Divide. With the country at such a political standstill, it really brings the many issues of American politics to the forefront. Where can we see the film?
The film was released theatrically in October and then premiered on the Documentary Channel. We are finalizing the online distribution now with our friends at Films Transit – it will be in all the usual places here soon.
The most exciting aspect is that we created an educational version of the film and a companion lesson plan for teachers. We are strengthening our current US partnerships before doing a full-blown educational outreach initiative with high schools and universities nationwide.
All the films we make also serve as tools for education, discourse and action. The film has already been a successful part of the curriculum in select universities across Spain and Germany. We are eager to get it into the hands America’s youth who are coming to age and embarking on their civic life – the goal being to improve media literacy and civil discourse – and to use the film as a platform for discussing the most important issues of the day.
8) What advice would you give to other aspiring artists?
Find something: a message, a philosophy, a seat of thought, an issue; something you are passionate about. Something you want to live, breathe, and think about all day – and then create a work of art around that passion. Good art takes the time it takes (which is usually a long time) – and if you aren’t passionate about your subject, it can be easier to get discouraged and give up.
9) What upcoming projects can we expect next from you?
The most imminent release is a film that Kelly and I directed on Bill McKibben and 350.org ‘s movement to solve the climate crisis. The film will be used as a mobilzational tool at universities, religious institutions, community centers – anywhere people can get together offline to discuss and find support in combating the climate crisis.
10) What’s next for Northern Bells?
Another video for the song “Congregation” is in post-production. We will also be recording some new demos for the next record later this month. And of course, regular live shows in NYC/BK. It would be great to go on tour, but the filmmaking makes it hard to get out for too long on the road. That will be my next big challenge: making music and shooting a documentary simultaneously… I actually do have an idea for this one… I’ll let you know when it happens – I much prefer action over words.
Northern Bells debut album “Keep it in the Dark”, is now available on iTunes . To learn more about Scott’s film “The Artificial Leaf”, go to focusforwardfilms.com