- November 2014 -
HAVE A BEER WITH MOORS
Moors is the project of producer HH and actor/emcee Keith Stanfield, who has recently attracted attention for his role in the independent film Short Term 12 and his upcoming roles as Snoop Dogg in Straight Outta Compton and as Jimmie Lee Jackson in the MLK Jr. biopic Selma.
Moors’ debut self-titled EP is out now on Haven Sounds, an emerging record label based in Los Angeles and Toronto. The self-titled EP, which premiered exclusively at Interview magazine, features four original tracks alongside a remix of “Asphyxiated” from The Postal Service’s Dntel and “Gas” remixed by Daedelus. Interview praises, “the moodily and beautifully haunting ‘Asphyxiated’ and ‘Smoke’ juxtaposed with the thumping, club-ready ‘Gas’ and ‘Fire’ (we dare you not to clap and groove along).”
Moors recently wrapped a nationwide tour this fall with James Vincent McMorrow, who personally invited them to join after hearing Moors’ remix of his track “Cavalier.”McMorrow and Moors have also collaborated on a brand new track titled “New Romancers,” which appeared on the deluxe version of McMorrows’s Post Tropical, which was released in November on Vagrant and Dine Alone Records.
We had a drink with Keith before the November show at House of Blues Chicago and discussed the crossover between acting and music, breaking genre barriers and plans for an upcoming LP.
The Show: James Vincent McMorrow with Moors at House of Blues Chicago // Nov. 11, 2014
Drink of Choice: Hennessy
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: You’re from California. What part?
Keith Stanfield from Moors: I'm from Southern California, San Bernardino. I was born there and then I moved to Victorville when I was like 11. It's about an hour-and-thirty north of L.A. It's suburban-desert area. That's where I grew up the majority of my developing years. I'm in North Hollywood now, which is good and bad for different reasons. Obviously there are a lot of opportunities and stuff out there, but it's a little bit louder than I'm comfortable with. I just don't like a lot of people around me, but it's cool, I'm assimilating well.
Kristen: And what was Victorville like?
Keith: Well in Victorville, there wasn't much to do. I would go to Teazers, which was a little club, but it recently got shut down because it got shot up. It was interesting to watch the infrastructure of Victorville change. It went from being in the middle of nowhere, to having liquor stores pop up everywhere. You really saw it become more urbanized, and with that, violence increased. But Teazers, yeah, that was one of the places I used to hang out at. I went back recently to shoot a music video for Moors and the place was shut down. I wanted to go in there and show everybody, say “This is where we chilled.”
Kristen: It’s always sad when you go home and stuff has changed.
Keith: Right. What's sad is when it changes for the worse. Unfortunately that's what happened there.
Kristen: In addition to making music, you were also in a feature film – Short Term 12 – that did really well.
Keith: Yeah, it's a really heart-warming film about how family can be created through non-blood lines, even people that are seemingly so much different from each other. There are all of these universal struggles that bring us together. My character is one that didn't have a mom or his dad. His mom was addicted to drugs and had him out on the street selling and stuff, but by the end of the movie he excels to a new and a better person. That was the very first feature I did, and I got nominated for Best Supporting Male by the Independent Spirit Awards.
Kristen: I saw that. That’s awesome.
Keith: It’s kind of crazy because it goes hand in hand with what I'm doing with Moors. I'm trying to chronicle the journey of someone who goes through different stages in life, has some self-realization and hopefully gets to a better place. I'm not sure where the trajectory of Moors will go, but that’s kind of the foundation.
Kristen: You mentioned your acting going hand in hand with your musical journey. How do you approach these two different arts? Do you approach them similarly or differently?
Keith: Similarly and differently [Laughs]. With both, I try and get into a space and a frame of mind where everything else disappears. I guess you could call it “the zone.” It's different, of course, when I'm doing a role, because I have to research things and break down the script and make sure I know the story like the back of my hand. Whereas with music, I’m reflecting on things I've already been through, constructing something based on that experience and on contemporary inspiration. It's crazy because it's different for every song. Some songs – like “Asphyxiated” – I got a flash of inspiration and I just wrote. And then other songs – like “Smoke” – take more time, and I’d sit for a while, or keep going back to figure it out. But it’s really different with every song. They all have their own identities.
Kristen: Yeah, it's kind of crazy how creative stuff like that can surprise you. Let’s talk about your self-titled EP. I noticed a duality to the album. It starts off slow and trippy and picks up towards the end. Was that progression intentional or, as you just mentioned, did it just end up flowing out?
Keith: Yeah, I mean …it was kind of both. It was intentional in a sense that we always wanted to try and challenge ourselves to do things differently than what we've done before. We made a song like “Asphyxiated,” which is really slow. Then we said, “Okay, let's make something that's really high energy.” We made a series of songs like that, and when we finally laid out the tracks for the EP, we just had this natural sort of progression. When we recorded the songs, we didn't know that was how it was going to end up.
Kristen: The video for the “Asphyxiation” is so incredible. How many shots did you have to do in the pool?
Keith: Oh man. Well, I can't swim.
Kristen: I can't either. I would have been in a life jacket.
Keith: I damn near died, literally. I was almost literally asphyxiated. Not in the pool part, but when we got to the ocean. I hadn't been in the ocean before because I had no reason to be in the fucking ocean. So for the video, I decided I was going to challenge myself and just jump in, so I did. I started trying to jump over the waves, and anyone that knows anything about waves knows that it’s stupid that I did that. My body was like shock, like “What the fuck are you doing?” It was cold outside, too. When we were almost done with that scene, I just started going fucking crazy and we had to take a break because I was literally breaking down. Once I regained my composure, I was like “We have to finish this shit, we already started it.” I jumped back in. It was rough, but we finished it.
Kristen: Who came up with the concept?
Keith: David Helman. He's a brilliant director who I came across and met through the film circuit. We showed him our stuff, and we felt he could really embody what we were trying to say. He actually came up with the whole concept, ran it by us and we dug it, so we were able to do it.
Kristen: Even though you heard him mention being under water?
Keith: Yeah. I felt like I might die, but I have to challenge myself to do things I would never do if I want to grow. It might be a long time before I'm doing it again, but …
Kristen: …But you got a kickass video out of it.
Kristen: How did you get into acting and music in the first place? Did one spin off of the other?
Keith: Growing up, I always liked performing and being the center of attention. I used to do sock puppets and shit for my aunties. I would always go crazy with it and be super into it. It was something that was in me at a really young age. I started music when I was 11. Me and my friends would just beat on cans and shit, come up with these little silly songs. At first, it was just something that was really fun for me. Then I found that I could actually express myself in a different way through this medium. It wasn't until I started with Moors that I really realized that. Now I'm really using it in a different way. I'm using it to channel myself. Music is like a diary for me now, more so than a way to have fun. I’m still having fun with it, but it’s much more personal for me.
Kristen: You met James Vincent McMorrow because you remixed one of his tracks, and he asked you to come on tour with him.
Keith: Yeah, we remixed “Cavalier.” He really liked it and was all ready to go on tour in America, and was just like “Why don’t you come on tour? You can open up for me.” I was like, “Hell yeah.”
Kristen: What was that like – him reaching out?
Keith: It was super exciting. I'm a really big fan of his and I really like what he's doing creatively. I like his mind. I wouldn't have wanted to be juxtaposed with anyone else. I think it's good for us to be working with genres that don't necessarily fit ours. Blurring the lines like that reinstates the idea that music is universal. I think every artist wants an opportunity to do something like that. James was nice enough to grant us that. We appreciate that.
Kristen: Is one of your fears that you would get boxed into a certain genre?
Keith: No, I'm not worried about it. As an artist, though, it comes with the territory. But I think if you hone your craft enough, people will begin to see differently. If not, that's fine, too.
Kristen: Aside from touring, are you still writing?
Keith: Yeah, we're working on the LP now, which will come out next year. It’ll be an expansion of the EP. We’ll be implementing other elements, and we're challenging ourselves to do things musically that we haven't done before, both on the instrumental front and the lyrical front. I can't really tell you what those things are. We're just laying down the tracks right now. We still have to see where everything will go.
Kristen: What has it been like being on the road for the first time?
Keith: It's been crazy. It's been great, man. I enjoy the opportunity to see different things. I've never been to Chicago. I just left California last year; I've been there all my life. I'm just grateful for the opportunity to see different things and leave that little block that I'm used to staying in, chillin' with the homies, drinking liquor all day. Now I get to see bigger things and expand my mind and learn a lot. It's been very humbling. I just hope that I can continue to see more.
Kristen: What’s the most uncool thing you’ve done in the past year?
Keith: For the film “Selma” I had a scene with Oprah, which was cool. The uncool thing was, when she came to give me a compliment I was like, “This is fucking Oprah.” She gave me three pats on the back, and said “Good job.” I froze. I didn't know what to say. I just stared and she walked past. I didn't know what to do, man!
Kristen: Are you kidding? I would have no idea what to do if I had a scene with Oprah. You also played Snoop Dogg in the film Straight Outta Compton. How was that?
Keith: It was like a video shoot every day, man. It was crazy. It was wild. Definitely, one of the most fun things I've had the opportunity to work on. I got to relive a really particular state and time in music – stuff that I grew up listening to. It was crazy to be a part of it. You never think something like that will happen to you.
Kristen: Did that role come as a result of Short Term 12?
Keith: If you really look at it, almost everything is the result of that. It's opened up so many different opportunities. I had to audition about seven times for the role [in Short Term 12].I finally, finally got the role. I guess it was just one of those opportunities, and thank God I was ready for it.
Kristen: What’s the best advice you've ever received?
Keith: Always be true to yourself. I’ve found that doing so only has positive rewards for me. And… you’ve gotta have a good heart. I'm always giving. Sometimes I give too much.
Kristen: I'm the same way.
Keith: It always comes back, you know.
Kristen: Has there ever been a time where you second guessed what you're doing – the path that you’re on?
Keith: Of course, yeah. I second guess everything. I'm getting to the place now where it’s getting a little bit easier to make decisions. I've always been like, “What do I do?” That's part of the journey – getting to the point where I can just “go,” which is maybe not always a good thing to do, you know?
Kristen: You mean trusting yourself enough to just “go”?
Keith: Yeah. Sometimes it's good to pause and think. But what I really want is a balance – a balance of moving with caution, but moving sternly.