La Puente based musician and filmmaker Derrick Taruc is a busy person. When I first met him last summer he was in the middle of filming Underground in Suburbia: Bridgetown Records under the film making collective Cine Maza. Less than a year later he has completed this project, screened it at multiple DIY venues across the country, started multiple new film projects, filmed multiple shows at the dA, and formed indie pop band Familiar Haunts with former band mates. Among all this, Taruc took some time to answer a few questions about his current projects.
dA: Cine Maza began in 2008 as a film club. Can you tell us a little more about Cine Maza, and its history and evolution? What are some of your completed projects?
Derrick Taruc: Adrian (Avila) and I had been friends for a while and had already been fueling each others musical tastes. That naturally evolved to include movies and so we began exploring cinema together: French New Wave, Italian Realism, Japanese New Wave, silent films and more recent stuff, of course. We were super excited about the stuff we were watching and learning (more on that later) so we decided to start a film club. We would pick films, invite friends to come over, watch them and have discussions afterwards. It was super geeky and fun. Some of the movies we watched: Hiroshima mon Amour, Metropolis, The Great Dictator, Audition, 400 Blows, etc. I think we did that for about a year or so. Then that love of film just turned into wanting to make some. So we did.
People can see some of the stuff we’ve done on our Vimeo. All of which are experiments. We basically don’t know what we are doing and our videos on Vimeo is of us trying to figure out the language of film and film making: editing, how editing advances narrative (or not), how audio influences images, how images influences other images, long takes vs. montage–things like that.
So basically, Cine Maza in both incarnations, as film club and film making, is us trying to learn the language of film; one by watching and the other by doing. Now it’s also evolved into making documentaries and shooting live music footage for the dA Center for the Arts. But I see all of it–whether it’s a short film, a music video or documentary–as achieving the same thing: making art about the world in and around us through fact, fiction and anything in between.
dA: Tell us a little bit about your background in visual art and video making. How much of your background was gained from teaching yourself versus formal training?
DT: I have no background in visual art and video making besides making one short meandering documentary for a class in college. I can’t really answer for Adrian but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t either. We just do stuff when we feel compelled to do so. And all of it is self-taught. Or, to be more accurate, self-teaching, because we are learning something new with every project. I try to read as much about art and film theory as possible, time permitting.
dA: Do you consider yourself technical with the filming process, or is it more based on feel and figuring it out as you go along?
DT: You have to be technical–it’s a very technical art. But having said that, we really do figure it out as we go along. We have to. We don’t know what we are doing and the only way to figure it out is to do it. But we prepare as much as possible by discussing the project, by figuring out if our ideas are feasible–which involves us asking ourselves if we have the tools and skills to achieve what we want to do–by watching films and studying them, by making as many films as possible, by asking a ton of questions and doing research.
dA: What/who are some of your influences as filmmakers – artists, directors, musicians, writers, etc?
DT: Tough question. Probably everything I see and hear influences me. I take it in and spit it out. But, for the sake of name dropping, I’ll say that the films of Michelangelo Antonioni and Kelly Reichardt have really taught me a lot. This probably has to do more with the fact that–besides loving their films–that I was probably reading books about film right around the time I watched L’avventura and Wendy and Lucy. Whatever concepts I was reading about really manifested themselves in those films and made the language of film really apparent and understandable. Now that I think about it, I’m really influenced by serious sci-fi films like Alien, Aliens, Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dark Star, stuff like that. Films like that tackle subjects so fantastical and yet take them as seriously as possible. To me it’s just like art making. Art is kind of silly but to do it well you have to take it seriously.
dA: Last year you completed, and began screening Underground in Suburbia: Bridgetown Records. Can you tell us why you choose to document Bridgetown Records, and how Cine Maza relates to the DIY music scene?
DT: Underground in Suburbia started off as a really small thing. It was just supposed to be one interview and one day of filming. It was supposed to be two or three minutes long. Just another exercise in learning how to film a short interview, not even a documentary, and make it interesting. I had just graduated and a friend of mine who graduated with me wanted to keep busy–to use the stuff we learned at school while we were figuring out what to do with ourselves. Then some weeks later I went to a show to see Kevin and some bands that have released stuff on his label and decided to get some extra footage for the interview. Sam Woodson from No Paws/Family Time was there and it got me thinking that I should interview him. But I wasn’t prepared so I didn’t. That one thought just snowballed into the idea that I should just interview whoever I can and so I did. More interview footage led to me having to get even more footage. It was turning into a real documentary so I started watching/studying some documentaries and began soliciting advice from friends I trusted. A few months later it was done and debuted at Sean Carnage Monday Nights (Thanks, Sean!)
In terms of why, it kind of just happened. Besides living in the same suburb as Kevin and really admiring what he and Jon Barba have done I’ve interviewed Kevin before (for Flaunt’s blog and Broken Pencil) and thought it would be cool to interview him for video. It just kind of snowballed.
dA: What are some of Cine Maza’s upcoming projects?
DT: We are completing our most ambitious and serious project yet which is a 30 minute short film called “Weekend”. We’re done shooting and just doing post production stuff. The film takes place in one apartment over three days. It’s our attempt at a modern hyper-realist film. It’s a rip-off of Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, a very boring but amazing feminist film from 1975. But ours is not a feminist film but a critique/observation of contemporary Western young adult life. We’ve also finished shooting another short film, a five-minute one, but it’s more like a scene than a film. That needs to be edited and stuff so that may be done in a month or two. We also have a Katy Perry remix of “Teenage Dream” we want to do a video for. The remix is all chill wave-y in the vein of Toro y Moi and the video is supposed to be a mix of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” and Toro y Moi’s “Blessa” videos. Hopefully, we’ll finish that before the year is over.
dA: Tell us a little bit about your musical background/history, and how Familiar Haunts came to be.
DT: The short of it is that I was in an indie pop band called Land of ill Earthquakes (which was briefly signed to Elefant Records for a while) for five years and when that ended I was bandless for a couple of years until Skippy, the guitarist/vocalist of Familiar Haunts, and I finally got something together. We played with a bunch of different people until it finally clicked and we formed Modest Fur. In the year and a half or so that Modest Fur was around, a bunch of people left and got replaced so we decided that a new name was in order because we are moving away from the kind of stuff Modest Fur was doing, which was more free-form and pseudo-psychedelic, into moving back into actual song writing (something more similar to what LIE was about), a process still in the making.
dA: Three-Fourths of Familiar Haunts were members of Land of Ill Earthquakes, do you view FH as a continuation of LIE? How do the two bands differ?
DT: FH is very much a departure from LIE. LIE was this seven member indie pop ensemble that tried to play anything it could get it hands on: besides the traditional rock instruments we were incorporating glockenspiels, bells, trombones, trumpets, electronic beats, pianos, all sorts of percussion into our songs. FH on the other hand is two guitars, bass, drums and vocals so it’s way more stripped down and less traditional pop. FH is still pop but it’s guitar pop as opposed to orchestral pop.
dA: How would you describe your sound? Are there any particular artists that have influenced your music or approach to creating it?
DT: Again, tough question. If I had to describe it, to me it’s just guitar pop, whatever that means. Just like with films, everything I hear influences me somehow but in particular Amy Linton of Aislers Set/Henry’s Dress and “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys have really shaped how I think about music. Those are albums that I really listened to and tried to dissect. I wanted to figure out what made them sound so good to me.
dA: How has residing in La Puente versus Los Angeles shaped FH and your approach to making/playing music (i.e. how has the cultural climate of the suburbs affected the band versus choosing to move to LA which has a much higher concentration of artists)?
DT: La Puente sucks in terms of music and art and so I’ve never been part of a music or art scene. Not being a part of a scene or near a scene forced me to discover a lot of things on my own. And since I’ve had to do that, I’ve listened to tons of stuff from all kinds of genres. Or maybe it’s the opposite. I haven’t listened to enough stuff because La Puente’s pretty isolated. I’m not sure. But I do know that back in the day, before the Internet blew up, I didn’t take the music I discovered for granted. Every new discovery was exciting and every word I read about a band I hadn’t heard of just fueled my imagination. Being in the suburbs keeps me excited about music and playing music and making art ’cause otherwise I’d be bored as hell. I hope that makes sense.
dA: Any plans yet for a release?
DT: We recorded some stuff about two months ago and are finishing the mixes. We’re hoping to have some EPs at the show. Cross your fingers!
Don’t miss Familiar Haunts this Saturday at the dA:
The dA Concert Series Presents:
Saturday, January 28th
7:00 pm / All-Ages / $5