Tavi - Photo by Cara Stricker
It felt more "Halloween" than "Fashion" at The Standard, East Village last Sunday during the screening party for "Cadaver," a new animated short directed by Jonah Ansell. Waitresses in lab coats served dry-iced vodka cocktails and cadaverous red cakes in glass jars. One would think the stars of the film, Hollywood legends Christopher Lloyd and Kathy Bates would make enough of a splash, but let's face it, everyone was there to witness Tavi Gevinson add singing and acting to her already precocious fashion world success.
Before the film began, in the quiet glare of the spotlight, she sang a heartbreaking acoustic version of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold," a song that Mr. Young personally gave his permission to perform.
We sat down with Tavi and the film's director, Jonah (her childhood friend from Oak Park, IL) and discussed the movie, poetry, and what's next for the clever young fashion sensation.
Standard Culture: You both worked previously together on Jonah's last short film, First Bass, shot in Chicago's Wrigley Field. Can you tell me the difference working with Tavi when she was 11 versus 15? Has this recent project stepped up the game, so to speak?
Tavi: It was a step down. (Smiles)
Jonah: Tavi was always smart. We were more active collaborators this time. She would give perspective. I would give perspective, and we talked about it. I like to say that filmmaking is problem-solving and we were problem-solving together. And no offense, [speaking to Tavi] but when you were 11 years old, it was, um, a little bit different. But now... Tavi is the man!
Tavi: The "gender neutral" man.
SC: Lets talk about love. The movie is described as a battle of romantic versus cynic, of how love inspires versus how it exploits. The theme song is Neil Young's "Heart of Gold," which seems a song only an adult can truly process with age and experience. Somehow, when I heard Tavi's rendition live tonight, it felt very "knowing." You got an old soul. What is your rleationship to love?
Tavi: My relationship to love? I guess it's lame to say, but I do try to find a way to appreciate everything. I think that love exists outside of relationships. This might be getting way too intense but there's a video of Kathleen Hanna and she was asked, "Do you believe in God?" She says, "No, but I see God in a really amazing album, or a really great conversation with a friend. It's just when you feel really connected to humanity." My version of love is just feeling connected to humans ... I believe the song "Heart of Gold" is about trying to find that type of love.
SC: Why did you pick "Heart of Gold"?
Jonah: It really builds up on the emotions that are present in the film. It deepens the characters' journey. It was a song that came out 40 years ago. It's scary to think with music today, the auto-tunes out there. There's a frailness, gravity, and depth to the song that is so naked, bare and powerful.
SC: It was recorded in 1972. When were you born?
Tavi: 1996. But there was empty music back then too... and there's music now that is not auto-tuned.
Tavi + Jonah at The Standard - Photo by Jauretsi
SC: Tell me about a song that nails love down to a tee for you today?
Jonah: There's this one song from 1991. From Positive K, "I Got a Man," [proceeds singing] What's your man got to do with me? I'm not trying to hear that, see? [laughs]
Tavi: "Tightrope" by Janelle Monae is about finding a balance. Oh, and everything written by the band Heart.
SC: Yeah their songs hit you in the gut.
Tavi: Yeah, that's what they should have called themselves, Gut.
SC: Tell me about Christopher Lloyd?
Jonah: He performed and interpreted it 10 times over. He brought depth and interpretations that weren't there before, and brought it to new levels. Tavi did the same thing. Watching him perform is like watching a top athlete explode to life. We were all floored by how dynamic he was. Also, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was the top two movies I've ever seen in my life.
SC: What about Kathy Bates aka the unsinkable Molly Brown?
Jonah: I went to see Titantic opening night, Dec 23, 1997. I tried to get my first kiss during that movie.
I heard you are both fans of Shel Silverstein. What is your favorite book?
Jonah: (starts reciting:)
1. I cannot go to school today 2. said little Peggy Ann McKay. 3. I have the measles and the mumps, 4. A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
Tavi: The Missing Piece, and Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back.
Jonah: The Missing Piece is gooooooood.
Yeah, it's a book that gets deeper in meaning the older you get.
Jonah: Adulthood is all about these new constructs. It's the things that you are now participating in. But when you can get it all stripped down, it turns into a core thing -- like a Shel Silverstein book.
Tavi: We read The Missing Piece in my class and the teacher talked to us about co-dependency and relationships.
SC: That's really heavy. I wish I had that talk as a kid. Jonah, can you explain your interest working with Tavi? And Tavi, why do you like to work with Jonah?
Jonah: She brings an acute awareness, almost a hyper awareness, and a thoughtfulness to the story. Then she infuses the characters with life. And it was fun. We had a fun time.
Tavi: Jonah has a really good big brother energy. He helped me get the performance as good as possible. What's great is that we have a lot of the same references. He wasn't afraid to explore other ways to embody the character. He helped me bring all those things out in me.
SC: What's next on your plate?
Tavi: I started a site in the fall for teenage girls called Rookie. We now we have a nice writing staff. My other editor, Anaheed Alani, is great to work with.
SC: Where do you see it 10 years from now?
Tavi: One thing that's so great about it is that it's an outlet when something is plaguing me. I can just write about it. These are the posts where other girls comment and write "you are reading my mind," and, "I'm so glad someone else feels this way." Maybe by then, I will feel like I have adult things to think about. I hope it can go on without me, although I don't feel comfortable passing it on anytime soon. I don't know why I think teenagers are really interesting. Maybe that will stay my main interest in audience.
Johah: I think we're all teenagers. I'm twice your age now [to Tavi]. We're all teenagers at heart. I still see the 13-year-old in me.
Tavi: And that's one thing about my blog. It's documenting my growth. Looking back, it's really easy to feel embarrassed about something I liked or wrote but I try to remind myself of something Joan Didion said: "You have to stay friends with who you used to be. It will always come back because it is part of you, and it's part of the experience you are building as a person."