Interview with Julia Mattison and Noel Carey – stars and creators of Brooklyn Sound

Julia Mattison and Noel Carey - creators of BROOKLYN SOUND

If you haven’t yet watched Brooklyn Sound – the hilariously entertaining web series created by Julia Mattison and Noel Carey – you can fill that terrible void in your life by watching the first episode embedded below. Every episode is–at least–as entertaining as this one. So naturally we had to get in touch with the stars (they play most of the parts in the show which is pretty cool) and creators of the show to ask all the questions we had after we had binge watched all of Season 1.

Scroll past the video embedded below to read the interview.

How did the idea of Brooklyn Sound take shape?
Julia: Noel and I have been making up songs and coming up with crazy show ideas for a number of years, and we knew we wanted to make something where we could do comedy and music. For a while we thought about starting a fake band, but one of our favorite things to do is write music in completely different musical genres, so we wanted to find something where we weren’t limited creatively. I think we were at my apartment and Noel first said something about doing a show where we play a bunch of different bands. We made up some characters and laughed about it for awhile and then put it on the back burner.

I met up with our director Drew Van Steenbergen over coffee in October of last year and we talked about maybe collaborating on something. Once Noel and I had first had that show conversation, the idea did not leave our heads, and I started thinking about how it would be amazing to center the story in one recording studio. I had just watched Dave Grohl’s Sound City documentary, and had also spent the last two years watching my boyfriend build his recording studio from the ground up (Virtue and Vice Studios- where we filmed the show), so recording studios and indie artists in Brooklyn were very much on the mind. Basically, Drew loved the idea and we decided we were going to make this happen, so I called Noel and said we have to meet NOW, and then four months later we were filming at the studio. Those four months were very complex and stressful, but that’s the gist :)

Noel and Julia in the first episode of BROOKLYN SOUND

Noel: I think Julia and I also wanted the chance to play characters that we might not normally be cast as (Julia as a bearded male bandleader, for one). Despite some of their outlandish qualities, we knew that we connected personally with these characters. Kookie and Milano are an extension of the goofy wannabe filmmakers we were as kids, Why The Lilacs? are the lifelong friends of our parents that we grew up with. This show seemed like the perfect way to bring those all together.

Each episode could so easily have fallen into the trap of this predictable narrative – ‘Recording studio is in trouble, weird acts come in and act weird’. It didn’t. How did you elevate each episode above that logline?
Julia: I think we were able to elevate it above the predictable narrative because we really care about the lives of each of these weird characters. Noel and I spent a lot of time brainstorming these characters in detail- their backstories, their careers, names of past songs they may have written, etc. So when I actually sat down to write the show, it took maybe 2-3 weeks to write all six episodes. It was definitely stressful and challenging to make everything come together, but the heart of the show was already realized based on everything we brainstormed, so the writing happened fairly quickly.

Some of the episodes were locked after the first draft (I wrote the SHEE episode in a couple of hours and that was maybe my favorite one to write), while other episodes took many rounds of edits to get just right (Why the Lilacs? was the episode we combed through the most as a group, and I think that is because it was also the band we came to care the most about).

Tell us about the music for each act – those are some really melodic songs! Who wrote them?  
Noel: Julia and I wrote all the songs together. What made it easy was the fact that we knew who we were writing for. Young writers often struggle with “sounding like themselves.” Some of that pressure was taken off our shoulders because we weren’t trying to sound like ourselves, we were trying to sound like other people, people we had created and shaped and grown with for a little while. So when it came time to write the songs, things happened quite fast. We’d toss around a few melodic ideas for each band and when we had a song, we knew it immediately; there was very little second guessing involved. Some songs started on a uke or guitar or piano, some started in voice memos that we would text each other back and forth. Once the melodies were locked, we’d sit in a room together and hash out the lyrics. With those, we wanted to strike a balance between sounding utterly sincere and entirely absurd. For each song we tried to write lyrics that were compatible enough with the genre that on the first listen you would barely think twice about them, but on the second listen you’d start wondering “Wait… what did they just say?”

What was your goal for Brooklyn Sound?
Julia: I feel like the main goal was just to successfully pull off this show that we became obsessed with. The idea of making a show where we play eight characters each and interact with each other as those different characters at the same time in one room is completely crazy. My favorite thing about collaborating with Noel is how our imaginations match up, and a lot of times our imaginations cook up things that aren’t necessarily realistic – unless we had a billion dollars or something – so to be paired with Drew, Andrew Merki, and our DP Matt Figler, and to have a group of intelligent filmmakers say “we’re totally game and we’re going to make this happen” was beyond our wildest dreams. Beyond that, I think the goal has become to tell a story about the current climate of the music industry, and to celebrate musical underdogs. Okay, also the goal might be to sell the show and do this forever.

Noel: Honestly, once we realized that there wasn’t really a show out there with this kind of music or format or characters, we knew we had to find a way to do it. Simply put, this was a show I wanted to watch. We had no idea we would find such a talented cast and crew or that it would turn out the way it did.

Since you play the parts of Lucy and Joel as well the acts on the other side of the recording desk – tell us a bit about the technical challenges you encountered while shooting the scenes.
Julia: It was crazy. The ONLY reason any of this was possible was thanks to the insane work that Drew, Matt, and Andrew did. They spent so many hours logistically planning how to set up shots where this would even be possible. They were figuring out how to match our eyelines, how to get two of us in the same room, and how to possibly film everything in one week. Lili Kaytmaz and Julia MattisonThere were days where we played three different characters for scenes in four different episodes. Everything was shot out of order over the course of one week with 15 hour shoot days almost every day. In thinking about it now I am completely blown away that it happened as smoothly as it did. They are my heroes.

Noel: Huge praise is also owed to Lili, our fantastic make-up artist. There was one day where she had to change me from 40-year-old Danté to 15-year-old Milano to 27-year-old Joel. In ONE DAY. That takes incredible speed, patience and craftsmanship. On the flip side of the same coin, 70-year-old Stu Miller was the result of over 3 hours in the make-up chair, and we had to do that on two separate days and somehow make it look seamless. To do that make-up once is impressive. To recreate that make-up 3 days later, layering each balding hair one by one all over again, is amazing.

Julia: That was unbelievable. Lili Kaytmaz is an angel on earth.

What was the biggest challenge during the making of the series?
Noel: My biggest challenge on set was getting into character(s). We had spent so many weeks thinking and talking and writing and fantasizing about them, which is all well and good, but by the time I was getting into costume, I realized I had no idea how these characters were going to manifest themselves physically on camera. They had to move. It forced me to make very quick choices and just go with them; I thought, ‘Danté slinks, Lazer struts, Stu shuffles’ etc., and I’d take it from there. Luckily Joel mostly sits, so that helped serve as a stable contrast to the others.

Julia: That’s a really good point. I had spent so much time working on the writing, the budget, the logistics, etc, that when it came time to film, Noel and I looked at each other and realized we hadn’t taken much time to actually workshop these characters. The SHEE voice was a split second decision right before the first take. I loved the pressure of it all because it forced us to just dive in, commit fully, and not overthink.

I also think that entire week of filming as a whole could be deemed the biggest challenge, from trying to shoot six episodes in one week, to playing sixteen different characters and remembering the different parts, to shooting in freezing temperatures, to making sure the studio we filmed at didn’t get destroyed. The coolest part though is that each person in the cast and crew faced an insane mountain of challenges, and we all worked together to do the damn thing, and it was a completely joyful experience. Everyone was such a pro.

Tell us a bit about your backgrounds – was filmmaking always part of the plan? What are your influences?
Julia: Noel and I met at Emerson College and were in the same Musical Theater program. I think we started making music together and doing comedy stuff pretty instantly. We’re both Bay Area kids so I feel like our sensibilities and influences overlapped a lot which is maybe why we clicked so fast. Personally, I grew up making films, either alone in my room as a kid, or through film programs in middle school and high school. I was definitely the kid whose parents let her use the home video camera, and I would make my friends come over and be in movies I would make up. I was simultaneously interested in acting, as well as singing and writing music, so it was clear I was going to try and mix all of these together for a career. After Emerson, I was in Godspell on Broadway and have done various television and music projects since. My favorite work as of late has been the work I get to do with Noel and other friends in New York. Writing, creating, and performing in shows on stage and on film with good friends is the dream to me. Some of my influences film-wise include Mel Brooks, Jay Roach, Christopher Guest, more recently Adam McKay and Paul Feig. Airplane and the Austin Powers movies were big for me. Carol Burnett is a huge influence for me. SNL ladies. Also, maybe not as much as Noel, but definitely The Muppets. There are many more. This is a hard one to answer.

Noel: Julia’s right, I absolutely love The Muppets. I’ve always said that some of my biggest acting and comedy idols are Goofy, Bugs Bunny and Kermit the Frog. Now you might say, “Noel, those aren’t real people” to which I would exclaim “YES, that’s exactly my point!” They are lines and ink blots and pieces of foam that have somehow been injected with the human spirit to the point where they make you laugh till you cry. If a person can move you to tears, that’s great. If a puppet can do it, that’s brilliant. As far as filmmaking together, we did make a pretty excellent film freshman year to get out of writing a paper. I would like to say it will never see the light of day but it’s tucked into YouTube somewhere.

Making a web series is one thing, getting it seen is a whole different story – what was your strategy for getting people to watch it? 
Julia: Besides posting it as much as possible, we’ve had fun building fun and creative content to help promote the show. We decided to build a website that could feel a bit like an actual recording studio website. It’s subtle, but we include fun made up stuff like past clients we’ve worked with, etc. I think making everything as simple and clear as possible is big, so that when we do spread the word, we are making it very easy for people to click through and watch the show. There is so much available to watch online now and everyone’s attention spans are so short, so I think a key is to promote it not as just another web series, but as a totally interesting and fun new thing that you have never seen before. Also having great friends online who are willing to help spread the word is wonderful.

Noel: The songs were always a huge selling point for us. We wanted them to sound authentic enough that if you heard them outside the context of an episode, they’d still hold up. I feel like these songs have the power to draw viewers in as well as give them a little something to carry in their head after they’ve watched the show. We want people to be fans of the show, but we want people to be fans of the bands too.

What did you find was the most effective way to get people to watch?
Julia: Posting in all caps maybe? I think simple and consistent has been the main theme in getting the show out there. Everything you could possibly want is on the website, and the website goes directly to the episode page, so if we’re able to share one simple clickable link, then it makes it easy to watch. Also, we uploaded Episode One natively to Facebook, which I think was a big help, as it would automatically start playing to grab peoples attention.

What has been the reaction so far to the series?
Noel: I know people who have binged the show in one day and I know folks who are saving episodes because they don’t want to blow through it. It’s good to know so many people are finding their own ways to watch and immerse themselves in the show.

Julia: Yeah the reaction has really been amazing! People have been so wonderful and kind in reaching out and talking to us about the show. Friends have sent it to people in the industry who they think might want to take a look, and they let us know after the fact, which I think is so cool. We’re definitely trying to knock down doors and reach out to people ourselves, but the fact that people enjoy it enough to send it to industry contacts of their own volition is so awesome and makes me feel proud of the work we did (and thankful for great friends).

What’s next for you?
Hopefully more Brooklyn Sound!

We’re both continuing to write and develop projects separately and together. Noel’s currently on tour with the show Murder For Two and developing some new shows (musicals, series, etc), and Julia’s working on a new standup comedy music special, among other things. We’re both mostly excited to continue working together and to hopefully do much much more with Brooklyn Sound. We already have Season 2 ready in our minds.

Julia Mattison and Noel Carey in BROOKLYN SOUND

For more Brooklyn Sound related information visit their website

[ All photos courtesy Julia Mattison and Noel Carey. ]

sonaluna

Musician / Sound Editor