While my recent Best Albums, EP's & Mixtapes of 2016 List didn't include any type of "Honorable Mentions" section, if it had, it would have likely included the likes of De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Blink-182, Nxworries, and J-Zone (for Fish-n-Grits). Aftermath crooner Anderson.Paak and beat-maker Knxwledge's full-length debut as Nxworreis, YES LAWD! It's equal parts The Roots, D'Angelo, J Dilla, and Drake; a perfect mix of Hip-Hop and modern day R&B, easily one of Stones Throw's absolute strongest, most cohesive releases in years. I really haven't given Nxworries' YES LAWD! a whole lot of coverage here at The Witzard (aside from the early singles) and have really just been waiting for the perfect opportunity to write about Anderson.Paak & Knxwledge again... until this past Thursday afternoon, when I heard about Nxworries' "SIDEPIECE" music video filmed at Stones Throw "in the dungeon" by director Ross Harris and animated by Bristol-based artist Russ "RUFFMERCY" Murphy. Early Friday morning, I reached out to @imrossangles on a whim via Twitter Direct Message and quickly attained a brief statement on "SIDEPIECE," followed by a similar emailed conversation with animator RUFFMERCY. Although, I soon realized that their was much more to their fateful "SIDEPIECE" collaboration and past works together, so I proposed a slightly more in-depth emailed interview, and promptly sent a batch of 5-6 questions to Ross & Russ. Please, feel free to read, watch "SIDEPIECE," re-read, and enjoy my interview with Ross Harris & RUFFMERCY down below. Happy New Year, my trusty readers and followers!
Matt "The Witzard" Horowitz
Founder & Editor-In-Chief
I. How did you two gentlemen initially meet? You've, in fact, previously worked together on on a number of occasions, correct?
RUFFMERCY: Stones Throw had asked me to make a video for Knxwledge ["Flying_Lizrds"] and and they suggested I use some footage of him that they had, these turned out to be snippets from the [in the] dungeon sessions Ross had recorded. I'd seen Ross' work before, but didn't know he'd made certain things that I had liked. Lazily, I never looked up who made them. On a side note: anyone reading this should check out his documentary films, brilliant work... also, turns out he was in one of my favourite films as a kid, Airplane! Anyway, after that, Ross asked me if I'd work on a video for the band The Lions ["The Magnificent Dance"]. We did that together and it was fun and after that, I kinda thought that we might work together again, at some point. He did try tempt me with a couple of things, but the timing wasn't right. Hopefully they'll be more collaborations.
Ross Harris: We met on The Internet. For all it’s faults, I love the fact that two artists can link up and collaborate this way. I’m old enough to know how it was in the old days (i.e. the 90’s). This kinda of sh*t was impossible.
II. What was the creation process(es) like for Nxworries' "SIDEPIECE?" I would assume Ross filmed the initial film reel and RUFFMERCY went back in and "scribbled" all over it afterwards in post-production.
RUFF: Yeah, Ross said he had this third film from those [in the] dungeon sessions and that it if I wanted I could give it a remix. I think I started the moment he sent me the footage. I'm a big fan of Nxworries and also, I'd really enjoyed the first two [in the] dungeon session videos of them. I just began messing with it... I did about 10-15 seconds, then showed Ross to see if he was down with it. He was into it and suggested maybe have a drawing of a couple of girls on the mic. Instead of drawing them, I found a Betty Boop snippet that I thought was perfect and fitted that old Soul vibe. In the end, Ross went back in and remixed the vocals for the final version.
Ross: I was sitting on this footage for almost two years. I’d been so busy that I had never taken the time to try and edit it. I finally banged one out and was blown away by the performance. I remembered it had been good, but it was the first thing we shot that day, so it kind of got over-powered by the performances of "Suede" and "Link Up" that we shot right after. Think about that. This is [Andersom.Paak] "warming up" on a tune in the early demo stages. Incredible! So, yeah, I put together a basic edit. Shot it over to [RUFFMERCY] and told him to go nuts. I’m actually not a huge effects guy. I feel a strong performance should stand on it’s own. I like to shoot hand-held, so I can add my touch to things. It’s like a dance with the performer, if it’s done right. But RUFF’s work feels like that to me. It’s hand-drawn. It’s very organic. I think it enhances, rather than detracts. I’m a big fan!
III. I know "SIDEPIECE" was filmed by Ross Harris a few years ago "in the dungeon" at Stones Throw along with "Suede" & "Link Up," but how did RUFFMERCY come to get involved within the process, as well?
Ross: I was like, "Hey RUFF, you want to work really long hours on a video that may or may not see the light of day?" ha. I kind of went out on a limb, but that’s what you have to do sometimes, if you want to make sh*t happen.
IV. I believe you had previously mentioned, Ross that you fellas had done "SIDEPIECE" "on [your] own and didn't show [Anderson.Paak & Knxwledge] or Stones Throw until it was done;" what compelled you to do so and what did the ultimately think of the final product?
RUFF: The music and being creative for the f*ck of it because I can and could. Mainly for the love of music.
Ross: I watched the performance and thought that it was such an "L" [loss] that it was just going to sit on my hard drive. No one [would] ever see/hear it. I knew the fans would love it. I was trying to not be selfish ha. In the end, seemed like everyone was cool with it. Reactions ranged from "love it" to "cool." But yeah. it wasn’t going to see the light of day, if we didn’t go rouge on it. The general consensus was that since we put out two [in the] dungeon sessions previously that the look was kinda played. That’s where [RUFFMERCY] came in. I knew he could take care of that issue quite nicely.
So, there is a bit of back story to this video: the [in the] dungeon sessions started years ago with Jonti. Stones Throw (ST) asked me to do a video for him, so I went to the warehouse to grab his CD to listen to potential songs. When I walked in, I thought why not shoot it in here. It’s visually interesting and intimate and I knew that ST fans would love to have a look into that world. I mean, it’s nirvana for the ST heads. We put up that [video] and people dug it, like I thought. Hard to go wrong with Jonti, though. He’s a genius!
Anyway, I got busy and didn’t do many more videos for ST for a while. Finally, got some time and we quickly decided to do some more in the warehouse with other ST artists. So, we scheduled a day to do as many of them as we could in one day. I think we shot nine videos that day, maybe ten. We shot from 11:00 in the morning to midnight; Nxworries, Mild High Club, The Lions, and we made an attempt at a Knxwledge [video]. At the time, I was battling this mystery illness that made me feel like I was going to pass out at any moment. Nausea, dizziness... the works. The only thing that seemed to help was to keep shooting. Anytime I put the camera down, I thought I was going to die. The performances that day were like life support. First up was Nxworries and "SIDEPIECE." From the jump, I was like, "who the f*ck is THIS?" I’ve been doing this a long time. Been there at the start for artists like Beck and Elliott Smith. I’ve seen what true greatness looks and sounds like and these guys had it! Didn’t matter how sh*tty I felt. I was capturing this, if it meant heading straight to the hospital at wrap.
I ended up shooting a traditional music [video] for "Link Up" that got shelved. It was a total clusterf*ck. We literally got hit by a mini-hurricane ha. I kinda f*cked up, too. It’s hard as a video-maker. Musicians have hard drives filled with demos and songs that don’t quite cut it. No big deal. Video directors are expected to strike gold every time. Nxworries ended up getting CALAMATIC to take a stab at it and he KILLED it. So, it was all good. I was happy for them. I learned a long time ago, a rising tide raises all ships. That’s the attitude I had when I hit up Russ [RUFFMERCY] to [collaborate] on this. He gets it. It’s a win-win. No worries.
V. Do you have any immediate plans to create any more collaborative "ROSS AND RUSS FILMS" in the immediate future? And if not, what sort of projects are each of you currently working on that may be nearing release?
RUFF: Love to go there again with Ross on another project... Mm, I have a couple of videos coming out soon... not sure I can talk about them, [though]—sorry.
Ross: I hope so! I owe him. I want to do a 360° video with him. I’m currently working on some music of my own, posting weird stuff on my Instagram, working as a camera op and director/editor in the advertising industry, taking care of my 85-year-old parents and my autistic son, writing ideas for more music videos, and buying junk from the thrift store—not entirely in that order, though.
VI. What exactly is your process called... scribbling? How does it start and how does it ultimately end up transposed on top of the film reel?
RUFF: Scribbling will do... I have slightly different approaches to how I draw over videos and it's changed a bit over the years to try shake off my imitators. This Nxworries one is a freestyle, where I just start at the beginning and just draw without planning anything. I like to keep it raw and loose, keeping any mistakes there are; after I draw everything in Photoshop, I then composite in After Effects, where I played around with double-layering and multiple images and crops of the original footage.