Today, the Venice Paparazzi spotlight shines on Other Venice Film Festival director Thomas Simon!
Let’s get to know Thomas Simon!
Give us a brief bio of yourself:
Prior to Covid-19, I toured repeatedly in the USA, South America and Europe with my project Thomas Simon Vortex; created the soundtrack to the latest feature film which I was composer on – “Exit 0”, starring Peter Greene (Pulp Fiction) and Federico Castelluccio (The Sopranos); IndiePix Films released short film “Hungry” that I co-directed with Jillie Simon and scored, starring Jillie and Oscar-nominee Eric Roberts; our new short film “A Chance” is screening and winning awards at film festivals; and I started to collaborate with João Milet Meirelles, Brazilian electronic musician extraordinaire (Baiana System) on the project “Sonar Atmosfera”. Our debut album was released in April 2020 and due to not being able to tour because of the pandemic, we began performing a weekly session online, playing together apart.
Based in New York City, I’ve also toured world wide with alternative rock bands Love Alien, Musiciens Sans Frontiéres.
Besides having been commissioned to create music for film, tv and theater, I have also worked as director of photography, editor, producer and director on narrative films, documentaries, activist & educational programs as well as high profile live events. And now was happy to take on the role of Festival Director for the 2021 Other Venice Film Festival.
Tell us about your music/band.
Alternative rock (think Smashing Pumpkins), atmospheric (think Brian Eno), experimental (think anything goes), film score (think Enio Morricone getting lost in the left field). Various reviews over the years had made those comparisons.
In the late nineties and early two thousands, I toured a lot with rock bands and after coming off the road in 2003, I started traveling to specific musical hotspots in the world, like Salvador in Brazil, because of the incredible afro-brazilian percussions scene. You stand there in front of twenty drummers and you will be electrified! I was looking to collaborate and find the right musicians to do so.
I have been back there almost every year since, making tons of friends along the way and that transitioned into having a band (Sonar Atmosfera) with one of the most talented producers in Brazil today (linktr.ee/sonaratmosfera). I found what I was looking for.
After that initial Brazil trip, I went on to Varanasi, India and got hit with another wall of rhythms. During one month there, I visited a music festival in a local temple, befriending some of the featured musicians and ending up recording with them. You can see that documentary on YouTube – Thomas Simon Walkabout, youtube.com/watch?v=A3yLBDzUmBc – the trip will never end, because it’s about the journey (or an odyssey, you decide).
That project started me out in filmmaking. It was, kind of, going to film school shooting that movie and it got me into my first few film festivals. I learned how to produce, shoot, edit and record sound well.
It saves a lot of money to be able to do most post production yourself, whether you make a film or record and album. And, of course, I was able to land some great jobs, getting hired to DP, edit films and to do sound design.
My favorite job among all that is composing music for films. When creating soundtracks I aim to connect space with rhythms, that follow the tempo of the camera movements and the dynamics of the story.
Soundtrack work got me more and more into the experimental phase of my career, also in most parts due to me returning to Brazil again and again, more and more wandering into a vast incredible experimental music scene there. The possibilities are infinite, being exposed to all this creativity.
To be honest, it took a few minutes to get to that place of confidence as a musician, where you can just play, improvise, think on your feet. You need to learn to trust yourself!
I also collaborate in music with my wife, actor/producer Jillie Simon. She was the singer of most of those early rock tours and we have some crazy road stories to tell (but that’s for another time).
Jillie and I just released a single “Save Our Planet” (jilliesimon.hearnow.com), that I produced and got Jerry Marotta (Peter Gabriel) to play drums on. He invited me up to his studio in Woodstock, NY, and is a total hero musician of ours. Jillie and I played with a lot of awesome musicians together, that really had an influence on me creating my specific guitar sound, experiment with my own tunings, what gear to use, etc.
Here are a few of the musicians we performed and recorded with, awesome bass player Alan Gevaert (dEUS, Chris Whitley), drummers Les Warner (The Cult) and Alex Alexander (Dido, Youssou N’Dour), Dave Eggar on cello (Evanescence)… I am always drawn to musicians that are way better than me, so I have no choice but to work hard to get to that level or at least try to get close to it.
Your job in the band:
My main instrument is the guitar. For soundtrack productions or in experimental settings, I also play keyboards, various Moog synthesizers, accordion, harmonica, bass and percussions. My first instrument was the violin, I took lessons as a kid, dropped it for the guitar though, a few years later. Still, for some recordings, I have played violin parts. But I tune it all weird and unorthodox. It’s fun. I also produce, arrange and mix all my projects.
Besides the ones I mentioned earlier, I find influence in all kinds of music. World music, traditional classical music, electronic, urban, dub…I always have music in my head. A car going by and the noise of the motor can spark an idea. I love noise, it’s my friend.
One of those trips took me into the Amazon Rain Forest to shoot a music video for a track off of “Vortex” and I recorded the animal sounds at night, birds, etc, and then processed it heavily in my studio and used it all over that album (the video to the track “Condor Jam” won “Best Music Video” at the Other Venice Film Festival 2013 – vimeo.com/73539746 )
How many years have you been a musician, and how did you get into it?
Twenty plus years. I started studying as a child then paused in my late teenage years to rebel against everything possible, picked it back up again to go for it professionally at age 20, when I moved to New York City and was ready to focus.
What would you say has had the largest impact upon your particular style?
Performing with top notch musicians, as mentioned before and playing lots of shows. That’s the real practice right there. Touring, playing hole-in-the-wall places, small clubs, theaters and festivals. Learning to produce your sound in any environment, no matter what. Having ten minutes to set it all up and be ready to play, then afterwards, ten minutes to break it all down. Seeing, feeling the audience react, good or not. It’s magical.
What projects are your currently working on?
Sonar Atmosfera is going strong with the weekly music series I mentioned earlier, playing together apart.
João is in Salvador and I am in New York. We connect online, via an audiomovers plug in on Ableton Live so we can play high quality audio together. The video is via Streamyards, and then we stream each 30 minute session on Facebook, Twitch and YouTube. That happens most Saturdays in the afternoon (follow linktr.ee/sonaratmosfera for streaming links and show times and please connect with me on social media).
Since we are performing over the internet, there is latency, a delay, but we just play with it. It becomes part of the sound and adds another dimension to the process. We now have been doing this over a year accumulating a lot of material. So, with the vaccinations finally taking place also in South America, I am planning to go down there at some point soon and mix the best tracks together with João in the studio in Salvador (like we did with the debut album, back in 2019).
My wife Jillie and I are also looking to shoot a feature film and are soliciting scripts to possibly produce, besides her writing one herself.
And as the 2021 Other Venice Film Festival Director, I programmed all the films that will screen, got the musical guests involved, such as “I Don’t Konform” (Navajo Nation) and Marvin Glover, whose V.P. Spotlight Interview you can read here. They both have films in the festival, as well. We are also showing Jill and my last short film “A Chance” at the Other Venice Film Festival, screening it out of competition. Please look for her spotlight interview here on Venice Paparazzi.
Past bands/ Albums recorded:
- Love Alien
- Musiciens San Frontières
- Dave Eggar & Thomas Simon
Please go to endorphinrecords.com and check out the discography.
Rocking the WARSAW in Brooklyn in front of a totally packed house, maybe 1200 people.
Playing a music festival up on Yasgur’s Farm in Bethel, NY, the original Woodstock 1969 festival site.
Or, being on the road in Europe, driving into the town we were playing at that night and seeing large posters up for our show all over the place. And of course playing the Whisky A Go Go, here in L.A.
As a filmmaker, my best memories, seeing our films in IMAX and AMC movie theaters. And having had a theatrical run in Spain with a Catalan Film I composed the soundtrack for “La Redempció dels Peixos” (The Redemption of the Fish) and going to the opening screening in Barcelona.
What moves or pivots have you made during Covid-19 and the lockdowns?
One of the silver linings of the lock down was, learning a lot of new software. Working with people remote and therefore needing to adapt constantly. In the end it is has become a really productive time.
Anything else that you want to share with our readers? Announcements, upcoming events, etc.
The Other Venice Film Festival is coming up Friday, October 1st through Sunday October 3rd.
Please go to othervenicefilmfestival.com for details, program and tickets.
And, of course my live streams: https://linktr.ee/thomassimonvortex
A few personal questions:
Having famous musicians come down to my shows, while touring in Europe and South America.
Being able to just do what you love. Making it all happen. Having love in your life.
What causes do you support?
Jillie and I are supporting Amazon Watch, Greenpeace, Oxfam, A Well Fed World, Médecins Sans Frontières, Human Rights Watch, Planned Parenthood just to mention a few. And we are active in speaking out against fracking and the dependence on fossil fuels.
What is the best advice you have received?
That always reminds me of Bette Davis, she supposedly said in an interview, when asked the same question:
“Take Fountain, stay off of Sunset.”
For me it was: “If you are busy playing music, practicing your art, you will have no time to worry and stress about things.”
Favorite affirmation, mantra, or quote:
You can do it. Don’t worry (which I do a lot and it’s just such a waste of energy).
Favorite book, band or movie?
- Books: Stefan Zweig “Die Welt von Gestern” (The World of Yesterday);
- Bands: Thievery Corporation, Tinariwen, Baiana System
- Movies: Papillon, Lord Of War, The Motorcycle Diaries, Once Upon A Time In the West, The Notebook…
Finish off the statement “Music is…
List 1-2 things on your bucket list?
Continuing learning to speak Portuguese, to be able to speak it fluently sometime soon!
I was lucky to have travelled a lot already, but I can’t wait to go back to Indonesia and keep exploring those incredible islands, like Sulawesi.
Anything else you want to share about yourself to the world? Fun facts or accomplishments.
Well, I grew up in Vienna, Austria. My father was Hungarian and I have a large side of the family there. I am an immigrant, an American and a World Citizen. Since childhood, I am always drawn to people who are different, to learn from them and then understand our similarities. Most likely, because I was exposed to some racist, small minded people then and I thought to myself, well, you guys all look miserable, so those others, the ones you curse out must be very interesting! Curiosity, tolerance is what we are born with.
Accomplishments: Being married to Jillie Simon.
I feel at home there. I received a lot of recognition over the years here in Los Angeles, particularly going through the film festival circuit, ending up getting selected to many L.A. area festivals. One of them was the Other Venice Film Festival, that selected Jillie and my music video “Legalize” back in 2011 and I have been part of it, screening and/or performing music ever since. Thank you Reuben De La Casas (Festival Founder). Ruby embodies Venice for me and then there is of course you guys, Venice Paparazzi!!!
Remember, it’s the Other Venice Film Festival, like no other.
How does one follow you?
- Website: thomassimon.nyc
- Facebook: facebook.com/MSFrockband
- Instagram: instagram.com/thomassimonvortex
- Other website: linktr.ee/thomassimonvortex
- Email: [email protected]
Video from the 2014 OVFF by Venice Paparazzi