All posts by P. L. McGroarty

Eclectic, Radical, Diamond In The Ruff Rough. A puzzlingly optimistic inspiration hunter fueled by all things adventure. Sailing, motorcycles, wake boarding, snowboarding and yoga are a few of my favorite things. Some of the countries I've explored so far include Greece, Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Mexico, Portugal, France, Germany, Holland and Honduras; and I'm just getting started. Next on the list are Japan, Morocco, all of South American eventually, Italy, Russia, Spain... I can go on and on.

Jason Strong Opens Up about Producing Music in the Modern Age and his Original Composition ‘Loaded’ Being Featured in the Phenoms’ Premiere

Music Producer Jason Strong
Music Producer Jason Strong shot by Alex Winter

From being the songwriter on a long list of hit songs to producing tracks for well-known international artists, music producer Jason Strong has become a sought after force behind the scenes.

Tapped to work with artists on major labels such as Capitol Records, some of Strong’s most recognizable work includes producing the song ‘Que Los Mares No Se Enteren’ by Nico Farias, which earned the coveted award for Best Song of the Year from the 2015 Latin Billboard Music Awards and placed No. 1 on the Itunes Charts in Guatemala, and Capital Records’ artist Naïka’s hit single ‘Ride,’ which has been streamed nearly four million times on Spotify and placed No. 2 on the platform’s popular Global Viral & US Viral Chart. He’s also been a songwriter behind a plethora of tracks that have garnered viral fame, such as ‘Wrong’ by Far Out ft. Emilia Ali, Lauren Carnahan’s ‘Criminal,’ ‘No Conversion’ from Thoreau ft. MNYS, and many more.

So how did a 20-something from Johannesburg, South Africa make it in one of the world’s most competitive industries?

The powerful position Strong finds himself in today comes from a combination of the creativity, innovation and skill that he brings to the table, but even more valuable is his talent for producing and writing tracks that defy genre-imposed limits.

“I think the success of a producer in a day and age where technology drives such rapid changes in creative possibilities is determined by their ability to adapt,” says Strong. “My intention is to continually learn from different styles and take from different musical words to create a blend of elements that makes for something unique and interesting. I will however, always focus on making music that is accessible to the masses, i.e. popular music.”

Strong, who began playing music in his youth, earned extensive praise for his skill as a guitarist and songwriter back home in South Africa where he was named the winner of the VIEBZ Music Competition, as well as the First Prize winner for National Eisteddfod Academy in the Best Contemporary Instrumentalist category. Forming the band Vacant Sun, Strong found himself playing alongside South Africa’s most recognizable groups, including Crash Car Burn, DJ Roger Goode, Graeme Watkins Project and others. However, upon earning a scholarship as a songwriter and guitarist to attend Berklee School of Music in the states, his dream school, leaving the world of local fame behind was a no brainer. And it was there that he first discovered his love for working as a music producer for other artists.

“Sitting down with an unproduced song leaves an endless realm of possibilities. The idea that I could dig into that creation and make it into a million different versions to appeal to a million different types of people, all within the comfort of my bedroom was insane to me. I’ve also just always loved sound and having the tools at my fingertips to manipulate sound into the crazy things I imagine in my head, and having the ability to do that got me obsessed.”

Though the numerous songs he’s written and produced for popular artists around the world have gained major attention, the interesting thing when looking at all of his works combined is just how different each one is from the others.

Strong says,“I like to think my journey thus far is unique in that I come from a diverse musical background and have experienced and lived through different cultures with different interests and diverse forms of art, which all influence who I am today and what my taste is.”

‘Que Los Mares No Se Entheren,’ the award-winning song Strong produced alongside longtime collaborator Peder Etholm-Idsoee for Nico Farias, sticks out clearly from the rest with its blend of a classic Latin vibe and an old-school British sound.

With layered instruments reminiscent of popular tracks by The Beatles, the working process Strong and Etholm-Idsoee enlisted as producers, for Strong at least, was quite different than most of his previously produced tracks.

He explains, “I usually program drums electronically as most music does nowadays, but on Nico’s project every instrument was live and played by musicians simultaneously. We would record live drums with over 20 mics on the drum kit playing at the same time as the bass guitar into a recording console in a big studio.”

The success of the song not only speaks to Strong’s astonishing talent as a music producer, but even more vital, to his ability to adapt to the needs of the artists he produces for, which often means taking an alternative approach to the process than one is used to– but that’s how new pathways are created, and it’s one of the reasons he stands out.

“My goal is always to make something that is the perfect combination of familiar and unfamiliar. Unique and unfamiliar enough to catch the listener’s attention, but familiar enough to keep the listener engaged. I love sound and am always hitting the most random objects to see if there’s any sound I can record that will make listeners go ‘woah what was that?’ I think many producers are scared of thinking outside the box, but I try to live outside the box.”

Despite having achieved a rare level of success as a music producer, Strong continues to expand on his already impressive repertoire of work. One of his newest forays is into the world of film and television. Strong’s original composition ‘Loaded’ will be featured in the first episode of the highly anticipated premiere of the FOX Sports series “Phenoms,” which airs May 25 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.

Strong admits, “I’ve done a lot of sync work for social media platforms but in the realm of television this is my first, of many to come.”

A five-part global sports documentary series “Phenoms” depicts the journey of the world’s greatest soccer players as they prepare to represent their respective countries in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Created by award-winning storytellers including Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, Leo Pearlman, David Brooks and more, “Phenoms” gives viewers behind-the-scenes access to iconic players such as Dele Alli, Davinson Sanchez, Marco Asensio, Paulo Dybala, Gabriel Jesus, Ousmane Dembele, Adrien Rabiot, Leon Goretzka, Corentin Tolisso, Hirving Lozano and Marquinhos.

About the composition featured in the first episode, Strong says, “I aimed for something that was uptempo and danceable, with big and aggressive sounds to echo the high energy that you would experience when watching a great soccer game in a stadium.”

Much of what makes audiences remember scenes from a film or television series comes from the level of emotional attachment they develop from a combination of striking visuals and the music synced up to the unfolding story. Just as the music is key in eliciting emotional responses within viewers and effectively drawing them deeper into the story, it is vital for the composer to know when to hold back.

“Composing for film is humbling in that you have to learn to take a step back and let the visuals do the work. My job is to enhance a very sense stimulating experience, and to over stimulate multiple senses for the viewer is detrimental,” explains Strong.

“Knowing how to keep things simple and find ways to enhance the visual experience is key. This is similar to pop music in that I have to leave space for the song and vocals to speak, but at least in that case it’s only one sense being stimulated and the listener’s attention is less easily diverged.”

Approaching every project with intention, Jason Strong’s knowledge of how much to give and to hold back when it comes to the music he produces for other artists, as well as taking into account the medium the music is being used for is one of the reasons he’s been so successful at his craft as a producer. Make sure to keep your eyes and ears peeled for his work in the premiere episode of “Phenoms” on May 25. He also produced the album for Capital Records artist Naïka, which is due out later this year.  

 

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Brazilian triple threat Rita Shukla is an indomitable force on stage

Rita Sjukla
Brazilian Performer Rita Shukla

You may have seen performer Rita Shukla on stages across Los Angeles as a lead singer with the classic rock band Lloyd Moss & The Rock Collective, singing jazz-style Brazilian bossa nova with the Electrobossa band, or heavy rock n’ roll with Redemptrix. Her strength and dynamic range as a vocalist coupled with her lively and magnetic stage presence has made her a go-to performer for a number of bands in need of a strong lead singer.

As part of Lloyd Moss & The Rock Collective, Rita is a vocalist alongside Andrey Tsvetkov Nazarbekian, who made it to the semifinals on the incredibly popular TV series “The Voice Russia” season 2, and was also a contestant on the 8-time Primetime Emmy Award winning “American Idol” season 15.

“Working with Rita is a constant exchange. Her vast knowledge in music and her stage experience are the factors that give all of our band members a new perspective on the way things should be done, how harmonies should be written and songs should be sung,” explains Nazarbekian. “What really makes her good at what she does is her natural gift for music supported by the education and training she acquired in Brazil ”

Rita began cultivating her talent as a performer at the age of 4 whilst growing up in Campinas, Brazil where music and performance are a vibrant part of the country’s colorful culture. First immersing herself in music classes, Rita immediately fell in love with the way music made her feel.

It’s just like being in nature for me… I feel joy when I sing. it brings me so much peace and happiness, as if I don’t think of anything else. I’m just there present in the moment,” admits Rita. “For you to be able to sing well, you first need to breathe well… the whole process of singing is just therapeutic and healing.

Knowing the competitive nature of being a lead singer, Rita didn’t rely solely on her natural vocal strengths as a high soprano. Instead she devoted herself to perfecting her skills by training with some of the best in the industry internationally, including vocal coaches such as Molly Rocklind (who’s shared the stage with the likes of Stevie Wonder, popular classic rock band America and Chaka Khan), Dawn Bishop (who’s performed with household names like Brian McKnight and the Black-Eyed Peas,) Brazilian soprano Lucila Tragtenberg and maestro Thiago Gimenes, among others.

It didn’t take long for Rita to be tapped to begin performing on stages across Brazil. By the age of 16 she was playing starring roles in popular theatre productions such as “A Receita” by Jorge Andrade, followed by “Um Cadillac Para as Estrelas” and “Quero a Lua” at the Tao Theatre.

With many of her major theatrical projects back home in Brazil utilizing her talent as an actress and singer, she quickly stood out as a rarely gifted performer capable of flawlessly executing both with equal pizazz. But there’s another area of Rita’s ‘gift’ as a performer that has made her so unique amongst others in the industry– and that is her skill as a dancer.

In the same way that her impressive vocal range and natural rhythm has led her to lead bands with musical styles ranging from jazz and bossa nova to classic and hard rock, her skill as a dancer has given way to a multitude of dance performances ranging from flamenco and belly dancing to jazz and tap for musical theatre.

Beginning flamenco dance training at 11 and belly dance at 13,  Rita explains, “First, I fell in love with flamenco, for its strength, rhythm, passion, and history, but dancing in general makes me feel good as I feel the energy of the music and the beat flowing through my body.”

The way she translates music into her movements as a dancer, embodying the rhythm in human form on stage, has not only been a highlight for the audiences who watch her, but a draw factor for those who cast her in their shows. Whilst in Brazil, she was cast as a lead dancer in numerous shows such as “Noche Caliente,” “Bombardeio de Dança” and “Noite Flamenca” with leading Brazilian flamenco dancer and choreographer Karina Maganha. She also made a name for herself as a lead dancer with the Jimena Lourenço Dance Company, starring in shows like  “A Arte Milenar Da Dança Do Ventre,” “1° Festival de Dança Do Ventre,” “2° Festival de Dança Do Ventre,” “Clip” and many more.

By college Rita had not only perfected her individual skills making herself known among the country’s best young performers in each area, but she had blended all of these talents, making her an undeniable triple threat– an asset that boosted her reputation within the world of musical theatre.

About her beginnings, Rita explains, “Growing up studying and doing theatre [in Brazil], and feeling on my skin the importance of embodying the character as a dance, the music as a text and the acting as music, made me a very open, strong and vulnerable actress and singer.”

After completing her bachelor’s in drama at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo, scholarship offers began rolling in from schools in the U.S. for her to continue her education in the performing arts. And in 2013 she packed her bags and relocated to California on a scholarship to study Musical Theatre at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.

As a singer she’s quickly became a lead member in several bands in the states, while also writing her own songs and embarking on many other fruitful collaborations. After being recognized by music producer and songwriter Ted Perlman, who’s known for his work with renowned stars such as Whitney Houston, Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan and Diana Ross, the two collaborated in writing a praise and worship rock tune.

Perlman recalls, “As soon as she sang one note, I knew she was special… Rita is one of the most soulful white girls anywhere! She has everything- talent, beauty, brains, and joy. She’s as close to perfect as it gets.”

In the states her seasoned skill as a performer coupled with the fiery nature of Brazilian culture pulsing through her veins, led her to be viewed as a unique talent in the industry.

Last year Rita was personally invited to perform as a singer and dancer alongside some of the most recognizable Broadway stars in the world in the production of “Broadway to the Rescue.” A concert gala for charity, Rita shared the stage with the likes of Tony Award Winner LiLlias White and Tony Award nominees John Tartaglia and Sharon McNight where she gave a memorable performance in numbers from the hit Broadway shows “Hair,” “Memphis,” “Hairspray” and more.

“Training and performance skill once you reach a higher level is not hard to find in Los Angeles. But one thing that I look for in performers, and Rita is one of a few that has it, is personality and unique instinct,” explains Rodrigo Varandas, one of the choreographers behind “Broadway to the Rescue.”

“I feel that her Brazilian culture makes her unique already. But she is able to incorporate American culture in her performance as well and that is just impossible to find. She mesmerized me every time she sang and danced.”

Rita Shukla is one performer who’s managed to excel as singer, actress and dancer, and while she spent years training in order to get where she is today, the natural and vibrant energy she brings to the stage is something that just can’t be taught– and it’s definitely something that has set her apart from the pack.

 

Staying True to Their Roots: NYLON Magazine’s “To The Authentic” by Jessica Pantoja

Upon shutting down their print magazine at the tail end of 2017, NYLON Magazine wanted to remind readers that despite moving into solely digital-based content, their founding roots wouldn’t waver. With their focus moving more towards engaging with their audience through striking video and digital content, it made total sense to release a commercial that spoke to their continued dedication to the diversity of their audience despite the change — so they joined forces with cinematographer Jessica Pantoja to create “To The Authentic.”

“As NYLON is currently evolving from a print to a digital publication it was important to state that regardless of the change they would continue to be true to who they are and who they have been,” explains cinematographer Jessica Pantoja.

“‘To The Authentic’ had the intention to express NYLON’s commitment to the audience and the bond between the publication and the readers… NYLON is part of the audience as the audience is a part of NYLON, they both influence each other.”

In creating “To The Authentic,” Pantoja captured 25 models, influencers, dancers and actors, essentially asking them to come as they are, with the ultimate goal of revealing their authentic selves on camera. Using such a culturally and aesthetically diverse cast that collectively blurs the lines of traditional gender ‘norms,’ which are so yesterday it’s not even funny, not to mention the broad range of personalities brought together in the commercial, Pantoja nails the mark with her creative vision for “To The Authentic.”

From the minimalistic yet bold bubble gum pink opening frame featuring the words “BE YOURSELF” followed by the hashtag ‘#Benylon,’ to the progression of models who hit the screen, the commercial flows seamlessly and expresses what the brand stands for. DIVERSITY.

This is ultimately one of the key reasons tens of millions of readers look to them as a source of information on everything music, fashion and pop culture each month — they’ve never covered what every other glossy on the newsstand does, and they’re not going to start now. Their mission is furthered by the audio narration that accompanies the visual content, which adamantly reassures: Through media changes, political changes, cultural changes — you keep true to yourself. We see you. We are here for you. Always have been. Always will be. NYLON.

Pantoja says, “The meaning behind [To The Authentic] lay on the changing social climate… we were just trying to express the belief that diversity is beauty.”

Capturing each model (moving around to their own tune) in front of various backgrounds that visually fit their individual aesthetic, style and personality, Pantoja’s selection of backgrounds, which include recognizable murals, architectural structures and other interesting locations across Los Angeles, also speak to the magazine’s ceaseless attention to design and local culture, something they’ve covered in extensive detail since their alternative beginnings back in 1999.

She explains “We asked all the models to play a song they liked so they would feel comfortable showing us who they are. They could dance or just stare at us. It ended up being super fun because they would feel really comfortable and share their personalities and style with us. Each person brought something completely different.”

From the way she fluidly pans her camera across each model as they grace the screen and creates an engaging flow from frame to frame, it’s easy to see the seasoned nature of Pantoja’s skill on a more technical level in terms of her work as the cinematographer behind the project. Key in eliciting the authentic personalities we see from each of the talent featured in the commercial, Pantoja manages to capture model after model through her camera lens in a way that never gets boring.

“It’s never easy to photograph 25 models and build and light more than 20 different sets, to pull off 25 different outfits and looks in a 12 hour day. The team was amazing and thankfully we had very talented and professional people with us. At the end I think that it’s all about having the right people as your team,” explains Pantoja. “In film you are only as good as the people who stand by you and they are only as good as you help them be. It’s a very collaborative industry and if you fly solo you will never be able to make it.”

Some of the models Pantoja shot for the commercial include influencer and beauty blogger Katie Joy, model Matt Jones, actress and poet Portia Bartley from the six-time Los Angeles Film Award winning rom-com “You Have A Nice Flight,” actor Ido Samuel from the Carlo di Palma Award winning film “Fill the Void,” dancer Stacy Gaspard and other notable pop-culture figures and influencers.

It’s not at all surprising that NYLON chose to lean towards featuring social media influencers rather than supermodels, A-listers and red carpet frequenting celebrities in the commercial. The content is all about being authentic, and featuring unique in-the-know creatives is what they’ve always been about. The plethora of music, beauty and fashion collaborations they’ve executed over the past two decades have influenced millions, in the same way that their relationship with their incredibly diverse audience has influenced the content they release.

At the end of the day, “To The Authentic” really does scream to viewers at the top of its lungs: Be yourself, THAT is what’s beautiful.

“Being you is ok. No matter what that means, you should always be true to who you are in order to achieve the better version of you,” adds Pantoja about the overall message of the video, and her personal feeling about the kind of self love and acceptance each and everyone should focus on cultivating.

With the concept of beauty being one that has remained in flux over the ages, what more and more people around the world today are coming to regard as ‘beautiful’ is reserved for those who remain true to themselves, those who unapologetically expose their strengths and flaws with fearless authenticity. And this is something that directly connects with the attitude and voice of NYLON and their readers.

Cinematographer Jessica Pantoja
Cinematographer Jessica Pantoja

Aside from being the cinematographer for “To The Authentic,” Pantoja, who’s originally from Queretaro, Mexico, has made a strong name for herself as a cinematographer in the film industry, something she’s dedicated herself to for the past decade. She’s earned extensive international acclaim for her work as the cinematographer behind countless films including “Mute,” “Cold Night,” “Harvest Moon,” “Evanescent,” “The Wind Outside” and many more.

“Jessica and I have collaborated on many short films and commercials in the past… Nylon was a very special project where I saw and experienced great energy and drive from Jessica, as a DP and as a leader,” explains “To The Authentic” production designer Clarisa Garcia Fresco, who production designed the 2017 WorldFest Houston Platinum Award winning film “Clarity,” as well as “Evanescent” and “Harvest Moon” where Pantoja served as DP.

“I enjoyed our teamwork efforts as we were striving to create an image and identity for the project. Her enthusiasm and drive for film and storytelling are truly an inspiration to me and everyone around her.”

In 2017 Jessica Pantoja also earned a nomination for the Best Cinematography Award at the 2017 Camerimage Etudes Competition, arguably one of the world’s most prestigious competitions in the field of cinematography, as well as nominations for the Best Cinematography Awards at 2017 VIZIO + DOLBY filmmakers Challenge and the 2017 Cine Gear Film Competition for her film she as well as the film “Manners of Dying.”

In a way, “To The Authentic” marks her foray into creating branded content, and it’s a powerful one at that.

“‘To The Authentic’ was the first project I created for [NYLON] and it opened the door to build an ongoing collaboration with the magazine,” explains Pantoja, who has since created the videos “True Beauty. By NYLON” and “Fashion as Art. By NYLON” featured below.

With NYLON magazine being revered for their bold colors, in-your-face graphics and the kind of cutting-edge style and groundbreaking pop culture that appeals to Millennial and Gen-Z audiences, the video really does embody the brand’s unique attitude and their commitment to readers. It’s definitely the perfect commercial to be featured on their About Nylon page; and we can’t wait to see the next collab from cinematographer Jessica Pantoja and NYLON Magazine.