James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
James Clay // Film Critic
Lil Peep, born “ Gustav Ahr,” is an artist gone too soon. His influence left an immediate impact on the music industry with a distinct brand of goth-trap that was a brutally honest portrayal of teenage angst that rose above being just youthful sorrow. Ahr tapped into humanity that was a snapshot of his and our darkest and most triumphant emotions.
The documentary EVERYBODY’S EVERYTHING, directed by Sebastian Jones and Ramez Silyan, gives a peek behind the curtain and into the world Ahr created. It provides little pieces of himself (through his music) and to his friends, family and fans. At only 21-years-old, Ahr’s legacy and singular personality are captured in this documentary that stands as an elegy for an artist as well as a cultural snapshot for a unique time in American music.
For those unfamiliar with Ahr’s music, you may double-take when you see filmmaker Terrence Malick’s name attached to the project as an executive producer. Malick had a connection to Ahr’s life, through his friendship with John Womack – the grandfather of the late rapper. Womack wrote poetic letters to Peep that are prominently featured in the film. He’s a historian and now retired professor on Latin American History from Harvard and has appeared in Malick’s first feature, BADLANDS. In these moments of meditation, there are sparks that allow EVERYBODY’S EVERYTHING to transcend music doc cliches by being about something that’s larger than celebrating the larger-than-the-ego of artistry.
Silyan (who worked alongside Ahr directing music videos like Peep’s “Girls” video) and Jones (who served as a producer on Terrence Malick’s SONG TO SONG and an editor on the filmmaker’s latest A HIDDEN LIFE) both approach the material from different perspectives. Fresh Fiction recently spoke to the filmmakers. Below is a transcription of that conversation.
James Clay: People will be able to find their access point into Peep’s life through many different portals as we get to know his life and personality. What was your access point to his work?
Jones: “When Terry brought me on to direct I saw the Instagram post he made about wanting to be everybody’s everything and that was my way into the material was this idea. I was curious about the relationships in his life with his family friends.”
Silyan: “For me being brought into this world with just working on this stuff with Gus and touring in Russia coming at it from the other side my access point or approach was when we found out who his grandfather is it would the anchor to the film.“
At what point did you know that John Womack’s letters would be a cinematic goldmine for your film?
Jones: “Terry told the team about them and said you should really take a look at these letters Jack wrote to Gus. That’s how I learned about these letters and once i read them it was undeniable that they were going to be something special. So we sat down with Jack to record them in his house and he hadn’t read them since he wrote them so it was an emotional experience for him. He was very generous with us and it’s one of my favorite things about the movie and we wanted the letters to be like a lighthouse house, this beacon that comes through to Gus when he’s touring, or he’s at these low points in life and they lift you up.”
Aside from the documentary being about Peep it also chronicles ad specific moment in the music industry when things were changing at rapid paces from unlikely artists. It’s pretty liberating. What are your thoughts on this how Peep factored into this industry where people are growing up on the internet?
Silyan “First and foremost he used that so well to his advantage, there is this portion in the film where he is about to upload some music to SoundCloud. He had this immediate expertise on how to present himself and market himself on social media. He just knew how to put himself in front of people and get their attention. He’s a firm believer in SoundCloud, it’s something you share immediately, it’s too precious to just let it sit there for nobody to hear. It’s how he churned out so much music in so little time.”
Being part of this era of music it seems that art and culture could just flow through you like osmosis. Can you attest to Peep’s creative process, and how did you guys want to visualize that in the film? Did you witness this at all first hand?
Jones: “In the movie, we didn’t have a ton of footage of him recording, but we wanted to show you the speed of how this was happening.”
Silyan: “It seemed like this thing that was sort of sacred he would record wee hours of the night, or when he felt like it. I never saw him record and I don’t think he wanted people filming. I do think it was characterized in the film, but his process was very much as he mentions in his interview with Zane Lowe Surround yourself with good people and the energy of what’s in the room will bring out the creative spark. I’ll leave it at that and make sure he speaks for himself on the subject.”
This is one of the most invigorating music docs I’ve seen in some time. What are some films you guys used to seek inspiration?
Jones: I tried to actively not watch stuff while I was editing the film, but I will say that I saw this movie before I was working on the film called Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck and sometimes cite that film to the Kyle (Sequist) the other guy in the editing room. I love that movie, but I tried to stay away from films like that so as not to be too influenced.”
Silyan: “Sort of the same idea for me, but I wanted to achieve the same feelings as the movie AMY where you get to know this person and even though we use separate narrative devices it’s not aesthetically the same at all, but the goal is to have this character study of a human is the same idea.”
Coming away from the project how will you look back at this experience with such a singular subject?
Jones: “Oh gosh I don’t know it’s hard to say, but it will be an experience that I’ll look back and be like wow that’s something that happened. It’s certainly a unique memory for sure.”
Silyan: “I just feel privileged to be part of the telling this story. I know I’ll just be grateful for this experience five, ten years from now that I got to know Gus and his family and help spread his legacy.”
LIL PEEP: EVERYBODY’S EVERYTHING
In Select Theaters on Nov. 15.