Tom Kim & Near Northeast – Greta


After a successful run in his Lost Origins Gallery solo art show Milk Relics, Tom Kim‘s short animated film “Greta” is now ready for a worldwide audience. Dedicated to the world-famous 16 year old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, “Greta” is composed of over 1000 painstaking hand drawings, accompanied by the instrumental song “Cenote” from the 2015 debut album Curios by experimental folk group Near Northeast.

Hometown Sounds emailed with Kim and Avy Malik of Near Northeast to find out more about this collaboration.

NNE, you’ve always been into collaboration and cross-pollination, but the recent release Cabin Sessions upped the game considerably with visual contributions from a number of artists. How did this come about and how did you meet Tom Kim?

NNE: Like most things with this Near Northeast, the Cabin Sessions collaborations came together with equal parts luck and us annoying our very talented friends. Tom is an old friend, and we have always loved his very original drawing and animation style. The album itself is a collaboration with another dear friend Takunda Matose, a Zimbabwean-American Nashville-based singer-songwriter whose music we have loved for many years. The songs we made together felt like impressionistic sketches to us, since they were all written and recorded very quickly in cabins in Shenandoah. At the same time, Tom and other visual artist friends reached out to us with the idea of having pop up house party art shows in a similar vein to the many house party concerts we had thrown over the years in DC and elsewhere. We hosted and performed at some of these pop up shows, and they were magical — art all over a house or apartment, with music and spoken word performances.

Back to our album Cabin Sessions – at the last moment before the album came out, while brainstorming album art, we came up with the idea of having a sketch for each song, drawn by an artist we love who had exhibited at these popup art shows. We made a limited edition run of CDs that come with prints of each pieces of the artwork that you can order from Etxe Records’ website. Oh, and Tom made the beautiful black and white sketch of the cabin that we put on the front cover as an ink block print.

Tom recently completed a month-long showcase at the Lost Origins Gallery in Mt. Pleasant that involved members of Near Northeast and a wonderfully diverse roster of DC music acts. Tell us about this event from your perspective.

NNE: To us, Tom’s Milk Relics series, in which some of us performed, felt like a continuation and culmination of that beautifully intersectional approach from the popup house party art shows we played earlier this year. It was a special series that was created with a lot of care and thought by Tom, and hopefully we can convince him to do another series so that we get inspired to create more strange sounds to play between the canvases.

This short film Greta made a special appearance in the Lost Origins show called Milk Relics. Tom, what’s the origin of this piece and how did you accomplish it?

Tom: A large part of the Milk Relics series is about climate change. When I was working on the pieces for the show which are predominantly oil paintings, I realized I also wanted to add something a little more fun. I love the simple beauty of cartoons, so I thought, why not make a little animation? At that time, a friend had sent me a video of one of Greta Thunberg’s first speeches to the UN. Her eloquence, logic and unwavering fervor made this room full of the world’s political elites look like a room full of petty misguided children. At the age of 14, this child possessed the voice of a revolutionary. I had always loved the rebel quote by Dinos Christianopoulos, “they buried us, but they forgot that we were seeds” — so I decided to make a simple animation on my tablet telling the story of a little seed that despite being beaten down, rises up, and grows to become a magnificent verdant flower. About a thousand frames later, Greta was born.

What’s the music used in this film and how did you select it?

Tom: I love to listen to music while I work. I was listening to Near Northeast’s album Curios while putting the finishing touches on the paintings for the show, and the song “Cenote” came on. I had already had the concept for the animation, but needed to find a soundtrack. The moment I heard it, I knew — simple, beautiful, weird and with mounting tension, it was perfect. I emailed the band my vague idea, and after getting permission, I excitedly began working on the project.

NNE: Cenote was written on a left-handed nylon string guitar, which means that when Avy the guitarist strummed the instrument, the treble notes were more prominent, almost like a banjo. To us, it has a funeral dirge-like quality, but hopefully with some fight in it, so it felt like a great fit for Tom’s piece on Greta. Folks who listen to our music may be surprised that we don’t stay within the confines of the folk genre, and outliers like “Cenote” hopefully keep our listeners on their toes. In fact, I (Avy) remember driving with a friend who was playing our album Curios in her car, and when that song came on, she changed it, saying that she found the tension in the track “troubling”. The punk rock side of me was super happy we had written something that someone hated! At the same time, Tom was immediately drawn to the weirdness and mounting tension of the song, and that’s the subjective beauty of music.

What are your hopes for this film?

Tom: I’d love it if Greta could see it someday, smile, and just know that she is appreciated. Other than that, I think it would also be cool to project it somewhere, and have Near Northeast perform the song live. That would be awesome.

What are both Tom Kim and Near Northeast working on for the future?

Tom: I am working with [Near Northeast member] Austin Blanton on another cartoon passion project about a taco wandering the post-apocalyptic wasteland, titled of course: ApocaTaco. Right now its just an esoteric Instagram graphic cartoon series @ApocaTaco, but I have high hopes for doing a lot more with it in the future. Other than that, I love working with every member of the band, because they are plainly put, kind, funny, fun, and obviously incredibly talented people.

NNE: We are about halfway done with our next album, making lots of use of synths and pedals and loops — our next effort may end up becoming a more industrial and electronic sibling to the organic and wooden sound of Cabin Sessions, but who knows. We are hoping to collaborate with visual artists we love like Tom again. One dream would be to give several animators and artists a few common themes and motifs that recur in our next album, and have them do visuals, animations, or strange installations for each song, and have them as part of our live set. But again, one thing we’ve found in making music over five years and three albums is that the creative process will direct us more often than us directing the process!

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