By Kyle MacKinnel, Photos by Samantha Urbani, Autumn Durlad and Keegan Allen on July 9, 2014
Our reputations will precede us. It doesn’t matter the person, or whether one’s impression of her was formed in the context of a rumor or a fleeting glance. Image is a requisite hurdle that we must clear before we can truly know each other; in some cases, this feat can be more of a decathlon. Such was the inevitable gauntlet laid out for the granddaughter of acetate legend Francis Ford Coppola and niece of director Sofia Coppola (not to mention cousin of Nicolas Cage and the Schwartzman boys). Nevertheless, the sweetly reticent Gia Coppola has managed to emerge seemingly out of midair, her buzzing debut feature, Palo Alto, in hand.
And the film brings with it a reputation of its own. Adapted by Gia from a book of spent-youth stories written by James Franco (and his team of clones), Palo Alto features a real menagerie of Hollywood figures and their offspring, including Franco, Emma Roberts, Val Kilmer and his son, Jack, and even a sneaky voice-over cameo from the Coppola patriarch himself. Star power notwithstanding, what really fuels this film is the candid and occasionally brutal naiveté conjured from Franco’s stories by Coppola, filtered through her own coming of age in shiny California. The purr of Palo Alto’s engine? We have Dev Hynes to thank for this.
The London-born Devonté Hynes, in turn, is preceded by his own music. Known for his solo projects Lightspeed Champion and, more recently, Blood Orange, Hynes has written and produced heavily for such artists as The Chemical Brothers and Solange Knowles, and is the man responsible for Sky Ferreira’s arresting breakout jam, “Everything Is Embarrassing” (more on this later). In his contributions to the Palo Alto soundtrack, Hynes has produced some of his most moving work yet, sonically embodying the bliss-laced conflict that April (Roberts) feels after a clandestine hookup with her creepy soccer coach (Franco, of course). His eponymous daygroove, “Palo Alto,” helped to light the blogosphere aflame with anticipation after being featured in the film’s trailer.
The audiovisual collaboration between Hynes and Coppola forms the fabric of some of Palo Alto’s most poignant moments, and this comes as no surprise upon understanding the pair’s congenial rapport. Taking pause from their busy schedules to join FILTER on the phone, 20-somethings Dev and Gia are set to rap about such pressing topics as pickup soccer, domestic violence against inanimate objects and what exactly Ariel Pink is holding hostage in his home. Hello, it seems Dev is dialing in as we speak.
[Dev Hynes dials into the conference call 20 minutes late.]
Gia Coppola: Hi, where were you?
Dev Hynes: Um, my time was wrong. I thought it was 2:40, but then I realized my watch had stopped.
Coppola: [Laughs] Are you in New York? What are you doing? What’s your day like?
Hynes: I’ve been preparing because I just joined a soccer team, and our first game of the season is this evening.
Coppola: Oh, awesome. How’s the weather in New York, is it better now?
Hynes: Yeah, it’s actually pretty good. Today and yesterday have been sunny.
Coppola: Of course I come to LA and it’s gloomy. But I’m just in a room all day, so at least it’s not super nice; then I’d feel really sad.
Hynes: What are you doing in a room?
Coppola: I just sit in a room and I do different interviews every 15 minutes.
Hynes: Oh man. It’s like one of those…junkets? Is that what they call it? Shit. What are some of the questions you’ve been asked a lot in the junket?
Coppola: I guess the one that’s always hard to say in short is how this project came together. It’s such a long story and you have to be concise and sum it up into one sentence. It’s a little bit of a challenge. What’s the one question you keep getting?
Hynes: One question—and I’m going to paraphrase because it’s roundabout—is, “How did moving to New York influence this album?” And I’ve been asked that for…eight years.
Yeah, it’s funny. I’ve been reading Conversations with Marlon Brando, and every now and then he’s like, “There should be a handbook given out to interviewers,” but I feel like his interview book should be the handbook given to interviewers.
Coppola: I gotta get that. I heard that Fellini would get so bored having to answer the same question over and over again that he would just start making up answers to make it interesting for him, and tell a new story every time. One answer was never the same.
Word has it Ariel Pink does that sometimes, too.
Hynes: Ariel has a bunch of my stuff right now! I don’t know if you remember, Gia, when I was in LA in January and February? That was when I was playing with moving there. I bought quite a lot of stuff, like a guitar, speakers, a skateboard… I was in this apartment, trying to convince myself I was going to move there. But then I was like, “Oh, I’m just going to go back to New York.” But I really hate carrying stuff, so [Ariel] has, somewhere, all of that, a keyboard, a tuner…
Coppola: Where does he live? Highland Park? I shot him, and it was a pretty crazy, uh…place he lived in.
Hynes: Oh, you took photos? Oh, cool. Yeah, it’s probably that same place, actually. So I just had to drop it off on my way to the airport.
Coppola: That is out of the way to the airport, for sure.
Hynes: Yeah [laughs]. I couldn’t think of anyone else to keep all this shit I bought. But, yeah, it’s there, somewhere.
Coppola: Hopefully it’s still there. When does your [Palo Alto] score come out?
Hynes: I think the beginning of June.
Coppola: Did you figure out a cover?
Hynes: Kind of… I think it’s going to be a different one, like a painting or a drawing. I think Samantha [Urbani, Dev’s frequent collaborator and girlfriend] is going to do something.
Coppola: Samantha? Oh, does she draw?
Hynes: Yeah, she’s a really good painter and drawer.
Coppola: Oh, I had no idea. She has awesome style and she’s very pretty.
Hynes: She isn’t very avid, and it’s like how I feel about guitar, where I kind of despise it.
Hynes: I have a weird hangup over it. I don’t know what it is. I don’t bring a guitar or anything; I just borrow from whoever, whatever the venue or place is. Even with Coachella, because I kind of hate guitars. I play them a lot.
Coppola: You hate playing them? Or you just don’t like them?
Hynes: I don’t know, it’s like a weird abusive relationship [laughs]. Gia, do you have anything like that, that you do but hate?
Coppola: I guess writing. I hate getting into it, but obviously it’s really important in order to make the stories that I want to make. But sometimes it just feels like pure torture. Writing is very lonely, where other elements of making a movie can be more collaborative.
Hynes: What was the scene [in Palo Alto] that you filmed first, as a test?
Coppola: There was a story called “April In Three Parts.” It’s sort of the main story that we use. There’s a character in it that’s like a Fred [Nat Wolff ] character, but I don’t think his name was Fred, and obviously it centered around the Teddy [Jack Kilmer] and April love story, and them trying to come together, but couldn’t because she was getting involved with her teacher [James Franco] and he kept getting into trouble. So I used that story, and I’ll never let that test see the light of day, but it was good practice. Do you ever do that with music? Do you ever do, like, a test round, and then get really embarrassed by it but it helps you figure out where you need to go?
Hynes: Yeah, I do. I’ve actually been doing that recently more than I ever have before.
Coppola: I felt really jealous when you were working on the score and you were churning out great stuff and it seemed fairly easy. Very quick. Like, man, he doesn’t seem to have to struggle at all.
Hynes: No, I don’t know. There’s a lot of… There’s a lot [laughs].
How did your collaboration on the film come about?
Coppola: I was just a big fan of Dev’s, and actually we ended up having a mutual friend in common, but I remember—I don’t have a Twitter anymore but I did at one point—I tweeted to Dev, “I’m a big fan!” And he saw it and tweeted back, “I like your stuff, too.” That was really exciting, and it was cool to be able to connect with someone in that way, and then get to be collaborating. You’d have no idea that that person saw your work had it not been through that medium.
When I sent Dev the movie, I knew that no matter what he was gonna do I would like [it]. The other day when we spoke at [Brooklyn Academy of Music], he said that he took [Palo Alto’s] kids’ emotions seriously and wasn’t belittling anything that, to them, felt like a big deal. And so he kind of conveyed that musically and heightened that feeling, which is really important to scoring. To get that mood and emotion across is the job of the composer.
Did you see your younger selves in any of the film’s characters?
Coppola: [To Dev] You’re such a Fred.
Hynes: Oh my god. No, I’m definitely more of a Teddy. I wouldn’t see myself as a bad kid, but definitely got into trouble like he did. He is the one that actually gets in trouble. But the character that really struck me, and every time I see it, is Zoe [Levin]’s character, Emily.
Coppola: Yeah, she is a sad story.
Hynes: That character really, really kills me. I can’t even work out what it is about that story, or maybe it’s just how she portrays it. Harsh.
Coppola: I guess you could say April [for me], just because the narrative is mostly through a young teenage girl’s eyes and, like, my mom plays the mom and stuff. I definitely used bits and pieces of my world, and my friends acting in certain ways. I feel like it’s such an important time, and the friends that you make at that age are definitely influential. It was weird for my friends to see the movie, because they could see all the things that I plucked from them. They were kind of weirded out.
Dev, do you feel like Gia’s work brought out something new in you?
Hynes: Yeah. I kept trying to push myself to kind of match what I felt the tone of the film was and to make what Gia wanted. I feel like with Gia, and Richard Beggs, a—what’s the technical term?
Coppola: Sound designer.
Hynes: OK, sound designer. They were pushing me in ways that I couldn’t push myself. And it’s new, too, because it’s music, but it’s not necessarily like writing songs with another singer, or someone else’s music to record something to. So, it takes you to different places and you think differently, which is really cool and fun for me. I’m not really too precious with what I do, but I am a fan of it and I’m confident in it. I like challenges, and I like, you know, “maybe this isn’t right with the violin here, play it again.” I kind of found that process working on the film.
Coppola: That’s cool. I didn’t know that. I saw something interesting in, I think, your article for Out magazine where you said something about the fact that this movie about teenagers was a good kind of subject matter, something you were excited by because in your lyrics you always are dealing with those sort of things and it was similar to what you already do?
Hynes: Yeah, that’s true. It’s funny because that tends to be where I do draw a lot of my lyrical emotions from. That point of view: a life-and-death scenario that isn’t actually life and death. I’ve always been obsessed with Del Shannon, and those kind of singers, or the Jackson 5. I actually find, because I think it can get misunderstood sometimes—this is a slight tangent, but, Gia, have we told you about when me and Samantha met? She was like—
Coppola: Yeah. I disagree with her!
Hynes: [Laughs] That’s good. That’s good to know. I do, too.
Coppola: That’s what I love about your music so much is that your lyrics are poetic, but there’s definitely this emotion behind it, and you can sense the truthful longing, and also, I guess, what The Strokes did for me when I was a teenager—it was so what you wanted to hear in that moment. Even “You’re Not Good Enough” is such a brutal lyric or, like, “it never was love.” I think you write really great lyrics, and I guess [Samantha] had a problem that they don’t treat women in a positive way… What was she saying?
Hynes: Yeah, this is what my girlfriend said before we knew each other. She tweeted at me about songs I’d written for other singers, saying that the lyrical stylings are somewhat degrading to women, and not positive in the sense of them having strong attitudes and strong grasps of their emotions, and that they don’t need…a man. But it’s funny because I think she was attaching a lot of things to it that aren’t really there, because normally I make a very teenaged type of music, essentially.
Coppola: I guess what I disagree about with that is, you don’t really know the perspective of where those lyrics are coming from. “Everything Is Embarrassing” could come from a young boy or a teenage girl.
Hynes: Oh, the weirdest thing about that one was that I wrote that song, no joke, like 10 minutes after a breakup with a girl that I’d lived with for two years. And she was actually packing her stuff up when I wrote that. So it was completely genuine scenery. F