story / Ilyse Kennedy
photos / Taylor Boylston
As we turn to double digits, for many, make-believe becomes just make believe. This is not so for artist and director, Ericka Clevenger. At 30-years-old, she lets her imagination take the lead and brings her childhood fantasies to life. In her latest video for Deap Vally’s sorry not sorry rock n’ roll anthem, “Julian,” we see a group of Misfits taking down the sleazy Julian. With brightly colored skin of blues and greens and a lot of glitter, Clevenger’s crew of misfits teaches Julian a lesson about the beauty of being unique. In a nod to our current political climate and the dream of taking down a red toupee wearer, Clevenger creates a world where misfits rule. She is so meticulous in the details of the worlds she creates for the film that she is able to transport an audience, even for a 5-minute music video, into her imagination. I got to chat with Ericka about Moon Babies, being a G, and her next project—a doll with a toupee made of armpit hair modeled after Ivanka Trump’s dad.
Tell me about your video “Julian” for Deap Vally?
I’ve been friends with Lindsey and Julie forever; I was actually their first manager. Lindsey and I had always talked about doing a video together and when they came out with their new album “Femejism” they were reaching out to a lot of female directors. The goal when they first released the album was to have 5 or 6 different videos directed by 5 or 6 female directors so that’s how I got involved. I chose “Julian” because I had this image in my mind of the Matt Dillon character from “There’s Something About Mary”—the cheesy fake teeth slimy guy, so that was kind of the inspiration for Julian.
What was your inspiration for the dream world in this video, and your other videos?
There was so much leading up to the election that was really hitting me hard. With the election going on, it really changed me and had me reevaluate myself as a woman and why I do the things that I do. With everything I (direct) I always try to have a humor about it and a light-hearted nature. The misfits are basically people who don’t have egos. They’re a perfect balance of male and female energy, which we all have inside of us, and I really like the idea of having this really happy, child-like, neutral space. It definitely has a very political message and feminist message but I wanted it to be without male baiting. I remember all of my dreams and when I was thinking of this video, I was having really vivid dreams. I had a lot of dreams of being transported in bubbles and I think because I grew up watching “The Wizard of Oz” for so long. When I’m having weird energy or there’s a lot going on in the world, I imagine myself being in this perfect little rainbow bouncy bubble protecting me from everything. That was kind of the inspiration behind it. The misfits see from this other planet what’s happening and transport themselves through this giant bubble and kidnap Julian and bring him back to their dimension to show him how wonderful life can be with a perfectly balanced female and male energy in a very childish way. The misfits and moon babies will be in everything I ever do. They are an extension of my soul.
What is your creative process as a writer and director?
Art direction is huge for me. First, the people come to my mind, then the world and where the people would live, and then I create the props first. For all the videos I’ve ever done, I spend a month making props and building everything. I wish I was a more dedicated writer. Writing is so dark for me and it’s really hard for me to pull myself out of that hole once I get there; so often times I never go. This is something I am trying to change.
Tell me about Moon Babies.
A constant thing I have in all my work is this safe place where everyone in it completely accepts you for who you are, like the weirdo’s. When I did the video “Paper Doll” for PYYRAMIDS (featuring Tim Nordwind of OK GO and Drea Smith) I had this idea of having imaginary friends that were paper dolls. In that video, there are all these weird paper mache head people that are there for her when she goes through this severe heartbreak and reverts back to a childlike state. All her imaginary friends from her childhood come back to support her and lift her up. Moon Babies was something that was birthed on 4th of July 2010. I went camping in Joshua Tree with a bunch of my friends and we came up with this idea of Moon Babies. They’re cute little moon children who are half animal half people that are from another planet and have been sent to earth. They’re the misunderstood ones that have been wandering and their true happiness is when they all find each other. That’s what I feel about my friends and my community. We’re all from so many different walks of life but somehow we all ended up on earth in the same place at the same time and we all met and all connected and made this universe for ourselves. Moon Babies are like my life, every day I’m a moon baby, but when I make videos (my characters) are all Moon Babies. They’re all the misfits–people that are destined for greatness and they find that within their community. Its the ultimate happiness to be a moon baby. Its when I am truly being my best.
How did you get comfortable being a misfit?
I still struggle with it. Right now is the most comfortable and confident I’ve felt in my ability to pursue my art as a career. I think for me it’s always been my own personal therapy. I feel like I’m such a split personality. Part of me has the pressure to go to grad school and become a “real adult” and being comfortable with being a misfit is like connecting with your soul. It’s putting the adult expectations aside and just being happy with where you are and the world that you’ve created for yourself. I think the key to being truly comfortable and happy with being a misfit is cultivating the small things in your life. Misfits don’t care about what other people are doing at all. They don’t compare themselves to other people. Misfits know that there is an infinite success out there and creativity for everybody. Just because someone else is more successful than you doesn’t mean they’re taking your success away from you. Being a misfit is being with your friends and yourself emotionally and spiritually and knowing the universe will take care of you.
How have you been able to put faith in the notion that you will get paid for your art while hustling in the meantime before you’re seeing the financial success you would like?
I think it all comes from rap music. People wouldn’t know by looking at me but I love rap music so much. Having that “g mentality” in your heart that every day is a hustle. I didn’t come from the mean streets of Compton but I grew up in a small-minded midwest town where you had to fight to be different. I have a single mom who had modest means and we had to get creative. Growing up in a house where I didn’t have a lot but never realized I didn’t have a lot, and I still have that today. I keep that “g mentality” that every day is a hustle, you have to keep going; every connection you make could be something that leads to something else. I’ve always had so much energy; which is a blessing and a curse. When I was younger I was diagnosed with ADD and my mom never put me on medication. When I was in my early 20’s, I was scared, I didn’t know what I was doing with my life and I got on medication which almost killed me. It didn’t mix well with my body and developed paranoia. Those were some of my darkest days and I’m so glad I made it out alive.
Now that you’re off medication, it seems like you’re able to use that energy to your advantage and make ADD a positive thing.
Everyone always says about my videos, “that’s so crazy,” it’s chaos but it’s fun. One thing I’ve learned, as an adult is society tries to kill that kid in you, when you start daydreaming, it’s not normal. All my report cards would always say “Ericka would do super great if she applied herself.” They don’t realize I was applying myself to my dreams and imagination. Whatever you have been given physically and mentally, use it as a gift. If I had stayed on Adderall and listened to what everyone told me to do, I would not be where I am. I have gone against every single thing anyone has ever told me. To this day I go back home, and lots of people in Nebraska don’t get it, and that’s okay. That’s where the misfits and moon babies come in. You have a whole community of people out there who do get it.
What is next for you?
I’m currently working on two new video treatments and doing lots of stop motion. I’m working on a lyric music video for the Deap Vally using lots of glitter, sand, and tiny figurines. I’m also working on a trippy 90’s feminist video. Women around Los Angeles are donating their armpit hair and we’re dying it the color of Trump’s toupee. I have a wig maker who is making a little tiny toupee that’s being sewn on a Trump doll that this awesome teen painter Siena Foster is making and then I’m having an art show where I’m auctioning off the Trump doll for Planned Parenthood. I’ll be releasing four episodes of “Planet Rocke With Taylor Locke.” And writing my first short film. My goal is by the end of the year to spend at least 50% of my life working on my creative projects.