Emerson alumni Julia Mattison and Noel Carey, both from the Class of 2011, have been getting roles on stage and screen. Now they've teamed up to produce Brooklyn Sound, a comedy web series about Lucy, a 20-something woman (Mattison) who inherits a recording studio with a deep history and deeper debt. Lucy and her head engineer, Joel (Carey), record artists (mostly Mattison and Carey) with varying degrees of talent and weirdness, trying to make enough money to save the studio from the machinations of their rapacious landlady, Jillian (Kathy Searle). Also, there is an intern called Pam (alumna Quinn Marcus ’13). The series has a couple of Emerson alums behind the camera, too, including director Drew Van Steenbergen ’11 and director of photography Matthew Figler ’11.
Each five- to ten-minute episode features a recording session with a different artist, and each brings Brooklyn Sound closer and closer to the abyss. But can it be saved?
We asked Mattison about the show, collaborating with her fellow Emersonians, and dental hygiene. Some answers have been edited for length.
Is there an actual failing recording studio somewhere in Brooklyn that inspired the series?
There’s no one specific studio that inspired the series, but there are a number of recording studios in New York that have been forced to close recently, due to rising rent and less work. The Magic Shop…is an amazing studio that just closed. Most recently, The Magic Shop recorded David Bowie’s Blackstar, but it was priced out of the area and had to shut down.
We were also really inspired by Dave Grohl’s documentary, Sound City, which featured the legendary Sound City recording studio in LA, which also closed. It’s a really crazy time for recording studios when technology has advanced to the point that artists can record quality work on their laptops, but to us this shift is a complete bummer, because working with a group of musicians in a studio with a talented engineer is an unbeatable experience.
Regarding the studio we filmed at, my boyfriend (Anthony “Rocky” Gallo) built Virtue and Vice studios from the ground up, and it was very inspiring to watch him build this business from the beginning and to really be an advocate for independent artists. Plus, he gave us a good discount.
Who wrote the songs for the series? Did you actually perform them?
Noel and I wrote all of the songs for the series together. Writing music together is one of our favorite things to do, and it was very much the fundamental reason for coming up with this series. We wanted an excuse to write songs in various musical genres, and to find an environment where these songs and characters could thrive.
We recorded all of the songs in advance at the studio, so that when we actually filmed, it was shot a bit like a music video over playback. There was a great team of musicians and collaborators that helped us achieve the sounds we were looking for, and Rocky engineered all of the tracks.
You’ve known Noel since your Emerson days. Did you collaborate on projects in school, and is this the first thing you’ve done together post-grad? How about Drew and Matthew?
Noel and I started collaborating pretty instantly when we met freshman year at Emerson. We were both in the Musical Theatre BFA program and knew very quickly that our minds and our comedic and musical sensibilities were very much in sync. I remember we first started collaborating by renting out rehearsal rooms in Piano Row and creating mashups of Beatles songs. Freshman year we were also in the same English class, and for an assignment we paired up to create a film called The ‘That Guy’ Tour of Boston, which was a historical tour of Boston that focused on the random guys in photos that nobody had ever heard of. For example, if you saw an illustration depicting Paul Revere’s ride, we would focus on the random guy behind the tree that has nothing to do with anything.
The rest of our time at Emerson definitely involved endless jokes and songs, but we didn't really write and create content together until after we graduated. Last year, Noel joined me in Ruby Manger Live! at 54 Below, about an old Broadway legend who is revisiting her career and her ten-year stint in rehab. Noel and I wrote some of the music together, and he played Randy Newman (Ruby’s sidekick). That was a big catalyst for reminding us that we had to keep doing more work together.
Drew and I became friends senior year at Emerson, but at that time we didn't have any intention of collaborating. Post-college, I had seen the awesome work he had done with Quinn on all of her projects, and I was absolutely excited about the idea of working together at some point down the line. He actually came to see the Ruby show, and after that we got together to talk about maybe working together.
Matt was similar to Drew for me, in that I admired his work after Emerson, but wasn’t sure when we might collaborate, though I hoped we would. Actually, the three of us did work together once pre-Brooklyn Sound, when they helped me film an audition tape for SNL two years ago. It took two hours in a little studio space, but they were awesome and I was excited about working with them again on something soon.
What was the most important thing you learned at Emerson in terms of your career?
The most important things I learned at Emerson were how to open myself up as an actor, and how to find power in creating your own work and carving your own path. In the BFA program, I gained confidence in my body and in my voice, and I learned how to really break down scenes and songs to make clear, specific choices (shout-out to Scott LaFeber!). It was a slow process for me, but by junior and senior year in the BFA program, I was able to find a new confidence in myself and in my acting work that I very much thank Emerson for.
In terms of creating my own work, joining a comedy troupe at Emerson was the best thing I could have done, and it really confirmed my desire to pursue a career in comedy. I joined Chocolate Cake City my sophomore year at Emerson, and having a group to meet with and write with every week was very fundamental for me. I wrote and composed Human Centipede: The Musical in my senior year, along with Chocolate Cake City, and the success of that show online was a great launch into the comedy world when I first moved to New York.
One of my favorite things about Emerson is that there are unbelievable resources in film, comedy, media, etc., but there is no handbook that tells you how to access all of those things. I remember passing WECB studios on the way to class and wondering “How do I get in there?”, or seeing film students work on projects and having no idea how to be an actor in their projects but knowing that I had to find a way. Emerson provided great training wheels for the real world as an artist, in the sense that you were constantly surrounded by exciting and creative possibilities, but it was up to you as an individual to work really hard and put yourself out there and introduce yourself to people in order to get to where you want to be.
What are you up to next? The rest of the cast/crew?
Right now we’re just continuing building a great audience for Brooklyn Sound, and we look forward to meeting with networks and companies to hopefully give the show a bigger platform. We’re currently talking about a season two, and we’re also developing other projects together and individually. Noel is currently on tour with Murder for Two; [I am] developing a new standup comedy/music show and some other scripts; and Drew, Andrew, and Matt are working on an exciting new project with Quinn Marcus that I’m sure you’ll be hearing about soon.
Where did you get Josiah and the Teeth’s teeth?
The teeth were our own, but the awful yellow coloring was thanks to Lili Kaytmaz and her makeup artistry. Josiah and the Teeth can’t afford dental. Hopefully they’ll have a hit song soon and put that money toward some pearly whites.