Art by Samuel Ryo
As we head into the new year, we're looking back at some of our favorite conversations of 2014.
We spent the year catching up with many of your favorite artists and actors, discussing career high points, new material and some of the most discussed issues of the past 12 months, such as the film industry's role in race relations and the rise of music streaming.
In addition to some of the year's biggest breakout acts (Sam Smith, BANKS, Charli XCX), we sat down with the likes of Foster the People, Porter Robinson, Luke James, Alt-J, Little Dragon, Chris Lowell, Tessa Thompson and more.
Check out some of our favorites below (in no particular order).
Photo courtesy AP
SAM SMITH | Singer
“I’m grateful for the work I’ve done before with other artists, but ultimately, every artist is on their own journey. And this is mine ... I wanted to put myself out there and—to be honest, the album is a body of work. And I’m not sure how I feel about collaborations on bodies of work."
Photo courtesy Rebel One
ALEX DA KID | Music Producer, Label Executive
“If someone has entrusted me with their career, it’s a massive responsibility. I just don’t take that lightly. I know in my own career, I take it very seriously who I work with and what I put in their hands. I do everything humanly possible to help the people I’m working with, I just don’t know how to do it any other way.”
Photo by Timothy Saccenti
CHROMEO | Music Duo
“If we make Billboard, it’ll be a great day. But we know where we came from. When Fancy Footwork was coming out around 2006-2007, we were championed by blogs. They gave us a shot when the other guys said it wouldn’t work. And we’re forever grateful for that culture. We’ll forever be a blog band.”
Photo by Darren Ankenman
FOSTER THE PEOPLE | Band
"‘Pumped Up Kicks’ never should have been a hit, never. It never should have been top 40, or even top five. Same with Lorde. The fact that it did happen is a huge success for music. The fact that there are these alternative songs sandwiched between Rihanna and Beyoncé. I see it only as a good thing. I may never write another song like that again, but we were never supposed to. So I don’t have to defeat these expectations, we already did that.”
Photo courtesy SSENSE
SZA | Vocalist
“I think for a long time it was easier to box me into a group of other women, or just a sound in general because it was like, 'Oh, this is what they're doing' or 'This is what's new, blah, blah, blah.’ There's something different about this project and there's something I think will separate me from the pack a little bit.”
Photo courtesy artist
BROODS | Music Duo
“Soundcloud deserves more credit than they get. It’s a great place to find music. Especially for people who do remixes, it’s a great way to get your stuff out there. They give new artists and artists like us resources that wouldn’t be available to us otherwise. Album sales just aren’t what they used to be, but I’m more concerned about people being able to listen to our music and for our music to get out there and be heard."
Photo by Michael Lavine
X AMBASSADORS | Band
"Living in New York, you get so obsessed with the blog world because that is how a lot of new music is being discovered. But to the rest of the country, radio is still a big, big thing. Even in L.A. when we're driving around, the radio is always on and that's where I hear a lot of stuff for the first time. I think it's still very much a powerful tool ... It's great to see that radio can still have a hand in breaking bands."
Photo by Timothy Saccenti
PHANTOGRAM | Music Duo
"[Big Boi has been] kind of a mentor to us in a way. He’s always rooting for us. Whenever we stop in when we’re on tour and stuff, we play him our stuff and he gets really excited about it ... We’re going to release an EP with him where it’ll be a collaboration of stuff. Because we’ve got more than just one song idea. It just gives us another really fun excuse to work with him for longer.”
Photo by Estevan Oriol
KID INK | Rapper
"To be able to have the Chris Brown records, that’s a big deal. I think everyone kind of just respects the good music at the end of the day and aren’t really putting it towards anything, we just have the songs. I know it’s easy with Chris’ situation to get really wrapped up in all the bad things we hear. And he’s had his struggles of course. But I think music always just overtakes the negative stuff, as long as it’s good music.”
Photo by Jesse Jenkins
BASTILLE | Band
“It’s always been really important to us to release a lot of music … the idea was to make a bunch of songs we really like, but that allowed us to kind of experiment. The thing that we found really gratifying in England was ‘Pompeii’ doing well, but then the album did quite well, which means that people hopefully really like the collection of songs and not just a single.”
Photo by Amelia Troubridge
SOHN | Producer, Singer-Songwriter
"I had to force myself to take on the attitude that I’ve had from being a producer working on other people’s music and take that into my own work ... When you’re working on something for BANKS or Kwabs or Erik Hassle, you have to get that shit done. There’s just no excuses. And sometimes you don’t hold yourself to that same timeline when it’s only yours. With the others, you have labels and managers and they’re saying, ‘We have to put that shit out. Give it to us.’"
Photo by Bella Howard
CHARLI XCX | Singer-Songwriter
“There were a lot of people who didn’t believe in me at the beginning of my career. I wasted a lot of time with people—with older men—in the industry who didn’t think I had potential because I was just a girl. Now that I realize how ridiculous that was, I feel like I have a lot to do ... We have to keep pushing forward. And [my next album] is going to be my way of doing that.”
Photo by Williams + Hirakawa
BANKS | Singer-Songwriter
"It’s probably easy for some people to think songs on an album are just thrown together, and maybe that’s true for some. But all my songs are like my children, except they’re more than that because children are half your DNA and every one of these songs is 100 percent my DNA."
Photo courtesy Chris Lowell
CHRIS LOWELL | Actor, Director, Photographer
"[Beck Bennett] was in my first student film at USC and just about everything I’ve made since, so it was only right that he be in my first film. But everybody knows Beck as this larger-than-life, goofy comedy guy. I feel privileged to be able to expose some of the depth of his talent ... his talent is just unprecedented."
Photo by Shane Mahood
SARAH RAFFERTY | Actress
"The Suits writers just do such an amazing job of developing these characters and their stories, and I think because you do see the women on the show go toe-to-toe with the men and hold their own, because you can almost believe these characters are real people despite their very fictional drama, that’s part of why the show is successful.”
Photo by Shelby Duncan
TESSA THOMPSON | Actress, Vocalist
“I think if we can continue to make content that doesn’t beat up an audience but lets them know, whether you’re someone who feels marginalized—which happens to people of color—or whether you’re not and you don’t know how to navigate this new space we’re in where we want to be more lighthearted about race, past political correctness, it’s all OK ... These issues are really relevant, and we’re not in a place yet where we’re beyond talking about them.”
Photo by Sam Boise
THE CHAINSMOKERS | Production Duo
“It was great because it was like, ‘We’re actually homies.’ We hit it off immediately and I really think that made all the difference. We think the same things are funny. We think the same girls are hot. We think the same food is good. There were definite similarities immediately that helped make the working relationship go smoothly. When you’re constantly together, that’s important.”
Photo of CHVRCHES' Lauren Mayberry by Thomas Hawk
CHVRCHES | Music Trio
"When you read about HAIM, there’s almost never an article that doesn’t reference the fact that they’re women. Having seen them live and played festivals with them, they’re a great live band. So it seems a shame that that’s focused on, but I believe it can also be focused on in a positive way, trying to bring more diversity to the music industry. Because it can be kind of a sexist place, but certainly in magazines and media coverage."
Photo by Marco van Rijt
LITTLE DRAGON | Band
"There are a lot of bands I wish you would hear on the radio. The major radio stations just sound like playlists made by robots. Radio is so foreign to me, but from my view, it might as well be the mafia."
Photo by Marcus Haney
ALT-J | Music Trio
“We know we’re not just making music for ourselves anymore. Once you make an album or write a book or whatever it may be, you no longer have the final say on what it means. It’s open to interpretation. It doesn’t just belong to you now.”
Photo by Rachel Epstein
PORTER ROBINSON | Producer, Musician
“I’m not as interested in EDM as I used to be because the genre has gotten pretty homogenized ... You need to have a build-up and a warning and a drop. And I think that ultimately if you are trying to make really expressive music, you have to cut corners and make compromises in that genre. I found that was limiting and keeping me from saying what I wanted to say with my music. So I decided I’m not making music for DJs anymore, I’m going to make music for listening.”
Photo by Byron Cohen
CHRIS GEERE | Actor
"As an actor who has to do these scenes, sometimes it’s uncomfortable having certain parts of your body being exposed. But it’s part of the character. I’m just grateful I’m not on one of those CW network vampire programs where everyone is perfect with sculpted bodies ... Once upon a time, sex scenes had to be sexy and choreographed. We convey these moments in a real way. I mean, masturbation isn’t necessarily pretty. Drunk sex isn’t romantic.”
Photo by Eliot Lee Hazel
SIR SLY | Music Trio
“[These] songs aren’t really for people to have a good time but songs that tell important stories. They convey things that I needed to get out. It’s kind of like journaling for me. Since I was 14, it’s the way I process everything. So I hope people find common threads, and maybe my stories might sound like their own.”
Photo by Shane McCauley
DILLON FRANCIS | Music Producer, DJ
"You have to keep things fun and interesting and not get stuck, or everything gets oversaturated and eventually everyone is like, ‘This sucks, man!’ And they move on to the next thing or, I don’t know, they’ll start listening to rock music again. But that’s gonna happen regardless, because everything goes up and down."
Photo by Zackery Michael
HOW TO DRESS WELL | Singer-Songwriter
"[I began this project] to push against what I perceived to be stagnant trends. I never feel comfortable when people say, 'Oh you sound like this guy.' It’s always a mental note, 'OK, don’t sound like that anymore.'"
Photo by Melissa Moseley/HBO
THOMAS SADOSKI | Actor
“We expected journalists to be pissed off at us. If you’re talking about how the culture needs to change, it’s possible the culture isn’t going to respond favorably. [The media] is comfortable, they’re complacent already. We were all in it for the long haul though. We believed we were saying something meaningful."
Photo by Alex Lake
HOZIER | Singer-Songwriter
“I remember the day when someone first told me ‘Take Me to Church’ had hit the top page on Reddit. I didn’t even know. We had uploaded it to YouTube and someone who was an acquaintance of my brother put it up on Reddit ... Suddenly we were getting like 10,000 views an hour. I remember that night when I first found out, it was kind of scary and overwhelming. I stayed up all night just watching the hits, just in awe.”
Photo by Thom Kerr
KIMBRA | Vocalist
“I really think pop music can be a place where people use their minds when they listen to it. They can unpack it for themselves and decipher symbolism and live inside a song. It can be three-dimensional. I truly believe that.”
Photo by Dan Monick
ATMOSPHERE | Hip-Hop Duo
"[Hip-hop] is about covering the insecurities. It’s about, ‘Hey, I didn’t have shit. I came from nothing. And now that I’m here, this is my way of covering up some of my weaknesses' ... That speaks to a lot of people. That’s why rap connects with so many people. Because you might hear 'gold chains and women,' but underneath, they’re coming from a place of weakness, from the streets, from poverty, from failure. So when they go, ‘Look at me now,’ fans latch on to that.”
Photo by Shamil Tanna
PAOLO NUTINI | Singer-Songwriter
“Some of my friends had kids and it made me think, if I were ever to become a father, I needed to know a few things. I didn’t even know how to drive, so I learned how to drive and I learned to do things with my hands, fix things. I spent time with my friends and family, I got high and just enjoyed life.”