Alex Kazemi, an enigma revealed
Alex Kazemi, an enigma revealed
INTERVIEW BY : VICTORIA JESIONEK | PHOTOS BY : MANDY-LYN
King Kong Magazine's newest visionary...
Alex Kazemi, a man of many mediums, started working in the fashion industry at the mere age of 15. Throughout his journey he has written songs for Ariel Pink, collaborated on viral campaigns for Marilyn Manson, and directed Snapchat’s first movie, amongst many other controversial creative endeavors. Cozying up behind the scenes and unintentionally establishing himself as an enigma in the publishing world, he’s finally emerging from the shadows as Pop Editor of King Kong Magazine.
What was it like growing up in Vancouver?
Vancouver shaped who I am as an artist. I have a big fetish for the Pacific Northwest, I love everything about the cold weather, the trees and nature. Growing up in the suburbs here was quiet and isolating. The weather in the fall and spring mirrors how I feel internally, the people are very distant but I’m not very social. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t really know how to socialize. I’m a Cancer, so I have a constant microscope on my feelings and emotions – I’m never not brooding and I feel like for that reason, I fit right into Vancouver.
What was your first job and when did you realize you were interested in publishing?
Kristin Prim and I were teenage editors at Prim Magazine and that was my first job when I was 15. The fashion media was interested in me, as this idea of a “prodigy” or “teen blogger” and I really detested it and for that reason I ignored NYFW invites. As a young teenager I decided I wanted to be behind the scenes and to focus on hard work before any type of public attention. I did get all my friends into the parties though! I really wanted to be in publishing from a young age because I wanted a place to write and be a part of curating imagery that I really stood for and believed in.
You’ve written songs, published books/articles, and directed films. Do you have a first love as far as medium?
For me, I never plan the medium – I just need to express the feeling or emotion, or work through something that is frustrating me like, “how can I make a comment on something that I find absolutely reprehensible in our culture?” or “how can I bring a voice towards this feeling, or this detail that is giving me a fever? How can I share this?” Writing is my first love, it’s all I care about, it’s all I do and think about – carving together beautiful sentences. When I art direct a shoot or short film, or an album campaign that comes from script – it all goes back to the gratitude to be able to write. I try to navigate life with as much empathy as I can, empathy even for things I disagree with because I have an obsessive urge to try to understand the feelings of others and writing is how I get to do that.
Hollywood operates off of a power structure where certain people are protected and other people maintain the power to villainize or ruin anyone they want, especially when they feel crossed or they aren’t getting their way.
Do you create your best work by yourself or with others?
To be honest, you know – I am very grateful to be able to collaborate and work with other artists – there is seriously nothing more electrifying than when you have a team that is executing the vision you want, and there is a fair middle ground, but I do love to work alone because I like to be alone. I love to work on my book with just me and my editor, it’s a private harmonious process.
Where did you go to school?
High school was a very tumultuous experience for me. I dropped out when I was 16 because I didn’t see a place for me in that world, or in the world in general – I failed all my classes. People called me stupid everyday. I started to do drugs because I subscribed to everyone else’s opinion of me and how society had decided my path and future. “He’s troubled, he’s damaged, he’s never going to amount to anything,” and I just sort of believed that was what I was deserving of as a young man, so I did my best to embody the person society wanted me to be. I believe drug abuse was an extension of self-harm for me. I never went to post-secondary (university). When I dropped out I worked full time as a Music Editor at SuperSuper! Magazine, an iconic cult magazine that is a big part of Britain’s pop mythology, working with alumni like hair artist Charlie LeMindu and PC Music’s Hannah Diamond and wrote for many other publications.
Working in this industry since I was 15 years old has really isolated me from any idea of what normal is; I dropped out of high school, the kind of relationships I was forming were work relationships that were very surface level, very much about someone benefiting off of me and me benefiting off of them. You think your work friends are your real friends. You lose any chance to develop real intimacy as a teenager with people, when you are 17 and a workaholic. Charli XCX’s work ethic, who also started young – is something I can really relate to, that kind of addiction to producing results.
What has your experience in Hollywood been like?
Hollywood operates off of a power structure where certain people are protected and other people maintain the power to villainize or ruin anyone they want, especially when they feel crossed or they aren’t getting their way. I’m always walking on eggshells working with people because anyone is capable of anything. Anyone in power is capable of making someone believe something that isn’t true. It’s troubling but this is the world we live in, and a part of the compromise I’ve made. You sell your soul.
Taylor Swift invited you to meet her at her Reputation tour. How was that?
After I wrote a viral piece about her for Paper Magazine about the importance of her Reputation album, feminism and her tour – she invited me to meet her at her show. It was so incredible, she told me I was “emotionally intelligent” and thanked me for making her feel “understood” and that she shared the piece I wrote with all the closest people to her in her life. We got to talk about what it felt like to be emotionally misunderstood and labeled and what it is like to be treated unfairly or blamed. We talked about the lack of empathy in our world and not giving a damn about anything anymore! I told her “let’s take a goth and dark pic,” and I love that pic of us. I wrote that piece for her to feel understood because she always made me feel understood, and I knew the universe would get it over to her.
Taylor Swift has always been someone who has validated my feelings through her music, so to speak to her and experience us validating each other’s feelings was truly a haunting once in a lifetime moment. She’s also one of the smartest people I’ve ever spoken to in my whole life.
Why did you start Void Collective?
As soon as I started to build connections in this industry, my priority was to help and connect people. For me, Void Collective is about creating results, creative opportunities, and resources for artists I believe in who don’t have industry access. I’ve done publicity for some major underground and overground names and helped people with marketing. I’ve linked and paired a lot of people together to the point of successful collaboration and I just sort of faded into the background and watched them accomplish these things without ever being respected enough to have some kind of acknowledgement for the work I’ve done.
All I care about in my life is helping others and doing things for others to the point where I neglect myself, so this is a healthy outlet to channel that nurturing impulse I have inside of me.
The only pressure I feel is to sustain a life around my personal values and to not go backwards and to become better and more powerful in what is important to me but I couldn’t give a fuck about followers or 'likes.'
You recently got your first IG account, why did you avoid it for so long?
The whole idea of being your own brand and having to self-promote seemed very exhausting for me. Just to believe that I would even be deserving to treat myself in that way; there was far too much self hate. I think anyone in this industry knows that our careers are a very “look at me, look at what I’ve done, give me attention” type of thing.
The only pressure I feel is to sustain a life around my personal values and to not go backwards, and to become better and more powerful in what is important to me: but I couldn’t give a fuck about followers or ‘likes.’ I count my success in different things than that. Instagram is making my life feel more playful, I feel less serious as I get older and it excites me. One of my momagers Shirley Manson gave me great advice about it, “Think of Instagram in general as a big glossy magazine. Heavy on advertising, light on depth. Think cheap and superficial and then every now and then but not too often, inject yourself with a short sharp lethal dose of shock, shame or sugar. You’ll be fine.”
How did you become Pop Editor at King Kong Magazine, and what does that role mean to you?
King Kong is an entity that we are all building. I don’t feel like any of us are King Kong. King Kong is what we all put ourselves into to build and to not be about ego, or the sense of self. It’s something more transcendent, more metaphysical: we really are doing this independent magazine as artists to inspire other artists, and to give people something that is memorable. To leave behind something that made someone feel something. I want all of our covers framed in my house, and I think we all wanted all these covers to feel like memorable iconic pop music videos in the form of imagery.
The role means everything to me, to be able to wake up every day and to know I get to collaborate with iconic artists and iconoclasts that have changed my life or inspired me.
King Kong isn’t an easy thing to be apart of, it’s very tight-knit; things are very controlled. It’s a bit like a secret society, and the fact that I was brought on by founder Ali Kepenek and the beautiful art director Mikel, who I have a tremendous amount of respect for, is something I am very grateful for. The photography Ali does for the magazine is so beautiful.
What is it like creating visuals for King Kong in the current political climate?
Pop is the greatest place to challenge people through. I view our magazine honestly as a collectible item or an art book. Our job is to create iconography through the pop world and to be architects of pop culture. I feel like I am watching a version of myself live out my dream a lot of the time. Televising, collaborating and creating pop art, and pop imagery and having it be distributed to the masses has been something I feel I’ve worked all my career for. We are very intentional to make people think with our concepts, social commentary, and themes behind each cover and we hope to provoke people in a way that is memorable and exquisite.
I am a practicing occultist/thelemite. I do witchcraft and to know every intentional act is an act of magic – something that is humbling, something I am very proud of. My angels have sent me on some troubling astral journeys but it’s made me evolve and become a better person for it. A lot of people are saying there is an occult energy to Billie Eilish’s cover, and it makes me think “What if a young person sees that and thinks to google ‘witchcraft’, and becomes curious and it opens up a portal about positive thinking and paganism, and it helps them?” How beautiful would that be!
What’s or who is your dream cover?
I mean I always say we are an art magazine before we are a Fashion magazine. I would love Britney Spears to be on the cover. I think people don’t understand how artistic and creative Britney is; her moon is in Aquarius and that airy vibrational frequency is all throughout her Instagram – she is very bizzare and angelic and it’s been a part of her appeal since she unconventionally came onto the scene. Everyone knows she’s so special, and I think with the proper art, photographer, and concept – we would create something special with her. I also think Taylor Swift deserves a cover too, the indie/art fashion world’s rejection of her because of popular opinion smear campaign consensus is so boring to me and collaborating with her seems really fun!