Interview: Flint Eastwood talks Detroit, Assemble Sound and being the Queen of her own Broke Royalty

Committed to the ambitions of her creative city, Jax Anderson under Flint Eastwood has pushed the boundaries of what it means to be a pop artist.

First up, “Queen” has been a massive single.  It’s hard to avoid that chin up in defiance vibe powering through the chorus line, and with good reason as you’ve certainly built an empire around yourself.  What pushed you to pursue music with such determination?

I think music is just something that I’ve always been surrounded by; my dad is one of ten kids, all of which play guitar or sing and growing up in Detroit. There’s just a lot of different genres that were around this city.  I think from a very early age, it was just something that the passion of it really stuck with me. I create music because I feel like that’s what I need to do for my soul, you know? I feel like it’s something that I wouldn’t be true to myself if I wasn’t doing [it].

You have worked from the ground up, from sourcing thrift store equipment all the way to buying a 19th century church and turning it into an artists’ community hub, was that a big leap or just the next logical progression?

(Laughs) I mean, whenever you say it like that it makes it sound like it was so easy, it was just a bunch of small steps that kind of led up to it.  I think the beautiful thing about making music in Detroit is that everyone just wants to help everyone out, no one really has this ulterior motive other than that they wanna be a part of something dope that’s affecting people.

A couple years back I was thinking about moving to the other major cities in the US, Nashville specifically, and I just did one last show before I was going to move and it was an EP release party for a couple of artists that were in Detroit and it just blew me away.  The community and the things they were able to do so I thought why not? Why not just try to make that here? Because there’s so many options, the internet exists and it’s possible to make something that will connect to the world without being in those major cities.

It kinda was the next logical step at the time, but it definitely wasn’t something that I set out in music to eventually do; this thing where we buy a crazy gothic looking church, it was just something that I strongly believe in – if the doors open then you walk through it and so the door kind of opened and we walked through – and it’s been a crazy ride.

You’ve talked about that point where you considered moving to one of those major cities, do you think your music would have had the same local influence bleeding into it if you had moved away?

I think my sound would be totally different because there’s a certain amount of grit that exists in Detroit that you really can’t get anywhere else; a lot of that is because the type of instruments that we use, the way that we do song writing and the way that everything is so collaborative, it is very characteristic of Detroit. We’re not a very clean and pristine city; Detroit, as a whole, filed bankruptcy a couple of years back, we’re all just broke artists using what we have and making it work and I think that definitely has influenced everything I create. It 100% influences the end product, it was the right decision to stay in Detroit and I’m very happy I did.

There’s been a lot of changeover in collaborators as Flint Eastwood evolved, did you ever see people walk away and wonder if that would be you too in time, or was it simply an opening for more talent to break into the scene?

I think that the kind of mindset we have in Detroit is if you wanna be there then be there, and if you don’t wanna be there then don’t be there.  It’s a very open door policy and as much as people leave they always end up returning. Jack White’s a perfect example; he left and then opened up another branch of Third Man Records in Detroit where he was from. He eventually returned home after living in Nashville for so long.

For me it’s just always this progression, I have an open door policy as far my sessions go and whoever wants to come in can come in; if you have an idea and you’re there to work you’re more than welcome to be there. Shit, I’ve had collaborators on my songs that are not even musicians and songwriters that are just like, ‘Hey this line would sound cool in this song; you should use this instead of what you have,’ and I’m like, ‘That’s dope, you get songwriting credit sign up for a PRO.’  It’s just one of those things you know, I think the beauty about art is it’s such a beautiful thing whenever you can connect with people and if I can do that in the writing process, then I think it will affect people a lot more.

Broke Royalty came out a few months ago, did it have the impact you were after? To make people think while dancing?

Yeah, you hit it right on the head, that’s my whole purpose in writing pop music. I think there is a very large platform for pop music and for me personally, I want my art to always affect people in a positive manner; I want it to be something that leaves people dancing and thinking. That’s personally my favourite kind of music and so whenever I can create that and get that point across, I think my job is done.

Your latest EP is predominantly pop structured, but you’ve said previously that you focus on having great lyrics before worrying about genre, do you find that freedom allows you to create a more original sound to elevate the tracks?

For sure, with every session I enter into that thinking I just want to write a good song I don’t care what instrumentation we use, I don’t care who’s on the beats, I don’t care what song writers are in the room, I just want to write a good song. Whenever you have the integrity of lyrics and the integrity of melodies in mind it really opens you up to whatever the fuck you want to write and I do think that there is a lot of freedom in that, I think there’s a lot of freedom in losing that ‘Well we have to sound like this,’ or ‘We have to be like this genre’. It’s like, fuck it – do whatever you want. That’s the joy of music is that it can be so many things to so many different people and I love that Flint Eastwood, as a project, can live through so many different worlds.

Walk us through the main track “Queen”, with its massive instrumental presence it almost feels like you are walking down a regal procession in that church. How did making that ode to being powerful come about?

Well this is actually song that I had been sitting on – man, I wrote this song probably a good two or three years ago, honestly – it was something that, even back then before Assemble Sound even existed we were still very much about collaboration. I wrote it after being asked for the first time what it was like being a woman in music. I am not someone that views myself differently and I’d never viewed myself differently until someone brought it to my attention and I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ I’m the boss; there’s no difference between me and another artist, everyone on my team knows that I’m the one in charge. I’m the one that’s making the final call on everything, I’m the one that decides what the stage set up is, I’m the one that decides how the setlist runs or how the end product is going to sound. I’m not a soldier in this situation, I’m not different for being a woman I’m the Queen. I’m the one that’s running this shit.

So I just really wanted to create something that felt extremely regal and felt kinda like a punch like, ‘Okay, this is what’s going on,’ because I think a lot of the times, people will see a female pop artist and assume that there are these overarching entities that are putting it all together, but that’s not the case at all for me. I direct and edit all of my videos and I just spent the last couple of days figuring out what all my photos for Instagram are going to be for the next six months; I’m extremely hands on with what I do.

I’d just kind of gotten into a room with some of my friends and initially wrote it and we didn’t feel like we were at a spot to finish it then, so we just let it sit for a couple of years. [When] we were going through some tracks I was like, ‘Oh man, with Assemble and with this space and the type of sound we could get out of that space…’ I just re-evaluated that track and was like, ‘I think we can finally finish it.’  So last year, we tracked a lot of the orchestra at Assemble and we tracked a lot of the horns and the strings were done by a great female duo from Michigan that are folk artists called The Accidentals and then a resident from Assemble named Jaye Prime laid down some extra end melodies and it definitely turned out to be an extremely collaborate effort in the end. That song has lived so many lives that I’m so excited that its out and people are really responding.

Assemble Sound sounds like a utopia for neighbourhood artists, is there ever a dull moment, or a time that an orchestra isn’t on hand?

That’s literally the vibe of it, that’s the whole purpose and that’s exactly what it is, is that there are always musicians there 24/7. So if you need a guitar player I can guarantee there’s a guitar player somewhere in that building, or a bass player, or a drummer, or someone who can play every single horned instrument like even our interns are going to school to be classical pianists. We wanted it to be a space where you could find anything you needed there because for so long, Detroit had become this space where people were making amazing shit;incredible, incredible stuff but they were all just making it in basements by themselves.

We wanted a place where everyone could be there to work because I think a lot of the time people hear of like, ‘Oh an ‘artist collective’ – they’re probably just doing a shit tonne of drugs and like totally out of their mind on Zanax,’ or whatever. That’s not the case. We have our time for partying but we also have our time to get to work and most of the time, it’s get to work. The whole vibe of Assemble is: ‘Hey you can do this, I don’t care what project you’re in or what genre if you can fill in the gap let’s get this done’.

Do you pull them into your music videos too? How much fun did you have putting together the shoots for “Queen” and “Push”?

Oh man those are a blast, those are so much fun to do because I’ll have the general idea of what I want and the look and the generalised idea of the number of scenes and where I want it but I like to keep it very open to ideas and very mould-able. It’s literally just me taking a bunch of my friends and going to a location and going, ‘Okay this is the vibe that I want. This is the point I want to get across; let’s bring this friend that has a camera, or a friend that has a hookup that can rent a camera, and lets just go and make a music video over the weekend.’

The last video that we just released for the song “Push”, I just borrowed a friends Ford Bronco truck and just got a gun and one of our friends’-mum’s-friend or whatever owned a farm with a bunch of horses so we went and filmed me on some horses and another friend had just made an entire infinity wall like a white room and he was just like, ‘Yeah you can use it,’ so we filmed some party scenes for a day, it’s just very run and gun and it’s so much fun. Before I did music full time, I spent around five years doing commercial video editing, so it’s really nice to be able to use those skills and put those towards art now and only have to do the fun stuff.

Where do you see the limits? Given you’re a living example of hard work pays off, will there be any challenge you are afraid to face?

Oh not at all, I’m not afraid of any of it, man! It’s just the kind of thing where I’ve always had this mentality of like, I’ve always overreached what I’m capable of and what I’ve had. I grew up in a pretty poor family and like you said, we got our stuff from thrift stores; we wanted this to make music so we found a way to find some mini keyboards and a computer and we entered a shit tonne of competitions until we found one that we ended up winning and won a computer to be able to finally start making music.

It’s just this thing where we always always overreached and always reached beyond our means because we know that if we land somewhere in between that crazy goal and where we’re at right now, and every single time we do it is a step forward. Shit, I was having a conversation with my door manager the other day where I was like, ‘Dude one day we’re going to be the first band that plays a show in space, mark my words, we’re fucking going to do it!’ (Laughs) We’re reaching beyond the sky, we don’t give a shit; we’ll fucking get it done!

Your brother, producer SYBLYNG, has been a long time partner in crime, do you think you would have come this far without having that creative constant at your side?

I think it would be a different outcome but I think I would still be doing music as my art, but Seth [Anderson] is a huge huge huge part of that process. It’s been great working with your sibling, [it] cuts out all the bullshit and makes it where you can get done what you need to get done a lot quicker you don’t have to play politics with anything – if something sucks he’ll tell me it sucks and I’ll be like, ‘Okay how do I fix it?’, because I know he has my best interests in mind and I have his best interests in mind. Seth is an amazing producer and an amazing creative; he’s an artist all on his own man. He’s just wicked talented and it’s just one of those things where I can’t wait for the world to catch up to what he’s doing because in my mind, I mean I’m a little biased because I’m his sister, but he’s like, the future Rick Rubin. The stuff that’s coming out of Assemble right now, you guys just wait a couple years; there’s some crazy artists about to come out of Detroit.

Moving through your EP the final tracks are very light in production, particularly in “Slipping Away” as it fades from the lyrics “It’s gonna get better” and with the last track “Monster” as it chants “We’ll be alright”. is this the wind down after the fireworks of “Queen”? The quiet after the adrenaline punch trying to hold onto that self-assured confidence?

I kind of wanted to leave everyone on a more positive note. I think that starting the EP with “Push” and “Queen” was definitely intentional, where I wanted it to be very commanding, to be very tense. I wanted the end of the EP to have the most minimal production as well something where the lyrics stood out and ending it with “Monsters” specifically was something I wanted to do because that is the epitome of what I want to get across with Flint Eastwood. That it;s going to be alright; shit happens and life is hard, but everything is going to be alright in the end.

I interviewed an Australian artist last year and he said his mum always told him that no matter what shit happens, that’s material for a new song.

I think that everybody has a choice about how they respond to things in life and there are certain things that you are born into that you can’t really control and it’s really unfortunate but you kinda have the choice to do the positive or the negative with it, and I hope my music always encourages people to do the positive.

Most importantly, given your namesake and image, what’s your favourite spaghetti western?

Oh man the whole The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly trilogy, like the Fistful of Dollars, [For a] Few Dollars More combo is so gold, it’s so gold, like the music in that is so crazy good. There’s this guy, Lee Van Cleef, who’s always the bad guy in everything and low key he’s my style icon. He’s just so ominous and I love his hats; that’s where I got the idea for the hats is specifically from Lee Van Cleef. But The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly as cliché as it is for Clint Eastwood movies, I would say that one is the best in my opinion.

Stay up to date with Flint Eastwood at www.flinteastwoodmusic.com.