Interview with Alice Baxley

We jumped on Zoom with LA-based photographer Alice Baxley. Originally born in Japan, she spent her childhood in Hawaii before moving to Los Angeles as an adult and falling in love with the world of live music. Her brother, Zac Carper, fronts surf-rock band FIDLAR, and Alice has been documenting their journey every step of the way and creates the magic in many of their sets and music videos. Alice has been photographing bands for over a decade, and the skill and intimacy of her photography has led her to become one of the most recognized photographers in the LA scene. In our interview, we discussed her beginnings in the world of live music, imposter syndrome, and teenage emo phases.

Favorite Beastie Boys song?

I would say “Sabotage.” It’s a classic and I really like the music video, it’s just really fun.

What pictures did you have in your locker in high school?

I definitely was a huge Nirvana fan, so I had tons of Nirvana photos that I would cut out from magazines and stuff in my locker. I was a huge Green Day fan, I had some photos of them up in the locker. Those are basically what I had up in my locker.

You come from a really interesting, artistic family. Your brother being in FIDLAR and you being a photographer kind of seems like a chicken-and-the-egg situation. Your bio on Cargo also says you used to be a musician, too! Do you wanna tell us about how the “Fuck It Dog, Life’s A Risk” chapter of your lives started?

I don’t even know where to start. I started playing music in high school, I was a huge Nirvana fan so I learned all of the songs when I was in high school. I think Zac was taking piano lessons at the time, he was in a classical music phase when he was younger. As he got older he started borrowing my CDs. Some of the stuff would go missing, and I’d be like, “Wait, what the fuck? Where are my fucking CDs?”. And I’d catch him listening to all of them. That’s how it escalated.

I stopped doing music for awhile, and he picked it up and was way better than I was. He had a natural inclination for it. We both moved out to Orange County over ten or fifteen years ago. He was going to rehab at the time. He started interning at a recording studio, and that’s where he met Elvis and Max and all of them. We were all hanging out together. I started taking photos because that’s my brother. I wasn’t thinking, “I’m gonna become a photographer!” Or anything like that. I was just documenting the journey for myself. FIDLAR kind of took off in a way that I don’t think any of us really expected, because they were just kind of a fun party band. It started as a joke band almost, and it kind of evolved and just took off.

I started taking photos of them, and I just think that them getting recognition and me being the one that was always around and there, other people started to take notice and that was when I started getting job offers to shoot other bands for other magazines. That was how it kind of evolved.

How did you spend your time between when you stopped playing music and when you started taking pictures?

I tried to go to college, but I’m terrible at school. I was going to school for theatre, I’m kind of a theatre dork. I graduated, but it wasn’t like I wanted to become an actor. I just really enjoyed films, that’s why I was into film and theatre and all of that. It was kind of a useless degree for me. I took some costume design classes, which I feel like came in handy when I was working on music videos and stuff. But I was trying to go to school anyway.

Any specific films that you have a personal connection with?

At the time I was really into foreign films, and this movie called Cinema Paradiso, it’s this Italian movie. It had nothing to do with music or anything like that, but the movie itself was just really inspiring. That was one that was mind blowing for me.

In that same vein, you’ve always talked about how being a fan is critical to being an artist, and your career started with illicitly sneaking your camera into shows. Tell us about your transition from fangirl to a scene staple.  

In the beginning, I wasn’t really like, “I wanna be a photographer!”. I wasn’t really working at that goal until later, when I was like, “This could actually be something I could do for a living.” I was taking photos because I was a huge fan of all of these bands that were coming up in the scene. It really is kind of a small music scene once you’re here, everyone knows each other and helps each other out and plays with each other on different shows and stuff. I’ve gotten to know a lot of people in bands in LA and started taking pictures of their bands.

Some places, you needed to have a photo pass to take photos. Because I was friends with these bands, I would just kind of sneak my camera in, just because I felt like I wasn’t REALLY a photographer, I could just sneak in and take photos. But once I started actually getting jobs and getting photo passes, I realized what I had been doing wasn’t really abiding by the rules, but it got me where I was. The attitude of “Fuck it, who cares, I’m not anybody special, I don’t have a special pass, I’m just gonna do what I want to do.”

Was there any “A-ha!” moment where you realized you were a photographer?

Once I started getting hired by FIDLAR’s label to shoot stuff, and also eventually other bands that were bigger than FIDLAR were asking me to shoot stuff. I think people I didn’t know, that I wasn’t friends with, it was more of like, “Oh, people I don’t know are recognizing my work and want me to do what I do for my friends.” That was when I realized I could do this as a career. And magazines from all over the world, like from the UK and stuff, were asking me to shoot bands I had never heard of that were huge.

I have imposter syndrome, where I’m like, “Maybe this is it for me? Maybe this is my last photoshoot?”. I always feel like I’m not good enough, and I need to get better constantly.

You recently did a shoot where you dressed up as an emo teen doing Christmas photos. Is this true to your own teen years?

I definitely was emo for sure. That photo was a little more exaggerated than I was as a teenager, but that whole vibe of “Don’t tell me what to do, fuck off!” was definitely me.

Any memorable styles from that time?

I wore Dickies always. Punk rock belts, worn to the side. Heavy eyeliner. I would brush my hair and swoop it to the size. I would switch it up and wear super baggy skate clothes too, like the whole Avril Lavigne look. Tighter shirts, baggier pants, and choker necklaces.

I also cut my hair really short, because I saw a photo of Liv Tyler where she cut her hair really short, like a cute pixie cut. So I cut my hair really short, and I just started crying because I looked so fucking stupid. I looked like a boy, a straight-up boy. So I was like, oh no. I must’ve been fifteen at the time, I was really mad at myself for that one.

What feelings or elements do you like to capture with your photography?

I really enjoy discovering a band. My favorite thing to do is discover a band and document their journey from the beginning to throughout their career. That’s my favorite thing to do. I like to capture when people are experiencing things as it’s happening to them. Like their first record deal, or their first show, or their first whatever it is, I like seeing how far they’ve come and how people evolve I guess. That’s really interesting to me.

That excitement that you have, when you’re a teenager and you discover your favorite band, that’s the feeling that I like to capture.

What’s your favorite Studio Ghibli movie and why?

My favorite one is Totoro, hands down. It might have been the very first one that I watched when I was little. I remember it was really special to me, because at the time I felt very alone and that I didn’t really have any friends. At the time I felt like the younger sibling in the movie, where she felt very alone and didn’t really have any friends, and then Totoro became her friend. I really gravitated towards that movie because I was like, it’s me, I like that! I can have an imaginary friend that lives in a magical forest!

Kiki’s Delivery Service is another really good one. His cartoons and his animations are just so deep, you know?

You, Ryan Baxley, and Brandon Schwartzel own a studio called Mind Palace. First off, is this a Sherlock reference? Secondly, what are the best parts of collaborative creation across all types of art forms?

Yes, it’s a Sherlock Holmes reference. Brandon actually came up with it, because you know in Sherlock he says he’s gonna go to his mind palace and he closes his eyes and he thinks and does his genius thing up there. He came up with that. At first, I didn’t want to call it Mind Palace, it sounded too tripped out, like we’re scientologists or something, I don’t know. I didn’t like it at first, but it grew on me, and I can’t imagine it being called anything else. It’s kind of evolved. We’ve been working together for the last fifteen years on FIDLAR’s videos, photos, IG content, whatever else. We work really well together and complement each other, so we kind of wanted to take that even further and see if we could do it for other people, and even go beyond that and do other projects like paint murals or do an art installation for some festival, or other things beyond what we have been doing.

COVID hit, and we haven’t been having too many jobs lately, but it’s starting to pick up for us.

What are the challenges?

Yeah, there are challenges, but we’re all really good at knowing when something doesn’t feel right for us. When we get asked to do a project, if it’s a music video we listen to the song and see if we can come up with a concept that goes with the song and the band. And if it’s just not coming together, we know that this just maybe isn’t the right project for us.

What’s your favorite way to treat yourself?

I don’t know. I really like good food. I love to eat. Treating myself would be like getting really good sushi.

Any comfort food you like to make yourself?

Any Japanese food, if I’m feeling really like depressed, sad, anything. I’m making something Japanese, like curry or this other food that’s called Omurice, it’s kind of like an omelet with fried rice inside of it. I used to eat it a lot when I was a kid, so it’s a comfort food for me. It’s typically Japanese food, for sure.

Are there any artists or creators you’ve been super into lately, or want to plug?

We just finished a music video for an artist called Junior Mesa. He’s a new artist, relatively new, signed onto a label called Nice Life. His music is really cool, it’s kind of like funk music. He’s just really cool and creative, and we got to make some really cool visuals for the music videos that I’m really excited about. That’s my favorite artist at the time, he’s just really cool.

THE END

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