A year ago, I would have had to open this interview with a paragraph explaining who Chance The Rapper is. Now, of course, you don’t need that introduction.
One of the main reasons for that – that being Chance’s skyrocketing success and fame – is Austin Vesely, the director responsible for a handful of the 20-year-old Chicago emcee’s most popular videos that earned him the spotlight he needed to truly shine.
I discovered Austin the same day I discovered Chance. I stumbled across the video for “22 Offs” (see below), a joint that would appear on Chano’s debut mixtape, #10Day, a little over a month later on April 3rd, 2012.
The video, directed by Austin, was like something I had never seen before. It was fun. Risky. Undeniably entertaining. It had an artistic aesthetic that I felt like music videos had been lacking as a whole for a long time. I was hooked.
After watching “22 Offs,” I immediately went back and found the January 2012 video for “Fuck You Tahm Bout,” which to this day is still the song that gets me out of bed and ready to attack the day quicker than any other. After watching that, not only could I not wait for the next Chance The Rapper record, I couldn’t wait for the next Austin Vesely video. He made videos with a style that stuck with you so much that you remembered his name – not just the name of the artist whose video it was. That’s how it happened for me, at least.
Shortly after the release of #10Day, Austin’s video for “Brain Cells” – probably my favorite track off the tape – blew me away. For a while, I would introduce Chance to people by showing them this video. It spoke volumes for his personality and brand, and it was a visual that, put simply, separated him from the crowd.
Chance The Rapper is one of the most unique, talented artists on the planet. I’ve been preaching that since the day I came across “22 Offs.” For an artist to rise at the speed and success level Chance has over the course of the past year, though, there has to be a perfect storm surrounding him/her to make it happen. As I quickly discovered, Austin is a key component of that storm.
Aside from videos for Chance, the Illinois-based filmmaker has done all kinds of work with (the now defunct) Kids These Days, Vic Mensa, Joey Purp, and other members of the SaveMoney crew and the Chicago hip-hop scene in general. Additionally, he’s crafting a future in the narrative film world and working on a screenplay and other forms of writing in his downtime.
I had intended on interviewing Austin for a long time. After kicking it with him for a while at this year’s SXSW and watching his most recent work – the video for Acid Rap‘s lead single “Juice” – blow up along with the tape as a whole, now was undoubtedly the right time.
Read below as he touches on his past, the present, and the expectedly bright future.
TFH: How old are you? Where were you born/where’d you grow up?
Austin Vesely: I just turned 23. Glad to finally arrive at my Michael Jordan year. I grew up all over the place because my dad worked for the army my whole life. I lived in Iowa, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Germany, to name a few. My official hometown is Hanover, Illinois.
TFH: When was the first time you picked up a camera? What are some of your first memories of using a camera/filmmaking?
AV: I must’ve been six years old or so when I first got my hands on a camera. It was my grandma’s and she had left it at our house for some reason. I had seen a behind the scenes feature about the original Star Wars on the special edition VHS. It opened my eyes to the fact that movies were something people made, and that they didn’t just exist in the world. They made all the big action sequences with models, which I saw as very elaborate toys, basically. So my sister and I started making movies with action figures and stuff (not stop motion or anything, we weren’t that advanced).
TFH: Was there a specific point where you realized filmmaking was something you wanted to pursue or was it just a gradual development?
AV: I guess I’ve always known that I wanted to do it, but it took a few things happening to really commit to it. I remember making a video for class in high school and people responded really well to it. That was a watershed moment because I loved that feeling of entertaining people. I ended up going to to college for journalism but felt creatively stunted in that field, so I started focusing more on film classes and making videos with my friend Elijah Alvarado. He ended up moving to Chicago to go to Columbia for film and was really stoked about the program so he recommended I do the same.
TFH: What was the first music video you directed or worked on?
AV: The first video I directed on my own was “Clear Eyes” by Nico Segal and Vic Mensa of Kids These Days. I had been working on a lot of stuff with Davy Greenberg and the Elephilms team before that, so that’s really where I got my feet wet as far as music videos are concerned. But I didn’t feel totally comfortable with any artist until I met Kids These Days, and so when they needed a video I finally found the opportunity to do something on my own.
TFH: How did you meet Chance?
AV: I actually met Chance at the “Clear Eyes” shoot, which was pretty fortuitous. He had sent me an early cut of “Prom Night” before and I saw him perform “Nostalgia” at a youth event, but I didn’t actually meet him until that shoot.
TFH: And how has the relationship (business and/or friendship) you’ve developed with Chance helped you professionally?
AV: Working with Chance has been an incredible opportunity. He’s a really creative person and he’s always been willing to trust / help me grow my vision and to take risks. That quality lent itself to a long working relationship where we can collaborate and grow as artists alongside each other. He’s basically a success machine so it’s been amazing to be able to be along for that ride and watch it happen. I’ve had great opportunities come my way because of it and I’m really grateful for that. He’s given me a platform for my art.
TFH: How do you feel you’ve been able to help Chance (and other Chicago artists) grow through your own craft?
AV: I think if there’s anything I’ve been able to offer to artists I work with it’s just a willingness to think outside of the box. There’s a million music videos out there these days because anyone can make one. What I try to bring to the table are ideas that will set an artist’s work off from the rest of what’s out there because it’s something new or different or just interesting. I wouldn’t take credit for the success of these artists, but I love hearing from people who enjoy the work.
TFH: What are your aspirations in the filmmaking/music video business? And how about outside of it? I know you’ve been talking about a screenplay you’re working on.
AV: My ultimate goal is to work less in music videos and get more into narrative stuff. I will always love to work with artists I’ve built relationships with and whose music I love, but the place I feel I’m best suited for is narrative film. I have been writing quite a bit in my down time, so I’m hoping to get something moving on a short film in the near future.
TFH: What does the Austin Vesely brand represent? When people see your logo or name on a project or just on Twitter, what do you want it to represent?
AV: I really hope that it elicits excitement. I think that would be the coolest thing is if people associate my stuff with not only quality, but a sense of excitement wondering what the hell kind of weird thing we’re doing next. And also I hope they associate me with nachos and fart jokes and shit like that, because LIFE’S TOO SHORT BRAH.
TFH: What’s a video you’ve done people might not have seen before? Or anything you’ve done that people would be surprised to find?
AV: I made this really weird short film on 16mm when I was in college about this guy who loves ice cream. I’m really proud of it to this day. I also used to make ridiculous comedy shorts in college with Elijah Alvarado that I think people would be amused by. One was called Cat Snatch Fever and it was a ‘70s buddy cop drama about these two dudes who snatch up the city’s stray alley cats. There were no cats in it and I almost failed that class.
TFH: How have you grown in the time between #10Day and Acid Rap? How has Chance from what you’ve observed?
AV: Personally I’ve just been growing closer to figuring out what I want and how to attain it, which is really all I can ask or hope for. It’s been an unbelievable year and the things I’ve gotten to do and the people I’ve gotten to meet, with Chance in particular, have been invaluable. As far as Chance goes, he’s just continually becoming a more and more well-rounded artist. He is more confident in his vision because his choices up to this point have panned out really well. He’s still the same dude but at the same time he’s becoming a superstar. It’s amazing to watch someone become who they’re gonna be. And he still bums too many squares from me.