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Zoe Lister-Jones

"I loved me some Joey Mac." 

MONOGRAM: List your full name, profession, and place of residence:

ZOE LISTER-JONES. Actor, Writer, Director. Los Angeles, CA.

MONOGRAM: First off, congrats on the success of your film, Band Aid! The concept of couples therapy through music is definitely unique – how did that come about?

ZOE: I had been writing screenplays pretty consistently, and I was looking for a way to shake up the process a bit, to defy convention and formula. Not in terms of product, but, again, in terms of the writing process itself. I loved writing music. I had been writing lyrics for most of my adult life and collaborating with my dear friend Kyle Forester on music projects for many years (including the all-original soundtrack to Breaking Upwards), but I hadn’t written anything musically in a while. So I wanted to create a narrative that had music at its center. Because I knew that would be an exciting and new way into the work for me. At the same time, I wanted to explore a modern relationship through its arguments. So much of what it means to be in a committed relationship (at least in my experience and the experiences of my friends) is learning how to fight. And so the concept of a couple who fights through song was born...

MONOGRAM: What were the biggest challenges you faced as a first-time director? How does it work to direct and act simultaneously?

ZOE: I loved directing and acting simultaneously. I had an amazing producer, Natalia Anderson, who was at the monitor for me, so she was serving as my eyes, mostly for technical issues, because I was judging performance from within the scenes themselves. Of course, it’s a fine line, because as an actor you also want to be in the moment with your scene partner. I found that it actually made listening to my scene partner much more immediate. What I made sure to do was to be expertly prepared, so that I could allow myself to be focused on performance, rather than be distracted by the endless other responsibilities and tasks that fall on a director’s shoulders. So my cinematographer, Hillary Spera, and I shot listed the shit out of every scene. And then with Natalia and my 1st AD, Stephanie Janesh, we ran through the shots in every scene repeatedly in the weeks leading up to production, so that I could be certain my vision would be executed on all fronts.

MONOGRAM: We read that the film was produced using an all-female crew. How did that change the tone of being on set? Were (co-stars) Adam Pally and Fred Armisen the only men present?

ZOE: For many days Adam was the only man present, yes. And then Fred showed up, and there were two. It was pretty incredible. Such a gender reversal. Generally, a crew is predominantly male, so a female actor is one of a very few women on set. But Adam and Fred loved it. They both started saying they wanted to start hiring all female crews on their future projects. Because it did change the tone significantly. Every actor who entered the set would immediately remark how different the energy felt. It was just a very calm, communicative, and supportive vibe. Free of ego. And I think for so many of the women present, they were used to being one of the only women (if not the only woman) on a crew, so there was a sense of excitement in this paradigmatic shift. That it meant something deeper in the face of such a broken system.

MONOGRAM: In the film, your band is called The Dirty Dishes. We love that name so much – and can completely picture the band tee. How many other names were brainstormed before you landed on that one?

ZOE: First of all, it is my dream to have you design a Dirty Dishes tee! (No pressure) That was actually the first name I landed on. The dishes are the crux of so many fights for couples, and the protagonists of the film specifically, so it was a natural fit (like the tee you’re going to design).

MONOGRAM: Did you play bass previously, or did you learn for this film?

ZOE: I learned for the film, which was really fun.

MONOGRAM: Movies and music go hand in hand. Which film scores/soundtracks never get old?

ZOE: Coming of age in the nineties, the Reality Bites soundtrack was big for me. I love Grizzly Bear’s soundtrack for Blue Valentine. In terms of score, Jon Brion’s score for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of my favorites. And Ryan Miller’s score for In A World.

MONOGRAM: As an actor, especially someone who has a history of working in theater, you’re probably used to the feeling of acting in front of a live audience. How does playing music in a rock band compare?

ZOE: Oh man! Well it’s so fun, and electric, which live theater also is, but theater is much more confined to blocking and dialogue. While playing music also requires abiding by certain rules, it’s a way more lax vibe. I will say though  we’ve played a few live shows as The Dirty Dishes, including one at the Theater at the Ace Hotel, and it was one of the more terrifying things I’ve done. And I’ve jumped out of a plane! 

MONOGRAM: Have you experienced any “stuck in a pod” live performance disasters like in Spinal Tap?

ZOE: Haha! Our shows are all pretty low tech, so thankfully no...

MONOGRAM: Do you have a favorite vintage t-shirt? How and when did you acquire it?

ZOE: I have a New Kids on the Block t-shirt that I stole from my husband. He got it at a thrift shop. NKOTB was my first concert. I loved me some Joey Mac.

MONOGRAM: What’s your favorite way to style a t-shirt?

ZOE: I like it tucked with a high-waisted pant, short or skirt.

MONOGRAM: How do you use graphic t-shirts to articulate your point of view?

ZOE: Now more than ever graphic tees can be incredibly powerful tools to convey messaging, especially that of the resistance!

MONOGRAM: Lightning round: describe yourself in terms of the following:

COLOR: Black
ERA: '90s
FETISH: Vitamins
SYMBOL: Star of David
LOCATION: Los Angeles
OBJECT: Remote control
BEVERAGE: Water
VEHICLE: BMW
RITUAL: Facial oils
TAGLINE: You better werk

PHOTOGRAPHY: Jason Frank Rothenberg