T H E S H O R T…
Nickname: VASH, VEE, VA$H MONEY, VASHTIE SPYMANTI, KING VASHTIE, KOLA
Astrological Sign: APRIL 23rd —–> Taurus
Born & Raised: Albany, New York via my Trinidadian parents.
Currently Residing: Manhattan – East Village NYC!
The Last Song You Played? Metallica – “Fight Fire With Fire”
Lyrics That Changed Your Life? “Hold on to 16 as long as you can, changes come around real soon – wake us women & men” – John Mellencamp
Hidden Talents? I can do a split and speak minimal spanglish and ebonics.
If You Weren’t Doing Your Current Job, What Would You Be Doing? Teaching art to kids.
T H E L O N G…
Describe a typical day in your life, how early do you start your day?
I generally always wake up at 6:30am, no matter what time I’ve gone to bed. That’s when I’ve naturally been rising, but also – it’s the time my cat meows my ears off for food. I used to hate the feeling of waking up since it reminded me of getting up for dreaded school, but now I love it. I get 30% more done now than if I were to wake up at Noon. I usually drink warm water and lemon, go back to mediate and then head to the gym for 1.5 hours of cardio. Doing cardio on a machine for that long seems excessive, but it’s another form of meditation for me and I get to respond to emails and listen to new music while doing it. I head back home, get dressed and ready for the day…but depending on what day it is, because no one day is ever the same…I could head off to direct a music video, model in a photo shoot, DJ an event or sit in design meetings.
Who or what was the most inspirational to you growing up?
Watching MTV was pretty astounding. Back then it was our Youtube or SoundCloud, just curated for us. Watching it, I learned about Hip Hop, Punk Rock, Premier Designers, Sex, etc. It was a space that truly cultivated culture and subculture internationally. I also spent a lot of my youth sitting in the local comic book stores, skate shops and music stores. Man, they were full of gems just waiting to be explored. I loved comics as a kid and sitting in skate shops was just what you did when you skated…getting repairs or sifting through all the rad magazines like Warped or Transworld. Same with the music stores. There was this one called Music Shack and it felt just like the store in the movie “Empire Records”. I’d just go and listen to artists I had never heard of. I was so hungry and open to everything.
Also during that hungry phase (which is still happening now), I worked a Summer job and then after that Summer job I volunteered at a hospital. I’m not sure if I always had many jobs because I hated being bored and always wanted to feel like I was contributing, or because I’m simply just West Indian. In between those two jobs I had a 2 hour break and on my walk between the 2 there was this tattoo shop on Lark Street. I would sit there everyday and sift through their art books and tattoo flash. It was exciting…listening to the buzzing of the machines, seeing the many different kids of people walking in and learning about things I didn’t know. One day, one of the artists was short-handed and needed help, so he employed me for the day. Eventually, they hired me and I started working there at 12 or 13 until I was 18. That place was so incredible and unique. The owner and the artists were like my dads and everyday afterschool, I would run there in my uniform and work. They were so protective of me and taught me so much about music, art and life. Who knew that the safest place for a kid could be in a tattoo shop.
I also have to say that my brother (8 years older than me) and my sister (7 years older than me) were super inspiring as a kid. My childhood had no filter or PG rating. I saw one Disney film as a kid and the rest were all non age-appropriate content shown to me, courtesy of my older brother and sister. I was in 1st grade listening to Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Black Sheep and Rakim. My brother is gay and into clubbing, so by 3rd grade I was watching him Vogue and learning about Club Kids in New York City. At the same time my sister was putting me on to English bands like Depeche Mode, The Smiths and The Cure. Both of them really fed me creatively and balanced so many energies for me. Especially at that time growing up in the hood. It was a time and place when being “different” was not accepted. Me listening to Beastie Boys and Biggie while wearing a Starter Jacket and Skating was considered “weird”. I was bullied for most of junior high.
What comes to mind when you look back at old photographs of yourself or think back to old experiences?
I see a defiant girl without a fear in her head or heart. Especially the time before I was being bullied in Junior High. That experience was such a gift. Most people don’t explore who they truly are for fear of rejection. There I was being me and before I realized it, I was alienated and ripped apart for it. It was too late for me to conform, so I just continued being myself and – I’m here.
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in your career?
I think the biggest sacrifice I made in my career was, at one point, allowing it to shield me from being social. It always appears that I am naturally outgoing and while I am friendly and I like speaking to people one on one, I’m naturally an introvert and find it challenging to be around a group of strangers. Being busy with work allowed me to use it as an excuse from doing a lot of social things…from friends kids birthday parties to dating to destination trips. There’s so many things I’ve done and places I’ve gone that I shared on social media, that I almost didn’t do because someone else talked me into it (ie: I almost didn’t go to my first Trinidad Carnival and I’m full-blooded Trini!).
But, for the past 2 years I’ve done a lot of inner personal work and I am far different than that girl. Interestingly enough, I’m now more like that defiant girl without fear now than I was a few years ago.
Most people can’t really put into words what you do. Most people know you DJ and do cool shit. How would you describe your job to those people?
Ye, true. Ask my parents and they won’t know themselves. Well, I like to say I’m an artist…a creative…a creator…a maker of things. I just feel good doing it. I direct music videos, I design clothes, I creative direct and I DJ. But, I’ve just always been a hungry kid who wants to know more and do more.
What are some music videos people would be surprised to know you directed?
Maybe Justin Bieber’s “One Time”, Kendrick Lamar “A.D.H.D.”, Joey Bada$$ “Waves” or Solange’s “T.O.N.Y.”. I think what might be more surprising is that I wrote the concept for Common’s “Testify” that starred Taraji P. Henson and Wood Harris (directed by Anthony Mandler).
How did you get into creative directing and film (Music videos, etc)?
I grew up drawing and painting from a young age. By high school I was making clothes for friends and shooting photos. By late high school, I saved up and bought myself a video camera to make shorts and videos.I knew I wanted to go to art school, but wasn’t sure for exactly which discipline. I always felt like designing and design came easier to me and decided that since film was more technical, I should study that.
So, I came to NYC to study directing and cinematography. In that time frame, I applied to work at Supreme and was given the opportunity to, instead, work at Stussy. There, my sneker obsession and position in sneaker culture cultivated. I started to become known for my style and aesthetic. Upon graduation I was offered a position at Def Jam Records as Director of Creative Services. It was my first Executive anything, complete with authority, creative freedom and a company card! I felt like I was living the movie “Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead”. They wanted me to “do me” which was such a huge honor…I mean, Def Jam?! I was there for a year before I felt like I truly needed to “do me”.
How did you become a wellness guru? What keeps you dedicated to this lifestyle??
By age 10 I was posting anti-war posters in my school donating my lunch money to Peta. I was always more aware that the world was bigger than me. By 12, I saw videos on how tortured the animals were from the dairy and meat industry and I was heartbroken and disgusted. I decided then, I would remove animal products from my diet. My choice in becoming vegan started in concern and solidarity for animals, but as an adult my food and product choices are also supported my evolving beliefs of wellness.
What we put on our skin is just as important as what we put inside of us. Our skin is the largest sensory organ and absorbs whatever you put on it. If you wouldn’t eat Johnson & Johnson Baby Lotion, why would you put it on a babys skin? It’s no fault of anyone’s in particular, but during our super modernization – we’ve lost sight of the simple things that are more important than anything else. We allow brands and the medical industry to inform us of what our bodies just innately know.
We’ve lost sight that acne isn’t just a reason to cover it up, it’s your body giving you signals that what you’re eating is causing inflammation internally or that your headache is a reason to pop Tylenol, but that your dehydrated or something else. We don’t trust our bodies and we don’t consider our nutrition. We listen to advertisements or society and assume that we all should be eating pancakes and bacon for breakfast or that 3 meals a day is how you have to live. I’m hoping that this era will help to reverse all that, that I can serve as a different thought for those who are open to new ideas – although there is nothing new about any of this.
You are an inspiration to many young women, what is the biggest advice you can offer a female/ young adult who aspires to be like you?
Be yourself. It sounds typical, but it’s true. Who you are is not who I am, and that is always going to differentiate you. I didn’t have someone that inspired me or a model that I could copy – so I did me. If you get caught up in trying to follow someone else’s steps, you’ll always be compared to that person. But think about it, Kanye is Kanye. Madonna is Madonna. FKA Twigs is FKA Twigs. Many people can be compared to them, but none of them copied someone else’s path so you can’t compare them to anyone. The beauty in that is that, they set another tone and standard. Do you have an idea of what you want people to feel or is it like your own expression?
What was the inspiration behind the Violette brand?
The inspiration came from having no brand that I felt like represented me. I started making making my own clothes in junior high because we were poor and I couldn’t afford name brand things that were on trend or that represented me. By high school I was making clothes for friends. By that time, I only wore boy streetwear/skate brands and always wanted to start my own brand. When I resigned from my job at Def Jam, I was like a bird kicking myself out the nest and decided I needed to do everything I ever wanted to do before I would regret never doing it…so I started Violette.
Violette was a statement on my style. Being a tomboy who disliked solely feminine silhouettes, I wanted to bridge the gap in a unisex way. At the time, it was also still strange that a girl would wear men’s clothing. I never felt that way and decided that the brand would keep the masculine and feminine in a cool balance.
Are the 90’s truly your favorite era? Especially considering your love of classic films.
Yeah, I think it’s my favorite because I wasn’t an adult during that time and I so badly wanted to be one at that age. I think whatever time we grew up in, that era of your life – of wanting to be what you see drives your adult style. Also, the 90’s were just magnificent…so many different movements and sub genres were getting mainstream recognition, so inspiration was coming from everywhere- like; Hip Hop, Hip House, House, Hardcore, Skateboarding, Voguing, Breakdancing, Streetwear, etc. Even the films at that time were just phenomenal statements on youth culture; “Kids”, “Trainspotting”, “Reality Bites”, “Clueless”, “Empire Records”, “Crooklyn”, etc.
But yes, I also love Classic Films. I love a lot of Classic things. When I can’t sleep at night, you can find me on Etsy searching for tea cups from the 50’s or lighters from the 60’s. Things back then were just made with so much more integrity and eyes for detail…elements like brass and metal, not plastic or disposable. I love things like that. I like things that feel…just feel…I don’t know.
Why did you choose to have a pet cat? Why the name? Does he know all your secrets? Is he your best friend?
When I was 7 or 8, I found the neighborhood kids torturing a cat. It was so strange and sad to me, that I devised a plan with my best friend to distract them and rescue the kitty. When she lured them with cookies and fruit punch, I went in and grabbed the poor puss. I brought it home and my dog-loving, cat-hating mother said no to it. Up until then, I had only had gold fish so this would be a real commitment. Somehow, I convinced my mom to let it stay…which sucked for my brother and sister who were allergic. Anyways, my mom ended up being a cat lover herself. I went on to rescue a few more but after 2 of them died the first week I was gone at art school – my heart was broken. I couldn’t think of having another pet – but, in 2008 I decided it was time to have a critter in the crib and here came Vladimir The Fraidy Cat. He knows all my secrets and he is strangely my best friend.