Topics: do-tell

Focus Routines of Creatives

I’m a believer that focus is the new genius. When we block everything else out, it’s amazing how quality improves and how much we can get done in a short amount of time. Curious about what creatives use as their focus routines, I asked three people to share what they do when they really need to concentrate and get shit done. Here’s what they told me.

Anisse Gross: Writer


To focus, I shut off all social media, and I put paper next to my computer, so I can write by hand if I need to, and then type it up. I also make sure to have coffee and water nearby, so I have no excuse to get up. I sometimes put up pictures on my desk, little objects, candles, or other things to inspire me for what I’m working on. I set very concrete goals, like a page or word count and sometimes I’ll set timers.

Melody Hansen: Graphic Designer, Musician


I like to have a proper outfit while working. As a freelancer, it’s easy not to care about what I wear because I’m home a lot. But for some reason, wearing something that makes me feel good and professional helps me get into that “work mode”. And I don’t necessarily like listening to too much music when I’m working because I tend to get distracted by the composition or lyrics. But I like having a movie on, something I’ve already seen plenty of times. It’s background noise, and somehow, it helps me to focus.

Adam Lathrum: Music Producer, Engineer, Songwriter


When I’m writing a song I usually have a melody, beat, tempo, or time signature in my head. I sit down at the piano and write. Recently I was having trouble writing on the piano and switched to ukulele. Putting yourself in front unfamiliar instruments really helps spark creativity. Since I write in midi I have a lot of different instruments available for me to sample from. I tend to team up with other song writers to write lyrics and finish songs. After I finish something I don’t listen to it for a few days to get fresh ears on it.

Do Tell: Joshua Idehen

Joshua Idehen, the Nigerian-born, London-bred frontman of Benin City and Hugh, is always on the hop. A R&B artist with a penchant for poetry, he juggles three music projects while spitting jazzy spoken word that extends beyond the borders of “The City”. And he still has time to play the PS3. How the hell does he find the inspiration to do it all?

I sat down with him for some good ole’ American burgers and shakes at Camden’s The Diner to find out.

What’s inspiring you right now?

Zoe Quinn of the GamerGate scandal. That’s the woman who was accused by her ex-boyfriend of cheating on who him to get good game reviews. They’ve been on her case since the game came out. The fact she’s able to keep a level-head – it’s been two months of relentless dudes all basically wanting her head on a plate – [it inspires me]. Because when you look at that, your problems feel inconsequential. Oh boohoo. I can’t write a song. Well…

What’s keeping you busy?

We’re winding down Poe Jazzy, so mostly music. I’ve got some other things, too, in terms of touring. Then there’s some other plans that I can’t talk about until I finalize. Oh, and I’ve got the LV tour.


Photo via Flickr user mattbooy.

Tell us two things you’re excited about right now.

1. This is the first time in my career that I’ve earned 100% of my income from art. Before then, I either had to go to the JobCentre or work at a bar, but it’s all art. So now I finally have time to make and finish all these albums. Get all of this stuff done.

2. The Benin City album, as we’re coming out with “One of These Days” on November 10th.

If you like the sound of Joshua’s work, check out his band Benin City on Soundcloud or his spoken word below.

How awesome would it be if we all had entrance music?

It was 1985 and one of the best birthday presents a kid could ever have imagined. My dad took my best friend, Joe Monaco and I to Madison Square Garden for the first ever Wrestlemania. The main event featured Hulk Hogan, who came out flexing and shirt-ripping to one of the most holy-fuck-yeah hero songs of all time, Rick Derringer’s “Real American”. I lost my 2nd grade voice screaming for the Hulkster and ever since, I’ve thought about how awesome it would be if your favorite song kicked on to establish your presence when you entered a room. I decided to ask a few friends and their responses were just as awesome as Jimmy Superfly Snuka leaping from the top ropes.


Not seeing a tape? Mobile users can listen in here.

Andy Murdock – Paul Pena’s “Jet Airliner”
Amber Rae – Bob Sinclar’s “Love Generation”
Timothy Goodman – A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It”
David McDowell – Kanye West’s “We Major”
Marc Johns – David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel”
Dave Radparvar – Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”
Eliza Blank – Guns-n-Roses’ “Welcome To The Jungle”
Julia Kaganskiy – The Bouncing Souls’ “True Believers”
Randy Hunt – The Flaming Lips’ “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Part I”
Lauren Cucinotta – Asmahan – “Ya Habibi Ta3ala Remix by DJ Pretentious”

Do-Tell: Maceo Keeling of Paisley Socks & Citizens of Culture


Rare is the creative polymath – an individual with seemingly unlimited energy and unbounded interests radiating out like an octopus’s arms – an individual centered by an innate and unquenchable desire to create, share, and connect all at once. My pal (and sometimes stairs of Silver Lake workout buddy) Maceo Keeling is that kind of impressive 20-sided die of unbridled energy, able to flip from the role of prolific writer for his site, Citizens of Culture, easily over to fashion entrepreneur as the founder of Los Angeles brand, Paisley Sockwear, in a heart beat. He also somehow finds time to produce music videos, compete in the art of fencing, and regularly hosts events catering to the LA creative set. I was able to pin him down between breaths to ask him about one of his main passions: socks.


Tell us what inspired you to start Paisley Sockwear. Why socks in particular versus other clothing or accessories?

Paisley Sockwear at its simplest was born from a simple question I was continually asked: “Maceo, where do you get all your cool socks from?” I became known in my social circles as being someone who always wore brightly colored socks. At the time, I was working at American Apparel and I got the opportunity to develop some color ways for additions to their line. During the process I uncovered my own ability to create in that medium and wanted to explore beyond what I was assigned to develop.

Once I was finished working at AA, I knew the only thing left to do was to find a partner that would allow me to realize my own designs. I didn’t want depart from the Made In USA ethos I had become accustomed to at American Apparel, so I searched far and wide for manufacturers and was eventually able to begin production with two factories based in the United States.


For me socks are one small thing that you can take risks on without having to worry about messing up your entire outfit. Socks are rarely seen, but socks can give guys that are usually very fashionably reserved the opportunity to experiment with color and fashionable expression without stepping too far into the deep end. I also love the industry side of things because socks are kind of a collector’s item, so I am not at ends with other sock designers, and there is enough for us all to make a living.


Color and pattern are trademarks of your offerings. Where do you find inspiration for your sock designs?

My inspirations come from the most interesting places. It could be from the combination of colors I notice between a little kid’s hair color and the grass behind them, or simply the hues borrowed from a stack of books on a shelf. I have a specific style called L.E.S., an abbreviation for Lower East Side in Manhattan, a place whose palette was used to paint the colors of one of my socks. But for me it’s not really about “finding inspiration”…more so about remaining open to allowing the inspiration to find me anywhere, any time. Keeping that open-minded perspective allows any sight, sound, taste or other experience to become my muse.

Okay, so then outside of fashion, where else do you seek these “muses”?

I’m very nostalgic and an energetic person, so I find a lot of inspiration and a common spirit from childhood and kids. There is a youthful curiosity I try to maintain, and that mindset really informs me about what space I should be working in. That, along with fulfilling my curiosity with research and experimentation, is what leads me to just about all my ideas. I try to seek out small failures, because I think they provide a context that helps me see the solutions.


You seem like one of those acrobats balancing spinning plates with his arms, legs and mouth. But what’s the common thread running through each of these endeavors, and how do you use them to weave throughout your work?

It’s true, I do have a lot of creative outlets! I try to approach everything I do from a variety of angles and perspectives because I believe learning from a single direction can cloud seeing truly creative solutions. I like to throw out templates or guidelines! For me it is far better to analyze the task at hand and find an approach uniquely my own, which may not seem as efficient initially, but will achieve higher quality results in the long run. That said, the common thread that runs through all my endeavors is a commitment to a learning journey, and to do my best to show people the parts of a project before it is complete.

In other words, too often we only note the finished product, but people really learn from the behind-the-scenes experiments and failures. Information these days is mostly free anyway, but information alone is not enough. It’s discipline or dedication that will make the difference between two people starting with the same knowledge. I want people to know that everything that I produce has been thought about to a high degree and labored over. It’s not magic, but exploration, refinement, practice, and plenty of failure – all are part of the creative process. Art, like science is for everyone and that is probably why I spread myself out across different mediums.


What’s keeping you busy lately…besides challenging yourself to fence or run up the Silver Lake stairs with me in the mornings?

I have a lot of hobbies, but on the work front I am really pushing sales of my socks line, Paisley Sockwear, notably a recent collaboration I did with The Essential Man. I’m also working on new music material; music has always been a passion, and I’m feeling like I have a real shot at this point to pursue it further.

Tell us two things you’re excited about right now.

1. Music is the most exciting thing I have brewing at the moment, all my stuff is at I am having a ball and it is kind of a dream to be able to pursue making my living doing what I love.

2. I am also really excited about the next season of House Of Cards. I’ve already finished this season, but I think I might watch the whole thing again because I love it so much!

Do-Tell: Alastair Rae, Albam Clothing

One of my goals for 2014 is to champion more creative work. So I’m lucky to kickoff my first post here at Holiday Matinee with a conversation I shared recently with fashion start-up founder Alastair Rae, of artisan clothing shop Albam Clothing. And trust me: when it comes to menswear, you’ll be hard-pressed to find clothes as simple and stylish as Alastair’s. It’s plain, yet elegant.


Alastair started Albam with his buddy James, in hopes that they could design clothes less about trends  and more about what customers want. They had no background in design, but they had a vision and the determination needed to make it happen. It was crazy, but it worked. Walking around the shop, you can often notice a few of the people have last season’s coats on. No wonder they were recently featured in GQ.


And that’s what they’re aiming for. You can pull any of Albam’s items out and it won’t look “last season”. Menswear for them isn’t about the extra frills – that highly stylised pocket or that military lapel hanging off your shoulder – it’s about quality. Fitted wear made to last.


Sitting down for a casual coffee near his Beak Street shop, here’s what Alastair had to say about their work, and what’s up in his world for 2014…

How do you describe Albam Clothing?

Classic styles brought up-to-date, stripped back to the point of only what’s necessary – i.e. attention to details while using great quality, interesting fabrics and yarns.

The premise is that we give the customer only what’s needed. We avoid the things that are unnecessary, like external design features that don’t actually serve a purpose.

What inspires you? 

I guess, at the moment, we’re starting the designs for the new season. So what I find most inspiring is that you’re spending time in the shop over Christmas and seeing how excited customers get about what we’re doing and how that product works and what it means to them.

And now, we take that as an opportunity, we see how we can take something and look at what we can do for the future. So it’s the challenge and inspiration of 2014 I guess, but really it’s just what we do. It’s to not create a brand new style, it’s to keep the product relevant, keep people excited, and make sure they’re involved in the creative process.

For example, it’s inspiring when we see the customers in the shop wearing our clothes. It starts the whole creative process over again, rather than us sitting in isolation, saying “Here’s the product” then passing it off to go and sell [to salespeople]. We all have an impact on it, we all work on it.

So what’s inspiring is that sort of a symbiotic relationship with the customer. Democratic is the wrong word. It’s just that everyone’s worked on an idea together.


What’s keeping you busy?

Constantly learning, constantly trying to develop. Not getting stuck in the here and now.

The end of 2013 for us was all about the customer. Meeting the customer, getting in and working at the store and trying to show people what we do. For us, it was really this idea of trying to under-promise and over-deliver in both quality and style. Infusing that sense of customer into the business and making sure it happens.


Tell us two things you’re excited about right now

1. The focus internally is currently on shaping next autumn’s range and I’m looking forward to seeing how the designs develop from the sketching stage (where we currently are) to the sampling through to delivery later in the year. It seems like a long way off, but it’ll be here before we know it.

2. Secondly, for one reason or another, I am travelling to both Japan (somewhere I’ve never been) and to the east coast of the States (somewhere I’ve been a few times) in Spring, so on a personal note, I’m looking forward to being inspired by these highly differing places! Who knows what I’ll learn and bring back.

If you dig Albam’s style and want to learn more, peep this video of their store in Shoreditch featured on Monocole. If you’re convinced and want to buy some kit, head to their website. Delivery runs internationally.

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