An interview with Liz Vap

There’s no one quite like Liz Vap, and I have doubts there ever will be.

The indelible mind behind FeralCat, the muse to Mick Rock, the New York City darling that has spent the better part of her career creating unforgettable experiences for individuals, brands, and icons. Through her company, FeralCat, she produces, creates, and brings together like- minded and uncommon creative forces.

We caught up with Liz at The Hollywood Roosevelt where she was staying to promote her most recent project as an executive producer of the newly released Magnolia Pictures documentary, SHOT! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock, “a joyride that delves deep into the mind of one of rock and roll’s greatest living photographer: Mick Rock,” to talk about the documentary, being creatively curious, and the strangest days of her career.

Who are you?

That’s a very loaded question for me! I create and bring like minded people together.

You’re like a creative amalgam.

I like working with creative people and bringing them all together and doing something as a collective in a way. In everything I do that’s what’s so important… and what feels so lacking today. Everyone likes to be labeled and segregated as to what their ideas are. I always loved the times of Studio 54, not for all the craziness, but for the fact that you could put Baryshnikov in a room with Grace Jones in a room with Liza Minelli and Andy Warhol, and it was like a collective of all these people who would normally not hang out, and yet somehow they find common ground by coming together. And I kind of like doing that in everything I do; it’s bringing creative people, and inspiring energy, and connecting them all together in different platforms and settings.

Starting with Mick. Part of it was reintroducing him to a whole new audience who weren’t aware of him but knew his pictures. And he got energy from shooting all these amazing young people and they felt like they were being made into their demi-gods, like Jesse Hughes from Eagles of Death Metal and Karen O who both wrote beautiful things about him on recent Instagram posts after viewing the film about how being shot by Mick was like a passage. And being able to bring those people together, to me, is magic.

It’s like you’re sort of like…

A conduit?

No, because I think a conduit is too passive. It’s more like you’re a modern Gertrude Stein with her salon where she brought together these intellectuals. And for you it’s these creative people which makes it a bit more amorphous and it’s just very cool. So in that spirit, what does creative freedom mean to you?

I think it’s whatever you want it to mean within yourself. I always tell young artists or musicians or actors, don’t let anyone tell you what they feel you need to do to get to where you want to be. You have to go within, and see what’s comfortable. And if something feels right, that’s the path you need to take.

I was struck with reading about your background, being this 14 year old going out with her brother, and then being like, “ok I’m going to do makeup.” And it really struck me as being fearless. I read you jumped around a bit with doing a lot of things just because it seemed to me like you were more intrigued by the possibility of saying yes rather than no. It just struck me as a really fearless thing. I was wondering, do you think of yourself as fearless? Are there things you’re afraid of?

I think you’re fearless when you’re young because you don’t know the repercussions of things. I was like a sponge, I wanted to experience and absorb. I think you become less fearless as you get older, it’s like the first time falling in love. But then you get your heart broken and then you’re a little bit more cautious the next go around.

It’s the same with work elements. You discover you want to go into something and you get fired or it doesn’t work out, I think it just becomes harder to be fearless as you get older, you realize things that may come of it when something goes wrong. When I was younger, it was a lot easier because I just wanted to do stuff. I grew up in a really strict household and I just wanted to experience everything from being sheltered. When you grown older, you definitely become more cautious but it’s important to always continue to find that drive, that risk taker within, but it can be hard!

Yeah, the stakes are higher.

Exactly! Yeah, you gotta pay rent. When you’re a kid you’re like, “yeah I’ll do that! Sure, why not? I’ll give it a try.”

Although I always feel like there’s something to learn from ourselves when we’re younger.

Yes, 100%. I miss it. Not that I was reckless, but ignorance is bliss. I think fear is one of the most horrible things in keeping people from greatness. Fear and jealousy. Especially in this day and age, people are so affected by social media, and they are constantly looking at other things to see why they don’t have… This one has this many followers on social media, or what do they have that others don’t have. Instead of looking at where you’re at and where you’re growth is and within yourself, it’s so comparative all the time. But with age comes knowledge and strength and I appreciate that as well.

You’ve been so immersed in everything around art and culture. Whether it was as an artist, makeup artist, consulting, production, we could probably list forever all the things you could put on a resume that you’d never need to write again. Do you feel like your success comes from being so embedded in everything?

Well, I get bored really easily. I’m probably full on ADD and I’m a Pisces, if you believe in that. I’m always wanting to try new things. I started so young and I didn’t even know who I was. By the time when people are just figuring out what they wanted to do, I had had a whole career, and I didn’t know if I wanted to do that the rest of my life. I had a few things happen and I wanted to take some time off to figure out what I wanted to do. I went back to art school and thought maybe I wanted to be a painter, then discovered I wasn’t meant to be a painter, but I was still working. I was still trying things to see what a good fit was and what made me happy in life. 

Then on top of it, the industry that I knew was changing. I had to try different things out to adapt to what was changing. Case in point, all of the music industry changed. Nobody was buying records or vinyl, and I was working in music and everybody was saying, “people are never not going to want to buy CDs. No one is going to want to download music.” And I thought this was crazy, this isn’t true. I felt like I had to learn other things outside of that, or else I would lose sight of where I’m at and just be stuck. I knew so many people that wanted to keep doing an old formula of what they thought worked. And then they kind of lost out in it, and they couldn’t get jobs. I feel that’s still happening change is hard for people but now everything changes so quickly.

For me, I wanted to explore what the new thing was and figure it out and try different elements. People always came to me to find out what the next cool thing was, or what’s going on with music right now, or who are you really into creatively, or what places are cool. Somehow that still happens. Maybe I’m not as in touch as I was when I was 20 because I don’t go out as much, but I try to be.

Do you think it’s possible to…I think this is kind of an agist question, but do you think it’s possible to age and still be super dialed in?

Yeah, I think Mick is super dialed in and he’s older, because he still listens. It’s all about listening to people, and he listens to younger generations and what they think is cool, and he listens to his daughter and what she says. And he’s not like, “in my time…” We put so much pressure on age, and I think you stay relevant and young if you believe you’re relevant and young. I’m not saying be childish.

Right, but be young at heart and creatively curious, maybe?

Yea exactly. I think that’s really important.

“Mick was always such a character to me and everyone would always ask me what it was like to work with him, or what it was like to hang out with him. I always had this idea of wanting to give that experience to people, because he’s such a creative force and a talent, but also has such a big personality, and is so highly entertaining.”

So since we’re talking about Mick. Let’s talk about the documentary. How did it start?

Mick was always such a character to me and everyone would always ask me what it was like to work with him, or what it was like to hang out with him. I always had this idea of wanting to give that experience to people, because he’s such a creative force and a talent, but also has such a big personality, and is so highly entertaining. I wanted to do a documentary about him but it had to be the right fit and the right time. I was introduced to one of the producers Sal Scamardo, who worked at a film company at the time and he also thought it was a great idea so we started developing it, and trying different directors.

I realized that it’s really hard to make a documentary about a person who is still alive because obviously they want to have input in it, but it had to be the perfect balance so that it wasn’t so much input that it would not really work as a doc. I had met through my friend Marlon Richards (Keith’s son) this young cool director, Barnaby Clay in London, and we really hit it off and I looked at some of his work. I really thought he had an amazing eye and I dug his personality and his vibe, and I thought he would get on well with Mick. That’s one thing I have, I know when people will work well together. So I decided to do an introduction to Mick when Barney moved to New York City. Ironically we had worked with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and we knew Karen O and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and somehow Barney and Karen had met and had fallen in love around the same time, so it was kind of a synergy in a way. Mick really hit it off with Barney, because he really understood the British humor and aesthetic, they both went to Cambridge. He wanted to work with a young director, someone fresh and new, not someone coming in with all of these dated ideas. Barney brought something really different and it was a long process, but we had full support from Straight Up Films and Vice on this creative journey which was important to the out come of this film.

Those are great partners to have.

Yeah! And Straight Up is two working women producers which is amazing, and Vice has always been cutting edge and doing different things. It really allowed us to not do your typical talking head doc. We didn’t know how it would go over, because we had reenactment scenes and animation part of the team was a little nervous but we all came together and it all worked out perfectly in the end.

Mick is a Scorpio, British and very guarded. So getting him to go to that vulnerable place is not easy for him and it took some time. He would call Barney and be like, “I have some taped interviews with David Bowie. Do you think you’d be interested in that?” and Barney would be respond, “Uh, YEAH!” And then two months would go by and Mick would again say, “I have this footage of me and Syd Barrett having an acid trip at Cambridge. Do you think you’d want to see that?” He hadn’t looked at it in 25 years. And Barney would again reply, “Uh, YEAH!”

Right, like can you just make a list of these things for me?

All of this stuff kept coming up when Mick got more comfortable, or probably him just going through stuff and forgetting he had it as he’s always keeping busy. Mick was just hanging out with like-minded people, and I don’t think that ever changed. They were like minded-people who wanted to do cool stuff and weren’t being influenced by what was going on around them creatively by mass media standards. I mean, they looked like freaks. Glam rock was not what it is, and then it became commercialized and it changed. That’s when David changed and stopped doing Ziggy. We talked about fear, and that’s what I’d like to see more of. Artists are so much more fearful to change what’s working for them and shift gears when it stops working. David could have done Ziggy til he passed. But he was done with it. It didn’t turn him on anymore and he wanted to change, but I do believe he was probably a little scared to do that, because you don’t know how people are going to react when you shift a gear like that.

Who are you excited by right now? Musicians or artists are otherwise?

It’s all different and I know when I know. I have a TV show now that I’m being pitched about a time that deals with skateboarding and I’ve never skateboarded in my life, but I love the whole idea of it and that excites me, so there’s always a trigger point with something. I love Zach Galifianakis’ show Baskets on FX that’s one of the best things I’ve seen in awhile. As for bands, I have been listening to some demos of a band called Easy out of Venice, CA, This band from the UK called Blossoms and I love this band, A Giant Dog, from Austin and Karen Elson’s new record Double Roses is really beautiful. I’m dying to get back to New York City and see Whipped Cream the ballet at The MET, artist Mark Ryden did all the sets. I have been living for my friend’s clothing line St. Roche, I love the line so much I just had them make my best friend’s wedding dress and it was stunning. 

Hypothetically produce your dream event. What would it be? You can choose who the attendees are, whether they are living or dead, real or fictional?

Oh my gosh, that is a crazy one. I mean, the one we did the other night was kind of a dream event. You couldn’t have more characters in one room that you’re like, “how’s this all working?” But it does. Someone did a meme that I thought kind of summed it up that was kind of funny. They said, “about last night… Gary Oldman’s boys, Hilfiger’s daughter, Billy Idol, The Shrine, and Sasha Grey. What the fuck?”

That’s usually what my events are. A little bit of this, a little bit of that. To have  Billy Idol, Moby, Juliette Lewis, Kelly Osbourne, Mastodon, Elle King, The Kills, Kim Gordon, Drea de Matteo, Linda Ramone and Shepherd Fairey, it’s just such a fun creative mix. It has a little bit of everything in it. I wish I had Elvira there though, that would have really been the icing on the cake for me. Or Slayer, or Mike Patton or all three there…

Next time!

Oh yeah, I’ll make sure of it too.

Is there a Liz Vap theory to curating the perfect experience?

It’s trusting your gut. Since I was a child, I would even curate my tea parties, which stuffed animals got to hang out with my Barbie and Darth Vader doll. 

Did they get along well?

[Laughs] I think I had Darth Vader dating Barbie at one point. I’ve always had that, I had a knack for who would get on with who even when you think it might not make any sense. 

It’s funny like with Jimmy Fallon. I remember first seeing him in SNL when he started and my girlfriend at the time worked at Dolce and Gabbana and I remember saying, “that guy. That guy is going to be huge, he’s hilarious.” And she was like, “really? That guy?”

A week later he apparently was calling everywhere trying to get an outfit for an award show. And she rang me from work and said, “You know that guy you liked on SNL? He called me for a suit and I’m not even supposed to give him one because he’s not a main player on SNL yet, but I’m going to give him a suit because you say he’s cool.” I said, “I’m telling you….” And then he blew up like less then a year later, and now he has no problem getting a suit. [Laughs] And that’s how he and I met. He was so kind and grateful, he invited my friend to his Paper Magazine cover party at The Oden in New York, because she gave him a suit, and she introduced me, he asked me what I did, and I said, “I work with a guy named Mick Rock.” Later, I sent him Mick’s then new book Blood & Glitter, but I didn’t hear from him so I figured he wasn’t that interested, but then I ran into him at another event, and I asked him if he ever got the book. He said, “you sent me that?? I’m a huge Syd Barrett fan.” Who would have thought Jimmy is one of the biggest Syd Barrett fans ever? And he said that he was doing a comedy record, and asked if I thought Mick would be interested in shooting it for him. So we ended up doing his comedy record, and did a couple of shoots with him and maintained a friendship. You never know things always kind of roll out in the way it’s supposed to roll out. 

I think that was the first comedy record I ever bought.

Really? The Bathroom Wall

Yeah!

Amazing! I think I wrote some stuff about an ex-boyfriend on that wall, haha. Somewhere in there is a Liz Heart and a “Vap.” I did a lot of the scribbles.

Artistic direction, right?

Yeah, 100%. That was a really fun shoot. Jimmy is great, so talented.

“I think I wrote some stuff about an ex-boyfriend on that wall, haha. Somewhere in there is a Liz Heart and a Vap. I did a lot of the scribbles.”
+ The Bathroom Wall, shot by Mick Rock

So you have a lot of stuff going on.

The self deprecating part of me likes to say “jackass of all trades” but I am very grateful I have stuff going on.

What’s your favorite way to recharge?

Some people wouldn’t find this as a recharge, but there’s nothing like going and visiting your family, and being told “yeah, take out the trash.” Not that I don’t get treated like a normal person, but just being grounded again. So I’ll go home and visit my dad in Connecticut and it’s so beautiful there. I am way more of a homebody then people like to believe, I love to stay in and binge watch a good show. I’ll get massages, acupuncture, cupping, do an infrared sauna. I feel all of that is really important. I’m just learning how to meditate. 

What’s been the strangest day of your career?

The strangest day? Where do I start?! There’s been so many strange days. Not to fan out, but last night I had dinner with Ian Astbury from The Cult and his amazing wife Aimee Nash from The Black Ryders, and I’m sitting there going, “Oh my god, The Cult were my favorite band when I was 13, still are and now you guys are having dinner with me and my friend Eli Morgan Gesner the co-founder Zoo York, all laughing and talking like-minded creative ideas, and what we’re listening to and what books we’re reading.” I was thinking, “Jeez, I went to an all girl Catholic school and I was the weirdo who had pictures of this band in my locker and now I’m at dinner with them. “ That’s weird to me.

Also, the day that I got to work with David Bowie when he came up to me and introduced himself. I mean that’s pretty weird. I mean it sounds a bit star struck but it’s not that, it’s just like that these people are the people I looked to for what they were doing creatively in my life when I was a kid and inspired me and still do. I also have that reaction when I meet the weirdest people. I fan out over the strangest people. Like I said, Elvira. I’ll get super excited about people like her.

We haven’t talked about it yet, but if you were to tell someone what FeralCat is, what would you say?

FeralCat came from me hanging with a bunch of friends who had a carriage house in New York City that was behind a building, and I said to them, “does anyone even know how to find this?” They said feral cats knew how to find it, and I thought that was slang for their friends, until they told me that meant wild cats. I was looking for a company name and I thought it was a nice play on the jazz term “cool cats.” I work with cool, uninhibited people who look for things. I work with feral cats. It means just working with creative, wild people on different levels. It also didn’t pigeonhole me in one thing.

What’s up next for you?

I’m looking at some projects to produce and continuing my work as a creative consulting on various projects and brands. I’m very excited about a Google initiative I am working on with Straight Up Films who is producing a series of short films that promotes gender equality and diversity in the computer sciences – the films are to be directed by some amazing talent that I can’t say yet, but they will be partnered with young writers to develop the stories. 

I am working on producing a photography book that Mick and Norman Reedus, are doing together which is going to be very cool, they both have such a different eye on subjects but are equally inspiring in their individual final frame. I also just finished consulting on Norman’s motorcycle travel series with AMC called Ride with Norman Reedus. The new season is out this summer, it’s going to be killer! 

I’d love to do a horror film. I love that genre. I usually let projects come to me organically. I don’t really go after things, I let things develop. Just knowing people, things come up. Of course, continuing to work with Mick, because he has so much going on right now.

How do you want to be remembered? What do you want your legacy to be?

I think it’s important to be remembered as a good person, a giving person, that’s the most important thing for me. And that I did some stuff that kind of resonated with people. If this documentary can stand the test of time, which I think it will, then I think I will have done something, at least one thing right. 

Follow Liz Vap on Twitter and Instagram at @feralcatpro, and find Feral Cat here.

  • Photography Willie Mack
  • Story by Amy Jacobowitz
  • Styling by Jules Wood
  • Makeup and hair by Elaina Karras

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