This is the story of Jesse Korman; from fronting The Number 12 Looks Like You, to entering photography, to nowadays being a movie producer.
As a younger man, Jesse Korman was one of two vocalists fronting the maniacal cult mathcore act, The Number 12 Looks Like You, becoming the group's main vocalist after Justin Pedrick left the group in 2009, with their latest record being 2019's enigmatic 'Wild Gods' LP. Forming in 2002, and following some eight or so years of writing and performing, The Number 12 went on hiatus, eventually reforming in 2016. It's during these interim years that Jesse dived headfirst into other professions. Namely that of photography, from first being a digital tech (a role he had no idea about but said yes to anyway), to being an on-set film photographer, taking actors portraits and creating movie posters, even snapping photos for the election campaigns of AOC (yes, that AOC), to now being a co-producer at Yale Productions. A role that, over the last few years, has seen the singer-turned-producer and his team work with large profiles like Ron Perlman, Alec Baldwin, Rory Culkin, Belle Thorne, Kurt Russel, to name a few.
My main goal with this interview and the questions asked is to hopefully highlight Jesse's story clearest and best to those unaware of it. Because that's his own core reason to work and create: the story-telling part, that which outlives us all, as he puts it. For whether it's a vocalist in a metal band telling a personal story through the lyrics, or a producer helping bring a writer or directors vision to life, the story is everything. And this is Jesse Korman's.
Straight off the bat, Jesse, I have to ask two things, just to get them out of the way. First, do you maintain your voice for The Number 12 Looks Like You now that your're in the film world? And two, are there any plans for Number 12 to make a new record?
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Maintaining my screaming voice was never easy, it takes so much effort to properly care for it. It’s like butterfly wings, you have to be so careful handling it. And right now, I would like to say YES, but with how busy we are all getting I can’t say for sure. But we are indeed still writing new material. One thing we noticed is we write our best work when we don’t force it. It has to come to us naturally. Pandemic times definitely put a wrench in the gears of creativity.
So which is more stressful: working out studio time and release details with Eyeball Records for a Number 12 album, or having to work out the budget and private equity of a feature film that you and your independent production company are working on?
They are both equally stressful. We were signed to Eyeball at a very young age and at that time when we were on that label, it seemed to be the only thing that mattered. Getting studio dates and release dates on point and having a successful album. That's how big our worlds were being that young. Now as a much more matured adult, I have a bigger world with bigger problems. Real-life bills. Raising equity on a film is definitely stressful because now it’s the big leagues with bigger consequences, but bigger results.
[caption id="attachment_1109695" align="aligncenter" width="760"] The Number 12 Looks Like You, 2019. [/caption]
Originally, your photography work post-music started with portraits and stills used in movie posters. I am curious, is that one of those roles that people think is just as simple as it seems, or is there more happening behind-the-scenes?
It is definitely not as simple as it seems. I would be surprised if people DID find it simple, to begin with. It’s incredibly competitive first off, almost everyone I know would LOVE an opportunity to photograph a movie set. But there is such a small group that actually gets to do it over and over again. It was not easy getting to where I am in regards to that. It was always one thing leading to another and eventually found myself at that exact position, photographing my first movie and the rest was history. SO much business hustle that is just as important as pushing the trigger button on a camera.
I'm keen to talk about how exactly you fell into being a digital tech starting back in 2011 working under award-winning photographers and how that lead to on-set photography in 2013. As I found Joey L.'s 2019 blog post about him bringing you onto a serendipitous gym shoot in Thailand. So who specifically helped you make these leaps from photography to film?
It really all started with one of my best friends, Joey L. He single-handedly got me involved in photography. I had no experience or really any desire to pursue anything in that field. Joey would leave for all of these photoshoots and then we would hang out when he was back. Eventually, he was like why don’t I teach you how to be a digital tech and we can do these jobs together. I didn’t have a clue what that even was, but after saying yes, I had my first job 36 hours later with him for “Project Runway”. We stayed up all night and he had me watch videos and test around the clock till we got on set. That’s how it all started and it snowballed after that. I had studied his very beautiful work so when it came time for me to start taking photos, I didn’t really know how to get results that DIDN’T look like his because it's all I really knew. So, I really owe it all to him getting me involved and setting me up for the cinema world. After so many years I have developed a “cinematic look” and it was easy to implement it into movie set photos. It was a super easy transition.
Talk to me about you and the Yale Productions teams experience working down in Puerto Rico as one of the co-producers for Chick Fight with Bella Thorne and Alec Baldwin. I know that the film went through big reworks, from changing locations to major casting shifts.
That happens all the time on movies. Big changes throughout. Everything is constantly changing because there are SO MANY moving parts. So once one thing changes, it creates a whole ripple effect. One actor may be available while the other is not and then we have to figure out what to do with that. Overall, Chick Fight was one of the best experiences because it was our first time going to Puerto Rico and who the hell doesn’t wanna film in paradise on the beach and then be in an underground club watching insane choreographed fighting all day!
On being a producer, looking at the multiple feature-films you’ve worked on in 2020 (Crypto, Becky, and I Used To Go Here), would you say the biggest tool in helping shape these movies, regardless of plot or genre, is the story; just the different mediums you can present a story within, whether it’s an album or movie? Because you’ve seen both sides: you’ve written albums from your own perspective, and as a producer, you’re now helping to bring the vision of another person to life.
Absolutely. That is one of the BIGGEST reasons why I do what I do. Another form of storytelling. That’s what outlives us all, isn’t it? The stories that we are telling during our lifetime, so the future can have an archive of the past. It’s what shaped who we all are today. I love being part of history. Things that never go away. Telling a story from my perspective or helping tell a story from our perspective. If you can really, truly nail that, what better way to leave a mark than that?
Back in October 2020, you were talking to B&H Photo Video about filming with John Malkovich during Covid-19 lockdown for the upcoming action-thriller, Red 48. When looking this film up, turns out Ben Weinman from The Dillinger Escape Plan actually composed music for it. Having members of TDEP and The Number 12 respectively working on different aspects of the same film seems like a meant-to-be situation. What with both of your bands coming from a similar era and music scene, and no doubt having heavy cross-pollination of fans and listeners.
[Laughs] yes, it is a film to go down in the mathcore handbook! Ben is a super old friend of mine, almost two decades now and I was finally able to get him involved in one of my movies as a composer. Not only did we work on this movie together, but something nobody knows yet is we had our first ever musical collaboration together IN this movie. That’s all I can say about that.
As you've worked with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the past for her 2016 political campaign – knowing her from the bar you used to frequent that she worked at - that saw her entry into Congress, I want to hear your thoughts about what happened on January 6th at the Capitol Building, in which she was present when the protestors stormed the building?
I'm honestly not entirely sure what she had said about the whole thing or follow much of what anyone is saying about the storming of the Capital, I just know it was absolutely disgusting. My thoughts on all of the Trumpers that were there are quite plain and simple, they are all morons. They drank the juice, Trump telling his people to rise up and not take no for an answer, but then left them all hanging when he denounced them being in DC, saying go home. It was a bunch of stubborn babies crying because they didn’t have their way.
[caption id="attachment_1109696" align="aligncenter" width="760"] Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as photographed by Jesse Korman. [/caption]
The last Number 12 record ‘Wild Gods’ was more societal and more “aware” in terms of its lyrical content; from the church’s sins to animal rights, to abuse. You’ve seemed to hint in the past that this has come out from your work with AOC and being inspired to use your given platform to address larger issues. Is that something you aim to continue on any future musical endeavours or in another art form that you may be a part of?
I will always want to give a voice to issues that should be heard louder. No matter what platform, music or cinema. I think as I get older, I realize how important it is that we leave this world a better place than how we came into it. What’s really the point of just cruising through life unnoticed and not making a difference in anything? We should feel lucky to be here having a chance to give ourselves a great experience, so we should pay it forward by giving back. Speak for others who are not having such a great experience in hopes of making it better for them.
You’ve talked before about having a type of Imposter Syndrome feeling when you were in those first ten years of Number 12. Is that something you also felt the same way about when entering into and staying within the film and photographer industry? If so, how long did that feeling persist? Do you feel as though you’ve “made it” or that thinking that would mark an end to your own growth? Satisfaction being the death of desire and all that jazz.
Oh, I still talk about that to this day. I don’t think it's really ever going to go away. No matter how “successful” I become, I'll always feel like an imposter. That someone else should be where I am because they are more deserving of it. I think that is what also gives me drive every day, because I always want to top myself. Always want to feel like I could be better, to beat the imposter. I am not shaming anyone who feels content and happy with where they are. I think that must be a great feeling, to feel exactly where you need to be and satisfied. I would like that one day. Maybe. Or maybe not. Maybe I will keep striving to be “legit” and do some cool things along the way!
You mentioned to AP back in 2020 that sometimes people from the film and photography world have recognized you or your name from Number 12 and music. What would you say was the most high-profile person to recognize you or maybe most surprising person to know of you and your music career? Are those kinds of experiences humbling or perhaps not even something that you think about – it only serving one’s ego.
To be honest, not something I really think about much. I ALMOST prefer for people to not know too much about my history or past with Number 12, because I always feel like they would think that I'm not a real producer; that I'm really a band dude who stumbled his way into the film world and got lucky. I worked really hard to get to where I am and I prefer for people to know me in the film business as someone who hustles and is extremely dedicated to what I do. Sometimes I get afraid they will wind up searching Number 12 and see how crazy our shows are and be either intimidated or not take me very seriously from that point on. I really don’t mind if they know the band and have respect for what I did/do, as long as it doesn’t change their perspective on who I am on that movie. I am so proud of the Number 12 legacy and the creative force behind it, always will be, but some people, well, just don’t get it and will judge.
The big formative years of your life were in music. Even though your professional career now is removed from that world, I assume you still keep tabs on new releases? Were there any releases you loved in 2020 and any records you're anticipating in 2021? I’m personally hanging out for the new albums from Genghis Tron, The Armed and Rolo Tomassi!
Ha, you would think so! I’ll be honest, I really don’t. I'm quite detached from the new releases. They eventually end up in my ears one way or another at some point in time, but I don’t follow most stuff these days. My life has been fully consumed with films. Music will always be my number one love, always, but I just let it enter my life when it does. I don’t go after it. I play the same old albums when I am on a drive or working out, but then I’m back to work and that is usually no music, all concentration. Although I did fancy the new Rolo Tomassi, especially the singer (who I married by the way).
Last off, Number 12’s 2005 album ‘Nuclear. Sad. Nuclear’ turned 15 last year. And next year, ‘Mongrel’ will hit that 15-year-old milestone. As these are my two favourite records from Number 12, I’d love to hear your thoughts and perspective on those two records now, Jesse?
Those two will always hold huge significance in their own ways. NSN being our first full-length album we have ever done and MONGREL being our most popular album (before we broke up in 2009). NSN represented a lot of discovery, the first times for a lot of things. Just like in our lives. First times really touring hardcore, first times breaking up with a girlfriend, first times almost dying on tour, first times having sold-out shows. It was so much exploration and discovery. MONGREL was the "okay we know what we are doing" album. Adult-like, mature. Knowledgeable. Feeling very secure who we were. Much more confidence and that also carried over into our personal lives, our early to mid-20s. Really coming into yourself.