Keith Stanfield’s name should be the dictionary definition of “Jack of all trades.” The actor-turned-musician is nothing but talent and poise, coming off of a tour supporting James Vincent McMorrow this week. His collaboration with producer HH resulted in the meeting of the minds with rap and spacey beats–something the two were able to share with the world on MOORS debut EP that came out in October.
However, music isn’t the only focus that Stanfield has. With upcoming roles in Straight Outta Compton and Selma, he’s truly on the rise as a young Snoop Dog and a key part of the civil rights movement (respectively). Stanfield took some time to chat with us about rocking out with John Gallagher Jr., his big break and flying under James Vincent McMorrow’s wing,
Can you tell me about what went into the songwriting and production of the EP?
Keith Stanfield: Me and HH decided to start a group shortly after Short Term 12 premiered at SXSW. He was really interested in my musical abilities after he found out I wrote some of the rap in Short Term 12. So after he shot me a couple of instrumentals, I thought it was really unique and a good platform on which to work, so I decided we should work together. I said in one of my lyrics “I’m a moor,” and he said, “what if our name is just ‘MOORS?’” I thought, “that’s brilliant. Let’s do it.” So, we started Moors, and we’ve been working ever since. We’ve been trying to put something together since early 2013. We went through many different trials until we flushed out a couple of tracks we really liked a lot. The tracks from the EP were those. I sat down with him and talked to him about my goal and aims in terms of musical expression; I just wanted to not only express my lifestyle, but also express the idea of being locked in chains and the struggling journey of overcoming and getting through that. He agreed with that and wanted to put forth the image of showing both sides of life: the negative and the positive. He wanted to show the expression of both things together. Really what MOORS represents, is getting through those struggles and showing both sides. We want to try and show the black and the white through our music.
Which musicians influenced you the most on your EP?
I listen to all kinds of music. Now, some of my influences are Grimes, Prince and Lil B. I love the blues and jazz–Ella Fitzgerald and Johnny Cash. Tupac. I like music that just speaks to simple struggles that we all go through. I really like Ma Rainey and Amy Winehouse.
Is there a theme that resonates in your debut EP?
Definitely. I think the theme is just a feeling of hopelessness and that there’s nowhere to turn–that internal struggle. There are issues of worth in terms of money and self-worth and issues of feeling isolated and alone. It’s being alone and all in your head; also the feeling of being an outcast, racially and in a lot of different ways. There is also a theme of hope–little spots where there is some hope here, which is necessary to continue forward. I was lucky enough to have that little bit of hope, which is largely due to my success in acting.
Do you see yourself primarily as an actor or a musician?
I don’t know. I just kind of see myself as a human who has this opportunity to express different things. I feel every medium as an opportunity to do that.
How did you get that role in Short Term 12?
I had been auditioning for a long time when I was 16. I kept going back and forth. I had this manager who decided to send me out on these student project. He sent me on this thesis project, which at the time, was a short film called Short Term 12. I acted in that short film, and it won a Grand Jury prize at Sundance. So, about five years later, Destin (Daniel Cretton) had tried to contact me for a while and couldn’t. Finally, I checked my email and saw I had some unread messages about him trying to make a feature of Short Term 12. He invited me down to LA to audition me for that, which I did. After that, I was in the feature, which I got nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, which skyrocketed everything after that. Really that short-film started it all–just going out on something and being good enough for it.
Was your role in Short Term 12 drastically different than your own personality, or did you see parts of yourself in your character?
No, I definitely saw different parts of myself. In every role I’ve done thus far, I’ve always found little parts of me that mirror that character. I think a lot of people related to the character of Marcus; that’s indicative of the attention Marcus had gotten, which I was surprised to see. With the expression of music and film, there are so many universal truths that humans have that we’re not necessarily aware of, until someone brings it to the forefront. I tried to be in my own zone.
On set in Short Term 12, did you and John Gallagher Jr. jam out together?
Oh yeah. I fucking miss that dude. I love him. Me and John had a couple of sessions. He’s so musical that exactly what transpired on film happened in real life. I started free-styling and he started the instrumentals and acoustics. We did that a lot.
How did you get in contact with James Vincent McMorrow?
I just became a fan of his by casually browsing the Internet–you know how one thing leads to another on the Internet. Me and HHbecame really big fans, so we decided we’d try and remix one of his songs. James liked it a lot, and he invited us on tour, which was a big surprise. That was exactly what we had wanted to do with MOORS. He granted us this opportunity that we’re really grateful for, and then he gave us the opportunity to be featured on one of his songs on his upcoming album called “New Romances.” We’re just so glad he took us on-board.
So you’re going to be starring as young Snoop Dogg in an upcoming film and will be starring in the upcoming MLK Jr. biopic, Selma, what was it like getting these roles?
I never thought I’d be fucking playing Snoop Dogg! Who thinks about things like that? It’s fucking crazy to me and beyond anything I could have ever expected. It’s also very humbling for me to be a part in Snoop Dogg’s life, and realize how much it mirrors a lot of things I’m going through, so that’s been very rewarding. Perhaps nothing I’ve done has been as rewarding as playing Jimmie Lee Jackson, who was a guy who got shot down in the civil rights movement. His death sparked the march on Selma. It’s largely unknown, and hopefully that will change after the film comes out. Just to be a part of that was rewarding on so many levels: being a young black male in America, especially with people getting shot in Ferguson, which affected me immensely. I can hopefully bring awareness and have people look inside and realize what really matters: all of us loving and moving forward with each other. I hope that with my work I can reflect that idea musically and in film. So, I feel really good about both of those roles. Snoop is important for music, but also for pioneering and starting new things. Jimmie is important for life and moving forward. Both of those roles have been very impactful for me, and I’m very grateful to be a part of them.