Mary John Frank and Butterscotch on the music video “Accept Who I Am”
From Montana to New York to Los Angeles, singer and beatboxer, Butterscotch, and director and choreographer, Mary John Frank, criss-crossed paths to create the groundbreaking music video, “Accept Who I Am.” The two artists met unexpectedly at the creativity summit, HATCH Experience in Big Sky, Montana in 2015. From there a relationship blossomed through dance, music, and the desire to make a positive global impact. Funded through a Kickstarter campaign, the video has already been picked up with high praise by www.postmagazine.com, www.nowness.com, www.afropunk.com, www.refinery29.com, and has had over 40,000 views on social media within two weeks. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to ask a few questions and get to know these talented artists a little bit better.
1. So who exactly are Butterscotch and Mary John Frank?
B: My name is Butterscotch “Smooth like Butter… Hard like Scotch.” I’m a singer, beatboxer, musician, alien. I grew up in Davis, California and am now based in Los Angeles. I travel the world playing music and occasionally give workshops and presentations.
MJ: I am Mary John Frank, and I am a director and choreographer. I’m originally from Houston, Texas and I currently live in New York. I direct and choreograph for film projects, the web, and live performances. I also shoot, edit, and teach dance and choreography for camera classes in New York and at various universities.
2. How did you two get into dance and music? And what influenced you to pursue your passions?
B: I was raised in a musical family. My mom has always been a piano teacher, so I grew up surrounded by the sounds of Beethoven, Chopin & Mozart while still in the womb. My dad always would play Motown and my siblings listened to R&B and Hip Hop, so I was a culmination of my surroundings. I played classical piano pretty seriously until I was about 16, but sports were always my main focus (basketball & soccer) until I injured my knee when I was 15.
I started going to a performing arts high school and my focus shifted to music and acting. I started playing guitar and singing more, and performing at local open mic nights. When I started to add beatboxing into the mix, things started to change. I became the first World Female Beatbox Champion in 2005 and then beat all the males at the West Coast Beatbox Championships in 2007. This opened up a new world of possibilities and I found myself as a 3rd place finalist on America’s Got Talent in 2007. The rest has been a huge roller coaster but I have finally managed to get myself on the right track to success!
MJ: My career path looks similar to this drawing by Julia Gamolina:
I was a dancer and a gymnast growing up, however, I stopped dancing in college when I was struggling with body image issues. After seeking help, I realized that being a dancer was probably not the healthiest career choice for me. Determined to find something that I loved just as much as dance I did all kinds of internships in media and film. My first job out of college was an assistant gig at Miramax Films. From there, I moved to Los Angeles where I worked in film production at studios including Paramount Vantage and Warner Bros. During that time a friend started a dance company in LA and encouraged me to audition. This seemed like a gentle way to get back into dance and so I choreographed a piece. This led to more choreography opportunities on stage and on some indie film projects. After several years of doing this on the side, I decided to leave a production job at Warner Bros., (which was terrifying!) and freelance for whomever would hire me as a choreographer, teacher, or dancer. I also utilized my knowledge of film production and began crowd-funding, applying for grants, and self-producing some of my own projects. My greatest influences on this non-linear path have been supportive friends, honest mentors, my mom who always encouraged me to trust my gut, and other artists who are brave and have taken risks or fused art forms to make their own styles of work.
3. How did you two connect?
MJ: Butterscotch was performing at Hatch North America in 2015 and I was there screening a film. After seeing her performance of a very cool rendition of “Summertime,” I thought, “I have to meet this woman!” Because Hatch creates a pretty laid back environment where we are all encouraged to connect and collaborate, I felt comfortable approaching Butterscotch and telling her that I loved her music (and her eyebrow design). We traded contact info that day and a few months later started brainstorming on video concepts.
4. You two have recently produced a music video together called “Accept Who I Am.” Where did the idea for this video come from?
B: I wrote this song after having a very emotionally, heated conversation in Europe about racism in Holland and how they still celebrate an event called “Black Pete”. They parade through town during Christmas time in blackface. There are always people protesting because it is obviously highly offensive to people of African decent. Participants claim it’s “tradition,” but many events in history have been considered “tradition” that are incredibly racist.
Anyway, on the flight back home I was listening to this beat and still shaken up by my encounter and began to write. I started to write about race and my experience, and then it turned into my whole life experience, with me being looked at as differently by people, judged and critiqued because I’m a multi-racial, gay woman in the music industry. I’m generally a very peaceful person, but I was reliving anger from the dark days of my past. Once I got all my ideas down and bits and pieces of the rhymes, I organized the verses so that the first one would be about my youth and how I struggled with depression and not loving myself. The following verse would show that once I began to accept myself, I felt oppression from the outside and had to constantly defend myself and tell people that this the way I chose to live my life. The final verse is stating that it doesn’t matter who we are and where we come from, we must simply come together for the greater good.
MJ: Once we decided that “Accept” was the one, I took the song into a dance studio, played it over the loud speaker and just listened. Black and white images of bodies and hands gripping and suffocating Butterscotch came to mind. Then images of Butterscotch, in color, on a beach and in the desert appeared. Luckily, Butterscotch was into these visuals and was also very open to the physical theater and dance component of this. Her willingness to try out the movement piece is what made this all possible.
When we were in the same city we would get together and Butterscotch would tell me more of her story. We would create the movement sequences based on her personal experiences and experimented a lot with movement quality. For example, how would she move if an invisible force was gripping her ankles or pushing against her chest when she was trying to get to get from point A to B? We also worked on safe ways of hitting the ground since there were scenes where we knew she would get pushed around. The movement part of it was very collaborative and woven together over a two-month period of conversations and interactions with Butterscotch and rehearsals with the dancers and a camera.
5. What do you want viewers to take away from the music video?
B: I hope that this video reaches those who are in need of love. There are so many people out there who struggle everyday and who are judged for not conforming to society. We are all special, unique and deserve to be treated as so! Life is too short to hide who you really are.
MJ: I hope viewers are moved by the visuals, appreciate the song and the magnificent force that is Butterscotch, and take away one of the following messages:
*Be courageous and keep going.
*We all struggle. You are not alone.
*Shine a light on the dark corners within you. Do you have any negative, old, dusty ideas that are holding you (or someone else) back that need airing out?
6. What does the future look like for Butterscotch and Mary John?
B: I just released new music (www.TheScotchTapes.com) and am looking to collaborate on a new project to get more music out into the world. I plan to make more videos this year, and also continue to tour. I’m looking to open up for big name artists and then, eventually, become that big name artist that BLOWS THE WORLD AWAY for complete global Butterscotch domination…musical domination that is. I want to spread love and peace through music! People follow their favorite artists in a time of crisis, not politicians. We have the power to influence and we should use it for the greater good!
MJ: This is an exciting time to be a filmmaker. Technology is rapidly changing and more artists are taking risks and experimenting with both dance and film. I want to be a part of these communities and to keep growing as an artist, a choreographer, a filmmaker, and a director. I learn so much every time I get to direct and I love it! I want to make more music videos, short content, and, eventually, a feature (many features!) Of course, I want to collaborate with Butterscotch again when she has the time.
ACCEPT WHO I AM – lyrics
Butterscotch, Illustration by Allison Norman #becauseofHATCH
I didn’t grow up white I didn’t grow up black
I didn’t grow up in a healthy habitat
Didn’t know what I was, didn’t know what I wanted to be
All I knew is what I couldn’t see
Stevie made me Wonder was it better to be blind,
would that be easier to find, an inner light for me to shine, to see the sign
Was too high to see that ribbon in the sky
Too much fighting in the home lead to thoughts in the dome,
suicide dreams would wake me alone,
longing for a different world to take me home, somewhere unknown, on my own
without all this stress, this pain in my chest
getting harder to breathe, can’t see what I see
I’m trapped in a system, that hates what is different, anyone with a vision, they don’t fucking listen
I’m trying to live can’t you see
What your hate does to me
I’m trying to live
Trying to live
Let me be free
It’s none of your business if I’ve slept with a woman or a man
Frankly I don’t give a damn what you think, I’m a freak, what I do in the sheets, doesn’t concern you, I don’t understand, why you care so much, why do you people stare so much, why you point and glare so much,
Like you’re the one to judge
Living your fucked up live you can’t get enough
Pushing people down,
Like you wear a crown
The king is dead
My time is now
I’ma walk around
Like I own this shit, never back down cause I’m making hits,
Don’t believe in violence, but I won’t turn the cheek if it makes me weak, cause the hate that you inflict makes me weep
For my brothers and sisters who took their lives now buried in the deep
Whether you’re black white, yellow, red, green or turquoise
Mohawk, Navajo, Cherokee, Iroquoi,
We all from the same tribe, rooted in the same sky, we all gonna live, we all gonna die
We go back in the earth, begin a new birth
Karma decides your new worth
Will you be a butterfly, or will you be dirt? Serving your time for those you hurt?
Step on me and I’ll step on you, for all the things that you put me through
Tired of hiding, tired of fighting, can’t understand my life is frightening
Never gonna see what you want me to be, you’re a grain of salt in an endless sea
I don’t take what you say seriously, so stop all you’re hating and let me be free
Life is hard when you’re different and everyone thinks the same
Rise above all the bullshit stay on top of your game
The walls may crumble, keep on climbing to the top
They try to drag us down, but we’re never gonna stop!
Check out more of MJ and Butterscotch’s work here!
Mary John Frank:
For information on the collaborative network of Hatch, check out the website: www.hatchexperience.org