Jimmy Whispers and Geneva Jacuzzi Accidentally Became In-Demand Music Video Directors

The artists and filmmakers talk making movie magic on DIY budgets, and much more.

Geneva Jacuzzi is an LA-based multimedia artist and performer known for her surrealist lo-fi synth pop; Jimmy Whispers is a fellow LA-based multimedia artist and songwriter. Jimmy has a new record called The Search For God coming out June 9 (via Carpark Records), and today he’s releasing the video for his song “True Love Is Freedom,” which was assistant directed by Geneva. To celebrate, the two friends caught up about its creation, and much more. 
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Jimmy Whispers: So I guess we should talk about this music video for “True Love Is Freedom”?

Geneva Jacuzzi: So exciting.

Jimmy: Yeah, it’s pretty sick.

Geneva: I just saw the cut for the first time 10 minutes ago.

Jimmy: And what did you think? 

Geneva: I thought it was great! It’s sort of how I was picturing it when we were shooting it — because I helped work on the video. You know, when you’re behind the camera and you’re watching it, you kind of visualize how it’s going to get cut together. And it kind of looks just like the dream that I think we shared. [Laughs.] 

Jimmy: Yeah.

Geneva: And I love it. It looks effortless to me. There’s just an easy kind of flow to it.

Jimmy: I’ve been doing a lot of directing by myself, and I wanted to start having somebody else assistant direct or help out. And I thought of you because I love your work.

Geneva: Oh, thank you, Jimmy. That’s really nice of you to say.

Jimmy: Well, it’s true. And this video particularly, I thought you’d be great to work on it. And it was so fun. We shot with my car — I have this old Buick that’s really rare, weird — and we went on a rain stage.

Geneva: I didn’t even know they existed. 

Jimmy: They do!

Geneva: It was so low key, the rain stage. I thought it would be this massive fancy studio, but it was just like, some guy had a little warehouse and he built a rain stage. 

Jimmy: [Laughs.] Yeah, it did look like that.

Geneva: But on camera, it looks great. This is the beauty of living in Los Angeles—

Jimmy: It is!

Geneva: You can just pop down the 10 freeway and get into a rain stage for 100 bucks an hour. Or, I don’t know how much it cost. 

Jimmy: It was less than that. It’s amazing. It was a good deal. But yeah, that video is so sick. I want to do more videos together. 

Geneva: Yeah, it was really easy. You just kind of hit me up— 

Jimmy: Well, I saw you the night before at our friend’s birthday party, and you said you were starting to do videos for your next record and you needed a DP. I was talking about the rain stage and I was like, “OK, well, what if you work on this video? 

Geneva: “Then you get to meet the DP…”

Jimmy: “And you could see the rain stage…” 

Geneva: And I’m just, like, scheming, Yes, I want to meet this DP…

Jimmy: Yeah. And he’s great — Brandon Kelly, who worked on the video. 

Geneva: He’s awesome.

Jimmy: He’s worked on all the videos I’ve been doing lately. He’s kind of my go-to guy. He did this Dent May video that I did, and this Paul Cherry video that I did. And that Dent May video — actually, half of it was shot at your old house after you moved out. I don’t know if you saw that.

Geneva: No, I didn’t see it. In the burned house?

Jimmy: Yeah. Geneva’s old house burned down. 

Geneva: My old house burned down. And apparently Jimmy Whispers was shooting music videos in there before.

Jimmy: [Laughs.] Had nothing to do with the burning. 

Geneva: Wait, so you shot in the ruins of it? 

Jimmy: No, no, this was, I think, two or three weeks before it burnt down.

Geneva: Oh, see, that would have been such a good idea. I thought you would have shot in the wreckage.

Jimmy: No, that would have been not-Dent-May-video-appropriate. It was a song called “Crying Laughing,” but it was a video where Dent is going to some vague school dance type event. We rented a limo and the limo pulled up in front of your old house. And I hired this guy off of some casting site I use for non-union actors, who’s kind of a biker-looking guy, and he played this dad. Dent gets out of the limo and goes to the front door, knocks on the door, and the guy is like, “Your date’s not here. Get the fuck out of here,” or whatever. 

Geneva: Wait, that door doesn’t open?

Jimmy: No, not that front door, the side door. 

Geneva: So I used to live in this 100 year old craftsman — beautiful house — and it has this red, beautiful front door that doesn’t open.

Jimmy: I know, we tried. So we had the point-of-view of him walking up that path to the front door, and then cheated and cut to behind him facing the— 

Geneva: Yep, that’s how you do it. Nothing is real. 

Jimmy: The vibe is real. But yeah, music videos. Honestly, you and SSION, Cody [Critchloe], were two of the people who made me think I should make my own music videos. It wasn’t intentional that I should start making them for other people, but I just made one or two for myself, and then other people started approaching me — because we have, like, a million music friends, and it’s like, “Oh, I like that. Can you help me?” 

Geneva: Yeah, that’s exactly what happened to me. I was making videos for myself and then people were just like, “Can you make a video for me?” And I was like, “Uh… yeah!” Because I think back then, I was super broke and I was like, “Do you have, like, $400?”

Jimmy: [Laughs.] Yeah, exactly. “I’ll work a hundred hours on this if you pay me $400.”

Geneva: [Laughs.] “Sure, I’ll work 3,000 hours just so I can pay my cell phone bill.” 

Jimmy: Exactly. 

Geneva: And I would just kind of shoot it with whatever I had around. One of my best friends, Christina Acevedo, and I met in 2015, I think, and she also makes videos. She had a Canon 60D, which is just pro enough — and she’s a weirdo like me, and we became fast friends — and she was like, “Yeah, I’ll be the cinematographer, and I’m a producer!” I was like, “OK,” so she and I teamed up together, and we ended up doing like, six epic music videos. They just kept getting more and more crazier and the budgets got bigger and bigger. And now all of a sudden, it’s something I do now. [Laughs.]

Jimmy: That’s literally the same exact thing for me.

Geneva: People just kept asking, “Can you make a music video?” Now I turn them down all the time, just because I’m like, “I can’t do this right now, I gotta make a record.”

Jimmy: Yeah, I’ve been putting other people’s videos on the back burner the last handful of months, because I’m spending too much time — I’m not complaining. [Laughs.] I’ve just been working on my own music videos and album rollout.

Geneva: Well, we both direct, and we both edit too. So the editing is where it gets kind of… I mean, making a video is so much work. It’s all the preparation—

Jimmy: Well, yeah, and we’re doing things on a more DIY scale. Even when we do have bigger budgets, we’re still doing all the production — we don’t hire production people, we don’t hire scouts. We’re doing all that stuff on our own, so it is really time consuming. But yeah, I think I know where you’re going — the editing is the most tedious out of all of it.

Geneva: I actually really like it though.

Jimmy: I love it, yeah. 

Geneva: I think when I edit videos, I go back into my music brain, you know? Because it’s all about flow, it’s all about timing, it’s all about the manipulation, or the creation, of an emotion. So it feels to me a lot like recording music or writing songs, when you’re just like, “And then this part comes in and your heart explodes!”

Jimmy: Did you ever check out that book I was telling you about? 

Geneva: No, of course I didn’t. [Laughs.] 

Jimmy: It’s so sick. Walter Murch—

Geneva: I don’t read anymore, come on. [Laughs.] Nobody reads.

Jimmy: OK, well, this is worth reading. Because I did it all on vibe, and then this helped me up my game that extra percentage. This guy was the guy who edited Apocalypse Now and the Godfather movies, and shit like that. All of it’s examples found in nature, and it’s from lectures of his, and even the title of the book — In the Blink of an Eye — is in reference to [how] your brain has to do a cut. 

Geneva: Oooh.

Jimmy: Yeah, it’s pretty sick. 

Geneva: OK, so that’s movie magic, right there. 

Jimmy: Yeah. 

Geneva: What’s your craziest music video experience? Making or starring, either one.

Jimmy: Something always goes crazy wrong at some point during every shoot. Like the video we worked on: This car, this Buick Reatta has the first ever touch screen in a car, and it’s been turning off randomly, and we couldn’t get it to work when we were ready to shoot that part of the video. And then I drove around for an hour hoping it would turn back on and came back in. And then we messed with the fuses — your suggestion — and it worked.

Geneva: I saved the day. You know how I knew that? Because I’ve had 3,000 shitty cars. The first car was an Oldsmobile — it was like a cool grandma car. I was 16 years old. The stereo was weird, and then I realized it was a fuse thing. But then one time I was driving in the car — this was crazy — we were driving on the freeway and the stereo cut out. My friend was in the passenger seat and I’m like, “Oh, just pull the fuse out and put it back in!” Then she pulled it out and the car completely turned off because she pulled the wrong one. We were like, “AHHH!”

Jimmy: [Laughs.] But you guys lived to tell about it.

Geneva: Yeah. And then she put it right back and the car went back on again.

Jimmy: Without turning the ignition on?

Geneva: Yeah. It was wild.

Jimmy: It’s always when a music video involves a vehicle, something fucked up happens. That video for Dent May — we rented this limousine and at the end of the shoot, towards the end of the first day of this shoot, this limo started shaking, and then there was a terrible smell, and [the driver] had to pull over. And then he had to get his limousine towed. I felt so bad for the guy.

Geneva: Your battery died on the on your shoot. I had to pull my car in and jump your car with my car on the rain stage. 

Jimmy: Oh, yeah. So as long as your video doesn’t have a vehicle, you’re probably going to be OK. If there’s a boat, it’s probably going to sink. 

Geneva: The video ghost always gets summoned for every shoot, and just comes and gets to fuck with one thing, you know? But that wasn’t that bad. We had cables, it worked out. It’s almost bad luck if something doesn’t go wrong, because you know it’s going to go wrong later. 

A good example: I got hired to edit a pop star’s video, and it was really intense. It was like my body was shaking from just being so pissed off by the whole thing — the rage and frustration. I mean, I was on the shoot too, and I could tell based on their shot list that none of these shots were going to get done. And I was like, Oh, god, this is all going to land on me in the editing. But so I finally got the video to a decent place, and the hard drive just crapped out. It was a brand new hard drive, too — yes, granted, I should have had two, but…

Jimmy: That’s a nightmare. 

Geneva: I’ve never had a hard drive completely crap out on me. 

Jimmy: I don’t think I told you this, but the record [this video] is for — which is coming out on Carpark Records, June 9, The Search for God by Jimmy Whispers—

Geneva: That’s the name of the record? 

Jimmy: Yes.

Geneva: Jesus Christ. [Laughs.]

Jimmy: [Laughs.] It’s not about Jesus, but higher power shit. But so, I recorded it with my friend Ziyad [Asrar] during the pandemic and we ended up tracking it twice, because the first time it hadn’t been put on a hard drive yet and it wasn’t backed up — we’d tracked everything but the vocals, and then he came over to my place to track the vocals. We were like, “Oh, we’ll do it in this different environment and it’ll be more homey.” And I gave him a bottle of Topo Chico or something, and he opened it and it just sprayed everywhere on the computer.

Geneva: Ooooooh.

Jimmy: And the whole thing — he took it to a data retrieval specialist and all that shit and nothing could be done. We were in such an insane mood with each other, we didn’t talk to each other for, like, a week. But then he called me and was like, “OK, you want to do it over?” I’m like, “Yeah, OK.” And we re-tracked the entire thing. But I think that was some meant-to-be shit because the second time was so much better. We tracked it the first time so quickly — I want to say in four days or something, because it’s a 10-song record, but it’s, like, 15 minutes total. We we ended up taking a little bit more time and care, and kind of learned from our experience doing it the first time, and it’s a much, much, much better record.

Geneva: Well, this isn’t what happened with you, because you had a Topo-Chico situation, but I was just thinking, computers and hard drives will sense the tension in a room. You know, you’ve heard of people [working on their thesis] and the computer completely crashes the night before it’s due or whatever. Because I had this show in Las Vegas last summer, and it was just a lot going on in my life at the time. I ended up getting into a fight with my sister one day, which is weird because we never fight, and while we were arguing on the phone, my computer completely just frizzled out. Like, it happened while I was arguing with her.

Jimmy: And you needed it for your set.

Geneva: Yeah. It was two days before my show, and of course I needed it because I don’t play [live instruments], and I have video projections on there. It’s all on my computer and it just toasted. And I think that’s what happened on that video shoot when the hard drive died, because I was just doing, like, 3,000 changes to this thing and pulling my hair out. That happens. You got to be careful.

Jimmy: They’re sensitive, emotional beings.

Geneva: They are!

Jimmy: Poor little chips.

Geneva: Well, it was funny because I was looking at the video — when you work on videos, there’s some nightmare shoots where everything’s going wrong and everyone’s pissed at each other and there’s tension on set, and you can kind of see it in the video. Like even if the video looks flawless, you almost can see the pain in people’s eyes, the rage. You know, like if someone hates the director, it’s like a psychic thing that comes through. You can feel the tension in the edit. And I think with your video, I’m like, Oh, this seems so easy and effortless.

Jimmy: It was though! Even with the problems, they were easy to deal with. But also, I think that’s because I’m very pro-small crew. I think it makes the vibe on set a lot easier. It was just you and me and the DP. And this video you’re talking about, how many people were on set?

Geneva: There were more stylists, and weird people that didn’t need to be there.

Jimmy: Yeah, the people who don’t need to be there are the people who fuck up videos. [Laughs.]

Geneva: [Laughs.] Yeah. Like, “Why is this costume change taking three hours?” What’s your favorite music video?

Jimmy: Ooh. I knew this was going to come up. You go first, what are your favorite music videos?

Geneva: Well, I think one of the best videos I’ve ever made is pretty obvious: I would say it’s David Bowie, “Ashes to Ashes.”

Jimmy: Oh, yeah. All the Bowie videos are beautiful.

Geneva: Have you seen “Be My Wife?” It’s kind of a lesser-known one. It’s so simple. It’s like the opposite of what people think I like, but it’s just him in a white room with his guitar the whole video. But the expressions on his face of just existential boredom — it’s such a good video. But “Ashes to Ashes” has all the stuff that I like. If anyone comes to me like, “Oh, I want to direct a Geneva Jacuzzi music video,” I’m like, “Can you make it look like ‘Ashes to Ashes’?”

Jimmy: I feel like I was the last of the MTV generation or something. I was obsessed with all the Hype Williams videos.

Geneva: What about Michel Gondry? love those videos.

Jimmy: Yeah. I loved the Beastie Boys videos. Stuff like that. Spike Jonze.

Geneva: When I was little, I was obsessed with Guns N Roses—

Jimmy: “November Rain”? Yep, me too.

Geneva: I used to make my little sister sit in front of the TV and call me from the other room when the video was on.

Jimmy: That video is great. I’m going to watch that later. But no, I was more the hip hop videos. Like that Busta Rhymes “Gimme Some More” video is insane.

Geneva: Busta Rhymes videos in general are amazing. I was also obsessed with the Missy Elliott, “The Rain.”

Jimmy: Oh, yeah. I see how that video could have inspired your aesthetic a lot, like your costumes.

Geneva: Because she has the big inflatable garbage bag looking thing. Yeah, that was a time when everything was super lit — like you could see the lighting in everyone’s sunglasses. That was actually an aesthetic, to see the ring lights. And they had insane budgets back then, and they were making actually like really cool videos. 

Jimmy: When did MTV stop playing music videos?

Geneva: In, like, 2000.

Jimmy: Maybe 2010, it was just like, “We’re done.”

Geneva: Or at least good videos. Anything good ended at 2009.

A lot has changed for everyone in the past few years, and especially for Jimmy Whispers. In another lifetime, he was that sweet kid from Chicago who stole our hearts with his aw-shucks Midwestern attitude and his knack for writing catchy old-time melodies, who legendary critic Jessica Hopper once called the city’s “greatest new homegrown musical enigma,” who turned a mixtape of iPhone voice memos (Summer in Pain) into a profound racket and covered the city in cryptic anti-police street art and zines.

As for today, Jimmy Whispers is alive and well in Los Angeles. He’s still making music — quite a lot of it. He’s got a blossoming new career as a music video director and filmmaker. He’s become a co-writer for others including Drugdealer and Dent May. He’s got a side hustle as a valet parking attendant, a 1988 Buick Reatta, and a new commitment to making life-affirming art.

His latest record, The Search For God, is out June 9, 2023 on Carpark Records.