Interview by Lucas Taggart:
To many people, Rory Kramer’s life may seem anything but normal. He’s a videographer, photographer, director, clothing line architect, host of his own MTV show (Dare to Live) and all-round content creator. While thrill-seeking and traveling the world, Rory also makes every effort to see the beauty in our magnificent planet. For Rory, traditional life-structure would be stifling and confining, quashing creativity and his soul’s quest for fulfillment. His life is his norm and it’s wholly authentic.
Rory’s adventures are wild, his stories are rich, and his career has carved a remarkable path in his life. From creating stunt videos in his youth to channeling the visions of celebrities like The Chainsmokers, 3LAU, Avicii, and Justin Bieber, Rory has never tamped down his untamed spirit and passion for storytelling. Face the Current is excited to present a glimpse into the wild mind and life of Rory Kramer.
Lucas Taggart: You prefer to live outside the structures of “normal” society. What was the tipping point for you to leave behind the nine-to-five life?
Rory Kramer: I used to work a regular job. I worked every day from seven am to three pm. When I got off work, I’d go to the beach, I’d hike, and I’d capture things on my GoPro. That’s where it started. Eventually, I made a video for my college as a favor to some friends and it was posted on social media. One of my friends, who managed Blau (Justin David Blau, aka 3LAU) at the time, saw the video and he was like: “What you are doing for yourself, I could pay you to do. I could give you 250 dollars a day for a shoot.” I’d never seen that kind of money. At my old job, I had worked there 4 and a half years and was only making $42,000 a year. That doesn’t go very far living in LA so I immediately jumped on board.
Blau and I stage-dived together on the first night of the tour and I was filming him crowd surfing. It turned out to be one of the sickest live shots I ever got. When we got back on stage, he said, “Yo man, I’ll take you everywhere.” He told me all the dates he wanted me and I started doing the math. I had no vacation days left at my job, and realized that if I worked enough dates for Blau, I could cover my rent and expenses. So, I quit my job. I called my boss on my birthday and he was so happy for me. My old boss saw my real potential and was very supportive of me. He always said his goal was to find a way to utilize my talents before somebody stole me!
From there, I was touring with Blau a lot, creating fifteen second videos every single day. I would stay up all night editing the videos after each show and he’d post them as soon as I gave them to him. Blau was gaining traction as a DJ because the turnaround time on his content was so fast. People were tagging their friends on the videos saying, “Check out where I was last night!” It was insane. He even offered me a bonus if I could edit his videos every day and have them out within 24 hours, and I accepted the challenge. At his shows’ after-parties in the hotel, I would literally be editing in a corner. I just grinded so hard for that time in my life, and I really created a name for myself.
After that, I started touring with Martin Garrix and Avicii who also found my YouTube videos. A writer for an Avicii song called, “The Nights”, saw my work and thought I’d be perfect to direct the video for it. I created the video from footage I already had on hard drives because, to me, it was a living, breathing history. I included a few bangers from my successful YouTube videos, and just gave them the final product. They loved it and immediately put it out, and that’s what really put me on the map.
I really only started making videos because I wanted to capture my friends and myself doing crazy things like jumping off balconies into pools, skateboarding stunts, and intense skits. That’s all it was. Ultimately, I wanted to have a TV show as popular as Jackass and I was also really into blink-182; I loved their tour videos. All of that influenced me. The blink-182 tour videos definitely played a part in my tour videos because you just saw them for who they really were.
LT: So, you watched blink-182 videos and got inspired?
RK: I didn’t think about this until just the other day, but blink-182’s, “The Urethra Chronicles” was one of the first things that I remember seeing. I had the video on VHS and it was 45 funny minutes. It really humanized my favorite band for me. It also inspired me to take my parents’ camera and reenact skits, doing crazy stunts. I made my first actual video in high school called, “Losers, I Hope You Die…arrhea.” I sold copies at my school and made $500. I was 18 years old, looking at this money, and I realized I just got paid to hang out with my friends. That became my goal – to one day have a TV show.
I think it’s been a good thing that it’s taken so long for me to achieve that. It ended up giving the show real substance instead of it being a quick, disposable trend. The Avicii video gave me the platform to put my face out there as a personality and it gave me the opportunity to be recognized in front of the camera as well as behind. The video also inspired people to follow me on social media and to get out of their comfort zones to travel.
When I was working with Blau, he recognized my strengths. He wasn’t a great on-camera personality but he saw that I was comfortable in that arena. I started vlogging our video tours and that was a great opportunity to put myself in front of the camera. I also loved playing around on tour and pranking him and I ended up doing a thing called Blau House All-Access. Each video started off with me pranking him and his honest reaction. This was where I started seeing the real power of humanizing a celebrity.
From there, I worked with Justin Bieber. Initially, people were calling me a sell-out and saying that I was only working with him for the money. I lost respect from some people. After his music and videos came out, there was a lot of backtracking. People said to me, “I need to apologize for what I said to you. I see what you’re doing now. You’re showing a different side of a person that society really ripped apart.” It was never Justin’s fault. Who could possibly handle getting famous at fourteen and then be able to process all of it while on the road to becoming the most famous person in the world? I just wanted to help humanize him and make people like him.
I got to travel with Justin and have access to him in a way that all of his fans wanted but never got the opportunity to have. We became friends and he trusted me to tell his stories. Last year at a small party to celebrate DJ Khaled going number one, Justin said to me “I never really thanked you for showing me for me to the people. If you didn’t do that, I don’t think my purpose would have been as big as it was. Not only was the music great, but what you did for me showed people that I’m not an asshole; I’m a human being and I’ve changed.” So, that was really cool.
Here I am now, still trying to figure out my personal path. I still love what I do; I love directing music videos and I could do that for the rest of my life. My show didn’t necessarily do what I had hoped because I don’t think it had the best opportunity for viewership. I still think it’s a really great show but I’m at the phase of “what’s next?” What do I really want to do? Yes, I can go direct another music video, but I keep asking myself about what will fill my soul. I’ve had money, I’ve experienced travel, and I’ve lived comfortably. Materialistic stuff will never fill your soul. I’m trying to find the next thing that really moves me and that’s where I’m at right now.
LT: You’ve said that it’s difficult when you actually achieve a long-time dream. Can you tell me more about that?
RK: When it happens, when you’ve been working your whole life toward it, it’s like: “Wow! I did it.” I was making videos with the end goal of having my own TV show and I got that. Of course you can keep doing the thing you’ve achieved, but there’s no going back. For me, I couldn’t go back to a nine-to-five job. It wasn’t a bad job; it just wasn’t mine to be doing. Now that I’ve had accomplishments, I want to keep pushing. I want to find a greater purpose; something bigger than myself. I’m a little anxious now because I don’t know what’s next for me.
I did two videos for the Chainsmokers that I’m proud of, but I want those videos to serve a purpose. Hopefully they will help me get to my next fulfillment, and I know they will, I just don’t know what it is yet. I definitely want to keep building up my brand and building up my clothing line. I’m really proud of my clothing line actually, because it’s not based on me specifically; it’s centered on what I stand for. It’s pretty dope to see kids wearing my gear, tagging themselves in photos as they travel the world being happy, doing things that they love and being themselves.
LT: That’s awesome.
RK: Yeah, but it’s hard though. When you stop and reflect on everything, you become grateful. I have a lot of gratitude, but I do get caught up in my own head, constantly asking myself, “What’s next, what’s next, what’s next?” I’ve been grinding every day for three years since I quit my job. This is the first time in my life that I actually had a week or two off. It’s a bit foreign to me to have no plans in a day except working out. My focus has shifted more toward taking care of myself, getting in shape, recovering from knee surgery, and eating better. When I do find my next thing, I’m going to be like an animal – ready to attack!
LT: You have obviously been inspired by many people. What are some of your biggest inspirations right now?
RK: I’d definitely say one of my biggest inspirations is my roommate, Drew (Drew Taggart of The Chainsmokers). He has an amazing work ethic and he deals with a lot of negativity. He’s an example of the hate that success will bring you. Success lets more people see your art but it also gives people the opportunity to judge you, be jealous of you, and even hate you. That’s really hard, and I’ve watched that not get the best of him. If anything, he uses it as fuel and I think that’s really cool. He’s not writing his music because he thinks it’ll be the next big hit, he’s writing to get it out of his system and I respect that. It turns out that those are some of my favorite songs, because I relate to them. Our career successes happened in parallel, so I experienced a lot of things he’s written about.
Another huge inspiration is definitely Twenty One Pilots. I really got into them when I was editing my TV show. Making a TV show was a lot more difficult than I anticipated because I was working with a team that had input. I was so used to having complete creative freedom and suddenly, I had people saying that they didn’t understand what I was doing. I had to adapt to this new framework of operation and it was hard. Even though I was living a fulfilled dream, I was having a lot of anxiety and depression because it was very hard to explain my vision to people that weren’t familiar with me and what I stand for.
Twenty One Pilots’ lyrics helped me to make sense of what I was feeling at that time. I know Josh but I don’t know Tyler and I think they take their brand very seriously. Everything they do makes sense and it’s always on brand; I think they’re really smart in that way. That’s inspired me in the sense that, whatever is next, all decisions will go toward that goal. Make your own brand and make it make sense.
LT: You were talking about your depression and anxiety, and many people can relate to that. What helps you when you have anxious feelings or when you’re upset by something? Do you have a process that you go through?
RK: I get in my head a lot so if I notice myself starting to feel down, I immediately go outside. I’ll walk down the street to grab a coffee or I’ll jump in my car and go for a drive to try to gain perspective. When you’ve experienced success, fame, and people singing your praises, you’re put up on a pedestal. The thing is, you’re there by yourself and no one likes to be alone.
Even when you know that people like what you’re doing, you start to feel the pressure. People will have their own idea of who you are and it no longer matters who you actually are. That can start to mess with your head because you’ll second guess yourself. People might tell you that you’ve changed and then you’ll start to wonder if that’s true. That’s something that’s really hard for me to accept.
LT: That’s similar to what you were saying about Drew and the way he puts himself into his songs to handle negativity.
RK: It’s hard. I don’t ever want to sound like I am complaining about my life because it’s really awesome! At times though, I think you can just be misunderstood. People might not see your vision or understand something you’re doing. They might actually not be mature enough to understand. I’m a lot older than some of my videos’ viewers, and that’s okay. It’s all about exposing people to different ideas.
LT: That’s dope! You have one of the most off-the-wall creative processes of anyone I know. You often edit at 5am! Would you speak a little bit about your work flow? I think it is really unique and I think it affects your product when you are heavily based in inspiration instead of routine.
RK: I know what it’s like to feel unfulfilled. Since I know what that feels like, I can tell if I’m creating something for the wrong reasons. I’ll know right away that it won’t fill me up. I’m not going to do things just because I have an opportunity; I’m going to do things that I believe in. I need to have something that moves me and that I know will connect with people. I’m not interested in faking anything.
I struggle sometimes because I’m so concerned with what I put out there that I can drive myself crazy. I’m not me if I’m not creating, and it can lead to bad decisions. I feel everything connect when I have a clear vision, and it almost feels effortless because it’s my passion. Learning to say no is an important skill for me because I’m not interested in doing things I don’t want to do; it won’t make me happy.
You always have to question your own motives. Sometimes I find myself thinking that I need to post a new photo to keep growing my brand. When you force it, you end up posting things that aren’t authentic to you. I posted a photo of myself jumping off a roof because it reminded me of my life before my success. Before I moved out of my hometown, I was always jumping off of roofs into pools with my friends. We didn’t do it to get “likes” or because we thought it could go viral. We did it because it was something we just liked to do. It was about making memories and moments together, and we loved capturing photos and videos. That’s what I’m after; those moments that are true to who you are and who you want to be.
In a way, I’m also addicted to working. I love editing photos and videos, and if I don’t have anything to work on, I can drive myself crazy. That’s where I am at in my life; learning to have balance. It’s okay to have days where you don’t do anything. When I have those moments that used to bring on anxiety, I try to be at peace with the calm and stillness. I’ve realized that things always end up being fine, so stressing myself out over work is not worth it. If I don’t have anything to do today, that’s cool! I could drive up to Malibu for a hike.
When I first started touring with Blau, I had a perfect balance. I would work around seven days a month, and I would spend the rest of my time exploring. It was in that exploration time that I captured all the clips that ended up in my personal videos. I just got so caught up in the feeling that I had to be creating all the time. The thing is, you don’t have to constantly create; you just have to experience life. Just get out there and find inspiration, otherwise you will never have anything from which to draw. Content droughts are a real thing. If you drink all the water in a cup, it’s not going to magically have more water; you have to go find more. That’s what will fill you up and keep you going.
Social handle: @rorykramer