INTERVIEW: The directors of the new Lil Peep documentary, Sebastian Jones and Ramez Silyan, speak on the film showing a new side of the beloved artist.
A day before Lil Peep (born Gustav Elijah Åhr) passed, he wrote in an Instagram caption: “I just wana be everybody's everything I want too much from people but then I don't want anything from them at the same time.” The title and thesis for the documentary about the late recording artist are drawn from this quote. Everybody’s Everything is brimming with as many contradictions as Peep’s caption. It captures his struggle to share himself with the world when others are inclined to siphon too much. His deeply-ingrained sense of justice is seen rubbing up against the gross imbalances created by fame. At times, he’s painted as a burgeoning anti-capitalist hero, someone who was committed to keeping his friends around him and distributing whatever benefits came his way amongst them. In other moments, he’s smothered by the constant company.
Through fragments of stunning and heart-wrenching footage, directors, Sebastian Jones and Ramez Silyan, conjure an image of what made Peep a light for many to flock around. His meteoric rise in the music industry is situated in the context of his 21 years on this Earth. SoundCloud rap becomes grander than the product of a disaffected youth. The movement Peep initiated and the following he attracted are proven to be things that could only have come about from the tremendous amount of heart he put into his work. You get to know the support system that fostered in him the level of resolve necessary for one to get a ‘Cry Baby’ tattoo above their right eyebrow. His relationships with his mother, Liza Womack, and her parents lend the documentary an intimacy that decentres Peep, the star, to offer a “humanistic portrayal” of Gus, as Silyan says in the interview below. The deluge of testimonies provided by family, friends and colleagues all form a chorus that echoes the same mournful and moving message: Gus gave and continues to give so much.
Everybody’s Everything arrives in select theaters on November 15.
HNHH: Hey, nice to meet you both.
Ramez Silyan: Nice to meet you, I’m Mezzy.
I just wanted to start by thanking you guys for the work you put into the film. I think it’s really special, and I know it’s going to be important to a lot of people.
RS: Thank you.
I realize there isn’t much behind-the-scenes info about Everybody’s Everything online, so I figured I’d just start by asking some general questions. How did you two get involved with the project? What led to it being a collaborative effort?
Sebastian Jones: I came onto the project through Terrance Malick, one of the producers on the film. He’s a friend of the Womack family and I worked for him for about six years before making this film. He’s a friend of the Womack family, and after Gus died and the documentary was coming together, they reached out to him to help guide the project and help facilitate things. That was kind of his role - to make sure things went smoothly and that the film got made. So he was a facilitator of sorts. He put me on the film as a director and that’s how I came into it.
RS: I came to this project as a collaborator of Gus’, working on a couple of the Lil Peep videos like “Girls” and “Benz Truck.” I toured with him in Russia, which you see as a portion of the film. It was almost a sort of thing that I really felt called towards. It was something I felt I needed to be a part of, having known Gus.
So you two were put in contact and you realized you’d be a good fit to bring this vision to life?
RS: Yeah, I think we both bring a very different skill to the table. I pretty much handle a lot of the interviews, Sebastian handles the post, the editing, and the laying out of the story. I think it was really important that I came from the inside and knew a lot of these people and was connected to Peep. Sebastian sort of came from the outside and was the objectivity that it was difficult for me to have at times.
For an artist who was so honest in his music and on social media, what do you feel it was your objective to highlight or reveal about Peep? What pieces did you think were missing from his public image?
SJ: There’s a lot of things, but certainly his family life. I was very excited to share that. I mean, learning about him myself… I knew of Gus through his family and I had actually met his grandfather once. He just came by Terry’s office before Gus died, so I knew of him through that. I thought it was really exciting to share that side of his life with people, and also learning about it myself while I was making it. I don’t think a lot of people really knew about his relationship with his grandfather or the letters, for example, that Jack wrote to him. That certainly wasn’t something that Gus shared with people, so not a lot of people know about that. I think that’s an exciting thing.
RS: I’ll kind of echo that. The thing that was missing was… I don’t know. There was an attempt for this to be a humanistic portrayal of him as a person, not just as a superstar bad-boy musician that everyone came to expect him to be.
Yeah, I feel that you really sense that in the movie. That it’s focusing on Peep as a friend, and a son, and a grandson, and all those things rather than just a star. I was wondering how you decided between all the different sources you used for the movie. Like, you stitched the story together with interviews, and then there’s the vérité footage from his career and childhood, and then there’s social media content. How did you find the balance between all the sources in order to craft the portrait that you wanted? Which sources did you lean on more?
SJ: A lot of it is just embracing the world in which these kids live in and the way in which they create images. So I didn’t want to limit. There was such a wealth of material. I kind of like how raw it feels. I think it’s appropriate to work that way. In some areas it was covered more - there were more videographers around him at particular parts of his life and sometimes you have to lean more on stills. So editorial speaking, you’d run into that situation sometimes. But, there was certainly no limit as to what type of media could be used. I think anything was fair game.
RS: Yeah I think they were dealing with what was like, 24 terabytes or something.
I was actually going to touch on that more - the rawness of it. There was actually a point in the film where one of Peep’s friends says “I don’t think anyone noticed what was happening while it was happening”, and that made me think: Did you feel it was your role to craft a clear timeline of his career or his life, or did you want to preserve some degree of messiness, so the story could kind of come out on it’s own?
SJ: Yeah, you want there to be some sense of a timeline for people. But also, in telling the story, keeping in mind how fast things were happening and keeping that feeling alive. I think it was Travis Mills that said it was like a blur or something like that. There is a certain kind of messiness to it, but we didn’t want it to be so messy that people were just confused of what the timeline was at all. You want people to understand that this happened in a relatively short amount of time, roughly two years, and there’s dates to help you along the way. I think it’s exciting to keep that experience of the speed of it, how fast it was coming together, and that blur, while also guiding people to give them a basic outline and understanding of the timeline.
When an artist passes away so young, especially under these circumstances, there’s often a lot of finger-pointing and attempts to tie up all the loose-ends. Were there any narratives you were cautious of approaching, or felt like you had to actively push against?
SJ: No, I wanted to explore everything and see where things led. But it wasn’t about being cautious like… we’re not going to turn that stone over, but it wasn’t to make a film that was doing any kind of finger-pointing. You hear JGRXXN say at the end, “I’m not pointing no fingers, I wasn’t there.” So that’s important to keep in mind. But it was to mainly make a character study of Gus. Whatever helped to support that, and whatever help the thesis of the idea of him being everybody’s everything, that’s what stays in and that’s what floated to the top. If it didn’t support that thesis, then it gets cut out. But that’s the approach, it was whatever helps tell the story of him wanting to be everybody’s everything.
I also wanted to ask about the narrative voice of Peep’s grandfather, Jack Womack. When did you realize that his letters to Peep really beautifully framed his life, and that you had something so special there? How did you feel that helped the film?
SJ: It creates another dimension to it. What I like about it the most is how intimate it is. You have a lot of people relaying events and things like that, but the letters are working on a different wavelength. It’s very intimate and it kind of works on an emotional level. It’s not so much telling a story there, but it’s rather giving you some emotional insight into one of Gus’s relationships, which is the one he had with his grandfather. So it’s just to give it a whole other dimension that I don’t think it would have had otherwise. It was really lucky to have that material. I can’t imagine the film without it.
RS: I think it grounds the film - I think in a reality even outside of Lil Peep as a musician. It’s something that… yeah, it’s transcendent to me. I just remember, I think it was Terrence who told us, “Jack’s got these letters, you should have them read those,” It was a little nudge to make sure we knew about them. But once that came to light it was like, “Well absolutely, this is incredible.” There’s a lot of archival stuff you come across that Liza, Gus’ mom, was helping find and put in front of us. That was just one of a lot of things that she had showed us. It just struck a nerve as a very important thing to share.
Lastly, I just wanted to ask if you guys had any favorite moments in the film that you feel really captured what everyone loved about Peep so much?
SJ: One of my favorite moments is when Jack is remembering seeing some kid walk through Harvard Square and it reminds him of the way Gus walked. That’s a really special moment for me. It’s the specifics of a person, it’s their mannerisms, it’s the little things like that that stick in your mind. Gus had a very particular way of walking. His feet kind of pointed out a little bit. So that’s a really special moment for me. I love that moment when Jack is recalling that. I think it really brings you in closer.
RS: Yeah I love that one too, but just for the sake of having a different answer… but that is such a touching, beautiful, just human moment that anybody can relate to. There’s a sequence like 15 minutes in where the song “Ghost Boy” is playing and it sort of caps off on this clip of Gus talking about being from Long Beach, and being a professional handle-bar rider because of the town he grew up in. It’s just very candid. It’s one of those moments where you can tell he sort of forgot that… I actually filmed that. It’s special to me because it brings me back there. We were in Berlin. It’s just one of those rare moments he forgot the camera was rolling and he’s just being so purely himself. Not posing or looking in the camera, he’s just sort of being. It’s really beautiful.