TSF Presents: A Woman Who Rocks – Our Chat with Famous Banana Pictures Founder Laima Bite

Her name is as intriguing as the name of her video production company is playful. She’s a multi-talented filmmaker, singer, guitarist and songwriter (along with being a Film Studies graduate from Oxford University) who has been a cornerstone of Oxford’s legendary music scene for 20 years. So, how did we get the top banana of Famous Banana Pictures to agree to an interview with us? To be honest, that’s a jolly good question. The answer is, Ms. Bite loves afternoon tea and a cracking chin wag…and we’re quite adept at providing both…in our very humble opinion 😉

Ms. Bite was not only kind enough to visit the patriotic dwellings of Anglophile Studios, she even gifted us with a signed guitar (how lucky are we?!) to add to our growing collection of guest provided souvenirs. Ms. Bite truly is a woman who ROCKS 🙂

1. What inspired the name of your production company?
It was originally to be called “Box of Frogs productions”, I had a little frog logo and everything, but that was already taken when I researched it, so I started thinking about things that were more personal to me and it just fell into place. When we were in our early teens, my friend Sarah and I would spend the school summer holidays shooting sketches and spoofs with my dad’s camcorder. It was a massive thing that you could plug straight into the VCR after hours of cable searching as I recall. We had devised a couple of characters called John and Mike, who were meant to be huge pop stars from the 1960’s (they went more glam rock in the 70s and had developed some pretty disturbing characteristics by the 80s), they both look a bit like Jeremy Beadle! We made up a TV
show for John called “John’s Star Corner”, and during the title sequence (“John’s Star Corner” written crudely on the inside of a shoe box lid and held up in front of the camera) a plush toy banana with googly eyes was bounced around, really just as a novelty. Then out of nowhere, John exclaimed “Oh look, it’s the famous banana!”, and that saying has stayed with us throughout the years as a private joke really. I couldn’t imagine it being called anything else, now.
2. What motivated you to get behind the camera and help bring other act’s visions, for their songs, to life? Which do you prefer more, performing or making videos?
I think I love both equally, but making videos for other artists feels more rewarding, and is more challenging. I’m also less limited by any preconceived ideas and subject matter that I already understand in my own music, so I can build something new on lyrics that are someone else’s. It’s fun to visually show the artist what you’ve taken from their music, as it will always be different to each listener. We all make our favourite music mean something personal to us, even if we don’t realise it. Well, I think so anyway. I’ve been encouraged by my family to be creative since I was a child, but the motivation really
came from necessity. I reached a point where I had to leave the soulless day job, go and study, and try to turn what I love into a career. It was a now or never moment that I’ll never regret. And it’s not come without its sacrifices, but it had to be done. I’m still trying to reach my goals, the struggle is very real!
3. In the context of your film production work, what has been your proudest accomplishment thus far?
I shot a short half hour film a few years ago between Oxford and Somerset. Its been my biggest challenge to date and tested all of of my capabilities as a screenwriter, a director and a produce and I am extremely pleased with it, and so grateful for the crew and actors I worked with, they truly were an absolute godsend, and I still work with some of them now. It was a real team effort taking months to shoot and I now take nothing for granted when shooting even the simplest of scenes. The experience really broadened my knowledge and appreciation for the difficulties of filmmaking, and the fact that I was able to do this, has left me with a new sense of bravery regarding the tasks I take on. Also, I learnt that you can fit six people and a dog into a one bedroom accommodation if you really have to!
4. You’ve mentioned that you’re an Oxford girl through and through. What do you love about the city? As a musician, why do you believe the city has produced so many amazing bands over the last three decades?
So many great bands have emerged because there are so many venues and opportunities to play. There is something happening every night and many open mics for people to start at. The music scene is great and really varied here, and its all pretty compact, to the point where music events like The Punt (which Ronan Munro of Nightshift Magazine has been putting on since 10 BC) are able to spread across the city centre, and people can discover all kinds of different and new acts over one evening without getting too many blisters.

For me, Oxford is all about the music community, and the little family environments created by promoters such as Klub Kakofanney. I’d rarely leave the house of an evening, if it weren’t for this.

5. Who or what inspired you to become a musician? Why do you believe that, even in these modern times, female musicians are in such short supply?

I did music at school and we had to compose our own songs. I fell in love with the process from then on. I was in a duo with my friend Sarah Wilson called “Michael Myers”, then did open mic for years before joining my first band. That broke up and I started another, which eventually also broke up, so its really tough doing music to be honest, and you need a real sense of determination, that most people will lose at some point as the reality and responsibilities of life kicks in, especially when people reach the point of wanting to start families. So its hard for men and women to really get somewhere musically. I don’t think women in music are in an overly short supply to be honest, but I do believe that their achievements are less recognised publicly, but the way has been paved by the likes of Joan Jett, Chrissy Hynde, Siouxie Sioux, Debbie Harry amongst others when it comes to women having a well deserved place in rock and alternative music. But perhaps there are still expectations of us within the industry which can cause a feeling of limitation. There are still also gender stereotype issues within society and there is definitely an uneven balance when it comes to male and female musicians rather than solo artists and singers, but luckily Oxford is full of women playing instruments, and things are always changing. I’ll leave it at that, because there is literally a whole essay on women in film, media, and music!

6. Who are your top five favourite bands of all time?

Of all time?! Wow, way too difficult to name just five. Let’s give it a go. The Drifters, Queen, Crowded House, Muse, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Siouxie and the Banshees, Roxy Music… no I messed up already. Too many. Can’t compute.

7. What Oxford bands past and present do you love the most?

I’m not sure that all the bands I love are Oxford based actually, but I often see them in Oxford, so I’ll go with that. Past: Ivy’s Itch, Borderville, Cogwheel Dogs (might still be going?) Barry and the Beachcombers, Phyal (who do still occasionally play), Los Diablos.Present: Kanadia, Orange Vision, Cherokii, Vienna Ditto, and Man Make Fire who have been going for a long time and I never get out to see them enough, they are brilliant. The Other Dramas are a duo with Richie Wildsmith on drums and Oxford legend Maria Ilett on vocals and guitar, and they are very enjoyable to watch. I’ve recently worked with Beaver Fuel (a punk three piece) and The Shaker Heights who are making a come back and have changed their sound from indie rock to electronica, kind of, which I’m loving. There are more no doubt but I’ve gone blank. Kanadia are probably the most exciting band around at the moment for me, huge sound and hopefully destined for success.

8. Describe the collaborative/creative process between you and a band, as you create a video. How does it compare to crafting of a song?

Most of the time the artists don’t have a plan, just some ideas, so we discuss those. I listen to the music and visualise the entire video several times. Then I figure out whether or not everything I’ve imagined is doable. Once the technical aspects are sorted I’ll run through the ideas and process with the band to get everything okayed, which usually involves down playing the “suffering” aspect! Its similar to songwriting in a way I suppose, as everything in my head needs to become real, and that’s the challenge. Its usually quite fun, and I enjoy seeing the artists really putting in their best performances into each piece, despite the fact that a lot of the time they can feel quite vulnerable in front of a camera. It is daunting, so having fun is a must.

9. What are your favourite local venues in Oxford to see live music?

The Wheatsheaf. Always the Wheatsheaf. The Cellar is also great. The James Street Tavern has no stage, so its more of an intimate old-school gigging experience and I’ve always enjoyed that.

10. What band would you like to make a video with, and why?

Are we talking fantasy scenario? Because that would be Muse. Their sound is so epic that the visuals would have no limits. And although she’s not a band, Lady Gaga has produced some of my favourite videos to date, also The Horrors. Any band in pointy shoes is good for me. But back in the real world, there are many local bands I’d love to work with, and hopefully I’ll get the chance to over the next year.

11. You’re on Desert Island Disks and Kirsty has asked you to select a book and a luxury before she casts you off. What do you choose and why?

Well I’m slowly making my way through the leather-bound beast that is the Necronomicon: ‘The best weird tales of H.P. Lovecraft’, so I’d imagine that would keep me going for quite some time (and would then double up as a shelf, for my coconut). Would it be cheating if my luxury item was my entire bed? If so I’ll make do with just the duvet. Life on the island would seem less daunting from under my duvet.

12. What advice do you have for any aspiring female musician who simply needs a boost of confidence?

Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, you’re just doing your own thing and that’s enough, in fact it’s probably brilliant.

13. What makes you proudest to be British?

Reeves and Mortimer.

14. As a songwriter, what comes first for you; music or lyrics?

I’m assuming you are referring to the writing process? As a solo artist I will write the music and lyrics together. Its a kind of ‘see what happens’ process with a vague theme. With a band the music will generally come first and then the lyrics. If you are referring to the overall experience, then for me as an audience member when watching a band, it has to be both. You could have the greatest sound going but if your singer is no good, the whole thing is no good.

15. What is the most memorable concert you’ve seen?

Probably Iron Maiden in Cardiff. I don’t remember the year, maybe around 2003? Eddie was huge, dressed as a reaper and came out of the stage floor. That’s really what you’re after at a gig! Locally though, I’d have to say the Sexy Breakfast reunion at The Wheatsheaf. What a performance. I was blown away by the sheer energy of it, it was a brilliant night.

16. If you could have afternoon tea with any musician, who would you invite?

If I could use some strange magic and bring Freddie Mercury back, that would be the best afternoon tea ever. I’d be a complete fan girl and probably freak him out. He’s such a legend and an inspiration, and quite frankly, I love him. If I can’t do that, which I’m guessing I can’t, then I’d have to try to choose between Cyndi Lauper and Dolly Parton. Those two ladies have the best stories and I could listen to them both for hours.

17. When all is said and done, what would you like your legacy to be?

One good film would do me. One good cult black comedy horror, ideally staring Alice Lowe. That’s a big dream, but why not.

The following are two videos from Ms. Bite’s growing portfolio:

 

 

If you’ve officially had your mind blown, we invite you to visit http://www.famousbananapictures.com or send a shout out to Ms. Bite on Twitter @famousbpictures

About scootsandtiz

not angry or snarky. far from it. just observing the Meltdown of Civilization with plenty of references to Scary Movie 1. secrets we've discovered along the way: 1) Chris Matthews is an angry lesbian. 2) Little dogs are EVERYWHERE. 3) people can't get enough of touch screens. 4) the 21st century is herding us. 5) we don't tweet. we're humans last time i checked. greight.
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