In Conversation: LONEWOLF Reflects on His Rise as a Videographer
The brains behind recent videos from Earl Sweatshirt & The Alchemist, MAVI, and Lil Uzi Vert discusses his DIY style and evolution as an artist.
Even if you don’t think you know Zac Matias, best known by his moniker LONEWOLF, you’ve most likely come across his work before. At just 23 years old, the DIY videographer has racked up an impressive resume, directing projects ranging from lyric videos for Lil Uzi Vert’s “Baby Pluto” and “Bean (Kobe),” to music videos for LUCKI as his all-purpose creative director. Most recently, he teamed up with The Alchemist and Earl Sweatshirt to direct the music video for “Loose Change” from The Alchemist’s EP This Thing of Ours, in addition to working with MAVI to direct the music video for “Thousand Miles” off his EP End of the Earth.
And if you’ve watched anything LONEWOLF has directed, you probably know that his rapid rise as a videographer shouldn’t come as a surprise. While across LONEWOLF’s works are familiar elements of his artistic style—from abstract-looking animations to subjects that are constantly in motion—each project remains fantastically fresh, catered both to the creative vision of LONEWOLF and the artist he’s working with. We spoke to LONEWOLF about how he found his DIY style, his evolution as a videographer, and getting the chance to work with artists he’s always dreamed of collaborating with.
I wanted to ask about the music video you did for The Alchemist and Earl Sweatshirt’s “Loose Change,” and where the narrative idea for that came from.
The Alchemist and I have been working on projects for a couple of years now, and he just messaged me like, “Yo, can you shoot this video, potentially?” I was like, “Of course!” I love Earl. He sent me the song and was like, “Just let me know your thoughts and we can make it happen.” Right off the bat, I was listening to the song, and it had a grand feel. The Alchemist produced it, and I feel like Earl had never really rapped on anything like that. Not to ruin the ending, but the mannequins and everything were pretty good in terms of it being a COVID-safe video. I wanted to have a crowd full of mannequins, and I feel like it was just a big metaphor of performing to a lifeless crowd.
Two colors that really stick out in many of your music videos are light blue and red—what draws you to these shades, and how do you choose your color palette?
That’s crazy, no one ever notices that. I kind of gravitate more toward those colors, and I do notice them with videos for LUCKI or even MAVI. I think a big thing for me visually is that if I think about a video that I just watched, it’s just colors that come to mind, so I’m very conscious about that. I don’t tend to use too many colors, but for some reason it always ends up being on that palette of red and blue.
“Having artists that trust your vision is everything, and I think we’ve built that over time. Sometimes LUCKI will come to me with an idea, and I’ll just try my best to make it come to life.”
Speaking about LUCKI, you’ve been working with him for like a while now. How has your relationship changed over the years, if at all?
We’ve been working together for, like, five years. I think we kind of built an understanding creatively, because he’ll trust me with ideas. Sometimes I’ll send him artworks that are very abstract or just something that I personally liked, and ask him if it’s too weird, and he’s like, “Bro, it’s perfect.” Having artists that trust your vision is everything, and I think we’ve built that over time. Sometimes he’ll come to me with an idea, and I’ll just try my best to make it come to life.
How did you develop your style of editing in animated effects, and what do you think that animation adds to a video?
I developed my style just from experimenting. I would get these opportunities for videos, and people knew me for the digital aspect of VFX, but I kind of wanted to go outside the box and kind of create something new. I think it was 2017 or 2018 that I started doing more of a DIY style and just experimenting with that. The first time I did something along those lines, it kind of just turned into its own thing, and I just ended up running with it. I think using animation in music videos is really great, especially if it’s a more energetic song. I’ve been straying away from using animation to hold a video together or keep it going, but rather using it to do more storyline stuff. I think using animation in the right places is kind of where I’m at right now, because you can throw effects on a video and it’ll do what it’s supposed to.
On Uzi’s “Baby Pluto” lyric video, you said it was your first time doing claymation—how did you lean into this new art form, and why did you choose to use it for that video?
I’ve done claymation before, but that was the first time I did it with more detail, so I kind of was familiar with what I wanted to do and how to make characters and stuff. As I started working on it, I realized how much more I could do, and I’d watch behind the scenes of, like, Wallace and Gromit or those old claymation movies and kind of replicate that. But it was a growing experience. I mean, they came to me to do a lyric video and I was like, “I kind of want to go all out.” I was just looking at the cover for Lil Uzi Vert vs. the World 2 where it’s Lil Uzi’s side profile as a cartoon, and that’s kind of where I got the idea for that claymation. That way, people could recognize Uzi, but as a claymation version.
What prevents you from playing it safe, now that more people have expectations for you?
I feel like I always try to tap into my experimental side. I’m one of those people where if I ever replicate an effect, I’m already over it. I always want to change something, you know, instead of just being repetitive. I want to make sure that every video has the LONEWOLF touch to it, but at the same time, it’s different in its own way, or I’m reinventing myself every time.
“I want to make sure that every video has the LONEWOLF touch to it, but at the same time, it’s different in its own way, or I’m reinventing myself every time.”
What do you think is the most crucial quality to have in order to be a successful videographer?
I think a big thing is consistency, and just reinventing yourself and your work every time and making it exciting for people. Consistency doesn’t mean that every week you’re dropping shit—when you’re consistent, you’re on point every drop. Personally, I haven’t dropped anything since the Earl video, like a month or two ago. But I know my next stuff is gonna be good in its own way and be inventive. If you make things exciting for yourself, other people will notice.
Over the past pandemic year, what has been the most surprising collaboration or project that you’ve been able to do?
It wasn’t that I was searching for it, but doing that Earl video was a surreal moment. I was on set looking around like, “This is happening right now,” because it just felt like worlds were colliding. I’ve been a fan of Earl for a long time. It’s just crazy, because growing up, I would see what they’re up to on the other side of the U.S., and now I’m based out of here and working with them and working with artists in general that I’ve looked up to for so long. With MAVI, we’ve been trying to shoot for months and finally it happened. I’m just very, very grateful, and me being an anxious, shy person, I’m getting these opportunities and trying not to explode.
What do you think is the biggest way you’ve evolved as an artist?
My work has definitely changed me as a person. I feel like I’m more self-disciplined now that I’m this freelance artist and my own boss. It makes me feel more like an adult, because no one’s going to wake me up and be like, “You gotta do this.” I started as a kid out in the world trying to shoot videos, and now I’m in a place where I can pick and choose, but I’m still trying to keep that hunger as far as being reinvented.
Going forward, what are you excited about?
I’m currently in the final stages of publishing this mixed-media book on my life, and each page is a different graphic that I made. I kind of go deep into the directing process, the design process, and the editing process. It started as 25 pages, but now it’s 50. I’ve been working more on different things that people wouldn’t expect me to do, and also have a lot of music videos on the way. I think I’m most excited for the personal stuff that I’m working on. I’m writing a short film that will be released this year. I think I’m excited for the personal things and all the challenges that come with doing different things that people wouldn’t expect. I’m trying to coordinate shows and things like that for the end of this year, and I’m trying to get out of the realm of just doing straight-up music videos. FL