Vango Jones finds peace through music

Vango Jones finds peace through music

Set & Production Designer, Vango Jones, discusses his foray into music & how he finds balance in all his creative endeavors.

Interview by Chad Balkum

Photography by Jasmijn van Buytene

"During the pandemic, I think most people had a craft or passion that they finally began to hone in on. Music was that for me, despite having an interest in music for year's I finally just started to dive in during that time."

Let's start by talking about who you are and what you do.

I'm Vango Jones. I'm originally from St. Louis, Missouri but currently live in Brooklyn, NY. I went to Howard University for film production, which is how I got into Set & Production Design. As an independent filmmaker & not having a lot of resource's you have to wear multiple hats. I've had to be my own writer, director, producer & editor. One of the most enjoyable roles I've had outside of directing was doing the set dressing and props of my own films. From their everything snowballed, friends who were shooting music videos or short film's saw what I was doing for my own film's and began to hire me to do the props and set dressings for their film's.

That's pretty much how it got started for me. For a while, I was assisting more experienced set and production designer's then eventually began taking on more independent projects on my own. It's more of a day job to pay the bills yet still allow myself the time to be creative. Outside of that, I've had an interest in music for years.

During the pandemic, I think most people had a craft or passion that they finally began to hone in on. Music was that for me, despite having an interest in music for year's I finally just started to dive in during that time.

I don't think many people know that you're also a musician. At what point did you begin to experiment with music?

Honestly, the interest in music has been there for years. I traditionally always felt the need to stay in my lane & probably boxed myself in. Prior to fully diving into film during college I was painting and doing a lot of visual art in general. I've always felt that I had a place in the creative world. The first time I really dove into music was just before the pandemic, around 2019, when I started taking singing lessons. That was the first time I put all of my effort into this. One of the things I was doing during that time was writing music, never really thinking that I would ever actually record the music or do an official release.

What inspires you musically, is their a specific genre or sound you identify with?

It's a common answer, but I'm influenced by a lot, not just a specific genre. I'm creating music that can definitely be labeled as alternative RnB. The music is a hybrid of Nick Hakeem & Brent Fiyaz.

I want to backtrack for a moment, in the past year or two, you received an award for a short film you were a part of. Can you speak on that a little bit?

Yeah, it was earlier this year, I was the Production Designer on this film called Glitter & Gold. It was directed by a good friend of mine, Christian Jones. We met at Howard, then he eventually left Howard and graduated from NYU. We shot in Atlanta during Fall 2021. It was actually executive produced by the rapper Common. This year it premiered at South by Southwest, and we won an award for directing & community filmmaking. Making it to South by Southwest was big in itself, but to also walk away with an award was crazy. This year, 2022, was the fifth year I've really been hyper-focused on Set and Production Design work. I had a full-time job up until 2017 when I quit and started freelancing full-time. So I know for any freelancer it's hills and. valleys, you know, it's seasons when the gigs are coming in and then you have those droughts where you feel like what the fuck am I still doing this for?

Do you know what I'm saying? Every freelancer has the thought of whether they should go back to the office. Having those feelings and low moments inevitably come with being a freelancer. To receive that award in my fifth year doing this work full-time was very rewarding & reassuring.  I'm not going back to a full-time job. It's those moments that make it real, like you're actually on the right path.

How do you find balance between your freelance career and now doing music?

Yeah, I mean it's hard, but I think the main thing is what I said before, view them as the day job vs. the night job. I have to pay bills & live so what brings in the money always takes precedence.  I have to work to continue my livelihood so I take as many gigs as I can in Set & Production Design. Whenever there's a point I feel myself working too much on that, I'll take a week off and turn jobs down to make sure I can take a step back and spend more time making progress on the music.

As a black creative do you feel your experiences at Howard University nurtured or directly transferred to what you're doing now?

Absolutely. For one, I would say hands down Howard was the best four years of my life. So right off back Howard University has had an influence. Beyond how much I just enjoyed being at Howard, it opened my eyes to how much variance & diversity there is within black culture.
I grew up in St. Louis and where I grew up there's a lot of assimilation. Everyone was listening to the same music, pretty much dressed the same, we used the same slang, so going to Howard where there were people from places like New York or LA, the Caribbean, and Africa. With all of those different people coming from so many different locations, I was exposed to new interests. It was such a melting pot of culture in so it definitely influenced me as a creative & thinker. I definitely still pull from that experience and incorporate it whenever I can.

It sound's like your time at Howard University was much more creative than mine. It seems to have progressed creatively since the time I attended school there.


View the video for Vango Jones' new single, Peace Mantra, here