Figs Vision and actress Evan Rachel Wood on ATVs in the desert


Evan Rachel Wood: I Went Into The Desert With My Favorite Band

So this is life… I’ve noticed

Besides being quintessentially cool, Evan Rachel Wood holds many titles: Bona fide movie star, musician, singer, mother, activist, Beatles lover, writer...and now, we are excited to announce that she can officially add NYLON editor to her expansive list of credentials.

"So this is life... I've noticed."

That's a line from one of my favorite songs by Figs Vision called “New York Home.” Jordan Spoliansky, the lead singer, wrote those lyrics when he was just 16 years old.

When I heard it for the first time, I was blown away by the simplicity of the words and the extraordinary weight they carried. It showed a maturity that fascinated and compelled me to dig deeper and find out who these guys were. 

Back in February, I was with my bandmate and close friend Zach Villa, smack-dab in the middle of writing and recording our debut album. We had a pretty explosive beginning, full of inspiration, lyrics, and sounds just spilling out of us at rapid speed. We hit that halfway point and felt like we needed a boost, a little Mario mushroom, something to carry us over the finish line. We decided to scope out some venues, see what new bands were playing around town, and get excited about performing live. (After this night we would finish our album with a vengeance and a newfound inspiration.)

We were scrolling through the lineup at The Echo, in Los Angeles' Silver Lake, when we stumbled upon one of the more intriguing band bios we have ever read: 

The musical matrimony of Gunner and Jordan was spawned by a motorcycle accident when they were only 14 years old. As they were riding dirt bikes in a harsh L.A. rainstorm, Jordan lost control and effectively launched his bike from a muddy bank, down a steep hillside, and into a deep crevasse. After much discussion on how to retrieve the motorcycle, the two boys got a long rope, anchored it to a rebar stake, and slowly descended into the ravine. As their feet splashed down into the watery basin of a deep mossy cave, they quickly noticed traces of human inhabitance—a smoldering fire, some loose articles of clothing, a heap of garbage, and even a rocking chair in relatively good condition. Someone was living in this cave. As they continued deeper, almost forgetting about the lost bike, the boys met a man who they came to know as Fig, whose vision birthed what has become the mission of Jordan's and Gunner’s natural lives.

The two men it refers to are, of course, Jordan and Gunner Sixx. Both 25—yet have already lived a million lifetimes—best friends who met in elementary school and now write all of Figs’ music together while performing it with their bandmates Zackary Darling, Mike Musselman, and Mario Cerutti.

And yes, if you’re wondering, Gunner is related to Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue, but by making the bold move of pursuing his own music career, I can assure you, he is carving out his own sound and identity in an original and beautiful way that would make most people living in a shadow quite envious.

Upon some more research, we found that they described themselves as “survivors of gross misguidance, and moreover, as brothers deeply entwined in parallel living” who are also “inspired by desert mystic.” Again, so fucking intriguing. Who could they possibly be?

Finally, we were there at the show, and the lights went out. Strange sounds echoed from the stage when suddenly these creatures came slinking out of the darkness into the crowd. We realized they were dancers, with jeweled masks covering their entire heads and faces. The show had begun; the band started to play.

I immediately felt like I was in another space. They were already doing a spot-on job at creating a world that I was more than willing to fall into, but that also frightened me a little.

A world of glam rock and mystic pop mixed up in a Harmony Korine film. Zach and I started dancing.

Now, you must know, it takes a lot to get me to go out, see a band I don’t know, and even more so, actually like them to the point where I can’t help but flail around in front of strangers. I couldn’t tell you why the music spoke to me so deeply at the time, but something about the sounds resonated. It was touching a place in my soul I didn’t think anyone else knew about. I recognized something in them that was also in me. It was quite profound.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, Jordan opened his mouth and started singing. He started high, something that might remind you of The Scissor Sisters until he completely flipped it on its head, in one breath, and dropped down to a deep, Bowie-like, Talking Heads-esque tone. Zach and I exchanged looks of confusion and pleasant surprise.

The band played on. It was so refreshing to hear all their different influences flow together in a way I hadn’t really heard before. It was fun and childlike, yet dark and full of intense vulnerability, somehow managing to keep an underlying tone of what I can only describe as hope.

They played through their set and I never wanted it to end. When they were done, Taylor (my other good friend who was with us, also thoroughly enjoying the show) and I yelled out, "Nooooooooo!” The audience began chanting, “One more song! One more song!”

The band complied and said this one was called, “Little Man.” I looked over at Taylor and said, “Whatever this is, it's your song from now on.”

I was entranced. "Little man," featuring lyrics written by Gunner, ended up being one of the most deeply moving and powerful songs on the record. A song Taylor and I would both grow to love and that opened up parts of ourselves we were afraid to face. After the song was over, we turned to each other and almost in unison said, “We have to be friends with these guys.”

I feel like I can separate people from their art. I can geek the fuck out over someone’s creations, but still be able to see them as flawed human beings like the rest of us—at least, I hope. So I decided to pursue this quest. And what better way to get someone’s attention than to send them a dubsmash of you mouthing one of their songs on Twitter? 

Cut to: all of us becoming fast and close friends, with mutual admiration for each other's work and an eerily similar taste in music, film, and the need for exploration. We found out I even went to middle school with Jordan’s sister. We were surprised to feel this kind of safety and connection so quickly.

It was sometimes alarming to all of us. Like right now, Taylor is up in Palmdale, California, filming their next music video, and the four of us have big, stick and poke tattoo plans.  

God bless you, Twitter.

I told them one night, “I really want to write a piece on you guys if you’d be up for that.” Jordan answered jokingly, “We should just do a crazy gonzo piece and ride out into the desert together.” I laughed and then stopped dead in my tracks.

“... that’s not a bad idea.” 

Cut to: Taylor, Gunner, Jordan, and myself, loading up my soccer mom car with helmets, guitars, sage, cigarettes, and a yellow beach ball with a smiley face on it, for emergencies, of course. Our mission was to ride ATVs in the Arizona desert, specifically through Sedona’s famous vortexes, and stay at a small cabin in the woods for the weekend.

Jordan and Gunner were some of my dearest friends already, but they were still one of my favorite bands, and I was still having a love affair with their first album, Mother.

The hardest part of this trip was going to be not listening to any of their music the entire eight-hour drive-up. How do you listen to your favorite music with your friends when your friends are your favorite music? Tricky. Luckily they played us some new songs they were working on while we were driving home, and all I can say is they were fucking great. 

Now, backing up to this whole “vortex” thing. I first heard about this phenomenon years ago. I consider myself an open-minded person who gives everything a chance, but believes you should approach certain things as a skeptic to prove if they are really true or not. As I said before, a need for exploration fuels my fire and adventure seems to pound on my door constantly, knowing I just can't say, “no” to an experience.

It’s been a blessing and a curse, but as an adult, it's channeled into things like “vortexes.” 

The classic definition of a vortex is this: “A vortex is the funnel shape created by a whirling fluid or by the motion of spiraling energy. Familiar examples of vortex shapes are whirlwinds, tornadoes, and water going down a drain.”

Apparently, Sedona is full of “energy vortexes” and if you are at all sensitive to energy, or “the subtle things” as some say, standing in one of these has been described as, “overwhelming” in a healing way, which is why Sedona is full of people “on the path” or searching for something to get aligned with and to get back in touch with their truest selves outside of all the noise. It’s also why Sedona is sometimes described as a "spiritual Disneyland.”

I’ve been going there for years, and I have to say, every time, I have a pretty damn transformative experience and come back a different person. Sometimes the growing is painful, but the payoff is incredible. A rush of clarity can show you all the beauty in the world but also make you confront your demons.

Maybe it’s the beautiful red rocks or being able to see the milky way so clear that the sky becomes three-dimensional, maybe it's the incredible smells or the stillness, maybe it's all in my head and it's nothing but placebo. Either way, it works and I don’t care how.

But this isn’t about whether or not you believe in vortexes—what’s important is the shared experience we were about to have; how we got there is part of the journey, but not the heart. As luck would have it, we were all at some kind of crossroads in our lives and were very open to whatever this trip had to offer. We described it as a need to “howl at the moon.”

While driving there, I am hit with a wave. My body can tell we are getting closer and I can feel things stirring up in my stomach, ready to come out swinging. Taylor said he experienced something very similar. As the city gets smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror and all the bullshit starts to fade away, the mountains and the desert sunset become clear and mirror the calmness washing over me.

No one can get us out here. It feels free. Less like a cage.

We stop at funny gas stations, do some detective work at a shady looking strip club (which thank god was closed because we were horrified to see it had a “Massage” sign with an arrow pointing to the back), and enjoyed a very necessary stop at Dairy Queen. We also took it upon ourselves to get rid of some plates that I don’t have use for anymore. Plates that carried sentimental value from a past I was ready to let go, and that I was ready to shatter into a million pieces. Which we literally did. With a large black bat.

It’s dark when we arrive so we make our way through the winding roads carefully. Our cabin is next to a creek, right in the center of one of these “vortexes,” and when we arrive, we immediately start making it our own.

Gunner and Jordan string Christmas lights around the room while I lay a tapestry over the bed filled with swirling shapes and colors. Taylor is inflating an air mattress to set outside, covering it in blankets and pillows, in preparation to spend most of our night stargazing. After a few more candles are lit and the guitar is unpacked, it's ready.

The realization that we need Wi–Fi to play music on our phones and we are in the middle of nowhere sets in. So we scan through our music libraries to see what little we actually have saved. Nothing bad, but not quite the vibe we were hoping for. Then Taylor steps in: “I have two CocoRosie songs, that should get us started.”

He puts the first song on. It’s called "Smokey Taboo" and the second it started, time seemed to slow down. Way down. We all stopped what we were doing to lay and close our eyes. The music and lyrics seemed like they were written for this exact moment. It was unreal.

Then these beautiful five notes hit this harp in a way that still makes me a bit teary when I talk about it. When it ended, Jordan and Gunner had the same look on their faces as I did when I first saw them in concert.

The second song came on. It was called "Noah’s Ark." Not as intense, but so enjoyable and a good interlude back into "Smokey Taboo" for a second, third, fourth, maybe even hundredth time. What I’m saying is, we loved the songs so much we listened to nothing else for the rest of the night, all the way, until we watched the sun come up. 

I can’t go into much detail about what happened in between then. I am not even sure I would be able to fully explain it anyway. That's the thing with vortexes. It's something to be experienced and can’t quite be put into words. The details are for us.

But I can say, through our conversations, we got to know each other deeply and Gunner and Jordan are two of the most beautiful souls I have ever met. Much like their show, I never wanted the night to end.

Trying to make friends as an artist, and most definitely a well-known artist, can be quite difficult. Especially because most of us are well-known for being reclusive. How can we ever find one another when we are swimming in our own joys and sorrows, away from the parts of the world we feel most strange in?

Some of the reason we do what we do is because we have to find other ways to communicate that aren’t so conventional. We get labeled weird, crazy, freaks, sluts, and sinners because we can’t help but see the world differently. Our feelings get so overwhelming. Art helps stretch your soul out to its full potential so you can feel whole for that moment. 

You make it because you have to, to feel fully alive. It's rare for me to feel this way around people, but not on this night. I saw walls fall in everyone so much that our faces changed. I could almost see what we must have been like as kids. Like we were let off a leash, and giving ourselves permission to go play in the sandbox, without fear or embarrassment.

There was dancing, singing, writing, and an intense bonding experience that feels very reminiscent of The Breakfast Club scene when all the students in detention tell the truth about their deepest pains and biggest fears. That's when we realized like a ton of bricks what was connecting us all, what was bringing us together subconsciously, and we felt the kind of empathy that could bring you to your knees. 

When we woke the next day as different people and closer friends, we set off on our ATV journey. Now, we could all go into our own worlds and reflect on the experience. Also, Taylor and I could finally listen to Figs Vision. 

I stuck my headphones in my ears and shared a giddy look with Taylor, who was right there with me. Then we drove into the mountains. I listened to the entire album again with fresh ears while we flew through the terrain. Knowing them didn’t take away the magic. It gave it so much more. At times, the wind and motors were so loud I even managed to belt out a couple of their tunes while singing along under my helmet, while riding next to them… in the desert.

Wait, is this real life?

I am reminded yet again of Jordan’s lyrics, “So, this is life.” Yes. So it is. I’ve noticed. And to quote the rest of the line, “This shit goes fast or slow."

As we fly over rocks and dodge cacti, seeing a side of Sedona you can only see if you take risks, the song crescendos in a way that makes me stand up... and howl.