“This isn’t a normal artist who just wanted to make a hip-hop video with common tropes and make money,” says director Ramez “Mezzy” Silyan on emo-rapper/hip-hop artist Lil Peep. “He wanted to express himself and move the needle forward.”
Silyan profiles his late friend Gus Åhr, aka Lil’ Peep, in Everybody’s Everything, directed with Sebastian Jones. The documentary chronicles the brief period in which Lil’ Peep became an international sensation until an accidental drug overdose ended his career at age 21 in 2017. The film captures Lil’ Peep’s ambition, style, and swagger with an electrifying collage that keeps his voice alive.
Silyan says he first met Åhr when making the video for the single “Girls” and was approached to be Peep’s live-in documentarian. “When I got that phone call, I asked to take it one step at a time,” says Silyan. “It felt invasive, so I went on tour in Europe and Russia with Gus.” Much of this footage appears in Everybody’s Everything to chronicle Åhr’s unexpected reach and struggles with addiction.
Jones says the proper feature began with his mentor, filmmaker Terrence Malick, an executive producer on the film and a close friend of Åhr’s grandfather, Jack Womack, and mother Liza. “After Gus died, Liza called Terry and wanted to put together a documentary. I was pretty much an outsider,” add Jones, who worked on Malick’s Voyage of Time, Knight of Cups, and was lead film editor on 2019’s A Hidden Life.
Jones recalls seeing Lil’ Peep’s perform live three days before his death and being struck by his authenticity. “What he brings to the table is so emotionally naked and honest. There’s no bullshit,” he says. “For young people, that’s a voice you can trust.”
The film explores Åhr’s process while diving into his struggles with mental illness. Songs like “Witchblade” and “Pray I Die” provocatively articulate his pain. His lyrics own his drug-fuelled lifestyle and reveal the cycles of addiction that fed the darkness.
Everybody’s Everything draws upon Åhr’s disorienting and empowering method with an intricate collage of professional video, iPhone shoots, social media stories, and fuzzy VHS tapes. “Gus had so many videographers around him all the time, so there was an embarrassment of riches,” says Jones, adding that Åhr’s mother recovered countless videos from his computer and from VHS tapes that survived Hurricane Sandy. The tapestry speaks the language with which Peep reached his audience through social media and Soundcloud.
Jones, who edited Everybody’s Everything with Kyle Seaquist, says his work with Malick prepared him for the challenge. “Terry has somewhat of a documentary approach, even the narrative work,” explains Jones. “He shoots so much, so I’m used to dealing with a large volume of footage and working quickly.”
The archival collage has echoes of Amy, Asif Kapadia’s Oscar-winning portrait of Amy Winehouse, who died at 27. Jones says that no film influenced Everybody’s Everything but cites Brett Morgen’s kaleidoscopic Kurt Cobain film Montage of Heck as a music doc that fired him up.
Silyan thinks that Everybody’s Everything and Amy, while different, share philosophies. “Amy made you feel like you knew her on an intimate level,” observes Silyan. “It wasn’t really about her music. It was about demystifying her. I hope people feel like they got to know Gus. Not Peep, but Gus.”
Both directors agree their subject, like Cobain or Winehouse, remains unique when social media offers someone their 15 minutes of fame every day. “The reality is that there’s never going to be another Lil’ Peep, just like there’s never going to be another Kurt Cobain,” says Silyan. “These are once in a lifetime artists.”