The video for the first song ‘Goodbye’ from our forthcoming album ‘Best Of Times’ premiered over on The Guardian website here recently. Dan directed the video and here is what he had to say about it all, plus some storyboards and photos from the shoot. Tuck in.
At some point last summer, I can’t remember exactly when, I had a dream about these vintage hoovers like the kind we had in our house when I was very young. In the dream the hoovers were laying these trails of colored powder and everything moved backwards. I’m not really sure where this came from but I spoke to the rest of the band about making it into a video somehow. Originally I thought it could be more of an art video that I would do on my own, but the guys were into it so we decided to go for it. A while back I had been a narrator in a play written and directed by a friend named Daniel Kelly, called ‘The Birds’ that was about the history of the internet told as a Greek tragedy. In the play, the leader of the birds was this magnificent Lavinia Co-op, who I had never met. Lavinia was acting on four foot high stilts that had ballerina slippers in point on the bottom, and an opera diva’s dress. Everyone was completely blown away by the performance, and that’s how we got to know each-other. At that point I had no idea of Lavinia’s rich history in drag performances and acting. For example it wasn’t until after we began working together on the Goodbye video that I found out about the appearance in the Bat for Lashes video. I just remember the way Lavinia looked without the make-up and costumes and his face and frame looked like something from one of my paintings and I thought it was really worth asking if he would even consider being in this video. I wanted him to understand that I took his art and his history in New York and London very seriously so this wouldn’t be some frivolous kind of waste of his time, but that the whole theme of the video was completely hinged upon his talent as a dancer and his chameleon ability to change in an instant into whatever was required. So it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t have wanted to do this idea without Lavinia and I really owe a lot for the creative generousity that he showed all along.
For several years I have kind of ‘adopted’ a film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, called ‘Welt am Draht’ (1973), or ‘World on a Wire,’ in English. For a long time, perhaps several decades this was a relatively unknown Fassbinder film, probably because it was originally produced exclusively for German television, and also possibly because it’s the only science fiction foray Fassbinder ever made in his ambitious, brief, and meteoric career. I say I ‘adopted’ this film because I must have seen it about thirty or fourty times. I would often have it playing on my laptop when I was painting in my studio leading up to my last solo show, in which several paintings in the background of the office scenes in the film were recreated in my office installation at the gallery. But what is more relevant to the Goodbye video, was that I loved how World on Wire tried to visually communicate a vision of a high-tech computer universe of the future, with some very low-budget visual devices. The story is really similar to the Matrix but without any of the computer technology available to create that kind of suspension of disbelief. So Fassbinder and his crew had to do things like putting mirrors and glass wherever they could and lots of blue and violet lights and red and green led lights to communicate some form of techno-futurism. The other devices they used when a character was caught between the realms of computer and the natural world was this early analog synth sound that was a kind of theremin absrasive bubbly noise.
So with the video I wanted to recreate these themes. I thought the song Goodbye, and much of the album ‘Best of Times’ has this flux between the synthetic synth noises of a cold future alongside sounds from the natural world in our more acoustic and guitar based sound. I thought these visual metaphors of coldness and coloured light, and night cityscapes were a perfect tonic to compliment the mixture of natural beauty and cold malevolence that swirl around in this album.
What I hadn’t bargained on is how much hard work it was all going to be. Most music videos I’ve been a part of up until now had a minimal amount of planning before-hand, and generally a vague concept which usually just meant going to a location and walking around doing ‘things’ until everyone felt satisfied we had enough footage for a four minute song. But with this video, the ideas and the story just kept growing and growing in my own head and soon I needed to start putting some real time into concept drawings and story-boarding just to work out how possible some of the things I wanted to do were.
Figure 1. Original Concept Sketch for Goodbye office.
So I began doing some stupid drawings on the computer just to give the rest of the band a rough idea of what I was going for.
Figure 2. Concept drawing showing office layout and lighting scheme.
Figure 3. Concept drawing showing original green screen concept with cityscape and prop ideas.
Originally I wanted a view of a cityscape behind the Executive character, and I was learning as much as a could about green-screen and chroma-keying in post-production, but it was going to be really difficult to every have any shots including the green screened city background if there was ever going to be camera movement (which in the end there wasn’t) because then I would have had to do motion tracking in post-production and that can get really difficult and time consuming.
So without the city-scape in the background I decided to ask a friend and a really excellent video artist Richard T. Walker who I went to art school with at Goldsmiths, and who Ed and I used to be in a band called Black Autumn Gold with. Richard was living in San Francisco and happily he agreed to take some time lapse footage of the San Francisco skyline at night. This involved him sitting in a park with his Canon 5D for three hours and for that I think we all owe him a few beers and some hugs.
When I got it back, which was our first footage of the video, I was over the moon. I couldn’t believe how good it looked, and like most shots for the video it looked better than I ever imagined it.
In my art practice, I also adopted the film Koyaanisqatsi (1982) directed by Godfrey Reggio. If you haven’t seen it I strongly encourage you to see it, not only for the incredible time-lapse cinematography, but for the wonderful Phillip Glass soundtrack. When we were recording Best of Times at Bella Union studios with the super engineer Iggy B, we all got super excited when a package arrived for Iggy which was a pocket piano that played some unpredictable arpeggio patterns that really reminded me of the Phillip Glass soundtrack. This sound really helped solidify a lot of the recordings on the album. Also we had full use of an original mellotron, which has a vocal tape loop setting on it that sounds a hell of a lot like the choral singing on the Koyaanisquatsi soundtrack. So I thought all of these things, this sort of rich tapestry of allegiances were finally coming together in a more total multi-media way that I hadn’t been able to so completely in my paintings, and creatively that felt really good.
Figure 4. Koyaanisquatsi (1982).
Figure 5. World on a Wire (1973).
Figure 6. Richard T. Walker, Outside of All Things, 2013.
Probably the biggest challenge initially was figuring out how to do the colored powder effect with the hoovers. Initially it seemed like it was going to be pretty simple, but it was only after scouring ebay and buying these vintage hoovers and then experimenting with them that I realized that although they look really great aesthetically with their lights and colors and patterned bags, etc. as machines that actually vacuum things up they didn’t work very well at all. So that was the first time I started to have my patience tested, probably the first of many times and I began experimenting with various recipes of flour and powdered tempera paint that made the pigment light enough yet substantial enough for the hoovers to grab it. It ended up being a lot of work for a few shots that only comprise about thirty seconds or so of footage but thematically and conceptually the video narrative was pretty dependent on it working so in the end when it worked out (thanks to a lot of editing) I was obviously relieved.
Another really important part of the video was finding a director of photography that we could work with. The problem we had with this is that it’s difficult to find people to help you on a project when all the ideas are so clearly defined before-hand. Most people who work on music videos naturally want to bring their own ideas to the table and have their own vision realized in the process, so it was tricky. Luckily we knew the music video director and film-maker Matthew Reed who directed our video for Joanne and after meeting with him he was up for working together, so having him on board was really great. Matt was able to not only recreate the visions in the storyboards, but his hand-held camera technique in the end, which was completely improvised, really caps the video off in the end, and takes away some of the gravity of the video and helps the theatre of the video dissolve as the song ends. For more info and some great examples of Matt’s music videos and films go to the Beckton Alp Cinema website here. http://www.becktonalpcinema.com/
Figure 7. Storyboard and actual video.
Figure 11. Storyboard and actual video.
Aside from the time-lapse footage in San Francisco, we shot the interior scenes in London at Fold Gallery. It helped that I knew the space quite well from my solo exhibition there, so I was pretty confident that the lighting effects etc. would work out. It was pretty generous of them to lend us the space, but the director Kim Savage always seems to be up for wild ideas. For one group show there the gallery floor was completely covered in actual hay transplanted from Hackney City Farm.
Most of the objects in the set are objects from my art practice. The table I made from welded mild steel and glass. It was from my exhibition Sodium Vapour Night Light at Fold Gallery in June of 2013. I also made all the paintings. It was surprisingly difficult to make paintings that you know you are eventually going to ruin. It’s a lot easier to make paintings that you don’t realize you will eventually ruin. It’s liberating in a way but it’s also weird deciding how good to make it, because if it’s too good you might actually like it and want to keep it.
Lavinia’s suit was an interesting story. I got it from a place called Top Guys, which is a Turkish suit shop on Kingsland Road near the Dalston Shopping Center. It’s actually surprisingly difficult finding a good white suit. I spent weeks looking for one on the internet and all around Dalston and charity shops all over the place. I just walked into Top Guys by chance because my studio is nearby and the salesmen there are pretty persuasive. I had Lavinia’s measurements and we are about the same height so I gambled and bought one and took it to him and luckily it fit perfectly.
It goes without saying that Lavinia is an incredible dancer. Of course that’s what Lavinia has been doing from the beginning but there didn’t seem to be a move or a style that he couldn’t do. The hard part was communicating exactly what I wanted, so in the end the remit was explained as ‘cool face, rat pack style.’
Amazingly this actually made sense to him, and the results are there for all to see. Even after seeing the video a thousand times from editing it, I still wish that part of the video could go on forever. If you like the video in any way you should really take some time and watch some videos and read about Lavinia’s career. As an artist, dancer, actor, comedian, et al, it’s great reading about all the accomplishments and Lavinia’s contributions to a broad spectrum of art.
Here is a great example of the stage performance…
A great feature documentary on the famed theatrical group Bloolips…
And an interview…
In the end it was great to see your art literally come alive. From making paintings and sculptures to having living breathing humans animate and real in front of you is a pretty cool feeling. I thought it captured one mood or one aspect of a song on an album that I believe has a lot of room for different interpretations, of which this is just one. I’m really thankful to those who played a part in it. So that’s about it.
Here are some ‘behind the scenes’ images. Enjoy.