October 31, 2015

The Vampires of Rock n Roll

So, I finally put out another video. It's been over a year, and I have several reasons for why it's been so long, but I won't get into that now.

I wrote this song last year at the end of September with the full intention of eventually making a video to accompany it. This song is one which I feel particularly passionate about. I normally refrain from divulging the meaning of my songs for a couple of reasons. In general, I believe that a song should speak for itself. If every song I write requires a lengthy explanation, I think it means I've failed to communicate as a songwriter. That's not to say that songs should always be clear and obvious in meaning, but if every turn of phrase and nuance of meaning is picked apart, it loses some of its magic. Also, I think a song is better left unexplained so the listener can infuse it with their own meaning and feel a sense of ownership toward it.

But since this song is a criticism of sorts, I think it's important to make sure there is no mistake as to whom that criticism is aimed. The “vampires of rock and roll” are not the artists, not the fans, and not those who work tirelessly to promote music and make sure those who create it receive fair and sustainable compensation. So who are the vampires? Those who exploit artists. Those who prey on people's dreams. Those who present an image of glamour and a life of ease in order to promote a fantasy that music is effortless and a fast track to fame and riches. It's a criticism leveled at those who take advantage of artists of all stripes with promises of fame (“exposure!”) without actually compensating them for their time and efforts. This ultimately undervalues musical artists' true value and contributions to society.

Anyway, instead of going off on a rant about that, how about I talk a little bit about the video. I was definitely influenced by vampire movies and lore in creating it. Of all the monsters humanity imagines to give a corporeal form to their fears, vampires are my favorite. I even did a presentation on them in high school which included a lengthy speech and video, followed by a Q and A session with the class. I did a lot of research, from how corpses decompose (which first led pre-scientific cultures to believe in the undead), to the activities of vampire bats. The fun thing about the presentations was that everyone was encouraged to dress in character relative to their chosen topic, decorate the room, and play music to set the mood. So making this video really hearkened back to that same level of immersive experience.

Vampires have evolved from representing the fear of death and being buried alive, to our modern desires to live forever, growing in wealth, power, and wisdom while never paying the price by aging. Modern society is obsessed with youth, beauty, glamour and wealth and conversely spurns aging, plainness, and poverty. The modern vampire offers us the kind of unattainable allure that speaks to our fears about our bodies and minds growing too frail to enjoy what we spend a lifetime accumulating. But under the pretty facade, vampires are still monsters. They may hold out the promise of eternal youth, beauty, power, and riches, but ultimately offer either a painful death or an eternity of loneliness, no longer a part of the natural world.

So my video and song are definitely influenced by that modern archetype. The spinning footage was obviously inspired by the opening sequence of Jim Jarmuch's movie, Only Lovers Left Alive. If you like vampire movies (as I do) you'll probably find it interesting. I really enjoyed it due to the main protagonist being a musician, and for also being Tom Hiddleston. I used a digital action camera with a wide-angle lens, hooked up to a disco ball motor hung from the ceiling (huge thanks to my husband/roadie for rigging it to hold a camera) in order to create the shot.

The bridge is my favorite part of the song (both musically and cinematographically (is…is that even a word? My spellcheck didn't correct it, so let's roll with it). I recorded my dulcimer parts and decided I wanted them to play backwards. So I learned how to play them backwards so I could reverse the audio. But it sounded too much like an accordion, so I also played them forwards in order to achieve that signature “ting” that hits crisply at the beginning of each note. Now I can legitimately say I know at least one part of one of my songs backwards and forward. Oh, there is also footage of me pouring “blood”, and it's reversed so that the liquid is draining back up into the tea pot. I wanted to have little touches like that (a method employed by Francis Ford Coppola in his 1992 film Bram Stoker's Dracula) to lend an eerie, off-kilter vibe. So in order to achieve that affect, I learned how to sing that one line backwards for the video.

I made a ton of fake blood in preparation for the video shoot, and despite hardly any of it being featured in the video, I ended up drinking a fair bit of it. Verdict: it's quite tasty in small doses (like licking it off your fingers) but downright disgusting to actually gulp. It tastes like liquified cake icing, but thick like cough syrup.

I hate cough syrup. Almost as much as I hate real-life vampires.