Music: Interview with Music Video Director-Editor Michael Daye

I’m proud to present my second music video interview. If you want to read my first interview, check it out here.

Courtesy of Michael Daye

Courtesy of Michael Daye

If you don’t know the name Michael Daye, there is a good chance if you’ve ever read Cracked, that you came across his article “9 Terrifying Old Movies That Put Modern Horror To Shame;” if you haven’t, you should. (His knowledge of classic curios puts me to shame).

When I did more research on Daye who is “based in the south-west of England,” I discovered that he also makes and edits films. I was particularly taken with his music videos, many of which are artistic homages to silent films, experimental cinema, and found footage. To get an idea of his aesthetic, read this interview (duh) and visit his website. You can also follow him on Twitter and Vimeo.

Courtesy of Daye

Courtesy of Daye

Onward to the interview!

When did you first become interested in making music videos?
Probably as a teenager. Something about coming of age and realising what songs are really about made me think about how the same piece of music can be experienced differently by each listener. I have synaesthesia as well, which means I experience a crossover of the senses (I “see” letters and numbers as specific combinations of colours and think of music in terms of shapes and colours), so I think after being exposed to some cool videos in the early noughties I got excited about the thought of trying it myself.

How much does experimental filmmaking inform your music videos and how much do your music videos inform your experimental filmmaking?
I actually see them as being one and the same. I love to use music as a counterpoint and it’s how I originally got into film and video production. The only difference for me is that the music videos are made to serve the artist’s purposes as well, whereas in my films I am using other people’s music for my own purposes.

What role do you have in devising the concept for the music video? How much does your creative control fluctuate?
I’ve mostly been given the creative reins for each project. Sometimes the client will give me key notes on the song itself and the themes it presents, and I’ll use that as a jumping-off point to pitch ideas back to them. I like to leave some things up to improvisation so occasionally I have pitched one idea and veered off towards another, but I’ll always keep the client in the loop.

I noticed that many of your music videos are comprised of found footage from various historical periods, though the 80s VHS footage seems to be the most prominent. Describe your selection process of matching the footage with the music. What is the significance of the footage?
Well to be honest, I started with “found footage” at a time when I wasn’t confident enough around people to coordinate an actual shoot. I would always be able to find videos that represented images I wanted to create, and eventually I just started putting them together on a timeline trying to find out what it would look like to edit in time with the music. Sometimes the video image would be very poorly connected to what I had in mind originally, but I’d just end up following that image and seeing where it led. The Run video for Police Academy 6 was the first video I made in this style, and there wasn’t really much significance to the footage beyond it all being very eighties. It’s always been a moodboard effect, trying to present an overall theme rather than telling a story with individual clips.

What has prompted the move away from the VHS/found footage aesthetic in your most recent music videos?
As I mentioned in the last question, the found footage aesthetic was born mostly out of my lack of confidence to shoot new footage and just seeing what I was capable of doing with other people’s footage. Over time I developed that confidence and as I worked more on my own material, I came to realise that found footage has a specific effect on a viewer and should be used sparingly. I still enjoy using little hints of VHS noise here and there just because it brings me back to my childhood. I remember finding lots of VHS cassettes my parents had recorded onto over and over again, so there were little moments of various TV shows and music videos all blending together, like a dream.

Describe the dynamic of directing a music video commissioned by a band or performer versus a record label (like Decca Classics)?
Well, independent artists tend to have a specific idea of what they want as they have a personal connection to the song, and you tend to work pretty closely with them, while labels can be both more calculated and less focused. With Decca Classics, I was given a choice of which track to make a video for, from an album of classical pieces that had been used in films. The brief asked for a video that seemed cinematic without referencing the specific film that the track had been used in (in my case, The Big Lebowski), but that was the only instruction.

How did you find the lush locations for Mariettas Lied? What was the transition between filming in the wide exterior versus working with existing footage or sparser locations?
I knew a lot of those locations from scouting for my grad film project. The video was actually shot chronologically as we travelled from the coast up through the country over the course of a day. We had to time things carefully and be wary of daylight, so all of the locations were pretty “in-and-out”, basically driving to a location, hopping out the car to shoot for a half-hour then getting back in.

I thought that the concept of the missing dancers for Purrple Splazsh was haunting and original. How did you come up with it?
I got hooked watching clips from The New Dance Show, an actual show shot in Michigan in the eighties. They’d have a hall full of upbeat people dancing non-stop to disco and early Detroit techno, and so I just tried to think of a way to adapt those images to fit how Actress subverts those genres.

In most of your music videos, the artist/band doesn’t appear. Who’s decision is that? What are some challenges that arise when making a video without the performer(s) present?
Sometimes, like with the Run video for Police Academy 6, it was a case of me having made the video before even getting in touch with the artist. Other times, I’ve just not considered the idea of featuring the artist because it seems a bit too literal. It’s all dependent on the track. If a client has required the artist to be a part of the video then I’m always ready to adapt my ideas to that, although I find it easier if I don’t have to include them.

How does being an editor inform the way you direct music videos? At what points are the two sensibilities in conflict with one another?
I do tend to have an “edit” of sorts prepared in my head at the first stage of production, so if I know I want to use one frame of a weird image to quickly cut in at one point, I’ll make sure that image is factored into the shoot. I hate the thought of “fixing it in post” but in practice it’s always a possibility, and I’m confident enough in my own style that I know how to get a troublesome sequence to fit that style. I don’t know if there are many conflicts between the two, I see them as part of the same procedure in a way. I like feeling that I’ve controlled the whole video from start to finish.

How have your influences like David Lynch, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Béla Tarr, and Björk informed your music videos? What are other artistic influences in your music videos?
David Lynch has a way of making the weird seem natural and vice versa, and that’s definitely my biggest influence for everything I do. R.W. Fassbinder is inspiring for the fact that he was damn prolific and he never let a low budget hold him back. I love how Béla Tarr uses time and space to afford more room for the viewer. And Björk is a musician who I think has a consistent body of music videos, her music is very visual and she’s always pushing forward in terms of the viewing experience (the Biophilia app, the Stonemilker video).

I’d say Chris Cunningham is a humongous influence in terms of how I edit. I watch his work all the time and I can’t really think of a video director I like more. I also love video artist Takashi Ito for his editing style.

What are your top three favorite music videos of all time? What elements do you like about each?
I have to include Chris Cunningham’s Windowlicker video for Aphex Twin. Although his video for Björk is phenomenal, I think the editing and the subversive aesthetic of Windowlicker have had more of an influence on me. I just remember seeing it as a kid and finding it incredibly disturbing.

The Sugar Water video for Cibo Matto that Michel Gondry directed is pretty spectacular. On paper it’s quite a simple concept, a palindromic video with a split screen, but in practice there is such attention to detail it’s incredible.

And I guess it predates music videos but A Phantasy In Colours by Norman McLaren really inspired me. That’s a very synaesthetic film if ever I saw one.

What, if any, are the biggest problems with music videos today?
It’s really a gripe with pop videos but there’s too much concern with looking cool and attractive. It seems like in the nineties a lot of artists were fine with being ugly for the sake of a good concept, and that led to some pretty legendary videos.

How, if at all, do you see music videos as a gateway to other types of film production?
A music video at its most basic is like a call and response, a visual created for a piece of audio that already exists. I think if you can give great ideas to another artist like that, it advertises your ability to take the helm of a film project. There has been some criticism over the last decade of feature films getting too much like music videos, but I think that needs to continue. Directors like Spike Jonze and Jonathan Glazer have proven time and time again that they can extend the surrealism of a music video to feature length without losing the audience’s attention.

What were some of your proudest moments in your music video career so far?
I’ve been massively surprised by and grateful for each and every opportunity, but the most exciting was getting the Charles Bradley gig. I had been a huge admirer of his before and couldn’t believe I had been invited to work with him. He was an absolute dream to work with, so humble and ready to get involved.

What do you think are the most essential components to a music video?
Definitely good editing. I love videos that edit very closely to the rhythms and sounds of the song, and conversely I love one-take videos, but in each case there has to be a good reason for that decision. Music naturally conjures up images out of the blue just like dreams do, so I’m most attracted to videos that aren’t too literal.

What do you have on your bucket list in regards to music video making?
I’m working on a music project at the moment myself and I plan to direct the videos for it, so if that goes the way I want it to then that’ll be one bucket list requirement crossed off. I would love to work with Björk, even on a five-second ident or something, as it’d be a major career highlight to say I’d been a part of her visual catalogue. A more general goal would be to direct for a wider range of genres, just to see how I would adapt.

2 thoughts on “Music: Interview with Music Video Director-Editor Michael Daye

  1. Marybeth Tawfik

    Interesting! LOVE his work, love the way he moves from present to past, very dreamy and surreal but at the same time recognizable.

    Great interview!

    Reply

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