Category Archives: Music

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.

Take 5: Laura Lee

Courtesy of www.ladylauralee.com

Courtesy of www.ladylauralee.com

For those cultural snobs who persist in dismissing Blaxploitation films as totally worthless trash, prepare to be challenged again. These films employed so many talented and engaging personalities, even in the minutest roles. One of the greatest discoveries for me is Laura Lee, who appeared (uncredited, egregiously) in the overlooked Detroit 9000 (1973) as the lead performer at the senator’s fundraiser, and one of many held hostage by robbers.

Initially I was distracted by the blatantly obvious out-of-sync between the audio and video. Luckily I was able to squash the judgmental tumor momentarily to appreciate Lee’s powerfully soulful voice and her dynamic screen presence as she conveyed fear, but strength as she reprised the song and tried to help people restore their courage.

I couldn’t get Laura Lee out of my mind. I had to know more about this talented woman. Born in Chicago in 1945, Lee relocated to Detroit with her mother as a child. As an adolescent she joined the gospel group, The Meditation Singers, which was led by Della Reese before she went on to having a successful recording career. From the clips I have heard, one thing I liked was how their arrangements were simple unlike a lot of gospel. Lee’s star quality and killer voice were already on display.

Courtesy of devildick.blogspot.com

Courtesy of devildick.blogspot.com

Lee eventually struck out on her own, joining wunderkind impresario Rick Hall’s then-emerging record label Chess Records in 1966. She was in good company among the likes of Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Percy Sledge and Wilson Pickett (though sadly she wasn’t featured in last year’s tuneful documentary Muscle Shoals).

As a solo artist, she forged a sassy persona with great help from her gravelly, theatrical vocal intonations. Many of her songs in the 1970s were strong, empowering emblems of emancipating women from the crap end of the gender political spectrum. Her songs still sound catchy and are still sadly relevant.

In the late 70s, Lee had a near-death battle with cancer. During this ordeal, she forged a strong connection with God, whom she cites for curing her of the disease. Subsequently, she abandoned her secular singing career for over twenty years. (If this song is autobiographical, her conversion sounds like a traumatic process).

Courtesy of www.harmonytrain.com

Courtesy of www.harmonytrain.com

Thankfully in recent years she has been given the OK by God to perform secular music again. It seems as though she still performs in Detroit. In spite of the poor video quality, Lee still looks and sounds fantastic. I haven’t been able to find any activity after 2009, but hopefully, she’ll make another album in the near future.

Until then, here are five oldies but goodies.

Women’s Love Rights

Her biggest hit, this is a nice mid-tempo with a great chorus and wonderfully nonjudgmental lyrics condoning any type of love a woman wants.

Since I Fell For You

It has many of the wonderfully quaint elements of 70s Soul (namely the introductory talking narration, though Lee has such an expressive voice), but the raw passion that Lee brings to a woman who was devastated by being seduced and then abandoned by a smooth operator is undeniable.

Dirty Man

This tune represents the timelessness of the “Muscle Shoals” sound, which can’t be beat. The then 20-year-old Lee exhibits more confidence and maturity of voice than most singers ever do.

It’s Not What You Fall For (It’s What You Stand For)

In perhaps the most confrontational but inspirational song, the arrangement consisting primarily of funky guitars and vibrant percussions emphasizes Lee’s gravelly timbre.

Rip Off

Not as politically charged as many of Lee’s other songs, she clearly is having a ball with this spirited rendition of this fun “revenge is sweet” song. I love that she won’t even let her cheating man have the wallpaper.

A Guide to Holiday Music That Doesn’t Suck

Courtesy of www.tumblr.com

Courtesy of www.tumblr.com

Perhaps many eons ago there was a glorious time when the world wasn’t overrun with Madison Avenue’s unrelenting push to make Christmas (or if you insist on being PC, “The Holidays”) come 264 days a year, bringing yuletide stress to people across the globe in an endless quest to have the perfect gifts for everyone.

One of the things that keeps me a shut-in in winter is the generic playlist of Andy Williams’ “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas,” and a slew of maudlin Bing Crosby covers of stale Christmas ballads, that get played at every American place of business. I believe that some really groovy holiday music can make Christmas infinitely more enjoyable. The good news is that these songs are pretty easy to find, (please take note of this businesses).

Let’s get our Christmas groove on.

Traditional Xmas ballads don’t have to be the sappy borefest that they usually are. Nancy Wilson’s warm, vivacious mid-tempo ignites fresh air to Vince Guaraldi’s oft recorded standard, “Christmastime is Here.”

The Pointer Sisters’ passionate and adrenaline-inducing gospel rendition of “Silent Night” knocks all the slow-burning lullaby versions out of the park.

Here’s another one because The Pointer Sisters are the bomb.

As a rule of thumb, Christmas is more interesting in places other than Bethlehem, such as New Orleans or Hollis as Louis Armstrong and RUN-DMC prove.

If you have the patience, prepared to be transfixed by Duke Ellington’s intricate symphonic jazz composition “The Three Black Kings.”

If you’re looking to spice things up with something pessimistic, Tom Waits’ sarcastic interpretation of “Silent Night” bookending the acerbically grim “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” is tailor made for you.

Before Sarah McLachlan had a bestseller with Wintersong, an album that featured less traditional holiday songs, June Christy did it first, and did it better. Her 1961 album This Time of Year, which features all original songs, is one of the most underappreciated gems of the season. “Christmas Heart” is indicative of the album’s Zen and humanism.

Did I leave anything out? Give me your holiday playlist.

Take 5: Weird Al Yankovic

A Special Take 5: A Celebration of the One and Only Weird Al Yankovic

Courtesy of exclaim.ca

Courtesy of exclaim.ca

Thanks to the internet, there are a million different parodies for every pop hit. However, very few are a fraction as good as the progenitor of the pop parody, Mr. Alfred Matthew “Weird Al” Yankovic. Influenced by a wide array of talents such as Shel Silverstein, Spike Jones, Frank Zappa, Monty Python, and as an avid listener of Dr. Demento’s radio show, Weird Al got his start when Dr. Demento aired a homemade tape of 16-year-old Yankovic’s accordion-arranged parodies in 1976.

He continued honing his zany persona as a radio DJ for his college station (did you realize he studied architecture? How predictably unpredictable of Weird Al), while still making appearances on Dr. Demento’s show with classics like “My Balogna” (“My Sharona” by The Knack) and a live version of “Another One Rides the Bus” (“Another one Bites the Dust” by Queen). The latter caught on in a big way, leading to an appearance on Tom Snyder’s TV show and a tour with Dr. Demento’s live show, which quickly led to Yankovic forming his own band and making a full-time career out of his special talent.

Courtesy of www.theatlantic.com

Courtesy of www.theatlantic.com

Coinciding with the infancy of MTV, Yankovic gained prominence with his equally hysterical music videos. His early efforts such as “I Love Rocky Road” (“I Love Rock & Roll” by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts) and “Eat It” (“Beat it” by Michael Jackson), which scored him his first of three Grammy’s, provided the “idiot giggles” with fart noises and other juvenile sound effects. Both his comedy and his musical abilities drastically improved with his iconic parody of Michael Jackson’s “Bad,” “Fat,” which was a shot-for-shot video except that Weird Al was in a gargantuan fat suit.

By the 90s popular music and their videos veered from the campiness of the 80s to a self-serious, edgy, urban style; the seriousness of music is even more pronounced today. In this shift, Yankovic has become more regarded as a novelty act than a comedian-musician, which is a far more accurate representation.

Courtesy of www.youtube.com

Courtesy of www.youtube.com

While most singers enjoy Yankovic’s spoofs, one rapper, Coolio got his boxers in a wad over Weird Al’s take on his hit 1995 song (his only hit as far as I can tell) “Gangster’s Paradise,” with “Amish Paradise,” which was a dis of the Amish and not denigrating of Coolio or his song. Even as ridiculous as Coolio’s grievance is, Weird Al, who is respectful of other’s feelings, made sure to get firsthand permission from the celebrities, rather than liaison’s like he did in the past, though he was not legally required to do either.

The irony is that Coolio is being laughed at with appearances on Reality Shows while Weird Al is being laughed with all the way to number one of the charts for the first time with his latest album Mandatory Fun, which marks the end of his 14-year contract with Atlantic Records.

Courtesy of www.salon.com

Courtesy of www.salon.com

He has taken the internet by storm with music videos, each one released for each song, spoofing Beyonce’s model. This has already received a lot of press. From reading some of the articles, it is interesting to see how Yankovic is looked down on for not doing parodies that snarkily make fun of singers and their songs (I have nothing necessarily against that mode of parody, as some like The Key of Awesome do it very well). The joy of Weird Al’s work is that he takes familiar tunes but makes them about seemingly unrelated topics, mostly food. In a gently satirical way, they do poke fun at our society.

Here are five fantastic songs and music videos by Weird Al Yankovic. Long live the King!

Like a Surgeon

For those who accuse Weird Al of being a lightweight, check out his take on Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” where he pointedly mocks the corrupt, capitalistic medical industry playing an incompetent surgeon fresh out of med school who only cares about the money. He’s a less glamorous “Material Boy,” tee hee. He mocks Madonna’s original video with a lion arbitrarily roaming around the hospital as well as the pop star herself by emulating her breathy singing voice and her showy dance moves. Credit to Madonna for inspiring the title.

Trapped in the Drive-Thru

This epic 10 minute opus is Yankovic’s pinnacle of his oeuvre of food-themed parodies. Riffing R. Kelly’s bloated 90-minute hip-hopera saga (which I can’t tell if it’s deadly serious or if it’s intentionally funny) “Trapped in the Closet,” Yankovic narrates every detail of a laughably dull couple’s journey to the drive-thru and the obstacles they must face to order a cheeseburger and a medium soda.

White and Nerdy

This 2006 riff of Chamillionaire’s and Krayzie Bone’s gangsta rap “Ridin” is Weird Al’s artistic manifesto. He can really rap his ass off! Donny Osmond, one of the most endearing nerds in the biz, almost steals the show with his hilariously uncool background dancing.

Polka Face

This mashup medley of various pop songs kicks off and ends its trippiness with a performance of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” in an accordion polka style and runs the gamut of absurdity with terrifying stalker robots, a perverted baby Justin Bieber, a dancing pig and chicken duo, and a bubblehead figure pulling its brain out multiple times, among other demented vignettes.

Spy Hard

Required viewing for all James Bond enthusiasts. Yankovic effectively spoofs various elements from the title songs of Bond movies, such as singing in the camera under a water background a la Sheena Easton (remember her?) to the exaggerated final long note of Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger” (who in real life almost passed out as she was singing it in an uninterrupted take).

Honorable Mention: Weasel Stomping Day

This short ditty, a collaboration with the team of the irreverent Adult Swim Claymation Robot Chicken, is probably Weird Al’s most morbid piece of musical comedy. The title is pretty spot, or in this case, splat on.

Take 5: The Pointer Sisters

(Top left to right) June, Ruth, Bonnie (bottom) Anita. Courtesy of samotako1.wordpress.com

(Top left to right) June, Ruth, Bonnie (bottom) Anita. Courtesy of samotako1.wordpress.com

For those who know The Pointer Sisters solely from their 80s dance hit, “I’m So Excited,” there might be the perception that they were a one-note band, a faddish novelty act. Actually the Pointer Sisters who have been performing in several incarnations for over forty years, were highly adventurous and versatile performers who tapped into and thrived at many musical styles.

Their eventful and colorful lives and careers would make an interesting biopic, one far more riveting than that of the bland Supremes. Born to an ultra-religious family where both parents were ministers for the Church of God, the four Pointer sisters and their two brothers were barred from all forms of entertainment except religious music. The sisters, who always loved jazz, blues, and rock and roll (referred to as “the devil’s music” by their parents) would sing together in secret, where they formed their dynamic sound.

Courtesy of killercell.blogspot.com

Courtesy of killercell.blogspot.com

June and Bonnie, the two youngest sisters, were the first to rebel when they dropped out of high school and performed as “Pointers a Pair” in various California clubs. The excitement and fast-pace of performing attracted Anita, the second oldest, who quit her job and joined her younger sisters. Ruth, the oldest, was initially a replacement for June, who sporadically missed performances due to suffering nervous breakdowns and alcoholism (which was an ongoing problem) before she joined full-time in 1972. At first, Ruth performed simply as a means to provide for her children after her husband abandoned the family, though she quickly came to love the work and acted as a driving force for the group.

As a quartet, the Pointer sisters were finally able to achieve a record deal for a full-length album, which combined a selection of old timey bebop tunes and contemporary R&B songs, including their first smash hit “Yes We Can Can.” In early performances before they could afford a costume designer, their style consisted of 1940s garb that they collected from various thrift stores.

They won their first Grammy, surprisingly, in the Country & Western category for their ballad (co-written by Bonnie and Anita), “Fairytale.” Topping the Country charts, The Pointer Sisters were invited to Nashville where they were the first black performers to sing at the Grand Ol’ Opry (although the bookers weren’t aware of their phenotype before they came on stage).

Courtesy of thissongissick.com

Courtesy of thissongissick.com

At the peak of their success, Bonnie decided to leave the group to start a solo career. In hindsight, this probably helped the group in the long run as her brassy sugar-pop voice was the weakest in the bunch. The ever resilient Pointers soldiered on as a trio and rose to even greater heights. In 1983, with the album “Break Out,” they fashioned a new persona of the party princesses and sang many of their longest lasting hits including “I’m So Excited,” “Jump,” and “Automatic” which solidified their major celebrity status for the next few years.

In spite of the Pointer Sisters’ willingness to adapt to the garage pop sound popular in the late 80s and 90s, their popularly quickly dwindled with audiences. They were cast aside for younger singers like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Sinead O’Connor and their two albums in the early 90s were flops, essentially ending their recording career.

They made another comeback of sorts with a nationwide tour of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” where they sang a collection of Swing-era songs. Their success was short-lived due to the increasing unreliability of June, who became addicted to crack in addition to her alcoholism. Ruth and Anita officially ousted her in 2001. June spent the remainder of her life in jail and in poverty before her death in 2006 of a stroke in conjunction with breast and lung cancer.

Courtesy of www.visitstatesboroga.com

Courtesy of www.visitstatesboroga.com

Ruth and Anita still tour under the billing “The Pointer Sisters.” While they still look and sound fantastic, much of the magnetism is gone because their band is of a lower quality and June’s replacements, Issa and Sadako (Ruth’s daughter and granddaughter), don’t match her vocal intensity or her charisma.

Friend’s Advice (Don’t Take It)

In spite of the negative critical and audience reception to this period, I dig their spirited take of this catchy and sassy tune about judgmental and hypocritical friends who disapprove of their friend’s “bad boy.”

Yes We Can Can

At one time in history, it was mainstream to sing about women standing up for themselves. This song, headed by a soulful Anita, is one of the catchier and resonant rallies for gender equality. There’s a great drum solo by Gaylord Birch.

Neutron Dance

One of their most consistently dependable raise-the-roof tunes, this rendition stands out because of its gospel infused sound and spirited background riffs by June.

Cloudburst

They fully immerse themselves in this classic bebop vocalese standard. The scat solos are fantastic, but even more impressive is their perfect synchronicity of the chorus.

Jump

Some fans have complained about the lightning-fast speed of this 1988 rendition. I think that the pace gives June the best opportunity to show off her great dancing, and the lower key showcases her gravelly rock-and-roll voice.