Originally appeared in Prefabricated Magazine, October 25, 2008. All rights reserved, ©2008, FR&T, Inc. Appears with permission.
Q: Let’s talk about your Music Videos.
CA: All right.
Q: In one of yours, the band plays women like guitars in the Beatles’ film Help! for the first half, and the second half is where you all destroy the women.
CA: That’s true.
Q: Don’t you find this misogynist?
CA: Not at all. There’re two things in rock music and music videos that I really hate: The objectification of women and the destruction of instruments. They’re just so utterly old hat. The latter doesn’t show up in videos so much, but it’s still well-ingrained in the rock culture, and it’s just silly. The former is a complete and utter crutch — or perhaps some sort of wishful thinking; “Oh, look, a bunch of hot chicks are TOTALLY ROCKIN’ OUT to our band! This is cool! We’re gonna score! And if you play our record loud enough, you’ll score too!” It’s the retarded-beer-commercial effect. And it’s just boring. So, with that video, we were trying to address that. I think a lot of people misinterpreted the video, thinking we were these misogynistic bastards who are only about destroying women and whatever, but we were saying the complete opposite, and I stand by the video; after all, I directed it.
Q: Do you think, as a director, if people misinterpret your work that you’ve failed?
CA: Perhaps; I’m not certain where I stand on that. I personally think that this particular piece is clear — although I don’t know for sure if that means it actually is or not. I’ve showed it to other people, and for the most part they get it. Perhaps, in this case, the medium is what throws people; people tend to not look at music video nearly as closely as they do, say, a film. Of course, this might just be me shoving the blame around. Some days I tend to think that as long as the director’s satisfied with a piece, they’ve done their job, but other days, I wonder that if people misunderstand the intent if the director’s actually done their job of communicating their statements correctly. Perhaps this is why I tend to prefer things where the statement is a lack of statement — although, I’m not good enough to pull that off, I suppose.
Q: You say you prefer work that doesn’t make a, to use your word, “statement”, yet most of your videos do — why is that?
CA: First and foremost, as I said, I don’t think I’m good enough to! But also, I think part of it might be that many directors tend to treat music video as a statement-less medium, but that’s mainly because they treat it as a content-less medium, too. I can’t tell you how much I despise the videos that are just “Here is the band rocking out. Here are the fans rocking out with the band. Man, aren’t they a good and popular band? Look how many fans they have rocking out!” And, of course, they don’t tell you that most of those people were gathered from someone going “Hey, you wanna be in a video? Here, put this shirt on with the band’s name on it! We’ll give you fifty bucks at the end of the day.” So, basically I said that none of our videos would be like that — the closest thing we’d do is a mockery of that, and I don’t really want to do too many of those, either.
Q: So you don’t like bands playing in videos unless it’s a mockery?
CA: No, I don’t mean that. I’m fine with bands playing — if you notice, a lot of our videos are inter-cut between the storyline and us on a soundstage or wherever playing the song. And there’s some, like the video you were talking about, the Help! parody, where the entire video is based around us playing the song — I suppose, if it were a better parody, that too would have been inter-cut with other goings on, but that wasn’t the point of the video. I didn’t mean to mock Help! — I love the film, in fact. It was just an easy jumping off point; a lot of people have seen it and would get the reference and joke, and after all, I think you need the longer lead-up to get the destruction part. One of the things I like about our version — in the original, the Beatles are all basically just sort of lazily strumming the midsections — we’re actually playing more faithfully, like with the chord changes and whatnot. I think it’s a little bit funnier if you have the Serious Musician Rocking You face going up and down someone’s arm as if it were a fret-board, and all of that, and it also, I think, makes the point a little clearer in the destruction part; to us, or rather the characters in the film played by us, they’re not people or women or whatever, they’re instruments, and as such, it’s OK if you destroy them, because that’s grandfathered in as the Rock Thing to do with Instruments.
Q: Outside of that video, have you ever destroyed your instruments?
CA: God, no. First off, they’re expensive! Secondly, it’s just so damn stupid. Whenever I see a band doing that sort of thing, I just go [condescending voice] “Oh, how cute, they think they’re being rebellious and dangerous. Aww.” [normal voice] That’s the thing I find hilarious about it — these people, the sorts that destroy their instruments at the ends of shows, are the ones that seem to buy in the most to the idiotic idea of Rock And Roll As Musical Rebellion From Your Parents And Older Society, and to show this, they do something that their parents and, hell, by now maybe even GRANDparents have done. Yeah, fight the power, show how different you are and how you’re your own person and all that.
Q: You don’t think that there’s rebellion in Rock ‘n’ Roll?
CA: No, not at all. There’s people trying, but it doesn’t work. They’re attempting rebellion, but it just doesn’t work anymore. They’re doing the same things that have been going on for forty years. I mean, I don’t have anything against rock — it’s what I do, it’s what I listen to, but I don’t buy into the whole Rock As Social Movement, at least anymore, if not ever. I think back in the 1950s and 1960s, a case could be made for a sense of rebellion generated by rock — I mean, Christ, in the 1950s, there were riots at Bill Haley and the Comets’ shows — the guys who did “Rock Around The Clock”, something that’s lyrically completely innocuous. But now, the people you’re “rebelling” against are listening to the same damn things you are. Before you really buy into the retarded “Listening to my rock records is a blow against the old people!” remember one thing: There are a lot of 60 year olds who adore the Beatles, the Who, Pink Floyd. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, not at all, I’m just saying it’s silly to go “Man, I’m gonna flip your lid with this stuff I’m gonna listen to and you’re gonna go ‘that’s just noise’ man cause you aren’t HIP, man, you see this, this is a copy of a little somethin’ called ABBEY ROAD, man, it’s gonna break your BRAIN. You ever hear of this? It’s called WHO’S NEXT! Whoa, you’re gonna be all like messed up if you even try to comprehend this!” Oh well, it’s just an incredibly stupid idea anyway; why rebel against a particular group of people with nothing in common but some random, non-defining characteristic, anyway? I really don’t think there’s much point in it. And if it worked in the 1960s, that’s about the last time it’s even been remotely relevant. Anyway, it’s not like we’re doing drastically different chord progressions or anything — a lot of the times, it seems the only difference between sixties rock and the rock of today is in the arrangement. Take this for example, this [plays a short riff] sounds like one of our songs, but now [plays the same riff, but in a different way] sounds like the Monkees, and this [plays the riff in another way] sounds like This Year’s Model-era Elvis Costello. It’s all the same stuff, just dressed up differently.
Q: Getting back to the video; am I right in pretty much understanding that your objections to objectification of women and instrument-destroying is because it’s become old and irrelevant?
CA: Pretty much — there’s much larger issues going on in the objectification of women department, but lots of other people have spoken about that and done a better job of it than I could, but for the most part, that’s right. It’s just old and it’s cheap. It shows a lack of creativity and it’s just not interesting to watch. I don’t mean to discount the problems with female objectification, it’s just not what I’m really into talking about, I don’t feel qualified talking about that type of thing, because it’s not where my background lies. I’m a musician and filmmaker, so I prefer to talk about things from those aspects. If I go and start playing pretend and dress-up and put on a Gender Theorist hat, I’m just going to go and say something stupid and demonstrably false, so I’d rather not waste people’s time by feeding them lies and half-formed opinions.
Q: On the other hand, do you think there’s any hope for, say, destroying the instruments?
CA: Hm, I suppose there might be. I think about the second best thing I’ve heard of anyone doing is the band KaitO.uk and what they do sometimes — very carefully overturn their drum kit, so it’s like they’re signaling the show is over and everything, but they’re making a comment on the entire stupid thing — they’re making fun of it. I like the way they gently guide the drum kit over, making sure it doesn’t get damaged and everything; it’s a very precise way of doing it and it’s just a great way to deface that stupid rock cliché. I think the best thing anyone could do, and I don’t know of anyone ever actually doing this, and I know I’m not going to, but I think it’d be great if a band, after a show, were to take screwdrivers and such out of their pockets, and carefully dismantle the instruments, like, unscrew the guitars and carefully put all of the pieces in a neat and tidy row, sort of like they do with the guns in the military movies, where they have to disassemble and reassemble their guns in quick order. I think that’d be hilarious, and would be great. I mean, if you’re gonna do that, you actually ARE destroying the instruments, but it’s the exact opposite of the whole animalistic passion type thing that the instrument-destruction is supposed to be about. It’s clean and mechanic and emotionless. By the by, speaking of this topic, don’t you find it funny that it seems a lot of the bands nowadays don’t even realize the thing the Who twigged to right off — mainly to use utterly cheap instruments and fake amps and such? It seems a lot of the time when I see that sorta thing, they’re using at least some of their real stuff! At least the Who didn’t waste too much money on that. One other hope Instrument-Destroying might have is if bands started doing it on studio albums — so you’d get the sonic qualities of it, but not the visual aspect. After all, destroying the instruments is primarily a visual thing, what with swinging the guitars around and smashing things and whatnot. I think it’d be both funny and actually interesting to hear if a band would never do it at a live show, but on a record have a bit where all the instruments are destroyed while the tape is rolling, so you get the noises, both from the mics in the studio but also from the instruments themselves being plugged in, of the guitars and whatnot being destroyed. I suppose a synthesizer might sound especially interesting being plugged in while demolished, but the thought of breaking an original Moog or a new Nord turns my stomach, so I would prefer to not think about that. But guitars and drums are fair game. And maybe even some of the non-analog-modeling digital synths. Especially if it’s got that horrible “Human Chorus” voice — those are fair game. Those sound awful!
Q: Would you ever do something like this?
CA: No! Like I said, it’s too expensive! I’ve often thought about, if the band was about to break up, to have a track where either at the end of it, or perhaps it’d just be the entire track, either way, all the instruments used — I can tell you, I wouldn’t use any of my good synths on that album [laughs] — all the instruments used on the record would be thrown, while plugged in (perhaps not even miced, I don’t know), into a chipper shredder, and recorded. Which is pretty close to what I was talking about before. If I ever did this, there’d probably be a corresponding music video with all of the instruments on an conveyor belt feeding into the chipper shredder, with the actual band members at the end, getting fed in last. I think that’d be an amusing video, although it’d mean we absolutely couldn’t do a reunion tour in 20 years, no matter how badly we needed the money. But maybe that’s a good thing! And it’d probably be a little awkward with any of us having a solo career after being fed into a chipper shredder on our last music video!
Q: Do you have any other video ideas that you’ve never done?
CA: Oh, a few — for a while, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of a band where the instruments were the members and the musicians were the gear — that was one of the original plans for our first record, all of the instruments would be listed as the band members playing us, so, y’know, you’d have a few band members on me, say, so I think it’d be neat to do a video where the instruments destroy the performers (but that’d probably be too hard to pull off). There I go, making fun of that stupid convention again! As for other videos, I’ve been fond of an idea I had where a band’s in a small room, covered in newspapers, with a bunch of monitors around them, with the channel changes, and the band changing to other bands doing bits from other videos — i.e., Static-clip, then the band doing DEVO’s “Satisfaction”, Static, band doing They Might Be Giants’ “Birdhouse in Your Soul”, Static, XTC’s “Making Plans for Nigel”. I don’t think we’ll ever do this for two reasons: First being that people probably wouldn’t get a lot of the videos we’d reference, but most importantly, it’s basically Talking Heads’ “Wild, Wild Life” video. You can’t believe how mad I was when I saw that for the first time. Same with their “Stay Up Late” video, since I had the idea of having the band on a bunch of those bungee harnesses jumping around playing the song and such, and then I saw that video, and was all “Oh, goddammit”. Then I saw another video, I think by Veruca Salt, but I could be wrong on that one, which was pretty much the exact same thing. I was of two minds on that one — on one hand, if it’s such a good idea that it can be cribbed, it could probably be cribbed again, but on the other hand, jeez, it’s already been swiped at least once, so perhaps it’s better to just let it die. Of course, the band Svelt did a shot-for-shot cover of DEVO’s “Satisfaction” for their song “Shrunken Head”, and that turned out pretty well, so, I don’t know. I’ve got a few other ideas, but I’m not going to mention them, just because I might use them. But not any of those. Well, maybe the “Wild, Wild Life” video. Perhaps that’ll be our Veruca Salt moment, I don’t know.
Q: One thing I’ve noticed also about your videos is the way that they’re shot and edited. You rarely use quick cuts.
CA: That’s true; I really hate what’s become known as the MTV Style. And the funny thing is, most successful videos don’t actually even use the style — I think I’ve mentioned this before, but it always seems that the hacky, bad videos are done with those annoying quick cuts and dutch angles and whatnot, and it’s just annoying. I don’t have anything against quick cuts in theory; I’ve used them, and lots of actually talented directors have too! It’s just that they’re rarely used in videos for any particular reason — they’re just there to give motion or action or make the picture flash so if you get bored your attention’s drawn back to the screen because the picture changed. But in those pictures, it’s rarely anything of importance, no psychological reason for it at all. It’s like “Hey, look it’s the guitarist HEY NOW it’s the bass player! Whoa! Drummer! SINGER! Drummer! Hot chicks writhingsingerchickssingerschicksinger!”. If you’re going to use quick cuts, you need to have a justification for them, otherwise, I’m just gonna hate you because you’re not letting me focus on anything. Yeah, your picture is moving, but jeez, I don’t care how many shots you got in there, if there’s nothing going on, I’m still gonna be bored. I’m just gonna be bored with something frenetic. If you’ve got something interesting going on, I want to see it — of course, that’s why a lot of these videos use quick cuts; if they lingered at all, you’d realize that you’re looking at a very boring picture.
Q: Do you think all videos should have storylines?
CA: To some extent; perhaps not a storyline per se, but some sort of reason for existing. Sometimes “I want to show what a live show from this band is like” is a perfectly good reason; usually only if you’ve got live shows that are really out of the norm. I don’t really think “I want to show how many fans this band has!” is a very good reason. Unless, perhaps, if it’s a really horrible band and you’re like “I can’t believe this! Look at how many people PAID to hear this garbage!” [Laughs] But, even then, it’s better to have some sort of reason. Not all of our videos really have storylines, but some of them have those sorts of reasons. I like the one where we’re all tied up, with the guitars and whatever around us, singing the song — no story or anything to it, but it’s at least visually interesting, or so I hope, anyway! I do like the prologue with that one with me tied to a chair with the guitar around me hopping over to the phone, knocking it off the hook, dialing 911 with my nose or tongue I forget, and instead of requesting help, the band plays the song and I use the phone as a microphone. And then I fall over. Falling over is aces for comedy. Comedy gold.
Q: In all of your videos and stage shows, you’re all wearing suits; why?
CA: It’s a matter of respect. People are spending their money and time to see us perform, and we really appreciate that and them, and we want to show it. I mean, when you go to meet someone you respect, you dress up for it, right? That’s all we’re doing. I’ve never got the idea behind bands that seem to act like they’re doing you a favor by deciding to allow you to pay money for them to maybe play their music for you. We’re not like that. We really enjoy and are thankful for our fans, and so we want to show respect for them and all the other people who have helped us, like people who’ve put us on television or in films or on other tours. There’s a lot of people who help us out, including our fans, and we just want to show our respect and appreciation, so that’s why we wear the suits. That, and we can get some comedy out of the suits in the videos.
Q: What’s your favorite suit-based joke in a video?
CA: That’d probably be the one where the we’re all in swimsuits and tank-tops, and with some girls, and they say that we should go skinny-dipping with them, so we do a couple close-ups of us pulling off our trunks and tops revealing the suits underneath (even though, in the other shots, we’re obviously not wearing anything under the trunks/tops, like you can see our bare legs and everything, until we’re “nude”).
Q: Doesn’t the whole skinny-dipping thing go against your objection to the objectification of women?
CA: Hm, maybe. It doesn’t matter. It’s a necessary aspect to setup the joke. If we could do the joke without alluding to nude women, we would have. Although, I suppose we could have just been “Hey, let’s go skinny-dipping as a band!” but that just strikes me as a bit weird.
Q: I see. Anything else you’d like to add about the suits?
A: A couple things — my original idea was to have different levels of dress, depending on a person’s status in the band — nothing cruel like “I’m the songwriter, that’s why I get to wear the boss hat, and you’re the mere bassist, therefore you have to wear rags”, just “original member”, “newer member”, “guest musician”, etc. It’d be sort of business-like. The original band-members would have a set color for their uniform — I originally pictured them to be like Gas-Station Attendant type things, with a logo and an embroidered name — and if someone were a friend of the band, like, help out on a lot of the records or whatever, they’d have a different color, and if it was someone we’d just hired to fill out the sound live, they’d have a different color. And people could get promoted and everything, so if a Friend joined the band, they’d move up to the Original Member color. Or if a hired person decided to continue working with us, they’d go to the Friend uniform. I really like the idea of uniforms for bands. The other members of the band hated this idea. I don’t know if they’re too keen on the suits, but at least it’s not the gas station thing. Which I still like, until I saw David Byrne one time on TV, and he was doing the same thing, although I don’t think he had the Levels Of Employ thing. So, apparently David Byrne is monitoring my thoughts, then traveling back in time and doing my ideas before I can. Anyway, the whole Levels Of Employ thing could lead to hurt feelings and whatnot — people complaining that they don’t see why they’re not a Friend Of The Band versus a Hired Musician or someone who’s been playing with us for so long they think they should be a Real Member, or whatnot. At least with the suits, the only thing we require is nice clothing. On the topic of suits — one thing that really annoys me, one trend of late, is when people wear a suit jacket over a T-shirt or tank top or something. It’s like they’re trying for some sort of level of bringing a bit of class to thrift store chic or something, but it just looks doofy. Granted, not nearly as doofy as just wearing a tank top, though — jeez, why do people wear those? But it still looks dumb; well, at least on men it does. Sometimes women can pull it off, but it depends on the woman and the outfit. Men just look dumb in them and they should stop wearing them. That’s the thing, suits look neat. Suits look cool. They’re professional and they’re clean and they look good. One part of me wants to use this to point to the whole fallacy of rebellion thing again by using a symbol of “the man” and wearing it with something of “youth” like a T-shirt or whatever, but I don’t really think that — my guess is that they just want the cool look of a suit without the actual effort of putting one on. But that’s just me. They do tend to get hot while playing, though. But we can’t loosen the tie or remove the jacket, though. Or rather, I won’t let us. It ruins the image, I think. After all, even though people don’t like to talk about it, image actually is very important to a band. Even if you’re working primarily with audio, you still have to be aware of the visual component of things — it makes people remember you. I also like having the band name on most everything — that way it sticks in your mind and you remember it. I’ve seen lots of shows where they just seem to assume you know who they are, and after their set, you’re left wondering who they were; if they were really good, like, really excellent, it won’t matter; you’ll go to find out who they were — but if they’re just sort of good, it’s a hindrance; if they remember your name, they might go to your next show, thinking “Oh, them, they were all right when I saw them open for the band I really like!” or buy your record or whatever — you might get a new fan out of even a lackluster set. But if you’re just so-so, but no one knows your name, no one will remember who you are, and just pass on your next show. And if you’re really bad, it’s not gonna matter either way, really, but you could always hope for someone else on the bill not mentioning who they are and being OK, and maybe being able to ride on their coat-tails by someone going “Oh, them, I think they opened for that one band; I seem to remember them being pretty good, but I could be wrong”, and you’ve got at least another concert ticket sold. Of course, in that case, the key is to not be so bad that people link your name forever with utterly hideous music.
Q: Is that why you tend to put your name in all your videos in superimposed text or on props?
CA: Among other things, yes. Even if they don’t like the music, but like the video, they’ll still remember us, and maybe they’ll confuse the music that they don’t like with the video they do like and go to a show or something. Of course, it helps that we do play the videos at the shows, though. After all, we might as well get mileage out of them, eh? We paid for the things and I spent time writing and making them, so hey. And it impresses people; I’ve noticed that, bands with some sort of visual backdrop, even if it’s just a oscilloscope or something, impress people, because it gives them something to look at and remember. It’s a useful tool. And, hey, it fills up time! [Laughs]
Q: Let’s talk about your music.
CA: All right.
Q: I’d like to know about “Sister”.
CA: I’ve promised to never reveal any information about that song.
Q: I’d really like to know about that song — what caused you to write it? Was it based on personal experience? It seems like a very emotional song for you.
CA: I’m serious. I made a promise never to talk about what that song’s about. Next question.