Grizzly Bear‘s videos to date have been pretty surreal, from the cartoonish steampunk tragedy of “Knife” to the creepy choir-boy concert of “Two Weeks” to the claymation insanity of “Ready, Able.” But Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste insists that for them, a music video is more about the director than the band. “We never put any restrictions on a director when they do a video, it’s their art project set to our music,” he explains.
For “Yet Again,” a song off their newest effort, Shields, they enlisted the slightly more realist directorial vision of Emily Kai Bock, who most recently captured Grimes hanging with the dirt bike rally crowd in the video for “Oblivion.”
To mark the official debut of our new The Creators Project YouTube channel, we’re proud to unveil Bock’s ethereal music video for “Yet Again.” This time around, Bock imagined a lonely ice skater practicing in a desolate ice rink, gliding around in the warm glow of the spotlight. Suddenly, she breaks through the ice and winds up in a lake, trading spotlight for moonlight, and emerging into a forest for a long walk back home in her ice skates (which looks anything but easy).
More like a miniature film than any of the band’s previous videos, Grizzly Bear’s music and Bock’s visual accompaniment come together and hit a fever pitch in “Yet Again.” We spoke with Bock via email about her creative concept for the video and her approach to music videos in general. Stay tuned for an exclusive look at the making-of process next week, and subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay up-to-date on the latest and greatest projects in digital art and culture.
The Creators Project: How did you get into shooting music videos? Do you consider them a way to cut your teeth and build a reputation as a filmmaker, or is this an art form you gravitate towards naturally?
Emily Kai Bock: I really love the music video medium and the collaborative aspect of working with talented musicians. If you look at most film schools’ curriculum, your first project is usually to make a three-minute silent film. I guess in the same ways, young filmmakers working in music videos are doing that with the music video as a learning curve for longer films.
In your opinion, what makes a great music video? What are some of your favorites and why?
A great music video challenges the film form while at the same time amplifying a song’s emotional potential by using appropriate images. Some of my favorite new music videos do this really well and in very different ways. Most recently they are, Kahlil Joseph’s Flying Lotus video, "Until the Quiet Comes," which acts more as a short film to three of their songs, Isaiah Seret’s Cults original narrative video for "You Know What I Mean,"and So Me’s documentary-based video for Major Lazer’s "Get Free."
Conceptual video art seems to be a strong influence on your work. You mentioned the work of Jesper Just and Bill Viola informed your ideas for “Yet Again.” What do you think today’s filmmakers have to learn from these artists and their experimental approaches to cinema?
Video artists aren’t part of the same tradition as commercial directors, and therefore they are kind of liberated from having to worry about accessibility and entertainment. The gallery has a much longer history than the cinema. Video artists are pulling ideas and references from all of art history, which is very interesting and relevant for me, coming from a fine arts background.
In the plainest terms you can state it in, what is the story of this video? Who is this girl and what causes her to freak out at the end?
The girl is symbolic of adolescence and the failure to learn a performance or role. I like the idea of performing on thin ice and the performance attire turning into an alienating and physical burden. Performance is a big thing in our culture—we all act out a role in some way or another. I enjoyed appropriating American cultural icons such as carnivals and cowboys to keep it within this cultural landscape. The freakout scene was inspired by the breakdown in the song, but it was reflective of the stress within her character as well.
How is her story inspired by the song? Is there a direct correlation? Or is it more abstract?
The image of a figure skater just popped into my head while listening to the song. The rest of the story developed in relation to the emotional tone of the song. It is interesting because when the Pitchfork album review came out after the video was made, they discuss the track’s lyrical theme detailing repression and repose (“Take it all in stride/ Speak, don’t confide”). It was rewarding to hear that, because the video deals with these themes.
Comparing your treatment with the final version of the video, it looks like the live performance scene was replaced by the carnival scene. What issues/happy accidents did you run into that led to this switch?
I originally wanted her walking though a concert crowd—there was a Nick Carter concert happening the weekend we were shooting but it didn’t work with the scheduling, so instead we used a carnival crowd, which felt creepier and more alienating to me. Another thing to consider with the music video form is that shooting is often limited in budget and time, which affects them stylistically. Often much is improvised and created out of limited resources. I lean on a documentary approach even when it comes to a scripted narrative—it just allows an idea to breath and you end up with more material for a stronger video.
In comparison to some of your other videos, like the one for Grimes’ “Oblivion,” this one seemed much more scripted and character-driven. Is it more rewarding to film music videos that are reminiscent of short films? Is it more challenging?
Claire was a star in the Grimes video and was able to carry people’s gaze very well. She was very charismatic as she sang and danced to the camera. In Grizzly Bear, the character is mainly unaware of the camera, so it becomes much more story driven. You have to rely on other tools to keep people engaged. Both videos had a documentary approach to some degree—the carnival was shot with just myself, Evan (the DP) and the actress. We didn’t plan on the carnival closing when we got there, but that ended up making that scene more lonely. Most of my favorite moments in my work come from allowing for these opportunities to happen and ending up with something completely unexpected. It’s a co-creative process from start to finish with the world, art, and God. It keeps you engaged and humble as a director.
This post also appears on The Creators Project, an Atlantic partner site.