Midday Veil’s Emily Pothast and director Steven Miller take turns to offer their commentaries in the Q&A interview below, followed by a stream of the music video itself.
Responses from Emily Pothast of Midday Veil and Director Steven Miller
On The Technical &
Artistic Side Of Things
Q&A by Vivian Hua
Looking on Steven’s website shows that a lot of his photography involves heaps upon heaps of human bodies creating a tangled mess of chaos. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Steven’s visual habits or the sexual heap of a narrative? How did the collaboration first form?
EP: Well, as the discussion of the concept got more ambitious, we realized that this was turning into something we weren’t really equipped to try to direct or shoot on our own, especially since we were going to be performing in it, so I contacted Steven because I know his aesthetic and I thought it would be a great fit for the concept. I also knew that he has worked on lots of collaborative projects in the past, and that he had a lot of the skills, gear, and contacts that could help us take this thing from the realm of fantasy into reality.
I’m so thankful that we got in touch with Steven. We gave him the very basic sketch of an idea and he developed it into a storyboard, really fleshing out the idea (sorry) into a complex narrative. He also brought Ian Lucero on board as Director of Photography, which was huge. Ian is a video genius.
SM: When Emily asked if I wanted to direct a music video, I thought, “Of course! This is what I’ve been waiting for.” I’d only made two short films before but I knew I could make a [music video] because so many of my photos are so involved. I asked Ian Lucero in Portland to shoot the video because I didn’t want to direct this huge affair but film it completely wrong. We were perfect for each other, informing one another about lighting and camera angles and pacing. I think Emily and David knew that I could get a group of strangers to molest each other and make it look visually interesting; I’m guessing that’s why they hired me.
Was it always planned that the music video would be a merging of narrative footage and live concert footage, or was that something that evolved as the filming went along? What do you feel were the benefits to including both?
SM: Yes, it was always planned that way. I really wanted to fuck with the tropes of music videos. So often a video shows a band looking cool and rocking out with cuts to a completely different narrative that has nothing to do with what’s going on with the band. But what happens if the audience turns on the band? When the narratives collide? The look on David’s face when Amanda [Manitach] moves out of the audience and into his space is perfect. He’s annoyed, and it’s funny. It’s also the turning point; what starts as a standard video quickly mutates into a horror story. I did love the irony of having the band pretend like this was no big deal. They keep playing hard while their keyboard player is chased out of the building and then later consumed.
In Midday Veil’s previous music videos, processing and live manipulated footage had quite the presence. Some of my favorite parts of this music video involve the merging of those graphics with live footage, particularly when David falls down the rabbit hole. Was there a sense of needing to preserve a bit of your previous aesthetics? What did the workflow for post-production look like?
SM: I watched the videos Midday Veil had produced before and knew I wanted to maintain some of that analog video synth aesthetic. It fits the music well, and I knew I could use it as a story element. At the beginning of the story, the video processing was a visual symbol for the effect of the ritual – what the witches brought into being became a glitch in reality. Then, as David goes down the rabbit hole, the processing floodgates opened wide. The David cake acted as soma; the ingestion of it produces wild flashes of color and echoes of past and present. Each bite brings on more and more psychedelic nuances until the audience seemingly dances into a frenzy for all eternity.
As for post-production, first I had to learn [Adobe] Premiere and After Effects because I’d never made a video before! After a couple of lessons from my pal Reilly and endless hours of editing, I had a rough cut to show my co-editor Ian Lucero. He liked it! Then we shot more: Emily’s solo shots in my apartment with the smoke machine that brought the fire department, David falling through space on my dining room table, cake close ups and the skull footage. Finally, with all of this we made the fifth rough cut that had 80% of the edits in place. This is where David ran the entire video through his video synth to get effects footage. Ian also recorded the whole thing to VHS, which became another effects layer. Then Ian and I spent a good 100 hours over five days to finish it.
On The Spiritual &
Conceptual Side of Things
Q&A by Thad McKraken
Your new video basically involves keyboardist David Golightly being buried alive by a coven of witches as a sacrifice to some creepy daemonic super witch entity so the rest of Midday Veil can rock out that much harder or something like that. Where did this concept come from, and how does David feel about all this high strangeness (and the inherent awesomeness of gold lamé underwear)?
EP: Haha! I guess you could say that the basic concept has been sort of developing for years, due to our interest in mythology, especially ancient mystery religions that involve sacrificing or dismembering a god/hero and taking him into the underworld in order to give him a secret awareness of the processes of death and resurrection.
The first spark of the idea for the video actually came to us last spring while David and I were hiking at Moran State Park on Orcas Island. There are some stone structures out there that were built by the WPA in the 1930s, and they really look like they should be used to have a rock show that culminates in a human sacrifice. Weird dungeon/picnic pavilion vibes. As the concept developed, it ended up making more sense to use Seattle locations, but we did spend the better part of a day brainstorming after stumbling onto those structures.
A few weeks later we were at brunch with a Seattle artist named Amanda Manitach (who appears in the video as one of the women in white slips, whom we called “maenads” during production). We started telling her about our idea, and the cake orgy just sort of emerged during the conversation. Some of Amanda’s work involves the eroticized use of messy food, and that was definitely an inspiration in the early stages. At least… a cake orgy at a rock show seemed like a logical project for us to work on together!
As far as the golden shorts go, David is an excellent sport. Also, he looks great in them, so there’s that.
SM: I heard Emily and Amanda’s idea for a cake sacrifice, then found out the song is over 11-minutes-long and knew that there had to be more involved in the story. At that first meeting, I had the idea to bring in a coven of witches to call in the dark goddess and instigate the maenads into action. As for the burying alive — a friend did an O.T.O. ritual years ago where she was symbolically buried and sequestered from all humans for a month before being reborn into the world. I really liked that idea but wanted to make it literal, since I knew it would be disturbing to see. I’d been wanting to create that visual ever since I asked Canadian band Les Jupes if they’d do it for a band photo years ago. They said no, but David didn’t mind at all! From there, I wrote a script that is basically the video as you see it.
I found the concept particularly fascinating, because one of the themes that has been interpenetrating my psychic life as of late has been that of female energy consuming and feeding off the masculine — as if the previous era of humanity has shifted and now it’s time for the sacred feminine to devour the dark war mongering energy that “mankind” has created. Terence Mckenna, Whitley Strieber, and others have described encountering entities that have an almost insectile-multi-eyed-telepathic-hive-mind characteristics. I don’t know if you’re up on insect sexuality, but the feminine typically reigns supreme in that micro-verse. There are no King Bees, if you catch my drift. Thoughts?
EP: Oh wow. Well, I mentioned the inspiration of mystery religions, myths that explore the inner workings of sex and death, which definitely relate to the core processes of nature. These myths are at the root of Christianity, but while the basic mechanism of the dying/resurrecting godman is alive and well in the character of Christ, the “feminine” and erotic aspects of the eternal that were also present in early versions of the myth have been considered taboo for most of Western history.
Elsewhere in the world, the Dark Devouring Mother is acknowledged in figures like Rangda or Kali, but in the west, the worship of the sacred feminine has been driven underground, where it has nevertheless persisted in the form of esoteric practice and witchcraft…
It’s interesting that you mention bees because there is such a close association between the symbolism of beehives, the Great Goddess, and witchcraft…
SM: I’ve encountered that insectile DMT universe, but I don’t think that was at play here. It wasn’t until I saw the video completed that I recognized what I was trying to invoke. A coven of witches create a ritual that stir the women at the concert to unleash their subconscious desires to consume David AND call forth the Great Cold of the Night simultaneously: the ritual invokes both the id and superego of feminine energy. David gets buried and consumed, then reborn anew as the dark goddess’ consort. For me, the story isn’t so much about creating a matriarchy as a balancing of the energies. They walk off together hand-in-hand at the end of the story to symbolize that balancing. I’m guessing this story says more about my own subconscious; since I was a child, hermaphroditic angels have always been the enlightened beings in my dreams.
EP: Um, I thought about trying to make a cake myself for a second, but I quickly abandoned that idea and figured we’d probably have to find a professional cake decorator to make it as good as it needed to be with the limited time we had to work with. But then one night I was talking to our bandmate Timm’s girlfriend Marleigh Atherton about the idea, and she announced that while she had never made a shaped cake before in her life; she was super down to try!
There’s a store in north Seattle called Home Cake Decorating Supply Company; I accompanied Marleigh on a trip there to get everything she couldn’t find at the grocery store. Then she spent two full days at our house baking and sculpting it. The body was made of multiple red velvet sheet cakes, stacked with layers of cherry pie filling, then carved away to make the shape of a torso. The “skin” was made of fondant, which can be mixed with colors and rolled out into flat sheets for sculpting.
You only see it for a moment in the video, but it looked surprisingly realistic in person.
The face was actually not edible. I made that part, using caulk that resembles icing on a plastic mask to give it David’s features, and then Marleigh painted it to match the fondant. The hair and beard were built up around the face with more cake and then Marleigh applied brown and gold icing with shaped tips to give it just the right texture.
The other thing to note about the cake is that it was made from scratch and tasted amazing. Even though it was essentially a prop, Marleigh wanted it to taste good, which I think ended up being clutch as far as the overall enjoyment of the cake by the people who got to lick it off each other! All in all, it was a very lovingly crafted object, and I think it was really powerful that she made us such an incredible, detailed thing to be destroyed. Marleigh also appears in the video, as the maenad who first reaches into the chest of the cake to tear out the heart, and later mounts it, looking like the Whore of Babylon from Metropolis. So good.
The ending scenes are an obvious erotic mess, full of breasts, butts, and the eating of fake flesh. How much direction was given there? Was there much goading necessary, or did the free-for-all spiral into madness quite nicely by itself?
SM: I gave some direction about what would happen once the cake was presented because I knew we’d only have one shot of an unsullied cake. There was plenty of alcohol distributed at the show, so when it was time to freak out, people just went for it. I only stopped the action a couple times to give minor direction and mostly just shouted above the music when I wanted particular people to molest each other or mount the cake, or feed Emily. Basically I just encouraged people to go further, and they did! Meanwhile both Ian and I shot everything from different angles and tried to stay out of each other’s sight lines to double the available footage.
The last time I saw you guys live, I was mildly tripping on mushrooms. Emily handed me a maraca at the beginning of the set, which was a very tribal improv freak out thing. I got so into shaking that maraca that I actually gave myself a huge blister without even realizing it. I was somehow so wrapped up in the music that I completely blocked out the mounting pain. You could say it was a mild form of possession. With that in mind, do you see a lot of potentiality in the live musical experience as a means to create new ideas regarding spirituality and therefore spiritual ritual? Also, do you ever sit up at night thinking about the potential consequences of handing maracas to tripping people?
EP: I definitely think there’s a link between music performance and spiritual ritual, and while these might seem like new ideas given our very secular culture, I think it’s essentially as old as humanity. There is this book from the ’80s called The Death and Resurrection Show that is all about the performative nature of “shamanism” and its impact on the emergence of the performing arts. It’s almost cliché, since so many mediocre musicians like to imagine themselves as “shamans,” but there’s a reason we want to identify rockstars with that archetype. There’s a deep history there.
I’m sorry my shaker gave you a blister!
What is the underlying theme and concept behind your new album The Current? Is it kind of like tapping into the psychic grid connecting us all and finding your path — what Christians refer to as the Holy Spirit or what Vivian refers to as Intuitive Navigation? Or am I completely off track with that?
EP: You know, the concept of this album is a little more open-ended than some of the things we’ve done in the past. The first song on the album is called “The Current”, and it was written as a jam in the studio that I had to go back and write words for, which isn’t exactly the easiest way for me to work.
There is an artist in Seattle named Sharon Arnold who curates these box sets of art multiples with a written component, called LxWxH. A couple of years ago, she asked me to write something for one of the boxes, and I contributed an essay called “The Current”. At the time, I was trying to find a way to weave together the works of two visual artists whose work was very different from one another. I liked the image of the current because it is evocative of both the literal currents of natural processes and also the common thread that emerges within an artist’s work over time, as older works are given a new context when they enter into dialogue with new works, or even the way that versions of “self” or identity can be conceived of as snapshots along an invisible axis that winds through time.
Currents have no content of their own, but they help create the form of everything. So yeah, your idea about the Holy Spirit is probably not far from the mark! Of the six songs on this album, two, “Choreia” and “Remember Child”, are new versions of songs that appeared on our very first CD-Rs together as a band. The identity of those songs has changed widely since we first conceived of them, and those songs have seen us through a lot of changes. New band members have joined, and a couple of members have left, but there is still a continuity within the music. There’s a continuity with our videos, too, although the latest one obviously, uh, takes the cake. We’re actually about to issue a super limited, tour-only VHS compilation of all the videos that Midday Veil has produced over the past few years. It’s 56-minutes long, which is a lot of video! There are common threads there, too, especially the exploration of video feedback, which uses the inherent properties of video to generate emergent forms that seem to illuminate a hidden world of the forces of nature.