The music video for "Human Sadness" is a sweeping new 13-minute short film that delivers, at long last, a visual accompaniment to the musical lynchpin of Tyranny, the wild debut from Julian Casablancas + The Voidz, released last September. "Go big or go home" seemed to be Casablancas's guiding principle in creating the layered and impressionistic track, and that approach has clearly carried over to the clip, which is co-directed by Nicholaus Goosen and longtime visual collaborator Warren Fu, who's helmed past videos for The Strokes and Daft Punk's "Instant Crush," which features Casablancas.
There's a lot going on here. Old Glory flies above a junkyard and is plastered on a kick drum, while America flexes its military arsenal – drones, B-2 bombers, Blackhawk helicopters, missiles, and even the nuclear option are all in abundance. But alongside those depictions of pain are more personal ones, each featuring members of the Voidz: a man cruises the street at night, lonely and bored; another makes time in a motel with girls and bills; a young couple savagely fights in front of their young son; a soldier goes down, telling his buddy to go on and save himself; a convenience store worker – played by Casablancas himself – makes it through another night in a dead-end job; and most affectingly, drummer Alex Carapetis gives a brief, but powerful performance as a guy at the end of his rope. These are melancholy, desperate people in dystopian times. If that all sounds like a big bummer, the overall impact is something more moving than depressing, driven by the notion to keep moving forward.
In notes on the video concept supplied by Casablancas, he explains that the performance portion of the video, in which The Voidz play in a white room with live audio, as opposed to miming the album version of the song, came from the idea that the "band played on" during the sinking of the Titanic. "At some vague future date, everything is going to hell," he says, "and we just decide to play in our modern-retro rehearsal space as everything is falling apart behind us."
As with so much of Casablancas's work, the video threads a needle between the straightforward and the surreal, the sincere and the tongue-in-cheek. And without giving away the twist at the end of the video, keep an eye on those white glasses, which Casablancas says were inspired by the cover of Laurie Anderson's 1982 classic Big Science.
The video has been a long time coming. Fu shot the first scenes in February of 2014, and through a series of stops and starts, edit sessions on the road, music mixing, and numerous visual tweaks, we've finally got one of the grandest music videos that's ever been shot on a tight indie label budget (Casablancas funded the thing himself). "Human Sadness" has had its rollout over the past week with a series of screenings in movie theatres across North America, and for its internet premiere today on VICE, we spoke with co-director Warren Fu about pulling off the ambitious work.
VICE: It's not every day that music videos screen in movie theatres. But then, this isn't your average music video. How have the screenings been going?
Warren Fu: The screenings were great. The second one that we had in LA was a lot stronger. Just because, you know, it's a live recording, and it's so nuanced. The bass was so heavy in the first screening that you couldn't really hear the highest frequency stuff as well. So we basically bumped up the vocals and the mid frequencies, to balance it out a little bit more for the second screening, and it went a lot better in the second screening. People were cheering throughout the whole thing.
In an interview as far back as November, Julian said that the "Human Sadness" video was "almost done." Has it been done for a while?
Yeah, it's been sort of a challenge in terms of scheduling. He's been on tour, you know – there's just a lot of moving pieces with it in terms of sound mixers kind of tweaking stuff, and then it wasn't the right time to release it, and then they were going on tour again, so it seemed like a better time now. And there was a bunch of stop 'n go moments too, where we thought it was almost done and then he kind of sat with it for a while, and he was like, "Ah, you know we could kind of tweak this," and there were things that sort of bothered me too later on that I decided to change. Because there are so many different scenes. You know, I do a lot of music videos just through the standard system of label and commissioner and it's always a one-day shoot, and you get it all done. But this is so different, obviously, because it's an indie label, and Julian self-funded it, totally independent. There's no label commissioners involved or anything like that. So he was able to take his time with it.
When did you first get involved, and how did you and Nicholaus Goosen end up splitting the directing duties?
Nick is a friend of Beardo, the guitarist. So that's how he got on board. And basically it was a little bit overwhelming at first, because I was the first person on board. I've done a lot of videos with Julian, most of his previous album's videos. And I'd already did three teasers and edited the teasers for this album, so I was already kind of at a point where I had done so much for the band already that it was a bit overwhelming to think about doing this crazy 13-minute video with multiple scenes that I knew we kind of needed to split up the work. Just so that he could really focus on his scenes and I could really focus on certain scenes. So I shot the car stuff with Amir and Beardo first. That was like February of 2014, over a year ago. And we just kind of sat on it. It was one of those things where I think the band was about to leave for New York. And Julian said, "Oh, let's just quickly shoot the car scene." And we shot that for like 200 bucks. Everything was just very efficiently shot.
Was the whole video storyboarded from the beginning?
No, see, it's a very organic process working with Julian. And it would first start off with a few emails from him that were a little cryptic and hard to understand. He would just forward me a few pictures of like weird white rooms. And he said, "This is like an idea Jake [Bercovici] had, the bassist. We're in like some weird, future room that could be like a bunker, but could be like a weird 70s Turkish TV show." And then another thing he shot over was, "Jake keeps jerking around about having a war scene, you know, a save-yourself, go-on-without-me cliché theme."
The drummer, Alex Carapetis, is really amazing as this drunk guy who gets kicked out of a bar and really just loses it.
Yeah with that, Alex didn't have a story yet. So I kind of mentioned the end of The Outsiders, where Matt Dillon's character has sort of a meltdown. And I was like, "That part of the song sort of sounds like a drunken stumble to me." And so I showed that to Alex, and his scene in particular. I like how it turned out, because Alex really channeled something.
It was very powerful.
And it was real – I saw tears. I mean it was Nick Goosen and his crew shooting that, but I was there throughout a lot of the shoots, just kind of being a second director or helping to oversee things. But Alex's takes were all so brilliant. He was definitely channelling some inner demons.
And when we say storylines, in some cases these are really just moments, vignettes with these characters.
Yeah, Julian just preferred to leave them vague and for them to be more just feelings… Julian kind of wanted to ride that line where parts are a little clearer than others. It was more like a painterly thing, where you're just creating moods and feelings. The same thing with the end of the world. You know there's the storms and floods when Amir Yaghmai's playing. But then later Julian was like, "Also put in a giant meteor flying." And I was like, "Really?" He was like, "Yeah." He just wanted a general end of the world, to keep it vague and not be one particular thing. Just that everything is going to shit.
While most of the video plays as very sincere, there is Amir's solo which seems to lighten the mood, and other elements that seems a bit more tongue-in-cheek. Which is actually something you could say about The Voidz in general. Since the band first emerged I think there has been speculation about how much of the project was Julian's ironic kind take on a genre or an era.
I think Julian's entire aesthetic kind of rides that line. He always likes to say that he doesn't like things to be taking themselves too seriously… When I directed "Instant Crush" for Daft Punk [featuring Julian], we had sort of a disagreement a few times during the shoot, where I thought it was a very emotional song. So I did this "Twilight Zone" type of thing about these mannequins that fall in love. And he kept wanting to throw in jokes, to like not take it so seriously. And then we would have these disagreements, where he was like, "That's the difference between you and me. You take these mannequins seriously and I don't."
In Kim Taylor Bennett's feature on Julian for Noisey, he said that he hoped that people would be able to make out the lyrics on the record.
It's really hard sometimes.
It is. And at one point in the video, you actually type out the text of some lyrics, "Is it not true, the things that we did…" Is there any reason you guys highlighted those words?
Julian has always referred to that as the "alien overlord" scene. And that's why the font is red and sort of creepy, and it's almost like the brainwashing is happening in that moment. The overall feeling in that part of the song, I think he always saw that as something very sinister, just the brainwashing of the people. And he mentioned, "Maybe it's red text, maybe it's some weird alien font or something." And I threw it in, and he got so excited. He's like, "Oh man, it's so powerfully eerie when the text starts appearing and the voice changes." But there was a lot of trial and error with this video.
Is this quite different from other music videos you have done? Was it more challenging?
Yeah, yeah. It's definitely the longest I've ever worked on a video, and the most loosely structured in terms of like there was no big label. We had to just basically use whatever resources we could. And it was over so much time. I would fly out on tour to edit with him on the bus sometimes. And then we'd get to the point where it was like, "We're almost done," and then we'd look at it again and be like, "No, we're really not quite there yet." It was a process, because it's not an easy song to take on, thematically and visually. He was always trying to find that place where it wasn't too obvious and more open to interpretation.
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