Silent Lions – Runnin’ Me Down Video & Interview with Matt Klein

Since starting this blog, we’ve become more and more immersed in the local music scene here in Detroit. We’ve had the opportunity to experience and meet some fantastic local talent and I have to say it’s been one of the best perks of starting Under Bright Lights. So in honor of the great talent Detroit, and Michigan in general, has to offer we’ve decided to start a new feature to highlight the bands that we’ve discovered.

The first band we’re going to feature is actually one of the first bands that we reviewed here. While they are technically based out of Toledo, the guys in Silent Lions spend enough time here in Detroit to be considered residents. Silent Lions has truly been with us from the beginning and have definitely been one of our biggest supporters. They tell us about local shows they are playing, gave us their new EP, The Comparments, to review early, and introduced us to new music to review.

Basically what I’m trying to say is that Dean Tartaglia and Matt Klein are two of the most talented, all around great guys that we’ve had the pleasure of meeting. So when they asked if we’d do a write up about their new music video, “Runnin’ Me Down”, we jumped at the chance. I wanted to do a bit more than a write up of the video, so Matt was gracious enough to give me an interview. It was his first time stepping behind the camera and taking control so I thought it was a great way to give some insights into the video. Without further ado, here’s the video and interview.

Is there a specific reason  you picked “Runnin’ Me Down” as the song you wanted to do the video to?

We thought “Runnin’ Me Down” had a very suspenseful atmosphere and overall length that deserved the ‘short film’ treatment as Michael Jackson might call it. The extended instrumental intro, bridge and outro segments would be good places to create a mood and then watch it escalate. We wanted to try something different, rather than another clip featuring Dean and I playing a song, having accomplished that well with “Stolen In The Heat Of The Moment” video. Also, as a single “Runnin’ Me Down” features all the elements we are really excited about from our EP The Compartments. The verses are carried by the sampled bass guitar sound and have my r&b style backup vocal shouts, while the 90’s hip-hop influences come out with the pitched down drum groove and g-funk synth during the choruses. We have a blast recreating this stuff live with some relatively simple on-the-fly looping to pull off the complicated bits, then really lay into the heavier parts.

How did you come up with the concept and how does it relate to the song?

Dean and I quickly agreed we wanted to attempt the concept of a ‘girl in an apartment’ video, that ol’ low-budget standard. Silent Lions has always embraced the approach of being creative and successful within the constraints of DIY production and promotion. It’s worked well with releasing our music and selling cds as ‘pay what you want’ at shows. So we began to draw inspiration from really memorable ‘apartment-setting’ vids like Chemical Brothers’ “Setting Sun”, Massive Attack’s “Live With Me” and PJ Harvey’s “Mansize” and “Perfect Day Elise”. I was drawn to backing off the digital after effects and video manipulation (though some inevitably crept back in) and to just shoot something in more of classic 70’s and 80’s horror/suspense style. I storyboarded basic ideas: tracking shots following down a hallway, skewed camera angles from furniture watching from afar, the roving P.O.V camera through empty rooms. Whatever felt kind of ambiguously creepy since we hadn’t nailed a ‘story’ yet.

Another aspect of what Silent Lions does which happened while developing the video, is to draw inspiration from many different genres and create something that simply ‘feels like us’. Often that means throwing elements together and seeing how they stick and sometimes it’s a very organic process you don’t even think about. In this case, it actually wasn’t a big stretch for me to combine my love of classic horror films like Evil Dead and Halloween with 80’s ‘dance flicks’. In referencing camera angles, dynamic lighting and interesting editing techniques, my go-tos are the works of Sam Raimi and John Carpenter. They know how to create suspense within a frame or a sequence and use practical special effects like few other modern directors. So originally, the overall concept was a bit more like the classic horror of ‘someone being watched/stalked while alone’ but that proved to be just a bit overbearing without any sort of variation. I really just wanted a chance to steal all those camera angles and shooting styles!

“Runnin’ Me Down” is definitely a song that ‘simmers’ and waits, then explodes, and recedes. That’s so much like a suspense film. It’s too easy to put a girl in distress and call it ‘horror’. There’s a lot more to the genre. Even in notable and innovate ‘gore/fx’ movies like the original Evil Dead and Night of the Living Dead (which we lovingly exploit in our video for ‘Terrible Days’), the characters are fighting as much of psychological conflict within their group and themselves. That’s how I found the most important aspect of what the video should be. Not just telling a story with a quick twist at the end, or one with questions raised and then answered, but an internal conflict shown on screen and somehow interacting with the music.

There’s no better on-screen embodiment of internal conflict in 80’s cinema than the ‘anger dance’. I could go on and on with examples but certainly the biggest two influences on this video were Footloose and Flashdance. Not just for the performances but also because of the moods they create with dynamic lighting and editing in their respective famous moments. This is well done stuff in my mind and would be a good counterpoint to what might add up to being a dreary video if it were solely horror-based.

The sleepwalking idea came to me and I really couldn’t find any previous video that had it as a central idea… haha maybe for good reason? When a person is sleepwalking it infers a complete unpredictability of what they might do, or where they might end up by the time they awake. I hope the first time people watch the video there is a lot of suspense and unease, perhaps undercut by some relief and smiles that nothing horrible and violent happens to her and she gets to dance the scares away.

It wasn’t our intent to every find a connection between the lyrics of the song and how to represent that visually, the same way we didn’t want a ‘story video’ but rather an ’emotional’ one. “Runnin” Me Down’ has so much repetition in its rhythms it lent itself to a ‘walking’ or rather a ‘stumbling’ tempo. The singed vocal effects that end up creating feedback loops were a perfect jumping off point for emphasis through cutting and editing pacing. As the intensity of the song elevates towards the middle, the editing and video quick cuts end up controlling her performance before finally releasing her again for the solemn piano of the bridge. It’s a diverse and expressive song, really a favorite on the EP. And it would have to be now, because we had to listen to it on repeat for hours during production. A true test of a song’s arrangement and of one’s mental endurance.

I know it was your first time stepping behind the camera and directing, can you describe what it was like to take complete creative control? Was it easier to do what you wanted? Did you find yourself trying more and different things than maybe if you had had someone else come in and direct?

I was very excited at the prospect of being a first-time director, because even though I was going to be learning the process as we went, I at least had some sense of how to organize and approach a film-production (thank you countless hours of behind-the-scenes DVD extras), and would be working with reference material I had a deep knowledge of and appreciation for. We’d be working again with Steve and Renee from our “Terrible Days” video, and they both responded very positively to the challenge of this kind.

You have to have a great team with everyone ready to work extra hard with the presented limitations in schedule, equipment and budget in front of you. I’m very glad I was able to realize Dean and I’s initial concept, and then take it to a place that was a personal creative challenge for myself. There’s also been an interesting amount of similarity in techniques and details that have begun to stick out from each of Silent Lions’ videos (which I’ll let the viewers find themselves). It’s cool to know we have a kind of accidental continuity to our images as well as sounds. Maybe it’s going to be more acknowledged and less casually referenced from now on…I would say the biggest advantage of keeping the video production within our core team has been our ability stick to the goal of getting things accomplished efficiently. Being the director and main coordinator at the center of a production, even a small one like this, can definitely be a bit overwhelming at first and its something you just have to embrace. I consider myself a pretty organized and detail-oriented person, so this was a good position for me to be in. And Steve and Renee both have more experience than I on the technical side of shooting and editing digital video. So their ideas with setups and lighting kept things moving just how we needed.

I made sure we had a couple meet ups about pre-production with my story boards and shot lists, to figure out just how each section of the song should have it’s own feel and keep the momentum of the entire video going. By the time we started our evening shoots, we were very prepared and Renee had a pretty clear idea of what each section’s ‘movements’ should be like. But there will always be something that comes up on the day that you improvise with/against. Sometimes it’s a ‘happy accident’ by trying out a way of getting a shot that turns out even cooler than you thought, and sometimes its the butting your head against the wall frustration of ‘why doesn’t this look like I want it to’? Overall, we stuck to most of the technical details of how things conceived and put more time into capturing Renee’s performance the best way to get the emotional and psychological aspect of the video across.

Personally, I think the dancing reflects the song perfectly. Did you choreograph or plan any of the moves in the video or was it a more organic process?
Thank you. Renee did an amazing job. I initially sent her videos of all my movie references with what I liked most and how each section of the video could be approached. She and I emailed back and forth while Dean and I were on the road when The Compartments was released this winter and by the time I got back she really understood the energy and was ready to rehearse. This is where I skip over describing how I attempted some ‘anger dancing’ of my own, but yeah, it happened and was pretty fun actually. There’s only so many times I could reference “Kevin Bacon did this…” without getting a little lost in it. Hey, dancing to 80’s movie soundtracks and the entirety of Michael Jackson’s ‘Moonwalker’ while it played on TV was a big part of my childhood. We figure out moves together and by the time we started shooting she had the majority of the choreography planned out and I just offered suggestions. A lot of ‘that was awesome, do THAT again’.

The overall concept of Renee’s movement was of a physical progression through the song: whether it’s because she’s acting out of a deep psychological unrest, exercising pent up anger built-up during rush hour drive-time, or just plain ‘possessed by thee Devil’… that’s for the viewer to ponder. We wanted to the choruses to feel like she was caught, repressed and restricted. Just generally being worn out by what was happening to her as she slept. We noticed after filming that Renee was smiling a bit on some of those last dance takes and decided it fit the performance well as she had ‘Flashdance’d into a euphoria. We never wanted to exactly clue the viewer on to a resolution, but I hope that maybe this was her ‘final dance’ and she bested what was troubling her.

That’s a hell of a way to stay in shape while you sleep though.

Is making music videos an important part of the indie-DIY approach to being in a band? What have you learned from making all your own videos so far?
Making a video gives you a chance to add an extra element of presentation to your band. You can have it just be a commercial (and no matter what – it is), or you can use the opportunity to inspire yourself to make something you can put many hours of your life into and be proud of. At this moment for Silent Lions, Dean and I are very much into finding a path that connects all of our music and promotional materials. A lot of that probably disappears when the two of us get on stage and just play, which is fine. Making a video or being in the studio is a very introspective and mentally consuming period. Then you release it, and it represents that amount of time on your own and helps connect you to anyone who will watch or listen. So it’s worth all the effort. Every night onstage is spontaneous and rewarding in a completely immediate way and it’s nice to get away from the density of the creation process we put ourselves through.

Hope to see a lot of familiar and new faces during the spring tour and that everyone enjoys the video for “Runnin’ Me Down”.

SiLi Tour