Sometime over the past few years, the music video reached its artistic peak. Without the need for mass appeal, mainstream acceptance, or industry approval, the internet became a fertile ground for creative visions to accompany songs. In 2015, YouTube is doing as much for bands as MTV in its heyday, with a more level playing field: talent and creativity don’t have to pass go in some corporate boardroom; art is judged on its own values in a true meritocracy.
This new culture has allowed for some impressive displays, and in the case of NRVS LVRS‘ spectacular new video for “Cordoba Grey”, it’s a brilliant continuation of the music-video-as-movie-trailer theme. Directed by David Dutton with cinematography by Fernando Camarena, “Cordoba Grey” takes the San Francisco’s band sleek synth-pop and set it against a thrilling crime drama.
We caught up with Dutton, Camarenas, and NRVS LVRS’ Andrew Gomez and Bevin Fernandez for a chat about “Cordoba Grey,” he band’s latest single that’s out June 2 via Breakup Records.
With a video this intense, we figured it was best to let the creators do the talking. Watch “Cordoba Grey” down below, in between the two interviews, and catch NRVS LVRS at the Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco this Thursday, May 28.
Michael Marotta: This is a loaded question, but where did the inspiration and storyline for “Cordoba Grey” come from? The visuals, pace, and storytelling are incredible, as well as the editing.
David Dutton: Thank you for that great praise. I’ve always been a big fan of crime movies like Bonnie and Clyde, Natural Born Killers, True Romance, and dare I say, Leon (The Professional). When I first heard “Cordoba Grey,” I was instantly drawn to the first duet. After a solemn solo by each artist complimenting each other about something that sounds like murder and mayhem for sport, we get thrown into a powerful duet about their legacy on the front page of a newspaper. It only seemed right to show them dead together singing about their partnership in crime that ultimately took their lives. I had that image of them, back to back, dead in their motel room, the aftermath of their last shootout. From there I built the rest of the story.
After solidifying the theme, what were the next steps? Did you approach the band or was it a collaborative process?
David Dutton: Yes, I did. The band has a strong sense and theme behind their entire album. Originally I had the couple robbing a super market, or warehouse, but to keep in their Tech Takeover idea we moved it to a tech office. Which made it less cliche for me.
There was a lot to cover in this music video, but basically I drew a timeline of the song and all the different parts sectioned off, like verses, solos, instrumental parts, little reverbs or distortions… I took the main chunks and put in scenes for each, working my way back to the end of the video which would show an unknowing couple to the events ahead. It was planned from the start to flash in clips of the future or past.
Was there a deliberate effort to modernize the Bonnie & Clyde story?
David Dutton: It definitely inspired me, but I was thinking Natural Born Killers most the time. Maybe it was the line “So put your ear up to my lips/And hear me ask you for a clip/We’re going on a killing spree/Just my little girl and me.” Though we actually did shoot a few scenes with Andrew shooting some victims, we ultimately decided together to remove the shots because it drastically removed sympathy for their characters. I also thought of the ’90s Romeo and Juliet movie a lot. I think I inadvertently dressed Andrew in that turquoise Hawaiian shirt to mimic that look.
My girlfriend watched the video with me, and she lived in the Inner Sunset for a few years. She noted the robbing of a tech company. Is she reading into it, after experiencing first hand what’s going on in SF? We have a similar thing, though a few years behind, here in Boston.
David Dutton: Yes it was a deliberate choice, as I wrote above, but I think Andrew could divulge on that more.
Andrew Gomez: As David was drawing up his treatment, I was really impressed with his ideas and the level of detail in every scene. We started talking about the NRVS LVRS album and some of the themes from it: gentrification, displacement, loss, etc., and I explained that this song ends the album because it’s kind of a Bonnie & Clyde/Robin Hood revenge fantasy in that the narrators in the song are a bit unhinged, see the tech industry as the root of their suffering, and feel pushed to self-destructive violence. It’s pretty easy to feel frustrated and powerless here in SF when City Hall quite obviously represents the interests of the moneyed few over the rest of us. Once we started talking about that, David was inspired to incorporate it into the story to try to add a different angle to the classic outlaws-on-the-run type of narrative we’d already begun.
What was the most challenging scene to shoot? The most rewarding?
David Dutton: The most challenging was the tech company robbery. It was late at night and we needed to make it look full and alive. The band had some friends come in, and we just kept using the same guys in different spots. But the most challenging part was having Andrew be a convincing actor, and effectively walk-in and punch his friend to the ground. I think we did that shot 11 times. Andrew was surprisingly good at his role and may have scared the shit out of friends a few times.
The most rewarding was the first scene, the morgue. It took us the longest to find that location but we lucked out after learning that Kink, or The Armory Studios, had a medical set. Our makeup artist did a great job on the actors, and the band did an amazing job singing and looking truly dead. The most challenging part was to grab all the performance without any blinks in them. It was our first day of shooting and its success set the tone for the rest of our four-day shoot.
Fernando Camarenas: I can’t speak for everyone else, but for me the most physically challenging shot was the bathtub scene. The bathroom at the rundown hotel we rented was smaller than expected. The only way to get the overhead shot of Bevin soaking in the water was to hover over her with my feet wedged on opposite ends of the bathtub while handholding the camera. As I’m standing there in this odd sumo-wrestler squat I’m thinking, one wrong move and not only will I ruin $20,000 worth of film gear but I’ll also take out the lead actress in the process. I was praying that the thread on my old chucks would hang in there. Luckily we got it done in five takes.
When David and I take the footage back to the office and screen the dailies, I think everything we shoot is rewarding. We’re like little kids in a candy store, super excited. A lot of people don’t understand, in our race against the clock, we’re averaging about 60 to 80 setups a day, which is insane. After six years of working together I think we have this down to an exact science. And when you work with a band like NRVS LVRS, who is as excited as we are to make a video, it makes the whole experience that much more rewarding.
What did you think when David came to you with this vision? Or was this a joint process from the start?
Andrew Gomez: Well, to rewind it a little further, I was really excited to work with David just based off of his enthusiasm after I showed him the record, which he asked to hear after he had heard our first single “City Lights.” We already had a director for that and “Golden West,” so we enlisted him for “Cordoba Grey.” He was the first director to be, like, “I have to do a video for you guys.” We want to work with people with that intensity of purpose, so that’s why we’ve asked him to do another after this.
But, to get back to your question, honestly, Bevin and I felt a little apprehensive. We loved David’s vision, but it seemed like we were going to have to do a lot of acting, which I’d never done before. The risk of failure seemed incredibly high, but David was so passionate & insistent, we decided to take the plunge. We figured trying something new would be fun and putting ourselves in a bit of an uncomfortable situation could lead to something really cool. Trusting David was a smart decision, as his zeal shows through in so many ways. His cuts are very musical and move in lockstep with the snare fills at times. He also planned out a ridiculous amount of shots in a wide array of locations. It felt like we were making a short film.
As for the idea for the video, that was all David. He asked about the different themes contained in the album, but he’s the one who ran with it. From the overall concept to the bullet hole placement, this was his baby. The only thing Bevin and I did was pick out our clothes, choose the different masks we used, and follow David’s direction.
It’s cool that this video is for an electronic pop song. There are some lyrical themes that tie into the video storyline, but at some points there’s a cool juxtaposition between the action on the screen and the style of music. Is there something that’s sinisterly seductive about electronic music where it can soundtrack a violent theme like this video?
Andrew Gomez: Interesting question. I suspect you might be on to something. Personally, I’m really inspired by electronic music right now, because the sonic palettes seem so much larger than rock, which I’m more familiar with. You can really manufacture some hard edges on your sounds, and we were searching for tones that had an icy aloofness to them, which I think does pair well with violent imagery. Before we even knew there was going to be a video for this song, we were trying to achieve a sexy but frigid sound, like a vampire couple making out in a meat locker or something. So, yeah, I’d say electronic tones make it easier achieve a cinematic feel, but it takes guys like David and Fernando to actually do the heavy lifting of making the visuals and the music glue together.
What do you want people to take away from this video?
Bevin Fernandez: I don’t feel the need for people to take away some sort of “message” or anything like that. If they do, great. Mostly, I just hope they enjoy getting sucked into the narrative David created in this video. Andrew and I always say that this video made our song better. Now, when I hear or when we’re playing the song, I think of the imagery created in the video, and I love how the two have blended like that. Don’t get me wrong. I care about every video that we have done, but when it came time for us to have a video for “Cordoba,” I felt really protective of it. I always felt that the song had a very cinematic feel and really hoped the video would do that aspect of the song justice, but I couldn’t have anticipated what David was able to do not only with our budget, but with our limited acting experience and the limited amount of time to shoot.
What’s next for NRVS LVRS? Any plans to hit the east coast?
Andrew Gomez: We would love to go to the East Coast to tour, especially since our guitar player Ryan is from there. Currently, there’s nothing on the books, but we hope to get out there either the end of this year or early in 2016.