An Interview about Melancholia, a music video, that tries to hide its band in arcane layers and shapeshifters:
Hi Jonathan, you are one of the guitarist of the band “Tribulation” from Arvika, Sweden. In autumn 2015 the album „The Children of the Night“ was released. Aside from the music – all artworks related to the album have been designed by you and your bandmate Adam Zaars. Today we talk in-depth about the music video for Melancholia, that you also produced on your own.
To start with: How would you describe the atmosphere of the album?
We all were in agreement that the atmosphere of the record as a whole was not as “foresty” as our previous album, “The Formulas Of Death”, although many of the lyrical themes in a sense have a lot to do with nature. The mood on “The Children of the Night” is loftier, as if reaching for higher grounds, yet while still keeping one foot on the earth in order to become a bridge between the sky and the soil. This in between-area is where the music belongs; it’s dark but sometimes beautiful, it’s rough but refined, frightful but also inviting etc. I think that is also what I wanted to accomplish portraying with the video for Melancholia.
By the critics your former albums were more related to the terms of Death- or Thrash-Metal. To give the reader a hint, your music changed into the direction of the Band „Kiss“ or „The Cure” I guess …
To be honest I have no idea how to describe what we are doing, but it’s not that important for us to do so either. I welcome all suggestions though […] I would embrace your take on it as it was formulated in the question.
If I take a look on the artwork of the album, the music video and your stage presence … how do you connect the musical and visual aspects?
They are very closely interconnected. Each audible experience becomes so much stronger when you have an image to project it on to – and the other way around (which is why the music video is such a fantastic medium). […] A big part of this has probably to do with an embrace of the more graceful and beautiful aspects of our “dark” aesthetics. […] I guess it reflects the progress (or maybe rather the movements) of our hearts and minds.
In details … how long has it taken for you and your crew to work out the plot, the venues, the photography, the costumes and the effects you would use?
I got the idea to do the video pitched to me early August 2015, and from there I started to experiment with ideas, scribbling down some mental images and scenes that spontaneously popped up in my head. Then it got confirmed that we were going to Japan with Tribulation the 21st of September, so suddenly there was a deadline to watch out for. By the end of August I made a storyboard in iMovie to demonstrate for the guys what I had in mind for the video, and as soon as I got thumbs up I started to plan out the filming schedule and what kind of equipment I would need. The 1st of September I traveled to Arvika, set up the “studio”, and the following 6-7 days all the raw material was filmed. The real challenge turned out to lie in the editing, which took the double amount of time. By the first deadline I had managed to put everything together, but it all looked kind of amateurish and crude, so the first draft actually got neglected by the others. It made me push myself even harder to reach better results, so after Japan I came back with a fresh perspective and had about a week to push the boundaries of how to tweak something bad into something good.
Does the video have a storyline or is it more to admire the art-ificial outcome?
There is a type of storyline, although it is kind of abstract and conceptual instead of telling a conventional story that you can follow chronologically. A big portion of what it came to mean for me to make a music video was to collect as many spontaneous inner visions as possible related to specific parts of the song, and then putting them together in the same context. Separately they may have seemed rather unrelated and strange, but in the same setting they really become a part something bigger and more cohesive.
As I would describe the visuals as “shapes and actors appearing out of the blackness paired with landscapes evolving“ …
… what was your main direction in it?
First and foremost I basically wanted to make a video that would hold up for visually representing the song. Cheesiness, that usually is so prevalent when bands try to approach the video format, had to be avoided at all costs. I wanted to make something more, something with a deeper meaning where all the details count, like in the same spirit as the music was made. Also, since I didn’t do the video for “Strange Gateways Beckon” I was so poised to make up for all the things I would have wanted to do different with that one (I think it came together a bit too quick with too little thought behind it). A video can’t be something you just put together in a haste, it must be of the same value of the thing you aim to portray – in this case the song “Melancholia”. My biggest concern was to make every frame of the video good enough to make for a painting. Looking back it might not always be that case, although it’s an ambition always worth striving for.
“Melancholia“ starts with some silhouette effects of paper cutting – a technique so stripped- down that you can ́t connect it to a certain era, religion or else…
I like the simplicity of the looks of it. They are, as you say, very easy to use in any given situation with any purpose in mind. Thinking about it, it’s something to consider for future videos. The simple images always have a tendency to have the most powerful impact on our psyches.
The persons in the video … as they function within the musical rhythm – do they dance or do they perform the lyrics?
Sometimes they do both, sometimes one or the other, it depends on the scene. The important thing is that the bodies of the actors communicate the mood of the song. Most of the movements were thought of in advance and was a part of the storyboard – in other words a part of the idea of the video from the start. But a lot of improvised movements in the filming process helped giving me a lot of editing opportunities and created room for new ideas to take form while putting everything together. Some sequences that I think turned out the best were concocted while in the editing room, looking through the raw material. That made the process of creating the movie a creative journey from the beginning to the end.
Candlesticks, fog, slight contrasts in color, even the scale that stands for equilibrium … nonetheless you are using less obvious symbolism than we often see in blackened-metal videos.
What you see in the video are things that have their origin in my imagination rather than in the subculture that Tribulation could be related to. I’ve never felt very akin to the typical metal imagery, and am I always trying to avoid obvious references to all types of external influences – although some of them are there.
As it appears that the video shows a lot of editing – have you been just involved in the post- production process or did you have your own hands on it?
I did everything myself, including the post production. And actually, from what I experienced, that is where the real creative process takes place and where trash is potentially turned into gold. The editor has the most influence on whether the final result ends up looking professional and impressive or second rate and cheap, and it appears that there is sometimes a thin line between those two opposites. I’m sure it’s old news to you, but by very small means one can make something really poorly filmed look really eye-catching and appealing. It’s all about whether you see potential in the clip, and what you could use it for. And that is of course more or less easy when you are already following a vision.
The video shows a lot of time-shifting. Did it happen out of the technical possibilities or is it a choice of expressing something specific?
It is definitely a choice in order to achieve a certain effect, and it was a part of the idea of the movements from the beginning. If the actors would not be able to move at the intended speed from the get-go, I would still have this opportunity to time-shift them into the right velocity to fit the vision. Sometimes it was needed a lot, other times it was good as it was. When I planned the storyboard I was not sure if it even would be possible to realize even half of my ideas, since I had never done anything like this before. So I was so happy when I borrowed the camera and got told that if I wanted to be able to time-stretch the material a bit, all I had to do was to film in 50 fps.
There are a lot of layers in the video – I can recognize some themes like landscapes, clouds and the expression of performance …
Yes, there are a couple of basic elements and environments that together make up the scenery of the video. They are mixed together to symbolize, as it were, a journey “from below to above”. In that sense the whole video is a visualization of an inner process, a sort of metamorphosis if you like. Anyway, the three main settings are the scenes filmed outdoors by a lake and a forest, the clouds filmed from an airplane (filmed with my old iPhone 4 on our way to a Tribulation show) and the “studio footage” that was filmed in my parent’s basement. Most of the “dance movements” I performed myself, painting my whole body black and contrasting it against a white background. But what really upped the overall impression of the video was the effect of dropping ink into water. It added an organic, magical feel to every context it was applied to, and really made the ideas reach their potential.
It might also be worth adding that I have spent a large amount of time in Photoshop throughout the years, so the line of thinking where you see the result through the lens of many layers and filters was something that was imprinted in me from the start. In other words, I just saw the whole thing as an interactive Photoshop-image. It helped getting me through the first hurdle of learning Final Cut, which I had never used before.
Like in your other video “Strange Gateways Beckon“ … why do women perform the vampires for Tribulation?
It does not necessarily have to be women, but what I think what we were after was a graceful yet powerful, elegant and aesthetically appealing expression. I guess that’s easier to find with female characters and performers than with male ones, partly due to physical circumstances, but also because of how the norms of society are encouraging people to act and lead their lives.
Is there a specific era, genre or person you would like to see your video-work attached to?
I see what I am doing as very here and now, not really pertaining to any specific predecessor or era. I mean, hell, I don’t even really know what I am doing – I know nothing about the do’s and don’t’s in filmmaking, nor much about it’s history or anything. I’m just exploring a new medium and following my intuition in every decision making. I bet my interest in art and aesthetics has helped me more than any movie I’ve ever watched.
Just to clear things up – is there a reference to Melancholia as a film by Lars von Trier?
Not really, no. That is really more a happy or unhappy coincidence, depending on how you look at it. I really like the movie though.
As a musical listener I am always searching for the band-members inside the videos. Often there is a strict difference if they all appear or not.
In „Melancholia“ there appear creatures that look like metal-ish black-and-white colored personas … and what kept me confused was that I was trying to identify your face in the dark but I couldn ́t be certain – this made it so appealing to me.
All of us appear at one given moment when there is a slow zooming in on a dark figure sitting with his/her hands on top of each other. By the end of that clip our faces all appear on a row above her head, very briefly. My face also appear instantaneously in a Captain Howdy manner at one point as a homage to The Omen in sync with a grunt from Johannes (our singer) just before the second verse, but that’s about it as for the involvement of our faces. Since our last video was so revealing and naked I wanted to go about it the other way around and try to avoid our physical presence, except for one or two occasions.
So … if we read the credits, there seem to be some family-related persons inside the video and not your bandmates … are they okay with that?
Well, that is mostly due to logistical and economical reasons rather than anything else, so there was not much of a choice. We could not afford to hire any actors, nor convince any of our friends to go to Arvika for a few days to put on make up, colored lenses and work behind the camera for free, even less the family members of the other guys in the band. Yet I knew I would be able to work with my mother and sister, and that it would not be too much of a hassle for them to contribute with their time since most of their scenes would be filmed in the basement of their house. Also, in the end it is not much about who’s face it is on the screen, it is more about if the atmosphere is coming across or not. Everything, every object, person or landscape, are but means for that to happen. What counts is the whole.
Now that there is this video for the song – is it complete or is there anything to mention left?
It might be worth mentioning that the video is an interpretation of the lyrics of the song, cut in tempo with the music and just generally is an extension of what the song already is. But despite this it really became a work of its own, standing as a separate entity alongside the actual song. It also became a portal for me into a new world of visual arts, a next step on some kind of artistic journey that I am making. In other words, it meant a lot to me to do it, and I’m glad it happened.
Any plans for a future video?
Yes, I’m actually working on a new video for my singer-songwriter project. The raw material was filmed during the last week in May, so now I just need to spend x hours in the editing room, which I have not had time to do until now. This video will be a lot more imaginative and a bit less down to earth, so in order to make it come out as I wish it would, I need to transcend my editing skills a few notches. It sure is a challenge, but that’s what I love about doing this right now. Since it is all new to me and I don’t know the first thing about making movies, I learn so much with every step I take. It’s very rewarding.
Dear Jonathan – thanks a lot for your time, good luck for you and Tribulation!
Thank you so much for the interview!
Title: Tribulation – „Melancholia“ 05:32’, 2015.
Cast & Crew: Jonathan Hultén (Director, Photography, Make-up, Costume Designer, Shadow), Klara Persson (Equipment and Advice), Kenneth Börjesson (Equipment and Advice), Ingegerd Hultén (Ghost), Maja Hultén (Venturer).
Tribulation are: Johannes Andersson, Adam Zaars, Jakob Ljungberg, Jonathan Hultén.
Music-/Video Rights: Tribulation / Standard-Youtube-Licence. Screenshots taken from the video.
The Song is taken from the album “The Children Of The Night“, Century Media Records 2015.
Web-Airplay: 21. October 2015.