A lot of shots and the colour palette are heavily inspired by Wes Anderson.’ – Gavin

One of the great things about this band compared to others I’ve been in is how closely in accord we are with each other.’ – Paul

If every single musician adopted Lennon or Smith’s later approach, lot’s more challenging songs would be written – but nobody would have any fun.’ – Nathan

I think we try to keep a definite stylistic approach to the artwork and the videos and Leon Dee very much understood that and took it into account with the production.’ – Henry

Bloody hell, John, is that it? You didn’t even ask us our favourite colour. Mine’s green. No wait, red! Red!’ – Ryan

Leon Dee directed the video for new single, ‘Rabbit Hole’ for Norwich based psych rock band, WAXX! It’s startling how quite a few interviews and reviews have not taken the opportunity to dissect the video and the band’s ideas given how literate they are musically and visually. John Clay took the time to do so and stoked up a conversation that addressed the detriment of a popular media uninterested in critically re-examining its past.

David Fincher once said that once you’ve finished making your movie it’s only then that you realise how you ought to have directed it. ‘Rabbit Hole’ is the best video you’ve turned out so far. What promises did you make to yourselves in order to not repeat mistakes of the past?

Gavin: Hi John, that’s a great question. I think we definitely wanted a location shoot this time and we wanted to shoot on a day we didn’t have a show on for once.

Nathan: David Fincher is my favourite director, partly because of how distinctive his work is. I feel like the more he was given free rein as a director, the better received his work was. His experience making Alien 3 almost put him off directing and he hates the finished result. So there’s a lesson there about trusting your instincts if you have a vision. Luckily we didn’t have 20th Century Fox breathing down our necks, and we trusted our director, Leon Dee, to do his thing.

That said, I never really see any work I’ve put out as a mistake. You try your best with the resources you have and what you put out represents you in that moment. If you started with infinite resources and a perfect vision, you’d have nowhere to go. I’ve enjoyed the journey and don’t view any of it as a mistake. We have learned to take our time a little though, which made a difference to ‘Rabbit Hole’.

Despite the comedy in the film there is definitely a greater respect for the craft than in previous work. When did it click for you that the attention to planning a video must be equal to the pragmatic attitude behind recording a record?

Ryan: This video is definitely our best but I don’t think that’s exactly because we took it more seriously. We are still a fairly new band and we produce all our own work and we are still finding our rhythm. As I recall, the shooting of our first two videos was somewhat impromptu due to complicated time and scheduling issues scuppering our plans. We are lucky enough to know some super-talented people who managed to spin that footage into a couple of quirky, charming videos that really suit the music. This video takes it to a whole new level though. It’s certainly a matter of practice. We’ve learned to schedule better. I’m not going to lie, there’s still an element of luck as well, arguably there always will be. As we progress, I assure you there’ll be more where this came from.

Nathan: I’m not sure that planning is our strong suit. With the songs and the videos, it comes more down to having an outline or concept and being creative in the moment. ‘Rabbit Hole’ was just a riff, then it became a song in the studio and then was tweaked and refined. Same with the video – we wanted a tone and aesthetic to match the feel of the song. Leon latched onto that and turned a simple idea into something fully realised.

What’s the biggest takeaway from the experience of planning the video and were there particular conversations regarding aesthetics?

Nathan: Get a director that you trust. It’s nice to have someone with a clear vision take control on the day and keep things running.

Gavin: For me a big takeaway this time round is really more to do with the quality of what is captured on a shoot day just being really solid rather than trying to fix everything in post. More planning definitely helped achieve that.

There was definitely lots of conversation about aesthetics going into this. We watched tons of 90’s videos and took inspiration from Beck, Blind Lemon to name a few. A lot of shots and the colour palette are heavily inspired by Wes Anderson.

You can definitely tell there was more planning for the shoot. It really makes a lot of an impact when shots are designed to work or flow into each other. Why Wes Anderson, and was there a resounding group consensus on this for more than just one reason?

Henry: I think with this one we knew how strong the song was and we wanted an equally strong video to reflect that. Not that we don’t feel strongly about the other songs and videos we have but something felt different with this one, for me anyway. With ‘Rabbit Hole’ we knew we wanted to have enough time, a strong video idea, as well as a location and all the equipment we needed so that on the day it was just all about the filming and we had no unexpected issues.

For me, having done a few videos with WAXX! I feel more settled behind the camera and I know that came through in the video this time around.

… And Wes Anderson?

Ryan: As much as we planned the video ourselves, the real genius is Leon Dee who shot and edited it. We definitely wanted a psychedelic, Alice in Wonderland vibe but didn’t want to go too far through the looking glass, more that veneer of surrealism which you see in Wes Anderson’s films. Obviously there’s a little visual reference to Tenenbaums with the kids in the matching P.E. kits. As far as a consensus goes, we all have a similar sensibility so when an idea is presented it’s generally understood without needing to hash it out too much. One of the great things about this band compared to others I’ve been in is how closely in accord we are with each other. When it comes to band stuff we’re all very much of one mind and that’s quite a rare dynamic to find.

It’s that group togetherness which you can’t manufacture that has the benefit of A&R taking them seriously. Makes sense considering that ultimately it’s an investment. Do you have any opinions on seeing the band as a business? Feel free to share them before we carry on.

Gavin: It’s never a motivation of ours. The music and the art comes first but we are realistic and a lot of us have families too so when the band allows us to put cash into producing better content that’s enough.

Cool. Back to the video for a bit. There’s more than a few panning shots which reference Tarkosvsky via Anderson. Were those spoken about as signature camera moves to mine for gold, or did you leave the cinematography up to Leon to surprise you with?

Ryan: We had the key shots planned but the rest was mining for gold. We all threw ideas about during the day, exploring the situation but any Tarkovsky via Anderson stuff is all Leon.

I see. The colour palette really lends itself to the 90’s psychedelic music video aesthetic. I trust you’ve spoken about that as a group?

Henry: I think we try to keep a definite stylistic approach to the artwork and the videos and Leon Dee very much understood that and took it into account with the production.

Nathan: It was Gavin’s core concept really. I’m not great with advanced planning; that’s just not how my creative mind works. But when I’m immersed in a situation the dam breaks and the ideas pour in. I think it’s sometimes easier to come up with ideas when you know exactly what’s possible and have that starting point.

During our video interview, there was a philosophical question which covered music, subculture and experiential validity. I think it would be better explored here. You guys up for it?

Ryan: Sure. Nathan came up with a lot of the core ideas for the video, so he’s best to answer that stuff.

Perfect, as he shared my belief that the following question could have been dealt with more thoroughly than in our jovial video interview: Your fondness for 90’s aesthetics and sound sync up well with your 60’s influences. How long have you been conscious of 90’s rock being a repackaging of the past? Was there ever a time where such a realisation threatened the validity of your formative years?

Ryan: Our apparent fondness for 90’s aesthetics and 60’s influences are due to a sympathy for those ideas rather than a desire to re-peddle old ideas. So I don’t think 90’s rock is a repackaging of the past, it’s the same fundamental ideas coming up again and again when you look across the span of art history. It’s easy to accuse musicians of imitating others but real musicians know that everything good comes from true, pure creativity. If it ends up sounding or looking like something else then that’s a bro fist across time, it’s not something that rewrites your creative past and makes you doubt the validity of your formative years, it’s entirely in keeping, an affirmation.

There’s an opportunity to nail down quite what was happening in the 90’s when considering the look and sound of 60’s counterculture being utilised for capital without the original ideology getting in the way of 90’s profits. My question could be one which is focussed upon the early 2000’s as the same principle applies, but with 70’s rock: once it’s clear that capitalism is a prominent force within a decade of creativity rather than another central ethos, does that hollow out the memories and feelings somewhat?

Ryan: The short answer, for me, is no. I remember when I was twelve and I was watching my Radiohead music videos on VHS and my dad and my older cousin started talking about how clever their shtick was, how good their marketing was. I actually think what they were really saying is how clever it is for Radiohead to push some truth through the filter of capitalism. I think if you don’t connect with an artist it’s easy to write them off as a marketing ploy but actually if you really listen to those artists you’ll find there’s a lot more truth there than you thought. It might be easy to write The Strokes off as retrogressive, for example, or the White Stripes, but their success comes from their veracity which resonates through the ages.

Radiohead may not be the best example of what we’re addressing, considering their experimental and post modernist sensibilities. The Soup Dragons, Cast and The Boo Radleys provide a clearer vision for this conversation.

The Strokes and The White Stripes have benefited from marketing, same goes for The Arctic Monkeys. The premise of my question offers insight when you consider that on one hand you have one generation who will mosh, play music and adopt clothes and a lifestyle as a way of opting out of a system, whereas another set of kids arguably are attracted to the simulacra because it’s representative of a preferred past’s vision of the future, rather than a sociological affinity with the goals of that past time. Intrigued, as ever with your thoughts on this.

Nathan: I knew you’d get us back to this one.

I’m not sure if it’s just the 90’s that’s a repackaging of the past and in some ways, 90’s pop is actually more creative and more free than some eras of rock; there was a cool kind of quirky freedom to it. I feel like rock has always been about painting something distinctive, but often with a similar palette of colours to what came before. Of course people break the mould, especially psych pioneers like Jimi Hendrix. But like Picasso, artists that end up dealing in abstract, often began somewhere more classical.

Sometimes I think the trick is finding a new market for something from a different era or culture. I’m a huge fan of the blues, right from the earliest Charlie Patton Records from around 1910. And if you follow that history, you can see that music develop and head overseas, create folk, head back to America, become electric to create the archetype for rock & roll, then head back to the UK and blow everyone’s minds. So many bands mined that blues culture. Early Led Zeppelin records couldn’t exist without Son House and Robert Johnson and Skip James before them. The same goes for the Animals, Cream, The Stones and countless others right up to the White Stripes and beyond. But they were selling that influence to a crowd largely unfamiliar with its origin and they put their own spin on it to make it new and exciting.

The Beatles and The Doors did a similar thing with Eastern music and in a way that perhaps made it more culturally palatable. UB40 and the Police did it with Reggae; outside of Bob Marley there wasn’t a huge amount of Reggae in British Charts, but musicians knew all about it and plenty of British acts sprung up to repackage and sell that sound. Eminem seemed to make Rap accessible to mainstream white audiences. The list goes on. All using something that defined culture in another place and time to influence current culture.

I don’t think any of this makes our formative years and efforts less valid though. I like how music moves around, shapes and evolves within its sub genres. I love tracing the origin of something that came to define entire era’s of culture. It doesn’t disillusion me at all.

There is every chance that our perception of the past and how we use it to shape our future is dependent upon our allocation of time, not to mention our relationship to music itself.

The lifestyle choices and wayward attitude of Hendrix was undoubtedly transgressive within the context of his time. To apply that ambition and attitude today would fall short of the sensibilities, concerns and politics of say, St Vincent. This is not to diminish Hendrix’s legacy, a foolish endeavour in and of itself. No, this is merely an example of a huge element in 90’s culture, a bowing down to and in multiple cases a regression of pushing boundaries.

I’m not talking about Radiohead, but when there is little to no postmodernist TV programming which retrospectively uncovers the gross misogyny and racism that was presented as progressive, then memories are left unchallenged. A preferred rather than accurate history takes hold and our imagination operates within that falsity unquestioned.

Furthermore, UK ladette culture was disowned by it’s progenitors going forward, much unlike the US riot grrl ethos which inspired it beforehand. This isn’t to say that ‘Rabbit Hole’ isn’t a good tune or lacks meaning. There is however a case to be made for the ontacology of its influences, in that they were subject to the fantasies and unchecked under documented corruption of its A&R/bands of the time.

For every Radiohead there were a multitude of Dodgy, Menswear, Northern Uproar clones, all of which seeking to make money via nostalgia without taking a cue from Lennon or Patti Smith’s book and truly asking themselves who they are in an effort to challenge how things could be done. Now, there’s no question there, but I’m keen to hear what you make of all that as I’m glad we can pick apart the past in the spirit of further understanding.

Nathan: I think a lot of that comes down to finding a distinction between art that is seeking to challenge and illuminate vs art that is meant to entertain. The film Birdman deals with that issue really well.

I agree that tropes and damaging ideals can be propagated, knowingly or not by pop culture icons, but on the flip side of the coin I think artists have to be careful to keep their egos in check. If you really want to make a difference, maybe get out there and do some campaigning, some charity work. There is an argument to be made that by simply addressing these issues in your preferred medium – and making lots of money in the meantime, you are in fact leeching off the issues. If every single musician adopted Lennon or Smith’s later approach, lot’s more challenging songs would be written – but nobody would have any fun. To put in a briefer context. I feel like Rage Against the Machine are very much a part of the machine. Simply selling angst back to the public and getting rich in the process.

I’m glad you said that as there is a hell of a lot of performative actualisation out there.

The reason why we can have this conversation is due to your understanding and commitment to one philosophy when you make music as opposed to the other. It takes an earnest energy and a reflective skill to straddle both horses so to speak, let alone have the lifestyle be lived through to begin with rather than the other way around.

I wouldn’t feel comfortable critiquing Rage against the Machine, even though I’m not a fan. Their positives outweigh their negatives. The trick is to see how far the bands who are influenced by their messages are willing to further the lifestyle choices on display. The results are only as good as the understanding of what’s been before and how much honesty can pass between members of the group. Any closing thoughts? There’s so much more to say but it may be prudent for us to call half time till another interview!

Nathan: Yeah that wasn’t meant to be derisive to rage. Nothing can take away from what they achieved and their philanthropy but it’s a hard line to tow, savage barbs at corporate America, whilst being distributed by a major label, funding all those rich execs and becoming millionaires in the process.

It’s fair to say that ‘Rabbit Hole’ doesn’t have that pointed agenda. I’ve written plenty of songs that do but even the most conscientious, analytical person needs some time for an inward moment and a way to let off steam. ‘Rabbit Hole’ is just that. It’s a feeling and a mood and a moment to let go. A respite before coming back to everyone’s existential crisis.

And that’s the heart of it, right? You’ve carved out time in the day to express yourself honestly in a neo liberal society that would rather your art be a conduit for business rather than a required part of your human experience. Well done you, and thank you for yet another thoughtful conversation.

Nathan: Yep, that’s a great summary. Thanks John, always a pleasure chatting, and always thought provoking. Looking forward to the next time.

Ryan: Bloody hell, John, is that it? You didn’t even ask us our favourite colour. Mine’s green. No wait, red! Red!

Nathan: Haha it’s definitely green.

Save it for the follow up. Always have extra ammo. To be continued my brethren.

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