Inside The Video: Lowell, "The Bells"
Lowell, playing a pair of shows in town this week (9/4 at Mercury Lounge, 9/5 at Glasslands) is a Toronto-based band made up of just one person (also named Lowell, conveniently/confusingly) that makes music in the form of very delicate electro clouds over which she sings in a very high, sweet voice. She is also really into making videos! While in the past she has had a pretty strong video art aesthetic, all crazily overlaid images that honestly get kind of boring pretty quickly (one video ends with a solid minute-and-a-half-long shot of her butt, filmed closer than is normally advisable), for her latest one, recently she has gone much, much bigger.
Norman Wong Lowell, relaxing after a hard day
The clip for her sing-songy "The Bells" was filmed in one continuous take in the heart of the suburbs: under floodlights on a football field in the middle of the night. Over the course of an impeccably choreographed few minutes, Lowell shares the screen with an undead street gang, a roller derby team, a squad of cheerleaders, a marching band, and a few ancillary people in shimmering bodysuits. There's an undercurrent of menace through the whole thing, with unexplained gashes on many characters, and Lowell lazily swinging a baseball bat throughout. By the end, it seems that she may have beaten the viewer to death.
We were intrigued! So we caught up with her to get the inside story.
I love horror movies. Obviously there are more intellectual reasons for liking horror movies than others; I like them for the cheap thrill. This one in particular I used Carrie as an inspiration.
I'd also just watched the "Baby One More Time" video. And there's a great scene of her on the basketball court, and I thought that could maybe suffice [if we couldn't find a football field]. But I was happy a football field was available.
"Baby One More Time" is actually the same BPM as "The Bells," so you can sync them up really well. I've done it, and it's amazing. I actually want to put that out, but I don't want to like overshadow the actual video.
I'm sort of obsessed with making films for my songs. If I'm writing songs, there's always sort of a color that's really dominant, and with that comes a scene, and a scenario, and I build it while I'm writing the song; I already have a concept of what the video's going to be. It actually shapes the song. I have synesthesia, so sound and color go together for me.
I wanted it to be one take, and for every moment moving forward to give you the idea that there was going to be something more, and for you not to have any idea what that thing was going to be.
I liked the idea that because the song is so serene in its own way, using visuals that were a little unsettling to go with them. It gives a different take on my vocals, because they're already so nursery rhyme and simple, so if you have that underlying thing in it that's a little creepy, it almost adds to the creepiness of the song.
In Canada, we have a really great grant that goes to musicians that want to make videos. So, I applied for that, but basically thinking I wasn't going to get it, so I made this outlandish story and submitted it. And then I got the grant! Which was not huge, but it's enough to sort of put some stuff together. We still had to get a ton of volunteers to do stuff. The cheerleaders, the marching band - there were a lot of favors pulled. But it was important to me to have lots of people, lots of different groups, and this sort of juxtaposition between them in the video.
We were there all day getting ready to do it, but we only had to take it four times. I was exhausted though, because I'd been doing it all day, and running the whole scene, trying to get on the golf cart. Like everyone was there all day? Mine just involved a lot more running.
I was out of town, so we didn't get to start the video until about a week and a half before we released it. We released it three days after we filmed it.
I think in everything I do, if I'm working alone, I tend to be more art-driven. Even my original demos that are on this album are just a little more ethereal; a little bit more crazy. When I collaborate with people, it creates this cool mix between nonsense and sense.
This video is a great example, because I had a bunch of crazy ideas that I wanted to throw together. If I'd made it on my own, it probably would have been a little bit less of a story and more just visually enticing. But I'm glad it came out this way. I love collaborating. That's why I do it! It can make sense of my brain.