22 Aug WATCH THE UPSTART CROWS OPERATE IN MADLY FRESH MUSIC VIDEO FOR “MELANCHOLY HAZE”
If you don’t know what it’s like to want to forget someone, you’ve either been especially fortunate in the dating world OR too guarded to fall hard enough to warrant such a feeling when it ends or, in some cases, never even begins. (And I’m kind of jealous of you.) Many of us reluctantly carry around what I tend to envision as a tightly-wrapped pouch containing a few deliciously horrible, hand-picked memories we sense we might be better off without. But what if we *could* rid ourselves of these pesky reminiscences once and for all?
Brooklyn-based indie band The Upstart Crows tackle this concept of selective memory-wipe with a madly fresh yet suitably haunting music video for their punchy track “Melancholy Haze.” (Pause if you’re eating, because brains are on the menu. Watch when ready.) A rush of hazy, serene, violet-tinged memories of lost love kiss your eyes in an instant. Lead singer and guitarist Jon is then seen donned in all white moving from the stark brightness of the hallway into the uncertainty of the darkness, where drummer Forest—sporting a knee-length lab coat, latex gloves, creepy goggles, and a maniacal vibe—welcomes his arrival. We witness the patient wince on the operating table shortly after the delirious doc begins his painful procedure. Throughout the video, visuals of the beautiful but broken memories and hazardous surgery are interwoven. And the juxtaposition is powerful.
Musically, the track neatly lends itself to nearly any chill, reflective, breakup, or brooding indie playlist you can think of. Just don’t insult it by slipping it into the likes of an infectious pop playlist. (Listen while you read.) The lyric that stays with me long after I listen is:
“Why do we build castles ever higher just to watch them wash away?”
In this interview, you’ll learn: what early 2000s movie inspired the “Melancholy Haze” music video; why Jon’s hair is shorter than usual; the upside to filming on a budget; why road trips are ideal for writers; which two tracks from the band’s self-titled album Jon recommends first to new listeners; the significance of the band’s name; what song Jon last listened to on repeat + why; where you can catch Jon’s next solo show; and what’s next for The Upstart Crows.
The conversation from our interview is chronicled below in a pure Q + A format.
Q + A:
When did the concept for the “Melancholy Haze” video come to you?
Jon: I don’t remember exactly when it came to me, but a real inspiration for the video was the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In the movie, there’s a machine that’s used to erase some of the character’s unwanted memories. I kind of imagined the process depicted in the movie to be just a little more GROSS—the idea that forgetting something so painful would have to have a painful process to remove it. And brain surgery seemed to fit that concept better.
How did you prepare for + then manage to bring that initial vision into reality when it was time to film your group’s first EVER video?
Jon: Once I came up with the concept, I brought the idea to my friend, who happens to work for a camera rental company in New York City. He’s been wanting to make more music videos, and we were lucky to have access to a lot of his resources.
I did some simple story boarding, and worked with our Director Richie Regula. He and I kept communicating back and forth and wondering, What can we do? What do we have? (You know, we didn’t have a huge budget set aside for this, so we were forced to get creative.) I built that little machine you see in the music video. We bought these light orbs, thinking they’d be good for the ideas, because they had a really cool visual effect in the dark room.
At that point, we still didn’t have a space locked down, but we saw the place where all the cameras were stored for my friend’s job. The room was big enough, so we decided to run with it. We waited until everyone left for the night. Then, me and four other guys from my friend’s office stayed late and filmed it ALL in ONE NIGHT. We moved everything out of the way, hung up some black curtains, and made use of all the equipment.
I tend to think that when you’re on a budget and you have to be more creative, you end up with a better finished product. If you have unlimited access to anything you could think of, the end product often tends to turn out a little bit lazy. You and your team created something special.
Jon: Yeah, you always have to give yourself some type of limitation. If you can make anything at all in the world, you’ll make nothing. There are too many options. You’ll be frozen by all the choices.
What were the vibes like onset + are there any memorable stories?
Jon: I didn’t really know a lot of the crew that well, because they were Richie’s friends. There were definitely some F-ups, and, given the limited schedule, we had to cut a lot of stuff that we simply didn’t have time for.
Zack Handler, another friend of mine, came onset to manage the Special FX for the brain, which is definitely a story worth telling. To get the desired effect you see in the video, we tested a bunch of goops and opted for a plaster molding that sets over time. (I knew with this particular plaster we’d be on an even tighter time-table AND run the risk of it hardening in my hair, but I assured Zack we wanted to use it in order to achieve that specific look.) After our eleven-hour shoot, it had completely BONDED to my hair. I tried using vinegar and every solvent you could think of to get the plaster out. At the end of numerous failed attempts, my comb was not only FULL of hair clumps, but I also I had a horrific, full-out throbbing headache from pulling at my hair for so long. I reluctantly realized the only way to fix it was to shave it—and I suffered for my art, as I like to say. (Luckily, I didn’t have long hair to begin with.)
The girl is perfect in the video! Can you tell us about her?
Jon: I went to school for acting and engineering, and Kenzie Klem was one of my classmates in New York City. Her part of the video turned into a bit of a happy accident. We filmed it at the park with my iPhone. Later on, Richie realized—with that quality—we could create this really cool “falling apart” effect by uploading the video multiple times, since it fades and distorts a little with each upload.
Let’s talk about the song itself. What do you want your fans to know about “Melancholy Haze” both musically + lyrically?
Jon: Musically, I write by sitting and playing until something I like comes out. Then, I try to determine, What is the movie that goes with soundtrack of this song? That’s what the lyrics are. How do I match these moods?
I was on a road trip with my buddy across the US, and there’s a lot of down time while traveling to think about stuff. I had just been rejected by this girl I was really into—and the idea of having to deal with trying to forget someone (and trying to move past it) consumed me. I wanted to write a song about that feeling, and that’s how “Melancholy Haze” came about.
On the trip, we listened to a number of audio books, including The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac. There’s this one line in the book where one of the characters says something like, “All things come to an end, good or bad.” I just thought it was such a good line. No matter what, everything ends and you have to accept that. That’s part of the process of getting over things.
What’s the significance of the band’s name + what do you like best about being part of it?
Jon: We’re called The Upstart Crows, which is a theater reference. As I mentioned before, I went to school with Forest in Keene—that’s where we met. We actually acted in Frank Wedekind’s play Spring Awakening together. When I found out Forest played the drums, I basically snatched him and said, “Let’s go to my house and play music!”
In Theater History class, we learned Shakespeare was coined “the upstart crow” in Robert Greene’s “Greene Groats-worth of Wit” pamphlet, because he was a poor guy trying to write plays—which was something only the nobles did. (Greene felt that actors should read words and not write them.) To be a playwright was a noble art. And the other people of the time were like, Who the F*CK is THIS guy, coming onto our turf, who thinks he can just come and write plays as a director/actor?! Get the heck out of here! He’s just an upstart crow, a nobody. I thought it was so punk rock. Such an underdog title.
Why do you make music?
Jon: Oof! Asking the hard questions… I’ve always liked making things. That’s who I am as a person. I know I keep bringing it back, but theater was a BIG part of my growing up. I came to New York City because I wanted to act. Yet the more I get into it, the more I realize the less control I have. And it’s not MY thing. Acting is always doing someone else’s thing. It’s not my voice. It’s almost an emotional exercise, like being a craftsman.
But music—it’s MINE. I mean, Forest is helping me, of course, and we are all making it together, but I still have a large say in the matter of how the music comes out. And music just happens to be the thing I thought I was pretty good at, so I keep making songs.
Which of your songs do you recommend FIRST to new listeners? Can you tell us about the self-titled album?
Jon: There’s two I like that I listen to and always recommend: “What Did I Say” and “Bad Medicine.” I can listen to them separately, and I think they’re good tunes.
Regarding the album, people should listen to it! It was exciting, because it was the first album I’ve ever made. I mean, I made music when I was younger that I self-released, but I had never professionally recorded anything until this self-titled album. A lot of it was trial by fire. The engineers were like, “What do you want?” And I was just like, “I don’t know, make it sound good…”
The album was a real labor to make. We tried recording it THREE times. Two times were with a buddy helping us out, which didn’t really take. Once we moved to New York City, we found a guy, really recorded it, and paid for it. What a real lesson I learned: if it’s something important, pay for it. If you’re asking for a friend’s help, you’ll always be nudging, “Hey man, have you gotten a chance to finish this?” You are really relying on both their availability and kindness, whereas if you pay for something, a professional is required to deliver what you’ve paid for.
What’s the last song you listened to on repeat + what was the circumstance?
Jon: Gimme a second, I gotta dig through my phone… I usually find a song, and then listen to it non-stop. Oh, it was sooo poppy! I feel like it should be this indie band that no one’s ever heard of, but I really got into “Bury A Friend” by Billy Eilish. Well, I first found the song through YouTuber Josh Turner Guitar, who recorded an a cappella version (watch it now), and it was SOO good that it got me into the original version.
I like music that’s kind of creepy sounding. I always like to say I’m goth-adjacent. I can’t fully commit. I dabble. I wear all black, but I’m more goth-casual. “Bury A Friend” is sultry, and there’s kind of a Sinatra-thing going on with it. I listened to the original song, and thought it was unique. Josh Turner’s version is great, too.
What’s next for The Upstart Crows?
Jon: The lyrics are what takes the longest for me. We probably already have an EP of songs written, but I really want to take some time to play with it. Our next plan is to NOT do an album, but instead do a bunch of single releases. The album was great, but it’s hard to create that buzz for a new band when no one really knows who you are yet. If we can afford it, we’d like to do a model of single release with a video. I feel like a lot of people respond to videos more. When it comes to clicking, people will watch a video over listening to a track. And there’s just something satisfying about clicking on YouTube links.
I’d love to plan a tour for the future, but right now I’m playing a bunch of solo shows, since the boys are out there doing their own things. My next show is this Friday, August 23rd at Nublu Classic with Wikka and Loyalty To Me. Check out the event details on Facebook + come out to see me perform if in you’re in NYC!
Connect with The Upstart Crows:
Watch the “Melancholy Haze” music video:
Listen to The Upstart Crows’ Self-Titled Album:
Apple Music: https://music.apple.com/gb/album/the-upstart-crows/1413239109
Photo By Augustus Stahl