All Songs Considered Blog
First Watch: Okkervil River, 'Wake And Be Fine'
Austinites Okkervil River drop the video for their new cut "Wake And Be Fine." The high-contrast, black-and-white visuals reflect the tune's darker approach to tackling a hopeful ballad. However, one mission plays clear in the Daniel Gibbs-directed joint: They really want you to know the words to this one. Lyrics come punched on the screen in sans serif font (and occasionally tattoo-esque cursive) behind the band's stark performance. Read along, OK?
Gibbs told us the following in an email about the filming process:
I had collaborated with Will on a video concept a few years back. Although, the video didn't end up getting made, I enjoyed batting ideas and imagery concepts back and forth with him. It seemed that we were on the same wavelength as far as what works to form a compelling video. So, naturally I was pleased when Will and Sarah from Constant Artists reached out to me recently about the "Wake and Be Fine" video. The basic idea was already in place...a green screen shoot of a full band performance with the lyrics aggressively appearing in the backdrop, sort of a modern homage to Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues video.
The song has a big driving sound with lots of layers and often doubled instrument parts. So, instead of shooting a large band playing all the parts, we doubled and sometimes tripled the core band members on screen playing the different instruments. We liked the idea of having the lyrics dominate the screen but at the same time tugging at your attention with little offsetting details and obscurities. At a certain point the video derails a bit and you sort of lose trust in the words on the screen and have to decide where to give your attention. I think that these "slightly off" moments and esoteric lyric alterations really supported the "dream" aspects of the track.
Lead singer Will Sheff emailed us this:
It was a lot of fun going back and forth with Will on all the little nuances and I appreciated the fresh perspective on the video after long hours in edit bay. It developed really organically in post. There were a lot of moments that just worked and also a few "happy" mistakes that ended up fitting perfectly.
Dreams were a big influence on I Am Very Far, the weird crumbling-apart logic of dreams, and the strange, strong emotions dream situations take on. Early on in the writing process for the record, I decided to go and stay at the location that appears the most often in my own dreams – my grandparents' house in New Hampshire. It's a giant farmhouse, several centuries old, with a 3-story barn that, when I was a kid, was connected to the kitchen by a long cockeyed wooden corridor that eventually had to be torn down because it was falling apart. I have vivid childhood memories of the ghosts my cousins and I all believed occupied that house, and memories of running down that corridor so fast my heart was in my throat, knowing that they were coming closer behind me the faster I ran. One segment of the wooden corridor was never torn down but was instead converted into a two-car garage, above which my grandparents constructed a little guest room. This is where I stayed during part of the writing process for I Am Very Far. I wrote "Wake and Be Fine" one afternoon on their old upright piano while they were down the street visiting some friends.
Some dreams are plain, drab, almost boring, and then there are the dreams that take place in vivid color on vast made-up continents, with giant casts of characters, dreams with the long and involved plot of a skewed blockbuster. I once watched a TV show where some talking head said that the current psychological theory on summer-blockbuster dreams is that they're especially important somehow, that the mind is processing some idea or some combination of experiences that is more overwhelming than usual. When we recorded "Wake and Be Fine," I wanted it to have that massive, towering, overwhelming quality. I put together a giant version of Okkervil River – two drum kits, two pianos, two electric basses, five electric guitarists, two acoustic guitarists, thirteen percussionists, strings, horns, woodwinds, tympani, tuba. The band – minus the orchestral players – all sat in the same small room and played everything together. If anyone made even the tiniest mistake or had a slightly wobbly tempo, that entire take was ruined. We started recording the song at 3:00 P.M. and played it over and over. Only when all the musicians felt worn down and numb did we get a take we thought sounded right, at about 1:00 A.M. Everyone was exhausted afterwards. Some people went out to grab a drink before the bars closed, but I went back to my hotel and fell asleep.
"Wake And Be Fine" appears on Okkervil River's upcoming full-length, I Am Very Far, out May 10 on Jagjaguwar. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.