3:00pm

Fri April 8, 2011
All Songs Considered Blog

First Watch: Wye Oak, 'Fish'

For its new video for its song "Fish" — making its debut here — the Baltimore duo Wye Oak recruited the creative chops of a few fellow hometown artists, painter Katherine Fahey and photographer Michael O'Leary. Paper dolls Fahey handcrafted take a dive underwater, while O'Leary shoots the figures and strings them together for the visually stunning accompaniment to "Fish." The song appears on the band's latest full-length album, Civilian.

Wye Oak's members, Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack, had this to say about the film via email:

For the video to "Fish," we collaborated with two Baltimore artists who are near and dear to us. Katherine Fahey did the wonderful painting which graced the cover of our debut, If Children, and we've also worked with her on joint art and shadow puppet shows in the past. For this video, she meticulously constructed a shadow puppet show out of her own paper cuts.

Michael O'Leary, whose photograph appears on the cover of Civilian, contributed his inventive lighting and cinematography. Another Baltimore mainstay, Owen Lang, contributed the edit.

Paper cuts and still photographs from the making of the video are currently on display at Metro Gallery in Baltimore. An exhibit closing on April 22 will feature a live presentation of the shadow puppet show by Katherine Fahey and guests.

And here's Katherine Fahey's take:

My love for music has led me to many inspiring collaborations with various musicians, so when Andy and Jenn invited me to make a shadow puppet show for the video for "Fish," I was immediately excited about the idea. Wye Oak's songs have such a wonderful range of emotions in them that lend themselves to visual interpretation. The first time Andy played me the song, I felt an expansiveness that conjured for me an image of a man in a row boat in the middle of a vast ocean. This became the largest and most labor-intensive paper cut in the video, a 6' x 8' piece of ocean waves. I told Andy and Mike about the idea and they both looked at me a little stunned, like, "Do you really want to do that?" But for me there was no question. I was hooked.

Andy and Jenn's storyline for the video had made me realize how the song "Fish" is a metaphor. Because of this, I wanted to portray the man's journey through the watery landscape with a more surreal approach. The puppets aren't realistic or in scale with each other, and each seahorse and jellyfish is inspired by more than one species of its kind. Shadow puppetry is an ancient art form, and Andy was interested in having the video show that very basic and simple quality of the puppets. Filming the puppets was a great challenge, yet we were able to do things like create close-ups, and to keep the action moving in ways that would have been difficult in a live shadow puppet show. The lighting gives the puppets a whole other dimension, allowing them to exist between a 2D and 3D world, to have sunrises and water reflections. It adds a whole other liveliness that also emphasizes the handmade quality of the puppets. We were able to create a visual identity — like the song itself, both timeless and contemporary.

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