A blisteringly fierce anthem for the reclamation of the self, Director Jonny Look was charged with channelling the ferocity of Thao & The Get Down Stay Down’s live performances of Meticulous Bird into an equally rousing music video. In our interview, Jonny explains how he harnessed the unbridled energy of Thao’s onstage delivery into an inexorably surreal supermarket performance piece, augmented by a purple paisley shoulder padded jumpsuit.
Lyrically, Meticulous Bird addresses issues of sexual violence and the reclamation of the body, while channeling powerful feelings of anger and dark humour into its ferocious delivery. Those are some serious themes to convey in a music video.
I wanted to be conscious of creating something that isn’t overly heavy. When dealing with an important subject, I think it’s easy to go down an incredibly serious road. But it was important to me to make something that still felt approachable, and darkly playful, while still channelling the severeness of the message. With her message in mind, I set out to create visuals that felt powerful, sporadic, and vaguely poisonous. I wanted to make a video that made Thao feel dominant.
Thao had expressed an interest in dance early on, but I don’t think that she initially wanted to be the one doing the dancing. I had watched videos of her performing the song live, and she’d totally lose her shit – it felt incredibly free and powerful. And I wanted to try and capture that energy in a performance video. We worked with choreographer Mary John Frank to create unpredictable and sporadic movement that asserted Thao’s dominance in the space.
Her costume also helped with that – there is something strong about shoulder pads that feel warrior-like. The idea with the movement was that even if the physical intentions were disconnected from a linear story, the motivations still felt as though they had purpose. Thematically, we talked about poses and moves that would evoke the feeling of a hunt, a struggle, and a fight.
The track’s intensity varies across its composite sections, how did you match the on screen action to those musical ebbs and flows?
It was important to me that the dance fit the atmosphere of the song. The drowsy, hypnotic parts must embody that – and the sharp, punchy, explosive must do the same. For me, the piece was about exploring mood in lighting and movement. The live videos I saw of Thao performing showed me how uninhibited she can be, and it really gave us the freedom of pushing that wildness. It can sometimes be difficult to get extreme emotion from performers because going to extremes can be a very vulnerable place. But with Thao, that was never a problem on this video. We had a base level with what she was already doing during her live shows.
Could you share some of the gear and techniques you used to bring this surreal supermarket of animated fish and pulsing lights to life?
Camera wise – we shot Cooke anamorphics on an Alexa mini – and shot mostly handheld. We also had this seat dolly that we whipped around with Chris Westlund (the DP) sitting on it operating the camera, so it retained the feeling of being handheld while still keeping those smooth movements. The pulsing lights are a mix of dimmers, practically panning the lights, and photo flashes.
As far as the FX shots of the fish go, the majority of the plates were shot in my living room with my buddy Cory Howard. We set up a green seamless and moved the fish around with fishing line. The real magic came from Casey Price at Shipping and Handling, who was able to take those elements and bring them to life. He was also able to get the fish to blink at the end, which is something nature does not provide.
I set out to create visuals that felt powerful, sporadic, and vaguely poisonous. I wanted to make a video that made Thao feel dominant.
I wanted it to add a lightness and otherworldly aspect to the video by using obvious imagery from the song’s lyrics in odd and disconnected ways. For example, when the lyrics mention “scene of the crime” we create a crime scene with a bag of groceries, and use lighting that subtly seems as though it was coming from a search light. During the line “I’ve been starving for air ever since I found you”, we use imagery from shopping bags and fish gasping for air, and so on. And these would all help create the backdrop for Thao’s performance.
What will we see from you next?
I’m a huge music fan, so absolutely more music videos. And I’m working on a video about parking… parking has been a considerable and meaningful part of my life living in LA, and I think I’ve developed some methods and theories on the matter that could help enlighten those who don’t give it a second thought. It will be my opus?