There’s much that is stereotypically psychedelic about director Johnny Maroney‘s music video for “No One by Jeffertitti’s Nile, but as with the band itself, there’s much more than meets the eye. As the music video explodes from its geometric black and white beginnings into more colorful chaotic realms, every triangular prism that first catches a viewer’s attention becomes supplemented by increasingly more fascinating subleties. Amidst the swirling chaos, a shamanic figure symbolically sends frontman Jeff Ramuno to his death as he levitates — and when the madness breaks into blue-skied clarity, former band member Alyson Kennon’s shadow turns from her own into that of a ballerina, recalling Disney’s Salvador Dali-inspired animation, Destino.
In the compare and contrast Q&A session below, director Johnny Maroney and frontman Jeff Ramuno discuss how life is surrealism, the ways in which existence flows in and out of itself eternally, and their history of psychic collaboration. They’re so artistically close they even swap spit on the physical plane.
How closely did you guys work together on the collaboration and the exchange of ideas?
Johnny is one of my favorite people to work with. Sometimes we don’t even have to speak the ideas as they come, because we seem to just get each other and have very similar ideas. Although I’m not a “director”, I get super excited when I’m creating on set (even to the point when listening to the playback of me yelling with joy is a little overbearing). Aside from the actual people and their actions, this video was all Johnny! After we shot it I just sat back and got my mind blown like everyone else when he sent the final edit.
I love working with Jeff because our ideas are always so aligned and it’s like we both know what we’re going to do before we even need to say anything. Jeff is also very visual and thinks like a director. so when we’re shooting. it’s always very natural. I always try to stay true to his vision while unifying it with mine to create something that is sort of beyond both of us. But when I was animating it, the project file was so huge and it took so long to render and compress that I wasn’t really able to send it to him until it was basically finished and it was too late to make many big changes. So I always just kept Jeff’s voice in my mind and made sure it was something I knew we’d both agree on.
I love when the music video pops from black and white into a colorful collage space. Can you talk about some of the symbolism that is shown and why it is chosen?
The black and white idea seems more of a reflection of the sonic quality of the song — the juxtaposition between the heavy “verses” and the dreamy lush “chorus” of the song.
A lot of the symbolism is all centered around the ideas of unity and transcendence, death and rebirth, and the infinity of everything. When I first heard the song, I kept seeing this movement of traveling through multidimensional space and transforming landscapes, and the chorus was definitely always moments of opening and clarity.
How pre-planned or spontaneous was the process of creation? Was the arc of the music video storyboarded beforehand, or did it gradually come together via the creative process?
We basically got a great group of people together and got into the zone together./ allowing ideas to naturally come. Some of them were inspired by the people and props that we chose or were laying around the loft, but all of them were inspired by genuine love, excitement and the magic of the moment.
We had a rough idea of what we wanted when we were shooting and I sort of knew what it was ultimately going to be like, but most of it was pretty spontaneous and we just created an free space and let things happen naturally. We had a really great group of people together, so that’s always a recipe for magic moments. It was really inspiring to have all that material when I went to animate it. There was no storyboard; everything just came together moment by moment. But I always saw it as a whole from the beginning even though I didn’t really know how I was going to do it.
There seem to be some clear homages to surrealism when different elements subtly transform into new ones. How inspirational is surrealism to your artistic and creative process?
Reality is so dreamy as it is that surrealism seems to be the category that describes everything to me.
Surrealism has been a big influence on me ever since I was a young kid. It was one of the first art movements that I remember being really amazed by and so many of my favorite artists were Surrealists, so it’s only natural it shows in my work, though I don’t really think about it too much anymore because I don’t really see any difference between surrealism and reality. Reality is more of an illusion that we perceive, and surrealism is just one of many ways of exploring that perception.
How much time was spent on filming? How much in post-production?
Filming was mostly one night after a show on tour in New York w/ a quick additional shoot a bit later in Topanga Canyon, California. The work that Johnny did post I can only imagine…
We shot everything in a night while they were in town on tour and then a little in California just for fun. Then I spent probably close to two months animating it. It was the first time I had really done animation on a computer like that so I was basically learning everything as I was going. which was a lot of fun but also kind of crazy. I approached it like stop-motion animation so everything was pretty much done frame by frame.
What are some of your favorite moments or images in the music video?
The arms / swans or when the skull becomes Iggy Star Child as an executioner. Really. all the moments of showing how closely related things are to each other by morphing into one another, and the symbolism of death done in this beautiful way [where] death is natural and beautiful. That’s kinda what the song is about: the interconnectivity in all things and people. No one individual, but all one ever-changing, flowing stream.
It’s hard for me not to be critical about it now because it’s been finished for over a year, but there are also some parts that I forget about and when I watch it I’m like, “Woah, I can’t believe I did that.” I like the swan arms and they were fun to make. That whole moment actually, when Alyson’s shadow separates from her body and floats away as she disappears, always makes me feel good.
Were there any challenges or surprises you would like to speak of?
Really just how long it took to get the album finished while playing in another band full-time. This is an amazing piece of art Johnny has made so I hate to have played a part in delaying its birth to willing eyes and ears. Everything happens the way it does, perfectly, so all the challenges and surprises keep things interesting!
I love challenges, and every day I was animating it, I would think about something I wanted to try even though I had no idea how I was going to do it and just work at it until I figured it out. Some things were easier than others, but a lot of it was really technical, and I had to sort of train my brain to work in a different way. This indeed led to many surprises, and it was great.
Anything else you’d like to add about the record, the creation of the music video, or your upcoming projects?
Very happy that the album and video are out now so we can make another one. There’s actually a video for this other musical project I have that Johnny and I were working on. Maybe it’s time to finish that now.
I have some new video projects coming up I’m really excited about, and hopefully a film in the near future. Let’s finish that other video, Jeff!