KICCC – “Wine” Music Video (Interviews w/ Musician Carson Cheng & Director Brock Newman)

KICCC - Wine Music Video Interview

In the cinematic music video for “Wine,” Canadian Chinese singer Carson Cheng — also known as KICCC (pronounced “kick”) — emerges from hot ashes like a phoenix and finds himself face-to-face with a white wolf in the woods. The dramatic result of a creative exchange between KICCC and director Brock Newman, “Wine” draws upon Cheng’s performance art background and Newman’s interpretation on themes of reincarnation — to crystallize into a powerful, raw exploration of an otherworldly atmosphere, just subtly removed from our present existence.
“Wine” is the final installment in a philosophically-linked, three-part music video trilogy, seen here with the preceding two videos for “Here” and “Control.” Together, they provide a solid visual backbone for The Water Knows, KICCC’s upcoming full-length album release.
The following interview features both Cheng and Newman in conversation with one another about the video’s symbolism, technical feats, and the painstaking dedication required to work with the elements and get a real life wolf to cooperate on-set.
This article is a part of our Compare & Contrast Series, where we analyze a creative project from its many varied viewpoints, to honor the true nature of artistic collaboration.

 

KICCC – “Wine” Music Video

Directed by Brock Newman

The three music videos — “Here,” “Control,” and “Wine” — are a trilogy. Could you please describe the relationship or connection among them?

Carson Cheng (KICCC):
I think it’s more accurate to call them more of a spiritual trilogy, or maybe even a collection of videos, so I wouldn’t say it’s anything that’s sequential because that whole concept is that maybe our reality isn’t so much sequential, like this one happened, and then this one. In that way, there’s the throughline of a type of rebirth or reimagining of reality throughout the three.

 

Brock Newman (Director):
Elaborating on that… I don’t think it’s a trilogy in a conventional sense, where we have one character and there’s a hook or a plot twist that continues into the next, but we’re looking at thematic continuity and motifs that are repeating, so there’s always an element of sci-fi and a New Age contemporary feel that could be of another world or another place and another time. Water, obviously, was a big one. To me, that was the strongest thing in the brief — so if I were to describe it, the short-form is that we wanted to continue something that was water and wanted to look into reincarnation and the idea of cycles, rebirth, death, and going through that. It’s more these thematic things — these feelings that have continued, in the sense that we are very much imagining this new world or this new story, but you’re kind of coming in through these fragmented episode of that story, if that makes sense.

 

Let’s talk about the concept of water and reincarnation. What is its significance in the video for “Wine,” as well as in the upcoming record, The Water Knows?

Carson Cheng (KICCC):
I was working in Korea, and I was in this really creepy building… and the words, “The water knows,” were somewhere in the corner in the building. The syntax was off; it didn’t make sense, and I was quite bothered by that, because it looked almost like a threatening message at some point, because my friends were Korean, and they couldn’t make out what it meant. We all saw the words “water” “knows” “something,” and I was like, “Oh my god, was this a threat towards some street thug who saw something he shouldn’t have and his name was Water, and it was like, ‘Don’t show your face around here anymore,’ that sort of thing?”

So I kept having that message in the back of my mind, and it was so uncomfortable for me — but then I had some time in-between jobs, and my friend was like, “Hey, let’s go see this really famous celebrity fortune-teller,” and I’m just like, “Okay.” We had five hours to kill, so I was down for anything. We got there, and she took down my birth numbers and talked about my zodiac, my horoscope… I don’t really remember what she told me in general because I’m not very into the whole horoscope or fortune-telling thing. I was just like, “Oh, this is entertainment,” right? But at some point, something really stood out to me. She said directly to me: “You are water.”

And as I mentioned, I had that weird message floating in my mind for the whole past week, and when she said that, I was just like, “If I’m water, and I know something, what is it that I actually know?”

At that moment, it seemed like something just clicked in me, and I’m like, “Maybe I do know.” I actually do know deep inside based off my intuition and my inner feelings about everything. Because if something’s making me uncomfortable, I’ll know exactly why I’m uncomfortable… “The water knows” became a mantra of empowerment and almost a validation for any of my choices or my feelings, and it’s just kept on reminding me to trust my own intuition and gut feelings more.

Along with that, water is one of the most prominent elements in the world, and it is what keeps us all alive, and our bodies are composed of water; our environments are composed of water. And I feel like — just with how water cycles through the different stages, humans are the same way, and I feel like water almost retains a part of our memory. So water, for me, just became a great representation for a lot of things that just appear in my life. It just became a great metaphor and a great starting point for me to start conceptualizing.

 

Brock Newman (Director):
Something I love — a saying that rings so true and means a lot — is the idea of: when you’re faced with adversity, to be like water… and the idea that it fits any shape that it is given. It will flow anywhere. It will spread itself out. It will dissipate. It has equal pressure everywhere. Something where you can’t really force water to do things against its property, so you have to be true to yourself… I love that. That’s how I try to live my life in many ways.

 

Carson Cheng (KICCC):
I totally love how you mentioned that, because it really brings it back to this idea of so-called rebirth and reincarnation. Sometimes, it’s not so literal as, “Oh, I’m dying, and I’m coming back as someone else…” Obviously, I’ve never died — I’m still in front of you right now — but I feel like I’ve had to rebirth myself and reinvent myself during different stages of my life, and I feel like everyday, everyone’s changing a little bit, so… in a way, we can take that as a microscopic level of looking at things.

 

Brock Newman (Director):
Water is essential to life. It represents life. When we’re looking to other planets, half the time, we’re not actually looking for aliens; we’re looking for water. Because if there’s water, you can have sustainability; you can have vegetation, flora, fauna; everything comes from that. On a both existential and very fundamental level, water necessitates life and vice versa, and there’s something super fundamental and primal in that way. That’s the first part of your question….

On the shorter side, I’ll get to the genesis, for me, of the idea… When I was hearing reincarnation, and I started listening to [the song “Wine”], and there’s a mention of an angel; there’s a mention of wings. I combined the two immediately. I just saw this winged figure, and the idea of reincarnation — you’re left with a phoenix. And I immediately couldn’t get the idea of a phoenix out of my head, so one of the first things that came to mind was the opening scene, which was KICCC coming out of the ashes, and it’s birth one or birth a million; this idea that perhaps this is a closed loop… listening to the song over and over, I just saw KICCC rising out of the ashes like a phoenix.

 

You have different directors for all three videos of the trilogy. How did you all come to working together? With the videos being so philosophically-driven, I feel like there’s almost a different type of connection that needs to happen on a conceptual, spiritual level.

Carson Cheng (KICCC):
Actually, it’s quite interesting, because I first met Brock on the set of my first music video, “Here.” I believe you were — what was your role?

 

Brock Newman (Director):
I did a mix of things, but primarily steadicam… it allows you to stabilize your shots so the camera can move smoothly.

 

Carson Cheng (KICCC):
That’s where I first met Brock, and my impression of him on the day of set was just that he was such a calm and positive presence, and he was really kind. Those are really generic things; I’m painting him to be this picture perfect person, but honestly, you don’t really encounter those people, where there’s a true attention to me as a subject. It was really nice.

We didn’t get too much interaction beyond that… but when we started looking for pitches, in terms of what to do with my song, “Wine,” Brock put in a pitch, and right off the bat, I could almost imagine seeing the video already. We just started talking more about the imagery and what that means to me on a personal level, and it seemed like we were pretty much on the same page.

So yes, when you talk about it being so philosophical, it really does demand a sort of connection for the director to really know me as a person and my personal history so they can properly, in a way, interpret that for a music video. I have to open up to them, so I think it takes… so I have to be very careful about who these people are. It speaks to a certain level of trust, I guess.

 

Brock Newman (Director):
Totally. Obviously, on that first video, we had a different working relationship, and I wasn’t there pitching ideas to Carson, trying to make a business angle or opportunity out of it, but I think we’re just both people who everyone else’s comfort and happiness is very critical for us, so we’re on set, concerned about others and how they feel. I think that is just one of those things. It’s not philosophical, but it’s deeper than that surface level, transactional, “Oh, you’re happy, great, I get what I want…”

For us to genuinely enjoy ourselves on this earth, we need to make sure that everyone is okay and taken care of and all this. So I think to say that, obviously, I found some adoration for Carson immediately and how he worked — especially on this third one, once we got more involved together… I mean, I buried Carson three times in the pouring rain, in hot ashes, and he was just like, “Do you want to do it again?” and I’m like, “No… I think we got it,” and he was just like, “I’ll do it again! Whatever you want!”

That commitment; that selflessness… I was blown away by that. I’m getting very sidetracked in how awesome I think Carson is right now…

But for instance, the club scene. This was something that was super particular that both of us nailed a vibe and a connection, where it didn’t come off as this greasy, superficial, sexual, base interaction or place — and I was trying to, obviously, pitch how the club might look or feel, and how we could create this New Agey, spacey world that didn’t feel real. So the pole dancer, then, not a strip club, but just a AR/VR club. And all of a sudden, all these layers just started adding. The more that Carson said, “I want this, and I’m into this, and I want to stay away from that,” it gave us these beautiful guidelines to map between safely.

When you watch the end… a big concern was: when we jumped to that next scene — where Carson and the lead dancer are together in the bedroom — in my head, it was kind of how I hope it feels when you watch now, but on paper, it’s like, “Is it the morning after? Did we have a fling?” and it was so not what I wanted it to be, and it’s so what we wanted it to stay away from feeling like, because that’s not KICCC’s brand, and this video should have never been that. That was never the goal. So really, the more that we got into the project, the more that Carson opened up, and the more that Carson opened up, the more this felt like it was finding its footing and staying very true throughout the whole process and to the artist.

 

Carson Cheng (KICCC):
I think that — within a given brief or an idea, I always try to find a way to personalize it, so that whatever is happening is pertinent to me as an artist, as a human being… like being water, there’s a certain degree of flexibility that I feel like I have, just as one of my qualities as a performer, so it’s really important for me to express my ideas, too. Sometimes things become more of a combined idea.

What I’m trying to say with that: how does that tie in with my other videos as well? I think the mere fact that there’s some part of my ethos and my philosophy within each of the videos; there’s going to be a time theme. Time theme being me. Because even though the storylines are so vastly different, they all speak on the same topic and a certain type of belief. It might be from different angles. One could be more of a curiosity; one could be more of a lust for something. There’s also in-between things.

 

I love that that’s the exchange; that’s the purpose of us doing this article this way, with the director and musician, because that’s the nature of true collaboration; give and take.

Carson Cheng (KICCC):
Yes. And just to speak of that as a practice, that’s a really big part of even my songwriting and my art in general. We were talking about interdisciplinary performance a little bit before Brock hopped on… but I was basically trained in an environment where our theater pieces were very devised and collaborative. Everyone would bring fragments or ideas to the table around a certain anchor, and we’d try to piece this imperfect jigsaw puzzle together and try to make a picture out of that. I feel like that really carries on into the different mediums that I’m working in…

People often focus — when they want to ask me about my career, obviously, it’s great that they’re curious about any part of me, but they always focus on my transition from being moreso an actor into a musician, as if, under the assumption that that’s such a huge change for me, whereas for me, it’s just like, “Well, maybe I’m just doing it in a different medium.” It’s still the same thing for me.

 

KICCC - Wine Music Video Interview

I think what really shines through is not just you as a performer on the screen, but that there is a world that is related through all the videos. Things that stand out are this recurring red-haired character; maybe there are others — and an embrace of very subtle technological aesthetics in a really classy way. I was wondering if you could talk about that a little bit.

Carson Cheng (KICCC):
I guess because that’s a theme that came up in the first video. I think I’ve always been fascinated about human’s relationship with technology. I say human, but I’m really talking about myself. My relationship with technology — and what it provided to me in good ways and bad ways throughout my life.

We knew we wanted it to be a bit sci-fi; a bit Black Mirror or something — and there’s just different ways in which we interact with that in the different videos.

In the club scene, the people were present, but some of them were also wearing AR/VR types of headsets, in which the people were right there, but they were still looking at something else. That scene for us just really tried to speak on that type of relationship that people have with technology. And I’m not saying whether it’s good or bad, but there is a bit of a disconnection with so-called reality sometimes. Even the most general thing: everyone on their phones at the dinner table. These are just things that have been starting to happen since I was born; even thirty years ago, that couldn’t have been a commonplace thing. I can’t imagine going to dinner without seeing someone on their phone nowadays. It just speaks to being in the moment — versus sometimes having these alternate perceptions slash fantasies. At least, that’s what it means to me.

 

Brock Newman (Director):
Obviously, what Carson said all rings true, but I guess with it being integrated into the video, it definitely was coming from a place to satisfy that sci-fi was very much part of the branding, and to sort of delve into the world and keep that continuity between the two. It was a way that we could rope in the feeling of the other videos and bring that into the third video so that we continued that.

However, like Carson said, by doing that, a byproduct of it was perhaps a commentary on how it felt watching people and how they’re interacting with that technology. Because also, too, the character that you’re watching — that KICCC’s moving through — for me, I definitely wanted this sort of lust feeling, or a looking for something… a looking for a relationship or a soulmate — something like this… that’s why, for me, the wolf at the intro creates this immediate sort of energy between Carson and another spirit or whatever…

So when he gets into the club, you’re seeing everyone so detached. They’re not even watching the person dancing; they have VR on to project who they want. You can just dial in 3D avatar of your choice.

 

Carson Cheng (KICCC):
You brought up the wolf, and I just wanted to say there were so many other things we planned for the wolf, but the wolf… that’s one thing we can’t control. The wolf was a real wolf; it wasn’t a robot. It wasn’t animatronic or anything like that, so obviously wolves have a mind of their own and [laughs]…

 

Good thing you all are like water.

Carson Cheng (KICCC):
Yup, yup, totally. It was just so funny because sometimes we’re just like, “Oh, I wish we had a couple more shots of the wolf so we could totally cement what we were talking about,” but the wolf was just like [makes a dead face]. It was so funny.

 

Brock Newman (Director):
It was a long day for a wolf.

 

Carson Cheng (KICCC):
Literally, it just started zonking out at some point. Putting its butt to camera and everything. [laughs]

 

Brock Newman (Director):
To clarify, our plan was to bring the wolf back in the final scene. Carson approaches the fire, the wolf was supposed to be there — and what we needed was an exchange of eyelines. The wolf looking at Carson, and Carson looking at the wolf. And we were going to do a bit of a movie magic — a little gag where it felt like Carson was moving through the fire. The wolf was just not… couldn’t stop moving, couldn’t chill out for a second, was looking anywhere but. The trainers were throwing more and more meat to keep the wolf occupied and with us — so most of the time, it’s just eating in all of the shots. This was unfortunately the last scene we were filming, on the last day. We couldn’t do pickups the next day or anything, and we were shooting, and the entire ending sort of revolved around having this wolf cooperate and give us some semblance of a performance, and we pretty quickly… I think we might have tried filming for fifteen minutes, then we kind of pulled the plug and just thought, “We don’t have an ending. We’ve lost the ending. We’ll have to find something else.”

We shot a lot of Carson getting close to the fire — probably too close — but that’s the beauty of filmmaking, and especially in the post-production side of it. There’s a lot of control if you have a lot of footage to work with.

We just started circling back to the water again. It became this really strong centerpoint where, for me, I sort of had explained it to myself where the water felt like a transient limbo space, so when Carson was passing over or rebirthing, that KICCC, that character, would pass through the water to go from one through the other. So in, “Here,” the first video, it was used in that as a portal, so finding reasoning in that, but yeah. The wolf was… a wake-up call.

 

Carson Cheng (KICCC):
The wolf is a wolf. A wild animal.

 

KICCC - Wine Music Video Interview

I love the boldness of vision to even attempt these things, so kudos on that.

Carson Cheng (KICCC):
You’re right about having that boldness. I was really happy with how everything turned out, because I got to do a lot of bucket list items. Check off a lot of bucket list items just for myself as a screen actor, as well. I got to film underwater; that’s a big thing I’ve always wanted to do. I got to do that. I got to film with a wolf, I got to get buried… all of that stuff was check, check, check, I’ve done that. I can do that now.

 

Brock Newman (Director):
What bucket list is this?! Carson’s like, “I’m here. Obviously I haven’t died yet, but this bucket list is: bury me. Put me underwater.”

 

Carson Cheng (KICCC):
That’s basically me flirting with…

 

Next time is flying. Get on it, Brock.

Carson Cheng (KICCC):
Yeah, right? Skydiving, maybe.

 

Brock Newman (Director):
Alligators. Skydiving.

 

My last main question is: you both obviously know the power of film and visual media in relation to music. What do you think is important for that specifically at this moment in the music industry, and where are you excited to see it going?

Brock Newman (Director):
Jumping in here, and we can go back and forth, Carson, but I know for me, a big thing I get from labels and artists is: you’re offering deeper connective tissue for you and your fans or you and your listeners. Obviously, you can put out music, and of course, that goes without saying, but that’s the first and foremost. If you’re a musician, the most important thing is it connects to your listeners, but beyond that — Carson’s such a good example. KICCC is so much more than even just the music. KICCC is sort of a brand; KICCC is an attitude. Through film, I think we just have an opportunity to make that connection and offer another connection to you and what you want to be saying.

 

Carson Cheng (KICCC):
Totally. When I conceive of ideas, I feel like it’s really hard for me to peg how ideas come to me personally, because it’s almost like I see something, I hear something, there are words to something. It’s just about translating that into a greater scope, so it’s not just a sole medium. As we were talking about earlier: it’s just about that very holistic type of experience — not only for the audience, but a holistic audience for myself as a creator as well. Because I think that’s the only way I can even start to try to attempt to articulate that initial concept… that impulse to create this was.

Obviously, on a more logistic level… it’s part of the marketing strategy as well, to have something that people can not only listen to, but also engage with visually. I’m really all about trying to engage all the senses and create a sensorial experience when it comes to my art, just because I feel like that’s how humans experience moments. It’s not just about what you heard in that moment. There’s gonna be smells as well. There’s a lot to speak of how people experience things, and I don’t know, necessarily, if it’s the most correct way of doing things, but at least it makes the most sense for me. I also want to push myself not only as a musician, but I still have my background as a performer slash actor, so I just want to make sure that whenever I put something out there, I’m exhausting and using every possible ounce of whatever “talent” I have in putting something out there, right?

 

KICCC – “Here” Music Video

Directed by Riun Garner

KICCC – “Control” Music Video

Directed by Mark Chisholm

KICCC - Wine Music Video Interview

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Vivian Hua 華婷婷 is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer. As the Executive Director of Northwest Film Forum in Seattle and Editor-in-Chief of the interdisciplinary arts publication, REDEFINE, much of her work unifies her metaphysical interests with her belief that art can positively transform the self and society. She regularly shares human-centered stories through her storytelling newsletter, RAMBLIN’ WITH VEE! In 2020, she will [hopefully] begin production on a comedic Asian-American series entitled Reckless Spirits.

Ask Vivian about MARSHMALLOWS, cuz she's gross... and being tips for being frugal while nomading!

Vivian Hua
vivian.redefine@gmail.com

Vivian Hua 華婷婷 is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer. As the Executive Director of Northwest Film Forum in Seattle and Editor-in-Chief of the interdisciplinary arts publication, REDEFINE, much of her work unifies her metaphysical interests with her belief that art can positively transform the self and society. She regularly shares human-centered stories through her storytelling newsletter, RAMBLIN’ WITH VEE! In 2020, she will [hopefully] begin production on a comedic Asian-American series entitled Reckless Spirits. Ask Vivian about MARSHMALLOWS, cuz she's gross... and being tips for being frugal while nomading!

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