Billiards, Fish, and First Ave: On The Set of Our First Music Video

Every friend and colleague of mine: “Dude, you guys should make a music video!”

Me: “Music videos are stupid.  They’re a waste of space on the internet.  When was the last time you saw one worth a damn?  I mean can you remember recently watching a new music video and not feeling like it was a complete waste of your time?”

Every friend and colleague of mine:n “Uh, I don’t know, but I think you’re wrong.  Most people would disagree with you.  You should make one.”

We made it through the first studio album without producing a music video.  The second record was a live album, so we just used live video footage from the concert to make some sort of video.  I was actually very happy with how those turned out, especially the video of When You’re Gone.  It couldn’t be any more simple.  It’s just one shot that somehow worked out perfect.  No one planned it that way, it just happened, and that’s part of why I think it is so great.

The guy who directed the videos from the live album is named Erik Nelson.  He’s been pestering me on and off ever since then to make a music video.  We’ve kicked some ideas back and forth for a while, but I’ve always said that if we can’t make a video we’re extremely proud of, I’d rather just not make one at all.  I didn’t want to make a video that’s just the band playing in front of a white screen or something.  The world has enough of those.

Late one Friday night in early June I was flipping through Netflix and happened upon a recently added title, The Hustler, starring Paul Newman.  I’d never seen if before but had heard over and over again that it was essential watching.  Plus, a few weeks prior some of the guys were watching Newman and Redford in The Sting while we were up at a cabin for Sam’s (organ) bachelor party.  They were raving about how great it was.  As soon as I turned on The Hustler I was floored from the opening scene right through the last credit at the end.  I fell in love with pretty much every single aspect of that film… the story, the acting, the cinematography, and the vibe of the pool hall scenes, all of it.

About a week later Erik sent me a pitch for a music video.  I think it was hip, but wasn’t quite right for this record.  Also, it required excessive amounts of dancing on the part of Sonny, who was recovering from a broken toe (if you had seen him in concert around that time, you probably didn’t even know… because he is a total bad ass!).  For some reason, without any conscious goal or purpose, the following morning I woke up, popped open my chrome book, and just started writing.  Within a couple hours I had a fairly detailed treatment for a music video that was inspired by The Hustler.  The basic idea was to use winning and losing at high stakes pool as an analog for the theme of the song, Sooner or Later, which is about getting knocked down but knowing that someday you’ll be on top.  I didn’t wake up that morning with the intent to write a music video.  In fact, I hadn’t really considered writing one at all.  It just sort of happened.

I called Erik and let him know I had a different idea for a video, but it might be way too big considering our modest budget.  Being the big thinker he is, he just laughed and told me to send it over anyways.  He loved it, however we both agreed that my version was exciting, but bloated.  It required shooting at many locations, a large cast, and too many days of shooting.  It was overly literal and most importantly could never fit into a 4 minute music video.  The next day he sent back a heavily revised version that captured the most important elements of my story, but would actually work.  His experience and insight proved to be invaluable.  I passed it on to the rest of the band and received good feedback.  Green light, go!

Erik was super ambitious.  Within a few days he lined up a cinematographer, Kyle Moe.  Kyle brought in a gaffer and AC (assistant camera).  We quickly picked a couple days to shoot and Erik began scouting locations.  We decided on Al’s Billiard’s in Saint Paul and The 7th Street Entry at First Ave in Minneapolis.

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The shoot took place over two days, July 27th and 28th.  I still remember rolling into the parking lot of Al’s Billiard’s for the first day of shooting and seeing all 4 crew members unloading a dodge sprinter van full of gear. My jaw dropped.  If you’ve never done something like this before, you’d be amazed at how much equipment and manpower it takes to do it well.  Maybe there is a reason so many music videos suck?

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We shot all day at Al’s.  It’s amazing, you might spend a couple hours shooting one sequence that literally gets boiled down to 20 seconds of screen time.  In addition to all the acting, we also had to film all of the pool playing.  As it happens, our actor playing the pool shark, Rod Kliess,  was a onetime pool fanatic.  I guess it is like riding a bike, because he was dropping shot after shot on the set!  He was a real godsend.  We would have spent 5 hours just shooting the game play if some hack were manning the cue.

 

 

Rod Kleiss
Rod Kleiss

 

Know the code
Know the code

After a full day of shooting inside we intended to get some outdoor footage of the pool hall, but mother nature had other plans in mind.  It rained hard and we decided to bag those shots altogether.  After loading out, myself and the crew walked across the street for a very late lunch at Mac’s Fish And Chips.  I’d actually never been there before, which is a shame.  It was hands down some of the best fish and chips I ever ate!  If you never make it over to that side of town, apparently they’re a food vendor at Target Field now.  Keep an eye out there for them as well.

The following morning we shot at The 7th Street Entry at First Ave.  This is where we would get all of Sonny’s performance shots as well as the dressing room/backstage footage.  Our host for the day was the one and only Dan Corrigan, Minneapolis rock and roll photographer extraordinaire.  Perhaps his most iconic work is the cover photo for The Replacements’ Let It Be.  Today Dan is on staff at First Ave.  He didn’t work on our shoot or anything, he just let us in and helped with any questions we had about the space. (side note, our friend Danny Sigelman just partnered with Dan to publish a book of his work for the firs time ever. check it out).

On stage at The Entry
On stage at The Entry

 

7th Street Entry dressing room
7th Street Entry dressing room

After a full day of shooting at First Ave, Sonny and the crew hit the streets for some driving scenes. They got footage of him walking to “his car” near some train tracks in Northeast Minneapolis. Then they did a bit of driving around and called it a day. That makes it sound so easy. I believe all of that took several more hours.

Erik edited video in a matter of days. It was stunning how quickly he put it together. I think it was because he already had it storyboarded out before we shot it. He had very specific ideas for shots that lined up with certain moments of the song. It wasn’t as though they filmed a bunch of stuff and he shot from the hip slapping it all together. He’s more thoughtful than that. That’s not to say that ideas didn’t come to him during the editing process, but the big picture was in tact before he even loaded the files onto his computer.

After Erik was done, John Miller, the Secret Stash Records chief engineer, did a bit of sound design for the intro of the video. It’s amazing how important that stuff is to make something feel real. The humming of the an A/C that you hear at the beginning of the video was added later. As was the background music, which was contributed by our pals in The Church of Cash, a wicked Johnny Cash cover band who also does some originals, including this one entitled “Soo Line”.

Now that video is complete, I’m very happy that we decided to make it.  We hope that you enjoy it.  The medium is beginning to make a bit more sense to me.  Erik, Sonny, and I are already kicking around ideas for the next video from this record!

Oh yeah, it should also be noted that Erik did such a great job with the music video, that he also wound up shooting the album cover photo as well.  Maybe we’ll discuss what all went into that in another post sometime.

-Eric (drums)

Sooner or Later