A few jagged, jangling bars into No Age‘s “Turned to String” and listeners—whether they’re already fans of the LA-based guitar-and-drums duo or not—will have trouble sitting still. The song energizes and electrifies—especially as a centerpiece on their 11-track, 33-minute album from earlier this year, Goons Be Gone. For just under four minutes, “Turned to String” is a beautiful binaural bash. And it’s these sensations that filmmaker Jonn Herschend and choreographer/performer Katie Faulkner bring to life in the official music video, a kinetic work of contemporary dance and intimate, supportive cinematography.
“This felt like a fun song to write at the time,” guitarist Randy Randall shares with us. “We were getting ready for our tour of Australia and New Zealand and we wanted to write a few new songs to take with us out on the road—to play live a bunch to get them road-tested and tight. The only way to do this is to play the songs every night on a tour.” “Turned to String” survived the process—and became stronger through it.
Dean Allen Spunt (the band’s vocalist and drummer) adds, “This song was a bit of a blast from the past in terms of how it ended up coming out. It carried some previous lives from our earlier tunes, had some real vibes that became more than vapor. It started out as a bit of a period piece, then I added the closed hi-hat (which, I cannot remember if I have used the closed hi-hat in any other No Age song, perhaps not?) and it became much more grand. It means the world to me.”
Spunt shares that the meaning behind it lies in animal liberation. “Stop eating animals,” he says, “really just stop it.” As for music video production, though, he adds, “I try and be very hands-off and allow someone to interpret the song as they see fit.” Both Spunt and Randall prefer to work with friends on all aspects of their output, be it sound mixing or graphic design. That’s how Jonn Herschend came into the picture.
“We have been good friends with Jonn for a bunch of years,” Randall says. “We were both fans of The Thing and we originally worked with them on a Todd Cole – Rodarte vinyl release. Jonn is awesome and inspiring. We have gone on to work with him on a number of projects. We trust his sensibility and his vision.” Herschend brought the idea of the video for “Turned to String” to them before the pandemic struck.
“In January, they sent me the songs and asked me to pick one,” Herschend says. “‘Turned to String’ immediately jumped at me.” Initially, they intended to shoot in LA and Austin, where the production company Herschend works with, Revelator, is based. With the coronavirus restrictions, Herschend decided to reduce his vision but retain one crucial component, the choreographer.
“I was feeling super-antsy and needed something to channel everything into,” he continues. “I decided to shoot the whole thing by myself with a long lens (to give Katie some space), and we’d find locations in Oakland and Alameda. I knew I wanted it to feel very California, with this blasting light of sun in a suburban landscape, a mix of longing and strength. It’s how I think of No Age’s music.” Herschend told the band that he wasn’t sure what the video was going to look like, but that they’d shoot and see what they got.
We played the song on a boombox and treated everything like a sketch
“We played the song on a boombox and treated everything like a sketch,” Herschend says. “I would watch Katie and then try and move in ways that would respond and complement what she was doing.” He explained to Faulkner that he wanted the performance “to feel like everything was just on the edge of falling apart in this beautiful screaming comment… or like a car on fire going over a cliff into the Pacific ocean. I let the focus drift, I snapped the zoom, I moved too quickly with a telephoto lens… all the things we are taught not to do.”
Faulkner had an immediate, visceral response to the song the first time she heard it. “I loved that the song exploded out of the gate and maintained the same propulsion throughout,” she says. “Whenever I’m tasked with generating a physical language in response to a piece of music, I always listen the first few times with my eyes closed. This enables me to sense to my body’s response and conjure whatever imagery might fuel my physical vocabulary. The first time I listened my body wanted to move.”
For the shoot, “The movement wasn’t choreographed in the traditional sense, wherein I imagine a set of predetermined moves that are set, remembered and recreated,” she says. “Instead, I worked improvisationally on-site informed by what is sometimes called ‘choreographic thinking,’ meaning that I was making compositional choices with regard to gesture, energy, time, focus, repetition and my spatial relationship to Jonn’s camera in real time.” Together, Herschend and Faulkner deliver a physical and emotional rawness.
“Goons be Gone is the first record that Dean and I made completely on our own,” Randall says. A listening session feels like a tour-de-force, as so many ideas compress into the soundscape. Watching the video for “Turned to String” complements the album, too. It rides the same rollercoaster of sonic logic.
Hero image courtesy of Beth Houfek