The Making of the Diggin' On video and Plans for the Future
Link to "Diggin' On" video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTHxxolsgxc
Artist Josh Funk: https://www.facebook.com/joshfunkartist/?fref=ts
The Michelin Embers have long been one of my favorite local acts. Their combination of quality song-crafting and unique instrumentation makes them eminently interesting to listen to and watch. Calling themselves “Western Skiffle,” they are a tough band to peg into a category. Not quite bluegrass, not quite rock and roll, the group draws upon elements from a variety of different musical genres including country, swing, rock, and even the soundtracks of the old spaghetti westerns, to comprise their overall sound.
Johnny Meehan started an early version of the band several years ago with the concept of “playing songs under a trestle,” and my understanding is that the band did indeed meet and play underneath a train trestle. The instrumentation is primarily acoustic, and while the band has undergone a few different line-ups, the current configuration seems to have stuck. Right now it's Johnny on acoustic guitar and doing most of the singing, Ken Smith on ukulele, Steve Bragg thumping a home-made wash-tub bass, and the newest member of the band, Scott Pressman on slide guitar.
The band has released a couple of albums, their first is a full-length collection entitled “Telapachie” that garnered the CAMMIE's award for best local album. The second is a 6-song ep called “Looking for a Hole.” From the ep, the band decided to make a music video for the song “Diggin' On,” and enlisted the help of video artist and animator extraordinaire Josh Funk. The amazing piece of stop-frame animation debuted in December at the International Animation Festival held at the El Rey Theater. It is an incredibly lush, surreal, vibrant and wondrous creation.
I sat down with thee of the four band members recently - Ken Smith was out of town - to talk about the making of the video. Meehan expressed excitement about the idea of collaborating with Funk.
“It presented itself as a cool opportunity. Josh Funk is a badass.”
The band members unanimously point to the video “Wormholes” as an example of Funk's stunning visual artistry.
It turns out the video for "Diggin' On" was itself a sort of collaboration between Funk and Ricky Barnett, the illustrator who came up with the album artwork for the band's two releases. It was Barnett who originally came up with the bird-man figure on the “Looking for a Hole” ep, and Funk got in touch with Barnett to co-create the female bird character featured in the video.
“He captured something in that bird person,” Pressman opines. “He's helped to shape the Michelin Embers' personae and mystique.”
The Diggin' On video serves to extend that mystique. In the video the male bird-person is driving a wood-burning stove fueled cart towards a drive-in movie theater, where he eventually meets a female bird person, and we can assume they may be embarking on a new romance. During an earlier meeting Funk explained to me some of the process. He hand-crafts much of the equipment used in the creation of the video, and for whatever parts or pieces he can't fabricate by hand he utilizes a 3-D printer. Funk will also incorporate found objects where appropriate. One example of this is the autonomous drill that bores a hole in the video's closing scenes. The drill is actually an animated “steam-punk style eye-piece” Funk had collected prior to the inception of the video. As he was trying to decide how to create the sequence that would lead to the hole boring, Funk realized the eyepiece could serve as the drill bit.
The video made its debut at the International Animation Festival here in Chico, and the band members assume Funk has plans to show it in other festivals. In a classic symbiotic relationship, the band sees the video both as a means to display Funk's incredible talents as an artist, and to help get the Michelin Ember's music out to a population that they otherwise couldn't reach by playing local and regional gigs.
“We've all played in bands and played shows,” says Meehan. “Fridays, Saturday nights, and also the Monday and Tuesday night shows. So it seems like, let's expand what we can do.”
“YouTube,” Bragg suggests. “Everybody at work watches YouTube, checks shit out on YouTube.” The video is a great way to expand the band's on-line footprint, and to get them in front of audiences they would otherwise not be able to reach.
“I've always thought the Michelin Embers would do really well in Australia.” Meehan explains. “I can imagine there's going to be some kind of world premier in Australia.”
The animated video is extraordinary, but the underlying song is also a gem. I ask Meehan what the song “Diggin' On” is all about. His answer:
“It's about, I'm pretty sure it's about – they say that love takes work. Being in a relationship takes work. The whole idea of devotion, and then questioning that devotion. I'm pretty sure that's what the song is about. Like, how deep are we going? Where is this devotion? The idea of hard work – where does that end up? Sometimes it feels like it ends up in a hole.”
There is some laughter at this explanation – resigned laughter.
As for future plans Meehan informs me the band is currently working on a new album.
“We're working on an album with the whole idea of road themes,” he informs. “The whole idea is songs about the road. Specifically I wrote this song recently about, do you know, the dude who had the mules? I wrote a song about him. I'm really looking forward to showing you guys the song – I'll pack my Mules.”
Something to look forward to in 2016 – my ear's taste-buds are tingling already.
Diggin' On video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTHxxolsgxc
Band's website: http://www.michelinembers.com/music.html
Michelin Embers on BandCamp: http://michelinembers.bandcamp.com/