21st May2009

Your New Favorite Band: Home Video

by Todd

Most bands shun comparisons to other bands.  They’d prefer to be known for their own virtues and don’t want any intimation that they’re “unoriginal”.  Personally, I appreciate when critics cite a comparison because it gives me a reference point.  But if the comparison is wrong or does a disservice to the band, I too am disillusioned.  It’s with this caveat that I make a comparison that I’ve never made before.  Home Video shares a passing fancy for In Rainbows era Radiohead.  There, I’ve said it.  I’ve just compared a band to my favorite band in the world.  It’s a lofty pedestal to be placed upon and HV have a long road ahead, but this the sound of a band who completely eschew traditional pop songwriting structure.  Multi-rhythmic, challenging, beautiful, epic music that spins you round the room, leaves you dazed and yearning for more.

Collin Ruffino and David Gross are New Orleans transplants, living in New York City.  Since their first ep’s were released in 2004, they’ve created a series of great releases before releasing their lastest ep as a free download from their website (http://www.homevideo.fm/). The duo took some time to answer some questions this week.

TDOA: We grow up listening to bands like Smashing Pumpkins (who you’ve referenced in interviews), but it isn’t always reflected in the music we produce.  Do you find yourselves listening to music that sounds similar to Home Video or do you still to other types of music?

HV: I feel like music fans can never limit themselves to just one type of music.  It’s like trying to limit yourself to having only one emotion in a day.  Listening to the same type of music that you make can only get you so far.  Making music is about filtering all of the input you receive and synthesizing something new that’s molded by your experience, including your life experiences beyond music itself.  So we pretty much listen to everything we can.  And there are two of us with differing tastes in music, so both of our ears get thrown into the pot.

For me, I will listen to the grinding and screaming in a Einsturzende Neubauten track, but five minutes later put on The Pearl by Brian Eno, which is just an hour of reverb and sparse piano.  I used to be a bartender and would be bombarded on the weekends by the top 40 hip-hop hits.  There is always something you can find in that stuff – a beat idea, or an interesting synth sound.  Even the bands we usually list as our influences: Massive Attack, Portishead, My Bloody Valentine, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails…we don’t really sound like any of that stuff.  There are fundamental similarities, like a shared philosophy of harmony maybe, but on the surface Home Video doesn’t immediately get compared to these musicians.

TDOA: You live in NYC, but don’t seem to have been sucked up into the “scene”.  Can you talk about the differences between living in NYC vs.  the time you spent in New Orleans.  I’d also love to hear any stories of your interactions with other NYC bands.

HV: New York is a hard reality, while New Orleans is a beautiful, melancholy dream.  We wrote a song, that we have yet to put out, called “A Quiet Place.”  It’s about New Orleans, and was inspired by the hurricane and this feeling of intense loss that came with it.  For me it felt like something deeply personal had been violated and that everything would be different.  It was very traumatic, and I wasn’t even one of the victims who actually suffered through the storm.

As for NYC bands…we are friends with a band called Naked Hearts.  We just finished a remix of one of their songs, called Only For You, which you can download on Rcrd Lbl.  It is one of the best things we’ve done.  They’re great, one of the few bands that we’ve met that are really making music that we want to listen to.  I would be a fan of theirs even if I had never met them.

Also, our drummer, Jim Orso, has a project of his own under the name Silk Lung where he does everything himself, including some very beautiful, delicate tenor vocals.  His stuff is disarmingly sweet and sincere.  I love to listen to his tunes.  He just did a really cool remix of our song I Can Make You Feel It that we are going to try to put out there in the ether.

TDOA: Please tell us about the brilliant video for “I Can Make You Feel It”.  Who directed it, what was the inspiration, etc?

HV: We directed it together.  We had made another video in the past, for “Sleep Sweet” on our first album, in a similar way. Basically, we’ll brainstorm ideas, and then David and I will sort out the details together.

We decided to make the video for I Can Make You Feel It at a time when we were about to move out of this amazing brownstone in Brooklyn we’d been living in.  In the last month, when most of the furniture was gone from our living room, we bought a lot of white vinyl shower curtains (which was most of the budget) and covered the room in them, creating a white seamless space.  We lit the whole thing with regular light bulbs.  We had no crew.  All the close-ups were manned by whoever was not in the shot.  The actual shooting was pretty easy.  It was shot for $200 on a borrowed DV camera.

Then, I edited it together and began the tedious process of scribbling on each frame of the video.  We printed out each frame, and on tracing paper I drew a unique series of scribbles for each shot.  I scanned all of those in to the computer and sequenced them in After Effects.  It took about three or four months for that process, with a lot of it trial and error.  David helped me out with the scanning and sequencing, as well as keeping me from killing myself along the way.

After that, we put in some real old-school special effects, reshooting the end through a fresnel lens off a monitor, which gave the end that distorted psychedelic look.

For our videos, we find inspiration in our limited resources.  We look around at what we already have, figure out what we have the ability to make, and try to squeeze some art out of it.

TDOA: Bands don’t seem to place as much emphasis on videos (unless you’re Kelly Clarkson).  With a video that good, I’m guessing you guys feel differently.  Will video continue to play a big role in your creative output?  Hwo do you incorporate video into your live shows?

HV: We love making videos.  I went to college for film, so I feel the pull toward that medium.  Making images for music, or music for images, is exciting.  One can elevate and re-contextualize the other.  There is something magical that happens when you see a good music video.  It can open your mind to accepting a song you didn’t realize you liked.

We usually play with video projections behind us.  I’ve always enjoyed the added dimension that even the most simple visual element of a show brings.  We’re working on re-vamping our setup to include lights as well.

TDOA: You made you latest ep available as a free download.  What motivated you to do get this music out this way, especially given the great response it’s gotten?  Do you have a sense of how many times it’s been downloaded?

HV: We wanted to get these songs out into the world quickly.  And we felt that the music could reach more ears if it were free.  It was a gamble.  We thought that if people heard us, they might like us enough to keep checking in and follow our development.  I guess we’ve basically taken on the philosophy of a drug dealer.

TDOA: Give the decision to release “It Will Be OK” in this format, how do you feel about illegal downloading of music?

HV: This is a difficult subject to navigate.  These days, it is hard to make a living by selling your music to fans, unless you are on a major label and have lots of marketing behind you.  So most successful indie bands get licensing deals and sell music to tv shows and commercials.  This was known as “selling out” back in the good old days, but is now pretty much par for the course, and even spoken of with pride.

The record label model for the music industry seems to be disintegrating before our eyes, which has been hard on artists in some ways.  But this disintegration has also helped to expose the men behind the curtain.  The music industry has been run for a long time by this elite group of a few, powerful people who’ve had the power to decide what everyone will hear.  There is a new, more democratic system opening up, and there is something appealing about cutting out the middle-man and dealing directly with fans.

Technology is democratizing, or even communizing everything, including art in all forms.  Policing the vast spaces of the internet for illegal activity is like trying to fight against a guerilla insurrection; as soon as you stop one site from doing something, ten more have already sprung up.  I think you probably have to win hearts and minds.  That means writing good music, and giving people some substance they can invest in.

I’m sure there are smart people writing graduate theses on this topic.  I don’t really know what the answer will turn out to be.  Our reaction has been to give away our EP and sell it on iTunes, at the same time.  So fans have a choice, neither of which puts them in the position of stealing.

TDOA: Based on your bio and website, you’ve been making the transition to playing live more often.  How has performing live changed how you approach writing music?

HV: Well, we’ve been playing live for awhile now so it’s not such a new transition.  It feels like we’ve really hit our stride recently though.  Not long ago, we did make a conscience decision to play more often, and it has helped us tighten our show.  And playing more often has given us a new perspective on recording.  Working with our drummer, Jim, has broadened our appreciation for the live drum sound, and this has led us to record live drums way more for the new recordings. Everything is still on the electronic end, but there is an added “liveness” to it.  I think it injects more energy and emotion into the recordings.

TDOA: What’s next for the band?  Touring, a new album, etc….

HV: We are working on getting on some tours, and playing out as often as we can.  We have also been focusing on our remixing lately.  We pumped out three remixes in the past couple months.  The sounds of these remixes are usually our deconstruction of someone else’s song and rewriting it to be a Home Video track.  So they aren’t always designed to be dance-floor hits (but sometimes they are).

There is enough new material to release a new album, and we are still writing.  We’re going to shoot a video soon for “Every Love That Ever Was.”

TDOA: The new ep was a change in sound for you.  What precipitated the change and do you see this as the “sound” of Home Video in the future?

HV: Since the last album, David got into practicing classical piano more, and we both got interested in incorporating more of the piano sound into our songs.  Over the years, I’ve gained confidence as a singer, and I think that has had a subtle effect on our sound.  The live show, like I said, has also changed how we hear our own music.

We’ve also gotten some new equipment in the meantime and that has informed our sound a bit.   The new album will be close in flavor to the EP.  I think we are constantly developing and consuming new ideas, so I can’t say what future Home Video will sound like, but it will be informed by the same basic musical philosophy.

For more information about Home Video, visit their website:(http://www.homevideo.fm/)

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