“Voices” Music Video: Process Blog

For “Voices,” the first single off of our latest album, I worked with multi-hyphenate artist Mark Landry to create this video:

Here’s the process we took to get there:

For the song “Goodbye at the End of the World” on the last album, Dust Among the Stars, I created an animated music video. I loved how it turned out, but as not-a-professional-animator, it was a colossal undertaking. So when it came time to think about music videos for Dreamers & Runaways, I knew I wanted to do something that was similarly unique, but I also knew that I couldn’t take a bite from the same apple.

The ideation process for the “Voices” music video literally began in the dark, with me thinking through the lyrics of the song, and allowing whatever images they might conjure to come. It was about the same time that the U.S. had decided to separate families — literally ripping children from their mothers’ arms — at the southern border. As an American, and a parent, this was simply too much to bear, and it’s no surprise that those images crept into my darkened little mental theater, and a story began to take shape from there. But a scenario that starts with militaristic thugs in masks yanking a baby from a mother’s grasp and that ends with a rally full of thousands of followers started to feel like an animated project again, and one that I would simply not hold up under.

That’s when the idea of doing this story as a comic came to me. I am very fortunate to have a friend in Mark Landry, who created the comic Bloodthirsty: One Nation Under Water. I reached out to him, to bounce ideas off of and see if he might have any interest in drawing the comic. So Mark came on board.

Step one was the script. I’d never done a comic script before, but there are some great resources out there. I relied on Dark Horse Comics’ sample pages that they make available.

Mark had a ton of great insight on my first pass of the script. After we talked it through and I made the necessary changes, Mark moved on to thumbnails.

We massaged those a bit, and he went to pencils, working backward through the book. The final pages were the most difficult and time-consuming, with all the detail and crowd work, so he started there.

Thumbnails through layout through ink

As Mark did all the pages by hand, scanned them in, and sent me inked pages, I started lettering and coloring them. For lettering, I bought fonts from Blambot, which were an absolute joy to get to use. Please never use Comic Sans. Please support these great craftspeople.

To get the aged comic look, I relied on a set of tools called DEBASER from True Grit Texture Supplies.  It’s an amazing bunch of tools, and I thought the results they created were outstanding.

As a matter of fact, in order to learn DEBASER, I colored a black-and-white version of the first page of EC Comics’ legendary story Judgment Day and tried to make it look like the original. You can see the results here:

Original (L), Fantagraphics Key Art (C), After DEBASER (R)

But during the coloring process, Mark and I hit a snag in terms of scheduling after his light table broke. The song premiered online while I was literally driving to San Jose for WorldCon 76, so we needed to get the video done quickly. With Mark about to start another project with a hard deadline, and his light table out of commission until a replacement could arrive, we discussed me creating the cover of the book. I don’t draw well, and this seemed like an impossible task…but I took a couple of reference photos in the hotel at WorldCon, and started doing pencils for the cover on my iPad.

I created the finished cover in Illustrator.

I started putting the actual printed book together, and pulled in some vintage ads from real 1940s comics. These public domain sources are available from the Digital Comic Museum, a site I simply cannot recommend highly enough if you have any interest in vintage comics.

One painful, explanation-heavy trip to FedEx Office later, and I had an actual, printed comic in my hand. I put it on my kitchen table, and filmed it to create the finished video, shooting in 4K so I could push in for greater detail, since the video was mastered to 1080.

That’s about it. If you buy Dreamers & Runaways on Bandcamp, a digital download of the comic is included as a PDF. If you want to check out Mark’s other work (and you totally should), you can see much of his brilliant painting output at LandryImages.com.

And finally, if you are an eligible nominating member of WorldCon 77, the “Voices” video is eligible to be nominated in the Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form category. Help spread the word!

"This Machine Kills Fascists"

As I’m slowly writing songs for a new album, other outlets seem to be popping up, like the Walk a Mile campaign back in July we were asked to participate in. And last week I recorded a new song, called “Just to Win the Fight,” that I felt would be better off heading out into the world now, rather than waiting for an album release much later. You can listen and get the song for free right here.

See, it’s a presidential election year, which means that everywhere I look there seems to be a lot of poison going into the well. I am not a fan of the business of politics, but I am kind of a news junkie, so I find myself inundated with all of the election-year back-and-forth despite the taste it leaves in my mouth. It was probably inevitable, then, that I’d wind up writing some kind of song expressing my basic displeasure with all of the name-calling, truth-evading, and generally unenviable behavior on display in the run-up to November. We’ve reached the point where James Fallows in The Atlantic is lamenting our new post-truth era and people admit to not even trying to tell the truth on the campaign trail anymore, relying on the old lawyers’ trick of the jury not actually being able to disregard things they’ve heard, whether they’re in the official record or not.

It was with trepidation that I wandered into the political, but I mean, I’m a folk singer, it’s kind of my business to be outraged by stuff like this. From Woody Guthrie writing “This Machine Kills Fascists” on his guitar, Pete Seeger’s banjo inscription “This Instrument Surrounds Hate and Forces it to Surrender,” to Bob Dylan’s advocacy for Ruben “Hurricane” Carter’s freedom, the American folk tradition has always been to hold up a mirror and say “Guys, we can do better.”

I have two young kids, and it is with some regularity that we have discussions about telling the truth versus telling lies. I let them know I expect them to tell the truth, even if they’ve made a mistake, and even if there are going to be consequences. That’s the example I try to set for them. And I don’t think it’s too much to ask of our leaders. The truth is too valuable a thing to throw away just because we don’t want the other guy to win.

On a happier note, I’d like to point out that this song marks the recorded debut of my 12-string guitar and the (very) used banjo I found in my neighborhood music store. I hope you dig it.