Originally gaining attention as part of the late-90s Big Beat phenomenon, LA-based duo the Crystal Method have stood the test of time for over a decade. On May 12, the pair — Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland — releases its fourth full-length, Divided by Night. The album features guests including Peter Hook, Justin Warfield, Emily Haines, and Matisyahu — the latter of whom takes on lead vocals on the record’s first single, “Drown in the Now.” Tackling the video for the track, New York’s UVPHACTORY created a dark, futuristic world, populated by 3D creatures and comic-book overtones, with Matisyahu holding court at the heart of it all. We spoke with co-directors Alexandre Moors and Jessica Brillhart about the clip and how it came to life; after the jump, watch the video, read the interview, and check out photos from behind the scenes of the shoot.
Flavorwire: Tell us about the concept behind the video. It has some echoes of Sin City/The Spirit — was that intentional?
Alexandre Moors: Kind of. The label definitely referred to it at the beginning. They liked the black-and-white urban animated style that would fit within the Crystal Method album aesthetic. But, from the beginning, we aimed at taking it somewhere fresh and unique.
FW: What was the process involved in creating the animated world?
AM: The video came out of the UVPHACTORY studio, and that’s kind of what we do there, mixing live-action, 2D animation, and 3D elements — merging all these different components into one world. The trick is to make it seamless. In that way, I particularly appreciate how the live-action (Matisyahu) works within the graphics. He really blends it together and creates this iconic presence.
Jessica Brillhart: Yeah, it was a definitely collaborative effort. Alex and I came up with the groundwork, and then our team of 2D/3D animators and designers took it from there, with us pointing annoyingly at their screens, spewing whatever we thought worked or didn’t. I suppose that’s an obvious part of the process.
FW: What was Matisyahu like to work with? Were you fans prior to the shoot?
JB: I knew of him prior, yes, and actually caught him live at his residency at Webster Hall during Hanukkah. A Matisyahu performance is the kind of thing that knocks the wind out of you; it’s that powerful. When I heard how I was going to help direct the video, I was already so inspired. I suppose not many people are as lucky, to have the opportunity to re-channel artistic energy like that.
AM: I didn’t know him, because I’m ignorant of these things. But he’s a sweetheart.
JB: Matis also likes his scotch, which won us over pretty quickly.
FW: How involved were the Crystal Method guys themselves? Were they on set at all during the shoot?
AM: Nope. Some friends did the stand in for them.
JB: We had always seen those two as being dark figures manning a boat, so it worked out nicely. Ken (from TCM) did send us a direct message at one point with final comments, and to say how pleased he was with the video. That’s the only direct contact we had.
FW: What was your favorite part about making the video? What was the most difficult?
AM: We’re working on some very long projects these days, so it was very exciting to jump in and turn that video around in about three weeks. That was, at the same time, the exciting and difficult aspect of the project.
JB: I really get excited about robotics. Not in a “Furbees are cute” kind of way (or “Roombas are evil,” as people might see it). Everyone at UVPHACTORY, including Alex, knows this about me. So to be able to finally create robots — decide on behavior, mechanics, how they interact — that was just the coolest thing. I am nowhere near being able to scientifically engineer a robot in the real world, so I suppose this is the next best thing.
FW: How was this different from other shoots you’ve done? Were there any unusual/unexpected challenges?
JB: Artists have a lot of shit going on, especially Matisyahu. He got in and hadn’t even heard the final track yet. I’d occasionally have to help him with lyrics. At one point, we were “oh-oh” and “ay-ay”ing at each other, and the crew started cracking up. Looking back on it, I guess it looked pretty ridiculous — this five-foot girl barking “ay-ay” corrections at a six-foot Matisyahu.
But the general challenge for us — at least for me — was building a world from the ground up, because there are infinite possibilities. Most of them suck. You just have to know which ones don’t suck, and fast — see the video through the creative ether and fight to get it where it should be. It’s a constant battle, and you still never feel 100% right.
FW: What are your thoughts on the rest of the Crystal Method album? (I really like the Emily Haines track a lot.)
AM: Me too. We’re hoping to get to make a video for that track.
JB: Ditto. Haines can do no wrong. Great little moments, too — like the first measure of “Divided by Night,” where notes seem to warp, push out and get sucked back in. It has this soul to it. The LMFAO song isn’t too bad either, even though they’re insane.
FW: Is this your first time working together as directors?
AM: It is. It was also my first experience co-directing stuff. It’s nice.
JB: Yep. I still have my arms. I guess that’s good. It’s cool to be able to speak to someone in the same language, because it’s a rare thing — even though he’s French and my French sounds like someone uncontrollably trying to clear her throat and spit at the same time.
FW: What’s next for both of you? Do you have websites or other work you’d like to direct people toward?
AM: I’m currently working on a feature film these days. A sci-fi mind-twist kind of thing. It’s exciting. (www.aikofilms.com)
JB: Besides UVPH, I have my own production company that runs out of Brooklyn, Brillhart/Gonzales Productions. Currently, we’re working on a short-film concept with spoken-word artist Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai, which should be really fun.
FW: If you could shoot a video for any artist, who would it be, and what would it look like?
AM: I guess anyone who could enjoy a certain kind of creative freedom… like Marilyn Manson. I have these sick ideas about nightmarish early Netherlandish painters that wouldn’t fit every kind of pop artist.
JB: Peter Gabriel. Whenever he releases I/O. It would be variation on the video for “Sledgehammer.” Not a replacement, because that video is outrageously brilliant. Something with 3D — an immersive stop-motion environment complete with dancing chickens and the star-suit. Clearly.
For a full credit list of everyone involved in the video, click here.