Music Video Director Kyle Thrash Works With Your Favourite Bands
It’s fair to say that the last decade or so has been a weird one for music videos. As eyes were drawn away from TV music channels and onto YouTube, the world at large seemed to be left questioning the importance of the video, leaving budgets slashed and giving rise to the half-hearted lyric video. Recently however, there’s been something of a renaissance.
In the last year or two, we’ve seen a growth in the amount of thoughtful and creatively brilliant visuals released alongside songs. It’s a movement lead by a greater understanding of video’s place online from bands and a new generation of young filmmakers with the tools and the vision to create something great.
One of the our favourite young filmmakers is Philadephia’s Kyle Thrash. Breaking out as Modern Baseball’s videographer after meeting them at Drexel University where he was studying film, Kyle has gone on to direct some of the best punk, hardcore and rock videos in ages, with stunning efforts to accompany tracks by The Menzingers, Sorority Noise, and Every Time I Die this year alone. We thought we’d hit him up for a chat about his work, the state of the music video in 2017, and how wicked Manchester Orchestra are…
Above: The Menzingers’ video for After The Party.
Hey Kyle! What came first, video making or a love of music?
That’s a tough question. I’d have to say music, just cause both my folks were really into it and would show me new bands and take me to shows growing up. That was a big influence. I was always into movies, but I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania so I never really imagined I’d be able to have much of an influence doing that. But music has always been such a huge part of my life. I’ve kinda gotten past that point where I let bands dictate all my free time, but it’s definitely at the forefront of my mind.
Was it always the plan to make music videos?
Not at all. Growing up, the music videos that I was into were these huge productions; million dollar videos that you’d see on MTV. Those felt like they were just as far away from me as a feature film did. It just seemed impossible to make. I didn’t really think music videos were possible until YouTube made everything a lot easier to distribute.
It seemed like the music video was kind of a lost art for a while, did you see that fallow time as an opportunity to come in and do something different?
I didn’t see it specifically as a chance for me, no. Actually, I feel like there are a lot of really great music videos being done right now. I’d have to do some research to say for sure when it shifted, but I would say recently videos have become really creative and engaging and it feels like people are taking more risks. I think it goes back to artists having more control over how they’re marketing themselves and how they’re portrayed. So much of what they give fans is on them now, so they have more say in these things, and that makes for more creative videos. There was definitely a weird gap between MTV and YouTube. I remember when a friend in college asked me to do my first music video I thought to myself, “But, I’m not even watching music videos.” Music videos weren’t a part of my lexicon anymore… People weren’t talking about them or even watching them, at least not in my friend groups. But now I watch music videos every single day. Every day there are great, great videos being put out. When the power got given back to the artist, videos got better. I would say that music videos now, even though there isn’t a ton of money, are more thought-provoking and creative than ever.
Above: Sorority Noise’s powerful video for No Halo.
Your videos tend to be narratives and are often shot like documentaries. Why is that?
That’s what I want to do: long term, documentaries and TV and stuff like that. I feel like what’s really cool about music videos is that it’s very visual and you get to test out a lot of ideas and themes and feelings that you want to express, without having to do it in a 90 minute or two hour format. You can get your thoughts out in this very small thing and you’re free to try things because of that.
It’s allowed me to explore themes and people and try new things out. I’ve been able to hone in on the themes that I’m most interested in and the things I think I’m doing well, and the things I’m not doing so well. Hopefully I’ll learn from all of this and be able to take those lessons into longer form pieces. With a music video, if things work out, I’m able to put out something I believe in and hopefully something that pushes my limits, but also expresses the band’s vision.
Accounting for the band’s vision, how much of yourself do you work into your videos? It must be a lot of pressure to carry the weight of someone else’s vision…
Honestly, I would say that if I don’t feel like I can put myself in the project, I probably won’t do it. I have to feel like I can see myself in these projects, or that I’m expressing something, cause that’s what filmmaking is. I want to share these stories through my lens.
The Menzingers video, for example, feels like a lot of things – past relationships and moments – that I’ve experienced and friends have experienced. And the Sorority Noise one is all about grief, and that’s something that came from Cam [Boucher, vocalist] and I just having conversations about grief and loss and talking to each other about the way we felt; the way I felt after losing someone and the way he felt after losing multiple people, and we took that and tried to express those feelings we discussed in a cinematic way.
Above: Modern Baseball’s thrilling video for Wedding Singer.
Doing these videos that feel like pretty grand undertakings, but for smaller bands… Is that an extra point of pride?
I wouldn’t say so. I basically just like working with artists that interest me. Being able to be a part of something like Modern Baseball’s ride has been amazing. Seeing a band go from a basement to a stadium in a couple of years was an amazing thing and something for me to tip my hat to, knowing that even if I had the smallest of contributions to their success it would be amazing. In general I just wanna work with artists that resonate with me, and artists that are trying to do something different and creative, and are original and honest.
On that note, if you could make a video for any song in the world, what would it be?
Trailer Trash by Modest Mouse. I love Isaac Brock and I’d love to work with them, they’re my favourite band. I feel like they’ve done some really cool videos and they have the best catalogue. That song is so nostalgic and heartbreaking and beautiful, I would have loved to have made a music video for that. I was a fan of Modest Mouse but I always overlooked that song until I saw this video of Jesse Lacey from Brand New singing it and was blown away. It’s almost that the album, The Lonesome Crowded West, is so good that Trailer Trash kinda got lost in the sauce the first time I listened to it, but now I go back and listen to that all the time now. Jesse brought so much light to it the way he’d just yell out of nowhere. Brand New are great ambassadors for bands they’re into. I got into Kevin Devine and Manchester Orchestra through them too.
Above: Watch Kyle’s work on Every Time I Die’s Map Change.
What would you want to do with that video?
Oh, man. Now you’re really putting me on the spot. I’d probably use it as an excuse to explore Portland and the pacific west coast and shoot a bunch of big trees and get weird. Honestly, though, I’d be so intimidated to work for an artist like that. I’d be so worried about messing it up. I’m a big Every Time I Die fan and the whole time getting to work with them I was worried that I’d mess it up. It was the same with Sorority Noise and The Menzingers. I’ve been super lucky to work with so many artists I like, but the biggest fear is always that I’ll let them down. Honestly, that might be why they turn out okay, cause I’m always nauseous and thinking that I’m doing a shit job or that I’m gonna ruin the band’s career, so I over compensate shoot too much. and the band end up having to take the camera away from me. Maybe after all that we somehow get enough and it all works out. I really feel like the pressure of failing is a lot stronger than the will of wanting to succeed. I’m propelled by the idea of “Oh shit, this is gonna be awful” more than I am, “Yeah, let’s make something awesome.” Getting to work with artists I really like has probably put the barrel to the back of my head and made sure I do something good enough to not let those artists down.
You mentioned Manchester Orchestra, that’s a band whose music lends itself to cinematic undertakings…
I’d love to work with them. Put it in this article, so they can see it. They work with The Daniels, who make incredible music videos and made that movie Swiss Army Man… Manchester Orchestra are in good hands. But, honestly, I would love to work with them. They make this music that feels incredibly cinematic and it’s so honest and so haunting. There’s so much mood and atmosphere in every one of their songs and it really feels like every song begs to be a video. The new album is amazing and could definitely benefit from more videos. So, Andy, if you see this, hit your boy up.
Andy, you know what to do.
Words: Ryan De Freitas