Today we speak with Matt Blankenship Jr. about the release of the new music video for “Phantom Limb” by his band, The Sometimes Island.
The music video for “Phantom Limb” has such a unique quality to it, it truly looks and feels like something that hasn’t been done before. Where did the idea for the storyline for the video come from?
The idea is straight out of director Michael Coursey’s brain. He pitched me the idea of my right arm becoming self-aware, fighting with the rest of my body and causing all my limbs to detach and do their own things. I’ve always loved videos that lean on a visual aesthetic that follow a simple narrative, and this fit the bill. We would hire a choreographer and dancers, have them in black morph suits, and film in front of a “cyc” wall.
We wanted to let the music tell the story, and have the visuals accentuate. The big inspiration for this was “May I Have This Dance” by Francis & the Lights and Chance the Rapper. There is such a clean, lonely simplicity to that video that is gorgeous. We pay homage to “Stop Making Sense”, the Jonathan Demme (RIP you sweet, sweet prince) documentary of The Talking Heads live in concert. I’m wearing the same shoes.
What was it like working with a choreographer and a whole crew of dancers/performers for this music video?
Such an incredible experience! We rehearsed at Diavolo down in LA’s arts district, and the dancers (Corina Kinnear, Steve Jasso, Majella Loughran & Luke Zender) were so welcoming. I am not a professional dancer. They held my hand, and I’m extremely grateful. They have my utmost respect for wearing a moderately breathable morph suit for a 16 hour day of nonstop physicality.
The choreographer Amanda MacLeod is brilliant, and we couldn’t have done this without her vision and talent. She was a glowing light of positivity all day on set, which is how she is in life. I’m happy to call her a friend. This won’t be the last video with choreography; I’m hooked.
Not only does the video have a unique quality to it, it also looks like it was a lot of fun to be a part of. What was your favorite part of the whole shoot?
We had a lot of fun but there was a definite undercurrent of stress — we have this one long day to shoot everything and there wasn’t a lot of room for error. The beginning was all fun, and then by the afternoon I was trying to smile the anxiety away. We filmed the end of the video last; the sun had already gone down hours ago. Michael got out the bags of confetti and we knew THIS WAS IT. All the energy in the room exploded into pure joy as we started rolling and he began hurling sparkling fistfuls at us while shouting direction. It was a release. Michael told me we had to do the confetti scene last, as confetti is the “herpes of the art world”. It’s true, I find little pieces of confetti stuck to my shoe even months later.
At its core “Phantom Limb” is about watching addiction affect the life of someone you love, and yet the chorus, especially the last few repetitions, absolutely soars like a classic feel good summer track. Was there intention built into that part of the songwriting? What, if there was one, was the idea you were portraying to your listeners with that kind of juxtaposition?
I’m a gallows humor kind of guy. Lyrics mean different things with different musical backdrops. I love the idea of singing about addiction and hopelessness with the exuberance and energy of a late 90’s Warped Tour band. The song is, deep down, about the addiction to the relationship with the addict. You’re the savior, you’re here for a reason, and you are the superhero that will save them. So, you put on a face that is so positive and so optimistic that you’re beaming smiles as the ship sinks below the waves. The energy of the music reflects that very optimism, undying but doomed.
When an artist writes about such personal subjects they often find themselves questioned by their friends, family, acquaintances, etc., about whether the song they’ve written is about them or someone they know. Have you found that you’ve run into that issue before, either with this song or others that you’ve written? What were those conversations like?
Oh, of course. I like to let people believe whatever they want to believe about what any of my songs are about. That’s part of the magic…as long as it’s positive. The more autobiographical you get, the more you need to take a minute to protect identities and the mental health of those you’re writing about. I didn’t have to confront that issue with this song. I absolutely did when I wrote “You Stole My Dog”, which is about exactly that. I wrote the person an email explaining that I was very angry at the time, and I no longer feel that way, music is therapy for me… I changed some names and places to protect privacy. It was a little awkward. I’d rather anyone I write about hear it from me and not just randomly stumble across a song about them!