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I’m talking today with Cool King Chris, the mastermind behind the wildly creative video for Jamie & Steve’s song, Imaginary Cafe. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Chris.
Tell me a little about your relationship with Jamie and Steve. How long have you known them, and how did you meet them?
On my 18th birthday, my brother took me to Johnny Dollars Beach club to see The Spongetones. That was the first time I SAW Jamie and Steve. Jamie put a blow-up doll's head on the head of his guitar and then played it with his crotch. You might say that made an impression on me… oh yeah, they sounded amazing too!
Years later, the first time I actually met them was when I was in Hardsoul Poets, and we opened for them at Wingate College. I was really excited because I had seen American Bandstand play their songs and saw The Rolling Stone reviews. I was nervous actually meeting them.
My first real involvement with Jamie was when my band Fireball XL-5 recorded at his Washateria studio, then again when I talked The Legally Dead Parrots (The Perch) into recording an album of their funny songs. Soon after, I recorded my first Cool King Chris album with Jamie producing it.
Imaginary Cafe isn’t the first video you’ve done for Jamie and Steve, is it?
I made an animated video for their song "Half a Mind". I learned how to do that by using the "paint" program and importing the pictures into Windows Movie Maker and altering the advanced settings. The first animated video I made was for my song "Intellectual Love Song". If you watch that one and then Half a Mind, you can see the progression and quality get better. It's a very old school way of creating animation which gives it an odd mix of visuals.
So why this song? Why “Imaginary Cafe”?
Years of recording with Jamie and making the Half a Mind video sort of put me on the inside loop of the Jamie and Steve world. Jamie began sending me some early mixes of their new songs. While I was driving on my way to work, I listened to "Imaginary Cafe" and saw images in my mind of what could be happening. I could also relate to the “Imaginary Cafe” idea as a musician. We had conversations about who would be at this performance.... sort of like when The Beatles decided who should be on Sgt. Pepper!
You used cartoon animation for “Half a Mind”. Why did you decide to use Claymation this time?
I went with Claymation or Stop Motion this time because I had always wanted to make something like "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer". I'm also a huge fan of Wallace and Gromit.
How did you come up with your approach to the video?
I wanted to start the video where "Half a Mind" left off so it would have a conceptual continuity. It also is a great excuse to use the Star Trek beaming effect! I've always loved the idea of beaming somewhere.
Tell me a bit about the process. How did you film it?
I shot it in sequence so when the little Jamie looks at his hand and wiggles his fingers, I knew I was on the right track. Some things were accidental though. The reason Steve walks down in front of the stage is because he fell (he became untied from the support helping him stand) and instead of starting the shot over, I just had him start walking. This "mistake" is what led to the idea to make him do a backflip to get back on stage. If I had shot it out of sequence, that would've never had happened.
That’s pretty funny. You know, I really like the nod you gave to the Wizard of Oz. That’s always been a favorite of mine. You have cameos of several well known characters in the video. Who are some of the others, and why did you choose them?
I made Benjamin Franklin because he is one of the founding fathers that was probably a lot of fun to be around. He was one of the first characters I made. I was still figuring out how I was going to make them then, so Ben and the 2 girls (island girl and Grace Slick) were made of modeling clay. There's also a first version of Jamie made of clay and that wound up turning into one of The Beatles I think. I then switched to model magic which is much lighter in weight but rigid. That's when I decided to go with fixed heads and interchangeable eyes and mouths.
I've always had an odd attraction to the Wicked Witch of the West. I let her change the video from black and white to color just like The Wizard of Oz. There's Frankenstein who was "re-animated", a Lost in Space-ish robot, An Alien girl with clothes reminiscent of the Rocky Horror aliens, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles (and yes, Paul is smoking something funny), a character that was supposed to be Dennis Hopper but wound up looking more like me, a naughty dominatrix dancer, for all the conspiracy theorists the dancing eyeball (from The Residents) on top of the unfinished pyramid, and of course President Obama. The stage and curtains are a nod to Twin Peaks. (I'm a huge David Lynch fan). I'm not sure there is any hidden meaning behind the video. I sort of let it grow out of the process and some ideas (and accidents) would spawn other ideas.
I’ve been wondering about the Twin Peaks connection. The red curtains remind me of a the dance of the dream man scene. This picture from the closing scene shows a pretty big cast. Is this all the characters?
Minus Frankenstein and the Resident (eye ball guy)....I felt like they were a little too sinister to put in this shot because they brought about the shocking change of the walls splitting apart...that, and it was already quite a crowd. And that’s Grumpy Cat.
I love how you worked in all these social references. It seems like there’s something there that people of all generations can recognize. So, this sounds like it was a lot of work. How long did it take to complete the video?
Part of the frustration in working on this is the fact that this was ALL I wanted to do. Going to work was a drag compared to this. On the other hand because it was such a slow stop and go process, I was able to think about it and that's where my mind would go as I stared out a window. I was IN the Imaginary Cafe for 4 or 5 months, building- creating -tweaking (not to be confused with twerking) and then going into shooting whirlwinds of chaos...I learned to build a set where I wouldn't have to bend over AFTER I built the stage. My back would ache from doing shot after shot and bending over then getting behind the camera. Well, that's how you learn. "Note to self: build next set up on table". And I did.
What has been the reception of the video?
The people who have seen it have loved it. I've wondered what makes something go viral. What elements make a person want to watch something and then feel the need to share it? Whatever it is, "Imaginary Cafe" has not gone viral yet. Maybe I should've put some "epic fails" or nude claymation in it! ....maybe next time.
|Thanks for taking the time Chris. You can find out more about Cook King Chris on his Facebook page.