Thought Catalog

Behind The Scenes: Middle Class Rut

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I’m in a band. I have been since I was 12. I’m 31 now. So, what, 19 years? Holy shit, man. I guess time flies when you’re having fun, even if you’re trying to look miserable doing it. Never been extremely successful. Never made a ton of money. And never mastered the art of managing the little that we did make. The big checks we got every once in a while just meant that instead of Svedka we could afford Smirnoff for once. Temporarily, you give yourself permission to be a slightly higher-shelf version of you, where you’re not only limited to shopping at Walmart. A few nice dinners, a new pairs of shoes and before you know it, it’s all gone. Never fails. It’s like a Twilight Zone version of the Cinderella story.

More than the money though, Zack — the other half of Middle Class Rut — and I have been lucky enough to travel all around the world. We’ve seen some crazy things and met some amazing people. And, well, amazing things and crazy people. Our record label is nothing if not supportive, encouraging us to try new things and grow as artists, even if the financial return is not always clear. We’ve worked in hit factories before and this ain’t one of them. Thank God. Cuz anymore, its less about writing hits and becoming famous, and more about just going to new places and doing cool shit, and using our music as the catalyst. Kinda like that new Joseph Gordon Levitt movie. Haven’t seen it yet but its pretty obvious that it was all an elaborate excuse for him to hang out with Scarlett Johansson for few months. Spend long days getting to know her, possibly develop some kind of relationship and ultimately see her naked. Fuckin’ genius, really. We’ve yet to hang with Scar Jo, but we’ve been around the world, all expenses paid, made some fans, met a few of our idols, and even signed a few boobs. Not the worst way to make a living by any stretch. Can’t yet afford my own Real Doll, but it keeps the Ramen on the table. And we apply this sort of rationale to just about everything we do. Kinda have to, really. It’s about the only way to look at things without constantly feeling like we’ve come up a bit short. I mean, when we were little kids, the dream was not to grow up and find a record label to fund our bucket lists. We wanted to be rich and famous, get chicks, be drug addicts and die before the age of 30 like the all rest of our heroes. But, as you eventually learn in life, things rarely go according to plan. So you adapt, learn to roll with the waves and try to avoid becoming the old man yelling at the kids to stay off his lawn.

As far as “evolving artforms” go, making records and making music videos are slow dance partners at the prom for the out-of-touch and obsolete. People don’t buy records that much anymore, and they don’t watch MTV to see videos. Sure, there’s youtube, and I spend as much time watching stupid cat videos and David at the Dentist parodies as everyone else. But somehow it’s not quite the same. I’m trying really hard to suppress my jaded point of view here, but what can I say, I miss “the old days,” back when you had to have the patience to sit through some commercials and a few bad videos, or a few good ones for that matter, before seeing the one you were really waiting for. And as a byproduct of this modern convenience, you’re rarely ever exposed to anything new or unexpected because you’re always in control of what, when and how you’re experiencing things. You just type it in the search bar, navigate your way past all the user-created crap; the bad karaoke, your favorite song set to 4 minutes worth of some kid killing creepers, ignore 5 seconds of an ad for the new Michael J Fox show, hit “skip ad” the very second it appears, and voila, you’re in! That wasn’t so bad, right? A minute or so into the video you start thinking about how cool it’d be to make your own cheese. There’s gotta be a million youtube videos on cheese-making. Tap-tap-click-click, and just like that, you’re moving on. I should know, I spend three hours every morning in a coffee-induced A.D.D. frenzy, becoming momentarily super-interested in about 50 different things. Then I masturbate, and hate myself for the rest of the day. Yup, really getting er’ done on the ol’ interwebs.

Nevertheless, we took the video making process pretty seriously the first few times around, and still do to some extent. Not because we think its gonna make our band bigger, or whatever, but just for the chance to go somewhere and do something cool under the veil of “making a video.” We don’t even really look at treatments anymore. Our very good friend and director extraordinaire, Lance Drake, just says one word, and its all we need to hear. This time, that word was “Alaska.” Sold. Let’s go.

The video is for a song called “Dead Eye.” It’s a vibey, uplifting little number about fear and death and loneliness, and all the other stuff that exists in that space where the rainbows and dreams of your childhood used to live. It’s not about what you want to be, or what you hope will happen one day, it’s about what actually is, who you really are, and as hard as it is to accept, the beauty is that it’s real. Once you embrace that, you’ve really got something you can work with, something dependable that won’t disappear when the clock strikes Midnight. “Dead Eye” to me is a reminder that life is painful, and that death is always at the door. You can’t live in fear of it, but you have to know it’s there and consider every living moment to be a gift. Unless of course, you’re on an airplane, cuz flying sucks.

We’re big on vibe, and relying on imagery that supports the emotion of the song to define the video. The “concept” for this one is that we’re traveling across Alaska, maybe between shows, maybe between jobs, doesn’t really matter. That’s about as specific as we got with Lance in the conversations leading up to the shoot. He spent a couple of days in and around Anchorage before we showed up, scouting various locations and trying to come up with a road map for the shoot. But the plan was loose, and the schedule flexible—we’d be doing a lot of walking and hitchhiking, get in the back of a truck at some point, and maybe see a train or two. “A train” we all agreed, “would be dope.”

Where we’re coming from or where we’re going in this video is not important. But where we are IS, and for the majority of the first day it was the bizarre port town of Whittier, AK. “Shittier in Whittier” is a phrase we heard a few times from the locals, but for what we were after, it was perfect. The entire population, we’re told, live in a big building that looks like a giant hostel. It’s connected, via an underground tunnel, to the school next door where all 30 of Whittier’s school-age kids go. We chose the spot for the boat ride around Prince William Sound, care of our new friend Matt, and were treated to a humpback whale sighting, and 30 mile an hour winds that made the rain feel like being pelted with rocks. Rain and wind make for a choppy ocean, we discovered, and at one point, Andrew, the director of photography, slipped and took a bad spill, camera flying as he nearly ended up taking a swim in the arctic waters. We escaped major injury though, and stayed all day to film scenes around the train yard; a 2.5 mile long tunnel with one lane that actually shuts down at 10pm; and a campfire scene near a waterfall, all wrapped in the foggy, misty perfection that this strange little town provided to us at no extra charge. Unless of course you count the 10 relentless hours of cold rain, which after walking around in all day had began to challenge the “waterproof” guarantee of my new Carhartt boots. Soggy and spent, we called it a day and headed back into Anchorage to recharge.

The second day began similar to the first, with a much-too-early wake up call, followed by a hearty cup of local joe from Kaladi to help counter the effects of not enough sleep. Once caffeinated, we set out on Seward Highway, in a semi-rush to capture some early morning footage before the sun came up. We wanted to get some shots walking along the railroad tracks that divide the highway from the Gulf of Alaska. Filming at magic hour is a race against time and everyone’s always a little stressed. Especially when the visual stakes are this high. Just as we’re all standing there thinking, no amount of post-editing wizardry could create the sky we’re getting right now, this the video is gonna look sick, someone yells, “Oh shit, TRAIN!” And as our small crew is all leaping off the tracks, Lance shouts, “Sean, Zack, get up there close to the train as it passes! Hurry!”

The train was hauling ass, laying on the horn, and we were four feet away from it, stumbling along the rocky incline and trying not to look scared-shitless. The wind was intense and I could barely keep my balance, knowing that one slip in the wrong direction would make the video a lot more real than we intended. Felt like the train was never gonna end. More wind, more stumbling, more train. I could faintly hear Lance and Andrew yelling something behind us. This is too much. We hopped down to safe ground just as the last car went flying past. “Well, we got our train!” Lance shouted proudly, celebrating, just as the highway patrol rolled up. Shit. We weren’t sure what the law was, but couldn’t imagine they took kindly to people fucking around on the tracks. I half expected the officer to confiscate the camera and erase all the great footage we’d just gotten, but he was surprisingly cool and told us we could cross the tracks but not walk on them, and then he took off. Unbelievable. Anywhere else and at the very least we’d be fined, if not arrested.

We worked our way further down the highway, and met up with a local native named Jack—an older dude, callused and ornery and not one for sugar-coating. He’s also sharp and funny and was game to be a part of the video in whatever capacity we needed him. We went pretty easy on him, and just got some shots of him and Zack in the forest. After an hour or two, Jack’s work is done and we headed up the mountain to a crazy moss forest a few miles north of Girdwood. It looked like the kind of place where Ewoks might be running around, but was more likely bear territory. I had the bear spray that Lance insisted I carry. It was stuffed in my backpack, buried just deep enough so that in a panic I’d have a hell of a time getting it out. Not to mention the plastic child-proof tab-thingy I’d have to remove before being able to spray said bear. I wondered, if the situation presented itself, if I’d even be able to get the damn thing to work. Didn’t matter. We were in and out of the moss forest in 45 minutes flat, and didn’t meet any bears.

We spent the rest of the day getting more great traveling footage using Alaska as our backdrop, joking that we could have gone home yesterday after filming the boat scene in Whittier. For sure, the biggest challenge with this video will be trying to fit everything into 4 ½ minutes. We just couldn’t get away from the amazing beauty. 360 degrees of humbling awesomeness all around us. I wondered if I lived there and saw it every day, would I somehow become desensitized to it? It went on forever and I felt lucky to have taken it all on. And it’s in moments like those that I feel most accomplished. The fact that our music has, either directly or indirectly, been the vehicle that’s allowed us to experience things that most people will only see in books and TV shows, makes me proud, to say the least. I know that regardless of what does or doesn’t come from all of this, we will always have the experience itself, the memories, and I’ll never regret the journey.

On the flight back home, reflecting on my time in Alaska, I tried to pick a favorite moment, but there were too many to choose from. I felt excited and creative. Buzzed. Temporarily, my jaded point of view towards the music industry and my aversion to flying both ceased to exist. I was already starting to think about the next video, wondering where we might go and what we might be doing.

The night I got home, as I was unpacking and noticing how much my Carhartts had aged in the four days I was gone, I heard a text come in on my phone. It was a short message from Lance. It said, “Next video: Mexico?”

Sold. Let’s go. TC mark

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