For Kurt Raether, it’s been all about circumstance and second-guesses. The once-Marquette business major eventually graduated with a degree in film and video production from UW-Milwaukee. Similarly strange, a desperate decision to take temporary residence in a closet for a summer indirectly found the 24-year-old joining a band, making music videos, and developing the connections and experience to quit his job and boldly embark on an exciting new business venture in film making.
As The Fatty Acids trumpeter and premier director puts the finishing touches on the video for “Oven Mitts” from the great 2011 album Leftover Monsterface, Music Notes spoke with Raether about his start in the band, his plans for the forthcoming video, Honeycomb Productions, and the power of visuals set to music.
Prior to you being in the band, you made their music videos. How did that come about? Did you approach them?
It all kind of has to do with how I joined the band, really. I worked with Josh [Evert, singer/keyboard] at the UWM post. I was hard up for a summer and needed a place to live. They just happened to have a walk-in closet open at Kribbers Tiny Kingdom, which is our house. I moved into Josh’s walk-in closet for a summer and became friends with the whole band. I was really like the super fan of The Fatty Acids and I just asked them, “You guys have Stop, Berries [Berries and Berries, Berries] coming out soon. I really want to do a music video, and I’ve had this idea for a while.” I wanted to do it for the song “Vulture,” and they suggested I do it for “Astrovan” instead.
Just living with the guys and being the other roommate kind of predicated that. That’s how I ended up doing the music video; just having an idea and being around the guys and going out to shoot. It was as simple as that. Before the video actually came out, they let join the band, which was very cool of them to do.
Are you a major proponent of the visual album of the band? Like, had you not approached about making a video and joined the band, would The Fatty Acids go out of their way to make music videos?
Cole [Quamme] our drummer is a video maker as well, we’ve definitely got a lot of great videographers around us, so I’m sure it would’ve happened at some point. The way The Fatty Acids works is never really a conscious plan of anything. We’re never like, “We need this many shirts out and we need this merchandise here at this time for this release and the music video needs to come out at this time.” It’s just more of a do what you feel all the time [philosophy], so I’m pretty sure if I wasn’t around, music videos still would’ve happened organically at some point.
With local music videos, what’s the importance of area bands putting out music videos?
For me, and probably for a lot of people, visuals are very powerful, especially when they’re put to music. There’s a reason that the most powerful moment of a lot of movies is when the music crescendos and emotions are piqued. The combination of appropriate visual elements and music is very powerful. It’s a different way to explore what you’re saying musically. For instance, what Sat. Nite Duets does when they pump out these really homemade videos that fit so well with their overall aesthetic, between their music and their blog and everything. When you become a fan of a band, it becomes part of the package. The music is the most important, but with video and album art, all that stuff kind of comes together to shape the band and the perception of the band.
I could go on about Sat. Nite Duets videos forever, with their Four Loko and Packers memorabilia; there’s a reason they sometimes get put in a box that they do because they really just nail a very specific button of nostalgia. I don’t think they’re consciously trying to do it. I helped for a little bit on the Genghis Khan video shoot, and it’s literally just Stephen Strupp with his camera like, “This could be cool. This is cool.” There’s no grand plan, and that comes off. But it works somehow.
Yeah, it gives some non-musical insight. Like, “We can be kind of offbeat, but it’s what we are and we’re showing you that for a reason.”
For sure, but it still never seems to be a conscious thought. For instance, “Oven Mitts” should’ve come out last year when our album was coming out, right? It’s just an idea that I had that I wanted to put to a song, and that’s why we’re doing it. It’s scarily close to our new album coming out before this “Oven Mitts” video is out. Even if it did, that’d be fine. Because at the end of the day, five, 10 years down the road, it’s the body of work that matters, not when it comes out.
Speaking of the “Oven Mitts” video, what is the background? What’s the concept for it?
It started out a just a visual. Essentially, it’s a very frantic and manic video that I think kind of mirrors the style of the song. I had an idea of doing both green screen and blue screen in the same frame, which I’m sure has been done before, but I had an idea of someone wearing sunglasses with bluescreen in them and me being able to put any sort of eyeballs I wanted on a face. A huge element of the music video is lighting. I did six different lighting setups of our faces where I put lights at different angles and turned some on or off, depending on what take we were doing. I had us sing through the whole song with every lighting setup, so six times with six different lighting setups.
And every member did that?
Yeah, every member of the band did six different takes. Then I edited the takes together almost frame by frame and cut between lightings, so it looks like a strobe-ing effect. The biggest reason for the trauma board is so the faces stay in the same place and glasses stay in the same place. The lights are flashing really fast and there’s a slight variation in the lips, which is kind of off-putting and frantic-looking. It’s this whole messing around with cuts of all their faces until you don’t really know what you’re looking at. You’re just seeing this generic male face from six different dudes sitting in six different lighting angles going all at once.
Then in the green screen in the background, I can put whatever I want there. That’s kind of the point I am now is figuring out what goes back there, what’s the logic. Really, the whole music video is just one established shot. It doesn’t really go anywhere else. I’ve got some alien doing some thing occasionally, but that’s what it’s about. It’s kind of a gimmicky film. There’s certain themes that go through… the kind of idea of being locked in, not able to move and kind of being dragged through life is how I’m interpreting it while I’m editing it. It starts with young baby eyes, and by the end it’s animal eyeballs or old person eyeballs, eyes pulled from old movies. It gets more and more disturbing as it goes on.
What about the WC Tank music video? What jumps out to me is the unique locations that you used. Were those your idea?
That was very much a collaboration between Wes [Tank] and I. Wes is actually a very good filmmaker, who’s done some features. I really liked his album when it came out and told him we should do a music video together. The thought behind that was I just wanted to emulate the style of some of my favorite directors and just do a video that is a really narrow aspect ratio and uses landscapes that are very narrow. It ended up being the water and the beach. I try to make it a point to not show any Milwaukee landmarks in anything I film because it’s so over-played. I made a promise to myself in the past to never go to the damn lake because so many people have done it. I had to break that rule because it ended up making sense.
We were down on the pier near Bradford Beach. The lions at Lake Park are really cool. We drove around and thought, “What would look really unique?” We went to A thrift store on Brady Street, Jackpot gallery for the party at the end, Rushmor Records in Bay View. We made it a point to not scout too much. We just drove around and pulled inspiration from places.
Are there any other local bands that you’d like to work with?
I’d love to swap with Sat. Nite Duets. We’re releasing a split this fall with them, Dinosaur Feathers from New York and Radical Dads, and we had this idea to do music videos for every song and kind of string them all together. The problem with me doing a Sat. Nite Duets video is I’m not Sat. Nite Duets. Their videos are very much them. Right now, Fatty Acids music videos are about it.
I really want to get a feature film done. That’s kind of my goal in the next two years, so I kind of need to – besides The Fatty Acids – kind of put aside music videos for a while and focus on that. If somebody asked, I’d totally be willing if it’s a cool idea, a cool song or a great band, it’s always fun to collaborate.
In terms of your business, when and how did you reach the point of taking the risk to leave your job and make a go of it?
I got in the newspaper business fairly early on. I enjoyed it but it was never something I wanted to be doing. Suddenly, I got this great job out of college at The Shepherd Express, but just wasn’t content not doing video work all the time. Slowly, over time, when people would ask, I’d take on little projects. Eventually, I got a couple clients and was able to quit my job and do it full time with the resources at my disposal. I just took the leap. I’m really not sure if it’s going to work out yet (laughs). I’ve only been on my own for four months now.
I have a couple corporate clients. My goal with Honeycomb is really just to build a small boutique company. I’m not looking to be a major player production company. I just want to be doing enough work that I can employ me and some really talented friends of mine and have a small creative agency that really focuses on super-detailed creative projects. I’d love to get paid to do music videos. That does happen to people, strangely enough.
Check back here soon to see “Oven Mitts” in its final form. Warning: The video may not be suitable for people who are prone to seizures or poor taste in music. In the meantime, enjoy the “Memory Banks” video.