‘Blending archive footage with high impact visuals, it’s a stunning reflection of life.’
Right since the arrival of his 2019 EP Eastcote, Listen to Discover has continually connected with the music of Sam Johnson. Ever-offering a sense of touching and heartfelt honesty rarely found within the music of male artists, there is always an incredibly personal driver to his releases. To date this has included uses of recorded samples from his family, lyrics centred around the reflections of life, and a musicality that wonderfully balances projection with inferred softness. However, with the release of his most high profile music video to date, he takes the literally homegrown influences found in ‘Changes’, and through collaborating with director Luke Logan, creates a visual journey that gives us the whole picture.
Beginning with Sam casually performing vocals while sat, and then later meandering through forestry, we are beautifully introduced to the first of two key locations. Filmed in a way that makes you think of lone walks where thoughts have passed freely through your mind, it’s an instant visual reflection of an ever-present motif within Sam’s musicality. This is of course far from the only time we experience this connection, and as Sam explains, this approach was incredibly key to achieving the overall feel of the video.
“While I didn’t have any real ideas for the visuals when writing the song, I wanted to ensure there was a relationship between the lyricism and the visuals. The movement within verses helps to carry the story along, while the stillness in choruses projects reflection.” It has to be said that the way both elements come across really does generate those sensations. However, while this visual theme runs throughout, the different ways that it is portrayed brings an extra personal atmosphere at every turn.
Highlighting this initially through the changes that occur at the first chorus, the thought-filled forest stroll setting switches to reveal the most contrasting scene. Lit in an almost otherworldly way, those same trees now carry the essence of a much more surreal backdrop. Meanwhile in the foreground, carefully stacked cathode-ray television sets flicker with director-led visual hints of what is soon to be brought into focus. Shot in a way that beautifully tracks Sam as he wanders, and then kneels to take a closer look, it completely invites us to experience the first of many archive footage centred moments.
“I’ve always been an avid documenter of life” says Sam, “and along with the director we came up with the idea of using footage in the video.” A wonderful concept I’m sure we would all agree – a track about life, why not use recordings captured from your own life in the visual? That though was to be easier part of the decision. “I essentially tasked Luke with sifting through about 20 years worth of recordings, choosing the most appropriate ones, and working them into the 3 minutes of music. It was a bit like allowing someone to look into your dreams!” This for me, only highlights further that sense of intimacy, uniqueness and personal approach that we have come to love in all of Sam’s releases. Additionally, for those of you who have seen Sam’s previous videos, you’ll appreciate immediately how different the look of this one is. And with very good reason.
“My previous videos have always been basically self-shot, on an iPhone, with me directing my girlfriend. However, when I signed a record deal last year, they also wanted to put some investment behind the visuals for this track. It really was a great experience to do one with full production, but had some surprising elements too.” Right from the off, the sense of production behind both the more subtle moments, and the ones that fill the screen with high impact, really does come across. So just how was all this possible? Well as Sam explains, through a combination of planning, hard work, a very long night, and working with an experienced team.
“Trusting your creative team, and being open to new ideas can help you move forward.”
“I knew Luke was experienced and had an eye for cinematography, so I thought he may know some good locations. We shot in two main ones [forest and field], but the approaches were very different. With permission, we used a farmers field for the day shoot, but the forest scenes were shot from 5pm – 5am toward the end of summer!” Laughing about some of the other key differences, Sam continues: “There was a crew of about 20 in the day, but many more at night – including a security team! I was assured this was for the equipment and not me though haha! It was quite tough, but to generate the correct lighting we needed pitch darkness. That said, it was nowhere near as hard for me as it was for the crew carrying steadicams and rigs.”
When you consider the amount of people involved in creating the video, it’s little surprise that there are so many standout moments. Many of which utilise a seamless blend of appropriate post-processing, cutting and colour grading. But there are a couple in particular that really do hit you between the eyes, and surge that sense of emotion right inside you. Highlighting just how phenomenal the editing processes were first, the moment where polaroids rain down shortly after Sam picks up a solitary one is visually stunning. So much so that the explanation of how they achieved it was a complete surprise.
“We made copies of the old photos, filled a large bucket with them and then poured them from the top of a giant stand!” Proving that so much can be achieved with such a simple approach, it’s actually quite unbelievable that the look initially came from that. “Once we had the main shot, effects were added to increase the impact, look and overall feel.” I can tell you now that I’ve watched that part so many times, but you just can’t tell what’s real and what isn’t. To be fair, when your crew includes experts from the TV and film world, you wouldn’t expect it to be any different. But while that moment has effects at the centre of it, and delivers high impact, the most contrasting of approaches sees emotional impact reign just has high.
Changing with the lyrical direction of the track, as we reach the bridge the archive content leaves the television sets, and fills our screens instead. Cutting at pace between a plethora of key moments in Sam’s life, it truly puts that sense of family and personal development front and centre. Equally, in picking up on the meanings within the track itself – “a sense of growing up and coming of age” – it’s a beautiful moment that leaves you in no doubt of these intentions. Maybe it’s the relatability of it. Maybe it’s the fact that each clip feels perfect. Or maybe it’s something else entirely. But whatever it is, every time you watch that part, and the moments that follow, you experience a connection so emotionally charged that it truly catches you out.
Thanks Sam Johnson for chatting with Listen to Discover
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Track Review: Sam Johnson: Stuck Under the Surface