One of my favorite movies is Federico Fellini's 8 1/2
. I know some folks prefer La Dolce Vita
but those folks are wrong (and that's a conversation for another day). It's a film about filmmaking, but it's also a film about desire and Fellini's unquenchable thirst for pleasure -- which often translates to: women. And that's a story that is more complicated in 2015 than it was in 1963. Fellini's handling of the subject matter is less problematic than you assume; he's totally aware of his problematic relationship with women. He isn't glorifying it. But lots of folks ran with the older director/younger muse dynamic Fellini presented without ever really providing it the context he did. But in their video for "Modern Language," cinematic folk rockers (it sounds like an oxymoron but it isn't) Postcards From Jeff
provide Fellini-esque (but majorly subverted) context to that tired trope as well as a folk rock sound that manages to feel big and understated at the same. It's an impossible bridge to cross but they do.
We had the chance to chat with Postcards from Jeff about the video (including a brief chat about 8 1/2
) and their sound. As a writer, I'm always pained when I make Artist X is Artist Y meets Band Z comparisons but with a sound that is as seemingly contradictory (in the best possible sense) as Postcards From Jeff I might have to indulge that laziest of music writer habits. Think the emotional depth of The National meets the atmospheric folk of Yankee Hotel Foxtrox
-era Wilco meets a hint of James Mercer and you've got an idea of what I'm talking about here. Check out the video for "Modern Language" below as well as our chat with the band.
The video for "Modern Language" seems like an explicit subversion of the older
director/younger muse dynamic folks might recognise from movies like 8 1/2. What
were you trying to explore with that story in this video?
Postcards From Jeff: That's definitely one of the big themes going on in the video. Steve Glashier (Video Director) and I both share a love of classic cinema and 8 1/2
was certainly an influence that we discussed beforehand.
Another big influence was the story of the relationship between Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren whilst they were filming The Birds
. Hitchcock's obsession with his leading lady muse and how he pushed her to [the] breaking point to get what he wanted. The way he wanted to mould her into his idea of the perfect matinee heroine / femme fatale and all the projection that comes with that.
I guess we were looking at those themes of projection and also thinking about aspiration and what people think they need to do to get ahead. The actress (Tess) plays an almost Edie Sedgwick type of character. An aspiring actress who finds herself in this exciting new world where she's the toast of the town. She's initially seduced by the excitement and glamour but eventually a darker side creeps in which leaves her questioning her motivations.
This theme begins in "Suburban Girl" (the first video to be taken from the album) and follows through to "Modern Language." Searching for greener grass is always a recurrent theme in my music. Questioning where you are and where you are going to.
The title of the track is evocative to me in the same way that "New Slang" by the Shins is.
Every generation has its tongue which is seemingly indecipherable to the generations that
preceded it. What does "Modern Language" mean in the context of this track?
With regards to the title, I was thinking about how that nowadays, text has become almost the dominant method of communication and the inherent problems that come with that. Particularly in relation to relationships and the more important matters in life. One ill judged text, tweet or post can be so destructive.
I guess the perspective from the track comes from a more alienated point of view of someone
trying to connect and communicate with someone or the modern world but not feeling like their
message is getting heard. It's like every time they try to say what they mean it comes out
completely wrong .They're not even sure whether they are speaking the same language as
everyone else and it's frustrating as hell to them.
You could compare it to an older person trying to get to grips with social media and them being
completely bewildered by it. Like they have to be able to decipher Text Speak and Emoticons to
understand what is going on in the lives of people around them.
That feeling can be transferred to many different life situations. Situations where we are doing
something that's means a lot to us but we have no idea if it will mean anything to anybody else.
Whether our efforts will all be in vain. There's a melancholic aspect to all of that but ultimately the perspective in the song shifts more towards a more determined mindset. A kind of 'Fuck it!' attitude of just doing things your own way, despite any external pressures to fit into a particular clique or paradigm.
How does "Modern Language" represent or subvert the sound of your debut LP for which
it is the title track?
I think thematically and lyrically it ties in well with the overall mood of the record. The album version is pretty epic (coming in at nearly 7 mins) so there's a lot going on in the song. There's all those themes of projection and a search for a deeper connection with life going through it. But hopefully that's not all too intense. It's passionate and reflective but not manic.
The sound of the album is pretty big in places but there are no delusions of grandeur in terms of
the lyrical perspective.They are usually fairly rooted in common anxieties and dilemmas which kind of level things out. Musically it's quite hard to pin down in terms of genre which I hope is consistent throughout the record.
There's an element of feeling "cinematic" to the track itself while also still feeling rooted
in folk rock at moments. How did you strike that balance between "understated" while also
crafting something that still feels big?
With great difficulty! I sometimes think it's because I tend to write songs in 3 different ways.
One is the classic acoustic guitar, singer songwriter method. Another is a more electronic method of building cinematic soundscapes and melodies. The third being more of a traditional rock band style. When I'm developing a song it can go through the filter of all 3 processes. The finished result hopefully ends up as something that takes the best elements of each style and brings them all together. I'm constantly building songs up and knocking them back down again until they feel right.
"Modern Language" actually first started out as more of a dark electronic track. That darker element stayed with the track but I guess the rock guitars beef it up take it to a different place. Likewise the more understated vocals move it away from being too stadium rock. But there's always a fine line you tread when mixing things up in this way. Hopefully I got the balance right.