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Stay Home America: An Interview With Milktooth's David Condos

Stay Home America: An Interview With Milktooth's David Condos

Milktooth have been on fire this week. In addition to gearing up to debut a new song at our show at the Stone Fox tonight, the band released the latest (and possibly best) episode of their Stay Home America series. Just when it seems there's no topping the last episode (in this case, their gorgeous interpretation of Beck's "Eyes That say I Love You"), they go and do it again. Episode six finds the band covering Mumford and Sons' "Whispers In the Dark" in a refurbished mechanic shop in Germantown and, in keeping with the theme of the series, this latest cover may be their best one yet.

Born from bassist Zac Stred's idea to start a video series to complement the band's Tour America series, Milktooth began work on the first episode of Stay Home America last summer as a way to generate new content between their own releases. With only six episodes under their belt, each cover is a fantastic and re-worked rendition of a song by a known artist. The latest clip may be Milktooth's most abstract yet, so we decided to get to the bottom of things.

The Deli Nashville: What moves you to choose the songs that you choose?
David Condos: We choose songs based on a number of factors. First, we need to like the bones of the song. Once we have the song stripped down to its basic elements, we can change the instrumentation and arrangement however we like. Sowe are always thinking about what might make an interesting subject for our little experiment. But ultimately, I need to like the original lyrics and melodies enough to sing them because those are the least changeable parts of the equation.

DN: What are the pictures of in the video for "Whispers In the Dark"?
DC: For this song, we wanted the visuals to play off the emotion invoked by the closing lyric, "While we are young." The song struck us as a retrospective story of nostalgia or regret. So we gathered a collection of photos from the 1940s and 1950s that showed a variety of nostalgic memories from people's long lost youths (vacations, dances, family celebrations, classrooms, etc). We were really excited about how it all ended up working together, especially since this was the third different visual idea that we explored for pairing with this song. We originally wanted to shoot it at a taxidermy shop or an antique mall but couldn't find a location that would allow our shoot. Third idea was the charm.

DN: Where was this episode filmed?
DC: Another aspect of this series that we've tried to change with each episode is the location. Shooting both video and audio on location can present a number of challenges, but it's fun to explore different possibilities and let each location shape the video to a certain extent. For this video, we wanted an open area that would give the projections enough space to have their impact. So we recorded it at a refurbished mechanic shop in Germantown, which is where the church I'm a part of meets.

DN: Who directs these videos?
DC: We started out directing the first few episodes ourselves; this meant that we would set up a handful of stationary cameras around us, press record and start playing the song. Then I would edit the footage together. Fortunately, we've had some talented help with the past two videos. For Beck's "Eyes that Say I Love You," direction and editing was provided by Jace Freeman of the Moving Picture Boys, who just premiered their new documentary "Nashville 2012" at the Nashville Film Festival. Jace not only improved the look of the video but he also brought a storyline, which worked perfectly with the song's lyrics. This episode was shot and edited by our friend Caleb McLaughlin. The projector element complicated the shoot more than I anticipated, so I'm not sure how we would have done it without him. Strangely enough, our Beck video was shot at Caleb's home, so this isn't the first time he's been a champion of Stay Home America.

DN: How do you get your brain around your arrangements of each song?
DC: Breaking down a song and writing a new arrangement is one of our favorite things about what we do. We've loved doing this to our own songs for special occasions too, so it seemed like a natural transition when we had the idea to start this video series. For Kavinsky's "Nightcall" we wrote the arrangement together in our practice space, just like we would when writing a new song. I had the idea for this Mumford cover late last year so I pieced together a demo a while back, and then we got together to finesse the details earlier this month.

For the Stay Home America arrangements, we try take each song in a different direction than the original artist did. We loved stripping down The xx's "Fiction" and turning it into a unplugged song for Zac's back porch. So I thought it would be cool to do the opposite thing to a Mumford song, taking their old-time thumper and giving it a minimalist groove based on a string synth. I've become a bit of a synth geek, so I was especially excited to get to use a new piece that I bought earlier this year.

Examining "Whispers in the Dark" taught me that the song was much more interesting than I believed on first listen. I think that the original arrangement has so many uptempo instrumental elements going on that it distracts from how dark and beautiful the lyrics are. By slowing down the tempo and exposing the vocals, I think it allows the focus to shift to the song's story, which describes loss and regret before landing on the final stanza's "Carpe Diem" proclamation. So this arrangement was influenced both by our understanding of the original lyrics and by our desire to take the song into new musical territory. Hopefully, our take can be appreciated by Mumford fans and non-Mumford fans alike. –Brianne Turner

Published: April 26, 2013 |

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