As an artist, I find that one of the most difficult tasks is that of describing my work. Or, even worse, defining it.
I’m of the snobby opinion that if a painter, composer or author is worth their salt, then a lot of time is spent striving to develop an original voice, a unique style, one that defies convention… so it’s very difficult for said artist to then turn around and sum up what is essentially an antisocial crusade in terms that are plain and accessible.
But… even if an artist is triumphant at carving out a distinct identity, there usually comes a time during the creative process when distilling said identity becomes a necessity. That distillation is usually in the form of digestible, bite-sized labels, and often happens when it’s time to share a finished project. Particularly if the goal is to get total strangers to pay attention.
When pitching screenplays, writers have to truncate their ninety-plus-page stories into one or two sentences called log lines. These log lines usually introduce the script’s subject, the subject’s objective, and the conflict standing in the way of said objective. Here’s the one we used when seeking financing for Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival:
Lucifer sets a plot in motion against Heaven and all hell breaks loose.
As you can see, while technically accurate, this plot abbreviation doesn’t fairly sum up the experience of the film, the music, the visuals, or its eclectic cast.
One of my favorite examples of a log line was for The Wizard of Oz. It was an online parody that went viral.
Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girls kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.
Speaking of killing, my latest project is one of those that is difficult to summarize. It’s called American Murder Song. At its core, it’s a collection of original murder ballads by TDC‘s co-composer, Saar Hendelman, and yours truly. But AMS is much bigger than just a set of songs. It’s stories—every ballad tells a standalone tale that also fits into a larger, overarching narrative. It’s visual—every week, we release a new video that expands on the universe that’s presented in the music. It’s historical—the ballads are set in 1816 America and feature the lingo, wardrobe and instrumentation of the era. Like with Repo! The Genetic Opera and TDC, AMS also boasts a cast of rock stars and cult personalities that we’re slowly unveiling. Check out Sara “Chibi” Taylor from The Birthday Massacre and Aurelio Voltaire in their roles as Sweet Rosalie and Unwed Henry below.
Even though it always causes grief come pitch time, I suppose I enjoy crafting works that refuse to conform to simple explanations… square knifes into round bullet holes and whatnot. Even when conceiving of the filmed portions of AMS, we made it hard on ourselves. We opted to include elements that every sensible indie filmmaker and producer avoids: kids—both in front of the camera and as a choir—and animals—including a pit bull, which is one of the most expensive breeds when it comes to securing set insurance.
Considering our difficult-to-define projects, it’s always humbling to find that so many of you are game to journey with us, even when the map is fuzzy, the treasures are mysterious, and the tour guides are surly and enigmatic at best.
We recently performed our first live set of music from American Murder Song at the Steampunk World’s Fair in New Jersey. As might be expected from a debut show, the performance was both good and bad. The setting was a rather uninspiring hotel conference room and we didn’t meet our banjo/guitar player until soundcheck, which was less than four hours before the performance, but somehow we put on a show. More impressively, however, was the fact that there were folks in the audience who travelled from all over the country to be there. Some journeyed from as far away as England.
At the steampunk event, there were both familiar and new faces. We witnessed tattoos of The Mark (AMS‘s very own Mark of Cain) and drank homemade rum with new friends from steel shot glasses (available on our online store). Like AMS, the weekend was an experience that was difficult to label.
We recently released our first EP of music tracks from American Murder Song. When we went to place the album on iTunes, Amazon and the like, we had to select a genre for the tunes. This classification was restricted to a generic list of music categories, none of which seemed to accurately describe the totality of our project. Worse, each platform had a different list of options. CD Baby had the most interesting choices, which included fun sub-genres like Avant-Americana and Drinking Songs, but even these, while charming, feel more clever than accurate… so we need your help. How would you define AMS’s music?
American Murder Song: EP I. Dawn is available for a free listening on our Official Youtube Channel. Take a listen, and be sure to Subscribe while you’re there (obviously, if you dig the tunes, please also consider showing your support by purchasing a copy of the album). Once you’ve digested, we ask that you share how you would classify the work in the Comments section below. Feel free to be as literal or absurd as you’d like. We’re counting on both.