Mitchell Leonard and Haisi Hu speak to Lyrically-Speaking Magazine about the creation of the music video for ‘Come Downstairs’. The pair worked tirelessly on the video for over a year, read on to find out more about their unique project.
The music video for ‘Come Downstairs’ was created by both singer/song-writer Mitchell Leonard and animator Haisi Hu. The video consists of claymation and cel animation providing an abstract piece that explores death, fear and longing. Whilst the project was produced on a low budget, this intricate video perfectly accompanies the emotional track composed by Mitchell. We interview the duo about their work on the video and the inspiration behind the song.
Can you tell us more about your the song and video for ‘Come Downstairs’?
Mitchell – I started writing it about 7 years ago and it came in stages. A series of events lead it to fruition. I met Haisi a year and a half ago and once I saw her work, I knew I wanted to collaborate with her. I pitched her a few things and this was the song she really liked.
Haisi – I’ve been making and teaching animation for over twenty years now. This is the first time I’ve done a music video with claymation. It took over a year to complete but I think that what is unique about this video is the combination of claymation and traditional animation.
Mitchell, how would you describe the sound of this track to new listeners?
Mitchell – I would call it dark jazz. No artist likes to define their genre because it’s tricky. Technically, it would be vocal jazz but I like the term dark jazz as it has a very moody, deep element to it.
Haisi, what made you decide to use claymation and cel animation for the video?
Haisi – Mitchell saw other work that I had done and was really interested in it. There is something about claymation and animation that is depressing and it brought out the narrative of the song well. If you use real people, it can be too depressing because the song is about death. It also loses the ambiguity and beauty to it. Claymation gives you a way to be able to deal with emotions like this because it takes you to another world but also connects you emotionally to dark and negative feelings and speaks in a different perspective.
What have you both learnt from this project?
Mitchell – A whole new element of the song came after I started to see what was happening visually. I had to take something that was already written and without changing any of the timings, build an atmosphere that was representative to the visual. It was a learning curve for me to be so involved in a different medium and see what that process involved. It gives more depth to what you do and challenges you in a way.
Haisi – It’s my first time working with musicians so closely. Usually I write the script and make the films but I had to look at how the song was created and what inspired Mitchell to write the song. I took a lot from his experiences and my own and pushed them together and that’s what makes collaboration really good.
What is your favourite part of the video?
Mitchell – I’m usually very critical of my work but this is amazing and I am so proud of my work here so it’s hard to pick a favourite part. As far as the process goes, it would have to be the beginning of creating the video as I was very hands-on with the project. With the song itself, my favourite part is the bridge where the woman starts to come down the mountain. The transition into that, from the protagonist jumping off the building, to her starting to take shape coming down the mountain is brilliant.
Haisi – I think that the process is more interesting than the video from my experience because we were working on it every single day for a year. Mitchell would pick up the clay and as I’m a visual artist, I’m very specific with my colours like Mitchell is with his music. At the beginning, we were just mixing the clay for specific colours that I needed and that took months. We had to overcome a lot of obstacles.
Mitchell – One of those obstacles is that we needed a shot where the figure starts to float off the earth and is looking down and surveying the landscape below him. We needed a camera shot from his vantage point above the city. As we were on a do it yourself budget, Haisi had an idea. ‘Okay, we’re going to get balloons and a GoPro, tie the balloons to the GoPro, let the balloons go up in the sky and then we’ll get the film’. Initially, I thought this is never going to work in a million years. We experimented and it took probably 2 sessions to get this to work.
Mitchell, this video is dedicated to your friend and song-writing partner, John Creasey who sadly passed away. What do you think he would have said about the project?
Mitchell – I connected with his family before the project was released to make sure that this dedication was approved by them. I knew him well and in that process, I actually got a response from his sibling saying that he would have loved it. He was very much into abstract, darker and more challenging art. He was drawn to more Avant Garde and not so much mainstream music. I’m confident that he would have been very proud to have this dedicated to him.
What is next for both you?
Mitchell – I’m working on a couple of different projects but I’m taking a bit of a break to get back to basics and practicing on the piano. I’m looking to have a release in the summer but for now, I’m just getting back to practicing my craft and honing in on my skill.
Haisi – I’ve been working on a long narrative film for the past 8 years so I’m looking forward to finishing that. I want to close that chapter now and do something different. Maybe become a banker or something!
What has been your biggest challenge?
Haisi – My projects take quite a while to finish and there is no knowing whether something is going to work because your creating everything from nothing. The biggest challenge with something like this is knowing that you need to come up with something and that you have a deadline. It takes 4 months to build a set and you shoot over a two-day span. You don’t know whether in this time you can get it right. If not, the 4 months making the set will be destroyed and you have to begin again. We didn’t run into any major hurdles, which is amazing, luckily this project came through without much disaster.
Mitchell – From my perspective, it was the promotional aspect. I was my own producer in the process as well as doing the art itself. I was working all night to get the money together for this project and then getting up in the morning to try and manage the project, finish recording and trying to contact people about it. My biggest challenge was trying to find an audience and reach people.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
Mitchell – Well Haisi will probably be working at a bank haha! I have a couple of different paths. One is more of a vocal piano path with songs similar to ‘Come Downstairs’ but a little less production. I have another album in the pipeline which I’m going to call ‘Booze Town’ and be a collection of songs about my relationship with alcohol. It has been a rollercoaster of a relationship I have got to say! This whole process has made me fall in love with concept albums and doing a theme around it. I want to take it back to where you have that feeling of listening to an entire album rather than listening to singles.
Haisi – I was just going to try and change my career and become a banker. I want to have someone to roll my clay for me so that it doesn’t take as long.
Do you have any advice for anyone making their way into music?
Mitchell – My advice would be to surround yourself with career driven people. I found Haisi’s work online and it has been a great atmosphere working together. You have to make a lot of connections. Get out there and find people where you like their stuff, pitch them some songs and put the work in. Get yourself to a city where there are a lot of artists, where creative people are drawn to and that will inspire you. If you’re doing something just for the money then it’s a horrible idea! Spiritually, if you create something, make 99 cents and 10 people see it, you’re still compelled. It’s important to stress that we funded this entire thing and it was done by working all day and night. It was entirely self-managed and self-funded.
Haisi – Don’t give up. It can take a long time but that is what life is for. You can make anything happen if you put enough time and energy into it and this project is a testimony of that. The thing is to keep going. Mitchell started playing piano when he was a kid and he hasn’t stopped it even though it hasn’t earned him money or frame. I have been going since I was a little kid drawing and I think that’s the spirit we want to put out there. You can do it!
Check out this incredible video right here and don’t forget to follow Mitchell and Haisi using the links under the video!