Ben Strebel’s gritty music video series for Javeon

Rising star Javeon and director Ben Strebel have been collaborating on a series of gritty and compelling music videos of late. They have created a set of five interconnected promos to be released before the summer: the third is out today. CR talks to the duo about the experience of making the videos.

The three videos so far released in the series have introduced us to a number of characters. At their centre is Katy, a young bride who is caught up in a wedding day from hell, as captured in the video for Lovesong, which came out last September and is shown below.

The next two videos, for tracks Give Up and Intoxicated (out today), take us to a dingy roadside café, where we find a new cast of characters, some sympathetic – the hardworking chefs that star in the Give Up video – but most unpleasant. Katy makes a reappearance working in the café in the Intoxicated video, which ends on a cliffhanger.

Strebel has skillfully created a gripping, complex storyline across the videos, and has also drawn out some excellent performances from the actors starring in them, which include Sarah Smart and Josef Atlin. Below, CR talks to both him and Javeon about how the series came out.

CR: How did the collaboration start – did you know each other?

Ben Strebel: We’d never met before. I first met the boys from PMR Records. They were looking for a director to collaborate with on a gritty British series of videos for their exciting new artist, Javeon. Although there was talk of embarking on a trilogy, we decided to tackle Lovesong first and then take it from there. The success of the first one lead to what has become a fruitful relationship and a lot more than we had ever planned on making. It’s been a very organic project from the outset.

CR: What appealed about each others’ work?

Javeon: I knew I didn’t want to just make a normal music video, so what drew me to his work was the balance between film and music in past videos that he’d directed. There’s a classiness about his work that I thought was interesting, from the tones and colours to the narrative. Everything seemed quite thought through and that’s what I was looking for.

BS: We both share a profound fascination with the eccentricities of the Brits and love British Realism as a genre. I love the freedom I was given by Javeon and his team. I think we share the same ethos of wanting to challenge preconceptions of what a music video should be and creating contrasts between the song and visuals. When the music is fast, the visuals should be slow and so on, which was the stylistic rule I set for Lovesong. Give Up was just supposed to be a side project – a B side. In the end we agreed to create an anti music video – it’s as much a chamber piece as it is a music video. I wanted to create the simplest, most intimate story based in the confines of one sticky, sweaty room. The music ends up playing a key role in the story. Its presence is felt, as it divides the two squabbling chefs at first before bringing them together. With regards to Intoxicated and the films that will follow, Javeon and I agreed we wanted to contrast the compassion and emotions of his songs with the gritty harshness of Katy and her world.

Javeon and Strebel on set

CR: Is there an overall theme to the videos, or is each one unique?

BS: The theme and story is Katy’s harrowing downfall. There is an overarching story, but I tried to retain a certain level of individuality within each film. Adding a layer of surrealism to the straightforward realism meant I was able to create abstract strands of narrative. As a result each film could be a standalone piece as well as part of a continuous narrative. There seems to be a new wave of British independent films that are starting to embrace the surreal. I liked the idea of opening up a discussion and creating metaphors, without prescribing too much to the viewer. It gives you the freedom to invest your own imagination, which is kind of fun. I tried to do this by obscuring the boundaries of what’s real and what isn’t.

Strebel on set

CR: How did you come up with the stories in the videos? Did you do this together?

J: Generally, the way we’ve been working is that Ben would have my music along with any initial ideas me and my team may have come up with. Ben then would come back with the master plan and we’d tweak slightly it together. I think because I don’t like straightforward thinking and like to bury meanings behind things in both the artwork and songwriting, that’s where Ben and I are very much alike. Before we’ve even started a new video it already has a mystery about it that leaves it wide open to interpretation, which I love.

BS: It’s funny because when we first spoke of continuing with Katy’s story we really connected over a similar fascination for roadside diners. Javeon turned around one day and asked, ‘hey why doesn’t the kid in Lovesong drop Katy off at a roadside diner?’ Obviously the story has evolved since, but I loved the idea of Katy seeking refuge at a roadside café. There is no place like it. They attract people from all walks of life – a place full of characters, where Katy would fit right in. The lyrics and sounds are full of heartache and compassion. I wanted to reflect this deep felt sentiment through our main protagonist, Katy. She suffers.

CR: Do you see this as an ongoing collaboration?

BS: I feel like it’s definitely an ongoing relationship and hopefully we’ll continue to work together in the near future. I love the way his songs are stories in themselves – highly emotive pieces based on personal experience. But there’s always another level of meaning to his lyrics. He’s a visionary, thinks outside the box and wants to subvert and abstract what appears so straightforward. There’s something haunting about his songs that really pulls me in and gets me excited.

J: This collaboration of ours has been going on since the summer last year we’re both enjoying it because it’s fun and exciting, which makes for the best kind of work! There are a few potential videos for the future we have spoken about, but it’s still very early days yet. Beyond this album, we’ll definitely work together again. That’s the great thing about when something works: we can always revisit the way we’ve worked together, but on a new project.

Intoxicated by Javeon is out in March on PMR Records. More of Ben Strebel’s work can be seen online here.

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