The group of musicians making up Old Robes – Daniel Munkus, Heather Sommerlad, and Rachel Epp – are distinctive in musical tastes and offer up something quite unique together as one unit. Last year the New York band released its sophomore album, The Spider And The Spectator (Subtle Soup Records), filled with sweet and soothing sounds, a contradiction to the group’s own surroundings. Harmonies bounce between band members with melodies that stay drifting through the light rain of instrumentation. But musically, Old Robes provides drama within its sound as well. That’s one of the more appealing aspects of the group.
The band premieres its new video of the single “Maple And Cayenne,” which provides the aforementioned dramatics within its music. Juxtaposed for the video, the group enlisted The NUU Knynez (pronounced like “canines”), a group of Hip-Hop breakers and pop-lockers, giving the music more reason for life.
Of the video and the album, the group offers this:
Making The Spider and the Spectator has been a really amazing experience for the band in that somehow we’ve all been able to fulfill a lot of our own long term creative goals while doing it. For almost a decade I’ve personally imagined doing a video piece with a breakdancing crew where I could both edit the film and score the music. As we were developing music video ideas for “Maple and Cayenne” (the lead track off the album), it kind of dawned on us that the backbeat was so consistent in the song that it might make a nice sonic platform for a breakdancing crew.
Luckily, I was put in touch with The NUU Knynez, a great dance trio out of NYC. DRE?MZ, ROCK?, & TWICE make up the individual members of the crew.
During the conceptual phase of making the video, the band and the dance crew talked about a few different things. I was personally interested in diptych and triptych visual structures as a way to focus on multiple things at once, as well as on small details that I often wish I could see better in other breakdancing videos I’ve seen: gestures in the hands, feet, arms, face, impromptu movements “off camera”, accidental moments, etc. And since film and dance move in time, I thought it could be fun to use these structures along with simple editing techniques to evoke how I feel when I watch dancers – which is that movements don’t just come out of nowhere, they begin before they’re visible, happen in real time, and leave a kind of afterglow or ripple effect in me after they pass (like the hair on the back of my neck standing up or the afterimage of the movement in my eyes).
After talking about the formal elements of how we’d film it, the crew and I also talked about developing a soft sign language for the lyrics in the song, nothing too obvious, but something tangible. And, if you watch the video a few times, there are these really lovely moments where The NUU Knynez perform movements that beautifully describe the lyrical content.
Shooting the film with The NUU Knynez was an amazing experience. It made me feel like what I imagine sound engineers feel when they’re tracking the greats – it’s gonna be one terrific take and you’ve gotta be on your toes ready to capture it. The dance crew just killed it, and while we were filming I was in awe of how in tune the dance trio was with each other. Their camaraderie was palpable. Just like our band (also a trio), there were a lot of moments where someone would come out to take a solo and the other two dance members would recede into the background intuitively. Everyone was given a chance to shine, and when the trio came together and danced as one unit with everyone center stage, it created visual forms that transcended the moment and the ideas I had about breakdancing, or what this video would be about conceptually. Basically, The NUU Knynez really blew my mind and made the video so much more than what I initially imagined.