In early February musician Jim White played a small show at Grocery on Home in Grant Park. Videographer Ethan Payne took the opportunity to film White playing a couple of songs before the show. Below, an interview with Payne about the experience, and the videos that resulted.
ArtsATL: You said once you had always wanted to film Jim White — what is it about him that you found so transfixing? Was the experience what you had hoped for?
Ethan Payne: I remember the first time I saw the BBC documentary Searching For the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, I was super taken by all these characters spread out over the deep South. Their stories had this dark parable-like quality to me that I just found fascinating and crazy resonant. Especially people like Jim and David Eugene Edwards. Back when I lived in Athens my buddy and I co-produced a series of lo-fi live one-take music videos called “Soundies” — kind of a ripoff of Vincent Moon’s Takeaway Shows in Paris. Jim was on an extremely short list of artists I wanted to make a video with and we never ended up getting our schedules lined up back then. So these videos are pretty meaningful to me since they’re essentially eight years in the making!
ArtsATL: You had the chance to film a track that had never been recorded before, what was it like filming a song you were unfamiliar with?
Payne: Incredible. I knew I’d love it before I even heard it, just based alone on the fact that he wrote it for his daughter before she was born, and then he shelved it for 17 years.
ArtsATL: Later that evening you had the chance to see White perform at Grocery on Home, Matt Arnett’s venue. What was the contrast between the more intimate performances you had filmed earlier in the day and White’s performances for a small audience of friends, fans and strangers?
Payne: They were still pretty intimate. Matt does a great job of creating that atmosphere at the Grocery and you can tell he works hard to do so. This specific performance had probably triple the level of intimacy of most shows I’d ever seen. You literally had a father performing a song for his daughter that he wrote for her before she was born and had never recorded and she was there hearing it for the very first time. And he had his eyes closed for the majority of the song just so he could get through it. She was crying. He started crying towards the end when he made the mistake of looking at her. Good grief. To witness that was pretty great.
ArtsATL: Can you tell me a little bit about your filming process? How do you handle recording the song itself? How does filming a live performance differ from your other filming techniques?
Payne: For these types of live music videos I generally don’t want to see any mics in the shot (maybe that comes from my years as a boom operator in the industry), so we’re using a shotgun on a pole and lavaliers for the most part. For the “Sweet Bird of Mystery” video, since Jim was playing through an amp, we just decided to plug into the 58 that was already placed on the amp for the show later that night. For vocals, we had a shotgun mic in a stand. Not having the mics in the shot is just an aesthetic choice for me. I find that visually it takes you out of the “professional studio” setting and adds more mystery to it. Plus I actually love the way the human singing voice sounds over a shotgun mic, or any mic used traditionally for recording dialogue. I realize that I might be inviting the wrath of some audio engineers/sound mixers by saying so, though. Luckily I had my buddy Hunter Moore in charge of the audio for these videos and he’s one of the most talented guys I’ve ever worked with in that field.
Jim White tells the story behind his song “Bluebird” from his album Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See. Multi-instrumentalist Rob McMaken (Dromedary) accompanies.
Shot and edited by Ethan Payne at Grocery on Home in Grant Park.
Sound by Hunter Moore.
Special thanks to Matt Arnett and Grocery on Home.
This song is 17 years old and has never been recorded, and had only been played live a handful of times before we made this video. Jim wrote it for his daughter before she was born, because he wasn’t sure he’d ever get to see her.
Produced, shot and edited by Ethan Payne.
Sound by Hunter Moore.
Special thanks to Matt Arnett and Grocery On Home.