Here, we speak to Sean Pecknold, director of The Walkmen's new video for "The Love You Love," and learn that the haunting nature of the video was not too different from the actual shoot.
Photos by Skye Skjelset
by Ally Mullen
Hey Sean, where are you at right now?
I just flew in last night on a red-eye from Portland and I'm finishing up The Walkmen video. I've wanted to do something with The Walkmen for a long time. I love them.
Where was the video shot?
We shot in an old haunted house in Philadelphia, which Pete from The Walkmen found for us. I was looking for an old house with some empty rooms in it, and really wanted to film Hamilton performing the song and then have him be in an old TV in the house. So Pete found this old house and it was supposedly one of the most haunted houses in all of Philadelphia. It had been left as is for the last however many years. Whoever had moved out before had left all of this stuff, so it was kind of amazing.
Where is this video supposed to exist?
It's all about the space. It's supposed to kind of exist in this surreal house but I also wanted it to be a performance video. Hamilton's performances are so strong and I really wanted to see him sing in the video but have it be in an interesting setting.
Who was the little boy in the video and what was his role?
We shot with Pete's son Otis who is great. In the video he's watching Hamilton and he summons spirits from the walls and they have a little shindig. Then he tries to mimic Hamilton's performance and all of the floating things get pulled back into the wall, and the video ends.
Were you inspired by any scary movies or shows?
A little bit. I looked at a lot of old Twilight Zone episodes. We looked at a lot of old photographs too, from the house and old archival photos from Philadelphia. I've never been to Philly before and it definitely feels like... haunted. Well, I mean, we were in a haunted house and we could feel that, but there's just so much history there.
Did anything spooky happen on set?
We didn't find a "death chair" which was a good thing, or Thomas Jefferson's ghost, but we shot in the afternoon because shooting at night was just kind of out of the question. Then as it was getting dark and when we were cleaning up all the gear, one of our assistants went upstairs to load up in the top floor and she came back and was like, "Uhh, this place is definitely haunted!" You really feel it when you're alone. Then as we started gathering all the gear, the house alarm went off and all the car alarms went off in the driveway, so that was kind of weird. There's definitely a strange energy there. Otis was quite a champ for going through that, but he looked like he just fit that world, especially wearing that suit. It feels like he's been left alone by his rich parents or something; forgotten.
Was there any reason you chose to use Maneki-nekos as props?
Yes, there is. I wanted something that had a simple smile and frozen expression but fit in the world of it. The opening part of the video is starts with breaking porcelain objects that we found at Urban Outfitters. That part of the video is kind of like a prelude. Then the last shot in that sequence is the unbroken cat. It represents this kind of surreal spirit.
Who got to break all of the objects?
I did! I was standing up on a big ladder and I got to throw like 25 different things at the TV. That TV we found in Philly at the last minute at another haunted house, I think it might even be a haunted TV because that guy was really keen on getting rid of it. We hauled that back up to New York, and I didn't want to get rid of it, so it made sense to use it. It kind of bridges the two worlds and it was a perfect thing to throw things against. It was fun! We were shooting slow motion at 240 frames per second and that was just enough to kind of capture the fluidity of it. Then I reversed it. I like seeing stuff explode and come back together. I like the tempo and the rhythm of it against a piece of music. Then you see Otis at the end trying to break one of the things. It's part of his wild night alone in the house.
What was the inspiration in shooting Hamilton on the TV?
We shot sparklers in slow motion—that was the stuff behind Hamilton. I just had an image of him preforming on an old ‘60s style black and white TV show where it's just the performer and it feels strange and weird, with a projected thing happening behind him.
Why did you decide to do the video in black and white?
I think the black and white is fitting for The Walkmen. They're this classic New York band and I initially was going to have the video in color, but as I was working, the black and white and the porcelain looked so great in high contrast, and Hamilton and the lighting and the way we lit him and the sparklers—it all kind of popped in black and white.