Nowadays, music videos are fairly hit and miss in terms of their quality. There was a time when they were considered paramount and a lot of time, effort, and resources were dedicated to them. Visions of Atlantis are reminding us of those good old days with their latest music video for “Melancholy Angel.” This is the second single to be unveiled from the band’s new record Pirates, ready to be released via Napalm Records on May 13th. The video is becoming one of the standouts of their live set, and the video is chock full of impressive visual effects and wardrobe. It’s a performance-oriented video, but so much more than just the band playing the song as they normally would on stage.
The “Melancholy Angel” song is indicative of somewhat of a new musical direction for Visions of Atlantis. An aggressive, more polished sound, Pirates marks a turning point for the band, with a sound that resonates with them as musicians and songwriters. Pirates is the group’s most adventurous record to date, with an intimacy and honesty they have not yet fully shown. The songs are both epic and emotive and will resonate with any symphonic metal enthusiast.
With the “Melancholy Angel” music video recently released, we spoke with singer Michele Guaitoli about the shooting process of the clip, some mishaps that happened along the way, and how the video and the lyrics complement each other.
Any mishaps on set?
Michele “Meek” Guaitoli: “‘Any’ minimizes the events. The ‘Melancholy Angel’ video-shoot was one of the most demanding we’ve ever done in our career for sure. We filmed this video on the Baltic Sea, in Germany, in a small town in Germany called Sassnitz in February.
“The first ‘mishap’ involved the heating systems: the temperature during the entire day was extremely low and we filmed this video between 1 pm and 4 am to get the right lights to make the story evolve properly. At night we were around -1 or -2 degrees, with a cold, cold wind coming from the sea, and the only heating system we had was a couple of this gas-driven heaters. Of course, they both ran out of gas in the coldest moment, so we had to film all most of the night scenes dressed up as pirates (barely dressed)… freezing cold.
“A second ‘mishap’ happened to the filming crew. When at 4 am in the night the shooting was over, the tide started to rise, and this came totally unexpected. The entire crew had to rush removing the gear from the beach, but the way to the beach that we used to access the shooting location collapsed due to the tide itself. Long story short, they had to find another way out, crawling the cliff that surrounds the beach, to avoid having all the gear submerged by the sea.
“Several other little funny stories can be told about this video, from me losing some of my rings on the stone-sand (to never find them again), to (guitarist) Christian (Duscha) and I drying our socks in front of the heaters as if they were marshmallows on the fire after having stepped in the sea to discover that our boots are not that waterproof.”
Any concepts where you started and, midway through, you thought, what the fuck are we doing?
“Luckily this has never happened yet with Visions of Atlantis, as we really prepare our videos going into the very deepest details in terms of storyboard and filming. But there’s nice insight to be told about some parts we had to cut. As told before, the tide basically fucked up the entire location during the night. The original plan was to film some additional scenes of (singer) Clémentine (Delauney) and I exploring the location before encountering our ‘Melancholy Angels’. Due to the problems with the location, we were forced to cut these additional scenes, that were meant to be filmed on a second day. It’s not exactly a ‘what the fuck are we doing’ situation, but it surely is a funny change-of-programs.”
If money was no issue what would be in your perfect video?
“Considering the universe we are embracing with the new visuals and outfits, fully diving into the pirate world, of course this question is quite easy to answer. We are all cinema-lovers and having the chance to have a Marvel-like production/Disney-like production to recreate the world of the seven seas would be a dream come true. Sometimes it truly is a struggle to have a cool concept in mind, knowing that it’s not really developable due to the extreme costs that would be needed to realize it properly. What we achieved with the videos for ‘Pirates’ really satisfies us, and everything went that well thanks to the creativity and the great skills of the video-makers… but with an ‘infinite’ budget we would totally deliver our own short pirate movie(s).”
If you could have any guest appear in your video who would you have?
“It probably wouldn’t be a musician: most likely some actor. It might be a cliché, but wouldn’t it be awesome to have, all of a sudden, Bill Nighy appearing as Davy Jones, or Geoffrey Rush appearing as Hector Barbossa? Of course we’re talking about dream-land here, but I believe it would be much more of a highlight in a video than anything else.”
Do you prefer writing a video around the theme of a song or just going on a warehouse and banging out a live performance?
“I believe that if we could choose, we would all choose to act without the performance part of the video. Maybe I’m being too drastic and extreme now, but honestly we really believe in the acting and storytelling side of the videos. What makes a video special is the story, the narrative, and the quality of the overall production on that level. Of course, an artsy video or a really creative video that moves around the music or the performance can also be extremely interesting, but the performance part has been done and re-done by all the bands in the world. I understand the importance of ‘showing the faces of the musicians,’ but again, at least here at VoA, we really prefer the story and the acting rather than the performance.”
Tell us about any good, bad or crazy director or film crew-related incidents.
“What we really like when it comes to working with video directors is that, in our experience at least, everyone always has a strong personality. They tend to be visionaries and to have their own perception of art… which is what makes them unique! This is something extremely spicy, sometimes funny, sometimes not that easy to cope with.
“What personally drives me crazy sometimes is that with the same director, especially when it comes to the acting scenes, you can jump from a scene where the feedback you get is, ‘oh, this is a one-take scene, amazing,’ to another one in which after the tenth time you still don’t really get what’s the right thing to do to achieve the goal. Challenging, but at the same time I really, really love this world.”
How does the music inform the video in terms of visuals matching sound?
“When it comes to defining the storyboard of our videos, we always start from the lyrics of the songs. This is what happened not only for ‘Melancholy Angel,’ but also for the large majority of VoA’s videos with the current lineup. Clémentine is actually the one who puts down down the story, discussing directly with the director, to create a perfect match between the lyrics (that she writes for all of our tracks) and the visual. We believe this is a peculiar aspect to deliver a consistent music video, and to keep the coherence of the band at its best. We really don’t like those videos in which the lyrics are about one thing and the storyboard takes you to a completely different world.”
Have you ever had such a baller idea for a music video that you’ve written music for it?
“To be really honest, we really work the other way around. We always start from the music and never think of the development of the music into music videos before we have all our album ready on the musical level. For instance, for this record, we were quite sure since the very beginning about the pick of ‘Melancholy Angel’ as a single, but we were quite undecided about the remaining videos as we believe that there are at least four or five other potential singles in the track list. Music comes first, always…”
What is your favourite childhood music video and have you any secret nods to it in your catalogue?
“I have grown up right in the MTV-era, so music videos had a completely different taste back in the days. I remember that I was sitting in front of the TV watching one video after the other, and of course when you really loved one you were always waiting for it to be broadcasted. ‘The Kids Aren’t Alright’ from The Offspring clearly is one of those videoclips that got stuck in my heart for some reason. I loved the style of the video, with this camera moving in circles around this always-changing subject. I loved how simple but efficient the video was (well, is) and I can totally put it in my personal top three best videos of all time.”
How important are music videos in terms of increased exposure?
“Absolutely fundamental. The world of music business today is driven by completely different rules compared to what it was just a few years ago, and nowadays without a video basically you are not releasing a song. It sounds weird, but the concept of ‘releasing music’ in 2022 involves not only the ‘audio’ but also the ‘visual.’ Dropping a ‘new single’ means necessarily coming out with at least a video clip, if not even a photo shoot connected to the video itself. This is the only way to have a decent ‘reach’ on the social networks, the right visibility when it comes to the promotion, and the right attention given to the release by the magazines and webzines. Dropping a new song in the digital world without a video clip, except for a few extremely rare exceptions, leads to losing a song.”
How important a role does social media play for sharing videos and increasing exposure?
“In my personal opinion, this topic really needs some insights. Dropping a video on a social media without any additional promotion only exposes your new music video to those who already know the band. Even if people will surely show it to some friends, this, to me again, is not the right way to grow your audience. If I post my video on my Facebook page or on my Instagram page, despite the hashtags and everything, I won’t have a huge chance for the video itself to reach new audience.
“What matters the most is the promotion of the video clip through the ‘ADs’ systems inside the social platform and on YouTube itself. A record label with a big amount of subscribers makes a difference, but even the big labels nowadays promote videos on YouTube and on the social medias to boost the promotion. Tough world.”
How much more effective or beneficial is creating a music video now compared to 20 or 30 years ago?
“Once again, what I am offering here is a personal perspective, and in my opinion the big difference between today and 20 to 30 years ago is that video clips now become a standard. Every band, from the biggest to the smallest, find themselves in the position of having to release at least one video clip for the reasons mentioned above. If we go back in time, realizing a video clip for a single was huge thing, that only big bands could do. If you were not a big band, your record label really had to believe in your music to take the decision of investing in your project, giving you the funds to film a video clip.
“Basically what I am saying is that if 20 to 30 years ago you were releasing a single with a video, it meant that most likely you were a band that was either established or destined to be established. Now everything is different: the costs to realize a video clip are lower and, again, without a video you can’t even hope to play the real game.”
Are the benefits worth the costs and effort involved?
“It really depends on the final video quality in terms of idea, definition, cameras, and of course in the skills of the director when it comes to the cut and of the bands when it comes to the attitude. You can invest all the money of this world in a super-production, but if you don’t have the right attitude you will end up with a video that doesn’t work. The same goes with the director: he can have the best cameras and hardware of this world, but if the cut is bad and not engaging, there’s nothing to do. If you have a great time and you have the right attitude, the story has to be convincing. In the end, it’s a huge combination of different factors. I also believe that when this combination is good on every level, the final result is worth the efforts and costs.”
For a heavier/more extreme band who won’t even get their video on a ‘rock’ music TV channel like Kerrang TV or Scuzz, is YouTube (or ‘online-only’ platforms) a good enough platform by itself to justify creating a music video?
“YouTube is THE platform nowadays. Numbers don’t lie and there are plenty of bands and musicians who actually got big thanks to YouTube. The biggest advantage of YouTube is that we’re talking about a platform that can reach everyone all around the world. Every TV channel has its own audience. I’m not saying that ending up on the TV doesn’t help or doesn’t make sense, on the contrary it’s still a huge statement. YouTube still is a wider form of diffusion. Many countries don’t even have a music-channel anymore, and some never had a rock-oriented music channel either. YouTube is accessible by everyone, everywhere, at any time… this makes a difference.”
Is a well-made DIY video just as good or beneficial as a professionally-made/directed video?
“Exceptions always exist, so I have no doubts that a very few DIY videos might make it, but as a general rule I absolutely don’t believe that DIY stuff works in this business, unless you are a professional yourself that ‘does it himself/herself’ for its own band. If you work as a mixing-mastering engineer for big names and you have a band yourself, and take care of the mixing-mastering of your record… I don’t doubt it will end up to be a professional product. If you’re a professional video maker and you film your own videoclips… I don’t doubt they’ll work.
“But my opinion is that nothing, nothing, and again, nothing compares to the experience and the skill that a real professional has in its own business. Sometimes there are budget issues, and bands end up doing stuff on their own as the other option is to have nothing… but even in that case my advice is always to postpone to the moment in which you can really give the best your music on every level. What we release stays there forever, and a cheap video or a cheap release will accompany the background of your band forever…”
Does the “Melancholy Angel” video have a concept, and if so, can you elaborate on it?
“The concept around ‘Melancholy Angels’ is quite direct: we all have our inner demons to fight. In the video, Clémentine’s and mine inner demons appear as our doppelgangers, in a dark-angelic form. They are of course our ‘Melancholy Angels’ that we physically fight and defeat. The truth is that you can’t really get rid of them and this is why, in the very final scenes, they re-appear even if both of us killed its respective ‘Melancholy Angel.’”
Who did the crew include for the video shoot and how did you put together the team?
“‘Melancholy Angel’ had quite a crew indeed. Together with the director, Mirko Witzki, we had two doubles respectively for Clémentine and I: Fuxteufelswild and Luke Schapers, a makeup artist, an assistant, a pyrotechnic team, a visual effect specialist, a location scout, and of course, us as a band. To be really honest, when you work with professional companies they take care of all the details. When we arrived at the location everything was set, and the team that Mirko gathered was ready to go. We only had to take care of our own duties, even the props that you see in the performance were all arranged by the company.”
Did the video have a budget and were you able to stick with it?
“We always know in advance what the budget is, as this is always defined with the record label. Once everything is clear, we discuss all the details with the video production company and we make everything fit the budget, including the traveling costs, hotel, food, etc. Everything is well prepared in advance so that the problem of ‘going over budget’ doesn’t exist at all. Of course, this is a peculiar point to keep in mind, and sometimes you have to keep your feet on the ground despite some extremely cool ideas… but hey, step by step. Maybe one day your third question won’t be a problem anymore.”
How much of the video was self-made?
“The story has been developed by an idea from Clémentine, as said before, and all our outfits, which are also our stage-outfits, have been designed by Clémentine and tailored by Anna Sophia, a stylist she has worked with for a while: the Wanderers (our last album) outfits were produced by her too. Apart from this, and given that this is something you might consider self-made, nothing else is. Everything in the production has been taken care of by Mirko’s company. We strongly believe that everyone has their own role in a winning team, and having professionals working in their own field makes a difference.”