In 2007, Adam Torres released his hauntingly perfect album Nostra Nova. Adam performed solo as Nostra Nova and with others (including members of Southeast Engine and Five Deadly Venoms) while continuing to play in Southeast Engine as well. Athens Musician Network called Nostra Nova “the best locally produced record in a decade” adding “this record should be part of every Athenian’s collection.”
Filmmaker and good friend of the Aquabear Brian Wiebe made a video for the song “Breakneck Jane’s Fifteen Minute Escape” from Nostra Nova. Aquabear had a chance to talk to both Adam and Brian about the video and a lot more, you can find the full interview and after the break.
This was originally published in Aquabear Reader #1 in Spring 2008.
Adam, tell me about the song “Breakneck Jane’s Fifteen Minute Escape”.
Adam Torres: It’s a murder ballad about an escape artist whose stage name is Breakneck Jane. I wrote the song in no more than an hour a couple years ago when I was backpacking in Europe. I had been obsessed with Bob Dylan’s Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts. To me, Dylan’s song is some sort of country western short film in song form. I wanted to do that with Breakneck Jane, but fool around with a different genre. At the time, I was feeling good about what it turned out to be, so that’s how it turned out.
And how did Brian become involved with the making of the video?
AT: When I met Brian about a year or so ago at Casa Cantina, he had told me that he was interested in making a video based on Breakneck Jane’s Fifteen Minute Escape so that’s how it happened to be originally. We became friends and sent e-mails to each other about making a video and it eventually came together. I would like to say on a side note that Brian was the driving force behind this whole project. I did not really do a whole lot except think about wizards and flap my hands like an overgrown chicken. Brian made it all come together in the end and I am amazed at it all.
Brian Wiebe: I expressed my love for his album, and the subject of making a music video came up, but only in very vague terms. I interviewed Adam for a potential Aquabear podcast—that may still see the light of day. Interviewing Adam was a very good experience—he really illuminated the thoughts behind the songs. We kept talking about doing a video in vague terms—until I struck up a conversation with Adam at the Aquabear County Fair 2007. He told me he had seen an old film at Carabar and wanted to do something with “menacing wizards.” He had some different activities for the wizards to do and that got my mind going.
What kind of imagery jumped out at you when hearing the song?
BW: The story that song tells was incredibly vivid in my head. It was all I could see when I listened to the song for the longest time. It really took Adam uttering those magic words –“menacing wizards”–to break me from the spell. The way I said that is ridiculous, but I am completely serious.
AT: The only thing I could think of was black and white photography and silent cinema sort of ideas.
Brian why don’t you tell us about your background in film.
BW: I graduated from the HTC school of film at OU. I focused primarily on narrative film and video, but I have also made some more experimental items. I currently do video work for the farm bureau which pays the bills (sort of). The OU school of film was a great experience—it’s a dysfunctional family, hideous and majestic all in one. I miss it.
What made you want to work on this project Brian?
BW: That’s an easy one—Adam’s amazing, beautiful music. I don’t want to come across as a shameless ego stroker, but that is one of my favorite albums of all time. And Adam backs it up live. If I go on, we will all start blushing.
Each of you should tell me your idea behind the video.
AT: I don’t remember what I was thinking back then. Looking back now I think that I was thinking about wizards, black and white film, super 8mm film, and no visible signs of society in the video. I wanted to have some sort of secret wizard society – I thought it would be fitting if the tone of the video leaned more toward sinister than playful. It turned out to be both…which is great. I was really into the idea of this group of wizards murdering and burying the leading actress (Jane) and I was also into the idea of throwing tires, passing tires, and rolling tires around like sacred cows.
BW: Hard to say. I believe there are a lot of different ways of making films, and–for that matter–great films (which is what all filmmakers want to make). There are no hard and fast rules. Sometimes being very formal and rigid works, and other times flying by the seat of your pants works. I have learned to be open to accidents, luck, mistakes. Most of the time I don’t understand the meaning until after the smoke has cleared. I didn’t know what this video was going to look like or what it was going to be about until all was said and done. I think the “method” used in the creation of this video really lent itself to that idea. We had costumes, scenarios, and rules in mind, but no shot list that was set in stone. It was really a documentary approach. Also, it should be noted that Ryan Bajornas, the cinematographer, brought so much to this video.
BW: That’s on Adam.
AT: Wizards are concrete, powerful, and interesting folklore figures. The recording of Breakneck Jane has a mystical quality to it, I think, and the idea and concept of a secret wizard community fit well with the tone of the song.
There also seems to be an underlying theme of nature in the video, was that intentional?
AT: Yes, that was intentional. One of our objectives of the film was to create a removed little fantasy world. I expressed to Brian that I thought in order to do that we should not have any recognizable landmarks or hints of the real world.
BW: This came about for a couple of reasons. Adam didn’t want anything modern in the video; anything that people would immediately reference as part of there day to day life—a car for example. Nature is really the only escape from that. Rocks, water, smoke, and various elements became the props. Some modern elements managed to sneak into the video, but a lot of those were referencing water or air, balloons for instance. And again, Ryan Bajornas played a big role in this. As I mentioned, we had scenarios in mind but we took sort of a documentary approach. A lot of times, I would be positioning people or getting them in costume, and Ryan would be rolling on all the bugs, grass, etc. that surrounded us. Also the video was shot in stages, so after I watching some footage, I would say to myself, “Well that water splashing looked amazing, why don’t I go get some more of that!” So that is sort of how it came about being captured, but how it came to be a theme goes back to the idea I was talking about of the meaning revealing itself after the fact. I want people to take away from this video whatever they want, but for me it really came to be about the destruction of purity. Man versus nature or perhaps his own nature. There is also the whole idea that an act of destruction is an act of creation. Humanity has a love/hate relationship with explosions.
How did you get people involved? Were the actors professional?
AT: All of the casting was voluntary and were friends of Brian or me. I was surprised to see how many people were willing to dress up as wizards, jump out of trees, swim in the river, etc. The acting was also surprisingly good. I might be wrong but I don’t think we had any professional actors here but the performances were great…especially Sherri Oliver who played Jane.
BW: No actors were members of the screen actors guild, but some of them sure could be. Everyone was a friend. Sherri ended up as the main character by accident—she was there to help and be a wizard, but she ended up being ‘Jane’ because the dress fit her. She was amazing. Most of the time I said “wizards,” and people responded with a, “hell yeah, I want to be a wizard!”
What were some of the places you shot at?
AT: Brian knows this better than me. I was only at two of the shoots. I don’t know how many shoots he did but I know he did a good bit of filming. I was at Stroud’s Run – it was just Brian and me for that one and I was also at a shoot out off of Second Street here in Athens.
BW: My good friend JJ, an MVP wizard, suggested his parents’ place outside of Athens. It was a great spot. Another place was Stroud’s Run. Another place is where I now live—along the Little Miami River.
There were other songs and performances shot around the same time period as the “Breakneck Jane” video, how did that come about?
AT: The original idea was to just make a video for Breakneck Jane but as the filming progressed I thought it would be a good idea to shoot more footage of me playing some of the Nostra Nova songs solo at an old strip mine in Meigs county. Brian was great…and went along with the idea.
BW: I think these came about because we wanted to have some other items to go with the video—we wanted people to go home happy.
Were the songs chosen specifically?
AT: Not really…I thought about the songs maybe the week of the shooting or so. There is a song on the DVD that is not on the Nostra Nova album called Como un Pato – and that song was chosen specifically for this DVD (and was a main reason why I wanted to shoot these solo songs).
I understand there is a DVD for “Breakneck Jane” complete with all of the other videos. Tell us more about that and how to get a hold of one…
AT: Ok. They will be available at four places. One is at Nostra Nova shows. Two is at Haffa’s Records in Athens. Three is at Donkey Coffee in Athens. Four is online at myspace.com/nostranova. Just e-mail me there and I will send a DVD in the mail. They are seven smackers, unless you want to make a deal with Brian or me.
BW: Go to an Adam Torres/Nostra Nova show. Go to the Aquabear Legion website. Go to Donkey. Go to Haffas. And if none of those work, give me a call at 740 590 4338.
What are you working on next?
BW: I am currently working on a performance piece/documentary about the Aquabear Legion County Fair. I also want to get back into narrative filmmaking. I’m working on an idea called “Butt Smoker” which I hope to have Adam involved in. I’d like to work with Adam again for sure. I would like to record some more music under my ‘Bukskin Lubershine’ moniker. I want to start a web page for all of my work to date. I want to paint more. I have some other ideas/potential projects, but I don’t know what will stick. I can’t guarantee any of these items or set a timetable or anything like that. Time is relentless pursuing us all—sleep on that one. I need some more coffee.
AT: I spend most of my time with Southeast Engine these days but…we’ll see. There might be some surprises for Nostra Nova in 2008. No promises..