Smoke Season's aesthetic is lined with hazy polaroids of days gone by, shudder together with glossy '80s vibrations and a sweet, modern vocal. Songs like Badlands, a slinky, thick narrative which unravels over a spacey mix of moody pop and progressive rock, and Fool's Gold (a haunting outro track which slithers under the skin) from 2014's Hot Coals Cold Souls EP are innately experimental, poetic even. But that's the nature of the beast, scavenging into the darkest corners of the mind, body and soul to unearth something truly spellbinding. The duo, comprised of musicians and songwriters Gabrielle Wortman and Jason Rosen, hope to expand the world views of art and humanity even further with their forthcoming Ouroboros EP, expected this summer. The project has proved to be a behemoth of a task, however. For each of the four tracks, the creatives have conjured up a cinematic installment which works as a puzzle piece in a greater story arc. "We wrote the songs over the course of the past couple years, but we've been editing, scoring, filming, casting for almost a year now," Wortman shares over a phone call last week, of the subsequent short film they've created (produced by A Plus Filmz and directed by Scott Fleishman). "We've been sitting on this secret for a long time."
She adds, "Honestly, we didn't have a marketing plan in place at first. It was more like 'we would like to create this artistic piece.' Why not make a film? We can. So we did. Afterward, everyone on our team was like 'shit, we have to roll this out. This is great!' The approach Jason and I take a lot of times is 'let's make this art and maybe people will want to consume it.'"
The result is a stunning, affecting story which rips apart the human existence into four digestible chunks. The first is the powerful and twisted Loose music video (below), in which a young girl falls in love with another and must learn a lesson worth her own life. Wortman and Rosen dig into the symbolic nature of the piece and how they uncovered the EP's artistic vision in great detail below.
"We've learned and refined our visual aesthetic, even down to the way the shot and camera angles were set up. We worked extremely close with the production company on the cinematography. That level of precision has really affected how we look at things visually," Wortman says, of the year-long process of piecing together the footage.
Your video for ‘Loose’ is pretty haunting. How did you come up with the concept?
Wortman: Well, the video is part of a bigger concept. It involves our entire new EP. What we decided is that we wanted to roll out something which was both musical and visual and depicted a larger theme. The theme which really stuck with us was the circular nature of humanity and how everyone is connected in a lot of ways. The project itself starts with this video, and it goes between our other three music videos, which will be coming out later this year. All the characters overlap, and it shows ouroboros, which means everything that is created is also destroyed and comes back around again.
How do you two relate to this concept?
Rosen: There are always interactions which might seem trivial or unrelated. Then, you can connect the dots. People are always two degrees of separation from each other. Living in Los Angeles, we experience that a lot. We bring that synchronicity of life to the project.
Wortman: Another thing we take from people when we meet is that everyone has a story. Everybody is going through some type of thing. The people who are your villains now could be your heroes in a different context. Everybody is a shade of grey, in some way. What we really wanted to show was that each story and each person has their own universe around them. I am openly bi-sexual and have had a similar scenario happen to me in high school, like in the ‘Loose’ video. It really resonated with me.
It is interesting you bring up the idea of villains and heroes. The main character falls in love with a girl who then later breaks her heart.
Wortman: Digging into it a little deeper, that other girl was scared. The pressures we put on bi-sexual and homosexual teenagers can create fear. Anybody would be if you were afraid you’d be bullied by all your peers. There are a lot of sides to every story. A little tiny spoiler: the next video focuses on the biggest villain in the ‘Loose’ video, which was the boy [played by Julian De La Calle].
I read you are submitting this entire piece to film festivals?
Wortman: Yes. Our hope is to do that this year. Right now, we have the four music videos. Separately, we are editing a short film with all of the footage. It’s going to be a different edit. If you watched all the music videos together, it would look different than if you watched the film. But it’ll be completely scored with the music on our new EP. The music has definitely evolved to take on more of a film score feel than stand alone. When the film version is done, it is going to be screened at festivals.
Do you have ambitions for specific festivals?
Wortman: We’re not being too prejudiced about it. We’re going to submit everywhere. I would love to go to the south of France. But the Cannes might be a bit too lofty. [laughs]
When you see numbers like “40 million streams on Spotify,” what goes through your mind?
Rosen: It’s exciting. We’re flattered. We love that people are listening and it’s really going global. It’s amazing to think about the reach of streaming.
What is the rollout plan for the rest of the videos?
Wortman: We are wrapping up the final pieces on the music videos right now. We really enjoy the element of surprise. The ‘Loose’ video came out right before the holidays, so we’re going to let people spend a little more time with that one before we rollout the next one. Everything will happen in 2016.
The video stars some pretty heavy weight talent with Lexi Ainsworth (General Hospital, Gilmore Girls) America’s Next Top Model's Nicole Fox and Julian De La Calle (How to Get Away with Murder). How did you get those ‘pieces’ to fit?
Wortman: The exciting thing is it only gets better with each video. We were really fortunate to work with those artists, and it’s more than just the actors. A Plus Films is stacked with talent. They shot and produced the entire thing. Being in LA, we’ve developed a collective of really awesome artistic people who we kind of always work with. We try and bounce projects off each other. We came up with the concept, and then we started reaching out to some of our friends who are actors. One of our friends is actually a casting director, and he’s the one who suggested Julian as the role of Seth (the bully). Now, Julian is a friend of ours.
What stories and/or folklore inspired you growing up?
Rosen: I’m a big Kurt Vonnegut fan. I always loved his sort of irreverent nature and looking at things that are dark and giving them a different tinge, maybe even a little tongue in cheek. I’ve always loved that kind of storytelling.
Wortman: I was really influenced by poetry. When Jason and I first formed the band, we had a very close relationship with Walt Whitman’s ‘O Pioneers’ poem, which is ironic because around that time is when the Levi commercial came out using it. That poem really captured the feelings we had at the beginning of this band, which was two New Yorkers who moved LA and saw California as our own personal manifest destiny. That poem is quintessential manifest destiny. You can still hear that in our music.
With your approach to your music, do you always imagine bigger concepts and focus on the details later on?
Wortman: The concepts might come after. The way we write music is very emotional. We are in a particular mood or feeling especially influenced by a theme or musical style. We write very fluidly within those moments. Once we have a collection of songs, we do sit and think ‘how do we want to present these? How should these be consumed in the most experiential way?’ The organization of the things we’ve written takes on a more conceptual approach.
How does that relate to your live show?
Wortman: We are extremely hands on with our live show’s nature. We program our own lighting, and we always have corresponding light shows with whatever tour we are on. Our stages are always extremely smokey. We want people to feel as much as they are watching a movie as they are watching a concert. They are inside the movie, and it makes sense with the music they are hearing. Part of that might be also because Jason and I have big backgrounds in film scoring. We get carried away with ourselves sometimes. It’s something we always strive to bring to the stage.
Are there composers or films with which you connected growing up?
Rosen: I've always liked ‘American Beauty.’ I just love the instrumentation and the tonality. ‘A Beautiful Mind’ is another beautiful score.
Wortman: I love James Newton Howard, too. I think he originally had his background in piano. My main instrument all my life has really been piano. When people create from the piano, you can hear that in everything they are writing. I love his ‘Road to Perdition’ soundtrack. That makes me cry still to this day.
You previously released two EPs, why an EP this time around, too? Had you considered approaching an album in the same way as this EP?
Wortman: Well, we specifically chose the EP for this because the visuals are so codependent on the music itself. Because we were releasing videos for each song, we wanted to make sure there was an overlying thematic element. We also wanted to tackle the relationship between film and music. It seemed more feasible with four songs. I will say our next release is definitely a full-length album.
If there were a film to which you could reinvent the soundtrack, what would it be? Why?
Rosen: A friend of mine was trying to see if I could remake ‘Scarface’ using electronic instruments. He posed that challenge to me once.
Wortman: It would probably be ‘Citizen Kane.’ I love Bernard Hermann. The ‘Psycho’ soundtrack is incredible, but it would be so amazing to have the opportunity to reimagine some of Hitchcock’s early films.