Sleepytime Gorilla Museum – “Salamander In Two Worlds” (Video Premiere)

Today I’m thrilled to bring everyone the latest music video from Sleepytime Gorilla Museum called “Salamander In Two Worlds.” On this dance-filled track that is sure to make you feel something, this band showcases why they’re on the rising acts in the music world. Gooby Herms, the director of the video, says inspiration was found: “In the depths of woods in upstate New York, where the frogs sing their last chorus of the season and whispers of the falling leaves provide the harmony. Amidst this tranquil solitude, we delved into themes of loss and isolation. And dance.” If you’re enjoying the latest single, you can listen to the band’s latest LP Of The Last Human Being that’s currently on all streaming services. I was also able to catch up with this band for a brief interview below.

Can you share any anecdotes or behind-the-scenes moments from the making of the song or music video that particularly resonated with you? The video is stunning…can you tell us a little bit about the direction and how the video came about?

From Gooby Herms (artist/animator/director): It seems funny in hindsight that the concept for the video was essentially about movement and dance, in the landscape of a woody forest, since we were sitting in the living room of a dancer, in a small house in the middle of the woods. But realistically, I hadn’t planned a single thing when the idea for doing the Salamander video came up. I knew I wanted to do it at some point, but then there we all were! In Shinichi’s (the protagonist in the video) living room shooting some material for another project, we decided to get material for Salamander as well. But I had no idea what to do.

We put the song on, and I sat on the floor and just soaked it in. And very abstract ideas involving dance, or at least body movement came to mind. And color, vibrant colors contrasting some silhouetted figure. But as the song played, I was haunted by the melody, and I was overwhelmed with thoughts of loss and despair. I didn’t know the lyrics well enough to know if that even had anything to do with it, it’s just what I felt! So we put Shinichi in front of a black wall and had him dance to the song. It was the best we could do at a moment’s notice, but I’m thankful that we had such an excellent and expressive dancer on hand, who was willing to improvise and just move how he felt in time.

By the time I started creating the actual video, I knew the song quite well. It had chapters and a well defined arc that worked very well to plot an emotional journey. So I told the story through color, starting with passive teals, exploring the world further with deep blues, and exploding into reds and yellows. It’s a story of a character who is quite alone, in a massive natural world. And as I kept going, the story unfolded without my conscious agency, it just told itself! As far as the ending goes, I never really felt resolution in the song, it simply persists, and I feel that’s part of the story.

Carla Kihlstedt (SGM band member): All of us—both collectively as SGM and as individuals—are a part of a much larger ecosystem of creators, artists, thinkers and collaborators. We all take turns instigating and inspiring each other. When we work with other artists (animators, costume designers, graphic designers, lighting designers, etc), we don’t micromanage what they do or how they do it. They know the limitations and possibilities of their craft better than we ever could. Gooby Herms is an artist and animator whom we have known for years. (We first met him through our mutual friend Meredith Yayanos, who has helped us on many creative and organizational fronts for decades.) Gooby had taken on the task of editing our short pseudo-educational sci-fi comedy film, The Last Human Being: A Critical Assessment, and we were considering having the end credits of the film roll over the song Salamander in Two Worlds. Gooby took that idea and ran with it… ran farther and more gracefully than we ever could have predicted… creating his gorgeous interpretation of the song using his own vocabulary of visual texture, and Shinichi Iova-Koga’s singular and expressive movement vocabulary. (We’ve been collaborating with Shinichi in different ways for almost 3 decades!).

We met at Shinichi’s house in upstate NY, where we set up a black cloth backdrop on the back porch overlooking the woods, and blasted the song several times while Gooby filmed Shin dancing to the song. Gooby described his concept and the basic process, but nothing could have prepared us for the beauty that he would create once he took the footage back to his own workshop. We were all totally agog when we saw it for the first time! (After the shoot, we turned the black cloth into screen printed SGM patches.)

The music video portrays a sense of isolation and loss. Can you elaborate on the emotions and concepts you aimed to convey through the song’s lyrics and instrumentation?

Nils Frykdahl (SGM band-member): This song in particular, and the Last Human Being film in general, are a fantastical re-framing of the story of “Ishi, the last wild man in North America,” the film being more comedic and this song diving headlong into the sadness. Ishi, the last speaker of the Yahi language, walked starving into a mining camp near Mt Lassen in Northern California in 1912. At his birth, his tribe was already likely reduced to only his family, with Ishi surviving alone for unknown years. He then spent several years as a living museum exhibit flaking arrowheads and starting friction fires for curious throngs who flocked to see the “last wild man.” Ishi marks a pivot from “Indian-as-threat to settlers” to “vanishing noble savage” (both cruelly and strategically simplified, of course), thus the straddling of two worlds. The song title is borrowed from Theodora Kroeber’s book Ishi in Two Worlds. She was the wife of the anthropologist who “discovered” Ishi, and the mother of Ursula K. LeGuin, visionary writer. The “last-ness” which pervades the song and film emanates from Ishi’s singular historical moment. “Ishi” simply means “human” in his partially decoded language. He never gave his real name.

How does “Salamander in Two Worlds” fit into the broader themes narrative of your recently released album, Of the Last Human Being?

Nils Frykdahl (SGM band-member): Certainly the straddling of worlds, of loss and preservation, of survival in the face of “eating poison”,… all serve as a theme for the record, with the 25 year lifespan of this band positioned at a certain historical hinge, a fairly sudden change in the ways and texture of daily life in the western world, making our last salamander/Ishi a sympathetic character in this brave new world of the 21st century, “growing strong on the dark, wet food of literature and leaves.”