LIGHTS OUT That randiest of Mission District corners, 17th and Capp streets, has long been a hotbed for DIY music, art, and the occasional can-blasting block party. Now San Francisco’s best-known indie video blogcast, Yours Truly (yourstru.ly) was taking it over. The Truly team — Caleb Moriarty, Nate Chan, Will Abramson, Babak Khoshnoud — recently invited me to a live shoot at a warehouse near the corner.
Lifelong music fans, the YT foursome creates intimate videos, following videographer Chan’s vision, of musicians performing songs in unusual spaces sliced with live interview material. Inspired by blogs like La Blogotheque and gorilla vs. bear, YT wanted to create a similar platform based in San Francisco. Besides local artists, YT films bands as they come through on tour; more recently, they’ve flown out to shoots, like one with Tame Impala in a Santa Cruz forest and one in Los Angeles, where they filmed Wavves.
“It’s very personal,” explains Chan about how they choose bands to film. “Only the four of us decide.” (Luckily, their sensibilities line up nicely with the great Indie Consensus: tUnE-YArDs, Little Dragon, Tyler, the Creator, Kurt Vile … ) Chan elaborates that they’re drawn to bands with strong pop sensibilities that perform well in a live setting. “The other challenge is finding the right space for it. We want the right mood.”
I can’t figure out which warehouse the shoot is taking place in because the correct door has lost its numbers, so I call Chan. I’m quickly escorted down into the basement of the Sub. I’ve been to shows here before, but those have always been on the second floor. Downstairs, there’s a wood-shop with off-white walls, piles of wood chippings, elaborate electric saws, a cabbie’s top-light on an electric organ advertising a strip joint, doors that lead nowhere, and a chorus of fellow onlookers.
Soon Claire Boucher, the force behind Montreal synth-pop project Grimes, and her crew arrive. Introductions all around, and then Boucher begins humming, unnecessarily apologizes, and goes into even more elaborate warm-up scales. Her look is striking — the limits of beauty are one of Grimes’ musical themes, and here they carry over. Boucher wears a plaid-collar dress-shirt under a taupe thrift-store sweater whose previous owner appears to be Santa, so she literally swims in it. It’s pocked with stickers, some sporting Lykke Li’s name, whom Grimes is touring with. (The band will be performing later that night at the Regency Ballroom.) Her bangs are bright blonde and the rest of her hair is dark black and pulled into a bun.
Within the wood-shop, Chan and Moriarty start rearranging Quikrete cement bags into tables, pile crates to make stools, and turn a red-painted door into a table-top that Boucher sets her keyboard on. Next, Chan unlocks a briefcase and pulls out his DSLR camera.
Boucher launches into a new song, still unnamed, that will be featured on Grimes’ next release. After the track, she waves her hands in circular motions above her head and declares she was nervous. Chan suggests they record “Vanessa,” Grimes’ hypnotizing track that has garnered her a large following. They do three takes of “Vanessa,” then Boucher announces to the rapt room that she’s more used to performing at dance parties. I think we were all simply too awe-struck to know how to react, but in response we burst into applause. (Clapping can be dancing.)
“It has to be really unobtrusive,” Moriarty says of making Yours Truly videos. “You’re trying to ask the artist how it feels and what they want to do over again. We’re trying to build the shoot around Claire but not trying to direct her.” Close-ups of fingers or lips, interview clips that capture an ephemeral moment or a bit of personality, and stripped-down versions of artists’ songs.
“It has to be very natural,” he adds. “I think people feel that when they watch the videos, they’re in the room.”
By letting the audience feel as close to the musician as I actually was during the shoot, the videos create an immediacy for fans. “Everything we create is purely passion-based,” Chan said. We love every band — and we want them to look good.”