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Jen Meller: Dancing about photography

Some people say “a picture is worth a thousand words.” And some people say “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” And then there’s the people in the middle, who say “taking pictures of music is worth a thousand hours of dancing about architecture.” These people are very confused.

Or are they? Because I know of at least one person who’s the embodiment of this latter statement and her name is Jen Meller—photographer, media instructor, music video director, editor, dancer, actor, DIY music capturer, livestream videographer, product pic lighting ninja warrior, and maker of nine-foot-tall mushroom installation pieces perfect for “dancing about architecture.” 

So how'd we get here? It all began when we planned to post some of Jen’s images as part of the recent piece on A Very Special Episode and their debut full-length, Fix Your Hearts of Die. But since the Deli’s MySpace-era blogging platform can’t accommodate more than one photo per post (so DIY!) we came up with the idea of making a video montage (or multiple video montagi) of Jen’s photography (both studio and live shots) set to AVSE’s music, which you can view above and below.

Jen is also friends with and neighbors of AVSE so I thought why stop at using Jen’s photos when she could also be plied for "behind the music" style salacious tidbits about the band and their lifestyle choices. Well, suffice to say, the band aren’t that inclined to salaciousness (rumor has it they spend most of their down time binge watching Law & Order re-runs, the ones with Ice-T) but still in a scintillating phone conversation Jen did have some interesting things to say about AVSE and about her own work—which is cool cuz it’s about time we started featuring some of the many “artists behind the artists,” in particular those who make musicians presentable in visual form. Our conversation has been loosely translated into the writeup below.

Beginning from the beginning, Ms. Meller grew up in South Huntington, which is in Suffolk County, which is on Long Island, a town that Wikipedia notes is “the birthplace of Walt Whitman, and the Walt Whitman Shops mall is nearby.” I kid you not this is exactly what the entry says, which then goes on to observe that “the Walt Whitman Shops were previously known as the Walt Whitman Shopping Center.”

Fending off the siren call of the Walt Whitman Food Court, Jen moved to Washington D.C. to attend American University and got her B.A. and B.F.A. in photography which allowed her to say F.U. to the M.A.N. and get an M.F.A. which led to work in fashion photography and also a gig with the D.C. based record label Blight Records doing press photos, set design, stage design, and lighting all while still in grad school (sorry Jen if I’m getting any chronology wrong here! I'm just a music blogger!) and through this association with a label self-reportedly specializing in “challenging new forms of sonic expression" with artists on their roster like “Philly slime wiz Nyxy Nyx” (sounds cheesesteak related but I’m not sure) it all led to Jen becoming cooler than she though she’d ever be, but still quite modest I would say.

The next stage in Jen Meller's professional development came with a move to New York City, skyscrapers and everything, where she really spread her wings—shooting and later hosting live band segments for BTR Live (R.I.P.) for a couple years while also pursuing many other undertakings (need someone to make you a floral mic stand? Jen’s got you covered) and it was through a meet cute Zoom interview for BTR Live that Jen and AVSE were brought together becoming quick “pandemmy pals” which led to an IRL picnic date with the band and the rest is history. 

Even when AVSE had only demos to go by Jen says she was drawn to their “intense rhythms” and later to how mesmerizing they were live (quite true!) and to how lead singer Kasey Heisler’s voice “stood out in a room the way Stevie Nicks's does” which is high praise indeed, especially seeing as how the white winged dove has been know to set rooms on fire.

When it comes to Fix Your Hearts Or Die, in particular, Jen says the latest song she's been hooked on is “New Coke” because of its “sense of anger and sense of release” (see photo montage #1 above) and because it's a "good song to throw on after a bad day." She also praises the LP for capturing “the chemistry they all have together” seeing as it’s their first record with drummer Chayse Schutter who goes all Phil Collins taking over lead vocal duties on one track, “Evergreene” (see photo montage #2 above). Speaking of a unique band chemistry, Jen captures it in her photography: dark-but-drenched-in-color shots, lit by swaths of glowing neon and moody studio lighting, that serve as the perfect visual counterpart to the band’s auditory presence—images sometimes crisp and vivid, other times blurred/oversaturated into abstraction, much as AVSE’s songs pivot between extremes of clean and pristine indie pop-rock, and grimy pedal-saturated white noise freakouts.

And hey, here’s a scoop: Jen and AVSE are slated to shoot a music video later this month with a projected release date sometime in February 2022 (incidentally, all the videos in this post were conceived/directed/edited by Jen save for the Mixed Chicks doc above, solely edited by Ms. Meller). Regarding her music video-making technique, Jen says she’ll listen to a song hundreds of times until images start organically forming in her head, later pulled together to create some kind of story in consultation with the musicians and their own visions using “tweezers to pluck out the right idea.”

Jen says she views making videos as a form of choreography seeing as she first came to filmmaking as a dancer (those "intense rhythms") and you’ll see what she means if you watch the vid she made for Nihiloceros’ “iamananimal” which was filmed in one single take and which obviously required some serious choreography to pull off with a hand-held camera trailing Shadow Monster's Gillian Visco as she wanders about a labyrinthine two-story house in the midst of a surrealist fever dream and so if you wanna see what “dancing about architecture” looks like, well here ya have it.

And how ‘bout this to bring things full circle, it was groundbreaking Ukrainian-American dancer/choreographer/experimental filmmaker/photographer Maya Deren (1917-61) who first attracted Jen to photography so you do the math because I’ve reached about a thousand words already. (Jason Lee)


Phantom Handshakes: Shoegaze on Broadway

ALT TITLE: "Dream-pop Girls"

Way back in 2020, the Phantom Handshakes put out a song called “Aisha (Vs the Dirty Tongues)” which just from the title alone sounds like it should be a rock opera. And it’s not just the title because the song’s dramatic, moody music is likewise suited to the stage and would likely appeal to the youth of today since they don’t yet have a rock opera to call their own. Anyway I’d say the time has finally come for a shoegaze/dream pop takeover of Broadway and the West End.

The newest release by the Phantom Handshakes entitled No More Summer Songs could be the album to break the impasse and tap the potential for a dream pop rock opera if somebody could just find the next Mr. Lin-Manuel Miranda and get him or her to write a staged adaptation. I mean just listen to “Cricket Songs” and it’s inner monologue describing the protagonist’s heightened sense of perception in the midst of a summer heatwave complete with bedroom dancing and sweaty sheets and overemotive mothers and drifting off to the sound of chirping crickets. It’s pretty evocative stuff and so is the video above.

The album’s opening track “I Worried” would make a perfect overture with its ghostly echoes looking back at past misspent summers (that’s my take on it anyway) which would serve as a perfect framing device for the musical, and then the next song “No Better Plan” would be the crossover crowd-pleaser with its wordless catchy yet slightly taunting “Nya Na Na” refrain which should translate well to foreign markets.

The song captures a doomed-yet-determined forlornness but with a sunny/boppy melody and beat (sidenote: the aforementioned hit song from Hamilton also has a “Na Na Na” refrain) with lyrics about “building sandcastles despite the wind” which is essentially what King George does in Hamilton

P.S. I’ll gratefully accept a producer co-credit and a modest percentage of the gross box office if this idea comes to fruition. But if it turns out to be the next Moose Murders just remember you didn’t hear any of this from me.


herMajesty shares single “Weightless” + plays Mercury Lounge on 2/28

Alternative indie pop rockers herMajesty new track “Weightless” (streaming below) is a mid-tempo rocker that pairs layered guitar hooks and bright synths with a distinct driving backbeat. Band visionary JP is given open space for his soft-sandpapery vocals and vivid lyrical poetry.  Lyrics like “Let the colors and the scent settle on your skin - let the yellow lilac and the brooding rose pull you in this violet dream” create visually dramatic moments underscored by plucking piano and alternating synth notes. The chorus reveals the need to rise above a “concrete wall” and the limitations we place on ourselves, to become “weightless.” Written over a four year span and recorded in numerous cities, this single and the band's upcoming album was mixed by Giovanni Nicoletta in Berlin. To celebrate its release, they will play an early show at Mercury Lounge on 2/28 with The Goodnight Darlings. - Dave Cromwell


Parquet Court's frontman announces solo project called A. Savage

Parquet Court's frontman Andrew Savage has always drawn on influences from the South, but now he’s using his new solo project A. Savage to turn up the Western heat. While Parquet Court made use of twangy guitars and Savage's rough, cowboy-like vocals, his upcoming solo album Thawing Dawn uses pointed track titles like "Buffalo Calf Road Woman" and "Wild Wild Horses" to send a clearly Western, nostalgic image. The first single "Winter in the South" (streaming below) retains the mystery of Parquet Court, but is also more organic, rumbling, and lonesome. Texas tour dates begin this week and Thawing Dawn will be out on October 13th. - Allie Miller



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