Grizzly Bear’s music videos have this habit of depicting the band members as suffering, blank and deadpan, through conditions that do not appear comfortable. In 2007’s “Knife,” they’re seen sinking stoically into quicksand. For 2009’s “Two Weeks,” they sit like a row of ventriloquists’ dummies, sporting creepily docile grins as their heads distend and explode with light. Now Kris Moyes, the owlish Australian director who’s shooting “A Simple Answer,” has brought them a sinister pile of props, including surgical scissors, electrodes, IV tubing, and a curved linoleum knife that becomes truly terrifying when you remove it from a home-improvement context and place it in a medical one. Today Moyes needs to photograph someone from Grizzly Bear taking a razor blade and excising a piece of his own skin.
Ed Droste, one of the band’s singers, has a long aquiline nose and a sardonic gargle of a laugh, which is his initial response to this development. “I do have a scab we could pick at,” he offers, exhibiting the back of one hand.
Moyes seems pleased with it. The video, he says, is about “extracting creativity—if the creativity of any living creature could be seen, what would it look like?” So he’s arranging “extractions” from the band members’ bodies: hairs being plucked, nails clipped, tears shed. The storyboard sees him zooming into that material to see all manner of creative energy fizzling inside. A nurse arrives tomorrow to draw blood, about which bassist Chris Taylor, who has a fear of needles he’s eager to confront, seems sort of pugnaciously psyched. Drummer Chris Bear, who has an extraordinarily sweet and peaceful air about him, spent early afternoon wandering sweetly and peacefully around the set in an inflatable neck-traction device.
It’s not much of a set, for the record: Only eight people, band and magazine tagalong included, in a house in the woods near Germantown, New York, where the neighboring drive sports copious signage regarding private-property ownership, and you experience that upstate hyperdensity of deciduous trees that makes you feel like the planet must be all set on deciduous trees for a while still. The most complex logistical aspect of the project is simply that four of the eight people present are named Chris or Kris, which makes things difficult if someone’s looking for a prop and you say “Chris has it.” Taylor recently left Brooklyn and rented this house with a friend. He seems to spend every single moment eagerly looking for something he could be doing, thinking about doing, or helping someone else do, so it’s not entirely surprising that his plan is to hole up here between tour stints and write a cookbook for Random House.
The shot is taking place around a small pond behind the house, the kind with the obligatory picturesque swing hanging from an adjacent tree branch. There’s much long and potentially grumpiness-inducing posing in the hot sun, which might explain why Daniel Rossen—who sings and plays guitar, and is pretty reserved and self-contained to begin with—is starting to look a little wilted. (Or why the band members are, at the moment, extending one another businesslike levels of personal space.) Rossen has reservations about the whole razor-blade concept, having known, in his teenage years, several cutters. He seems a little amused by where he’s placed in the scab-picking shot, too: standing at the base of a tall rock, handing a wooden brush to Taylor. While the scene’s being lit, there’s talk of that sinking-in-quicksand-while-wearing-uncomfortable-khakis portion of “Knife.”
“It was a Dumpster filled with water,” Bear explains, posing behind some leaves. “With perlite over the top that looked sandlike.”
“I hated that,” says Taylor. “I would much rather put a syringe in my arm.”
“I love that those are the only two options,” says Rossen.
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