An Interview with ‘Come Downstairs” Musician MITCHELL LEONARD About This Impressive New Video and More!
Posted On 09 Feb 2018
“Come Downstairs” is the recent creative video by the musician Mitchell Leonard and animator Haisi Hu.
Led by a piano-jazz ballad and the moving vocals of Mitchell Leonard, the music is brought to life in a ethereal other-world full of mysterious creatures and mirages, designed by animator and claymation artist Haisi Hu. (see the video below)
With scenes inspired by Max Ernst’s Europe After the Rain and Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, “Come Downstairs” explores the moment before death – examining the character’s longing, fear, and numbness. “Although the piece resonates with themes of crossing through, it also imparts a feeling of connection to a life-giving source,” shared Leonard. “This is, without a doubt, the most emotionally intense work I have been a part of…there are worlds below the surface of every layer here. Haisi created alien landscapes to reflect the character’s feeling of displacement, and I used an undercurrent of sonic textures to give voice to his pain and awakening love for the world he sees in flashback.”
The video took over a year to produce, with a number of challenges for the team. “It’s been an intensive, elaborate process, with many technical and conceptual obstacles to overcome,” said Hu. From deadlines to budgetary restrictions and unexpected complications, the process was laborious – involving over 100 pounds of clay, and over 2000 cels of hand drawn animation.
The music of “Come Downstairs” was recorded in part by Mitchell Leonard’s good friend and songwriting partner John Creasey, who passed away in early 2016; the video is dedicated to him. Leonard shared, “It seemed only right to dedicate this piece to John. He was an extreme believer in the overwhelming power that music has in exploring spirituality. He loved the more mysterious and elusive elements of the art world, those that were the hardest to define with language.”
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Learn more about Mitchell Leonard in the following All Access interview:
Happy New Year! Thanks for your time today! Where does this interview find you?
I am currently on a plane headed to India. I’m spending a few weeks there traveling.
Overall, how do you think 2017 was for you and your music career? What are you most excited about for this year? Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions? Care to share them with us?
2017 was great! I really poured myself into the world of a DIY musician. I released three pieces all on my own, two with accompanying videos. For this upcoming year, I’m excited about breaking into new fields with music. Since funding and day jobs are always an issue, I’m researching sync licensing for extra income.
I don’t really make New Year’s Resolutions. Most people fail with stuff like this because they carve out these majestic goals all at once. I kind of take self-improvement piece by piece, and when one step finally locks into place, I move onto the next. Last year I scaled back drastically on my drinking and drug use. This year, I think I’ll try to stop being late everywhere.
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory? Was there a time where you thought of doing something completely different?
Yeah, I did. There never was much fluctuation on that dream. It was kind of in my blood, as my father played the drums and my mother was a dancer, both in their young lives, and later on through my childhood. My earliest musical memory would be listening to American Top 40 on the little single-speaker radio above my bed. I was supposed to have been asleep, but I would lay there in the dark and listen to the show at low volume, in anticipation of whatever songs I was especially nuts over coming up.
I always like to ask artists about where they came from and how that city or town has influenced them as an artist now. So how do you think your home has affected you and your music today?
Oh, man. I came from Phoenix, Arizona. I think it’s biggest influence was teaching me the importance of getting away from any community that doesn’t attract like-minded people or encourage culture as young as possible. I spun my wheels there for years, without really making much progress. When I moved to New York I was lit up by being able to connect with so many different artists and opportunities.
What was it like working with the animator Haisi Hu on your newest track, “Come Downstairs”? Where did the idea to have clay and cell animation be a part of the video first come from?
It was an intense experience. She worked in clay and cel animation, that was her medium. The idea to combine the two was born from not having the time or budget with the crew we had to do a full-length video entirely composed of clay-mation. Then, shortly into the story-boarding process, the idea of telling two different phases of the story with the two styles came into being.
I am curious to know why it took over a year to produce the video? Were there any unexpected challenges when it came time to put it together?
It could’ve easily taken even longer. The lengthy timeline was a result of the arduous and painstakingly detailed process of producing claymation, coupled with the fact that we did it with a 3 person crew in a Brooklyn apartment. Haisi was the mastermind and did most of the hands-on work, I helped with some of the more menial preparation tasks and produced the project.
So many challenges! Comparatively, producing the music was the easy part. Getting the clay right, the shots right, the timelines all to sync, that was another story. One of the shots for the cel animation required a camera shot as it’s base of the protagonists’ POV as he floated upward off of the rooftop he jumped from. We tried a drone, balloons on pulleys, so many different ideas to make it work. Haisi had a very clear vision of what she wanted, which made it easier for lack of deliberation, but way more complicated in terms of execution.
Mitchell, do you have plans to release any more new music this year? Are you currently working on other songs?
I have two different pieces currently in development. One is a dark piano-jazz EP, I’ll release in late summer of this year, the other a barrelhouse jazz EP I plan to drop in the spring of 2019.
Where are your first shows of 2018 going to be? Where can people see you play out live next?
I don’t play out very often, so I can’t say at the moment. I should get into the rhythm of performing more often. Maybe there’s my 2018 resolution.
What do you think of social media today and the importance of it for artists now? Do you find that it’s hard to keep up with it all?
That is the question du jour these days. I appreciate the opportunity social media gives artists to reach a larger audience without a distribution deal, but there is the trade-off that sets you back almost to the same set of sticks either way. That is, the time it takes to ‘outshout’ everyone else in the pool, or the time it takes to make the money to hire someone else to do it, keeps you away from your craft (especially for me as a solo artist) and focused on the business and marketing end of things instead. I personally like how the landscape has changed, simply because it allows me to reach fans I never could before, but it does get to be exceptionally draining.
We are living in a crazy and at times rough world right now so I am curious how you think being a musician gives you the most joy in life today? How do you think that new music being created today is going to reflect these difficult times?
Well, I’m not sure that being a musician gives me the most joy in life today. It’s more of a compulsion almost, at this point.
Music is always a reflection of the society that creates it, so we’ll see what keeps coming out over the next few years. I guess I’m surprised that most of the hip-hop and punk rock coming out isn’t more political, as there’s so much going on to write about. Hopefully that will change.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
Growing up, it was George Gershwin, Clint Mansell, Wayne Horvitz. Now I’m more inspired by the artists I know personally, the ones that struggle to stay true to their hearts in the midst of social and economic pressure. Who would I love to work with? It would be people who produce music in different genres than I. Lupe Fiasco, Boards of Canada, Kidnap Kid.
What do you hope your fans take away from your music? Do you find that a lot of your music has a greater meaning behind it?
I hope it inspires them as my favorite songs have inspired me. I hope that they can take what they need from it, when they need it. The meaning is up to the listener. I try to keep things general, to paint broadly with lyrical phrases, so people can bring a lot of themselves to the pieces.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers about yourself or your music?
Stay frosty everybody.