Jason McGerr is sitting on an elevated platform high above a massive Los Angeles soundstage, peering over his drum kit into complete darkness. McGerr has been coming to this room every day since he flew into town, along with the rest of his Death Cab For Cutie bandmates, to run through choreography for the music video of the first single of their new album, Codes And Keys. McGerr can’t see them, of course, but all three of his bandmates are standing, instruments ready, within a stone’s throw of him. But they are hidden in the shadows. Beyond them, members of a video crew peer over their camera equipment. Several costumed actors stand motionless in single-serving dioramas. A dozen sequined dancers, clad in tulle with plumed feather headpieces erect, take their marks.
“Here we go, guys. Picture, picture! First position!”
McGerr and his bandmates didn’t come to Hollywood just for the sunny weather, although at 70 degrees with a light westward breeze, it might be preferable to the tension hanging over this room (or to the perpetual gray of their native Seattle, for that matter). For this final take, there is no stopping, no adjustments, no do-overs. That’s because the indie rock quartet is here to try something the world has not yet seen: a fully scripted music video that will air live, worldwide, as it’s being filmed.
Despite all the apparent spectacle, the room is entirely quiet, except for the pulsing hum of the fog machine as it belches a billow of white smoke slowly across the floor.
“Here we go. Roll playback!”
On the back wall, a beam of green light draws nine jumbled triangles on the wall. Red and yellow and white lights from the video equipment twinkle, piercing the deep, heavy shadows like moonlight reflecting off the backs of crickets as they chirp through a humid summer’s night. McGerr’s forearms tense and his drum sticks waver as he prepares, patiently, for one last cue.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Waves of guitar feedback cascade across the room. Multicolored lights snake along the walls. McGerr lifts his wrists, preparing to snap them down on taut drum heads newly aglow thanks to blue LED bulbs surrounding them, triggered a moment ago by a woman sitting in front of a computer on the floor below.
A soft red glow emits from the left side of his chest, a green sparkle quickly strafes across his shoulders, turning into blue as the ray of light runs down his legs.
There’s no going back.