By Jenny Neyman
Recording a song is as much about limiting sound as capturing it. It’s generally done in a controlled, sound-proofed environment, to protect the music from the bumps, barks, beeps and cars on the street that pervade the audio landscape.
Except for Conway Seavey, who wanted what most would consider noise to be part of his new music video. He and director Jon Taylor, of Artistic Puppy, set about turning background sounds of the street into a percussion beat.
“At first I thought he was crazy, I didn’t know how we would do it. But we went through Soldotna. We started by banging on Dumpster, and then we banged on a chain-link fence, and then a sign,” Seavey said.
The found-sound approach isn’t exactly a traditional drum kit, but functions the same way. There’s the resonant thump of a Dumpster providing the base, a sign and a parked car impart a mid-range snare sound, and the jangling of the chain-link fence gave the track a cymbal quality — eventually, anyway. The process took some trial and error.
“We had all these sounds. We brought them back into the studio and it didn’t work, there was so much ambient noise it was like, ‘We can’t use this,’” he said.
They had used a shotgun mic to start with, which picked up their target sounds — and everything else within a surprisingly large radius.
“We tried to film a Dumpster and we got the street, we got people talking, and we got people’s cats half a mile away. It sounded like a big, underwater thing,” he said.
It took another day of rerecording, and several more days at the computer to mix the sounds into the percussion track.
“There’s no YouTube videos about how to mix Dumpsters and signs, it’s all about base drums and high hats,” Seavey said. “So we figured out how to mix it together and it turned out to be really cool. From there we just kind of put the song on top of that.”
Seavey chose the song “Payphone,” by Maroon 5. He writes his own stuff, too, but that song is one of his favorites. It shows off the clear, upper end of his vocal range, and has the right vibe for what he wanted to convey in the video — good times, hanging out and cruising through town.
“I was born in Sterling and I have a lot of hometown respect and I just love to bring that out in the video. I want that to be part of who I am as an artist is this guy who respects his hometown. And that’s why I love doing it in Soldotna, I made all these memories in the place where I grew up,” he said.
The video is of Seavey gallivanting through town with his video girlfriend, played by another local musician, Delana Duncan. They walk southwest along the Sterling Highway, stopping at the River City Books parking lot to drum on a car, and ending up at the Walgreens construction site at the Y, which is where the sign and fence sounds were recorded. They come out of Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk Street, where they thump on a Dumpster. They sit up on the roof of Pizza Boys, all the while smiling, laughing, strumming a guitar and just having a good time.
“We’re walking down the side of the street with cars going by, just kind of singing, playing the guitar, and there was a lot of support. People were honking,” he said. “And then we were up on a roof and people were looking at us like, ‘What the heck are you doing up there?’”
They filmed in February, which is not exactly Soldotna in its greenest, most scenic state, but this year, at least, it wasn’t its winter coldest, either.
“If you wait until the perfect time you’ll never do it. We had this cool idea, so we said, ‘Let’s go bang it out,’” Seavey said.
The finished video is posted on http://www.conwayseavey.com and can be viewed on his YouTube channel. Music videos are a new endeavor for the aspiring young musician. Seavey — yes, of the Seavey dog-mushing family — picked up the guitar at age 6 and started singing at age 11 and intends to make music his profession, as it’s already his passion. He’s hoping the videos, the first posted in December, and now “Payphone” posted April 4, get him noticed by more than just the local crowd.
“On this one I have almost 4,000 views right now and it’s still going up. So there’s a lot of really good support, a lot of people commenting and supporting me, so it’s been pretty neat,” he said.
Keep an eye out for Seavey at music festivals through the summer, and an ear out for more videos to come.
“We finished this one and 12 hours later I was already planning the next one.”