James Callahan

VIDEO PREMIERE: Elvis Aron Deadly hauntingly laments ‘I Wish I Believed (In Fairy Tales)’

VIDEO PREMIERE: Elvis Aron Deadly hauntingly laments ‘I Wish I Believed (In Fairy Tales)’
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Anyone who has listened to a horror punk band may assume they know what they’re going to hear next from All the Damn Vampires frontman Elvis Aron Deadly, but this freshman solo effort from the Wilkes-Barre singer, titled “I Wish I Believed (In Fairy Tales),” is a personal, revealing step away from the genre for a moment.

Dipping his hoof into the vast sacrificial pool of the dark folk, murder folk, and folk punk clans, the new recording is accompanied by a darkly whimsical black-and-white music video from local music promotion and production team Camp Rattler, premiering today exclusively on NEPA Scene.

“Regarding the solo project, I can’t truly admit that it was my idea. It is something that a lot of other people have kind of hit me up about over the years. You know, they would hear acoustic demos that I would put out onto the Internet to get feedback on stuff that I would be working on. And for a lot of years, people would comment, ‘I really love your acoustic stuff. You should do a whole record of that.’ I had a couple of songs ‘in the pocket’ that I wrote and they simply worked. They weren’t all the Damn Vampire songs, but they also weren’t bad songs. They just weren’t Vampire songs, and I didn’t really know what to do with them, so they mostly just kind of kicked around on the Internet for people to stream and listen to on SoundCloud, Bandcamp, etc.,” Deadly explained.

“During the pandemic, I started writing some more material, and some early demos of some songs that I recorded ended up on an acoustic horror rock compilation albums that had been put out during the pandemic to kind of tide people over with the lack of live entertainment and the lack of bands really able to do much of anything. The songs went over really well, and the chorus of voices pushing me to do a solo acoustic record kind of doubled down on their efforts. After writing some more material, I kind of figured I’d take the plunge and record one to see how the experience went for me… and see if it was something that I was going to enjoy doing and find creatively fulfilling – and maybe give these other songs that I had that were Vampire songs an opportunity at more of a life than just languishing on some SoundCloud account somewhere that nobody knew existed.”

That’s when he decided to meet up with Camp Rattler to brainstorm ideas since they were already familiar with the acoustic demo of this song and a few others.

“They really believe in the voice of the project and the direction that it was taking. And, you know, we’re really excited about how different it was compared to the other stuff that I do. I had a much more personal voice. Introspection is always part of the music that I write, and all my songs are very personal to me, but these songs were much more emotionally laid bare. They’re not couched in a lot of heavy-handed horror metaphors. I’m not telling spooky stories,” he noted.

“So we decided to do the song and I enjoyed a really positive experience. We hit a few speed bumps and setbacks still coming out of the pandemic. Plus, a lot of people’s lives are changing and adjusting with their work situations and life stuff. Getting schedules to sync up is the most frustrating part of being an independent musician. With some perseverance, we did manage to get through the process.”

In the end, that process ended up being more involved than one might assume for a stripped-down project, but it was also “a lot of fun.”

“It was a lot more laid back working on this song than working with a full band and all the equipment and all the labor that goes into engineering a full band. Being able to strip it down to just an acoustic guitar and a voice made for a more streamlined process that was a lot less stressful, to say nothing of much less expensive. I started kind of putting in that more concerted, creative effort into recording this material. It started to inspire me to write some more stuff and revisit some other stuff that I had written that never really fit in with the Vampires and, before too long, I had a list of a good eight to 10 songs, and it’s slowly starting to shape up into being a full-length album. We’re looking at getting back into the studio and recording some more material soon. I think this material is going to really connect with people and, more so, surprise people who are familiar with my other work but haven’t heard this sort of stuff from me before,” Deadly emphasized.

“With something like this, that’s more stripped down, there’s a lot fewer heads involved, meaning a lot fewer personalities involved. And, you know, financially, overhead is a lot more manageable. It’s a lot easier to just have fun with it and not have to worry about the dollars and cents of it all. And that’s something that I miss in creating music; it was a welcome reprieve. The edit came together really quickly. We worked with two audio engineers on this project. The first engineer who I had worked with (Ethan of Ethan Howe House Studios), who engineered everything while we were recording, is a guy I’ve worked with before. He’s a lot of fun to collaborate with. Ethan’s a very talented engineer. With regards to the final mix, unfortunately, schedules weren’t syncing up, so we ended up bringing in another engineer (Josh Kleedorfer of Ghost Family Studios) to push through the mixes and get it mastered for release. He was a pleasure to work with. Plus, I worked with him on another project that isn’t announced or released yet, so I can’t go into too much detail, but both engineers did a fantastic job.”

While also enjoyable, the production of the music video has its own set of challenges through the unpredictable Northeastern Pennsylvania weather.

“We did some location scouting, and we went into it with a very specific vision for the video. We did some location scouting and found some stuff that we really loved. Unfortunately, nature didn’t want to cooperate with us. Many of our concepts and themes that we had wanted to explore visually, as a companion to the song, were predicated on specific weather events that just didn’t happen,” he recalled with a laugh.

“It’s been very warm winter and we just couldn’t get snow to fall and stay around. That made the locations we had initially scouted look completely different and not really suitable for what we wanted to do. Fortunately, you know, we were able to come up with some alternative locations, find a new direction and a new theme and, importantly, find a really fantastic performer in Katherine ‘Hollywood’ Harrison. The work that she put in was invaluable. And the whole team, really, you know, brought 110 percent to the production. It was a lot of fun. For me, video shoots can go one way or the other. They’re either 16-hour slogs that make me hate my entire life or they go really easily, really smoothly, and that was the case with this one.

“It was like a two-hour shoot one day, maybe a four-hour shoot another day. And the third day of studio shooting at the new Diamond City Studios in Wilkes-Barre that I, unfortunately, was not present for because I had a performance with All the Damn Vampires that day. It was a very streamlined process. The people at Camp Rattler have been doing this for a long time, and we’ve worked together on a lot of projects over the last few years. We’ve really learned each other’s workflow and creative energies, and we tend to feed off each other in the moment and build on each other’s ideas really well, so working with the people in Camp Rattler has just gotten easier and easier and easier with every project that we’ve done together. It didn’t feel like work. It felt like hanging out with your friends, just doing something for fun. I think that’s something that I really miss about being a working musician. When you’re working with a full band, the sort of stuff like equipment investment, and the similar investment into merchandise, the tour bus, and travel… and all that stuff becomes ‘unfun.’ It really quickly devolves into having to have a business mindset when you approach it because there’s so much overhead. And the bottom line becomes a lot more important because you don’t want to have to choose between paying your rent and performing your art. An unfortunate side effect of the industry is that eventually your passion has to become a job or it’s not. It’s going to die on the vine.”

Playing off the fairy tale aspect of the song, Camp Rattler proposed using puppets to further visualize the story.

“They proposed the idea of setting up a shadow puppet theater and creating all these monsters and sets, almost kind of creating a parallel fantasy narrative to play alongside the real world… well… pseudo real world. Obviously, we have a ghost girl and things like that, but I love these two companion narratives that play out visually alongside the performance and lyrics of the song. Plus, I just really love the idea of shadow puppet theater,” the singer said.

“I truly love the idea that there’s so many really interesting techniques that were used in, like, early silent films. For example, matte paintings create the impression of 3D imagery with flat painted objects. If you look at vintage films like “A Trip to the Moon” or “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” they utilize non-Euclidean geometry, in terms of the cabinet effect and how their sets are painted and arranged. I like unconventional filmmaking. I like doing things that people don’t necessarily expect because a tattooed guy in a cemetery with an acoustic guitar is absolutely something that people expect from me.

“For me, a shadow theatre of a guy fighting monsters and demons as a cutout, dark version of himself as he journeys through a haunted forest is still on brand for me, but it’s not the sort of thing that people would expect to come from the art that I produce, so I got really excited about it really early on. And, of course, they built out the theater and shot a little test footage for me. I absolutely loved the direction that it was taking, and so it very quickly became the keystone that held together the rest of the video. Everything was handmade by James Callahan and his wife Kristin, and when they sent me some test footage that they had shot when they first constructed it, I couldn’t have been happier with how it turned out and how those sequences fit into the overall narrative of the video.”

Ironically, all of this time, effort, and creativity went into a song that was rushed and not meant to be taken seriously.

“The hardest part for me has been the fact that I initially wrote the song as a joke. Some people may remember a while back, Michale Graves (one-time frontman of the Misfits) outed himself as a Proud Boy and really doubled down on a lot of really shitty political and social beliefs, henceforth really alienating a huge part of his audience.

“And there was a lot of, you know, grumbling on the Internet about, ‘Like, man, this is the worst. You know, his music is so important to me. And, you know, how could I even enjoy his music now?’ My response to that was like, ‘Have you listened to his last five records? They aren’t that good anymore.’ I mused to some homies that anybody with the tiniest scrap of talent can go and write a new ‘Graves’ song and record it in 20 minutes, and I can prove it. So off I went and I wrote, recorded, mixed, and released the demo of this song in 37 minutes. From the time of conception to the time it was uploaded onto the Internet, it was 37 minutes, and it was really just to prove a point and kind of poke fun at Michale Graves. Unfortunately, as a victim of my own hubris, people really loved the song and it got a lot of e-attention. And, with that, ‘I Wish I Believed (In Fairy Tales)’ became the first single for the solo project. I have gotten feedback from guys in Michael Graves’ band. Well, guys who were in Michale Graves band for, you know, the better part of 20 years. Loki and Joe Vasta are guys that I have become friends with over the years from playing shows with – they’re both great guys. They both heard the song and gave positive feedback. Loki, in particular, said that I absolutely nailed the lyrical flow of modern Graves songs, not to mention the writing style. Even in the recording, he commented that the room reverb that we used perfectly captured the way that Michale Graves engineers his stuff. So, you know, the joke was really well crafted,” he continued with a laugh.

“Unfortunately, people heard it and didn’t take it as a joke. They took it as something that was meant to be sincere. And so, you know, now it’s the first single. To be clear, I don’t dislike the song, but I think that when people hear the other stuff that has been written or that’s being written for this record, they’re going to be surprised that it’s not more of that. I think that the sound and arrangements and the lyrical content of the other stuff that I have prepared for the solo record deviate pretty strongly from this first single, and I hope that the rest of it resonates with people as much as this one has.

“Otherwise, you know, I’m sorry to disappoint,” he chuckled. “I’m sorry, I’m not Michale Graves. I’m not like that because I wouldn’t want to be.”

The finished product, however, left Deadly in a much better creative place.

“It’s really inspired me to want to pursue more forms of nonconventional filmmaking and nonconventional storytelling to see how they can fit into the art that I create and the medium that we’re working in. I don’t like to repeat myself musically, and I really don’t like to repeat other people musically, the joke about Michale Graves not notwithstanding. Having ways that I can express myself creatively, and finding either new ways to create content, or identifying any old things and finding ways to make them new, always gets me really excited about a project,” he left off.

“I’m really looking forward to what the rest of this album cycle is going to hold, and the potential that we have for other visual elements to come as companions to some of the music that we’re working on right now. Big thanks to Rich Howells of NEPA Scene, my engineers Josh and Ethan, and my creative team at Camp Rattler.”