As pop-culture reboots continue to reach new thresholds of frenzy, it was only a matter of time before the trend seeped into music videos.
How refreshing, then, that LA-based musician Dexter Tortoriello was quick to flip the trend on its ear for a series of short films to promote his latest project as Houses, the new 4-track EP “Drugstore Heaven.” Rather than have ’80s and ‘90s film/TV icons Jaleel White (“Family Matters”), Nicole Eggert (“Charles In Charge”), Jason James Richter (“Free Willy”) and Patrick Renna (“The Sandlot”) recreate their most famous roles, Tortoriello and his directors Brook Linder and Nick Roney cast each actor in macabre, “Twilight Zone”-esque scenarios that touch on the EP’s themes.
The cinematic clips often skirt music video conventions altogether, with the music often serving as a more incidental back-drop to the interpretations of the EP’s themes. Lead single “Fast Talk,” which touches on drug abuse, features Renna in a Big Foot costume seemingly on the run from an unseen pursuer (or is it the cops?) before a few chords of the song’s deceptively major-key arrangement comes on the radio.
For the ‘90s rave-inspired track “Years,” Eggert portrays a woman involved in a disturbing death ritual, fighting for her life while two creepy cult leaders perform a choregraphed dance to the song’s pulsing techno beat.
“Pink Honey,” the EP’s closest thing to a straightforward love song, plays as the soundtrack to a nuclear apocalypse engineered by Richter and a potentially alien being.
And in perhaps the most meta clip, for the Britpop-tribute standout “Left Alone,” White finds himself literally trapped inside a sitcom set, in which invisible forces begin to attack him until he becomes resigned to his fate. (Continues below after the videos.)
For co-director Brook Linder, the main challenge was holding the viewer’s interest for each short film long enough to direct them to the EP. “These pieces were intended to be fragments of a larger idea, so teasing the music’s presence was the goal. Keep the song a shadow, something only to be hinted at,” he says. “Houses’ music inhabits a timeless place for me. He skates across genres and eras of music effortlessly — you can’t really pin him down. The concept for the pieces was to evoke a certain uncanniness that comes with using pieces of film and television iconography in a reworked way. We recognize this as a thriller tonally, but it feels… off, somehow. We’re trying to come up with a new visual flavor.”
So why hire ‘80s and ‘90s teen actors to convey such a dark subject matter? “These performers inhabit a special place in American pop culture to me, having come up in a pop film and network television boom,” Lindey says. “In watching these performers subvert the roles we might know them for, I hope it’s obvious just how talented they are.”
And there could be more praise on the way. The short films were commissioned by Houses’ record label Downtown Records, who has a successful recent history with high-concept approaches to music and digital media. The label’s 2017 partnership with ad agency BBDO for the first-ever “live” music video on Facebook Live, starring Downtown signees The Academic, took home 12 trophies at Cannes Lions in June and has received more than 2.2 million views of its official recap video.
Songs For Screens is a Variety column sponsored by music experiential agency MAC Presents, based in NYC. It is written by Andrew Hampp, founder of music marketing consultancy 1803 LLC and former correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column will highlight noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as new and catalog songs that we deem ripe for synch use.