A version of this story appears in Friday’s Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman. See LAMAR+NIK’s videos after the break.
LAMAR+NIK aim to save the music world from boring videos
The creative team of Jesse Lamar High and Nik Harper, who have Oklahoma ties, have made their name with mini-movies for the Pixies’ “Bagboy” and Samantha Crain’s “Never Going Back.”
Jesse Lamar High and Nik Harper are on an ongoing mission to save music fans from the humdrum horrors of what they’ve dubbed the “three-band half-story.”
“Basically it’s like when you film the band in three different locations and you kind of have a story going on with like some chick. … and then at the end, it’s like this really cool stadium thing where there’s like lights flashing on ‘em. And then she like somehow happens to wind up at the stadium and they like fall in love or something. That’s the kind of music video we try to stay completely away from,” said High in a recent phone interview from his Norman home.
“Our main thing is like what’s the point of making something that someone else has already made? Why would somebody even want to watch something that’s already been done? We want to make something that looks at least a little different or is shot a different way or something, something that makes it different. Like, why does the world need another three-band half-story?”
The creative partners, who have adopted the moniker LAMAR+NIK, garnered worldwide attention a few weeks ago when influential alternative rock band the Pixies’ suddenly dropped their first song in almost 10 years, “Bagboy.” The insistent track was accompanied by an intriguing LAMAR+NIK video that within a day was trending internationally on Twitter and within a month had notched more than 1 million YouTube views.
“When you watched MTV when they actually played music videos, like most of those videos were just the same thing. But the really successful ones were the ones that were completely different than the rest of them, and I guess that’s just where we were coming from, like we want to be those people, the ones that are making the videos that nobody else is making. I mean, ‘cause that’s how you stand out,” said Harper, a former Oklahoma City resident who now lives in Seattle.
“We can make a name for ourselves as long as we’re standing out when everyone else is doing the same thing.”
Starting out local
Growing up in the Oklahoma City area, High and Harper met through a mutual love for skateboarding and filming skateboarding montages set to cool music.
“I guess at some point we realized it would just be cooler just to do music videos,” said High, 24, a graduate of the Oklahoma City Community College film school now attending the University of Oklahoma.
“Music videos are a really good door to the rest of the film industry ‘cause it is a lot easier to make your name … because they’re smaller projects. You can hit up bands yourself, like, that’s how we did it. We found bands that were up-and-coming but they didn’t have like a bunch of middle men to them yet,” added Harper, 23, a former student at OKC’s Harding Charter Prep High School and OCCC’s film program.
The pair did their first video three years ago for Oklahoma City electro-pop band Crocodile’s “Head Over Heels,” with stacks of colorful cubes filling the frame in time with the buoyant song.
“I guess it was right after that that we were thinking like ‘OK, let’s actually make a more systematic approach,’” Harper said. “We had had a really weird experience on that video, and we made a lot of mistakes. So, we were ‘OK, let’s try this again, but like in a really orderly fashion.’”
LAMAR+NIK upped the ante with their sophomore effort, for the Chicago band Houses chilled-out track “Reds”: They created ice sculptures with a series of handmade clay molds, used soldering irons for details and illuminated it all with TV sets and Christmas lights. It was filmed in the two-car garage at High’s mom’s Norman home for about $200.
“We liked when we’d watch a music video and we’re like ‘Dude, how in the world? Like how did this even happen?’” High said. “We try to do that if at all possible, and the cool thing about it is when we do anything, it’s more than likely practical effects. … Like none of that was digitally made at all. We actually handmade all that stuff.”
“It’s an idea where you could almost do it but you’re not going to because like it’s so in-depth. … It’s like anybody could have done that but no one’s going to,” Harper added with a laugh. “We really wanted to do that and just knock that out so like nobody else can do that without being a repeat of our idea.”
Next, they created the final word in lyric videos for Philly rapper Magnolia’s “Lushlife,” using free cardboard from discarded boxes, hot glue guns and paint pens to create 3-D mock-ups of all 188 words in the song and then filming friends wearing the words on their heads in random OKC locales. The attention-grabbing mini-movie was screened this year at South by Southwest, deadCenter and other film festivals.
In January, they released a folky flipbook for fellow Oklahoman Samantha Crain’s “Never Going Back,” another project that tested their patience and scissor skills. To create the black-and-white video, they first filmed the Shawnee singer-songwriter and her fiddler against a white backdrop, performing the song start to finish. LAMAR+NIK edited the video, had all 3,800-plus frames printed out, and with the help of a few friends, painstakingly cut out every photo by hand.
They then precisely placed the photos in a series of rows and filmed in one single, continuous take to create the flipbook effect.
Bagging the Pixies
Although they would have liked to refine their technique on Crain’s video, it was their first paying gig. More importantly, her publicist, Heidi Fitzgerald, loved it and passed their name along to the Pixies’ manager, Richard Jones.
“He wasn’t talking to anyone else. He wanted us to do the video,” High said. “That’s crazy. So even before we had submitted an idea, we had the video, which is totally uncommon for someone of that caliber.”
“Really, besides the band not featuring in the video, that was only the guideline we had. Like it was ‘whatever you come up with,’” Harper said, adding that they were just finishing up the video when the band announced that bassist Kim Deal had left the seminal group.
LAMAR+NIK concocted a kind of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”-meets-“Home Alone” concept with a surprisingly sinister twist: An innocuous-looking teenager enters a quiet suburban home with several grocery bags and then proceeds to smash dishes, shoot off Roman candles and bathe in milk and cereal.
“It was more the idea of just being home alone with a credit card. It was just all these ideas that we had had … like putting all these chaotic ideas into a scenario that would make sense,” High said.
Since they were still working on a limited budget, they returned to High’s mother’s house to film “Bagboy.”
“She hasn’t seen the video yet,” he said with a laugh. “I was like ‘What if I could tell you you can have two nights of fun and wouldn’t have to pay for it?’ She was like ‘Yeah?’ And I was like ‘Well, I’ve got 200 dollars if you just don’t come home for like two days’ … and she did it. She’s always like supportive about our videos even if she doesn’t really know exactly what we’re doing.”
Casting a teenager to act out all the bizarre hijinks proved a challenge, too, so they recruited Harper’s younger brother, Zane Wegrzyn-Van Zant, to play the “Bagboy.”
“We’ve used him before in a short film, and he’s really good at taking direction and he’ll do it without much arguing. And we paid him like a hundred dollars,” High said.
Still, Harper said even his brother balked at taking a milk bath (with colorful cereal added) but eventually agreed it wasn’t that weird.
“It’s really not that gross, like people do that to like help their complexion or their skin’s health, so it’s an actual thing,” Harper said, laughing at the fuss.
Although they didn’t get to meet the Pixies while making “Bagboy,” they said they received a personal email from singer Black Francis and drummer David Lovering complimenting the video.
“It was really cool because nobody knew it was coming out. We were literally one of the 10 people in the world to even have heard the song at that time,” Harper said.
Planning for the future
The pair has a couple of new projects they plan to shoot in the coming weeks, including one that came about as a result of “Bagboy.” They hope to eventually move into commercials, short films and features.
“It’s getting there. Our next step is trying to get signed on a production company because that’s when the real (big) budget music videos come into play,” Harper said.
“Even if we don’t get signed to a production company, we’re still just going to keep making videos. As long as they’re successful and they’re good, at some point, someone’s going to go, ‘OK, yeah, I mean, that’s it, we need to help these guys out.’ At some point, they’re losing money by not signing us.”