All Songs Considered
Wed March 27, 2013
First Watch: Phosphorescent, 'Song For Zula'
The brand new video for Phosphorescent's "Song For Zula," from the band's sixth album, Muchacho, forgoes a literal illustration of song's heartbroken story for something more allegorical. In a single slow-motion tracking shot, the camera approaches a distant figure dressed in rags, bashing at chains that hold her to the ground.
At the opening of "Song For Zula," Phosphorescent's lead singer Matthew Houck nods to June Carter and Johnny Cash's devotional "Ring of Fire" ("Some say love is a burning thing, that it makes a fiery ring"). But like many of Houck's songs, "Zula" ends up being an ode to lessons learned in the wake of a love that leaves scars behind after the flames have faded. "I saw love disfigure me into something I am not recognizing," he sings over an echoing bass line and brittle drums that pull soaring synths, guitar and strings back toward hard ground. "I will not open myself up this way again."
Houck co-directed the video with Djuna Wahlrab, who says the tension between the song's beauty and the pain of the lyrics is reflected in that long tracking shot. "I felt the challenge was to create something that had a foundation of beauty which would reflect the song's kind of gentle emotion, but then find a device that could pull you from that space almost abusively," Wahlrab writes in an email. "The pacing [of the song] suggests a constant forward motion, but the reverb pulls you back echoing one beat behind the other — begging for the discomfort of extreme slow motion."
Houck started writing the songs for his new album, Muchacho, on a beach in Mexico, and says the lyrics to "Zula" came out so quickly he didn't even realize he had dropped in a reference to "Ring of Fire" (or the Bette Midler song that shares a few words, and a vaguely similar tune, with the opening). When it came time to work on the video, he knew immediately that he wanted to film the six-minute clip, and its trapped heroine, in a single shot. "I wanted you, as the viewer, to also feel sort of chained, to feel what she must be feeling if she was trapped like that," Houck says. "I like long and slow things like that, but I almost can't even breathe. Every time [you watch], you're just kind of struggling with her."