And . . . scene! Photo courtesy Silver Cities
And . . . scene! Photo courtesy Silver Cities

They Want Their MTV

When the aspiring film director told the would-be rock stars that she wanted to shoot a video for their song, the rockers almost rolled their eyes.

"I thought, 'That sounds great—we'll contact you when we're rich and famous,'" recounts Michael Silversmith, front man for Silver Cities, a power pop trio on Huntington Beach's tiny Velvet Blue Music label. "We'd wanted to do a video for a while, of course, but we couldn't afford it."

Fortunately, the band kept its cynical expressions to itself.

"That's when she said, 'No, I'll shoot it for free,'" says Silversmith, still a little astonished. "She said, 'I want to do it for my own benefit, as well.'"

A Los Angeles Film School graduate who aspires to direct major-label videos and big-screen features, Dandy Noel has been struggling to get a toehold in the industry. She needed a reel of her work to showcase her talents. Funding her own music video, short in format but wide in creative range, sounded like a solution.

"This is a predicament for nearly all young directors," explains Noel, who grew up a few blocks from the Velvet Blue offices. "Unless you have friends in a successful band, nobody's going to say, 'Yeah, sure, direct our video,' until they know what you can do."

Likewise, Noel wasn't going to foot the bill for just any band. She took her time searching—going to clubs, reading reviews, surfing the web—for an act that inspired her. Then she found Silver Cities on the Velvet Blue website, first playing a sample of their song, "Emergency," then ordering the EP.

"I got hooked on the beat and fell in love with the song," she said. "It was so fun, so energetic. I spent days driving around listening to it, thinking 'Emergency' was the perfect song for my video, wondering whether there was any chance Silver Cities would let me do it."

Noel drove to Silver Lake to catch the band at Spaceland. After the show, she popped the question and received guarded permission. On one hand, the music video has become to rock bands what MTV is to basic cable—something feels wrong without it, even if you're not sure why you have it. On the other, Noel's offer would fill a glaring hole for Silver Cities. But there was another consideration: turning over their song—their image—to someone they didn't know was risky. Noel attended a few more shows before specifics were finalized over drinks at Costa Mesa's Avalon Bar, across from Detroit Bar, where the video would be filmed.

"I knew she had good ideas," said Silversmith. "Beyond that, I guess we just kinda took her word that she could execute them."

Driven by a two-note, siren-like guitar line and Silversmith's happily panicky vocals, "Emergency" is an urgent call to action on the dance floor—a musical concoction that Silversmith, when goaded, says is influenced by "the raw energy of the Clash and the danceability of the Cars."

Although Noel undertook the video to showcase herself—and asserts that "once they gave me approval, the project was all mine"—she insists Silver Cities never needed to worry that she might try to overshadow or distort their music.

"To me, a video isn't about putting the director's stamp on a song," she says. "The best way to show my abilities is to find and highlight the concept of the music. I knew right away that 'Emergency' had to be a performance-based video, bringing out the essence of the song through the energy of the musicians and the excitement of the crowd."

Noel called in every friend and favor to put together a full production crew, brought in first-class equipment and even had the set catered by Taco Mesa. Silver Cities sent out mass e-mailings to its fans, inviting them to come to Detroit and portray themselves. From set up to clean up, through take after take, shooting took nearly 18 hours.

"I lost count of how many times we had to play the song—I really felt sorry for the extras, who had to keep dancing," laughs Silversmith. "But it's funny, as the day progressed, the more the energy built. And that was a tribute to the director. She knew what she wanted, she wasn't going to let anything stop her from getting it—and she got all of us to want it, too."

After editing, the "Emergency" video is an authentic recreation of the tipsy swirl that envelops the best small-club performances. The flash of harsh lights off glittery curtains almost makes you squint. The quick cuts from a handheld camera approximate the glimpses you get of a band—the singer's face, the bassist's trance, the drummer's flourish—while being jostled by a tightly packed crowd. And there is good people watching. But the star is the song, simultaneously desperate and celebrative, and the band, energetic and urgent and remarkably free of posturing.

"I think it's a good indication of the kind of work I can do," Noel says. "I've put the video on my website [] and given Silver Cities permission to use it however they choose. Now we'll just see if it translates into anything beyond my own satisfaction."

Silversmith is excited about the possibilities. And also, still a little amazed by how this fell into their laps.

"Out of nowhere, we suddenly have a video that fits perfectly with what we had been wanting to do," he says. "You know, if we had had the money."



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