Seen Your Video: Shudder To Think

video3Your music video may have only played once or twice on MTV, but it’s on permanent rotation on YouTube. We watch videos and TV performances—the good, the bad, the hilariously dated—with musicians to find out what they were thinking. MAGNET’s Robert Ham sits down with Shudder To Think’s Craig Wedren to discuss the homoerotic music video (banned in Canada due to “unnecessary cannibalism and necrophilia”) for 1994’s “Hit Liquor.”

Shudder To Think‘s 1994 album Pony Express Record was, by anyone’s estimation, not your typical major-label debut. It seemed powered by its own internal logic of odd time signatures, glam-rock influences and stream-of-consciousness lyrics. Considering the band was entering a musical world still coming down off its grunge high, it was a pretty daring piece of work. Pony Express Record didn’t fare too well commercially for Epic, and the promotional video that the band filmed with friend and director Jesse Peretz to introduce Shudder To Think to middle America didn’t help the cause much. The “Hit Liquor” clip is filled with intense homoerotic imagery as well as shots of guitarist Nathan Larson furiously hacking up bits of meat. With a good 15 years of hindsight at his disposal, Shudder frontman Craig Wedren was kind enough to give us his thoughts on the creation and execution of this strange little clip.

Wedren: The band came up with the concept for “Hit Liquor” along with Jesse. We were in a collective Jean Genet moment and decided to do a Querelle de Brest-inspired thing. We filmed the video in one day, on a rusted-out ghost barge that you could rent out for parties and shows. (I remember we also had the premiere party for Wet Hot American Summer there). The thing I remember most about the day was the stench of the side of beef we got for Nathan to hack up. Amazing. Shit was grisly. I also remember how nice the sun was coming through the spray of the outdoor shower, which I think was the last shot of the day. Golden rainbows.

Homoerotic? We thought we were being ambiguous, but looking back, it’s fairly straightforward—or queerforward. During the Pony Express era, we–and I in particular—were in hate with the machismo bullshit of mainstream “alternative” and the boring, black-and-white colorlessness of grunge and hardcore. We always appreciated a bit of fantasy and glamor, which was very much a no-no at the time. So, essentially, we were just playing with, and trying to stretch the cultural putty, put something genuinely unique, subversive and, hopefully beautiful, as far up the ass of the mainstream as possible. As for Epic, they were remarkably supportive, although I’m sure they were as confused and baffled as a lot of the audiences we were performing for. We were blessedly protected at the time, on account of our A&R guy, Michael “Goldie” Goldstone had signed Pearl Jam and Rage Against The Machine, and therefore had relative carte blanche for a golden moment. (Ours, luckily.)

Watching the video makes me think about how so many of our concepts—musical, visual, performance—were just slightly beyond our abilities at the time. We didn’t know how to be glamorous; we didn’t know how to be “video-sexy.” My acting sucks, we were writing songs that would take us a few years to really master, and on and on. We were really still forming, image- and identity-wise. But I think that the fact that we got it all a little bit wrong (at least relative to how we imagined it) gives it a kind of creepy-sweet charm and resonance that still works. Bad ’90s non-fashion, oh my.

I would make the video very differently now, but mostly just focusing, clarifying and improving on what’s there. I definitely wouldn’t change any of the weirdness, ambiguity or intention. Part of what I love about “Hit Liquor” is that it’s a truly genuine, innocent attempt to make whatever it was we were trying to make, so I partly feel like something would be lost if we tried to “get it right.” Bear in mind, Canada’s MuchMusic banned the video for “unnecessary cannibalism and necrophilia,” so obviously we got something right. But I do think we could really nail shit down, knowing what we really know now—as wizened adults—about unnecessary necro-cannibalism.