MAGNET Exclusive: Premiere Of Escape Artist Lovers’ “Out Where I Can Wander” Video

Propelling earworm-inducing pop music into avant-garde territory is not easy, but it seems effortless for Escape Artist Lovers. The duo of Rain Phoenix and Kirk Hellie not only share songwriting duties and lead vocals but also have a penchant for auditory exploration.

As a teen, Phoenix cut her teeth singing in Aleka’s Attic, the ethereal folk-rock band fronted by her older brother, River Phoenix. Hellie’s first big break was riffing alongside a trailblazing Sex Pistol. Not bad career starters. In 2019, the pair also collaborated on Rain Phoenix’s solo debut, River, whose lead single, “Time Is The Killer,” featured Michael Stipe.

Since, they’ve both kept busy with several projects, but this year is all about their new outfit: Escape Artist Lovers. EAL has steadily released hypnotically hooky singles and videos over the last six months, and today the clip for “Out Where I Can Wander” premieres at MAGNET. The synth-soaked single was released via Phoenix’s LaunchLeft label.

Much like the recordings, in a live setting, EAL meticulously recreates its majestically atmospheric tracks, transporting audiences to a realm where reality bends just enough to slip off the cuffs of genre stereotypes. EAL shows are aural journeys that veer from moody, melancholy melodies to dynamically euphoric highs.

Need proof? Starting this week, the band headlines a month-long residency at Zebulon in Los Angeles, complete with analog projections by artist Shane McKenzie. Guests at the free March concert series include Devon Ross, Escape-ism, DJ Shepard Fairey, Ane Diaz and more. Beyond this residency and “Out Where I Can Wander,” a forthcoming EP is also in the works.

In the meantime, watch the Geoff Ryan-directed video for “Out Where I Can Wander,” then read our Q&A with Hellie and Phoenix below.

—Rich Tupica; photo by Robert Ashcroft

MAGNET: Before we get to the new single, tell me about the “Hey Motherfucker” seven-inch vinyl. It’s pressed on recycled wax, correct?
Rain Phoenix: There’s no substitution for a physical vinyl record, and we both love seven-inch singles. It was important to me that we try to do it as sustainably as possible, so we used recycled vinyl, which meant it would also be random colors. We both wanted “Hey Motherfucker” to be our first single, so that’s the a-side. The cover reflects part of what we like about the song. It’s both sweet and rebellious. We both thought it was the best way to introduce our music. We were surprised at how shadow-banned a curse word can get on social media and the radio. It’s wild to think how puritanical this country still is in some ways.

This video looks more polished than the previous lo-fi videos shot by Shane McKenzie. Was that your vision?
Phoenix: “Out Where I Can Wander” is our second video with Geoff Ryan. He also did “Follow The Leader.” We like his visionary mind and how he executes his ideas. Just like when we worked with Shane McKenzie, who directed “Hey Motherfucker” and “Punctuation,” we are keen to have the director add their own visual interpretation of our songs, as long as the concept is not way off the mark for us. We’ve been lucky so far.

Who wrote “Out Where I Can Wander,” and how’d it come together? 
Kirk Hellie: Rain and I both wrote the tune. I had the verse melody and the music, and Rain came up with the chorus melody and wrote the words. I presented it to her, and she dug it enough to write more to it.

Do you typically write songs together in the same space or work separately?
Phoenix: We’ve found a way to work together that suits both of us. I love getting music and writing to it, especially when it’s as cool as Kirk’s. But writing lyrics to melodies I didn’t write took some getting used to because, historically, I write the vocal melody and lyrics at the same time. Even though it was initially challenging, I’ve grown to enjoy it. And I still write some of our tune’s melodies, so I didn’t have to abandon that completely. It feels good to stretch as a songwriter.
Hellie: There’s no one way we collaborate. Though often, I’ll start something at my home studio, then see if Rain vibes with it. There’s a fair amount of back and forth on everything—sometimes arrangement, sometimes words, sometimes sounds. If there’s a butting of heads on something, it usually gets resolved by a change that makes it better.

I especially like the blown-out fuzziness of “Out Where I Can Wander.” How did you capture that?
Hellie: I usually hear how a song should sound sonically in my head, and then it’s just a matter of making it a reality. I won’t stop until it’s how I hear it in my head. Luckily, it doesn’t take too long to get there. “Out Where I Can Wander” starts with a trio of live acoustic guitars and runs through a couple of mic preamps cranked to the hilt, producing that grind. I had the idea to track several acoustics live playing the same strumming pattern à la George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord.” I enlisted our mix engineer Rob Campanella and our friend John Fredrick, of the band the black watch, to strum along with me, creating the one big guitar. Then, I ran it back through the mic preamps that were on the brink of shutting down. Other guitars come in and out with different fuzz boxes, but the main bit is actually acoustic guitars.

Kirk, you’ve worked with quite a few legends in your time. Do you have one or two past credits you’re most proud of?
Hellie: I’m blessed with being able to eke out a living in music, and I’m old, so there are many projects I’m proud of. I had the pleasure of touring a good part of the world with both no-wave pioneer Glen Branca and the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones, both of whom were heroes since I was a teen. I’ve gotten to work on several film scores as a session musician and composer/collaborator. Broken City was a fruitful one because I wrote and collaborated on several cues with Atticus Ross. Also, Love & Mercy was a gas. I got to play guitar along with tracks the Wrecking Crew cut in the ’60s, as the Brian Wilson camp gave full access to the Beach Boys’ extensive library of tapes. During COVID, I was asked to write an orchestral score for Mogwai to accompany their “Midnight Flit” track from their 2021 album As The Love Continues. An orchestra in Prague cut it with me on Skype, with a separate audio link here in Los Angeles. I sent them pdfs of the score. I also contributed additional guitars.

There are big colossal hooks across your latest singles and some sonic weirdness, too. It’s a nice balance. Was it a labored process getting these tracks cut?
Hellie: We’re big on the craft of pop, in the classic ‘60s and ‘70s sense of songwriting. Everything is written on acoustic guitar, sometimes piano, first. So it’s melody first, harmony—the chords—second, then all the sonic bits. I love Lee Hazlewood and Big Star as much as Einstürzende Neubauten and Merzbow. Marrying both worlds is what I’ve always loved. Cutting the tracks was always fun. I wouldn’t say labored. Overdubbing is always easy when you have a home studio.
Phoenix: I know what I don’t like, and Kirk always serves up what I like. On the rare occasion when we disagree on production ideas or when I want to change something, he’s always open-minded. We always get to a place of mutual agreement. So even though I’d say Kirk does the lion’s share of sonic production, we agree that Escape Artist Lovers produces the songs because it isn’t Escape Artist Lovers without both of our contributions.