stacy martin stars in daniel blumberg's vulnerable new video
Recorded at a Paris hotel in one take, 'Family' is a delicate ode to the complexities of love and heartbreak.
Photography Angela Baltra
It was amidst a devastating breakup that Daniel Blumberg’s recent album Minus (Mute) was born, recorded live over five days in Wales after discharging himself from hospital. “Humans are really complicated creatures, so our emotions aren’t just happy or sad,” shares the London-based artist and musician. “I think art is more cohesive than these words. I hope my work can be about all those explicit things but also the details in between.” He has indeed delved into the prismatic nature of his creative space, which has included composing the soundtrack for the film Agnes Varda, working on his drawings, and also recording his first record in five years.
Blumberg has been putting out work for over a decade since first being signed to the label XL as a teenager. While working with a community of progressive musicians in free-form improvisation, Blumberg connected with double bassist Tom Wheatley and violinist Billy Steiger, two artists who appear on Minus.
It was during the intimate Minus sessions that the standalone track “Family” was birthed, recorded in one take. With the video for “Family,” Blumberg applies a similar raw approach as that taken with his music. Premiering today on i-D, the video features Stacy Martin (Nymphomaniac, Vox Lux) - his partner since the age of 19 with whom he experienced the breakup — and lures us into a delicately personal, but compelling portrait as the camera scans a Parisian hotel hallway and a close-up of Martin’s face comes into focus. Blumberg has reached into emotional turmoil to freely explore musical and emotional form on a track and an album both vulnerable and bold.
“Family” was recorded during the Minus sessions. What does this track in particular mean to you?
There was a time when it meant everything to me. I was finding life too difficult, so I thought I’d just focus on these songs I’d written and try very hard to block out everything else.
Why did you decide to release this track as a standalone and not include it on Minus ?
It’s one of our favorite songs and recordings from the session. To me it felt like the album all rolled into one. Within the context of the other songs, I thought it was too much to be on the record and needed to come out on its own with its own space. It’s sort of the micro world of the whole record, both lyrically and dynamically. This recorded version was the first and only time the four of us played “Family” together and unlike the other songs, we never did another take.
The record is very intimate and reflective of your new artistic direction. How has it felt performing this material live?
The live aspect of things is very important to me and the people I work with. There’s a strong element of improvisation always. The shows are all different. The planned bits are: who’s playing, vaguely what instruments will be played, and then the venue and space. The upcoming shows are mainly duos with Tom [Wheatley], Billy [Steiger], Ute [Kanngiesser], and then some solo. At the moment, we play some of the material from the album. The songs are sometimes just starting points, sometimes we’ll play them compact, sometimes we’ll play them long.
You recorded the album after a breakup with your partner of seven years — that can be pretty difficult for anyone. Can you share how you were able to rise from that dark place?
These songs from Minus — including “Family” — were born out of a very hard time for me. I was thinking about this recently when we did the Agnes Varda work, because that was made at the happiest time of my life so far. I think everything should inspire art. The most important thing to me is to be honest with my work. The dangerous and annoying thing about depression is not being functional and sometimes that affects what you make in a bad way. If you can’t function enough to get up and play music, then no music is made.
It was after a debilitating period that you recorded the album — did the experience allow you to reconnect with your partner?
I try and draw all the time, whatever mood I’m in. I’ve been with Stacy since we were 19 and I am totally and deeply in love with her, she is the best. We like to keep our relationship between us and private, but because I am honest in my songwriting and my drawings it can be a bit inconvenient sometimes.
The video seems to have been shot with the same raw, improvisational ethos applied to your music. Can you tell me about the making of this video?
I shot the video in a famous old hotel in Paris while Stacy was getting her makeup done for an event. The only plan I had was that it would be handheld and I would use this DV camera, also natural light. So, yes, you could say it has a similar process to the way I make music, or draw. I set up very specifically, but then try and be as free as possible within that structure.
R.W. Fassbinder [Rainer Werner] is my favorite filmmaker. I’ve read a bit about how he shot his films because I can’t really understand his genius. He would improvise a lot within the circumstances he set up. He shot a lot of his own films. I’m interested in improvised filmmaking. Shadows by John Cassavetes is the best, Timecode by Mike Figgis, and I really enjoyed Gaspar Noé’s new film Climax.
You capture Stacy [Martin] so intimately — there’s something sweet and candid about the imagery. How do you think you were able to reveal that personal element?
The song is personal and intimate and I thought if there were visuals alongside, they should come from a similar place. Stacy is an actress but she isn’t acting here. I’ve spent a lot of time with her in these moments where she’s preparing to be someone other. I find it amazing and at the same time scary.
I like faces a lot, most people do. I draw stuff I like, and I draw lots of faces. I particularly like faces in films. The video has a lot of eyes, the most expressive part of the face. Yuki Yamamoto, who I edited with, is a good friend who has seen more of my drawings than most people, so when we work together we tend to come from a similar place. She helped with getting the most out of Stacy’s eyes.
What’s coming next for you?
There are a few drawing exhibitions coming up, which is a relatively new experience for me. There’s also been quite a few more film composition things that have come in since the Agnes Varda piece. Some more records are being mixed at the moment and I’m particularly looking forward to releasing some new GUO material we’ve just finished. I was working quite privately for about five years, so I am enjoying doing things more publicly at the moment. Tomorrow I’m gonna do some silverpoint drawings.