It was late August. I was living on my raw piece of Alaska in a 10’x10’ “Shed In a Box”. Bears and floods had tested my mental constitution for months. Then the sun finally came out. The valley was beautiful and peaceful like the finale of a historic epic. I thought I was about to get to enjoy this effortless weather and was prepared to reap the rewards of adapting throughout the previous months. That was a naive thought. This was just the calm before the storm.
A strong wind suddenly picked up. It was the kind of wind that blows each of your hairs on end (a similar effect as a green sky in the midwest). When it was time to head home that day I was dreading my climb up the hill. I stood at the head of my trail and stared up at the trees swaying. The wind had settled slightly from the howling version it was earlier in the day. Regardless, I questioned my ability to sleep in a tarp shed under these conditions. I was convinced by my ego that I was being unnecessarily scared and should “man-up” and go to bed. I should’ve known then how stupid I was being when I gave myself a pep talk to lay down somewhere.
I reached my shed to find that a tree had already fallen on it. The shed’s frame wasn’t bent. No possessions were crushed. The tree slid down the side after impact and tore a series of holes in the tarp. I cleared the tree, turned on a favorite childhood movie of mine, “The Jungle Book”, and laid down on my tarp hoping to wake in calmer conditions. As my head landed on the inflated wine bag I used as a pillow the winds began bellowing again. I felt committed to my decision to stay at home despite the snaps, cracks, and pops I heard the trees making all around me. Instead of running scared, I simply turned up the volume to drown the racket of the woods with the “Bare Necessities”. By “I Wan’Na Be Like You” I was distracted enough to force myself to sleep.
The next day I woke up, gathered my things, and hurried out of there like I found myself in a haunted house. It was early, especially for me, the normal late riser. When I arrived at the local morning coffee spot I found my neighbor staring into his coffee between sips. He told me how scared he was the night before listening to the trees battle the wind from inside his cabin. The look on his face when I told him about my night in the shed justified all the fears I had tried to talk myself out of. Other neighbors started showing up for their morning fix of socialization and caffeine. Everyone was reporting trees down. The winds were still blowing. Suddenly, the fact that my entire life was sitting on a mountainside waiting to get crushed by more falling trees registered.
I realized I had to move. My computer equipment, camera equipment, generator, and other expensive necessary life things were all as exposed as I was sleeping there the previous night. I hurried home, hustled up my hill while watching the tree tops, and when I reached the shed something looked off. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was until I unzipped the door. Inside was complete chaos. The wind had picked up the tent and tipped, smashed, and scattered all of my belongings. In a puzzled panic I took the time to reorganize everything and started packing. All of it had to get moved down the hill. I grabbed the most expensive and most important things and started lugging my belongings down the mountain that I had spent all summer carrying them up. Round after round I shuttled my life down to a pallet in my parking area. My fourth trip up the hill I found my shed had been tossed again. I started stuffing things into bags and bins. Without warning, the shed around me lifted a few feet off the ground and I was getting to experience the blowing force that tipped fifty pound cases of camera gear and flipped tables covered in tools. I grabbed part of the shed frame and stood on the bottom support trying to keep it down. The wind settled allowing me to grab another load and run it down the hill. This sort of anchor dance happened a few more times until the last trip I discovered my shed completely flipped, twisted and settled about ten feet from where it was previously positioned. I gathered the rest of the belongings worth worrying about and scurried down one last time.
With my belongings in a more secure location, covered and strapped to the pallet, I hopped in my old F250 and pulled across the road, out of the reach of the trees. My heart was racing with adrenaline from the experience. I just needed to settle. Safely in my truck, with the windows up, I cranked up some music and watched the dust devils climb over the McCarthy peak of Fireweed Mountain just across the glacier. I didn’t really want to think about the music I selected, I just wanted a distraction, so I turned on my Discover Weekly playlist from my Spotify account. The second or third song was a Velvet Underground song “Oh Sweet Nuthin’” covered by a band named Hollis Brown. The chilled out vibe was exactly what I needed and before the song finished “Hollis Brown” was a playlist on my account.
I spent the next few nights sleeping in an open field under the aurora. The wind continued. Hollis Brown played on my portable speaker.
The winds finally stopped. Hundreds of trees were blown down across the valley. I had lost my second structure of the summer and was left without a place to live. I moved a small shack to my land. Hollis Brown was part of the soundtrack.
The whole fall Hollis Brown accompanied me while turning that shack into the Shackteau. I found their music when I was freshly homeless and they played while I rebuilt a home. Their music was part of my soundtrack when I had to leave my new home for a couple of projects in Southeast Asia. In the rain in southern Laos, as the sun set on the beach in Cambodia, and taking a train across Thailand are all memories that now have their music anchored in them.
Finally, rounding that trip out, I was housesitting on Guam for Christmas and with the holiday came the homesickness. I missed my little mountain town, my even smaller shack and the quiet, pristine wilderness.
Discovery Channel’s “Edge of Alaska” had just finished airing the most recent season. I have shot the majority of the timelapses for the show, hadn’t yet cut my reel together from that season, and was missing the same valley where it is shot. I thought this was the perfect opportunity to turn my longing into something productive. The problem was, I typically pick music for my reel made by my friends and had fallen out of touch with what most of them had been doing. I started thinking of what bands I listen to that I could hope to write to obtain rights for a track. Due to my recent infatuation Hollis Brown immediately came to mind. I opened Spotify, went to their page, clicked on “Bio”, and to my amazement, on the far right of my screen was Adam, their keyboardist and my long time friend. I couldn’t believe it.
What a crazy coincidence? Right?
I immediately messaged Adam and shared a version of this story with him. I also let him know my original intention on checking out Hollis Brown’s bio, I needed the rights to a song. He shared my story with the band and passed me off to their management. We worked a deal that ended with me getting the rights to use a song for my reel but also had me cutting a music video for the band.
In hindsight, I’m really happy with how both videos turned out. They both contain footage shot by me, edited by me (within two days of one another), and are soundtracked with music by Hollis Brown. Both videos are very different to me though.
The Edge of Alaska reel is set to the track “John Wayne”, a song I chose partially because John was born the next town over from me, and the old west theme matches the feel of the footage. All of the shots in this video were taken for a contract. It is a different framework than if I’m shooting for myself. On this job I was shooting six days a week for ten weeks. I had to go out and get footage regardless of inspiration. The shots need to be clean and of a high technical proficiency. I’m sent out by myself with a list of stories, subjects or at times even emotions. I’m encouraged to experiment and challenged to find new ways to express old ideas. Its because of this sort of intensive creating that I’ve been able to refine my craft to the level I have. This video highlights a calculated approach, technical conditioning, and a relentless surge of creation.
For the music video for the band I chose the ballad “Don’t Want to Miss You”, the second track off their latest album. For this video I used footage I’ve shot independently over the past few years while making McCarthy my home. The shots are a little dirtier and come from a reactionary perspective. No one was paying me to shoot. I obsessively carry a camera, tripod and intervalometer (the equipment necessary to take a timelapse) and cannot resist when I can see these beautiful events happening in front of me. Its all footage that speaks to the character of the place or gives breath to an unoccupied landscape. This video is more about the essence, obsession, and emotion in front of and behind the lens.
I was grateful to be able to share this story with Adam, my friend in Hollis Brown. It must’ve been gratifying to hear that someone had a real connection with his work. That it carries the power to augment someone’s reality. If it wasn’t for this experience I’m not sure I’d know that feeling either. I get too close to my work and lose site of the bigger picture. I get stuck asking what’s the point or what am I trying to say with this alternative means of communication. It wasn’t until I watched the video for “Don’t Want to Miss You” that I was finally able to sit next to my audience and get transported to this place. Their song expressed the pining for my love and my love was in that footage.