Singled Out is a feature focusing on the stories behind a song as told by the artists who made it. In this edition, director Jazz Niehaus provides commentary on the video for “Heat Stroke” by Annie Kemble. Having co-written the song with Annie, Jazz explained the inspiration which informed its lyrics and provided a foundation for the video’s on-screen storyline. Before detailing the collaborative nature of the video’s production, however, we started things off by looking in the rearview at the video for “Movie” from Annie’s Dive Bar EP, and discussing how that experience benefited the development of “Heat Stroke.”
villin: When first becoming introduced to Annie’s music, I was simultaneously introduced to your work through the “Movie” video you made. What did you learn from making that video that you were able to utilize when developing “Heat Stroke”?
Jazz Niehaus: There were two main takeaways from “Movie” that I felt really transitioned us into making “Heat Stroke.” First and foremost, you can make anything you want with your friends, regardless of resources. Our biggest asset in that project was the fact that we were having a lot of fun, and that undoubtedly translated to the finished product. If you can let go of the general fear of being embarrassed and the elitism that can surround creative spaces, the rest will come out in the wash. Making “Movie” made me feel like I was making a school project with a flip camera again. Secondly, people are willing to help if you’re willing to ask. We got access to that beautiful, historical church with a simple Facebook message to my home county’s historical society. I can’t imagine what else would have been made possible had I been just more willing to ask. I think bringing that same energy to “Heat Stroke” was vital to the project.
villin: It’s interesting watching the two videos together because of the gentle subversiveness that plays a part in each. In “Movie,” for example, Annie’s character falls in love with a camera, which I read as something of a creative metaphor for egotism. And in “Heat Stroke,” a group of beefy thirst traps credited as “The Male Gaze” fawn over her while she croons about something of a romance with one’s self, getting playful with the guys while lyrically minimizing any role they could actually have in her life. What was the idea behind “The Male Gaze” in the video from your perspective?
Jazz Niehaus: “Heat Stroke,” lyrically, was inspired by both a conversation with a friend, and by a quote by Margaret Atwood from her book The Robber Bride. I’m not sure where I heard it first, most likely TikTok, but it reads as follows…
“Male fantasies, male fantasies, is everything run by male fantasies? Up on a pedestal or down on your knees, it’s all a male fantasy: that you’re strong enough to take what they dish out, or else too weak to do anything about it. Even pretending you aren’t catering to male fantasies is a male fantasy: pretending you’re unseen, pretending you have a life of your own, that you can wash your feet and comb your hair unconscious of the ever-present watcher peering through the keyhole, peering through the keyhole in your own head, if nowhere else. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur.”
The conversation, or more so statement, I heard from a woman that I’ll allow to remain anonymous was something to the effect of “When I’m having sex, I’m not really thinking about the man. I’m thinking about myself. I’m thinking about how good I look.”
I think it’s interesting, the way two things can be true at one time. This concept that “The woman is her own voyeur” is both a societal burden and something sexy; Self Voyeurism as a cross to bear and Self Voyeurism as a pleasure. That dichotomy inspired me to write the lyrics that eventually became the bulk of “Heat Stroke.” Without “The Male Gaze” that dichotomy wouldn’t exist. From the video perspective, I wanted the male gaze to feel—while sexy—both uncomfortable and unavoidable. I wanted there to be homage to both truths: that you can both love and hate what it feels like to be watched by men.
villin: From a production quality standpoint, “Heat Stroke” looks and feels much more polished than “Movie.” From a visual aesthetic perspective, what was your hope for the video and was the presentation at all meant to relate to the song’s sound or lyrics?
Jazz Niehaus: “Movie” was a bit of a vanity project, if you feel comfortable calling it that. The song was already released, and doing well. I didn’t have anything to do with “Movie” as a song, outside of directing & filming the music video. It didn’t necessarily need a goofy home video to pair with it, but we wanted to make something silly and organic. It was Annie’s concept and I was there to bring it to life with her. In contrast, Annie and I wrote and produced “Heat Stroke” hand in hand. Musically, we were incredibly inspired by pop and R&B music of the early 2000s, and I wanted to capture that essence in the video. I wanted it to land in a sweet spot of homage to what feels like a bygone era of music videos, while also being its own thing. I don’t have the mind’s eye, so art for me is really about the feeling it leaves you with even after the piece is over. I knew how I wanted “Heat Stroke” to feel in your gut, and I wanted the video to hit the exact same part: That part being a nostalgia for an iconic time in music and pop culture, and a connection to your inner white trash coquette.
villin: How much of a collaborative effort was this, in terms of working with Borg and Andrew Peterson? Was there a singular idea that you were all following or did everyone on deck chip in to help steer the direction of the video?
Jazz Niehaus: Since it was my first time directing something of this scale, I was a bit paranoid over being under prepared. In turn, I planned the music video shot by shot before ever connecting with Borg and Andrew. I wanted to make sure to go in with a clear vision, simply out of fear of not being taken seriously. I think I let insecurity steer me into a lot of critical thinking leading up to the shoot, and that was to my advantage. I found out on shoot day that my insecurity was needless and baseless—Borg and Andrew were so incredibly thoughtful, helpful, and never made me feel like I was in over my head. They helped troubleshoot anything that I overlooked, and brought more ideas to the table that really helped the video come to life. They creatively brought so much to the table the day of and really took the time to understand my vision. It would have been impossible without them.
villin: What was your comfort level putting together a production of this size, where there is both a larger cast than with “Movie,” in addition to the aforementioned team that rounded out the crew? What did you learn from this shoot that you’d like to work on or experiment with further moving forward?
Jazz Niehaus: Although I was a bit insecure about putting together a production of this size, I kept reminding myself “morons do this all the time.” I always keep that in mind when I’m doing… really anything. I’m not even sure that morons direct music videos all the time, but telling myself that felt good. I also sat in the security of knowing that I certainly know how to plan stuff. At the time of production, I was managing a bar. That’s, like, the ultimate planning oriented job. It’s also a job that often requires telling men, especially ones that are inebriated, what to do. I kind of came to the conclusion that if I can make that happen on a weekly basis, I can probably get a bunch of hot guys to listen to me for seven hours. Shoot day went incredibly smooth, aside from Annie falling down the stairs, and everybody was extremely kind and professional. I spent the day grateful for the whole cast and crew. My friend Mary spent the day on set as production assistant and did one million pain in the ass jobs. The boys helped move every heavy thing. We even managed to wrap the day early. I think moving forward, I want to maintain a cast and crew that can both have fun and get a job done. I also want to continue to push myself to make shots with lots of moving parts happen, like the one take party scene. Annie and I always joke that I’m the one who has to reel her in when it comes down to what’s possible. I think it would be good to let her win a little in the future and try to conquer something big with $500 and a prayer.