Song / Video Review – The Tillers “Willy Dear”


“Hey, I know where an old abandoned house is.” — The opening words to every single music video pre-production meeting in the last half decade in independent music.

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Music videos truly are a lost and dying art, helped along by the fact that Viacom has killed the medium in lieu of reality TV programming. Even amongst the independent ranks of musicians, some artists feel the need to make music videos, but artistically, they consistently fail to capture the attention of the listener and viewer, while a simple video taken with the artist sitting in a chair and performing acoustically receives triple the views as the video that starts with a four-figure budget and storyboards.

Good music captures the imagination, and mutates to fit the personal narrative of the listener. The problem with many scripted videos with casts of people cobbled together from Craigslist posts looking for extras is that by trying to interpret the story in a concrete manner they define boarders around it and don’t allow the story to breathe in the mind of the listener. And ad nauseam, the backdrop is an abandoned house or building, with eroded vintage wallpaper with stately fleur-de-lis prints in disrepair, peeling olive paint, splitting wood, and standalone cupboards with cracked ceramic dishes still sitting on its shelves. Sure, old houses can convey tremendous mystery and mood and nostalgia for the world’s regal era that has all but passed, creating a compelling environment. But is this really the correct setting for every story?

Either a video coveys magic, or it suffocates it. Many times ambiguity is the best prescription—simply supplying the viewer with a visual enhancement to the song. Other times a video that articulates the story quite literally can still work, but you must hit all the marks. Videos for Matt Woods’ “Deadman’s Blues” and the Josh Abbott Band’s “I’ll Sing About Mine” worked quite well in 2013. Animation is never a bad option for a good video. Amanda Shire’s “Ghostbird” had the effect of enhancing the story instead of demystfying it like so many music videos can.

The Tillers Take You Back with “Hand On The Plow” (Album Stream)

The Tillers “Willy Dear” off of their 2013 album Hand on the Plow conveys a classic old-time story of love an death in early America, where the frailty of life seemed eternally suspended in the air all around; ever-present and top of mind, and the fears of the inhabitants of that time were exorcised through song to purge the haunting thoughts.

By choosing animation for the “Willy Dear” video, it enhances the imaginative qualities already inherent in the song, and allows the story to unfold without the anachronistic limitations of a live video. The simplicity of the animation aids in this process, while the vibrancy still present in the color and the expansiveness of the landscapes emphasizes the wonder in the story itself.

The video also helps fill in some of the gaps in the narrative that the verses didn’t have the capacity to carry. And best of all, it illustrates that “Willie Dear” is not really about Willie Thompson, his love Lizzy, or the tragedy that befell them because of mistaken circumstances. It is about old abandoned houses, and the stories they tell.

Two guns up.

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Animation by Christof Heuer.

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