Simon Fagan: Berlin is a place to create
Shebeen Flick Festival Director Fernanda Parente, Singer/Songwriter Simon Fagan and Illustrator Eric Tiedt talk syncing music and animation, videos on the big screen and being an artist in Berlin
The melancholy and uneasiness are still tangible in the theater as the end credits of “I Used To Live Here” roll. Frank Barry’s award winning film is a fiercely powerful drama about a 13 year old coming to terms with her mother’s death while experiencing the temptation of suicide after witnessing the sympathy shown for a local suicide victim.
Tonight’s audience at Shebeen Flick are in for one more walk in the shadowland of embracing life while coping with loss and death as the feature is followed by Simon Fagan’s and Eric Tiedt’s animated music video “Lost To The Deep”, in which the protagonist confronts the loss of loved ones through his inner mind.
Almost invariably evoking associations with current migration movements and lives lost to the sea in search of survival and refuge, Fagan’s beautifully crafted singer-songwriter piece lyrically addresses reality, fantasy, life and death – a topic which Tiedt’s over 600 touching hand-drawn scenes from a world under the surface of the ocean illustrates in an intense and haunting way.
After treating Shebeen Flick visitors to a Q&A as well as a life performance by Simon, both artists and festival director Fernanda Parente were up for a spontaneous chat with ICE Berlin.
Q: Fernanda, how did you become aware of this project and that it should be shown in a festival environment?
F: I was at another event where Simon was performing alongside the video, and as soon as I saw it, I fell in love with the images and the music. It won an award in Cork, and I thought it was very cinematic and that it would be nice to show it to more people in a proper kind of cinema environment on the big screen.
Q: Simon and Eric, I understand this was your first music video co-operation. Have you worked on any projects before this?
S: No, we just met through a friend and didn’t know each other before this. It’s our first collaboration. I’m trying to convince him to do more.
Q: We would love to see more.
E: I’m currently working on another animation project that will take around two years to complete. There will be 3D and 2D involved, so it’s a bit of a change of technique.
Q: How was the idea born that the music video for “Lost To The Deep” should be an animation? Was that because of your collaboration, or did you have that in mind from the start ?
S: No, I wanted to do an animation for this.
Q: Did you have a particular inspiration for that? There’s lots of great animated music videos, like Michel Gondry’s White Stripes video is one that comes to mind for example.
S: I think when you talk about syncing music and animation at the top of the bill is probably Damon Albarn’s and Jamie Hewletts Gorillaz videos. That is the benchmark, that kind of stuff.
Q: Since this is an interview for Irish Culture Events Berlin, we’re interested in your reasons to come to Berlin. What does that journey mean for you – being an Irish musician in Berlin and what made you choose the city over other places?
S: I came here after having toured the last record, so I was on the road for 18 months. And the last gig I played was in Cologne, and I decided not to go back to Ireland and come to Berlin. I came to Berlin very sporadically with a guitar and a rucksack and 500 Euro and stayed in Rosenthaler Platz hostel for ten days. Then I went out busking in the streets, managed to get an apartment and just started building a new thing here. Why I came here? I needed change, things weren’t really moving in Ireland. So Berlin – why not?
Q: What do you think so far? What kind of surrounding is Berlin for music in particular and Irish music specifically?
S: Berlin is a tough place. It’s a tough place particularly as a musician because – let’s face it, it’s probably one of the poorest capital cities of Europe. There’s lots of artists. It’s a great place to come to and create something. As an artist it’s important to move outside the city, in the rest of Europe or America or wherever. So Berlin is an amazing place to create something, because it’s the low cost of living that gives the opportunity to actually…
[At this point, he is interrupted by a street musician with an accordion who appeared like on cue and can’t be convinced to stop during the rest of the conversation]
F: That’s Berlin now.
Q: What about your work, Eric? You’re an animation film maker, so you know what it means to be an artist in Berlin.
E: Well, at the moment, yes. I’ve been making illustrations for many years. Three years ago I decided to make animations, to try a new thing and develop new skills. So right now it’s that, but who knows, in the future it might be painting. It’s open, so I don’t really now yet, and that is possible here. But for now it’s animation. In animation you have to do everything. You have to act, you have to direct, you have to write stories. That’s why I’m into it.
Q: Is this your first music video project? What is your perspective on that? Is it something you want to explore more?
E: I made three videos in the last five years. But it takes a lot of time, so maybe one video each year…
Q: What exactly is the technique you’re using? You said earlier in the Q&A you were drawing over 600 sheets for “Lost To The Deep”.
E: For this one, yes. But in the future I will do more animated stuff working directly on the computer. It’s a lot easier, and you can correct more. You lose a bit of feeling without paper, but at the end of the day you have a lot of advantages.
Q: Same question as to Simon, any artists you find inspiring or that you would consider influences on your work?
E: Hard to say. When it comes to animation, Japanese artists of course, like Miyazaki. But I only just came into animation. It’s not like I’ve been wanting to do this since I was a child. Somehow I got there and right now I want to do that. Someday I might want to write. I don’t know.
Q: This question goes to you, Fernanda. You said you fell in love with this particular video and wanted to give it a cinema setting. Will there be more music videos by Irish artists at the festival? Music videos are still a bit of a sub-genre after all those years of MTV. Screening them at festivals and in cinemas in general more would probably open up new audiences.
F: Maybe, yes. But for me there is no difference between a short film and a music video. I think the work that goes into the visuals and the sounds, if it’s music or dialogue, it doesn’t make a difference. I like the possibilities of festivals. One of the things I try to do is value short films by pairing them with feature films that have – well, maybe a certain tone, or mood, or running theme. At big film festivals, that is definitely a harder task because the short films get a bit forgotten. They get all bundled together in one programme, they might have very different styles and moods, and I think it’s hard to absorb. If you talk to the press, everybody’s generally more interested in the feature films. So I like highlighting just one short film with a feature because they have something in common. And in this case, it is a certain mood, a certain experience.
Q: That would have been my next, and last question. What was the motivation to put these two movies together?
F: I think both films deal with the idea of loss. There is a melancholic thing about both of them that made me think they would fit together. But you know, for me, it didn’t make a difference if it was a music video or a traditional short film. I think they go well together.
Q: I think they both where a lot about the feeling of being displaced and disoriented as well. In all sorts of ways, geographically, emotionally – growing up, being under water… So for me it was not only about loss but about being lost as well.
F: You guys think they worked together?
S: I think they worked extremely well together, it was a very great arrangement.
“Lost To The Deep” can be viewed on Simon Fagan’s official website. The song is part of his latest record Gilded Bird, which is also his first to be recorded and produced in Berlin.