Wonderland.

PREMIERE: GEMMA LAURENCE – “WATCHDOG”

The “sapphic-folk” artist shares cinematic, mafia-inspired short film for recent single.

Brooklyn-based indie folk singer-songwriter, Gemma Laurence’s latest offering, “Watchdog”, is about that age-old minefield of trust, in particular, lending it to somebody new in your life. “It’s about that initial moment when you meet someone and you’re simultaneously infatuated with them and scanning the horizon for threats,” the self-proclaimed “sapphic-folk” artist explains. “But despite everything, you still want to let them in.”

Not one to do things by halves, Laurence, whose musical mood board draws on everything from assertive Americana to mousy English folk and the ruggedness of rock and roll, has also shared a 1970s mafia-inspired short film accompanying the track. Directed by Kyle James Wright, who thought to call upon the tropes of 1970s Mafia life due to the track’s portrayal of trust, Laurence describes the video as “unlike anything Kyle or I had done before.” Furnished with gunfire, blood, and deep romantic gazes, it’s understandable that the pair found themselves embarking on new territory with the project. However, the payoff is evident when taking in the six minute story they crafted.

Enter the vintage cinematic world of “Watchdog” and read our chat with Laurence and Wright right now, below…

Hi Gemma and Kyle, I hope you’re doing wonderfully! Where are we speaking to you from right now?
Gemma Laurence: I’m at my apartment in Brooklyn. It’s getting so nice and chilly in the Autumn months here, so I’m curled up with a cup of coffee by the window feeling very cosy.
Kyle James Wright: I’m part of a film crew working out of Charlotte, North Carolina at the moment, so things are busy! I’m looking forward to getting back to Brooklyn in mid-November to catch the tail end of the fall. It’s my favourite time of year in the city.

You’re both based in Brooklyn – if we were to visit for 24 hours, what should we do there?
GL: I’d say a perfect 24 hours in Brooklyn would start with brunch at my favourite café in Bed Stuy, Golda, followed by a lovely long walk to Prospect Park, an afternoon mozying through the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, hopping on a scooter up to see the sunset over the Manhattan skyline at Bushwick Inlet Park, then catching a film and some food at Nitehawk Cinema.
KJW: If you’re visiting, definitely walk along the East River near dumbo or Williamsburg to get a great view of Manhattan. That skyline is a grounding element in the “Watchdog” short. In terms of food, this taco truck near the Metropolitan-Lorimer L stop called Birria Landia is basically my church. There’s also a little wine bar near there called Pinkerton that’s one of my all-time favourites. I’ll second Gemma’s shout-out to Nitehawk. They do great food and drink pairings with the movies they show. Always a good time.

Gemma, do you have a particular artist that you’d cite as your inspiration?
GL: So many – Adrianne Lenker, Phoebe Bridgers, Joni Mitchell, Gregory Alan Isakov, Johnny Flynn, Fionn Regan.

Let’s talk “Watchdog”! Gemma, what was the inspiration behind this particular track?
GL: “Watchdog” is a song about trust. It’s about that initial moment when you meet someone new and you’re simultaneously infatuated with them and scanning the horizon for threats. But despite everything, you still want to let them in. It’s a song rooted in this fear of loss, and it’s about learning how to come to terms with that.

And let’s talk about this short film accompanying the single! What inspired this collaboration?
GL:
After showing Kyle the song, he presented this brilliant idea to me: “So it’s a song about trust. What better genre of film to explore than a gritty 1970s Mafia film?” And thus, “Watchdog” was born. It was unlike anything Kyle or I had done before, and it was one of the wildest experiences in my life. The music video is off the walls – there are gunshots and blood and intense Sapphic yearning gazes and crazy 1970s leather bell bottoms (no joke, those pants were tight). And like the song, it’s all about trust, and the consequences of betraying that trust.
KJW: Yeah, Gemma hit it on the nose. I’ve always connected with the lyricism in her music. She’s a very poetic songwriter and Watchdog conjures so many vivid tonalities and images. We wanted to explore these themes of trust and trepidation in a way that was unconventional and not too self-serious but that still felt effective and had a nostalgic edge. I wouldn’t say genre filmmaking is particularly my bent as a director, but the formula of the mobster epic was too good a fit for this. I started seeing these images of gun-wielding women in long-point-collared shirts and the rest is history. Gemma and I both connected with the concept from the get-go and we sort of ran with it. She’s an incredible and really trusting creative partner that way.

Could you tell us a bit about the film and its storyline?
KJW: Sure! The short centres around a character we called “The Don” (played by Gemma) who’s this crime boss at the top of her game. She’s scrappy and she’s risen quickly to the top of the crime world in this kind of fantastical 1970s New York. When we meet her, she doesn’t really have worlds left to conquer and she’s starting to want out. That’s when she meets Adrienne, an up-and-comer played by the terrific Lauren Norvelle, and she starts to feel a spark. Members of her crew notice this and it triggers some jealousy and distrust within the group. That dynamic then becomes the engine that drives the whole thing forward. It’s all about her deciding whether or not to stay in an untenable, but familiar, situation or take the leap and trust someone new without having any guarantees.

The world created in Watchdog: The Short Film is truly spectacular. It feels so timeless. Kyle – what were some of your main influences when it came to the film’s aesthetic?
KJW: We looked to a lot of the crime films of the ‘70s that were set in New York for inspiration. We knew we wanted a bit of exploitation film flare in there, but really needed a softer touch as well to make the aesthetics serve Gemma’s music. It’s an interesting balance to strike. Films like Across 110th Street (1972) and Mean Streets (1973) ended up being instrumental references. I need to credit my writing partner, Devin McGrath-Conwell, for injecting so much of his knowledge of the genre into the story. When it came time to make the film, our cinematographer Conor Murdock really dug into the lensing and feel of that era and our production designer Lauren Nester had a deep understanding of what we needed out of the sets and the world of the film. I need to shout out so many more people, but the bottom line is that the creative team really sank their teeth into the material and worked hard to come up with something that feels fresh. I’m so grateful to have worked with all of them on this.

Gemma – What was your time like on set?
GL: I had never acted on screen before and it was such a delight working alongside Kyle and Lauren and such an accomplished cast and crew – I mean, these people have worked on huge movie sets, and now they’re helping me make a music video? That’s insane! Everybody brought something special to the table – Kyle’s creative vision and leadership, Devin McGrath-Conwell’s writing, Conor Murdock’s expert camera work, Lauren Nester’s stunning set designs, Bryson Penn’s killer costuming, Morgan Paradis’ hair and makeup looks. Emilee Bae, Rebecca Balough, and Paul Steiner ran such a tight ship on set, and Lauren Norvelle, Wengel Kifle, Tori Wong, and Francesca Pastore all brought this script to life with their stellar performances. I felt completely overwhelmed with gratitude and awe while on set, watching all of these people in their element. There was so much hard work and dedication that went into this production, and I couldn’t be more proud of what we made.

Gemma, this must be an exciting stepping stone towards the upcoming release of your album, Lavender! This is your sophomore release, how do you think your sound has evolved as an artist since your debut?
GL: My first album will always hold a dear spot in my heart as my first real musical project. With that said, I do think my sound has matured a lot since my first album. If the songs on Crooked Heart were a reaction to what was happening in my life at that moment, the songs on Lavender feel more like a response. They’re more meditative – reflections on people or places who have changed me. Sonically, these songs just sound a lot bigger and lusher too. I had the opportunity to work with a producer on this record (Charlie Dahlke, who also helped record and produce the score for the music video), and so many other accomplished musicians on this album, so the sound is a lot fuller and richer.

Do you have a favourite track from the album?
GL:
Hard to pick a favourite! But it’d probably have to be Watchdog, followed closely by Lavender and Adrienne.

Now, this last question is for both of you: what else can we expect from you this year? Are there any other projects you’re working on?
KJW:
We’re really excited about the prospect of taking Watchdog to festivals and seeing it with people on a big screen and in person, so we’re hoping to put in our legwork there and hopefully that comes to fruition. Films take a lot of time and a lot of trusts to make, but I’m optimistic about some of the things that are currently in the works.
GL: All of this! And much more music to come too – stay tuned.

Directed by
Kyle James Wright
Written by
Devin McGrath-Conwell and Kyle James Wright
Produced by
Emilee Bae, Paul Steiner, Devin McGrath-Conwell, and Kyle James Wright
Director of Photography
Conor Murdock
Production Design by
Lauren Nester
Costume Design by
Bryson Penn
Editing by
Stephen Rose
Unit Production Manager
Emilee Bae
1st AD
Rebecca Balough
1st Assistant Camera
Jack Salmon
Chief Lighting Technician
Jack Staley
Key Grip
Terrance Worrell
Hair and Makeup by
Morgan Paradis
Props by
Chris Bowman
Colour by
Andrew Mirmanesh
VFX by
Rohaman Sabbir
Sound Design by
Action Goons Productions
Audio Mixing and Mastering by
Charles Dahlke at Ashlawn Recording Company
Title and Credits by
Sky Theis
Production Company
The Orientation Group
PREMIERE: GEMMA LAURENCE – “WATCHDOG”

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