igohide by ben barnes
igohide by Ben Barnes (click for larger view)

We recently had the opportunity to exchange some words with Ben Barnes, a talented artist whose work has graced our pages in the past. He is responsible for some of our favorite music videos and most recently he directed the promo spots for Busdriver’s album RoadKillOvercoat. Besides creating quality videos he is an experienced cartoonist and a nice guy, why else would he take the time to entertain our questions? You should check out the hi-res versions of his work and the promo spots over on benbarnes.net.


After extensive googling and only being able to confirm that you weren’t once the lieutenant governor of texas, can you please provide a brief overview of your background? Did you attend film school? How many years have you been directing or involved in the arts? Is this your primary career?

I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA and originally was a cartoonist. I switched to directing in 1997 and went to grad school for film in Miami, FL in 1999 then moved out to L.A. in 2001. I direct and write, for the most part.

How did you become associated with the artists you’ve worked with? Did Mush/Epitaph approach you? Are you a fan of the music?

Labels haven’t really approached me; either the artist wanted to work with me and brought me to the attention of the label, or I made the video with the artist on my own.

I worked at Amoeba Music when they first opened until 2004. I worked with people like Thavius Beck, Gino Marks and Lance Rock and became very good friends with, and fans of, them. The first video I made was for The Ray Makers, a band comprised of Lance Rock and Chris Curtis. We shot it in the summer of 2002. After that, Gino was coming out with an EP and I wanted to do something for it, so I got photographer Tim Reed to shoot some 35mm stills and I shot some video in Gino’s apartment one night. It was mostly a lot of post work using National Geographic photos, textbook illustrations and an old, old version of After Effects. I knew Daedelus through Dublab events and our own DJ night, Forestry Service, so we got acquainted that way. Thavius and I shot a bunch of different promos and screen tests for his Adlib releases before he went to Mush Records about shooting a video for To Make Manifest. As far as the new stuff, Busdriver pitched Epitaph the idea of shooting promos and they liked the idea.

I would say I’m a enormous fan of everyone I’ve done videos for. I think Fear of a Black Tangent and Zwarte Achegronde, for example, are classic, classic albums. I haven’t made a video for a song I wasn’t totally amazed by, which is a huge help creatively.

We noticed the drawings on your site. Is that something you’ve considered pursuing seriously also? What’s with the tendency for big eye balls?

I used to be a cartoonist for a long time, from childhood on. About ten years ago I had a daily strip called “Despot Theatre” which ran in my college paper. All the eyeballs in that were of relatively normal size. I always thought I’d be a strip cartoonist, but I started making films.

Can you discuss the concept behind the Forestry Service? Besides having a good time your events seem to incorporate some greenish type goals. What drives you to promote these themes?

Forestry Service was a monthly DJ night put on by myself and Rob Schroeder, who has also produced many of my music videos. It ran from June of 2003 to June of 2004. We played mostly IDM. We had a bunch of guest DJs perform, including Daedelus, Thavius Beck, Ars. Nova. Strata…, Octavius, ADDj, and Boom Bip. Our one-year anniversary had all those folks, plus Adventure Time, Busdriver, Dntel, Morpho, and DJ Jun. It was a lot of fun. The green aspect was something we incorporated into our website but we ended Forestry Service before we could really incorporate it into the actual night.

Forestry Service was briefly revived in spirit later that year, when Rob and I put on a registration drive / concert for Kerry in Miami, with Metric, Midnight Movies, Busdriver, Thavius and Machine Drum. It was a great show. Kerry still lost.

You’ve done a great job at portraying Busdriver’s humor and sarcasm in the promo spots. How did you arrive at the concepts? Were the settings your idea? Does your process tend to be very collaborative in nature?

Busdriver is easy to direct, because he’s a naturally dynamic performer. The concepts were mine for the most part, but Regan’s
performances were all him. I’d tell him what I was going for, and then he’d just be himself. He’s really fun to watch, on stage or on film.

I really just listened to the songs we were going to use and some sort of idea would form. Some of them we changed on set, some were almost exactly as written.

In general, when I direct I like everyone I work with to bring their own perspective to what we’re shooting. People get much more involved and work harder at making a great finished work if they’re engaged in the creative process.

Besides artists you’ve already worked with, can you name some artists or just anyone or anything that you draw most of your inspiration from?

David Lynch was a gigantic influence on my life growing up and probably the reason I switched to film. I’ve also been heavily influenced all my life by Bloom County and Kurt Vonnegut. Oh, and seasons 4 through 8 of the Simpsons. There are many others, I’m sure, but there’s a good start.

Music that changed how I looked at things, in chronological order: Cat Stevens, Talking Heads, Frank Zappa, Aphex Twin, mu-Ziq, Guided By Voices, Neutral Milk Hotel, Neil Young, cLOUDDEAD.

Music videos that changed the way I looked at things: Radiohead’s No Surprises by Grant Gee, & Karma Police by Jonathan Glazer, R.E.M.’s Imitation of Life by Hammer & Tongs, and Bjork’s All Is Full Of Love by Chris Cunningham.

As far as exposure goes, what do you think about the declining influence of MTV? Do you see this as a positive? Has the proliferation of social networking sites and video sharing sites like youtube and myspace benefited you greatly personally?

They haven’t benefitted me very much, personally. I think with YouTube and Myspace video, more people have seen my stuff but at a shitty, shitty resolution. They are great for spreading work, but the format leaves a lot to be desired in terms of content. On the other hand, you can make something for no money and walk into a meeting with a development exec and say “this thing’s been seen 1.4 million times” and they’ll throw a development deal at you. It’s exciting, but every aspiring filmmaker is trying to do that. So we get glutted with stunts, like lonelygirl and the haircutting bride, that are created to garner attention and rewarded for garnering it. It’s like a new genre. I’m not sure what to think yet, really.

Music video directors have a reputation for being cutting edge and pushing the envelope when it comes to editing and presentation. What would you consider one of the biggest drawbacks to specializing in music videos?

Music videos are very difficult to make a living off of. A lot of times, it’s a director’s hobby or vanity project between commercial
work. There’s also little chance to hone other aspects of directing. I think music videos are primarily good for honing your visual sense. If you want to be a good narrative director, you have to direct narrative films.

Is there a genre of film/movies that you prefer?

It’s really great to be surprised by whatever i’m watching. Just saw Children of Men. When all is said and done, i think it’s going
to be one of the highlights of the decade. Five of my favorite movies in no particular order: Eraserhead, Stardust
Memories, Miller’s Crossing, Boogie Nights, Rushmore.

Any projects you’re currently working on that you’re excited about? Can we expect more music videos or maybe a film down the line?

I’ve been working on a tv/online project for a couple years now with Joel Huggins called Fish Out Of Water (www.fishoutofwater.tv), about three Pittsburgh roommates hitting their thirties, one of whom is a 2-foot-11 fish. I’m shooting some shorts with a comedy troupe called Cabbage! and currently at work on a feature.