As artists, we’ve had the opportunity to create increasingly diverse projects, and one of our favorites has been to work with musicians. In the past, we’ve created portraits and album covers for several musicians and musical groups. Now, for the first time, we’ve created a music video for a band whose work we really admire. Joy on Fire is a Trenton, NJ-based punk-jazz band whose work has been previously featured on NPR’s All Songs Considered, and the band is scheduled to play a Tiny Desk Concert in July.
The opportunity was something we relished in particular, since not only is the music exceptionally accomplished but its meaning is deeply resonant. The video is for the song “Uh Huh” on the band’s Thunderdome EP, available now. The song rails against the scourge of gun violence in American society, but as the following intro authored by the band makes clear, the element of protest it contains is also universal and transferable to the many situations in our daily lives where power is imbalanced and justice is not served. And we emphatically believe that right now, we need to come together (through a thin connecting strip or “Tombolo” – see our second blog post) to howl about the urgent changes that are needed (see our first blog post).
And just a note of full disclosure: band member Dan Gutstein is Mark’s brother. Opinions expressed here are fully intended to be dispassionate, but you be the judge! “Uh Huh” rocks the boat and roils the waters.
Here’s the band’s intro to their song:
JOY ON FIRE // “UH HUH” // OFFICIAL VIDEO // 2020
by Joy on Fire
“Uh Huh” is a protest song, during a protest year, during a baffling era.
The lead instrumentation—John Paul Carillo’s bass and guitar; Chris Olsen’s drums and percussion—alternates between harrowing restraint and thumping outcry. Anna Meadors plays the song’s dirge on her alto saxophone; the song, then, absorbs the universal lamentations of people who’ve been deprived of other people. When all four of us participate at once, including the howling vocals, there is a variety of madness that we could call liberation, or honesty. Listeners will be rewarded again and again by the virtuosity of the musicians. The outro, in particular, estimates the emotional quandary of marching forward, despite a societal environment that cannot remediate its own destructiveness.
“Uh Huh” refers to brothers in the universal sense: close and distant family, comrades, colleagues. We are protesting an inexcusable societal blight like gun crimes, on the one hand, but many protests can be echo-located in “Uh Huh.” (What’s your protest?) In the lyrics, a gun is pointed at an unarmed person. This fundamental inequality can transfer from one situation to another. You’re powerless at a crucial moment, you fear for your life, you lack a basic resource. You struggle to envision a future, uh huh.
The artists who created the video—Gabriela Bulisova and Mark Isaac—have stamped their narrative on the song. By turns eerie, disturbing, and deeply righteous, the video commences with the thermal imagery of headless bodies trudging toward a blank destination, at an orderly pace, their backs to the viewer. Without being told, we know that many of them are doomed. There is a gun-scope encircling a partial portrait, and an incongruous flag unfurling, and a litter of human shapes strewn upon a stained ecosystem that’s struggling, itself, to persevere.
“De voi depinde,” said the poet Paul Celan: “It’s up to you.” What he meant was: the individual really matters. By design, the band does not appear. Our faces don’t outweigh the importance of the protest. What will our brothers be singing? What will our, what will our brothers be singing? If we deaden ourselves to loss, we’ll never challenge the status quo.
Play this song loud. Expect punk-jazz. Topple the establishment.
Joy on Fire is
John Paul Carillo (bass, guitar)
Anna Meadors (baritone and alto saxophones, vocals)
Chris Olsen (drums, percussion)
Dan Gutstein (lyrics, vocals)
“Uh Huh” composed by Carillo / Gutstein / Joy on Fire (2020)
Video by Gabriela Bulisova and Mark Isaac (2020)