Last month, up-and-coming LA singer-songwriter Serena Foster released the music video for “Hollow,” the first single from her upcoming debut album. Produced by Raz Klinghoffer, the track is a moody piece of EDM-influenced pop, full of plaintive piano and electronic beats.
In translating the song to video, Foster teamed up with director Kassy Mahea to find a story in the song, and in the process raise awareness of domestic violence. Please enjoy this interview on the process of bringing that story to life, and you can learn more about how to support justice for women through organizations like LiveYourDream.org and the End the Backlog Initiative.
First, a little bit of background from Serena on the song “Hollow.” Where did the initial inspiration come from?
Foster: The core of this song started just from the idea of, like, when people say “I’m hollow, I feel like a piece of me is missing,” like when you lose a friend, or a loved one, or you break up, or someone moves or passes away. That’s the center of the concept, and then I brought in some lyricists and my producer Raz Klinghoffer, who I did my entire album with, he’s phenomenal. He’s also known by his DJ name Hamster, he’s upcoming in LA. We all got in the room together, and we threw ideas out, and I would jump on the mic and try different things for the lyrics. But the melody really came first and then we put together the concept around hollowness, and feeling empty, and leaving up to interpretation whatever it is that’s hollow, or what caused you to be hollow.
How did you and Kassy end up working together?
Foster: We took an acting class together, years ago, which is kind of funny, it was like an improv class. We didn’t really chat that much during the class, but we stayed in contact through Facebook. This year I started putting out new music, and I was looking for a director, so I reached out to her to see what she thought about the song.
Mahea: I remember posting my new website, and it’s mainly just photography, but she reached out. She was like, “hey, by any chance do you do video and film-making too?” and I was like, “absolutely.” Because she wanted to do a music video for Hollow, and I was super excited to work with her and see her again. She sent me the song, and I instantly fell in love. I was like, “this would be so cool to do something to.”
What was it like making the video?
Foster: This was the first video I ever got this elaborate with. I’ve done other videos in the past, I’ve planned a little bit simpler concepts, but I really wanted to go all out because this song was so different from everything I’ve done. When I got together with Kassy, I told her I wanted to go with a really weird story, and I wanted to hear what she got from the song first. So we met for coffee, and she gave me this concept about, “the song kind of speaks to me in a sense about an abusive relationship,” because she felt strongly about that, and it’s something that we both were totally on the same page with.
Mahea: I was listening to the song, and the first thing that came to me was the feeling of being in a relationship, but feeling invisible in the relationship, or losing yourself to someone, so I ran with that, I guess that’s my interpretation of the song, feeling hollow in a relationship when you’re so madly in love, but the person isn’t giving back.
Foster: We talked about that, and then from there I still wanted to take it even further, and I remember just being like, “what can we do as a plot twist, or something weird and out-there, and make it really visually appealing?” And then I thought, “maybe I’m a ghost, and I’m haunting him the whole video, or maybe something happens,” and she suggested maybe he kills me, or we make it seem that way. It was just kind of like, spitfire, ideas back and forth.
Mahea: We ran with that, and made it very exaggerated, and in the end you find out in the music video that she’s dead, so through the whole music video, it’s her ghost going through the daily routine with this man that she loves that’s not giving her anything in return.
There’s a lot of striking visual elements, like the confetti, and the more mundane in-the-house scenes, and the black goo. Where did those elements come from?
Mahea: I’m very inspired by period pieces, especially the fifties and sixties era, and I think to go along with what I was talking about, the feeling of being in some kind of forced relationship, I ran with the idea of the 60’s, and the mold of what a household needs to be, the woman had her place. Obviously we’ve made the guy a drunk, and very abusive. Going with that, it was the sixties, everything is perfect from the outside, and that’s why at the end we reveal that she was killing herself for this man. We start out with the mundane, in this routine, and then the confetti kind of reflects what she wants, or the love that she feels, but she’s not getting it back. And the goo is the hollowness, there’s nothing left inside. She doesn’t have any more to give. Running with that, we threw it all together, and I think it worked out pretty good. We had a lot of fun with that.
Foster: I saw this video on YouTube of this makeup artist who paints her body to make it look like parts of her are hollow. That was the initial idea with the black goo, and then Kassy thought to even take it further and have the goo be like a bleeding heart. It was like, corn syrup and black food coloring [laughs]. It was really sticky, and really hard to get off. Kassy made that, and we set up the shot with the pink backdrop, I sat on a stool and we poured it all on, and just went for it. It was definitely a team effort, everyone on set was amazing, Evan Cantrell was our director of photography, and he was really great, quick thinking with how to get the shot done before the goo would drip all over me.
If people see this, and hear you talk about abusive relationships, and they’re inspired to get involved, what’s a way they can make a positive impact?
Foster: I have a couple of different things I’m going to start to do with some interviews I have coming up on college radio stations. I found a lot of statistics show most of these relationships come out of college relationships, unfortunately. And being a college student myself, it’s scary, the statistics are insane. LiveYourDream.org is the website I’m going to start talking about at a lot of different schools. There’s a pledge you can take, and if you’re in a relationship, and you both want to sign it together, that’s something I feel like a lot of couples could get out of it. There are facts on there you can share, and social media is so powerful now, even just one share might reach someone that’s going through a rough period, or they might question, “am I in an abusive relationship?” Just sharing on Facebook might end up impacting someone’s life, so I would definitely recommend checking out that website and getting involved. You can donate, but if you’re on a budget, you don’t even have to donate, you can still get involved.
My music videos from this whole album are going have a message, so every song you see isn’t going to be your typical, I feel like a lot of videos nowadays kind of get a coldness and a shallowness, and I’m trying to bring messages and impacts to people’s lives, and not just do it for me.
Can you tell us anything about what’s coming next after this?
Mahea: We’re actually talking about making her next video, so we’re working on that at the moment.
Foster: I have a three part album, so it’s going to be three songs each, as kind of a mini-album. I’m going to do a single from each one, so “Hollow” is the single from this first mini-album that’s coming out next month. You’ll see a lot more to come, and a lot more messages. Everything will be very powerful. [laughs]
I’ve seen a lot of artists have been splitting up their work, and I think it gets more out of the power of the songs in my opinion, because when you put out an album, you put it all out there, and you didn’t get the time and energy to focus on specific songs. I’ve split them up into threes so that each set of the three songs has a similar concept. The first concept is going to be about struggle, and when you’re down, and in a way, what you can do to get from this place you’re in. The middle one is going to be like going up a hill, you’re starting to progress. And then the last EP is going to be about celebration, happiness, so that’s a little clue I’ll give you.
Serena, do you remember the first time you wrote a song?
Foster: The first song I ever wrote, I believe I was eight or nine. I’ll say nine years old. The first time I really sang was at four years old, and then from four to nine I started to learn piano, I get it from my dad, who’s a really great professional blues singer and guitar player. He opened up for Muddy Waters back in the day, and he taught me how to play guitar. At nine years old, I wrote my first song, for a PTA Reflections contest at my elementary school. From there it was a catalyst, I’ve probably written 200 or 300 songs throughout my life. I’m always writing on guitar, piano, melody only, production, Pro Tools, I try it all.
What’s the best concert you’ve ever been to?
Foster: My favorite concert would have to be Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball tour. It was probably one of the most incredible shows I’ve ever attended. I was in general admission, so I was right near the stage, and she was bleeding, and screaming at us, and cussing at us. I like really theatrical artists, so Lady Gaga absolutely is probably the main reason I started writing so many songs in the first place. It really struck me, her 2009 VMA performance where she did Paparazzi, with the bleeding on the stage. That totally inspired me. She’s a phenomenal artist live, I would recommend seeing her in your lifetime, 100%. It’s such a different feeling to listen to it a million times and then see it.
Kassy, If you could make a music video for any artist, who would you want to work with?
Mahea: Right now I’m really loving the band Rainbow Kitten Surprise. They’re amazing, they remind me of Kings of Leon, but a little darker. I also really love Polica, they’re awesome. I love music, and I’m very inspired by music to make stories, and photography, everything is ultimately driven by listening to music for me. I start with inspiration from songs, I’m really into musicals, and I get images more than stories, and then sometimes images from the music, I run with that and start writing it into a story. I’ll get random pictures that I want to create, and then from that I try to place it in a story, something I can make into a music video, or a short film.
Are there any particular music videos that inspire you?
Mahea: There’s a few. One of my favorites right now, it always changes, but right now it’s one of Panic! At The Disco’s songs, “This is Gospel”, and it’s directed by Daniel “Cloud” Campos, who inspires me so much. I love that music video, it’s so simple, but it’s so well done, something about the hands dancing, and he’s just there, I love it. He also did another one for Haley Williams and Zedd, and that is also amazing. He incorporates a lot of movement and dance, everything is choreographed, which is really awesome, and it’s visually amazing.
What about other kinds of filmmakers?
Mahea: I’m really inspired by music, but as far as other films, I’m really into Michel Gondry’s movies. He did Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is a masterpiece, and he also did The Science of Sleep, which is also very well done, an amazing script, and the story. He also started as a music video director. He incorporates a lot of music video style shots and scenes, and I really dig that.