Photo by Theo Christopher
Today Brooklyn-based literary folk duo Gawain and the Green Knight are releasing a video to accompany their single “Doctor,” the story of a healer at the end of their rope and the limitations of their expertise, unable to diagnose an ailment of their own heart. Lead vocalist/guitarist Alexia Antoniou wrote the song two winters ago, lamenting the fact that just knowing you shouldn’t be upset about something doesn’t make you feel instantly better.
“It feels like a mutiny when your body goes against its direct orders,” she says. “‘Feel better! No sad! Don’t you dare get all heavy in your chest and achey in your stomach!’ I took that frustration and decided to put it in the mouth of a doctor: someone struggling to locate the source of what turns out to be emotional pain manifesting in their body.”
That led Antoniou down an internet rabbit hole, winding through ancient medical practices all the way back to the Hindu scriptures.
“When I read ‘let marrow be put together with marrow, and joint together with joint, together what of the flesh fallen apart, together sinew and together your bone’ in the Atharvaveda, the rest of the song followed pretty naturally.”
The video, on the other hand, draws inspiration from Frankenstein, with Antoniou portraying a mad scientist trying in vain to bring a partner to life. Director Rhett duPont Vecchio developed the concept.
“The song is, to some extent, about troubleshooting–‘I don’t feel right; what’s wrong with me?’–and the idea of mad science felt fun to play with there,” he says. “The more we got into it, the more I loved Frankenstein’s monster as a metaphor for trying to resurrect a failed relationship.”
It’s a concept that allows Antoniou to live out the desperation of the vocal, all while playing off moody motel room atmosphere and the twinge of pathos at the song’s surgically-exposed heart. She says shooting the video was powerfully cathartic.
“We did a few different takes of me singing through the entirety of the song with minimal action, but very specific emotional tones. My favorite to film was–I guess you call it the despair take? All I had to do was sit on the edge of the bed and think about things to make me cry. I could only manage three takes, but I felt really light by the end of them.”
For her bandmate and soon-to-be-spouse Mike O’Malley, acting alongside Antoniou was an opportunity to bring elements of their real-life relationship to the project.
“We already play a fair amount in the day-to-day, and play loves structure, so getting to drop us in an extreme and emotionally charged hypothetical was super gratifying,” he says.
Like many other acts, Gawain and the Green Knight have had to put performances on hold for the time being. But though Antoniou misses the specific intimacy of live music, she feels the enduring importance of togetherness as the global (physical) health crisis continues.
“Sharing music with people in a small hot room made all my hairs stand up in a religious way,” she says. “I think ‘connection’ is what draws me to music, and connection is still what feels most important right now: connecting with our community to look out for one another. When this is all over–when it’s safe and healthy and good–I know I personally am going to really, really need that call to gather together that live music creates.”