In the video to the song “Nantes,” Zach Condon slowly drifts down a staircase while singing in a youthful but sad baritone, “It’s been a long time / Since I’ve seen you smile.”
As he descends, he’s gradually joined by bandmates from his group Beirut: a violinist on one flight, a trio of horns on another. By the time he hits the ground floor, Condon is surrounded by the full nine-piece band — including a drummer and accordionist — and their romantic, Balkan-influenced melancholy has swelled to a climax.
This is just the first chapter of an entire album’s worth of videos created for Beirut’s recently released second album, “The Flying Club Cup.” They were shot in Condon’s old Brooklyn haunts (“Nantes” was filmed in his old apartment building) and together give the impression of a day in the life of the 21-year-old — one very musical life.
“The idea was that it would seem like the entire album was one day,” Condon said in a telephone interview. “Instead of filming a couple music videos or something, we wanted to show the songs the way they were supposed to be heard.”
The videos, shot in four busy days in September, are a collaboration between Beirut and the French filmmakers behind the sensational Take Away Shows part of the Web site La Blogotheque (www.blogotheque.net/takeawayshows). Director Vincent Moon (real name: Mathieu Saura) and producer Chryde (real name: Christopher Abric) have filmed more than 60 bands — including Arcade Fire and the Shins — in just over a year.
The naturalistic, intimate approach was tailor-made for Beirut. Condon, from Santa Fe, N.M., found much of his musical inspiration while living in Paris, typically pens Beirut’s songs alone in his apartment.
He favors acoustic instruments, usually writing a song on a trumpet, ukulele or piano. In concert, the band has been known to occasionally fill the stage with 20 horns strong, as seen in this YouTube clip: http://tinyurl.com/293pdl.
“There was obvious common ground from the beginning, for sure,” said Condon. “It’s the proper replacement of a very old custom at this point: the music video. It puts a little more honesty back into the music and the images.”
A ‘raw, very rough’ approach to videosMaking a full album’s worth of Take Away Shows was the most ambitious undertaking yet for Moon and Chryde, and they had pursued Condon and his band for some time. All the videos can be seen at http://theflyingclubcup.com and a DVD will be available during Beirut’s upcoming European tour.
“He was really the perfect guy for this type of project,” said Chryde, speaking by phone from Paris. “The thing we wanted to do was keep it raw, very rough.”
“While shooting it, we realized it was something quite different,” added Chryde. “It was much more elaborate than a Take Away Show.”
The larger project allowed for deeper storytelling. Condon’s duality of isolated songwriter and orchestra maestro is evident in the videos for “The Flying Club Cup”: nearly every video begins and ends with Condon walking alone, joined by the band in between.
“That’s the story of my life,” said Condon. “I’m a fairly solitary guy and kind of a recluse. And then there’s that contrast to my life, the most sociable aspect of my life: the music and the band. I guess it was the only thing that made sense.”
Though “Gulag Orkestar” had a distinctively Eastern European flavor of Balkan gypsy music, “The Flying Club Cub” is an ode to French chansons. Though Paris (where Condon first met Moon and Chryde) may have been the more fitting setting for the videos, the many members of Beirut mostly live in Brooklyn.
“In the end, it was just about the music,” Condon said.
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“In the Mausoleum” takes place in a bandmember’s apartment, where his watermelon is used as a drum. “Sunday Smile” is set in the courtyard of Condon’s old apartment building. “St. Apollonia” was filmed on the Brooklyn waterfront at night, with Manhattan’s skyline illuminated in the background.
Many of the locations were chosen on the fly. “Cherbourg” was performed in an ice cream truck warehouse that the group happened by. While trucks waited outside having returned from their daily rounds, the band made use of the warehouse’s acoustics and the odd visual background of trucks blazed with signs like “Smoothies” and “Slow: Watch for Children.”
“If you put me in the studio, you put me in a very awkward position,” said Condon. “I do feel like maybe my music just loses some of its ... I don’t know. I don’t know what it loses exactly, but the raw approach is much more sensible to me.”