The pandemic has not slowed the L.A.-based Holy Wars. Their impressive creative output in the face of a global lockdown includes five music videos from lead singer Kat Leon for both the unsigned, independent Holy Wars, and side projects Leon has in development.
Many of the band’s video projects have been self-funded, drawing upon Leon’s richness in talented friends and collaborators for projects like the band’s newest single “TV Dinner,” a raucous and viscerally intense Technicolor take down of the American Dream.
Directed and carefully crafted by filmmaker and artist Erin Naifeh, “TV Dinner” is an unapologetic deconstruction of suburban postmodernism and the pursuit of happiness through unrelenting consumerism.
With its rapid guitar riffs and politically-layered riot grrrl lyrics, the fast-paced punk-electro-track highlights the ongoing evolution of Holy Wars’ sound. When the band first formed in 2017, Leon was still processing the sudden death of her parents and Holy War’s material had a darker, more inward-looking style, heavy on dramatic tempo changes and emotionally vulnerable vocal performances around the themes of trauma, loss and self-loathing.
But after a politically-charged summer shaped by a global pandemic and the protests and unrest around the death of George Floyd, the band’s audio aesthetic has taken on a decidedly up-tempo, hard-charging direction that broadens the group’s appeal to a wider audience longing for gritty guitar-driven rock. Both “TV Dinner” and the band’s previously-released single “Little Godz” will appear on the band’s upcoming debut full-length LP, tentatively titled Eat It Up / Spit It Out.
In the new video, Leon’s rowdy and irreverent portrayal of 11 different characters, poking fun at the exemplars of mid-century America, highlight both the band’s humor and work ethic. Naifeh, who also directed the band’s video for “Legend,” and collaborated on visual elements of the band’s “Born Dark” single, says TV Dinner” was shot in a single nine-hour day at L.A.’s famed Rag Doll Palace, while Leon explains that the visual direction for the song came together during the songwriting process.
“When I write a song, I visualize it as a video — I pull a lot of my lyrics from a visual place and rely on imagery during that process,” Leon tells Billboard.
After the song was finished, Leon’s co-creator and partner, guitarist Nick Perez, found an old 1950s-era Swans Frozen Food commercial that gave then some visual cues. “I knew it had to be a retro vibe just because the song was called ‘TV Dinner,’ and this commercial Nick found was just so full of misogyny. It ended up being basis for the story we created for the video.”
Naifeh tells Billboard she started crafting some of the visuals for the song before she had heard the track, based on her conversation with Leon, noting, “I was seeing that too. I was actually seeing the things in it aligning with what [Leon] was seeing as well. I knew the lyrics and the song’s story and it felt like this video concept was coming from the collective.”
Part of the challenge, Leon explained, was that the band wanted to have a visual symbol attached to every impactful lyric. “We wanted to take a hip hop music video approach where every single line is shown before you hear,” Leon says. “Everything was visually in your face because the lyrics were so rapid-fire.”
Naifeh and Leon storyboarded out the lengthy video and settled on a swipe style transition method between clips that creates a frenzied yet natural movement as the various characters, played by Leon, escalate their emotional response.
“They’re all connected visually and we did a lot of rehearsals to a click track just to get the timing right when we whipped the camera onto someone and then whipped off,” Naifeh says. There were even a few dangerous stunts, including a moment where Leon smashed a flaming birthday cake into her own face.
“I was really worried I was going to burn my face, but Erin (Naifeh) told me, ‘No, you’ll be okay, I did it for my self portrait series,” Leon recalls, laughing. “I ended up burning my face.”
“You have to do it really fast not to get burnt,” Naifeh jokingly retorts.
Check out the video for “TV Dinner” below.