Energy levels are pretty low as we near the end of the year, and I haven’t been feeling my usual level of interest in music. But a couple of weeks back, while casually browsing Facebook, I clicked on the link to a just-released music video and I started laughing with pure hedonistic delight. The source: Cape Town’s metal band Zombies Ate My Girlfriend’s new music video for “The Worst Is Yet To Come.”
As this slightly off-kilter video began, I had a 'what-the-fuck’ moment, but as soon as the song kicked in and the idea took shape, my interest was piqued. With a ‘90s feel, a concept reminiscent of System of a Down, this music video brings hilarity to a serious idea; we are fucked. It may not be an original idea, but it was certainly well executed. And seeing the commentary from the band and those involved, it wasn’t a quick and dirty project, but something that took a little time and sacrifice.
I have always seen metal as a place where social and political commentary can be made. It can be a creative space to push back against conformity and uniformity. ZAMG have had a pretty slick career as local metal bands go, with their biggest claim to fame their 2016 win at the Wacken Metal Battle. This new project presents ZAMG as not only one of South Africa’s best exports but an important band with something to say.
We decided to have a quick chat with songwriter/guitarist, Adriano Rodrigues, and the people from behind the scenes, Ric Shields and Tim Leibbrandt.
“The Worst Is Yet To Come!” Well, you may argue the best is yet to come for Zombies Ate My Girlfriend.
The new ZAMG music video, ”The Worst Is Yet To Come” sounds like it turned into a pretty big project. Can you take us through some of the effort that went into making it? Ric Shields: I feel like I’ve set a quality bar for myself with projects I’ve selected to be involved in and the way I’ve carried them through to completion, and I’m not in the habit of dipping below that. If I take on a new music video it’s because I personally believe in the music, the longevity of the band’s career and the vision of what the end product is meant to be. I consider my relationship with Tim to be one of unique synergy and spirit, working with him is totally refreshing, so I was willing to give up a few months of my life to execute this technically demanding film.
It was almost entirely shot on a small green screen at high resolution, so the amount of world-building and processing required to hit deadline was lofty. There’s actually so much detail in it that probably won’t be picked up on the first playthrough, from the footage in the background screens to the small text scrolling at the bottom, all of which was bespoke. Tim spent ages hunting down stock footage, making hilarious film posters and coming up with witty headlines, which gives a sense of how much gathering went into the various environments.
Tim Leibbrandt: From the get-go we knew that the video had to be up to Zombies Ate My Girlfriend’s standards of quality and production, no mean feat when you hear that new album! Once we’d fleshed out the concept and look and feel of the video, we had a pretty good handle on the scope of everything. We had the video thoroughly planned before we hit up Twelve Eleven Studios to shoot, and we knew exactly what we needed to get. We shot it all in one (incredibly fun) twelve hour day.
What really took a lot of time, and made it into a big project, is that both Ric and I are exceptionally detail-orientated people, so a lot of care and attention went into making sure that even the smallest background detail was where it should be. TV news is an information overload, and when you’re constructing everything from scratch, all of those elements and details have to be sourced or built up! There’s an entire track of news clips which play behind the performance footage that you only get glimpses of in the final video. But it’s that total care and devotion to detail which makes the whole thing work.
The band performance footage definitely took the most time. Between compositing each band member from 4K green screen footage, to constructing the digital ‘mediasphere’ environment that the band is performing in, there’s an insane amount of prep work and elements which need to be rendered there. Without Ric and Annel Rautenbach giving so generously of their time, energy and talent, it’s doubtful that the video would even exist!
Let’s take you back a couple of years to the video for “Jahan” that was shot at the band’s performance from Wacken Metal Metal .
From some of the commentary, we understand that (director) Tim Leibbrandt put the concept forward, which sounded low-key and simple in the beginning, but turned into something very creative. Tell us about some of the thinking on this project. Shields: Tim had the whole thing playing in his head before I even sat down to listen to him pitch it to me over a hyper-dense vegan waffle. Sure, we discovered a lot of the cool embellishments as the project developed in post-production, but his vision was so crystal clear that I needed to only throw some VFX magic dust at it to turn it into something tangible. He cut together this terrific pre-visualization of the video with these dope sketches of the band members doing their thing, and this became our bible.
Everyone instantly 'got it' when they watched it, and it communicated not only the scene-by-scene development of the video’s narrative but also allowed us to plan how much complexity to build into the moments. Tim came prepared, which meant I could prepare, and throughout post, we could be solely focused on the experiential component that the audience would eventually come to enjoy.
Leibbrandt: I had a meeting with Adriano when Zombies were deep into the recording of their new album to discuss doing a video for “The Worst Is Yet to Come.” He suggested the idea of using the opening lines “Breaking, this just in today/The world’s fucked pivot to the insane” as a springboard for incorporating a TV news element into the video as a counterpoint to the band’s performance footage. I was absolutely enamored with the idea and what it offered thematically, and immediately proposed making it the focus of the video, going full concept with it.
Taking a cue from Adriano’s astute lyrics, I wanted to center the narrative around an anchorman who’s struggling to keep it together in the face of the relentless onslaught of gloom and despair that he’s supposed to peddle with a straight face. He’s trying to hold on to his last shreds of optimism, but his growing revulsion to both the world today, and the way that it’s mediated through news, elicits his full-blown meltdown and rejection of the decorum of his position.
The visual language of TV news gave us a lot of room to play with, ideas such as blowhard ‘talking head’ panels shouting at each other, dishonest, sensationalist reporting from the field, and online pseudo-anarchists. Finding ways to incorporate all of the band members and to repurpose the lyrics to specific ends allowed us to use a hefty dose of humor to channel a number of complex and contradictory themes.
Besides all that heavy stuff, the format also allowed us to have a lot of fun, to play with the absurdity of TV news today, and to have a mini celebration of the band’s career so far by shoving in a ridiculous amount of Easter eggs and in-jokes into background gags and the scrolling text at the bottom of the screen. In keeping with the tone of Zombies Ate My Girlfriend, the video is dark, satirical, and starkly critical of humanity today; albeit holding out a speck of optimism that the world could still sort its shit out.
You executed a very slick performance in this video. How deep did you have to dig into yourselves to be able to act, direct and finalize it? Shields: Personally I feel like this was the easy part. Zombies Ate My Girlfriend do well because they show up with their game-face on. They played their instruments with precision and feeling, and (vocalist) Gavin (Marchbank) just committed so hard to portraying the emotional component at full intensity the entire day. Most bands love the idea of being in a music video thinking that the filmmakers will magically make them look cool and smear nice visuals over the gaping void where their charisma and dedication should be.
I’ve had musicians tell me “I don’t want to have to perform much though” and “can’t it just be us low-key jamming in a derelict warehouse?” If that’s your attitude then I look forward to forgetting about your band in a year or so. That’s why it was a pleasure to work with these guys, twelve solid hours of quality performance, no whining and unfaltering, upbeat energy.
Here’s a stream of “Immolation,” one of the best tracks off of the band’s latest record.
Leibbrandt: During filming, the main challenge was simply the endurance. As a director, you’re the person who has to set the energy level and make sure that everyone is excited, motivated, and on the same page. We had the studio for twelve hours to shoot everything, and Ric and I had just closed the book on a short film called Pathological, which had been a particularly intense shoot. But as soon as everyone was there, it all instantly fell into place, and we had an absolute blast. It was something special to have such an amazing team of uber-talented collaborators working towards a common goal.
All credit goes to the guys from Zombies for completely throwing themselves into their various roles. It wasn’t necessarily within their comfort zones, but they trusted us and the vision completely and delivered incredible performances. I knew that Gavin was going to be great from seeing his onstage persona at many ZAMG shows, but he went above and beyond anything we could have anticipated. He’s an absolute force of nature. The same goes for everyone in the band. Consummate professionals and phenomenal performers!
After shooting, it’s the two and a half months of post which required some serious deep digging. We’re not lucky enough to be able to do these sorts of videos full-time, so the greatest difficulty is always to find the time to keep working on and seeing it through, while still keeping all of your various other ships afloat. It’s grueling and challenging, you lose your weekends and free time in the process, but ultimately it’s that the rush of creative synergy, and the collective belief that you’re creating something exceptional, unique, and sincere, that keeps you going. Now that we’re sitting with the final product, it was definitely worth it!
This is quite a geeky, cynical but slightly weird music video which would definitely appeal to metal fans, but has the support of it been what you expected or hoped? Shields: I think what I’ve learned from the response online is that metal fans have been wanting some fresh ideas that break away from the traditional music video model, and more than anything they enjoy an opportunity to lighten up. Metal has a grim aura in today’s world, so some absurd satire is a real tonic for that.
Adriano Rodrigues: Here’s the thing with us. The response to the video has been great, I know we say it a lot but we really do appreciate all the support we get. Support that’s largely based in our loyal and fervent fans. We have hit a bit of a stumbling block though, the video does well and statistically we can see that it’s a “hit” but unfortunately, we haven’t been able to secure the interests of the bigger metal platforms. So, while this is our best foot forward, that foot is unfortunately not finding its way through the right doors. We always want more.
Continue to explore Zombies Ate My Girlfriend with their video for “Retrocide”.
The song itself bears quite a bit of social commentary, with lines like “everything is burning” and the video aligns to it with the fake news headlines (maybe not so fake) talking of the world being fucked. Don’t get me wrong, I am all about the nihilism, but my question is, do you believe it? Rodrigues: Mostly yes. But that’s no way to live a meaningful life, so it’s a bit of a duality of emotions for me. It also depends on where you live. In our case in South Africa, it very much seems like we’re fucked. Our economy has been on the slow decline for the better part of two decades now, at best it stagnates. The rule of law is hanging by a thread, and racial animosity is on the up. I like to stay optimistic, but that’s less of an option and more of a requirement to getting through daily life. But blind optimism has never been something I subscribe to. If things are bad, they’re bad.
A stand-out part in the song are the lines, “This is not the only way.” To me it comes across as a hopeful plea, or am I wrong about the intention there? Rodrigues: That’s pretty much the intention with that line. I think through the subsequent technological revolutions that humanity will still undergo, it will eventually lead to “another way” of doing things. But if you consider that the fundamental way that the world works economically and politically only came about post World War 2, it’s safe to assume that we won’t reach that point peacefully.
Maybe it’s because I work in human rights, but there is a lot of shit happening in this country that really needs a nuanced and intelligent take on it. I am of the belief that metal can be an ideal space to bring forward our thoughts about South Africa. Do you agree? Rodrigues: Well, it’s probably not going to get the message out to the biggest audience. In general, you don’t find too many musicians getting involved in the discussion these days. I can only assume the fear is the further splitting of the very small pie we have here. And it’s a valid fear. With Zom though it’s kind of become a bit of our brand.
“The Worst Is Yet To Come” is a song off your second album, Shun the Reptile, which you launched not that long ago. I went to the Cape Town launch and was a little concerned by the poor attendance. What has been the uptake of the album from fans and critics? Rodrigues: If you thought that was bad then consider yourself lucky to not have been at the Alberton show. But in all seriousness, we had a great time with Cape Town. I think we came a few heads short of packing the place, but still to have about 200 people rock up for your album launch that only includes yourself and one special guest is something we never take for granted. I’ve seen venues with half that amount of people and triple the amount of bands playing. Even with Alberton where we probably played to about under 100 people. We never go out there and think “oh fuck, it’s like 50 peeps out there.” If you pitched, we’re going to give you our all, be it 50 or 10,000.
With this song and drum playthrough video, then band explore “Appropriate Hate Crimes”.
Do you even care about the critics (wink wink)? Rodrigues: Well, yes and no. We’re obviously passionate about what we do. So there’s an element of it that keeps us going no matter whether people catch on or not. But we’re not exactly just sitting in a rehearsal room playing these songs to each other. We want to put it out into the world. In that way, we do care to a degree, obviously, if the critics like it it gets around more and if they don’t, we don’t. But do we ever pander? No. Critics have actually been taking to this album better than (our first album) Retrocide. The feedback so far has been great.
ZAMG have always been a very honest and upfront band, which is one reason I was eager to interview you. What are your personal philosophies on music (especially metal) and truth? Rodrigues: I guess with metal it really doesn’t matter how you express yourself. I’ve realized a while ago that music is the language of emotions. The emotional perspective isn’t always on the side of objective truth. And what with metal being such an extreme form of expression the lines often get blurred. But it doesn’t matter. People are mostly listening to music to feel something not to learn something. You could learn something depending on what you’re listening to, but I see that more as a side effect. We listen to music to feel something.
Can I just ask, who is the reptile? Rodrigues: The reptile is in all of us. The concept comes from the constant struggle most of us have between thinking logically or leaning too hard on our emotions. The “reptile” in essence represents the primitive (in evolutionary terms) part of our brain, often associated with aggression. Shun the reptile basically means to overcome that part of you that tries to jump ahead of any pre-frontal cognition. This is something for myself I’ve always struggled with and still do.
We hear you are off to tour Germany next year. ZAMG has been moving forward on a solid trajectory. Can you let us in on some of the plans for ZAMG going forward? Rodrigues: We’re really looking forward to getting the shows started next year. We’ve only played these new songs live twice now with the two launch shows and we’re eager to get back out there. I think next year will consist mostly of live shows and videos for us. So expect some more “Life of Zom” and a few playthrough videos. On Germany, it’s definitely on the cards for next year, we just need to meet the right people to help us make this happen.