He's imagined Ghost's Papa Emeritus III as a soft-lit, Elvis-esque evangelist preacher in the music video for "He Is." He's transported Gojira to Egypt in the video for "Sphinx." He's sent St. Vincent crowd-surfing with leather daddies in Brooklyn metal mecca Saint Vitus Bar in the video for "Fast Slow Disco." And that's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
With a resume that includes Lamb of God, Behemoth, Denzel Curry, Ghostemane and more, as well as the aforementioned artists, director Zev Deans is (at least) 69 music videos deep in a career that has produced some of the more memorable videos of the last two decades. His latest visual treat? A psychedelic, primary-color-saturated hellvision produced for Atlantan prog-metal juggernaut Mastodon, packed with timely symbolism.
We talked to Dean about his latest devilish offering and took a quick look back at his 69-and-counting music videos.
HOW DID YOU GET TOUCH WITH MASTODON FOR THIS VIDEO, AND WHAT, IF ANY DIRECTION, DID YOU GET FROM THEM GOING INTO IT?
I've had a working relationship with Kristen, their manager, since Ghost back in 2015. She introduced me, and then I spoke with Brann [Dailor, Mastodon drummer-vocalist] and the main thing he said was that they wanted something serious and psychedelic. Mastodon has a history of fantastic videos, and some of their most notable ones are known for being really funny. I think they wanted something a bit darker and more honest, to match the tone of the song for this one.
Other than that, I felt honored that I was awarded so much freedom with the themes and imagery of the video itself. Mastodon is no slouch when it comes to visuals and I knew I had to bring my best effort.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE CONCEPT, AND TO WHAT EXTENT WAS IT INSPIRED BY OR RELATED TO THE SONG?
My first introduction to Mastodon was by way of Today Is the Day's 1999 masterpiece In the Eyes of God, where Brann and Bill [Kelliher, Mastodon guitarist] were supporting Steve Austin as drums and bass. The album cover features the floating severed head of Christ floating in a red vortex.
I think that image was lodged in my subconscious when I started discussing ideas with Brann, and he had mentioned the inclusion of a demonic force and a lot of red tones like in the film Mandy. I started to picture a sort of continuous vortex into hell, the band members somehow perpetually falling down it, warping everything around it. The song has this forward momentum, chugging steadily at first and then opening up and descending further into an emotional core from second to third act. Narratively, a descent or FALL took the form of the biblical fall from grace.
@revolvermag What it takes to become the devil! BTS from Mastodon’s latest music video for “More Than I Could Chew” from director Zev Deans #mastodon #devil #hushedandgrim #metal #timelapse #makeup #bts ♬ More Than I Could Chew - Mastodon
I SEE SOME CLASSIC PSYCHEDELIC HORROR AND MAYBE THE CREMASTER CYCLE IN THE VIDEO. WHAT WERE SOME OF YOUR VISUAL TOUCHSTONES FOR IT?
That's funny, one of my first gigs in NYC was interning for Matthew Barney [creator of The Cremaster Cycle]. Working for him was like being a member of a private gym that only blasts metal all day.
As I developed the visual style of the narrative, I started to think about the symbols and landscapes of Nirvana's "Heart Shaped Box" [directed by Anton Corbijn] and the daytime colors of Smashing Pumpkins' "Today" [directed by Stéphane Sednaoui]. Both involve wildly vibrant separations of sky and ground.
Nirvana's use of colors, fake scenery and an ocean of poppies seem to signify to me a sort of numbness or indifference, an intrinsic sarcasm, an opiate for the masses, and perhaps an anesthetic for a CERTAIN medical procedure. Smashing Pumpkin's oversaturated landscapes signify more of a release or an overwhelming feeling of elation, a euphoric freedom. I wanted to encapsulate all of these feelings at once, somehow, darkness and cynicism giving way to release and sincere joy.
Summer was on its way, and I wanted to give Satan a suntan.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE MUSIC VIDEOS, NOT MADE BY YOU?
Egyptian Lover's "Freak-a-holic" video is a slept-on Eighties masterpiece. Chris Cunningham's "Windowlicker" for Aphex Twin is a no-brainer.
More recently, I am in love with the collaborations between visual artist Jon Rafman and Oneohetrix Point Never, Romain Gavras' "Gosh" video for Jamie XX, Jamie Sanchez' alternate "Speedboat" video for Denzel Curry, Andrew Thomas Huang's "Cellophane" video for FKA Twigs, and Anna Himma's "Racked" video for Tommy Cash.
WHEN WE TALKED EARLIER, YOU MENTIONED THAT THERE'S A LOT OF SYMBOLISM IN THE NEW MASTODON VIDEO. CAN YOU ELABORATE?
A deep cynicism permeates the narrative imagery in this video, for me at least. The video depicts an extremely literal interpretation of white fundamentalist Christian beliefs regarding the perceived role of women in committing original sin, down to the lily white skin and dress of Lisa Saeboe's Eve as they are corrupted by the blood red filth of temptation.
Simply put, my hope was to achieve satire without a punchline, because none of us are laughing right now as these primitive beliefs are rapidly manifesting into law.
HOW LONG DID THE DEVIL MAKEUP TAKE TO PUT ON? WHAT WAS THAT PROCESS LIKE?
I have been working with SFX makeup artist Beatrice Sniper and actor and filmmaker Brendan McGowan since 2015. I trust them infinitely with my work, and I have the most success when I leave them to make it their own. For this project, I sent Beatrice a mockup of Brendan's face with a look from Na Hong-jin's The Wailing, and then we purchased some prosthetic elements.
They got started on the makeup as soon as we arrived to set. It probably took around three hours, and she is so good that it held up for the full shoot day. Brendan made a series of camera adjustments while in the makeup, serving both as DP and lead actor with no hesitation between tasks.
WHAT FEEDBACK DID YOU GET FROM THE BAND ON THE FINISHED PRODUCT?
The most beautiful two words an artist can hear from a client: "No Notes."
THIS IS YOUR 69TH MUSIC VIDEO. WHAT STANDS OUT AS YOUR FAVORITE OUT OF THOSE? WHAT'S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE? WHICH WAS THE MOST CHALLENGING TO MAKE?
There might actually be more than 69 of them — I'm not very organized.
My very first video, Geneva Jacuzzi's "Bad Moods," is a favorite because it was such an exciting time, and the video itself embodies so much of what I'm trying to do to this day. Ghost's "He Is" is a favorite, because I had ZERO oversight and we made something really unexpected, absurd and magical. Getting to work with Denzel Curry to tell an album-spanning narrative over three videos was a highlight. This new one for Mastodon is definitely a favorite.
Regarding my least favorite, I've got a few videos that never released. Be careful what you wish for, because I wished to work with an all-time-favorite artist from my youth, and it finally happened not that long ago, and they ended up not liking the video so it will never see the light of day and I can never brag about it to anyone.
The most challenging one to make was without a doubt my video for Portal's "Curtain" back in 2013. It took nine months. I built an endless series of miniatures, puppets, creatures and costumes in a cramped studio by myself, and I learned to really go all out and be my own worst critic. I would build entire miniature sets and objects and then trash them and start over if they weren't right. I was working full-time as an art handler and only had nights and weekends to work on it, and 9/10ths of the budget was out of my own pocket. I would direct actors while operating mechanical parts of the set and filming the scene at the same time. I taught myself dozens of After Effects techniques — watching YouTube tutorials — while editing my own badly-shot and badly-lit footage. It was crazy.
WHAT'S NEXT IN THE PIPELINE, IF YOU CAN SAY?
Well, I'm circling the wagons to finish a short film I've been working on since 2019 with many of my favorite collaborators.
I've got a crazy shoot at the end of this month for a very exciting new band nobody has heard of yet.
I'm hoping this article gets me some cool new work. [Laughs]