Underneath the overgrowth of local bar bands, Santa Fe’s underground rock/punk/indie/experimental scene gains momentum. Just because musicians who play these kinds of music can’t be found playing multiple times per week doesn’t mean they aren’t around. In fact, one such act, garage punk duo Low on High, happens to be up for a Grammy Award.
But it’s not what you think, so before all you non-nominated local musicians start seething with rage, take a moment to read up on the details.
Yes, Low on High is an awesome band. The wife and husband duo’s semi-recent self-titled release has a stripped-down Sonic Youth meets The Velvet Underground thing going on, but the music goes beyond obvious influences to an art-rock bent. Amy Davis takes on all vocal duties, her sing-songy style in stark contrast with Jon Moritsugu’s minimalist and fuzzed-out guitar distortion. The result is a challengingly sparse set of songs that, while listenable, aren’t exactly something you’d find stuck in your head. Besides, the live experience is the true draw to Low on High. “Our shows are really acrobatic,” Moritsugu says. “We like them to be really short, but also really energetic and very intense.”
So, like I said, Low on High is awesome. But the two did not receive the Best Long Form Video nomination for their music. Rather, their talents in the field of filmmaking raised brows at the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Y’see, Davis and Moritsugu are bona fide underground film royalty, having produced such cult hits as Fame Whore, Scumrock and Terminal USA (briefly available through cable giant Comcast’s On Demand service).
Longtime friends with TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone, Davis and Moritsugu signed up for music video duties on a nine-video series surrounding the new album, Nine Types of Light.
“We actually met Kyp years ago when we were living in the Bay Area,” Davis says. “He’d grown disenchanted with the rock scene out there, so we kind of encouraged this plan of his to move to New York and spread his wings.”
The record consists of nine songs, each of which boasts a video from a different underground director. Davis and Moritsugu provided the visuals for “No Future Shock,” a song that simultaneously brings a killer pop hook and the lyrical indictment of the American way: “You burned up all your credit/on a family of kids who pop your pills/and smoke your pipe/And after the war broke your piggy bank/the bastards broke the world this time.”
The video begins with an innocent dance competition populated by wholesome dancers. It doesn’t take long for the whole thing to deteriorate into a sexually charged scene of madness.
“Kyp had plenty of ideas himself,” Mortisugu tells SFR. “But he also gave us the freedom to take the video in our own directions.” Davis and Moritsugu’s vision mirrors a nation’s descent into insanity through the parallels of over-indulgence and chaos—or something like that…
Who knows: If Malone had never met the musical/film-makin’ pair, TV on the Radio might never have been born, and Davis and Moritsugu might not have been nominated for the Grammy.
The nine videos are up for the award as a whole, so our hometown heroes may share the honor with other filmmaking teams. Regardless, to have a local, small-scale production company push another pin in the map will be another triumph for our local arts and music scene, especially for the underground scene. The nod is an additional example that our fair city can be the type of place that matters beyond its usual tourist-trap offerings.
“Didn’t you know Santa Fe is a retirement community?” Davis says with a laugh. “Seriously, though, we’d heard for years that Santa Fe was a great destination for artistic folks, and it’s really starting to live up to the hype.”
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