Jhelisa still from "Words Like Daggers" video

The Angel “Words Like Daggers” feat Jhelisa Video Directed by Mark Pellington, Sergio Pinheiro, and Sweeten

Taking stock of last year, I’ve finally completed the thought about my single, “Words Like Daggers” (feat Jhelisa), and how the accompanying visuals came to be… The haunting nature of Jhelisa’s vocals made her the perfect messenger for this deeply personal song, begging a video that could bring the emotion to the forefront. But in the middle of a pandemic, and with each of us on opposite sides of the country, what would be possible mid 2020? My initial options were to keep it simple, shoot whatever we each could on iPhones and go trippy and abstract. But by the time I’d finished the final mix of the song, I wasn’t confident, that given the time crunch, I’d be able to pull something meaningful enough together.

One of my biggest challenges was compartmentalizing my activism and my responsibility to deliver creatively… By July I grappled with our double pandemic and a devastating feeling of being entirely overwhelmed. In the face of rampant police brutality and racial injustice gripping our country, I felt like my story, my song, my artistry were all inconsequential. And had I not made the commitment to Rain Phoenix’s LaunchLeft label to celebrate my cousin River on what would have been his 50th birthday, the release and the video would never have manifested. The story behind the release can be found at this link. But looking back at such a disorienting year, I’m grateful that this personal undertaking forced me to find my grounding, closure and a way to balance my purpose and artistry.

The Angel reaching over mixing desk / reflection
The Angel - "Words Like Daggers" video still by cinematographer Eve Cohen

I laid down my final mix only two weeks before the August release date. And it was only then that I could take a step back and listen to the song, outside of my studio and focus on a video. But that presented me with a huge time crunch. At that point, it was clear I needed help… When I finally allowed myself to consider the impossible, I immediately thought of director, Mark Pellington, who I’ve known since he, Jhelisa and I lived in the UK back in the 90’s during Mark’s MTV Buzz days.

Mark’s work has always been cutting edge, evocative and emotional… and to my mind, he was the perfect, empathic creative fit for “Words Like Daggers.” So without any expectations, I ran it by him and hoped for the best. When Mark said, “Let’s make it happen,” I finally found my focus and energy, and the collaborative story grew from there. Mark and I would co-produce, while he co-directed with his formidable post production team; Sergio Pinheiro and Sweeten.

My first priority was to find a DP in Atlanta to shoot Jhelisa’s footage. I reached out to Cheryl Jenkins in ATL. She and I had been producers on Anita M Cal’s independent TV pilot, “Beyond The Badge,” and she came through with an excellent recommendation. Ditching our home-made video plan meant that cinematographer Alfeo Dixon could stunningly capture Jhelisa unleashing demons, channeling every emotion. Later cinematographer Eve Cohen captured the setting and the song’s creation, with me in the studio in Los Angeles.

With the additional talents of make up artists Teresas Richards (ATL) and Tania D Russell (LA), we were able to keep each other safe and healthy for the separate one-day shoots. But it was a special gift to have Tania with me on my shoot. She is the sister of the late Robert Russell, my beloved bass player and friend, who plays on the record.

Kevin Herlihy, Eve Cohen (Cinematographer), The Angel" Words Like Daggers" video shoot
Kevin Herlihy (Supa Crucial Recordings), Eve Cohen (Cinematographer), The Angel "Words Like Daggers" video shoot ~ photo by Tania D Russell

While Sergio dug into editing and creating VFX with Sweeten, Mark encouraged me to write an internal dialogue that was separate from the lyrics, to use as the framework for a voiceover and for his signature usage of visual text. I created new music beds, that now make up the intro and outro… After many years of working to picture, it was inspiring to reverse engineer the bookends of the video, and treat them like film in this way.

Jhelisa understood better than anyone, how raw this song was for me and it led her to deliver a nuanced intensity that leaps right off the screen. Mark’s vision to create an emotional, nocturnal video, sees Jhelisa drawing us into self reflection, showing us what it feels like to maintain both power and empathy in the face of adversity…  In post production Sergio and Sweeten worked their magic with Jhelisa’s powerful performance to manifest the echoes of memory…

Being able to achieve this with a song that I struggled to complete, brings me to my theme for 2020: GRATITUDE

HEARTFELT THANK-YOUS TO: Kevin Herlihy, Jhelisa, Robert Russell, Mark Pellington, Sergio Pinheiro, Tom Gorai as Sweeten, Alfeo Dixon, Eve M. Cohen, Tania D. Russell, Teresas Richards, Cheryl Jenkins, Rain Phoenix, Bobby Bukowski and Rufus Burnham

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