Behind the Scenes: Elinor + the Cavalry's 'Mister Howard' Video

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LADYGUNN 160324_MISTER HOWARD MUSIC VIDEO_320photos + story / Maeghan Donohue

Coming off of six adrenaline filled days in Austin, I boarded an early morning flight to Los Angeles to meet with the most exciting new artist I didn’t get to see at SXSW. By the time I arrived on set for Elinor and the Cavalry’s Mister Howard music video, directed by bold, creative powerhouse Rock Jacobs, talent was out of hair and makeup and the first shot was commencing in a dwelling with the simultaneous grandeur and decay of Grey Gardens– ideal, it turns out, for Rock’s dark, sultry vision.

The day was punctuated with gunplay, smoke, fistfights, and fire… and at its epicenter was Elinor Arwyn. A modern day Brigitte Bardot in gold spandex, Elinor is a transfixing force whether in front of the camera or taking a smoke break. Her voice is immense—and not just when she sings. Even during the first playback of Mister Howard through the speakers on set, the juxtaposition between the grandiose and the seedy, the tantalizing and the lethal in her writing is unmistakable. Elinor is clearly unwilling to gloss over the uncomfortable, taboo, tragic, even filthy facets of life, love and relationships, but manages to deliver them with a certain seductive opulence. The arresting refrain hit me hardest at the close of the second verse as Elinor belts, “…You won’t get no more fire from me/I lost my taste for red”. No more fire?! Preposterous. Elinor brings the fire all day and all song long.

Elinor and Rock sat down with me to talk a little about the song, the vision for this video, and what generally drives Elinor and the Cavalry’s sonic, thematic, and conceptual output– a conversation which further reinforced my inkling that despite her lyrical resignation in Mister Howard, Elinor ignites everything and everyone she encounters in one way or another.

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Describe your sound.

It’s definitely rock. With a heavy blues influence. There’s also probably, hopefully, some funk and country in there. I mean, I’m a classically trained singer and I also love pop, folk and hip hop – but in my heart of hearts, my soul is rock n roll and I can only hope my music sounds like my soul.

What musicians past & present inspire you?

Oh my god so many! Bob Dylan, Eminem, Axl Rose, Amy Winehouse, Dusty Springfield, Janis Joplin and Madonna (those last two are the big ones), Jack White, The Black Keys, The Rolling Stones, and I love what Anton Newcombe did with Brian Jonestown Massacre. Marilyn Manson! Nancy Sinatra. I also really realllly love Britney Spears- I’d love to do a whole Britney cover album. Chris Brown’s voice -oh my god, people always talk about him as a dancer and a performer but it’s his voice that makes me want get up and dance. I can’t not mention Lynard Skynard. The dream would be to write something as perfect as Simple Man. I think that’s the most perfect song of all time.

What writers, thinkers, artists outside of the music medium inspire/inform your work? 

Oh shit that list could go on to eternity. I’m really inspired by athletes because I love not only the dedication to training but the notion that whether you win or lose you have to pick up and play your best the next game. I try to work like that- Kobe Bryant is the ultimate. In that same arena I’ve read everything Phil Jackson has ever written and also Bill Simmons. Outside of sports… Well, Tarantino is such an amazing artist. He’s got the truth and the theatrics stirred effortlessly. I also love David Fincher- in particular, The Game. This could be a days-long answer. My favorite book of all time is Don Quixote and my favorite visual artist is Lucien Freud. 

Tell me a little bit about your “Cavalry”.

For me, it’s always about: What do I need in order to tell the most vulnerable, often times uncomfortable truth. The amazing thing about music and life really is that we cannot and are not supposed to make it alone; even the solo-ist of solo artists needs an audience of only one for her songs to exist, right? A painting is just paint on the wall without another set of eyes. But it’s also very easy to make something just good enough and not really great because great is scary. And also everything I write is informed by my real life so- sorry I hope you can follow my logic – this idea of Cavalry sounded a) nice. Like an army behind me (physically the band) to back up my truth, if you will, and b) this idea of inclusiveness that everyone who has touched me, gifted me with a glimpse into their own truth becomes part of the conceptual cavalry. As far as I’m concerned- sure, the cavalry is the band but also my tattoo artist, my first ballet teacher, my best friend, my ex boyfriends- definitely my ex boyfriends. 

When did you know you wanted to be in music? When/where/how did you start performing? When/where/how did you start writing? 

I always knew. I was getting up and walking out in the middle of my second grade class because I just HAD to write a song. I was a very obnoxious kid.  

Tell me a little bit about your writing process. 

That’s very personal.

Tell me a little bit about your performance process. 

There’s always some sort of point I’m trying to make in the show with the set, and that informs the songs I choose, the order, the stories I tell, the outfit I’m wearing- I don’t believe the specific point is really apparent to the audience and it isn’t really relevant if it is or not but it’s relevant to me that every time I get on stage it’s for a purpose. And a different purpose every time so it’s a new experience for me and the audience. So I choose all that, rehearse with the band once or twice the week of, and then we just go for it. Also I drink lots of chicken broth. 

Are there any specific motifs/themes that drive your writing? 

Power. Definitely power and love. I’m interested in the seduction of power and what happens when we learn- as we often do, that love does not conquer all. But I believe in following your heart anyway. 

What was the inspiration for this particular song? 

See above. No I’m kidding. I think at its core this song is about seeing the person you love for who they are and not as you wish they were. Which sucks. It’s like – the man against whom all other men are measured is still just a man. 

What should your audience expect when we watch this music video? Describe it in a few words (without ruining any surprises of course:)).

Look, the guy I’m singing about broke my heart – not just my heart, my dreams about romance. Time for revenge.

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What was the most challenging part about shooting this video? 

We had a lot of ground to cover in a very short time. 

What was the most exhilarating part of the shoot day? 

Jesus the whole day was magic. But there’s one shot that – I don’t want to give it away – but there’s one shot that I only had one chance to do and I remember feeling like this crazy freedom knowing that this one scene HAD to be done in one take so I better just go for it. Also the first time we fired the guns that day. 

Tell me one weird/strange/cool behind the scenes secret from the shoot day.

Well, I had to be sewn into that gold outfit so it really made things like using the restroom and eating pretty impossible. 

How did your collaboration with Rock come about?

He saw me perform at the Viper Room on March 2nd; we got together 5 days later and then…

MD- Rock, as a highly sought after director in the music industry and beyond, what made you decide to work with Elinor specifically?

RJ-Watching her perform live was a start. Elinor is a Rebel, her music is wild and untamed. She isn’t afraid to take chances. I like that. Any chance I have to collaborate with a pure artist with no boundaries I am down.     

MD-And Rock, what was your vision for this particular music video? 

RJ-Mister Howard is about two forces going head to head over true love. Elinor, shown as a modern day Femme Fatale and Mister Howard, a true Villain.  They would kill each other before ever backing down to one another. It’s violent, poetic and sexy.  

Elinor, how was the experience being directed by Rock? 

Oh, so much fun! Seriously. It’s exceptionally rare I find myself in creative circumstances where I can really just perform because I trust someone has it covered and that’s totally what happened here. The energy on set was so calm and focused. And that’s what you need; you want a director who isn’t afraid to go for it, at least I do; he took an idea and went there without hesitation. The whole experience was awesome.

Rock, how is working with Elinor different than other artists with whom you’ve collaborated in the past?

Elinor knows what she wants, but she doesn’t just have an opinion to have one.  She is smart and doesn’t have an ego.  It is no fun working with artists that won’t take direction or are incapable of pushing the limits. Elinor is always willing to push the creative forward.  Also it doesn’t hurt that she trusts me with live guns and fire!

Elinor, now that this thrilling shoot is behind you, what are your goals personally and professionally for the rest of 2016? 

Oh man. Well I need to see Kobe before he retires. I’m kidding, sort of. Look, I just want to make the music available to as many people as possible, I’d love to do a national tour, it’d be great to do some collaborations outside of my genre. But my professional and personal goal of 2016 and always is always the same and that’s just to be better. 

And when/where are you performing next?

I’ll be headlining at The Study on Wednesday, May 11th in Los Angeles at 11pm!

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