20 QUESTIONS WITH SAINT MOTEL: INSIDE THEIR VIRTUAL NEW WORLD

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Saint Motel is an essence. They are uncategorizable, and they want to stay that way. They have this ability to take alternative spins on pop music and throw in that musical quality that feels like you’re in a movie. When you listen to Saint Motel, you feel like the main character, and that’s what makes them indescribable and intensely addicting.

But what makes Saint Motel so unique is their ability to create fully immersive experiences with their fans. It goes further than writing and delivering music, they want to interact with the feeling. So when COVID lit up the dumpster fire that is 2020, the band created The New World, a fully immersive virtual reality experience where you can interact with Saint Motel and other listeners. The world is a virtual motel, each room a song, each section a part of The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. When I popped into the world I wasn’t expecting to see A/J Jackson, the lead singer of Saint Motel, bobbing around my screen as a realistic avatar. I hurriedly chose a random avatar, not even comprehending that I was about to interview him….dressed as a giant candy corn. The entire hour felt like a fever dream, in the best way.

My candy corn persona and A/J Jackson in The New World

“So this is the new world,” A/J echoed from the other side of the motel, greeting me with a laugh. He proceeded to pull out a phone from his virtual pocket and take a selfie with me, the candy corn.  “This is our space to kind of cope with not being able to do things in person right now. It’s kind of an accessible to all, free, basic place to hang out. People from all over the world can kind of meet up.” For the first part of our chat, he toured me around the virtual grounds. “There’s a stage over there that we’ve been doing live performances,” he says while pointing with his virtual finger. I realized he was wearing a VR Headset because his body moved in real-time. “So this is song one, this is ‘Old Soul’ in here,” he says while leading me into a motel room. “Then we got the Saint Motelevision on the walls and we have some fan art on the walls and here’s a photo from the visualizer of ‘Old Soul.’ And then here’s the bathroom. It’s a pretty fancy bathroom,” the virtual bathroom was nicer than my real bathroom. “We’re kind of like figuring out ways to expand it, maybe put little portals to other places and stuff like that.”

Their newest installment, The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: Part 2, features five songs following the story set in Part 1. It’s the meat of the story, whereas Part 1 is introducing us to the hero, the protagonist. Part 1 ends with the song “Save Me,” where the hero is struggling through the journey. “In Part 2, we start to explore this,” A/J says. “We have false hopes and false victories, maybe we finished it but we didn’t do it, we have to continue, it’s harder than we thought. We meet new people, we go really low in the story, we hit rock bottom, maybe we can’t go on. Or maybe we can.”

Part 2 incorporates the idea of pushing through and staying strong, something we could all take advice from. “Make Me Feel Like” is thematically dark, with the glare at the end of the tunnel pushing us through at the chorus. Creatively, Part 2 ends with “The Moment,” a song I can picture closing the ending credits on a climactic peak in the movie. A light sigh, but no closure. We must wait for Part 3 for that. Until then, LADYGUNN’s got you covered with all of your questions for Saint Motel. In their virtual new world, we asked them 20 questions ranging from their passion for film motifs, inspirations, what they miss the most about live music, and of course, what we can expect for the end of the story in The Motion Picture Soundtrack: Part 3.

Do you want to tell me a little bit about this virtual space?

Yeah. So this is the New World. This is our space to cope with not being able to do things in person right now. We put this together a couple of months ago. We did a Q&A with some of the music video crew for the last music video that came out and then behind you there’s a room for every song on the album. So it’s a three-part album. And Part 1 is all blue on one through five, those all came out and then five through 10 came out a couple of weeks ago and each room kind of has a different fan art on the walls from those songs and we made a little disco party in there. It’s kinda cool cause you don’t need a VR headset. I’m wearing a VR set. Yeah you can see my hands and my head moving, but it’s good with a laptop, desktop you can do it on your phone. it’s open source so it’s very functional, but you know, it’s  kind of our first foray into this space. But we’re potentially looking at doing some sort of, kind of virtual touring later and is this kind of our experiment.

How did you come up with the name Saint Motel?

We were nameless for a while. Right when we were leaving college and we went through like a thousand names and we wanted something that kind of represented the light and the dark, sweet and the sour. Saint Motel was a few different names we had at the time and I think it was based on another name that we didn’t go with.  [Saint Motel]  kind of seemed like it represented [us well]. Sometimes we like to have songs that are more upbeat with a little bit more tongue in cheek lyrics. It’s kind of a constant balance you have to do with music and the name seemed to kind of represent that.

The second installment of the original motion picture soundtrack is eclectic. It has little jazz hints in there and it has that signature style. So I was wondering what your inspiration was?

It’s not like I was trying to capture a certain sound. You know, inspiration is what happens all around you when you’re creating. So it was always inspiration, but it wasn’t like a planned out [thing] like this is what I’m going for, I want to try to emulate this or whatever it is. I was just making music for months up in this kind of cabin in the mountains. And you know, that’s what the result was.

What mountains were you in? 

The San Gabriel mountains. It’s where the big fire was recently, the Bobcat Fires.

So I just mentioned your signature sound, but I’m really curious what you would explain that as

I’ve always tried to not define sound because I think that’s best left to people listening. I really have no idea, you know, I mean, I like all sorts of kinds of music and make all sorts of stuff and I kind of feel like it’s somewhat genre-less, but you know, that’s what I would kind of feel when listening. But I’m sure someone hears something like, oh, that sounds like Saint motel. Oh, that’s Saint Motel. But to me I’m like, this sounds a little different, I don’t know. It’s a thrill ride of adventure. I dunno, I don’t describe it.

What do you hope people hear in this installment and in your music just in general?

I hope they hear the music. I mean the experience, I don’t know, I guess if it resonates with them that’s all I can hope for it, if it takes them to a place or it takes them on a bit of a journey. It’s organized as this motion picture soundtrack for a movie that doesn’t exist. I don’t have any specific goals for the people listening to it.

I don’t know if you’ve created a recent playlist or not, but if you did, I’d be curious what the name of that is? 

We have two playlists up on our Spotify, “Sonic Soirée” and “Chill Out Cabaret.” I did put together a pandemic playlist, but it was mostly songs that represent isolation and being away but I don’t know where that playlist is.

I don’t know about you, but for me, since everyone is going through the same thing, it feels a lot less isolating.

There’s definitely shared experience, but I think it was most apparent right in the beginning. I think “Tiger King” united the world for a second. Everyone was like, you know what? I don’t mind not going out. There’s no FOMO here. This is great, we were all kind of watching this at the same time. Yeah, I think there was kind of a coming together and the shared experience. It was pretty interesting actually.

Speaking of movies what is it about film that is so magical to you?  

I mean, movies are an early form of escapism. It’s the closest thing to another reality that we’ve had for a century. I think it’s a fantasy, it’s going into another world, another story. It’s like a new form of that. I mean just in the way that VR is now a new storytelling platform, movies are incredible in the new world.

Do you have a favorite movie? 

I don’t really subscribe to favorites so much. I have started a list of favorite foods while I’m like touring or whatever, just to note to self. Oh, have I ever had better French toast than this? I’m going to note this down. Well done Pittsburgh, or this is quite a mean sarsaparilla, noted Columbia.  I feel like it’s just too difficult for me to be like, this is my absolute favorite. Some people are very much like, it’s my favorite thing. But what about it or in this situation? Yeah, there’s so much.

Do you believe in manifestation? 

I think that that’s a bit of a fine line. I think there’s certainly a science behind the idea of, if you’re in a certain mindset, you may assume you’re attracting things to yourself, but maybe you’re more perceptive of them. You know, you don’t notice a Volkswagen on the street until you’re thinking about buying a Volkswagen and everything you see is Volkswagen, in the same way,  your mind is just constantly searching for patterns. That’s what existence is, kind of showing you things that stand out and recognizing that in your subconscious. That there’s probably something to all the sayings of being able to manifest your own destiny.

But I do think there’s also something slightly dangerous about just thinking if you put it out there it’s guaranteed to happen.  It’s kind of like, what do you tell someone that is manifesting and then it doesn’t happen? You say, well, okay, you can manifest it but it appeared in a different way. You weren’t expecting this, maybe you were wanting this, but this came and this is filling that void and the universe sent you this, or it’s just not working. I feel like I’m suspiciously optimistic about manifestation, but yes, I feel like there’s absolutely stuff behind it. Just be weary at the same time.

What was your first musical memory? 

I don’t know. I remember being really little, I think I was preschool, but I went to First Avenue in Minneapolis with my mom and she was with a friend and it was during soundcheck of some spandex metal band and the lead singer had leopard pants. I remember thinking, wow, that’s definitely an impression. I don’t remember if that was my first experience with music. My parents were both really into music and playing it for me at a very young age, especially their favorites. But that’s maybe one of the earlier ones I can think of.

Were your parents musicians, or do they do music or did that kind of come from you? 

They met at a club at First Avenue or more specifically in Minneapolis at a concert. My dad played bass in a band, but he was actually there recording or doing video for the band. My mom was just there dancing. She had purple hair. But neither of them are really musicians, they just always loved music.

Your mom had purple hair?

Yeah, my grandma was a bit of a songwriter though.  I wish I would have had time to talk about that more with her, but I’ve been given some of her sheet music and the song she wrote. I don’t know what I’m going do with them.

I was going to ask, do you know what you’re going to do with them?

Maybe do a rendition of them [one is named] “Out In The Desert With You”  and it’s really kind of a sweet one. Yeah, it’s undetermined.

How involved are you in the production of these multimedia elements you guys put out?

I’m really interested in that stuff. I constantly push us to do these things because we are really fortunate to be in this position to be able to continue to do this. And if we don’t try to push the boundaries creatively, if it’s live shows or whatever it is that then, you know, we’re not utilizing all the resources we have. So yeah. I mean, we haven’t done that much, but as far as the virtual reality album, the augmented reality album, something like Bitcoin, this new world, that kind of stuff. Yeah. I’ve been very involved in all that. 

Your newest music video for “Preach” dropped and I was wondering what the inspiration for the video was? 

Well, it’s funny. We actually were gonna go animated with “Preach” and it was supposed to come out earlier, but then the pandemic kind of happened. It forced us to figure out how we can make content and we were going to go the animated route but that didn’t really work out. So then we had to quickly come up with something and Mario Contini, the photographer and I, we just had done this trailer. We’d done music videos in the past year.  I think I was really lucky to know people like Mario [because] we can do something really quickly together. You know he’s just so experienced in that world. I went to film school, but I’m very kind of like checked out at this point. I used to do that for work and like that’s how I always survived before music could pay the bills, but now I’m just like, I’m so out of it. I was an editor back in the day and I always wanted to do something that was completely planned out, every dance move. So that like part of the dance move is the editing and your kind of moving up there it’s because the dance dancer leads you up there. And it was a really fun experiment. It’s really difficult because you have so many shots you have to do and you have to be so clear ahead of time with your animatic storyboard with exactly how it’s going to flow. Because if you’re missing one chunk, it’s just not going to go.

We relied on the really talented LA roller girls to do the choruses, and Candice the choreographer there, she put together her own dance moves. Then the challenge of the pandemic I think in the end made it unique. We had PPE on and we kind of utilized it to make it something kind of fun that other than kind of limitation, we tried to use it to enhance everything. They did an amazing job dancing with full PPE on. It was pretty damn impressive.

 

How long did it take you to learn that choreography? 

I think I had about a week and a half, yeah I did the first like test.

Pretending COVID isn’t a thing right now, if you go anywhere in the world, where would you go? 

Well, I have an answer for that. I can’t say it right now. It’s a secret but I have a lot of pent-up wanderlust that I really wanted to just get out there.

A lot of people know you from David Dobrik vlogs. So I was wondering if you were surprised when that was the song he was using?

He just posted a story yesterday with him dancing to a song. Yeah. He a really cool guy and man anytime he posted anything with our music, it’s like everything in our YouTube comments is like “David, David, David, David, David, David, David.”

Yeah. I was going to ask if he brought a bunch of fans to you guys? 

Yeah, I think so. I mean it definitely seems that way in the YouTube comments. He’s got quite a following. I remember like, he messaged us a couple of times and he said he was a fan of the band and he’s like, I’m using one of your songs in my vlog. I was like, Oh, well that’s really cool, man. Thanks for using it. And I didn’t really know that much about it. And then I saw on YouTube, the recommended video was Architectural Digest doing David Dobrik’s new multimillion-dollar Hollywood house. I was like is that the same guy?? And then I watched, I was like, Oh my God, and then went in like a keyhole of all his videos. This guy is insane. This is crazy. He has a charmed life.

What do you miss most about live performance? 

I was asking some questions on our social media, trying to gauge people’s feelings about if we do a virtual tour and some things we should try to include and best ways to do it.  I think that’s the most exciting part is right as the lights go down for the first song, when the show starts, there’s this kind of special feeling that anything and everything can happen. That is consistent in every show. And then some shows there is I get a bit of an out of body experience and usually it happens when something just comes out of nowhere and you don’t expect it. And it kind of takes you out of yourself for a moment. You know, we’ve, we’ve been doing this, like we’ve been playing music together since we were kids. And we were even touring across the country since before anyone gave a crap, you know, we’d have a few people there. And you kind of levitate a little bit, or the adrenaline hits you so much that it releases something else in your brain that kind of just makes you realize that the power of so many people together focusing on the same thing is incredible.

I mean, in a way it’s one of the most ancient human things. It’s very similar to organized religion. It’s very similar to mass gatherings and people focusing and singing along to the same thing. It’s something so primitive in a way, something so instinctual that when we gather it’s almost like a collective consciousness that we all tap into and something that we don’t understand, that’s a little bit out of our grasp. Just music in general, why it resonates, why, where you need it. But there’s just something there that’s a little bit elevated from the human experience that we’re kind of tapping into just for a moment.

So who is your dream collaboration?

I would love to end a show with David Byrne.

What can you tell us about part three, if anything? 

Whereas Part 2 kind of has a little bit of danger and romance and mystique, I think Part 3 is victory and release and catharsis. You know, Part 1 establishes the world we’re in, where you meet the characters and then there’s a rise to action and there’s the challenge, save me. Are you going to, as the hero accept this challenge?

In Part 2, we start to explore this. We have false hopes and false victories, maybe we finished it but we didn’t do it, we have to continue, it’s harder than we thought. We meet new people, we go really low in the story, we hit rock bottom, maybe we can’t go on. Or maybe we can. And then it ends with the big showdown with the conflict or the enemy or whoever it is. That guy. And then that’s where we leave it. And Part 3 is what happened.

CONNECT WITH SAINT MOTEL

INSTAGRAM // TWITTER // SPOTIFY 

photos / Catie Laffoon + Cameron Jordan

story / Sam Berlin

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