Halifax-based singer-songwriter Callum Gaudet has teamed up with North Barn Theatre puppeteers Ian McFarlane and Laura Stinson for a unique music video for his song, Ghosts.
Filmed on the shores of the Bay of Fundy just outside Parrsboro, Nova Scotia, the song and video echo a story of Gaudet’s grandfather. In this Q&A, we learn more.
This interview has been edited.
Tell us about Ghosts. What was the inspiration for the song?
My writing process usually begins with the first line of the song. From there, I view the song as a short story, so it doesn’t necessarily have a dramatic ending but goes somewhere. I am going along with the ride and visualizing the next part of the story, so once I had this idea of someone out for a walk in the countryside coming across their brother’s ghost, the rest fell in line.
Recently while looking back on the song, I realized that it is not so different from a story of my grandfather. After he had survived the Holocaust, someone on a train told him they had seen his brother, who my grandfather believed was dead. They had been separated in Poland by Nazi soldiers in 1942. After the war, my grandfather followed rumours to a safehouse someone claimed his brother was living. When my grandfather entered the building, the two brothers crossed paths in the hallway without recognizing each other. Now I wonder if Ghosts is a sort of echo of his story.
How do you describe the music? Is it indicative of the music you usually write?
I write in a folk/indie rock vein, and that vibe is in this song, but I would say that this is the first song that I have incorporated a Latin groove. I spent six months in Latin America just before COVID, so I am definitely interested in exploring Latin rhythms more in my music, but they need to come naturally. I realized I could pick the melody on the guitar while playing the chords for this song. I went about my day doing chores and realized that the music had taken on this Latin groove in my head. After bringing it to the musicians I performed with, the song took on a sort of jam feel live, eventually leading to this version.
Did you write Ghosts specifically for the video?
No, I did not. When I approached Laura Stinson and Ian McFarlane of North Barn Theatre Company, I showed them four songs. Some of the songs were easier for them to envision with puppets, and we focused on those songs.
How did North Barn Theatre Company become involved?
I first saw a piece of theatre, including the North Barn Theatre Co. folks, in late 2021. A human-sized puppet of a witch for a reimagining of Hansel & Gretel was rebuilt and burnt for every show.
The lyrical nature of my songs made me think that puppets would make a visually striking theme for music videos. My partner Sophie had met Laura at a clothing swap and said she was very easygoing and receptive. Sophie encouraged me to reach out about this collaboration idea.
Laura, Ian, and I had a lot of fun that first meeting. It was in early COVID when socializing was limited. It was fun for me to perform for them, and they both enjoyed hearing live music again. They envisioned Ghosts as a visual representation of the “ghosts” of our landscape. The mammoth and the giant beaver really did live on our landscape in the past, but they also wanted to incorporate fictional creatures.
Where did you film Ghosts?
We filmed Ghosts in the Bay of Fundy just outside of Parrsboro. Laura and Ian were based in Parrsboro then, and they spent a lot of time exploring different beaches between our online meetings. Based on some of the storyboarding sketches I drew, they picked out this spot near Two Islands.
What was the biggest challenge in creating the video?
Most of the landscape in the video is underwater at high tide, and we were filming the weekend, so the time skipped ahead. Unfortunately, this meant that we were trying to calculate the low tide in the narrow window of our filming schedule to choose when to shoot each scene while factoring in that we were losing an hour.
Everything was filmed in one bay, so there was a lot of walking the giant costumes around, lugging all the camera gear, and ensuring it was all done safely. All the people who performed in the puppets and the video crew were real champions that day. Everybody worked long hours and did hard labour.
The wind looks great in the video footage, but some of those costumes were heavy, and the wind made it that much more difficult.
This is not the end of the project. What else have you got planned?
The Canada Council for the Arts is funding this project, so this is the first portion of the project.
The main idea for these videos was to create stronger pieces by having an audio and visual component. We are currently in the sketching phase for the other music video for a song I have titled The Devil’s Store. I will record this in the fall, so I am working on arrangements and pre-production for that session. The song’s lyrics explore capitalism, gluttony, excess, and greed. We’re contrasting this with handheld puppets this time, which I think people associate more with children, so this is an opportunity for us to do something darker with the puppets.
The other portion of this project has been that we are building a documentary about making these two videos, the recording of the songs, and the construction of the concepts and puppets. There has been a lot of behind-the-scenes filming since we started filming Ghosts. The documentary will be released sometime after the next video is out.
Are you still working on your debut album? When can we expect it to be released?
I am almost done working on my debut album. We are in the mixing and mastering phase. Ghosts is the first single off of the new album.
My next single, Wolves, will be out on June 2, with the final single in August. The Devil’s Store will not be on this album, but it will be available in early fall, and I am really looking forward to getting it out. I’ve worked hard on this project, and some of my favourite Haligonian musicians play on it.
I listen to a lot of different genres, so for some people, the songs may seem to be from different worlds, but I hear more similarities than differences across genres, and I am trying to show that in my writing.