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Maroon 5’s Jesse Carmichael Keeps it Short and Sweet with Two-Minute Movies

KCET July 2020

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Movies from last year reflect a different reality, like the love and togetherness of “THRIVE,” where friends gather in a manner unthinkable in this age of social distancing. The more recent “Mother’s Day Painting,” on the other hand, features Carmichael with wife Tara Lankford and their tot running through art-for-mom sessions in hyper-fast motion reflecting time compression and perhaps the frenzy of parenting in quarantine. 

“Modular Painting” was made before quarantine but looks like it could have been created during the pandemic. In a locked-off shoot, artist Paul Davies paints one of his signature acrylic portraits of a mid-century modern house flanked by tall palms, a composition derived from stencils cut from his photos. The soundtrack features a loop of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham playing a solo. On top of it is a dialog loop from the 1993 film “Dazed and Confused” repeating, “Man, I ain’t believin’ that shit about Bonham’s one-hour drum solos, man. I mean one hour of drums, you couldn’t handle that shit on strong acid, man.” 

“Isolation has made me think about this a little differently, and that’s refreshing,” Davies says, looking back on the day they shot. “In normal times, you go out and, in happenstance, you see something that clears your head or makes you look at things differently. So, seeing the film again has been that moment for me.”

To score the track, Carmichael turned to his modular synthesizer, which breaks down the main components of a synthesizer into individual units that can be manipulated to create new sounds. Patching in video modulars, he happened to pick up a stunning chroma effect generated by his two-year-old son banging on a nearby drum set. Laying it over the image produced arresting flashes of color.

Marina Dunbar’s “Quarantine Flow State” is a montage of close-ups showing the artist at work. As the video progresses, it reveals her process in sensual glimpses. Poured paints on flat canvas transform into abstract compositions. “To be an artist, you have to sort of enjoy a life of solitude because everything happens when you're by yourself,” she says about working through the pandemic. “So, the way that I create stayed the same, but the difference for me with the pandemic was about how I connect with the people who see my work and the people who normally go to a show and exhibition that can't happen anymore.”

For Davies, the difference comes down to choice. “It’s one thing to choose to lock yourself away in the studio, but when that choice is taken away from you, you really think about that isolation,” he says. 

Carmichael’s current obsession (besides completing Maroon 5’s seventh album with bandmates via Zoom in time for a year-end release), is gathering footage of L.A. streets during the lockdown as well as footage from recent protests. Ironically, the most of-the-moment film in the collection is from a year ago, an animated short by Lemar Barrett called “Parties Are Fun,” written and directed by Carmichael. The video presents a view of the world as one big house.

“Sharing this planet is as if we are all living together in one house, and how obvious would it be to us if there was a major problem in one of the rooms of the house to just fix it before enjoying the lack of problems in the living room,” he explains. “I don’t know if it’s overly simplistic, but I do think an interconnected mindset is a really important step towards us progressing as the human race beyond the cycles of happiness and war and destruction.”

A part of 2mm is “Score This,” which challenges four different composers to score the same 28-second film clip. “Nashville Skyline” includes music by Carmichael, Jacques Brautbar and SONNEMM as well as Christopher Harrison and Rachel Bearer, aka Somebody’s Favorite.

“I get to work on my scoring, the musical side of things by having short, tight shows to work with. The rhythm of the edits is the first thing that determines what the music is like,” says Carmichael, who counts among his favorite film composers John Williams, Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman. “Aaron Copland said music conveys emotions in a realm that’s totally separate from what words and images are able to convey.”

Currently located in Laurel Canyon, Carmichael is planning a move in 2021 to Studio City where he’s building a new house with a music studio as well as a home theater with Dolby Atmos surround-sound technology. “Being interested in film in general, meeting cinematographers, editing and shooting, I love films all around and want to learn every aspect of it as a way to better understand the process and go deeper into the realm of scoring,” he says, noting that short films tend to be more poetic than narrative driven. “It represents things deeper than they are on the surface; that’s how I view the world. It makes the world more fun but difficult, multifaceted in ways that are kind of exciting.”


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