Bloomington, IN’s Stone Irr—that’s first name Stone, last name Irr—first appeared on Bandcamp in July of last year. Now signed to Darling Recordings, the singer-songwriter is nearly ready to release his debut LP, which is slated to drop later this summer. His dreamy, guitar-centered pop makes an ideal match for the video project Acoustic War Machine. Led by videographer Zak Stoldt, AWM crafts intimate videos out of “take-away” acoustic shows, and Stoldt teamed up with Irr to produce a video for the song “For My Friends,” off of his upcoming album.
The video itself treats us to a raw acoustic performance by Stone on his guitar, set against a blustery mountain backdrop. It feels tender, yet powerful; gusty winds seem to materialize out of Stone’s own emotional output.
As it turns out, despite how well it all came together in the end, the making of the video was a little rocky. We spoke to Zak to get more details about it, and Acoustic War Machine in general.
ThrdCoast: Can you talk a little bit about how Acoustic War Machine came about, and what you’re trying to achieve with the project?
Zak Stoldt: Sure. So Acoustic War Machine started off as a way for me to just do my own thing. I was in school and was kind of just coasting through my major, which was Telecom Video Production, and I happened upon a video one day by La Blogotheque. AWM is pretty much a tribute to that. They do acoustic videos and I was just blown away. For the first time, I really felt like, "I want to do this, I want to make videos." It sparked my interest in a way that nothing in my major had done yet, so that’s kind of how it started.
TC: Yeah, Blogotheque is definitely the OG takeaway show. What do you think it was about that particular format that spoke to you?
ZS: There are so many music videos out there and I think the takeaway show format just felt so honest to me. People are so used to music videos that are sharpened and made to present this really perfect image of the band or the sound or whatever, but I was amazed at how honest this was and how close it brought you to the artist. It was almost awkwardly intimate, and I liked that. It was a breath of fresh air from everything that’s out there today.
Acoustic War Machine is the same sound setup every time, [and it’s] one take straight to the audience, so it’s really vulnerable. There’s almost always a mess up in the video or in the song. And as a videographer that’s what I’m attracted to these days. I’m so tired of things that are so polished.
TC: Yeah, totally. So, the video for Stone Irr… is it pronounced "stoner?"
ZS: Yeah, that’s actually his name.
TC: Oh, wow, I thought it was just a play on him being a stoner.
ZS: I know, everybody thinks that! He’s a cool guy.
TC: He’s a friend of yours?
ZS: We more or less got to know each other through making this video. I’ve been acquaintances with him but yeah, we’re friends.
TC: So how did this specific video come about? Can you talk a little about your process of picking locations for each of your videos and that kind of thing?
ZS: The setting is usually just something that we think will be interesting. There’s no deep-seated meaning behind it. We just try to find a place that will look and sound cool. I guess there is a little bit of thought as to, does this location match the artist? But sometimes it’s better if it doesn’t! So yeah, it’s just whatever we or the artist think will be a cool spot. For example, with the one I shot with Spissy, they had recorded their album in a parking garage staircase, and they said they wanted their video to be there, so we shot the video there. But there’s no super serious process behind it.
TC: So for this particular video did you feel the location matched Stone’s aesthetic?
ZS: I don’t think I knew that it was going to. Cedar Bluffs is a really cool location and we headed up there, and we honestly thought the video was going to be ruined because it was so windy. We hiked up about a mile and it was getting close to sundown, so we had to kind of hurry. We almost ended up heading back because one of our cameramen almost lost a piece of his gear on the side of this ledge. I had to hold his legs while he reached for it.
TC: Oh my god…
ZS: Yeah, it was like something from a bad movie! But we hiked up and when we got up there, it was super windy and there’s really nothing you can do about that kind of wind. Stone started playing and right as he kind of got to the biggest part of the song, it was like scary amounts of wind. It started blowing so hard that the camera was shaking, the leaves were flying past the camera, and I think I looked over at the other cameraman and we kind of shrugged and thought “This is ruined.” But luckily we got back, and we apologized to Stone for taking him up there and said, you know, we’ll do another video with you, because by that point it was dark. But I listened through the audio and it actually wasn’t that bad. It actually really matched the song because for some weird reason the wind kind of just miraculously picked up at the same moments that the song did.
TC: You guys definitely did a good job, the video sounds great! Was the song something that Stone just wanted to highlight from his upcoming album?
ZS: Yeah. The way I view Acoustic War Machine is it’s hopefully something that’s useful for everybody involved. It’s a way to take videographers and to really do what they don’t get to do in their jobs, just go for whatever they’re feeling. There’s no restrictions, really, and the same goes for the musicians. It’s really about them picking whatever they want. And usually it turns out pretty good!