It was at least six months ago, maybe longer, that I stumbled across the video for Land of Talk’s song “It’s Okay.” It was being hyped on Saddle Creek Records’ website, the band’s label.  I grew up watching videos. I remember when MTV was fresh and new and actually played music videos. And though the videos being produced in the late ’80s weren’t masterpieces of cinematic art, they were entertaining, fun and a good way to kill time between classes or hangovers. But, time, as it’s known to do, marched on, and videos became passé, especially when the MTVs and VH1s of the world set them aside for plague-like reality-TV programming. So I’d long given up on music videos being anything more than expensive, dopey commercials. Then came that Land of Talk video. It opens with a close-up of a masked warrior whose long black hair, more of a mane, floats overhead as if underwater while the song’s opening notes pulse forward on a cushion of beats. From there, the mini film is a pastiche of slow-motion black-and-white images of gravity-defying science-fiction landscapes, crows soaring above floating mountaintops, flaming wolves darting through misty forests, and always at the center, the masked, horse-mounted warrior with hair flowing for miles overhead, creating a star-specked sky cutting through the daylight. Finally, horse and rider come to the edge of the earth and leap slowly into space before igniting into flames. This wasn’t your typical five-guys-and-a-camera-doing-goofy-shit video; it was a visualization of a nature myth set to a modern beat.  The video blew my mind and made me reconsider not only the song but the album and the band. Sure, I knew of Land of Talk; I’d listened to Some Are Lakes, and thought it was a pleasant, soft-pop indie-rock effort. But after watching the video, I dug through my iTunes to find the album and listen to it again with fresh ears. Isn’t that what videos are supposed to do? It turns out I wasn’t alone. The five-minute masterpiece was nominated for “Video of the Year” at the 2010 Juno Awards (Canada’s version of The Grammy’s) and was chosen as one of the five best music videos of 2009 by Time magazine. So how did a little label like Saddle Creek, and an under-the-radar band like Land of Talk, afford to make such a video? Its combination of live action and special effects animation must have cost a fortune. “Going in, I was very disenchanted with the whole idea of making a video,” said Land of Talk frontwoman Lizzie Powell while driving Monday night to Chicago on a tour that will bring them to Slowdown Thursday, Sept. 23. She said videos had become “fast-edited, sexy, nonsensical shit. And I was protective of that song and never wanted anyone to interpret it in video form.” But when “It’s Okay” was chosen by production company WeWereMonkeys for the video treatment, Powell had little choice but to relinquish control to director Davide Di Saro. “It turned out to be one of the best creative relationships I’ve ever had,” she said, adding that when she saw the final product, “We were floored, we were speechless, it brought tears to my eyes. I was so proud to be a part of it.” Who fronted the cash to make it happen? None other than the Canadian government through the Department of Canadian Heritage and a program called FACTOR, The Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Recordings. Powell said FACTOR and other government-sponsored arts organizations are vital to independent Canadian bands’ survival. “All of these organizations are there to support independent artists,” she said. “Land of Talk would not exist without the government. It’s at the core of our band and most of the Canadian bands touring out there to the states and abroad, from Broken Social Scene to Arcade Fire, any bands that have not signed away their masters abroad.” Without that government grant money, we probably wouldn’t be seeing Land of Talk Thursday night. “We wouldn’t be able to tour in a 15-passenger van and go out for three weeks,” Powell said, adding that the financial support goes beyond what a record label can provide. “Record labels are screwed now with the transition to the digital age.” In fact, she doesn’t know how independent bands in the U.S. do it. “What you have in the States is not sustainable,” Powell said. “I feel horrible for bands with talent and skill that can’t get off the ground and get on the road. It’s heartbreaking, and at the same time, it makes me proud that we can afford this, but I’m not completely waxing Canada’s car right now.” That’s because arts funding has been cut back under Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Powell said. “Harper’s government is spending more money on military than arts and education,” she said. “It’s something we’re trying to save and protect; it’s a wonderful thing to defend. Cutting funding for arts and culture is very shortsighted.” Are you listening state Sen. Gwen Howard? Howard plans to introduce a bill in the Unicameral that will suspend Nebraska’s “1% for Art” program. Talk about shortsighted.  Powell said if Land of Talk doesn’t win any more grants, we probably won’t be seeing videos like “It’s Okay” for songs off the band’s new album, Cloak and Cipher. But if programs like FACTOR are eliminated, we may not see any more bands like Land of Talk.

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