(Stop) motion is lotion Recording artist finds creating animated videos helps keep the creative process moving for newest album
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‘What if they moved?”
It was a simple idea posed by a creative collaborator that sent Christine Fellows into a years-long rabbit hole of photo clippings, minute movements and beginner videography.
The Winnipeg singer-songwriter and all-around artist had been making collages as part of her writing process for years.
“When you’re building a world, or building a story, the visuals are really important,” Fellows says, sitting next to the woodstove in the living room of her Corydon area home.
Keeping scrapbooks of images to anchor her lyrics eventually turned into full-blown collaging. Making those collages move felt revolutionary, if not a little daunting.
“I didn’t even understand what that would mean,” she says. “I went home and taped my phone to a mic stand and took a bunch of pictures and moved things around and went, ‘Oh.’”
Learning to make stop-motion collage art became something of an obsession. Fellows is someone who learns by doing; by throwing herself into things wholeheartedly. And what better way to learn than by creating stop-motion videos for each of the 13 songs on her new album, Stuff We All Get?
It was a monster of an endeavour that became the perfect kind of pandemic project. She bought a proper camera and a tabletop tripod and started experimenting in her attic studio. Her collage supplies — which she snips from books of interest, art prints and magazines — are filed in a stack of white drawers labelled with black lettering: Humans, Creatures, Plants, Abstract, Objects, Scenes.
For a while, she and husband John K. Samson shared the long craft table in the middle of the room. That is, until her clippings of disembodied limbs and sea creatures started inhabiting wider and wider territory. When Samson was left with a mere sliver of real estate he packed up his loom and moved to the dining room table downstairs — the Weakerthans frontman has taken up weaving in recent years and now works on a full-sized loom stationed in the basement.
Upstairs, a pyjama-clad Fellows spent hours hunched over her camera creating scenes inside the digital viewfinder. An owl swooping down on a like-sized moth. A lens swinging open to reveal a crowd of people. A dog disappearing under a cloud of wool roving.
Each moment lasts a second on screen, but takes many more to create. Fellows moves the images inch-by-inch and photographs every step of the progression, stitching them together in an editing program. Some videos took weeks to make.
“It takes so long,” she says, feigning exasperation. “Why do I do these insane things?”
One of the most maddening parts was listening to snippets of songs over and over and over while piecing the footage together. It’s one of the reasons Fellows has already moved on from Stuff We All Get — or SWAG, for short — before the album’s public debut this Friday.
“Honestly, I cannot listen to the music that I wrote for that,” she says. “Not that I ever do. After I’m done, I’m done.”
SWAG is about shared experiences — the things, as humans, we all understand. Fellows was working on the album pre-pandemic and the concept took on new weight when the public health crisis hit. Suddenly everybody understood the same thing.
Collective grief and the newfound dystopia of previously benign things, such as waiting in line or sailing on a cruise ship — something that was supposed to be fun becoming a “horrible bacteria- and virus-laden prison in the middle of the ocean” — served as inspiration. The album, Fellows’ eighth, is a departure from her usual approach. Instead of diving into a singular topic and writing songs based on research, SWAG is a series of vignettes about the universal strangeness of the human condition.
“This one felt very episodic, each one was its own little world,” she says.
The songs and the videos took shape together. If Fellows got stuck writing, she would walk over to the collage table to see the song more clearly. Playing around with the photo clippings — and riffing on rhythms created by longtime collaborator and drummer Jason Tait — helped unlock new lyrics and ideas.
When it was time to record, she turned the attic studio into a soundproof fort with blankets hung from the walls and pillows stuffed into window frames. Her dog Apollo was a constant companion inside the makeshift vocal booth in the corner of the room.
With the album in the rearview, Fellows is grateful for the long and winding learning experience — tedium and all.
“It’s like solving a puzzle,” she says. “I just can’t not do it, I gotta go until it’s all done.”
The digital version of Stuff We All Get debuts this Friday on all major streaming services and the accompanying videos can be found on YouTube. Vinyl is available for purchase at wfp.to/fellows.
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Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.