Four Ways shy kids' Filmmaking Careers Impact Their Music

Photo: Leeor Wild

BY Matt BobkinPublished Jan 25, 2017

It's a reality for many emerging musicians, but to make ends meet, you need a day job. Thankfully for Toronto alt-popsters shy kids, their off-stage gigs keep those creative juices flowing: the trio are award-winning filmmakers. Composed of Walter Woodman, Patrick Cederberg and Matt Hornick, shy kids operate as both a band and filmmaking collective, oscillating when possible between their dual passions.
The trio are best known for their 2013 short film Noah, co-written and -directed by Woodman and Cederberg as their thesis project for Ryerson University's film production program. (Hornick, their roommate and a Ryerson media production student, joined them as co-producer.) They also recently contributed to Garfunkel and Oates' Emmy-nominated comedy special Trying to Be Special, released last year. But they're still making time for their music, releasing debut LP Lofty! in 2015; its follow-up is about "75 percent done," according to Woodman.
Ahead of their set at Exclaim!'s fifth and final Class of 2017 show on January 28, we spoke to Woodman and Cederberg from a hotel room in Norway (they were guest speakers at the Tromsø International Film Festival), while Hornick joined in from Toronto to discuss the intersection of their interests.
1. Music videos aren't just a promotional gimmick — they're an alternative way to tell the song's story.
Woodman says music and filmmaking "bleed into each other quite a bit. We get to make our own music videos and make videos for other people, so it's really kind of two sides of the coin of storytelling." He adds, "a song tells a story in a very different way than a film, but they seem to have quite a bit of overlap in terms of editing, performance."
Take the video for Lofty! track "® o c k e t s," for example. The song is a sprightly slab of Animal Collective-inspired pop with lyrics about using sweets as an escape from the perils of existence; the video, conceived and directed by the band, depicts a candy city under attack from an extraterrestrial jawbreaker. For the video, the trio photographed and then digitally manipulated hundreds of pieces of candy to represent every element, from denizen to doormat.
Cederberg explains the relationship between the two: "We were writing that song for a couple years, actually. It was constantly a saccharine, sugar-y, candy-esque vibe in our minds, but the narrative and specific visuals came later down the line." Adds Woodman, "We had the song pretty much done and me and Matt were in, ironically enough, a vegan, super-health food restaurant and we were like, 'how dark can we make candy?' Because that's the message of the song, it's like, 'candy but in moderation.' Generally, when you see little animations of candy, you don't see candy strippers. We were thinking, how dark can we make something that is always seen as the most bright thing? Because candy is pretty fucked up, it's like evil that we feed children. There's nothing good about it, it's just like debauchery. But it looks so pretty and cool and beautiful."
2. Their filmmaking has given them the financial resources to take more risks with their music.
It's not just a creative link between the two: their music is primarily funded by their filmmaking endeavours. As Woodman explains, "there's a lot more money in film than there is in music. While we have been making some money from getting our songs on ads and things like that, it hasn't been the primary income source.
"It's taking on certain jobs to make a little money here and then be free when we make our own music videos and we make our own songs," Woodman continues. "It's good that we don't have to make them for a record company right now, we can make them for ourselves, we're paying for most of it. It's good to have that because it means we're free to release however we want."
3. As they seek to incorporate new visual collaborators, they will with their music too.
Though the "® o c k e t s" video encapsulates the darkly exuberant mood and metaphor the song sought to embody, its elaborate production took the band nine months to complete. "We could've been doing music at that time," laments Hornick. For an upcoming music video for an as-yet-released track, the band will be outsourcing part of the video production, teaming up with local animator Karly McCloskey.
"She does these really beautiful hand-painted and hand-drawn animations," says Woodman, "She prints out every frame and draws over top of every single frame, so we went out and shot it with her and then she now is gonna animate on top of every single frame, which is awesome." He adds, "It's the first time we're entrusting somebody else to do some of the heavy lifting, so it's gonna be pretty interesting."
As the visual elements expand to incorporate new collaborators, so will the musical. "We have a lot of new instruments that we can't play on it, so that's really cool. We don't have the skill to play trombone, but someone does. Instead of trying to play trombone, let's just get someone to do the trombone part, and keep on the things that we're good at." The horn-addled new tracks are what Woodman calls "showtune dad rock."
4. The band's first new teasers for the new material are entirely visual.
In preparation for the new material, shy kids launched a contest on their website for fans to choose their new single based solely on the artwork, another testament to the importance of visual elements to music. The two images — one with a wooden structure resembling part of a rainbow, the other a complicated subway map — represent two of the band's new songs.
As Woodman explains, "The idea was to get people to vote on the next single exclusively on album artwork, not hearing any song, any clip, not giving any clues to anything, just the artwork. It was in line with the [2016 American presidential] election, we wanted people to have a vote they could feel good for."
Though details on the new release is scarce — the bandmates themselves are unsure if it will be a full album or an EP — the two images "are definitely clues as to what the next album is gonna be about," says Woodman. "I think people should go out there and vote." Woodman dropped another cryptic clue tying the new material to the election, saying, "I'd love to release it July 4, but we shall see."
shy kids will be performing at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern on January 28 for the fifth and final instalment of the Class of 2017 concert series. You can find previous conversations with the Class here.
Check out the deliciously disturbing video for "® o c k e t s" below.

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