Death is inescapable. We all must face the fated Grim Reaper sooner or later–and you can never be ready for it. But people need to be able to die; it’s the circle of life. It is undoubtedly a hard but necessary pill to swallow, and alt-rock outfit The Nursery examine their role in the deadly shadow with “Timeless Eye,” a filtered, gritty and rather moody track off their new album Life After Wartime (out tomorrow). “I’m picking up pieces of my mind,” lead singer Alex Pulec attests over a spooky bluster of sci-fi-bent guitar and synths, throbbing drums augmenting the urgency and raw emotion. The accompanying visual, premiering today, is heavy on the metaphors, from the bloody heart to the dead bird, and they make no apologies. “The song is about what you see when you face your own mortality. This obviously varies greatly between person-to-person, so this video is illustrating more of what my personal experience is with the idea that my, and every one’s life, has an expiry date,” Pulec tells B-Sides & Badlands.
“We knew that we wanted to create images of beautiful things decaying to illustrate the fragility of life,” he continues. As you’ll witness in the clip, flowers are seen gradually bleeding into decomposition, broken wine glasses pepper the floor and Pulec submerges himself in a crystal-blue swimming pool–as the luxuriousness of the mansion rises around him, death roars above. He’s unable to stop it, but his looming presence heightens the passage of time. “Having those elements deceased, subverted or turning poisonous (alcohol) was the main inspiration that fueled the concept, visually speaking,” he further explains. “We also planned on using lots of blood for the reason being that it symbolizes death, obviously, but also continuous life. Although, the intention was to have the imagery abstract enough to act as a mirror so that a viewer can bring their own thoughts and experiences into it. The only underlying message is to celebrate and preserve life’s beauty: not to tear it down because it’s going to decay anyway.”
Pulec moves at a snail’s pace throughout the video, signifying his own close encounters with death. “As someone who’s walked alongside and has had close relationships with death, I can tell you that those moments right before a life passes on feels very, very slow,” he says. “Time moves incredibly slow as each moment creeps along slower than the last. You might of heard some people say, ‘it feels like time has frozen’ in those moments when they, or you, have been close to death.”
One of the most alarming and compelling sequences is when he sits down at the dinner table, picks up a knife and fork and sets about slashing open a giant, gooey heart (representing his own detached organ). “Today, we are socially rewarded by how much of your personal and private life you expose to the public. Whether we want to admit it or not, that’s the zeitgeist of popularity within our new digital social landscape. Give up each little bit of yourself to gain likes and attention. Stay private and your punished by the lack of engagement,” he details about the moment’s gutting importance. “I find this extremely problematic. To allow our personalities and characters to be shaped by our audiences is not only dangerous, but restricts our journeys to fully realize our own true identities. Once you notice a spike in liking or disliking something of yours, depending on your inner confidence, don’t you think one will most likely bend and appease for the positive validation? Each little ding of a notification sets off reward sensors in our brains. It works in the same way gambling does, but we’re not using chips, we’re using our feelings and emotions. What happens when we run out of funds?”
Death and mortality are uneasy topics to discuss to begin with, but Pulec’s performance elicits an eerie potency and draws out the unspoken things we all think but are too terrified or ashamed to utter. “[It] is still the most taboo subject in our entire culture. It’s impossible to speak about it without causing uneasiness. What’s most interesting is that not too long ago in the Victorian era, Western culture didn’t just celebrate death, they were practically obsessed with it,” he muses. “Between post-mortem photography, hair jewelry and wearing all-black mourning clothes for years, death was part of their everyday lives. But then doctors began taking over treatment and ownership of the family’s dead and the funeral industry started to monetize the vulnerability of our loss and guilt by up-selling and offering expensive preservation methods. So, is the discomfort and uneasiness intentional? No. Unavoidable? Absolutely.”
In another sequence, a dead bird is propped on a piano, wielding a similar but contrasting meaning. “In that sequence, it’s the piano that the dead bird is lying on which is commenting on the relationship between death and music,” he notes.
Watch the ghostly, provocative clip and read our Q&A below:
What was it like onset for this video?
It was quite really laid back. We got to shoot it over a couple days. It’s always a pleasure working with Genevieve Blais who has become our regular visual collaborator. Spontaneous shots that were never planned took place. The mood may look very morose, but the energy behind the scenes was jovial, inspired and filled with the usual joking around.
How does “Timeless Eye” fit into the story of the new album?
It’s the part of the story where the main character or listener is faced with their mortality and life being threatened for the first time. It’s meant to be the point where you stop and say “Holy shit, I’m going to die. What’s important to me?” In a sense, the song is uplifting because it talks about eternity, which is a romantic concept. It’s forcing the listener to consider what or who is most important to them: to focus on nurturing that relationship in the present.
How long did you work on this new record, and did its direction/themes change as time went on?
Some of the songs were written as far back as 2014. The themes definitely crystallized in time, but they’ve mostly stayed within the same realm. Self editing is really important, until you edit all your work away. We suffer from a fair bit of perfectionism so it’s important that we stay focused and don’t get too much into a rabbit hole of re-writing the same element over and over again until it’s unclear what it used to be in the first place. Stepping back and letting go can be one of the hardest things to do when creating.
What did you learn about yourself through writing and recording the album?
I learned that I enjoy and take comfort in the darker sides of life. I learned that I’m uncomfortable pretending everything is okay. That it’s better to speak up, than to say nothing at all. I learned that music is still one of the most powerful art forms, in terms of communicating moods, ideas and feelings person-to-person.
How did you aim to push the envelope further after 2016’s EP Digital Ashes?
Musically, we knew we wanted to create more complex arrangements and layers of sounds on this album, so we had to push ourselves to incorporate more electronics into the songs. Bending synthesizers and samples to sound human and reshaping our playing to sound more mechanical blurred the lines between who was playing what. Lyrically, we wanted to talk about all the things they tell you not to talk about at dinner or when you’re socializing in public: religion, politics, anxieties and death. I know nobody likes having their world view shaken up, but it’s more important to challenge now than ever. Art has always been and is the most effective and harmless way to do that
You’ve spoken about how the album is “mostly about letting go of nostalgia and not being tied to the past.” How does that correlate to your own life?
Every day that passes, I’m aging just like you and everyone else. Nostalgia is a interesting emotion because it’s always filled with happy and positive memories so intoxicating and blissful. So much so, that it’s distracting from reality. All these things you loved when life had no worries or impending doom. Nostalgia is a great place to visit, but you cannot live there. We all need to grow and adapt. I like to picture vines growing all over the side of a house or building every which way when thinking about this. Even though humans came and built a house, nature always finds a way to grow and adapt. Don’t forget we are part of nature. Once you stop growing you start dying.
How did you come to terms with being “comfortable looking forward and jumping into whatever the future has in store”?
Because if you don’t swim with the tide, it crushes you. We can’t control every single thing in this life, especially the grand shifts of culture and living. Taking action is always better than sitting on the road to apathy. No human in history has had the privilege of not taking part in where the world is moving–except for maybe extremely wealthy heirs who sit in their ivory towers cut-off from the world. But even then, they will eventually suffer the same fate as we all do. Rich or poor we’re all going to die–and that is exactly what this video is talking about.