When I finally met French producer, VOG in late 2018, he immediately invited me into his studio to show me this brand new track he has been working on. The moment he played it, I heard the vocal melody. The track was bare, with a grungy guitar dictating the rhythm. There was plenty of space in between to get creative, and I was ready to go after it. After all, this is exactly why I chose to come to Paris during this 2 week Euro-trip. For the next 3 days we would do nothing but write and record.
VOG and I first met on the music jobs posting site, SoundBetter.com, around late 2017. Our first project together was on his track “Let Me Love You”, which we completed together, and he would later release the following year. This would be our second project together. I had just left Barcelona on a friends vacation, and had planned to visit Paris, Hamburg, and Krakow, Poland, having a producer to meet with in each city. It was an epic journey.
Meeting VOG had been a long time coming. Those 3 days I was there, I never left his apartment. Thomas and I https://www.intercultural-reflections.de/character-a/index.html , as well as his partner at the time, Gabriella, were writing and recording each day building the story out and developing the character. Starting with the low pitched, short phrases in the verses, and then unleashing a beast when the chorus drops. As the song began to take form, we became inspired by the tone and topic of the verses to title this song “Bittersweet Vibrations”. Three days later, the demo was done and I was off to my next country to work with someone new.
Fast forward a year later, the production was finalized and VOG’s main label had taken interest. It was time to release this track. We all agreed we needed to pair this track with a music video to match. There were early whispers of filming it in New York City, but pretty soon it became clear that it should be done in Paris. Imagine my excitement learning as a New Jersey dweller, that we were set to shoot a music video in Paris for a song I co-wrote. It didn’t feel real…I kept thinking, months leading up, that this isn’t really going to happen. It was incredible to think that this event could be coordinated thousands of miles away from me (3,625 miles, in fact), and it all stemmed from one night writing some music. But it was all happening. I received a paid roundtrip ticket from VOG and his label to fly to Paris to shoot a music video for “Bittersweet Vibrations”.
In the weeks leading up, VOG would send me a mood board made by the director, JB Burbaud. It was designed in all black and white; a noir feel, tied in with key shots depicting motorcycles on city streets, leather jackets, and close-ups on faces. The theme was dark and ominous, yet still sleek and stylized. The motorcycle was front page, and the general idea was that VOG and I would both be on this motorcycle, playing the same character, only I would play his reckless, thrill-seeking conscious, tailing his travel, mouthing the anthem proudly, while riding passenger on his motorcycle…backwards. This was the ultimate shot. This was the crux of the whole visual. 2 riders, 1 motorcycle, riding through the streets of Paris, with the riders back to back.
Mind you, this was in early March 2020…the dawn of the Covid-19 breakout. It was early enough where all business were still open, flights were still running, and no lockdown in place. I had boarded the flight in the evening to Portugal, and would need to connect to Paris, arriving in the morning the next day. After a brutal layover, waiting in customs line with over 100 people, half of them wearing masks, I managing to make it through and onto my next flight completely unscathed. I arrived in Paris around 10am. After speaking slow enough English to get an Uber-like service (shoutout to Kapten) to pick me up, I arrived once again to VOG’s apartment around noon. I was greeted by Thomas and his friend Oliver, unloaded by bags and was ready for a nap, considering we were set to start shooting at 4pm…in just 4 hours. No complaints though. No time for them. I slept for maybe 30 minutes, ate a sandwich, charged my phone, and began getting ready for the shoot.
I found it pretty crazy, but comical, to be given the task to leave VOG’s suburban apartment alone to take public transit in a city whose language I don’t speak. Needless to say, I made it to the location just fine; no wrong turns. Our meet-up point was at a production gear rental store. It was there that I would convene with the director, JB Burbaud & DP, Gregoire De Lillo, as well as with VOG, as he pulled up riding the motorcycle he had just rented for the shoot. It was a beautiful bike.
After shaking hands and observing how they all were speaking with each other, I knew this night was going to be a wild experience. Mind you, I don’t know any French, and that’s the rest of the team’s native tongue. Luckily, they were all kind and considerate to never leave me out of the loop, but I was definitely the odd man out all night. Once we stowed all the gear needed, we somehow managed to also pack 4 of us into a small sedan, while VOG rode the bike behind, and went to our first location; the parking garage. It was here we took a lot of still shots, and also where we filmed with our green screen for the bridge section of the video.
I honestly did not have any clear idea of where we were going ahead of time. So much was a surprise for me, especially in terms of how we got there. I didn’t realize that commuting between locations I’d be riding passenger on the motorcycle. Seems obvious, but it never crossed my mind. Those commutes were a blast! It was invigorating to say the least. The bike was powerful, with a lot of torque. VOG would often prepare me before accelerating. I’d clutch a little harder, and he’d hit it! We rode over and along the Seine river, with the Eiffel Tower in site, while all the districts prepared to light up while sun passed horizon. It was so surreal that I was here. Less than 24 hours ago I was chilling in New Jersey, and suddenly I’m riding passenger on a motorcycle through the streets of Paris….like, WHAT?!
Anyway, our next location was this dimly-lit alley way, where we planned to film my verses and chorus. For this they brought out the smoke machine. I seriously didn’t know what to expect, but once they centered the bike, brought out some lighting, and blew some smoke, I leaned against the bike and brought out that character I was vibing with when first writing this song. It was time to deliver.
I felt so high during this experience that this character came naturally. It felt right. It felt authentic. Once we got our final take, and filmed the motorcycle leaving, we were off to the next location. The sun was completely gone and it was starting to get cold. It was at this point we would meet up with a friend of VOG, Jenna, who would play a role in the next scene. We pulled up to this small intersection before one of the bridges across the Seine, and set up for the scene of when VOG and I (same person) would encounter Jenna on the street. I, alone, would jump off the bike, walk up to her, and silently asked for a light to my cigarette…I don’t smoke, but I did for this scene.
This scene was tough though, as it was getting very cold and windy, and it was difficult to ignite the lighter. But we still got it. Jenna and I vibed together very well as we danced on the bridge for the scattered scenes throughout the video. Once we wrapped up that location, we said ‘au revoir’ to Jenna, packed into the car to warm up and prepare for the finale which would prove to be the most difficult scene I’ve ever filmed. It was time to sit the wrong way on the bike.
Not safe, no doubt, but I did have a lot to work with on the bike. The passenger seat had a back support which I could clutch, and I was able to dangle my feet over a safety bar which prevented me from touching the back wheel. I know…”You call that a lot to work with?!”…better than nothing. We all knew if we could manage this, it would make this video epic, and I was prepared to go big for amazing art…and then it started to rain.
We had practiced a bit in the parking garage, but it was pretty obvious that VOG could only go so fast before I felt I was going to topple over….lol. Needless to say, that was the only note I would ever need to give upon shooting in the streets: slow down. When the rain started coming down, I definitely knew this was going to be a challenge. Wet, freezing, sitting backwards on a bike….all while lip-synching to a song playing from a Bluetooth speaker inside my jacket. Bring it!
We spent the next several hours with me singing the whole song riding backwards in the rain, while the car trailed us from behind and onto our side. I’d fight through the shots by wiping my face from the rain, yelling at VOG to slow down, while trying to keep in sync with the song playing inside my jacket. We did this for hours. I wondered if I was going to get sick from this, especially with Covid-19 seemingly afoot, but I did not. Even still, I’d often break while I wrapped in a towel in the backseat, as we took time to film VOG riding solo, only for them to reluctantly say afterwards…”we need you to do it again.” Whatever, let’s do it!
It was past midnight, and the streets were emptying out, the rain stopped, and we almost had every shot we needed. I remember one of our last shots was of VOG riding solo as we passed the Louvre, with its glass pyramid in the background. Beautiful. Finally, we knew we had everything, so we called it wrap. I was so happy to hear that. Cold and wet, we split up to drop everyone off. We said goodbye to our filmmakers, and VOG, Oliver and I went back to the apartment to call it a night. It must’ve been 2am. After eating, and inflating my bed, I managed to fall asleep around 5am.
My flight home to the U.S. was the very next day in the evening. I slept until around 1-2pm, dazed from the night before. It was a long night, but it all happened so fast. I was in awe of this whole experience. It has only been in 24 hours since touching down in Paris, but I had experienced more in 1 day than most tourists experience in a month. It was all so surreal; living this experience I never imagined could happen, all thanks to my pursuit in music. It was such a gratifying feeling to wake up to, mainly because I know what it took to get to this point. Of course, these experiences are rare and I knew I was riding a temporary high, but nonetheless, this was a product of my own work and sacrifice, and that alone makes all the difficult days worth it.
After saying goodbye to my friends and co-star, I hitched another ride back to the airport, boarded the flight, and sunk into my seat to reflect on the experience. I did it. I actually pulled this off. My friends and family were concerned and confused with how this would all play out, as was I, but it all happened successfully. I was coming home, on a half empty plane, having filmed an epic music video for a song I co-wrote back in 2018. I had the whole flight home to unravel my thoughts and prepare for the time ahead. It seemed apparent the world was nearing a lockdown. In fact, after touching down and making it back to my apartment, the very next day, President Trump announced a ban on travel to and from Europe. I had just made it. Although I might’ve still been able to fly home, I’m so glad I didn’t have to deal with ANY of that upon arriving home. I had a lot of luck on this trip, mixed in with a sense of fearlessness to flow with spontaneity and engage in some risky business, all in the name of making amazing art. This video will always commemorate this incredible trip, and if you’re still reading, now you’re in on it too.