Alex Presley has been interested in music since she was a kid taking piano lessons, but now she’s not a kid and she’s swapped out her piano for production software.
Her song “Magic8” hit her Soundcloud last year, and the corresponding video will premiere this weekend at the Oxford Film Festival.
The video, directed by Presley and Deja Samuel, takes place entirely at a hotel and is visually layered with imagery that evokes youth and a colorful break from societal norms. For Presley, a senior at the University of Mississippi, the “Magic8” video is a material representation of a song she’s been working on since the end of 2015.
“I would play the song for people, and they would be like, ‘Oh, this is a cool song, what’s it about?’” Presley said. “And it was so visually inspired that I feel like I needed to show that vision to everyone. That was kind of my motive for making the video. And to just have something tangible.”
I stopped by Presley’s home studio to ask her a few questions about the song and video before it premieres at Malco Commons Saturday.
When did you start working on “Magic8?”
Ages ago. It’s been such a long time coming. I was actually thinking about it, and I started writing this song the Christmas break before last. It’s funny how I even got into production and writing in general. I grew up and I took piano for ten years. And I competed and placed 3rd and 4th one year in my age division, so I have the theory background, and I can get on the keyboard and figure out keys and write from that perspective, which is super helpful now. But all of that to say, I started playing around in Garage Band, and I realized that there was a way to use instruments and write within it.
So I kind of ran with that and experimented with it. I made myself commit to it because I bought Logic. I just kind of sat in my room over Christmas Break and I literally wrote the entire song without any keyboard. I wrote it on my QWERTY keyboard, which is really strange, and I shouldn’t have done that. I didn’t know how to, like, quantize everything back then and make sure that it was like, actually equal. But, you know, that was me learning.
It kind of evolved from there. I wrote most of the instrument lines over that break, just kind of bored in my room.
And then I worked on the lyrics last spring. It’s based on the Super 8 motel. I just decided to play the track in my car, and I literally just sat there, in the parking lot and kind of just like turned things that I saw into poetry, little things here and there.
That’s kind of how it was born I guess. It just intrigues me that whole scene that it’s based on.
Elaborate on the Super 8 scene.
It’s really funny that you mentioned the word ‘Desolation’. It’s one my favorite words, and it’s definitely what inspired this. I don’t know, I have a really weird interest with desolation and the vintage feel that surrounds it. Because it’s almost like what used to be and the life that used to be there. That intrigues me. Whether it’s abandoned amusement parks or old hotels, anything abandoned and past it’s prime, I think is super cool.
This is going to sound kind of out there, but I guess like the energy of the Super 8 I just thought was interesting. I think the way that it looks is interesting. There aren’t many hotels around here that just have that basic look.
I kind of went on that and wrote lyrics, just literally went there and took lyrics down in my phone. Then, I would just sit around, listen to the beat, and kind of sew in those lyrics. That’s kind of my process, and that was my first writing process.
I like that metaphor. It’s kind of funny that you sort of forced yourself to put this song together.
And that’s what it was. I was just so determined to finish something, because I’m so bad about, you know, picking up an interest and then dropping it, and never really doing anything with it. And I think I was so driven to finish this song. And it wound up being about something really cool and it did have a lot of metaphors in it — like the five-foot ocean, the pool. It’s just little things like that that are, some things are literal and some things are more beneath the surface, especially when it comes to the video. It’s got a lot of layers.
There’s a lot of cool stuff in the video. I loved how you guys started out in these concrete gray two-pieces and then it kind of came back, in the end.
I’m really glad you noticed that because, like I said, there’s a literal meaning to the video, I feel like, that you see, because it’s very graphic and it’s very — I wouldn’t describe it as fun, but it’s got a fun element.
You can see people having fun, some of them.
Right. But then again, I feel like there are people who will watch it and be like ‘okay, what does this mean? She’s like, at a hotel. There are balloons. She’s in a pool, and there’s a cake. Like, what does any of this mean?’
But there’s a pretty big underlying message. I essentially kind of wanted it to be somewhat of a rebellion against current trend culture. At the beginning, it’s kind of supposed to symbolize society. I had someone, like, inspecting us, and we’re all dressed the same. And it may or may not look like current trends right now. The nude bodysuit is kind of a big thing right now. It’s about that, and then it kind of evolves. The characters evolve into themselves. There’s color, there’s individuality, there’s this place where everyone can be themselves, which is kind of a cliché I feel like. For me, it was about creating a new illustration for that.
I fell like there’s kind of that place for every generation. Like the Factory, or even just clubs across decades. Like you said, you kind of wanted the vintage feel.
The whole thing does look very low-budget and DIY, but that is intentional. I made the video for around $100. I was just lucky to have awesome friends and people who were willing to come do it with me. They also kind of, to me, embody this idyllic reverie that I was kind of creating. So that just made it all the more authentic to me.
Where did you shoot the video?
I actually shot at the University Inn. They were very proactive and welcoming. They were awesome.
I actually ended up liking their aesthetic better (Than the Super8) because it was so colorful and it kind of went with my whole theme.
They’re also pretty gritty too.
Shooting the video, I have to say, that was maybe the most stressful day of my life, because we had, like, these little neon lights. That was a big thing I wanted. You can tell I love neon. Like I said, the whole color symbolization thing, I was inspired in 2008 by Louis Vuitton. That is what I had in my head the whole time, but I could never find these lights.
I wound up finding these little tiny rope lights, which I used painters tape to stick them in all the corners and line the whole room with them. It was a lot of work, but I think it wound up looking good.
The wardrobe in the video, in particular the clear boots and the black dress, ranges. Tell me about some of the pieces.
The coat is actually my mom’s, and I don’t thing she knew that I borrowed it for the video. I guess she’ll find out whenever she sees it. I loved the white glasses, because they ‘re the Kurt Cobain style (lenses), and now I think it’s funny because a lot of rappers are wearing them. There’s the latex dress, which is always a fun one to bring out. That’s the black one I wore in the pool. That’s really fun to get on, except it’s really not at all.
I imagine that after getting out of the pool, too that’d be kind of hard to…
And it was freezing because it was October! I just kind of powered through it. There were these boots, which are definitely not the most comfortable, but their kind of having a moment right now so I’m just going along with that. And, oh! How could I forget: the white dress in the last scene is a wedding dress from David’s Bridal that I cut up and later used for my Halloween costume.
I kind of like that implied symbolism of a cut-up wedding dress.
Exactly. That was also kind of intentional.
Are you working on any new stuff?
Yes, more than I ever have before. I have two songs on Soundcloud right now, including the one the video’s for. Right now, I’m working on an EP that’s yet to be named right now. I’ve got a good four or five songs in the works.
I’m super excited for the film fest, because I’ve gone for the past two years as press and this year, I’m actually really getting to be a part of it. I’m just glad the video’s in it, because there were a lot of moments where it looked like it wasn’t going to happen. But it was that determination again, that I was like, ‘I’m going to have this video in it. I don’t care what it takes.’ It always seemed to come down to the ending deadline, but it was one of those moments where you find out what you’re made of.
It’s just funny thinking back, like 2-3 years ago. I’ve always wanted to do this. I’ve always wanted to come out and be like, ‘Hey! I want to do music!’ But it’s not until this last year or so that I’ve kind of like, grown the courage to be like, ‘This is it. This is what I want to do. If you think it’s silly, then sorry.’
Catch the premiere of Presley’s video for her original song “Magic8” during the Mississippi Music Video block at Malco’s screen 2 at 1:30 p.m.