Sock puppets might not seem like an obvious ticket to success, but for one Dallas group, an experimental sock puppet video turned into years worth of videos with millions of YouTube and social media views.
Sock Puppet Parody is just what it sounds like, except that it's wildly popular. The Dallas-based art team writes parody songs ranging from to pop to punk and hip-hop to metal hits, and films music videos performed by hand-crafted sock puppets.
N.W.A.'s “Straight Outta Compton,” for instance, becomes “Straight Outta the Hamper," Metallica's “Master of Puppets” becomes “Master of Sock Puppets” and Radiohead's “Creep” is re-created as “Sock,” a brooding narrative about a sock kicked under the bed and forgotten.
With cardboard and hot glue, the group re-creates band's instruments and set pieces from their music videos. Each band's members are miniaturized in sock puppet form and manipulated on the arm of a puppeteer.
“It does have a learning curve,” says Carolina Gorvea, the group's puppet master and designer.
When puppeteers, a usual trick is moving the puppet smoothly to make it walk, but that makes them look on camera as though they're floating, Gorvea explains. Holding her arm bent at the elbow, pointing up to the ceiling, she jerks a puppet side to side to demonstrate how to make it appear like it's walking.
Sock Puppet Parody started when director Brady Tulk was working on a local band's Crowdfunding campaign. When fundraising stalled, Tulk looked for a way to reinvigorate the campaign. He saw some fan-made puppets at a recording studio and decided to make a puppet version of the band with them.
The resulting video was supposed to be joke, but people responded positively to the concept, and the band met its fundraising goal almost immediately, Tulk says.
Months later, Tulk and Sock Puppet Parody's now-producer Johnny Zero-Forever were at a Wayne Static (the lead singer of Static-X) solo concert and decided that his signature hairdo — standing stick-straight up off his head — made him look kind of like a sock puppet.
Later that evening, they started talking about doing parody videos for major bands. They called their musician friend JT "Kitty" Longoria and pitched him the idea.
“I thought he was going to hang the phone up on me, at 2 in the morning. He goes, 'I'll be right there,'” Zero-Forever says of his friend.
Since that night, the group has put out a couple of dozen parody videos, with music by a rotating cast of local musicians, spoofing bands like System of a Down, The Misfits, Green Day and Radiohead. They record all the music fresh and write lyrics collaboratively. Tulk often writes a story idea for a video and then asks for input, or even passes the final lyric-writing along to someone else.
“The premise of the Sock Puppet Parody is that it's a gigantic collaboration. So I don't want my idea to be the final say, I want to hear every single person, even the gaffer,” Tulk says.
All the lyrics take the original song content then they're rewritten from the perspective of a sock puppet. In the Sex Pistols' “Anarchy in the U.K.,” the Sock Pistols scream about wanting to “mismatch every pair.” In the group's Beatles video, they reimagine “I Want to Hold Your Hand” into “I Want to Warm Your Feet,” as performed by The Feetles.
Each time the group embarks on a new video, Gorvea designs a new set of sock puppets to match the band who performs the original song. She prefers a particular kind of gray sock from Walmart. Because they have to be large enough to fit over the puppet master's hand and arm, she buys large men's sizes: 12 and 13.
Gorvea takes the design very seriously, meticulously working out all the details of each performer by hand. Most sock puppet hair is made from yarn, but when it came time to design hair for a sock version of Kurt Cobain, yarn wouldn't cut it. His hair was stringy and greasy. She settled on rubber bands instead, because they have the right texture. When singers have tattoos, she draws them on with a Sharpie marker.
“She's the creative powerhouse — she doesn't like the word powerhouse — she finds a way to, for us to accomplish certain things,” Tulk says of Gorvea, who meticulously re-created the panels and sharply pointed shoulders to replicate Michael Jackson's “Thriller” music video leather jacket.
“I have to kind of draw it out first and then I take it apart in my drawing and then I'm like, 'OK, guys, I need these materials,'” Gorvea says of her creative process.
The first few videos the group uploaded — a parody of Nirvana's “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” a Skrillex song and the Static-X parody they first dreamed up — got a few views online, but nothing particularly noteworthy.
But then, they uploaded Slayer's “Raining Blood," reimagined as “Raining Bleach,” and the band themselves posted the video to their website and Facebook page.
“And then all the metal magazines started picking it up from there. So because of that, it hit many different demographics instantly,” Zero-Forever says.
After that turning point, the group's videos started gaining traction and now get hundreds of thousands to millions of views. They have a permanent recording space at Gas Monkey Live, where some of the puppets from past videos are on display.
After they shot Metallica’s “Master of [Sock] Puppets,” the venue's sound guy told them how unique he thought the act was.
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“He walked up to the stage after he heard the music, saw what we did with everything that we set up and then he goes, 'I thought I'd seen everything, I was wrong,'” Zero-Forever recalls.
Videos are uploaded in clusters, per "season," as the group calls it, and the next season won't be out for another six months. But keep your eyes on their YouTube channel for a special Christmas video soon.
Watch "Master of Puppets" below: