Counting from 2012, you'd be very hard-pressed to locate a more artistically ambitious project in the North Texas music sphere than These Machines Are Winning. Led by veteran Dallas rockers Dylan Silvers, Ryan Hartsell and Blake McWhorter, the group is really hard to define, at least in typically simplistic music genre terms, that is.
Over the course of a handful of fantastically killer albums, the group has offered up an inventively vibrant mix of rock and electronic sounds, which lend themselves to an array of moods and atmospheres. But any description of TMAW is woefully incomplete if it stops at the sonic elements of the band’s recorded catalog. Not only have more than two dozen musicians taken part in recording the albums, but a group of writers, filmmakers and comic artists are vital members of the assorted efforts coming from the TMAW camp.
2017 saw the release of Slave for Gods, a four-chapter graphic novel designed to accompany the songs and sights of These Machines Are Winning. But even before then, the excellently produced, creatively conceptualized videos from the band were enough to make them an outfit to keep an eye on.
The video for the group’s new single “I Don’t Wanna Die Tonight,” directed by Hartsell, aka Hightower, is yet another stunning addition to the not-to-be-missed armory of colors and vibes These Machines Are Winning have already cranked out. The song features a gorgeous bit of neon-lit synth work and the always welcome vocals of Sarah Jaffe. Yet for the mightily impressive scope of the group’s earlier videos, this clip goes to rather explosive lengths to tell a story that revolves around the evil going on behind corporate boardroom doors and secure government walls.
Shot throughout downtown Dallas, the climactic implosion blast caught on this video isn’t some studio creation or pulled-from-stock-video found by the director. As Hartsell explains it, capturing a real-life building implosion in Dallas was the result of ingenuity as much as artistic ambition.
“I live in the heart of downtown Dallas and anytime there's an implosion or something big going on, I get an email with all of the details,” Hartsell says. “As an indie filmmaker without a trust fund, I have to get creative with what I have and capitalize on free production value when I can. This was way too awesome of an opportunity not to take advantage of.”
"As an indie filmmaker without a trust fund, I have to get creative with what I have and capitalize on free production value when I can." — Ryan Hartsell
Also notable in the video are the sweeping aerial shots Hartsell gathered from drone footage. Add some affordable, high-caliber technology to the aforementioned ingenuity and imagination and, again, Hartsell, Silvers and crew can seemingly go places many others don’t dare.
“With the access to drones, along with consumer-priced cinema-grade cameras, lenses and gimbals," Hartsell says.
"We are in an awesome era where the small guy without a lot of money can compete to an extent without a studio backing," he continues. "Indie filmmakers still have to be smart with the content they're trying to create, though. You still have to ask yourself: ‘What is achievable with what I have?,’ ‘How much am I willing to spend?’ and ‘Who is going to help me?’
"It's still a team sport and regardless of what you're trying to shoot, it still costs money and you have to take care of people. Being creative with your resourcefulness and being cool to your team is the name of the game.”
Hartsell teamed with Silvers and graphic novel writer Jason Godi to develop the video’s concept around the impressive urban blast. In a genius bit of conceptualizing, the song’s dreamy, gorgeous waves play off the menacingly ominous tone of the film in an arresting yin and yang, sweet and sour sort of manner that’s impossible to look away from. Crafting such a trippy alternate universe and taking their songs far beyond the basic notions of how we consume a band’s output is something These Machines Are Winning are indeed winning at.
“The tone of the music definitely amplifies the visuals, and that's always the goal with every video we produce. This song in particular adds an emotional quality to a conflicting scenario that just feels right.”
Watch the video for "I Don't Wanna Die Tonight" below: