Earlier this summer, San Francisco’s own Mark Nelsen dropped his first solo effort, a woozy, five-track EP called Homeward. Apart from being Nelsen’s strongest offering as a songwriter (his previous work can be heard under Electric Shepherd and his own eponymous band), the record spawned the stand-out title track and an accompanying music video that acts as a short film, documenting one man’s voyage into the unknown.
“Homeward” opens the EP with sleepy, shuddering guitars and repeated proclamations of farewell in Nelsen’s dazed but not confused vocals, as if the listener snuck into the final minutes of a movie, just in time to catch the epic closer that seals the fate of the protagonist. The song ebbs and flows forward as it swells to capacity and ultimately releases, over five and a half minutes in, when Nelsen steals an anticipated guitar solo and the cymbals come crashing down. The ominous, emotional track sets an ambiguous shadow on the remaining four tracks, from the uneasy, instrumental “Penultimate” to the Carpenters-esque cheer of “Celebrate.”
“The narrator is launching himself into an odyssey,” Nelsen explains. “The song is whatever you want it to be. I see it as a space odyssey, but it can be interpreted however you want. It’s launching him out and the rest of the album tells the story of where the guy is ending up.”
He continues, “I see it as a song about isolation, death in many senses, and just needing to get away. The lyrics speak for themselves. The narrator is finding himself on his own planet. It’s about getting away. Launching yourself out and needing to isolate yourself from everything you know. It’s about finding a new home.”
The music video translates the sonic quest into a complete departure of this world, of this life. With his own vision of the “Homeward” journey and absolutely no post production tricks, director Andrew Herwitz breathes life into the astral tones of the song — mostly through warped, saturated footage and a dancing Nelsen decked out in a vintage space suit — before veering into the dark, solitary realm of isolation and ultimately suicide.
“‘Homeward’ works very well cinematically. It has a cinematic touch and Andrew really liked the song,” recalls Nelsen. “He loves making music videos and had a strong vision for the song.”
Nelsen asserts, “The video is all Andrew. The song is so emotional and he was rolling with these ideas. Music videos are so important because you can tell short stories. You can use them as a means to make short narrative films without the burden of sound design and dialogue. He had this idea to turn it into a suicide song. That was his interpretation.”
While there are certain lonely, desolate undercurrents sewn throughout the video, the film doesn’t feel like a suicide story. The break happens suddenly, when the silly, inattentive astronaut rips his helmet off, and the day dreaming driver begins to fall asleep to the smell of his exhaust. He screams the final lyrics, “Baby, bye-bye,” exorcising the demons in his mind.
“It doesn’t necessarily have the be about suicide, but Andrew’s vision is clear. If people want to see it as just that that’s fine, but interpretation is welcome.”
He agrees, “It’s a very vain song in a lot of ways and you can definitely interpret it as suicide,” but also admits that the suicidal elements were risky. “Suicide is a very touchy subject for me, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be associated with that as I’m launching my solo debut, but it was just too good. The way it creeps up on you at the end, it’s good. It really adds closure and clarity to the bizarre images before hand, all the playful, fantastical images, you realize it was all in his head. But he was literally in that car doing what he was doing, ready to off himself.”
Despite his initial hesitation, he concedes, “It’s a very emotional experience and at the end of the day, you just have to make good art. I didn’t want to compromise anything. We were going for it.”
Have a listen to the full Homeward EP below, and if you dig the subtle dizziness behind it all, go see Nelsen at Boom Boom Room on October 2 for the live experience.