The video for Scott Clay’s latest single, ‘Aurora’, features the breath-taking scenery of North Cascades National Park in Washington, presented in all of its splendour as a back-drop to his performance. The incredible location-shots, captured by cinematographer Spencer Johnson, are fitting for a song about the Northern Lights, one of nature’s most glorious sights. The song’s strong rhythm, dreamy melody and ethereal backing vocals transport you, almost hypnotically, to those snowy mountainsides under the startling starry sky. Perhaps the song’s most effective moment is right at the end when, as Clay strums next to the sparking camp-fire, the audio is switched to the original voice-memo recording of the song from when it was first written; something about the stark, spare nature of the sound, and the way it’s cleverly absorbed into the more lush final version, adds an additional sense of the Aurora’s magic and our smallness against the vastness of the skies above.
Clay says of the song and video: “The song ‘Aurora’ was written from the perspective of my friend, Britt, who had travelled to Iceland the previous year and had the opportunity to see the northern lights for the very first time. At the time of writing the song, I had never personally seen the northern lights. So it was a fun approach to write entirely from the perspective of someone else. In her telling me of her experience in Iceland, I got to really envision myself in her shoes, and what I must’ve felt like. The colours of the lights, the anticipation of wanting them to appear, the disappointment that you may travel halfway across the world and miss them entirely. Hearing her words helped me to drill down to the thoughts, feelings, and ideas that I felt needed to be represented in the song itself. The whole song was written in one evening in Vancouver, BC, and parts of that initial recording are still present on the final draft; at the very end of the song you can hear an acoustic take which is the very first time the song was written and performed.” See below for a full and exclusive Q & A with Scott Clay, which gives a fascinating insight into the inspiration and creative process.
The song’s lyrics take us through the experience of, “Staring up into the midnight sky // We search for signs of light,” to that point of almost giving up before the Aurora magically appears. Anyone who has ever waited for the Northern Lights to emerge from the darkness to dance across the sky will be able to associate with the feelings of expectation, disenchantment, perseverance and, ultimately, reward for our patience. The language is direct and real, placing us authentically right in that moment when the light show begins.
‘Aurora’ is the second single to be released from Clay’s forthcoming album ‘Let It All Lay Bare’, which is due to drop on 23rd September 2022. This is the Seattle singer-songwriter’s fifth album and covers a range of themes from human connections to our relationship with the beauty of the natural world. There are intimate personal stories and tales told from others’ perspectives. Perhaps most significantly for this album, Clay has taken inspiration in exploring and documenting nature in a number of the USA’s National Parks. Accompanied by cinematographers Spencer Johnson and Britt Warner, he filmed these wonderful locations during the pandemic, creating beautiful footage for use in his music videos. Clay explains, “Film production allowed me to express my creativity in a different way while everything was closed down in the pandemic. Instead of being isolated, I used the time to explore both nature and my creative outlets.” Be absorbed.
Exclusive Q&A with Scott Clay about the song and video
What was the inspiration behind this song? Did something in particular happen that prompted you to write it?
At the time of writing the song, I had never had the opportunity to see the northern lights, but my close friend, Britt Warner, took a special trip to Iceland in October 2019 specifically to see them. When she returned from her trip, she told me the story of her travels and of her very first time seeing the northern lights. There were the disappointments and expectations that come along with waiting for nature to reveal itself, and the excitement of that moment when the sky finally bursts into colour. So I took her stories and wrote them into this song. It was very fun to write from someone else’s perspective, because it helped distil the story down even further, since you’re working from their cues and words in the song-writing process. And it’s special to have a song to share with someone, rather than just writing from your own perspective.
How was it recording this song? How did it come together?
The song was written in a very short time span, one evening as I was staying in Vancouver, British Columbia. I recorded the entirety of the song on my iPhone, and the voice memo was eerily complete in its nature; it really sounded like a full and complete song. There was something about that early voice memo that seemed to have its own magic. So when Mike Davis, the producer, and I set out to make a studio version of the song, we tried very hard to compete with the early voice recording, but could never quite match some of the qualities of that recording. We ended up leaving the voice memo in the last 15 seconds of the song, to connect the studio recording with the magic of that early voice recording. We really wanted to preserve it in the song, and I’m so glad that part of that voice memo ended up in the studio recording.
This particular recording seemed to lead us on a wild goose chase, it was hard to pin down the way this song wanted to be presented. We ended up with several mixes, several full vocal takes, and several song intros. It was tricky, because the song needed to be spare, but strong. I’m thrilled with how the final version ended up and feel as though the song has taught me so much about the recording and mixing process because of how difficult this song ended up being for us in the studio.
The video is stunning. Who filmed the video? How did you form a creative relationship with that person?
I worked with the cinematographer, Spencer Johnson, on this project. He had helped me film my music video for ‘Time Will Tell’ two years prior. He lives in Bellingham, Washington, which is quite close to Mount Baker ski resort. We wanted to capture a winter vibe for this song, and that was an absolutely perfect location to do so. The week of the video shoot, the weather was quite turbulent and we weren’t sure that we were going to be able to record the footage due to some winter storms. But we lucked out and had a bluebird day at the ski resort after the most heavy snowfall of the entire season. The trees were completely weighed down with snow. I believe they’d received several feet in the prior days. Mount Baker is one of my favourite places in Washington State, and I’m so glad we could capture an amazing snow day while filming! I really enjoyed walking through the deep snow with the old wicker snowshoes; they really helped create the sense of an expedition in the video, and, ultimately, the discovery of the aurora and mystical and magic colours that it displays as it dances across the sky.
Who came up with the video treatment idea? Did you have any input in it?
Britt, who this song was written for, applied all the video treatment and editing to the video. She put in so much creative work to make it absolutely as perfect as possible. It wouldn’t have been the amazing video and song it is without her inspiration! She helped to select the best vocal scenes, drone shots, and b-roll footage for the video. There was a lot of great footage to choose from, so it was a pretty monumental undertaking to edit this project.
What was the shoot like?
This was actually a very short filming session; it was quite cold during the session, so we filmed at the very end of the day, and waited for the sun to set and filmed our night scenes as quickly as possible so we could find some warm shelter!
You wrote this song based on a friend’s experience, but have you seen the aurora borealis yourself?
Yes, I have. Now that I’ve actually seen the aurora for myself, I have a much better understanding of its magical and ephemeral nature. Truly the colours and swirling patterns seem to be happening inside of your own head, rather than something that’s happening in the sky. It’s hard for the human mind to grasp the vastness and surreal nature of the aurora. It seems to have a very personal and intimate experience with each person, as if the aurora is putting on a display for you alone. It’s really something that you have to see for yourself to even begin to grasp.