As anyone who has had the pleasure will attest, an evening spent watching Jemma Freeman And The Cosmic Something is an evening well spent. Atop the tight, dense rhythms produced by drummer Hamid Mantu and bassist Mark Estall, Jemma stalks the stage, the guitar seemingly an extension of its player; each rush of fingers on frets, each thrust of arm through strings, feels primal, animalistic, a physical representation of the emotion inside. The latest recorded representation came recently with new single, Helen Is A Reptile, the video for which we’re premiering here today.
The track, is a strutting fusion of glam-rock and proto-punk; fuzzy guitar runs, swirling distant organs and the primal patter of drums create a dense bed atop which Jemma’s howling vocal and rip-roaring guitar riffing, screech and squall. Lyrically, the titular Helen is presented as some sort of demonic presence, part ghoulish leviathan, part our own self-sabotaging minds, “Helen is just a reptile, She represents my fears, She creeps about at bedtime, And slithers in my ears”.
The track is accompanied by a wonderfully noir video courtesy of filmmakers Black Triangle. Jemma’s drag alter-ego, Jeff From Barnet is trapped in a psychedelic hallucination, where ghouls taunt him, before he finally reaches a suitably grisly end. Read Jemma and the video maker’s words on the song, the video and much more besides, below.
Jemma: The song came together very quickly in probably less than ten minutes, I was exhausted after days of insomnia I thrashed the chords out and just felt a primal need to scream over the top.
Helen isn’t about a person it just felt useful to try and externalise the idea of my dark intrusive thoughts and embody them into a character. We rehearsed the song once and we wanted to make sure it retained a lot of that manic energy. I had a very specific drum sound in mind that I wanted to recreate from The Flaming Lips album version of Race for the prize so I borrowed my friend Dans 28” military bass drum to get a huge boomy sound. The guitars were recorded directly into a vintage Studer 289 channel strip that was misbehaving and created an amazing dirty overdriven sound. The solo came by complete chance, it was written on the spot in the studio and brought the whole thing to life
As I hadn’t been able to sleep and I was being plagued by quite unpleasant thoughts I’d been online late at night quite a lot. I had started to get really intrigued by my Art school friend Martina Ziewes work, she was exploring body and face painting and was often about very late at night to talk to.
My process began very late at night, I started experimenting with painting my body and set the camera up rolling listening to music. I started improvising movements & little performances. They were quite wired with a sense of wakeful excitement. Then it became a little habit usually just as was meant to go to bed, which is a fun time to work whether writing or drawing, or whatever it is. Now usually on full moon when I don’t sleep it has become a bit of a ritual. Your energetic performing style resonated with my own urgency and aliveness so was cool to then paint an interpretation of those spontaneous looks onto us in quite an ad hoc punk manner. I have no skills in make up so it felt child like and quite mighty boosh. The slight madness of it seemed to fit just right at the time with the theme of Helen. What both of us were doing in different ways. Up late at night in interesting / different head spaces!
Jemma: Last summer I had been playing guitar for Wendy Rae Fowlers live show and we had immediately hit it off as we have a similar combination of energy, I hadn’t realised but Wendy is also an incredibly successful dancer as well as a musician and when I found out I just knew she needed to be involved in the video.
1. What inspired your movements? The music and the character
2. Did the costume and makeup design? Absolutely!
3. How did you feel representing a dark psychic force in a physical form? Like a natural
4. How did you get involved in the project? I Can’t remember exactly, but I LOVE the song so when Jemma asked me to be involved it was a no brainer, it’s always so great to be involved with music I love in any capacity.
5. What was it like working with an all female/Non binary crew? I hadn’t really thought about that aspect of it, but in hindsight all I can say is that it was REALLY fun, free, super fulfilling and I loved the collaborative creative effort…I think the result is reflective!
Jemma: I wanted the video to be made by a non male crew, Martina’s performance pieces felt very intimate and wild exposing her body was freeing to see so I wanted to make sure the atmosphere on the shoot felt like a comfortable place for her to explore that. I didn’t want the performers to feel like their movements were contrived or that they were embarrassed. We worked with Lindsay S and Frank of Black Triangle films and the band Anarchistwood. I was lucky enough to play a part in one of their short horror films earlier in the year, my drag persona Jeff played a newsreader that gets turned into a clown in the award winning Fear Is The Mindkiller. When we sat down to chat about how the music video could look and possible plot lines there were lots of hilarious and ambitious ideas. I found it really refreshing to think about overhead drone shots and toilets big enough to house two dancers, I tend to be quite introverted and work in tiny sketch books so to collaborate and bring all these wild ideas to life was amazing.
Black Triangle: Helen is a Reptile” is the third music video we have directed together and we had great fun doing it. Wendy and Martina made excellent reptiles and work a papier-mâché toilet (cunningly constructed by Jan Daniels) like no other.
Jemma was an absolutely joy to work with and we have never seen a better crocodile or snake wrangler!
Helen Is A Reptile is out now, with a very limited edition hand lathe cut vinyl in unique handprinted covers available exclusively at the launch party on May 2nd. Click HERE for more information on Jemma Freeman And The Cosmic Something.