In June, University student and rapper Rhys Podell ’16, who performs under the name Rhys Langston, released his first music video “Calculus Johnson” in collaboration with Los Angeles-based filmmaker Ryan Calavano. The video for the track has since gained an impressive five thousand views. Following his summer success, Podell released his new music video, “Resident Harebrain,” a technically impressive piece shot around Podell’s home city of L.A., last Thursday.
“I made a connection at the beginning of the summer with a guy named Ryan Calavano,” Podell said. “He has a collective called Less Is More. I was looking for someone to do a video for ‘Calculus Johnson,’ a track from the EP I did earlier this year, Authors Note, Death By Diversity. So I put it on Craigslist, let the track speak for itself, and he came to me. Ever since then I’ve been working with him. So I approached him about working with this new one, and he was totally for it.”
There are some stark stylistic differences between the two tracks. “Resident Harebrain” has a much more complex beat behind it, drawing in a steady range of samples, while Podell’s rapping comes off as more animated and energetic.
“With ‘Calculus Johnson,’ I was definitely experimenting a lot with my style,” Podell said. “I guess I still am, but at that point I was really finding what I wanted to sound like. I wouldn’t say [‘Resident Harebrain’] is a track to cater to where the trend in hip-hop is going, but it’s definitely riding the coattails of this old-school hip-hop revivalism movement going on right now. I feel like my genre is definitely experimental. I see it as more of my way in: I can get in with that genre and experiment out of it, but always keep it as a kind of essence.”
“Resident Harebrain” is not only the name of the song, but also the alter ego Rhys embodies throughout the song. In total, he has four different personas, drawing from each one at different occasions in his musical process.
“There’s Rhys Langster; The Practitioner of Floetry, Calculus Johnson; The Minister of Abstraction, Resident Hairbrained; The Scribe of Mad Prophecy; and Muckraker Jones, the Operator of Rakes,” Podell said. “Every song I make has elements of all of those four persons. If I name a song after them, it’s because it highlights their qualities.”
The core persona of Resident Harebrained is essentially that of a misunderstood roadside prophet, the kind whom everyone assumes to be crazy from his appearance. Hence, he walks an odd line between method and madness.
The video was shot in Los Angeles, split between two locations, each bringing a different feel to the video. The video features Podell dressed in a suit walking around downtown L.A., intercut with shots of Venice Beach, where Podell decided to embody his demented creation.
“Venice Beach is an eclectic place,” Podell said. “It very much epitomizes the consumerism, the schizophrenia, and the rather unnoticed homelessness of America and its people. That part was really fun to do because I always love to perform. I was dressed in just the craziest outfit. I had one shoe that was like a slipper; an Air Jordan; high water slacks; a bright purple sweater, which had a corduroy jacket over it; and thumbless gloves. I then had my hair parted in a pseudo-Reggie Watts style. It was great because it was a place I could be in character.’”
The video also speaks heavily to the talent of its director. Calavano has primarily worked with music videos, completing a large number of projects with the rap label and group Dirty Science. Both “Resident Harebrain” and “Calculus Johnson” highlight a frenetic combination of shooting, editing, and even some animation.
“He’s definitely a professional in terms that he’s making a lot of money off this,” Podell said. “He really made the whole thing work out. I remember at the end of it saying to him, ‘Man, you’ve got the magic touch.’”
When stepping back and taking a look at what he’s accomplished, Podell had some reasonably modest goals for the project, hoping for at least a couple thousand views and possibly even a mention on a few music blogs. In terms of his future work, Podell made care to emphasize the importance of prudence.
“With the new project, I’m just taking my sweet time with it,” he said. “I’m going to release it, not only when it’s ready, but I’m going to make sure that things are very punctuated, and it’s something to value. ‘Resident Harebrain’ is a nugget right now, and it’s very much my statement within an industry that’s very ADD. I feel, if nothing else, I’m going to be genuine to how I feel about music, with my own music, by only doing a little bit at a time, and doing the best I can at that time.”