Yes, our man with the elegant—and oftentimes elegiac—gift of harmony has puppetized himself and his band in the most rocking puppet video since the Muppet Movie.
Geoff Geis: Music, Lyrics, Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Tyler Sabbag: Drums, Programming, Production
Alex Myrvold: Bass
Sara Greenhouse: Concept, Puppet construction, Puppeteering
Dalton Blanco: Directing, Filming, Editing
Geoff Geis: Directing, Editing, Puppeteering
Tyler Sabbag, Sarah Cisco, Fred Kiko: Puppeteering
I suppose everyone knows that one doesn’t often puppet alone and, of course, there’s a huge talented team including some of my favorite people behind the camera.
I recently caught up with Geoff about Soft Sailors’ “Shake It Up” song and video:
Hey Geoff—how’s quarantine life? What have you been doing with yourself?
Quarantine life hasn’t been too bad and I hope yours is the same!
I’m cooped up with my wonderful girlfriend and our puppy, so I’m in good company. We’ve been eating well, and I’ve been re-adjusting my body to adhere with to a restorative, Franklin-esque sleep schedule. I want to get better at finger-picked electric guitar, so I’ve been practicing that.
I’m looking at this as an opportunity to let my head clear. For the past five years, I’ve been working more than full time between my two jobs as a bartender and a radio promoter. I feel privileged right now—I’ve been able to save enough to get me through a few months of not having bar work, and I’m still able to do the radio promo work from home. So, I treasure having a brief respite at the moment.
I love “Shake It Up.” What’s the story behind the song? What’s it about and when did you write and record it?
Soft Sailors started as a recording project. I wrote a bunch of songs on my iPad and brought them to Tyler Sabbag for help fleshing them out into a fully-arranged LP played on live instruments. But I also brought one older song, “Shake It Up.” I wrote it in college, at the end of a relationship. It’s written from my ex-partner’s perspective, as they tell me their world doesn’t revolve around me and I need to get on with my life. I often get bogged down trying to be complex or clever as a songwriter, but this one is pretty simple!
On the recording, I sing and play guitar and keyboards. Tyler plays drums and made the electronic beat at the end, and Alex Myrvold plays bass.
This video is just so lovely and cool. Tell me how you thought this up? Had you ever been puppetized before?
It was all Sara Greenhouse’s idea. In the summer of 2014, I’d put together a live band featuring Tyler, Jenna Eyrich (now Parker), and Duncan Thum and we scheduled a performance on KXLU’s Demolisten. Sara was doing live puppet shows for Demolisten at the time, and after we played she approached us with the idea of making puppets of us for a video. She put a ton of time and effort into putting together those beautiful pieces of art, and they really do look like us! And I’m pretty sure it’s the only time any of us have been puppets.
Unfortunately, that lineup of Soft Sailors was short-lived! Demolisten was our second of three live shows, all of which took place in the span of a month. But Tyler and Duncan were already tenuous members of the band, because they were both getting started in their very busy careers as television and film composers. They got hired to score Chef’s Table and were no longer able to be Soft Sailors, so by the time we filmed the video the puppet personnel was outdated.
When and where did you film this?
Dalton Blanco filmed this for us at Superchief Gallery in downtown LA. We did the whole thing with natural light through the skylights at the gallery. We had a great cast of puppeteers, as well, including Tyler, Sarah Cisco, and Fred Kiko.
Any fun stories from the shoot?
To be honest, it was more stressful than it should have been. That’s all my fault!
I’d never made a video with other people before, and I didn’t do enough planning in advance. Because we were using natural light through skylights on an overcast day, we had to keep moving around the gallery and re-setting things as the sun moved. And as I recall, we did it in like November so we didn’t have much time with the light.
I kind of started freaking out and getting pessimistic towards the end of the shoot. Dalton, on the other hand, was a calming and professional presence throughout the whole process. He’s the only reason we got anything good.
I love how Dalton changes the depth of field and little puppet-sized details come in and out of focus.
Yeah, me too. Dalton is great.
Why didn’t this video get released way back when?
It took Soft Sailors a while to get back off the ground after Tyler and Duncan left, not because of them but because a lot of personal and professional changes were happening in my own life. But now the band is back—Jenna is playing bass again, and now her husband Andrew Parker is playing drums. We’ve been playing regular shows and making recordings, and I’ve also finished the album that I started with Tyler all those years ago. So now’s a good time to take the video off the shelf and get it into the world!
So, quarantine will end eventually—what happens then for you and Soft Sailors?
We will see. We’re technically booked at Highland Park Bowl on May 8 with our friends The Night Owl Collective and Order Of The Diamond. But let’s be realistic—that show is likely not going to happen. Before all of this went down, I was also planning to launch a monthly night called LIFESTYLE at Melody Lounge in Chinatown. That’s also up in the air right now.
But we’re eager to play live! In the past few months we have started rehearsing a tight R.E.M. cover (“These Days,” from Lifes Rich Pageant) and we’ve also worked a few Big Whup songs into our set in anticipation of doing a joint Soft Sailors/Big Whup show sometime this year. Our last show was in December, opening for The Monolators at The Bootleg, and we’ve been very hungry to get back on stage.
In the meantime, I’m hoping we can still be productive. The Parkers live together, so the good news is that they can collaborate in the same room if I send them musical ideas.
People say this virus is the ultimate “shake up”—do you think things will ever go back to normal?
Oh dear. I don’t know. Were things normal before this?