Members of the Salt Lick Records, the label offshoot of the musical collective the Salt Lick Denver, spent a weekend in October hiking through the East Troublesome fire burn scar to shoot a video for the Bear and the Beasts song “Into the Kiln."
It’s the first music video released by the collective, and one with an important message: We are collectively not doing enough about climate change, and it's leading us into catastrophe.
The fire was a real beast of wildland blaze in 2020; it was already a bad fire season on top of a bad year. The East Troublesome fire scorched more than 190,000 acres, burned hundreds of homes and buildings in the mountains northwest of Denver, and bathed most of the Front Range in a sickly orange glow. Climate change made it all worse: The forest was unhealthy, and the fire spread quickly and burned hotter than it normally would.
The blackened earth of the forest seemed like a good place to spin some allegory.
“It was one of the worst fire seasons in Colorado history. It was like the whole state was burning that summer,” says the Salt Lick collective and label co-founder and video director Jason Edelstein.
Edelstein ventured into the area a few times in the summer to scout off-the-grid locations where they would be undisturbed and have enough room free of fallen trees. He was taken aback by how pretty everything looked in spite of the large fire burning just months before. Flowers had bloomed, and many of the aspen trees had survived next to the scorched pines.
“When I went in June, it was so beautiful,” he says. “It was the first summer after the fire, so all the fireweed was blooming. It was just blackness everywhere, but with this kind of sea of purple washing over the landscape. It was really gorgeous.”
Bear Redmon walking the scorched earth, albeit where wildflowers are already punching through the ash. He stumbles upon a group of oddly dressed people sharing a meal and drinking champagne in the woods and having what seems to be a damn good time. All seems well until the food they're eating turns to dust. It’s unsettling imagery, and not just because it’s a cult-like group out in the woods. It hits deeper than that.
Andrea Hoang, the other video director and co-founder of the Salt Lick collective and label, envisioned the video around the concept of Dante’s Inferno and Redmon’s journey into a hellscape. She says she tried to imagine a scene where something eerie bubbles just beneath a happy veneer, and the revelry continues unabated as the world burns down. She wanted to make the scenes unsettling, and drew inspiration from a good source: an Ari Aster film.
“I took some inspiration from Midsommar,” Hoang says. “The outfits are white, [with] flowery kind of tiaras and the bright cheery landscape against the unsettling community vibe.”
Redmon says he wrote the lyrics to “Into the Kiln” during the early days of the pandemic, when he was reading a lot of work by American research professor, lecturer, author and podcast host Brené Brown. The lyrics, for the most part, tackle the concept of shame.
“We are made to feel throughout the course of our lives like we are somehow not worth the life we live, and that we don’t have some inherent value,” Redmon says.
Redmon, who studied theology in college, found inspiration in The Life of Moses, by fourth-century Christian scholar Gregory of Nyssa and Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria. He says the lyrics also build on the concept that we have convinced ourselves that everything is fine, but we are all living in the shadow of uncertainly. Until we accept the truth, we won’t be able to reconcile ourselves to it.
Edelstein saw an opportunity in his reading of Redmon’s lyrics.
“My reading of Bear’s songs is different from his reading of his own songs,” he says. “What I was really picking up on was the motif of shame. It felt like a Paradise Lost narrative or Dante’s 'Divine Comedy' narrative.”
Edelstein adds that the cast and crew began to feel like they were in a cult during the shoot. A helicopter flying low past the site gave them all pause, as they were worried the aircraft would land and investigate.
“They could definitely see there’s a bunch of people in white robes having some kind of feast in a burn area,” Edelstein recalls. “They must think there is some weird shit. They were probably too scared to land where we were, honestly.”
“Into the Kiln” premieres on YouTube on Saturday, January 22. For more information, visit thesaltlickdenver.com.