They were running 90 minutes behind. Right on time.
When Kolby Giddings breached the surface of Conestoga Lake, sprinting through a beach of shattered glass and thorns to arrive there, it was at the sweet spot of the golden hour. And the euphoric, dreamlike climax of AZP’s “Anchors Aweigh” video was bathed in golden light, flaring up into the camera lens.
In the Lincoln hip-hop collective’s newest video, Giddings portrays a nameless young woman, waking up alone on a forest floor, jolted to consciousness by a vision of herself and her future. We could see her premonition as akin to the one Zachary Watkins had when he spontaneously conceived of the visual for “Anchors Aweigh,” a song defined by its imagery, which came about right alongside the music.
“The dress, the girl in a vintage white dress in the middle of nowhere, that’s the picture that came,” the AZP pianist and singer says, describing the baptismal scene he conjured.
The song appeared directly on the heels of the band’s June EP Early Sunday Morning, a deliberate effort to follow up quickly but not forcefully. The band is the first to acknowledge that “Anchors Aweigh” with its Bon Iver-inspired autotune interlude, guitar intro and drifting exit is not AZP’s typical message-heavy fare.
“We hit you in the face hard with lyrics, so we wanted to back up a little bit and hit you with a mood,” Watkins says.
Throughout the making of the video and song, Watkins and his braintrust partner, AZP lyricist-rapper Ishma Valenti, relied on a series of important balances. Last Sunday during the shoot, the co-directors worked off a meticulous shot chart, planned in five and 10-minute intervals. That is, except for when they abandoned it: skipping, adding and reframing. Betraying a few of their well-laid plans was just as important as following them.
“Ishma’s really like a movie guy, but we thought let’s back up from the movie and go imagery, imagery, imagery,” Watkins says. “We had the shot list all planned out, but when we got out there we still had to be artists because the canvas wasn’t fully painted.”
How that improvisation was communicated on set was by way of an insular language between Valenti and Watkins, one that they’ve honed through three years of writing always in the habit of tackling big ideas of spirituality and social justice. Flying between them was banter used to communicate what premonition eyes look like, how to best utilize the dirt gradient of a dried-out creek bed, and some jovial mocking of the camera-mugging customary of many hip-hop music videos.
Their faces appear nowhere in the “Anchors Aweigh” video and yet their touch appears all over its blueprints.
In the song, Valenti is charged with tangibilizing some of Watkins’ more abstract lyrics into topical criticism of humanity’s daily behavior, lambasting fast food and our self-made isolation from what he sees as life’s bigger picture. For Watkins, proclaiming “anchors aweigh” is something primal and physical, the shedding of intense weight and the beginning of a voyage. Valenti, in turn, identifies that weight.
“The anchors to me — how I wanted to convey it — was Zach giving me that darker part of the beat and instrumentals, so I thought it was my responsibility to put light on some of the relative, everyday anchors that we have,” Valenti says. “And talk about them in a relevant way.”
With the new song released as an Early Sunday Morning bonus track and the video released as of Monday morning, the duo can share a laugh over the people who tried to correct their spelling of “aweigh.”
Sail into the “Anchors Aweigh” music video here:
Chance Solem-Pfeifer is Hear Nebraska’s staff writer. He was plenty happy to spend time on set with Zach and Ishma. And plenty happy he didn’t have to go in the water. Reach Chance at firstname.lastname@example.org.