We recently caught up with our favorite father/son duo, Michigan’s STREAKING IN TONGUES. Their music has been called “beautiful and delicate,” “spellbinding,” and “avant-garde and anti-folk at its best.” The multi-instrumentalists, father Ronnie Ferguson and his 12-year-old son Elliott, discussed the release of their new self-produced trilogy of mini-movies inspired by their 2018 album, Kindergarten Prayers. Since 2015, the band has released four albums and over 40 music videos, bucking the traditional lip-sync style in favor of avant-garde dreamscapes and experimental narratives.
Here’s the duo performing “Everyone Who Ever Cared” from Kindergarten Prayers:
Tell us about the process of making the mini-movies. How did the project come together and how does it relate to Kindergarten Prayers?
RF: Originally I was just trying to write three short scripts for music videos, something Elliott and I could shoot over the summer if we liked ‘em. But the project took on a life of its own. We got into shooting and editing and realized pretty quickly there was no way we could squeeze ‘em into 3-5 minute chunks…or speed up the footage for effect. It would’ve ruined ‘em and we would’ve been repeating ourselves. One of the first music videos we shot, for a song called “Wasted Days,” used that effect, which we kind of stumbled on out of desperation.
EF: The weather was really bad. We almost froze to death. But it was fun burning my dad alive.
RF: Another day at the office. So yeah, we found a different form that seemed to work better for these stories. We’re calling them “mini-movies” cuz we don’t know what else to call ‘em. They’re music video suites, I’d say, something like a homemade version of Pink Floyd The Wall, though with a different tone and subject matter. Also, we’ve really enjoyed all the high concept, interconnected music videos Kevin Morby has released the past few years. I think he’s doing something similar to us. Elliott stars in all three of our mini-movies.
EF: In the first one I play a boy who gets a drone for a present…
Besides using the music, how do the mini-movies relate to the album?
RF: I started writing Kindergarten Prayers the same morning I returned from dropping Elliott off for his first day of kindergarten. Parents talk about how hard it is when their child becomes an adult and leaves the nest, but I can’t imagine it being any worse than when you send your child to school for the first time. A certain vulnerability surfaces, and maybe a certain faith, or if you can’t find faith…paranoia. I was trying to capture that chaos of mixed feelings and it became an obsession. Maybe a coping mechanism. As the project developed, “kindergarten prayers” began to take on different meanings. Vulnerable prayers. Child-like prayers…like innocent prayers. Immature prayers. All of these are different, and I think they’re all represented on the album. So the mini-movies were a jumping off point. We weren’t ready to move past the album just yet. We try to treat each album like its own little project to dance with for a while. We don’t tour often or even play live very much, so we work at our own pace and make things up as we go. I used the album as inspiration for writing the mini-movies. They riff off each other in ways, though they’re more symbolic interpretations of the themes. I think they’re a nice accompaniment. And it was a blast to direct Elliott. He hit three homers and still had time for Pokémon Go at night. Boom.
Elliott, what is it like to be in a band with your dad and make movies?
EF: Fun. Good. Feels different than most kids. Like no other kids are doing this kind of thing with their dad. It makes me feel lucky. I like when we play live the best…and making movies.
Ronnie, how has the band changed since it became just you and Elliott?
RF: So many ways. Playing with Elliott has helped me to approach creative work in a more domestic way, if that makes sense. It’s our lifestyle. It’s what we do when we’re home, not some competition we’re trying to win. Creating music and films, writing, it’s all good fun, and a pleasurable way to journey through life. It’s like a sport or any craft…as you get into it, it takes on deeper meaning. It becomes a spiritual adventure. Spiritual, emotional, even physical. And sometimes it’s just fun to kick out the jams in the living room and hang out. It’s a way we keep our dreaming alive. It’s part of our joy, but just one part. At anytime we can pack it up and put it on the shelf for the week or the year or forever. That might be why it’s lasted four years now. I don’t think we need it, but we like it. We choose it.
Elliott, would you like to introduce the next mini-movie, “An Honest Day’s Work?”
EF: Sure. I play a kid who wants his parents to buy him an ukulele. My nana watched it and said “I could’ve went my whole life without seeing that.”
RF: Viewer discretion advised. Extreme Dental Procedure.
When you two work together on music, how do you go about deciding who plays what?
EF: My dad usually talks about different ways we can do the song, and then we experiment with different stuff.
RF: Yeah, that’s true. It’s fun to tinker with a song that we’ve recorded a certain way, and kind of smear paint over it, or strip its layers, and see what happens. Re-imagine it. We try not to be too precious about the recorded versions of our songs. I think a lot of it comes down to the nature of our band. I’m not playing with musicians who have 20 years experience. I’m playing with my son who has only learned to play music through this band. And I love that. It’s very much how I started. The first show we played, he learned our set two weeks before the show. He’d never played an instrument before in his life and just learned one song at a time, and played three or so instruments at the show. It was really inspiring to watch him do that. I was amazed. He’s my hero, actually. Usually I try to challenge him in small ways. A new instrument to try or role to play. Some new project to conceptualize. We’re very low-key about it, but always the aim is to move forward. It’s a journey and we’re not afraid of messing up. Our very first show we thought it would be cool to hang this banner in front of us while we played.
EF: Our friends kept walking up to the stage and looking behind to see what we were doing with our pedals.
RF: It was a bad choice. We should’ve put it behind us. Anyway…it’s a journey, right?
EF: That banner is cool. It says “Welcome to Kindergarten” and glows in the dark. I helped make it with our friend Sarah. My dad’s got it hanging in his bedroom for a curtain.
Tell us about the final mini-movie in the trilogy? I see it’s over 20 minutes.
EF: It’s a story about a boy who gets kidnapped by a bear.
RF: I wouldn’t say anymore. That’s a good tagline. It’s our favorite, right?
What’s next on the horizon for you guys?
RF: We just released our latest album, Oh My Darlin’. It’s something new in our catalogue. Love songs. Heartbreak songs. Some of the album was inspired by my relationship with Elliott’s mom. We split up when Elliott was 2. He don’t remember a time when we were together.
Is that weird to have your dad sing about his relationship with your mom?
EF: No, I get it. I’m glad he sings about it. It’s cool to hear my dad sing about my mom even though they’re not together.
Do you think you’ll make more mini-movies for Oh My Darlin’?
RF: We’re in the dreaming stage right now. So…maybe.
RF: He’s the boss.
Links for STREAKING IN TONGUES:
End of Interview