Sisters Charlene and Liann Kaye Are the Perfect Musician/Video Director Team

Sisters Charlene and Liann Kaye Are the Perfect Musician/Video Director Team
Credit: Amanda Kwok

"If romantic love is chemical, how can it feel so spiritual?" Liann Kaye, in an effort to answer her own question, has joined an obviously still growing list of artists and creators desperately seeking a bond that can connect science and love. Like those who produced her influences A Clockwork Orange and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Kaye took to a similar visual form--the music video. Inspired by the cathartic lyrics of the video's song "Animal Love II" written by her older sister, local musician Charlene Kaye, the pair collaborated once again--as they have on all but one of Charlene's videos--to create their most complex and stunning piece yet.

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Charlene Kaye plays Rockwood tonight, 7/16, at 7pm. Watch her new music video after the jump.

As a song, Charlene's album closer "Animal Love II" is more than just a ballad. With a softly dreamy opening verse, its melody shocks as a funky guitar riff bleeds into a much louder chorus. The sound is more of a painful yearning than upbeat dance number as its counterpart and album opener "Animal Love I" plays out. "For me, "Animal Love I" is blind hope and the ecstatic feeling that comes with new love. "Animal Love II" is sort of coming out of that tunnel and processing a loss," says Charlene about the bookends to her 2012 full length, which bears the same name as the pair of songs.

What has marked much of Charlene's songwriting, including that of her folky 2008 debut Things I Will Need in the Past, is a visceral and physical descriptiveness that stemmed from a college-era infatuation with Joni Mitchell's storytelling. "She has such a colorful vocabulary and way of painting a picture of a conversation or circumstance," muses the musical Kaye. "I think about that every time I write."

That particular discovery occurred her freshman year of college at University of Michigan, but pursuit of her current career did not begin for Charlene until her junior. As for filmmaker Liann, Charlene remembers her sister playing with iMovie and creating home movies while in high school. "She was already interested in that, but it took me a long time to really embrace music and consider it a possible career," says Charlene. "It took a lot of overcoming fears and worrying about whether or not I could support myself doing it."

For both sisters, their true rise as artists happened simultaneously. As Charlene began playing shows, Liann began filming them with so much success that other musicians requested she do the same for them. In 2009, the sisters moved beyond concert footage and into the world of music videos where they have truly flourished. "Skin and Bones," the brilliantly lovely duet Charlene recorded with friend, classmate, and Glee star Darren Criss--only known then as Harry Potter in the musical parody of the franchise produced by his theatre production company Team StarKid--became the first collaboration with Liann as director of the visual accompaniment to Charlene's songs. Starring Charlene and Darren, the video tells the story of a long distance relationship and utilized paper props crafted by Charlene that helped keep the team within their $100 budget. The project inspired the name for Liann's production company Paper Frame Productions.


Between "Skin and Bones" and "Animal Love II," the videos directed and produced by Liann for the music written and performed by Charlene show significant growth and heightened ambition. As Charlene moved on to an edgier glam sound after her folk-pop beginnings, Liann's own skill and abilities as an artist have seen her experiment with ideas and mediums in an attempt to tackle more complex themes. To properly complement a song about "[extracting] heartbreak physically from one's body," as the song's composer succinctly explains, Liann brought in an array of historical notions on the subject to help dissect the thought. "I think this video is part ghost story, part mad science experiment," explains Liann. True to her words, Liann stuck her sister as the video's star in a mental hospital surrounded by masked nurses outfitted with beaked plague doctor masks from the 1700s bought in Italy by art director Marguerite Woodward. The nurses force Kaye's character to watch memories of herself and a former lover in happier times with the goal, says Charlene, of "being tortured by that for the purpose of processing [the memory] then ridding myself of it."

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Liann Kaye on the set of "Animal Love II"
Liann Kaye on the set of "Animal Love II"

For now, collaborating on more music videos isn't currently on the roster of upcoming projects for the sisters. Well over a year since Animal Love was released, Charlene is focusing on writing after touring with Alexz Johnson in the spring and opening for Darren Criss on recent East Coast stops of his tour. Since her 2008 debut, the singer has been experimenting with all the sounds and melodies that are floating in her head. Currently, she's explored a much more electronic writing process inspired by Swedish duo Niki and the Dove. "I still want all the songs to be personal and meaningful but also married with this new, interesting production," she says.

While it may take some time before she releases new music, the promise of a reinvented sound is thrilling in terms of not only Charlene's impressive artistry, but the very capable eye of her sister as music video director. "She's the one person in the world I feel like I can drop my hands completely and trust that the final product will be awesome, great," says a proud Charlene. "Knowing how she thinks and knowing that we have worked together in the past to make things that we have been really inspired by and proud of kind of lends to that peace and trust." With that, "Animal Love II" does more than convey its inherent idea of exiting the tunnel of romantic infatuation and offers a glimpse of the light at the tunnel's end better known as the possibilities of what's to come from the creative minds of the Kaye sisters.

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