Visual Artist Eleanor Petry Gives KEXP a Behind the Scenes Look at the Making of Chastity Belt's New Videos (KEXP Interview)

Interviews
12/01/2021
Jasmine Albertson
photo by Eleanor Petry

When you think of a band press shot, you likely think of four dudes (unfortunately) standing in a line against a blank or single-colored wall, maybe holding their instruments or maybe just staring blankly into the camera. Sure, it does the job of showing the listener what the members look like but does it pull you in or make you intrigued about what they have to say? Probably not.

When Seattle’s Eleanor Petry takes a photo, even if it’s solely being used for professional purposes, she uses colorful backgrounds or props that tell a specific story and focuses the camera on the eyes of her subject in a way that feels intimate or, if nothing else, incredibly fascinating. It’s important too, since many times the press shot is one of the first encounters a person has with an artist, the reason to click on the article or scroll down and actually listen to the music they make.

But that’s only one side of what Petry contributes to the music scene. She’s also a sought out music video director, a form of which I’m sure I don’t have to explain its importance. Most recently, she shot the two videos for local heroes Chastity Belt’s 7” Fake/Fear. As a longtime friend of Julia Shapiro, Lydia Lund, Annie Truscott, and Gretchen Grimm, the two videos celebrate friendship, fun, imagination, and creativity.

Today, Chastity Belt is sharing the second of the two videos, “Fake,” and Petry virtually sat down with KEXP to give us the lowdown on the making of the videos, her adventures in the world of puppeteering, and the art of clowning. Watch the video and read the interview below.

 


KEXP: You know, I'm kind of wishing we had done an in-person interview, though, because it's been way too long since I've seen you!

Eleanor Petry: I know! Well, we should get together sometime. I've been gone for two months.

Oh, where have you been?

Well, I was in Europe for over a month and a half, traveling all around. And then I went to New York and then I was in L.A. and now I'm back in Seattle.

Busy little bee! That's awesome. But yeah, it's just been really fun to watch your trajectory over the years.

Thank you so much.

Yeah, I think we first met I think it was Kerry and JP's engagement party? Which must have been like 2013 or something?

Yeah, I honestly think it was even before that!

Was it?!

Uh-Huh.

Oh my God. Well, since then, it's been very cool to see... because at this point, it feels like you've become the go-to press photo extraordinaire. Like, I feel like at least a quarter of the emails I get say "Photo credit: Eleanor Petry." So that's really fucking awesome to see.

Thank you.

Yeah, you must be constantly weeding through requests.

Honestly, it's been kind of a dry year, with COVID and everything, so I definitely have not been doing as many projects as I would like.

Do you try to stick with working with artists that you already know and love? Or will you take on anyone, schedule permitting?

I'll take on anyone! Schedule permitting, yeah, for sure.

Awesome. I'm excited to have this conversation because I primarily just talk to musicians, but it truly takes a village to put out even one single, and a good press photo or video is tantamount to getting new eyes on artists.

Yeah!

Do you consider yourself a part of the "music scene" or kind of separate?

No, I definitely consider myself a part of the music scene, and I do feel like a performer as part of my, you know, medium for art. So yeah, I'm excited to go more that way, but I definitely feel part of the music scene for sure.

We're primarily talking because you directed the videos for the singles off Chastity Belt's upcoming 7" Fake/Fear. How did this collaboration come together? I assume you've probably known them for a while.

Yeah, it's so awesome because actually, the first music video I ever was asked to work on was for their song "Full" and actually a friend of mine at the time asked if I wanted to collaborate on the video, but I hadn't done any music video work before that. And I think that was in 2013. So it's over seven years later, and I've gotten so close to all the girls in Chastity Belt since then. In 2015, I ended up at South by Southwest and I just ran into them on the street like the first night, and I had no plans for staying or anything, and they were like, "Do you want to just crash with us?" So my first South By, I just stayed with them and had an absolutely wild time.

I love that. It's just so organic. Just friends being pals.

Yes. Yeah. And I think I've gone on multiple tours with them and I've also done video and photo work for their solo projects. So it was really an honor to get asked to do these videos.

When they came to you about it... or did they come to you about it? How did the conversation come about to do these videos?

Yeah, they just e-mailed me this summer — I think Andi [Wilson] emailed me — and Andi and Jesse [Frick], who manage them, I've also worked with on other projects, so it was really cool to hear from them. And they just had a couple of ideas for the videos, but were also super open to what I wanted to do and my ideas. And so that was really cool.

Yeah, the "Fear" video has this very fun, like elven medieval theme. Was that a concept that they had or you had?

It was honestly very collaborative from the beginning, but they definitely wanted... like the girls have been getting into more Ren Faire kind of stuff and they were like, "It would be amazing if we could work with horses." But when we first started thinking about the idea, we were like, "Maybe we could green screen horses in?" Or are like, "How can we access horses?" And the way that came about was pretty wild.

We all just posted to our Instagrams like, "Hey, anybody in Washington have horses?!" And Cheryl Waters ended up reaching out on the Chastity Belt Instagram and referred us to one of her friends who I ended up contacting — I think her name's Holly — but we ended up working with horses through her on Vashon [Island]. Yeah, her name's Holly Taylor and that was just absolutely amazing and really transformed what we could have done with the video.

 

Oh, absolutely. I did not know Cheryl Waters was involved in the making of this video!

Yeah, it's pretty cool! It's all full circle.

It really is. Oh my god. Did they have a horse trainer there to like help guide it and make sure that everything's safe and all that?

Yeah. So I completely underestimated all of that... I just was so naive to what has to be involved when you're working with horses. And Holly, she actually used to work in film, so she just has a huge background of experience. And her friends helped that also have horses. So we had one trainer for almost every single horse we worked with.

Oh my god. That is pretty intense! Especially since you guys aren't even riding them or anything, they're just like... there.

Yeah. To keep them engaged and to keep them running around in the shots, they had to constantly be on them. Also, the horses were like, really, really friendly too. So they had to kind of keep the horses off the girls as well.

Got it. Well, it turned out beautifully. And I think the horses definitely add a layer to the majesty to it.

 

Chastity Belt Behind-the-Scenes of "Fear" Video

Crew On Set of "Fear"

 

Chastity Belt Behind-the-Scenes of "Fear" Video

 

Chastity Belt Behind-the-Scenes of "Fear" Video

 

Thank you.

And then for "Fake," the theme is clowns, which makes sense with the song's concept of being fake, I think.

Yes.

Was that an idea that they already had or you came up with?

So yeah, they just wanted to do clowns, but which is also... for both of these videos, they just knew, because we have dressed up together, that I do clowning and I have quite a few puppeteer friends that some of the Chastity Belt girls have met. So, I came up with the concept from there with just the idea of clowns.

I'm sorry, you do clowning?!

I do.

Like, you have a character?

Yeah, I mean, I dabble in it and I have a few different characters. But yeah, I just like dressing up and clowning around! [laughs]

[laughs] That is highly shocking for some reason.

Yeah, so I fell into this puppet theater world a couple of years ago. I met these puppeteers in the basement of a mall in Miami that's now completely obliterated. And ever since then, I kind of got into the puppet world and realized, there's so many puppets and I met a lot of clowns through that too, because clowns hang around puppets.

Right, sure, same world.

[laughs] Yeah, but it was really cool because I've been in the music and performing arts scene for a while, but I really felt like with my puppeteer friends and some of the performing in that, I just love the concept of it and how I feel like they're not really trying to sell you on too much because it's just pretty out there. And I, personally, have had a lot of cool experiences dressing up as a clown in New York City. I even have gone to some photography gigs as a clown.

No. Oh my god, this is incredible.

Yeah, actually, this is kind of funny, but Ad Hoc hired me to do this like Baby's All Right dance deejay night. It was around Halloween, but they didn't like, hire me to dress up or anything, and I dressed up in full clown gear and I shot the event and it was really cool.

eleanor clowning in nyc

 

I mean, for some reason, maybe it's just because you have this very cool girl essence that this is coming as such a shock to me but also maybe that's why clowning appeals to you? Frees you from the cool girl mystery, maybe?

[laughs] Yeah, I definitely have... like just interacting with people on the street and, yeah, feeling like the way I present when I don't even have any makeup on or anything, I just feel more vulnerable, kind of. But just the types of people that would come up to me when I was like in full clown gear, I felt like I had very different interactions that I wouldn't really be able to have if I wasn't a clown.

Absolutely. I feel like I could just like spend all day unpacking that. [laughs]

Yeah, so Chastity Belt knew that going into asking me about doing a clown video so I was just like, "Okay, this is right up my alley!"

Apparently! Nik [Soelter, her publicist] did mention that you were documenting the World Puppet Theater Festival in France.

Yes. So I flew out to France and met my puppeteer friends, and I toured a little bit with them. They did like a huge torchlight parade in Brussels, and they were also working for this other city called Mons in Belgium. And then we went to this puppet festival in northern France, and I was documenting all of that and documenting their life and a lot of other puppeteers and clowns. And that was absolutely amazing.

Film or photography documentation?

Both. And while I was there, I was editing the music videos, and it just felt magical that of all the places in the world where I could find myself, I am in this small town in northern France, editing this clown video while I'm just around so many clowns and creatures.

poncili creacion at world puppet theater festival

 

saxifrage at world puppet theater festival
saxifrage at world puppet theater festival
world puppet theater festival

 

I love that.

Thank you. Yeah, I also want to I want to mention that we shot the videos in one weekend. Back to back.

Oh!

Yeah, some of Chastity Belt doesn't live in Seattle anymore and so we just had to do it in one weekend. So we shot the "Fear" video, I think, on a Saturday, and it went from early morning and I didn't really sleep the night before to pretty late at night. And then I had to wake up really early and I went and met Gretchen and I had a huge bag of clown clothes.

Gretchen Behind-the-Scenes for "Fake" Shoot

 

You provided all of it?

Yes, well, I definitely borrowed clown stuff from friends and I want to shout out Liam Downey [of So Pitted] for a lot of the clown stuff!

Oh! Hell yeah. Is he also a clown..er?

Yes.

Clownee? Clownin around? Is there an appropriate title?

I guess you're just a clown.

Right, duh.

Or you're "practicing clowning," I don't know. But yeah, he had a bunch of great stuff. And then also, it's bittersweet but Costume and Display, this amazing store that I grew up a couple of blocks from, they went out of business earlier this year, and so a lot of the clown stuff I just bought. And it was like 70 percent off, so I just kept buying all these wigs and makeup. So I was helping do some of the girls' makeup, and they were like, "Eleanor, you're going to dress up too, aren't you?" And so I dressed up as well, and I got to shoot the video as a clown.

self-portrait on "fake" video set

 

Did that change your perspective at all from a directorial standpoint?

Yeah, it honestly gave me so much energy the day of and I can't believe we shot that video. Like, I didn't have any assistance that day, it was just the five of us, and it felt really good to be a clown doing it.

That's incredible and the video's essentially a lot of clownin' around, just going around Seattle, goofing off.

Yes, it was so cool. It was at Pike's Place and I just got so much energy from the general public, like people kept coming up to us like, "Oh, you guys, are you guys doing a show tonight?" Most people were really excited! Like, we got a lot of honking. And it was funny because some of the girls loved it and some of them were like, "We're done being a clown. I do not want to do this."

"This is not my lifestyle."

chastity belt on set for "fake" video

 

We were definitely making a scene, you know.

As you should. Got to disrupt the public sometimes! And then I love the clown party at the end.

Yes. We shot that in Liam's room, which is just such an amazing set for a clown party.

And there are some other familiar faces in there. It's always nice to see some Seattle references.

Yes. Yeah. Bree [McKenna, of Tacocat], Robin [Edwards, of Lisa Prank]. Yeah, that was great.

cast on set in liam downey's bedroom

 

And these are far from the first videos you directed, obviously. You've worked with Anjimile, Kyle Craft, Jo Passed, Ian Sweet...at this point, how much of your workload is videos versus photography?

I feel like the last couple of years I've been...hmm. Well, I'm going to say it still feels like 50/50 in my head.

Do you have a preference of one over the other?

No, I really like doing different things, you know, so I like constantly having both things to work on.

Yeah. Keeps you creatively inspired.

Mhmm. Yeah.

Do you have a favorite video you've made or one you're most proud of?

Honestly, these Chastity Belt ones I'm super excited about because I feel like I got to employ more of my creative vision. Like, just even down to the fact that I do clowning already and I got to do it with some of my best friends and just be really creative about it. I also really love theater. Did you know that I went to Pacific Northwest Ballet School?

I did not know that.

Yeah, I went there when I was really young, but I was in The Nutcracker once...

Oh shit! That's a big deal!

Yeah, it was. And being around Maurice Sendak's sets was amazing. And I, since I was really little, I've been really into theater and clowns, actually, and I used to make short films with my seven siblings, where I'd dress them up and do our makeup crazy and kind of set this scene of a different world. So I really actually like fantasy and making fantasy stuff. So, yeah, I want to do more videos like that that are a little surreal and not really realistic.

 

Do you have any dream artists you'd love to work with?

Oh man. I'm not great at answering these types of questions. I might have to get back to you on that! I feel like, I will say, though, most of the time things just organically happen. I'm like that about places I want to travel to. Like, I don't have one place I want to go. It's more like, "What's the story that's going to take me there?"

Yeah, you're less of a check-off-the-bucket list kind of person.

Yeah, definitely. 

Well, besides this puppet festival, what else you have lined up? Do you have any shoots coming up that you're excited about?

So the whole month and a half I spent visiting friends and family and really just getting to go on one of those trips that wasn't planned at all, it really inspired me, and I made a ton of work, too. Which I haven't started processing yet so I'm just kind of excited to be home and start working on that work and kind of seeing what comes from there. And yeah, I also have been wanting to do more documentary work, and so this winter, I'm going to develop some of those ideas I have more. That's what I'm thinking about, coming up.

And you're at a point now where this is your career, like, you don't have to have any side gigs or anything, right?

Oh, yeah,

That's so great. The creative's dream.

Yeah, definitely. I feel super lucky. It is the dream.

I'll wrap this up with a question that I often ask in interviews, but typically of musicians. So I'm curious what someone who isn't a musician by trade's answer would be? So, since KEXP is a station where the music matters, why does music matter to you?

Hmm. I like that. It's such a big question! I don't know, I love music. I play the piano, I grew up playing classical piano.

Oh, nice. Do you consider yourself a musician then?

I do, yeah. I grew up with my parents really valuing good music in my head, and I had a record player when I was really little and a tape player and I love how music helps you remember things. And it also just can create such a beautiful environment to every day, you know? I don't know. It's so important to me, I love music, honestly. When I got back to Seattle and got in my car, I don't have any way to play music off my phone or anything. And I was so excited to turn on KEXP and be like, "I'm back in Seattle!" [laughs]

Is there anyone you're loving right now or is there any music that's really resonating with you at the moment?

Yes. Well, I mean, I listen to him all the time, but it's Herb Alpert. I actually had Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Band, an album of his when I was a little girl on vinyl, but I still love...I was just in L.A. and I was just listening to Herb Alpert all the time.

What a classy choice.

 

But then I'm going to mention a contemporary artist, which is Helena Della...Dylan...I'm going to mess up her name but do you know what I'm talking about?

I'm not sure....Helena Deland?

Yes.

Oh oh yes!

Yes, she has this song called "Someone New."

[unreasonable screaming] Yes!! "Someone New!!" Oh my God, I have been obsessed with that song this whole year!

Same.

Oh my God.

Yes, same. I was running in Dublin, just listening to her, and she's on my running playlist, for sure. So I'm really into that.

Yeah, at this point Spotify, you know how it knows your favorite songs where when an album ends, it just puts on whatever song you listen to the most that is in the same genre? "Someone New" comes up all the time. [laughs]

 


Fake/Fear releases digitally this Friday, December 3rd. Just a few of the artists Eleanor Petry has worked with are included below.

Delicate Steve
Molly Nilson
Shana Cleveland
Alex Cameron
Anjimile
Briana Marela
CCL
Virgo
Katy Kirby
So Pitted
Black Belt Eagle Scout
Red Ribbon
Jo Passed
No Swoon
Dude York
Anna Shoemaker
Mega Bog
Ian Sweet
Kyle Craft

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