Ecological dread: Themes for Dying Earth documentary sheds light on Teen Daze’s climate change anxiety

Music, Off The Vine

“I just couldn’t get out of bed,” Jamison Isaak narrates, as bells chime over footage of fireworks at night. We hear him ask, “How am I supposed to get through this tour? How am I supposed to get through this day?”

Among the many musicians and artists in the Fraser Valley, Jamison Isaak, producing music under the name Teen Daze, has been one of the most talked-about local artists in 2016. Ahead of the February 2017 release of Isaak’s latest record, Themes for Dying Earth, the musician enlisted the help of local filmmaker Casey Kowalchuk to produce a short film capturing Isaak’s tour-induced anxiety and inspiration from nature.

Isaak’s attempt to deal with the stresses of touring is immediately evident in the film, which opens with intermingled shots of the Fraser Valley’s skyscape and Isaak performing on a small, dark, stage. It’s fitting then, that the first words we hear are Isaak’s, through voice-over, telling us that “within the first week of the tour, I had my first brush with a more serious form of anxiety than I think I’ve ever experienced before.”

Kowalchuck says the 10-minute film has its roots in Atangard, a community living project in Abbotsford. The residence was his, “entryway to the local arts scene.” It was through fellow Atangard resident Simon Bridgefoot, who also produces music as The Parish of Little Clifton, that Kowalchuck got in contact with Isaak. “I heard from Simon that Jamison was going to ask me to do some video projects for him,” says Kowalchuck, noting his excitement.

According to Kowalchuk, Isaak had a particular vision for the documentary before approaching the filmmaker. “He had an aesthetic in mind [for the film.] His branding is very specific, [and] Jamison had certain scenes in mind. I was there to focus on story, communicating ideas that were important to him.” Where Isaak brought a fully developed idea, Kowalchuck brought practicality.
Along with the stress of touring, the film depicts Isaak suffering from a more profound anxiety brought on by a preoccupation with climate change, a theme Kowalchuck notes is “one of the central themes of the new Teen Daze record.”

“Naturally,” he says, the subject of climate change “would have been great to tackle in the documentary, [but it] was something we had to tread around, because we don’t have the answers, Jamison and I.” The film, ultimately, “is about the record. We didn’t want to re-make Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth— that’s already out there.”

The documentary moves through a series of shots, most of which focus on Isaak at home and in his recording space, during which he seems more at ease, or brief shots of performances. Interestingly, all the visual elements of the film are separate from the soundtrack and narration that accompanies them, communicating to the viewer a sense of contemplation. The other noticeable visual theme of the film is scenes of nature in the Valley, often while Isaak considers the inspiration behind Themes for Dying Earth.

“This [record] was trying to be a little bit more of a reflection on what’s actually outside the window,” Isaak says on camera. “I was so focused on trying to make it feel like a really local record in that sense, [one] that expressed the natural beauty [of the Fraser Valley.] I think that makes an issue like climate change a little bit more real. To think that there’s a possible future where someone doesn’t get to experience that inspiration in the same way that I do, that’s really sad to me.”

The depths of Jameson’s anxiety are clear in both the tracks on Themes for Dying Earth, and the documentary itself. Most of this anxiety, notes Kowalchuck, comes from a place of uncertainty with the world’s current state. “There’s a line in the interview that we cut,” Kowalchuck tells me, “where Jamison said, ‘I’m not an expert, I’m just someone that makes music for a living.’” Despite the measured quality of the film’s pacing, it meanders visually from one shot to the next, relying on Isaak’s narration to provide context and narrative.

“Cycle,” the first single for Themes for Dying Earth, eerily reflects Isaak’s anxiety-induced stasis that Kowalchuck so aptly captures in his film, a reflectiveness which, despite taking root in Jamison’s depression and anxiety with climate change, adds to the mosaic of artistic and ecological conversations taking place in the Valley.

Moreover, this instance of productivity sparked by a dread of climate change has given way to not one, but two releases, a record and a short film. As Abbotsford’s arts community intermingles, musicians with filmmakers, writers with painters, we can look forward to more interdisciplinary projects reflective of the many different voices and perspectives belonging to residents of the Fraser Valley.

And if Themes for Dying Earth is any indicator, we can take solace in the fact the face of the Valley (that which people see when exposed to the visual aspects of the art produced here) as well as its voice, is a conscious one, concerned with the well-being of our planet and of our community.

Teen Daze accompanying album, Themes for Dying Earth, will be released February 10.


Themes For Dying Earth from Casey Kowalchuk on Vimeo.