It’s been nearly three years since the Belle Game first conceived “Spirit,” the latest single off their upcoming record, Fear/Nothing, out Sept. 8, and the first song the band wrote for the album. The Belle Game, which comprises frontwoman Andrea Lo, guitarist Adam Nanji, drummer Alex Andrew, and keyboardist Katrina Jones, had retreated to the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity (“this crazy arts center in the middle of the mountains,” according to Nanji) to work with Kevin Drew and Charles Spearin of Broken Social Scene. (Both bands are signed to the independent Canadian label Arts & Crafts Productions.) Upon their arrival, Drew advised the band to “stop talking about making music as much, and just make music,” Nanji recalled, speaking over the phone from Vancouver. So that’s what they did: The four-piece spent a night in the studio and emerged with a “10-minute-long, late-night jam,” Nanji described.
They shared that first, live version of the song—the band attempted to record the track on three subsequent occasions before they finally emerged with the version that appears on Fear/Nothing, a shimmering, sparkling take that would make the perfect summer roadtrip soundtrack—with their longtime collaborator, the director Kheaven Lewandowski. Lewandowski had previously directed several of the band’s music videos, including 2013’s “River.” Lewandowski immediately proposed they make a video for the track, according to Nanji, but, like the track, it took a couple years before they settled on the concept.
The resulting video, which premieres exclusively here on W, is a hybrid of narrative and documentary film—a fictionalized tale about Esther, the sole female “well of death” rider in northern India. After seeing a news clip profiling one such stunt rider, Lewandowski set about finding a woman to feature in the video. In February this year, he and his crew traveled to Jodhpur, the capital of the Indian state Rajasthan, where they connected with a local traveling circus; after several weeks, the circus located Esther in Mumbai and brought her to Fetapuhr, Uttar Pradesh, where they set up the well and began to film.
In the video, Esther, who performs stunts under her real name, introduces herself as “the only female ‘death rider’ left in northern India.” She mounts a motorcycle, kicks up the stand, and begins to drive in a dizzying spiral along the walls of the “well of death”—a hair-raising wood-paneled cylinder with vertical sides, audience members watching from behind rails at the top of the well. As financial pressures on the circus mount—in one scene, the carnival manager scowls at Esther while she counts out the day’s earnings—her boss gets abusive. (According to Lewandowski, the actor playing the manager, a local line producer, told him he had also appeared in Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited. Lewandowski couldn’t confirm.) She escapes his grip and rides off on her motorcycle, only to return the next day, ready to work. She has a job to do.
“Who’s in control of the situation?” Nanji wondered. “It is unclear in the end where the power lies in the characters’ relationships.”
And while the “Spirit” video might be a fictionalized account of one “death rider,” Nanji noted the parallel between its synthesis of narrative and documentary and that of songwriting, “how you take these core elements that are true,” he said, “but you bend and twist and melt them into a story that people can relate to.”
Like “River,” which told a fictionalized tale of a man working at a host club in Tokyo, “Spirit” uses an extremely specific story of a foreign community as a means of exploring how individuals’ experiences intersect. “We really want to highlight different experiences and different identities from all over the place,” Nanji said, “but also highlight how it’s a fundamental human experience.”
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