Polly Nor’s animated music video for north London songwriter Chelou uses black humour to tackle feelings of self-doubt
‘Chelou’ is Parisian slang for ‘louche’. It’s also the name of a 25-year-old north London-based singer-songwriter whose music has been racking up millions of streams over the past year or so. Though Chelou has remained relatively anonymous as a musician, he makes an appearance – albeit in animated form, with hands for feet – in the video for his latest single “Halfway to Nowhere”, produced by British-Japanese DJ/producer Maya Jane Coles.
The “Halfway to Nowhere” video was made with illustrator Polly Nor, whose work explores female sexuality, insecurities, past pains, and future desires with a frankness and dark sense of humour that’s rarely seen in the media. Guts, hair, dirty rooms, devils and sensory greenery are recurring images in her work, and her video for Chelou (created with animator Andy Baker) includes them all. “The story follows a woman trapped in a grotesque and devilish manifestation of her subconscious,” says Nor. “Lost in this strange place, she’s led to confront her demons and make peace with herself.”
We spoke to Chelou and Nor about “Halfway to Nowhere” and how they brought the video to life.
Tell us about ‘Halfway to Nowhere’.
Chelou: I think ‘Halfway to Nowhere’ came to light unconsciously as I was travelling. When I’m writing, it’s common that I only realise the meaning behind the song after it’s written; words usually just flow in the hope they’ll rhyme. I had a dictaphone and a nylon string guitar and it was originally about a minute-and-a-half idea. The meaning behind the song is really everything I felt at the time and probably still do. It’s just the frustration of life: things you have, things you want, hope for the future, but also the failure to act upon it.
Polly Nor: For me, the track perfectly captures the feeling of being lost in life. The chorus line ‘I’m still halfway to nowhere / I’m still nothing today’ really resonates with me. I think we can all relate to these feelings of self-doubt and lack of direction.
How did you end up working with Maya Jane Coles on the song?
Chelou: The Maya thing was pretty lucky. These dictaphone recordings managed to find their way to her as she was driving back from headlining The Warehouse Project (in Manchester). I think the acoustic shift of my demos must have resonated a little louder during the mood of a post-party journey down the M1. Working with her has been incredible – I’d only just begun to record and produce when we met, and watching this song develop gave me a lot of intuition and confidence to produce myself. I think we both wanted to do something a little different to what we had previously.
“The meaning behind the song is really... just the frustration of life: things you have, things you want, hope for the future, but also the failure to act upon it” – Chelou
Is there a reason you were drawn to working with each other on the video?
Chelou: I’ve known Polly for a while, and we’ve always talked about wanting to collaborate at some point, it was just waiting until the time felt right for both of us. I love her art and was there at her first exhibition, just as she’s been to gigs of mine before Chelou was even conceived. My previous videos have all been animation-led and quite trippy and her devil depiction is the beast I’ve been fighting inside for my whole life, so I thought it fit. The world Polly has created is so colourful and imaginative, watching her and Andy (Baker, animator) bring these characters to life was amazing.
Polly Nor: Yeah, I always really liked Chelou’s music and thought that we would end up working on something. When he sent this track to me I instantly started imagining the opening scene. I had just finished working on another project with Andy, (and) I loved his work and the way he handled my characters, so I was-super excited when he was up for collaborating on this with me.
What was the concept behind the video?
Polly Nor: For me, ‘Halfway to Nowhere’ is all about feeling lost in life and consumed by self-doubt. The story follows a woman trapped in a grotesque and devilish manifestation of her subconscious. Lost in this strange place, she’s led to confront her demons and make peace with herself.
What was it like working on an animation?
Polly Nor: I’ve wanted to start moving towards animation for a while. I’d previously worked on a little 30-second animated advert with Andy, but this project was the first time we had full creative control and could really go mad with the story. It was really cool working with such an amazing animator and seeing my characters come to life. It’s definitely something I hope to do a lot more of.
“For me the track perfectly captures the feeling of being lost in life... I think we can all relate to these feelings of self-doubt and lack of direction” – Polly Nor
Chelou, you’ve always used animation in your videos. Why is that?
Chelou: The artwork for my first releases were all old drawings from my school days. It seemed clear to me at the point of talking about videos that the natural progression was for these to come to life. When first starting out I had to make use of what was available to me, which was my drawings, and I thought the imagery from these would carry the music far better than me lip-syncing the tracks. Animation can be symbolic of so many things, without always having a rational cause.
What are you both working on in the future?
Chelou: I’ve been writing a lot over the last few months and am taking the next couple to focus in the studio and get the tracks down. I can’t wait for another collaboration with Maya, for her forthcoming album to be released next year, and for studio time with a couple of producers which I’m very hyped about.
Polly Nor: I’ve got quite a bit going on at the moment. I’m in the early stages of a fashion collaboration with one of my favourite designers, illustrating a book for Bloomsbury, and releasing new prints and clothing on my online store. I’m also working towards my next solo exhibition and want to focus getting some new work done.