ABOVE: THE MAJORLEANS
Through raw storytelling and hustling, The Majorleans have made major moves into the NYC rock-‘n’-roll scene. The duo—Nick Francis DiFonzo and Chris Buckle—released their record Black Belt earlier this year, after meeting at an East Village bar, both in need of a new project. During the period of writing and recording of Black Belt, DiFonzo endured terrifying experiences including a car crash, mercury leakage, and witnessing a man being run over and killed by a subway train in Brooklyn. With these experiences in tow, DiFonzo and Buckle created songs filled with heavy experiences: stories of life, death and rhythmic guitar riffs and arrangements.
We’re excited to premiere the video for “Imaginary Plane”—a bluesy, dark rock-‘n’-roll jam reminiscent of Tom Petty and Eric Clapton portrayed through gorgeous vignettes, some of which take place in the old Interview Magazine archives. The red lighting in the video creates an alternate universe—one full of psychedelia and the emblems of New York City.
We spoke with Nick Francis DiFonzo about hip-hop, the concept behind “Imaginary People,” and his experiences with life and death.
ILANA KAPLAN: How did you choose to film in the old Interview Magazine library? How did the video come together?
NICK FRANCIS DIFONZO: Paulina Jurzec, the director, and I worked very closely. I had a pretty good idea of how it wanted to go, I had some storyboards. We talked it over a lot. A lot of the interim shots, we made a fake soundstage in our space. The projection stuff—she’s very well-versed in that—theater projection. It was cool. I’ve known her for a very long time, and I had a very specific idea of I wanted her to do. I grew up listening to hip-hop and doing my thing in Baltimore, and I’ve always liked that vibe—that criminal element vibe. I think it breathes a cool, inner narrative—rap videos and stuff like that. When we were concepting the video, I would play her scenes from Belly, the Hype Williams movie that came out in the ’90s. I just like that—it reminds me of Italian gangster movies. Even on a weird tangential platform, I’m a big fan of Vincent Gallo movies, which are kind of weird. They have that same type of poise. It’s a guy doing his thing and it’s very put on, but in a very stylistic way. It reminds me of gangster stories. I wanted to do something that was very stylish and has a bit of an edge. Controlling the lighting, we thought it would give us a big through line and give us a nice New York nighttime feel. Honestly, most music is made in New York.
KAPLAN: Was Interview Magazine still in the office at the time of filming? They’ve moved from there.
DIFONZO: No, they’ve been gone from there for a long time. I actually freelance for a company called Code & Theory right there. Dan (Gardner) and Brandon (Ralph)—the guys who own the company—are super fucking cool. I told them, “Hey, I wanted to use that room to shoot in. It’s a magical little room.” We actually talked about this idea of having 12 of me around the table while shooting. It was a cool place, especially for people who haven’t been in there, and breathe the inner life of the character I was trying to play.
KAPLAN: What’s the meaning of the song?
DIFONZO: I don’t know, I wrote it a few years ago—the lyrics, anyway. I fucked around with it in a previous band with a much different musical form. It was never quite right. When you write songs, you know if they’re good, but if they just keep hanging around, then you know the lyrics definitely meant something to you. It was just me walking around the city trying to figure out how I felt about my life and reality. It’s a broad thing, but it’s just some truths I was going through at the time and some questions. I try not to look those lyrics too hard in the face. If they feel right and they keep popping up, then I put them on paper and they become a song.
KAPLAN: Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
DIFONZO: That’s a loaded question. My dad was a huge Beatles fan, so that was always in my mind. When I became of a formative age, hip-hop was a big thing. I fell in love with Wu-Tang Clan, Ghostface (Killah) and Tupac (Shakur). That doesn’t come into The Majorleans’ music a lot, but I loved it when The Strokes came out in the early 2000s. That brought me back to rock-‘n’-roll. Bands like Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Lou Reed and J.J. Cale distilled down a number of classical rock-‘n’-roll styles to something groovy and impactful. A lot of people don’t like Petty because he’s commercial, but I like that guy. He distills a lot of cool influences. We all love the Stones. We can’t be the Stones—there’s only one (Mick) Jagger and (Keith) Richards.
KAPLAN: From what I know, you had many near-death and life-questioning experiences. How have those experiences fed into your music?
DIFONZO: During the record, all kinds of crazy shit kept happening for me and Chris. I was driving with my wife—I’m actually having a baby with my wife in three weeks in France.
KAPLAN: Oh my god! Congratulations!
DIFONZO: Thank you! It’s crazy. It’s this total other thing that’s going on. We were driving after Hurricane Sandy. We were driving at night, and we were hit by a tractor-trailer wheel head-on going at 80 miles per hour. A 250-pound wheel hit us dead-on, and there was nothing we could do about it. We were driving a rental car, and the car just exploded. You know, you drive your whole life and you’ve been in accidents, but when you’re driving 80 on a freeway and you think this is the worst possible moment for anything to go wrong: that’s the moment where I opened my eyes and threw as this giant object in the path. We survived, and neither one of us were really hurt. It was just a mind-blowing experience.
KAPLAN: That sounds so scary.
DIFONZO: I feel like I experienced a little window of what PTSD feels like. It was so loud, violent, and shocking. It was an explosion. A few days later, I was like; this must be what it’s like for people who have PTSD, but for a longer period of time. You’re a little paranoid, can’t shut your eyes without reliving the visceral experience of the crash, and you’re not really good at talking to people. It was a little while ago, but it was during the recording of the record. I was like, if I could survive that, I could give myself life to continue with all of the spiritual energies to make all of the things I wanted to make. It gave me confidence, if you will.
KAPLAN: I feel like it would do that for anyone. That kind of thing is so intense. I’m sorry that happened.
DIFONZO: No, it’s cool. I’m glad it happened. Anything that can change your perspective is super valuable.
BLACK BELT IS OUT NOW. THE MAJORLEANS WILL PLAY THE BOWERY ELECTRIC IN NYC ON SEPTEMBER 26. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, PLEASE VISIT ITS FACEBOOK PAGE.