This is an exclusive music video premiere, part of The ARTery's effort to highlight ascending New England musicians.
“Mama always says/ Every time there’s hardship/ The good time’s on its way.” The opening line of Cambridge-based musician Alec Hutson’s “Zebra” was inspired by an old Russian song that his mother used to quote — but it also gets at the central theme of the song, for which a new music video dropped Friday.
The child of two immigrants from the Soviet Union, Hutson grew up speaking Russian at home. The line is also the musician’s mantra, and the song’s overall message, breathed into life by vibrant, metamorphosing landscapes that change with the seasons, the weather — and himself — in the artist’s new video.
Hutson just turned 30, and he’s been doing a lot of reflecting. That’s exactly what “Zebra,” is about: “Life is kind of stripey,” he explains. “You go through good stripes and bad stripes.”
The song — which features Boston rapper Cliff Notez — is from his third full album, “Reactions,” which was released a year ago this week. Hutson wrote the music and lyrics, and sings and plays guitar, bass and alto sax on the track. Hutson draws influences from a range of genres, including soul, funk and folk for a groovy indie sound that's both catchy and contemplative.
"The concept of it inspired me to revisit ... hardships that I'm dealing with and kind of put them into perspective of the larger picture," Hutson said. "If you're having a really s---ty time, it's going to end at some point. And if you're having a really good time, it's going to end at some point. It helps to know that these things are really finite."
The accompanying music video took a full year to make. Watch it, and it isn’t hard to see why. Transitions of many kinds are portrayed by shifts in seasons, movement, light, mood and animation. It’s trippy, yet sophisticated. But Hutson had just one main collaborator in producing it: his friend Alex Ezorsky.
"I was like, 'Oh, let's make the good and bad vibes of the zebra stripes," Ezorsky said of the idea behind the video. "It's such a visual metaphor — let's make the metaphor literal."
Ezorsky’s titles in the production are many: videographer, editor, co-director, co-producer and drone operator. He also created all the special effects himself. It took the pair over a year to film and edit, mostly filming in neighborhood haunts and other nearby locations that aren’t hard to recognize if you live in the region, like Somerville’s Prospect Hill, New Hampshire's White Mountains, Middlesex Fells and Cambridge's 1369 Coffee House.
"If you're having a really s---ty time, it's going to end at some point. And if you're having a really good time, it's going to end at some point. It helps to know that these things are really finite."
Ezorksy called keeping things consistent a challenge — from framing shots to the length of Hutson's beard. But there were moments of serendipity, too — like in one of the video’s first scenes, where Hutson steps over a rock and we watch it transform from a mossy one to being coated in a layer of snow.
"I remember the rock was just a throwaway thing, like, we'll never find that rock again," he said. "And Alec goes, 'Hey, isn't that that rock I stepped on?' This is in the entire Middlesex Fells. And I just grabbed my camera and do like a totally intuitive framing, no tripod or anything. ...I line the shots up and I'm like, 'Holy crap, this is a perfect match.' "
They filmed in every season, starting in winter and continuing into the warmer months. And things changed along the way, too — including ones that they didn’t plan for. In one scene, Hutson’s ex is present. But by the time they finished the video, they had broken up.
"Starting filming in the winter and continuing to film through the spring, I was definitely in a better place in the springtime than I was in the winter months," Hutson said. "Not even just in the video, but also as myself in those times. Thinking back on where I was at in different points in the shoot is also really interesting to reflect on."
Just like in life, the changes in the video are many — some bitter, some sweet, leaving the viewer with the reminder that nothing is constant. And if you ask Hutson, that's a good thing.
You can see Hutson play with his original band at Atwoods Tavern on Dec. 12, 19 and 26, or with a Radiohead tribute band covering "OK Computer" at Brighton Music Hall on Jan. 10.