Jun 30, 2021
By Caleb Campbell
Michigan singer/songwriter DL Rossi returned this year with his third full-length album, Lonesome Kind. Following his 2019 record A Sweet Thing, Rossi’s latest offering saw him once again conjuring soulful, ‘70s tinged folk craftsmanship, with one of the record’s highlights coming with his single “Great Lakes State Line.” Now Rossi is back with a beautiful video for the track, premiering with Under the Radar.
For the new video, Rossi partnered with Brooklyn-based stop-motion artist Cressa Maeve Beer, who some may recognize from her short film Coming Out. The lovely video fits perfectly with the road-weary world of “Great Lakes State Line,” as Rossi’s warm vocals and soul-barring lyricism trace his homecoming to Michigan and the pain and hope found in looking back over life’s transitions. Meanwhile, the video tells the story of a different kind of homecoming.
Beer explains the story of the video: “‘Great Lakes State Line’ is both a fairy tale about an old man and a magic fox and the wholesome queer love story we all need. Ossie lives his solitary autumn years in the woods, grieving his partner Jude, and existing mostly in the memories of when the two men first met, at the beginning of Ossie’s transition. When a strange fox appears and won’t stop pestering him, Ossie chases it deep into the woods only to discover why the fox was trying to get his attention.”
Check out the video below and read DL Rossi’s interview with Beer below, where the two discuss the video, its inspirations, and the pair’s creative processes.
(DL Rossi) When I first emailed you to do a music video I sent you a few songs to choose from on my new record. I’m curious why you chose “Great Lakes State Line”, and if you had an idea that came to you in the moment you listened? Or if you had already had the idea and “Great Lakes State Line” was the perfect fit for a previous inspiration?
(Cressa Maeve Beer) I try to let my intuition guide all my creativity, and sometimes I can just hear a song and immediately have a visual come to mind, or a color or feeling. The first notes of “Great Lakes State Line” gave me this warm, orange, crackling, bittersweet vibe, like looking backwards on something cherished but finite. I don’t know if that was the intention while you were writing, but I’m happy you were open to my interpretation – it just very simply ‘clicked’ like that. I love folklore and fairy tales, and my dream is to make a whole series of little magical queer fables like what I ended up doing with your song. A little over a decade ago, I remember having a seedling of an idea about an old man living in a cabin visited by some kind of magical forest animal that would act as a guide for his grief, and hearing, “Great Lakes State Line” brought the idea back up, only now it was fully formed.
I don’t know if I ever asked how you found me, but I’m always fascinated by what draws other artists in. What about my work made you go, “Yes, this is what I want to represent my music?” Were you surprised by what I envisioned?
(DL) Love hearing your creative process! And you are right! It is fun to see how as artists we respond to each other’s art.
I found you through a band I know who is originally from Michigan called Finkle! I saw your work and was struck by the beauty and creativity. The stop motion work you do hits my brain differently, the pace and the movement. There is a world you create when you do a piece and I liked that. I was super happy when you said you were interested and available.
I wasn’t surprised that I liked your concept, I was confident in that. But I think I was surprised by how much I fell in love with the characters. When you were working on the video we were in the midst of some pretty hard times culturally. (And we still are). When I saw the story it had an effect on me that softened my posture as a person and allowed me to maybe relax a bit and feel a part of the world, in a way I hadn’t felt in a while. One where we are understanding each other and feeling each other’s presence as humans again. It made me feel connected again!
Can you speak about the importance of telling stories that have diversity in the characters? Do you just allow them to come alive in your subconscious? Or is it a pretty thought-out plan?
(Cressa) I think diversity in storytelling needs to be reframed overall, because at least in America we have this erroneous idea we’re indoctrinated with that a white-cisgendered-hetero-male is the ‘default’ setting, and everything outside of that is either not thought of or is a tokenized inclusion (i.e. the one comedic Black character, the villainous queer character, the disposable trans character, etc). People are just naturally diverse, and it’s so much more realistic to just show that diversity.
Personally, I’m always going to make at least one of my characters trans – either explicitly or implicitly – because when I was growing up I didn’t see a single trans character that wasn’t murdered, deceptive, treated as a brutal punchline, or had their entire identity rooted in their being trans and how traumatic that was. I want to have characters who just happen to be trans (or queer, or whatever). Along with all this, it’s a responsibility for white artists to not exclusively focus on stories that serve ourselves (even if we’re trans or queer or some other marginalization). When I started working on the story and characters for “Great Lakes State Line,” I had been obsessively listening to Beverly Glenn Copeland (who if you haven’t checked out, you absolutely MUST) and really wanted to base a character loosely on him for no other reason than he just radiates joy.
I can be a little freeform when I animate (which can drive people crazy) – the most planning I’ll do is a beat sheet, where I’ll plan a set of movements or moments according to sequences of time in the song. I always feel like I sound crazy when I say this, but my characters come to life usually during filming – as I move them around, their personalities start to form, and sometimes I’ll end up reshooting sequences that I’d shot a week prior because I’d somehow gotten to know them better.
How much of yourself do you put into your writing? Do you pull from memories, do you just sorta write whatever comes to mind, or is it fictionalized?
(DL) One of my favorite parts of working together has been learning so much from you. My background as a kid that was homeschooled and in an evangelical world didn’t give me the same perspectives. It’s helped me learn how I can be a better advocate as a white male to my friends in the LGBTQ community. I haven’t read Glenn but will this year for sure!
To answer your question, yes, I always write first from my experiences and my life. Looking back, writing has always been my way to process my life and how I feel about things. A lot of things I felt and dealt with as a younger person weren’t appropriate subjects for the older people I was surrounded by: depression, anxiety, positive sexuality, and more were approached as things that had specific answers and weren’t approached as questions we learn as we go.
On this record, I tried to view my experiences through the lens of a “character” more. So some aspects of the stories are embellished. I enjoyed having more freedom and fun on this project for sure. So I start with a stream of consciousness approach and then switch to fleshing things out in a more fictionalized way.
For my last question, I wanted to take this moment to make sure we highlight something the video for “Great Lakes State Line” ends on. Can you give me and the readers an outline of what is happening right now in the US with anti-trans laws and how people like me who want to can support the trans community more?
(Cressa) I’ll do my best – since the beginning of the year, there has been a coordinated movement by the GOP attacking trans rights, specifically trans children. It’s swelled to over 100 bills across over 30 states all zeroing in on cutting off access to lifesaving healthcare, banning kids from sports, bathroom bills, and some going so far as threatening to forcibly remove children from the homes of supportive and affirming parents. It’s disgustingly cruel. There has never been evidence ever presented for why trans kids shouldn’t be on sports teams aligning with their gender – nor has there ever been evidence given for why any trans people should be banned from any part of everyday life – these bills are being founded on hateful ideologies and rhetoric and pushed through with gross misinformation and scare tactics.
But almost worse than that is the silence from the public about it; not indifference necessarily, but a sort of ‘what can I do about it’ shrug from otherwise supportive cis allies. But it’s only a small number of elected officials making these bills happen – and they thrive on this silence. People need to recognize the power they hold in combating these bills, as well as recognize that trans issues are the tip of the iceberg into other forms of discrimination – LGBTQ people of all kinds will be next, and then reproductive healthcare in general regardless of orientation, and on and on. There needs to be attention, there needs to be action, there needs to be protection.
Every person reading this needs to contact their state’s representative and demand action. At this point, the biggest target to aim for is passing the Equality Act – which would ensure federal protections, and it’s already passed the House. It just needs a vote forced in the Senate – GLAAD currently has a pre-filled form you can send to your local rep. For resources and actions, visit ACLU.org and TransAthlete.com, along with following Chase Strangio, Raquel Willis, PinkMantaray, and Chris Mosier on social media.