The Story Behind Tiny Horse's 'Ride'

Sep 1, 2013

A still from Tiny Horse's 'Ride.'
A still from Tiny Horse's 'Ride.'

When news broke about the death of musician Abigail Henderson, the lead singer in bands such as the Gaslights and Atlantic Fadeout, some of the stories linked to a Tiny Horse music video directed by Mitch Brian and Todd Norris.

Tiny Horse started as a duo, including Henderson and her husband Christopher Meck, but it then expanded into a full band. In March 2013, Tiny Horse released an album called Darkly Sparkly. The song Ride was the first track on the EP.

Mitch Brian, a filmmaker, screenwriter, and visiting assistant professor at UMKC, and one of the directors of the Ride music video, shared his remembrances.

How did you first meet Abigail?

I first met Abby at a show (or maybe an after-party) at The Living Room. We talked about music, New York and LA and the scene in Kansas City. I was instantly impressed with her. I know, I know, join the crowd. I would see her again at events like the Murder Ballad Ball, which is a benefit for MMF (Midwest Music Foundation) the last one of which she was wearing the dress she wears in the video. I asked her if she would wear it in the video.

"Ride" was the first track on the EP, "Darkly Sparkly." Did Abigail or Chris have a vision of what they wanted this song to look or sound like in a video? Why in black and white?

When we had our first meeting about the video, I met with Abby and Chris at their home, along with Cody Wyoming, who had put us all in touch about doing the video. It was the night of a presidential debate and Abby wanted to watch the debate later in the evening. She called herself a political junkie, as am I, so that was a challenge to stay on topic regarding the video.

We were both thinking black and white, which made me happy. I think I said I thought the song "sounded black and white to me." We talked about a lot of things they didn't want in terms of imagery, particularly things that were too western as well as other cliché Americana images. We laughed a lot about that.

Some of the process of making anything good involves deciding what not to do. We talked about empty roads, urban landscapes, abandoned playgrounds. She had some images from other videos and photographers we looked at. I left feeling very inspired.

Set the scene. How did you decide to shoot in this location?

An image of the Jayhawk Theatre in Topeka, from a still of 'Ride.'
An image of the Jayhawk Theatre in Topeka, from a still of 'Ride.'

Somehow, down the line, an idea of flickering film images in black and white and old movie theaters led to the notion of a large theatrical space, bare stage and no audience. Eventually, thanks to help from Peter Jasso at the now-defunct Kansas Film Commission, I looked at the Jayhawk Theatre in Topeka, Kan.

Above the stage is a huge mural, painted in the 1920s, of a goddess of the harvest. She looks like a flapper, slender and with a twenties bob. She made me think of Abby. Maybe it was a sign. (Co-director) Todd Norris and I took pictures and sent them to Abby and Chris. She said she loved the idea of an old, crumbling, elegant theater.

Todd Norris, center, and Mitch Brian (at right), during filming of Tiny Horse's 'Ride.'
Todd Norris, center, and Mitch Brian (at right), during filming of Tiny Horse's 'Ride.'
Credit courtesy Robert Hubbard

We shot the video on December 30, 2012. It was tough because there was no heat in the theater. It was bone-cold. We could see our breath. The crew was wearing layers of clothing, hats, gloves, but the band had to wear performance clothes. They endured the cold like warriors. Nobody complained. We'd break and they'd go next door to warm up. But there was never enough time to get totally warm.

Abigail Henderson during the filming of Tiny Horse's 'Ride.'
Abigail Henderson during the filming of Tiny Horse's 'Ride.'
Credit courtesy Robert Hubbard

Abby's first shots were the medium and close performance shots, singing before a wash of light, and any awkwardness disappeared after the first take. When she locked her eyes with the camera Todd and I looked at each other and knew this was going to be great.

The camera loved her and she knew how to communicate what the song was about. Whatever it meant to her, in the moment, she projected that, and the camera caught it. She's one of the most honest performers I have ever worked with. And funny.

It was so much fun to work with her. The dress was phenomenal, Kimberly Queen's make up and hair was beautiful, the guys in their dark suits all worked in that crumbling theater with paint-chipped walls.

When we got to the mezzanine and made shots of Abby moving through that space, it was haunting and beautiful. It was also damned cold. But looking at Abby and Chris you can't tell it. Everybody acted warm and relaxed. It really was an extraordinary day with dedicated artists both in front of and behind the camera.