Riff Relevant Interviews: Musician GREG P. YATES [Video Director Behind EMBER’s ‘Moonchild’, Etc.]

Article By: Pat ‘Riot’ Whitaker ‡ Edited By: Leanne Ridgeway

I am always fascinated by the myriad aspects that are revealed from music itself. Some people are merely music fans and hey, that is cool, and nothing wrong with it in the least. But for me, that’s just beginning to scratch the surface because there really is a lot more that goes into some creative projects. For instance, the creation of album artwork, or perhaps the behind-the-scenes work that takes place in the recording studio itself.

Back in 1981, one of the biggest changes of them all, to music in general, occurred with the launch of MTV. That event alone helped drive home the undeniable importance of the visual presentation of bands and their music. In fact, some bands were actually made solely on the strength of a video.

So, being the curious sort that I am, especially concerning all things music-related, plus just recently wrapping our Ember visualizer series (here), I had an idea. Why not discuss some things pertaining to music and video both, with someone who is actively walking within both of those worlds at this time? And who would be better to fill this role than musician, graphic artist, video director, etc., Greg P. Yates – he’s the man behind the new Ember official video, “Moonchild“, and other projects?

That should catch you up to speed then, right? We now have something that I believe many of you shall find intriguing and interesting. I know I do! So come on in and check it out:

RIFF RELEVANT [Pat]:  Let’s start with the music side of your life: What band(s) are you currently involved with and what (current) events are they currently involved with doing?

Greg P. Yates: For the first time since I started playing in bands, I’m currently not with anyone at the moment. I spent most of 2012-2015 playing with Rearview Ghost, a female-fronted southern rock band from Huntsville, AL. We toured extensively within the Nashville, Huntsville, Birmingham area, even going as far as New York, New Jersey, Georgia and Florida. From there, I got together with some great friends and formed Passenger: A Tribute, covering tracks from Incubus, Deftones and Tool. However, I’ve spent most of 2017 without a project. I’ve got something big in the works, but it’s super top-secret. 🙂

RIFF RELEVANT [Pat]: What initially began your interest in music (i.e. a band, album, concert) and when did you yourself begin playing? Who would you cite as some of your biggest influences personally?

Greg P. Yates: I’ve been a fan of music since as far back as I can remember. I had older cousins that got me into metal, but the mid 90’s MTV era expanded my musical taste drastically. Headbangers Ball, 120 Minutes, YO! MTV Raps, MTV’s Amp, even TRL, it all blew my mind! It wasn’t until I started going to concerts that my love for the lights and stage began. My first live show was seeing Metallica and Metal Church in Chicago back in 1991. It was all downhill from there.

I didn’t start playing drums until 2001. I started really late in my life, I was already well into my 20’s. I taught myself how to play and started a band with some friends before I even bought my kit. We were a hardcore metal band called Bite The Hand. As for my drum influences, a lot of it was modeled around my best friend, Dan Wurm, and his style of playing. I’ve watched him play for years and always thought about the way he would approach ideas. I would also consider Tool, Primus and Incubus as massive drum influences.


RIFF RELEVANT [Pat]: At what point did the path diverge and your interest in visual media begin? What schooling/ education have you obtained for these fields? Do you hold any current job positions connected to them?

Greg P. Yates: Growing up a teenager during the early ’90s, I received a camcorder as a gift and began filming everything I could. I loved video editing and cutting together footage. In 1999, I went to the Illinois Center for Broadcasting, a small trade school focused on radio and television production. It was only a 9 month course, and nothing really came from it, but it did open up a lot of doors.

Currently, I’m a graphic designer for a local print shop in Hazel Green, Alabama.


RIFF RELEVANT [Pat]: What was the first visual project that you worked on for a band outside of your own? How did the recent directorial spot with Ember for their ‘”Moonchild” video happen to come to pass?

Greg P. Yates:  I’m a huge supporter of the local music scene and I try to do what I can to contribute in some way. I would always bring my camera to shows and just film footage, then I’ll cut together short promo videos for free just to help the bands promote themselves. I’ve been doing that for years. The first “real” music video I directed, outside of my own bands, was for an amazing R&B artist, Alexandria. My good friend Keith Reeves produced her track and asked if I would direct the video. With this project, we had 8 different locations, wardrobe changes, background dancers and actors, fire dancing, it was amazing! By far, the biggest production I’ve ever been a part of.

Another great project I was involved in was working side by side with the legendary producer Michael Wagener in Nashville. We were filming an Indiegogo crowdfunding video for an album he recently produced. It was pretty amazing walking into his studio for the first time and seeing Gold and Platinum records for Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Janet Jackson and Skid Row hanging on the walls.

Embers’ guitarist, Craig Shadix and I jammed together in Rearview Ghost, so naturally with his new project, he asked me if I would shoot and direct. With their “MOONCHILD” music video, we had the location already in place, but that was pretty much it. Even then, we scoured the grounds of the abandoned mental hospital and found 5-6 different spots to shoot in. We didn’t have a storyline or anything written, it was just, “let’s film and see what happens.” Those types of shoots are just as exciting as ones that are storyboarded, or that have a pre-written list of shots we have to get, because you never know what you’re going to capture.


(At Work With Michael Wagener)

RIFF RELEVANT [Pat]: When it comes to creating such a video, could you explain to us some of the process it entails… the steps from start to finished product? In general, how involved are the bands with this creative process?

Greg P. Yates: I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a “professional” per se. I don’t mean that in a negative way, or to downplay my ability. I don’t have a dolly, steady-cam rig, or lighting. Not yet anyway. Everything I do is handheld. I’ve seen music videos and short films done by “professional” production companies that use top of the line 4K cameras and lighting, drone cameras, all the pro gear and their finished product still looks awful IMO. Sometimes it’s not about how expensive the camera is or how much gear you have, but how well you use the resources that are available. I’d like to think that I have a pretty good eye for getting a great shot and using unique angles, and a creative artistic edge with my editing. I love the old 70’s grindhouse film look and have incorporated that into my own style.

With Embers’ “MOONCHILD” music video, we shot two separate takes of the full band with a wide-angle lens, and then individual shots of each band member in isolated locations throughout the hospital grounds. Normally, I would shoot two takes of each band member, but since this song was over 8 minutes long, we just didn’t have the time or the daylight. We arrived at the location around noon, set-up the first shots around 1:30. Our friend Erin was also on location and had access to a few long black and white dresses. The band decided that getting a bunch of footage of her roaming the rubble and in the background would be great and help tie all the performance footage together. We finished shooting around 4 pm.

Honestly, shooting is probably the hardest part of the entire process. I began cutting the footage together the next day and was probably 60% finished within a matter of hours. All the footage was shot with playback audio, so everything is already in perfect time with the final studio mix of the song. I just create a layer of video from each camera angle, sync each one with the audio so everything is in time and start cutting together my favorite shots. I finished the entire video in probably 6-7 hours total. Once I get started, it’s hard to stop. I love editing.

RIFF RELEVANT [Pat]: What are some bands, ones known for having a strong visual side to their artistry/ music, that you personally like yourself? If you could work on a visual project with anyone in the realm of music, both in the past and the present, who would they be and why?

Greg P. Yates: I look at music videos almost like mini-movies to a point, you’re trying to tell a compelling story while keeping the attention of the audience, all within a short amount of time. Some of my favorite artists that do this are Tool and the Deftones. Rob Zombie is also a master of this. He’s been able to use his music video style of directing and transfer that into filmmaking. His films are incredibly unique in their look, editing and pacing.


RIFF RELEVANT [Pat]: As both a musician and someone involved with the video / visual side of things too, do you have a preference for one medium over the other? If not, then what does each provide you personally that you find fulfilling?

Greg P. Yates:  I’ve always loved being behind the camera rather than front and center in the spotlight. So I guess it’s good that I play the drums, because no one can really see me, LOL. Creating something out of nothing is incredibly fulfilling, whether it’s songwriting and arranging, or filming and editing. I love them both equally.


RIFF RELEVANT [Pat]: Is there anything you’re working on now that we should keep an eye (or ear) open for in the future?

Greg P. Yates:  Currently, I’ve got several music video projects in the works and production will begin in early 2018.


RIFF RELEVANT [Pat]:  I always like to close with an open floor, Greg… anything that you would like to say, state, comment on, promote, rant about, whatever, this is all you:

Greg P. Yates: Huge thank you to Patrick Whitaker and Riff Relevant for giving me this opportunity. Props to EMBER for being amazing and letting me create a part of their history. I’m incredibly honored to have worked with them, and I’m very proud of the music video. I believe it’s some of my best work to date. Their new EP is outstanding and I wish them nothing but the absolute best!!

Thank you, Greg! I definitely share that same sentiment with Greg too because as you watched unfold over several weeks at Riff Relevant, we were present with Ember from start to finish for the new ‘271‘ EP. Not just that but now we have spoken to its visual director here, Greg. Of course, I want to thank my guest, Greg P. Yates, for taking the time and energy to speak to us about his passions and artistry.

I hope you all, the readers, found it as interesting as I do and that it provided you all a look into some things that we do not always get to see. That is one of the most wonderful things about the audio artistry that music allows so many of us to engage in, the fact that there is soooo much more involved in other avenues connected to it. While the music may indeed be our shared passion, there is a lot more creativity and talent encompassed within it and I hope you have enjoyed this look into some of that.

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