A visit to the ‘Last Stop Motel’ highlights mental health in new Take the Reins video
The greatest gift Take the Reins gives listeners is the band’s ability to turn anything — even the darker sides of relationship issues, isolation and mental health struggles — into plucky, hook-driven, alt-punk bangers.
The title track from last year’s album “I’m at Your Door” tapped the frustration of fruitlessly trying to bridge a disconnect with someone. But you could crank it in the car without reaching for a tissue. The accompanying upbeat video — featuring a cast of wacky characters ringing the subject’s doorbell and culminating in a chaotic circus of suitors, salesmen, super fans, Girl Scouts and a couple potential aliens, among others — helped drive home the point that even that sense of defeat can be overcome.
This week, Take the Reins follows it up with “Last Stop Motel,” a second video co-directed by videographer Alex Zarek and band member Matty Rebel. In it, the five suburban bandmates — drummer Rebel, vocalist Courtney Boyers, lead guitarist David Burke, Dan Duffy on rhythm guitar and Erik Hilger on bass — make a late night tour stop at a less-than-top-rated roadside motel. (Cue that inner voice telling you to keep on driving.)
“‘Let’s do a Scooby-Doo kind of campy murder mystery,’ was the initial premise of it,” said Rebel.
“But we got darker,” Boyers added, with just a hint of a sadistic edge creeping in as she laughed.
The video puts a silly twist on genre tropes as the bandmates, plus Todd “the Unicorn” (the band’s roadie, drum tech, driver and all around do-it guy), encounter a creepifying counter agent and stumble into haunted rooms, ghoulish leftovers and a cast of twisted characters.
But through its fun and absurdity, “Last Stop Motel” also tells another story, as Take the Reins songs often do.
“We lightened it up a little with the dark, comedic video, but the song is basically about mental health and being trapped, not seeing a way out of a situation. And getting further and further lost in it,” Boyers, who wrote the song, explained. “And that’s kind of what we went for in the video; we check in, but we aren’t checking out, you know? We’re kind of trapped there.”
The song, a product of the pandemic, alludes to the helplessness and horrors people faced during it, but also the challenges many are up against now that the country is coming out the other side.
Rebel, a first responder with a suburban fire department, said that they go out on sometimes three to five mental health calls a day, up from one or two a week pre-COVID.
“We’re dealing with the fallout,” he said. “The cracks are getting bigger, and (people) are not able to contain it anymore.”
“I just think, as a society, we have to acknowledge that we’re all going through something. We’re all fighting a battle that nobody knows about, and it’s OK,” Boyers said. “There shouldn’t be shame around bringing it to the light and talking about it.”
As the band shines a spotlight on mental health struggles with the new video, they also have an extended theatrical cut prepared for release on May 5, complete with a Twilight Zone-esque intro from a special secret guest star. (OK, it’s famed Chicago radio personality James VanOsdol. So much for secrets.)
In honor of Record Store Day Saturday, April 22, listeners can pick up Take the Reins’ full “I’m at Your Door” album for $1 on Bandcamp.
The band is also playing two upcoming shows — the Beer Can’d Festival at Blue Island Beer Company Saturday, April 29, and Chicago’s Metro Saturday, May 6 — giving fans a chance to catch the songs performed live.
While the shows probably won’t feature any ghosts, broken beds or blood-splattered walls, there’s a very good chance for a “Todd the Unicorn” sighting.
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Beer Can’d Festival 2023
When: 2 p.m. Saturday, April 29
Where: Blue Island Beer Company, 13357 Old Western Ave., Blue Island; blueislandbeerco.com
The lineup: Much the Same, Take the Reins, Capgun Heroes, Won’t Stay Dead, Fighting for Scraps, Space Age Zeroes, Billy Batts & the Made Men, Substitute Prostitute, On the Cinder, Goodbye Sunshine, The Operators, The Decayed, Clear Coat, James the Boneless, Pact Goons and DJ Ivanna Riot
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Lucky Boys Confusion, The Dog and Everything, Night Spice, Take the Reins
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 6
Where: Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., Chicago; metrochicago.com