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The Origins and Making of SOS


A tender seed

It was a clear starry night in Costa Rica many years ago, as I recall, when my young nephew, Mason, and I were musing about the Big Picture. We were talking about species extinctions and climate change and I could feel his trepidation—what kind of world was he going to inherit? Were the adults on planet Earth smart enough to avert the disasters which seemed to be nipping at our heels, even then? My heart broke a little feeling my young friend’s fear…

And so, as often happens when my heart breaks, I decided to write a song.

EnviroSiren is born

A few months later, one Halloween night in NYC, I clipped some sea weed in my hair, made a bracelet out of a plastic six-pack fasteners, slathered myself in gold glitter and put on a deep sea-blue lace dress, slightly torn. When I arrived at the party, a gentleman friend told me I may have “over done it” with the glitter. That didn’t stop me from happily humming the beginnings of Sink or Swim? for the rest of the night!

A sudden gig at the United Nations

A short while later, I met a nun (a friend of my friend Pamela Kraft, founder of Tribal Link) who was organizing a side-panel about rising oceans at the World Summit on Sustainable Development PrepCom II at the United Nations. I laughingly told her about EnviroSiren’s SOS. She immediately exclaimed, “Oh you must sing it at this event I’m planning at the UN!” Of course, I’d love to, I replied. Neglecting to inform her that I hadn’t even finished writing the song!

Nothing like a deadline

My mission was clear, a date in the calendar set to sing for ambassadors and diplomats and there was no turning back. I asked Mark Stewart to quick, help! (Mark is one of the finest people I had met in all my years of working for Julie Taymor and Elliot Goldenthal—he is Elliot’s go-to musician for creating all kinds of unique sounds).

Soon, I found myself at Mark’s whimsical and wondrous studio on the lower East Side, where from one particular chair you can reach out and play an odd assortment of original instruments attached to the walls and born from Mark’s genius musical mind. He gently held my hand as I unwrapped the melody I’d been crafting. He laid down some fancy jazz chords and helped, as he likes to put it, with the harmonization….and so our SOS really began to take shape!

The kindness of musicians

Another friend helped me research towns that looked imperiled by rising seas (Dave Cowie). I found a website with hundreds of ways to say goodbye and hello in different languages. Then two more musician friends, Aaron Gilmartin and Chris Marquardt, kindly helped put the finishing touches on the song. Chris even donned a pirate hat, strapped on his guitar and off we went to sing at the UN. Needless to say, I was…excited!

Eyes you could drown in…

It wasn’t a huge room, there were only a few dozen people there. But I will never forget the deep brown soulful eyes of the towering Ambassador from Tuvalu. One could feel the weight of his sinking island —and it’s ancient culture— in those dark watery eyes. I wanted to weep….but I had to sing. Thankfully, everyone seemed to love our SOS! Afterwards, the ambassador’s wife told me about feeling like the ant on an elephant’s back—people in the United States didn’t seem to care about a tiny island facing utter inundation. She took my hands in hers and with tears in her eyes, implored me to keep singing…

Twin storms

Three years later, Katrina wiped out lower New Orleans, killing over 1,000 people and letting the world know that climate change had arrived on the scene with a vengeance. I know, I know, you can’t blame climate change for any one particular storm. I had even swum home from school once in New Orleans, at 12-years-old, when the pumps broke that suction out thousands of gallons of water every day from beneath the Crescent City— which sits precariously below sea level… But for a while, I couldn’t sing SOS without a shiver running down my back. I never truly wanted to say goodbye to one of my favorite hometowns.

By the time Superstorm Sandy pummeled my new home of New York City, I knew EnviroSiren’s time had finally come. I hope she’s wrong. I hope the thousands of scientists around the globe who have been warning us for years now about the dire implications of a warming planet are wrong.

I truly hope we can turn the tides….it’s not too late, yet.

SOS is my way of trying to help make sure we do.

The Making of SOS

Ten years in the making SOS is a labor of love, determination and downright doggedness. It would not exist without the formidable talent and incredible skills of Mark Anton Read. Genius visual effects artist, musician, director and lover, the beauty of SOS is in no small part, a reflection of the hours and months of Mark’s devotion. I am eternally grateful.

I always knew the song needed to be a music-video.  I wanted to give it away to help fuel the urgently needed Green Revolution. When I met Louda Larrain at the Art Salon parties she and her husband, the photographer Gilles Larrain were throwing at their fabulous Soho Loft, I knew I had found the perfect designer to costume the otherworldly creature of EnviroSiren.

On our first day together, after I commissioned her to begin, Louda was tossing beautiful thick yarns of blue and green and pink on the floor—constructing the  fabric itself!  Numerous fittings and bottles of champagne later, I had not only a dress but a long glove and a bathing suit (made out of the second glove—who needs two gloves?!) fit for a mermaid.

Then Mark borrowed a 5D camera and we went on vacation in Tulum, Mexico to shoot. It was on those gorgeous powdery white beaches that my dream finally started to come true… We found kind helpers, Diego Lomelin and a masseuse on the beach, who agreed to hold the reflectors and assist on the shoot for free. We didn’t have much to work with, just an Olympus underwater camera, the 5D, a dress and a song. But it was enough!

Back in the big city, Mark managed to swing an extra day following a commercial shoot at Pier59 Studios, where he was Creative Director, with a Red Epic Camera (thank you Federico Pignatelli!). That allowed us to shoot the, uh, PURPLE SCREEN for SOS. Yep, purple. If you know anything about visual effects, you know it’s usually GREEN SCREEN which is required as a backdrop, allowing for insertion of backgrounds without interfering with the folks in front… but since my dress had every shade of blue and green in it, we had to improvise.

Mark ended up writing complicated programs in Nuke to insert the backgrounds I bought on Shutterstock which allowed EnviroSiren to travel to glaciers and the White House. I found an enthusiastic editor, Rina Svet, on Mandys.com who created all the sparkly transitions and tirelessly worked with me on crafting an edit that could bring the song to life. A note about Rina: she’s young and wonderfully talented. She ended up giving much more of her time to SOS than she probably expected but she did it gracefully and without complaint. I think she will go far! Once the edit was locked, Mark’s work, seemingly endless, then followed for camera stabilization, color correct and titles. Who knew SOS would be so very much work, indeed?!

So there you have it. The origins and the making of…

May our SOS have an impact and may humans everywhere wake-up to the warnings and turn the tides on climate change before it’s too late.

Mark and Jules in the lagoons of Tulum.