Josh T. Pearson might have been trapped by his own mythology, and the animated “Straight to the Top” video is an appropriately exaggerated way to outrun that mythology. The man in black with the beard and haunted eyes averaged an album every decade: releasing his band Lift to Experience’s fuzzed out The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads in 2001 followed by the band’s implosion and then his solo debut The Last of Country Gentlemen, full of languidly gothic country epics, in 2011.
It’s a fine line between genius and shit.
The release of The Straight Hits! this April, a mere seven years later, comes about as something that started as an exercise. Perhaps as a way out of the confines of the 10-minute dirges (gorgeously textured dirges, but dirges nonetheless) that characterized the laborious songwriting on The Last of The Country Gentlemen, Pearson came up with rules for writing a new batch of songs. He dubbed these the Five Pillars:
The Five Pillars for The Straight Hits!
1) All songs must have a verse, a chorus and a bridge
2) The lyrics must run 16 lines or less
3) They must have the word ‘straight’ in the title
4) That title must be four words or less
5) They must submit to the song above all else
It probably goes without saying at this point that The Straight Hits! are not hits, but a collection of firey new songs. Written in just three days, and recorded in just three more, the album is heralded by the blast of the “Straight to the Top” music video, which turns the mythology into a cartoon and burns it down. The video begins with the bearded JTP of Last of the Country Gentlemen in a barroom brawl fight that escalates into a motorcycle chase and develops into a war with robots, and Pearson’s apparent death and resurrection, where he returns as the Man in White—clean-shaven, in ten-gallon hat and all-white suit—pictured on The Straight Hits! album cover.
The clip ends with JTP riding into the sunset and the AI (artificial intelligence) symbol that had recurred in the video, bent around into a kind of anarchy symbol on his jacket. “I’m calling it Anar-chi,” Pearson tells us. “A.I. poses the greatest threat to humanity in my opinion. I’m scared straight.”
The mostly black and white animation—with splashes of red—was created by Pedro Carvalho, a 21-year-old Brazilian graphic artist Pearson came across on Instagram after he’d posted his own drawing of the singer. Pearson and company outlined the basic concept for the video (which you will have to puzzle out for yourself after watching but has something to do with a war against evil Siris and Alexas, apparently) and Carvalho enthusiastically committed to it, enlisting the help of friends João Santos Ponciano, Laura Athayde and Marcos Vinícius to complete the video in just four weeks.
In real life, the last of the country gentlemen was a Texan living in London, watching from afar and unsettled by the divided state of his home country after the 2016 election. He’d also, he says “learned to dance, take drugs, make love … choose life. I got rid of the beard, cut my hair and started wearing colour.”
In the spirit of spreading joy, the Five Pillars and The Straight Hits! were born. Though you may notice some of the songs break several of the Five Pillars, but Pearson says he obeys an unwritten Sixth Pillar: Musical rules are made to be broken.