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Nat Premieres New Video Single “Conditional” 

Dead Soft’s Nathaniel Epp channels his love for Jim Henson into his latest melancholic solo creation. 

by Stephan Boissonneault 

Photos by Keeley Rochon

Puppets, or the act of puppetry, has been around for close to 5000 years, providing a creative outlet for humans looking to convey emotion in abstract situations. BC-based songwriter Nathaniel Epp is putting puppetry back on a pedestal with the video single for his new solo track, “Conditional.”

Writing and performing on his own as simply Nat, the songwriter — who is perhaps best known for his grunge-influenced punk project Dead Soft — has crafted his own puppet in an effort to expel some of that pent up post-pandemic anxiety. The single is just a taste of the breezy indie folk heard on Nat’s forthcoming debut, Psychopathesque Mixtape Volume I, coming out May 26 via Westerly Records 

In the music video for “Conditional,” Epp’s puppet, a blue foam caricature made in his likeness,  channels the work of his hero Jim Henson as he walks around going about his day on the isolated BC island that he and his partner have called home since abandoning the hustle and bustle of the mainland nearly five years ago. 

We chatted with Epp about his lifelong appreciation for puppeteering, the inspiration behind his new track, and some of his favourite puppets in pop culture, including the obscure and lovingly strange, Sifl and Olly. 

Your new video single has some noticeably melancholic overtones. What inspired it? 

The song is rather melancholy, and I had just finished building this puppet I’d been working on for a long time, so I thought it would be fun to juxtapose the melancholy with the puppet and some humorous puppet moments. The puppet and video treatment are obviously inspired by The Muppets, which I am a lifelong fan of. There are some Muppet moments and songs that are melancholy but also funny and heartwarming, which is kind of the Muppet magic recipe, and that’s kind of what I was going for. 

What was that process of making your own puppet like?

I would say the process was very drawn out. I started the puppet back in 2016 or so after watching a Jim Henson documentary that I found really inspiring but it quickly turned into a serious procrastination project that I would usually only work on when I was supposed to be working on something else. I also wanted to make it as high quality and up to Muppet spec as I could so it ended up taking a really long time. I learned a lot though and I would love to make more puppets in future. One fun fact is that a bunch of the internal foam and initial ingredients are scavenged Vancouver alley foam which is fairly sketchy thinking back on it. Dodged those bed bugs!

Is the puppet supposed to be you?

Yep that was the idea. That wasn’t the original plan for the puppet but at a certain point, due to a couple of wrong turns, it started looking like a self portrait and the idea for the video was born.

I feel like this video is somehow sadder because it’s being acted out by a puppet, controlled by some omniscient force off-camera.

I think you’re touching on the magic of puppets in general! To me, everything you do with a puppet seems extra funny, or cute, or sad. Something about the disembodied animation and sympathetic motion.

What was it like dragging this puppet around town? Did you get any looks?

I live in a very isolated area so there wasn’t anyone around while shooting the video. But if there were I’m sure it would have been cool, who doesn’t love puppets?

How did you get the dog to run at the puppet?

That took a few tries! Fortunately my dog Sally does a great “stay,” so the process was: get Sally to stay in the right spot, then I would get just out of frame, throw a dog toy and then chase after it myself and try to get Sally running in the right direction and just by the camera. It kinda worked!

What are some of your favourite puppets in pop culture? 

While The Muppets are of course amazing and perfect there are other cool puppet worlds! One that I would like to shout out is the Sifl and Olly puppet world! I guess it was some sort of interstitial nonsense show on MTV in the 90s but ever since my older sister put some Sifl and Olly sketches on a tape for me when I was a kid, I have been pretty obsessed. Chester and Precious Roy from Sifl and Olly are some of the funniest characters ever, check it out if you’re not already a massive Sifl and Olly fan.

Does this single set the tone for the upcoming album, Psychopathesque Mixtape Volume I?

I think so. The album is quite varied musically but fairly consistent in tone. And it’s out on May 26 via Westerly Records!