“The less I have to worry about, the more time I got for smiling,” Kristian Bush sings in his favorite verse of “Trailer Hitch.” The song, which touts the happiness earned from giving away material possessions, is the male half of Sugarland’s first official solo single. Its unconventional video, released this week, encapsulates his nice guy ethos and integrates his fascination with sci-fi and horror films. The plot: Zombies attack and Bush soothes the undead beasts with his guitar. “People have seen the lyric video and they get the message,” Bush says of the song’s “give it away” mentality, which was depicted by the singer-guitarist handing out money in the lyric clip. “Through the lens of a zombie apocalypse it is even more [true], because these zombies are testifying that you cannot take it with you when you go.”
Rolling Stone Country was on the set of the video — a dusky dive bar in East Nashville — where director Blake Judd, who has helmed videos for Shooter Jennings and Blackberry Smoke, cast us among his walking dead. Here are nine things we learned participating in Bush’s zombie apocalypse.
1. Sometimes an audience really can be dead.
Judd’s pitch for the video opened with the following exposition: Kristian sits backstage. The band asks, “What does it look like out there?” He opens the curtain, looks back and says, “It’s kind of dead.” “Whatever this is,” Bush recalls upon first reading the treatment, “it’s about to be awesome. There are so very few things that happen that are unlikely in this business. Like, it’s likely that Carrie Underwood‘s legs are going to be in another video, but it’s unlikely that this song is going to save the world from zombies.”
2. The video was inspired by “Thriller.”
Bush recalls his delight when he first saw Michael Jackson‘s “Thriller” video with its Vincent Price voiceover and dancing dead. “Why in the world are there zombies?” he says. “I can’t believe nobody’s really done that since, and I am just thrilled that Blake suggested this.” Artist and director quickly bonded on the set over their shared love of comic books, sci-fi and horror flicks. “It’s like a weird frat,” Judd says.
3. Turning undead takes a lot of time.
Depending on their level of zombie prominence in the video, extras could sit for upwards of two hours in Creature Corps leader Robert Kurtzman’s makeup chair. Kurtzman, a Hollywood special-effects veteran who has worked on installments of Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, painstakingly created a burly zombie dude with a missing ear, while his team was tasked with turning the rest of us undead.
4. Canaan Smith is one of several artist-turned-zombies.
Look closely and you’ll see Canaan Smith, one of Rolling Stone Country‘s 10 Artists You Need to Know Now, in full zombie mode, menacing Bush and trying to entice a girl to dance. And that’s not all: Bush’s brother Brandon, a member of his band, is the mustached guy who lets out the blood-curling scream; the sisters from Atlanta Americana group Larkin Poe are also onstage; Southern rock-country artist Tim Montana plays the bartender; and Vernon Roach, one half of Average Joe’s new countrified rap duo Twang and Round, is the zombie sans ear.
5. Even zombies need name tags.
Bush says the “Trailer Hitch” video is the “Hello, My Name Is” sticker for his upcoming solo album. “One of the cool things about me as a solo artist right now is people see me and they don’t have any idea what I sound like,” he says. “This song is supposed to help you through the door. I have a lot of places I want to take you on this album, but the first thing I need to do is meet you, look you in the eyes and say, ‘Hi, I’m Kristian — and, oh my gosh, there are zombies.'”
6. Zombies prefer thrifted clothes.
Many members of the cast visited thrift stores before arriving on set, filling entire suitcases with what they thought looked most zombie-esque. But even then, the wardrobe magicians spent the first hours of the day cutting holes and spray-painting clothes to make them monster-ready.
7. Bush lives in zombie ground zero.
AMC’s The Walking Dead films in Bush’s hometown of Atlanta, and he and his family have embraced the series and its sets as part of their city’s culture. “The first season came out and I started to go walk around where they had done the shots because I’m a dork like that,” Bush says. One of the series’ effects artists even does his daughter’s makeup. “For Halloween the last two years, my daughter has been a zombie Tinkerbell and a zombie ballerina. They’ve been scaring the crap out of me.”
8. Making videos isn’t brains surgery.
Although it may be as tempting as a live brain — mmm, brains — to a hungry zombie, Judd warns not to overthink the video or how it was made. “Let everyone do what they are good at,” is how he describes his laissez-faire directing approach. “It’s just a fucking music video.”
9. K.B. is the O.Z., yo.
Bush amused himself and kept cast and crew engaged by zinging zombie one-liners. His favorite, however, came from a cast member who asked, “You’re the O.Z. right…the Original Zombie? You’re the reason we’re here.” While the singer claimed the title, he — alas — remained human in the video. “It would be fun at the end if they totally bit me though.”