Jeff Meyers, Jr. spent his time in isolation pondering anti-maskers and snake handlers in West Virginia while making new EP and film project, 'Sugar Pills'
Like many of us, in the early days of the pandemic, Jeff Meyers, Jr. was freaking out.
Uncertainty reigned, and he struggled to understand this strange new world. What would the future hold for him and for his friends, many of whom work in the service industry? To even begin processing the many layers of everything that was happening (and not happening), he needed to make something.
Normally, Meyers, a talented singer and guitarist, would gather his Good Reverend bandmates and work on some songs. But, given the socially distant times, this creative spurt would have to resemble the early days of Good Reverend, when Meyers wrote and played everything himself.
So the songwriter assembled whatever he could find in his Old North apartment — guitars, Rhodes piano, a single cymbal, a laundry basket filled with pillows to serve as a bass drum — and began to demo some new tunes for an EP that would deal primarily with three things: what you need, what you want and what you get, a philosophical triptych that arose as Meyers attempted to wrap his head around one of the most surprisingly controversial topics of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I couldn't believe there were so many people that were adamantly against wearing a mask: ‘I will not do that. I won't listen to you. I won't hear the other opinions, no matter what.’ I was angered and fascinated by that,” Meyers said. “That’s where I started this idea of what you perceive and tell yourself that you need, and then, as you go through the pain of needing something so hard, you end up doing stupid things, or you end up convincing yourself that you need something. And then you get something, and it's not what you needed. Then you start to figure out what exactly you want.”Get what you want and what you need: Sign up for our daily newsletter
A funny thing happened as Meyers continued to think through these ideas in the writing and recording process; he began to see aspects of himself in the anti-maskers. He thought about his relationship with alcohol, and all the times he’d gone to the bar because he convinced himself he needed to.
“I have definitely felt the energy of being so sure about something myself that, even if it's wrong or someone else perceives it to be wrong, I know it’s what I'm going to do, or it’s what I ‘need’ to do. I think we've all done that to a point,” he said. “Maybe it wasn't the masks. Maybe it's something that's not comparable. But it’s a response that says, ‘What have I freaked out about before that would make me look like that to other people?’ ... It opens the door and suggests that you are available to listen, and that's the only thing sometimes that needs to happen. People are scared to admit that they're scared or that they're wrong about something. It comes with this wild stigma.”
An EP alone, though, didn’t seem sufficient for exploring these ideas and translating all the images bouncing around Meyers’ brain. So, drawing on some experiences making and scoring short films, Meyers began turning his five-song Good Reverend EP, Sugar Pills, into a short film of the same name, which the songwriter is releasing tonight (Monday, July 20) at 8 p.m. on YouTube, along with a standalone EP on streaming services and Bandcamp (with proceeds benefiting the Columbus Freedom Fund).
The homespun, blues-indebted indie-rock of Sugar Pills begins with “Fine,” which finds Meyers playing the role of a terrified preacher hiding underneath blankets, trying to convince himself that the spirit haunting him is no big deal. In the next track, the demon appears to take hold while assuring the preacher that hey, it’s not so bad — we all have something in common: death.
While shooting and editing the film, Meyers bought notebooks and began drawing various characters multiple times to incorporate animations into the project. He also began using footage from one of his favorite documentaries, “Holy Ghost People,” a black-and-white public domain documentary from 1967 that centers around a Pentecostal church in West Virginia that incorporated snake handling into its worship services.
Toward the end of the documentary, a venomous snake bites the preacher as he’s speaking to the congregation. The pastor drops the snake, which another congregant calmly collects and puts into a basket. Blood begins to drip on the floor and on the preacher’s handkerchief as he says, “That’s God’s word, good folks. If I die from a snake bite, it’s still God’s word, just the same.”
“At that point there’s [uncertainty] in the faces of the people in the congregation, but he was unmoved by this poisonous snake that just bit him. It’s weirdly beautiful,” Meyers said. “The congregation just keeps going. The celebration and the preaching keep going. But this man deteriorates over the course of the third act, and you see his hand start to puff up, and you see the kids start to look at the puffed-up hand. They're touching it, and he's looking worried. He stops talking to people. There's still music going on, and there’s still singing going on, but this man is starting to cave in. The poison is taking him.”
“It's hard for me to [understand],” Meyers continued. “I think it’s terribly stupid, but at the same time, what level of weird, stupid bravery do you have to have to react like that to a poisonous snake bite in front of 50 people in West Virginia? ... I equate it to the mask thing. It’s like, Rule No. 1: Don't pick up a poisonous snake. Rule No. 2: In a pandemic, put on a mask. Those seem like two easy things to me."