One year ago this Saturday (6/4), We Are The Union released Ordinary Life, an album that helped tell singer Reade Wolcott's coming-out story as a trans woman, and an album that so instantly became a landmark of the burgeoning New Tone ska movement that we already included it in our list of all-time essential ska albums. In celebration of the one-year anniversary, the band is putting out a photobook by Rae Mystic, who helped build the entire aesthetic for Ordinary Life, and they've also got a new video for "December," directed by Rae. Here's what Rae tells us about that:

The first scene that I saw in my head was during the line “I know about your secrets in the ceiling, while you’re screaming every night about the shape of your hands.” The chaos wrote itself in my mind. For the doorway portal scenes, I was thinking of themes of physical transitions to fit the song’s theme of Reade’s transition. I realized it would be a cool moment to make a nod to Beetlejuice, which is Reade’s favorite movie. The scenes where Barbara and Adam are trying to leave the house, but keep ending up in the desert with sandworms, inspired that mechanism to advance the story of ‘December.’ Especially since the song has so many references to a real life weird desert location - Bombay Beach. The video is also a mobius loop, because it allowed the video to start bleak and dark, but end colorful and bright - to represent Reade’s journey.

Watch the new video below. The photobook, titled Song Without A Sound: The Visual Story Of Ordinary Life, features photos & untold stories from the Ordinary Life album release campaign, including brand new, exclusive photos not available anywhere else, and it "gives the reader an inside look at the Ordinary Life promo photoshoots, music videos, live performances, and much more." It features layout and illustration by Justin Gray, and it's available to pre-order, alongside WATU's pride month merch drop and the fifth vinyl pressing of Ordinary Life, here. Here's a mockup of the book:

We Are The Union

I also caught up with Reade and Rae over email to discuss the book, reflect on one year of Ordinary Life, give some insight into what's next for WATU and Rae Mystic, and more. Read on for our chat...

Now that Ordinary Life has been out for a year and you've had time to see how it impacted people and to take the new songs on tour, what kind of reactions have you been getting from people on social media and at shows? Do you feel like there have been kids who saw their first We Are The Union show, or maybe even first ska show, on this tour?

Reade: It’s been incredible. Our shows have big emotional moments and super fun moments, so we get a really wide range of reactions. It’s a nice balance so it doesn’t feel too heavy, nor does it feel like it doesn’t have any substance. We’ve had too many people to count tell us this was their first ska show, some kids, but adults too! Lots of tweets that are like “I tried skanking for the first time at the We Are The Union show!” That’s always so cool to see.

What does it mean to you personally to have these songs out in the world for a full year?

Reade: It feels surreal - a bit like a time capsule. I’m already starting to see how I’ve grown as a writer and a person, so now I’m excited to focus on what we do next.

Tell us how the two of you initially linked up, and how Rae came to help build the entire aesthetic of Ordinary Life.

Reade: Rae and I met through their art, actually. We hired them to do a cameo in the music video for "You’re Dead/Vampire Ska," and I was immediately struck by their photography. We started talking shortly after, like a lot, and I found myself drawn to everything about their aesthetic as an artist and as a person.

Rae: The entire aesthetic for Ordinary Life was based off a photograph I took in 2017 - the very same photo you see on the front cover of the record. That picture was part of a photoset I did for fun, to express myself creatively. It felt like destiny that Reade would come to me looking for a photo for a record that explores queerness through themes of life, death, and rebirth. One of my main approaches to creativity is to combine the beautiful with the macabre. We were creating in ways that perfectly complemented one another without even knowing it.

Rae, how did you get into photography/art, and what drew you to We Are The Union and other ska bands?

Rae: When I was old enough to steal a family member's JVC compact video camera is when it all started….. I have always had a fascination with time travel and marking time. Taking up space with art is what gave me the push to become a visual creative. When I was a child I dreamt of making music videos, but felt photography was “easier.” As of 2021, I couldn't stay away from that dream any longer! Oh Ska….. I went to high school with a few folks in the current OC ska scene. Years later one individual hired me to photograph their band. One thing led to another and I became the singer for that band. That band broke up, but through them I was lucky enough to play shows with Half Past Two, which is how I got acquainted with them. Half Past Two hired me to shoot many live shows & through that I met certain individuals in the scene. One of which being Brent Friedman, who had me shoot for Five Iron Frenzy. That gig is what led me to work with We Are The Union.

Reade, what do you find so inspiring about Rae's work?

Reade: Rae and I have similar taste aesthetically, but their execution of it is in a different galaxy than mine. I’m hopeless at creating aesthetics, so I think the big thing for me is it feels like they create things I WISH I’d thought of. That’s one of the biggest things for me with an artist. If you can create something I wish I’d created, you’ve got a fan for life.

Tell us a little more about this book - what should fans expect from it?

Reade: To me, the coolest thing is all the exclusive photos and never-before-told stories from the release rollout. Behind the scenes photos from the music videos, in-depth stories about the music videos and photoshoots, there’s so much there. It’s a must-see for anyone who loves the record.

Rae: Something I think is exciting is that this book brings both the photos everyone has seen, plus brand new ones, into reality. They’re not just pictures on a screen. We’ve turned the aesthetic of the record and the release rollout into a physical, tactile thing you can pick up and hold in your hands.

What's next for We Are The Union and/or Rae Mystic?

Reade: We’ve got a number of shows and tours lined up for the rest of the year, and we’re going to start work on some new music. It’s too soon to say if that means another record, singles, or what, but I can definitely say we’re feeling creative again.

Rae: I’m working on some more art you can hold in your hands! Song Without a Sound: The Visual Story of Ordinary Life is my first photobook but CERTAINLY not my last!

Anything else you'd like to shout out or add?

Reade: Listen to the new JER record, Bothered / Unbothered. Not only is it an incredible, innovative ska-punk album, I also produced & mixed it!

Rae: I do visuals for a ton of people both in the ska scene and out, so if you like my work, make sure you follow me on Instagram @raemystic and Twitter @raemystic_. I’d love to book a photoshoot or video shoot with you! Aside from We Are the Union’s "December" Video, I recently did Half Past Two’s “Top Gun” music video. Check it out!


For more, read our interview with Reade about the album from last year.


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