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Flagpole Premieres: The Broken String Band, “Nightmare Ballad” Video

Broken String Band. Credit: Alex Seibert.

Today, folk rock act The Broken String Band shares a new music video for “Nightmare Ballad,” a haunting, boot-stomping affair dripping with Southern Gothic charm. Founded by Sean Stephansen and Taylor Thompson in 2015 while living in Nashville, The Broken String Band has since made Athens its home and established itself within the regional Americana scene. Recorded by Grammy-winning producer Mark Neill of Soil of the South Studios, “Nightmare Ballad” exemplifies the band’s keen ability to balance rich harmonies and lyrical tenderness with unbridled energy.

“It’s almost like a twisted fairy tale… about the end of the world,” says vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Stephansen. “Four verses. Four different stories that coalesce in the end. Each one deals with different facets of the human experience, things like redemption, desire, nihilism, etc. I tried to keep it as vague as I could, so people would relate to the themes in ways that make sense to them. The second verse is my personal favorite. I actually wrote the last line of that verse first. I knew that I wanted it to end with a beautiful woman luring me into a vat of whiskey and boiling me alive. What can I say, I love romance.”

“I definitely had a general idea of what I wanted the video to be,” says Stephansen. “It needed to capture the feeling of dread that comes from a nightmare, while also maintaining some levity and elegance.”

Working with cinematographer Alex Seibert—who also shot a video for “Family & Friends” awhile back—the band filmed at three different locations in Hogansville, GA: a Victorian hotel that dates back to the 1890s, a historic train depot and old jail cells.

“The twist ending was an idea I had going into the shoot. I loved the thought of making the entire song out to be the ramblings of a prisoner who’s ‘lost his mind.’ It reminds me of a Paul Simon line, ‘the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls.’ A lot of truths on those walls.” 

Broken String Band will perform two sets at Nowhere Bar on Saturday, Jan. 14, with doors opening at 7 p.m. and tunes starting at 9:30 p.m. The band will then head to Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta for a second video release party on Jan. 26. Stay tuned to Instagram and TikTok for future announcements.

“Nightmare Ballad” Lyrics

In my nightmares I smoke cigarettes again
While my hands are tied with razor wire and Jesus is my friend
We wine and dine, and he asks “how and why and when”
But that razor wire won’t sympathize while we discuss my sins
(While we discuss my sins)
That razor wire will prick and pry while we discuss my sins

In my nightmares I drink whiskey from the still
And I hear a song being played or sung, it lured me inside
A winged woman came o’er me and touched my eyes
And I swear she said she loved me ‘fore she boiled me alive
Ah, she boiled me alive
That siren made me love her ‘fore she boiled me alive

In my nightmares I just stare up at the sky
And I see a billion reasons why my life will pass me by
I’ll try and try, but I won’t stand the test of time
That clock upon my bedside it will leave me here to die
It leaves me here to die
That tickin’ time, it passes by and leaves me here to die

In my nightmares no one’s there to hear my cries
By and by, they came to life I woke up just in time
The devils lie, the oceans rise, the locusts fly
I’ve seen it from my window, I see now the end is nigh
Oh, now the end is nigh
I’ve seen the signs, they came alive and now the end is nigh