Jen Ledger is the first to admit her parents weren’t too thrilled when they saw the video for her debut solo single, “Not Dead Yet.” After all, no parent wants to see a massive MMA fighter pummel their little girl in a boxing ring, even if it’s staged.
“My mom and dad hated watching it. They definitely don’t love the video for sure,” she says of the clip, premiering exclusively on Billboard today (Aug. 16). “I made it more violent at first, but everyone was like, ‘Ugh!’ I was trying really hard to make it feel real and gritty, but apparently, I went a little bit too far.”
Yet the British-born rocker felt strongly about creating a clip that underscored the lyric she had penned for the edgy, empowering anthem. Ledger, who released her eponymous debut EP in April via Hear It Loud/Atlantic, reviewed treatments that were submitted for the video, and while some were good, she wanted to be more hands-on.
“I felt in my heart that I was meant to write the treatment because the song is just so personal to me,” she says. “I wanted the video to feel as real to me and as personal to me as the song does, and it just meant too much to me to choose one of these other treatments.”
She enlisted Roland Bingaman (Skillet, Have Mercy, Colors and Carousels) to direct. “I got to work with a friend who basically had the same heart behind it, and it meant a whole lot to him too,” she says. “There was an entire team of people who really wanted to make it as good as it could possibly be. It was an amazing experience. I was taking a risk by going with my own gut, and it would have been easier to pick the professional ones that were being presented, but I just felt like, ‘Why not let the first music video be all the way you?’ ”
Ledger wrote “Not Dead Yet” about a difficult time in her life when she was badly struggling with anxiety, fear and panic attacks. Though the song is very personal, she thinks the video’s theme of overcoming the odds will resonate with others.
“I wrote the song because sometimes life just feels like it keeps kicking you while you are down, and sometimes you feel like you don’t want to get up, like things feel too impossible,” explains Ledger. “There was a moment where I knew I couldn’t let these things completely take me out. I can’t let fear rob me of my own life. I’d rather go down swinging and fight it, even if it is until the day I die. I wouldn’t let it just steal my life away from me.”
Because the song is extremely personal to her, she wanted to represent what it feels like when people are in that place where it seems life won’t give them a chance to breathe. “That’s why I start off the video where I’m already beaten, bloody and bruised, because I wanted to kind of show the view of what I was feeling when I wrote the song,” she says.
Ledger wrote the boxing scenes to represent the physical side of life hitting a person when they are down. She wanted it to look like an incredibly unfair fight because when she was dealing with panic attacks. “[It felt like] ‘I’m never going to beat this. It’s just too big for me.’ That’s why I put myself in the ring with this massive MMA fighter,” she says. “I wanted it to look like, ‘What’s the point in trying?’ because that’s how it felt.”
When Bingaman and Ledger began discussing someone to portray her nemesis in the boxing scenes, he knew exactly whom he wanted: John Snider, a U.S. Army veteran who is now an MMA fighter. “I was filming a commercial for a pizza restaurant, and he was an extra because he was friends with somebody that was in the shoot,” Bingaman recalls of meeting Snider. “I walked up to him and said, ‘You would make an amazing villain in a music video.’” He told Snider he would be in touch someday to book him for a video, and Snider laughed it off. But a couple of months later, when Bingaman got onboard for Ledger’s project, he immediately tracked Snider down.
Despite his menacing appearance, Snider is actually a teddy bear. “Obviously, he looks terrifying, and then you meet him and he’s like the nicest, nicest guy,” Ledger says. He also helped her in the ring: Ledger had taken eight private boxing lessons to prepare for the shoot, and Snider developed different combinations for her and worked with her on her form. “It was just funny having this terrifying dude be one of the nicest guys in the world,” she says. “It was really fun to shoot with him.”
The video also includes performance footage and scenes of Ledger in an abandoned house. The latter represent her previous emotional state. “It’s kind of what I felt like when I was in that season mentally. It felt like I was alone, and I felt like I was almost trapped in my own darkness,” she explains. “You feel like you’ll never get through this and you’ll always deal with this, so that represents the fight of pulling down the boards and choosing to search, seek and reach for light and hope.”
Learning to overcome anxiety has led Ledger to a busy, exciting season in her career. After a decade as the drummer for Christian rock band Skillet, she has continued with the band while launching her solo career and earning such accolades as debuting at No. 5 on the Billboard Emerging Artists chart (dated April 28). She recently toured Europe, performing as Ledger and with Skillet, at major festivals such as VOLT, Graspop Metal Meeting and Rock for People.
Ledger is anxious for fans to see the video, and hopes it accurately represents how it feels to emerge from darkness. “It takes getting to your feet over and over again, and it also takes choosing to think differently and fight for hope and light,” she says. “It can truthfully feel exhausting, and that’s what I wanted to represent. I hope that it [can] encourage people that feel defeated to just keep going and keep swinging. You’ll never regret that.”