Tuesday, September 22, 2009

“Getting Footage and Gaining Access”

I’d met Ulrich Schnauss in late April 2005 in Hollywood; he was my first interview for “Beautiful Noise.” It was a beautiful spring day, I left work early and hustled down to Hollywood to meet him. I got there ridiculously early and killed time at the Coffee Bean until Chris arrived. When we reached the door of the club where Ulrich was, no one at the door knew we were coming. I’d called the PR Company who set the interview up and there was no answer. We had to improvise. Walking around the corner, the back of the club was wide open so we just walked in. I guess since we were both carrying gear, security assumed that we were “with the band” so to speak. When we got in I looked around for Ulrich, it’s at this point I’d realized I didn’t know what he looked like (this happens to me again – many times). I started poking around and I found him asleep backstage, at this point someone tells me that he has the flu. I decided as long as he wanted to do the interview, I was ready to do it. It would have been depressing if the first scheduled interview of the film got canceled, fortunately Ulrich eventually got up and was adamant about doing the interview. Chris and I got situated and then Ulrich gave a very interesting interview, sharing his experiences of hearing this music when he was younger (similar to my discovery) and the impact it had on him. We chat a bit before and after, he is intelligent and friendly and talks almost as much as I do. I’m happy to call him a friend.

So at this point as the film was progressing, I started scheduling more interviews with people either living in or visiting Los Angeles. It was only days later that the next interview would happen, it was with Anthony Gonzales of M83 in Santa Monica. Another afternoon shoot, I met him after a radio interview where the station asked us to wait outside. So when Anthony came out we talked music with him near a row of dumpsters, classy I know. He was really cool, a very thick French accent but unfortunately we didn’t have much time as he was running late to his next tour date. I’m a big fan and I’ve enjoyed all the M83 releases, though “Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts” is still my favorite.

Brad Laner of Medicine was my next interview a few weeks later; we shot it at his beautiful house in the San Fernando Valley. I have always been a huge Medicine fan because they are an excellent band that everyone should know. I was lucky enough too see them play a blistering set at theMercury Lounge in New York only weeks before the band would break up. Brad and I hit it off immediately; he got what we are trying to do with the film and gave a great interview. We talked for a while afterward, we have a lot in common and he threw a hint that he was interested in scoring films (I will elaborate on that in a later post).

After many phone calls to Wayne Coyne’s (The Flaming Lips) friendly PR rep, a date was set in Hollywood at the end of the month. When I first saw Wayne he was in a crowd and he stuck out. A natural performer and although he is not at all an anti-rock kind of guy he shared his appreciation of what he described as the mysterious element of the bands of that era. His hair was kind of crazy and he had on multi-colored shoes and was generally very happy and chatty. It was hard not to laugh when he spoke; he is naturally very funny and made many jokes. I would quote them here but I’d rather not spoil the movie for anyone. It was a great pleasure to meet him; “Clouds Taste Metallic” is one of my favorites. Ronald Jones, the guitar player on that record, is one of my guitar heroes.

At this point in June, 2005, I’m emailing and calling more people and making some progress but the frustrating aspect was how far away most of the key players are located mostly in England. Finding links to Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine) and Jim and William Reid (The Jesus and Mary Chain) seemed impossible. I found out through more research that Alex Ayuli of the mighty AR Kane wasn’t far from me, I’d contacted him and he was a short drive away in Southern California. AR Kane is an incredible group, and possibly the most bafflingly under recognized band that I was covering. The song “Up” is certainly a favorite and I think everyone should check out “69” and “i” because they are both stunning works of art. It was a very hazy day, as we sat in his yard he gave an excellent interview. Alex is a very fascinating guy and amazingly talented musician. He was kind to put me in touch with the great Robin Guthrie, (Cocteau Twins) one of the most genius guitar players and producers out there, it would be a few months before I would meet him.

When I’d first heard Ride’s “Nowhere” sometime in the 90’s, I felt like I was riding waves listening to it. I sat on the floor staring at the compelling deep blue ocean photo on the cover and my imagination was going wild. One of the great albums of all time, sweet melodies, hooks, thunderous drumming and guitar playing that was out of this world. The album was so solid it was almost like a greatest hits but it was actually a debut! The songs sit so perfectly together by the time the guitar riff in “Dreams Burn Down” kicked in I’d thought that this was one of the most powerful albums I’d ever heard.

Needless to say when I read that Mark Gardener was going to be in town I’d dropped everything. I found out the day of, so I rushed down to the club he was playing at with no plan. I was a little apprehensive before, the club was dark and crowded, and I had no camera and no questions. My goal was just to meet him and plan an interview in the future. Looking around in the dimly lit club it dawned on me, what does he look like now? Any of the pictures that I’d seen him in he was boyish looking with really long hair dressed in nondescript clothing. Seeing him in the club he was definitely more mature, dressed in a casual suit and his hair was now very short. There were a few people around him when there was a momentary break I told him about the project and was relieved to find him very positive about it. When I got home that night I blasted “Nowhere” all night until I fell asleep.

July was mostly very quiet except for meeting the great writer Jim DeRogatis who was as cool as his prose. It was in August that things really started to progress.

“A Strangely Isolated Place” and “Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts”

In 2003 and 2004, Ulrich Schnauss' “A Strangely Isolated Place” and M83’s “Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts” were released. Upon buying and listening to both albums relentlessly I’d realized that the sound was re-emerging. In the ensuing months there were even more bands harkening back to the beautifully noisy sound I’d loved so much. Many reviews mention the My Bloody Valentine influence but upon reading interviews with Ulrich he was drawing from a richer and bigger canvas, many gems from his homeland Germany were mentioned (specifically Tangerine Dream) but what was really eye opening was his love for Chapterhouse, an unjustly maligned band from the early nineties. I was very impressed with him for not only being an amazing musician but for having the balls to praise music that he loved regardless of the negative perception of them in the UK. Record shopping, I found even more new bands inspired by that era and even more curiously I came across an electronic Slowdive tribute record released by Morr Music; something like this didn’t seem likely a few years before. 

I started digging around more and I came across indie labels like Darla Records, Tonevendor, Rocket Girl, Club AC30 and Sonic Cathedral, they are all committed to promoting artists who make beautiful noise and introducing new sounds in the ever-changing music marketplace.

It was around this time that I’d started thinking of documenting the period in some way, and eventually I decided to make a film. I wanted the documentary to tell the story of a style of sound that has been largely influential to progressive music of the last several years but had gained no mainstream acceptance. I wrote out a treatment then showed it to my good friend and skilled cinematographer, Chris Otwell and asked if he was interested in shooting some of the interviews. Eventually I would work with several different camera people including myself on a few occasions. It all seemed simple at first. I’d also created a budget that only included film equipment (camera, microphones, lights, tapes) and travel fees and though these nominal costs seemed high for my wallet, I decided to give it a go anyway.

It was in January of 2005 that I’d started to gauge interest from my network of film industry contacts for advice and/or funding and the response was mixed. Many people were very positive about the subject matter but I was given very cautious advice about the commercial viability of a project like this. It was suggested that I should start getting some footage and gaining access.

I didn’t really know many people in the music world; many of my early contacts were made through my brother Matt Green who led me to music industry veterans Jon Sidel and Marc Gieger (more on them later). Alan McGee (when I’d interviewed him in 2007) told me that my film couldn’t be made without the Internet and he was absolutely right. Relentless emailing and researching kept this thing going despite all odds. Thinking about it today it would be even easier now with the popularization of social media networks which so many people are a part.

Documentaries were more popular this decade than ever before but after a few Blockbuster documentaries mainstream interest had waned, even more so with music docs. Dig, New York Dolland Devil and Daniel Johnston were all well received critically but not as well commercially. This did not faze me in the least; all of these films were very interesting and compelling in their own ways. Though what I was trying to do had very little in common with those films, I did not want to lionize any one group but wanted to encapsulate an interesting cultural era. At this time, I started hunting down visual material, You Tube was my first stop but at that time it was only just beginning and was mostly only useful to re-watch old videos.

I started contacting UK footage vaults and I ordered several clips on VHS (VHS!) that I was charged a lot for, calling this a rip off is an understatement. When I got them I started wading through the footage and it was frustrating because there were very few clips (if any) for most of these bands. There was a lot of work I had to do to get started. I had to get interviews with people (my list of names was over a hundred); I had to start my film. It seemed unthinkable and unfeasible to start approaching people at the top of my list, I had no contact info, for most of my extensive interview wish list. The most natural thing to do seemed to be to reach out to interview current artists who have roots from that era; in a nice twist of luck both Ulrich Schnauss and M83 were coming to Los Angeles.

“Like A Chainsaw In A Hurricane”


It was 2004 and the mindless political environment of the U.S. election year had played out in the worst possible way. My interest had turned away from politics towards my youth. I had just turned 30 (moved from New York to Los Angeles 7 years earlier) and after writing several screenplays the idea came to me to start a project about a style of music that was an inspiration to my creative endeavors.

It was in early 1992 when I first heard the song “Reverence” by The Jesus and Mary Chain with a best guitar cover that hooked me into seeking out their catalogue. They had been around many years and I had even heard and liked some of their songs before but at that moment I was finally hooked. The overall production was intense but it was the massively thick fuzz guitar sound that was infectious. William Reid is one of the most inventive and skilled guitar players I’d ever heard and it was with that guitar sound that I became obsessed.

At that time the Internet wasn’t popularized yet, it was through hunting record stores in St. Marks Place, Manhattan that a store clerk told me about Creation Records. With help from a used copy ofThe Trouser Press guide, I slowly made my way through the Creation catalogue from My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Slowdive, Swervedriver, Telescopes, Boo Radleys and then beyond Creation to all the amazing 4AD Bands: Cocteau Twins, Lush, Pale Saints… Each revelation was as exciting as the last and over the next few years there would be even more bands that I would enjoy with the same intensity: Medicine, Curve, Chapterhouse, Spacemen 3, Loop, Flying Saucer Attack, AR Kane, Seefeel. It was an unforgettable sound; generally speaking it was an overwhelmingly loud music that consisted of long distorted guitar riffs and droning vocals that produced a hypnotically hazy world of confusion. It challenged perceptions by ushering in a new style of music that was more comparable to states of mind rather than to other forms of music despite strong varied influences from Psychedelic Music, Krautrock and Post-Punk.

It didn’t occur to me right away that many of these bands had switched gears creatively, broken up, changed names or just completely disappeared. It was a mystery to me what happened to this amazingly unique non-commercial music, virtually unknown in the U.S. when they were active, with few MTV plays and even less journalistic coverage. At the time Rolling Stone, Spin and to a smaller extent Alternative Press and Raygun come to mind, as the music magazines of the day rarely covered any of these bands beyond Cocteau Twins, The Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine. Only a few books, chiefly Jim DeRogatis’s excellent “Kaleidoscope Eyes” and Rachel Felder’s equally magnificent “Manic Pop Thrill” covered more of these bands than most of U.S. music media. Throughout the 90’s I was still listening (while getting into electronic music as well) and was still challenged by these user-friendly sounds. The music was interactive in the most primal way, music I could listen to no matter what my mood. Eventually later in the 90’s there were fewer and fewer musician dabbling with these ideas, only Bowery Electric, lovesliescrushing andMahogany instantly come to mind, even Sigur Ros – there were a few others but the distorted guitar sound was mostly out and barely anyone was mentioning names like Ride, Slowdive andChapterhouse.

One of my first Internet searches ever was: “When is the new My Bloody Valentine record coming out?” Soon after searching for info about Cocteau Twins and The Jesus and Mary Chain who were still around through most of the nineties, I’d looked up many of the other band names mentioned above and I found out very quickly why many of these bands had broken up, changed names or just completely disappeared.

Some of the younger groups (notably Slowdive and Chapterhouse) were initially well received by the UK press but after poor album sales and other burgeoning movements, the press already wanted to move away from them. There were many snarky journalists' back then in the UK who wrote a lot of nasty things about these groups; mostly unrelated to their music. Though having a sizable cult appeal their influence and importance would not be heard for another decade.

This is the first post in an ongoing series, more to come...