VFX Still from Beautiful Noise, created by John Nugent/SandboxFX
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VFX Still from Beautiful Noise, created by John Nugent/SandboxFX
A while back I started transcribing some of my notes, emails and thoughts about the long road to completing this film. I put these on the web a few years ago, I’m republishing them here along with some new posts which will be forthcoming.
“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 that hooked me into seeking out their catalog. 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 of The 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 and Mahogany 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 and Chapterhouse.
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.
“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 Doll and 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.
“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 chatted 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 the Mercury 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.
“In A Different Place”
In August after a mildly productive July was a nice change of pace. After emailing back and forth with Mr. Gardener a few times he’d mentioned he was going to be in San Diego. In addition to him, Adam Franklin (Swervedriver) and Rob Dickinson (Catherine Wheel) were to be at the same event. Me and Chris and my friend Tosh drove down there on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.
Mark Gardener was just as cool for our second meeting. Our timing was perfect, the sun was at its peak and Mark was in good spirits. He had brought a few friends with him and we all drank wine as the interview took place. I enjoyed interviewing him though it was sad when he recounted the demise of Ride, a band I’d loved so much. After we wrapped I spoke with Mark for a while and he made a very gracious offer. I’d told him I was having trouble contacting many of the people on my interview list and he offered to help.
Rob Dickinson was up next; he was the most guarded and uneasy of any of the interviews up to that point. I heard of Catherine Wheel while working at my college newspaper. We did not do music reviews but record companies sent us CD’s anyway. Many of them I would collect and bring to St. Marks place to trade in for stuff I really wanted. The deep blue cover of “Chrome” caught my eye, a fantastic album cover of three people submerged under water doing some strange acrobatics (It was designed by famed graphic designer, Storm Thorgeson who designed “Dark Side of the Moon”). The CD was flawless from beginning to end a great album. It was 1993 and everyone was deep into Grunge or actually the commercial form of it that was massive that year, I tried to get people in to the band but pop-grunge ruled the airwaves and few listened. During the interview I told Dickinson this info, which seemed to make the interview go smoother. In the end it was a pleasure to meet him.
Adam Franklin didn’t have much time but he was a good interview and fun to meet. We interviewed him outside; he was very warm and giving. We chatted a while before and after. Swervedriver is such a cool band, they are the most hard rock of most of these bands and they do it really well. Their songs invoke such classic imagery of the open road, dangerous yet serene. They have a great song called “Duel” like the Spielberg film about a faceless truck driver running an average man off the road for the entirety of the film. Their songs were raw yet insightful, a classic band.
A few days later, I exchanged emails with Mark, he made good on his offer to help me which led to my correspondences with former Ride manage David Newton, his help in getting me in touch with people was amazing and I started rolling more emails with various contacts in the UK.
“The Tipping Point”
When I interviewed Simon Raymonde (in 2006), he asked me what was the “Tipping Point” (a reference to Malcolm Gladwell’s compulsively readable bestseller) for the project I’d immediately thought of the fall of 2005. In August of 2005, meeting my future wife Sarah Ogletree, an amazing editor and filmmaker, who later became my producing partner and editor on Beautiful Noise and has played an invaluable role in the making of this film, was the beginning.
In September of 2005, I had an accident where I fell and injured my head but I had an interview scheduled with Andy Bell of Ride a few days later. I had to capitalize whenever interview subjects were in LA, so I did the interview anyway. I interviewed him backstage at the Hollywood Bowl before an Oasis concert. It was a strange environment. I am not a big Oasis fan nor have I ever been, my cameraperson Aymae Sulick and I (as guests of Mr. Bell) entered the long vacant hallway that led to a room. We were the only American’s allowed backstage and we were made aware of this as we walked back to see him.
In the room at the end of the hall Andy came forward to greet us, he was wearing a cool vintage Jamie Reid, Sex Pistols T Shirt that had the word “Nowhere” on it. He said he wore it for our interview. He was very gracious and friendly. He offered us water and asked us how we were doing, a very pleasant exchange. There were two other people in the room, a security guard who looked like Tom Hardy in Bronson; I wasn’t going to fuck with him. And the other one was some douche bag with his back to us, staring at the wall while silently strumming an acoustic guitar; he was wearing John Lennon glasses… It was Noel Gallagher. In the middle of talking to Andy, his eyes gravitated towards my forehead (I had a big bandage on my head and looked something like Basil Fawlty when he escaped the hospital). Andy said, “Oh my god, what happened to your head”. Noel Gallagher turned around only for a moment to say: “Yeah, what the fuck happened to your face,” then abruptly turned around and pretended he wasn’t there again. Afterward, the interview with Andy was great; there was a sense of relief that Ride was going to be well represented in the film.
Following the interview with Andy, the leads started to flow in and the floodgates opened, slowly and then a downpour, it was people like Dave Newton, Nat Cramp who runs the amazing Sonic Cathedral Club and Record Label and the Multi-talented Phil King of Lush, Mary Chain, among many others; invaluable connectors. I was pressing forward and seemingly getting closer to the documentaries central interviews: Jim & William Reid, Kevin Shields, Liz Fraser. It all felt flimsy still without those names, I tried to think of things to say in my emails for the more hesitant subjects. Many of the people on my list are very intensely private people; I’d like to think of the film as unconventional. It’s so unconventional that we are still struggling with distribution. We live in a conventional world now and it’s only via the Internet we have increased access to fringe artists. But with those innovations they still have little to no chance to penetrate the mainstream. How would Jesus and Mary Chain fare now if they were just starting out? Would they be signed to Warner? I was always surprised out of all of the bands I was into they were not more popular. In my book they are on par with legendary bands like The Velvet Underground and The Ramones and should be treated as such. Part of the duality of this day and age is that more people are familiar with them but only to download their work for free.
I’d heard from the great Sonic Boom (of Spacemen 3, Spectrum, EAR), who was very cordial and was open to be interviewed at his place in Rugby.
The amazing Emma Anderson wrote back right away and was open to be interviewed as well. I’d been sending everyone my treatment and there were a lot of positive comments as my goal was to stay far away from the cookie cutter “Behind the Music” type of rock storytelling. I wasn’t interested in who was dating who and what drugs people took, embarrassing stories or people taking shots at each other. I wanted to make an interesting film about fascinating musicians who were forward thinking about the sounds they created.
I was feeling renewed momentum as the calendar flipped to October 2005 and I made contact with even more people. I’d found out that the project was being discussed among my targets. I scoured the Internet for even more contacts, some were still elusive but there were others that were in plain sight. I’d emailed a kind of gushy email to Debbie Googe, Bass Player extraordinaire (My Bloody Valentine) and got back a very friendly email. At the time she passed on my interview request (luckily we did get her in 2007) but was kind enough to forward my info on to My Bloody Valentine’s management and I became one step closer to the illusive Kevin Shields. The response came from Vinita Joshi and in the beginning I was informed by Vinita that Kevin passed on our project, but there was a glimmer of hope, the door was not shut and I was not dissuaded. It helped that she seemed enthusiastic about our project. Plus, I had some other decent leads to Kevin.
I felt like we had to press on and wanted to track down some famous fans of the bands that were also sonically innovative themselves. There were three names that came to mind Trent Reznor, Billy Corgan and Robert Smith. They had all said nice things about this period of music, particularly Robert Smith. I’d emailed his management and a day later I received a message directly from Mr. Smith. He was very direct that he was extremely busy but was also very interested. More on him in future posts, he is such a legendary artist.
More responses began to trickle in as I was furiously sending more emails, reaching out to more people and it was very heartening that most everybody was nice and intelligent. Ian Masters (Pale Saints), Mark Clifford (Seefeel), Ali Shaw (Cranes) and my good friend Dave Pearce (Flying Saucer Attack) who I’d never thought I’d get. Dave wrote me a lovely email about how he was camera shy and was an anti-rock and roll guy but because we caught up with Alex from A.R. Kane he was confident that we were moving in the right direction.
I’d managed to hear from all the ex-Slowdive people. Neil Halstead, Christian Savill and Simon Scott were immediate though I only managed to get Neil Halstead on camera. All great people, and I have to say such amazing timeless music. It would be impossible to pick a favorite from all these bands but Slowdive is truly unique in that they fit in more with my temperament and musical tastes now more than ever. They were a forerunner of some of best modern music around today.
Later in the month, I interviewed musical connoisseur Nic Harcourt of KCRW who had a nice office and was an informative interview. I’d started emailing with Thomas Morr, who put out the great Blue Skied An Clear Comp and put me in touch with several of his artists on Morr Music.
Fall of 2005 culminated in a brilliant interview in November with Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins (more in a future post) and would close out an amazing year. I was energized and looking ahead into 2006, tipping head first towards further great points to come.
MORE TO COME.
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