I don't even know what to write about Fishbone that hasn't already been written. They remain, hands down, the best live band I have ever seen. I distinctly remember hearing their very first record being played inside Tower Records in New York City in early 1985 when it was first released. Once I heard the skanking chords from "Party At Ground Zero" blasting through the store's speakers, I ran over to the counter and asked the clerk what was on the turntable. "FISHBONE!," he shouted. I bought the LP on the spot. They've been a favorite band ever since and my Fishbone t-shirt (with 'Bone In The USA' on the back) was a staple of my college wardrobe. I had the good fortune to see the band perform one of their legendary shows at The Ritz in New York City on Halloween in 1985 (on a bill that also included 24-7 Spyz and The Red Hot Chilli Peppers). It remains one of the best live musical experiences that I have ever had.
As one of the only African-American bands (as opposed to acts) to emerge from the 80's (along with Living Colour), Fishbone were a uniquely American cultural and musical phenomenon. They exploded out of the Los Angeles music scene of the early 80's with ska as the foundation for their early sound. They quickly expanded their musical palette to include everything from punk to funk to metal to rock into a unique and uncompromising musical stew. Poised to break-out of the alternative music scene of the early 90's they were confronted by a variety of forces that conspired against them. First, a music industry that seemed confused by and unwilling to market them to a wider mainstream audience. But the band also suffered from a self-inflicted destructive streak that often ended up taking them one step forward but then two steps back. Despite some uneven albums and a shifting range of personnel and personal problems, their live show always remained free of the ongoing trials and tribulations they endured. Whatever problems they might be having, they left it off-stage or used it to fuel an even more energetic and intense performance. The show always went on (see the video below for a taste).
As the band celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, their long and colorful story is finally ready to be told. 'Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone' directed by two talented filmmakers Chris Metzler and Lev Anderson is finally due to have its debut screening at the prestigious Los Angeles Film Festival this month. I recently connected with Metzler and Anderson who were kind enough to tell me all about the film and what it was like to work with Fishbone and the many music celebrities who are interviewed in the film.
What is your personal connection to Fishbone?
CHRIS: We were fans of the band and approached them about doing the documentary one rainy night after a show in San Francisco. Since then, we have spent a lot of time with the band on the road and hanging out with Norwood and Angelo in L.A. Like many other college students in the early 90s, I definitely appreciated their energy and unique place in rock music at a time when there where not a lot of African-American rock stars.
LEV: I was a fan of the band for years, and even did an interview with Norwood in Chicago for my college radio show and newspaper when they were on tour with De la Soul. After hanging with Norwood that afternoon, I learned there was plenty of personality and insight behind the crazy stage show.
Do you remember the very first time you heard Fishbone? Do you remember the first live show you ever saw?
LEV: My dad was an eclectic music lover and he bought their first EP and took me to a show when I was like 10 years old. It must have been the first time they performed in Portland OR, like 1984 or '85. I just remember the show being like it was when I listened to them - lots of jumping and flailing around. I think I introduced the mosh pit concept to a lot of 10-year olds.
CHRIS: Do I remember the first show? Ha! Not really as it was in the middle of a long party in college at USC.
What was the inspiration for the documentary?
LEV: I think just the cross-genre talent of the band is where it all starts. When you look deeper, you understand that all the original members had very strong personalities and from there you can trace out their influence on other artists at the time. And I knew that in doing the documentary, we could approach all kinds of musicians for interviews about the band. In the film we have interviews with Ice-T, Flea, Mike Watt, Keith Morris, Branford Marsalis, Gwen Stafani and others. There are not many bands out there that connected with such a range of talent.
CHRIS: I was definitely intrigued by the personalities. Just watching Angelo on stage, you can see a mad genius at work. Singing his ass off, a middle aged stage diver, honking his saxophones, playing the theremin! The theremin?! Plus, I really liked the idea of exploring the social and cultural forces in LA that gave rise to a Black rock band from South Central. That these guys were outsiders that really didn't fit in anywhere and so they just decided to blaze their own path.
What was the band's response when you first approached them with the idea for the film?
CHRIS: I think it took them a little time to warm to the idea that we were the ones to do the film. We pretty much came out of the blue and probably come off as square white boys. But when we showed them my previous film PLAGUES AND PLEASURES ON THE SALTON SEA, they seemed to really enjoy the weirdness of that film and understand that I too was an odd duck. After that I think they felt more comfortable that we would be able to pull it off.
LEV: Yeah, I think they were a little indifferent at first as we were not the first to suggest doing a documentary about them, as there many other people wanting to make a film on Fishbone too. But we were persistent and I think that showed them we were serious, especially when we followed them all the way to Hungary.
Fishbone's fan base is quite loyal to the band. What kind of input/feedback have you gotten from them about the project?
CHRIS: It may not come across clearly in the film, but it is obvious that Fishbone has a dedicated fanbase that has helped keep the band going throughout the years. I am not sure there is another band out there that has managed to survive so many line up changes and financial hardship and still keep it authentic and new. They have not stopped touring over 25 years and that is a testament to the fans showing up to the clubs and showing the love.
LEV: Fishbone has a very dedicated fanbase and they have been pretty cool about the project. Many fans have lent us use photos or videos from Fishbone shows that they took throughout the years. I think all of the Fishbone soldiers out there were excited that the film was being made and all chipped in whatever way they could. Funky thanks to you all!
There's a who's who of artists, musicians and celebrities in the documentary. How hard or easy was it to get them all on board with the project?
LEV: It seemed pretty easy to get artists and celebrities to be interested, as their love for Fishbone is great. The interviews that did not happen were mainly because of people being so busy and never being able to schedule something. There are a lot of interviews we did that are not in the film that will be DVD bonus features like Chuck D, Bad Brains, Robert Trujillo of Metallica.
CHRIS: The interviews that we included in the film are there because they help move the story along. There are not interviews in there simply because we wanted so and so to be in there, but because they really contribute something to the story we are telling and even then we had to cut people out just because sadly we couldn't make an 8 hour film.
Its taken four years from start to finish to complete the film. For the uninitiated, can you explain a little bit about the process behind how a documentary film is produced and what keeps you busy during that time?
LEV: Well, scheduling interviews with rock stars can be time consuming in itself because they have such crazy schedules. This being an independent DIY we had to work within a very limited budget. We pretty much raised money, scheduled and shot interviews and shows, did all the research and tracking down of archival footage, went through all the legal hoops, negotiated music licenses - all that and more - by ourselves.
CHRIS: We definitely had help along the way from generous collaborators that were either friends or fans of the band that have been able to contribute high quality work on a low budget. But when you ask people to do things cheaper than what they may be getting paid to do other work, things tend to take a little longer. If you have a big budget to pay everyone what their time is really worth or to be able to fly around the world to do interviews with people wherever they are on tour, things can be done in no time. But really, it all comes down to a daily hustle to get things done with modest resources, lots of love, and caffeine.
Can you share any unusual or particularly memorable experiences from filming the documentary?
CHRIS: The European tours were pretty sweet because you go to all these amazing places, sometimes where people may not know Fishbone or their music, but then the band quickly wins them over and to see that is amazing. There were both 20 year olds and 80 year old men in a small town in Hungary approaching the guys after a show to tell them how much they enjoyed the concert. The guys in the current line-up were very cool having us follow them around on the road. It was a real grind but the band and the crew worked as a nice team.
LEV: And, the guys in the band now were always super cool. It would have been nice to showcase their talents more but that would maybe have been a different kind of film than what we were trying to make. I think all the guys we met that have been in Fishbone - past and present - are very down to earth, cool motherfuckers and that's what I will remember the most. Also, the week CBGBs shut down, Fishbone played one of the last shows and that was fun, filming from the mosh pit in such a shithole of a landmark. I think I still have broken glass in my hand from that show.
What has kept the band together all these years despite the many ups and downs that would have caused others to break-up?
CHRIS: I think the dedicated fanbase has helped carry the S.S. Fishbone through the roughest waters. That and I think Angelo and Norwood both have this eternal optimism as artists that believe in their art, that they are doing the right thing and even if the money ain't there, the music brings them a satisfaction they couldn't get any other way.
LEV: Well, people have come and gone in the band but what some of the guys have said is that they might not be able to play the kind of music they do with any other band. That is how unique Fishbone is in the world today. They might be able to play a Punk Rock trombone on one song but can they also play reggae styled accordian on the next song?
In your opinion, what is the band's enduring musical legacy?
LEV: The genre blending style of the music will definitely define the band's legacy. Some critics may say that playing metal and ska at the same time turns people off that may onluy like one style but that is their legacy. Fishbone could play anything and didn't give a fuck about fitting into any industry defined parameters. And on the best nights, I am not sure any other bands can really come close to the energy and musicianship.
CHRIS: It's the live show. Since day one of this project, anytime anyone heard we were doing a Fishbone documentary, countless people would say "that was my first show" or "I remember seeing them..." or "best concert I have ever seen" even if these people never listened to a Fishbone record. That isn't a bad legacy because doing it on stage, in front of a crowd, shows how talented and dedicated these guys are.
When can fans expect to see the film at their local movie theater?
LEV: We will be doing the film festival circuit through the Summer/Fall and hope to have a theatrical release by the end of the year.
CHRIS: You can check out www.fishbonedocumentary.com to find all of our upcoming screenings as they are scheduled and you can also sign up for the mailing list there. We will be working our ass off to get the film screened in as many locations as possible, count on that!
'Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone' will be presented at the 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival in downtown Los Angeles from June 17-27 and the film is competing in the documentary category. It features the history of the band through its ups and downs, the creative process and insights from Flea, Ice-T, Perry Farrell, Gwen Stefani and Branford Marsalis in addition to past and current members of Fishbone. The story is narrated by Laurence Fishburne. For more information visit the film Website.