When Fishbone hit the Los Angeles music scene in the early ‘80s, they were like nothing anyone had ever seen before—an all-black band that played an indefinable musical mélange of pop, punk, funk, and ska with a manic energy that stunned even the most jaded punk rocker. Everyone who saw them felt certain that they were destined to take over the world, but that success never came. Despite continuous critical support and legendary live performances, Fishbone spent the next thirty years waiting to, as their former manager puts it, “blow up big time.”
Far more than a simple “rise and fall of a band” story, Everyday Sunshine is, like the band it documents, many things at once. It’s an indictment of a music industry overly dependent on simplistic categorizations. It’s a thirty-year history of the black experience in Los Angeles, from the desegregation efforts of the late Seventies to Rodney King to today. Most importantly, it’s an intimate look at the creative freedom and the enduring friendships that have kept Fishbone together—and at times torn them apart—over their remarkable career. [Synopsis courtesy of LAFF]
Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone
(USA, 2010, 103 mins, DigiBeta – NTSC, HDCAM – NTSC)
Directed By: Chris Metzler, Lev Anderson
Producers: Chris Metzler, Lev Anderson
Cinematographer: Jeff Springer
Editor: Jeff Springer
Cast: Fishbone, Flea, Ice-T, Perry Farrell, Gwen Stefani, Branford Marsalis & Narrated by Laurence Fishburne
[EDITOR’S NOTE: indieWIRE is profiling the Narrative and Documentary Competition filmmakers who are screening their films at the Los Angeles Film Festival]
Metzler and Anderson introduce themselves…
Co-director Chris Metzler here. I became a filmmaker as I like exploring life from the inside out and making films lets me do that. After I graduated from USC with a degree in business and cinema, my career has taken various twists and turns from the depths of agency work, to coordinating post-production for awful American movies seen late at night in Belgium. Eventually I started criss crossing the country with the aid of caffeinated beverages and found success in directing music videos in the Nashville country and Christian music video industries, before finally forsaking my soul to commercial LA rock n’ roll. These misadventures eventually culminated in me winning a Billboard Magazine Music Video Award. Documentary filmmaking came later with my first feature, the offbeat environmental documentary, PLAGUES & PLEASURES ON THE SALTON SEA, which happily became a cult favorite.
As for Lev, he toiled away for years as an urban planner before leaving the 9 to 5 office world to embrace documentary filmmaking which combines his love for history, art, music and politics. He had been doing photography for a while so filmmaking seemed like the next step.
On coming to the Fishbone story…
We were always surprised there wasn’t already a Fishbone documentary out there, just knowing their unique place in rock n roll and the fact that they influenced artists across genres from punk rockers and metal heads to jazz musicians, and hip hoppers.
So that was the inkling that led us to check out a Fishbone show one rainy night in San Francisco when the band was playing at a club down the street. Watching frontman Angelo on stage, you could see a mad genius at work. Singing his ass off, a middle aged stage diver, honking his saxophones, playing the theremin! The theremin?! We soon fell in love with their personalities on and off stage and knew this would be a wild film to make so we jumped right in. Plus, we 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 and do their own thing.
We felt it was vital to show the history of the band and how it also parallels some of the social history of Los Angeles. They were really unique as they demolished the walls of genre and really influenced a lot of today’s biggest rock and rap stars. But we also were struck by the personal dynamics between the members, especially Norwood (bass) and Angelo (singer, sax, theremin). They are almost complete opposite personality types – both wonderfully crazy in their own ways – but are tied together through the music. They struggle with dysfunction as aging punk rockers but also have an admirable eternal optimism that keeps them going and making their compelling and funky art. So we wanted to show the history and legacy of the band but also wanted to present an intimate portrait of Angelo and Norwood as this creative couple that have their ups and downs but in the end are triumphant survivors doing it on their own terms.
On gaining access to the band…
A big challenge was gaining the trust of the band and working hard to capture genuine verite moments that could engage an audience when a lot of the life of a musician can seem rather boring, whether on the road, in the studio, or at home. You know, airports, long bus rides, doing soundchecks, waiting and waiting and waiting… then magic! In the end, amidst sleepless days and nights and lots of caffeine, the personalities of all of the guys, from the past to present members made it all enjoyable.
On bringing the film to LA…
The easy answer would be to highlight the fact that the film is about a classic L.A. rock band that was both unconventional yet hugely popular in the 80s and 90s. And a lot of the film reflects what was going on in L.A. at the time, so if someone is interested in Los Angeles history or music, then the film is already ready in your sweet spot. But beyond that, we think all of the guys in the band have strong, eccentric personalities that shine brightly in the film and infuse the film with humor and emotion that anybody can relate to even if they have never heard of Fishbone. If you like offbeat documentaries about outsiders and rebellion, well you’re going to get a kick out of watching the film.
The filmmakers’ film inspriations…
There are several recent documentaries that served as guide posts in how to shape a story about unique artists and musicians like “DiG!,” the “Devil and Daniel Johnston,” “Anvil,” “New York Dolls,” and “Crumb.” And we loved the music doc, “Joy Division,” for its exploration of how geography shaped a band. But bar none, “Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control” inspired us to start making documentaries and continues to inspire any films we make.
The filmmakers’ future projects…
Chris is juggling a couple of different documentary projects from a film on gay truck drivers to one on off-beat taxidermy and a doc called “Innocents Abroad,” which is a contemporary, documentary update of Mark Twain’s similarly named non-fiction classic where he’s following a group of six young Southern Baptists on their first journey outside America, on a Bible tour that follows the footsteps of the Apostle Paul through southern Europe and the Middle East.
Lev is developing a documentary called “Model City” about the city of Irvine. Irvine has been named the safest city in America 5 years in a row and wins numerous awards for their civic programs. It has a lot going for it as a post-suburban city in the 21st Century and is now serving as a model for development around the world, most notably in China. But at the same time there are other issues that give it a sort of creepy, dystopic vibe that spawns natives like Zach de La Rocha of Rage Against the Machine and the comedy of Will Ferrell.