Fishbone should have been one of the biggest bands in the world. In the late ’80s and early ’90s I got to see them play with and stand toe-to-toe with heavyweights like the Chili Peppers, No Doubt, Public Enemy, Rage Against The Machine, and a ton of others who went on to become huge. But being an exceptional live band with incredible musicianship and a totally unique style–starting with ska, moving into funk, and venturing into free jazz but always with a punk rock attitude–doesn’t mean the mainstream will catch on. (Even if we did feature them in Robot Power.) And so the band soldiers on with three original members, including hyperactive singer Angelo Moore and impossibly versatile bassist Norwood Fisher, pleasing a small-but-loyal fan base while barely paying the bills. Their new EP, Crazy Glue, comes out on October 11.
Filmmakers Lev Anderson and Christopher Metzler have created an unorthodox, excellent documentary about Fishbone, following band members around their humble lives, tracking down their famous friends, and filling in the blanks with funky animation and amazing live footage. Everyday Sunshine, which follows its hugely successful film festival run by opening in New York City on October 7 and rolling out theatrically afterward, will appeal to fans of the band, critics of the music industry, and students of subculture. It’s emotional without being sensational and powerful while remaining complex. It will speak to any outsider who struggles personally and financially while dedicating his or her life to something creative and meaningful.
MW: I’ve found that the best interviews don’t usually come when a subject is on top of the world; it’s back on the bottom of the hill. In Everyday Sunshine, Fishbone provides incredible subject matter, but did the band’s situation ever get depressing?
LA: My co-director Chris and I managed to have a good time because all the guys are fun, unique individuals that have a great sense of humor even when times are tough. Norwood is an eternal optimist who feels like the band may get big again if they get breaks going their way. And Angelo just keeps moving. His creative motor is always running whether it is with Fishbone or as Dr. Maddvibe (where he is always recording music, writing poetry and creating comic books). While he does get down on the fact a couple of his peers are in a much better place than he is financially, he isn’t going to stop. And when they do shows, the audience is always responding positively and the band feeds off that interaction. I think that the love they get from their fans keeps their heads above water. I wouldn’t say working with Fishbone while they’re going through some tough times personally and professionally ever got depressing.
MW: What was your first exposure to Fishbone as fans?
LA: Chris attended USC in the mid-1990s so he had heard of the band but was never very familiar with them until I invited him to a show in San Francisco a few years back in hope of convincing him to work on the project with me. I was a fan of the band since my father brought home their first EP when I was about 9 or 10. He was into all kinds of music, and took me to see Fishbone as well as Little Richard, Suicidal Tendencies, Los Lobos, and the Talking Heads–all before I was 12 years old (when he passed away). Fishbone’s music was perfect for a kid because it was so high energy. I was playing it for all the kids when we would skateboard or play basketball in the driveway.
MW: How did you decide on Fishbone as a documentary subject? How did you approach them?
LA: Chris and I both like stories about people who live on the margins. They not only make great characters but can provide a perspective into American culture from the outside. Black guys rocking out on guitars with mohawks just wasn’t a normal thing in the early ’80s and because Fishbone’s musical styles were all over the place, they sort of fit in anywhere but nowhere at once. And the more we learned about their story, the more it seemed to follow a parallel course with the black community of Los Angeles, which made the story more attractive. There was potential for it to be more than just a typical rockumentary.
In a way, the band was a result of large-scale social engineering. They all were bussed out to the suburbs for junior high school as part desegregation efforts in the late ’70s. While they already had eclectic tastes, that is how they met and the suburban experience just added another flavor. And their music reflected and commented on the things happening around them: the rise of crack and street gangs, punk rock in the Valley, Rodney King, and so on. So not only could we make a film about a crazy, talented, and influential band, but we could tell this larger social history.
We approached the band after that concert in San Francisco. It took a couple of months to convince them that we were the right ones to tell their story. When we shared Chris’ previous film with them, Plagues and Pleasure on the Salton Sea, a John Waters-narrated documentary about the Salton Sea and all the crazy characters that inhabit that place, they saw that we were freak-friendly.
MW: The list of interviewees from the music industry is pretty deep but I’m sure there were even more people that wanted to talk… Can you talk about anyone who wanted to speak on the band but just didn’t fit?
LA: The film includes interviews with folks like Ice T, Questlove, George Clinton, Perry Farrell, Mike Watt, Gwen Stefani, and others. There were many others that we wanted to include but couldn’t really fit in the film and will have to include on the DVD bonus features. Mostly, we wanted to include the musicians that had a close personal connection or friendship with the band that could speak not only about the music but about the guys personally. Everyone we interviewed was great, but we just couldn’t fit all of them in a personal, intimate story.
Some interviews we did and would have loved to include were Chuck D, Bad Brains, DJ Spooky, Alice in Chains, Robert Trujillo from Metallica, Chali 2na from Jurassic 5, and Ozomatli. And then there were others who indicated interest but never even got to sit down with us because they are so busy, like John Cusack, Will.I.Am, and Los Lobos. But, again, the interviews that made it into the film were there because they fit into this tighter, personal narrative. We wanted to avoid the trap of including so many people that it would water down or distract from the story.
MW: The animated sections are really cool, too. I’m sure they were made out of necessity to illustrate stories from the past, but they also capture and create a style. Can you tell me about these parts?
LA: Yes, the animated sections were used to help illustrate the past and to add a certain texture, an additional layer to the film. We used cell-animated, Fat Albert-style cartoons to cover the band’s early days and meeting in junior high because it seemed like a fun way to introduce the characters and to sort of place the audience in that late ’70s and early ’80s time period when Fat Albert was on TV. It just seemed like a perfect visual aid as we watch these kids form their own junkyard band!
MW: What was it like when you showed the first cut to the band? Were you a little freaked out or were they pretty involved in the filmmaking as it happened?
LA: We were a little nervous showing the film to the band. We started by showing a fine cut of the film (basically without the finished animations and graphics) to Angelo and Norwood. They didn’t have any major criticisms. Angelo felt there should have been interviews with fans or something that to more directly acknowledge the support that fans have given them over the years. Norwood seemed to be hoping for even more of a reality show train wreck–even if it was just for his entertainment.
Because we spent so much time with Norwood and Angelo, as they were the last two original members standing at the time we shot the film (Dirty Walt has since rejoined the band), they weren’t too caught off-guard by the film. They were aware of the questions we had been asking and probably had a good idea of how we were framing their story in general. As much as we were able to cram into it, the film covers just a small part of their real life and they recognized that as well. And we left the film a little open-ended, which I think they appreciate because the Fishbone story goes on and they can take it from there.