Death In Vegas

Death In Vegas Interview
by Alexander Laurence

Death in Vegas is a band that conjures up leather sheets, aggressive sex, and torturing small animals. Their new album, Scorpio Rising, takes its name after a film by Kenneth Anger. There are rumors that they built their studio, The Contino Rooms, on a site once inhabited by Aleister Crowley. Whether they channeled the spirit of Crowley on this record or not, is open for debate. The dark truth of this album is that it's dedicated to an engulfing evil in the world.
Born out of the London club scene that included The Chemical Brothers, Richard Fearless formed a studio only project in 1996 named Death in Vegas. With Steve Hellier, Fearless spent two years pumping out a similar type of audio adrenaline, mixing hip hop, samples, and heavy music. The result was their first album, Dead Elvis (1997). The single "Dirt" became a MTV hit later that year. Many people thought that this was a band that would be the new Nine Inch Nails.
Hellier soon left and was replaced by Tim Holmes (who engineered Dead Elvis). For the next album, Fearless gained a new partner as well as a few celebrity guests like Iggy Pop and Bobby Gillespie. This made the second album, The Contino Sessions (1999), buzzworthy and quite spectacular. The single "Aisha" dealt with a first person narrative by a serial killer. Death in Vegas became more of a live act during this time, by forming a real band of musicians. They became known more as a psychedelic/electro rock band.
Recently they have released their third album Scorpio Rising (2003). This album includes vocals by Dot Allison, Hope Sandoval, Paul Weller, Nicola Kuperas, and Liam Gallagher. This A-list cast has generated a lot of excitement and media attention for the band. They are currently preparing to work on their next record. I spoke to Tim Holmes recently, during some time off. Richard Fearless refuses to speak about any of his own work. Death in Vegas should be playing in the US sometime in fall 2003.
AL: When did you start recording this record, Scorpio Rising?
Tim: A long time ago now. It was released in the UK in October of 2002. We finished it last February. We are already busy starting to do the next record. It's weird to still be talking about this same record when my head is into the new one.
AL: Did you do a tour for Scorpio Rising already?
Tim: We did tour. We haven't been to America yet. We toured Europe quite extensively. We have done the UK and Japan. We are playing in the UK and Australia this summer. We are doing all the festivals, like Glastonbury.
AL: You have been in the band for a few years now?
Tim: Yeah. I worked on the first album as a recording engineer. I worked on the mixes too. On the back of that I worked on remixes for other people with Richard. I got more and more involved with writing and creative stuff. Richard had a parting of the ways with the other founding member. I was asked to wear the reserve goal keeper's jumper, if you like.
AL: The first record sounds different from what you did later. With the exception of "Dirt" most of the first record, Dead Elvis, is a hiphop records with spoken word samples. Do you still play those songs?
Tim: We do a few of them. The songs have changed a little bit. We do "Rekkit" but it sounds like a dub song live. It sounds like early Public Image the way we do it now. You could say that with a lot the songs we perform live. We don't necessarily stick with the way the sound on the records. It would be a bit daft to try really some of them. For instance, with the title track "Scorpio Rising" it didn't work to use the vocals as they stand. We use a little of the vocals as a sample and we extend it a bit. It's more bass driven. It's more dubbed out.
AL: They are no longer songs?
Tim: They are songs. They are recognizable, but they have changed. We have toured as a band for four years now. When you sound check, you try out different things. Sometimes we do the songs, and sometimes we don't. It's an ongoing ever changing process. We have seven people in the group: two guitars, bass, keyboards, and a drummer. Richard and I do all the electronic stuff. We used a lot of visuals. We have films projected onto us and behind us. That is an integral part of the band.
AL: Have you performed with a singer?
Tim: We have done. We have been lucky enough to perform with Bobby Gillespie when he is around. Dot Allison and Jim Reid have played with us. I doubt that we will be lucky enough to get Hope Sandoval. She is a shy young lady. I have only seen her play in the dark.
AL: Have you played in America before?
Tim: Not extensively. We have played New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. We did a tour with the Chemical Brothers. On our own we have also played Seattle, Chicago, and Detroit. That's pretty much it. I am looking forward to coming there again.
AL: Are you a DJ too?
Tim: No. Richard does. I do it occasionally, but I hesitate to call myself a club DJ. I am quite proficient at putting records on. When one is finished, I put the next one on. That's as far as it goes. I have a good collection of old Punk Rock and new records. You can jump around to it but it's not dance music. We did a night in New York recently. I did the first two hours and Richard did two hours. I played Krautrock and Kraftwerk, and stuff like Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Von Bondies. It was a mix of noisy electronic guitar acid house punk rock. Richard played two hours of moody techno and took them where they want to go.
AL: When you did Contino Sessions, that's when you got a few different lead singers. Why did you do that?
Tim: I guess the songs lent themselves more to be that way. For instance, when we did "Soul Auctioneer" with Bobby, we were sort of going for a tripped out hiphop vibe, like on that Dr. Octagon "Blue Flowers." We wanted to do a track like that. We don't write a song for anyone specifically. We don't say: "Let's write a song for Liam Gallagher." We do the song first, and then it becomes apparent who would be good to approach. Sometimes they say "No" but most of the time they say "Yes."
AL: Well who are some of the people who said "No?"
Tim: I knew you were going to ask me that. Jason Pierce from Spiritualized. We asked him four times. Eventually we got the message. We have been lucky. It's that old saying: if you don't ask, you don't get.
AL: When you did the demo track of "Scorpio Rising" who sang on that and what did you send to Liam Gallagher?
Tim: We both did quite badly. Yeah. (laughter) No one is ever going to hear it. It's so awful. It was enough for him to get the idea. We wrote the lyrics for him. First of all, we sent him an instrumental. After a long time he got back to us. He said he liked it, and he'd do it, but he didn't want to write any lyrics. Now he's written a few songs himself, but at the time he said at the time he didn't write lyrics. We send him the lyrics with our really bad guide vocals. He obviously spent a lot of time learning it because he came down to our studio and banged it out in two hours. That take on the album is just one take from start to finish. I didn't have to do anything to the vocals. That man is a genius I think.
AL: How did you choose working with Susan Dillane? She sings on the song "23 Girls."
Tim: I heard her band Woodbine. I heard a track called "Neskwik" and thought it was brilliant. She has a wicked voice. She doesn't have a mobile phone. We were able to track her down somewhere in the Midlands. I don't know how we did it. She came down to our studio with a gram of speed and eight cans of cider.
AL: Was the song you did with Paul Weller "So You Say You Your Baby" done at Contino?
Tim: That was done here at Contino. What happened was we were at Abbey Road doing something for the BBC. It was a weekend of music. The BBC had given up all the TV programs and the radio all for charity. We were doing a live thing for the radio. Paul was there. He said how much he liked the Contino Sessions. We asked him to collaborate on our next record. He agreed. It was Richard's idea to do the cover of the Gene Clark song. Paul Weller sang and Mani from Primal Scream played the bass. Paul actually stole our keyboard player. We have been doing good at losing musicians at the moment. We used to have a keyboard player named Shamus. We got a telephone call from paul asking for Shamus' telephone number. Now, Shamus is playing with Paul Weller and not Death in Vegas.
AL: Did you listen to Adult.?
Tim: Yeah. I love all the the Le Car records. I like all the Ersatz Audio records. It's very musical. Their songs are not just anonymous electronic tracks. Adult. has a personality about them. I think they are great. I haven't seen them play yet. Richard put them in a compilation he did. Richard is very knowledgeable about some of those records. But I am a bit older than him.
AL: Did you work with Nicola Kuperus of Adult.?
Tim: No. That was the only person who we didn't actually meet to do the vocals. With everyone else, I actually recorded the vocals. At first "Hands Around My Throat" was a very electronic song. I did it when Richard was away in India on holiday. When he came back, I played it to him. He said "Let's send it to Nicola." Before we did that, we replaced all the parts with live musicians. If you listen to it now, the bass line is an octave. It was originally on a synth and sounded like Giorgio Moroder. We did a rough mix of the version with live instruments and sent it to her. They did their version. Sent it back with the vocals. We did our own version.
AL: How did you get Dr. L. Subramaniam involved? It seemed like when you did "Neptune City" that was a preview of what was coming?
Tim: I guess it was heading in that direction slightly. We have both been to India a few times. We were traveling and having a holiday. We would buy music. We bought one record that was called "Beyond" that was by Dr. Subramaniam. It's a classical piece of music. We found out more about him via the internet. We found an address for him. We wrote to him. Then we met him in London. He was on his way back to India from New York. We told him what we wanted to do and he was very open to our ideas. We kept in touch and sent him rough mixes of what we were doing. He was scoring strings. We went to his house in India to talk about the music. At some point you can't do everything on the phone. You have to meet in person. So that's what we did. Around Christmas in 2001, we went to Madras, and spent a week out there recording the strings, with an Indian orchestra. We had twenty-two violinists. We had Indian sound engineers. We had an Indian conductor, being Dr. Subramaniam. We wanted to get that shrill sound. It wasn't a spiritual thing.
AL: Do you like Roky Erickson?
Tim: Yeah. I like all good music. I like everything from Andrew Lloyd Webber to The Beach Boys. I have a lot of records. I live in London which is handy for buying vinyl. There's more vinyl in New York, it must be said. I live in Brixton and Richard lives in Islington. There's two Rough Trade Records in London. One is more electronic. You have to look around. There are a bunch of shops that have vinyl. These are shops full of men looking at records.
AL: What about Fad Gadget? Is Frank Tovey an influence anymore?
Tim: Yeah. I was into Fad Gadget when they were going. I saw him play not long before he died. He played at a place in North London. A lot of that music came out of punk rock: Throbbing Gristle, Fad Gadget, and Cabaret Voltaire. I was into all of that stuff. That's my background really. That's where I come from.
AL: Have you played any shows with any punk of electro groups?
Tim: No. We should organize something like that. The closest we have come is Soft Cell. We did the Sonar Music Festival in Barcelona. It is an electronic music festival. We played in the same venue as them. I think we played right before Soft Cell.
AL: What are some new bands that you listen to?
Tim: Loads. I am listening to The Kills, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Suicide, The Cramps.
AL: Have you seen any films recently?
Tim: I have just seen a brilliant Japanese film called The Dolls. It's about two lovers. It's very sad and typically Japanese. It's about betrayal, love, honor and respect. It's beautifully filmed. It's just stunning. The director is Takeshi Kitano. He does a lot of gangster films. I have seen Secretary and Donnie Darko. I haven't seen Matrix yet.
AL: Have you read any good books?
Tim: I should read more. At the moment I reading The Shipping News. I haven't read it for a week, so I know that I am going to have to skim the start again.
AL: What is the set list like for the Death in Vegas show?
Tim: It's about half the new album. Maybe more. There's about four tracks from Contino Sessions. We do a few songs that were released as vinyl only. They were very electronic. Now they sound like Krautrock. It varies where we play and if it is our own gig. We can play long sets if it our own gig. People don't want you to get too experimental if it a festival. They just want to hear songs where they can jump around.
AL: Many people in America have seen the video for "Aisha." Have you done some videos for the new album?
Tim: We've done a video for "Scorpio Rising" and "Hands Around My Throat." We are working with filmmakers too. When we made the album Scorpio Rising we documented a lot of it. We filmed nearly everone who we worked with. We filmed all the sessions with Paul and Liam, and our trip to India. We are going to do a DVD. I don't know when it is coming out. On that DVD there will be some videos by some unknown filmmakers. They won't be videos geared toward MTV. They won't be very commercial. But they won't be like Richard Kern. I won't be able to show it to my mother.
AL: Have you ran into Iggy Pop since you did "Aisha?"
Tim: Yeah, we saw him in Scotland. We were doing T in The Park. We were playing at different times on different stages. We met up with him for a nice glass of red wine. He is really such a gentleman. When he was living in Berlin with David Bowie in the mid 1970s, and Bowie did Low and Heroes, and Iggy did Lust For Life and The Idiot, and the wall was still up. I was fourteen years old then and I was wondering what it was like being there in that place and making the kind of music they were making. I thought that was absolutely fascinating.
AL: When are you coming to America to do a proper tour next?
Tim: We are coming in the autumn. We are coming to New York to do some more interviews and DJing. The record is coming out in America later in June 2003. The real tour will happen in September I think. That's when all the summer festivals will be over. We will be over. I want to do Burning Man if we ever get the chance.

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The Magic Numbers

The Magic Numbers
By alexander laurence

The Magic Numbers are new band from England. They came into existence about
three years ago and have become quite popular since. Their first album came out
earlier this year in the UK. It was nominated for the Mercury Prize. It came
out here in October 2005. They have done a few high profiles tours with Doves
and Bright Eyes here in the States. In the past year they have been on the
cover of the NME and listed in Rolling Stone’s recent “Ten Bands To Watch.” The
Magic Numbers combine country folk and rock music, and create perfect pop
harmonies. They will be on Conan O’Brien and American TV for the first time on
November 30th.

The band is Romeo Stodart (guitar/vocals) Sean Gannon (drums), Michele
Stodart (bass/vocals), and Angela Gannon (vocals/melodica). I spoke to Michele right
before some headline shows on the West Coast. Their self-titled album is
simply amazing. It is one of the special albums of the year 2005. It is really
unlike anything out there. Songs like “Forever Lost” and “Love Me Like You” are
some of the most exciting songs this year.

AL: You and Romeo have known each other for a long time. How did you meet the
other people in the band?
Michele: It was when Romeo and me moved to London. We had lived in New York
before that. We soon met Sean and Angela and their whole family. Romeo and Sean
started making music together. They played music together off and on for ten
years. Some band members had left. Angela and me had to edge our way into the
band. We were just playing and never thought we were in a band. We were really
rehearsing and jamming for about six months. When we started gigging we
realized we were in the band. We realized that we were doing something that we
always wanted to do. We have played together three years now.

AL: Did you see the earlier band that Sean and Romeo were in?
Michele: Yeah. We were big fans of them. It was the same sort of music. Back
then they were a little bit more experimental. It had different arrangements
and it was more eclectic. They were great. They had great songs. They never
found a lineup that was dedicated about the music as much as they were. So the
band fell apart at some point.

AL: You had a song “Hymn For Her” that was an early EP.
Michele: Yeah. That is on the record too. It is the secret track. It is one
of our older songs. It is an amazing track. I think it got a bunch of people
exciting to hear our band. It made people think: “Wow, there is this band that
plays live with Xylophones.” It comes on about three minutes after “Try.”

AL: Who came up with the idea of the cartoon characters?
Michele: We got the idea for the carton characters because we wanted
something that was iconic and a strong logo. It’s like the Supergrass logo. We wanted
something where you didn’t have to say “The Magic Numbers” all the time. We
can put these figures out there and people would know who were really.

AL: What did you think of the results of The Mercury Prize?
Michele: I think it was great. I would be lying if I said, “I think the best
band won.” But Antony and The Johnsons deserved to win. I think the album is
great. He is a really nice guy. It was probably my favorite album out of all
the other albums. I would definitely choose his record. I wouldn’t take back
anything from that night. He deserved it and obviously he won it. Hopefully more
people will hear the album because of the award.

AL: Have you played in America a lot?
Michele: We have played South By Southwest. We supported Doves on a few
dates. We have never done a tour. This tour in November 2005 will be our first real
shows. Being in America for a whole month is really important to us as a
band. We are going to loads of places we have never been before.

AL: Why is it important to you?
Michele: It’s like starting over again. It’s just making sure more people
hear our band. That is the thing that we aim for: we are spreading the word
about our band and what we are doing. It will be interesting to see how people
react to it.

AL: Are there some places in America that you are looking forward to going?
Michele: We are going to Nashville, Tennessee. We are going to Las Vegas and
Toronto as well. There are a lot of places we are going. I am a huge Country
Music fan. I am looking forward to going to Nashville. Everything I know about
it is from TV. My family lived in New York for six years before we moved to
London. We lived in Queens. It was great. It was a huge eye opener. It’s a mad
life in New York. I would like to live in America again. It’s a hectic

AL: Since Sean and Romeo have been playing together for so long, and since
you have been playing for a while, do you think that you have enough material
for the second album? And do you think that you would record it in New York or
Los Angeles?
Michele: I don’t know. Maybe? We are hoping to get a residential studio so we
can eat, drink, and sleep music constantly. We want to start honing in on the
second album. We want to work on the arrangements. We have written a lot of
the second album already. I am looking forward to rehearsing the new songs. I
haven’t heard anything about doing it in the States. It sounds like a good

AL: So the second album is already done then?
Michele: The songs are pretty much already written. All the arrangements and
how the record is going to sound is what we have to work on. We are going into
a rehearsal studio in late December and January and start figuring things
out. We are going to record it in April 2006 probably.

AL: Is the band open to collaborations with other musicians?
Michele: Yeah. I think so. There has been a lot of talk about that. We have
been talking about whether there will be other bands on this second album. I
think it will be nice.

AL: In the live show, all of you move around on the instruments. You play
several different instruments on different songs. Was that something planned?
Michele: Yeah. I think we always wanted to do as much as we could between the
four of us. You know? There is talk of using strings and brass on the second
album. I still want it to remain the four of us onstage. I want to give off
that live aspect on record. If that means that I have to grow another hand to
play violin, maybe I could do it. No, I am all for people joining us onstage for
some songs. I don’t know how the second record is going to work out. There
are a lot of different songs on it. It will be interesting to work on it. It
will be fun. We will be experimenting a lot more.

AL: Do you play other instruments that you haven’t tried onstage yet?
Michele: No. Romeo does play a bit of piano. I play bass guitar and drums. We
don’t have any strange instruments that we play.

AL: What is your set like now?
Michele: We just did a headlining tour, so we are spoiled. We were playing
shows that were an hour and forty-five minutes. We were playing the whole album
and a few new songs. Now with the shows with Bright Eyes we are going to cut
it short, to thirty minutes. We are going to try to bring every element in the
band in a shorter set. People should expect to sing along and have a good
time. We like to be onstage and seeing our fans singing your songs.

AL: What were some of the first shows like?
Michele: I remember our first ever gig that we played. It was in a really
tiny venue. The capacity was twenty-five people. There wasn’t really a stage. It
was more like a step. I was literally off the stage, because the stage was so
small. I was in the crowd. My bass was wedged in between three or four people
around me. It was great. There was a crazy atmosphere in that room. That was
the first time I thought, “Wow. This really works well.” We could play around
the world. Even if we didn’t have a record deal, it would be good to play as
much as possible. We played a lot for a year and a half before we signed a
deal. Word got around. There we go.

AL: Were most of the early shows in London?
Michele: Yeah. We played a lot in London. Then we ventured out. We have only
just done our first European tour a month ago, in September 2005.

AL: You are playing this Vegoose Festival in Las Vegas on Halloween. What is
that going to be like?
Michele: Well, I think that we are required to wear some masks. It will be
great to be in America during Halloween. I can walk around Las Vegas with my

AL: Have you read any good books recently?
Michele: I read Bob Dylan “Chronicles.” That was really good. Sean is
reading “Scar Tissue.” It’s a book about Red Hot Chili Peppers. We are all big fans
of Nick Hornby. We like “High Fidelity” and “Fever Pitch.”

AL: Are there any bands that you toured with that you liked?
Michele: Yeah. We went on tour recently with Brian Wilson. That was a dream
come true. Just being on the same stage as him was great. The band was so
amazing. They were such nice guys.

AL: Did you play some festivals this summer?
Michele: Yeah. We played about eighteen festivals this past summer. It was
good fun. Each festival was different from the next. It’s funny going to Norway
and Germany. We also did the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan, which was amazing.

AL: How does the songwriting process happen in the band?
Michele: Romeo writes pretty much most of the songs. He writes all of them.
He writes lyrics and everything. He usually plays it to me first. He will wake
me up at three in the morning. He will say: “Michele, what do you think of
this one?” And I will go “I’m tired.” If the song wakes me up and I am thrilled
about it, I will pick up the bass. I will sing along and work on the
harmonies straight away at four in the morning. The next day we will play it all
together. It’s great how these songs come together. Sometimes Romeo has an
arrangement in his head that he wants us to stick to. Sometimes it doesn’t work. We
are always trying different ways to get songs across. Certain songs you haven’t
got a clue how to get it finished. Other songs come really easily.

AL: Does he write bits and pieces and puts them all together later?
Michele: Yeah. Sometimes there is a melody or a certain tune that you have on
guitar. You want it to be a song, but it makes more sense to put it into this
other song. Sometimes certain bits belong to a theme. That is exactly how it

AL: Does everyone get to write songs in the band?
Michele: Everyone gets to put a bit of him or herself in there. We really
work hard on arrangements. Not one person can do that. It takes the four of us to
put our heads together and to nail a song. Sometimes it’s just Romeo on
guitar. Sometimes that’s all a song needs.

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The Raveonettes

The Raveonettes Interview
By Alexander Laurence

The Raveonettes have been one of favorite bands since they started four years
ago. They are mainly Sune Rose Wagner (guitar/vocals) and Sharin Foo
(guitar/vocals). They are from Denmark but have lived all over the world for the past
eight years. The first EP “Whip It On” (2002) was amazing and changed the
future of rock music. In 2002, The Raveonettes were one of the bands I saw often.
Very quickly they hooked up with producer Richard Gottehrer and made their
first proper album “Chain Gang Of Love” (2003). This album was everything you
could ask for. Many tours happened after this. The live shows got better. Sune
got involved with DJ nights in many cities around the world.

Then came time for their second album. This gave them a chance to work again
with Richard Gottehrer. They also worked with some of their heroes such as Moe
Tucker (Velvet Underground), Martin Rev (Suicide), and Ronnie Spector. This
ended up being the album “Pretty In Black” (2005). This album is already a
classic and is one of the best of the year. The Raveonettes, Sharin Foo and Sune
Rose Wagner, have slowly been building up a following with their vintage
American R&B, surf and rockabilly inflected music. They have toured heavily this
year. They are now the opening band for Depeche Mode on their sold out stadium
tour in November and December 2005. This is a massive break for the
Raveonettes. Their music will be exposed to its largest audience yet. I got to speak with
one half of the group, Sune Rose Wagner.

AL: You have some songs on the new album about America. Do you like to drive
around America on tour?

AL: I have seen you play many times in the past three years in America. Do
you feel comfortable with all that touring?

AL: You have been on TV in America a lot. Do you see those TV shows back in

AL: You have a new member in the band. Sharin Foo has moved over to guitar.
Why all the changes?

AL: What sort of atmosphere did you need to write the new album?

AL: It seems that you were into some Americana records on this new album?

AL: Why do you think that people are obsessed with music from the 1980s? I
was there and was a teenager at the time and it wasn't so good. There were a few
good bands, but 90% was shit.

AL: How did this new album differ from the previous two?
SUNE: YOU TELL ME. (laughter)

AL: You had a different approach to songwriting on this record?

AL: What was it like working with Richard Gottehrer?

AL: This time you decided to cover one of his songs. Does Richard think your
version is better?

AL: I heard there is a lot of partying on the road for the Raveonettes. Are
you recovering from alcohol abuse and drug excess right now?

AL: What do you think of psychedelic drugs and how do they relate to

AL: Who is that song "Little Animal" about?

AL: Did you live in America when you were younger?

AL: Since the Beat Generation influenced you, did you try your hand at poetry
or novels?

AL: I heard that you have been married a few times and have kids in different
parts of the world. What is up with that?

AL: How does the songwriting process start for you?

AL: Wow! Do you have any hobbies?

AL: What about your DJ nights? What do you play?

AL: You have done a few albums in "the key of B flat" or whatever. You have
dropped that restraint?

AL: Who do you think are some good bands now?

AL: You have been hanging out with Anton Newcombe of BJM a lot. Is it like
Neal Cassidy and Jack Kerouac?

AL: Recently you played three nights at Spaceland in Los Angeles. This is a
small club. You could have played one or two nights at a much larger venue. Why
did you do this?

AL: I watched you do a sound check in Los Angeles. It takes a long time to
get things ready because you have technology and everything. What exactly do you

AL: Thanks for talking with me and good luck with the new tour.

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Who is A "Rock Star?"

I have heard the phrase "rock star" being used a lot recently by young people. I think that they are using it incorrectly. I would never call someone in the bands Death Cab for Cutie, or Something Corporate, or Avenged Sevenfold "rock stars." Just because you are in a band doesn't make you a rock star. Rock stars all have unique looks, unique style, and are not "regular guys." Just because you are in a band doesn't mean you are famous. Who can name one guy in My Morning Jacket or Broken Social Scene? "Rock star" means to me guys like Elvis, Jim Morrison, John Lennon, Dylan, etc... So I have made a few rules that one should use to apply to so-called "rock stars":

  1. -Your name should be recognizable. If Paris Hilton is more famous than you for doing nothing, then you are probably not a rock star.
  2. -You should be on the cover a music magazine this month. I just looked at a few today (Dave Grohl, Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys, Oasis).
  3. -Your picture should be able to exist in a collage with Elvis, Lennon, Hendrix, Morrison and not seem out of place. Kurt Cobain? (yes) Fred Durst? (no way) Morrissey? (maybe) Liam Gallagher (Hell yes!)
  4. -You should probably have a good record deal and are the main songwriter in the band. Some hired hand who plays keyboards in a band is probably not a rock star.
  5. -You should have a great style. I go to shows (Dead Can Dance) and people in the audience look more like rock stars than the band themselves.
  6. -You should be on a major label. Do you think we would be talking about Nirvana or Green Day today if they were on some puny DIY label?
  7. -You must be able to sell some records. You are not a rock star if you sell 100 records and 50 people show up for your gig at the Smell.
  8. -If you are standing with the cast of Jackass and seem like you belong, you are not a rock star. You are probably a skateboarder or a surfer.
  9. -If you are standing with the cast of Quadrophenia and seem like you belong, you are not a rock star. You are probably a refried mod or a member of some Swedish band.
  10. -You must have a killer haircut.
  11. -You have probably met Cynthia Plaster Caster.
  12. -You have gone out with a model.
  13. -You have gone out with a famous actress.
  14. -You have gone out with a girl in another band.
  15. -If you have facial piercing, you are probably not a rock star. But you could always find employment at Hot Topic or a record store.
  16. -If you have a goatee, tattoos, wear shorts, and baseball caps. You are definitely not a rock star.
  17. -If you are Clay Aitkin, you are not a rock star. You will die a virgin.
  18. If you are a person meets who almost all of these requirements, then you are probably a rock star. The others are just surfers and skateboarders, who don't give a fuck.
-Alexander Laurence
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Sam Green Interview

The Weather Underground
A film by Sam Green and Bill Siegel
Interview with documentary filmmaker, Sam Green
by Alexander Laurence

"Hello, I'm going to read a declaration of a state of war... within the next 14 days we will attack a symbol or institution of American injustice."
-- Bernardine Dohrn

Thirty years ago a group of American radicals announced their intention to overthrow the U.S. government. In THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND, former members, including Bernardine Dohrn, Bill Ayers, Mark Rudd, David Gilbert and Brian Flanagan, speak publicly about the idealistic passion that drove them to "bring the war home." Outraged over racism and the Vietnam War, the Weather Underground bombed targets across the country that they considered emblematic. The group's carefully organized clandestine network managed to successfully evade one of the largest manhunts in FBI history.

Sam Green and Bill Siegel spent four year uncovering the mystery. Extensive archival material, including photographs, film footage and FBI documents are interwoven with modern-day interviews to trace their path, from the pitched battles with police on Chicago's streets, to its bombing of the U.S. Capitol, to its successful endeavor breaking acid-guru Timothy Leary out of prison. The film explores the Weathermen in the context of other social movements of the time and features interviews with former members of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Black Panthers. It also examines the U.S. government's suppression of dissent in the 1960s and 1970s. Looking back at their years underground, the former members paint a compelling portrait of troubled times, revolutionary times, and the forces that drove their resistance.
This film has won numerous awards already including ones at Sundance and SXSW. I saw The Rainbow Man/John 3:16 (1997) by Sam Green at the NY Underground Film Festival. After that, he completed a short called Pie Fight '69 (2000). The Weather Underground will be playing at Film Forum and across the country starting June 4th, 2003. I spoke recently to Sam Green at his home in San Francisco.


AL: When did you first show this film?
Sam: It premiered at Sundance in January 2003.
AL: When did you get the idea to do a film about the Weather Underground?
Sam: I got the idea about four years ago. It's hard to remember what thing were like in the late 1990s. Things have really changed in the past two years. Back then it was a really silly time. The story of these crazy kids who tried to overthrow the government had always resonated with me. I liked it. It came from my initial fascination with that. I had always known who they were. But then, I met someone in the Bay Area who part of the Weather Underground. I never thought that most of them would still be around and lead fairly normal lives. I spoke to this member about it and asked him a bunch of questions. For me it was always interesting.
AL: Were you always thinking about doing a film?
Sam: It was bubbling inside my head. I was trying to get someone else to do it. It was such a big project. I was trying to get my friend Mary to do it. I thought that she would do it and I would help her. I met this guy. I felt like someone has to do it. I'll do it!
AL: How did Pie Fight '69 fit in?
Sam: That came out of this project. I was at this photo archives place in New York, and I was doing research for The Weather Underground, and I saw this amazing photo. It was a picture of a woman in a tutu throwing a pie. It said "San Francisco Film Festival: Opening Night 1969." I stumbled across it. It seemed so funny, crazy, and weird. I got sidetracked on that. A film festival back then was this big gala event with red carpets and tuxedoes. At that event, there were all these angry hippies. There was a huge cultural divide between them. That showed at Sundance too.
AL: You used all this available footage.
Sam: Yeah. They shot all this footage of the pie fight. They had six different 16 mm cameras on the roof and across the street. They didn't have the follow through. They never really made a film out of it and showed it to people. The footage was lost for many years. Nobody knew where it was. My friend, Bill Daniels, found the film in a box in a basement at ATA. I was looking for it for a few years. Bill Daniels is like the Johnny Appleseed of underground culture. It was so good.
AL: Your other film, The Rainbow Man/John 3:16, dealt with a person with some right wing views. It's weird that you did two other films about radicals.
Sam: The Rainbow Man is political but not in an explicit way. To me, the story is a subtle critique of the media and what it does to people emotionally. Even though he was a crazy right wing Christian himself, the story is a critique of consumer culture. The other movies are more explicit.
AL: Those other people were interesting because they were the first TV generation.
Sam: They were all into some good movies. I was interested in what movies they were watching and which movies influenced them. That generation was also influenced by early TV and the movies of their day. They listed Bonnie and Clyde and Butch Cassady and the Sundance Kid as some of their favorite movies.
AL: Were all the people in the Weather Underground from upper middle class backgrounds and did they all go to college?
Sam: Some of them were rich kids. They are went to college. They weren't working class people. It's true that project would be something that only kids in their early twenties would entertain. Once you get older, you have less stomach for overthrowing the government. Most of them did no jail time. Most of them turned themselves in by the end of the 1970s. The FBI had broken the law so much in trying to find them. All this dirt came out about the FBI. All these changes against them were dropped. They just resurfaced and moved on with their lives. It was clear that they had taken part in the bombings. It was a different time. People wanted to leave this all behind.
AL: What was it like talking with them now?
Sam: I was surprised. I thought people would be cynical and disillusioned. The revolution obviously never happened. They are all still hopeful and idealistic. They are more realistic and older now. They don't have all the answers anymore. At that time people felt like they knew exactly what they had to do to overthrow the government. Nobody has that sense of power anymore. But they all hopeful and I think that is cool.
AL: How many people were involved with the Weather Underground?
Sam: It started off with a few hundred. By the end, there were thirty or forty. All the time there were hundreds of people who helped them. You can't stay one step ahead of the FBI without having a lot of help. It is known who most of the people involved were. It wasn't a card carrying organization. There are the people who everyone knows about. But there are several hundred people who did stuff or helped out that nobody knows about. It could be your neighbor.
AL: I know about this author in LA who says that he was involved in the Weather Underground or something like it. As far as idealism and young people making an impact or rebelling: I think his view is there no hope with young people today.
Sam: It's definitely harder to rebel. Back then youth culture was new and it was oppositional. It was truly a counterculture and it wasn't part of the entertainment industry. It became part of it very quickly afterwards. The original inspiration for it was radical. It harder now to find the space to do that when marketing has become so sophisticated. It can still happen, I think. There will always be undergrounds and hardcore scenes. The animal rights scene is pretty crazy. Even some of the electronic music scene is still very underground. There will always be a good creative rebellious spirit somewhere.
AL: When Bonnie and Clyde came out, people under 21 loved it. Older people and older guys at the studio were wondering why young people thought it was so great.
Sam: Maybe something similar will happen now that it's the baby boomers and their kids? Maybe somehow their kids will turn on them? They are good at marketing rebellious ideas to their kids, so maybe it won't happen. I like our generation: it's in-between, forgotten, cynical, lacking self-esteem generation. I am happy growing up in that time.
AL: How did you start making the Weather Underground film?
Sam: It was a hard movie to do. I worked with Bill Siegel who lives in Chicago. It was a hard movie because it was about a group of people who were underground for ten years and never photographed during that time. It's a crazy idea for a documentary because you have nothing visual to work with. That was a struggle. Since it was a 90 minute film you have to pace it and use a narrative like a dramatic film. With a short film it's easy. With a ten minute film, as long as it moves, it's fine. It takes a lot of editing.
AL: Did you have some outside help?
Sam: Caveh Zahedi was a great help. He's a great independent filmmaker who lives in the Bay Area. He has done narrative films. He did a documentary called "I Don't Hate Las Vegas Anymore." Caveh is really good at structure. He is a great person to watch something and to give you feedback. He is very smart about drama. With help like that, this film was more possible.
AL: People are familiar with documentary filmmakers like Michael Moore and Nick Broomfield. They always inject themselves into the story for comic effect. How do you feel about that?
Sam: It's cool for them. I love both their movies. They are both great characters, especially Nick Broomfield. His shtick with Heidi Fliess is a good example. By the end of the film, the three main characters hate his guts. When he interviews Suge Knight, it is so good. It works for them. I am a shy person. I don't want to part of the movie. Especially in a story like this: that would be ridiculous to have a first person narrator.
AL: How did you decide what to shoot?
Sam: We talked to a lot of different people. Out of talking with them we picked out ones we thought would be good to interview. We did some sit down interviews. But we tried to take them to the actual places, and try to remember stuff. That is a way better way to interview people than just sitting down. When the Weather Underground went underground, they lived in houseboats in Sausalito. North of San Francisco there were all these houseboats in Sausalito. Now it's a fancy little town, but then it was a poor squatter place. We went there with Bernadine Dohrn. She was the leader of the group. When we go to those actual places people tend to remember things much better and it's more poignant for them.
AL: What surprised you about these people?
Sam: They got to a point where they all thought that were not going to live through this. They laid it all on the line. It was surprising to these people now and find out that they are not these crazy whacked out terrorists or fanatics. Most of them are these smart and compelling people. That was inspiring to make to movie. The difference between the history you read in books and the reality is so striking. The reality is so much more complex than we can ever realize. Even the Black Panthers were scornful of the Weather Underground. They thought they were crazy.
AL: None of the could ever see themselves as being older than 30.
Sam: That's beautiful. That's youth. Youth is so amazingly creative and destructive. They were impatient and unable to see the big picture. The world would be a horrible place without that impulse. It's inevitable that it is something that goes away. Hopefully there will always be young people to express those things. It's good for the world. I made this film with young people in mind. It raises some political questions that I hope they are still interested in now.
AL: It will be showing in different places?
Sam: It will be showing at The Castro in San Francisco for a few weeks and in Chicago at The Music Box. It will go to a lot of different cities. It will be an art house release. But I would like to show it in Orange County at the VFW hall. I would like to show it somewhere where someone says "This is an outrage."
AL: Terrorism has a new meaning now. There are all these warnings. We have been attacked a few times now. Now they just picked up this guy who bombed a Planned Parenthood building. People don't realize that this sort of stuff has been going on for a while, and there have been several bombing in this country.
Sam: Many people who cause violence in America don't stand for anything. The Weather Underground did articulate and embody certain cultural forces and ideas. So they are more significant than a sniper or anti-abortionist. The Vietnam War was scaled back because of protests and because this country was in such chaos. Young people were bombing places here in this country. You can't maintain a country with that sort of anarchy happening. People in the government were obviously paying attention. It's hard to say though if they changed the course of the war. The war went on for a long time. It's hard to say what the effect of the Weather Underground is. Thirty years later, we have this documentary about the group, and who knows what will happen from that. Ideas bubble up fifty years later. They didn't start a revolution, but the last pages haven't been written
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