Last month, Drowned In Sound were invited to the premiere of 'Beautiful Noise', the first ever documentary to tell the story of the musical phenomenon that came to be known as shoegaze. Lasting ninety minutes in total, it's a fascinating film that features a plethora of previously unseen interviews and live footage with many of the scene's main protagonists, while also calling on the likes of Robert Smith, Billy Corgan and Trent Reznor - all heavily influenced by the genre - to provide narrative insights into what some of its key players mean to them. With so many highlights to choose from; Smith talking about how Cocteau Twins' Treasure soundtracked his wedding, Reznor explaining why he wanted Alan Moulder to produce the second Nine Inch Nails record, Kevin Shields and Alan McGee's spat over Loveless, and an incredible archived live performance from the aforementioned Cocteau Twins; it's a must-see for anyone with even the slightest interest in the genre and its leading lights.
Directed by LA based film maker/writer Eric Green and produced by his wife Sarah, the project first came to fruition in 2004, with most of the interviews taking place over the following three years. Having finished editing the movie by the close of 2008, legal clearances and financial constraints forced the film's release to be delayed. Eventually using Kickstarter to help fund the licensing and distribution costs in 2012, the project's target amount being met in December of that year. Now, with the film having screened at the Seattle International Film Festival and Sheffield Doc Fest with more screenings to be announced, the Greens' exhaustive venture has finally seen the light of day.
Having spoken at length with both the producer and director at the Sheffield launch event, we decided to hook up once more for a Q&A session about the film, its main characters, the music and its creators' future projects.
DiS: How did the idea for a film about the shoegaze movement first come about?
Eric Green: I like watching music documentaries. There are some great documentaries about almost every other genre yet nothing about this one. So that wrong needed to be corrected. Initially, I had no idea how we were going to do it, but it kinda all fell into place.
DiS: When did the idea become a reality?
Eric Green: It was probably around the back end of 2003 or early 2004 when I first heard Sigur Ros. I remember thinking to myself someone's making this music again. Apart from Spiritualized in the late nineties and New York's Bowery Electric and Loveliescrushing around the same era there was no one else. It certainly wasn't as prevalent as it had been during the early nineties. I remember hearing M83's Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts and Ulrich Schnauss's A Strangely Isolated Place a couple of weeks apart from one another. Then I heard about a Slowdive tribute album which had been released. When I went to my local record store to purchase a copy they asked me, "Which one?" Apparently two Slowdive tribute records had come out that week. That's when I realised this period needed documenting. There were no books, no movies, just a few good articles on the internet and little else.
DiS: Was there ever a point where you thought the film wouldn't happen?
Eric Green: Several times. Mostly during the early stages as it was difficult arranging a lot of the interviews at the start. We had long periods of silence and inactivity and I'd be lying if I said we didn't question ourselves whether it would happen or not.
DiS: The film mainly focuses on UK based bands with the exception of Medicine. How did you decide which bands to concentrate on? For example, Sonic Youth are one of the main bands from that era but aren't featured.
Eric Green: I met Thurston Moore and also J Mascis from Dinosaur Jr too. I was going to interview both but for one reason and another it never happened. A lot of people mention Sonic Youth as being instrumental in the scene's development but if we'd have included every single band that played a part 'Beautiful Noise' would have ended up being a huge sprawling thing we could never control if we tried. It also seemed appropriate for the main spotlight to focus on the UK as that's where most of these great bands originate from. I love a lot of the US bands and it did feel quite painful keeping some of them out but at its height the scene didn't have the same impact over there as it did in the UK. The film took shape over time, and the original draft of my script changed somewhat. We tried to keep it structured but also loose at the same time. I wanted to tell the story of how these amazing bands changed people's lives but at the same time try to keep it as subtle as possible. We also wanted it to come purely from the perspective of the artists themselves without trying to put words into people's mouths. It was important they got to tell their experiences exactly how they remembered them. It was interesting dealing with so many different personalities. A lot of the scene's key people are actually quite shy and introverted, which probably comes across in some cases during the movie.
DiS: Which artists proved the most difficult to track down and persuade to co-operate?
Eric Green: It was tough getting Kevin Shields to set a time. Jim Reid from the Jesus & Mary Chain was hard to convince but most of it was fairly straightforward once we made contact with people. Ian Masters from Pale Saints was perhaps the most difficult as he now lives in Japan. I really wanted him in the film as he's an amazing vocalist. I listen to 'Insubstantial' over and over again almost daily. He has such a powerful voice. Fortunately, I had a friend who was based in Japan and he managed to get the interview in a couple of takes. Trent Reznor was also hard to pin down because he's always busy either recording, producing or playing live. It took us about a year and a half to finally get him on board, and even then it was more about being in the same place at a time when he was available. 4AD boss Ivo Watts-Russell was another who wasn't easy to find, but as with the others, we found him in the end.
DiS: Were any artists reluctant to participate?
Eric Green: Not reluctant as such but as I said earlier, a lot of the scene's main players are quite introverted. Liz Fraser is extremely private, William Reid too.
DiS: What gave you the idea to approach Robert Smith, Billy Corgan and Trent Reznor then cast them in an almost narrative capacity for the film?
Eric Green: For a start I love all three's music. Robert Smith in particular was exciting to meet let alone interview! He's such a passionate music fan. We spent about three hours with him and probably could have used everything he said. He's so fascinating and we discussed a wide range of topics. At one point while talking about the impact of the scene he said he thought his career would be over if he didn't make a major change. He said he feared someone less talented taking his place. But then great bands don't make the same mistakes twice, and I think the emergence of people like the Cocteau Twins and then Slowdive revitalised him somewhat.
DiS: How many hours of footage did you use initially?
Eric Green: We did around fifty interviews, some of which were really long. Then there was lots of archive footage on top of that, so I'd say at least 100 hours, probably more.
DiS: It must have been a nightmare to edit.
Eric Green: Sarah is an amazing editor whereas I'm an ideas guy so credit to her for piecing it together and making it work. I had a loose script, but it was mainly a collaboration between the both of us and a lot of the time we would argue about what to include with me mostly conceding to Sarah's better wishes. We did end up leaving some prize quotes on the cutting room floor. Everything had to fit the story, which was always going to be difficult as it involves multiple bands.
DiS: Clearance issues played a major part in delaying the film's release initially. How difficult was it to get labels, artists and publishers to co-operate with releasing some of the footage?
Eric Green: It was more of a transaction issue with some of the companies who own the footage. Some were quite straightforward, others took time to grind out the legal process. I guess we were so low on most people's radars, and most corporations don't really give a shit about art. We felt like we were fighting every step of the way, but I'd like to think it was worth it.
DiS: How much did it cost to make?
Eric Green: Around $200,000.
DiS: Did you have a budget from the outset?
Eric Green: I'm not really good with budgets, that's Sarah's expertise. I'm more inspired by the whole DIY concept. We went to a lot of companies and a few people were interested but no one would back it financially.
DiS: Was that when you decided to launch the Kickstarter project?
Eric Green: Pretty much. Kickstarter started in 2010 I think and I'd heard of it through a friend of a friend who knows the founder. It's an incredible resource, arguably the most amazing thing to happen with music in recent years.
DiS: The project reached its target quite close to the finishing date. How significant would it have been if the target hadn't been met? Would you have still carried on with the project?
Eric Green: We're so grateful to the people who donated to the campaign. The project had come so far I don't think we could have stopped at that point. Both of us are fairly perseverant. We had a lot of personal stress as well while we were making the film. Both of us lost parents, we got married then had a baby. I'd like to think I would have made sure the film happened regardless. We'd always intended to go to film festivals before home video as it's the best way to put a spotlight on the film. Some of the feedback from the first screenings has been incredible. People have emailed us afterwards asking what some of the songs were. Others have said they weren't aware of many of these bands but after watching 'Beautiful Noise' they want to check them out. To me, that's the greatest thing we could possibly wish for. Many of these bands received little to no recognition at the time. If this goes some way towards redressing that then we've kind of succeeded.
DiS: A lot of the press - particularly in the UK - was very negative at the time most of the bands were active. Do you see 'Beautiful Noise' as a way of redressing that balance too?
Eric Green: Definitely. It's been happening concurrently since. I didn't want to repeat what I'd read in the film. It's better buried in the past. Looking back at some of the reviews at the time; especially with Slowdive's Souvlaki and Pygmalion; it's almost inconceivable how negative the press were. But time has been a great healer and ultimately the music speaks for itself.
DiS: There's going to be an extras DVD to go with the home release. What will be included with the extras?
Eric Green: We're figuring that out right now. We want to make sure it's relevant to the main film, stuff that looks really good and almost made the final cut.
DiS: Have all of the artists and participants from the film seen the finished version?
Eric Green: Some have, some haven't. Ivo (Watts-Russell) has seen it. He really liked it. It's only premiered in two cities so far and then we had a screening in London last weekend. There's an LA screening coming up in July with more planned for later in the year. So far we've only got a festival licence.
DiS: Medicine's Brad Laner is credited with producing the film's score. How did he come to be involved?
Eric Green: We love Brad. I met him a long time before the interview. I first saw Medicine as a teenager. I was actually underage and managed to persuade the guy on the door to let me in provided I didn't consume any alcohol! They're a seminal band, especially in that scene. Brad's a really nice guy. He was actually one of the first interviews we did - either the third or fourth I think. We just talked for hours about culture and movies, and then he asked to do the score. We wanted it to be immersive but subconscious at the same time. The kind of thing you'd only notice if you're really paying attention. I'm a big fan of Tim Hecker, and I wanted the score to enhance the mood in the same way his music does. Brad's a musical chameleon. He nailed it in a weekend. Captured Tracks are going to release the 'Beautiful Noise' score as a bonus disc with the limited edition version of the new Medicine LP in October.
DiS: Were you expecting such a positive response to the film? The feedback so far must be pretty heartwarming.
Eric Green: We're overjoyed at the enthusiasm, so excited people like it. We've put our lives into it. Worked harder on this than anything we've ever done in our lives before. It was just the two of us that made 'Beautiful Noise', and it really isn't easy putting out your own movie. Our intention was to put out something we're really passionate about, put a statement about this music out there. The project was incredibly liberating but also difficult and expensive. From the start we'd planned for it to be shown on a big screen. People don't like painting mystical objects. It's a relief to finally show people what we've lived with for the past ten years. At times it went beyond our control. This music had a massive impact in areas you wouldn't expect. One thing which stands out for me from the film is the interview with Kevin and Colm from My Bloody Valentine. It was taken from MTV around the time 'You Made Me Realise' came out. Before it was a video from Christian metal band Stryper, and afterwards they had Dave Mustaine from Megadeth in the studio. You can see the interviewer is only interested in getting them out the way so he can get Mustaine on the show. Jim Reid pretty much sums up the cultural significance of this music in one quote. He says, "I wanted us to be a band that makes other people pick up a guitar and form a band." And looking back since Psychocandy, that's exactly what The Jesus & Mary Chain did. A lot of these bands did not want to be famous.
DiS: You've also wrote a novel entitled 'The Lost Year'. Is that related to 'Beautiful Noise'?
Eric Green: It's kind of related to the movie. 'The Lost Year' is an American crime novel based on the 1950s Gold Medal Books. The main protagonist in the novel is a Jesus & Mary Chain fan. We also have a few film ideas, one of which has a music component to it.
DiS: Finally, when will the film get a general release?
Eric Green: Hopefully by the end of this year. We're looking at late summer at the minute, but we want to make sure everything about the package is perfect before we release it. We've spoken to lots of publishers and we'll probably end up self releasing it.