As March 2001 was approaching, it was beginning to look like a rather exceptional month. The first good news was that The Young Fresh Fellows were going to release their long-awaited new album, Because We Hate You (Mammoth Records). The second good news was that the band would not only be doing a small tour to promote the album… they would not only be opening for the newly-reunited legendary Soft Boys… but best of all, the tour was going to come to my neck of the woods (Baltimore, Maryland). Yes, March was looking good. But things got even better!
A little background: I first heard YFF in 1984, not long after the release of their debut album, The Fabulous Sounds Of The Pacific Northwest. I liked their style and their sense of humor, and for years I often included songs from their albums on my college radio show. But it wasn’t until their 1989 album, This One’s For The Ladies, that the Fellows crazy-glued themselves onto my list of favorite bands (their next album, Electric Bird Digest, would later be added to my desert island list just days after it’s release, where it has remained to this day).
I only got to see the Fellows perform live once. They were the opening band for The Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1989, a tour that made a stop at the long-defunct Godfrey’s Famous Ballroom in Baltimore. Despite the obvious lack-of-attention given to opening bands by soundmen for major label headlining bands, the Fellows, in my opinion, blew the Chili Peppers off the stage that night. An awful mix and a lame crowd couldn’t stop them from delivering a set of energetic, well-crafted, catchy pop songs, proving them one of the greatest live rock bands ever. (I found out recently that the Fellows returned to Baltimore a few years later, but I must have been out of town, because there is no way I would’ve missed one of their shows if I had known about it).
So March 2001 rolls around, and I noticed on the Mammoth website that the Fellows tour begins in Baltimore, then goes to nearby Philly, then to nearby Washington, DC. That means the Fellows would be in the region for 3 days! I quickly sent an email to Mammoth suggesting that while the Fellows were in this area, I get together with them and we make a music video. I offered to take up no more than a few hours of their time and none of their money. Around the same time, Dizzy Records CEO/Go Metric editor and fellow-Fellows-fanatic, Mike Faloon, contacted me to say the Fellows are coming nowhere near where he lives (North Carolina), and could he come to Baltimore for a visit and a Fellows show? Certainly. Dizzy records released a compilation that included my band and YFF (Day Dreaming In An Empty Station Wagon), so knowing Mike was in contact with Fellows frontman, Scott McCaughey, I asked him to forward my music video idea onto the band. The next thing I know, Scott emails me saying he likes the idea, let’s do it!
At this time, I should point out my rule about making music videos for free. I am a filmmaker who creates for enjoyment rather than money. I will gladly offer to make free, no-budget music videos provided A). I like the band; B). I like the song; or C). I’m friends with the band. (I only ask for money if it costs me a lot to make the video, but as long as I shoot video instead of film, it only costs me a few bucks, which is worth it if it means I get to work with a band I like).
I scurried to secure an interesting location I had in mind to shoot the video, but to no avail. Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium was in the process of being demolished, and the ruins would’ve made a great backdrop, but the parking lot was fenced and the demolition company wanted nothing to do with me. Other ideas met similar fates.
So the day of the band’s arrival (Monday), my plan was to set them up in the park across the street from my house and make a sort-of Magical Mystery Tour music video, complete with bubbles, odd props, and lots of people dancing around in animal costumes. For lip-syncing purposes, I made a tape of the song (Barky’s Spiritual Store) slowed down 50%, so that when the footage was played back at regular speed, the band would appear in fast-motion. I had a small crew of Mike Faloon (in town for the show), Todd Rohal (who was bringing most of the animal costumes from his job), and Dan Krovich (a co-worker anxious to be involved). We were all set. All we needed now was the band, who were supposed to call when they got into town. We waited and waited…
That night at the show, I met Scott McCaughey in person. “Thanks for putting me & Faloon on the guest list,” I said. “No problem,” he answered, “I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to call you today. We flew in late and had to round up the van & rental gear we’ll be touring with. By the time we were done, we had to get to the club for soundcheck.” I videotaped portions of the show from the foot of the stage (some of that footage has since been released by Mammoth as part of an EPK). The band was fantastic! The set was too short. They had to clear the stage to make way for The Soft Boys. It was not a smart move on the Soft Boys part, having YFF open for them, because as good as The Soft Boys were, it would’ve been hard for any band to follow the energetic, funny Fellows and come out on top.
After the show, I proposed Plan B to Scott: “We could reschedule the shoot for tomorrow before you head to Philly.” “No can do. We have a morning interview in Philly.” “Well how ‘bout Wednesday afternoon? You have to drive through Baltimore to get from Philly to DC.” “OK, let’s try that.” Plan B is in effect.
On Wednesday, Baltimore was hit with one of the worst rain storms in recent years. Luckily, I had lined-up a back-up indoor location to use in case of rain. Unluckily, Scott had lost my number, so the Fellows drove straight through Baltimore on their way to DC. That night the Fellows delivered another fantastic, but short set. I talked to Scott after the show: “Thanks for putting me on the guest list again.” “No problem. Sorry things didn’t go as planned today.” “That was a great show, but I wish I could see you play a longer set some time.” “Well, then you should come to the Hoboken show tomorrow night. When Friday night’s show with the Soft Boys sold-out so quickly, many of our fans couldn’t get tickets, so the management at Maxwells booked us to headline tomorrow night.” It was tempting. “I’ll even put you on the guest list for it”, he added. Now it was even more tempting. “Maybe we could try once more to shoot the video, this time in Hoboken on Friday morning.” The temptation was too much. Plan C was in effect.
So Thursday afternoon, I left work early, threw a bunch of stuff in my van and headed to Hoboken. Keep in mind I’m not the young scenester I once was, and that I had already been out in smoky, noisy rock clubs two nights that week. On the way to Hoboken I came down with a fever. By the time I hit New Jersey, I was tired, I was miserable, and I was lost. I had a hard enough time finding Maxwell’s, but I had an even harder time finding a place to stay, a place to eat, and a place to get gas. It was 11:30 PM before I got settled and headed back to Maxwells just in time to catch the Fellows set. Sure enough, they played for what might have been two hours, mixing in fun covers with songs from their entire 20 year history. The show ended with a 15 minute version of Mo Gorilla that featured Scott trying to break through the wall on the side of the stage, singing & drinking at the same time, before rolling on the floor & pulling the drum kit over on himself. My head was burning up, my throat ached, and I felt nauseous & dizzy, but I was so glad I hadn’t wimped out and missed that show!
Scott had told me that since the band was playing at Maxwells two nights in a row, their equipment would be locked up at the club during the day. So somehow I had to make a music video without the band’s equipment. Luckily I had come prepared. In my van I had packed my own drum kit, a lion costume, and a 4 foot tall plastic spine (a prop & costume left over from Plan A). That night, I sat in my dingy hotel room, unable to sleep with my head on fire, and storyboarded how I envisioned the video for Barky’s Spiritual Store.
Friday morning, with barely any sleep, I checked out of the hotel, got some breakfast & fever medicine, and waited outside the Fellow’s hotel for our planned noon meeting. Let me just say that if you have a few hours to kill in Hoboken, NJ, make sure you have an FM radio handy, because WFMU is a fantastic station, even during their on-air fund drive. As noon approached and there was no sign of any Fellows, I left a message on Scott’s cel phone. Then I decided to ring one of their rooms. I ended up waking guitarist, Kurt Bloch, who didn’t seem coherent enough yet to help me out. So I decided to slip a note under Scott’s door saying that I was sitting in my van in the parking lot. Just as I was doing so, the door opened and out stepped Scott. He immediately began rounding up the others and told them to meet us down in the parking lot, where Scott and I would be shooting footage of just him until they showed up.
Up to this point I had been worried my persistence might annoy the band, but they couldn’t have been nicer or easier to work with, and hanging out with them was the icing on the cake after being able to see them live three times in one week. So armed with a digital video camera, a few props, & a fever, I began directing what I later found out would be the Young Fresh Fellows’ third music video ever, despite close to 20 years in the business and umpteen albums. On a very windy afternoon in a dirty hotel parking lot in Hoboken, NJ, I tried to make the most of an extraordinary opportunity the band was granting me.
I began by shooting footage of Scott lip-syncing the song by himself. Since drummer, Tad Hutchinson, had limited time to be involved in the shoot, I asked if he would wear the lion costume. That way someone could double for him if I needed him in a shot after he had left (which sort of happened; bassist, Jim Sangster, puppeteers the lion head in some shots, while in others, Scott dances around wearing the lion head). Tad agreed, so I shot some footage of Scott lip-syncing while Tad played my drums wearing the lion costume. Then I shot some footage of just Tad. Eventually Kurt and Jim joined us and I started shooting the group shots that I had storyboarded. Tad left, and I continued shooting the remaining three until we were all confident I had what I needed.
We only spent about an hour and a half in that parking lot, and I only shot about 20 minutes of footage, before saying goodbye and heading back to Baltimore. I returned directly to work despite the extreme need for liquids & sleep. A few weeks later, I drove to Richmond, Virginia to get some shots of the song’s namesake store, Barky’s Spirituals, an outlet for religious paraphernalia. Over the next few months I would try to edit the video when time allowed, but it wouldn’t be until mid-June before I had a version I was happy enough with to show to the band & label.
In the finished version, I ended up throwing out the storyboards in favor of quicker editing. Likewise, only one shot of the Barky’s storefront is used, and the sped-up motion effect is barely noticeable considering how much effort went into it. I managed to work in several morph effects to spice up a few shot transitions. The band had asked me to work in some of my live footage, particularly during the guitar solo, but I opted instead to keep the entire video instruments-free (except for the drum kit). It certainly did not end up being the project I had originally envisioned, but personally, for something made on zero-budget, with a one-man crew, in a couple of hours, I think it turned out alright. True to the band’s style, it’s just a simple non-glossy-style (aka non-MTV) music video.
I sent copies to Scott and Mammoth. Both parties seemed pleased with the results. Mammoth is owned by Disney, and anyone who’s ever dealt with Disney knows that they often go to extreme measures to protect themselves from the lawsuit-happy. So I had to remove the shot of the actual Barky’s storefront because of potential legal problems (like the fact that I never got permission to use their property in the video). Mammoth plans to eventually make the video viewable on their website (www.mammoth.com), but in the meantime, they’ve submitted it to MTV2 in hopes of getting it shown to the masses. So call that request line as often as you can. Bring it to Carson Daily’s attention. Wouldn’t it be a blast to see a good band’s no budget/no crew music video make it into rotation, striking a much needed blow for cool bands and low-budget filmmakers everywhere!
Watch the Barky's Spiritual Store music video on the Universal Trendsetter website (direct link)
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