Metzler doc has Fishbone shining
Everyday Sunshine has vet Cali act navigating the racialized waters of ’70s L.A.
Interview and article by Christine Leonard
We’re all familiar with the images of public school desegregation in Texas back in 1956, black children being led into their formerly all-white schools under guard as angry mobs jeer from the sidelines. Flash forward some 20 years, and the next generation of African-Americans were met with a similar circumstance, as Los Angeles began bussing students from outlying black neighbourhoods into the city’s more affluent and predictably white high schools. Despite protests by white parents, the likes of Fishbone’s Angelo Moore and Norwood Fisher were soon ushered into a previous unexplored environment, one that exposed them to the surf and punk rock culture of their newly acquired peer group.
Already well-acquainted with the worlds of funk, jazz, reggae and R&B, the singer and bassist pooled their talents with drummer Phillip “Fish” Fisher (Norwood’s brother), guitarist Kendall Jones, keyboardist Chris Dowd and trumpet player Walter Kirby to form the original 1979 lineup of Fishbone. Tracing the groundbreaking ensemble’s twisted roots, filmmakers Chris Metzler and Lev Anderson have gone to remarkable lengths to uncover the ins and outs of one of North America’s most influential bands in Everyday Sunshine, screening at this year’s iteration of the Calgary Underground Film Festival.
“They are the storytellers of their age,” explains co-director and writer Chris Metzler. “They grew up in the first post-civil rights generation in the 1970s and were raised with the promise and belief that came with that. The challenge of making the film was to reveal that era of L.A.’s history; it’s one of the most racially polarized yet multicultural spaces in the world. Through Fishbone, we wanted to tell the story of the black experience and the insolence that came from them as a result of the city they came from.”
Of course, no trip to the Hollywood Hills would be complete without some bonafide star-spotting, and Everyday Sunshine doesn’t disappoint. According to Metzler, the directors had a difficult time narrowing down the number of celebrity interviews they could include in the movie. Having spawned innumerable acts in its three-decade career, Fishbone has attracted some pretty impressive followers.
Everyone from Flea to Perry Farrell to Ice T to Gwen Stefani chimes in on Fishbone’s no-holds-barred, genre-straddling, mosh-pit-igniting performances. Stefani, in particular, expresses a deep affection for frontman Moore — his persona has been the single greatest influence on her style as a lead singer. Another of the film’s gems is a smooth and informative narrative thread furnished by none other than Laurence Fishburne, who provides insight into the events and conditions surrounding Fishbone’s meteoric rise to an equally mercurial fall, one that finds the band in court for trying to kidnap/force an intervention on one of its own.
“We tried to stay away from the cache of name recognition in dealing with the celebrities in this film,” says Metzler. “We wanted to stick to people who were family members and close friends for this one, but there are so many who have been personally touched by the band. Contemporaries, followers, friends outside music — there is a lot of admiration for them and a lot of relationships to be talked about. Fishbone has been involved in punk, ska, rock, metal, hip hop…. Everyone wanted in! Laurence knew the band from his days working as a nightclub bouncer back in the ’80s; he was the perfect voice to explain the issues surrounding the film.”
Determined to witness the life of Fishbone firsthand, filmmakers Metzler and Anderson spent three to four years tracking the band on tour, delving into members’ home lives, and watching over their shoulders, as Fisher struggles to get Moore’s alter-ego, Dr. Madd Vibe, to step away from the theremin. Recent and archival concert footage is interwoven with Ground Zero reports, family album-calibre interviews and Fat Albert(ish) animation to deliver an awe-inspiring yet completely sobering account of Fishbone’s tumultuous swim upstream.
“The tough thing about working on a documentary film is that there’s a fine line as to how much filming effects the action,” says Metlzer, of Fishbone’s reaction to being immortalized in celluloid. “In the end you can’t really separate the two, but having a lot of people asking those questions certainly makes the band reflect on things, even when they’re not on-camera. Angelo and Norwood are thoughtful guys, and a lot of the things that came out in the film had been on the tip of their tongues and ruminating in their heads for a while.”
“Sharing these details outside of the self often spurs us on to share even more,” he continues. “What started as a compelling project has become a catalyst. The band is curious to see what happens next. They really loved seeing these interviews; if they had one piece of feedback it was that they wanted to see more of the people. It could have been a 10-hour movie!”