Can They Kick It? Documenting Life On The Road With The Downtown Struts, Local Punk Band (VIDEO)
When Chicago filmmaker Jeremy Tubbs hit the road with his friends, punk band The Downtown Struts, he likely didn't expect their first U.S. tour would produce 70 hours of footage.
But that's exactly what happened for Tubbs who, after spending seemingly endless hours in the tour van while it traveled from town to town, set about pulling the footage together to create a new documentary film, his first, titled "Longing To Be Homesick." he's funding the doc, at least partially, through a Kickstarter campaign.
The Downtown Struts, themselves, are a homegrown Chicago endeavor, with a sound that merges punk rock with just a touch of an Americana flavor. Tubbs said the band's story, that of being recently signed by a small record label and working on their first full-length album, due to be released early next year, is one familiar to many young creative types: the struggle of delving into ones' artistic, if less consistently income-generating, talents while also paying rent and keeping the lights on.
Continuing our weekly feature spotlighting local crowdfunding campaigns, HuffPost Chicago interviewed Tubbs about his project, the filming of which briefly landed the filmmaker on the FBI's "no fly" list. Does it get more punk rock than that?
HP: First of all, tell me how you know the band?
JT: I've known two of the people -- Zach, the drummer, and Dan, the lead singer and guitarist -- for about four or five years, from Indiana, where I'm from. I moved to Chicago last fall and I didn't really have anywhere to stay, so I stayed on their couch and lived with them.
And what was the motivation to go along with them on the road and film a documentary about the experience?
I was living with the band and watching everything they were doing. I had talked with Dan before about trying to do a music video or something because he knew I was into making movies. I had never really done anything with bands, though, and never really wanted to make music videos. When they started planning their first tour last winter, they asked me if I wanted to come along. The original idea was to go and I'd make a short documentary about the tour and I just kind of hopped in the van, bought a camera and went. It evolved from there after going on the next tour and became a story about them as a band and how they're trying to make a new album and be a band full-time.
(Scroll down to watch the campaign's video.)
What was it about the band specifically that you thought made them interesting documentary subjects?
I think they're really hard-working, which I think is inspiring. They're motivated and have a really cool work ethic in the way they treat the band, which is like a business but not in a bad way. They all have separate jobs in the band. Beyond that, they're really close friends and live together, all four of them, in a 3-bedroom house and I'm on the couch. We're all trying to make it doing our own thing. Dan started the band in high school and is trying to make something of it by continuing to make music. They've all stuck together for the past five years.
What were some documentaries you've seen that you think influenced your take on this film?
My favorite is "American Movie," a documentary by Chris Smith about a guy trying to make a movie. It's one of the first documentaries I've ever seen and was into. Then there's that Robert Frank documentary about the Rolling Stones, "Cocksucker Blues," which I liked. He used a lot of Super 8 film and shot it in cinema verite and I like that. There's also an old punk rock documentary called "Another State of Mind," which was pretty famous and about Youth Brigade and Social Distortion going on this big tour of the U.S. for three months. It could be seen as similar. I also like the Maysles brothers, who did "Gimme Shelter" and "Grey Gardens," and then there's Against Me! who have a documentary called "We're Never Going Home," which is sort of a similar story to what we're telling.
How was life on the road? Had you been along for a band tour previously? What surprised you about the experience?
I was making skateboard videos before and it's kind of similar to traveling with a band, ending up in a lot of crazy situations, so I was already prepared for that. I guess what's different is you don't really know where you're going to sleep and you're just hoping people will come out to see the band play. The second show of the first tour was at a VFW hall in the middle of nowhere outside of St. Louis and there really wasn't much of a crowd. That tour we also had a breakdown of the van, which was pretty detrimental to the band fund. It broke down in Salt Lake City and they wouldn't let us take the van without fixing it. It was too dangerous to drive. Other than that, the band is pretty mellow. The whole band is vegan which is funny -- they like to go to the different vegan restaurants in the cities they play.
In terms of the Kickstarter, how is it going? Do you think people are surprised when they find out things such as how expensive it is to make a film or take a band on the road?
I'm not sure a lot of people think about it. When we're out on the road, we have places that we have to pay the rent for and bills. It's hard to tell if people can really judge what it's like to be in that position where you literally spend all your money on gas and hope you can all eat some bagels or something. The second tour was better than the first and was more of a success, because they were able to sell more merch.
Speaking of the Kickstarter, I can see from your video that you had a bit of a run-in with a police terrorism unit after they saw you filming a CTA Blue Line train? What's the back story to that?
I live right down the street from the six corners in Wicker Park and went down there to finish off a roll of film. I thought I'd film it as an icon of the city, and since the band's from Wicker Park too, it made sense. I was waiting for the train to come by, I'm sure it looked a little suspicious, with my camera pointed toward the tracks. I saw a police officer looking at me and right when the train came, he started yelling at me to put the camera down. He approached me and asked me what I was doing. He couldn't understand why I would want to film the train. He was so confused and wanted my film. I worked my way out of getting arrested, though I wouldn't give him my film, which was really expensive Super 8 film that contained some footage from the tour. He took down my information, told me to leave and said I was not allowed to film the train again.
I went home and then headed straight to the post office to ship the film off to have it processed and was out to eat with friends that evening when Zach, the drummer in the band, came into the place where we both work and said an FBI agent had come in looking for me. I was scared, rushed over to work and called the number on a card he had left for me. He was a nice guy with the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force and they deal with issues like this where there's a report of suspicious activity. I was on the "no fly" list for 24 hours, which was pretty wild. I'm not in trouble anymore, though, so it's a funny story.
For people who may not have heard of The Downtown Struts, what is your selling point for folks to check out or otherwise support the film?
I think if you like documentaries, it's definitely worth looking into. I'm a huge fan of documentaries and I've always wanted to do one. This fell into my lap, kind of. The dynamic of a traveling band that's now trying to record an album for a record label (Pirates Press) and trying to continue to be successful is interesting.
What is your timeline for the project going forward?
I'll probably be filming them for the next six months. They've already planned a few dates on the East Coast in a week, so I'll be going with them and seeing what happens. They're writing their first full-length album right now and they'll be recording it in the winter, so that's kind of the focus of the film right now. They got on a record label during the last tour, so they're just dealing with having to make something for someone else for the first time. From there, I'll be editing in my free time, getting some promotion done and I probably won't be done until sometime next fall. Right now, I have 70 hours of footage and I'll probably have around 100 by the time I'm done -- it's a lot to sift through.
With 10 days to go as of Thursday, Tubbs' "Longing To Be Homesick" Kickstarter has raised about $600 toward its $5,500 fundraising goal. Click here to help the campaign get the rest of the way or here to learn more about The Downtown Struts, the band the film's story centers on.
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