Published Mar 10, 2008Burn to Shines Seattle stop for volume five finds the DVD series looking and sounding its best. Producer Brendan Canty (Fugazi) and director Christoph Green continue to scout condemned buildings (mostly houses) in specific cities, calling upon local musicians to gather fellow artists for one day before the structure disappears. On January 27, 2007, Death Cab for Cuties Benjamin Gibbard curated rare, living room performances by Eddie Vedder, Harvey Danger, hip-hop duo Blue Scholars, Minus the Bear, and Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, among others. There are fewer chances for snazzy camera angles leading to some inventive techniques but its sonically tough and, where a montage of the buildings destruction is usually included, this home was actually transported across Seattle, providing the most unique Burn to Shine ending yet. Brendan Canty tells us more.
Brendan, the Burn to Shine concept remains essentially the same yet theres some particularly unique aspects about this Seattle edition. What makes volume five distinctive for you?
Every volume is dictated by the tastes of the curator, if you will. Ben Gibbard gave us a slice of Seattle that is very acoustic for the most part and he definitely brought more of that angle out. The house itself was much more earthy with stained glass, so to me, this is a pretty version of Burn to Shine, as opposed to some of the other ones, which were more funky like Chicago, where the house was really well used with pink curtains and green walls. This one is much more exposed wood and stained glass and I think the musical performances really reflect that. I think the acoustic versions of songs by Ben Gibbard, Eddie Vedder and Dave Bazan all fit perfectly within that room. Its not until you get to the crazier songs that theres any disjuncture whatsoever. The floor plan and the light allowed us to make a much prettier than grittier film.
It also has a much more positive outcome.
Well yeah, that was totally unexpected. I mean, I really tried to get the guy to not save this building and destroy it but unfortunately [laughs]
[Laughs] Wow. Thats evil of you.
YOURE RUINING MY FILM! [laughs]. No yeah, it was great actually. The whole way it went down was great: this guy just happened upon the house, saw us in there recording these bands, saw the commotion, looked through window, came in, and was shocked and dismayed that they were gonna demolish the building because he lived in the neighbourhood. It really is a cute little house, a typical, early 20th century Sears-Craftsman bungalow that any one of us would give his right arm to own. Were in a state, during this housing boom, where houses like that just get out-moded, not necessarily in terms of space but because of sellability, location, and of the market in general. People want to maximise every square inch of their property, and now its all coming home to roost and the housing markets gone bust but, if you think back to the heady days of 07 [laughs], things were a bit different. They were knocking down things like that, and they still are, and putting up some condos. Thats what happened here except for in this one instance, because this guy just happened to be there, talked to the owner and bought the house for cheap, put it on the back of a flatbed truck, and rolled it down the hill into Ballard and is now living in it.
Thats so crazy that he could just do that. Ive seen it happen but I thought those houses had to be specially built to be portable like that.
Well, I think they have to be well built. This house was built in 1918 and its beautiful construction all the way through it and it didnt surprise me. I was talking to the guys who moved it and they do this stuff every day. In fact, they have a big lot outside of Seattle that has like 200 of these homes just sitting there. They just pick em up and re-sell them. So, its a really cool thing, I just dont think anybody knows about it really.
It does seem to pose a problem for your series.
Yeah, well, Im gonna have to stop them [laughs].
Right, again, with your evil ways.
This kind of thing happens all the time. The one we shot in Atlanta recently was similar where people dont want these old houses to go down, which is great, but it is screwing with my films [laughs]. No, but Im really pleased. In some ways, these are somewhat protest films. Really, the worst thing about this series is going down there on the day of demolition. As cool as it is, its a really shitty feeling in the end and really makes you feel like crap. So, when this happened, I was overjoyed really and all the parties involved were pleased at the outcome. Ive gotten a couple nasty letters about this one though.
People being bummed that we didnt deliver on the demolition aspect of the films, if you can believe that.
Thats very odd. As you say, theyre protest films highlighting the situation and what happened was, you made the film and someone actually answered your call.
One thing we didnt do on this DVD was offer any explanation for anything.
Right, normally theres some text included.
Yeah, theres lots of text, stuff on the website, and lots of interviews like this one, and that all helps. And I figured Id have more to talk about if I didnt talk about it in the film.
Benjamin Gibbard of Death Cab curated this volume; did you know and like most of these artists before the day of filming?
I didnt know half of them. It really was Bens deal and its that way everywhere. I called Eddie but Ben knows everyone too. I hooked up with Ben through Ted Leo, whos a good friend and was opening for those guys. So, I went down to see them and I gave Ben a DVD and then, I think within a month we hatched plans about it. When I finally got a house together and I called him up, that guy had this thing booked Im serious within a day. He had it in order, everyone signed up, and was done thinking about it in a day. It was remarkable. With minor shifts in schedule, everyone did as Ben told them to.
Is it crucial for you to like the artists that are in the series?
No. It helps to edit if you like the bands but I like the bands in this one.
No, no I appreciate that but when you hand over the curatorial duties to someone else yet its still your series
Well, we go back and forth, honestly. We definitely talk about it and theres a lot of dialogue. This Seattle one was different than most of them because Ben really ran with it, and locked it in quickly. Theres usually more reminding people of when theyre supposed to be there. Like this Portland one; man, I gotta tell you, I think those guys run on a Mayan clock out there.
Was there anyone you were hoping for that couldnt make it?
Well, I kind of wanted all of Death Cab honestly but Chris [Walla] was, as usual, producing a record somewhere. Who else? You know, a lot of the bands that I always loved from that area were from Olympia. So, in some ways, I was like, Maybe I should bring Lois [Maffeo] and Calvin [Johnson] or someone up and do it, but its more interesting to me to make it an insiders perspective and get Bens take on it. Like, who do you go to see? Whos your community? Thats a huge thing; community to me is everything. If we can get a snapshot of somebodys community, then Otherwise its a hodgepodge and I dont think you do anybody any good. Id rather get in on the ground floor with a band like Minus the Bear than try to make some kind of overarching history of Seattle. Thats a film Im not interested in making; Id rather make little time capsules that we can send into the future.
I understand that Volume 6 is in post-production but Seattle also precedes the release of Volume 4; can you discuss whats happened there?
Its kind of tricky. We had a bunch of technical issues with the demolition but also with the scope of the story because the house is a lot more interesting than usual
Is Volume 4 Louisville?
It is, yeah. Basically, we just got a bit thwarted by it. Theres 18 minutes of the Magik Markers making noise in the middle of it and the house footage is great. The story behind the house is that this guy built a poor mans Hearst Castle; he just built and built and made this funky house in this suburban neighbourhood and then fell off the roof and broke his hip. He passed away this year but he wrote music himself and lots of letters and were allowed to use all that stuff if we want to. Its just a trickier story though. Its a lot harder to put something together that resembles a narrative. So, we were working on it and hit a wall and moved on. I think its gonna be in black and white but thats about all I can tell you about it. Its longer and more difficult to make this kind of movie.
I also understand that youre working on some film projects outside of Burn to Shine including a Wilco film; can you talk about this?
Were just shooting a bunch of shows and well see how it comes out. We have no huge plans except to make a tour film. Were trying to capture Wilco in their present-day glory. Im just such a fan of theirs, each player; Nels Cline, Glen Kotche, John, Pat, and Mike. Just as a fan, I really find that, by the end of the set, youre more refreshed than when you go in there. Thats pretty anomalous these days; usually you get so beaten down. But the way they massage their sets, the way they go back and forth, their dynamics are amazing. Theyre really intellectual in a way in their arrangement choices and each person, just from the amount of time on the road, you can tell each person has really mined their space in those songs. So, I think theyre great and Ive been wanting to capture this band for a long time because man, I tell you, I think right now, theyre better than they were two years ago.
You know you mentioned a few names there. Are you a fan of Jeff Tweedys at all?
No but you know [laughs] I love Jeff.
[Laughs] You mentioned everyone but Jeff.
No, no, no, I love Jeff. We made the Jeff Tweedy Sunken Treasure film, the acoustic tour. Have you seen that film?
Yes I have. Yeah, see that was my I thought my love for Jeff could go unsaid by virtue of the fact that I made that film. But I guess not! Youre a mixer man!
Im being silly because you mentioned everyone but Jeff but they are an unheralded group of guys behind them.
Well, I gotta say I love the songs and everybody knows the songs. Jeffs brilliant and hes focused and hes in it for the long haul. I love his voice and as a person hes hilarious and we get along great. But that band has become, to me, one of the great rock bands of all time. They sound like the Band in a way where everybodys doing their part, stepping back and up at just the right time and theyre becoming a real thing, not just six guys on stage.
I have had some arguments with people when I say theyre my favourite American band.
Oh yeah, well I think theyre the best band in the world but thats just me! [Laughs]
Your most high-profile musical venture outside of Burn to Shine these days is likely playing drums with Bob Mould; whats that experience been like?
Well, Im actually not playing with Bob on this tour because I couldnt swing it. The touring itself is great. Being in the band with Bob and Jason Narducci and Rich Morel is fabulous. Theyre great guys and the shows were great and people love Bob. We were breaking out the Hüsker Dü songs and people loved them. It was the first time hed played them in years and years and I think those were special shows for people. But it was a really different situation than Fugazi, thats all. It was surprising because Ive never committed myself to that sort of thing without being in a proper band, which to me is everybody contributing to the song. Everybody splits everything equally, songwriting credits, everyones forced to bring stuff in, you talk, you work, you talk, you work. Then you own those songs and I dont mean financially but when you go out there, youre presenting a part of yourself to people. Going out with Bob is not that way. I mean, I can play drums to Bobs songs but its not the same. That was the big difference. I love to invoke the songs but theyre not my songs and I didnt quite realise how much that aspect of it meant to me.
Are you distancing yourself from playing with him then or is this just a scheduling thing?
I wont be able to do anything until the summer and hes touring now. I love recording with him and Ill do anything I can with him. Im not trying to distance myself from him but the experience, just on a personal level, is just different. Supporting somebody elses songs is not what I feel that I was put on this earth to do. Were only on this earth for a short time and I dont want to get to the end of my life and not have anything to show for it, so I spend every day making things. Records, films, or doing something that I can leave behind. I know thats a morbid way of looking at it but, being a dad, I spent years making money doing campaign spots and mixing television shows and, when you get to be 42, youve done some of these things. After three years of that, at the end of the day, you feel like Rip Van Winkle. Its like, Yeah, you paid your bills for three years but what do you have to show for it? I dont re-watch or re-listen to any of the records that I make but I like to make things that I can call my own. Thats really important to me.