"From before the hype," said frontman Hutch Harris.
The Thermals haven't been back to Idaho for a few years, as they've been busy working on their new record. Which has turned out to be more eventful than planned: The studio the band chose ended up being directly in the path of Superstorm Sandy, and The Thermals ended up spending several days holed up with their producer having singalongs to pass the time.
The Thermals told BW that Treefort has been getting positive reviews at home and the band is excited about it—in large part because it isn't likely to be as pretentious as festivals in cities that have festivals regularly.
"It won't be like be like, 'Oh, here's another festival because it's Tuesday,'" said Harris.
See the complete interview below.
The Thermals play the Linen Building at midnight, on Friday, March 22.
Short Term 12, which won both the Grand Jury and Audience awards for best narrative film at SXSW, was written and directed by the up-and-coming film festival darling Destin Daniel Cretton (I Am Not a Hipster).
Based on a short film that was Cretton's master’s thesis, and which won the Jury Prize at Sundance, the story draws on his own post-college experiences working in a group home for troubled children.
The film follows two workers at a similar facility who are in love with each other and also committed to helping their charges. While the storyline is at times clichéd (the group home manager bonds with one of the teens because she shares a similar abusive past), the acting is first-rate.
John Gallagher, Jr. (The Newsroom) and Brie Larson (United States of Tara) are the compelling leads, with Kaitlyn Dever and my favorite, Keith Stanfield, giving excellent performances as two of the teens. Stanfield, who was in the short film, is an unknown, as are several of the other young actors in the film.
Short Term 12 borrows from nonfiction techniques with its use of handheld (or made to look handheld) shots, which can become distracting. Director Cretton says the shaky shots were part of his intention to “strip things down as much as possible” and “keep it real.” He didn’t want the “artifice” of the directing to show.
But the ubiquity of “shaky cam” shots has become its own artifice, and in my opinion, actually focuses more attention on the directing. The film is at its best when the shots are held and we feel as if we’re really with the teens and their anguish. This film is worth watching to see both directing and acting talent on the rise.
Some feature films get their start as shorts. And while it didn’t win an award, The Roper—a short subject produced by Seattle-based Lucid—garnered a good amount of attention at the SXSW Film Fest.
Lucid normally makes ads for clients like Nike and BlackBerry; but, with The Roper, filmmakers turned their lens toward Kendrick Domingue, an African-American calf roper from Louisiana. While there are black cowboys in the West and Texas, they’re rare in the deep South. Domingue is a compelling character, with a single-minded determination to get to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas just once in his life—and a gentle patience with the racism he experiences along the way.
“Some of 'em give me a snotty look sometimes,” he says. “But I ain’t worried about it, you know. It’s the older people mostly. Still set in their ways.”
Directors Anna Sandilands and Ewan McNicol had started out to make a film about zydeco trail horse riders in the South. One rider they met in particular, in Lafayette, La., stood out to them. It was Domingue, who then showed them footage of his roping skills and talked about his dream to get to Vegas. So the pair decided to concentrate their story on him.
When the short was finished, the producers uploaded it to their website, where it is still available as part of their Meet Me Here series. But it gained popularity online, so the producers submitted it to Sundance and SXSW, where it was accepted.
They now hope to turn it into a feature-length documentary, with the working title of Rookie. I say stick with Roper, which is much more illustrative of this story: a sweet portrait of a modest young man who practices obsessively and prays before he rides, “Oh, Lord… just let me rope to the best of my ability. Hopefully I can win a check. If don’t win a check; oh, well. I’ll get 'em next time.”
So much has happened at SXSW, it's hard to narrow it down in any way. Every direction you turn, there is something bizarre and wondrous. Still, here are some of my top moments from the last week, Buzzfeed-style.
This bold innovator’s “business plan”:
This band that played before Dave Grohl's keynote:
These tiles that changed color when you stepped on them:
This hand-held DJ station:
This robot Skype screen, straight out of Demolition Man:
This Delorean that pulled up next to me (Seriously, who drives a Delorean through a crowd like that?):
This screamo band that set up full stacks in the middle of a pedestrian bridge over the river at 2 a.m.—and had a huge crowd:
This solar cellphone charging station:
And, finally, this exchange between two panelists that were the final words of the Album Release Strategies for the 21st Century panel:
Marketing guy at Sony Records: "There's only one thing that's ever sold in this business and that's great songs. You can't sell shit."
Publicist who had discussed her work with Justin Bieber: "Yes you can."
Spark: A Burning Man Story—part of SXSW's stellar documentary lineup—succeeds because it applies both a journalist’s and a cinematographer’s eye to the characters and commotion behind the annual Burning Man event in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada.
Co-producer-co-director Jessie Deeter, whose background is in journalism (Revenge of the Electric Car, FRONTLINE: Death by Fire), crafts a story that goes beyond a history of Burning Man.
“I didn’t want to make a PSA for Burning Man, because there are plenty of those,” she says.
Deeter examines the tension between the communal ideals of the event, which began as a small gathering on a San Francisco beach in 1986, and the current reality, in which organizers have to ensure that a pop-up city of 60,000 doesn’t collapse into mayhem and danger.
TINY examines the so-called “tiny house” movement, which is growing organically throughout the country. Seen through the lens of Christopher Smith, a young man who wants to build his own 120-square-foot tiny house in Colorado, the film also includes interviews with others in the movement—including Idahoan Macy Miller, who works with Johnson Architects in Boise and is active with the U.S. Green Building Council, a member of the Meridian Planning and Zoning Commission and a well-known tiny house dweller.
The producers also talk with experts who study the movement. We learn that in most areas of the United States, tiny homes are illegal. For instance, according to Miller, the minimum size for a house in Boise is 600 square feet. The way proponents have skirted that requirement is to build their tiny houses on wheels, so they’re considered mobile homes.
Some owners have chosen the lifestyle to get out of debt; others because they want to simplify their lives and use fewer resources.
It’s this background, along with the additional stories of tiny house owners, that keeps the film from turning into a home video about making a home—though it does occasionally stray that way.
But it re-centers, probing the idea of “home” in all of our lives. What do we want our homes to be for us, and how much do we actually need to put in them?
“I hope it will inspire people to rethink the way they think about living,” says Miller.
In addition, the charming, sometimes strained relationship between Christopher and his girlfriend, Merete Mueller, who’s also the co-producer, keeps the narrative moving. They should get an award just for surviving the challenge of building the house, documenting the process and keeping their amour intact.
Longtime PBS contributors Louis Alvarez, Andrew Kolker and Paul Stekler (Louisiana Boys: Raised on Politics and Vote for Me), premiered their latest film, Getting Back to Abnormal, at SXSW. It’s a post-Katrina look at New Orleans. But in contrast to the myriad stories on the cleanup (or lack thereof) of the city, the documentary concentrates instead on the political transformation taking place there.
It turns out that because tens of thousands of non-white residents left after the hurricane destroyed their homes, white politicians are now being elected in areas that had been dominated by African-Americans for decades. That’s rankling many.
The documentary centers on Stacy Head, the first white council member to be elected from the central part of the city in 30 years. Her tart tongue and dogged calls for investigations into alleged corruption lead to charges of racism and an attempted recall. The filmmakers follow her tough re-election campaign in 2010.
Peter Sagal, host of the wildly popular NPR quiz show, Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me!, admits to embracing the over-zealous adoration from a good many of his fans.
“I want to be a piece of meat, frankly,” said Sagal, when Boise Weekly caught up with the self-proclaimed "cultural Lothario" at Austin's SXSW Festival. “My dream is to have some beautiful young woman say to me, “Shut up, stop talking; I just want to look at you.”
To that end, Sagal has jumped the shark, and, while not doing the full monty, will reveal himself to his fans as the host of a new PBS television series on the Constitution.
The four-part program, with the decidedly un-“Wait Wait” title of Constitution USA with Peter Sagal, begins airing Tuesday, May 7. Sagal was in Austin recently to promote the series at SXSW, where both PBS and NPR were pumping their brands.
I thought I'd be going to see Green Day at a taping of Austin City Limits. Laugh if you like, but Green Day's whimsical take on frustration, their general "fuck it-ness," far more suited my temperament as a teenager than Nirvana's blitzkrieg of nihilism.
But I missed the bus; and, with it, the ticket that was waiting for me.
Instead I decided to catch someone I tried in vain to see nearly every night of last year's SXSW: Andrew W.K. I made it this time, and holy schnikes was it worth it.
With his Hesher hair and umpteen songs about various aspects of partying—he even went on a speaking tour about his philosophy of partying—W.K. is an easy punchline. But he brings a crazy energy to the stage unlike nearly any other performer: the swagger of a rocker, but the sincere positivity of a tween. Every fist pump is a nod to life being wonderful. And what a nod it is.
It's a toss up which was the best moment of his show: the bit where he picked up the guitar and fumbled through a few miserable-sounding chords as a fake out before ripping into a precision solo to start his feminist anthem: “She is Beautiful,” a song he sent out “to the ladies” as a token of his undying respect for them, or, that to prove it, he had a female doppleganger on stage performing synchronized headbangs and fist pumps like his own Mini-Me.
From there, I schlepped across the bridge to catch some of the Flaming Lips' show on the waterfront. It was all the band is cracked up to be: giant disco balls, light shows, the whole nine yards. I'd wanted to catch White Lung's show at an adjacent venue but was too late.
Instead I walked back to the main drag and was lured into a bar by the dulcet tones of Chicago's The Noise FM. Short response: all dance beats and rock riffs, they sounded like a funner, rowdier version of Franz Ferdinand.
“Is there anyone here from Electra Records tonight?” the frontman asked. “No? Good. We're supposed to play a set to impress them, but we'll play what we want instead. Here's another dance-y one.”
The stage at the venue was so small that only the drummer and the bass player fit on it. The guitar player moved amongst the crowd, generally riling them up and having a great time. He took off his sailor's hat and plopped it on a member of the audience, appointing him “party captain.” The captain promptly returned with several cans of Red Bull.
“Are these sugar-free?” the singer asked. “They are? Party Captain knows what he's doing then.”
From there I wandered east, up Red River to Club de Ville to catch Youth Lagoon one more time, hoping to see if they'd get to finish their set. They did, though sound and equipment delays cut down its length. What's more, Club de Ville had been half empty for the band before Youth Lagoon, but it hit capacity while the band was working through soundcheck. Not too shabby.
The lads played two tracks off the new album, but got the biggest cheer for "17," from the previous disc.
Then I jetted across the street to Stubb's to catch The Specials, another high school favorite. Now there's a band that knows how to "play the hits." Dressed in their trademark snappy mod suits, they skanked and strutted through Gangsters, New Era and more. There wasn't a single song written after 1983, but they were all amazing.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. And no matter what anyone says, ska isn't scratched or dented.
A group of panelists at SXSW, including Mike Mills of R.E.M. and Mikel Jollett of The Airborne Toxic Event shared their thoughts and strategies on how musicians can make a change in the world.
"You don't have to be a huge band," said Jollett. "You just have to be upset and want to do something."
Though Jollett and his band have been involved in a number of causes, including the Wounded Warrior Project, he was speaking of the video of Neda, an Iranian woman who was killed in the unrest following the disputed Iranian election of 2009, and whose death was viewed widely on YouTube.
When Jollett and his band saw that video, they immediately set about trying to do something. Anything. Among their efforts were fundraising concerts and a social media campaign in which people tweeted pictures of themselves holding signs that said, "I am Neda," which were then compiled into a video calling attention to the crime.
Brandon Deroche, who works with a foundation started by Incubus, discussed another form of online campaign that gives users points that can be redeemed for perks, like meet-and-greets with the band, concert tickets and more. Those efforts have raised millions of dollars which the foundation then doles out to non-profits in a grant process.
But not everything has to be that complicated.
Mills discussed what it was like back before there was social media, saying R.E.M. used to hold advance listening parties for its new album with the funds going to a local women's shelter.
They also printed postcards addressed to President Bill Clinton on the inside of their CD covers that supported an act to allow voter registration at the DMV. More than 300,000 of the cards were mailed in, and the members of R.E.M. were invited to the signing ceremony.
Once, while accepting an award, the band's singer, Michael Stipe, took off a series of T-shirts calling attention to various issues.
"What you had to do then, and I'm sure this holds true now, was look for opportunies that may not stand out as a moment of activism," said Mills.
The biggest thing all the panelists agreed on, was that the best way to be successful was to focus on your own community, where you can see things that need to be addressed and where the bureaucracy to have a measurable effect isn't as thick.
"What you want to do [is] find a way to go out and do it," said Hillary Zuckerberg, director
of Artists Against Hunger and Poverty. "Do what you believe."