Filmmaker Bill Perrine gives Night Flight an exclusive look at “It’s Gonna Blow!!! San Diego’s Music Underground 1986-1996″

By on April 7, 2016

Bill Perrine is the director and producer of It’s Gonna Blow!!! San Diego’s Music Underground 1986-1996 a film about San Diego’s DIY music scene and its uneasy relationship with the mainstream. It features interviews and performances from Drive Like Jehu, Rocket from the Crypt, Trumans Water, Crash Worship, Heavy Vegetable, Three Mile Pilot, the Locust, Heroin, Fishwife and many other bands. Watch it now on Night Flight Plus!

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Bill Perrine – photo by Chris Valle

Bill Perrine gave Night Flight this exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the making of his film:

Perrine:

If you turned on MTV in the Spring of 1994 you might have seen the incongruous sight of Rocket from the Crypt on a huge stage overlooking hundreds of drunken spring breakers, airborne cameras panning and zooming across their every move. If you were a certain punk rocker it was probably an appalling sight, further evidence of the mainstream’s co-opting of underground culture post Nirvana, if not outright heresy.

But if you were another kind of punk rocker – perhaps not a ‘real’ punk rocker at all, but instead a member of the nascent alternative nation – you may have gotten an altogether different impression. Perhaps you were not only heartened to find decent music on the airwaves, but it seemed like the culture had blown so wide open that hometown heroes from a sleepy little beach town like San Diego could conceivably be rock stars.

Of course, there was nothing unique about Rocket from the Crypt’s ascent into the major leagues. This was happening all over the US in towns big and small – bands who a couple years before were playing house parties and small stages at little clubs in towns that rated barely a second glance from the music industry were now being courted by major labels chasing the next big thing, using the tried and true formula they’d perfected over the years; sign a dozen bands, throw them out to the wolves and see who makes it out alive.

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Rocket from the Crypt – photo by Jeff Winterberg

But San Diego has a unique relationship to culture and to the industry that markets that culture. We’re the little brother making cool shit in the basement while big brother LA peacocks around town, dazzling and glamorous but perhaps a little hollow inside. When big brother started coming downstairs and raiding the fridge San Diego couldn’t decide whether to throw him a party or throw him out.

Jammed into the furthest Southwest corner of the continental US, there’s an insularity and self-sufficiency that comes with the geography and our peculiar history as a vacation wonderland cum military camp. That provincialism has proved to be a double edged sword: on the one side it’s nurtured a vibrant and diverse scene where a band like the art-damaged Crash Worship – described by more than one fan as a ‘drugged-out sex cult’ – and Amenity, an earnest straight-edge hardcore band from working class Chula Vista, could not only co-exist but nurture one another’s creativity.

On the other hand, the close knit nature of the scene resulted in an occasionally complacent attitude, one where some bands eschew regular touring in favor of playing the same few local clubs to the same group of friends and seemed wary of the outside world. At the very mainstream and vanilla 1994 San Diego Music Awards an LA Times reporter captured their proud rallying cry “Losers forever!” as the industry-hyped Stone Temple Pilots took home the big trophy.

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Trumans Water – photo by Ted Drake

I grew up in San Diego and got my first entree into the punk scene through my friend Stimy and his band Sub Society. I liked the band but it wasn’t until I heard Drive Like Jehu, Trumans Water, Fishwife and Rocket from the Crypt that I really began listening up. Soon the whole scene just seemed to take off in a mad mix of creativity, hype and hope. Bands were signed left and right and new ones formed in a blur of hair grease, wallet chains and bowling shirts that signified, for some at least, the emergence of San Diego as the ‘next Seattle”, the next hotspot.

Fishwife

Fishwife

I remember sitting in Stimy’s car outside of the Pannikin Cafe in La Jolla, listening to the first test pressing of his band Inch’s first Atlantic Records album, hearing those huge, slickly produced chords blast through his beat to hell Mustang, and suddenly realizing; shit, my friend could be a rock star. I remember saying that to him and we both silently pondered the ramifications of that. Then the song ended, the tape ejected and Stimy headed inside to sling coffee for minimum wage.

I’ve been waiting for years for someone to make a film about that period in the early 90s when artsy, socially conscious DIY culture collided with the mainstream, but it eventually became clear that I’d have to do it myself. By that point I had directed and produced my first feature length documentary, Children of the Stars, about Unarius, an El Cajon based UFO group who attempt to relive their past lives on other planets by making their own DIY Science Fiction films.

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Rocket from the Crypt – photo by Jeff Winterberg

While this may sound like an odd prelude to a music documentary the parallels between the two were not lost on John Reis when I interviewed him about the genesis of Rocket from the Crypt and its cheeky straddling of the punk rock/stadium rock divide: “You did the film on the Unariuns and how they kind of live this fantasy world and they turn fantasy into their reality. It’s very similar with rock and roll for us. We turned this fantasy, what we wanted to be, [taking] really different elements, things that kind of conflicted and put them together and created our own reality of it.”

To some degree that defines my attraction to the story of San Diego’s underground music scene in the early 90s. This was a town where as Justin Pearson said ‘there was nothing’, a cultural dead zone dominated by the military and a punk scene plagued by skinheads and violence. Much like the Unariuns these outcasts had to invent their own world and inhabit it fully, making their own art, their own language, their own community. Imagine their surprise when the rest of the world suddenly wanted a piece of that community.

Heroin by Jeff Winterberg

Heroin – photo by Jeff Winterberg

We started production on the film in the early summer of 2012, taking the title from a Trumans Water song. “Your plastic culture sucks/and it’s gonna blow!!!”. Jason Soares was a great first interview because he ran his own label, Nothing Records, which put out albums by Powerdresser and Three Mile Pilot; he played in the highly experimental Physics, the hardcore Rice, and the weird art-pop of Rob Crow’s Remote Action Sequence Project; he draws; he does strange things with computers; he is resolutely mellow and goofy – in other words a quintessential San Diego musician.

Rob Crow

Rob Crow – photo by Laura Lande

From there we just kept going, discovering the story I wanted to pursue, refining approaches to filming and interviewing, juggling crew and money issues. The most challenging part really was producing. This means a lot of hours emailing, phoning, cajoling and wrangling musicians (a slippery, though affable, bunch, to say the least), collectors, videographers, photographers, artists, cinematographers, sound men, lawyers, and who knows all. Producing is drudgery. Directing and editing are the rewards.

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The Locust

Since I was asked me for a ‘director’s perspective’ about the nuts and bolts of making the film, I’m just going to give you some things to consider if you decide that you too would like to make a music documentary:

1) You will interview a lot of people. I think we talked to around 60 people in 5 different cities. We managed to squeeze Ian Mackaye and Tom Delonge from Blink 182 into the same movie, alongside a muderer’s row of San Diego scenesters, all of whom were a genuine pleasure to talk to. The average interview lasted about an hour and we tried to shoot each one with care and style, mostly using two cameras, a light kit, good eyes and ears, and a willingness to create a conversation rather than run down questions from a bullet pointed list. Locations were chosen for their relevance to the story while also allowing for relative quiet and privacy. This is considerably more challenging than you might think. But sometimes you just have to go with the flow and stick a camera in somebody’s face outside the Casbah at 10pm and hope for the best.

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2) You think you can do everything yourself but you can’t and you shouldn’t. I’m well aware that there are better camera operators than me, better sound men, better everything really. So I asked them to help me out when possible. My sound guy Rick Bowman was indispensable, working on a good 80% of the interviews with me and generally being good natured, hyper competent and indispensable. Ryan Washburn, Nate Elegino and others helped me out on camera when they could could and there footage is some of the best in the film. But once again there are times when the only way you can get a shot is to grab the camera and a mic and hope for the best. So even though you shouldn’t do everything yourself, sometimes you’re the only person who can do the job. Oh, and get a real producer if you can. Good luck with that one.

3) If you’re making a film about something that people care about, they will want to help you. The early 90s music scene was formative for a lot of people and they rallied around the chance to document it. People contacted me from Europe, Canada and throughout the US offering to express their support. I had a lot of cheerleaders and a lot of people making valuable introductions on my behalf and I couldn’t have done the film without them. It’s truly a testament to the power of San Diego’s DIY culture that I made a professional looking film about such a huge subject on such a tiny budget.

Powerdresser Jeff Winterberg

Powerdresser – photo by Jeff Winterberg

4) You will want to cover aspect of your subject but you can’t and you shouldn’t. Good films leave things on the cutting room floor. They leave a LOT of things on the cutting room floor. The health of the film takes precedence over every other consideration. A shitty, baggy 2-1/2 hour film haphazardly packed with funny tour stories, local in-jokes and flights of middle-aged nostalgia does no one any favors. Find a story, a theme, a viewpoint, and try to stick with it. You’ll never interview be able to interview every awesome person and cover every awesome thing so find those people and moments that best represent your story and stick with them. Save the rest for the dvd extras.

5) Every minute you shoot is exponentially more work down the road. Now that everybody shoots digital video there’s an inclination to overshoot but remember: footage must be transferred, logged, transcoded, transcribed (I transcribed every single interview myself) then waded through over and over again while you’re editing your 80 hours of interviews, 3 hours of b-roll and 50 hours of archival video down to a tight and coherent 90 minutes. Oh, and don’t forget the hundreds of photos, flyers, music files and other ephemera that must be dealt with. If you’re at all interested in doing a good job you (and/or your editor) will end up watching certain pieces of footage hundreds of time before you’re done. Some filmmakers would rather just keep filming than actually face the mountains of material they’re accumulating, but they’re just digging themselves in deeper.

6) Yes, equipment is a lot cheaper and more accessible than it used to be but you still have to know how to use it. A lousy cinematographer with a great camera is still going to produce a lousy image. Figure out to how to do it right or get somebody else to do it for you. Also, save your money for a fast computer and some good hard drives. My main drive is totally maxed out at 8 terabytes and I have various cheaper drives backing up all the files.

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Drive Like Jehu performing at the Casbah – photo by Jeff Winterberg

7) Music rights are a huge pain in the ass and should be considered before you even start the project unless you want to find yourself putting out a music documentary with very little music. There’s a reason why a lot of low budget movies and tv shows often have shitty music. Depending on the song and the recording, you may need permission from the performers, the songwriters, the record company AND the music publishers. Finding out who these people actually are is a job in and of itself. so you’ll spend a lot of time on the phone asking musicians who don’t know and bureaucrats who don’t care. Major labels will not return your calls because they’ve never heard of you, and when you do finally get through you will be offered a festival license that lets you use their song in film festivals and film festivals only. Theatrical licenses, DVD licenses, streaming licenses, international rights – all these things cost extra. A lot extra. You can’t afford it. So at the very least, don’t use any music that might be owned by a major label. Indie labels are a lot easier to deal with, but the best scenario is when the musicians own all of their own rights. Don’t even get me started on fair use, video licensing and the like. If you can find an inexpensive entertainment lawyer, or even better a free one, take advantage of it. They get things done.

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Trumans Water – photo by Jeff Winterberg

8) There’s a lot of cool archival video and photo material, often in weird and antiquated formats, hiding in people’s closets. You will feel like a cut-rate gumshoe following weird leads and working all the angles. People are generally happy to share this stuff with you but sometimes it’s a long road from the first email to actually getting the stuff into your hands. A couple videos took me almost a year to get into my hands, while others I just gave up on entirely (Hi Gar! Hey David!). I ended up with some pretty rare footage such as a Fishwife recording session, some insane Crash Worship shows, a Rocket from the Crypt New Years Eve party, a skinhead riot shot by Matt Anderson, John Reis’s teenage hardcore band Conservative Itch and great video of an unreleased Drive Like Jehu song from the Che Cafe.

9) And finally, I present the biggest potential pitfall of making a film: one drunken evening at a bar in Spring Valley Rob Crow might tell you that you look like the lead singer of the Spin Doctors. Just remember, you will get your revenge. Eventually. Watch out, Rob Crow.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.