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Q+A: Blood, Sweat And Vinyl Director Kenneth Thomas

Andrew Kelham
Andrew Kelham 17 October 2011 at 12.43

Exclusive footage and discussion with the director of an incredible new documentary on modern independent music.

Blood, Sweat and Vinyl: DIY In The 21st Century is an incredible new documentary that extensively profiles three incredible music labels and their fans.

Focusing on Constellation, Neurot and Hydra Head, the film features bands like Cave In, Neurosis , ISIS, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Pelican, Oxbow, Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and others much beloved by Rock Sound.

The film is being screened at Supersonic festival in Birmingham this weekend and so we thought it would be a perfect time to showcase some exclusive clips from the film while interviewing director Kenneth Thomas about the half decade journey to create this piece.

Read. Watch. Enjoy.

Kenneth what inspired you to make this film and how much blood and sweat of your own went into documenting/telling the story of this DIY culture?

"Over five years of blood and sweat went into this cinematic adventure. I actually had to take a year off in the middle of it - just to recover and find my bearings again after two years of straight shooting!

The idea for this film came about in October of 2005. The few years prior to that were filled with music documentaries about the "good ol' days of punk" - Punk: Attitude, and Ramones: End of the Century being two examples. These films featured interviews with guys like Henry Rollins and Jello Biafra, and I never heard anybody acknowledge that this movement they fostered was in full-force today - everybody was talking about those "good ol' days," but nobody was saying, "hey, we inspired a lot of bands to do what we did, and they've taken this idea and run with it." A lot of my inspiration is derived from these modern bands - and the fact that these people were not acknowledging the music they inspired pissed me off.

Looking at my record collection, I noticed that Hydra Head, Neurot Recordings, and Constellation were heavily represented. Studying the album artwork, and remembering recent shows, I clearly saw the DIY aesthetic being mentioned in these punk docs of the early 2000's - but, with different genres of music, different styles of artwork, specialized packaging, and an overall aesthetic that can't be denied or easily defined. I felt it was necessary to document the current state of DIY.

So, with inspiration and excitement, I went to go see Pelican play in a tiny club in downtown Los Angeles and pitched the idea to Larry Herweg, their drummer. Apparently, he also thought that this idea to document this movement of bands was valid, as he immediately introduced me to Aaron Turner, founder of Hydra Head Records and singer of Isis. The rest is history."

Who were the more memorable conversations with from all the inspiring people you spoke with while making the documentary?

"Honestly, everybody gave a memorable interview, in one way or another. However, the three personal highlights were: the very first interview that started this whole thing, with Aaron Turner; visiting Steve Von Till in rural Idaho and interviewing him over the course of two days; and interviewing Efrim, Jessica, and the Constellation crew over the course of three days in Montreal. Traveling to the different areas of the continent helped to orchestrate how I would edit this film while I was shooting - so these interviews were a thrill because I was able to truly visualize how the film was going to be put together. Plus, it was pretty rad to interview folks from my favorite bands and get into their minds to further understand how and why they make music."

In your opinion, how important is it to keep documenting music in this way? Has the internet and information age made this a harder, easier or just simply more necessary task?

"Well, I'm biased, as I'm an obsessive documenter when it comes to music. When I go to a live show and am blown away from the performance, part of my brain thinks, "I should be filming this!' And that is because I feel like this idea of DIY music is something that is continually evolving. Documentaries are in abundance that deal with older eras of music, and there is a growing number being made about modern movements of music and labels.

The internet is a great way for bands to make their presence known - there are some excellent blogs and online resources to help people discover this stuff. But the internet has created an unfortunate side effect, known as the "surfing syndrome." Many people scan through the 'net at lightning speed, so many great pieces of art are overlooked or not given a fair amount of time to win them over. Quick reads have taken over the idea of patient deliberation. So, I feel like documentaries, and outlets like independent record stores, can flesh out what people read about online. And, in most cases, they can give folks a much more personal and detailed description of these bands and labels."

If someone reading this article has never heard of the labels and bands in the film how and where should they go to get started on their voyage into this area of music?

"Actually, this film IS a great place to start, according to a few friends that were not familiar with these bands in the first place. I tried to make the film not a strict "metal" documentary, or a "post-rock" documentary, or any sort of strict examination of a particular genre. The goal was to explore the ideas behind why people made music like this and to show how these bands embraced the idea of not being placed into a neat little genre. I think that folks can identify with this idea of following your passion and desire to have a legacy based on your own vision and aesthetics.

However, if you want a guide besides this film - my main advice would be to go to your local independent record store and do some exploring. Aquarius Records, in San Francisco, would be an ideal choice - every other week, they update their website with detailed descriptions of several new releases from bands that many people simply have not heard before. They helped me tons of new music, some of which is in this documentary. Other stores, like Vacation Vinyl, in Los Angeles, are similar to this; with staff that can help answer questions for a musically open-minded person. College radio, along with internet radio stations, are other great resources - just listen to them while you're hanging out at home, and I guarantee something will intrigue you enough to stop what you're doing and find out more. These are all great resources for those looking to discover a whole other world of music beyond popular radio."

To see the film this weekend head to and to purchase the limited edition double-DVD box set (with two hours of additional live footage) swing by

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