For the benefit of those who tuned in late: Fishbone is the band that brought funk to punk, and added a welcome touch of color to a largely segregated ‘80s rock scene. And you if you haven’t heard of them, well, maybe that shouldn’t be surprising: They’re still jammin’ after all these years, but they’ve never quite made it above the level of idiosyncratic cult faves.
But you can learn all you need to know about them — and, more importantly, get a heaping helping of their eclectic and electric musical stylings — in Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone, the acclaimed documentary having its H-Town premiere this week at 14 Pews.
Filmmakers Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler — who’ll be on hand for a Q&A after a 7 p.m. Thursday screening — begin their story back in Los Angeles of the late 1970s, when, thanks to fortuitously enforced school busing, several future band members were transported from rough-and-tumble South Central to the whiter environs of the San Fernando Valley. That’s where the fish out of water connected with soul mate Angelo Moore, the dreamy-eyed Valley guy who eventually established himself as lead singer and front man for the band that would be Fishbone.
Right from the start, Fishbone emphasized a unique sound that was hard to describe — equal parts rock, punk ska and soul — and even harder to market. That, of course, is part of the reason why mainstream “making it” success continues to elude them. But, then again, a checkered history of personnel changes and internecine battles — when one member joined a cult, an attempt at intervention led to kidnapping charges — hasn’t helped, either.
Still, the band has survived and thrived. And as co-director Chris Metzler told us earlier this week that while Fishbone's history may be fascinating, it’s their music that really makes them worth documenting.
CultureMap: Early on, Everyday Sunshine emphasizes the fact that, back in the 1980s, Fishbone was one of the very few all African-American bands around. That sounds odd when you first think about it, but when you try to think of other groups that would fit that description… it’s difficult.
Chris Metzler: Well, the thing is, I like and enjoy music — but I’m not a big music head, you know? So when we started out, the thing that surprised me first is like, “OK, wow, here’s this band of African-American punk rockers.”
That seemed unusual. But after we started doing research, it was like, “OK, not only is this punk rock — it’s also contemporary pop-rock music.” And it was unusual. Here was this kind of segregation that went on in the music industry that I guess I just kind of accepted without even thinking about it at the time. Which made me even more curious, because then the story of the film was the story of these outsiders who said, “Hey, this is the sort of music we want to make.”
They didn’t fit in anywhere — but at the same time, they fit in everywhere.
And I know people who see the film will insist that this sort of segregation didn’t really exist. They’ll say something like, “Well, what about Living Colour?” And I’ll have to say, well, Living Colour actually didn’t come along until after Fishbone. And they had, like, one big hit single — and that was it. I guess it all depends on your definition of success.
Is it having a hit single on the radio — or being a band that’s had a lot of influence on a lot of other bands, but in a way remains kind of underground?
CM: Of course, as a colleague of mine has pointed out, we may owe the very existence of Fishbone to a controversial social policy — busing.
Metzler: [Laughs] Yeah. And that, I guess, was one of the ideas behind busing — you mix all these different kinds of people together, and maybe something special will come out of it. I mean, sure, the guys in Fishbone all liked music a lot, and they probably would have become musicians no matter what. And they had open and eclectic tastes anyway.
But some of the guys were bused out of South Central LA to the more white suburban Valley, and that’s where they met Angelo, their lead singer. And because of the color of their skin, they bonded instantly because it was like, “Hey, we’re the only black kids in this school. Let’s hang out together.”
And they had this shared love of music. They each loved a different kind of music. And they just decided to mix it all together — and something special came out of that. So I guess, in a way, serendipity intervened.
CM: So what made a 36-year-old white guy from Kansas City, Missouri so fired up to make a movie about Fishbone?
Metzler: Anytime you have a story of outsiders — people who are doing something different — especially when they’re a bunch of eclectic and interesting personalities like you find in Fishbone, you know you’re going to have a great story. But the thing I wondered starting out was, “Is this band still relevant?” I mean, aside from the interesting history, ranging from the whole busing scene to cults and kidnapping and all that stuff.
Fortunately, at the time [Lev Anderson] and I were thinking about making a film about Fishbone, we found that they were playing in San Francisco about a week later. So we decided to go check them out. Because, frankly, I was skeptical.
Most bands that have been around for like 25, 30 years, they’re resting on their laurels, they’re just playing their hits, they’re not giving too much energy to it. And when I went there, after the first song, I thought, “Man, this band is amazing. The energy that is going on stage and in the crowd is something I haven’t seen in a long time.”
And we both knew there was something there — so we decided to just plow ahead.