Working in music the last few years, I’ve had the chance to collaborate with really incredible people behind the scenes: filmmakers, engineers, graphic designers, writers – those individual’s whose art it is to facilitate art. I’ve often wondered how they got to where they were. I had the opportunity to sit down with La Blogotheque filmmaker Derrick Belcham before he sets off en route to make a La Blogotheque HQ in New York. We met in a Toronto diner to discuss how he got to be where he’s at, what Jeff Tweedy smelled like up close (ok, not really), the myth of the “moon man”. Derrick emerged from the corporate film world, returned to his experimental roots and swapped handsome paychecks to invade the personal space of many of our favorite artists, he’s credited with filming the likes of: Wilco, Thurston Moore, Megafaun, Little Scream and many more. I quickly realized that Derrick’s success can be attributed to a specific ethos: always be curious, always be in awe, and always be grateful. It’s a sentiment that permeated throughout his stories. His liberal use of adjectives will attest to it. He makes me feel like there is still life in these mediums, yet.
How did you get into this work?
Four years ago I saw Vincent Moon’s (La Blogotheque Founder) work at Music Now in Cincinnati when Sufjan and Why Music played there- and they roamed around this house and had people play in different rooms and then I thought, “Oh My God, I had this idea for the longest time.” I was like, jealous but also like, this is really beautiful. So I wanted to do something like that in Vancouver, so I filmed a piece with a woman named Emily Brown and when I did that, the people at Blogotheque saw it from Vimeo because Vimeo put it on their front page and then I started to talk to them.
When did you get to film your first Takeaway Show?
When I moved to Montreal I was working with musicians that I already knew and then at a party I happened to meet Nora, who was a producer for Blogotheque, we had already been talking online we didn’t realize that until the end of the night. She was like- you should do the next one, and I thought Oh My God, that would be a fucking honor. So she calls me a week later and says, “First of all are you free? So we’re going to do Wilco.” And I was like, oh what? Oh fuck! It came up and all I had at that point was two wireless mikes and a zoom, my Canon camera, we just showed up and met them.
Have there been any surreal moments?
Danielson. The story I wrote for Danielson, the article is all about when I first discovered the music that has kind of touched me in my twenties and early thirties. Danielson was the first record that I heard that was just like, out. It was a marginal crazy record and I just thought – how is this on a CD? And my friend, Nate Raycraft showed it to me, in the article I talked about working in the record store and everyone working in the record store gets a pick, and my pick after a day of like, Pavement and Steriolab and maybe Magnetic Fields was Tricky – the new Tricky record. And I was like, oh man I love Tricky. And Raycraft got so pissed at me like, you idiot, what are you doing? Probably not that aggressively, but I remember ti like that because I idolized him. He’s like, okay, I’m going to put on a record and you’re gonna love it – it was like that High Fidelity moment but it was the Danielson Family. They’re like this crazy Chrisitan family band, like wild avante rock and Daniel sings in like Mariah Carey register, they were one of the first of the modem indie bands to pull Glockespiel and stuff and that was their sound. But they’re weirdos. So when I worked with Danielson at Pop Montreal I guess two years ago, I talked to him and he’s a really intense guy.
But it’s not the ones that you would think – like it’s not like Echo and the Bunnymen, I knew that was huge and I loved it. But Ian was a rock primadonna, I felt like I was in Almost Famous, I thought, what is this? All these handlers, six different locations in one place to finally even meet him. There’s all these dudes, and you’re like, who is this guy now? Who have I just met here? Finally we do it in his dressing room at the Phoenix, no lights. I couldn’t shoot him below a certain level, completely anti what these things are about but I was determined not to fail and finally got him to like play, Killing Moon. And it was a really beautiful moment because Killing Moon is really hard for him to sing now, because he’s a middle aged dude, and it was a song he sang when he was like 20, so in the moment his voice fails a bit but he muscles through and there’s this really human moment so it was a success in that right. I should’ve been more nervous.
When I did the Thurston Moore one that was the first interview I ever did in my entire life. It was just something I knew I needed to do with him, I just thought- this is the most important one I’ve done, for me, this is a historical document- he’s part of a scene that’s very important, it should never be treated casual. You should seek out to go a little bit further. A lot of these things is about the performance happening in the now with bands just coming up- you have no idea about their significance yet. But Thurston Moore’s significance to history is assured.
This up close and personal medium seems to be conducive to making friends.
I’ve fallen in love with certain people when I work with them. When I worked with Sharon, just by proxy and she was opening for Megafaun during their tour and we didn’t even have a conversation and then after hearing her sing and talking to her and I was like, “Oh My God, that woman is incredible” and it led back to seeing her all over the place. I mean, even with the Sharon thing I went to visit her at Music Now, which is Bryce Dessner’s festival and through that, that’s where I met Laurel (Little Scream) and started working with her. It’s no surprise, these are people who work at their art and they’re so devoted to it and they have to dig deep to find out really interesting things and they’re emotionally open. It’s kind of a private moment, I get a three song private concert which is an extremely intimate and honest thing. It’s very conducive to making friends.
What are your thoughts on the Takeaway style offshoots that have emerged in recent years?
There’s so much amazing video content out there, and you know, the style- pioneered as a music style by La Blogotheque. It doesn’t matter what the source is and who’s saying what about it, if the filmmaker is good and does their job – it doesn’t matter. On the other side, I never have taken credit for that particular style being anything that I had contributed anything original to – I embed myself to learning it really well. The only thing I contribute to it uniquely is that it’s an incredibly manual endeavor, working with a camera that wasn’t meant to be handheld in a smooth way. Certainly I have my own insecurities when people step into the territory too close to me and like, when you work with somebody I want to work with I’m definitely not okay with it! Hah! So it’s mainly petty or completely selfish. But the work itself, I think it’s amazing and I would’ve never had the chance unless they opened the door.
Do you ever think La Blogotheque will run it’s course? Is there room for evolution?
It’s an incredible way to get back to something like DA Penabaker, those documentarians that really did this fly on the wall kind of thing. The titcus follies guys, I cant remember his name anyways it’s like- really just being there. Letting the audience fill in the rest- it’s a cold medium and a compelling figure that you learn more and more about, they just transcend strictly the performance aspect. I think that’s the evolution, because there’s plenty of people that can just go in and shoot four cameras as an artist plays and you just cut it up and it’s a valuable document- but there’s work to be done for filmmakers too. Creating a relationship with artist is another story. Like, the Megafaun one was the most enjoyable because those guys are like saints and we spent like two days with them. It was just so much fun – that’s what led to it being such a romp of a video.
Who would be your dream artist to work with?
Some of them are dead, like Frank Zappa. Alive? Tom Waits is on the top of the Blogo list. Philip Glass and Steve Reich in one world, someone like Etta James or something like that. Chuck Berry? The obvious ones are like Joanna Newsom, Bjork, Kate Bush. Stuff I don’t even listen to anymore- Tori Amos.
There’s a certain mythology surrounding Vincent Moon (La Blogotheque Founder)
It’s just funny to call him Vincent Moon, because it was a name he invented, his real name is Mathie Saurar. Anytime you take on a persona- and people accept in on mass- like Justin Vernon, everyone knows him as Bon Iver- and they shorten it, to have like a friendly moment. Someone was like, has anyone seen Bon? You know, and just to have a moment like that must be really bizarre. That would be like someone calling Vincent Moon, Vinny or something like that. It’s this kind of hilarious thing. So I often call him the Moon Man.
Tell me more about New York and the future of La Blogotheque-
New York is such an incredible place because the bar is so unbelievably high for everything that the whole thing is democratized- nobody thinks that they’re not doing a good job, because Lou Reed used to live around the corner. Patti Smith – Oh My God, Patti Smith would be an unbelievable takeaway show. The problem would be- to get through so many levels of management that it doesn’t’ make financial sense to do something, but when it makes financial sense it rarely makes artistic sense. Do an Intel-sponsored concert series with Patti, you would like to have her show up at like you know some coffee shop she used to go to that’s really shitty now, and take it over for like 30 mintues and be kicked out because people think she’s crazy. That’s what you want.
Sarah (NYC Blogotheque filmmaker) and I have big ideas- it’ll be good for someone to be in New York full time. It’s just a gravitational center of music. Just to be around artists- to do longer form things beyond a day.
It’s like you’re almost trying to document the last of the dying indie bands, before the money runs. out.
The money has definitely run out.