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Commercial superstardom seemed destined for Fishbone, an all-black sextet from Los Angeles, whose unabashed punk rock ethos made them an untouchable enigma in a gangsta-rap town. But while their all-inclusive sound—-which flirted with funk, jazz, and ska—-made them cult favorites, it proved too schizophrenic for radio airwaves and they were banished to an artistic limbo of sorts.
In their new documentary, Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone, directors Chris Metzler and Lev Anderson tell the story of the popular group, from its humble beginnings in California to its current stature among the punk gods. Metzler spoke with me before tonight’s screening at the Lincoln Theatre.
Washington City Paper: I see that the documentary was shown in New York and L.A. What’s been the reception so far?
Chris Metzler: The reception’s been fairly great. Prior to the film opening theatrically last month, we spread it around the film festival circuit over the last year. People seem to really dig the film, whether they’re familiar with Fishbone’s music or not. I think that’s the key with these things. Obviously, people who are into eclectic music will appreciate it.
WCP: Take me back through the creative process. When did you realize that you wanted to direct a documentary on Fishbone?
CM: Really, it was just a couple weeks before starting the project. I was familiar with Fishbone in the early ’90s when I was in college and I thought, “Here’s this band, they have a really cool logo that all the skateboarders were wearing. But I wasn’t really familiar with their music. My co-director Lev has been a fan of the band for a while. His dad took him to a Fishbone concert when he was 9 years old. We’re talking about projects, and we started exploring the story of Fishbone: an all-black punk rock band from South Central L.A. that carved their own swath across the California music scene. Plus the guys in the band are wacky weirdos who were fun to be around, and it seemed like a great project to be involved with.
WCP: Fishbone marched to the beat of its drummer, for better or worse. How did that work toward their overall success?
CM: They created music that was very influential and had an impact on No Doubt, Red Hot Chili Peppers, OutKast, and Black Eyed Peas. It spurred such a wide, exciting genre of music. They created music with lots of enthusiasm, and they did what they really loved. But when you decide to create your own path, you don’t always get the financial rewards of those who followed your path. In a way, Fishbone thrived from pushing the borders and living along the edges of life.
WCP: What did you learn about Fishbone during the filming process?
CM: When you see a band like Fishbone—-a band that’s just absolutely wild and crazy—-you wonder how unhinged they are as people. But what we found is that each of the guys were really reflective and thoughtful. That made the film more fun to make, and we realized that these guys are really serious about the world and they have a lot to say. Being labeled as a “party band,” you wonder how deep it goes. Their music includes funk, punk, reggae and heavy metal, but that’s because they want to know more about the world.
WCP: Did Fishbone’s eclectic sound hinder them commercially?
CM: Their sound was difficult to categorize and made it a little more difficult to feature songs on the radio. Especially if a song goes from ska, to funk, to reggae all within a few minutes. It was pre-iPod generation. You had to throw that record or CD in, and you had to listen to it from beginning to end. When it’s going all over the place, it makes it a little more difficult for people to make sense of.
WCP: How strange was it for a black band to play punk rock music in a gangsta-rap town? How weird was that dynamic?
CM: The members of Fishbone were all fans of gangsta rap themselves. In the ’80s especially, rock music was segregated from commercial radio. I think there were a lot of people, especially in their own neighborhoods, who wondered “Why are you playing this music? You should be doing something else.” They thought Fishbone’s music was something outside of their communities. That wasn’t particularly easy for them to accept at the time. But if folks went to a Fishbone show by accident, their jaws would drop and ask, “What the hell is this?” In the end, they’d walk away from the show and respect what the guys were doing. They didn’t fully understand it or want to listen to it, but they knew there was something special there.
Tonight’s film screening begins 7 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, located at 1215 U Street NW. Check out the theatrical trailer below.