Fishbone, circa 1985 (Credit: Fishbone Documentary)
I PLANNED my trip to the Montreal Jazz Festival around Fishbone. There were tons of other incredible artists I wanted to see, for sure. But watching Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone on Netflix had me determined to see this weirdass band that have been touring and performing their hyperactive mix of punk/ska/funk/alternative music for longer than I’ve been alive.
I requested an interview my first day at the festival. When the phone call came saying I’d been granted one right before their performance, I had a mild freakout.
Not the squealing fan kind. The holy crap, what do I ask a band who “made it okay for black kids to slam dance,” who challenged racial stereotypes in early ’80s LA as the drug war was rapidly escalating, who dealt with “religious brainwashing” and kidnapping charges and heated disagreements over a theremin, kind.
What I’m saying is, these guys have seen some shit, and I was intimidated.
I met founder/bassist Norwood Fisher backstage as the crew was setting up for sound check, and we talked about the documentary (trailer below) and what it means for the band’s future.
Matador Network: Whose idea was the documentary, originally? Did you guys approach the directors, or did they approach the band?
Norwood Fisher: It was the directors, Lev and Chris.
MN: So were they fans, and just thought it was time to tell Fishbone’s story?
NF: Yeah, they were…well, one of them was a fan. The other heard the idea and thought it was interesting. He became a fan later.
MN: The documentary points out that Fishbone had been poised to go mainstream and really blow up for awhile, but it never really happened despite a huge fan following. But today, the way music sharing works has changed so much, and continues to change, and the power to spread music is arguably more in the hands of the fans rather than the industry.
So companies like Sony and groups like the RIAA throw their support behind SOPA, ACTA, and all of these bills that attempt to control not just online piracy, but the way music is shared. How do you feel about fans sharing your music through sites like YouTube and SoundCloud?
NF: Well, I think it’s all amazing. There’s a part of it where people are getting music for free, and yeah…I would like to get paid for my efforts. But you know, the other side of it is that the way the current paradigm is laid out, it’s possible for the artist to actually take in all the money from every sale, as long as you make those sales. People still buy CDs at live shows, and people download music from iTunes and Amazon and pay for it. So there’s streams of revenue possible.
And you know, there’s kids being born that will maybe never buy a record at all, never pay for a download…but when I was a kid, there were kids that never bought records either. We used to record shit off the radio on cassette. And we used to actually make cassettes for each other. So that was it, that was Jurassic file sharing. So it’s not that different today, for me. Kids that had money bought records, and broke kids taped off the radio and traded cassettes. But honestly, when I was a kid, if I really loved some music, I would go and buy the record. And as far as I can tell, that phenomenon is still going.
MN: When you first saw “Everyday Sunshine,” the finished product, what was your reaction? Did it tell the whole 30-something-year saga as well as possible in 90 minutes?
NF: It was like, well…yeah, that’s what happened. I mean, life is full of nuance. I’m actually glad it left a lot of room for other stories to be told. Bottom line is, it’s honest.
MN: Since the film’s release, have you noticed a difference in the public’s level of awareness of the band?
NF: Yeah, yeah. As soon as they started doing film festivals, we began feeling that impact, and with each new level that it reached — the proper theatrical release, and then the DVD, iTunes release — every step of the way, all the way to the PBS showing…every step of the way has brought in new people, for one thing. I’ve never had to think about the fact that there’s people that don’t go to shows, you know? These people spend money going to the movies, and there’s a lot of them out there. So there are people that like going to see independent films and film festivals who saw it and were like ‘Oh, I missed out on something.’
And then a lot of old school fans — some of them didn’t know we were still touring, because compared to 1991, we’re a bit under the radar. So the film lit up a whole legion of people like that. People that come up to us and say ‘I haven’t seen you since 1986.’ And they’re back.