JORDAN Albertsen’s documentary Boom charts the incredible story and influence of The Sonics.
A band who exploded onto the Northwest rock scene in the 1960s with untamed energy and a dangerous sound, The Sonics unleashed innovative music to inspire a generation of artists before fading away all too soon. Albertsen’s film gives voice to wonderful tales from the early days of the band and uncovers the true extent of their impact on the music industry in a story of delayed recognition on a par with Malik Bendjelloul’s Searching For The Sugar Man.
Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge spoke to director Jordan Albertsen ahead of Boom’s sold-out world premiere at Raindance Film Festival.
Q: The world premiere of ‘Boom’ at Raindance Film Festival will be the culmination of 10 years of hard work for you. How do you reflect on this journey and how do you think you’ll feel come premiere time?
A: MAN, that’s hard to say. I’ve basically spent every waking moment of my life for the last two years cutting this film, I’ve barely even come up for air. And that was still the case until about two weeks ago. So it is hard to reflect at this time, I still feel like I have more to do. Having said that, I’m really excited for the premiere. Raindance is a really big festival, and I’m incredibly lucky to have Boom playing there.
Q: Can you tell us how this journey began and who you reached out to first to get this project moving?
A: THIS journey started for me 10 years ago. The Sonics had always been my favourite band, and when they announced the first hometown Seattle reunion show, I dropped everything and flew up for the concert. I was completely blown away at how powerful the band was. Even after all that time, they killed it!
I decided that night, I was going to make a film about them. I went online the next day and found an email address for the bands management. So I wrote a short pictch. To my surprise, Buck Ormsby responded. I couldn’t believe it, the bass player from The Wailers wrote me back! We grabbed coffee in Tacoma and I gave my pitch for the film. That was how it all started.
Q: Can you give us some insight into the interviews you conducted – and the time you spent – with each of the band members and John ‘Buck’ Ormsby?
A: THE interviews were tricky. I was constantly trying to convince the guys in the band to trust me. They really didn’t know anything about me so it took a few years to gain their trust. Once we got going though they all became pretty comfortable with me. Bucks interview was shot first, almost 4 years before the others.
Q: How did your perspective and relationship with the band and their music evolve over the process of making this film?
A: EVERYTHING changed. In the beginning I planned to make a big cinematic documentary with ambitious historical recreations that would focus on the wild times they went through in the 60’s. And as the painful realities of film financing kept crushing the film I wanted to make, I had to pivot and open myself to what else this could be.
And once I made that choice I started discovering this whole other story about the band. What happened after they broke up. And how that music became this worldwide thing without any of them knowing about it. The film became this hugely personal thing for me. Something I had to finish, no matter what. And through all of that, I was able to really get to know these guys. These guys who did this incredible thing back when they were teenagers. 40 years later the world caught up. It was such a beautiful, human thing to witness.
Q: There are many great stories in the film, including one involving The Shangri-La’s. Do you have a favourite story from your time making the film?
A: THERE were so many that I had to cut for time. One of my favorites involved a fight at a high school dance. It is hilarious. I haven’t really announced this before this interview, but I’ve actually started writing a screenplay about The Sonics. I’d love to make a narrative feature about what they did. It would be my Stand by Me, but with Rock and Roll.
Q: How important have fans of The Sonics been in the making of the film?
A: HUGELY. Every time I would want to give up and quit I’d get messages from all over the world, people expressing how excited they were to see this film. That really helped me push through the hard times – which there were many.
Q: The film is beautifully bookended by your own personal connection to the band and your relationship with your father. Has your father been able to see the film yet?
A: THANKS man. I screened the film for him last month. It was a very emotional night for the two of us.
Q: There are many influential music figures in the documentary including Mark Arm and Mike McCready. How difficult – and in turn how rewarding – was it to get these voices involved in the film?
A: BUCK was my ‘in’ with a lot of those people and when he passed away, it was all up to me. And man, it was impossible. I can’t even tell you how many blind emails I sent out to the managers of rock stars. No one responded. Nobody.
It took years to land those interviews. My good friend Brian Kasnyik was the first to really help out in that way. He’s a rock photographer in Seattle and landed me my first couple interviews.
And the Mike McCready interview – this was crazy. I work at a sushi restaurant in Bozeman Montana. And one day he just walked in with his family. I was beyond star struck. I had a poster of that dude on my wall when I was a kid. But I managed to hold it together and tell him what I was up to. He could have easily told me to fuck off, but instead he agreed to do the film. He was extremely cool and generous. He even got my family into Pearl Jam’s Seattle show this Summer. And that connection led to a few more key interviews. I owe Mike, big-time.
Q: You travel to England in the film and London plays a role in discovering the incredible influence of The Sonics. Can you talk about the time you spent in filming in England?
A: LONDON was game changing to the films narrative. I had no idea how popular they were overseas. It completely made me rethink the film. It’s hard to jump into it too much without giving away some twists that come into play. But without that trip, the film would be a different thing.
Q: What do you think the legacy of The Sonics will be – and how special does it feel to now be a part of it in some way?
A: I think they should be in the Rock and Roll hall of Fame. There should be a statue of them in Tacoma. What these guys managed to do back in the 60’s is remarkable. And if me doing this film helps spread that word and get this music out there to a new generation, that would feel pretty great.
Q: Both screenings at Raindance in London have sold out. Do you have a message for audiences ahead of the screening?
A: HONESTLY, my only message is ‘thank you.’ It means the world to me to know that people are interested to see this film. The legacy of this band is incredibly important, and I hope I did it justice.