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March 19th, 2014 MATTHEW SINGER | Music Stories
 

Lance Bangs on Breadcrumb Trail

The Portland director has solved the mystery of indie-rock innovators Slint. It only took him 23 years.

music_slintspiderland_4020The cover of Slint’s Spiderland.
     
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In 1991, at an underground music club in Asheville, N.C., Lance Bangs heard an album so weird and wondrous it would obsess him for the next two decades. That record, Spiderland, was by Slint, a band from Louisville, Ky., that had already broken up by the time the now Portland-based music-video director discovered them. Breadcrumb Trails, Bangs’ documentary on the post-rock pioneers, germinated in that moment. Twenty-three years later, it’s finally done. Willamette Week spoke to Bangs about the myths surrounding Slint, and whether it was worth it to unravel them. 



Willamette Week: Can you remember hearing Slint for the first time?

Lance Bangs: In the spring of 1991 I rode in a van with bandmates from Athens, Ga., to Asheville, N.C., where an artist named Pattiy Torno had opened an all-ages venue called Squashpile. The sun had set as we carved through the mountains down to a warehouse near a river bend, and walked into this underground outpost. Spiderland was playing from a record player through the PA of the empty room, and combined with everything in the atmosphere around us, it was immediately captivating.


What was it about Slint that made you spend 23 years assembling a documentary on them?

There was a complete lack of information when I was first fascinated by the music.  No band name or album title on the front, just a cryptic black-and-white photo; music that sounded way more elaborately finessed than traditional bass/guitar/drums music coming out at that time on the same labels; a band that had broken up before releasing the album with no tours, photo shoots, magazine interviews or videos circulating.  I was traveling regularly from Athens to other music scenes around the country and began specifically driving to Louisville to try asking around about who had made this album and why they weren’t still active.

The responses sounded unbelievable, with people claiming the band had gone insane, checked into mental hospitals, could hypnotize people with their eyes, had learned how to breathe without using their mouths or noses. I began assembling stories and shooting footage in Louisville while sort of following their tracks.


At what point did you realize all that footage would go into an actual documentary?

I tend to shoot continuously, so I was gathering footage without a planned end form. Mostly I collected stories and then told them to friends and other people within the circles I was travelling in. In 2005 the band assembled to perform at All Tomorrows Parties and a few other dates before dissolving again, and I was hired to direct what would have been a live DVD for Touch and Go [Records] of some shows at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. 

Once I started showing them those edits, as well as this separate footage I had been assembling, I was able to convince them to begin giving their first interviews about everything they had been through.  The documentary took form from there.   


Beyond Slint, the film is also about the Louisville punk scene. What made that scene special?

I was based in Athens, Ga., and adored it, but felt a huge affinity for what was happening up in Louisville as well.  People there were weirder and more poetic than my impression of the harsher Chicago-Minneapolis Midwest aesthetic. I made friends among bands like Rodan, Crain and the Rachels, who lived in a group house called Rocket House and would stay there or with Bob Nastanovich of Pavement, another band I was touring and filming with at the time.  I would describe the overall nature of Louisville musicians as charismatic figures with complex and deep inner lives who occasionally burst out into manic behavior that unsettles outsiders. 


In doing this project, what did you learn about the band that surprised you the most? 

The stories about [drummer] Britt [Walford] and [singer-guitarist] Brian [McMahan] being in punk bands during the original U.S. hardcore era at ages 11 and 12 were the most surprising thing once I began conducting interviews. The photos are bonkers.

The "mystique" of Spiderland is a big part of Slint's appeal. Are you worried the documentary will ruin that aura?

There is a tendency of some of the members to downplay or not recognize what is singular and atypical about themselves and their music. I was worried that they might try to dissipate the mystique, and the film is full of adolescent stories and wild behavior that belie the atmosphere of the album, but I think Spiderland remains a staggering work after learning everything that is revealed in the film.


What is Slint's legacy today, in your opinion?

They were teenagers who created their own world, and I think that excites and intrigues not only musicians but artists, writers, filmmakers and people who enjoy experiencing those works. Then they walked away, seemingly never motivated to seek personal attention for the results of their work. I admire that. 


SEE IT: Breadcrumb Trail is at Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd., on Sunday, March 23. 7 pm. $8.

 
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