White Lies Black Sheep is the second film from James Spooner, the mulatto punk rock documentarian behind 2003’s Afro Punk, and will soon be shown in Houston on June 19th (better known as Juneteenth to us Texans; how appropriate) at the indiehouston.org house (1816 Calumet in Third Ward). The film tells the tale of A.J., a Black club promoter running rampant in the early 2000’s era New York indie rock scene, and the tensions he faces amongst his peers. Soon as he begins to discover more about his own heritage, embracing it fully, he finds out his new interests aren’t so accepted by his friends and co-workers who begin to think he’s becoming “too black.” Self questioning, tight pants, unemotional sex with an average looking stranger, and lots of drinking ensue. A must see for all those who have shared A.J.’s dilemma and all those curious about the only Black guy at the indie rock show.
Organized by local chainsaw pop rap artist Fat Tony, the film screening will also feature performances by himself, the founder of U.S. Grime B L A C K I E, the soulful bedroom pop sounds of Austin’s The Cocker Spaniels, and new Houstonian by way of D.C. Love Field.
Love Field is a solo project by Ryan Grimes, formerly of Cutlery and Downtown Singapore, which combines the lush sounds of ambience and electronics, with all the guitarmanship, whispers that shake buildings, and beautifully woeful bellowing of post-hardcore rock ‘n’ roll. Set your phasers on dream pop, Houston. Leave the kill mode for the next jerk off. Ryan sat down with me for a few a moments and graciously took some questions about the film, Love Field, Afro Punk, and the Houston scene.
How did you first get involved with WLBS? Tell us a little about the film.
White Lies/Black Sheep is a “documentary” about a young black party/concert promoter in the New York punk scene and his journey to essentially find himself. He feels betrayed by his desire to enjoy the scene when he starts to realize that not everything around him is clear cut and black and white. I first got involved with the film when James Spooner asked my old band Cutlery to do the score. We had been playing Afro Punk shows and the annual festival for a few years and we grew to be friends. Our music fit the overall feel of the movie and it was just natural for us to work on it with him.
What’s your background with film? Have you composed for films prior to WLBS?
My experience in film amounts to that of simply having a Netflix account. I had never scored a film before and neither had Branden [Funkhouser, Cutlery guitarist and producer] but we just at down and remixed our songs and came up with new material for the film after watching it probably around 45 or 50 times. One of the other guys in the band Chris Marrow had a background in television production so that helped.
Have you performed as a solo artist or in bands outside of composing?
Yeah, I before Cutlery I was in a band called Downtown Singapore which was also a blast. Right now I’m writing and performing under the name Love Field.
Were there any outside influences that inspired the sounds presented in WLBS? Were you aiming for a particular tone for the film?
Yeah, we were always a cinematic, like, almost epic sounding kind of band. Everybody knows about teen angst and heart break but a lot of the stuff I was writing at the time mirrored the main character’s dealings with punk scenes and being black and feeling at home yet still detached.
What’s the importance of WLBS as social commentary? Do you feel Houston’s indie audience will appreciate it?
I think any community can appreciate the film. I’m from Washington D.C. and, like, it’s weird how seemingly the rest of the country really overlooks Houston and what this city has to contribute to art, punk rock, etc. Houston is home to some of the coolest, most innovative bands and artists I’ve ever heard so there’s defenitly a place for this film. A culture and audience for it. But the thing is, I hope not just the Montrose/Poison Girl crowd checks out the movie. Ideally, I’d like to see 3rd ward come out to experience a kind of scene that’s, in theory, open to all people.
How connected are you to the Afro Punk movement? What does it’s growth and expansion mean to you?
Um, I suppose I’m just connected to it through the shows I was able to play and the film. But I guess like, on a deeper level I’m connected to it in the sense that it means the world to me. You know. I’m incredibly proud of the movement that James and Matthew [Morgan, Afro Punk producer] have built from the ground up. From Brooklyn to Chicago to L.A., there’s an afropunk crowd and now Houston is going to be a part of it. Actually, I shouldn’t say that – in all honesty any city or town with two black kids blasting Bad Brains from a car stereo like it’s Jay-Z has an afropunk scene.
Musically, what are you presently preparing? Do you have any projects in the works?
Yeah, I’ve only played a handful of shows under the Love Field moniker, so I’m working on expanding that to a full band. Some friends of mine are interested so we’ll see. Doing the solo act is tough for me because I’m used to having like, at least four other people on stage with me but it’s been fun. The songs are pretty cool thus far, so I’m excited about it.
Would you consider during any future film work?
Oh, of course. It was so much fun and a lot of things we didn’t get to try because of our budget and everything so yeah. I’d love to give it another go. Any chance to create something is a good one right? I think so, especially if the project fits.
I’m a Spike Lee fan and I’ve always taken note of the soundtracks associated with his movies. They’ve always been powerful and totally intertwined with the themes presented in his films, such as Public Enemy’s socio-rap-noise-bomb “Fight the Power” as the theme of Do The Right Thing; or the bellowing horns that portrayed the lustful indecisiveness of a jazz musician in Mo’ Better Blues.
With WLBS being a film quite rooted in depictions of Black social commentary, are there any films along the line of WLBS’ content that inspired your work on the score?
Certainly, yeah. You’re 100% right about Spike Lee’s careful protection of the score and soundtracks to his films. Like he seems like a really meticulous type dude so I suppose you could say that we just wanted to be as sure as possible that everything fit, especially with the last scene in the movie.
Do you see any similarities between your experiences and the character A.J. from WLBS? Might you have friends that relate to it?
Of course, of course. Everything from dating and relationships with women both white and of color to getting stared at because of how you’re dressed on the train to being told that I “speak so well”. It’s all there you know. And yeah, the vast majority of my friends are black or a member of another minority group so they’ve spoken to me about similar situations they’ve had that are also represented in the film. Honestly, I even think that white kids will see things in this movie they can identify with and learn from. Though I’m not going to lie – if you’ve ever touched a black person’s hair with out at least asking first – things might get a little awkward for you during the screening. [laughs]
Have you come across any artists or bands here in Houston that embody the Afro Punk aesthetic or experience?
That’s easy, yeah. The TonTons come to mind first. Those kids are easy people to hang out with and love making just, like some of the most bad ass, heart felt rock and roll out there. B L A C K I E is another artist that’s got it down. I was riding around with Matthew Morgan before the afropunk SXSW show with Big Boi and had B L A C K I E’s record in my car and Matthew was like, “who is this?! I love it!!”. I’m pretty sure B L A C K I E will be playing at this years AP festival in Brooklyn as a result. And Fat Tony embodies it too. He’s probably the best EmCee I’ve heard here in Houston – easily. You wouldn’t think Tony would be like, “afropunk” or whatever since his show is for sure hip-hop through and through but he gets it. Like, his hustle is totally DIY you know? He transcends like the whole notion that the rest of the country has about Houston hip-hop as being only UGK and nothing else which is cool. I feel like it would have been real easy for him to just rip off Bun B, one of the people I know Tony looks up to, but he didn’t which is rad. Plus, I know for a fact that next to his UGK, records are a stack of My Bloody Valentine and Ramones CDs.
How did you get involved with the organizer, Fat Tony, of the Juneteenth showing of WLBS at the indiehouston.org house? Did he approach you? Did you approach him?
I’ve known Tony for a while – first online like most black punk kids meet each other. There was this Livejournal community called negroclash where I’ve met a ton of cool people. When I moved here to Houston he came to see the first Love Field show at Notsuoh and told me he and Chanelle were trying to bring WLBS to the H and I told him I’d love to help and be a part of it.