It's been passingly mentioned in national and even international publications for years now, but the vibrant garage rock scene in Detroit hasn't really seen any sort of in-depth documentation. It Came From Detroit sets out to right that situation.
For the past four years, producer Sarah Babila and director James R. Petix have been creating a documentary on Detroit's garage rock scene on a budget that hovered somewhere between nil and nonexistent. The feature-length doc begins at an exciting time for Detroit's scene, when some names and bands that had long been local staples were suddenly gaining worldwide attention.
I managed to connect with Sarah and James as they sorted out the final details for Friday's premiere. As you'll see, the past four years have been a labor of love, but a lot of work nonetheless.
RC: First off, tell us a little bit about you guys and your background.
James: My background is in music video and editing. I work as an Avid Editor working on car advertising during the day. My first music documentary was about the underground rock scene in Japan called Tokyo Below, which I made as my senior thesis for the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2001. I started working on It Came From Detroit soon after I graduated and moved back to the area. About two years later, I realized I was going to need some serious help in order to actually get the film done. I asked a few close friends of mine if they were interested and Sarah was the only one who actually could commit to the project long-term. She became lead producer and the project went into overdrive.
Sarah: This is my first time producing a feature length film. James was already taping shows when I met him. At some point he was looking for a producer and I was really excited to take on the challenge.
RC: What's the idea behind It Came From Detroit?
James: I wanted to document what was happening in the garage rock scene in Detroit as it was starting to explode. The White Stripes were just starting to become famous and there was a genuine buzz that Detroit was really the place to be. At first, I was just taping every show I could go to and doing an occasional interview with a band. Later, as we started to see a story develop, we re-interviewed people individually and got a real sense of the history and community behind the rock scene.
RC: Why Detroit? And why now?
James: Detroit has always created great music. Motown, R&B, techno, rock and roll. This is a real music town. The thing that makes the garage scene interesting is that it was made up of people who were all musical historians. They were well aware of the history of the music of the city because it was all in their record collections! While they certainly did their homework, this was by no means just a "revival" of older music. They took those influences and made something really special and unique. Because the scene grew up in isolation for so long, by the time that people outside Detroit found out about the bands here, they were blown away by just how many talented bands we had here!
Sarah: Why not Detroit? This is where we're from. James just happened to move back here after film school when this whole scene was exploding, so timing had a lot to do with it. Also, it just feels good to know that there are positive things going on here and that our documentary can help show that.
RC: What can we expect in the film?
James: Great music, honest and sometimes hilarious interviews, and a real sense of what this whole Detroit garage rock thing is all about.
Sarah: You can expect to see and hear some of the greatest bands in Detroit. Expect to be rocked.
RC: How long did it take to produce?
James: The first show I taped was in February or March 2002. I started to concept the film months before that so in the end it took almost five years.
RC: What kind of budget and crew were you working with?
James: This is truly a no-budget film. It is completely funded by ourselves and any money we managed to make selling t-shirts and other things from our Web site!
Sarah: We've done a lot of fundraising, selling t-shirts, a benefit show etc. Our crew is really small for such a big project, so we get to wear many hats. On any given day I could be setting up lights, shooting video, or handing out cookies. So we really appreciate our close friends who assisted us whenever we needed an hand.
RC: Band/musician wise, who all made it in there?
James: It was really a tough decision on who to focus on in the film. There are so many great bands in Detroit and all of them are connected somehow. In the end we went with the ones that helped tell the story the best. We focus on The Gories, The Hentchmen, Fortune and Maltese, Rocket 455, The Paybacks, The Von Bondies, The Dirtbombs, The Sights, The Soledad Brothers, The Detroit Cobras, Demolition Doll Rods, and the White Stripes. We also see performances by the Witches, The Cyril Lords, Outrageous Cherry, and the Gore Gore Girls.