“Every day has its song and that song shall have its day.”
If Clark Stiles and Nathan Khyber of The Good Listeners live by an oath, it’s the one that kicks off “Don’t Quit Your Daydream,” the recent documentary about the making of their third album. (Click here for my full review.) No longer the young men they once were and concerned that their music may turn out to be little more than a hobby, the Los Angeles-based duo decided to hit the open American road with a few like-minded friends, a couple of cameras and their gear in tow. During the trip, they collaborated with a series of musicians in different cities, recording a song with each over the course of a single day, in the hopes that they would produce something timeless.
By the end of their journey, The Good Listeners had a new album and a lot of film to edit. The result is a heartfelt examination of why many diverse individuals are all influenced by the same creative drive to write and perform music. Whether the guys were jamming with a blues guitarist in Memphis or a Commodore console noise artist in Dallas, they were able to shake some of the mystery off why some musicians just won’t quit, even if they don’t conform to the antiquated aesthetic ideals of a multi-million-dollar record label. Now, Clark and Nathan have achieved a better sense of exactly why it is they do what they do, and have produced one of the better music documentaries of the 21st century in the process.
There are moments in “Don’t Quit Your Daydream” when you guys seem to be receiving tough love from some people off-camera. I’m thinking of the first shot in particular, in which a woman seems to be laying out the harsh reality of being an aging musician pretty straight. Could you tell me a little bit about her and the importance of the people in your lives who challenge you to keep going?
Clark: We had an idea to do an interview called “The Mean Truth.” The woman grilling us is our friend Michelle and she had a bit of a bone to pick. Some say tough love is a fuel that helps us grow. If you can’t be honest with yourself then you’re kinda screwed. I enjoy laughing at myself, sometimes …
“Don’t Quit Your Daydream” is a very conceptual film in that its artistic aims are laid out and encountered one after the other. In what other ways do you think the film differs from the typical band documentary?
Nathan: Well, the film was meant to focus on the addiction musicians have with their craft as opposed to an electronic press kit glorifying us. We were acting as presenters as well as participants in this question of why we carry on in this somewhat fruitless occupation.
You achieved varying degrees of success with the people you collaborated with along the way. Was there ever a moment when you thought, “This isn’t going to work”? If so, how did you deal with it?
Nathan: We had made up a special sign, a moose ears gesture that we were to use if one of us thought it was better to clear the room and re-approach. Thankfully we only had to do that one time and ended up using some of the performance in a tweaked-out sampled manner. We were pretty lucky, though, with the talent we managed to secure.
Did any collaborators completely change the way you go about writing music? Anyone you’d want to work with again in the future?
Nathan: Yeah, I’m sure they did in unseen ways. We ended up catering somewhat to their comfort zones, which was often a stretch for us, but it seemed to work in this arena. The electronic art guy in Dallas named Paul Slocum was inspiring, and it would be great to have a rematch with him. Gina at the School of Rock was a regrettably quick collaboration and we would’ve loved to have had more time with her.
If you could record anywhere in the world with any collaborator of your choosing, where would you go and who would you collaborate with?
Nathan: Tom Waits in Lisbon.
Could you give a bit more insight into how the songs came together lyrically? Do the lyrics present an overall narrative of the trip?
Nathan: They were done really very quickly on site, so naturally they reflect the surroundings and situations we found ourselves in. There are a few songs on this record that genuinely mirror our headspace. “Time is Not My Friend” comes to mind. And then there are lyrics that we got from our blues collaborator’s stories of being on the road, and we just daisy chained all these places he’d trampled past. Stories of our Polish cinematographer’s time at sea. Anything we could reconstitute. There was really no attempt to write autobiographically. That would have been a bit stifling. But certainly, bits of you always pop through.
Could you explain your role as co-director of the film? Were you responsible for a lot of the shot choices and moments that ended up in the final cut?
Clark: I carried the burden of completion as I had to answer to our investor. My goal was to deliver a cut that fit within the 90-minute documentary format. We worked with a skilled editor and fresh-out-of-film-school newbie. The pro brought the structure, the novice brought the fun. Nathan and I brought the criticism. I’m mostly thankful we finished. Man oh man, making a film is hard.
How important was the film’s editing process? Did it allow for a certain tone to be achieved?
Clark: We had 160 hours of footage. We felt like we could have made a number of films out of it. One version would have been about our crew going south on us and trying to take over our production and make a horror film. We stuck to our guns, thankfully.
Both the “Don’t Quit Your Daydream” film and album are available exclusively for online purchase. Has the Internet been a blessing for The Good Listeners?
Clark: The Internet helped us reach 100,000 new people in one week thanks to a special plug iTunes gave us. It’s remarkable what can happen when things become viral. That’s typically the objective when trying to promote music or film with no money. However, we are awaiting a shipment, a double-disk package consisting of the movie and album. We’ll be selling it on our site starting April 3.
How should a modern band gauge their own level of success? Is fame what it used to be?
Clark: “Fame” is a great Bowie song. Other than that, it’s for the birds. With the exception of all the free crap you get, according to Snoop Dogg. Our friend Adrian (Grenier), aka Vince, provides us with a glimpse of fame every now and again. It’s really fun for a weekend in Vegas. That’s about it, though.
“Don’t Quit Your Daydream” will be screening at the Nashville Film Festival on April 21 and 22. Both the album and film are currently available for download at dontquityourdaydream.com. Beginning April 3, a DVD and CD will be available for purchase. For more information on The Good Listeners, visit them at thegoodlisteners.com.
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