Glorious Noise has been a longtime supporter of the Columbus, Ohio band Two Cow Garage. They represent everything right about independent music—from their incredible energy on stage and development as musicians and performers, to their Do It Yourself attitude, dedication to the road, and genuine appreciation of each and every fan. They are proof of GLONO’s motto: rock and roll can change your life. Rock and roll took these three guys together and transported them out of Smalltown, Ohio into the wide open spaces of this great country. But GLONO is just one signal in a cacophony of noise devoted to great music, so it’s heartwarming to find another voice trumpeting Two Cow’s greatness.
John Boston says the idea to shoot a documentary on Two Cow Garage came up over dinner with his wife. Frustrated that a band so great was struggling to reach out beyond a handful of fans in any given town, he wished aloud that someone could tell their story and show how there are still bands out there doing it “for the right reasons.” These were guys with no traditional musical education, nor any guidance, out there doing what they loved. It was then that Boston’s wife pointed out the obvious, that he should do what HE loved and just make the film himself. After all, why not take a DIY approach to making a documentary about the ultimate DIY band? (Watch the trailer (7MB mov).)
Boston is 34 years old and struggling with the same philosophical issues those of us who grew up knowing Punk as not so much an attitude as a philosophy. How do we maintain integrity when faced with boring jobs that offer security and money and all the things we so easily dismiss in our teens as so many poisoned apples? Sure, our parents had nice houses, but it’d be a cold day in Hell before we put on a suit and went to a job we hated every day! But then we graduate college and start to long for the minor comforts of a nice place to live and a second-hand car. So, we take those jobs but keep playing in bands, or participate in local theater, or launch music criticism websites.
Having studied at NYU before moving to Chicago, a city with a thriving independent theater scene, Boston works as an administrative assistant while he continues to explore acting and now filmmaking. Glorious Noise sat down with Boston at a north side Chicago bar to discuss his film and the band that inspired it.
GLONO: There are loads of independent bands out there recording and touring without label support. Why did you decide to focus on Two Cow Garage?
Boston: I’d actually gotten to know them a little bit. I’d seen them at [Chicago venue] Martyr’s and then again, like two weeks later, at Twang Off. It was [Two Cow singer] Micah’s 21st birthday and they were just so passionate about what they were doing. They were also so optimistic. I just wanted to capture that spirit. I mean, will they still have that in two years?
GLONO: They live pretty hard.
Yeah, and that wears. I wanted to capture this point in their lives.
GLONO: Does your involvement in the theater scene here relate to their situation? Is there a similarity? Does the theater world have a comparable indie scene?
Just look at the store front theaters in this town. It’s the exact same thing. There’s a guy I know who’s truly a great actor, but he goes to his day job and then acts at night and on the weekends. He knows full well that he’s never going to reach that 2% level where you’re in movies and on TV, never mind that fraction of a percentage who are celebrities. But he does it because the joy is in doing it.
GLONO: You’ve mentioned to me that you’ve sort of removed yourself from pop culture, that you can’t even name a Franz Ferdinand song.
That’s right, I can’t.
GLONO: C’mon, “Take Me Out” is on every 30 seconds on TV.
I’m sure I’ve heard it but I couldn’t identify it. I guess I’m more into bands that drive themselves to shows. I like to know that every dollar I spend on them actually goes to them and what they’re doing. I’m also a bit of a snob and won’t pay $40 to sit 40 feet away. The exception being Dylan.
GLONO: So how did you come to Two Cow Garage?
I like straightforward rock. I like music that comes from the gut. I also love seeing a band in an intimate space that is so intense. I suppose it started when I used to Wilco at Lounge Ax years ago and then you sort of hear about other bands like that and one thing leads to another.
GLONO: So you contacted the band and told them your idea?
I contacted their manager Chris Flint and told him I wanted to film the band recording their new album. He told me he wasn’t sure there’d be anything worth watching [laughs]. I mean, he said the band all got along really well and there wasn’t much drama. They’re really three guys who work together and have the same idea about music.
GLONO: So that attitude on stage isn’t a put on? I’ve never seen a band so gracious and thankful for their fans.
It’s all totally true. They love what they’re doing. But when Chris told me there wasn’t any drama in the band, I was relieved. I didn’t want to do another cliché “Behind the Music” band documentary where they just completely fall apart and hate each other. Dig! [the Brian Jonestown documentary] is a great movie, and I even saw Anton Newcombe at South by Southwest, but I didn’t want to say hello because he just seemed like such a dick in that movie. I mean, everyone in that movie was just so…I don’t know.
Yeah, I guess. And I also didn’t want to make [the Wilco documentary] I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.
GLONO: Where band members get fired during the filming?
Right. It’s just become sort of a cliché to have a band disintegrate on film. Two Cow are just such great guys and I think that comes through.
GLONO: But there is a compelling story there, albeit not one with a conventional Hollywood ending.
Yeah, the other cliché where the band struggles and then gets signed at the end. I’m sure the guys would have loved it, but I didn’t necessarily want to have the closing shot be them signing a big fat contract and going on to be rich and famous.
GLONO: And they even acknowledge in the film that it isn’t a realistic future for them anyways. There’s the great segment of them in the van driving to the next venue and Micah’s talking about how they just want to be at a level that bands like Drive By Truckers and even Slobberbone have reached, which is to say, not very high in the whole scheme of things.
Right, they really just want to do this for living. They’re very realistic about things; they understand they’re not an MTV band. But they do see bands out there who have carved out their own thing and can make a living doing what they love to do.
GLONO: That’s a pretty rare understanding for a young band. Most people get into bands thinking that at some point there’d be some fame and fortune, at least that’s the idea when you start a band so young. Why do you think they haven’t fallen for that old joke?
Their upbringings have certainly influenced their attitudes. They all come from working families. I mean, essentially, they’re blue-collar Midwesterners.
GLONO: Yeah, but blue-collar families have aspirations too and everyone dreams of being rich.
Oh yeah, and I would say their taste in music has influenced their sensibilities too. They’re in it to be musicians, just like the bands they look up to. They also have a very high respect for the art of it all. Micah is especially vicious about sussing a band and knowing if they’re in it for the right reason. He has no respect for bands who aren’t.
GLONO: But the grim realities of a touring independent band, which your film captures so well, can wear that down pretty quick.
It’s a testament partially to youth and what they’ve been through. [Bassist] Shane says in the film that he was lower, lower, lower class, so he’s used to not having anything. It’s not a big deal to him because he didn’t come from some comfortable life and then throw it away to go on the road.
GLONO: I thought it was touching how supportive all their parents are in the interviews for the film. I get the sense that Shane’s mom is most worried for her son though.
Well, he did get into Ohio State and I think she wanted him to finish there to have something to fall back on. You know, all these guys are so smart and could all easily get into college and do whatever they want. Well, this is what they want.
GLONO: So after you contacted Chris Flint with the idea, what came next?
There was about two months from the time I contacted Chris until I started filming, which was good because I didn’t know what I was doing. I looked into renting a camera and then found the model I wanted for sale pretty cheap, so I bought it. I have a buddy at Columbia who is an editor and he showed me a few tips on editing. I bought a Mac and editing software and just dug into it on my own. I had several episodes of losing my mind because I would take two weeks to edit two minutes of film to get it right and how I saw it in my head.
GLONO: Welcome to the DIY world.
Right. But the original concept of the film was to just shoot them recording their next album and I went down to Texas where they were recording with Brent Best of Slobberbone and Matt Pence of Centromatic. But then it grew into “What next?”
GLONO: Well, the live show is such a strong part of who this band is.
Yeah, and the fact that they tour like they do is such a huge part of their story. And to really capture who they are, I had to go on the road with them. I’ll tell you though, I did have one moment of anxiety when I was checking into my hotel in Texas and wondering if my instincts were right, I mean, I didn’t even know these guys.
GLONO: And so you followed them for a year?
Yeah, but that wasn’t planned. It just so happened that South By Southwest was almost exactly a year from when I started filming and that felt like the ending I was looking for.
GLONO: Triumphant, but again not exactly the happy ending one might expect.
No, but life is a continuation; this band is a continuation. I wanted to leave a sense that these guys go on after the film ends.
GLONO: So what’s next?
I have a couple things in mind. I could make five films on Chicago bands alone. I’m not very interested in doing anything on a big band though, I mean, every band has a DVD out now.
You can catch a viewing of The Long Way Around: One Badass Year With Two Cow Garage this Wednesday, November 9 at the Hideout in Chicago with GLONO’s own Riviera opening. True to the indie spirit, Two Cow Garage gets a percentage of every DVD sold. Boston plans to submit the film to a handful of festivals this year and “see what happens.” Watch the trailer (7MB mov).
If you’ve never heard Two Cow, you really have to see them live to fully appreciate how truly great they are. Their recordings, while very good, simply cannot do the band justice. Nevertheless, “Alphabet City” is a damn fine song and you should listen to the mp3. There’s more music available on their site.