Dan Woods has no training in film or journalism. He's not a musician. He's never been affiliated with any professional media outlet. He dropped out of an Anchorage high school 18 years ago and slowly made his way south, working construction and clerking in record stores. He currently supports himself projecting classic Kinks 'n' Cure footage 'round Portland bars as VJ Dantronix—yet somehow, absent budget, connections or any possible sense, he has compiled the definitive indie field recordings for the video generation.
It's the pipe dream of every other tweener first glimpsing "alternative music" to film the ultimate rockumentary. But, at the end of the day, you can't meet every band. What about….
Belle & Sebastian? "I set up a Scottish tea set on a tartan tablecloth—the Murdoch tartan—and hung some bagpipe records just to give it a Glasgow feel."
The Flaming Lips? "Wayne [Coyne] and Steven [Drozd] took me to their trailer, this was near Pier 62/63 in Seattle, and the smoke machine and bubble machine had been left on."
Yes? "Jon Anderson just called me one day, and he was like, 'Daniel? You emailed about some film.' At first I didn't know who I was on the phone with."
Keep going—Dantronix can play this game as long as you'd like. He says he's collared Jarvis Cocker backstage at his sole Northwest appearance, cajoled an old Ozone co-worker to interview Phoenix in French, helped Franz Ferdinand search out a ventriloquist's dummy, brought Courtney Taylor-Taylor to an Alaskan fur factory and, somehow, wrangled face time with the Garbo/Salinger/Holy Grail of modern rock: Kraftwerk.
"I sent three emails to Wolfgang Flür, convincing him I was really passionate about their music, that my vision of the film wouldn't be complete without Kraftwerk," Woods says. "After four months, he agreed to the interview, but said he didn't travel much."
Woods arrived in Düsseldorf the following month. The interview was conducted in German. Woods does not know German. Nor did he have an interpreter on hand. He learned the questions phonetically so Flür could expound in his native tongue.
Woods' methods are instinctual, directly opposite the unspoken rules of rock journalism, and, somehow, they always work. In a darkened room (mid-day at Lola's), one doesn't just set up their tripod facing the sun and throw the two men conversing into shadow (this footage finds Woods on the opposite side of the table from Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo), but the inevitable effect helplessly, enchantingly reminds the viewer of an animated Hopper painting. One doesn't just yell band names at LCD Soundsystem's frontman, but then, James Murphy shouldn't so suddenly lose all hipster reserve and wax poetic about A-Ha. Then again, unaffiliated press shouldn't land a chat with Murphy in the first place. Nor Sonic Youth. For Kraftwerk, the New York Times should doubt its chances.
"I email them," Woods explains of his subjects. "I call them. I call their management. Sometimes I wait till they come to town and hit 'em up on the spot. Philip Glass, Yoko Ono, Brian Eno—those would be three that I'd really like to get. Lindsey Buckingham, maybe. I'm working on getting Willie Nelson."
Around 1999, Woods first moved to Portland and started a zine called Ponyrock, which actually maintained schedule, earned profits and won the attention of his favorite acts so easily that he thought he may as well film the conversations. "I stopped doing the magazine and started compiling interviews with the idea that I'd eventually get enough to edit them together for this music documentary. Why do these people get into music? What do they get out of it? Why do they continue to do it, and how do they hope to be remembered?"
Without investors, he funds the documentary through VJ gigs and various freelance projects. He's just finished directing the music video (Woods' first—see a clip at LocalCut.com) for Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks' single "Gardenia"—a typically modest effort featuring Ratatat, Sam Adams and Girl Talk alongside members of Weezer, Modest Mouse and the Cribs. Woods asked Malkmus, of course, for the opportunity—confronting him post-secret Satyricon gig, rocking a homemade tee with a puff-painted replica of Malkmus' album cover—but they'd known each other for a while.
"Eric Erlandson from Hole and I were hanging out in Seattle in 1994," Woods recalls. "He said he was going to see this band called Pavement and that I should check them out. I'd never heard of them before, actually...I really enjoyed it. It resonated with me. And ever since then I've…I've been a fan."
The "Gardenia Party" premiere of the new Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks "Gardenia" video will be held at Valentine's, Sunday, Aug. 16, at 9 pm. Dantronix VJ's weekly at Ringlers (Thursdays), Berbati's Pan (Fridays) and Aalto Lounge (Sundays). All events free.