Duff McKagan steps into a more modest and merry reality with a new music movie.
It’s the night before Christmas Eve, and though temperatures have sunk to teeth-chattering levels in West Seattle, the Feedback Lounge is almost uncomfortably cozy and getting warmer every moment. Rambunctious regulars of the rock ’n’ roll–themed local watering hole, including tipsy members of a Clinton-era high school reunion, crowd the main bar area while the gregarious bar staff tries valiantly to keep up with demand.
(from left) Duff McKagan, Mike Squires and director Jamie Chamberlin at the Feedback Lounge; photograph by Christopher Nelson
The club’s auxiliary serving area in the back, whimsically named the “Whammy Bar,” has been transformed into a temporary film set. Cables slither across the floor and over the glass-topped counter filled with owner Jeff Gilbert’s vintage concert ticket stub collection, which is now partially obscured by recording equipment. The rear of the venue has been converted into a makeshift green room, with a white drape, a row of chairs and signage designating privacy. Lighting techs and cameramen buzz about the room, making adjustments and heeding the instructions of director Jamie Chamberlin, who is peering thoughtfully through a lens and periodically responding to his frequently buzzing cell phone.
The crowd is sprinkled with music types, from radio personalities and perennial scenesters to instantly recognizable figures, such as Soundgarden bassist Ben Shepherd, whose imposing frame can’t be missed as he makes his way through the crowd for a smoke out v front. Shepherd’s recently resurrected band has its own shrine of swag and memorabilia in another display case separating the front room from the Whammy Bar.While I’m killing time looking at set lists from the Superunknown tour and being baffled by a questionably conceived promotional item (an inflatable rubber hand that actually says “Hands All Over” on it), the object of all the hullabaloo slips in quietly through the back door.
Former Guns ’n’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan begins setting up with his band Loaded to perform a few songs from The Taking, his forthcoming album set for release in March and the subject of Chamberlin’s film. They launch into a song addressing the ravages of cocaine, and McKagan notes with gallows humor that he is currently recovering from sinus surgery to repair damage from that very substance. It’s an unscripted and darkly funny moment.
Feedback Lounge patrons are witnessing the making of a film that is not purely documentary: it’s a hybrid of the traditional music doc, loosely structured vignettes and raw live footage, plus an opportunity for McKagan to pull in many of his longtime Seattle pals for some slapstick cameo action. In other words, it’s a film focusing on musicians who would rather keep the focus on the mischievous and musical elements of their careers, rather than their well-worn backstory and the drama that accompanies it.
I ask McKagan how this film compares to the lavish music videos he made with Guns ’n’ Roses in the late ’80s and early ’90s. “I don’t think anything that GNR did film-wise really plays into the making of this movie,” says McKagan.
The project began just four short months ago, when Chamberlin, formerly of Los Angeles, chose to stay in West Seattle after wrapping up post-production on his last project, a documentary on ZZ Top. “Finding and choosing Jamie were a couple of fine examples of serious serendipity,” says McKagan. Loaded and ZZ Top shared a management company, Sanctuary Management, which also watches over the careers of such high-profile acts as Fleetwood Mac and Velvet Revolver, McKagan’s other project with his former GNR bandmates. When Loaded decided to make a feature-length film to accompany the release of its new album, Sanctuary, suggested Chamberlin.
A week after the Feedback Lounge shoot, I have a chance to speak with Chamberlin as we sip tequila in the upper bar at the Mission in West Seattle, where Chamberlin is co-hosting a private New Year’s Eve party for the neighborhood’s old-school music cognoscenti. “I wanted to do another project here in the Northwest, and I wasn’t sure what that entailed,” says Chamberlin of the Loaded film. It’s impressive that he has time to engage in side projects; his deadline for a working cut of his ZZ Top documentary coincides with Loaded’s appearance at South by Southwest in mid-March.
Between documenting the band in the studio and onstage, Chamberlin has captured plenty of glorious goofball moments: Presidents of the United States of America front man Chris Ballew checking Loaded guitarist Mike Squires into a hotel while playing a ukulele; Long Winters leader John Roderick indulging in both a foot fetish and a ribald game of Scrabble; and Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil encountering McKagan at a local pawnshop. Chamberlin also hopes to rope Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters into the circus during an upcoming shoot scheduled in LA.
The inherent pressure of tight timeframes and the kitschy, pratfall-filled cameos are actually what’s making the project work in Chamberlin’s eyes. “You could shoot a four-minute song and blow five million dollars for the big, epic, glossy thing, or you could spend five thousand dollars and shoot something that’s way more personal and organic. I feel like that is coming through in working with Loaded right now. And part of that is because it’s been so hard to shoot, that we kind of just point the cameras and go and see what we get,” he laughs. •