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Burn to Shine - An Interview Wtih Brendan Canty

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Brendan Canty talks to Dusted about Burn to Shine, his new DVD series chronicling a day in the life of a city's music scene, filmed in locations slated for destruction.

Burn to Shine - An Interview Wtih Brendan Canty

Burn to Shine sounds like a grand conceptual piece: a DVD series chronicling the music scene in towns throughout the country, filmed on a single day, in a place that no longer exists. Find a house scheduled for demolition, invite bands to play their throughout the day, film each band for an hour, and then film the demolition of the site – it sounds like a plan that would hatch after spending an afternoon mulling the impermanence of art. So it’s worth noting that the idea didn’t really come about that way.

As Brendan Canty, drummer for Fugazi, multi-instrumentalist in Garland of Hours, and producer of the Burn to Shine series explains, the idea for the first volume, shot in Washington, DC in January, 2004, came about in stages. “My friend offered the house, and we thought we’d do something there and film it. At that time, everyone [in DC] was kind of thrown into a state of flux. Everyone was working on stuff, but I didn’t know what that stuff was.”

So Canty decided to gather together different bands from DC in the hope of hearing everyone’s latest work, and film the results. “My directive to the bands was, ‘I would like you to play what you are working on right now’….The impulse was to take a photograph of people in relationships, and to, at that exact moment, get a sense of what everyone was working on.” Canty offers, as an illustration of the sort of project he had in mind, Art Kane’s famous 1958 photograph, “A Great Day in Harlem,” which brought together 57 jazz legends on the steps of a Harlem brownstone. The idea was simply to memorialize some of the work DC musicians were putting out in early 2004, and, Canty said, “it was initially a one-off thing.”

The project eventually included eight bands: Q and Not U, The Evens, Garland of Hours, Medications, Weird War, French Toast, Ted Leo, and Bob Mould. Each played for an hour in the house in Bethesda, to an audience made up of Canty, director Christoph Green, and their production crew. The daytime shoot was an accommodation to the residential location – the figured it would be easier to play while everyone in the neighborhood was at work – and the hour time-slot was an accommodation to the bands’ schedules. “The one-song-each idea was a functionality issue for the shoot, and an hour per band would work.”

After that first shoot, the final piece of the concept fell into place. “It wasn’t until we shot the first one that it dawned on me that we could do this in other cities.” In September 2004, Canty and Green shot the second volume in a townhouse on the north end of Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. Curated by Shellac’s Bob Weston, the Chicago edition features entrenched members of the music scene like Tortoise mixed in with up-and-comers like Pit Er Pat, and household names like Wilco mixed in with longtime cult favorites like Freakwater. A third volume, filmed in Portland, curated by the Decemberist’s Chris Funk, and featuring the Decemberists, Sleater-Kinney, the Thermals, the Shins, the Gossip, and others, is currently in the editing process. “You can tell who’s up for the job of curating an event – you just find someone who’s totally rabid. ‘You gotta do this, you gotta do this…’” For all the direction that they provide, however, the curators have all bought in to the project’s central vision – finding a mixture of rising and established bands, and getting them to play the music that they’re working on at the time.

Filming the subsequent volumes has presented its own challenges. “Finding the house is the most difficult thing,” Canty acknowledged, although even after finding a location, “most of the challenge is making sure that the bands are in town on the same day.” On the day of the shoot, there’s also anxiety over bands that are running late or that may have to cancel. The whole thing,” he concludes, “is kind of a masochistic experience.”

While Canty is planning future volumes once the Portland DVD is complete, he cautioned that he wanted to take his time producing and promoting each new release, to “try and put out the product that you want to put out.” The Chicago and Washington, DC volumes were produced with an obvious degree of care. Director Christoph Green shoots in gorgeous high-definition video, and Canty himself narrates the beginning of each disc, offering details about each house – that the house in Chicago was the last remaining of three identical houses that a man had supposedly built for each of his three daughters, and that the last owner of the house in Bethesda had died there just short of her ninety-fourth birthday.

It’s those details that make “Burn to Shine” so impressive. Because while it may not have begun as a meditation on the impermanence of art, it still inspires viewers to think historically about the bands they may see playing every month at a local club. Houses are built and demolished, and in each cycle we lose the personal history rooted in that place. Likewise, as our listening habits from one it city to another – Seattle, to Omaha, to Montreal, to Glasgow – we lose sight of the deep connections among bands in the same city, and the way in which those connections foster creativity. So it’s good to be reminded of just how much interesting music is being written in any one place at any given time.

By Tom Zimpleman

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