Rwake Live DVD Preview: A Stone, A Leaf, An Unfound Door
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One of my bigger regrets as a music fan is my failure to keep a record of the live shows I’ve attended. I never got into the habit as a teenager because I assumed — as teenagers do — that I’d effortlessly preserve clear memories of every gig I ever set foot in. Of course, after ten years and several hundred such events, I mostly remember an undifferentiated blur of black t-shirts and body odor.
But some live performances cannot be forgotten, even by me. Rwake’s set at Maryland Deathfest X on May 30, 2012 was one of them. Fest sets are often derailed by poor sound or unpleasant audience conditions, but everything came together for that performance. The band was finishing their touring cycle behind 2011’s Rest, and it showed; they balanced grit and clarity exquisitely. Rest was an important album for me, and I clearly remember being moved nearly to tears by the performance.
Words can draw only flat and dreary sketches of a band’s live show. Fortunately for those who weren’t there, Rwake has partnered with longtime MDF documentarian David Hall of Handshake Inc. to create a full-length film version of this performance. Rwake’s music twists like a hallucination, and A Stone, A Leaf, an Unfound Door follows suit: Hall squeezes live set footage through kaleidoscopic filters and collages it with enigmatic woodland sequences. The vibe is appropriate, and the sound quality is nearly flawless — a true rarity among live metal recordings.
I recently caught up with Hall to discuss the film. A Stone, A Leaf, an Unfound Door will be screened at the upcoming Housecore Horror Film Festival; check out the lineup here, as well as recent IO interviews with Housecore participants Eyehategod and Lord Dying.
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You filmed a lot of different bands at last year’s MDF. Why did you choose Rwake’s set for a stand-alone movie?
I’ve been a massive fan of Rwake since 2008. Ironically, John Judkins, the current bass player for Rwake, turned me on to the band back in ‘08 when he was playing bass for Today is the Day. Seeing Rwake at MDF was my first time seeing the band live for me, and it felt really special, as corny as that sounds. Watching them just gave me this vibe of like, “Man, this is the closest thing to seeing Led Zeppelin I’ll ever get" – it moved me that much. So when it came time to edit the footage, that feeling was still there. It transcended all up my brain and was just way too good to not release as a full set. CT, the singer of Rwake, and I have become good friends over the past year or so. I showed him the full set, he shared it with the band, and we all dug it and decided to roll from there.
The sound quality for A Stone, a Leaf, an Unfound Door is excellent. What was the sound editing process like? Is the recording straight from the soundboard?
That’s seriously the best compliment you could have given me, because recording live audio has been the bane of my fucking existence over the past five years. Recording great live audio is typically directly proportional to how much cash you have to spend, and as an independent filmmaker, cash is something one can’t find very much of. My crew and I have had to get really inventive and rely on the passion of people who love music and are willing to help record audio for a cunt-hair fraction of the price they would normally get paid.
There are three people responsible for the great audio on the Rwake film: Noah Gary, the soundman who ran sound inside the Sonar last year; Surachai Sutthisasanakul, an extremely talented musician and audio freak who luckily lets me harass him for advice on audio (he recorded all the outdoor sets for the new MDF movie too); and lastly, Brad Boatright. Brad is a guitarist and vocalist in From Ashes Rise, but also an extremely talented and passionate audio engineer. He mastered the audio for the film and I’m super happy with the results!
The title of the film comes from Thomas Wolfe’s novel Look Homeward, Angel. What led you to settle on that particular phrase?
Thomas Wolfe is one of my favorite authors, and I find great similarity between his style, ethos and subject matter and Rwake’s music and lyrics. Both Rwake and Wolfe see the oppressive beauty and mystical hex of nature and the world we live in. Both Rwake and Wolfe use stream-of-consciousness writing to shape and express their feelings about what it means to be alive, and both Rwake and Wolfe use imagery from the Southern American landscape to create lush vistas of art. I have a real affinity for Southern writers and often read Faulkner, Steinberg, Wolfe and Cormac McCarthy while listening to Rwake, and the band just seems to be the perfect soundtrack for Southern writing…almost a frontier, Pilgrim’s Progress kind of vibe, and not just because the authors and the band are from the South, but because they all take inspiration from the physical, spiritual, and metaphorical landscape they come from.
So, CT and I had a few discussions about the concert film and we both wanted to have a title for the film, a real humdinger that wasn’t just “Rwake live at…". So I started flipping through a few of my favorite books and came across the “A stone, a leaf, an unfound door…" passage in Look Homeward Angel, and it just clicked. That passage is really about the dichotomy of man vs. nature, and who we are as humans: these masses of flesh and bone, confined to our bodies, confined to this earth. Where did we come from, and how did we get here, and if we wanted to, how do we get back? Who the fuck are we? So I suggested the title to CT, and he and the band dug it, so we rolled with it.
A Stone, a Leaf, an Unfound Door is mostly concert footage, but the live material is interspersed with narrative segments. Can you shed some light on them?
I’m surprised you find the non-concert footage narrative, haha. I can’t really remember how we decided to use non-concert footage, to be honest. I think it stems from the idea of having a creative title for the film: infusing the whole project with some concepts that go beyond the act of listening to and watching a concert. I have a collection of footage I’ve gathered over the years—scenes from other projects that never got used, or times when I go out on a spirit quest in the woods near my place and take my camera with me, or stuff I’ve shot wandering around small towns really late at night when no one is around. I walk through neighborhoods and peek in through windows or break into barns or meet up with teenagers up to no good. it’s amazing what kind of footage you can get by just being a jerk and going where you don’t belong.
Anyway, I had a bunch of footage and went out and shot some more footage and started cutting it to the Rwake MDF concert audio. I’d show it to CT and he’d talk with the band, making suggestions to use snippets of audio and samples from their other albums and such. It all sort of came together organically.
What was the most challenging part of putting this movie together? What was the most rewarding part?
The most challenging part for me, personally, was creating something the band would be happy with and proud of. I consider it a big responsibility when a band lets you inside their magic circle and gives you access to their thoughts and ideas and music. So maintaining a level of creative quality that matches the band’s output is sort of what I strive for. It was also a challenge cutting the concert footage, because we had five angles of awesome shit and so you wanna make sure you’re using the most ideal shots. But in the end I feel it all came together, and the final cut of the concert footage feels really seamless to me.
The most rewarding part was getting to revisit that moment in time at MDF when Rwake played over and over. It’s corny as fuck, but I would literally get goose-bumps watching a lot of the footage because after working with the MDF footage for a while, you start to feel like you’re there. You can smell that amazing indoor MDF smell: air conditioning, beer, sweat, ozone and sunlight. You see your friends on stage and in the crowd, and obviously, the performance and the music. It made me feel like I was at MDF all over again. And also the finished film—it was rewarding to reach the end and have a movie that both the band and myself are really happy with.