Return to Spiderland: “Breadcrumb Trail” (2014) Slint Documentary Screening

All four original members of the legendary Louisville post-rock band, Slint, came together last night at Headliners Music Hall to screen Lance Bangs’ rock documentary, “Breadcrumb Trail,” and Louisville Halloween was there to bear witness!

“Just keep in mind for the next few days that we’re in Louisville, Kentucky. Not London. Not even New York. This is a weird place.”

Hunter S. Thompson

This quote from “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” appropriately opens Lance Bangs’ rock documentary, “Breadcrumb Trail,” which recounts the story of four young Louisville musicians who recorded the indie classic record, “Spiderland,” in 1991, then summarily broke up and mysteriously disappeared before the record went on to become considered an underground masterpiece. Louisville is a weird place indeed, these are some strange guys and this is not your typical rock doc.

At first glance, “Breadcrumb Trail” might appear to be a little outside of our wheelhouse at Louisville Halloween, but a careful study of the lyrics on the “Spiderland” record reveals songs about carnivals and fortune tellers (“Breadcrumb Trial”), ancient mariners (“Good morning, Captain”) and silent screen movie vampires (“Nosferatu Man”), and the legacy of Slint defines everything we stand for in “keeping Louisville weird.”

The film played before a sold out, capacity crowd at Headliners Music Hall on April 14, 2014, the night of the first Blood Moon in an upcoming celestial tetrad and the first day of Passover. Apparently, all the stars aligned as all four original members appeared together for an after screening Q & A. Appearing on the panel were vocalist/lyrics writer Brian McMahan, bassist Todd Brashear, lead guitarist Dave Pajo and drummer Britt Walford.

Director Lance Bangs remarked that this was the first time that he and all four members had been together since bass player Todd Brashear’s 10th Anniversary Party of his indie video store, Wild & Woolly Video, seven years ago at this very same venue! (You can read all about Wild & Woolly Video in our feature article: “Breadcrumb Trail” has been a film project over seven years in the making.

“This project started as a live concert DVD project,” said Bangs, “that was going to be the main feature when the band reunited to headline the All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival in England in 2005.”

“I started piecing together interviews with band members in spurts when I would travel to Louisville,” continues Bangs, “to use as bonus features for the live DVD, but then more and more archival and home video footage started to surface that no one had ever seen before. None of this stuff had ever leaked on YouTube or been passed around on bootleg tapes.”

“After I had collected so much of this amazing, unseen footage, it started to become clear to me that the story of this band and this music scene was really the main story, and not the live concert.”

Indeed, the film does contain a gold mine of home shot footage of the band practicing in the basement of drummer Britt Walford’s parents’ home in Jeffersontown, as well as footage of the band performing in a high school “battle of the bands” contest for which they infamously took an hour and a half tuning their instruments before they would play.

Not covering just the conceptual beginnings and the ultimate fallout of “Spiderland,” the film chronicles the whole punk and hardcore music scene that gave birth to Slint in the mid to late 1980s. You’ll meet a host of local characters like Sean “Rat” Garrison who fronted the band, Maurice, with Pajo and Walford when they toured with horror rock icon, Glenn Danzig, in the late 1980s. Danzig went on to produce Garrison’s record for the punk/metal hybrid band, Kinghorse.

The film also features interviews with legendary record producer, Steve Albini, who produced Slint’s first record, “Tweez,” as well as a couple of local musicians who have sadly passed on since their interviews were shot, Jason  Noble of Rodan and Shipping News and Jon Cook, also of Rodan.

As the story of the band unfolds, it becomes clear that Britt Walford was the mad genius of the band; the singular and unpredictable center of creativity that guided the ship. It’s not that Walford seems to want to be the centerpiece of the band, even though in concert his drum kit is generally at the center of the group and the others play their instruments around him, instead of the usual setup of the drum kit at the rear of the stage. He comes across like a reluctant messiah.

I’m lucky enough to have met Britt in person and have been around him in several social situations, and unlike the wild card he is often portrayed in this film where he is accused of destroying Steve Albini’s apartment and defecating in coffee cups, Walford has always struck me more as the quiet, creative and contemplative type. But I suppose we were all eighteen once.

Both he and vocalist, Brian McMahan, are products of the non-traditional J. Graham Brown School which not only focused on the arts but encouraged students to follow subjects of their own interests. The film features footage of young Walford and McMahan running amok amid the hallways of the Brown School, and several questions about their experiences there cropped up during the Q & A.

“Does anyone have any questions about Ballard High School?” joked Todd Brashear about his more traditional education at the Jefferson County public school.

One question at the Q & A shed some light on Slint’s appearance on the soundtrack for Larry Clark’sKids” (1995). “I got a call from Los Angeles, asking us if we’d like to be flown there to watch a movie screening,” says Brian McMahan.

“Um, okay,” McMahan continues. “We get off the plane and are picked up at the airport by a couple pixie-haircut model types in a limousine. They take us back to this office building and we’re taken to a screening room with like maybe four other people in the theater. We have no idea what we’re going to see, and after the movie we just look at each like, ‘That was the worst movie we had ever seen.’”

“Then,” McMahan says, “we were taken back upstairs to an office where there’s a contract already laid out on the table and they hand us pens. They want us to sign off on letting one of our songs appear in the movie. So we say, ‘No thank you, but we don’t think we’re going to do that,’ and they say okay and send us back to the airport.”

“The next week our song shows up the soundtrack release anyway.”

The film ends with an emotional question mark that contemplates the future of the band and its legacy, but for now at least, we already know what the recent future holds. After playing an intimate show tonight, April 15th, at Nelligan Hall on Portland Avenue here in Louisville, Slint will be going on tour (without Brashear) to at least 10 cities across the USA and one date in Barcelona, Spain. They will also be headlining the Forecastle Music Festival here in Louisville from July 18th through July 20th.

Today also marks the release of Touch and Go Records’Spiderland” re-mastered boxed set, limited to 3,138 copies, that includes a vinyl re-master of the original record, a vinyl of outtakes and demos, both records on CD, a 104 page book with over 100 never-before-seen photos and the “Breadcrumb Trail” documentary.

Why 3,138 copies? It all ties back into Louisville’s love of both horror and punk rock. Slint’s “Spiderland” cover photographer and local music legend in his own right, Will Oldham, was a huge fan of Glenn Danzig’s original horror punk band, the Misfits, and his follow up project, Samhain, who toured with and befriended members of Slint while on the road with Maurice in the late 1980s.

Danzig had written a punk anthem for the Misfits called “We are 138,” which many believe references George Lucas’ dystopian science fiction opus, “THX 1138,” about a future society that has become more “android than man.” To this day, many horror punk fans identify themselves with the number 138.

Dave Pajo related a story at the Q & A regarding a car accident Brian McMahan had while recording the “Spiderland” record in Chicago. “Britt and Brian stopped to help someone whose car was broken down by the side of the highway. Brian got out and was hit by a car, smashed into its front windshield and thrown across the street.”

“The medics showed up,” Pajo continues, “and I don’t think he was even breathing at that point. We thought he was dead. We were kind of shouting his name to him and asking him if he could hear us.”

“Suddenly he opens his eyes and says, ‘138’! We figured he was going to be alright at that point.”

The Phantom of The Ville

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