Kool Kat of the Week: Joel Burkhart Plans on Doing Something With It; AM Gold Throws a CD Release Party at the Star Bar

Posted on: Sep 27th, 2012 By:

AM Gold at Oakland Cemetary. Photo credit: David Batterman.

By Torchy Taboo
Contributing Writer

My radio was my best friend from grade school all through college. I knew every word to every song and spent my teen years trying to stretch my tiny hands across the frets to eke out “Smoke on the Water” like the rest of my artsy friends. An Atlanta band has emerged called AM Gold that speaks to the growed-up heart looking for that “me and my radio” feeling. They will celebrate the release of their first CD, PLANNING ON DOING SOMETHING WITH IT, this Friday September 28 at the Star Bar with Higher Choir and My Rebel Episode.  A dream-team of an outfit, they’re fronted by this week’s Kool Kat guitarist Joel Burkhart, who was good enough to give ATLRetro the back-story on growing up in the glory days of AM radio, his past bands and Star Bar shenanigans.

Torchy/ATLRetro: Tell me about AM Gold.

Joel Burkhart: AM Gold started as a dream. Several nights in a row I had this dream of a band playing on the top of a hill. There was sunlight behind them so all I could see were the long shadows of the band cascading down the hill. The golden rays of the sun eclipsing any details other then the shadows of the people playing. The sound was a chorus of voices, not heavenly like a choir but more earthly and gritty. I heard them singing these lines:

“These are the songs we like to sing
Makes us forget most everything
This is the way that I want to feel
Soft as love and strong as steel.”

After the third or fourth night of this dream, I picked up the guitar and wrote that song. Then I started putting together the band. I knew it would possibly be the last band I ever put together so it had to be amazing. It had to have great players but this time it also had to have great singers. This was going to be all about the words and the melodies. If I wanted them to shine I had to get the right people to be in the chorus.

I have played with Jim [Stacy], Eric [Young] and Jeff [Langston] for years and knew what they were capable of. Jim Stacy has been a lead singer/frontman for many years with Greasepaint, LaBrea Stompers and Little Women and sings with me in The Downers. He was first on the list, but I asked him last because I didn’t think he’d want to be in another band with me. Jeff plays with me in Bully but has also fronted his own bands (Ledfoot Messiah, Ritual, Flathead Fuel) for years. He is quite possibly the best male vocalist in Atlanta that no one knows about. Eric has been my drummer through Mulberry Street, Bully, The Downer Brothers and now AM Gold. Along the way he started singing back-ups and is one of the best singing drummers around. He also makes playing drums look as easy as breathing. Musically I have never played with a better drummer. I have a hard time imagining my songs with anyone else playing drums on them.

When it came time to complete the rhythm section, there has always been a combination that I wanted to hear together. I had Eric and now I was lucky enough to get Blake [Parris] to say yes also. Blake is this town’s hidden treasure. Someday someone who can pay him properly for his services is going to come and take him on the road and we won’t ever see him again. Blake is an amazing bass player and singer – probably one of the best -but he can play almost anything: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, lead, rhythm, banjo, lap steel, pedal steel, keys… I really bet that you could give him a trombone, and in 15 minutes he would have a proper part written for a song. There is nothing that I can play or sing that won’t be made significantly better with Blake. He could just sit onstage with anyone and make then sound better. Seriously.

The final piece to the puzzel was a keyboard player. The only person that even crossed my mind was Jett [Bryant]. While he is not one given to the art of practice, he is one of the best damn singers in the game of rock and roll. He knocked’em dead in the Rock City Dropouts and kills it every night with Bigfoot. With AM Gold, he is pitch perfect and brings the pretty. I am sure that this is the most professional band I have ever played with. Practices and rehearsals are exciting and fun. We always have fun playing shows and hell, on top of all of that, we like each other. We all genuinely like being in the same room and shooting the shit. When the 6 of us are playing and singing together it is magic. There is no other word for it.

Joel, where are you from? Did you grow up listening to AM radio?

Joel: I am originally from Detroit. Lived there until the age of 5. Lived in farm country – Tecumseh,MI – for a few years before moving to Brighton, Michigan. I spent the 1980s as a mall rat in the suburbs. I moved to Atlanta when I turned 19 [in 1989].

Totally grew up listening to AM radio early on in Detroit – WJBK, WXYZ and CKLW. Later listened to commercial FM Radio – WRIF, WLLZ – and the college stations from University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University.

Joel Burkhart. Photo Credit: John McNicholas.

Do you write much aside from lyrics and when did you first start writing songs?

You know, I used to write all the time. I have notebooks and notebooks of stuff. Poems, short stories, essays, laundry lists – actual and metaphysical – good, bad, everything,  As I have gotten older, I write less but the quality seems to be higher. I think that comes with being married and having kids, but also realizing who I am and what I want to say. When I do put pen to paper these days, there is probably a song there.

I started writing songs pretty late, I think. I was in my mid-teens when I first learned enough chords to have two different parts to a song. Unfortunately the first one sounds a lot like “Under The Milky Way Tonight” by The Church and the second one sounds a lot like “Boys Don’t Cry” by The Cure. It really wasn’t until a few years ago that I started to think I was writing my own songs that sounded like me. I think that’s part of the process: writing and writing and writing until you find your own voice.

Who were your earliest musical influences that stuck with you?

I think like most kids you listen to what is around you at the time, and my earliest influences were from my relatives. Whether it was my cousins listening to Elvis, Chicago, Kiss or Steve Miller; my grandfather listening to hits from the ’40s and ’50s; my grandmother playing WWII ballads on her Wurlitzer; or my uncle’s Rare Earth, Kansas and Yes records, it all influenced me. Some of the best memories I have are driving around singing “Afternoon Delight” [Starland Vocal Band] or “What’s Going On” [Marvin Gaye] along with my mother. Detroit radio was some of the best in the country in the ’70s, and my mother, in particular, was pretty influential in my early years. She loved music and loved singing; whether it was rock, soul or country, she listened to it all. Our record collection had Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka, Paul Williams, Barbra Streisand and the Bee Gees. Another big record that stuck with me was Tom T. Hall record SONGS OF FOX HOLLOW – For Children of All Ages. My grandmother gave that to me. I wore that thing out.

Who’d you listen to that makes you ask, “What was I thinking?  and how’d you ‘take their sad song ‘n make it betta’? Even the questionable influences of childhood can positively shape budding creativity, right?

When I was a young child, we had one of those small Imperial portable record players and I would go from room to room when my parents had parties putting on my “show.” I would carry my record player, my yardstick – which doubled as microphone and guitar – and my favorite record, Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” b\w “Delta Dawn.” I would sing through side one, take my break and then sing through side two. Man, I could rock that shit.

While there was some questionable hair metal that I listened to in the ’80s – TnT, Krokus, Helix anyone? – I can’t really disavow it in good conscience. They are all colors in my crayon box so to speak. Some people are great at painting with one color; I’m not. All of the music that I have listened to tends to find its place in the songs that I write for my different bands.

Before the Star Bar sound booth days, what was your worst day job, and did I hear the residue of that angst in your band Bully?

I did death scene clean up for almost two years. It was miserable work, didn’t pay very well, boss was a dick. That was very influential in the Bully songwriting process. “Quitter,” “Spit,” “I Don’t Feel Well,” “2nd Drawer Down.” All from that period of time. I’d come home pissed off and beat, fire up the bong, hit the Jaeger and let it all out. Thankfully my work life is less stressful now, but I think that was what life is supposed to be like in your 20s, living hard and carefree.

What was it like working sound at the Star Bar? Favor us with a story of your days in the booth.

So much to tell – Jim Stacy and I once spent 30 minutes trying to get a G string on Hasil Adkins’ guitar while a nearly sold-out house waited impatiently. He had a box of old guitar strings he carried with him, every one of them old and rusty. Just looking at the box gave me tetanus. For some reason, none of them were the right one.

Once we had a kid who was trying to promote some shows – this particular one with Har Mar Superstar – have a breakdown on stage. He started calling out the booker of the club, the owners, the bartenders and finally me. He told the room filled with people I had stolen his guitar and amplifier – which I believe he had left in a friend’s car or sold for meth – and that he wasn’t a “fat, jaded motherfucker” like me. I, for sure, took the brunt of it, I guess because he was on stage staring right at me. I think most everyone thought I was going to kill his mic (or him), but I just let him keep going until he tuckered himself out. He ended up going to a mental hospital a week or so later. Pretty weird.

But I also had some great, amazing memories there. The Ex-Husbands blowing everyone away with an out of left field, dead-on cover of “War Pigs” [Black Sabbath], followed by “Beating around the Bush” by AC\DC.

I remember that!

Alejandro Escovedo bringing over 200 people to complete silence with the breathtaking-ness of his songs; The Drive-By Truckers playing an Atlantis Music Conference and just weeping over the song “Heathens,” knowing things would never be the same for them after that night. That stage is magic.

AM Gold. Photo credit: David Batterman.

As I was on the road last year, I heard a lot of BS about how listening to Johnny Cash was a hipster trait and therefore passe. What would you say to that labeling?

One of the bonuses of being older is that I don’t know if it’s hipster or not. I’ve been listening [to Cash] since the ’70s when I was a kid and never stopped. I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

With The Downer Bros, you and Jim Stacy pay homage to some of Johnny Cash’s most, for the lack of a better word,  “fierce” recordings. You recently rattled the walls at the 12th Annual Cash Bash at the Star Bar [Sept. 22]. How’d the idea for the Downer Bros come about?

Like most of our great ideas, it started off with drinking. During the rockabilly\country revival in the 1990s, there were a lot of bands that would throw in a Johnny Cash or George Jones [song] and do it in whatever style they played. There was no one really doing the slower, lost love, murder ballad stuff, and definitely no one doing it stripped down and acoustic. Jim and I loved that kind of stuff. So when we were waiting for bands to show up or when the night was over, we would play songs, just me and him. Acoustic guitar, harmonica and our two voices, harmonizing and trading songs. It was magic. The name came from trying to describe the music to our good friend Andy McDaniel. He asked what kind of music we were doing and we said “country music, but you know, the ‘downer’ stuff.” It stuck.

I’ve been paying attention and coming to see your bands for a bit now. Do I detect a progression of a happier and more fulfilled man through your musical timeline, having made so many people weep openly, inviting us to be healed and happy – or am I waxing fanciful?

I think there is a definite evolution. Mulberry Street was me getting my feet wet playing and performing but quickly became a little darker then I thought it would become. With Bully, I totally embraced that darkness and anger. When you are more or less penniless, living from day to day, broken-hearted and feeling alone, it is hard to find the light. The Downer Brothers are similar to Bully in that there is some frustration and  loneliness, but instead of being loud and in your face and angry, it was quiet and more thought-out and reserved.

AM Gold it is next logical extension of the realization that there is goodness all around you. Goodness in the things you do, the places you go and the people you meet. The trick, I think, is being open to it, being willing to let it chase away the darkness that has comforted you for so long. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a meanness out there, thriving and consuming, but you have the choice. You can live in fear with the darkness or live in the happiness of the light. Mostly now I choose the light. Some days it is really hard work to find it, but I think it is worth the struggle.

As a performer, what show stands out in your memory?

Probably one of the highlights for me personally was playing in Greasepaint and opening for Tenacious D. It was a sold-out crowd at The Tabernacle here in Atlanta. For AM Gold, it has to be playing The Dogwood Festival earlier this year. A few thousand people on a beautiful day in Piedmont Park. Nobody knew who we were or our songs, but they seemed to really appreciated them and we had a great response.

Honestly though every show is great in its own way. Any time I get to get on stage with my friends and we get to play our original songs, the ones we have practiced a hundred times, the ones we put our time and effort into writing and arranging and performing. That’s a good day.

Worst gig ever has to be the Chili Cook-Off at Stone Mountain last year.  It was the first time in over 20 years I set foot on stage for the sole purpose of making money by playing covers. While we had fun playing our Steve Miller Greatest Hits set at the Star Bar a couple months earlier, when it came to doing those songs again, there was no love for them. While I admire people that can get on stage and play three or four sets of somebody else’s material and are able to support a family doing it, I am not cut from that same cloth. I suppose that’s why I am not able to support a family doing that.

I’ve been the annoying fan begging for CDs forever. What was the AM Gold studio experience, was it documented on film and when will PLANNING ON DOING SOMETHING WITH IT be available? Joshin’, but seriously does being recorded affect your perspective? And by the way, thanks and eager to hear both the Bully and AM Gold disks!

The recording process was really fantastic. We recorded with a great guy named Jimmy Ether at his studio called Headphone Treats. For this recording we were all in the same room, playing together. We set up in the morning, recorded seven songs, and were pretty much done that night. We came back a couple times and overdubbed a few guitar parts, percussion and some vocals, but for the most part, what you hear is what we did that first day. It is a really great way to record. All of the recordings I have ever done previously were all with the drummer in his own room and the guitar amps in their own rooms and the rest of the band usually in the control room listening back through small, tiny speakers. It has always been frustrating for me. I like being able to feel the kick drum and bass, feeling the air move in the room with the music, the rise and fall of the conversation we are all having with one another through our instruments. There is no replacing it.

As for the Bully stuff, we’ve got over 40 songs that had very limited – me handing a homemade CDR to someone – release. I’m hoping to change that later this year. I think we are going to put out three EPs, each having five to seven studio cuts and two to three live recordings. I’m not really sure. We also started re-recording some Bully stuff a couple of years ago that has yet to see the light of day. When your bass player is in one of the biggest metal bands in the world, it gets hard to get everyone together in the same room and on the same page, but hopefully while Troy [Sanders] is home for a little bit between records, we can get some Bully time out of him.

What aspirations does the band muse about for the foreseeable future? Just sheerly hypothetically speaking, what’s next for you creatively?

The thing about us being in our 40s and doing this is that we don’t have the free time and lack of obligations that being 20 something has. Jett [Bryant, keyboards] has Bigfoot and a budding movie career [he was the star of DEAR GOD! NO! and is going to be in the follow up], Blake [Parrish, bass] and Eric [Young, percussion] are both in several bands and are in high demand as players, Jeff [Langston, guitars] has Ledfoot Messiah (they are doing the Kiss Kruise later this year) and he is in DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA (ED note: Watch out for a Retro Review soon) at 7 Stages and Jim [Stacy, harmonica] has the Starlight Six Drive-In and Palookaville to run, as well as a successful TV show and the possibility of a opening a restaurant fairly soon.

And me, I’m not getting any younger. The thought of getting in a van and blowing with the wind down the road trying to find my rock and roll fortunes has long passed me by. The music I write and play isn’t fashionable. I have no hipster cred; my waist size has expanded. I’m not much to look at;  my head is shaped funny. At the end of the day I’m a 43-year-old IT nerd scraping by at a job I don’t care about, working for people who don’t care about me so I can earn money which is spent before I get it so I can keep a roof over my family’s heads and food and clothes in and on our bodies. I have a beautiful wife and family and a life like most people: spectacularly wonderful and exceedingly average. It just depends on what day of the week and how close we are to the next paycheck. Sometimes we have a little more than others, sometimes a little less. In my mind I’m doing all of this for them, hoping for the big pay-off someday. Rational Joel knows that is probably never going to happen.

But still, I have this need to make this music. I tell these stories and dream these dreams. That’s all good music really is. Stories and dreams. I’m going to keep writing and playing every chance I get for whoever will listen. When I have new stories, I write new songs. When I have new dreams, I write new songs.

It’s what I do, I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

Look for me up front and center.

AM Gold. Photo credit: David Batterman.

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Shop Around: Five Retro-tastic Valentine’s Gifts for Your Gent

Posted on: Feb 8th, 2012 By:

By Jennifer Belgrad
Contributing Editor

All right, it’s down to the wire. Do you know what you’re getting your Kool Kat? No ideas? Don’t Panic. I got you. In no particular order, here are five fantastic and local gift suggestions for your special someone:

Plaza Theatre Memberships: What could be more perfect? A whole year of date nights taken care of in one fell swoop and you support Atlanta’s oldest continuously running independent cinema, which opened in 1939! There’s even a deal for a couple’s membership. Done!
Film Fan: $45 – Membership card, Plaza T shirt, one free movie pass, 1.50 off one regular admission Sunday – Thursday*, one invitation to our annual membership party. ($29 is tax deductible)
Double Feature Fan: $80 – Two membership cards, two Plaza T shirts, two free movie passes, 1.50 off regular admission for Two Sunday – Thursday*, Two invitations to annual membership party. ($48 is tax deductible)
Cast and Crew: $250 – Two tickets to the Silver Scream Spook Show + Two membership cards, two Plaza T shirts, four free movie passes + 1.50 off regular admission for Two every day*, Two invitations to annual membership party.  ($182 is tax deductible)

R. Land Art: Personally, I like to buy art for my guy. It’s something special and no home is complete without it. R. Land is ARTlanta’s favorite son. He will not steer you wrong. BUNNY FOO FOO is a classic, but it’s hard to beat AHA SPECKLES (<—– My not so subtle hint).

 

 

 

PIGMATA: One of my local heroes, Jim Stacy, brings us more salty goodness. For foodies he’s best known for serving up corndogs through Pallookaville and PBS’s GET DELICIOUS, but now there’s PIGMATA. Artisan meats, cured and smoked, homemade Brunswick Stew, fresh Half Sour Pickles, Corndog Casseroles, and whatever his fabulously fiendish mind dreams up next. Are you hungry yet?  Like it on Facebook to see updated specials or email Jim (laffo@pallookaville.com) for goods available right now.

 

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Belgard.

The Beer Growler: I know, I know.  I’ve already written about them, but their growlers are a seriously great gift (especially paired with anything from PIGMATA). Some Valentine’s-inspired options include:  Original Sin’s Hard Cider (dry traditional cider made with two types of champagne yeast), Ommengang’s Aphrodite (Aphrodite has champagne-like carbonation. Plus enchanting flavors with whispers of raspberry and pear, and hints of funk and tartness created by the Brett yeast. Grains of paradise are infused into the nectar, and when poured Aphrodite is crowned with a luxuriously shimmering rose-pink head), or Southern Tier’s Choklat (Belgian bittersweet chocolate is combined with dark malts to make this rich chocolate stout).  Your sweetie a teetotaler? No worries. They also carry Abita Root Beer (Sweetened w/ pure Louisiana cane sugar, the resulting taste is reminiscent of soft drinks made in the 1940s and 1950s, before bottlers turned to corn sugar and fructose. Caffeine-free). So good!

 

Chocolate F/X: It wouldn’t be right to skip the chocolate on Valentine’s Day. Atlanta RollerGirl Demi Gore whips up these badass confections named Best Local Chocolate in the AJC’s Best of the A 2011. There’s TAKEN (Be a Prisoner of Love with this heart-locket chocolate with the word “Taken” scrolled across the front. Packaged with 12 assorted truffles); FROM ANOTHER GALAXY for the STAR WARS lover (Includes one white chocolate with chile-spiced praline pecans Storm Trooper; one milk chocolate, peanut butter and pink Himalyan sea salt Yoda; and one dark chocolate with dried cherries and chipotle peppers Boba Fett in a gift box. Totally out of this world!), and, of course, YOU’RE THE S#!T! (Molded chocolate pile o’ poo comes with writing on it in a nifty red keepsake box. A fun, loving gesture for that special someone in your life!).

See?  That wasn’t so bad.  If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get some (tee hee). Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Bikers, Bigfoot & Buxom Babes in Nixon Masks With Machine Guns – DEAR GOD NO! Pushes the Limits of ’70s Exploitation at the Plaza Theatre All Week Long

Posted on: Oct 20th, 2011 By:

When DEAR GOD NO! launched its world premiere at the Plaza Theatre last month, the Star Bar must’ve been empty. But while cast, crew and Kickstarter contributors filled many seats, the enthusiastic crowd also included plenty of curiosity-seekers, wondering if this homegrown homage to ’70s exploitation movies could deliver the over-the-top shocks it promised. From the enthusiastic audience response, it did and then some, making even this blogger, who has a high tolerance for cult flick violence, want to shout “DEAR GOD NO! they didn’t go there!” Now those who didn’t make it out will another chance to see it on the big screen when it starts a one-week run at the Plaza Theatre this Friday Oct. 21 through Thursday Oct. 27.

Shot in 16mm with ’70s period-authentic effects, DEAR GOD NO! follows outlaw motorcycle gang The Impalers on a tri-state rape and murder spree which culminates in a bloody massacre with rival club Satan’s Own in a dive bar (actually Tucker Saloon) with the added bonus of strippers in Richard Nixon masks with machine guns. Still keen to continue their rampage, the survivors invade a mountain cabin occupied by a scientist and his geeky daughter. And that’s when the depravity really begins as the bikers realize the scientist is mad, his wife is madder and the monster that lurks in the wilderness outside is maddest of all. Those who’ve been around the Atlanta alt-garage, Redneck underground and horror movie scene for a while will recognize plenty of familiar faces in the cast and crew including Shane Morton (Silver Scream Spookshow, Gargantua, Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse), Jett Bryant (Bigfoot), Nick Morgan (Splatter Cinema), Bill Ratliff (Truckadelic), Madeline Brumby (if you missed last week’s Kool Kat on Madeline, which includes her DEAR GOD NO! experience, read it here), Jim Stacy (Starlight Drive-In, Palookaville, Get Delicious!, AM Gold) and many more.

For the uninitiated, B-movies date back to the beginnings of film-making, but the ’60s/’70s variety – also called “grindhouse” movies thanks to the seedy cinemas they often played (when they weren’t at the dying drive-ins) – pushed the limits of onscreen sex and violence in such an audacious way that they gained a cult following and a new generation of contemporary imitators from Quentin Tarantino, who, with Robert Rodriguez, even produced a double-feature called GRINDHOUSE, to the makers of last year’s HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN. It may be tempting to dismiss DEAR GOD NO! as just the latest in that subgenre, but the level of affection, craftsmanship and fun (yes, strange words perhaps to be paired with an ultraviolent flick) elevate it – that is, if you have a strong stomach and buy into the filmmakers’ sense of humor. Yup, this movie is NOT for everyone.

Since last month’s opening, director/screenwriter/executive producer James “Jimmy” Bickert has taken DEAR GOD NO! out on the road to two festivals and it’s won at least one award.  We caught up with Jimmy recently to find out more about how DEAR GOD NO! is exploding Atlanta onto the underground film map, go behind-the-scenes during production and find out what’s next for the movie and its makers.

ATLRetro: Since the sold-out world premiere in Atlanta on Sept. 9, you’ve taken DEAR GOD NO! to two film festivals. What’s been the reaction there?

Insane. I knew a party would break out with the home team, but the reaction in Tucson & Las Vegas was equally outrageous. People were sneaking in cocktails, yelling, laughing, cheering, applauding and even giving me free beer and shots in appreciation. We picked up an award for Best Exploitation Film at the Arizona Underground Film Festival. I received so many handshakes and pats on the back in Vegas [Pollygrind 2011] it felt like we were running for office. Haven’t heard if we won anything there yet. I just got back. It’s starting to gain momentum as an ultimate party movie. Film festivals are rescheduling us at midnight, and that’s perfect for an exploitation film.

Let’s start in the beginning, what’s the story behind how you came up with the idea for DEAR GOD NO! and got it off the ground?

Shane Morton, Nick Morgan and I were tossing around some ideas and came up with the idea of a Bigfoot vs. Biker crossover exploitation film. Something you would see at the end of a genres cycle. Originally we were going to attempt to make a lost film from the ‘70s that had somehow resurfaced on DVD, but as I began writing it, the pacing was too fast for a ruse. It almost becomes an action film. I’ve always been a big fan of ‘70s exploitation trailers so I tried to create something that would incorporate the fun ballyhoo they delivered and sustain it for a feature-length running time. DEAR GOD NO! gives you bikers, horror, sexploitation, cool cars, blood, laughs, gross outs, explosions, boobs, Nazis, Bigfoot, lofty themes, crazy dialoguw and incestual lesbian rape! Never seen that one before? Well, we got it. According to the reviews, it all works. Whew!

What classic exploitation and horror films served as inspirations for DEAR GOD NO!?

It’s hard to pinpoint all of them because many are subconscious. The ones I’ve noticed the most coming through are DEATH WEEKEND (a.k.a. HOUSE BY THE LAKE) and I DRINK YOUR BLOOD. But there are some moments from Something Weird Video collections of stag loops, SAVAGE SEVEN, WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS and NIGHT OF THE BLOOD BEAST. We even rip on SCHINDLER’S LIST. The film is packed with obscure exploitation references, but they only enhance the script. If you don’t catch a reference, it won’t hinder the experience. Visually there are many pop culture influences like E.C. Comics and Men’s Adventure pulp magazines.

With DEAR GOD NO!, you push the limits for onscreen violence, nudity and gore. What were your parameters for what was too extreme, does anything in the movie make you uncomfortable, and is there anything you filmed that went on the cutting room floor because it was too much even for you?

I don’t feel anything is off limits if it fits the story. DEAR GOD NO! has ‘60-‘70s style nudity and gore so it may push the boundaries for what some people expect from that time period, but it never enters the realm of what critics currently call the torture porn genre. We crossed over into that realm with one scene involving a pregnant character. I kept enough in to give the audience a good jolt but most of it hit the cutting room floor. There has to be a good balance to keep things fun for the crowd and it was starting to push into nausea. The genre is packed with that stuff now and it’s not what DEAR GOD NO! is about. We’re more John Waters than HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2. It’s suds cinema for drunken friends and not porn for loners in raincoats.

OK, bikers and Nazis are classic ingredients for exploitation movies, but why Bigfoot?

Bigfoot is a staple of the Southern drive-in, and I wanted to cast him in a good movie for a change. He has been getting crappy roles since NIGHT OF THE DEMON. Atlanta has the ultimate Sasquatch/Yeti in Jim Stacy, so we had to exploit him.

What was your favorite scene in the movie to shoot and why?

The squibs were the most fun to shoot because the extras love it. There is such a look of shock when it goes off and everyone on set breaks into applause. I could shoot squibs all day. It doesn’t get old. My favorite scene in the film is when the inebriated biker gang runs across a hillbilly kid who has them completely perplexed. Even after seeing it 100 times, I cannot watch a festival screening without laughing out loud.

Why did you decide to shoot DEAR GOD NO! all in Super 16mm with equipment from the ‘70s? Were there any specific effects which you’re particularly proud to have accomplished in the traditional way, versus CGI?

I wanted it to be authentic as possible, and we really immersed ourselves in things from the era. There were props that didn’t make it on screen from the ‘70s, but it helped create the illusion that we were making a film in 1973. I want to go back as soon as possible. We were all pretty proud of our van explosion. That’s a classic practical effect that Hollywood has been getting away from by using computer overlays in After Effects. There’s a poorly [executed] CGI explosion in MACHETE when a car blows up but doesn’t move or fall apart. We couldn’t have that, and what good Southern film doesn’t have an explosion in it? Not much that I want to see.

The cast and crew boasts a who’s who of Atlanta grassroots indie scene of actors and artists including many of the same folks behind the Silver Scream Spookshow, Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, Splatter Cinema, Starlight Drive-In, etc. You’re the writer/director/exec producer, but are you proud to share the credit with a homegrown team, especially as DEAR GOD NO! gets screened across the country and around the globe?  

When we show up at a festival, people know we are from the ATL. We ran up such a large tab at the gay bar next door to PollyGrind 2011, the owner said he should change his theme by replacing the rainbow flag with an Atlanta Falcons banner. Shane Morton and I drank a torture porn crew from L.A. under the table in Tucson. We even had an 8-hour start on them. Yeah, they know where we are from and we’re proud of it.

There are a ton of talented people in this town. I’m still amazed we got them all together. One of the aspects of DEAR GOD NO! that I’m most asked about is the music by The Forty Fives and the score from Richard Davis of Gargantua. There is a whole cast of musicians like Johnny McGowan, The Biters, The Booze, Adam McIntyre and Kris Dale involved that essentially come from The Star Bar including our lead actor Jett Bryant from the band Bigfoot and actor Billy Ratliff from Truckadelic. Just about everyone from Dusty Booze and The Baby Haters was involved. You will see a ton of Atlanta musicians as extras and Gargantua’s Creepy Kenny even built us a flame wand now in use at The Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse. There is a very big Star Bar connection with this film.

Seems like typical movie investors might get squeamish funding something this extreme, so it’s not surprising that to hear you used Kickstarter to raise some of the money and pulled some out of your own pocket. What was the budget and how was it funded?

You’re right. We had cast and crew drop out because they didn’t understand what we were attempting. Many people thought we were making porn or God knows what. It’s hard to convey that you are making a unique exploitation film when they don’t understand any of the references. Even worse if you’re asking someone to invest money.

It’s hard to really gauge the budget because so many talented people contributed time for free. Jonny Rej (Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse /The Plaza) gave us some free film and equipment, Slopes BBQ fed us, Fuji North America gave us ½ off on film stock for shooting a feature. It went on and on. It was a very quick shoot with a massive amount of preplanning between A.D. Michelle McCall, cinematographer Jonathan Hilton and I which helped keep cost, time and favors down. We didn’t wear out our welcome too bad. I do have a budget number, but I save that information for when someone buys me a beer.

After the Plaza limited engagement, what’s next for DEAR GOD NO! More festivals? Is there a distribution deal and when will it be commercially available on DVD/download? Is it true there’s going to be a sequel?

We currently have a quite a few distributors interested from all over the world. At the end of our festival run, we’ll sit down and start seriously negotiating which rights and territories we want to part with. We currently have festivals lined up in Raleigh, Erie, Mobile and Bogotá, Colombia. Theatrical screenings (mostly midnight) are booked in Portland, Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, Las Vegas and London. We’re adding screenings every week, and people can keep up to date by liking our Facebook page or checking the website at www.deargodnomovie.com. If you live in a town that shows midnight movies, ask for us or send me information about the theater.

It’s true there is a sequel in the works called FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS. It will have your jaw on the floor….again.

All art and photos courtesy of Big World Pictures.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Madeline Brumby Battles the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, Scares at the Spookshow and Braves Bikers ‘n’ Bigfoot in DEAR GOD NO!

Posted on: Oct 12th, 2011 By:

As Halloween creeps close and THE WALKING DEAD returns to TV next Sunday, Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse (AZA) arises for its own second season with new sets and a new storyline at Safety Wolf, the vast paintball combat complex off Moreland Avenue, just south of I-285 (open Thurs.-Sun. nights through Oct. 31). Set in and around a two-story abandoned motel, this approximately 100,000-square-foot attraction was nightmared up by the maniacal minds of local horror Renaissance man/make-up artist Shane Morton (Silver Scream Spookshow, Gargantua, etc.) and Jonny Rej (Plaza Theatre). Not just your traditional walk-through haunts with jump-out monsters, AZA delivers a total immersion “experience” with a distinct plotline that lands visitors right in the middle of the zombie plague, interacting along the way with a variety of human characters from scientists and bureaucrats at the Center for Disease Development (CDD) (but can you trust them?) to commandos fighting the zombies with automatic weaponry (reminiscent of last year’s Mack and Johnson) to a twisted carnival of human scum who thrive in the chaos, reminiscent of John Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.  It’s sometimes hard to know who to trust but if someone says “run,” let’s just say you can be sure zombies are around and if you don’t, you may get bitten and infected with the plague yourself or worse eaten for your brains!

To get the scary scoop, ATLRetro caught up with Madeline Brumby, a brunette with a machine gun who is no mere scream queen but a key cast-member and also this year’s pinup girl for the “hero” side of the AZA. But that’s not the only place you can see this monster-loving maiden this October. She’ll also be acting in the 5th Anniversary Silver Scream Spookshow this Saturday Oct. 15 at the Plaza Theatre – and you know Prof. Morte and Co. will be pulling out all the tricks and treats given that it’s their Halloween show and the movie is a rare 35mm print of the Vincent Price/Lon Chaney Jr. (not to mention H.P. Lovecraft) 1963 classic HAUNTED PALACE (Read our Retro Review here). Then she’ll be taking to the streets for this Sunday’s Zombie Walk Atlanta, organized by Luke Godfrey (Splatter Cinema, Chamber of Horrors) and cosponsored by AZA, and again with the AZA group at the Little 5 Points Halloween Parade on Sat. Oct. 22. Finally Madeline also will be up on the Plaza’s big screen later this month (Oct. 22-27) as one of the stars of DEAR GOD NO!, a hard-edged/no-holds-barred homage to ‘70s grindhouse features about a hellraising motorcycle gang, a mad scientist and a sasquatch on the rampage. Yeah, the name makes total sense when you see the movie!

All of this sounds like horror heaven to us, so we had to make Madeline Kool Kat of the Week

AZA 2011 T-short design by Dave Cook.

ATLRetro: This year’s AZA has the same basic concept but a totally new pathway and set of characters—loved the R.I.P. Mack and Johnson graffiti on the back wall. Without giving too much away, what’s new and different?

Madeline Brumby: We are all extremely excited about the new format. Of course, I’m sad to see Mack and Johnson go, but this year’s show is the sequel to the Mack and Johnson story. The versatility of the AZA to create and continue an apocalyptic scenario is really what gives the unique feel to the experience this year. And for years to come!

One of the cool things about AZA is every character seems to have a back story. Who do you play, and what’s yours?

Definitely! We had a patron come through the other night who was totally impressed that we had “real” actors with “real” stories. I’m a resistance paramilitary character. My troopers and I are rebels fighting for the survival of the uninfected and the destruction of the Center for Disease Development.

Some of the zombies have pretty intense make-up—i.e. they’re not freshly dead. How long does it take the zombies to get into make-up and how many make-up artists are on the team?

As much as we try to make the apocalypse real, the AZA is still a show. With not much light, our zombies have to be highly detailed for a spine-chilling scare. The process is down to a fine science—taking about 7 minutes per zombie. We have a team of about eight artists, myself included, headed by Shane Morton. First they are outfitted and receive a prosthetic. Once the prosthetic is dry, they are base-coated, detailed with additional colors, blood-splattered and hungry for BRAINS!

What zombie movies and books were most influential in planning AZA, and did a certain TV show set in Atlanta and featuring the CDC influence AZA at all in this year’s planning?

Haha! That’s funny. Last night Shane and I watched THE WALKING DEAD for the first time, and I thought it was pretty weak. CGI blood is a NO-NO! Our blood gags are far more realistic and they’re LIVE! And I’m pretty sure we were using the CDC gimmick first(?) as our show opened before the first episode aired. As far as most influential, WORLD WAR Z, I AM LEGEND [Ed. note: original Richard Matheson novel, not Will Smith move], LAST MAN STANDING and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK provide the main inspirations.

Were you involved in any of the planning and construction? What can you tell us about that – how does AZA come together and who are some of the key behind-the-scenes masterminds, whom readers might not know about?

I’ve been out on builds from January to October and helped with some big scares in the courtyard. The primary innovators are Jonny Rej (co-owner of the Plaza Theatre) and Shane, with the major help of Dusty Booze in the construction department.

What’s a cool piece of trivia about AZA that isn’t widely known?

It is HAUNTED!

Professor Morte (Shane Morton) and Madeline Brumby in Silver Scream Spookshow.

Can you share any history about the AZA site? It was an abandoned motel, wasn’t it?

It used to be one of the busiest trucks stops ofAtlanta. At some point the owners ran into financial trouble and it shut down. Pirates ransacked the place and absconded with all the copper! When the property was purchased by Safety Wolf, I think they found EIGHT dead bodies during clean-up in the motel.  Shane and Jonny sure found some scary stuff when they were cleaning…

In addition to the main AZA experience, there’s a photo op, the opportunity to shoot zombies with paintball weaponry and some tasty food vendors, aren’t there? What might readers want to know in advance about what else is going on?

What better way to remember your apocalyptic experience than a photo with a zombie and a weapon of choice! The Zombie Shoot is even better this year and don’t let your taste buds miss out on Jim Stacy‘s famous Palookaville eats! His pickle is amazing! (insert joke here)

You’ve also become a regular in the Silver Scream Spookshow. Can you give us a little sneak peek into this week’s stage show and what makes HAUNTED PALACE such a special treat?

We definitely have some comedy gold in store for this week’s show! It’s the 5th year anniversary, so we’ve got some of the older characters like Persephone (Plaza co-owner Gayle Rej) and some of the new ones like Quozzy mixing it up for a spooktacular monster mash with more onstage illusions than ever. The score of HAUNTED PALACE is what makes the movie special to me, so I’m excited to see and HEAR it in the wonderful Plaza Theatre.

Will AZA be in the L5P Halloween Parade this year? Just zombies or how does one decorate an undead float?

We’ll be there! Undead and Alive! I think the only “float” we’ll have is a blood-splattered car.

You’re also starring in DEAR GOD NO!, an over-the-top neo-‘70s exploitation film featuring tons of local talent and playing at the Plaza Oct. 22-27. Can you tell us a little bit about that movie and the part you play?

Jimmy Bickert‘s DEAR GOD NO! is the ultimate grindhouse film. It is disturbing, offensive, hilarious, horrifying and amazing. You can’t even call it a tribute. It was shot on super 16mm film and all the effects are practical. I play Edna Marco who is the daughter of the mad scientist that has created something terrible. She transforms from submissive to empowered. Developing her went beyond all expectations. I channeled some deep dark emotions into my character and it has definitely been one of my proudest roles.

DEAR GOD NO! pushed a lot of boundaries and isn’t for everyone. What advice do you have for who should see it, especially the gals?

Take it for the art that it is and expect to be offended.

You also are acting as one of Dracula’s wives in Rob Thompson’s highly anticipated DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA, which premieres next April at 7 Stages. Do you have anything you’d like to share about that role and experience?

Well, it’s definitely a musical that isn’t lame. My poor brother didn’t realize that Dracula’s wives were semi-nude and felt a little weird seeing that much of his sister. Haha! But, I don’t think it bothered anybody else too much. From musicians, score, and performers, the show is oozing talent and potential. I hope we do play in Prague this summer.

Any other acting roles or creative endeavors that you’d like to share with ATLRetro readers?

I hear there’s going to be a sequel to DEAR GOD NO! Hopefully we start shooting in the Spring.

Finally, you lived in England and have a science degree from Georgia Tech. Not that it wouldn’t be our dream/nightmare job, but how did you end up being a B-monster attraction/spookshow/movie actress?

Life’s a journey, right?

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Kool Kat of the Week: Rockin’, Rollin’ and Raisin’ Japanese Monsters with Shane Morton at the Starlight Drive-In

Posted on: Jun 2nd, 2011 By:

What’s more Retro than watching a classic horror movie at the drive-in? Lucky Atlantans will get that rare opportunity this Sunday June 5 when the annual ROCK ‘N’ ROLL MONSTER BASH invades the Starlight Six Drive-In, one of the country’s last remaining drive-in movie theaters. Even better, the eerie all-day extravaganza also features a frightening fantastic line-up of bands, a Miss Monster Bash contest, vendors of spooky merchandise, custom hearses and not just one but three Japanese horror classics, GODZILLA 2000 (1999), HOUSE (1977) and RINGU (1998). Gates open at 10 AM, live performances start at 2 PM, the movies roll from dusk into the wee hours of the morning, and for those who want to party all weekend, there’s even a Monster Bash Pre-Party on Saturday night (June 4) at the Star Bar with even more bands.

ATLRetro caught up with Shane Morton, the Silver Scream Spookshow‘s Ghost Host with the Most Professor Morte, musician (Super X-13/Gargantua/etc.), painter, tattoo artist, SFX artist, actor, all-around horror Renaissance man, and one of the mad masterminds behind ROCK ‘N’ ROLL MONSTER BASH for a scary sneak preview…

How did the ROCK ‘N’ ROLL MONSTER BASH get started?

Billy Messina, Ben Armstrong and Tim Dolph of Netherworld fame were the original mad scientists that brought this thing to life.  Atlanta’s horror community deserves its own horror-themed DRIVE INVASION! they would always contact me for help in the rock ‘n’ roll dept. Billy and Ben are just too busy with netherworld—in my opinion, the greatest haunted house attraction in the world—so Tim, Jim Stacy [Starlight manager/ Palookaville mastermind/Greasepaint/AM Gold/etc.) and I took it over four years ago.

Professor Morte sings with the Silver Scream Spookshow band at Monster Bash 2009.

What’s the band line-up this year, and why should we be excited about it?

This is a great rockin’ line up this year with something for everybody! Spooky Partridge is a fun family band—[as in] Addams Family, ha!—that play a lot of punk covers along

LUST. Photo courtesy of Barb Hays.

with cute originals. The drummer is just a li’l kid, but he’s already one of the best in the city with all the stick spins and showmanship kicking already. It’s amazing to watch! Radio Cult is also a very visual band—almost like a fem-fronted ‘80s Van Halen! Big fun and way over the top! LUST needs no intro as they put on legendary and hilarious shows! [see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat interview with Barb Hays for more about LUST]. I love these gals like sisters, so it’s always a pleasure to have them on the bill. The Brimstones are New York City’s greatest spooky garage band. Trust me, when you see Justin’s Farfisa [organ] solos while in a headstand, you’ll know why they are so famous! Super X-13, ‘nuff said. This line-up of music is gonna tear your face off and rip up the pavement!

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