In high school I drove a brown 1980 Datsun 510 that could easily be described as “disaster chic“. It didn’t have a dashboard but it did have a stock tape deck that would slide around loose on the exposed plastic heating vent duct as I’d swing around corners or drive over curbs. For a long period of time, I had only two tapes in the car and I would listen to them every day on my cold morning rides to school. Since one of them was a recording of “Spooky Halloween Sounds” I would primarily listen to either of two sides on a TDK D90 cassette tape. One side had a copy of Jacko’s 1979 breakthrough solo album Off the Wall while the other was a recording of Primus‘ Sailing the Seas of Cheese. It’s a cassette with a one-two punch that I would never seem to get tired of.
A few years ealier, my family had acquired a VHS copy of Bill & Teds Bogus Journey, most likely by dubbing it off of Encore or the Starz Network. Primus only appeared briefly, during the battle of the bands sequence of the film and, although it only featured mere seconds of Les Claypool singing the last few lines of Tommy The Cat, I would watch it repeatedly. Just that brief clip fragment. Over and over. Rewind and Re-Rewind. A decade and half after this appearance Les Claypool actually wrote, directed, scored, and edited an original film of his own. When it eventually came, the film arrived in the form of a mockumentary about a struggling jamband.
The film, Electric Apricot: Quest For Festeroo, originally premiered in 2006 with some extremely limited screenings. Q&A’s and appearances with the musician/filmmaker were included with showings in such locations as Portland, Oregon and Los Angeles. Although Claypool may represent a big name draw to those of us who are fans of his work, in all reality, he doesn’t draw shit for weight in the industry as a film director. Electric Apricot was a low budget independent film project without any real distribution. Seeing its potential, the folks at National Lampoon acquired rights to the film, in turn, making it the first “out of house” feature ever for the production company. Electric Apricot subsequently began it’s nation wide release on November 9, 2007 with a distribution that, although improved, roamed slowly over the following months, just a few big cities at a time. By the time that I finally saw the Seattle showing in March of this year, Claypool was already selling pre-release limited edition DVD’s while on tour with his latest self-titled project. In the middle of last month, Quest for Festeroo became available for purchase through Claypool’s website and is now finally available elsewhere for purchase and/or rent with some new and solid DVD extras.
I truly did enjoy the mockumentary from the first time that I saw it, however, after re-watching it, I have found that it’s much better than I had even previously recognized. The Seattle Viewing took place at the Central Cinema, which is a really nice venue that serves pizza and beer to little booths while you watch the film. They played old school black and white Flip the Frog cartoons before the film and a mental-hygiene style short documentary about a pseudo-political college girl who smoked weed and dosed up with her friends at 60’s dinner parties. Like I said, I really enjoyed the film, but I think that my expectations, coupled with the fact that I was sitting behind an obnoxiously drunk group of pharmed-out, gutter punk wingnuts reminiscent of a dirty Camden, NJ Phish lot, may have detracted a bit from my original experience with the material. On follow up viewings of the DVD, the material seems to pop out at me more and more. This can not only be attributed to an “adjusted” mental state, but also to the subtle yet intelligent dialogue, as well as the production methods and approach behind the film making itself. Obvious parallels have been drawn between Claypool’s project and the original legendary rock band parody This is Spinal Tap, however, as Les addresses himself on the DVD extras, Electric Apricot is much less “overt“. The content works more along the lines of Ricky Gervais projects like the BBC version of The Office. Claypool also explains that he has based a career on music that “doesn’t grab you on the first listen” and that the film was intended to be more “layered” in a way that would provide the viewer an opportunity to notice more and more on each viewing. Although the term “cult hit” has been maliciously raped to the point where it’s almost devoid of any substantial meaning, such layering and subtleties have been important ingredients in the staying power and re-watchability of now classic films like Boogie Nights and The Big Lebowski. Another key element utilized by all three films is their attention to character development.
In an interview on Current.com, Claypool expresses that music in the Jam world is more about “how you approach the music” than the actual music being made. He goes on to claim that the process of making the film itself was “a lot like jamming“. The musician-turned-filmmaker made a conscious effort to tailor the project to his limited budget, which was no doubt comparable to that of music videos that he had directed in the past. He settled on the affordable yet flexible style of shooting the movie as a student documentary. Then, after employing long time friends with musical talent to round off the four piece Jam Band, he wrote a loose script outlining the basic traits of each character and important directions that the film should take. Beyond this light treatment, the actors had to do lot of tinkering and adlibbing with their characters, as well as co-write the music. From 2004-2005, the band, performing as Electric Apricot, played a handful of actual live gigs and stayed in character quite a bit. Over time and through such experimentation, each of the main characters really began to take form. For the most part, it is clear as a viewer that the actors “know” their characters and enjoy playing them. This is especially apparent in my favorite of the DVD special features where they do an entire interview with High Times Magazine as Electric Apricot and never once break character. Les’ film direction in front of the camera as an actor/bandmember is done with a light touch, primarily focusing on wrangling the other actors back in, when necessary to ensure that the storyline follows the intended path. There, of course, is often a point “A” and a point “B” that must be reached, but the actors are able to bounce easily off of one another, and their often spaciness and wandering attitudes are just more factors that play well into the concept of a stereotypical jam band. It has been said that the approach for the film was to roll the camera as much as possible and to later search through all of the material for the “nuggets“.
The main plot-line revolves around the four-piece jam band recording their first album with hopes and dreams of reaching a spot on the lineup for the fictional Festeroo rock festival. Claypool plays drummer Lapland “Lapdog” Miclovich who fancies himself as more of a technical geek. He is a music nerd and reads a lot of Popular Mechanics. Bryan Kehoe, a highschool friend of Claypool and fellow member of The Flying Frog Brigade, plays the Apricot’s guitarist, Steve “Gordo” Gordon. He is the long haired wastoid, heavy stoner type that’s obsessed with the guitar work of Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Garcia. Bass Player, Steve “Aiwass” Trouzdale, is played by Adam Gates (Highball With The Devil) and is the type of musician that thinks of themselves as a great intellectual and artist. He’s politically minded and is “changing the world” through the bumper stickers on the back of his van. The super spiritual meditating earth conscious keyboardist, Herschel Tambor Brilstein, is played by Jonathan Korty. In his jeweled tibetan baseball cap, he often lectures about the powers of yoga and healing, but is always the first to snap when things don’t work out. Matt Stone (South Park) and Seth Green (Robot Chicken)–both of whom had Claypool write and perform the theme songs for their animated programs–play a pair of tapers, while Dian Bachar (Orgasmo/Cannibal the Musical) plays a cheesy young audio tech trying to weasel his way up in the business, and Arj Barker (Flight of the Conchords) is their traveling super fan with his own patented dance move. They may be exaggerated at times, but these are the type of stereotypical personalities that I have repeatedly come in contact with through my years on Phish tour, at festivals, and by attending a liberal arts college, etc. I knew people who actually did blow glass dildos and sold them on lot to supplement their income, and I even know someone who punched a kid for talking shit about Jerry Garcia. For me, as a viewer, one of the more engaging aspects of the movie was recognizing these characters from real life and realizing that they had never been effectively portrayed on screen before.
The first questions that I seem to hear when people find out about the film relate to if it attacks the jam band scene maliciously, and I personally don’t believe that it does. If you want to see an offensive representation of tour kids and jam band music, by all means rent the 1999 straight to video cinematic catastrophe Around the Fire. It stars former Tiger Beat cover boy Devon Sawa, the alcoholic nip-slip disaster known as Tara Reid and is a completely misguided atrocity. Quest for Festeroo was made from a much more educated perspective on the scene and, although most people who know of him primarily through his work with Primus wouldn’t necessarily think “Jam Band” when they hear the name Les Claypool, he knows his shit and actually does hold some street-cred when it comes to the genre. He has lived in the bay area his entire life and carries on the Grateful Dead tradition of performing a New Years Eve show in the San Francisco area every year, whether it is with Primus or one of his many other projects. In 1994, Claypool sat in on the Phish classic “YEM” when his band Sausage opened up for them at the Laguna Seca Daze Festival in Monterey, CA and again with the band for an encore at a ’96 gig in Vegas. Since then, he’s formed such supergroups as Oysterhead (featuring Trey Anastasio and Stewart Copeland) and Col. Les Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains (feat. Bernie Worrell, Buckethead, & Brain) and has played numerous Jam related festivals. Jason McHugh, who produced and acted in the film as the band’s manager “Smiling Don“, grew up around the scene attending Dead shows himself. Cameos from the likes of Mike Gordon (PHISH), Bob Weir (Grateful Dead/Ratdog), and Warren Haynes (Govt. Mule / Allman Bros.) help to further validate the mockumentary and it’s credibility in the jamband universe.
The sharp and hilarious references are what really carry any parody or spoof film such as this and keep them interesting, despite their often less direct approach and slow tempo. Electric Apricot does not disappoint and is consistently spot on and accurate with their mentions throughout the film. The guitarist “Gordo” claims to have the “Jerry recipe” as he holds a guitar with noticeable resemblances to Garcia’s Doug Irwin Tiger guitar and the group even has a song that has clear elements of “Not Fade Away.” Aiwass has his huge musical epiphany to become a bass player at a Phish show during one of the glowstick wars–which, if memory serves me correct, used to occur every show during the 2nd song of the 2nd set. The fictional band addresses and refutes the obvious similarities between their logo and that of the Dead’s Steal Your Face by explaining that the Apricot’s logo has an 11 point lightening bolt, as opposed to 13 pts. What they don’t mention about the logo is the other stolen imagery such as the Allman Bros.‘ peach or the foot from the Europe ’72 album. The first reference that really caught my attention was when they introduced a private investor/fan that was funding all of their recording and music-related expenses. I leaned over to my girlfriend and explained that he was for them like Owsley was for the Dead, right before the character “Gordo” reiterates my statement on screen. References like these may be too obscure for the mainstream audiences but, for the nerds who know shit like the fact that Shoreline Ampitheatre was constructed with an aerial view of a Steal Your Face logo, it is fairly satisfying to try ‘n’ catch ’em all like Pokemon. There are comments relating to Rainbow Gatherings and it’s expensive yuppy counterpart, Burningman, but others refer to much more recognizable connections in music and film. There is mention of the old rumor that Pearl Jam was named after “cum“, allusion to Caddy Shack when Claypool does his Chevy Chase “Nananananana…” impression during a golf sequence, and a moment where Aiwass is “writing” a song that has clearly already been written by lazy eyed Thom Yorke and Radiohead. Claypool even recruits his cousin to play a band counselor with group therapy sessions mocking Some Kind Of Monster and Metallica, a band that Claypool unsuccessfully auditioned for in the ’80s.
The production struggles of the movie actually mirrored those of the bands own quest at times. When Electric Apricot finally performs for their spot on the “remnant stage” at Festeroo, the crowd is noticeably somewhat sparse. They were originally booked to play and film their performance to a larger crowd at the Shakedown Festival in the Portland area, but that didn’t work out. Shakedown was marketed as the West Coast equivalent to multi-day festivals like Bonnaroo that were filled with incredibly large and diverse lineups. The people behind Shakedown Fest were forced to move locations to another spot in Oregon yet, despite obvious complications, more bands were booked and more days continued to be added to the festival. When there were complications and shit hit the fan, it happened way too late. People were already in line with tickets in hand when the festival was cancelled. These were people that had traveled from all over country, many of which had dumped a shit ton of cash on plane tickets, hotel accommodations, and other expenses. The acts themselves were not even informed that there was no way to pay them. Shakedown became one of the biggest promotional, financial, and legal festival disasters since the shit covered, grunge-enthusiast frat boys went pyromaniac at one of those watered down 90’s versions of Woodstock.
Right after the drama went down, I co-interviewed one of the main big shots associated with Shakedown on air for a pirate radio show over a speaker phone. We were pretty faded and taking swigs off disgusting, yet potent, homemade wine, as I threw zingers at him like, “Are you honestly saying that there was no way for you to reasonably foresee the lack of funding until mere hours before the gates were scheduled to open? What about all of the people that traveled across the country and spent all of that money?” I would then pull the receiver away and cover it to block our drunken laughter. Incredibly serious and methodical answers would project back at us. “I am not at liberty to discuss that information for legal reasons…blah…blah…” What I could not know at the time was that the cancelled festival also left Claypool’s film-in-the-making without an ending, while actors and crew had “real” jobs and lives to get back to.
Pulling last minute strings, Les was able to book a spot on the Earthdance Festival taking place in Laytonville, CA on Wavy Gravy’s Hog Farm. The legendary Merry Prankster/Ice-Cream flavor even makes an appearance wearing his clown nose and sounding like Redd Foxx smashed on Jagermeister. The live performance was filmed at Earth Dance along with festival footage that was filmed and cut between there and the High Sierra Music Fest. Candid interviews were filmed of concert goers with forearms full of various multi-colored festival wristbands, who speak of the magic and wonder for such gatherings. Our writer Memes, who was at the Electric Apricot show at Earth Dance, verifies that the enthusiastic twirling hippy footage was authentic and that the crowd seemed completely oblivious to the parody involved. There is a midnight clip where the actors are filmed in the Techno orb tent of Earth Dance’s camping area. I could only imagine grilling on acid and doing keybumps of Molly by glow stick wielding candy ravers and having Les Claypool enter with a camera crew wearing a bad wig. With their spontaneity and resourcefulness, the crew was more than capable of piecing together a sufficient ending and pulling their project out of an impending tail-spin. Such positive statements can not be said for the promoters of the Shakedown Festival.
Although it has already made rounds through select theaters and is now available on DVD, Les Claypool continues to work at promoting his debut feature film. The legendary bassist even hosted a showing of Electric Apricot: Quest For Festeroo as recently as June 13th. The viewing took place at this years Bonnaroo Music Festival and had a follow up Q & A. Les performed at the Bonnarool back in 2006 when the movie was originally beginning it’s slow screening process and there was talk of it being viewed at the festival back then. Whether it was actually shown or not, I can’t say, because I wasn’t there that year. Due to unpleasant situations involving the authorities, I never attended that festival again after 2005. The point is that the film is still gaining ground 2 years after it hit its first film festival. So, is Quest For Festeroo the next big “cult hit“? I don’t know, and it really doesn’t fucking matter. What I do know is that this is not a movie that is going to have huge marketing campaigns and billboard advertising behind it. Nobody is going to get an Electric Apricot promotionalThirsty-Two Ouncer at Circle-K, or glass dildo toys in their Happy Meals. It will have to rely almost solely on word of mouth and, for it too be successful through such methods, there has to be some level of substance behind it. I believe that that substance is definitely there.
I read an interview where Claypool mentioned that there is a possible cartoon spin-off in the works. It seemed a little far fetched, so he may have been intentionally fucking with people. Then again, with his connections to animators, Comedy Central and Adult Swim, along with the success of programs such as Metalocalypse, the project actually seems rather feasible. I’m sure the most important thing for the director, at this point, is that he’s been able to prove that he deserves funding for future film work and that he has the ability to pull something of real quality off as an legitimate auteur. If he decides to continue in the comedic realm, the folks at National Lampoon will no doubt help him out by, at least; offering to work with him on an “In House” production. He deserves it, if for no other reason than because he is single-handedly helping to resuscitate the name of the once credible entertainment production house whose last real sign of life came a full 25 yrs ago with the film Vacation.