Striving to achieve noteworthy success and fame in such an at-times indulgent lifestyle as music is a seemingly fulfilling goal that a multitude of people aspire to achieve as they set out to define themselves in the world. But when they take a radically aggressive approach to pursuing their dreams, and nonchalantly overlook others in their relentless quest in accomplishing those goals, they can harrowingly discover that life at the peak of their prosperity isn’t as glamours as they imagined. That struggle to finding a selfless balance between obtaining tremendous triumphs and appreciating rewarding relationships is powerfully showcased in the new musical documentary, ‘Artist & Repertoire.’ The film, which explores the rise and fall of acclaimed English DJ, recording artist and record label founder, James Lavelle, showcases how the musician didn’t truly learn to appreciate his relationships and accomplishments until he started to lose aspects of both.
The documentary, which marks the directorial debut of producer Matthew Jones, had its world premiere at last month’s SXSW. The captivating and motivational film also marks the feature producing debut of through Jones’ London-based production company, Capture.
Set across three decades, ‘Artist & Repertoire’ chronicles how Lavelle achieved his adolescent aspiration of becoming a recording artist and record label co-founder. The process of how the celebrated music industry icon obtained his noteworthy goals, in part with the help of his friends, is chronicled before the film showcases the subsequent descent of his career and relationships. After not completely maturing throughout this adult life, he’s finally forced to grow up and come to terms with his biggest mistakes across a 25-year-period.
The nature of Lavelle’s musical success, and the trials and tribulations that ultimately accompanied it, is shown in part by never before seen personal archives and exclusive home video footage. The clips from the DJ’s childhood, as well as his professional journey, including launching the legendary trip-hop record label, Mo’Wax, and the epic electronica-alternative rock band, UNKLE, are intertwined with interviews with his friends and colleagues, including musicians DJ Shadow, Thom Yorke, Ian Brown, Joshua Homme and Richard Ashcroft. As the musician and record label founder battled the constant struggle of art versus commerce, he emerged from his A&R roots as an artist in his own right. But along the way, he has been forced to ponder if the price he has paid to achieve his fame and fortune has been worth it.
Jones generously took the time to talk about directing ‘Artist & Repertoire’ during an exclusive phone interview the day before the documentary had its World Premiere during the 24 Beats Per Second section of SXSW. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed how he was driven to helm a documentary about Lavelle, as the record label founder’s work has left an influence on the director’s life and appreciation of music. Jones also noted how he felt it was important to not only include interviews in the film with such important head-line names like Yorke and DJ Shadow, but also the people in Lavelle’s personal life who have left the most significant and meaningful impressions on him.
ShockYa (SY): You made your directorial debut with the new music documentary, ‘Artist & Repertoire,’ which tells the story of music icon and DJ James Lavelle, who passionately pursued creating quality music at any cost and the friendships, fall outs, successes and failures that come with it. What was the directorial process like once you began filming, particularly in determining what you wanted to focus on in the movie?
Matthew Jones (MJ): Well, when I was growing up, this was the music of my generation. James Lavelle was running Mo’Wax, his record label, when I was a teenager, and dancing to his music. His work has always been a big part of my musical heritage, so getting to direct a film about him was fantastic.
He has such a rich musical heritage over the past 25 years, in part because he has worked with some of the greats, like Thom Yorke from Radiohead and Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age. He has collaborated with such a great ensemble. So I wanted to make a film about him, and get into all the details about who he is and what makes him intriguing. Making the film was truly an honor.
SY: How much prior knowledge did you have of James’ life and musical career, including his part in forming revolutionary trip-hop group UNKLE, before you began filming the documentary? What was the research process like into finding more information about the DJ?
MJ: I knew a lot about his music, including his work as a DJ and with UNKLE. We also bought almost every Mo’Wax release. The label released hundreds of singles, EPs and albums over a 10-year period. We bough vinyls and albums, especially releases you can only get in limited editions, on eBay.
So we really engrossed ourselves in the heritage of the music, and listened to everything. There are only 60 tracks in the film, but they weren’t just songs that were released by Mo’Wax; they were also tracks that inspired the label. We also included James’ personal influences. It was a real pleasure to listen to all of that music, as it was an amazing catalog.
SY: What were your working relationships like with the music department who worked on ‘Artist & Repertoire,’ including James, who worked as a co-composer, and determining how you wanted the music to be presented?
MJ: It was actually completely our choice. We really listened to what the fans were interested in, and researched what the most popular tracks were. We were trying to make a definitive story about Mo’Wax, so the tracks we chose really defined the movement of the time it was founded. We had to sort through a lot of great tracks.
Hopefully, the 60 tracks we chose really epitomize the whole culture that James created through the record label, as well as with UNKLE. The movie’s also like a best of of the group, and we show clips of some of the songs being recorded. You see them at their origin point in the studio, and how they were created.
SY: The documentary features interviews with such musicians and James’ collaborators as DJ Shadow, Thom Yorke, Ian Brown and Joshua Homme. What as the process of securing the interviews for the film, and speaking with the musicians about their relationships and admiration for the sidemen?
MJ: Well, we went for a combination of important head-line names, like Thom Yorke and DJ Shadow. But we also wanted to include a more personal level to it. So we spoke to some of the lesser known acts who recorded at Mo’Wax, and the friends he made while working at the record label that he has has to this day.
Since the film is really about friendship, we tried to highlight the relationships James developed. The film is not just a music documentary; it’s also about how we, as individuals, often lose friends as we grow older. In retrospect, we lose touch with people for many different reasons, and we wanted to showcase that in the film.
So we spoke with people who were synonymous with Mo’Wax, UNKLE and James throughout his career. We wanted to tell the story of who James was. So as we were looking to do interviews, we narrowed the list down to the most important people in his life.
SY: What was the process like of working with the documentary’s cinematographer, Morgan Spencer, to capture the look you wanted to include in the film, particularly of what you wanted to showcase the concert segments?
MJ: In some ways, the visual side of the film was decided for us. We always wanted the film to show the audience how James grew up. So the first half of the film mainly features archives. We used clips from the early ’90s that were filmed in a 100 different formats that have exited over the past 20 years. We always thought it was good to embrace the archive look, and show his history through the clips. So we see the film style evolve throughout the two-hour documentary, as we also watch James grow.
In terms of the cinematography, we were only in control of the final act of the film, because that was the only footage we were shooting ourselves. All of the rest of the footage ranged from 1991 to 2006, when we first decided to make the film. We then began working on the movie in 2007. So the majority of the clips that feature James were filmed by other people, who we bough archives from.
SY: How did you work with the ‘Artist & Repertoire’s editor, Alec Rossiter, to determine which clips you wanted to include in the final cut, and shape the overall narrative?
MJ: We actually had about 700 hours of footage, between the archives and the interviews we filmed ourselves, by the time we finished filming. That was an incredible amount of footage, and with what we had, we could have made the film 10 times over with all the different footage.
The editing process itself took about a year-and-a-half, in order to get the film down to the cut that we (presented) at SXSW. It was a lengthy process that long a lot longer than a narrative feature film, because we needed to watch everything. But from a structural point-of-view, we always knew we wanted to tell a linear story, so that we can watch James grow up. We started when he was a 14-year-old boy, and ended when he was a 40-year-old man. We also wanted the first hour of the film to be really fast-paced and entertaining, and I think we achieved that.
SY: Speaking of SXSW, the documentary had its World Premiere during the 24 Beats Per Second Section at (last month’s) festival. What has the experience of bringing the movie to the festival been like for you?
MJ: Well, I think SXSW is the perfect home for the film, as it’s the number one festival that combines film and music in the world. So we always wanted to be at SXSW first, since there are film and music fans there. We (were) both excited and nervous for the premiere, as it took us 10 years to finish the film, from the first time we picked up a camera to when when we finished it. So it (was) great to premiere at the festival, as it really believes in music stories.
SY: Like you mentioned earlier, you have 700 hours of footage that you filmed for the documentary. Do you plan on showcasing the extra footage, specifically the interviews that you conducted, perhaps as bonus features on the film’s home release?
MJ: We’re interested in maybe including some of the unseen footage on the DVD or online. We’d like to showcase the extended interviews, as some of them are up to an hour-and-a-half to two hours long. In some cases, the interviews were even four hours. But the movie’s only an hour and 45 minutes. We used multi-camera setups for the interviews, so we have all of the extra footage, like I mentioned.
So for the fans of James’ music and the film, we’d like to release a limited edition DVD and Blu-ray that will show a large portion of those interviews. We’ve been asked by the fans to share that footage for a long time, so we’d like to release as much of it as possible.
SY: Besides directing ‘Artist & Repertoire,’ you also served as a producer on the movie. Why did you also decide to produce the documentary? How did your producing and directorial duties on the film influence each other?
MJ: Well, this is the first feature-length film that’s being released from my production company, Capture, which I co-own. We’ve made several shorts and commercials over the years, and we’ve always wanted to move into features.
From a producer’s point-of-view, it was a real challenge to get all of the interviews for our first feature. We did interviews in Japan, Australia, New York, L.A., London and across Europe. M.J. McMahon and the film’s other producers all did a great job of putting all of the interviews together, as getting the licensing rights for them is very complex. So from a producer’s point-of-view, it was difficult at times to get the film made, but I think we rose to the challenge.
Written by: Karen Benardello