LOS WILD ONES: A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH
Elise Salomon helped produce Paper Heart, along with Michael Cera and Charlyne Yi, who we interviewed way back in 2009. Now Salomon’s turned her attention to longtime L.A. RECORD favorite Wild Records and produced and directed Los Wild Ones. It’s a “run-and-gun” documentary (as she calls it) about Wild founder, Reb Kennedy, and the family he’s put together out of real-deal rock ‘n’ roll musicians from the corridor cities around L.A. Los Wild Ones premieres tonight in L.A. at the Santa Monica Pier. This interview by Kristina Benson.
When did you first hear something on Wild Records, and what happened to take this from ‘What a cool label!’ to ‘This is a story I need to tell!’?
Elise Salomon: I first heard about Wild Records when I was researching music for a narrative project that I have. It’s a period piece and I wanted real, authentic 50s rock ‘n’ roll—raw, furious, sexy, and just buzzing with electricity—but I wanted it to be contemporary. I didn’t want to pull from archives. I started making notes and realized that three of the songs that blew me away were off of the same label—Wild Records. I looked the label up and found Reb on Facebook and sent him a message, asking him if he would be willing to meet with me. Once we started talking, I realized how exceptional he was, how exceptional the whole enterprise was. Here was one man—with, at the time, about eighteen bands signed to his label —and he did everything himself. At one of our meetings I saw some of the band members stop by or heard them call, and they all asked him for advice or offered their time to do things that family members do for each other. Then I went to a show. Nearly the entire label was there to see one of the bands play. They were all friends. They stood in the front. Sang the songs. Hugged, laughed and supported each other and Reb was at the center of all of this. That’s when I knew. There was something extraordinary about him and this group of people. They were a family. It reminded me of what the beginnings of Sun Records must have felt like and I had chills. I knew that I needed to document this.
This is your first music documentary—what earlier music documentary most changed the way you thought about a given musician or piece of music? What showed you the way to put Los Wild Ones together?
Honestly, it was a narrative—Suburbia by Penelope Spheeris. That film affected me so much. It was driven by music and the need for family. [The characters] found a family through the music and it was everything to them. I just completely identified with that—the music being the medium for expression and the loyalty and love that came from sharing that language. Considering that this is my first music documentary, I am anything but qualified to answer what makes one successful. I just know that I made this passionately, with love and care. I was obsessed with the whole Wild family and became more obsessed every day that passed.
Have things changed positively or negatively for women in film since Kathryn Bigelow won one Oscar and got nominated for a second? Or not at all?
Positively, but we have a long way to go. She’s one of my heroes, one among many. There are a great number of strong, talented, pioneering women in this industry in all fields. I hope the numbers keep growing.
What was the story you originally wanted to tell with Los Wild Ones?
It was the same from the beginning, really. There were a few people on the label, aside from Reb, that really grabbed my attention. I wrote a treatment that was approximately 30 pages and I outlined this story—Reb as the father figure, surrounded by these extremely talented, humble people who had such love and admiration for one another. I had hoped that what we would capture during filming would show the growth of the label and the artists and that’s exactly what wound up happening—thankfully.
Why did you feel Reb could be the center of the film?
I think he’s a force to be reckoned with and a leader. He has to make tough decisions and he has to be there for a lot of people. He’s a family man in two senses: he’s a husband, a father, and he has his ‘other’ kids, meaning his musicians. He has a lot of responsibilities and he’s totally passionate about the music. He believes in it. He lives for it. Sometimes he has to be the bad cop to take care of both of his families and sometimes you see the softer side of him. It’s a fascinating duality. He’s also one of the only people I have ever met in my life who is totally dedicated to something—and has been for over a decade—that isn’t making him rich. He does it for the love of it. He’s true to it. He’s everything to the label. He manages, produces, promotes. He’s the guy. So you can’t help but look up to him. He guides everything. They’re a family because there is love and loyalty there. That’s all you need to be a family.
What about the personalities of the people in the bands on Wild? How do they fit in?
The two words I keep using to describe them are humble and gifted. They are just so amazing—all of them. One of the fans I met said that he doesn’t even need to know what the new release is from Wild, he just buys it because he knows that whatever it is, it’s going to be good. I agree 100 percent. I think musicians want to be on the label because of the leadership. Because of Reb. He’s genuine and he creates opportunity. If you play this kind of music, this is the label to be on. It’s a family that’s full of heart and laughter—who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
When and where was the first day of shooting? The last day?
The first day was in the spring of 2012 and the last day was in the summer of 2013. I feel like we all got to know each other better. I just became more and more invested and I grew to admire them so much. I hope I am able to hang out with them all again very soon. I’ve been so busy finishing the film that I’ve missed a ton of shows and I’m going through withdrawal!
Who are the main characters in Los Wild Ones? What does Reb have in common with all these people who are from a different country and grew up in a different hemisphere than he did and are twenty years younger?
Reb and some of the bands are the focus of the film. The music is a secondary character along with the Wild fans. After visiting Ireland with Reb and meeting his family over there, I was overcome. They were so gracious and warm and accepting. They made me feel like I was home. I get the sense that Reb’s Irish roots and the meaning of family for him is what inspires the creation and recreation of that familial theme for the label. Reb makes it a family. Every time he signs a new band, he brings them into the family. It’s because of him and what family means to him that the label is what it is and you see that in the film.
Reb says that Wild is really a punk label. What do you think?
Wild is different from other labels—I think it’s one of the only successful labels that is truly independent. The challenges that I saw during filming really just had to do with Reb needing six clones of himself. I’m joking, but he does really push himself to the limit to try and get it all done. I think Wild is best at being the thing that keeps the scene energized. They are the label that continues to feed new talent and power into the scene. It is a punk label, to me. I have always considered punk rock to be a state of mind, an ethos, an attitude, a way of life that has as much to do with perception as it does action. For me, I think punk has always meant truth—even when truth isn’t pretty or popular or easy. Staying true.
Why do you think Wild is relatively unknown in L.A. and so famous in Europe?
I’m still baffled by the L.A. versus Europe of it all. In Los Angeles, it’s sometimes difficult to get people to go see and support live music. There are, of course, the loyal diehards in the scene but for the most part, getting people to come out to shows consistently isn’t easy. In Europe, it seems that it’s something that they participate in not only more frequently but with more fervor. I haven’t seen enough of the European scene to comment on that but a few people that I’ve spoken with have mentioned that it might be because people in Europe just have more respect for live music in general—that they have a more vibrant scene because of that. I’m not sure. I’m still questioning that and I’d love to hear opinions about it. I loved shooting shows in Europe and am really proud and happy that we pulled off an international component to this production. We shot the whole film run and gun so lighting was always a technical issue but what we captured looks amazing. There isn’t one scene in the film that works without the rest of them. Every story needs its beginning, middle and end.
What’s the latest you stayed up with anyone during the course of this project? What was happening?
My mother is going to kill me. I stayed up for two days straight. Just scheduling, prepping interviews and reviewing footage. On average, I slept about four or five hours a night for five months and worked seven days a week. That’s because I was line producing, producing and directing. Happily.
If you were going to make a fiction film and cast it with Wild Records people, what kind of film would it be and who would you cast?
It would be a musical of course! And I would cast them all.
Your IMDB resume says you are a horrible dancer. But what kind of horrible dancing are we talking about here? Elaine Benes-style horrible? Something even worse?
I’m convinced that Elaine’s dance episode was based on me and my failure to find rhythm. I don’t even have a move, let alone ‘moves’ to choose from.
LOS WILD ONES‘ L.A. PREMIERE PLUS LIVE SET BY THE RHYTHM SHAKERS ON FRI., SEPT. 27, AT THE SANTA MONICA PIER, 200 SANTA MONICA PIER, SANTA MONICA. DOORS AT 6 PM / FILM AT 7:30 PM / ALL AGES / FREE. FOLLOW LOS WILD ONES AT TWITTER.COM/LOSWILDONES AND VISIT WILD AT WILDRECORDSUSA.COM.