Bryan Dondero is the former bassist of Grace Potter & the Nocturnals‚ and current kick-ass fly fisherman/mediocre bowler.
Updated 4/22: Here's Bryan Dondero's podcast The Clear Spot featuring excerpts from this interview and some wonderful sounds.
Part I
Part II
It's been seven years since I Am Trying to Break Your Heart came out. Since 2002‚ Wilco has gone through different incarnations of band members‚ put out a few albums‚ changed record labels and played hundreds of shows. A lot has gone down for the band from Chicago over those seven years‚ so to speak. But then again‚ a lot has gone down for all of us.
Ashes of American Flags‚ the newest film about Wilco‚ takes us once again behind the scenes for a look at what it is like‚ well‚ to be Wilco. This time though‚ instead of the grainy black and white in which Sam Jones captured them in 2002 (a synchronistic format for the times)‚ we see them in a vivid HD film that shows them in a different light. Ashes of American Flags was produced and directed by Brendan Canty and Christoph Green from Trixie DVD‚ who also brought us Sunken Treasure and put out the Burn to Shine film series that presents a variety of musicians (Eddie Vedder‚ Will Oldham‚ Bob Mould and Tortoise‚ to name a few) from different cities performing in a raw and conceptual situation that involves the demolition of abandoned houses (yes‚ for real).
Perhaps it is in this very conceptual light that Canty (former Fugazi drummer) and Green chose an approach to documenting the band's 2008 tour. A tacit narrative seems to rise to the surface as the film takes us from venue to venue‚ and it becomes apparent that this film is not simply just about a band playing a few kick-ass live shows on a national tour. The venues they picked‚ many of which I have had the pleasure of playing myself‚ are musical landmarks. They are venues that are steeped in our American musical history‚ from Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa‚ Oklahoma where Bob Willis used to stand onstage with his fiddle leading his band through a set of western swing‚ to Tipitina's in New Orleans that proudly displays a portrait of Professor Longhair above the stage -- whose song the venue was named after‚ to The 9:30 Club in D.C. that gave many early '80s hardcore bands‚ as well as Fugazi‚ a chance to bring their music and their message to a fired-up and earnest group of young people.
The first dialogue of the film opens with a shot of band multi-instrumentalist‚ Pat Sansone‚ holding up a Polaroid picture he just took out back at Cain's‚ saying that "Polaroid is discontinuing their film." That poignant moment leaves us to decide whether the tribute to these historic venues across America is to be nostalgic...or elegiac. Whether the state of our own current musical economy will stand the test of time‚ or be flattened to make room for another Wal-Mart. Like Sansone's photograph‚ this documentary is about our own fading americana.
I had the extreme pleasure of meeting (don't say ex‚ they may still decide to tour someday!) Fugazi drummer gone filmmaker Brendan Canty a few months back after I played the 9:30 Club. He was very approachable and down to earth‚ helpful even. So when I was asked to review this documentary‚ I thought‚ "Why not try to talk to the director himself?" I contacted Brendan‚ and he was more than gracious in setting up the interview. What follows are excerpts from our conversation.

What got you into film?
Well‚ it was about trying to physically document something that's important‚ and music is such a central thing. And so many of people involved come and go‚ and you have these moments that should be kept like journals. They should be documented or else it just fades away. I can't change anything that already happened or that is going to happen -- but one of the ways I can do my part for the preservation of this music is to document it.
Basically that's the concept for me in terms of making these films‚ just trying to document‚ trying to press play and record because we can. Because technology enables us to document these bands‚ we'll always record them. We have the ability to record the audio on these bands‚ and that's fabulous‚ but I really think the live component of capturing and dissecting the moment in time for me is really like… I get a huge kick out of it. And it's just like taking a good live picture‚ or hearing a good live record. It's all of these things if the band can deliver in that environment. If the band brings it to the stage into a live environment‚ and if you can capture it and put a bunch of cameras on it and dissect and deliver it to people in a way that keeps it exciting and doesn't just totally deflate it [laughter]‚ then I think you should do it‚ you know?
That's sort of where I'm coming from with it. And Wilco is just one of those bands that I really love. I love the musicianship of the band‚ I love the songwriting‚ and I love what a great family they are right now.
Yeah‚ you get that sense from the documentary‚ especially with that scene where you had each member describe another member…