Home recording used to mean saving up months of paper-route money and purchasing a costly cassette 4-track. But with recording software now ubiquitous, powerful and dirt cheap, any musician with a laptop and a little know-how can make decent recordings for next to nothing. If YouTube is any indicator, many have realized that video, too, is within almost any musician's grasp.
But a quick-and-dirty YouTube video wasn't the goal for Zelazowa, a modern-rock quartet from Philadelphia -- they wanted a professional full-length documentary. What They Want Us to Be We Can't Always Be, produced and directed by local filmmaker David Urbanic of Ship King Media, documents the life of this grassroots touring band that logged 400 shows all over creation between 2006 and 2007.
Urbanic, whose clients include local bands PKP and The Dirty Sunshine, as well as Zafira Dance Company and Bodiography, met Zelazowa two years ago at Peter's Pub in Oakland, where the band delivered a high-energy set opening for PKP.
"It was one of those moments where you know nothing's going to be the same again," Urbanic says. He soon made plans to film the band, and to accompany the members on tour for a few weeks.
Instead of presenting Zelazowa's experience solely as sold-out shows and non-stop partying, Urbanic highlights the mundane and even dismal aspects. There are shots of the bassist on stage, begging for a place to sleep that night; the band in a public library online, booking shows; and one of the members telling the camera that the grind "makes me wanna kill myself, almost every day."
It's not all doom and gloom: The film includes plenty of good times, drunken buffoonery and Zelazowa's all-for-one attitude, and laudatory interviews with fans, friends and industry types. And, of course, rocking out.
What They Want is an interesting collision of humility and hubris: On the one hand, we're invited to sympathize with the hustling grassroots band in sometimes pitiable circumstances, but the film also seems to assume that we already care about this band. (The DVD jacket boasts that Zelazowa is "without question, the only band that matters.") A decade years ago, for a new group to have a documentary like this would be unthinkably cool; now that it's possible, does it carry the same cachet?
"It's kind of disheartening when you tell people you're making an independent film about a band, they assume you're making a video of your buddies' band," Urbanic says. "The problem is, people just expect low quality."
But that doesn't seem to be stopping Urbanic or Zelazowa. They're planning another film documenting the band's upcoming European tour, and filming a glossy music video in Pittsburgh this month. Zelazowa plays Jan. 12 at 31st Street Pub, with Chux Beta and the Weird Paul Band.