WHAT GOES ON! is an entertaining musical variety show created to bring little known musical gems to an audience dissatisfied with today's mainstream radio and music television. Starring 10 talented original acts culled from the New York music scene, WHAT GOES ON! offers one song from each, filmed and recorded live on the show's simple, brightly-lit stage. The four bands, five solo performers and one duo featured span a broad range of pop/rock categories including power-pop, garage-surf, anti-folk, art-pop and bedeviled banjo.
Harkening back to a time when music and television were newlyweds and bands played live and undoctored on programs like The Ed Sullivan Show, WHAT GOES ON! eschews the frenzied style of today's music videos to instead offer viewers a more genuine connection to the performers.
Adding to the show's light-hearted feel, each performer is introduced by way of a brief, fun skit. These short pieces take us away from the main stage and out into the world, creating suspense about where we'll end up next: out on the range with a cowboy, sitting in the dentist's chair, riding an elevated subway train.
Produced for DVD release, the show is the first in a planned series of WHAT GOES ON! visual mix tapes from husband and wife team Lee and Margaret Chabowski.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Why did you decide to make WHAT GOES ON!?
We love original, quirky pop music. It's been Lee's main passion always, and we've always spent a fair amount of time checking out new music. But, having become parents in 1998, we know why rock clubs generally aren't packed with moms and dads. Between job and parental responsibilities, most people in the over-30 crowd just don't have that much time to track down new musical finds.
Meanwhile, the music industry seems to ignore people like us who want great original music. Most of the music featured on commercial radio and music television seems boringly formulaic and obviously targeted to a very young audience. We know there have to be a lot of people like us who crave more variety and depth in music than what is readily available.
So we decided to create this DVD as a mix tape of our favorites. In the spirit of the mix tapes we used to swap with our friends all the time, we thought the show would help people who don't have time to schlepp from bar to bar, or comb through thousands of obscure CDs, check out a variety of cool new music. Of course, it also would be great to turn a younger generation on to these performers and the variety show format. We are hoping that every viewer finds something to love on the DVD.
How did you come up with the concept?
The idea for the project came to us one night after we'd been watching The Very Best of the Ed Sullivan Show on video. We realized that we love the way those old variety shows captured performers. The sets were usually spare and bright and the performances were virtually unedited, so the feel is much more immediate and moving Ð much more like seeing a live show Ð than what is offered through today's music videos. We thought, why isn't anybody doing this anymore?
Do you think people will be bored by the DVD after watching MTV?
For years, we've been frustrated by the way music videos restrict our view of performers. Without being able to really see what these people look like, how they play, or how they interact with one another, we find it almost impossible to feel any connection to them or their music. I don't think we're alone in this. When we screened the DVD for an unassuming friend, he exclaimed, "Thank you for not having too many edits!"
We also find that the dizzying number of cuts in the average music video removes any sense of anticipation Ð it's like you're frozen while the rapid-fire images wash over you. The band and the song seem almost irrelevant. Maybe video producers don't trust the music to move us, so they ask the editors to do it instead.
With this series, we wanted to put the focus back on the songs rather than on the sets, camera work or editing. We think that there are lots of music lovers out there who will appreciate this.
How did you choose the performers?
The only filtering mechanism for the project is our taste. Since we funded the entire project ourselves, we were not beholden to the large music conglomerates or anyone else. These are simply our favorite artists.
Lee has been a songwriter and performer since 1983, first in upstate New York and then, for the past eight years, in New York City. Over this time, we've met hundreds of performers Ð among them, some of our favorite songwriters and musicians of all time. The minute we thought of the concept for the show, we knew a lot of the artists we wanted on it.
Of the scores of musicians Lee has met playing open mics and gigging in New York City, Chris Moore, Curtis Eller, Dina Dean, Chandra Oppenheim and Pete Galub stood out immediately as the cream of the crop. While their styles are very different from one another, they all share the ability to write meaty, compelling, original lyrics and killer melodies.
Three of the performers were people we had known when we lived in the Rochester, NY area. Miché Fambro has been a hero of Lee's since he first saw Miché's band The Deserters in 1982 in a tiny bar in rural upstate New York. The Hi-Riser's songwriting core consist of two guys who grew up playing music together on the Rochester scene in various great incarnations, and we've always thought they were super fun. We met Bill Pierce through his brother, Rob Pierce, when we were living in Rochester. Rob gave us a tape of Bill's songs, and the songs and melodies killed us immediately. They just got stuck in our heads and stayed there. Bill's not someone who works very hard promoting his shows, so you won't see him packing clubs any time soon, but he can write circles around anything you'll hear on commercial radio, and that's what we're after.
Skyrocket was just a beautiful chance happening. Lee saw them perform in a club in Manhattan. The band had such killer songs and they had Eoin up front delivering them like a true star. Due to a misplaced e-mail address, it took us months to track them down!
Where'd you get the cowboy?
The cowboy is actually Lee's brother-in-law. He's a horse trainer and a marksman from Dansville, New York. The dentist is actually our dentist (and a very good one!), and the landlord was really our landlord in Astoria, Queens. (We've since moved to Brooklyn.) The three people in bed were our next-door neighbors in Astoria. They moved and we've not seen nor heard from them again. We wonder sometimes if the bed scene evolved into a messy true-life calamity Ð but that's probably just our twisted minds at work. Finally, we found out that the authorities will shut you down if you have a camera and props on a subway train.
Where did you film WHAT GOES ON!?
We looked all over lower Manhattan, Long Island City and Astoria for an affordable and appropriate spot to shoot the performers. In desperation, we called the head of a Catholic grade school down the street from our apartment. She very kindly spoke to the Monsignor for us, who unaccountably allowed us to rent the school gym while it was sitting idle in the summer. The Monsignor and the school custodians were extremely helpful, even putting in additional electric lines to handle all of our equipment.
What technology did you use?
The project was filmed with two Panasonic DVX100 cameras and edited using Final Cut Pro4. Our DP Richard Brame turned us on to the cameras in early 2003 before they had even been released for sale. The cameras use 24P technology, shooting at a slower 24 frames per second (fps) than the conventional 30 fps of video. The slower rate allows the camera to achieve a much richer, film-like look than is usually possible with video cameras, especially those in this price range.
Our biggest technical challenge was getting decent sound quality on the songs while recording live. Because of the location we used, we knew that we were going to have to keep the volume way down at all times. Of course, this was going to really stifle the rock bands. Also, we knew it was going to be tough getting any kind of controlled recording if the volume in the room was blaring. We spoke with a sound technician who works with some big touring acts, and he suggested that we use wireless in-ear monitors so that the musicians could hear themselves without stage monitors blasting noise into the microphones. We thought that was a great idea so we went with it.
He also suggested that we use electronic amplifier emulators instead of real amps to eliminate the guitar and bass noise in the room. That was an idea we couldn't live with. We wanted all the guitarists and bassists to use the gear that they always used so that they would be comfortable and happy with their sound. We hate the sound of those amp emulators. So one of the first things we did on this project was to get out the jigsaw and build a couple of speaker isolation boxes. We ran long cords out of each musician's amp to these speaker boxes that are completely enclosed with a mic inside them and covered with sound blankets. We got authentic tube amp sounds, but the volume in the room was very quiet. Then we just tracked everything with Pro Tools on a G4 Mac. We're very happy with the sound.
Are there going to be more episodes of WHAT GOES ON!?
Absolutely! We'd like to do many more episodes. We've been spending a lot of time going out to hear bands, checking out music on web radio and listening to artists our friends are recommending. We expect that What Goes On! Volume 2 will feature bands and performers from a wider geographic area than is included on the first one. But it will still include a similarly broad spectrum of music styles.
LEE CHABOWSKI (DIRECTOR, WRITER, PRODUCER)
WHAT GOES ON! marks the directorial debut for Lee Chabowski. Lee has spent the last twenty years writing, performing and recording original music, and currently fronts Brooklyn's New Delhi Monkey Man, one of the acts featured on WHAT GOES ON! Lee has produced and promoted three musical releases, achieving national press, radio airplay and sales. (Dog's Life, Dog's Life; Queenie Gots a Pinworm, Dog's Life, and Drinky Poo, Lee Chabowski) In addition to releasing WHAT GOES ON!, Lee is finalizing New Delhi Monkey Man's first full-length recording, Vee Have Vays of Making You Rock, to be released in late 2004. Lee and his wife Margaret are also preparing for production of What Goes On! Volume 2, scheduled to begin in mid-2005.
MARGARET PINE CHABOWSKI (WRITER, PRODUCER, PRODUCTION DESIGN)
Margaret Chabowski served as Art Department Coordinator for the Todd Solondz film Happiness and is a freelance business writer with credits in The Independent Film and Video Monthly as well as many corporate publications. Margaret also plays bass and sings in New York City's Vinyl Ritchie.
RICHARD BRAME (DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY)
WHAT GOES ON! marks the professional debut of cameraman Richard Brame. Rick is a writer and animator and is currently completing work on a documentary short feature and two music videos for New York based artists.
BETSY VARDELL (ASSOCIATE PRODUCER)
Betsy Vardell is a professional designer with credits in many print and web publications. Her company Ruby Studio is located in New York City.