I can hardly begin to explain to you all how much I truly adore our interview subject for the day, Mr. Corbett Redford. He is by far one of my favorite musicians, artists, and overall people I have ever had the privilege to meet both digitally and in person. He’s the kind of guy who simply gives off an essence of being a natural born sweet heart. A sweet heart, who also happens to be ever knowledgable about all things that are punk ass fuck, and writes hilarious songs about polyamory and living the life of a cat. He also touches on some very serious subjects, but still manages to create some wonderfully silly tunes. He is a brilliant artist to say the least, and we are so honored to have him on the site again, this time sharing some very nice words with you all.
Corbett has also branched off into the world of filmmaking. He is the man behind the Green Day executive produced upcoming documentary, Turn it Around: The Story of East Bay Punk. And believe me, I can’t think of any other person more qualified than him to tackle this amazing subject. Corbett has lived and breathed the East Bay punk scene pretty much his entirely life. He IS the scene, and there is no way this film is not going to be amazing with his creative force in tow. I am so excited to see the final product, which is coming soon. So, please enjoy a few words with our old pal, Corbett Redford!
Tell us a bit if you will about the formation of the now legendary comedy/punk/rock/brilliant duo (turned band, and back to duo when applicable) group Bobby Joe Ebola & The Children MacNuggits. How did this group come to life?
My bandmate Dan [Abbott] and I were both aimless, weird young men when we started the band in 1995 – Dan was 18 and I was 22 – trapped in a detached suburb of Oakland, California called Pinole. There are many versions of the story of our formation – really, I would say most importantly, at the time we both needed a creative outlet that wasn’t limiting. We always thought of the band as less of a band and more of a platform to share ideas – be it through music, film, writing, or events.
And where did the name come from? It’s definitely memorable and original, but what was the inspiration behind it?
We both stoned on the way to our first show. We didn’t have a name for the band and we needed to think of one. At the time in 1995, Ebola had just hit the Congo. In Pinole, where we lived, per capita there was more fast-food available than anywhere else in the nation. Visions of both the disease of Ebola and the disease of fast-food were swirling in our wild and high minds, I guess. Dan and I are both satirists at our cores, I think.
I recently had Jello Biafra, formerly of Dead Kennedys, tell me that though he doesn’t prefer the “poppy” sound of our music, but he needed to emphasize that we had “the best band name ever” – that was awesome to hear.
BJE also happens to have one of the most energetic and impressive stage shows I have ever had the honor of witnessing. Whether it’s in a full band in a downtown punk club or a duo setting with Dan in a book store, you have an undeniably wonderful energy. So what is your process? What are you looking to convey to an audience in a live setting?
I can’t speak for Dan, but I always want for people to feel included or at least my hope is that no one builds us up to be “more important people” just because we’re on a stage and amplified. I go into a show to release my demons, to spill my heart – that is the selfish “personal therapy” part of it. But more important than that, I don’t want people to get some idea that what we are doing is anything that they couldn’t do themselves. I think Chuck Berry once said, “Rock N Roll ain’t rocket science.” I think that idea demystifies things – makes it easier for someone to feel included or that there is no difference between audience and band.
BJE at a book signing at Powell’s Books in Portland, OR. Seriously, these guys can rock EVERYWHERE!
For those of us who have been following closely, you’ve been diligently working on an upcoming documentary called Turn it Around: The Story of East Bay Punk. Without divulging too much (“spoiling” as the kids would say) can you tell us a bit about it is going? When can we expect to see the film? And more importantly, why did you believe people should be interested in this scene?
The film has been a wild three year ride. I turned 40 and had my first kid during the course of it all. We’re done with the edit and I am just finalizing the mountains of release forms – the last stage, as they say. We conducted over 150 interviews, gathered over 35,000 photos & fliers, and over 500 pieces of archival footage. The film is a beast – I hope people dig it when it is out. No exact release date yet, but shooting for somewhere around the beginning of 2017.
It’s funny you ask the question as to why I think people should be interested in the music scene we cover in the film. Yesterday, I watched the end of the film as I was culling through timecodes and paperwork. I stopped my sorting and it hit me – our film’s ultimate focus is about the human need we all have to find a place to belong. A place we feel safe to be ourselves. With the recent rash of fear and sickness I have had since the US election results, suddenly I felt a new urgency for people to see what we have created in this documentary – which is really a story about the road to the emergence of the non-profit music collective, 924 Gilman in Berkeley, California.
Safe community spaces like Gilman existing are going to be more important than ever for outsiders who need a place to converge under the dark cloud of Trump’s America.
What made you decide to move into the film world? I know you have shot dozens of music videos in the past, but what inspired the job into full blown documentarian?
Like songs or music videos, it is another way to tell a story. I had started a documentary about a different subject years ago with my long-time friend and collaborator Anthony Marchitiello (we recently formed the production company Capodezero Films together) and it hit some roadblocks. Years later in 2013, my old hometown friends in the band Green Day were looking for a director for a documentary project they wanted to do about the history of the scene they came from – and BAM – I was plucked from the ether to helm it. I could have never predicted it would take this long or that it would be such an extensive telling of the local punk music history of the Bay Area – but here we are. Not sure what comes after all this – nervous and excited to see what life brings next.
Photo taken from eastbaypunk.com
So, you have managed to slide yourself into the adult world suddenly, and became a father to a beautiful little boy. As a father, I am not ashamed to drop this stereotypical question to another father: How has fatherhood changed you? And what do you believe it has done to your creative self?
That is a good question. It has changed my entire way of looking at the world and thinking about my life. I haven’t always made the healthiest choices – bad food, to drugs & alcohol, to the kinds of overwhelming creative projects I take on. The birth of my son has made me strive to shoot for a more sustainable, manageable and focused life – the less stress I have, the longer I get to live to see my son grow. I don’t want to miss anything. Suddenly, the major thing on my mind is turning my health around and making better choices about what I get myself into. I owe this epiphany to him.
In the past 20 years on and off with this band, we have played over 2,000 shows around the US and even jumped the pond once. Being a father makes me want to be home as much as I can be – I love to read to him every night before he goes to bed. So touring a lot doesn’t feel like a priority anymore. But music, art, film – creating those things? Those things will ALWAYS have a place in my life.
Dan used to quote the Dire Straits song “Sultans of Swing” when we we talk about slowing down our non-stop touring, recording, filming, publishing… “Harry doesn’t mind if he doesn’t make the scene. He’s got a daytime job, he’s doing alright” was the lyric. I can see that being me. So long as my wife and son have food, shelter and access to medical care – I can meet with a band a few times a month to hammer out the kind of musical weird shit that is important to me. This film has been pretty all-consuming for the past three years… so it will be great for me to have some time again to focus on music once the documentary premieres.
Let’s get deep here: For as long as I have known you, whether digitally or when we run into each other in person, I’ve always thought of you as a sort of “spiritual guru” for me. Obviously not in a religious sense, but just as a person who has the wisdom I seek to understand. So, in light of recent events in the states, you know what I’m talking about, would you be willing to over some words of hope and/or encouragement? Basically, in your own opinion, what do we do now? And are we going to be okay?
I made a statement the other day online that I think might answer this:
“[I have been loving] seeing Bernie speaking on every outlet the past week. No loss of resolve. No fingerpointing. Just plans. And ideas. All encouraging us to stay strong. To be sticks in the spokes of Trump’s inhumane plans. I don’t know about you, but I’m heeding THIS man’s every word as we all try navigate through the next four regressive years. Now is the time to reach out to others who don’t have the same means or privilege that you might. Build more community and networks of support. Thwart homophobia and transphobia. Destroy sexism. Crush racism. Fight on, fight together. Fight the fucking power.”
Bernie changed my life. He was the perfect person for me to learn about at the most perfect moment in my life. His spirit NEVER breaks and it is so inspiring to me. He reminds us that there is ALWAYS work we should be doing to make the world a better place. ALWAYS. A Trump presidency will just be a hovering reminder that everyday we should be active in demanding a better world and curtailing the powers that be.
We will be okay. Things are going to get more shitty. But I feel that progressive populism will prevail over authoritarian populism in the next election and when it does… we will repair the dismantling Trump and his inhumane cabinet will inflict on the human condition and NEVER let them get ahold of the steering wheel again. We will one day live in an Utopian Star Trek future, dammit – or hopefully my son will. And their will always be orange Klingons trying to fuck shit up for the rest of us… we just have to stand together like Sulu, Uhura, Scotty… and even vanilla-ass Kirk did.
While I know you are still actively knocking out work on Turn It Around, but are you able tot ell us what might be coming next? I’m sure you will have to promote the hell out of the film when it is released, but are we going to be hearing more BJE in the future?
Promoting the film will be fun – I really look forward to sharing it with everyone. I really couldn’t tell you what is next. BJE might shake the dust off. I might start some new projects. Maybe I will form a band with my kid? Kids like songs about poop and farts – so do I.
Honestly, I do have a vision for a new musical project I have been dreaming of putting together with some great people here in the East Bay. Maybe that wil get off the ground…
I have a few ideas for short documentaries about local and unique subjects involving the area I grew up in here in California – one is about an old comic store where I grew up and it’s crazy history and the other is about this freaky art installation I would always see on the side of the freeway near Oakland. Not sure what is next, but I know something will pop up. Whatever it is, I want it to be simple and low stress.
Find our more about what I’m up to at:
What was the last thing that made you smile?
My son working on putting some of his first sentences together this morning. He gets so happy and proud when his mother and I understand him.
That’s all anyone really wants, yeah? To be understood.