Talking Midlake, Denton and Documentaries with Jason Lee.
Much like the rest of North Texas, Denton's not exactly lacking in the music festival department. Already, that revered college town about an hour north of Dallas boasts the classic Jazz Festival, the resurgent 35 Denton, and, most recently, the upstart Oaktopia in its quiver.
Not to be forgotten, however, is Denton's music-affiliated and photo-abetted but stil mostly film-inclined Thin Line Festival, which very well may be the most interesting of the bunch. In addition to concerts from Devin The Dude, Black Joe Lewis, Joe Ely and a coming-back-home Seryn, plus more than just a few photography-focused panels, the festival will also feature screenings of some 50 or so documentaries as part of its film package.
Where Thin Line gets most interesting, however, is when its arms cross, as will happen on opening night, when Jason Lee's intimate look at Denton music heroes Midlake, the appropriately titled Midlake: Live In Denton, TX, which the My Name Is Earl and Mallrats actor filmed on location in late 2013, will make its Texas premiere during a screening at the Campus Theatre.
In advance of the screening, Lee was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about his relationship with Midlake, his thoughts on their hometown and his documentary that focuses on both.
Your history with Midlake dates back a decade now to when you directed a video for their song “Balloon Maker” off of 2004's Bamnan and Slivercork. Can you tell us what first drew you to the band?
I loved their first record, Bamnan and Slivercork, a lot. It felt a bit like Grandaddy to me — another band I'd been listening to a lot at the time. I tend to latch on to records and repeatedly, almost obsessively listen to them. Bamnan and Slivercork was one of those records. Then I met the band shortly thereafter at SXSW in '04 and we all became friends.
How did the idea of the documentary first come up?
[I'm] not sure whose idea it was — maybe [guitarist Eric] Pulido's or mine. Either way, the idea came up to shoot the band playing live in their hometown, and to also get as much “B-roll” footage of the town and the band as they exist in Denton and incorporate that into the film. A sort of “moving postcard” of Denton.
How did you get together with your co-director Eric Noren on the project?
When Pulido and I started talking about the idea, I immediately thought of having Eric Noren shoot it. He'd shot all the footage for Stereo Skateboards' 2004 skate video “Way Out East!”, which I co-wrote and co-direct and which featured the music of Midlake. Eric is an incredible filmer. It was a nice full-circle reunion of sorts for all of us.
This movie is not just concert footage. It also has sequences that feature Denton on the whole. What made you decide to spotlight the city?
The band is proudly Denton-based, and so we wanted to show the band's world and celebrate it visually.
Looking at your video for “Balloon Maker” and, most recently, the one you shot for the band last year for their song “Aurora Gone,” it seems as if there's always a sense of the old clashing with the new. Is there something about Midlake as a band or Denton as a city that brings that out in your vision?
Good question. [It's] hard to answer. The music has a kind of timelessness and reflective quality to it. It definitely — and beautifully — steals you away from the present. It's nice when music can do that.
Have you hung out in Denton much? If so, what are some of your favorite spots?
I've been to Denton many times. I like all of it, really — especially the older parts. [There's] some great architecture, and lots of good people. It just feels very small-town America in a lot of ways, but with that sort of dry, Texas element. Parts of it remind me of Wim Wenders or Ed Ruscha. It's the kind of town you'd see in a cool, quiet little movie. Denton has potential — and it's growing and getting better.
With this movie under your belt now, do you think this is something we'll see more from you? Will you be directing something else soon?
Will you be taking the movie to any other film festivals around the country?
It screened in New York City last year and at the Glastonbury Festival .We will be screening it this month in London, too.
Can you give any details for a home video release?
I think we're aiming for iTunes and for DVD.
If you had to sell this movie to a potential watcher, how would you do so?
If you're a fan of Midlake, you might like this intimate look at their world. And the audio mix is pretty fantastic.
The Thin Line Festival kicks off on Wednesday, February 18, and runs through Sunday, February 22. Midlake: Live in Denton, TX will screen on opening night at the Campus Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Head here for more details on that screening and for more more information on the festival at large.