Did You See Them Live? Sam Black Church Documentarian Duncan Wilder Johnson Interviewed

The email came in from Ol’ Man Mudrian a few days ago and it went, in part, like this: “Have you ever heard Sam Black Church? People from the New England area like to blow them incessantly, but people like me who “never saw them live” just think they accidentally invented nu metal. Either way, this is worth watching for what happens at the three-minute mark.”
Turns out the occasion is that long time mainstay of the Massachusetts/New England scene, Duncan Wilder Johnson is in the final stages of putting together a documentary on local heroes, Sam Black Church. Never heard of ’em? They were a hardcore band that did hardcore a little bit differently by injecting a ton of linear groove and, depending on your tastes, an (in)appropriate high-pitched screech from the mouth of a man who liked to leap off PA speakers as much as he liked to sing.


The documentary, Leave Behind a Groove in the Earth: the Story of San Black Church, has been in the works for eight years and is heading towards the finish line. To wit, producer/director/editor/everything, Johnson has embarked upon a Kickstarter campaign to help with the funds needed to finally put this thing in the can. There are only a few days left, so if you have a few bucks burning a hole in your pocket and you’re a ‘blowing Nor’easterner,’ a fan who even loved their cover of “Disco Inferno,” and/or have fond memories of vocalist Jet landing on the back of your neck from 20 feet up, check out the Kickstarter promo (and the shenanigans at 3:00) and the interview below.

You said you’ve been working on this doc-pic for eight years. What was the original impetus for embarking upon this project?
I made a record called Kill It All Away with Eman Pacheco and Tim Waltner. Jet from Sam Black Church sang on one of the tracks. At that recording session, Jet said, “You know what would be cool? If we got all the SBC guys in a studio and we drank beer and told stories.” Being a total Sam Black fan-boy, I thought it was an awesome idea. However, it didn’t seem like an audio recording would do the band justice; I thought it needed to be video. The more I thought about, the more I said it out loud, the more I just said, “Fuck it, I’m doing this.” I got a camera and started to interview the band. One thing lead to another and here are, almost done!

Is this your first foray into film-making? What did you know about the process going into this? What have been the most surprising aspects? The hardest? Have you been essentially learning as you’ve gone along? I guess this all culminates in my asking why it’s taken eight years and counting?
There are a variety of reasons why it’s taken me eight years to get this far. The biggest is that I have too many eggs in too many baskets. In the past eight years, I got engaged, released five records, played in three bands and two side projects, did comedy/spoken word, DJ-ed, took classes and played about 250 shows in a bunch of states all while holding down a full time job doing Photoshop and graphic design. When I was an art student at Mass Art in Boston, I made a few short videos and a couple of super-8 projects, but nothing of much significance. My background is in photography, media and performance. I already knew about storytelling, shooting, and using computers, but yes, I learned a lot about filmmaking as I’ve trudged through this project. The most surprising aspects are how willing people are to help out, be interviewed, contribute money and just be supportive of the project. The hardest is making an edit that really works and translates to other people. I’m working with my friend Megan who’s a pro TV producer. We’ll be cutting the final edit together.

Why Sam Black Church? What do you feel was their significance and impact on the northeast/MA scene and beyond?
As a kid, Sam Black Church (and many other incredible bands) played around me, constantly. I saw SBC probably 30 times. They were the most interesting, dynamic and infectious band that I saw during my teens and early 20’s. As time went on, I started doing my own shows and eventually worked for Wonderdrug Records from 2000-2003. Ken taught me everything I know about the music business and introduced me to everyone in the Boston scene at the time. That’s how I learned all of the back-story of Sam Black Church and always thought it was a compelling tale. Sam Black Church is a missing link between bands like Bad Brains, Slayer, and Cro-Mags and bands of today like Unearth, Shadows Fall, Killswitch Engage and Lamb of God. Many of those guys grew up in the New England hardcore scene and saw Sam Black Church, or they heard the records and found out about the band through ‘zines and tape-trading. Either way, SBC made a significant impact on people’s hearts and minds – the performances, the weird guitar sound, the strange vocal style, the unorthodox way of combining hardcore and metal at that time and in their particular way. I wanted to create a document, a reference, that showed that era, style, and music so people could celebrate it for years to come and in some cases learn about it for the first time.


Has the film undergone many transformations in the time you’ve been working on it?
Yes, I’ve made about six or seven different versions of it as time has gone on.

At what point did you come up with the idea of a Kickstarter campaign? How’s it been working out?
I had the idea in the back of my mind for a while, but I didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag until I was really ready. I made sure that I had something good before I started blasting it out over the internet. Everything upped a notch when SBC agreed to play with the Bosstones at their 16th Hometown Throwdown. The band was excited to play and I knew that momentum would translate into the film. So, with a deadline in mind, we got to work and as of this writing we’re 77% towards our goal with nine days remaining. So, I’d say it’s working out really fucking well! THANK YOU EVERYONE WHO’S BACKED IT!

What happens to the film if you don’t reach your goal? I’m assuming you’re not going to shelve it, but I guess it means those who’re looking forward to it are going to have to wait that much longer?
I feel pretty confident that we’ll reach the goal. If we don’t make it, I will keep trying. I mean, eight years, I’m not going to give up easily? Where there’s a will, there’s a way and I’m very willing. I’m hoping this film drops in the fall of 2014, and yes, if we don’t reach the goal, then it will be a longer wait.


In doing this and having the involvement of the band, have there been any rumblings of a reunion?
The band played on Dec. 29, 2013 at The House of Blues in Boston opening for The Mighty Mighty Bosstones as I mentioned before. They want to play again and they are talking about it, but nothing is confirmed as I write this.

Email interviews are convenient, but I always feel like I’m missing a million things. Feel free to mention anything you feel needs to be mentioned.
I’m one of those guys who could talk your ear off about hardcore, metal, bands, tour stories, art, comedy, photography, blah, blah, blah. I guess I’ll sum it up with this: I’m extremely thankful that I got to work on this project. I’m thrilled that I got to meet a lot of people that I have a deep respect for like Dr. Know from Bad Brains, Neil from Clutch, and Page from Helmet. I’m beyond blown away by the support that I’ve received in the past few weeks from people donating, tweeting, posting, and generally just talking about it. I’ll leave with a few links and just say THANK YOU KEVIN for the interview.

The Kickstarter: www.kickstarter.com/projects/943874932/sam-black-church-documentary

Duncan’s website: thrashachusetts.com

Sam Black Church on Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Sam-Black-Church/22520271017