Like any really great documentary, A Band Called Death's thematic scope becomes almost infinite by the time the film ends. But at the center of all that story are two brothers who stuck together long enough to see their groundbreaking work in the '70s protopunk band, Death, finally validated against all odds.
Those who have seen the film can probably imagine how excited I was to have a conversation with Dannis Hackney, Bobby Hackney, and the newest member of the group, Bobbie Duncan, who were just as nice as you'd expect. Those who haven't seen the film should do so immediately. The film is currently available on iTunes, VOD, and will be released theatrically in select cities June 28..
Evan Saathoff: One of the things that I didn't quite understand when I was watching the film was whether or not Death played live shows in the '70s. Did you guys go out and play a lot or did the band stick mostly with recording and practicing?
Dannis Hackney: There were no live shows in the '70s. People just couldn't wrap themselves around the name of the band. We tried to go into some clubs, but we were either too this or we were too that. For all of the clubs we were too loud.
We did try to play some of the clubs that were notable around the Detroit area like Uncle Sam's or The Electric Circus. A club called Harpos gave us one chance on a Monday night. I think there were two couples on the dance floor. There wasn't much crowd, and the show didn't really work out.
That's why we were always composing music, either playing in the room or down in the garage.
ES: This movie tells a really specific story, but as it goes the themes just get bigger and bigger. When you watch a movie about yourself and it covers this very specific part of your life, does it feel incomplete or does it feel like a great summation of something you're really proud of?
DH: It does feel like a summation of something that we are very proud of. Mark Covino and Jeff Howlett made sure that they got the story accurately. They basically became members of our family for four years while they filmed this thing. I think they did a very good job. They got most of it right, and we're very satisfied with the project.
ES: How is the new music coming along?
We have a finished album, and we're going to have a single from that album coming out soon. The actual album will come out probably before the end of the year. And there'll be a lot more music even after this album. We got a long musical agenda.
ES: In the movie your lives are changed. How much have your lives been changed by the movie?
DH: Oh, immensely. It's not enough that the music was rediscovered. It came down on us like a house from the sky. Four years later the movie has come out and it has exploded all over the country and half way around the world. We can't help but be very pleased to go from obscurity to this.
ES: One of the main things about this movie is how positive you guys are about everything. And now that there's all this validation, it becomes a really emotional feel-good kind of story. It's interesting to see how these events affect you both in the movie and now because of the movie.
Bobby Hackney: I think what you said is very true. You know, we were always close brothers. At the end of the day, no matter what successes or failures we had, we knew that we loved each other. And we knew there'd be nowhere else to go except in each other's direction. And that's one of the things that kept us so positive. We just enjoyed being with each other, both musically and as a family, so we were always close like that.
So even with the record deal that David turned down, that didn't define us. We went on to make more music. So it was just that togetherness that kept us in that positive light.
ES: Well, not only that, but I think the best moment in the film is when you realize how Death's music and legacy ends up extending to the next generation. That must feel incredible. But that moment wouldn't have been possible had you taken that record deal such a long time ago.
BH: Well, we always look back and say if there was any thread or strand that was taken out of the fabric of this story, it would have turned out totally different. I'd like to say this was some great master plan that we devised, but we were just living our lives, and along came Death (laughs - and if you've seen the film, you can understand what a wonderful laugh this was to hear in person).
ES: Bobbie, the pressure you're under to take David's place must be pretty extreme.
Bobbie Duncan: It's a double edged sword. It's a fantastic opportunity for a guy like me to run into the Hackney brothers out of nowhere. But it's also a burden because those are some very big shoes to fill. It's not just some guitar player's shoes. This guy was way ahead of his time; he's sort of like a prodigy. So there's always a lot of weight. Each time I go on stage, I try to do the man honor. I mean, that's the least I can do.
I wish he was here though because we kind of came from the same school. I was born six days after him and we were probably listening to the same music coming up.
ES: Is there anything really specific in the future that you want to accomplish musically or otherwise?
BH: We have a lot of songs that were written by David that had deep meaning to him and meaning to us that we want to share with the world and all those who love the band, Death. We have a great team now, and we like to think David is the one who handpicked Bobbie Duncan who is also a great songwriter. It's great, I've got two teams to choose from: I've got David, and I've got Bobbie. There's going to be a lot of great music coming out.
I'm just thankful that me and Dannis stuck around for all these year,s so that we could hang out and at least be available when this thing happens.
ES: That's an amazing part of it too. Just being available at a later part of your life to get back to rock music. There is almost no aspect of this story that is at all normal.
BH: No we agree, we totally agree.
If you're interested in learning more about Death, here are some upcoming tour dates as well as a song for download:
Upcoming Death Concerts:
June 28 - 29 - The Cinefamily in Los Angeles, CA
July 1 - Le Poisson Rouge in New York, NY