Interview by Hassan Baker
The Damned are the forgotten pioneers of the punk movement. Wes Orshoski (director of ‘Lemmy: 49% mother**ker. 51% son of a bitch) documents the forgotten band in his latest film ‘’The Damned: Don’t You Wish You Were Dead’, showing every side of the band, the raw, power filled live group, to a couple of guys struggling to hold everything together.
What led you to do this film, what about the damned was so gripping?
“I never thought about making a film about The Damned, I met Captain Sensible and Dave Vanian while I was doing the Lemmy film, they pinched the drummer in the current line-up, the current line-up has been together for almost twenty years, they asked me if I wanted to do it. I said well I’m not into making a throw away kind of DVD, but the more I thought about it, I thought these guys are the perfect subject for a film, you know its funny cause everybody’s telling me that its surprising that nobodies done it before, and it is surprising nobody’s done it before.”
When you approached the band about the film, how did they react?
“Rat and Brian were really hard, Brian was pretty nice, but suspicious, but it took over a year to get Rat on board, he held me at arm’s length because he didn’t trust me. I had to prove myself to them, I had to pitch them, I had to show them that I didn’t have a show without them. To me there was no film without Rat and Brian.”
Before you started, what did you intend for this film to be?
“I just wanted to make a good film, an entertaining film, I wanted to ultimately, hopefully, maybe the end result would be that The Damned gets more awareness. I don’t know if it’s just the way of the British press that when you make film in a certain way that shows the personalities of the band, you’re dubbed a fan boy or something, I was not a fan boy, I wasn’t a fan at all of the band beforehand. It wasn’t like that, I just wasn’t very passionate about them, my favourite band is The Clash. So when I say I want more people to be aware of them and their history, it’s not from a fan boys perspective, it’s the writing of a lull. They’re not as big as The Clash or The Pistols, for some reason the band had been written out, maybe it’s because they didn’t have much commercial success. It’s just weird, the history of music is written by people who weren’t there, and I wasn’t there either, from my view, they were there from the beginning and they deserve your respect too.”
What, in your opinion is the most important thing to keep in mind when filming a rockumentary?
“Just to keep filming, to film all the time, to not shy away from the ugly stuff, the embarrassing stuff, cause that is the most human stuff. “
How does a band influence the way you shoot a film?
“Vanians lack of participation forced me to kinda hide cameras in the dressing room, you see him picking up the camera at one point, so I just had to stick it in his face at times, and irritate him. Normally I’d be a bit more cool about it, but on the film side of it, Sensible and Rat were more up for it, so knew I could just stick it in their face.”
The relationship between band mates in The Damned is very different to Motorhead, what differences were most obvious to you as a film maker?
“The guys from Motorhead, it’s not that they don’t like each other, it’s just that they’re very different people, they all have separate dressing rooms, and they’ve been at it for so long, and they’ve been successful at it, that they know how to make it work. That’s one of the ways that they make it work, they have their own space. One guy might want to play music, one guy might want to play a slot machine, like Lemmy, you know some other guy might want to watch TV. If the current line-up wanted to ignite, that’s how they’d have to do it, because they’re all extremely different people.”
Was there more tension between the band than the film showed?
“Maybe a little, I mean I think. You hear me ask Sensible about Vanian and his lack of participation in certain things, and you know he won’t say anything because he doesn’t want to jeopardise his job, so I had to use a clip from the nineties to show that side of Dave, when he didn’t show to a gig and things like that. There were things they wouldn’t say. The strange thing is, between Sensible and Scabies, I think there’s a weird connection, they each have something for one another, and I don’t know man, I feel at this point, as you get older, there’s relationships between people that fall apart, and there’s weirdness between people, and you can’t really remember what it is, but you just feel like you shouldn’t like this person or whatever, and then meanwhile, they’ve all become more mature people, so I wonder if Sensible and Scabies are kind of like that. They maybe don’t even remember why they hate each other.”
Who’s crazier, Motorhead, or The Damned?
“The funny thing is Phil Campbell might be the craziest of them all, but he’s not even anymore, he’s sober now and he’s being like a good boy, they’re all pretty old, that’s the weird thing about rock n roll, I don’t know if any of them are pretty crazy anymore. “
I was wondering because Lemmy kind of stretched the boundaries of the rock n roll lifestyle.
“Not any more man, the last time I saw him he was drinking Gatorade, someone gave him a jack and coke and he didn’t touch it. It stayed in the bar untouched. I don’t think that’s his lifestyle anymore, it can’t be.”
What was the most difficult thing about filming this?
“Oh man everything, complete lack of participation by some band members, having to beg other band members, the money, I financed it all myself. One thing that’s weird I think, as you go on at Europe, a year, the relationships start to change, and it can sour at some point, and you’re trying to survive that souring, it’s hard. Like when Captain knew that I had been to shoot Rat and Brain, Captain started treating me different, he was weird, and I had to cope with that as well as other stress from making that film, so you know that sucked. There was no reason for him to be weird about it, I mean you can’t make a film without him, he’s part of the story. I just did it all, I did everything myself man, the only thing I didn’t do all by myself was a couple of multi-cam shoots and colour correction and the final mix, everything else I did on my own. It took about four years, I started shooting it in august of 2011, and I shot the final stuff in Halloween 2014.”
The Damned did so much, how did you keep up with all of it?
“It’s weird, the more I learn about them, at the risk of sounding like I’ve drank The Damned’s Kool-Aid a bit, the more that they seem to be the true punk band. That’s what Lemmy calls them at one point in the film, because with The Pistols and The Clash, you have these managers that create the tension or pull strings and create publicity events. The Damned didn’t have any of that, they were really reckless, and didn’t care about what people thought about their image. They were just completely out of their minds. They did things exactly the way they wanted to do them, they wrote the music that they felt, when they felt it. I think that’s really admirable.”
What’s in the future for you, more documentaries?
“Ya definitely, but I don’t know what I’m gonna do next, I’m probably gonna do something more New York based, I’d like to take a break from working with a band for a while, it’s too emotionally, and financially taxing. It’s like having your life controlled by musicians, with their whims and being beholding at their mood swings, you know it’s a really stressful situation for filming.”