40 Days of Rock & Roll tours U.S. music scene

Coco Keevan

Steve LaBate, a former editor of Paste Magazine and director Scott Sloan teamed up to create 40 Nights of Rock & Roll, a feature-length documentary that took on the lofty goal of traveling to 40 cities, seeing 40 shows and interviewing 40 bands.

The Summer Northwestern spoke to LaBate about the documentary.


Summer NU: So, tell us about yourselves. LaBate: I’ve been playing in this band for about five years, and we don’t really get out of Atlanta much. We’ll get pretty close to selling out the Earl sometimes. It’s just really over-the-top. We call it ‘awesome-core’ or ‘comedy-core.’ Essentially, it’s just an amalgamation of every style of rock n’ roll music ever played with really, really absurd lyrics and a great over-the-top stage show with lots of props and costumes.

I was an editor at Paste for like seven years. In January, I severed ties with Paste magazine and struck out on my own. Me and Scott came up with this crazy documentary idea, 40 Nights of Rock & Roll. Actually, the night that I knew I wasn’t going to be working at the magazine anymore, me and Scott had this brainstorming conversation. He was in Denver, and I was in Atlanta, and we had a couple other crazy ideas first, one about hunting pumas in Argentina and another about getting a whole bunch of guns and driving down through Mexico and into Central America, seeing if we could join a coup somewhere. We thought that might be fun. But then, you know, we decided a safer idea that would be really, really cool would be to go out and do this sort of State of the Union or, as we called it at the time, this oil check on rock n’ roll. Now, the trip’s done. Scott’s back in Denver, and he’s working on editing the film together, and I’m working on writing a book about the trip. And that’s kind of where we’re at right now.Summer NU: So, the itinerary. How did you decide who you wanted to see and where?LaBate: We wanted a really big cross-section of sound that falls under the large umbrella of rock n’ roll music to get this sweeping look at what rock n’ roll was like in America in 2010, so far removed from its beginnings, and after all these people, from Lester Bangs to Sufjan Stevens saying ‘Rock & Roll’ is dead over the years. We felt like this music is still vibrant, it still has life in it. There’s still new things being done, and there are old forms that people are breathing life into, and the spirit of rock n’ roll is very much alive. It’s just not about a sound, it’s about an attitude. A lot of bands we interviewed on the road, we talked to them about what rock n’ roll is to them, and words kept popping up like ‘danger,’ ‘risk’ and ‘rebellion’ and ‘nonconformity,’ and these kinds of things that you would assume people would associate with rock n’ roll, but they really, really believed in it.

I had a soft spot for Ratt. They were my favorite band in elementaryschool. The first time I actually ever performed in front of people, I did lip-synching toRatt’s ‘Round and Round.’ It was sort of a childhood dream to talk to Warren DeMartini,who’s the guitarist in Ratt, and also Carlos Cavazo, who used to be in Quiet Riot butis now in Ratt. I just wanted to get the time machine and go back to my childhood selfand be like, ‘You get to interview Ratt at a Best Western in Baltimore in 2010!’ Thatperformance that I did when I was in first or second grade, my sister made me a guitar,and it was just a piece of wood, she painted it, with kite strings on it. It was me andmy friend Bobby from down the street. He was the singer, and I was the guitar player,and we sold little tickets with little music notes drawn on them to all the kids around theneighborhood for 10 cents or 25 cents or something. We took all their money, and mymom set up chairs in the living room, and everyone came and they said ‘Rock concert,10 cents!’ All the kids came, and we came out, and we turned the stereo on, and we gotup on the fireplace, and we were like jumping around and lip-synching and headbangingand jamming out to ‘Round and Round.’ 10 seconds into it, one kid stands up andgoes, ‘Hey, they’re not even really playing!’ And all the kids got up and were like, ‘Yeah!This is lame. We want our money back!’ And they were like, ‘We’re going to beat yourass if you don’t give us our money back!’ My mom hold them off long enough, and wegave them their money back, and everyone left. That was my first public performance.
Summer NU: Is it safe to assume that the shows you saw along the way were a little better than the first one you ever played?LaBate: Yes. The spirit was still there the first time, it was just that we were kind of like Milli Vanilli at that point. We didn’t really know what we were doing. We were just lip-synching. But we looked cool, and that’s what’s important. [email protected]