Bill Simmon & Jeff Baron 23 March 2016 on Rocket Shop
Words by Tom Proctor. Photo by Photo James Lockridge/Big Heavy World.
Bill Simmon & Jeff Baron joined host Brent Hallenbeck on 'Rocket Shop', Big Heavy World's local Vermont music radio hour on 105.9FM The Radiator. They were in the studio to talk about the legendary Burlington band The Pants! and Bill's documentary High Water Mark: The Rise & Fall of The Pants.
Bill Simmon is a man of talents and passions, encompassing all things “new media” he has promoted his works across multiple platforms including film making, podcasting, writing and educating. His most recent work, the documentary “High Water Mark”, focuses on the zenith of Burlington's musical scene, the blurred mix of genres and vibes that occurred in the mid-90’s when the Queen City’s homegrown talent almost took off into the stratosphere. No one embodied that scene more than ‘The Pants’, and their reunion gig in 2006 is a focal point for the film, looking into the crystallized moment when it all could have happened and how that moment had evolved ten and twenty years on.
In the studio to discuss the documentary, Bill had a sit down with Tom Proctor to talk Pants, unifying theories and the difficulty of finding the right story to tell:
Tom Proctor: So your film debuts at Higher Ground on Saturday the 26th, a documentary exploring the reunion of the Burlington band ‘Pants’ that took place in 2006. How did you come up with the concept for this production?
Bill Simmon: The film isn’t about the reunion so much, the reunion is just part of the film. I was in Burlington in the 90’s and I was involved in the music scene, so when the reunion came up I had an epiphany. It was a great scene back then with a lot of great bands around but this band in particular was a band’s band, this was the one band that every other band would go see. I knew I wanted to shoot the reunion and thought about turning the footage into a documentary but I didn’t really know what I was doing at that time. That was part of why it took ten years to finish. Once I had committed to the film it was hard to tell what the film should be, was it a love letter to the band that now didn’t exist or was it trying to be a universal story about the music industry, big fish in small ponds? So I got kind of stuck and it wasn’t until I let go and stepped back that I was able to create a film that I wanted to see as a fan of the band. That happened about a year ago and the last twelve months has been an intense editing process. It’s kind of cool that the process took ten years because it feels like theres this time capsule quality to the movie.
TP: On the poster for the film Casey Rae opines that ‘Pants’ will “Forever be the grand unifying theory of Burlington Rock and Roll”. So in your opinion what is that theory?
BS: I think what Casey is saying is that in the 90s and even to this day, there's a very diverse musical scene in Burlington. You have the Phish thing, you’ve got punk, hip hop, folk, there's a lot of variety in Burlington. When the Pants played they managed bridge all of those different genres. It’s because they covered so many different styles in their own music, there's a lot of punk, there's a lot of rock, there's a lot of indie, it was a big mixture and they were excellent at all of them. It was very authentic, very Burlington and I think that’s what Casey was getting at. That no matter what style you were into, the Pants did it and through that they really brought the musical scene together.
TP: Revisiting the various people that appear in the film this year, did they have different opinions than the ideas they held back in 2006 when you began filming?
BS: Ahh, no. I had the opposite experience. I interviewed Pistol the guitar player around the time of the reunion show and I saw him again last fall. He and I got a beer and we started talking about the film, he was really worried because he couldn’t remember what he had said way back in 2006 and he wanted to express some sentiments that he wasn’t sure he expressed the first time around. He told me what he wanted to say and I could almost finish the sentences for him because he had said these things in the original interview and he said them almost word for word. It turns out people brains, at least with people in their 30s and 40s people generally think and feel the same way ten years later.
TP: Where you surprised by that or did you see it coming?
BS: I was kind of surprised but really I was mostly relieved. One of the trickiest things I have found in the last year is that I was going to finish and that meant I had to go back to the band and tell them that this was actually going to happen. I needed to show them what I had to they could get back on board with the project. Ten years had passed, we were all different people at this point, so were they even still willing to have their lives opened up again? If anyone of them had said no I wouldn’t have gone forward, so tackling that was really hairy, I had to make sure I was really confident in what I had created. They were cool with it though so it was all good.
TP: You have a few big names that will be performing at the showing on Saturday, is that a nod to the past with regards to how The Pants unified the Burlington music scene?
BS: Every single person playing on Saturday, bar Ryan miller, was in the scene, knew the Pants and were friends with them in the 90s. It’s was a small scene so it’s a high school reunion to a certain extent. It’s not intentional that there is such a mix of genres playing, it's just that the Pants did have this very diverse following so it occurred naturally.
TP: As a filmmaker is this documentary similar to works you have created in the past?
BS: This is longer compared to the films I usually make. I do make a wide variety of films but I have found that I have gravitated towards musical based works. I made a documentary about custom guitar maker Creston Lee last year and I made a film about Christian McBride, a jazz bass player, which is almost complete. So there does seem to be a theme of making music related things. Not by choice it just seems to have worked out that way.
TP: What is the audience that you wish to show this documentary to? Are you looking to get a new generation into their music or is this solely for the former fans?
BS: At this event it will be mostly people who are already fans of the band or are fans of other performers at the show, but I do think the film has the potential to bring forward a new audience if the film can be seen by enough people so I hope this film can reach them.