Illustration by Sarah-Jayne Brain
Record shops have always been a particular haunt of mine – from my (short-lived) days as a superstar student DJ when I’d go on the hunt for Friday night floor fillers for the student union, to my weekly shopping expeditions to the much missed Selectadisc in Nottingham to boost my Bowie collection, right up to the present – rummaging through the record racks in such establishments as Rough Trade and Sister Ray.
Being a record geek, I naturally had to check out a new documentary which I’d heard had been made about a small independent record shop in the North East (at a time when such shops are disappearing at an alarming rate), especially when it was then premiered at this year’s SXSW in Austin, Texas, and subsequently became the official film for Record Store Day 2011, picking up plaudits along the way! That film is Sound It Out, by Jeanie Finlay, and it follows the trials and tribulations of running Sound It Out Records, an independent record shop (the last one, in fact) in Stockton-on-Tees.
All photography courtesy of Jeanie Finlay.
I caught a screening of the film at Rough Trade East a while ago, which was followed by a Q&A with Jeanie Finlay and a typically robust performance by Stockton’s Chapman Family (who also contributed to the soundtrack). It’s a funny, touching piece, and it’s more than a just film about a record shop, it’s also about a love of music, and what it means to the community that gathers around the shop, and about the larger community, in Stockton, as well.
Amelia’s Magazine posed a few questions to Jeanie Finlay about the documentary.
What inspired you to make the documentary? Is the finished film how you imagined it when you first started, or has it taken on a life of its own?
Sound It Out is a documentary portrait about the very last record shop in Teesside, Sound It Out Records, Stockton-on-Tees. It’s a film about music and passion and collecting, all encased in a tiny shop on a small street in the place where I grew up. I went to school with Tom (the shop owner) and although Sound It Out isn’t a shop from my formative years (Alan Fearnley’s RIP) it was clear how much the shop meant to people when I’d go in to visit. It seemed like the perfect place to make a film about what music means to people and about the North East, about my home. Over the last five years a record shop has closed in the UK every three days so it seemed important to document Sound It Out in all its glory. It’s the first film I’ve made on my own – I usually work with a crew. For Sound It Out I wanted to just start shooting, just me and the camera and see what happened. I sensed there was a film to be made in the story of the shop but I really wasn’t sure until long into the shoot. I needed to find out by just doing it. All the way through, from the filming, edit, design and distribution I’ve just tried to follow my gut instinct and go with it.
Was it easy to persuade Tom to let you film in the shop? It must have been a bit of an unexpected request!
He was totally open and gave me complete access to the shop. The filming was a bit of a novelty at first and then I think it just became normal. When I’m filming things get good when it just feels boring – everyone has got so used to me filming that it’s not anything out of the ordinary. I’m just that girl in the corner with the camera. Tom was the only person I knew before I started and it was really interesting getting to know the regulars and deciding who the film would focus on. I was totally drawn to the shyer people who came in.
You get a few candid interviews with a lot of the regulars in the shop. Was that intended, to capture the ‘person behind the record buyer’, or was it something that just happened naturally?
I’m always interested in getting to know people ‘on camera’. The people I met were very candid and generous with what they shared. My films are always pretty personal and aim to find a glimmer of the person inside. I hope that people come away from the film feeling like they’ve got to know the people they’ve met on screen, for a moment. I’m not just interested in music – I’m interested in what it means to people and how it moves them. For me – music is powerful because other people’s lyrics and sounds can tell the story of our lives in a way that could be hard to articulate with words alone.
Were you surprised by the critical reception Sound It Out received? And what did Tom and the customers think when they first saw it?
I was really nervous to show the film to Tom and the customers but they all seem to have taken the film to their hearts. Tom had been at a rough cut viewing but the first time he saw the finished film was the world premiere at SXSW, Austin. I was so overwhelmed after I did my introduction I burst into tears. I then just sat back in my seat and watched the audience. They were incredibly warm and Tom ended up on stage giving out advice on the best way to clean records. It was an amazing day. Since then the critical reaction has been kind of crazy. I originally imagined that I would do a small DVD run of the film and sell it in Tom’s shop. The film’s played at festivals all over the world. We’re now looking at a UK theatrical release and putting out a soundtrack EP on vinyl. We did a weeks run in NYC last week and got reviewed in the New York Times. I could not have predicted any of this:
‘Ms. Finlay’s smartly assembled film is an affectionate portrait of a shrinking group of record collectors under technological siege… Like a mint pressing in a bargain bin SOUND IT OUT is a rare find. Sweet.‘ (Daniel M. Gold, THE NEW YORK TIMES)
I don’t think it’s a film for everyone but the people that do like it seem to really like it.
Teesside has got a pretty vibrant music scene, and you include tracks by a few local artists (such as the Chapman Family, Das Wanderlust and Soviet Disco) in the film. Do you think that the area’s environment has helped create a distinct Teesside sound?
Totally… absolutely. Das Wanderlust makes me think of the strange landscapes of my youth and I love the moody, brooding sounds of the Chapman Family. Teesside runs through their music like words through Brighton Rock.
You’re currently trying to raise funds to get Sound It Out a full UK cinema release. With record shops still in a perilous position, are you hoping to inspire more people to support their local stores?
My film has been made with blood, sweat, tears and the support of (so far) 329 backers on crowd-funding website Indiegogo.com. It’s a micro budget film and we crowd-funded the shoot, the post production and when we got into SXSW we raised enough to get there for the premiere. It’s been like running a sponsored swim with a film as the goal and backers picking perks in exchange for their support. We’re now trying to finish our DIY story by raising enough to take the film to 30 cinemas across the UK. If we reach our goal of $10,000 we will unlock BFI P&A funding which will make it happen. Supporters can choose a limited edition 7” gatefold DVD with a baby blue vinyl soundtrack EP, a tour of the shop, a portable record player or bring the film to their own home. We still have a way to go but I’m hopeful. Each $ pledged gets us that little bit nearer – it’s the power of the crowd! I really do hope that people make the most of their local record shops. One of the pleasures of working on this film has been visiting some amazing shops. If you don’t use it – it will go, forever! We’re planning to hook up with local record shops when we take the film to cinemas. Get people in there buying something surprising.
After all the promotional work for Sound It Out, do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
Yes! Two new films, both feature documentaries – The Great Hip Hop Hoax (for BBC Scotland and Storyville), a film about LA hip hop act Silibil n’ Brains. No one knew they were Scottish, with fake American accents and made-up identities and ORION: The man who would be King, the rise and fall of a masked singer on Sun Records that tens of thousands believed was Elvis back from the grave.
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