Category Archives: Big Sky Documentary Film Festival

Indie musician and budding filmmaker Dan Tedesco is ‘Chasing the Lightning’

I have been fortunate enough to work with a couple of documentary film festivals since moving to Montana, the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and the International Wildlife Film Festival.  When I see a documentary that features an indie musician, I get really excited.  Such is the case with the forthcoming documentary film Chasing the Lightning, by indie musician Dan Tedesco.  He is heading out soon to promote his short 20 minute film with a tour that will include a Question and Answer session followed by a concert of his music.  The tour includes a stop at Los Angeles’ El Cid on September 13.  We sat down with Tedesco for an interview and this is what transpired.

IVB:  What is your musical background?

DT:  Pretty eclectic.  I started with piano at the age of five, which led to the violin in elementary school.  I then fell in love with the guitar in junior high, which became my instrument of choice.  I took some lessons, but most of my training came from listening to music and finding out what I liked.  I started loving the jazz world and instrumental music, and played in the jazz workshop band (12-15 pieces).  I followed that up with an intense study of jazz at Arizona State University for several years.  However, I began to feel like the study was messing with my brain and I was losing the organics of playing.

After college I went back to my rock roots and began songwriting.  I wanted to be a studio musician, but also wanted more control of my musical destiny, so I decided to learn to sing.  I started playing out in Tempe about the time I was graduating and began getting some local support that encouraged me to continue doing it.  I even played at a hookah lounge weekly.   After graduation, I decided to move to Los Angeles to check out the music scene.  I stayed on a friend’s couch until he threw me out, and ended up staying in LA for about a year, doing open mics and working a full-time job while trying to play out.

This burning the candle at both ends finally caught up with me and I decided to get out of LA and move to Chicago.  I put together a summer’s worth of gigs (having grown up in the suburbs of Chicago, and formed a band called Dan Tedesco and the Long Haul.  We released our first album, Staring at a Green Light, in March 2009.   We tured regionally in the Midwest and I slowly lost members of my band.  By 2011, when we released Tracks on Fire, I was touring with just a drummer.  He eventually left me to pursue other avenues and I was back to playing solo.

I think that the experience of being in a band got me through that part of my career but cleared my need to find myself.   I next started looking at what I could do with a solo career.  I began by creating my own sound using a stomp box, amps, and the keys, stretching where my music could go sonically as a solo artist.  I wanted to keep it organic without using looping, and take the stereotype singer-songwriter and smash it.  I did this from 2012-2014 before releasing my third album Death in the Valley.

I toured solo until around the end of 2015.  Inspired by Springsteen’s Nebraska project, I began creating demos at home on my ipad,  I listened to them and liked the lo-fi aspect.  I sought advice from my friends who were very supportive, and people seemed to connect with it.  I’m really glad I did the project, which resulted in a self-titled album of 10 songs, which I released in October 2015.

I kept recording but pushed it further by adding layers through the  Garage Band program.  I even found a cool drum machine and used it to create some cool songs.  Once again my friends were supportive, so I decided to do a double album in May 2016, combining the first set of stripped down songs and then redoing them with the layers.  The project is currently up on Spotify.  Through this process I gained a basic working knowledge of sound engineering.  I am very proud of these songs and the response they have generated.  I am currently working on new record, and am about three-quarters done.

IVB:  Who are your musical influences?

DT:  Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani, and Eric Johnson (who taught Steve Vai and others) were my early ones.  Other artists that greatly influenced me were John Coltrane, Wes Montgomery, McCoy Tyner, Stanley Jordan and other jazz greats.  Dylan, Springsteen, Tom Petty, Jackson Brown and Tom Waits also influenced me as a songwriter.

IVB:  What prompted you to make Chasing the Lightning?

DT:   I think more than anything that it was a story that needed to be told.  I have watched a lot of documentary films and have never seen anyone tell the story of what it is to be a working musician.  Maybe on a grandiose level maybe, but not the simplistic facts of being one of the other 99% of working musicians.  I wanted to tell this story to people so that they could see what most of us are going through, the working class version.  I also wanted to let people know that it is a job and that it is hard work.  I wanted to inspire people to do this but also give them a reality check if they think it is all grandiose.  I believe that showing people is a lot more powerful than simply telling them.

I have always loved films and documentaries like Anthony Bordane’s Kitchen Confidential, which exposed the unknown world of a professional chef.  That film inspired me to expose my world so they can see the behind the scenes life of a working musician.  I wanted my film to be both enlightening and educational, a wake-up call of what can be expected from a life on the road as a full-time musician.  I hired a friend to come and do the video with me, and we shopped it to people but couldn’t find anyone to help me with finish it.  I ended up doing it myself, writing the narration and pulling up the right clips that I knew precisely where they were.  Since I decided to edit it myself,  I had to teach myself how to do that.  I watched YouTube videos to learn the process.  It was truly a magical experience as the clips would fit right in with the music and line up perfectly.  This was a sign to me that I was creating something special, a truly remarkable experience that I am so glad I could do.

IVB:  What are your plans for the movie?  For your future musical career?

DT:  I am getting ready to embark on a fall/winter tour to most of the country.  Each night we’ll do a screening of the film and a Q&A with the audience, followed by an hour musical set.  I have also submitted to several film festivals including Montana’s Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.  I’m waiting to see who is interested.

I am especially looking forward to the El Cid show in Los Angeles, as I am returning to the place I left to start this journey.  I will be also be playing Seattle, Eugene and Portland shows in the Pacific Northwest.

I’m hoping to work on a new album to be released later in 2017.   I have an investor for the new album which I hope will kick me in a new direction.  We live and die by the number of gigs we can get, so having an additional stream of revenue that is not just performance based gives me a little breathing room to grow my career.  When you have people that do what they say they will do, it is a plus for your career.  Unfortunately I have found that art does not always imitate life – and it can be disheartening.

I have made it a practice to not seek a massive fan base.  Instead, I strive to fine about 2,000 people that are committed to my music.  If each of those people spend just $40 a year, that gives me an income of $80,000 a year, plus what I earn from my performances, licensing, etc.  Every artist must define his or her own level of success.  Above all else there is a true need to find balance.

BSDFF brings ‘Bright Lights’ to Missoula’s Wilma Theatre

Kicking off their 14th annual run, the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival opened on Friday night with a screening of the HBO documentary Bright Lights at the Wilma.  Fans began lining up before 6 p.m. for the free screening, and filled the house to capacity.

The documentary tells the story of the relationship between Debbie Reynolds and her children, Carrie Fisher and Todd Fisher, and is based on a small portion of the film archives of the family.  It was heartfelt and raw, and made you want to laugh, cry and cheer, all at the same time.

The film was introduced by current Executive Director Rachel Gregg, who was joined by the film’s producer, Todd Fisher.  Fisher returned after the screening and participated in a Q&A session that lasted for nearly an hour.

The Festival continues through February 26, with screenings at a multitude of venues, including the Wilma, the Elks Lodge, the Public House, the Roxy and the MCT Center for the Performing Arts.  Headquarters for the event will be at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography (216 N. Higgins), where you can purchase tickets and merchandise, participate in the VR Experience or attend classes on documentary filmmaking through the Doc Shops series, which begins on Monday, February 20.

For more information, check out the Festival’s website.  You can find the schedule here.