Via their official Web site, The Hives report that they were seen in Memphis on Sunday, November 28th, "running all over town chased by cameras and lighting equipment. Locals where [sic] puzzled and confused and amazed," a spokesman for the group noted. "As it turns out, they were being filmed for a series of musical short films based on them by a local filmmaker called JMM."
Yes, that JMM -- John Michael McCarthy, Memphis' director of schlocky B-movies, heir apparent to the Ed Wood and John Waters style of filmmaking. The man behind campy features such as Teenage Tupelo and The Sore Losers -- as well as a new TV commercial touting downtown Memphis -- has also shot a handful of music videos, for the likes of Guitar Wolf, The Flakes, The Oblivians, and The Porch Ghouls.
"In 2000, I was in Sweden showing Superstarlet A.D. and E*vis Meets the Beat*es, and Howlin' Pelle Almqvist [the Hives' frontman] came up to me afterward. He gave me a few CDs and asked me to shoot a Hives video," McCarthy says.
At the time, McCarthy confesses, he didn't know much about the band -- but the Hives, big fans of Memphis' circa-'90s garage scene, have since championed his work and helped spread the word about local musicians. At their recent New Daisy gig, Almqvist pulled Greg Cartwright of The Reigning Sound -- who opened the show -- onstage for an impromptu rendition of his song "Stop and Think It Over." McCarthy caught the performance on Betacam, while photographer Dan Ball was busy shooting stills of the group.
"We started by shooting on a blue screen at Steve Jones' studio in Cooper-Young," McCarthy says of the Hives video. "Then we did a street scene outside of the Arcade and Earnestine & Hazel's. Their soundcheck was at 3:30 in the afternoon, and I filmed that too." He hopes to have captured enough footage for videos of the songs "Abra Cadaver" and "A Little More for Little You," both off the Hives' latest album, Tyrannosaurus Hives.
The latter video, McCarthy explains, is a collaboration between him and another local filmmaker, Buddy Gray. "He wrote it. It was a challenge to direct his story and make sure we got it all in the short amount of time we had," he says.
"Before their show, the Hives wanted to go to Graceland. I didn't know how they were gonna possibly do that in the time they had left," McCarthy says with a laugh. Apparently, the Memphis-loving Swedes made it: They reported on their Web site that they found Elvis Presley's mansion "kind of like Hive manor but a bit smaller. We also had great food at a local deli and spent a few increasingly useless US dollars at the local record store Goner."
The Hives videos aren't the only music-centric project McCarthy's been working on. "I just cut a Jim Dickinson video for the song 'Down in Mississippi,'" he says. "I just wanted him to have a video. So many Memphis artists don't have 'em. Look at guys like Alex Chilton and Dan Penn, who never got in front of a camera. Maybe they have an aversion toward it, but a video can really be anything. It's good publicity and a challenge to the imagination."
Memphix Records plans to drop two new singles before the end of the year: sides from Red & the Eyerights (local spinner Luke Sexton, aka Red Eye Jedi, co-founder of Memphix) and Express Rising (Dante Carfagna, the Chicago-based DJ who's also a partner in the label). "The 'A' side of my single is really world-music-sounding, like Fela Kuti or some chopped-up Afro funk," Sexton says, "while I used a jazz sample from Walter Bishop for the basis of the 'B' side. Then I flipped all this other stuff around it, including a Christmas record, and programmed everything else."
"This week," Sexton adds, "we're going in to get the Tunnel Clones CD mastered. If everything goes right, we'll have it out before Christmas." The disc will be on his own label, Hemphix, an imprint of Memphix Records. In the meantime, he's working on his own mixtape project for Memphix and collaborating with Scott Bomar on some songs based on outtakes from the Hustle & Flow film score.
"Luke hasn't had a mixtape out in years, so it's definitely beyond time," says Memphix co-founder Chad Weekley, who manages the label from his current home in Tempe, Arizona.
But right now, Weekley's even more excited about a project that dropped into his lap: a reel-to-reel recording of DJ Big Mo doing a set at RC's Lounge on Lamar Avenue, complete with a live performance from soul group Joe Perkins & the Memphians.
Live at Big Mo's -- a sure hit for fans of last year's Chains & Black Exhaust black rock collection -- should hit the streets by the end of the year. Until then, groove aficionados will have to satisfy themselves with visits to the Glass Onion restaurant, where Red Eye Jedi and DJ Leroy are spinning records every Monday in December. •