Bright Blue Gorilla are a musical and filmmaking duo who have been making waves in the artistic world since 1990. Originally from Los Angeles, they have travelled across the world to spread their particular brand of inspiration across a variety of mediums. This year, they are bringing their music down under for their screening of Mr Rudolpho’s Jubilee, and getting reading for their next motion picture adventure.
We would love to know more about the people behind the art. What can you tell us about yourselves?
In my 6th grade school autobiography, I wrote I wanted to be a rock star! For Halloween, I dressed up as Elton John. (He was the first concert I ever attended.) I started writing songs when I was seven, had some very inspiring teachers in the early years, but mostly I was self-taught. I’ve always been one of those people who didn’t want to wait around to be discovered. I wanted to create a life where I would learn by doing, a life where I could express myself and do what I really loved. My sister, Dede, and best friend, Lisa, (25 and 22), were killed by a drunk driver. After that experience, it woke me up and I knew I had to do what I loved, and not waste my life! That intense experience also inspired me to dive into spirituality and discover what life is all about. This life has been quite an adventure so far!
When I was thirteen I got a lucky break when I started playing drums for what became a popular band in New Mexico, The Philisteens. (We toured with The Ramones and bands like that.) All the guys in The Philisteens were ten or fifteen years older than me, so I had an accelerated learning program – in every way imaginable! Talented songwriters and creative-eccentric types in the band and surrounding the band. It was the perfect place to learn what to do – and what not to do – to have a successful career as an artist. As we got popular, we were invited to do an hour-long radio show on the college radio station, so we wrote comedy sketches that segued into our songs. That was good practice for the screenwriting that I do now.
You’re currently on tour promoting your movie Mr Rudolpho’s Jubilee. What has been the best part of the tour so far?
The world premiere of Mr. Rudolpho’s Jubilee was at a fabulous iconic 1920’s art house cinema in Berlin, Germany. Opening night was sold out, 500 lovely audience members, all celebrating with us! We shot most of the movie in Berlin, so lots of cast and crew were able to be there, which made it very exciting, as we all saw our labour of love come to life on the big screen! Everyone worked so hard making the film, 300 artists from 36 countries, came together to create something beautiful!
In between cinemas and music clubs, we also play house concerts and create a pop-up cinema in people’s living rooms. We love the cozy atmosphere, and the way these nights bring the community together. Sometimes these small relaxed events are the most fun!
Whenever an audience is laughing at the film or when we get questions from someone who really “got” the film, that’s the most rewarding thing. We make art not just to sit on the shelf, but to show and to share. So, when our songs or films resonate with others it’s a wonderful feeling.
Every step of the journey the two of you have been together. How did your paths cross?
Michael and I met at a music club in Los Angeles. It was a club called the Coconut Teaser, right on the corner of Sunset & Laurel Canyon. Close to where lots of great artists lived, like Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan – the list goes on! Downstairs was an acoustic room called the 8121 Club where the singer-songwriters played. We both had a gig that night, saw each other play and a few weeks later got together to write a love song. And you know what happens when you write a love song… We just celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary!
Robyn’s been the perfect tour partner and life partner! Easy going, easily entertained, reliable and responsible but not too serious. That’s the secret right there: attitude. We love travelling and making songs and films – the whole process. Robyn’s parents often comment on how we work seven days a week, we don’t really notice what day it is. That’s because our work is fun. When you’re doing what you love, it doesn’t feel like work.
This all started with the two of you quitting your jobs to follow your dreams to pursue music. What was the trigger that set that in motion?
When Robyn and I met we were both in the “get a record deal” mode that a lot of musicians get into in Los Angeles. We played a lot of “showcase” gigs, which means the venues don’t pay you because record companies are there and might sign you (or might not). It’s a very artificial system and we both felt it lacked the joy and authenticity you get when you really tour. So, one morning I looked at Robyn and said: “Let’s get out of here.” She had a more specific plan: “Why don’t we sell everything and go to Europe. Just travel and play shows.” After about two seconds I agreed. So, we sold everything we had and just got on a plane with our backpacks and guitars. It was a bold move and a little crazy, but the idea had heart and things really worked out great.
How would you describe your music? What inspires you?
You’d probably put us in the singer/songwriter category, because we’re performing our songs acoustically. Not a heavy sound. But in our films, we compose in a different way, in more varied styles depending on what the scene calls for.
Life on the road inspires us! We meet so many lovely, interesting people and have so many new experiences, it’s easy to get music and movie ideas.
Have you ever had any artistic differences and if so, how did you resolve them?
Funny you asked that, at our very first rehearsal Michael actually said, “I don’t think we can work together.” Famous last words! I think it had something to do with the way we were communicating, or maybe I was too demanding about wanting him to play a certain type of guitar solo or that he just had no patience! It was so long ago, I don’t remember the specifics, but here we are going on 28 years as Bright Blue Gorilla, and we’re still best friends!
Mostly when we disagree it’s about how to do something, rather than what to do. What steps to take to bring about some outcome… Fortunately, we’ve had real harmony most of the time regarding what to do or where to go next. That’s rare and very special. We find if we just keep calm and focus on solving the problem, we get through it fairly quickly.
That’s true, what Michael said, it’s amazing how much of the time we do agree and we have the same taste music and movie wise. One of the things that really helps keep the harmony is our daily meditations together – don’t think we would have lasted this long without it!
What is it that draws you in about the world of film?
Film is the one art form that incorporates all of the other art forms. Everything is in there: dance, singing, music, acting, painting, sculpture, lighting, sound, comedy, tragedy, high and low art, everything. That’s what I like about it. It uses all the skills I’ve developed and each picture requires that I develop more. I love that.
I love performing live. Interacting with the audience is really something special. Each audience is unique, you never know what’s going to happen next. But what’s special about film is it lasts forever and audiences around the world can discover it and make it their own. They can share it with friends and watch it many times, discovering new layers with each viewing.
Also, the process of making films, includes hundreds of people, and though that can be very challenging and complex, I love the process of bringing all these different types of people together and creating something much bigger than ourselves.
Where can our readers learn more and access your work?
Your readers can discover our music and movies on our website: www.brightbluegorilla.com And also watch our last 2 films on iTunes:
We’re about to shoot a new movie, our seventh feature called 36 Husbands. We’re inviting the world community to take the journey with us, by tossing in a few bananas! Even $12 helps feed our hungry actors and there’s some super fun perks! Our goal is to save the world from another dark depressing movie. 36 Husbands stars three powerful women and a bunch of husbands. We’ll shoot the movie in Australia, Berlin and Los Angeles.
Image by Niels Hougaard
Alexandra Elgue is a student at ANU studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics. Her writing has appeared in The Larcenist literary magazine and French Living magazine.