Chris Suchorsky’s last documentary was “Failure,” which chronicled his attempt to make a movie. It was a fascinating and insightful film that gathered quite a bit of good praise. His new documentary, “Golden Days,” the tale of a band getting picked up by a major label, might be seen by some to be along the same lines. It is anything but.
The Damnwells, a band I have some knowledge of through doing music reviews, is your basic indie rock band trying to make a living doing what millions of folks wish they could do. When Epic signs the band, life changes … but not much, as that old adage about your wish being your curse comes into play. Epic, acting like the major label it is, ends up dropping the band because it doesn’t feel it will sell enough “units,” and that puts the future of The Damnwells in jeopardy.
This is the story of a band, but it’s also the story of thousands of bands. What most people who haven’t been involved in the music industry in one way or another don’t realize is that this happens every day. Major labels swoop in, hoping to exploit the next big thing, and then drop the band once they realize it can’t hope to outsell some teen pop act. Fortunes are made and lost on an hourly basis, and the only victims are the bands (who often break up) and the fans (who never get that promised album). It’s one reason why the Internet can do wonders for a band, and why some major artists, like Prince, have started to seriously question the major label music industry.
Those who don’t know of such cannibalistic actions are going to have their eyes opened and see a message of compromise in this film. The guys in The Damnwells want to stay true to their roots, but they also want to eat and pay the bills. They know the going can be rough with a major label, but if you want the airplay and the sales, sometimes you have to dance with the devil. The entire situation is somewhat sad and pathetic, of course, but you can understand the band’s point of view.
Those who are familiar with the way things work are going to see this as one more lesson in why bands should stay away from labels like Epic. What makes that lesson hit home is that the members of The Damnwells seem like very nice, down-to-Earth guys who aren’t jaded or bitter even after having been jerked around by Epic. For Epic, it’s Business 101. For The Damnwells, it’s the band’s life and future.
Suchorsky could’ve done this documentary on any band, but he picked the right one here, as the lead singer, Alex Dezen, comes across as such an ordinary Joe that you can’t help but feel major labels are more a bane to musicians than anything else. As he says, he never wanted to be a rockstar — never even knew what that meant — but he did want to raise a family and make music, while Epic only wanted to make money. The end result is another fine example of art meeting capitalism, and “Golden Days” expertly shows how the food chain functions in that scenario.