“I met Wolf in early 2012, actually. So we’ve only known each other for about a year and a half to two years,” said Jeff Broadway, the director of the documentary, Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton, which tells the life and career story of Peanut Butter Wolf and the birth and life of his record label, Stones Throw Records.
Taking the film’s title from a slight variation of Wolf’s own release from 1999, My Vinyl Weighs a Ton, a literal reference to his massive album collection, the documentary idea came to this Los Angeles filmmaker as a potential next project and for personal reasons.
“I grew up listening to quite a bit of hip-hop and eventually found Stone’s Throw through Madlib, J Dilla and Quasimoto; some of their more iconic, underground hip-hop,” he said.
For the last five years Jeff has been in L.A., having made another music-related documentary, ‘A Cure for Pain: The Mark Sandman Story’ about the deceased frontman for the band Morphine.
“I wanted to do something in the same general realm, but also do something that was very L.A. specific, and something that I was passionate about…something that there was a demand for. The story of Stone’s Throw and the artists involved really kind of ticked all those boxes for me. As a fan, I wanted to know more about Wolf. I wanted to know more about MadLib; these guys who have been, very quietly, influential over the mainstream and over a lot of culture in the world for a very long time now.”
The initial contact came about by simply emailing the firstname.lastname@example.org address back in early 2012. Within a few hours he got a response back, and days later he was in the Stones Throw office brainstorming on the making of the film with Wolf and the team.
During that time he discovered that a film project had previously been started but never made it to fruition, “A French crew had spent six or eight weeks with Wolf in Los Angeles. They shot quite a bit but sort of reached a creative stalemate. I think my timing was very serendipitous.”
Since Wolf was anxious to have his story and that of the label told and realized through film, he opened his doors to Jeff and made available the vast array of archive film footage. This included Wolf’s early days in the late-80s and early 90s when he first got his start in hip-hop music making, and times he had with his best friend and producer partner, Charizma.
“Something I didn’t know going into it, Wolf is an archivist. He keeps everything,” Jeff explained. “A lot of people think if you keep a ton of shit you’re a hoarder or you’re a pack rat, but Chris is an archivist because when he started turning these things over to me, he knew exactly where things were, everything was put in a certain, very specific place. It was just amazing all the things that he’d kept through all the years.”
This included items from school essays to a large amount of pictures going back decades, along with home videos with Jeff Jank, another close friend that goes back to the early days and who has been with Stones Throw since its inception, and with Wolf and Charizma, goofing around as teenagers and making music in the recording studio in San Jose.
“The Charizma story is crucial to understanding who Chris is as a person, as a musician and as a business man. We really needed for that to be present in the film.“
But Our Vinyl… is more than a retrospective, it’s how the past has influenced the consistent ethos of Stones Throw that began back 1996, three years after Charizma’s death, and what has kept them relevant even through the tough times, and what keeps them going in 2014.
The chapter element of the film provides the viewer with that storied process, much in the way that people live our lives, when one chapter ends another begins, and so does the life of this record label and all its artists.
“For me, it was a way to structure the film and to give it a bit of a spine; to help the viewer follow everything. There’s so much information and so many amazing artists; so much music, so much diversity, so much breadth, that we just wanted to make sure people weren’t getting lost along the way. “
Within those chapters are stories that solidify the adventurous nature by which Stones Throw operated. One such story was of Dam-Funk, who had five albums already baked and ready to go. He had an ‘all or nothing’ requirement in his contract with Stones Throw, so Wolf just went with it, releasing this new, previously unreleased artist’s music that was relatively unknown outside his own circles, as a box set. For people who consider themselves to be hip-hop aficionados, it was perplexing and made many stand up and take notice. It was basically gaming people’s psyche and it worked.
That is just one example of how Chris has from the beginning until now, used his own intuition to sign and promote his artists, moving from a strictly hip-hop label to an independent music label that carries punk, electro, rock, and even Motown style R&B on its roster, the latter being Mayer Hawthorne. As opposed to running the traditional route of what a label should be, how it should operate with unit projections, data and accountants, it is this highly unique and revolutionary business approach that has got his label world-renowned recognition and a fevered following by music fans.
“It is a collection of citizens. They’re people before they’re rock stars. I really gravitated towards that; peeling back that onion and discovering like, Vex Ruffin.”
Ruffin doesn’t quite fit into a neat genre description, but in essence, he’s a punk-rock bedroom artist who works for UPS while releasing a new album on Stones Throw. Dam-Fun worked for the American Red Cross along with a myriad of other jobs while growing a fan base in in L.A. Of that, Jeff said, “It is really fascinating that Stones Throw is a home for all these types of underdog musicians and that Wolf has provided an outlet and a pipeline for that type of music to be heard. I think it’s incredibly important.”
For those that are familiar with Wolf and Stones Throw, Our Vinyl… also provides a way for fans to go deeper into the label’s roster and their artist’s history, shining a light on how the unknown and even the underdogs have gained a great following, including those times when after receiving success, as in the case of Hawthorn, has meant the artists moving on in their own chapters and onto a major record label.
“The breadth and the diversity of musicians they have at the label now is really remarkable. There are so few labels that are like that. Here we are in 2013 and Stones Throw is about to put out a Snoop Dog, Dam-Funk album. That’s when it really all comes full circle. A guy like Snoop wants to put out an album on Stones Throw.”
Without throwing in too much of a spoiler, the opening of the film shows Wolf DJing for friends and family in the midst of his ton of vinyl before the story begins, before the chapters are unfolded, and in coming full circle, shows Snoop Dog and Wolf collaborating and brainstorming on more music to make for the fans. And along with those commercial successes and working with artists that have made a name for themselves, Wolf will continue to keep his eyes and ears open for the next underdog that resonates with the Stones Throw collective and fans.
The film started its festival circuit in the fall of 2013, which included a stop at the Starz Denver Film Festival where Jeff and I were able to meet up. From there, Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton will be routing a tour with the film’s screenings:
2/26 – San Francisco – Noise Pop HQ
2/28 – Vancouver, BC – Fortune / The Vogue Theatre
3/2 – Brooklyn, NY – Music Hall / Indie Screen
3/3 – Philadelphia, PA – Boot & Saddle (Performance only)
3/4 – Boston, MA – Middle East / Brattle Theatre
3/5 – Montreal, QC – SAT / Rialto Theatre
3/6 – Toronto, ON – Coda / Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
3/7 – Detroit, MI – Magic Stick / Emagine Royal Oak Theatre
3/9 – Chicago, IL – Empty Bottle / The Logan Theatre
In March Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton is included in the SXSW film programming:
March 7 – SxSatellite: Alamo
March 13 – Vimeo Theater (within the Austin Convention Center)
March 15 – Stateside Theater – Stones Throw will host the label’s showcase at the North Door venue following the screening.
Go to SXSW.com for more details.
Following in April, it will be released with the film’s soundtrack as a 2-disc box set. There will also be tour dates that will feature Stones Throw artists, along with film screenings, in the U.K. and Europe.
Listen to the full interview, which aired on HoxtonRadio.com: