This Is Spinal Tap is no mere cult-classic–The parody-born band has played for thousands, both live and off-screen. Numerous groups now have their own ‘Black Albums,’ and every guitar shop employee has had to answer if their amps go up to 11.
To celebrate Spinal Tap’s 35th anniversary, the Vancouver International Film Festival is hosting a screening at the Rio on September 29th, where five local musicians will play a live score during the “rockumentary.” The venue was saved from developer-demolition by a crowd-funding campaign in 2018, and continues to thrive as both a theatre and live show venue. It's the perfect space to host such a collaborative event, where film, live music and a passionate local audience can come together under one roof.
The band will feature local talent such as Jody Glenham (Jody Glenham and the Dreamers), Catherine Hiltz (bassist, Tegan & Sara, Hot Panda), Ayla Tesler-Mabe (guitar, Calpurnia, Ludic), and Adam Fink (drummer, ACTORS). Leading the performance is Louise Burns, a Vancouverite with two decades worth of touring and recording experience to her name. She sat down with SAD Mag ahead of the show.
SAD: When did you first see This is Spinal Tap? As someone who has spent the majority of their life playing music, how did the film initially resonate with you and then perhaps change over your career?
Louise Burns: I first saw Spinal Tap on a tour bus when I was 17. We were driving across the U.S. on tour and our tour manager popped it into the DVD player. Needless to say, it blew my tiny teen brain. I definitely didn’t get the subtlety of most of the jokes at first, but as I’ve gotten older and gone back to it time and time again, there are just so many incredible tropes that still ring true to this day. I’ve experienced so many moments of that film now—not getting music on the radio anymore, playing venues where I can’t find the stage, showing up to embarrassingly empty fan events...it’s all so painfully accurate and hilarious!
SAD: Any favourite scenes or gags?
LB: I like the little things. Christopher Guest’s facial expressions when he’s singing, the spoken parts that are totally improvised, the fact that Fran Drescher is in this movie- it’s the little things that accumulate for me to make it such a masterpiece. Though, one cannot deny the comedic power of the 18” Stonehenge statue.
SAD: Have you had any [other] Spinal Tap moments of your own (getting lost backstage, rejected album covers, playing in front of an 18 inch Stonehenge with dancing elves, etc.?)
LB: All of the above. Minus the dancing elves. I think one of the best Spinal Tap moments I’ve experienced—which has gone on to be a phenomenon— is to be big in Japan, despite not being able to catch a break in North America. My old band Lillix was that, exactly.
SAD: Which Spinal Tap song are you most excited to cover?
LB: Stonehenge. It’s just... ridiculous.
SAD: How did you and the band come together for this event? Did you know any of the other musicians beforehand?
LB: Jody Glenham and Adam Fink are old friends and I’ve played with both of them before many times (Jody has toured with me in my band for the past five years). I’d seen Ayla play with her band Ludic and noticed her incredible chops. Catherine Hiltz has been on my peripheral sphere of influence for many years and it was great to finally get an opportunity to reach out. She’s such a talent. I’m so happy with who we’ve got on board- we’re all having so much fun with this, and everyone is so deeply familiar with the film. Many laughs have occurred.
SAD: How does it feel to be a female-led band playing along to a film that overflows with hair-metaled masculinity?
LB: It’s funny, I haven’t thought about that aspect of it too much. Especially when I’m playing. But it’s pretty satisfying to be recreating some of these songs (i.e. Big Bottom, Sex Farm) with mostly women on stage. We just kind of shake our heads and laugh. I can’t believe that kind of human used to/ likely still exists and some people take them seriously. It’s amazing in itself. I do appreciate how the film makes them look so incredibly tone deaf, but we still have this strange affection via sympathy for them. That’s kind of how I feel about masculinity in music in general. At first it was anger, but now I just feel sort of sad for those types of humans. How strange it must be to have such a limited world view.
SAD: You started your musical career with Lillix, where you were often travelling between Los Angeles and Vancouver. With your current project keeping you local, what stands out most to you about Vancouver’s music scene?
LB: It is never not evolving and I love that about it. I value the sense of community, and even the subtle competitiveness. I also love how diverse it is growing to be. Right now, there is this fresh crop of young songwriters, many of whom I have worked with, who are so dedicated to their craft. It’s so refreshing, knowing that pop can intertwine with hip hop and noise punk and country. It hasn’t always been this way, but I love where it is at right now. Diversity is key!
Join VIFF’s celebration and rock out at the Rio Theatre on September 29th buy purchasing tickets here.