The musicians (Waldhoff, singer/programmer Brendan K. Russell and keyboardist Ruth Saringer) can't say for certain that they were born under a bad sign, but there's plenty of evidence to support that possibility. At one drizzly outdoor show, for example, Saringer claims that the players were practically electrocuted "four or five or six times. With the rain going on all around us, if you touched anything metal, you were just completely fried."
"I got however many volts of magic electricity running through my lip," Waldhoff recounts. Luckily, the jewelry in his pierced nose and tongue did not act as a conductor--but later in the show, he adds, "my bass vomited its parts all over the place."
"It literally crumbled in his hands," elaborates Russell, an every-day-is-Halloween poster boy with dyed black hair and an ankh necklace. "Everything fell out, spilled out into the rain. But he breaks everything anyway. We go in the studio and there's this multicolored plastic pile of picks around his feet."
"I just start playing and playing and playing, and the next thing you know, there's strings dangling everywhere," confirms Waldhoff, who keeps his long hair out of his eyes with a bandanna. "I murder picks and I trash strings."
"We beat our keyboards, too," Russell notes. "We put them through their paces. Sometimes we go really fast, sometimes we go slow. But we're always trying to stir things up and get kind of psychotic and psychedelic."
Are musical inspirations the source of the dark energy that surrounds Filmstrip? Perhaps. After all, Russell claims to have been saved from a life of ordinariness by none other than Jello Biafra. "I was almost like a Beavis and/or a Butt-head before I started listening to the Dead Kennedys and started thinking, `Wow, politics. It's not just boring crap in school, like someone's fucking with me and I have no way to control it. Well, right on. Anarchy, dude.'"
Other Filmstrip touchstones include decidedly dour outfits such as Big Black, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, the Cure and, Waldhoff says, "old Killing Joke--not the new, heavy-metal-bang-your-fists-in-the-air-and-yell kind of Killing Joke."
Saringer, whose fingers are green from a wig-dying session, admits, "We like a lot of the Eighties stuff--but we're working on it in a Nineties way."
"Cool stuff came from the Eighties, like Moev and Skinny Puppy. And Ministry--whether Ministry wants to admit it or not," Russell interjects. "Things were progressing, but then they just got cut off by Nirvana--which is why we don't wear flannel. So while this other crap has come into play, we've still been progressing with what we learned in the Eighties. We're not afraid to use keyboards. There's nothing wrong with using a drum machine...but we're not gonna come out and try to be another Sisters of Mercy or another Bauhaus or try to do some nostalgic bonehead trip."
Still, the Filmstrippers don't try to hide their influences. Fry, a three-song cassette released on Dauntless Music (an independent label originally formed in Los Angeles) shortly after the band formed, features music that evokes the Bauhaus/Alien Sex Fiend spirit. A second 1994 Dauntless release, the EP Circle Danse, includes "Chasing Father Fraud," about a nervous character who wears a clerical getup while begging for donations near Larimer Square.
"Sometimes when we get bored, we go downtown and chase Father Fraud around and scare the old fart," Russell notes. "When he was down there for the pope, collecting money, I went up and announced, `Ladies and gentlemen, this man is not a priest. He is a fraud. He's always in jail.' We also dance around him and sing, `Father Fraud/They say he talks to God/Father Fraud,' and he runs. He hates that. We feel like childhood bullies. But then we figure every time you pick on a fake priest, an angel gets a pair of wings."
Appropriately, Filmstrip's next project, a nine-song CD called JesusSatanBuddhaVoodoo, is largely a protest against the evils of organized religion. But material already slated for a second disc, tentatively called Blue, touches on other subjects. "Misanthropist" is the cleverest of the batch: It puts a rhythm borrowed from the Cure's "Hot Hot Hot" to a tune that finds Russell snarling, "Misanthropist is horny now/How are we supposed to tell...Who knows what it will do?"
Finding an audience for observations like this hasn't been easy thus far. The players recall a particularly awful gig in Pueblo. "We had no idea that we'd end up in some roadhouse," Waldhoff says. "Some guy was gonna hit on me until he found out I was a guy."
Other live dates have teetered on the brink of disaster too. Saringer describes shows marked by crashing samplers, broken strings and missed cues as "very traumatic. You try to play it off as best as you can, but you have this crazy guilty conscience after it."
"But face it--we're not a bar band," Russell declares. "Besides, recording is the most important thing if you're going to be an original band.
"We're fighting the curse better now," he concludes. "I think once the album comes out, we'll be vindicated. We're sick of certain bands that are getting attention. So we're deliberately doing things to make steps ahead and topple them. We'll take over the world.