Dave Doughman is the best frontman you’ve probably never heard of. The Ohio born singer, who once challenged Jack White to a battle of the best gigs, is one half of the Hamburg based duo Swearing At Motorists, alongside powerhouse drummer Martin Boeters.
New documentary, It’s Not All Rock & Roll looks at the extraordinary life of said singer, a hugely funny and charismatic man who creates songs that lie somewhere between Jonathan Richman at his most endearing and Yo La Tengo at their spikiest. It follows the band on the road, at home with Doughman’s family, and goes behind the scenes, capturing the excitement of their often chaotic and hilarious live shows.
I caught up with Jim Burns, director and co-writer (alongside Angela Slaven) of this unique and moving film, who gave me more insight from Amsterdam, as he’s currently on the road, travelling across Europe.
Dave Doughman is a real character. How did you initially get to know him and Swearing At Motorists ?
My good friend Sonja insisted I see Swearing At Motorists play at a downtown Hamburg record store gig in 35 degrees of summer heat. It was a chaotic performance but supremely entertaining and Dave impressed me, during our short conversation directly afterwards, with his commitment to not only the show but the balancing of all the aspects of his life: fatherhood, travel, work, and his art. We had much in common, being fathers to young boys, and bonded over our desire to be the best dads we could. The first filmed interview was where I got to know a lot about Dave’s personality and formed the framework for the rest of the film. It’s always good to have a few questions ready but I’ve learned be completely open to spontaneity. Everyone has a story worthy of a film if you let them tell it, and catch it as it emerges.
The film eschews the usual Spinal Tap clichés. Was it a conscious decision to avoid the rock tropes?
Yes. I don’t like to objectify people by aiming for a genre and I’m not a fan of rockumentaries either so I simply avoid things that turn me off, like overusing archive material and too many talking heads. I spent a lovely evening with Dave’s Mum, sifting through her photo albums, watching her eyes mist up remembering Dave as a toddler. You can hear the fridge in the background, her hands brush the pages. The way she speaks about Dave, his father, their early life, reveals as much about her as it does Dave. The process and the journey are more important than the end result to me; those human connections. Angela Slaven, my friend and editor, gets this too and made a wonderful job of teasing out all the tiny individual details of Dave’s life. The title of the film tells the story, really.
The film feels very raw, personal and intimate. Did you ever feel like there were moments when you were almost “intruding”, in a sense?
No. I’m a sensitive person and was raised by two mental health nurses, and was a mental health nurse myself for a long time, so I’m acutely aware of the importance of interpersonal relations and personal space. If anything, some have criticised me for being less intrusive than they’d expect a filmmaker to be. I believe I strike the balance well and I believe I project that respectful stance when I’m working. People seem to know I’m trustworthy. For example, during the scenes around Dave’s grandmother’s funeral, everyone knew I was around, filming, but I stayed clear of the service. Afterwards I was heartily invited to meet everyone at the wake and then on to Dave’s uncle’s home for dinner. They were happy for me to film whatever I wanted. Dave and I agreed some boundaries quite early on when we first started filming and only once did we renegotiate them. I’m not there to confront my audience – my job is to take you on a journey with me and to do that I have to treat you with as much respect as my subject. If I didn’t, you’d spot it a mile away and it would turn you off. I don’t think about an audience when I’m filming though. I just use my own internal compass to navigate the trickier decisions about what to capture. If in doubt, the camera is off.
Did Doughman ever hear back from Jack White?
I believe Jack did not step up to the challenge.
Where’s next for the film?
Eddie, my executive producer, is working to build on the positive response to our low key preview screenings and is in talks around some distribution opportunities including one with a distributor in the states. We also hope to hear about a possible TV opportunity soon. The film is complete, I own the rights to all the material and funded it personally, so I want to find the best home for it. There’s no rush. I’ve just sold my flat and moved into my campervan to travel through Europe and perhaps beyond. Maybe there will be impromptu screenings when I’m on the road.
To sign up for more information about Interval and when the film is available for release visit https://www.intervalstudio.