Within the first couple minutes of the documentary Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone, Ice-T sums up the band's music: "It wasn't rock, it wasn't metal, it wasn't hip-hop, it wasn't funk. It was just some different shit."
And for 30 years, the Los Angeles group has shuffled genres, members, and expectations while building a serious fan base without ever really cracking the mainstream. Quite an achievement for a bunch of black teens who just wanted to play music without boundaries.
"These guys didn't really fit anywhere, but fit in everywhere at the same time," says co-director Chris Metzler, who (along with Lev Anderson) tracked down and interviewed current and former members over a three-and-a-half-year period. "There's a cool fish-out-of-water story there."
Fishbone were inspired by white suburban punks. There were six of them, they had horns, and they made a name for themselves with their out-of-control live performances, sharing bills with everyone from the Circle Jerks to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Their famous fans include Gwen Stefani, Tim Robbins, Flea, George Clinton, and Questlove, all of whom appear in the movie. Most black people wanted nothing to do with them, and most white people were confused by them.
But they were a hit on the L.A. punk scene, where their manic mix of ska, punk, and funk fit squarely with the rage-party attitude brewing in the early '80s. They signed a major-label record deal, releasing their self-titled EP in 1985. They played Saturday Night Live in 1991 on the heels of their most commercial-sounding album, The Reality of My Surroundings, which was supposed to make them stars. But the record bombed.
So the label lost interest, dropped them, and the original six members left, one by one, until only singer Angelo Moore and bassist Norwood Fisher remained. They continued making records, releasing their latest album in 2006 and playing to half-packed houses. That's where Everyday Sunshine picks up the story. "In reality, this is two different films," says Metzler. "But by leaving them together, the past, present, and future inform each other." (Metzler will field questions after the Capitol Theatre screening on December 14.)
The movie chats up members cooking in the kitchen, hanging out with their kids, and bowling. Since getting evicted, Moore now lives with his mom. The band never made much money, and there's some anger, but mostly acceptance. The main problem, almost everyone agrees: No record could capture the energy of their live shows.
And the problem here? Fishbone's story can't quite fill an entire movie. Everyday Sunshine spends way too much time on the guitar player's breakdown, and it dwells on problems — dwindling audiences, no record deal, backstage bickering — common to most bands that have been around for more than a quarter-century. It just puts a personal spin on them at times. "Even if you don't like Fishbone or their music, there's something familiar about their struggles," says Metzler. "It's a music documentary, but it's really something else."