William ‘Bill’ Badgley is one of the good dudes I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know in this rock ‘n roll life.
Fed X were mainstays on the D.I.Y. scene—and frequent visitors who jumped into the circus ring with the rest of us clowns at legendary punk dump venue, Speak In Tongues. The recent Speak In Tongues book even features some hilarious quotes from Bill, who’s always had an easy going, wry sense of humor.
Flash forward to now, 2022, and Badgley’s established as a prolific filmmaker in Los Angeles. Just like me twenty years ago, Bill made the move to L.A. and has kept making things. In his case, prolifically. Recently, that includes some excellent new music!
Bill’s been riding a wave—his absolutely stunning and highly entertaining documentary about Black British punk scene Zelig and documentarian, Don Letts, called Rebel Dread, just debuted at The Grammy Museum to a sold out room and rave reviews.
Bill recently answered some newer, fall of 2022-era questions I had. To freshen things up and bring us up to date with his new band NOÏ, and all the other cool things he’s doing. Check it out…
How’s it been waiting for Rebel Dread to come out?
It’s been quite a process. The film got delayed by Covid in a major way. I finished the film toward the end of the year in 2019, then we premiered it at the International Film Festival Rotterdam in 2020—which is always in January. It was my second time premiering a film there, actually. I premiered my film about The Slits, Here to be Heard, there in 2017 so I was an alum which was cool.
The company that released the film, Bohemia Media in London, wanted to do a big event-based release so when Covid hit that plan went on ice as we waited for the world to recover. It was released late last year in England at some twenty-odd screenings and is being released here in the United States now.
How’s reaction been so far?
The reaction has been great. It’s a really fun movie, easy to watch and Don is quite a character with a captivating story—absolutely chock full of famous characters. The film has a fairly high rating on sites like Letterboxd, where it currently has a 3.6.
Don Letts—super inspirational guy. What was your awareness of him growing up/before Rebel Dread? What was the connection?
Looking back I’d say I became aware of Don during the making of Here to be Heard. We purchased footage from him for the film and I also got to interview him.
There were really only two sources of archival footage for Here to be Heard, half of which came from Don and half of which came from former and current Slits Manager, Christine Robertson.
It was a perfect dovetail between the two sources since Don filmed roughly the first two years of the early period and Christine the last two, so the footage we licensed from Don for the film was intensely important and he was easy to work with.
Prior to interacting with him on that film, I don’t think I was aware of him.
I became a teenager during Grunge and, almost immediately, music for me became about engaging with what I could physically put my hands on and be a part of. Even Seattle at that time I didn’t consider accessible enough, so I found myself gravitating toward the Olympia, WA scene that was happening at the same time.
So I always like to say I grew up in the shadow of punk, I knew it was there, I knew it was important and I knew it informed what we were doing, but I also knew I couldn’t be a part of it so it wasn’t that interesting to me as a teenager.
It was only when I got older and started meeting people from that scene that I really started to unravel the deeper implications of those early scenes.
Did Don put you up to making this?
Not at all. Don agreed to my directing it, due to our relationship on Here to be Heard, but the culprit behind it all was Phil Hunt.
Phil and I finished Here to be Heard together, along with another one of our producing partners Mark Vennis. Phil runs one of the U.K.’s last and largest independent film financing companies and is a serious fan of music, art and punk rock.
Phil was a teenager when the first incarnation of Don’s band Big Audio Dynamite was exploding its way across England and I think it’s fair to say that Don, Mick Jones from The Clash and the rest of the guys, made a big impression on him.
It’s also worth pointing out that all of this ultimately came about because B.A.D. had essentially an open door policy when it came to interacting with their fans. They gave them back stage passes, they stopped and talked with them, they were even known to pick up hotel tabs.
So forty years later you could say that, ultimately, this film happened due to the bands self-imposed accessibility even way back then.
You had a very interesting situation here where you are making a film about a filmmaker. Seems like he could have made this himself. Why didn’t he?
I don’t know! I’m not sure it was even discussed. Auto-docs are a very rare form and probably one of the most difficult kinds of docs to make, not that Don couldn’t pull one off. But there just aren’t very many of them out there.
It was definitely a unique situation and I have to admit that I thought it was going to be a nightmare—or that it at least had the potential to be a nightmare anyway.
I thought it was quite possible that I was going to have him attempting to backseat direct the whole thing and make it his movie rather than mine.
But like most situations in life, I feel like it’s a mistake to operate out of any fear-based directive so I just brushed that aside and set about believing it to be the healthy situation I hoped it would be.
And I’m glad I did because Don was amazing and the whole thing was a beautiful experience. He gave me a very long leash and extended a lot of trust, he voiced his opinion when he felt it was necessary but it was always in a language of trust and respect that it was my movie about him not his movie about him, which is a pretty important distinction.
In some ways it was even easier making a film about a filmmaker since he understood the process and why it was “taking so long”—things like that. I didn’t have to explain, he just understood.
Did Don Letts just open his archive for you? Was his stuff organized? The reasearch must have been an immense job, right?
Yeah, so I’m one of the few persons in the world—I think maybe the only person in the world—that has just been handed Don’s complete archive.
Don, of course, is not one to do things half way and I think when he decided he was going to let us make a movie about him he was in for a penny, in for a pound and just copied over the complete drive.
And it’s hundreds of hours and carries with it a fairly interesting problem which is that too much of it is too good! It was difficult to deal with in that way. So I had to develop a narrative then go back and select parts of the archive that leant themselves to that narrative, otherwise the archive itself would just kind of run roughshod over the edit.
But there were several moments of heartbreak, realizing this or that bit of footage wasn’t going to be in the movie, which was unfortunately unavoidable.
Were there any similarities to the Karp moviemaking experience?
In terms of making the movies, I think I go into each one with a production plan that represents some inadequacy that I felt in the previous film that I want to correct. I’ve noticed that each time I finish a film, the minute I hit that export button without fail, I think, “I can do better.” So that’s where my head is at when I’m given the opportunity, I’m continuing what I hope is an upward trajectory in terms of style and skill.
In terms of understanding and connecting with the subject matter, I saw HUGE similarities between the Olympia, WA scene of the early ’90s and the early scene in London for what would eventually become known as punk.
Namely, what I like to call the “grab bag” nature of it all, that the most defining characteristic was that there was no defining characteristic. London punk and the Olympia scene in the early 90s both, were basically just heralding an invitation to step over whatever bullshit was in your way in order to become who you wanted to be.
Because of that you see bills in both Olympia and London punk filled with bands that don’t sound anything alike. Bands brought together out of a similarity of heart rather than musical style or structure.
Both scenes seemed to operate out of an openness and respect for those who had the nerve to get onstage and make their voices heard rather than judging people for musical ability. Personal bravery was the only price for admission and I think that’s really important.
The interviews you recorded are some the best I’ve seen in any recent doc—they sell it. How and when did you shoot these segments?
Let’s see, I think we shot them in the middle of 2018 over the course of two week at our producer Phil Hunt’s house in the north of London.
If memory serves we filmed them in the middle of the theatrical rollout for The Slits film. I think Here to be Heard ended up doing somewhere close to 200 screenings in ten or so countries with national theatrical releases in the U.S., U.K., Germany and Japan and I personally did somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 Q&A’s for it. So in the early part of the Don film we were going back and forth between exhibition for one and production on the other.
Assuming you shot these after you did research… Did you play them clips to prompt folks’ memories?
I actually don’t tend to do a lot of research as bad as that may sound. I do some. I read Don’s book, but I think that was about it. I generally have the idea that it’s the subjects job to explain the story to me, since in effect, I am the viewer and it’s my job to follow the threads they give me to their fullest potential, so I basically I just start talking to them and then follow where it goes.
How did you get everyone to be so chill and smiling / fun?
Oh, I’m not sure! Glad to hear that you found them that way.
If I was going to venture an answer, I would say that I am intensely emotionally available when it comes to my projects, they become absolutely everything to me. I give them everything that I am and I see everything in the whole world through them, so maybe the subjects can read that when we talk, I have no idea.
I remember on the theatrical tour for my first film we were screening in Ghent, Belguim and we were all having drinks after the screening and I remember this guy came up to me and said in really broken English that it was fun to watch the subjects hang out with me.
And to be honest that was the first time it even occurred to me that what you’re watching, when you’re watching an interview based doc, is the subjects reaction to the interviewer and how special that it.
It’s a huge responsibility so you got to be careful to bring really great vibes to that place, since those are the vibes that will eventually fill the theater.
Who was your favorite personality and why?
Oh man, I imagine besides Don, being the most obvious answer, I’d have to say Mick Jones. Meeting Mick was quite an experience for me, he made a huge impression and I found myself just sort of being endlessly tickled by him in the footage. All of his impish little smiles and his way of saying things, just an intensely unique character.
Another was Norman Jay from Goodtimes Sound System. Norman just floored me. Norman needs his own film, a beautiful speaker, his word are full of passion, emotion and intellect, plus he’s a great story teller. If anyone out there is thinking of doing a film on Norman, DO IT!
What are some things you learned making this film that surprised you?
I think the most shocking thing for me, as an American, was hearing Don refer to his generation as “First Generation British Born Black.” I mean Don is only a 6 years older than my dad, so to think of Black British as a group that was just recently defining itself was really something to wrap my American mind around.
Were you worried that Don wouldn’t like the movie?
I usually discuss the project with the subject at a few key junctures: up front, when I’m about to start editing and then after the first cut is done, but typically I think it’s best to show them as late in the process as you possible, so you can work out as many of the bugs as you possibly can on your own before you drag them into it.
I like to get what I’m trying to do/say on a solid standing then present it for feedback.
But I wasn’t too worried no. In fact I had this really funny experience a few months ago, I flew over there and sat down with Don and his wife Grace to watch the movie and about halfway through I thought to myself, “What am I doing?! I should be really nervous right now!!” But I felt really calm, it honestly hadn’t even occurred to me to be nervous about it until that very moment.
I think my basic thinking is to put so much pressure on myself to develop something that works and makes sense, that if people don’t like it then there’s nothing I can really do about that because I did the best possible job I could do.
So I guess I’m always sort of looking at it from that angle.
Did you have anyone in particular who was a mentor or that you bounced ideas off of as you put this together?
This is probably really uninspiring, but not really. My main thing is to sort of sequester myself with the material until I feel like I really understand what’s going on before carting it out to others.
I’ve spent a lot of years cultivating and encouraging my artistic voice but it’s still really quiet sometimes and I have to give it a lot of space until it can get a bit louder.
I often look at it like it’s a newborn baby and you need to give it time to grow up a little bit before it can really communicate with others.
So I spend a lot of time with the ideas, building them up into something, then for me, the collaborative part comes at the end. I cart the thing out, see what people think then make adjustments accordingly.
The cultures and times that Don Letts’ life has intersected are so massive and diverse and contentious. Do you ever think there will be another figure quite like Letts?
I mean, no not really, but there almost has to be doesn’t there?
A buddy of mine early on said that he liked him getting up from the director’s chair at the end of the movie because he felt like it invited the question, “Who will sit down now that Don has got up?” and I really liked that.
Like punk, I feel there’s a general call out to fix your broken shit, like this story is just about how Don fixed his, but it’s up to you to fix yours and that’s the sort of exciting part moving forward is seeing how people will use the ideals of punk to fix their broken shit and move us all forward.
What’s a lesson we can all take away from this movie?
The more time I spend with the film, the more I think the film is about crossing the aisle, learning about the other side and embracing the ways in which you are the same and not limiting yourself by taking on a label, any label.
I think the most inspiring part of Don’s story is seeing how many people it has brought together, kind of the whole back bone of the punky reggae party isn’t it? We’re better off together and any work we have to do to get there is infinitely worth it.
There was an Iranian guy at the world premiere at The International Film Festival Rotterdam a couple nights ago and his question sort of floored the whole audience. In the mingling that followed the film I heard it brought up again and again and his question was so simple.
He got up and very meekly thanked Don for the film and explained that he felt like an outsider in his neighborhood due to his heritage and then he just asked, “How do I do what you did?”
Don didn’t hesitate and said, “Shoot straight, aim true and try not to hit any bystanders.”
In light of BLM and other developments of the past couple years, do you think the film has taken on new meaning? As far as the global struggle against racism and authority?
I think the meaning is the same, but the focus on the subject has definitely changed, and for the better. I think more people have open hearts and minds toward matters of acceptance, especially as it impacts the experience of others, and I think Don’s story certainly adds an interesting perspective to that.
Since we last chatted you’ve been really freaking busy. What new stuff have you brought into the world?
Yeah, let’s see, I directed a film for MGM/SKY on the assassination of John Lennon called Let Me Take You Down which was released in the UK, Europe, Australia & Israel December 23, 2020. I finished that movie front to back in five months which was, by far, my fastest movie ever. And also probably my most technically proficient film—certainly my highest budget to date.
Since then I wrote and hosted a 21-episode, biographical true crime podcast on David Berkowitz, aka The Son of Sam based around a previously unreleased nineteen-hour interview with Berkowitz from 1980. So in a way it’s sort of like an autobiography that me and my co-host Jack Jones, who recorded the interview, sort of narrate.
I made a partially animated television pilot with Titmouse Animation on interdimensional Bigfoot—like, Bigfoot that travel to and from Earth via portals, can cloak by controlling their frequency, communicate via “mind speak”… that was a wild project to say the least. It’s an absolute pleasure working with Chris Prynoski and the team over at Titmouse, they are just the best to work with.
What are you most proud of?
Honestly, probably the podcast, and it weirdly ties back into music. I started playing in bands in 1990, played my first show in 1992, then played all around the world until about 2013.
At that point I started making docs full time, and when that happened, I was no longer the “front man”—I was the behind the scenes. I was still telling stories, of course, putting my point of view out there in the world. But I was doing it, as all documentarians do, via the stories and experiences of others.
But since I was actually in the podcast as host, that previous experience of being in front of a given piece of work sort of swung back around and it was a really amazing experience for me. I felt there was a very “open valve” between my heart, my emotions and what ends up in the podcast and so in this way it was extremely rewarding.
What are you working on now?
We have so many things in development right now it’s crazy. A few things with Titmouse, some true crime projects, music stuff, it’s all very exciting.
But the main thing I can talk about at the moment is a short doc we are making for Jon Schmitt and 5 July Productions on Kurt Heasley of Lilys. Kurt is an absolutely wonderful person and I am honored to get a shot at telling his story, it’s been super fun getting to know him and being a part of this project.
You are quoted extensively in the new Speak In Tongues book. When were you originally interviewed for that?
Oh man, I can’t even remember, but I know it’s been a few years ago.
What did you think of the final product?
I actually haven’t seen it yet, but I’m glad to hear I made the cut!
You are one of the only touring folks in the book. To put things in context, how did SIT stack up against other venues from that time? Was there any place that compared?
I don’t know what it’s like now, but back then there were probably somewhere between 5-10 places in the entire U.S. like Speak In Tongues. And when I say that I mean long lasting, totally D.I.Y., more than a little bit junk-show venues that were just emanating radical emotion directly from the heart muscle with no pretext on top whatsoever. The kind of venue where, after reflecting, what contributed to the show more, the bands? Or the venue? It was one of those kind of places. And there just weren’t that many. Places like that were always being shut down—they were run by kids, essentially, who didn’t care about money and who worked day jobs and were going through all of their own life experiences. So for one of these places to stay open and spread the culture, it had to be a very precise mixture of things include community, dedication and taste for it to work. And Speak In Tongues was one of those places.
Are there any crazy stories you saw or heard that you wish were in the book?
Uhh, the night Speak In Tongues—and Cleveland at large—ran The Mooney Suzuki out of town at Beckett Warren’s going away party. That was crazy. I have never seen anything like that before or since.
I was actually there for that. Can you describe what happened?
The Mooney Suzuki were being pretentious pricks and essentially got jealous that this local guy, Begit N Frenz, was getting so much attention, so they went over the to the board and started dropping his backing track out of the mix. After that it was a fairly downhill trajectory that culminated in them being ejected from the club AND Cleveland! Haha! It was so amazing.
Mooney Suzuki kept threatening “No one in NYC will ever work with you.” To a bunch of punk kids who worked at coffee shops and did this out of a labor of love, and whom had to absolutely STRUGGLE to keep up with the amount of national offers to play Speak In Tongues due to the fact that it had stayed around so long word had spread… the threat just couldn’t have mattered less, so they gave them the boot. See ya, Mooney Suzuki!
Now, on top of all this—the book, the podcast, the movies—you’ve got a new band, NOÏ. Why a new band now?
Man, so when I left music I just felt really trapped by it. I had been doing it since 1990 and just my whole world, all my friends everything was music and I wanted desperately to open my world up a bit. So I just shut it all off, walked away.
I had been in the same band since 1998—Federation X. We had recorded a new record on Recess Records and we got an offer from Red Fang to support them on a national record and within the band it just became obvious we couldn’t do it, so I just said fuck it, I want to do film. I had been wanting to for a while.
So for the next eight years I put everything I had into my film career, made a big huge life change. I still wrote songs in my head. I don’t think I’m even capable of NOT doing that, but I didn’t go to shows, didn’t listen to music. Just ate, slept and breathed film.
But eventually you got the bug again…
Until one day in the middle of Covid I’m at the Von’s on Sunset and I run into Ferdie, drummer from 400 Blows. 400 Blows and Federation X had had a real connection back in the day—neither of us had bass players, both were angular guitar-driven outfits with the “not right” amount of strings on the guitar, both tuned down super low… There were a lot of similarities and we embraced each other, toured together, had the same booking agent for awhile.
I had not even considered playing music again. After playing with Beau Boyd (Federation X drummer) for fifteen years, I was completely spoiled for drummers. Which left me too stuck up to play with a bad drummer and too out of the loop to demand a great one.
So when I ran into Ferdie it was like lightening in a bottle. We had both achieved similar things, we had similar tastes, respected each other, and we both had been on a big break. So possibly the most amazing thing was that we got to come back together and bond over that. It was really special.
And on top of that we found out we’d been living on opposite sides of the same block for the last six years and never realized it!
Wow! Who’s playing what?
I play guitar and sing. I play the same sort of Frankensteined baritone guitar I played in Fed X. Tuned down to C#, 4 big gauge strings, with my high string (my only unwound string) double-strung with a small gauge unwound string like a 12 string guitar.
Ferdie plays drums of course, although he’s been known to write a riff here and there—anyone familiar with 400 Blows knows of Ferdie’s mastery in this area.
How would you describe the band’s sound?
I think it pretty clear sounds like Bill from Federation X and Ferdie from 400 Blows playing together, but I realize that’s sort of an “inside baseball” sort of answer.
Sometimes I like to refer to it as an “odyssey in four notes”—that sort of stripped down, rhythmic, “Melvins–adjacent” sort of sound both the bands were known for.
For me personally, it is very much a continuation of a style I was trying to bring out in myself during Federation X but was never quite able to pull off. This sort of bluesy rock metal with almost sorrowful Americana-style vocal patterns over the top.
Are you the songwriter or…?
I think for a band to be successful in terms of generating creative content it is more a matter of emotions than talent. I think the right chemical mix has to be there in order for the mood in the room to facilitate the flow of content to turn the valve to the “on” position, and I think we have that.
It is incredibly important to me—and I endeavor to protect it—as without it, you essentially have nothing.
So sort of regardless of where it comes from, once it hits the room it begins to change as it passes through the lens of each member and of the vibe of the group in general becoming “ours” in a very real way.
What’s the story behind the name?
Oh man, NOÏ ROCK was a misunderstood pairing of words from a history book I just thought sounded cool, but then no one liked the “ROCK” part, so it got shortened to NOÏ, which I agreed was much stronger.
So then after that it was like, “Well what does it mean?” When I posted the name and graphic online a few things came back—”Notice of Intent”—which we thought was cool.
The pronunciation “noy” of the German word “neu” means “new” so that was interesting. And “NOÏ” is Romanian for “we” so they all sort of work in their own way.
Are you going to record and tour with NOÏ?
Oh yes definitely. We have plans to record a record with Toshi Kasai in 2023 and really wanna get out of California and up to the Pacific Northwest next year as well.
What can folks expect from your upcoming show at Oracle Tavern?
I have no idea! As it is my first show back in eight years and Ferdie’s second. It’s been a while for Victor too!
So we might be a bit nervous, but I for one am really excited. And it means so much to me Sean that you gave us our first show back. Thanks, buddy!
Absolutely my pleasure.
Come celebrate twenty years in L.A. with me, NOÏ, and a bunch of other yahoos:
Friday 11.11.22 at Oracle Tavern – RIG, NOÏ (400 Blows + Federation X supergroup from L.A.), A Lovely Sort Of Death, Paul Lai (of the legendary Upsilon Acrux) & special guest DJ Dizparity from Taipei, Taiwan working his magic before, during & after the bands.
All shows 8pm / $10 / 21+
1640 N. Spring, Los Angeles 90012