A little while ago, I had the chance to attend a screening of Before We Arrive, the new documentary about local rock’n’roll group the Weber Brothers, directed by Rob Viscardis, which has its official premiere later this month at the ReFrame Film Festival.
A rock doc is inevitably an exercise in mythmaking, a way to elevate rock stars to rock gods. And the self-proclaimed “baddest band in the land” are certainly not immune, especially Ryan, who’s all wild hair and sweat and grand pronouncements. “You are what you do, and this is what we do,” he says at one point.
Meanwhile, his brother Sam (clean cut and soft-spoken, a wonderful contrast to his brother) gives us pause. “It gets easier each time,” he says, “but it also gets harder, in different ways.”
So what is the true story of the Webers?
Well, it certainly starts off like a classic rise to stardom: two talented kids from Maryland who pack up their lives on a whim and a dream, and head into the great white north to meet their idol, Ronnie Hawkins.
They learn from the greats and jam with them, slowly finding their confidence and their own voice. They have early successes, followed by a classic “lowest point” for the band, here in the form of an early American tour where the band gets robbed and can barely afford to eat.
Everyone who’s seen enough rock docs knows what should happen next: the Weber Brothers arriving triumphantly at JFK to legions of fans screaming their names. Everyone from Pitchfork to Regis Philbin proclaiming the Webers’ greatness. #1 hit records. Trashed hotel rooms. Grammys. Selling out. Girls. Drugs. Jealousy. Flameouts. Millions and millions of dollars.
But, of course, that’s not what happened. What Before We Arrive actually shows is that, for the next fifteen years, the Weber Brothers just kept going. It comes as a bit of a letdown, an anti-climax. We want the Webers to succeed, for the baddest band in the land to also be the biggest, but instead, they just keep touring and playing to a devoted, if small, fan base.
And then you realize: for the Weber Brothers, this is success.
Everyone from Ronnie Hawkins and Serena Ryder to local luminaries like John Punter and James McKenty pass through Before We Arrive to sing the praises of the Webers. Each is in awe of their drive and commitment, as well as their raw musical talent.
The fact they’re remained independent and yet successful is a badge of honour. Ryan describes with equal parts exhaustion and pride his years managing the band himself.
Now more than ever, global superstardom is a pipe dream. The way we buy and consume music doesn’t leave a lot of room for immortal rock gods. And, it must be said, few musicians I know even desire superstardom. They just want to be working musicians, earning enough by making music to continue making music.
And in the modern music economy, there’s more room than ever to fulfill that dream. Modern tech gives bands the chance to independently record, promote, book shows, and connect directly with their fans. The DIY economy is flourishing, and it’s a tough, strange time for the big labels.
And in that world, the Webers are succeeding. As Ryan Weber says, “We’ve seen a lot. we’ve done a lot, as a band, fifteen years in. Had a lot of dreams come true, had a lot of dreams trampled. But at the end of the day, this is what we’ve chosen to do, and we’re proud to be doing it.”
Before We Arrive premieres at the 2016 ReFrame International Film Festival in Peterborough, taking place January 29 to 31. Tickets and more info here.
Images courtesy Before We Arrive and the Weber Brothers.