If We Shout Loud Enough: Baltimore’s Post-Punk Ambassadors Get a Documentary

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    Double Dagger in their signature orange (L to R): Nolen Strals, vocals; Bruce Willen, bass; Denny Bowen, drums. Photo by Bruce Willen.
    Double Dagger in their signature orange (L to R): Nolen Strals, vocals; Bruce Willen, bass; Denny Bowen, drums. Photo by Bruce Willen.

    When Bruce Willen asked fellow MICA student Nolen Strals to start a band that writes songs about graphic design, it fit into a minor trend of Baltimore concept bands that blossomed at the turn of the century. Amateur local music historian Tim Kabara recalls “a band called Invert that wrote all their songs about skateboarding and played out of the back of a van with a generator outside of shows” forming around the same time.

    But Double Dagger — the name refers to the typographical mark — soon found they had a lot more going for them than their gimmick. Their knack for crafting dynamic post-punk barn burners from a minimal vocals-drums-bass format verged on the alchemical. These were quintessential songs, not only more than the sum of their parts, but other than. But maybe that’s just me. Kabara sees their popularity stemming from their being “fun and loud and never boring.”

    He also recalls their transgenerational appeal: “I spent many Double Dagger shows throwing my fist up, going, ‘Yeah!’ — having fun while many teenagers went wild around me. I mention teenagers since I think their music resonated with adolescents particularly but not singularly. It is not every show where the high school teacher and [his] student can hang out and have a good time.”

    By the time Double Dagger played their last show in October of 2011, they had come to define a certain energetic corner of the Baltimore music scene and were active ambassadors, touring the hell out of the United States and playing Europe.

    Gabriel DeLoach and Zach Keifer, two filmmakers from Charlottesville, Va., decided that the band warranted a full-length documentary. If We Shout Loud Enough features several “intimate, beautiful, and insane” live performances from the band’s final tour; interpolations from Tim Kabara; interviews with Future Islands, Dan Deacon, Thank You, Wye Oak, et al.; and the “oldest known footage” of the band.

    Gabriel DeLoach recently took a moment to answer some questions about the film.

    What’s your relationship to Double Dagger?

    I went to college at MICA with Bruce and Nolen (Nolen was my year, graduated 2001). We didn’t necessarily hang out, but I had helped them photograph a poster design for the Johns Hopkins Film Fest and saw Nolen in the mail room all the time. At one point Bruce had made a zine called Star Charts which explored concepts of urban decay, empty spaces and ethereal light, and he had printed some of my large format pictures to go along with his writing. I helped organize shows at the now defunct H. Lewis Gallery and [had booked Bruce for a show]. He played acoustic guitar and sang his own songs. I remember him being a little nervous. I also remember seeing [Bruce and Nolen’s first band] League of Death at house parties, and still vividly remember their crazy flyers posted around campus.
    Years later I was compelled to look Bruce up and see what he was up to. I found DD’s Myspace page, DoubleDaggerSucks. I was living here in Charlottesville by that time and started developing my first doc film, The Harvest. Anyway, I reached out to Bruce through the email on their Myspace page and kept in touch. A year or two later Double Dagger was playing a show with Future Islands at the Dust Warehouse here in Charlottesville, and the guys crashed in my living room. They stayed at my house again another time DD and FI came through, and that’s when I asked them to do all of the artwork for The Harvest, which they did quite beautifully. I also used “Neon Gray” in the trailer and film.

    How did the doc come about?

    I was passing through Baltimore on my way back from visiting family a few months before Double Dagger announced their breakup. I stopped in to meet up with Bruce for a few hours and catch up. Over dinner he told me the news. After a moment of astonishment and disbelief, I half joked that they should find someone to film their last tour. A few months later that someone wound up being me. After the tour the idea to tell more of a story just seemed natural, what with their strong connection to the DIY scene in Baltimore and their heavy integration of design and art — which is often provocative, killer work. But the story didn’t really take shape until Zach got involved in the project. He brought an outside perspective — not being familiar with DD or the Bmore music scene — that helped me realize the bigger picture. I think that being so close to these guys I took a lot of interesting angles for granted, but Zach really wanted to dig into topics that wind up being very prominent in the film, and most certainly carry it.
    What’s been Double Dagger’s participation in the film?
    Well, apart from being in the film in every capacity, from performing to reflecting on the last 10 years, they’ve helped a lot in setting up interviews with all of the Baltimoreans in the film and tagging along with us while we sought out cityscapes and B-roll. Not to mention the many, many nights they have let us crash at their houses and fed us. We’ve probably made about seven or eight trips after the last show to film the rest of the movie.
    What’s your background in film and music?
    I studied photography and drawing at MICA. I took experimental video classes there and some 16mm film classes at Johns Hopkins, but for the most part am self taught. I also interned at National Geographic during my sophomore and junior years, knowing I was interested in documentary work — whether it be stills or moving pictures — but I did a lot of other things before coming full circle years later.
    In 2008 I started assisting the National Geographic photographer Steve Winter, and he strongly encouraged my pursuit of filmmaking. He set me up with some of my first jobs shooting documentary stories on human-animal conflict, specifically with tigers and jaguars, an area I still work in today.
    I grew up in a small rural town a few hours northwest of NYC — before the Internet — so the majority of my understanding of what music existed beyond the Top 40 was from whenever I could dial in WFMU on my car radio. My second exposure to a lot of new music was at MICA; seeing Fugazi for the first time blew my mind, and just a lot of weird and interesting bands playing in basements or living rooms, and at the original Ottobar where I remember seeing some of Nolen’s first screen printed show posters — they stood out from all of the rest.

    When is it premiering?

    It will be released with their final album, 333, on Record Store Day — April 20, 2013. We’re looking at festival options and setting up a few screenings where there is interest. A lot of that needs to be ironed out in the next few months, but we’re really excited to see it on a big screen — it just looks awesome.

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