Drew Fortier had no idea how much his life would change the evening legendary Bang Tango frontman, Joe Lesté, walked through the front door of the Chicago venue where Fortier tended bar. The chance meeting would lead to the creation of one of the most captivating rock documentaries ever put to film — ‘Attack of Life: The Bang Tango Movie.’ Shot over the course of several years, the film features never-before-seen interviews with members of the band, both past and present, and key figures who witnessed their rollercoaster ride toward rock ‘n’ roll glory. The film is a no-holds-barred exploration of the band’s storied past; focusing on the good times, bad times, and debauchery the band has endured throughout the years. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with filmmaker Drew Fortier to discuss the chain of events which led to the creation of his first documentary, the challenges he faced, the lessons he learned along the way, and what the future holds him as both a filmmaker and as the newest member of the band.
Thanks for taking time to talk with us, Drew. We have been following the saga of “Attack of Life: The Bang Tango” for awhile now and it is great it has finally seen the light of day!
Thanks man! The whole process came together in such an unnatural way!
That is my first question for you. Give us a little background on how this crazy journey began.
I was bartending in this club on the southside of Chicago when my boss at the time said, “Hey, we are going to have Bang Tango play tonight.” I remembered the name because my older brother was huge into the genre growing up. I also remembered Beautiful Creatures, which was Joe Lesté’s, the singer of Bang Tango, band back in the early 2000s. I loved that band, so I was pretty excited. The band showed up and my boss put a camera in my hand for the day. He wanted me to get interviews with the guys to talk about the club. Joe came up to me and said, “You look pretty cool. First question. Do you know where I can find some weed?” I was like, “Uh, no. Sorry!” He said, “OK, second question. What’s that in your hand?” We just really hit it off from there. He said, “We are recording an album in Chicago In two weeks. Why don’t you come down to the studio and do a studio documentary kind of thing for YouTube. You could meet us at the airport when we fly in and all of that.” I said, “OK. I have no idea what I am doing and I don’t have a background in film or anything.” He said, “I’m not a classically trained singer but I’m doing this!” I said, “Alright, Joe!” [laughs] I was at the airport two weeks later and they were kind of surprised I showed up. They were like, “Oh, it’s this guy.” Earlier in the year, I had happened to buy some film equipment with my tax return money and I had planned on shooting something that summer with my buddy Joe Placzkowski, who ended up being a producer on the Bang Tango movie. I had all the equipment, so we ended up setting out to make a little studio documentary. As I was hanging with the guys in the studio, everything was really going along great. Joe is the only original member of the band. He started talking about the history of the band and how everything got started. That sparked an idea and I ended up getting a hold of Mark Knight, who was the original guitar player in Bang Tango. From there, the floodgates just opened! I said to myself, “Holy crap! This is one hell of a story!” I turned that studio documentary into a full-on rock doc. I said, “I don’t know where this is going to go but I know I am not going to edit it, so let’s get all this footage and I am assuming the band has someone to edit this whole thing.” That turned out to be false! [laughs] I ended up with about 400 hours of footage. I interviewed all of the original members of Bang Tango and I just had an insane amount of footage. Another one of the producers, Anu Gunn, shot a bunch of interviews in Los Angeles for me when I couldn’t afford to fly out there. He was able to get all of that for me. We ended up getting Riki Rachtman and Howard Benson, who produced Bang Tango’s first and third album and would end up producing Kelly Clarkson and others. That was really interesting! Somehow, some way, I got Dee Snider to do the opening narration.
That was an awesome way to start the film. Dee has a great line in there that really sets the tone. Did he ad lib some of that intro?
Yeah. I had written out this whole thing and I thought it would be perfect for Dee Snider. You never know unless you ask, so I emailed his manager. They emailed me back and said, “Dee wants to do it.” I said, “OK, how much.” They said, “Don’t worry about it.” That little ad lib was all him and it was great. He did like three or four cold reads and they sent them to me. During one of the takes he puts in his own two cents. When I heard it I instantly thought, “Perfect! This sets the tone perfectly! It’s going in the movie.” I have never talked to Dee or ever met him but I would love to shake his hand one day for doing such an amazing job! That ad lib is hysterical!
With so much footage for a film, was it an easy process to start fleshing out the story of Bang Tango? What went into wrangling it all and setting a course, so to speak?
Oh man, I’m still picking up the pieces of my brain from when I lost my mind making this thing! [laughs] The editing process was a big part of that! I ended up with 50 or 60 interviews on top of all the touring footage and everything else. I decided the easiest way to go about it was telling the story chronologically. I had been watching a lot of rock documentaries and they have a tendency to jump all around and it gets kind of confusing, so proceeding chronologically made the most sense to me. The only narration in the movie is from Dee Snider at the beginning, so I just tried to make it all make sense, so that there wouldn’t have to be another narration and the interviews would tell the story. I put my sanity aside for six months and went through every bit of footage. Thankfully, in each interview, all of the same questions were asked, so the reactions lined up perfectly when cut together into different segments. It was just a matter of piecing it all together.
Originally, the movie had a very different ending. The rough cut of the movie is harsh, brutal and X-rated. Everybody hated it! It was bad! The original ending of the film was very abrupt. It ended with Joe saying, “That was then. Who cares.” And the film just ends. Everyone was like, “Come on! Are you serious?!” It was just so depressing. I said, “OK. I will shoot a new ending.” Bang Tango played a big show in August of 2014 in Michigan at Pine Knob with Great White and Queensryche. I decided I would drive up there, shoot the band in front of a huge crowd and it would be the perfect, happy ending. When I got there, the doors opened at 7 o’clock and Bang Tango went out at 7:15. As you see in the movie, there were literally 30 people walking in thinking, “Oh cool. It’s sound check.” In reality, it was Bang Tango playing their set! I was shooting it and thinking, “Oh man, this is bad. Wait a second, this is amazing! It’s an even better ending than if it was bad!” I rolled with that and finally finished the movie about a year ago. When they saw the finished film, everybody really liked it and thought it told the story through and through.
I screened it in Chicago and planned it to where the band would be there too. I was invited to come up and play with them. I ended up doing the whole set with them. Rowan [Robertson], who is the other guitar player in the band, really liked the rhythm guitar because he is the lead guitar player. That Friday, Joe called me up and said, “Drew, how would you feel about playing in front of 20,000 people at the M3 Festival in Maryland tomorrow?” I was like, “I am renting the car right now!” [laughs] I drove from Chicago to Maryland and did the show with them! I have been their guitar player ever since!
That is quite a way to land a gig! That is awesome! I am sure you faced many challenges along the way in making this film. What were some of the hurdles you had to overcome?
Actually, the reason I had to release the film for free was issues with clearing the songs. I went into this whole thing blind and learned how not to make a movie, as well as how to make a movie in the four years it took to make it. I was in contact with Universal for about two years because Bang Tango were signed to a subsidiary of MCA called Mechanic Records. Universal bought MCA, so they had all of the masters. Universal kept passing me off to different people and it went from person to person. It was never ending! I was thinking, “OK. This is never going to happen.” Then I found out that even if I was able to clear the songs, it would probably cost 10 to 15 grand. That was disappointing because this was a project that didn’t have a budget to begin with! I started to think the movie would live on as one that gets reviewed but never comes out! I had it uploaded privately on YouTube for reviewing purposes for about a year. The Universal Music Group monetized a video on my YouTube channel. I took that as a sign of them signing off on it! [laughs] So, I released it for free. I was at peace with it. I just wanted to get it out there because people wanted to see it! This one’s on me! [laughs]
I was excited to see the film when it dropped. It was worth the wait! What has the fan reaction been to this labor of love?
Oh my god, it has been absolutely flattering! The response has been almost 100% positive. I put the video out a few weeks ago and it already has 11,000 views on YouTube, along with 230+ likes and zero dislikes. Everyone hates everything on the Internet, so I was a little blown away by that! Another thing, before I put it online for free, I had sent a review link to Metal Sludge. They wanted to see the movie. For the past four years, I would put out a trailer every six months to let everyone know I was still working on it. Metal Sludge would report on it and were like, “Yeah, this thing is never going to get done.” I sent them the link for review and they finally saw it. It became the most positive thread on Metal Sludge! Not a bad comment! [laughs] I thought to myself, “Wow! I guess that is a good thing!” Ya know, the positive response has been great but I almost hoped someone had something bad to say about it so I could learn from it. I don’t mind being perfect! [laughs]
Was there anything that didn’t make it into the film, maybe footage of a moment you didn’t have, that you would have liked to incorporate?
That is a good question. There is a ton of deleted scene stuff that I haven’t put out there. As far as stuff that I didn’t get, Bang Tango actually reunited about 10 years ago as a one-off. There was no footage of it, so I decided not to put it in the movie because there was no documentation of it. The whole show ended up online recently. It was mislabeled as being from 2015, when it is really from 2006. Had I had that footage, I would have loved to have included it in the movie. Other than that, I don’t think I would change a thing. I was really fortunate with the outcome. The movie doesn’t make any sense to me any more because I spent so much time editing things and I have seen every piece of footage a million times over. It is all so familiar it is really hard for me to watch. So, yeah, I don’t think there is anything I would have added in there. Like I said, there are a lot of great deleted scenes. For example, there was this really cool David Lee Roth story and other little stories that didn’t really fit in with the flow of the movie. I would eventually love to put them out there as well.
Just hearing you talk, it is obvious it was no easy task to get this film made. What kept you determined to stay the course?
That is a good question. I was given this opportunity out of nowhere. It really opened a lot of doors for me. I met a lot of really great people along the way. I knew I had to follow through with it. One of the darker sides of the whole thing, which I have never brought up in an interview, is I was expecting a baby with my wife. At full-term, 9 months, we lost the baby. It was heartbreaking. Things didn’t go so great with the marriage and we have been 100% estranged ever since. That was the six months I was editing the movie. I put all of the emotion into making the film and it was really therapeutic. There is definitely a big piece of me in that movie.
“Attack of Life: The Bang Tango Movie” shows off your skills as a filmmaker and storyteller. Where do you see yourself headed in the future?
Oh man, I am ready to retire already after making the first one and everything I went through! [laughs] I have been talking to a couple of bands about doing something for them. I don’t know if I can say their name but they were a very popular industrial-metal band from the ‘90s. I wrote up a treatment for them and they loved it. We are just waiting for the right time to move forward with it. I have been doing a lot of promo videos for bands as well. I did promo videos for Vince Neil, Queensryche and Great White, a lot of ‘80s bands. I have been kind of typecast as the ‘80s band guy. I was trying to break that but I guess I am happily stuck because I am in Bang Tango now!
It is such a cool story. You worked behind the camera for these guys and now you are working alongside them. What has the experience been like?
It has been the most amazing bookend to the whole experience. It’s true. You always change what you study and this story is living proof. When I met them, they were a two guitar player band that was down to one guitar player after a couple of lineup changes. Ever since I joined, it has been incredible and totally self-realized. I feel like this is the path I have always wanted to go down. I made a movie and joined a band. I’m living out my dreams. It has been so much fun too. In the movie, Joe is very camera shy. You can see he is a bit uncomfortable with interviews. I interviewed him about five times. I finally had Lance Eric, the bass player for Bang Tango, interview him so he was a bit more comfortable. In person, Joe is a really fun guy. He is almost like a cartoon character. He is like that fun, crazy uncle that everybody has and who is a blast to be around. Everyone I met through making this movie all became good friends, so it has been super flattering. I am really grateful for all of the people I met through this crazy, screwed up, unorthodox journey! Like I said, I learned how to make a movie, how not to make a movie, how not to release a movie and how to join a band! [laughs]
Take us back to your earlier years. What are your first memories of music in your life?
Oh man, my family was and is huge into music. I was born in ’87 but I remember watching videos on MTV with my older brother and older sister in the early 90’s. My first musical memory is literally the video for “Welcome To The Jungle.” My first concert was Jackyl and Aerosmith. I remember for some reason I was obsessed with Jesse James Dupree and his use of chainsaws! [laughs] I still think it’s awesome! My Mother took me to hundreds and hundreds of concerts while I was growing up. The second I took interest in guitar, she supported me 100% and it was the same with my father. My whole family supported me, looking back now it really molded me into who I am now as a musician.
Who were your biggest influences as a musician? Where there any mentors behind the seen giving you the push you needed?
My biggest influences have always been Zakk Wylde and Jimmy Page. They are definitely the two main reasons why I play guitar. As for a musical mentor, I would say everyone who I have met while making the documentary who became close friends. Chip Z’Nuff for sure. Him and I both live in Chicago and I always come over to hang with him and his amazing wife Kate Catalina, The Showgirl of Rock. I just absolutely love hanging with them and just listening to stories about things that have gone right and wrong in the music business. Mark Knight became a close friend and huge influence on me as well, not just musically but personally. Such a great man. I’m extremely fortunate and honored to know a lot of these great people.
As an artist, so many things can be said about the current state of music. Focusing on the positive, what excites you about being a working musician in this day and age?
Focusing on the positives, I really get excited about the shows, and meeting people. People who come out to Bang Tango shows are more so friends than they are fans and I absolutely love meeting and hanging with them all. I love and appreciate all of them.
Bang Tango has a rich back catalog of songs. As both a fan and a player, which songs resonate with you the most?
Without a doubt, my favorite Bang Tango song would have to be “My Favorite 9.” We play it live as well, and ever since I first heard it, it really stuck with me for some reason. It really has everything that makes Bang Tango great. It’s heavy, funky, and has a taboo lyrical content. It’s such a great song.
I am sure the band has plenty of dates lining up for the spring and summer. What is in the cards at the moment?
Absolutely! We are going to be playing Las Vegas on April 15th with the band Tuff. We are playing at Count’s Vamp’d. Then the next confirmed show is Rocklahoma in May. We will be playing alongside Megadeth and Rob Zombie!
That is huge! What is the biggest show you played with the band?
The biggest show I have played was probably a toss up between the M3 Festival in front of 20,000 people, which was my second show with them ever, and a few months later when we played the Cathouse Live Festival at Irvine Meadows. That show was amazing as well! We played in front of thousands and thousands of people. It was really overwhelming. We weren’t getting booed, so I knew we must have been doing something right!
It has been a wild ride for you. It is such a great story and one that can inspire people. What is the best lesson we can take from your journey so far?
The best lesson you can take away is that you are your own worst enemy. The only person who can hold you back is yourself. It’s all about the follow-through! No matter what you want to do in life, there is no reason you can’t do it. You have to be at peace with yourself and be able to take some criticism. Once you are comfortable with yourself, you can accomplish absolutely anything you want.
Well said, Drew! Thanks for your time today and we wish you continued success!
Thank you so much! We will definitely talk again soon!
Check out ‘Attack of Life: The Bang Tango Movie’ below and spread the word! Connect with Bang Tango on Facebook and catch the band on tour this Spring! Don’t forget to follow the continuing adventures of Drew Fortier on Facebook and Twitter!