By Jeb Wright
George Lynch is most famous for being a guitar god with the band Dokken. In his prime, Lynch took guitar soloing to new, dizzying heights. His talents on the electric guitar are immense and his reputation as an axe slinger is legendary.
After Dokken, he went on to form Lynch Mob, another heavy band featuring his skills as a guitar virtuoso. He, then, got into body building and he could always be counted on to be on the brink of a Dokken reunion, only to have old personality conflicts rise back to the surface and keep the band apart. He has a new band now called T&N that continues his famed prowess on the six-string.
There is, however, another side to George Lynch. He is a philosopher, a peacemaker and a solider for the earth and the fair treatment of humanity—all of humanity, even those who are poor and unable to defend themselves from corporate bullying—especially them.
Lynch has spent the last two and half years working on a film, and in a band, titled Shadowtrain. The film, whose complete title is Shadowtrain: Under a Crooked Sky looks at the treatment of Native Americans in our homeland. Lynch is very passionate to bring both issues, and solutions, to the American consciousness with Shadowtrain, yet, as he admits, there is a lot of work left to be done.
Shadowtrain has a campaign on funding site indiegogo (http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/shadowtrain-under-a-crooked-sky) where people can donate money to the project and receive gifts for their donation. Gifts range from something as simple as a guitar pick to an autographed CD to a guitar lesson on Skype from Lynch, himself.
In the interview that follows, Lynch discusses the Shadowtrain project in detail, including why the project means so much to him, what is left to be done, and what he hopes to accomplish in the end.
Donate to Shadowtrain here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/shadowtrain-under-a-crooked-sky
Jeb: The last time we talked the Shadowtrain project was just starting.
George: When we talked last the Shadowtrain project was in its infancy. I have never been involved with a film before, I don’t count making rock videos [laughter]. I thought everything would be easier than it was. I thought we would get funding and everything would fall together seamlessly. Then, I learned how difficult this all is. It is difficult but in a good way. It has been a wonderful experience.
We are about two-thirds of the way through the process of getting the film done. We have another four months of shooting to do and, then, we have about eight months of editing. Everything lives and dies in the editing. A parallel would be the mix of a record. A record can live, or die, in the mix, how it is recorded and how it ends up sounding.
We have two and a half years of shooting and someone has to cobble that together and make it tell a story. There are a lot of skills that go into that and it can be very harrowing. You have to have some affinity to the subject matter in able to weave a story out of it. We are a long ways from that.
I had a very interesting conversation on the ESP site the other day. They ran a link to the indiegogo campaign for Shadowtrain and someone left a post that said, “Why should I, or anyone else, give a dime to George Lynch? I am just a working guy and he is a multi-millionaire.” I had to respond to that. My response was very nice and cordial, but I had to explain myself. If that were true, then I would do it. It is, however, exactly what the film is against. I explained myself and people responded well.
It has been an incredible personal journey. We have a whole crew of people who work tirelessly. Nobody is making a nickel on this film. We camp out together, or if we stay in a hotel, then we room up together. We eat at people’s homes when we are invited out to the reservations. We really make a dollar go a long way.
I have had the honor of being in the presence of people who are my heroes and who should be heroes to the rest of the planet, as well. Noam Chomsky is a very, very important person when it comes to telling the truth and doing a service to humanity in his lifetime. I was able to fly out to Cambridge and MIT and interview him. It was an honor and it was very enlightening.
We have a quite an interesting mix of people involved with the film. We have Tom Morello on the left and then, we have from the right, Ted Nugent and possibly Chuck Norris. It is really an interesting mix of ideologies and opinions. We try to pick them apart and find anything that is useful and truthful.
Jeb: Tell me in your own words what it is that spoke to you about this project.
George: I have always been an environmental and political activist on a quite, personal level. I have a need that has always nagged at me to combined music with what I care about. I think this justifies my existence and makes a lot of sense. It is a full circle kind of thing.
The film is an exploration in human nature through the lens of the Native American experience. It could be about any indigenous people, anywhere in the world. It is the story of genocide in the name of greed. That seems to be what we, as animals, are all about, which is the instinct to survive, gone haywire.
With that in mind, the band Shadowtrain has taken many trips. We will continue to take many more. We will load up our convoys, and our generators, and our equipment, and our tents and sleeping bags. We will head out and play music in a lot of very beautiful places on reservations throughout the Western United States.
Jeb: This sounds very spiritual.
George: It is. Actually, we have a spiritual roundhouse in the movie. We discuss spirituality with a priest, a shaman and an angelical pastor and a Zen Buddhist monk.
Jeb: You are also supporting people who can make a difference.
George: We are involved in helping a company called Sacred Tower, which is a Native American solar power company. They take solar panels to reservations that are rural and have never had any access to power of any kind. Now, they are getting power from the sun. In addition to that, we are involved in opening up music schools called Music is Medicine. There is a lot of solution based stuff that we try to get out in this film.
Jeb: Tell me about the campaign for funding at indiegogo.
George: It is a start up funding website for a lot of things. You draw up your campaign and you give gifts to people for their contributions. The more they give, the better the gift. We have a couple of weeks left on our campaign and we are trying to raise $15,000, which will just about pay for our editing.
We don’t want to pinch pennies and do it on a shoestring and sacrifice quality. We want the movie to be done right. We don’t want to have it be something that is poor in quality and that people would have a hard time sitting through. People have high expectations and we want to meet them.
Jeb: What are some of the gifts people can get for helping Shadowtrain?
George: At the ten dollar level, we have a Shadowtrain guitar pick that is really cool. Picks don’t cost that much to make, but the idea is that most of that ten dollars will go to the project.
A larger contribution level, I think it is seventy-five dollars; you can take your pick of one of two Shadowtrain shirts. One of the shirts is really awesome. It is done by a skateboard artist that I was introduced too. She drew this line art drawing all by hand and it is really amazing. It is full color and includes the slogan “Until there is justice there will be no peace.” There is a Shadowtrain logo above that as well. There is another shirt that is a real picture of the 1972 uprising at Wounded Knee.
There is also a guitar lesson with me for a higher level. There is another level where you get an actual guitar signed by the band and crew. There is a level where you can get your name on the credits of the film and on the CD—there will be a CD released that is the soundtrack of the film. There are a lot of interesting things for people to check out. We are doing pretty well, so far, but we are trying to raise awareness that we are out here and that we exist. We can use your help.
Jeb: If you fall short of your goal do you at least get the money that was raised?
George: If we fall short, we do keep the money and it goes into our account at the Independent Documentary Film Foundation. They certify us and they look at our budgets. Every time we make a requisition for money we have to send in all copies of our receipts to them, every quarter. They keep it all under a microscope, which is a really good thing because it lets people know that everything is on the up and up and is accounted for.
Nobody in these projects makes any money. It is not because we couldn’t use it, but this is just much more important than that. We want to do something that matters. We want to use music to express an idea, start a conversation and increase awareness.
Jeb: Why did this cause become so close to your heart and what is the plan for the film once it is finished?
George: It is close to my heart because I am very, very passionate about, and very inquisitive about human nature. I have gone back to school and taken a lot of philosophy classes—I did that even back in the Dokken days. I am the guy in the room that won’t shut the hell up when it comes to politics or religion—I’m the guy you don’t want to talk to. I am fortunate that I get to travel the world with my job and talk to a lot of interesting people. I thrive on it and I seek them out; I love it.
I want this film to be more than an intellectual exercise. I wanted it to be boots on the ground, where the rubber meets the road. The idea is that hopefully we can affect the world in a small way, for better. I know that is pie in the sky thinking, but you still have to try—no matter what, you have to try.
Our plans for the film are still vague. We are learning as we are going along. We want to be on schedule to hit SXSW and the Sundance Film Festival next year. There are a lot of other film festivals, as well. You really give birth to these films through festivals. It is a grass roots thing.
One thing we’ve thought about doing, and I am not sure if its been done before, is that when we release the film, early next year, is to have viewings with a Shadowtrain tour. We could do a tour and people would pay to see the film and then, after the film is over, a curtain rises and the band plays the soundtrack to the film. I think that would be different and it is really interesting to me.
Jeb: Did the band come first, or the film? What was the genesis of the project?
George: The film came first and the band followed quickly afterwards. Initially, in a conversation I had with a friend of mine—I became friends with Vincent Nicastro, the drummer of the band and the co-director of the film. We started out with a camera from Best Buy and an idea. He is an amazing guy. He has been an earth first solider for the environment all of his life. He is very, very smart and tough.
We had a meeting of the minds and we started doing it. We went to the Paiute Reservation. We went to this very small town that is literally in the shadow of a coal plant. The reservation is literally in the plant’s backyard. They put an energy plant there.
They often put energy plants where poor people live so they can poison their air, water and land and they won’t complain because they have no political power. Half of the year the place has three inches of sulfur and mercury on everything in the town. There is a lot of cancer there and it is just horrible. We just kept going from there and we had all kinds of adventures. We also started playing music because he is a drummer.
Once we started playing music, we thought that we had to get a band together. We got Gabe Rosales, who is also a super solider. We got Donnie Dickman, who lives in a tree house and is an old hippie dude. He plays keyboards and is a great musician. The last piece of the puzzle was Gregg Analla, who got a hold of me through Facebook and said that he should be our singer. I got a hold of him and he was right. He is 100% Pueblo Native American and has a treasure trove of knowledge of his culture. He was the icing on the cake.
We ended up doing the record at this place called Sound Mountain Studios in California. We lived in this vacant house equipped with a studio. We would sleep and breathe music. We wrote and recorded the whole record in five days.
Jeb: Give me a hint on the style of music.
George: You have got to have an open mind—and I don’t want that to scare anybody. From a creative level, it is very rewarding. We did some almost bluegrass stuff and we did an acid space jam. Some of it is strange, but beautiful music that was totally improvised and played off the cuff.
We also wrote songs and built them up from scratch. I think the songs are very mid 1970’s. One song sounds a lot like Deep Purple. We did that intentionally. We actually said, “Let’s write a Deep Purple song.” Some of the stuff sounds like what Lenny Kravitz tries to do. It is rock, but it is not heavy rock. We have a couple of things that are really unorthodox that are heavy and tuned down. It is effective because this is soundtrack to a movie and we have songs that are for that. I had a vision of a battle scene that, if viewed from the observer, is floating from the sky. The fight is happening out in the prairie and dust is rising up and there are horses and gunfire—I wanted to write a song that fit that. The music tells the story.
One song we wrote almost makes me cry every time I hear it. I wrote it with John Trudell, who is, I believe the first American Indian Movement leader. He was in Alcatraz and he was in the uprising at Wounded Knee, which was a brutal situation. They were occupying Wounded Knee and fighting a war against the Government. They paid a dear price for it. We wrote this song together called “Trail of Tears.”
Jeb: How has this experience changed you as a person?
George: I have been meeting and talking to people like this most of my life. It all comes down to what you get out of it. I tried very hard not to be the guy who is trying to impress somebody by what they know. I am here to serve other people, not to edify myself, or make myself look like anything other than a conduit for a message, and to get that message across. When I was able to shut up and listen, then I was able to learn a lot. I even learned a lot from people that I didn’t agree with.
When I am talking to someone I agree with, then it is like preaching to the choir. When I was talking to people I didn’t agree with—for instance—Ted Nugent, it made for a little friction, but I tried to keep myself out of the equation. It has matured me quite a bit and, hopefully, I have gotten a little wiser in my old age.
Jeb: Last one: A lot of people think George Lynch is just a guitar god from the 1980’s. You are much, much more than that.
George: I assume the majority of people who know who I am have that perception of me, and that would be a pretty accurate assessment of me back then. It was a long time ago. I am 58 now and I was in my late 20’s when Dokken started. In my life, I have tried to keep the good aspects of what was going on with me back then and dump the bad shit.
Donate to Shadowtrain here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/shadowtrain-under-a-crooked-sky
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