Attics are often one of the most neglected places in a house. At best, they become storage spaces for belongings a person can live without but aren't ready to part with. Otherwise they just become empty crawl spaces.
The attic of 6015 Willow Street has had a pretty intriguing existence up until now. There's a little less than three feet in headspace and enough room to fit at least one bed, maybe two tightly. Oddly enough, it's served as sleeping quarters for house-guests---or, more appropriately, lodgers---on occasion. It's also functioned as a small art gallery and a space for screening Super-8 films.
Last summer, under the guidance of then-housemates Paul Hammond and Jeffrey Parker, the attic became the starting point for a rockin' dance party. With Windom Earle blasting live in those cramped quarters, and friends down below---disco ball and all---the stage was set for a one-of-a-kind dance floor extravaganza.
More than a year later, Hammond and Parker's joint vision is seeing the light of day on DVD as part of this year's Halifax Pop Explosion.
6015 Willow is a film featuring 20 Halifax bands performing in the house Hammond and Parker called home up until last year. This is no slapdash lineup of local acts; it reads like a veritable Halifax punk and indie all-star team: Dog Day, North of America, Tomcat Combat, The Superfantastics, The Hold, Die Brücke, The Stolen Minks, VKNGS and The Maynards are just a few of the acts who lend their considerable assets to the project.
And to think the whole idea started as a joke.
"Jeff and I said, 'Ha ha, wouldn't it be funny when we move out to have bands play in the house,' and then suddenly there's four pro video cameras with actual videographers. It's crazy," says Hammond, with seemingly genuine surprise.
But what began as a joke project became the ultimate tribute to a house that served as a creative incubator for countless members of the Halifax arts community.
When Hammond moved into 6015 Willow in 2001, the house already had a reputation for artsy weirdness and was home to a bunch of NSCAD students (he was entering his second year at the school). Artistic creativity continued to flourish from thereon in, but with a twist---the house became an inspiration for projects.
"I think over the course of three or four years of us doing these projects, it went from a house having lots of art kids living there to a place with this weird mythology around it. And it was all faked. We forced that mythology upon the city," says Hammond.
In 2002 Hammond created the first edition in seven of 6015 Explosion, a newsletter-style publication that reported on house-related news in a sensational, larger-than-life way. The house also began organizing colouring contests using illustrations by Richard Scarry (the author of The Best Word Book Ever) and original artwork---sometimes incorporating the house into the drawings themselves.
From there, the ideas continued to form in conceptually unique ways. Fellow 6015er Tamara Henderson created Video Vacation Video, a movie-rental operation whose library consisted of one movie---an animated film from the '80s called The Last Unicorn. Henderson, along with Hammond, also helped create Motel Deluxe Motel, a one-bed-in-the-attic operation that was a steal at seven bucks a night, with breakfast included.
After the motel's two-year run, Francesca Tallone and Hammond opened the Gallery Deluxe Gallery in 6015's attic. Like other strange projects started within the house, Hammond saw the gallery as another fun idea. But the novelty of the small gallery caught on in a big way. Over its existence, GDG presented works by artists from Norway, France, Germany, Japan, US and other parts of Canada.
There were recording sessions held in the house for A History Of, The Holy Shroud, The Burdocks, Die Brücke and others. Stephan MacLeod of Windom Earle led band practices in his bedroom. The house also gave birth to Yo Rodeo Poster Co., the design/screenprint art team of Hammond and Dog Day's Seth Smith, also a former 6015 resident.
As the summer of 2007 came to a close, Hammond and Parker---who entered the picture in May 2006---prepared to move on from 6015 Willow Street. They wanted to give the house a nice sendoff but weren't sure how to go about it.
The idea for 6015 Willow became fully formed while attending Sappy Fest in Sackville, NB, in early August 2007. Most of the bands would feature a member who, at some point, called the house home (in the end, 11 of the 20 bands fit this bill). Excluding the stinky basement, all parts of the house were used for filming---at least the upper-level apartment where all previous 6015 art happenings had taken place.
Less than three weeks later, the shooting began.
"I think over the course of three or four years of us doing these projects, it went from a house having lots of art kids living there to a place with this weird mythology around it. And it was all faked. We forced that mythology upon the city."
The concept of having bands perform in the house was borrowed from a series of films called Burn to Shine, where bands perform one song in a house set to be torn down. But Hammond and Parker wanted to add a personal touch to that formula.
"We realized the thing that's cool about is the bands. But the thing that's disappointing about them is you don't get to see anything other than the songs being played," says Hammond. Alongside the music, 6015 Willow aims to show the music community hanging out as friends, getting frustrated and being human.
The end product balances this approach nicely. On the music side, the variety in performance and presentation is integral to the film's appeal, from the thrilling garage-punk of The Stolen Minks right through to the closing performance by VKNGS.
In between there's time for intense punk rock via The Hold and cookie-baking shenanigans in the kitchen with The Maynards. One of the definite highlights comes from indie-pop duo The Just Barelys, performing in the bathroom as if they're just getting ready to hop in the shower.
The quality of the lineup makes Hammond and Parker particularly proud. "I think it's a great reflection of the Halifax scene that we were able to find 20 bands that we liked and wanted to play here, and we could have come up with 20 more," says Parker, in tribute to the strength of Halifax's indie scene.
The film also gives a sense of the intense work that went into its making. Furniture is moved from rooms as they're emptied out for performances. Emotions run from ecstasy to exhaustion as people deal with the tight shooting schedule and hot conditions.
"The weekend of filming was ridiculous. The amount of time, stress and energy put into it was incredible," says Parker.
Director Mark Mullane found filming equally busy, yet also incredibly rewarding. "Being in such a close, intimate setting for three days, running around, keeping things on schedule and listening to a lot of great music was a highlight of my summer last year," he says.
Thanks to the generosity of band members and friends, making the film a reality wasn't too much trouble. "We were lucky to have a project exciting enough that people would just say 'yes' to it," says Hammond.
Having bands with multi-talented members didn't hurt things either. Mullane (of North of America and The Got to Get Got) has worked in film and television for almost 10 years. Hammond says that having a director with his experience was particularly important given his and Parker's lack of experience.
Michael Catano, who appears in five of the film's 20 acts, handled sound all weekend despite being sick as a dog. "In the movie he kind of looks like a wreck. I mean, there are points where Jeff looks stressed out but there are no points where Mike doesn't look stressed out," says Hammond with a laugh.
So far, reaction to 6015 Willow has been decidedly positive. The film screened at this year's Atlantic Film Festival and earlier this month at Pop Montreal. It had a particularly raucous debut over the summer at Sappy Fest that director Mullane found especially touching.
"For me it was the fact that everybody clapped and cheered for every single band like they were at a show. I'll never forget that moment," he says.
The fun times continue with the film's release on DVD as part of the Halifax Pop Explosion. Likewise, 6015 Willow Street seems to be maintaining its reputation as a house brimming with creativity. It was used as a stop on the recent Go North! art tour, and Evan Elliott, who was the editor on 6015 Willow, recently helped film a house show there, featuring Yellow Jacket Avenger, for a future release.
With his own six-year art investment in 6015 Willow Street complete, Hammond is hopeful that the house's creative vibe will live on.
"When you're surrounded by creative people, it gives you more reason to start working on things yourself and it sets a pattern. Once a house like this has a history of creativity, it's hard to break that. It's a cycle that gets started and hopefully goes on forever," he laughs.