First things first—you don’t need to be a fan of the Eagles of Death Metal. You do not need to have strong opinions about the terrorist attack on their November 2015 concert at the Bataclan in Paris. You don’t even need to know that they returned weeks later, defiantly, to complete their show for their ridiculously dedicated fans. The reason you should see the new documentary Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis (Our Friends) starts way before that.
Here’s all you need to know. The scene is a high school party in Palm Desert, California, sometime in the late twentieth century. Jesse Hughes is a nerdy kid who always gets picked on. On this occasion, he’s been thrown, fully clothed, into the pool, and the bullies are crowded around, preventing him from getting out. Enter Joshua Homme, already as tall as a tree and as wide as a barn, who strides in and assures them that the episode is over and that they will allow Jesse to get out, immediately. They do. “You know,” Joshua tells Jesse as he hands him a towel, “you’ve got to find a way to fight back against them, or this will never end.” Some time later, he shows him that part of the answer lies in rock and roll. In 1998, they form a band called the Eagles of Death Metal, that against all odds goes on to worldwide success. And … scene.
Are you hooked yet?
Colin Hanks was. The son of Tom emerged long ago from the shadow of his famous (and industry-beloved) father, with a memorable film debut opposite Jack Black in 2002’s Orange County and a steady stream of roles on TV (including lead roles in The Good Guys, Dexter and Fargo). More relevant to the documentary Nos Amis, Hanks directed the well-received 2015 documentary, All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records. In short, Colin Hanks has serious chops. He also has known and been friends with Joshua Homme and Jesse Hughes for years, a relationship that, more than anything else, made the project a natural choice.
We spoke with Hanks recently about one of the best music docs we’ve seen in a long time.
Paste: Let’s talk about this remarkable documentary. I thought it was just so sensitive and heartfelt. How did you get to know the guys? Through the Tower Records doc?
Hanks: I had known them actually before. The Tower Records documentary took seven years to make, and I met them shortly after I had started working on it. I met Joshua backstage at a [Them Crooked] Vultures show, and we became friends, talking about music, and we’d go out for chili every now and again. He’s just a really funny, easy-going guy who was just, you know, a great hang. I met Jesse a few months later, and Jesse was very much the same way. They had been hearing about [All Things Must Pass] for years. At the tail end of that we needed some music for our trailer, and we had no money. Jesse and Josh, being the good dudes that they are, said, “Well, you can use one of our songs.” And they were incredibly kind and thoughtful, basically because we had been friends for so long. Their last album Zipper Down was coming out about two weeks before the movie. And I said, “You know, we’re trying to do a party at the old Tower store on Sunset and wouldn’t it be cool if you guys played an in-store like they used to do at Tower?” And they said “That sounds awesome. We’d love to do that.”
Paste: That sounds great!
Hanks: So we had been dealing with each other quite a bit in October of 2015 and then the attacks were—I think it was four weeks later? Five weeks later? I had actually talked with Jesse two days before the attacks. He called me from Dublin, busting my chops. He’s like, “Dude, I just saw our record in a Tower Records in Dublin. Why wasn’t that in the movie?” So there is a friendship, not just with Jesse and with Josh and myself but also with guys on their management team and a bunch of their crew guys. When the attacks happened it was—that was a really hard day. I knew that Joshua wasn’t there, so I was worried about my friends that were there, and I was worried about my friend who wasn’t there and how he was dealing with it.
Paste: Yeah, I can’t imagine. That must have just been harrowing.
Hanks: It was. And unfortunately, a feeling that was, you know, familiar. Terrorist attacks—there’s an element of them that you are a little bit desensitized to. It’s just horrible, and you wish that they’d fucking stop but the idea that my friends were directly involved … there’s no way to be prepared for that.
Hanks: So part of me that felt like, “It’s important to tell the story so that Jesse and Joshua and Davey and the guys would maybe never have to address this publicly ever again.” Joshua’s first instinct was like, “No, don’t. You don’t want to be anywhere near this. This is horrible.” And I told him, “Well, I think that’s the reason why we should do it.” But, above all, I told him, “You have to decide if this is something you even want to do.” Going back and playing those shows, that’s hard enough as is. It’s twice as hard when there’s a camera in your face and I didn’t want to be the guy responsible for that, unless it was okay.
Hanks: So I had a lot of conversations with Joshua and Jesse about doing this, and obviously I talked with all the guys about it. We all agreed that this was awkward and uncomfortable but that it would be an important sign for people to see that you have got to get your life back together—you’ve got to take those first steps. They were adamant that this was important. Not because they want people to think that they are brave or any of that bullshit; it’s more about everybody—the fans who were there and all of the people who were affected and all of the people who care about music—that connective tissue with everybody. They wanted to be able to show that music is important. Joshua repeats it. He says, “Music is important” like three or four times in a row to emphasize, this is important. It was important for them to go back and play that show. It was important for them personally and for everybody that was there so that people can start moving on with their lives and not have this be the thing that defines them.
Paste: Your documentary is admirably apolitical, to an extent that any movie about this event could be apolitical. But I think it’s politically important, too. It’s like finishing that concert to me is rock and roll raising a middle finger to the people that wanted to shut it down.
Hanks: Someone just asked me, “Was it political?” And really it’s not. It’s more about people coming together and trying to take that collective first step [to move on] with their lives. It’s the right thing to do. Ultimately, we didn’t address [the political stuff] because that’s not what was going through people’s minds. In those split seconds, when you’re trying to make sense of things … you hear something and it sounds like firecrackers and you don’t know what’s going on. None of it makes any sense. So bringing that to the table when you’re just trying to get out of there alive … all of that stuff kinda comes later.
Paste: I love that when you got to describing the events of that night, you really just stayed on the faces. At that point, as a viewer, I was actually not as interested in the details of what happened. What I was interested in was their feelings about remembering what happened. So, like when Jesse is talking about going through the hall and coming face to face with the guy and trying to sneak out and he’s sort of describing the logistics of it, I almost wasn’t even listening to the logistics of it. I was just there in the emotional moment of memory with him.
Hanks: In the days and the sort of weeks after the attack, you’d see the same news footage over, over and over again and you’d just become desensitized to it. I wanted to be able to make this as impactful as I could using the language and the words of the people who were there and let them tell their story, so that the viewer would be able to get a better understanding of what that was like. And what it is that they’re going through, what it is that they’re struggling with, and what it is that’s keeping them awake. And it’s not the names. It’s the sounds. It’s the smells, the taste. It’s the things that stick in your mind that are difficult to shake.
When we were editing the film, I had gone in with the intention that I didn’t want to show any violence. But while I was editing the movie, I was at Tribeca doing press for a film, and I went to the 911 museum across the street from my hotel. There was news footage and names and all of these things that I remembered from the weeks and months afterwards but the thing that really resonated with me were the first-person accounts of looks between friends, the last time someone saw someone else or the last time someone’s hand was held. It was all of the personal, firsthand accounts—which I’d never heard about before—that brought me to tears. Ultimately, those are the things that give you a better understanding of what it is those people went through. As opposed to, “Person X entered from this door on the second story to the left of the…”
Paste: That ties in to the two things my buddy and I said as soon as the film was over. He turned to me and he said, “That would have been a great documentary even if the attacks had never happened and it was just the story of the band.” And I said, “Yeah, I think we may have just seen the first great love story of 2017.” (Both laugh)
Hanks: Jesse and Joshua will get a kick out of that. They will love that. I absolutely love that. That’s great.
Paste: I love not only the depth of feeling that’s obvious between Jesse and Joshua, but I love how unabashed they are about sharing it and showing it. In this hyper-masculinized culture that we live in, especially the hyper-masculinized culture of rock and roll, I don’t think I’ve ever seen two high-profile rock-and-roll guys act the way they do with each other. It’s really touching. Tell me about that.
Hanks: Well, that’s those guys at their core. You can argue that their parents just raised them right, because that’s the Jesse and Josh that I know. Joshua is obviously a pretty imposing figure—I mean, he is huge—but he also has a big presence, and Joshua has always been going against the current, doing things differently and really fighting against the stereotype of a big rock star. And fighting against homophobia and sexism and racism and all of these things. He’s a punk—they’re both punks, really.
Hanks: But underneath that, they are caring individuals who care for each other. My producing partner, Sean Stuart—I’ve known him since we were 13. We met in kind of similar circumstances, where he ran in and said, “So and so is trying to beat me up. Will someone please help me?” But I didn’t. I didn’t step up the way Joshua did for Jesse. Their relationship is really special, and you don’t need to be a music fan to appreciate what good guys they are. [But in the context of the Bataclan attack], Jesse was there; Joshua wasn’t. I knew I needed to establish this relationship between the two of them, and that it was important for people to understand how difficult that would be when your best friend is involved. You help bring your friend into this world of rock and roll and then the moment that he needed you the most, you’re a world away. That’s heartbreaking.
And the people who are in the front row at the Bataclan? Those are the same people that are in the front row of every show that rolled through Paris for the last 10 years, 15 years. So it is personal between the band and the friends. There really is no line between the two.