The oracle came to Angelo Moore in 1989. It was during a tour with his band Fishbone, as they waited to cross the U.S.-Canadian border in the misty, early morning hours. Moore suddenly found himself face-to-face with the great bluesman B.B. King, who had a profound message for the musician: “You're going to be doing this for the rest of your life, man.”
Moore could feel the air around him shift. He knew this was his moment of truth and revelation. King wasn't the Devil bartering for Moore's soul. He was just passing on some wisdom.
“I didn't know if it was good or bad. I just knew that B.B.'s words were like some extraterrestrial shit,” Moore recalls now, humming the theme to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. “Every time I tell somebody that, I think about B.B. King and the crazy-ass chill I had when he told me that shit. Crossroads, man. This is it, motherfucker!”
Moore and the band have come to accept this, pushing onward through a career of wild ups and downs, keeping the three-decade dream of Fishbone alive and joyously on-edge, fusing punk, funk, ska and metal into a furious whole. They live the life of “the famous but not rich,” Moore likes to say. But even though Fishbone has never enjoyed a hit record, the group has left a significant mark on generations of fans and followers, with albums like 1986's In Your Face and 1988's Truth and Soul inspiring later acts from No Doubt to the Roots.
The struggle to create and survive is a central theme in Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone, a loving but unflinching new documentary on the African-American band and its frequently moving tragicomedy. They've played to overflow crowds and near-empty rooms, been celebrated and dropped by the finest record execs, all while pushing boundaries as band members come and go.
Fishbone's original six-man lineup was an explosive force on the '80s underground music scene of Los Angeles. Even as teenagers sharing club stages with the likes of Jane's Addiction, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Thelonious Monster, Fishbone stood out.
“They were the best group in L.A. at that time,” remembers Jane's Addiction singer Perry Farrell. “They had the energy of the Chili Peppers, but they were so talented. They were jumping around but they also could rip on their instruments. Most of us were just jumping around.”
The documentary captures that crazed first decade of Fishbone, mingling interviews with footage of the band onstage, Moore singing and playing the sax, then pausing to dive head-first into the crowd.
It was later that things got hard.
Everyday Sunshine co-directors Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler followed Fishbone for more than three years on the road and at home. “There were some really difficult times where both ourselves and the band were wondering: Is this thing going to continue?” Meltzer recalls by phone. “One thing we witnessed was the band's rediscovery of the passion for what they're doing.”
Half the original band has moved on, but what's left remains centered around the creative leadership of Moore and bassist-songwriter Norwood Fisher. This year is closing with a sudden burst of energy from the group: the theatrical release of Everyday Sunshine in Los Angeles on Oct. 21, and a just-released seven-song EP, Crazy Glue. They're already back in the studio working on a new album.
“We get along, sometimes we don't get along,” says Moore. “But we get along enough where we can make it to the next one. Everybody's happy overall, man. I'm thankful to be 45 and still doing it. People are still coming to see usand they're digging it.”
Moore is in a diner at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, multitasking over an omelet breakfast. A laptop is open in front of him, and he's carefully working on handwritten thank-you notes to fans who helped finance his new solo album via the Kickstarter fundraising site. He's dressed in white denim, with big floppy collars and small padlocks dangling from his chest and lapels. A red Jughead cap is tilted on his bald head.
Next to him in the corner booth is Fisher, a single long dreadlock sprouting from beneath a baseball cap. They've come to discuss the documentary, which Moore appreciates as a “work of art,” but neither of them actually enjoys reliving the many crises of the band condensed into a two-hour film.
“There was times when my stomach was in knots thinking about it,” says Fisher, 46, of life with the band. He remembers his Uncle Michael, from the mid-'70s funk band Blacksmoke, explaining how stress caused the palms of his hands to peel. “We're all kind of crazy,” Fisher says. “It's a psycho ward of sorts.”
Moore first met Fisher and many of the musicians who would become Fishbone at Hale Junior High in Woodland Hills. The others were mostly bused in from Central L.A., but Moore's parents moved to the San Fernando Valley when he was 10, “the fly in the buttermilk,” he says with a grin.
At school he gravitated to Fisher and his musician friends, and was soon making a two-hour bus ride into the city just to play music. Together, the young players discovered punk rock. Moore saw a connection to the gospel music he grew up hearing at home.
“A lot of those beats and tempos are the same,” he explains. “That enabled me to relate more to punk rock, from a melodic soulful perspective. You can scream that shit all the time and it's exciting, but I like to sing, too. Once I started tuning into my gospel roots, the fast gospel–Shirley Caesar and the Clark Sisters–we started putting melodies and harmonies to shit playing a million miles an hour.”
Inspired, but fame and riches never arrived the way it did for Jane's Addiction or the Chili Peppers. Fishbone's muscular cross-cultural sound and persona didn't fit easily into one category, even if crowds always responded, as they did during ecstatic live sets on the 1993 Lollapalooza tour. At one tour stop, the band had just stepped offstage when Columbia Records President Don Ienner and A&R man Randy Jackson came to their bus for an announcement. Promotion was abruptly ending for Fishbone's new album, Give a Monkey a Brain and He'll Swear He's the Center of the Universe.
“Randy Jackson? Ain't that the motherfucker on the TV talent show now?” says Moore. “They said they were going to discontinue the record because I guess nobody was buying it. And I'm like, 'Man, you can see that big sea of people out there!'”
On a recent Sunday, most of the band is gathered for a recording session in a home studio in the hills of Malibu. Moore is running late, so Fisher is laying down a scratch vocal for a new song called “Interdependent.” He sings with a warm and disarmingly unpolished voice, “No matter how it seems, we evolve aggressively / Every hurdle that we face is an opportunity.”
Moore eventually arrives at the house wearing a fez. He's had a long night and for a moment he seems deflated. But it's only a moment, and he unpacks a big saxophone.
B.B. King was right. Moore, Fisher and the band are lifers, regardless of what they might have given up along the way. They've gone broke and back again, survived the occasional physical confrontation and eviction notice, but they always return to the euphoria of creating music.
“We're having fun,” says Fisher. “For the most part, everybody appreciates the privileges that come with being in Fishbone. I learned a lot doing what we do, for whatever the bumps and bruises that came with it. It's not easy, but it never was.”
Fishbone performs at Bootleg Bar tonight at 11 p.m. Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone has its theatrical premiere tomorrow night at Laemmle Sunset 5.