The story of unsuspecting rock stars and a down-on-his luck director
By Michael Somerby EBS ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR
BOZEMAN – When Jordan Albertsen moved to Montana from Los Angeles in 2017, he was at the lowest point in his life.
Near-broke, depressed and demoralized after failing to launch a successful career as a filmmaker, he took a job as a server at Dave’s Sushi in Bozeman. But his story, much like the subjects of his critically acclaimed, award-winning documentary “BOOM: A film about The Sonics,”is truly stranger than fiction, defined by a healthy dose of serendipity.
As a kid growing up in the Seattle area in the 1980s and 90s, Albertsen was baptized by the local music scene, a fertile ground for the brash and countercultural subgenre of rock and roll music affectionately dubbed “grunge” by the media.
Needless to say, when Albertsen’s father played some of his favorite tracks by bands such as The Eagles, there was a disconnect—that music felt soft and edgeless, in stark contrast to the punk and grunge stylings Albertsen was drawn to—and their differences in music taste were emblematic of a deeper rift between father and son.
But the first piece of destiny in Albertsen’s story came in the form of a record, when his father left a vinyl, “Boom” by The Sonics, outside his bedroom door.
A skeptical Albertsen was immediately impressed by the rawness and punk sounds of the band, especially considering that the Tacoma, Washington, group released the album in 1966. The Sonics were light-years ahead of their time.
“I was just blown away. They were so bad ass and I couldn’t believe my dad listened to them,” said Albertsen. “I was instantly a fan.”
A newfound connection over music bridged the ailing relationship, inspiring the father and son to attend concerts around the nation, a practice they carry out to this day.
The Sonics formed in 1963, releasing three albums over the ensuing decade before ultimately parting ways. At the time of their first album release, the members, consisting of Larry Parypa on lead guitar and vocals, Andy Parypa on the bass, Rob Lind on the saxophone, Gerry Roslie on the organ and Bob Bennet on drums, were mere teenagers but they managed to bottle all the accompanying energy and angst into their music, blowing the doors off conventional approaches to rock.
With distorted guitar riffs, break-your-drumsticks percussion and howling vocals, and under the guidance and management of Buck Ormsby, a regional musical legend in his own right, the band captured the hearts of young people across the Northwest, opening shows for the likes of The Beach Boys, the Mamas & The Papas, Jay & the Americans and The Shangri-Las.
But their interest in music declined as they failed to break through onto the national stage. The boys parted ways and soon they were leading ordinary lives—wife, kids and day jobs.
Unbeknownst to them, their records were making a splash across the globe, deeply influencing the punk, garage and metal genres. In Europe especially, they were veritable rock stars.
As the punk and grunge music scenes started to gain some traction in the 80s and 90s, the members of the band began hearing whispers of their growing popularity around the world.
“It was a slow process,” Albertsen said. “And then the reunion offers start to come in.”
The Sonics, now middle-aged men, resurfaced in the music scene after a nearly four decade hiatus, playing sold out shows around the globe. Albertsen and his father attended one such reunion show in 2008.
“When the Sonics did their first hometown reunion show at the Paramount Theater, my dad and I went. It was just this amazing show and that night I decided that I was going to make a movie about The Sonics.”
‘Boom: A film about The Sonics’
Albertsen immediately dug into the project, firing off an email that night to an address he found online.
“I wrote this crazy email to a management address I found online. The guy that wrote back was Buck Ormsby, and I instantly recognized the name because Buck produced the first two Sonics albums, and he was the bass player for The Wailers, a band from the 60s I was a huge fan of,” Albertsen said. “We had lunch and made a decision to make this movie together.”
Yet plans to shoot for the moon failed to cement, at least in the way Albertsen had imagined they would.
“At the time, I was living in LA, and I expected to go back and tell my agency about the film and get millions of dollars to make it. And that just never happened. So for 5 to 6 years, I was constantly trying to find financing. It looked like the movie was dead,” Albertsen said.
The film took another massive hit when Ormsby passed away in October 2016.
“When the funding bombed, I didn’t know what to do. And Buck was my connection to rock stars, so when he passed away, that connection was completely gone. … It was really heartbreaking. The film was dead. It was such a broken thing, and I moved to Montana out of necessity and depression.”
On a shift serving at Dave’s Sushi, a miracle presented itself to Albertsen. Mike McCready, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and lead guitarist from legendary Seattle rock band Pearl Jam, strolled in with his family for a bite.
“I swear, I recognized him from behind. Pearl Jam was my band forever. I mean, I had a poster of him [McCready] on my wall when I was a kid,” Albertsen said. “He turned around and I was totally star-struck.”
Albertsen had been trying to get in touch with McCready while making the film, perhaps opening avenues that Ormsby’s death closed.
McCready offered his help, and suddenly the film was back on track.
“That little chance encounter completely changed the course of the making of that movie,” Albertsen said. “His gesture added this life force, it just really started the fire.”
On Sept. 30, 2018, Albertsen released the film to the world, and it has since bagged several awards, including Best Documentary Feature at the 2018 Lone Star
Film Festival and 2019 Silk Road Film Festival in Dublin, Ireland.
Despite these triumphs, Albertsen remains incredibly humble, still serving at Dave’s Sushi in between trips to film festivals in places like Italy and England.
With the decade-long odyssey just barely in the rearview mirror, the one-man band director, writer, editor and producer believes the journey has altered his life forever.
“I spent 10 years of my life making this,” said Albertsen. “I don’t even know what my life would be like if I hadn’t.”
BOOM is currently touring on the film festival circuit, and a worldwide release is slotted for early 2020. Visit facebook.com/sonicsfilm for a full list of festival appearances.