There’s a scene in Breaking a Monster, the new documentary about Brooklyn tween metal sensation Unlocking the Truth, where the band is recording its first single following a $1.8 million record deal. Manager Alan Sacks refuses to give frontman (er, frontkid) Malcolm Brickhouse more Coca-Cola and is eventually forced to pour a two-liter bottle out on the street as if flushing heroin down the toilet.
After the film’s SXSW screening Sunday, an audience member asked how the band, which famously got discovered busking in Times Square a couple of years ago and went on to open for Metallica, reconciles that tight leash with heavy metal, which is supposed to be no-holds-barred.
Drummer Jarad Dawkins pointed to the soda incident as an example that yes, Unlocking the Truth can get out of control sometimes: Brickhouse “gets very hyperactive when Coke comes around.”
“You made it sound bad,” Brickhouse jumped in, clarifying that “Coke” meant “like, Coca-Cola.”
And that’s Unlocking the Truth: old enough to be making coke jokes and running through pulverizing riffs at SXSW (they’re doing a series of shows at the festival this week), but young enough to lose Grand Theft Auto privileges when their manager tells their mom how rude they were during a meeting with their label.
“All he had was Disney Channel,” Dawkins said of his bandmate’s punishment.
That may have been a jab at Sacks, who, in addition to co-creating Welcome Back Kotter, has produced several films for the Disney Channel. In the documentary, he’s not just the manager who tries to catapult Unlocking the Truth to a Jonas Brothers level of fame — he’s also the grandfather figure who’s left to helplessly (and hilariously) call after the boys when they unexpectedly go crowdriding into the distance.
Sacks admits, at one point in the doc, that he has a strained relationship with two of his children, and a similar tension creeps in as the band members grow impatient with the speed of their rise to fame. Sacks thinks Brickhouse needs to improve his vocals with the help of a coach before they can release a single, but the boys just want to get something out there so they can fulfill their dream of playing Madison Square Garden.
In one scene, Sacks gently scolds one of the band members for letting news of the record deal slip during a TEDxTeen session rather than letting the label break it in Rolling Stone. Yesterday, Dawkins made what might be a similar faux pas. “We are exiting Sony because we’re not going to be with Sony anymore,” he revealed to the audience at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar when asked to name some milestones that had occurred since the documentary ceased shooting last October. “So, that’s a milestone.”
So, does Sony still own their as-yet unreleased debut album? “Nope,” Jared said. “Well, yeah – but it’s complicated.”
It’s uncertain what went wrong at Sony. In the documentary, Jolene Cherry is beaming when she signs the band to her label and offers to toast their contract with non-alcoholic sparkling apple juice.
But you can sense it isn’t going to end well when she tells these thrashers that she’s thinking of getting Timbaland and Pharrell to work with them, and then brings out background dancers — one of them in a giant panda suit – that look better suited for Miley Cyrus. The boys don’t like their tour-shirt mockups, which make them look exactly like the family from The Boondocks, and they don’t like Sacks’s pitch for a video, either.
That’s pretty much where their relationship with the old man starts falling apart, though he still manages them and was in the audience yesterday to rattle off their SXSW dates (see them below). At one point, he takes the kids to Trash and Vaudville on St. Marks Place and is visibly irritated at their choice of outfits, caving to them only when shopkeeper Jimmy Webb backs them up.
He doesn’t quite get Brickhouse’s brooding lyrics, either, and wonders if they’re for real or if he learned them from Degrassi Junior High, a hilariously outdated reference that gives you a sense of just how square Sacks is to these kids. Sacks once produced a skateboard film, Thrashin’, that had Fear and The Circle Jerks on the soundtrack (he turned a young Johnny Depp down for a part because “I felt his handshake was too wimpy,” he says in the film. “That was my mistake.”) But now he forbids Brickhouse from skateboarding because he doesn’t want him breaking his golden guitar-playing arm.
Ultimately, it’s Brickhouse’s hard-bitten mother who plays the enforcer. We don’t get as much of her in the documentary as we’d like, but it’s clear she’s proud to have pushed these talented childhood friends to become a band and she doesn’t intend to let them slack right when it’s starting to pay off. For the most part, Brickhouse is equally ambitious (“I know a lot of people doubt me,” he says in footage that director Luke Meyer originally shot for the short below, “but then I really don’t listen to those people because I know I’m going to be famous anyway.”) But when Brickhouse does ask his mom to cut him some slack and reminds her he’s just a kid, she tells him she doesn’t want him to end up being “stupid 18,” living on her couch after graduating from high school.
As she goes at her son with a hair pick to give him his Don King-esque Afro, she predicts there’ll come a day when he rebels against her. That day never really comes in the movie, though. Sure, the kids have their prima donna moments (they commandeered yesterday’s q&a as it was about to end and demanded two more questions) and even suspect that Sacks might be in it just for the money and their label might be using them as a token African-American novelty act (not that they have a problem with that). But these guys are still having pillow fights in their hotel room instead of, say, egging their neighbor’s house or pissing into buckets a la Bieber.
Which is to say, despite the name of their still unreleased single, they haven’t turned into monsters just yet. Unless you mean Monsters of Rock.
“Breaking a Monster” screens at Friday, March 20, 6:15pm at the Stateside Theatre; the band and director will be in conversation at the Austin Convention Center, Room 16AB, on March 18 at 11am
Unlocking the Truth plays Monday, March 16, 2pm at 4th St. and Red River; Tuesday, March 17, 10pm at Dirty Dog Bar, 505 E 6th St.; Saturday, March 21, 4:45pm at Clive Bar, 609 Davis St.