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MTV shines a light on Seattle's music scene

If you ask anyone outside the Northwest what the region is known for, they will likely say coffee and grunge music. People here still love their lattes, but the new web-series from MTV and local filmmaker Lynn Shelton shows us how the music scene has grown far beyond the sounds of of Nirvana’s Teen Spirit.

It’s called 5 Dollar Cover Seattle and it digs deep into the lives and music of some talented local bands you may not have heard of;  bands such as Thee Satisfaction and The Moondoggies.

These and eleven other bands are woven into the new web series. The show is made just to be viewed online. But there is a chance they might eventually be broadcast on the network. There are twelve webisodes and they are set to go live on December 15th.

They are similar to a project MTV did a few years ago called 5 Dollar Cover Memphis. Each piece is about six to eight minutes long and has a musical element; usually a song is performed, and the story unfolds over the course of a weekend. Shelton, who directed the Sundance hit Humpday, which was released in 2009, says she developed it like a documentary.

“I really tried to make it as authentic as possible and looked for bands to invite who were already connected organically to other bands that I had already chosen," Shelton said.

"So they were friends of other bands or they were in side projects with each other or they were huge fans, or ex-roommates of each other, because that’s the way it is. But certainly in Seattle the music community is very interconnected in that way.”

Shelton also made sure to steer clear of local bands that have gotten big. Groups that have topped the charts such as Fleet Foxes, and Death Cab for Cutie are not included.

“5 Dollar Cover, the whole moniker, automatically communicates what we are going for here, which is you can go to the Comet Tavern or the Blue Moon and for somewhere between five and ten bucks be able to see any of these bands on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday or Saturday night. These bands are all so talented, so hardworking and so passionate. ”

You would think that these lesser known bands would jump at the chance to be associated with MTV.  Caleb Quick with The Moondoggies says this definitely was not the case for him and his band-mates. They were very leery of being involved with a network that is also known for shows like Jackass and The Jersey Shore.

“We did have to talk about this a lot and in the end it was kind of the idea of ‘you don’t know what Mr. MTV is going to do.’ But at the very least if you’re part of it and your music doesn’t change throughout the entire process, then as far as I’m concerned I don’t care whose playing it or where it’s being played because it’s still us.”

In 5 Dollar Cover, Lynn Shelton has musicians playing slightly fictionalized versions of themselves. There is love, lust and heartbreak. The webisodes also show how these artists make their music.

For Thee Satisfaction, an African American lesbian couple, the studio is a microphone and a computer tucked into a small closet. To get these intimate details Shelton asked the bands a lot of questions, and got them to share some of their stories about what it’s like to perform, deal with groupies and work a day job to hold it all together.

5 Dollar Cover Seattle is much more than a series of short films about local music. There is also a documentary about each band produced by filmmaker John Jeffcoat. In the one about Thee Satisfaction, we learn where the artists do most of their work before they hit their tiny studio in the closet.

“We love the bus, that’s where most of rehearsals take place. Many songs have been written on the bus. Business meetings happen on the bus. It’s our office, our traveling office.”

And Sue Corcoran, a local filmmaker who is also part of this project, organized a series of films that take a broader look at Seattle’s art scene. Lynn Shelton says each one of these is a gem and she views the entire package as a sort of love letter to her hometown.

“And so there’s one about the burlesque scene and one about a wonderful sculptor in Georgetown, and one about a doughnut eating contest." Shelton said.

"Some of them are music oriented, some of them are not. The idea is that the entire package, when it’s launched, you’ll be able to get a completely interactive, very thorough, unique interesting look at Seattle.”

And once the series goes live in a few weeks, these thirteen bands will officially be stamped with the MTV logo and be exposed to a much wider audience. The Moondoggie’s Kevin Murphy says his idea of making it big is pretty simple.

“I would like to make a replica of the Ewok Village in the Return Of The Jedi out behind the house, and I’d also like to quit my day-job. A lot of people talk about success and I think they have a bigger image than I do and it’s really quitting our job and being creative full time and being able to live on that.”

Right now The Moondoggies are enjoying great reviews of their new CD entitled, Tidelands. As for Shelton, her star is rising fast. This summer she directed an episode of Mad Men, and she’s currently directing the actors Emily Blunt and Mark Duplass in one of her original stories. The film is being shot in the San Juan Islands and Seattle. Shelton says she is devoted to the Northwest and has no intention of leaving.

Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.