Lizzy Goodman's 2017 book Meet Me in the Bathroom is an oral history of NYC's early-'00s rock renaissance that gave us The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, LCD Soundsystem, TV on the Radio, Liars, The Rapture and many others. The book features interviews with a massive cast of characters that also incorporates the club culture at the time, not to mention the effect Y2K and 9/11 had on the city and its art.

The book has now been turned into a documentary which just premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace, who have previously made documentaries about LCD Soundsystem and Blur, had the difficult task of paring down Meet Me in the Bathroom's sprawling story into a 108 minute film, which meant some of the bands, and the book's juicier tidbits, were left on the cutting room in favor of story that mainly focuses on the biggest bands to come out of the scene. Using rare and archival footage of the bands and off-camera interviews, as opposed to the talking heads shots most music docs favor, gives the film a you-are-there feel. You can read our review here.

We talked to Southern and Lovelace just after the Sundance premiere to discuss their approach to turning the book into a film, what made the final cut and what didn't, and the legacy of the early-'00s scene. You can read that below.

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Firstly, congratulations on the film. So how did you come to this documentary -- did you know Lizzy?

Dylan Southern: It came about in a couple of ways, really. So, we weren't sure we were going to make another music documentary in these intervening years. We'd sort of developed a few different things and hadn't really intended to make any more music documentaries, but two things happened at once. One, a really good friend of ours works at the UK publishers and he sent us the galleys of the book. And I think we just read them in one go, and it was just such a fun evocative read. And just really kind of took us back to that time that we wanted to talk to Lizzy straight away. At the same time a producer friend was talking, had also read it and was already talking to Lizzy. So we kind of had an early conversation with Lizzy. Yeah, it kind of went off from there, but we were a bit hesitant because we'd already done the LCD show and we'd already made a documentary that covered an aspect of the New York music scene.

But I think what really appealed to us about the book was that it was a broader canvas. It was a chance to tell a story about a very specific time and place, about a very specific time and place on the cusp of huge changes that no one could really see coming. And also that the human stories in the book like had the quality of coming of age stories, and it felt like all the ingredients there were to make a music documentary that could have the best of music documentaries in that we could see the origin stories of all of these bands who have gone on to great things. But also we could tell a story about what it was like to live at the turn of the 21st century, before all the seismic changes happened.

Were you guys living in New York at that time or were you in England?

Will Lovelace: We were in Liverpool.

Dylan Southern: We were just out of film school, we were starting to make music videos. We were managing a band, and terribly, and the sort of soundtrack of those years was this music. So we were kind of admirers from afar, but also it felt a huge part of the story of these bands is them coming to England. And because our music press is so voracious and they're always looking for new scenes and stuff, it felt like England played a big part in the emergence of the New York scene. But yeah, it was something... My first trip to New York was in 2002 and was very much inspired by being able to see the bands that I was really enjoying and just felt drawn towards it in a weird way. I think to tell this story, not being insiders at that time was useful because we were able to look at it as filmmakers, rather than people that kind of experienced it firsthand. And I think that's one of the things when we spoke to Lizzie that attracted us to the project.

I have to say, watching it, it felt like you were here in scene, the way you captured it. It brought memories back for me that I had forgotten all about. I assume the Yemoen's work after you decided to do this, was getting all the footage.

Will Lovelace: Yeah, yeah. Getting all the footage and getting all the interviews. New interviews and some lots of interviews from back then.

MMITB directors Dylan Southern & Will Lovelace (photo: Ross McLennan)
MMITB directors Dylan Southern & Will Lovelace (photo: Ross McLennan)
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For all the footage, did you just reach out to people? So many things I never saw before

Dylan Southern: It's been two or three years of kind of a combination of detective work, diplomacy, we've had an amazing team. And I was saying before, COVID was actually weirdly a good help because everyone being locked in their houses, it meant when we would get in touch and say, "Oh, could you find this tape for us?" Or, "We've heard you might have shot this show." People had the time to go up into their attics or go to their lockups or under their beds or wherever it might be and dig out these tapes. And we had a girl, Nanci Sarrouf, who had hung out with a lot of the bands. She had a lockup and she had suitcases of undeveloped 35mm film, which had just sat there. So she didn't even know what was on them.

So it was stuff like that. It was, some guys who throughout the early 2000s, just shot every gig, that was their way of getting in to see bands. They turned up with a camera and they had shelves and shelves with TV tapes, sometimes unlabeled. But it really, really was just a process of following every single lead, hitting lots of dead ends, but just trying amass as much stuff as we could because our intention was always, well, let's drop the audience into 1999 and let the story unfold, we didn't want to do Behind the Music and cut to talking heads of those guys now because it would make it too retrospective. We wanted as much as we could with what was available to us, situate people in that time.

I thought that was an interesting choice, all the interviews being off-camera. Something I really liked about this documentary, it really is a celebration also of the videographers who shot the footage. This was before iPhones. Joly Macfie, whose footage you use in the film, was a ubiquitous presence at shows back then. 

Will Lovelace: Yeah, and all those guys... Joly was one of those guys who gave us a lot of footage and everyone did really. And I think you're right. I suppose it was a period of time when, pre-cell phones, being able to film stuff, there was like the one guy with the camera who'd go and film. We were doing the same thing in Liverpool back at the same time to a far less successful extent. But I think that's what gives it, the kind of feeling it has that it's kind of first person. Shot by one person often. And there's only that angle and that's what you're seeing. And that's what makes it feel like you're there.

Dylan Southern: For us, embracing that aesthetic was just... We remembered shooting on mini DVs when they first came out and doing everything we could to make it not look digital. But now when you look at that sort of crude early digital video, it's evocative in the way that Super 8 was once evocative. It's weird that this kind of format we thought was really ugly at the time suddenly feels really kind of nostalgic in a way.

So how did you choose what from Lizzy's book, which goes deep into the music and club scene, to represent in the film?

Dylan Southern: We had to tell this story in 100 minutes, so we had to be really careful about how we constructed it. The thing that interested us is that all the stories felt like coming of age stories for the characters, but coming of age stories that were taking place at a very specific time. And it felt like we could of tap into the notion of the way the world was changing. It had a real synchronicity with the idea of this coming of age time for the members of the bands and the fact that nobody really realizes how great a time they're having whilst it's happening. It's only with hindsight that you look back and realize, oh, that was so innocent. Everything was so different there, I'll never get that back.

So I think it was the human experience of being young in a city and the potential that a place and a time can have was the thing that most interested us, and the great thing that is in that because it's an adaptation of a book, if it whets people's appetite and they haven't read the book, there's a bigger telling of the story that they can dive into. And then we've tried to do the things that the book couldn't do, which is actually, give you that visual stimulus. For people who were there, hopefully it kind of brings everything flooding back. And for kids who perhaps haven't existed in the world where there were no cell phones and where bands made flyers on photocopy machines and everything was very DIY, it gives them an idea of what that time was like.

The book kinda starts with Jonathan Fire*Eater, but the film opens with The Moldy Peaches and the Sidewalk Cafe antifolk scene. Why did you decide to go that route?

Dylan Southern: We had various different starting points and as the edit got refined, Adam [Green] was the most kind of, he's such an innocent, like he's having so much fun, that he was the most inviting character, I think, to bring you into the story. And originally we planned to see if we could find a moment where various characters intersected and we didn't want to fake that moment. So Adam bringing us into antifolk and him and Kimya Dawson and just their notion of coming to New York to find somewhere to fit in, felt like a good start where you are, through their eyes, seeing New York City. And the fact that Adam crossed paths with both Julian Casablancas and Karen O meant that we could then spread out the story from there. I think origin stories are always full of these serendipitous meetings. And we just wanted to kind of have that feeling that New York's a bit of a maze and turn the right corner at the right time and you can change the course of your life.

9/11 plays a big part in the book and your film. What do you think was the effect that that had on these kids at the time?

Will Lovelace: I think on individuals, it obviously affected people in different ways, but I think it, for sure, it seems to have affected the art they were making and giving them a sort of sense of, we've got to do something now because who knows what's going to happen next? They said that in their own words in the film far better than I've just said it. The other thing is I think is the eyes of the world turned onto New York at that moment as well. And so not only are they young people dealing with 9/11, suddenly the music they're making, the art they're making is more people are looking in that direction as well.

Dylan Southern: When faced with any kind of existential threat, people are either going to get really safety conscious, security conscious, but I think if you're a creative and you're an artist and stuff, then you're going to throw yourself more into that. I can't remember who said it in the book, but someone said, "People were just like, oh, fuck it, if that can happen in my city, I'm just doing the thing that I really want to do." I think The Strokes in the book, they said they went back into the practice room that afternoon, because they were all so shellshocked. But talking to Karen this time around, she said she was really kind of traumatized and grieving for the city and that throwing herself into performance on stage was a way to escape that. TV on the Raio talk about the beginnings of the sort of migration of the artistic community over to Williamsburg and Brooklyn and the freedom of that.

One bit of footage I was not expecting to see was Paul Banks of Interpol on the streets of downtown Manhattan on 9/11.

Dylan Southern: And that was an important thing to us actually was when dealing with 9/11, we didn't want to timestamp the film too much because we would be like, "Oh, they were in the studio on these dates and they were doing this on that date." We just decided to have three kind of iconic New York moments of significance in New York to timestamp it: first the turning of the millennium, New Year's Eve, 1999, then 9/11, and then the 2003 blackout.  Everything else kind of circulates around those moments without us having to be too specific. And I think, that was partly because that's kind of how memory works in a way is that you just loosely connect things, so we didn't get bogged down in the minutia of where people were and when, and we could just have a feeling for the time. But the important thing about 9/11 is that we wanted to include it in a way that felt connected to the story that it was about what it meant to the bands and how it affected their stories moving forwards from that point on. So finding the footage of Paul there on that day, we just couldn't believe it existed when we saw it. It was really powerful.

The movie made me very melancholy towards the end, not that something bad was happening, but that the innocence was over.

Will Lovelace: I think that's what everyone feels there in their own way. Like my version of that is in Liverpool from the early 2000s. You have a moment when you are young and they're the best times, and for these guys, it was sort of this point in New York City,

Dylan Southern: I think also we're British and part of our national identity as a melancholy longing for times lost. So maybe it's that as well.

Do you think a scene like what happened in the early '00s could happen again?

Dylan Southern: This is a good question and something we talked about with Lizzy. I think the subjects of this film, it's such a specific time and place and we opened the film with what we kept calling it, the myth sequence, which is that sequence with the Walt Whitman poem ["Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun"]. We see all these iconic figures from New York's musical past. Part of the interest in this story was New York as a place has this mythological quality that draws people there and they change there. They become somebody else or they can escape where they came from. We're at the age of the bands now, we're in our 40s, so maybe it's happening and we don't know about it. The optimist in me hopes that it is happening but the pessimist in me thinks that it can never happen quite how it happened then. Also, everything's being documented all the time now. We see everything, probably more than we want to. It's a difficult one. I think it can happen, but I think it'll be different and not in the way that we would recognize it. The way you can consume music now, it's going to happen differently. It's not going to be telling your friends, let's go to this show because you can listen to all their music without needing to go to the show. That's the thing I think. So, yeah. It'll happen in a different way somehow. Hopefully.

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