With its echoes of Inside Llewyn Davis and Once, Josh David Jordan’s debut feature This World Won’t Break sets the unknown singer-songwriter’s struggle for recognition in the hot, dusty hues of the director’s hometown Dallas, Texas. The Fountain (TF) caught up with Jordan to chat about lessons learned, family projects and why making it big doesn’t necessarily prove you’re a great artist.
TF: This World Won’t Break is your first feature film. What are some important lessons you learned in the process of making it that contrast with working on shorter projects?
Josh David Jordan (JDJ): Lesson One – you’re never ever ready. You just gotta do it. Everything is hard when you are alone and creating. I have some friends here in Dallas who make films, films y’all know. Their first words of advice were to get a good producer: if you don’t have a good producer, don’t even try. That was just what I needed to hear – someone challenging me that I couldn’t do something. It damn near killed me but here we are. So I learned that things aren’t harder from shorts to features, just different and you gotta trust your instincts. In the end, it just means more sandwiches.
TF: While films of the ‘rising star’ category just keep coming, This World Won’t Break seems to have more in common with the likes of The Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis where the artist’s struggles never really get rewarded. Why did you feel like telling this story was important?
JDJ: Oh, right on, yeah. I feel as if we really put too much pressure on musicians and singers – any creatives actually. When does a plumber make it big time? When does a cobbler become America’s Best Cobbler? I understand that we all aspire to be remembered and leave our mark in this world but sometimes I think we miss out on the artists that walk amongst us doing some of their best work. We miss them because the industry hasn’t stamped them ‘approved’ yet. I feel as if it’s okay to be discovered when we are long gone.
TF: Greg Schroeder (who plays protagonist Wes Milligan) has said elsewhere that Wes’s character is a combination of himself and you. Which parts of Wes belong to whom?
JDJ: That’s a great question. To be totally honest, at this point, I’m not really sure. Greg is like a brother to me and we have lived a lot of life in a short period of time. I’m not sure I could pinpoint what came from where; I just know it comes from a real place. Sometimes a broken place, but most times a place of forgiveness and love. There is a line in the film that says: “The most beautiful things in this world are those that are shattered, moulded and then put back together again”. I think that sums up both of our parts.
TF: Your film is about a musician’s struggle for fame, but it’s also a break-up story, a father-son story, a story of Dallas. In short, This World Won’t Break could be grouped with a variety of works. Which films do you hope people will mention alongside yours as a recommendation, inspiration, comparison?
JDJ: This film was made by standing on the shoulders of giants. These are the films that inspired the story, tone and visuals for TWWB: Tender Mercies, Once, The Wrestler, Giant, Urban Cowboy, Paris Texas and Karate Kid (when you watch it, you’ll know.)
TF: Dallas with its architecture, colours and hot, dusty atmosphere feels like a parallel main character in the film. What role does the location play in telling Wes’s story?
JDJ: The film is a love letter to Texas. I wanted to show the world what it really feels like in this part of the world. Most of those places we shot are long gone now. I guess it was meant to be.
TF: I really enjoyed many of the minor characters who appear like snapshots in Wes’ life – guitarist Don Gililland, the self-proclaimed ‘Sheriff’ on his clunky triple bike, Wes’ flamboyant but stern landlord Troylene. Can you tell me a bit about these people? I know that many of them played themselves.
JDJ: Donnie Doo is an old friend of mine I met almost 20 years ago when I was bartending in downtown Dallas. He used to play in clubs for Jack Ruby [Dallas nightclub owner who shot Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated John F. Kennedy]. The last film he was in was called Rock It Baby Rock it, 60 years ago. The Sheriff was a dear friend of mine, the sweetest and funniest guy I’ve ever known – Jayson Wortham aka ‘Baby Bird’. He is no longer on this blue marble and he never got a chance to see the film. And then there is Troylene, played by my buddy and frontman of the Polyphonic Spree and Tripping Daisy, Tim Delaughter. Tim is an actor at heart and always keeps me in stitches. I wish we had more time to explore that character. Maybe that’s a Better Call Troylene spin-off.
TF: Unlike many other music dramas, you keep all of Greg’s performances uncut and we see the songs in full duration. Why was this important to you?
JDJ: That was the number-one rule all along: real live performances with imperfections, breath and life. No vacuum and no lip synching. Luckily for us, [sound mixer] Codi Putman is a wizard and mic-ed everything from the piano to the Texas flag. I really wanted the audience to feel the loneliness in those moments. I feel as if you can’t recreate doubt in those moments. So many films lose the audience with an over-produced number. I wanted everyone to be there with Wes.
TF: Your wife Jessica Marie Jordan was involved in the film both as an actor and a producer. What was it like to create a film with your partner?
JDJ: Me and Jess do everything together. If we are not doing one of my crazy projects, I help out with her yoga studio, Super Yoga Palace. She’s in the Polyphonic Spree; I help out and make music videos. And our boys are both in it as well: Sonny Valentine plays a main role; Julian Sol is in the film as well but most importantly, is the main co-editor for the film. So it feels normal to create with this family. I couldn’t do it without them – it truly is a family affair.
TF: Spoiler ahead, but the ending was a definite surprise with its mixture of musical and black humour. What made you choose this dark twist?
JDJ: It truly is a modern-day musical. Matthew Posey, who plays Wes’s dad, is also the creative director of a theatre group I’m a part of in Dallas called the Ochre House Theatre. He has always told me: “You gotta always stay ahead of the audience”. So I really just wanted to bookend the film with the opening monologue, do an old-fashioned number and twist it a bit.
TF: Is the finished film what you had imagined in the beginning? Or did any major changes take place?
JDJ: It really is. You always want more but I feel like this film, this one needed to be just this. Just what it is.
TF: What are your plans after you completed your first feature now?
JDJ: Well, a little birdie told me before I left [Glasgow Film Festival] that it’s possible film number two will be set in Scotland. I have a doozy for y’all and Glasgow is the perfect place for it to happen.