Interview with director Eric Mahoney | By Tim Anderl
On December 9, 2017—25 years after the formation Dayton, Ohio, spazz rock weirdos Brainiac—Brooklyn’s The Bell House was buzzing with indie rock luminaries who were gathered to perform a tribute concert honoring the band. The show featured performances by Girls Against Boys, Savak, and The Heist—aka The 8G Band from “Late Night with Seth Meyers”—and appearances by members of Hole, Les Savy Fav, Dismemberment Plan, The Wrens, and more. Also present were most of the core members of Brainiac—often stylized as 3RA1N1AC—including guitarists Michelle Bodine and John Schmersal, bassist Juan “Monostereo” Monasterio, and drummer Tyler Trent, as well as fans and friends of the band who’d flown from distant corners of the globe for the celebration.
Sadly, one very important person was notably absent: Brainiac’s captivating and enigmatic frontman Tim Taylor, who was tragically killed in an automobile accident in 1997, sending ripples through the indie rock landscape and shattering the cornerstone of Dayton’s rock scene.
In the ‘90s, the Dayton scene began generating worldwide buzz from bands such as The Breeders and Guided By Voices. Arguably the most innovative of them all, however, were Brainiac. After several singles, the band signed to New York City label Grass Records and recorded two seminal albums, 1993’s Smack Bunny Baby and 1994’s Bonsai Superstar, with Girls Against Boys’ Eli Janney at the production helm. Countless tours and much critical acclaim came, which landed the band a slot on Lollapalooza and a deal with Touch And Go Records. The band released another full-length, 1996’s Hissing Prigs in Static Couture, and two EPs on the label, using producers Eli Janney, Steve Albini, Kim Deal, and Jim O’Rourke. Brainiac had just concluded a tour with Beck and were slated to sign a major label record deal when Taylor passed.
Immediately, the impact of Taylor’s loss was felt in the tight circles of ‘90s indie rock radio. “Dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, he’s fucking dead, the guy from Brainiac is fucking dead. I want this to mean something to every fucking one of you,” Jeff Buckley shouted from a Memphis stage in May 1997. Over the past two decades, the music and influence of Brainiac has been lauded by everyone: Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, The Mars Volta, Melvins, Mogwai, Death Cab For Cutie, and countless others.
“It’s a story I’ve always had in mind to try to tackle, but last year, I realized it was the 25th anniversary of the band forming and 20 years since Tim passed away,” says director Eric Mahoney, who organized the Bell House show as part of an effort to immortalize the band on film for a new generation of fans. “Those two things kickstarted me thinking that perhaps the time was right to start working on [“Transmissions After Zero,” a documentary about the band].”
Originally from Ohio, Mahoney’s documentary and narrative work has been seen at various international film festivals such as Cannes, Tribeca, and Melbourne, as well as on cable TV. In addition, he spent over a decade in the Midwest music scene fronting the band Murder Your Darlings, who ran in the same tightknit circles as former members of Brainiac. “My sincere love for the band and the music is what made me pick this up and run with it,” he adds. “I also truly believe that this story is important, compelling, and needs to be told.”
Production of the film hasn’t come without an emotional impact on the director. “[It’s] something I didn’t quite anticipate, but this is an incredibly heavy story,” he relates. “When you are working on something like this, you’re in it day and night for at least a year or two. It definitely can take a toll, and being from Dayton and a part of the music scene, this revisits a crippling loss for our community. But I do feel there has been a massive amount of healing through this process, and that is the main takeaway and makes it so rewarding.”
In February, Mahoney wrapped a second Kickstarter campaign for the project, asking fans for the funding needed to complete the film. “We [needed] to secure some more financing to get all the postproduction and editing done,” he says. “That’s the only real hurdle I’ve faced is simply being able to bankroll this to execute the kind of quality and original film I’d like to make.”
When the film is completed in late 2018, Mahoney plans to seek a distributor and to secure a major festival release. For now, he’s thankful for every person who has helped to push “Transmissions From Zero” further into the limelight, including early supporters, Reznor and actor Mark Hamill. “We’ve been so lucky that people have been so supportive and helped in that way,” he says.