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September 2001

For months we struggled with how to address events in Villisca during the past couple of years in our documentary Villisca: Living With a Mystery.  The answer finally came while we were camping at our favorite get-away: a wilderness park in the desert south of Los Angeles.  I was standing near a prickly pear cactus field when it hit me...the idea, that is.

The cactus field.

The chapter could be built on a musical foundation.  We were aware of at least two people who had written "folk" songs about the 1912 Villisca axe murders.  Maybe that would work.   And the segment could begin with the musician performing the song and then become a montage of newspaper articles and video clips recapping recent events in Villisca.  After thinking about that angle for about half an hour, we thought, no, a folk song wasn't quite right.  Then a song crept into my head and stayed there until I went to work on Monday.  It was familiar, but I couldn't name it.  I hummed it for a musician friend over the phone and he immediately said, "Kashmir by Led Zepplin."  Of course, using a Led Zepplin tune would be financially impossible.  But an original tune with a steady, relentless, and rhythmic sound would be ideal.

It was then that we remembered the Nodaway, Iowa band 8FOUNDead.  A couple of months earlier they sent us an e.mail expressing support for our documentary project and offering to help out if they could.   I visited their website, listened to several of their tunes, and read their lyrics.  Was this the kind of music we normally listen to?  To be honest, no.  But they did take their name directly from the 1912 Villisca axe murders and we respect them as independent artists who produce their own music.  Perhaps they might be open to our idea of composing and performing an instrumental piece specifically for use in the documentary.


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Crew call for our 6:00 a.m. shoot came mighty early.

To make a long story short, the band agreed and we arranged to meet and videotape them during our July 2001 visit to Villisca.   The band's leader, Cody Winther, drove in from Kansas!  I don't suppose any of us knew what to expect.  We met Cody, Jeff Vrba, Rob Dunn, and Trev Schroeter in Villisca at 6:00 a.m.  The streets and town square were strewn with tree branches and other debris from a near miss by a tornado the night before.  Adam Lawrence, of Clarinda, joined us once again in his recurring role as our primary Iowa Production Associate.  The group previously prepared three or four music samples for us to choose from.  On the way to the location, we selected one tune we were certain would work.   As it turned out, it was their favorite, too.

The concept for the video was simple: set the band up near the railroad tracks, wait for a train to come, and shoot their performance on digital video with a locomotive speeding behind them.  In its final form we'll begin with the band, intercut them with other footage of Villisca's recent past, and finally return to the band for the finish.


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Jeff Vrba-Guitar and Vocals

Trev Schroeter-Lead Guitar

Rob Dunn-Drums

Cody Winther-Guitar and Vocals

One of three trains that happened along as we shot 8FOUNDead for the "Millenium" chapter of Villisca: Living With a Mystery. 8foundead_08.jpg (39628 bytes)

The sky looked threatening, but it didn't start raining until the guys had all of their equipment set up.  Fortunately, it was only a brief shower and soon we completed a "dry" run without a passing train.   Burlington Northern Santa Fe freights don't run on a regular schedule, but in the end three iron horses motored by and we gathered a lot of terrific footage of the band.


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We are grateful to 8FOUNDead for their assistance with "Millennium," one of the final chapters of Villisca.   They have helped to create one of the most interesting and entertaining portions of our documentary feature film.

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