Under The Volcano Director & Writer Share Incredible Music Journey

Under the Volcano is a documentary that celebrates the history of AIR Studios Montserrat, which was founded by former Beatles manager Sir George Martin. Montserrat is an island province located in the Caribbean and AIR was located nearby an active volcano. Hosting some of the greatest 20th-century musicians, the studio provided some of the biggest inspiration for artists like Paul McCartney, The Police, Jimmy Buffett, Dire Straits, Earth, Wind and Fire, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, and many more. I spoke to director Gracie Otto and producer/co-writer Cody Greenwood about the legacy they wanted to capture for Martin and the studio.

Under the Volcano Review: An Music Inspiration from Paradise
Andy Summers, Sting, Stewart Copeland at AIR Studios. Montserrat © Danny Quatrochi. Photo Credit: Danny Quatrochi

"I'd grown up going to Montserrat many times as a kid and sort in visiting the ruins down there," Greenwood said. "My mom was an artist there in the 70s, so I knew Sir George Martin and a lot of the recording artists. I decided a few years ago that I should be making a documentary about this incredible period of music history and then vote Gracie on board a few years ago and that kick-started making the film." The director broke down how she wanted her film to appeal to the masses.

"We really we didn't want to make a film that was covering every album that was made on the island," Otto said. "We wanted it to be about the stories of the bands that were down there so that people who weren't even music fans could enjoy this, because really it's a human story about people coming together and being driven apart as well. So that was our objective from the beginning. We knew exactly what we didn't want to make. And I think that we ended up getting it to a place that we're really proud of. We delved quite deep into the stories of the bands that went down there and also tried to give the audience some context of who these guys were in the world of recording in the 80s. Yes, I'm quite proud of where we got to in the end."

Under the Volcano Director and Writer Share Incredible Music Journey
Earth, Wind and Fire's Verdine White in Under the Volcano (2021). Image courtesy of Universal/Rush Films

The COVID-19 pandemic affected accessibility to subjects interviewed for Under the Volcano.

"We tried we really want to get somebody from the Rolling Stones and had it not been COVID, because that kind of was when we were just doing post-production," Otto said. "We were quite close to getting Elton John and we'd done the bands, but it was interesting because Paul McCartney gave us his home videos and really loved the film and passed those on. " The director found out the archival interviews themselves provided its own value to the documentary. "There's something interesting about having Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Elton John, Mick [Jaggar], Keith [Richards] back in the time within the archive and we got great interviews of them back in the day, which also kind of helped with bringing us back into that time," Otto explained. "For us, it didn't matter in the end that we didn't get the interviews. [The archived ones] kind of fit it in that way. We managed to get obviously a stack of people that we were super excited about. And I think, for example, like with The Police, it was great because we're like a spoiled child at Christmas because we had Stewart Copeland's home videos and some personal pictures. We had interviewed the whole band that recorded two albums down there. That was great to get that full 360 of the band like that once."

Under the Volcano Director and Writer Share Incredible Music Journey
Air Studios Montserrat in 2019. Image courtesy of Amanda Fordyce / Rush Films / Universal

While the film told of rise and fall of The Police, there were other significant milestones of other artists where AIR Montserrat provided inspiration like McCartney went to the studio not long following the murder of his Beatles bandmate John Lennon in 1980.

"All the bands had a really interesting story to tell what happened to them down there, whether it was Paul McCartney's rejuvenation after John Lennon, or Elton and his band coming back together," Greenwood said. "With the Police, it was more that they had left, and then they'd come back and they had two very separate experiences down there. For us, that really spoke to the narrative of the film, which was what happens when you sort of put people together on a tropical island. But it was more that this story had gone sort of two different ways and was really the catalyst to end the Police forever. We thought that that was an important part of the overall narrative."

Under the Volcano Review: An Music Inspiration from Paradise
Courtesy of Universal

While researching for Under the Volcano, Otto and Greenwood isolated the musicians, producer, Montserrat locals, and engineers they wanted to talk to. As far as if there's anything left of AIR Montserrat fans can see given the studio's closure due to natural disasters, some relics are scattered.

"[Martin's] desk is now in Canada at a recording studio," Greenwood said. "There were bits and pieces in terms of relics from the studio itself and the piano ended up at the Sir George Martin's house. You can't go there and see that. But if you go to Montserrat, the bar that was in the main studio has been moved to this very cute little bar that's now on the ocean in Montserrat. So you can sit where Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones, everyone sat and drink cocktails each night. As far as relics and everything, I don't I would have no idea, but the bar's very fine if anybody get down to Montserrat."

Under the Volcano is currently available on-demand and digital.

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About Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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