How Jakob Dylan and Former Capitol CEO Andrew Slater Are Bringing Laurel Canyon Back to Life

Jakob Dylan and Tom Petty
Courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment

Jakob Dylan (left) and Tom Petty in Echo In The Canyon.

Former Capitol Records CEO Andrew Slater was in the midst of figuring out what to do next with his life when he and Wallflowers frontman Jakob Dylan watched Jacques Demy’s 1969 film Model Shop. Slater’s tenure with Capitol had ended a few years earlier; Dylan, whom Slater once had managed, had just wrapped an album cycle. As they took in the beautifully shot streets of Los Angeles flashing by onscreen, Slater says, “It inspired us to go back to that time and look at the records” born out of the ultra-fertile Laurel Canyon folk scene. What began as a 2015 tribute concert to the Canyon’s artists and their music soon evolved into a recording project and ultimately a documentary, Echo in the Canyon (out May 24). Directed by Slater and anchored by Dylan’s candid interviews with a long list of stars who shaped the Canyon’s mythic aura -- including Brian Wilson, Michelle Phillips and Stephen Stills -- the film expertly weaves together archival footage and performances by artists like Beck and Fiona Apple, who contextualize the scene’s enduring legacy.

How did you guys nab such an impressive list of artists?

Dylan: Eric Clapton was the first person we sat with. Once Eric Clapton says yes, it becomes easier to approach other people. But when pitching the people in this film -- all people we knew one way or another -- we would send a bit of footage to show them that it was a real project and that we were going to respect them. We just wanted them to talk about whatever they wanted to recall about that time.

Andy, was it challenging to direct for the first time?

Slater: It took everything I’ve learned my whole life to try to do this. I was a creative director at a management company in the ’80s. I hired [David] Fincher to do one of his first videos. You have to know cameras and lighting, and to script something, you have to be a writer -- I started out as a journalist. [I also] understood the beauty of the rooms that we were shooting in because I’d been in them.

Michael Zorn/Asbury Park Music and Film Festival
With Slater at an April screening of the film. 

The locations and recording studios create such a vivid sense of place.

Slater: Most of the documentarians that cover this type of subject shoot iconic guys with a C300 [camera] and a plant behind their head. So I thought, “If I’m getting the opportunity to do this, I’m not showing up at a guy’s house and having a plant behind his head.”

Dylan: You sound like you have a big issue with plants.

Slater: Well, when you see John Sebastian in Greenwich Village and then we’re in California with Jackson Browne shot at a beautiful house in Laurel Canyon -- it draws people into California in a subtle way. You can’t really bring people there unless you show it to them.

As a former executive, what’s your take on the influx of music movies being made now?

Slater: Anytime there’s something made with the moving image and music that’s done well, it’s good for the culture. The alchemy that was created when The Beatles were on the screen in A Hard Day’s Night is what set in motion a generation of artists. And when I saw Help! and Don’t Look Back, Woodstock and Monterey Pop, my DNA forever changed in that moment in the theater.

This article originally appeared in the May 25 issue of Billboard.