If you’re not familiar with the name Alain Johannes, there’s a good chance he’s had something to do with an album in your collection. Whether he played on it, recorded it, or mixed it, Johannes has been a major contributor to such bands as Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures, Mark Lanegan, Puscifer, Eagles of Death Metal, Arctic Monkeys, and PJ Harvey – to mention only a few. His staggering list of credits as either a producer, session musician, or touring band member is only one aspect of his notable career in modern music.
Perhaps the most important credit in his career is the six albums he produced with wife Natasha Shneider and their alternative rock band Eleven. Criminally underrated, Eleven earned some decent exposure in the 90’s supporting Soundgarden and Pearl Jam on tour, but their sound just never fit into the trends of the decade. Johannes and Shneider would continue with Eleven, while also finding themselves as highly sought after session musicians and producers. Most notably, the pair were recruited to play on and co-produce Chris Cornell’s debut solo album Euphoria Morning and later they would make significant contributions to the Queens album Songs for the Deaf.
Johannes’s relationship with Shneider was one of music and love that’s difficult to describe. Indeed, as I began drafting this review, I found myself struggling to avoid cliches. Soulmates is such a trite term, but finding an equivalent synonym to describe the couple is futile. Aside from being in love with each other, they shared – as Soundgarden/Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron describes – a “telepathic musical relationship.” Indeed, many who appear in Unifinished Plan marvel at how the two worked together. The bond of their romantic relationship and the music they created was intertwined. Needless to say, it was nothing less than heartbreaking – for Johannes and everyone who knew the couple – when Shneider succumbed to Cancer in 2008.
A devastated Johannes would go on to produce a solo album, 2010’s Spark, as a love letter and thank you to Shneider. Nevertheless, this cathartic effort marks only the beginning of Johannes’s journey without her. The Chilean born musician would go on to visit his home country to meet his estranged Father for the first time and reconnect with his roots. This journey would include forming a band with Chilean musicians to perform Eleven songs.
Directed by Rodolfo Gárate, Unfinished Plan: The Path of Alain Johannes presents the story of Johannes much better than my meager summary. Beautifully shot and full of footage of Johannes and Shneider (with and without their band Eleven), Garate skillfully charts Johannes’s life with the reverence. Throughout the film, appearances by the members of Soundgarden (Chris Cornell, Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron, Ben Shepherd), Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), Alex Turner (Arctic Monkeys), and Mark Lanegan are important as they discuss the musical genius of Johannes, but also because each of them were deeply affected by Johannes and Shneider, not just as musical peers, but close friends. Thus these interviews, alongside those with Johannes’s sister and other family members, present Johannes as a human, not just a ridiculously talented musician. For this, Gárate should be praised. While it’s difficult to separate Johannes from his music – for how intensely they were connected – Gárate delicately balances the films narrative. Unfinished Plan is a touching and emotionally engaging film, one that will appeal to anyone, not just music lovers or fans of Johannes.
– J. Kevin Lynch
Coming soon to VOD, Unfinished Plan: The Path of Alain Johannes opens at Laemmle’s Glendale Theatre (207 N Maryland Ave, Glendale, CA 91206), December 14-20, 2018.