My Interview with Jacob Kindberg (Director of ROCK Vs. CANCER)

John Grabski III and Steve Albini

John Grabski III and Steve Albini

ROCK Vs. Cancer....Rock wins!

I was Tweeting something a few weeks ago and received a "like" from the Twitter handle @RockVsCancerDoc, I had no idea what the handle referred to so I started doing some digging. I found out that it was run by Jacob Kindberg who is Directing a Documentary Feature about the life of John Grabski III a drummer who decided, in the face of a terminal cancer diagnosis, to go out on his own terms (by playing the music that he loved).

I wanted to know more and was really moved by what I was reading so I did some research.

Here is a link to the forum where John Grabski III and many others engaged in the discussions that ended up in the album he would eventually create with Steve Albini (Big Black and the sound engineer on a thousand great albums). To read the full discussion click HERE.

Ultimately, by pursuing this path, Grabski was able to make a really great album produced by Steve Albini. The band is called Teeth and here is a link to the album (as you will see, the proceeds from purchase go to a cancer facility, so please purchase a copy).

I decided, in my own small way, that I wanted to help out in any way that I could. I immediately Tweeted Jacob and asked if I could interview him about the project. He responded affirmatively, and this interview is the outgrowth of that conversation. 

The Interview (ROCK VS. CANCER)

This interview was conducted through email and I will try to provide links to everything that we discussed.

This is Josh, I run and do all the writing for On Pirate Satellite.

I have been reading up on the project, just finished reading the tribute to John written by one of my idols, Steve Albini (Read the Albini tribute to John Grabski III by clicking HERE).

So, the questions:

Josh: My first question is, what would you like to tell people about the documentary and secondly about your involvement in it?

Jacob: ROCK VS. CANCER is the inspiring story of John Grabski III, a musician with terminal cancer who spent his last days recording a rock album with legendary music producer Steve Albini. The documentary takes an in-depth look at John's final days as he made his way to Chicago to record with Steve, fulfilling his life-long dream. Through insurmountable odds, John left behind a hate letter to cancer and a love letter to life, assembled within the construct of a 30 minute rock & roll LP. Rock critic Everett True describes John's album "The Strain" as, in essence, "One of the finest of its genre in a decade." Cancer may have claimed John's body but it never claimed the character, dignity, or music behind the man. 

ROCK VS. CANCER is meant to be an encouragement to others diagnosed with cancer as well as an example of what it means to truly live. All proceeds of the film will be donated to Stupid Cancer, a non-profit organization dedicated to addressing young adult cancer through advocacy, research and support, as well as Sands Cancer Center in upstate NY where John received treatment during his illness.

I first heard about John while listening to Steve Albini's interview on Marc Maron's podcast, and I was immediately struck by how the experience had affected Steve and how he talked about John. When I heard Steve recount John's story, my first thought was that it was begging to be made into a film. It's such a great example of someone making the most of his time here on earth. I reached out to Steve to see if he knew of any film projects in the works, which he didn't. Steve helped me get in touch with John's family who was thrilled with the idea of memorializing John by way of a documentary, and now I'm privileged with the task of sharing John's story with the world.

(You can also listen to the Maron interview of Steve Albini by clicking HERE)

Josh: Obviously, most of the documentary will deal with the creation of the album with Steve Albini, but I am sure there was a bunch to John that wasn't just about getting this album made (obviously, he was very passionate about music). What are some things people should know about his life beyond his struggles with cancer?

Jacob: To be honest, I'm still getting to know who John was myself. Aside from what I've read from posts he made on Electrical Audio's online forum and things that his family has said in the emails and Skype sessions we've had, I don't know much ... yet. Since we're still in the fundraising stage for the documentary, we haven't had the chance to shoot interviews with John's loved ones to hear more of who he was as a man. I'm really looking forward to learning more about the person behind the music--his character, ambitions, quirks, what motivated him in life. What I DO know is that he was a talented musician who was very passionate and hard-working, someone who never gave up on his dream.

Josh: I listened to the album (Teeth's The Strain) and was really impressed. In some of his writing, John mentioned having been in a band called Cheebahawk. I have found a couple of different spellings of bands with that name online, can you help people find any other music John was involved in making?

Jacob: John played the drums for Cheebahawk; you can check out some of their music here - In terms of music that John was making aside from his work with Cheebahawk, here are some of his own personal tracks -

Josh: How has the fundraising and distribution process been going, how can people continue to help you with the project?

Jacob: We just launched an Indiegogo campaign on April 20th (which would have been John's 38th birthday) to fund the film. We're less than a week into fundraising, and we've raised around $3,000 for the project. We're really encouraged by the donations thus far and are looking for ways to get even more people in the know about ROCK VS. CANCER so we can reach our fundraising goal. We need a total of $200,000 to cover production costs, and we have until May 20th to meet our goal. Obviously, first and foremost, if people can donate to help get the film made that would be awesome. If people aren't able to contribute financially, though, they could help by getting the word out about ROCK VS. CANCER.

People can forward the ROCK VS. CANCER campaign link to friends & family (,"Like" the film on Facebook (, and "Follow" us on Twitter (ttps://

In terms of distribution, right now we're not sure who will be distributing the film. Once the film is made, we'll be taking it to festivals, and after a festival run we'll be looking for the right company to partner with in distribution.

Josh: John also mentioned having started an ongoing cancer research fund (maybe with his parents) is that fund still active, and how can people find more information about that?

Jacob: I'm not aware of a specific fund that operates on John's behalf, but I do know that $5 of every TEETH purchase on Bandcamp goes toward comfort care supplies at John's local cancer center (Sands Cancer Center in Canandaigua, NY). As well, in both 2012 and 2013, Rock vs. Cancer Rock Wins benefits were put on in John's honor and raised funds to benefit the Patient Needs Fund at the Sands Cancer Center and the CURE Child Cancer Association in Rochester, NY. With ROCK VS. CANCER (the documentary) on the horizon, people will be able to directly support cancer research and help support the financial needs of cancer patients by watching the film; all proceeds of the film will be split evenly between Sands Cancer Center and the non-profit charity Stupid Cancer.

Josh: Can you tell me a bit about your background and how you got into directing documentaries?

Jacob:  I'm originally from Apple Valley, MN, a suburb outside of Minneapolis. I caught the film bug early on and have been making movies since I was 8 years old. I came to Los Angeles to study film at Biola University, graduating in 2008. In 2010, I directed my first feature, Channel News. The micro-budget film played at several festivals around the country and won Best Minnesota Feature at the 2010 Underground Exposure Film Festival. I've also had the opportunity to edit some great documentaries, most notably the HBO documentary Tapia by director Eddie Alcazar and Personal Gold executive produced by Bill Gerber (Gran Torino). Editing Tapia, in particular, made me want to direct a documentary myself, which I then did. My second film, a music documentary entitled Sing Over Me which released in 2014, gained national distribution and played in select theaters across the country. Although I love narrative films and hope to direct more in the future, there's just something about a good documentary that a narrative can't beat. As a filmmaker, I feel it's my duty and honor to tell remarkable stories, and documentaries allow me to showcase a story in it's rawest, truest form. My favorite thing in telling someone else's story is really stepping back and letting THEM tell it. It's not about what I think or what I've gone through. In directing a documentary, I'm able to let the movie be completely about my subject, which is a really cool thing.

Josh: Thanks so much for taking the time, and I cannot wait to see the final project!

Pretty happy to provide a space for the promotion of this incredible project. Please take the time to support Rock vs. Cancer through one of the many links provided above.

Hope you enjoyed the interview, if you are in a band that I like or think that our interests might intersect, please drop me a line here or on Twitter (@OnPirateSat). If you have any thoughts about the interview or about Rock vs. Cancer, leave a comment!