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Eli Howey “The piece is about having or desiring an attachment to nature but feeling alienated by its complex systems. This unfamiliarity translates into fear and intense paranoia, of unknown textures, forms and threats, regardless of actual danger.” -Eli Howey Name
What materials do you like to work with?
Watercolour and gouache, mostly on paper because of my background in print.
Age 27 What is your current location? Toronto, ON/Vancouver, BC Where are you from? Ontario What is your current occupation? Artist and cartoonist. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught?
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? Working on a painting series called Passageways for a solo exhibition in the fall at Margin of Eras Gallery. Is there any music you like to listen to while working? Mostly crime shows actually. Where do you like to work? Anywhere What is one of your earliest memories of making art? With my dad, teaching me to draw realism when I was 5 or 6.
BFA in Printmaking.
What do you hope to accomplish with your work?
What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most?
Develop a visual language for communicating the less visual and usually imaginary aspects of identity, in relation to gender, embodiment and its reflections.
Diagrams and illustrations in science related textbooks, strangely organized Infographics, other weird things that are trying to illustrate concepts and ideas.
Where To Find Them Websites: elihowey.ca Contact: email@example.com Social Media: @ehowwy (Instagram)
Sophie Page “Last week my cat somehow managed to knock out the screen in my bedroom window and jump/fly/crawl/fall (??) three stories down the front of the my apartment building. I found her hiding behind a flower pot and she is totally fine now, but the experience rattled me so much I had to make a piece about it. It also seemed perfect for the theme of this issue because now I’m very paranoid about leaving windows open. Also my whole life I’ve had repetitive stress dreams about trying to hold cats in weird situations like at school or on airplanes.” -Sophie Page Name
What materials do you like to work with?
I like working with unconventional materials, experimenting with different textures, pigments, etc. My current sculptural process involves clay, paper, and fabric. When I draw I use graphite, watercolor, and acrylic.
Age 26 What is your current location? Brookyln, NY Where are you from? Conway MA, a small town in New England near the Berkshires. What is your current occupation? Freelance illustration, and I manage a mini press called PLUM with two other artists. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught?
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? PLUM Press is always cooking up something new. Right now we are excited about an upcoming project with 2D Cloud. I’m also in the middle of a few different personal projects and I want to get more into stop motion animation Is there any music you like to listen to while working? I tend to get obsessed with a few songs at a time and listen to them on repeat while I work, my current favorite playlist features Mitski, Alice Glass, and Taylor Swift. It’s a mood. Where do you like to work?
In 2014 I graduated from RISD, where I studied illustration.
For sketches and brainstorming I like to work on the bus. My studio is in Greenpoint and I like working there too.
What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most?
What is one of your earliest memories of making art?
Lately I’m very inspired by the work of various outsider artists, particularly the sculpture and poetry of Annie Hooper. I feel really inspired by the cool people around me, mostly the women.
Painting a picture of my mom. I’m not sure how old I was. I remember adding layers of black paint for her hair and feeling very focused and happy.
What do you hope to accomplish with your work? I hope I can be really productive and create many strange, vivid atmospheres with characters relatable to odd babies (i.e. everyone)
Where To Find Them Websites: sophiegenevapage.com Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Social Media: @ladle_gull (Instagram)
Donald Price “Right now I’m pretty self conscious or worried about where I am in life/what I’ve done/where I’m going, and sometimes I worry other people are thinking the same stuff about me (they’re not). This drawing is a pretty literal interpretation of that I guess. It’s just a simple hand drawn illustration on top of a clay background, all jazzed up in photoshop.” -Donald Price Name Donald Price Age 25 What is your current location? I currently live in Halifax, Nova-Scotia, Canada. Where are you from? I grew up in a small place called Middleton, also in Nova-Scotia. What is your current occupation? I’m currently a measly dishwasher, on the hunt for a plumbing apprenticeship/who knows (help). Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I went to a babysitting/art class type deal when I was elementary school aged for a while, and took whatever few art classes I could get in highschool and university, but never went to ‘art school.’ I’d say I’m self taught. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? Might kill my rep, but I’m a big fan of Eiichiro Oda and One Piece, that’s probably my biggest inspiration/influence. I’m mostly into
comics, some more of my favorite artists are Marc Bell, Kevin O’neill, Joe Daly, Michael Deforge, Jack Kirby… I could go on but there are too many awesome artists to list! I haven’t read a book-book in forever but my favorite is probably the Twits by Roald Dahl. My favorite movies are probably… Howl’s Moving Castle, and Space Jam. What materials do you like to work with? I like to draw with just a .5 mm mechanical pencil. Then maybe ink with a micron of some sort and color in photoshop. What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? I signed up for half a table at a local show called DCAF as a way to force myself to poop out some physical things, so mostly working towards that. Comics, zines, prints, odds and ends. I wasn’t feeling so hot the last few years/wasn’t getting anything done, but last summer I got diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and now I’m feeling a lot better. Trying to make up for “lost time.” Is there any music you like to listen to while working? I listen to a lot of music, the last little while/while working on this some albums I was listening to were 100% Electronica by George Clanton, High Scores of the Heart by Turtlenecked, Year of the Rat by Rat King Cool, Chrome Neon Jesus by Teenage Wrist, and Smidley S/T. My all-time working album I would say is Aleph by Gesaffelstein–especially the song “Hellifornia”, but the whole thing is great.
Where do you like to work? I probably like to work somewhere sunny, but do most of my work at my desk in my tiny, dank, dark, basement room. Sometimes I go to the new Halifax Central Library, which is pretty nice, but there are often pretty distracting characters there. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? In grade primary we made a year book, and all of our portraits were drawn by ourselves. I got to draw my teacher’s portrait too. We also had pages of stories we wrote accompanied by drawings, mine was some banana army men in a helicopter fighting a pudding monster, lol. I was definitely drawing a lot before I
Where To Find Them Contact: email@example.com Social Media: @_dunce (Instagram)
was in school, but don’t really remember anything, I probably only remember this yearbook stuff because I have the physical evidence. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? Most the time I’m probably trying to make people laugh, or draw something strange/interesting enough that you’ll wonder what it means/make up a story for it in your head. If it’s something more serious I’m hoping what I make will be relatable, or make someone feel something. Pretty basic ahaha… More practically it might be nice to make a living off making stuff, but I’m not very sure if I would really like that/don’t know how I would pull that off/ don’t know if I could pull that off.
Yiran Guo “I was always scared about the Chinese clowns who wore strong make-up and strange costumes when I was little. I had many nightmares about them chasing me with their weird dance move. However, as time has passed by, I find myself constantly include them in my drawings. It became somewhat obsessed, or I maybe just found a way that I could overcome my paranoia.” -Yiran Guo Name
work, like Marcel Dzama, Jockum Nordstom, and Andy Warhol.
What materials do you like to work with?
I work mostly with traditional materials, like watercolor and color pencil. I barely use the computer and can’t really stick to one material either. I’ve tried ceramic, mono printing, and even animation. I also like doing experiments with different materials, I made mono prints and paper collages combine with my stop motion animation. I always enjoy making things with my hands.
26 What is your current location? New York Where are you from? China What is your current occupation? Freelance illustrator and maker. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught?
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? I’m working on my personal sketchbook project of drawings of people that I see everyday in New York City. I’ve already finished 6 sketchbooks since I moved here last July, and I’m still drawing. Hopefully I can find a publisher in the end to publish them as a book. Is there any music you like to listen to while working?
I got my master degree in illustration at MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) and I also studied oil painting before that back in China.
It dependings on my mood… I mostly listen to jazz–I always love Jazz. Sometimes classical music, like Yo-Yo Ma or more dramatic classical like Hanz Zimmer. I cannot listen to any music that contains lyrics, because it will just distract me.
What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most?
Where do you like to work?
I get inspiration from everything. Cult culture, scary movies, David Lynch, fashion–especially fashions. I read a lot of fashion magazines, and I’m always trying to find new photographers who take bizarre photos. So many artists have influenced my
Mostly my own space, a separate room in my apartment as a studio. I can’t work in an open space, and I have to make sure there are no people to interrupt me. Though if I’m using a computer–like to send emails–I prefer go to a café, I find it more
efficient that way. I will end up with chips and watching shows if I open my laptop at home. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? I was drawing on the wall all the time when I was really littleâ&#x20AC;&#x201C;like
Where To Find Them Websites: yiranguoart.com Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Social Media: @yiran_eva (Instagram)
3 or 5 years old. The wall was full of graffiti when we moved out. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? Always want to start with curiosity and I hope to be honest every time I draw.
Amber Ma “This image is my interpretation of paranoia. The inspiration comes from one of my nightmares. A group of green rabbits chasing a girl with the red dress. I collected different fragments from the nightmare I dreamt and then combined them into this maze. No one finds the right direction, and no one can go outside.” -Amber Ma Name
What materials do you like to work with?
I use watercolors, pens, pencils, and ink.
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on?
The project I’m working on at the moment is an epic graphic novel called The Walled City Trilogy Vol.3 from IDW/Top Shelf/ Random House. The writer is Anne Opotowsky. I’m also working on my personal series illustration which is called Frog City.
Where are you from?
Is there any music you like to listen to while working?
I listen to classical music most of the time. I also like Radwimps, Goose House, and Mr. Children.
What is your current location?
What is your current occupation? Freelance Illustrator Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I think I was self-taught before I went to the college in China. In the college I studied animation for 4 years. Then I switched my major to illustration and decided to study abroad. I graduated with a BFA in illustration from the School of Visual Arts in 2015 and graduated with an MFA in Illustration as Visual Essay in 2017. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most?
Where do you like to work? At home, safe and comfortable. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? I remember I kept drawing lots of weird characters from my head on the floor. I was 3 years old or 4 years old at that time. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? I want to build up a complete kingdom with my works and imagination. Lots of creatures and funny characters live inside, and they have their own history and stories.
Tim Burton, Wes Andrerson, Matsumoto Taiyo, Yoshitaka Amano, Brecht Evens, Miyazaki Hayao, Toppi, and Moebius.
Where To Find Them Websites: amberma.com Contact: email@example.com Social Media: @amberwonderland (Instagram)
Matt Lamourt “There were a lot of thoughts I associated with paranoia while I was thinking about it and I tried to include them all in the composition. One that didn’t make it was the concept of a moral compass, and it goes hand in hand with the eye in the sky. When I am not completely sure of myself I’ll feel a lot of pressure to make the best choices I possibly can, as if there is a watchful eye of goodness always watching over. But really, this is an anxiety that I put on myself, which is represented by the self-imposed target on the back of the center figure. The boy is succumbing to the will of imaginary authorities. His delusion is represented by the dunce cap, equating his mental health to perceived idiocy. ” -Matt Lamourt Name Matt Lamourt Age 22 What is your current location? Long Island, NY Where are you from? Long Island, NY What is your current occupation? I’m a freelance designer and illustrator but currently my main source of income is through assisting at photography studios. Besides that I also co-founded a small music video and short film production company called Trash Head Productions. So far we’ve made a video for Oso Oso’s “Reindeer Games” that came out on Triple Crown Records. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? As far as illustration goes, I’m self taught. Although, I definitely picked up so many important tricks from my degree to apply
to my drawing. I was also lucky enough to have a number of incredibly wise photography professors who have helped me understand the creative process on a deeper level, to the point where it can be applied to any medium. Photography helped me understand how to find my own personal artistic language and how to express it whereas graphic design helped me understand the steps to most successfully bring a project from the thumbnail phase to the finished piece. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? Marcel Dzama because of the variety of processes he uses to create work. The subject matter of his drawings and paintings inform other pieces in sculpture, collage, and film. Well, I’m not really sure what came first but what I really admire about it is the consistency of this nonsensical yet grandiose world throughout many different channels. What materials do you like to work with? Most of my work is done with a felt tip pen and paper and then experimented with in photoshop. I’ve recently started painting and although I haven’t made anything I’m particularly proud of, I really love it. It’s been really therapeutic to lose myself in a piece alone in my garage with no consequences. What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? Trash Head productions has a few video and film projects in the
works which I’m very excited about. In addition I’m also illustrating an interesting story for an author. It starts off as an a children’s book full of animal puns, but then takes some dark turns.
Is there any music you like to listen to while working? Yes always. When I learned that Sendak strictly listened to classical music while he worked, specifically Franz Schubert, I wanted to try it out. Before that I listened to a lot of ambient sort of stuff by Ricky Eat Acid, Blithe Field, and Emily A, Sprauge from Florist. These artists put me in the perfect headspace that I wanted to be in while drawing.
I have early memories of going out with my family to restaurants where they left crayons in the middle of the table and covered the surface with paper. I was very much into that scene as well as tearing off big chunks of paper scattered with monster faces to bring home and then shove into my closet for safe keeping. I also remember being around seven years old and shooting my first roll of film. Which was shot on a fisher price camera of all the action figures behind the couch in the lower level of my house.
Where do you like to work?
What do you hope to accomplish with your work?
I work at home on my desk. There’s nothing really special about my workspace but I like being close to all my books, printer and scanner. Being close to my dog is great too because he’s a
I hope to access a deep and hidden away feeling in the viewer that they maybe don’t experience everyday. Something like the innocent curiosity of our simpler days.
Where To Find Them Websites: mattlamourt.com Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Social Media: @bedtime_spirits (Instagram)
What is one of your earliest memories of making art?
Jordan Jackson “Why did they say that like that? What did that look mean? Did I do that how I was supposed to? Infinite possibilities crammed into finite moments,our choices breeding our paranoia. I scramble under the pressure of the present, not knowing when is where and who to trust.” -Jordan Jackson Name Jordan Jackson What is your current location? Detroit, MI Where are you from? Detroit, MI What is your current occupation? Line operator at Chrysler. Illustrator and micro publisher. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I studied fine arts at SAIC and CCS here in Detroit, but not much in illustration. I have been drawing since I was a child. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? Hmm, I draw inspiration from all over. Random parts of conversations or just walking about outside. But as far as artist I would say Daria Tessler, Jamilya Lowe, Griffin Miler, and Bjork just to name a few. What materials do you like to work with? I do a small amount of pencil sketching but mostly micron pens.
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? I have few big projects in the works to be released early next year that I’m very excited about! Also some collaborative projects that I’m equally pumped for! Is there any music you like to listen to while working? When I work I almost always listen to music, it’s a big part of my process. I draw a lot of inspiration from it. Lately I’ve been digging the newest MGMT album. Where do you like to work? I have a big wooden drafting table I usually work at, but sometimes I grab a clipboard and work at parks. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? One of my earlist mermories would have to be from 2nd grade, we had to decorate our name tags or something, so I drew a bunch of Dragon Ball Z characters on it haha. But I have a bad memory so I’m sure there’s many more early ones haha. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? For me, I think I can only hope to inspire other artist to keep making work the same way my peers do for me. Sort of recycling creative energy or something along those lines. I don’t know that I necessarily have a end goal but to just keep pushing my personal work and to grow as a publisher.
Where To Find Them Websites: abrownrecluse.tumblr.com Contact: email@example.com Social Media: @_abrownrecluse_ (Instagram)
Daylen Seu “My submission is a part of a series I made last year titled, Zero Ethnic Rythm. Being an Asian American who grew up in a large Korean community near Los Angeles left me unprepared for the lack of understanding that Europeans have with Diasporic identity politics. The idea for the series started off as a kind of a joke, directed at my teacher in Belgium who told me that I had no cultural rhythm, compared to her other international students who are from Korea. The critique generally consisted of comments like ‘You should be using Oriental music’ or that my work is either too ‘Western’ or too ‘Eastern’ which really had nothing to do with the quality of my work but rather how my work should be more performatively ‘Asian.’ This interested me because a source of insecurity and paranoia for Asian diaspora is often the lack of a “motherland”, which exists not only in terms of background but also a personal sense of belonging.” -Daylen Seu Name Daylen Seu Age 24 What is your current location? Gent, Belgium Where are you from? San Fernando Valley in California What is your current occupation? Student/Freelancer Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? For any high-schoolers reading this, I recommend applying for CSSSA, a summer art program held at the Calarts campus. They provide financial aid and give a few scholarships for college at the end of every Summer term. I bring this up because attending the animation program at CSSSA in my senior year of
highschool was the moment I realized that pursuing art was an actual option. That was my first time taking any kind of art class and until then I had just been drawing big-head anime girls that I uploaded on Deviantart (not wrong either). Then I went on to get my bachelor in Animation and Digital Arts thanks to the CSSSA scholarship. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? Sincerity, in people or media, has been the most inspiring to me recently. I watched Lady Bird by Greta Gerwig and it wrecked me. Half Nelson by Ryan Fleck is one of my all time favorite films; the motel room scene is the level I want to get on. I get a similar feeling from Margot Ferrick, Juli Majer, and Nou’s comic work. I use basic phrases or single words in my own work because I am insecure about expressing myself completely. I feel that these artists have developed a visual language that gently screams who they are. I’m a huge sucker for what I perceive myself to lack, which is this bittersweet, honest, and emotionally vulnerable quality. Possession by Andrzej Żuławski and David Cronenberg films have left a lasting impression on me. Honestly, K-pop and Korean dramas have probably had the most significant effect on my drawings in the posing and shallow emotions I tend to portray. What materials do you like to work with? I really love drawing with a mechanical pencil. All my illustra-
tions and comics are pencil and paper that I scan and play around with and fine tune in Photoshop. What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? I made an illustration for Yegorka, a new music label run by Tobias Lee and Dan Denorch. Previously I made another illustration for Tobias Lee (Why Be) and I hope to work on an animated film with his scoring in the future. I usually end up meeting in the middle with him on the final results but in a way I surprisingly end up liking more and wouldn’t have tried on my own. I have two short comics coming out later this year in separate anthologies, Lagon Revue and Klub Zin. By the time this interview is out, my first music video that I worked on for the past 8 months should be out but don’t want to spoil anything! It’s been 2 years since my last zine so I’m working on a new one coming out by the end of this year titled Raising Asymmetry, in which I want try out some new things in the storytelling aspect and tap into some “emotional vulnerability” haha. Don’t have an exact date for this but will be making a joint comic with Eno Swinnen and published through DDOOGG.
get too occupied with something you’re already familiar with. I have been watching mainly documentaries or bad horror movies on youtube because they demand less attention but keeps the energy up. Where do you like to work? My room or any room where people won’t be walking through for when I’m planning or drawing. I don’t mind editing with others though. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? Learning how to draw a dimensional ribbon as a kid, I probably got it from some How to Draw Manga book or something. I would get frustrated drawing with my cousin who was 15 years older than me because she would draw a bouquet of flowers, with each individual flower drawn in front of each other to give volume. I was so young I drew them all separately but I could feel that it was wrong and lacking. So when I finally got this ribbon down, I couldn’t stop drawing it for weeks and would write out words and everything in this anime ribbon.
Is there any music you like to listen to while working?
What do you hope to accomplish with your work?
I repeatedly listen to the same songs or mixes while working to get pumped up. DOOM (2016) OST, DISCWOMAN 14 x Juliana Huxtable, Amnesia Scanner’s “AS Chaos feat. Pan Daijing,” Sega Bodega ft. Shygirl’s “CC,” Tinashe’s “Company,” Soda Plains, CupcakKe, Why Be, and TOXE to name a few. I also listen to a lot of older Kpop or Linkin Park since it’s easier to not
I do want to be more open in my work since that kind of honesty demands emotional strength. Based on personal experiences, I can’t really fathom my work accomplishing anything on a grander scale beyond personal expression. I will just continue to work with artists who I trust and can make cute work with and hopefully make people feel something along the way. ¯\_(:/)_/¯
Where To Find Them Websites: daylenseu.com Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Social Media: @daylenseu (Instagram)
Jared Freschman “This is a piece I drew in a coffeeshop on my recent trip to Amsterdam. I met a guy there and drew him while sharing a joint with him. He left shortly as his friends didn’t like him talking to an American. I drew the pencil sketch when I was in Amsterdam and created the finished piece in colored pencil once I was back in NYC.” -Jared Freschman Name Jared Freschman Age 22 What is your current location? Brooklyn, NY Where are you from? Hockessin, Delaware What is your current occupation? Currently, I am just freelancing as an illustrator working on pieces for news articles and publishing houses. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I have been studying art for most of my life. When I was growing up in Delaware, I went to a joint arts middle and high school called Cab Calloway School of the Arts. For college, I went to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, which is where I just graduated from this past May as an Illustration major. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? Growing up in Delaware, one of my biggest influences was artist, Andrew Wyeth. I loved how he could capture such stark
moments throughout the rolling hills of Delaware through light and perspective. Coming from a Jewish family, I was also very much influenced by ancient Israeli/religious Jewish artwork and Egyptian Hieroglyphics. Some artists that have been influencing me a lot recently are painters, Kerry James Marshall and David Hockney. What materials do you like to work with? Recently I have been most working in colored pencil and sometimes gouache for my illustrations. In the past, I used to work with acrylic, wood, and resin a lot, which are mediums I’m hoping to revisit this summer. What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? I recently just had my first editorial piece published by Narratively, which was super exciting. Since I graduated, I’ve had a lot of people reaching out to me for freelance projects, which are all currently under wraps. Now that I am finished with school, I’m hoping to work on some large scale projects this summer such as large mixed media paintings, needlepoint pieces, and silkscreen work. Is there any music you like to listen to while working? I usually listen to all different types of music depending on my mood and the piece I’m working on. My go-to genres are lo-fi, psychedelic rock, jazz and rap. The artists I listen to the most while working are Sunbeam Sound Machine, King Krule, Good Morning, Bbymutha, Tommy Wright III, and Astrud Gilberto.
Where do you like to work?
What do you hope to accomplish with your work?
I usually work in my bedroom at a big desk. Right now I’m currently saving up to get a studio!
I hope to eventually move my work from illustration to the fine art scene. It’s always been a dream of mine to work on large, physical work for galleries. A lot of my work focuses on queer liberation and breaking down labels and stereotypes within the queer scene. I tend to combine that subject matter with vibrating reflective colors that resemble natural, energetic, radiating lighting. My work has always reflected not only my views on sexuality, but my spirituality.
What is one of your earliest memories of making art? My first memories of making art were when I was about 5. I remember loving to draw and color with those big, fat Crayola markers. I used to love drawing tigers, houses, rainbows and flowers on printer paper that I would steal from my Dad’s home office.
Where To Find Them Websites: jfresch.com Contact: email@example.com Social Media: @JaredFresch (Instagram)
Claire Merchlinsky “‘Paranoia to me is a familiar, late-night, constantly-looking-over-the-shoulder feeling. This piece was made with Stabilo Pencil and Procreate.” -Claire Merchlinsky Name
What materials do you like to work with?
Paint is my most beloved medium. For the past couple of years I’ve been working with Flashe paint and Stabilo pencils. I also use procreate on the iPad Pro for digital work.
Age 26 What is your current location?
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on?
Where are you from?
I’m trying to focus more on developing my personal work. I’m aiming to put out a small book/zine of self-directed pieces soon. Also have a couple of short-form comics in the mix. This is all between my freelance jobs, of course.
Is there any music you like to listen to while working?
What is your current occupation?
Music is a key part of my life/creative process. Less narrative and more uptempo stuff like idm or older electronic music (Aphex Twin, Nicolas Jaar, Brian Eno, Flying Lotus) is great for concepting or cranking something out on a deadline. When I’m trying to tap into my emotions, I go for beloved favorites or more lyrical stuff (Frank Ocean, Angel Olsen, Blood Orange, The Knife, etc). Overall though, nothing is ruled out! I am a fan of all kinds of music and am always willing to discuss/research/ explore/take recommendations on the topic.
Brooklyn, New York
Illustrator Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I have both undergraduate and graduate degrees in illustration. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? I tend to admire creative people who are extremely dedicated to their work. Obsession and passion are special flavors of energy that I really soak up and get life from. Some example of these: Stanley Kubrick, James Turrell, Brian Wilson, David Lynch, Paul Thomas Anderson, Kevin Shields, Frank Ocean, etc etc etc.
Where do you like to work? I am fortunate to have a studio space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? Making angels out of cotton balls at my very southern, very baptist elementary school.
What do you hope to accomplish with your work? My work first and foremost serves as my selfish and narcissistic
Where To Find Them Websites: clairemerchlinsky.com Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Social Media: @seemerch (Instagram)
personal therapy. Beyond that, I absorb a lot of energy from the works of others that inspire me, so ideally, I hope to have the same effect. Exchanging inspiration is what keeps things going.
Rich Vincent “This piece was created with ink brush. It took on a comic form to tell a short story about being rightfully paranoid in this dystopian city. The man walks through the street as he looks around every advertisement is film his every move and broadcasting it on the nearest television.” -Rich Vincent Name Rich Vincent Age 21 What is your current location? Milwaukee, Wisconsin Where are you from? Milwaukee, Wisconsin What is your current occupation? I’m currently an Illustration student at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design and a Color Specialist at an unnamed paint store. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught?
60s street photography is a huge resource for world reference and composition–particularly Fred Herzog. . What materials do you like to work with? I work primarily with traditional materials. I use a technical pencil or a non-photographic blue pencil for layout and then usually use a thin ink brush for the final inking. Rulers and lettering guides are also useful for when I’m creating comics. What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? This summer, I am starting to work on a dystopian graphic novel for my final year of college and designing book one of my daily comic, Oi Oi. Is there any music you like to listen to while working? I listen to a lot of jazz pianists, like Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum. They get me going. Where do you like to work?
I have a standard art school education background but throughout my childhood, I would spend days drawing from old history books and even now, most of my skills have come from personal exploration and researching other artists and their techniques.
I enjoy working late at night with the window cracked open and also in dark and woody coffee shops for light sketching.
What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most?
I remember always referencing and making renditions of photographs or drawings in books about World War I or the Civil War. The uniforms and machinery was always fascinating to imagine and recreate.
In the last 6 months, Gary Panter’s confidence with creating chaotic images inspire me along with his world building. French New Wave films such as Alphaville and La Jetée, inspire me because of their simplicity and mood. In addition, 1950s and
What is one of your earliest memories of making art?
What do you hope to accomplish with your work? I want to create imagery that feels stylized and immersive and I
Where To Find Them Websites: richarddeanvincent.tumblr.com Contact: email@example.com Social Media: @dick_obscure (Instagram)
want my interests and love come through to the viewer. The work for me needs to work formally but also personally to the viewer.
Meron Menghistab “When I made this image I was in the bathroom of a restaurant. I thought it was bizarre, with a mirror right on the other wall being digitally rendered was enough to grab my attention. My mind wandered, and it reminded me of this photo I saw a while back of people looking at TV’s in store windows of the twin towers on 9/11, while the smoke and debris was still in the air. What is it about digital representation, and how we can add to or simplify our life when it’s represented through a digital medium then ‘IRL’ that makes it so enticing? It’s something our whole generation is a part of, culturally, and it just starting to feel to me is forced interaction and participation, rather then the social interactions we thought we were all enjoying. It scares me that at some point, real life and all it’s nuances will be too hard to understand for most people unless it’s processed through the hypnotizing nature of technology, and that it isn’t happening on accident. ” -Meron Menghistab Name
What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most?
Meron Menghistab Age
A lot of music I grew up listening to inspire the feelings I want in my portraits and images. I pull a lot of references from hip hop and R&B to be honest.
What materials do you like to work with?
What is your current location?
Photoshop is my go-to for efficiency’s sake. A cheap, newsprint I work pretty much only in the photographic medium.
Brooklyn, NY Where are you from? Seattle, WA What is your current occupation? Freelance Photographer Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I got my BFA in photography from Rochester institute of Technology.
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? I’m working on a project photographing family members I’ve never met, or haven’t seen since I was a child. I’m a son of Eritrean immigrants, and I’m using my skillset to reconnect with my family as well as give insight to the experiences of the Eritrean Diaspora. Is there any music you like to listen to while working? To be completely honest, I’m always listening to music throughout my day, but when it comes to working, I tend to want to hang in complete silence. I don’t know why, but I think it’s mostly because I like to talk to myself while I’m editing. That being said, if I am in the mood to work to music, D’Angelo or Outkast’s discography is most likely what is spinning.
Where do you like to work?
What is one of your earliest memories of making art?
When making photos, I suppose surrounded by a sense of community. A lot of assignments I do tend to be in communal spaces, and trying to represent them in all the nuanced ways they exist. When it comes to desk work though, I love being at my studio late at night. Something about knowing nobody is trying to reach me is always nice.
When I was about 6 or 7, I thought I wanted to be a scientist, so I use to make life sized robots out of shoeboxes, then draw the wiring on the inside of the boxes.
Where To Find Them Websites: meronphotography.com Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Social Media: @meron_photo (Instagram)
What do you hope to accomplish with your work? The best-case scenario would be after my time on this planet, to leave behind images that resonate with people longing to see times and places that history will try to erase.
Gracey Zhang “Making the piece for this theme was interesting. I never felt I had any sort of relation to paranoia but thinking a little longer I realized that I’m very hyper-aware of the actions of others. Navigating subtle gestures with people often speak more to me than verbal communications, but it tends to lead me down a road of overthinking. I had this in mind when making this, strangely this was very soothing to do!” -Gracey Zhang
influence from things seen on the street, specifically people and their gestures and interactions with each other. When I was living in New York, the M train was a constant source of energy and people watching. Biographies of public figures are also oddly motivating when it comes to just getting yourself to work and produce.
What materials do you like to work with?
What is your current location?
Largely ink and brushes combined with digital and a good pencil.
Name Christened Grace Zhang at birth, but I also goes by G, Grace or Gracey.
Currently in Vancouver, Canada my hometown! But the past couple of years have involved bouncing around a lot since finishing school in Providence, Rhode Island, which included a residency in Brazil, living in Ridgewood, NY and many many layovers. What is your current occupation? I freelance as an illustrator and animator, although my current day job is a storyboard revisionist with an animation studio. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I was always drawing since I was a child and that ended up taking me to RISD for post-secondary education where I received a BA in illustration. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most?
Is there any music you like to listen to while working? I love listening to music and podcasts when working, but the more focused into something I get, the more I zone everything out so I don’t usually remember what I just heard last haha. Where do you like to work? A bare desk and chair anywhere works for me as long as I have time and materials. I’m usually more successful the further I’m away from the fridge and temptation though. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? Copying My Little Pony designs when I was 5 and showing them to classmates at school and realizing this was a fine way to rope people into being friends with me ha!
So many illustrators and makers works inspire me. They range from different fields and backgrounds but I gather most of my
What do you hope to accomplish with your work? To be able to consistently produce and share the stories I have with others.
Where To Find Them Websites: graceyzhang.com Contact: email@example.com Social Media: @graceyyz (Instagram)
FORGE. ISSUE 6: SERENDIPITY
by MATTHEW JAMES-WILSON
Multimedia artist, Sophi Gullbrants, is a recent art school graduate finding her voice through
art about interaction. Like many of her peers at the Rhode Island School of Design, Sophi came to the creative hamlet of Providence with a strong desire to make art, but a lack of clarity around what to make it about. Although her focus at school for the past four years was illustration, Sophi took the open ended curriculum as a chance to create her work in the context of many seemingly disparate mediums like animation, painting, and puppetry. Through an array of illustrations and performances Sophi has created a body of work that dissects her relationships to people and their relationships to others, many of which have taken more than just herself to tackle. Now, a few months after her graduation, Sophi has relocated to New York with similar intentions and questions that brought her to Providence four years ago. A week ahead of her move, I visited Sophi at her apartment in Rhode Island where the two of us discussed art school, personal growth, and the crippling fear of starting at the beginning all over again.
Where are you from and where do you live currently? I’m from Maui, Hawaii originally, but I moved to a bunch of different places growing up. I’ve lived in Florida, Virginia, Los Vegas, and now Providence. I’m planning on moving to Brooklyn though. What was it like moving around a lot as a kid? Did that lack of permanence have an effect on you at all? When I was younger it really sucked, and what I really focused on was leaving my friends. I think now I’m really glad that it happened because I think I became really adaptable because of it. I’m a lot more inclined to move to a bunch of different places now, because that’s what I’m use to. I feel like I don’t really want to just get stuck somewhere because of it. I guess that’s fed into the way I learned to love many different things and not just focus on anything too completely. I guess when I lived in different places, I never really focused on creating long lasting friendships because I knew that they would be with people that I might not ever see again. I guess that’s kind of bleak, haha. Because of my dad’s job in the hospitality industry, I was always in these places that were meant for tourists. So, when I got to be in high school when I was living in Las Vegas, I started looking at it as one giant organism. Everyone in the city works to make it function and allow tourists to come in and out. That was the same in Hawaii, and in Orlando, Florida and all of these places I lived. I guess it was something I was analyzing when I was in high school and looking back on the places I had been. When did you get into art making as a child? What kind of art do you remember making early on? I remember doing a project in school where everyone had to make a book when I was really
young. I got “Art Student of the Year” when I was in fifth grade, and that stuck with me for some reason. I was like, “Oh god, I guess I can’t do anything else!” My mom was an art history major and really loved art, and I think she always wanted me to do it. My great-grandmother, who’s 99 now, made collages until she was like in her 80s. I didn’t really have any elaborate art facilities or classes that I took advantage of when I was younger. I didn’t really have an awareness of any contemporary artists or illustrators at that time. I went to a really academic college prep school, and so art was the last thing they gave a shit about. There were two other kids in my AP art class, and there wasn’t a lot of input from external art worlds. I was thinking about going into engineering, and it didn’t really occur to me to seek out other art communities. I wasn’t exposed to that until a lot later. I just knew that making art was something I really enjoyed doing, and it was one of the things I was actually good at. I guess I was exposed to different things through my family. My grandparents live in Santa Fe, so we’d go to the opera there and see lots of musicals. That led to me doing theater in high school, and my interest in that has kind of come back around in the last year. In middle school I had a crush on this boy and auditioned for this musical. I ended up playing a horse in the musical, haha. But I really enjoyed it and the time it took up and getting to work with all of these people. Later I ended up doing the costumes and sets for shows and I got really involved in technical theater. Because it was such a small school, you didn’t really need to be talented to be on stage, so I got to do that too, haha. I was trained in operatic singing in order to get better roles in musicals. I could sing, but I couldn’t act very well. Those were some of the best times I had in high school. Was there anything specific that you remember seeing that left a big impression on you at the time? Yeah, my uncle bestowed upon me several copies of Heavy Metal and he gave me his copies of Watchmen and V for Vendetta. I got really into those 80s kind of punk neo-noir comics, like Bill Sienkiewicz and Alan Moore and all of those guys. I read those and loved them. I was like, “Dude, this is so hardcore!” haha. It’s not really at all like what I’m doing now, but it was really interesting to me. It was nice that that was somewhere where I started. Then before college I studied with Barron Storey, who worked with Bill Sienkiewicz and Neil Gaiman on a bunch of projects. He’s like the behind the scenes man who’s done all of these projects from fashion illustration to scientific illustration. He was like, “You can do it all! You can communicate so many things through illustration.” That’s sort of why I went to RISD. When did you decide to go to RISD and what was your experience like moving to Providence? I went to a high school where everyone applied to 30 schools. I applied to 13 schools, and RISD was one that I kept putting on the back burner because I wasn’t sure about going to art school. I think when all of the deadlines were coming up to secure it, I just bit the bullet and decided to go there. The allure originally for RISD was that it’s on the same campus as Brown and that there would be some sort of academic cross over where I could register for classes there. I’m really sad to say that I’ve never taken a class at Brown, haha. Also RISD has a certain rep—that I knew it probably couldn’t live up to—but I was expecting to be in an environment where everybody really gave a shit about what they were doing. I’m not sure I thought about Providence that much when. There aren’t a lot of distractions. I feel like if I had gone to New York I would have not had very much money and I would be easily distracted and wouldn’t get as much work done. It was a big change from where I was living before. Coming from Vegas, I realized the Northeast is really not my favorite place, haha. I really love the desert in Las Vegas.
What was your experience like at RISD? How would you characterize the student body and curriculum? One of the reasons I did come here was for the foundation studies year. It’s like boot camp where you don’t sleep, you don’t really eat, and you don’t really have time to breath outside of your eight hour classes. I was really excited to do that because they make you take a 2D class, a 3D class, and a drawing class. I thought it sounded great because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I came wanting to do Illustration, but I had so many other interests at the time that it seemed like a good way to figure it out. The rigor of the program kept going on throughout the years, so I kept being able to juggle a lot of things at the same time. That was really helpful and it shaped me over time. I think a lot of RISD is all over the place. Generally, it’s more oriented towards fine arts in a lot of ways. The illustration department is sort of a mixed bag and there are a lot of cliques. There’s the clique of people who were interested in animation production and game design. There’s a small clique of people that I was around who wanted to do editorial illustration and their own work. Then there were people in illustration who were essentially making fine art work who used the loose curriculum of illustration to get around the requirements of painting, where you’re just focusing on a medium. I chose illustration because you can use any media to communicate an idea. It allows you to do anything you want. It seemed like for the most part people were talking about getting it put out into the world in a very abstract sense. Until I was a senior it didn’t really feel like the education was really trying to prepare us for how our work would be implemented. Maybe they were just trying to get us to make stuff, and not really worry about getting a job at that point. But as we were seniors they were like, “Your portfolio needs to be geared towards a
design job or an editorial job and you need to have a repertoire of tools.” and it seemed like a little too late. I wished I had been thinking about things less as doing them for an assignment, but more as just making my own work the whole time. How do you think Providence affects the type of work that students make there? I think if I had gone to school in New York I wouldn’t have had the time or space that I had there. So many things there just take up so much money, and you have minimal space. Being at RISD there are so many facilities allotted to us—to the point where I could make a whole puppet show perform it. It’s also been a really good community because there’s nobody else to really interact with—I guess that’s not really true at all, I’ve just only ever interacted with students in Providence, haha. But it’s a really close community where you can get help from everybody because everyone is in spitting distance of wherever you are. When did your illustration work evolve into doing more animation or time based projects? I think everything was really dictated by the classes that I took. I took an introduction to animation class and around the same time I took a history or animation course where we watched a bunch of films, so I saw all of these different techniques that were used. I was exposed to so many things from people here and the animations majors. So, I took that course and tried out a bunch of different techniques. I kept doing that and decided to incorporate it into my degree project. I also took this puppetry class where I made this giant hand puppet that people use to write. Just being around a lot of different majors is what sparked the interest for me. Being around my friends who were in sculpture who got to make all of these really big projects, or being around
people in animation who were in the studio all of the time and had all of these frames. I was always looking at other people’s work while I was in illustration, and realized I don’t love making images as much as working on all of these other components. What was your puppeteering class like? Did it sort of bring back your interest in performing from high school? Yeah! I took a class with Erik Sanko who is the cofounder of Phantom Limb Company, which is a theatrical production and puppetry company that is based in New York. I took that class, and nobody was ever really in class. I had one idea in mind, and the first three months of the course I was researching handwriting at the library. It brought up a lot of the things that I mentioned earlier with my journals, so I made this project that involved three puppeteers puppeteering this giant hand holding a brush which would create this collective consciousness while they tried to use it to write. I knew what I wanted it to be going into it, but I learned a lot of things by performing with other people. I knew I wanted three Type A personalities because I knew I wanted to have these three people in a tug-of-war for control. There was a conflict with the three people having a common goal in mind but still wanting to be in control, and I wanted to see how that was articulated in the handwriting. I wrote a three page artist statement that I sent to all of them that was almost… unreadable in a lot of way, haha. There were all of these directions around how you should hold it and what you should be thinking. It was really interesting to start to do it for the first time with other people and realize that there are so many things that you do that you don’t think about automatically. I had everyone write out their handwriting, just to see what it looked like and compare them. I realized that wasn’t helpful. Everyone crosses their T from left to write, but some people do Os backwards or people
do As from top to bottom. I realized everyone would have to re-learn something that felt so automatic to them, and then even at a larger scale people would do it differently together. So it became about compromising your individuality and intuition to be part of a collective mind. My professor really loved the performance and asked me if I wanted to intern for him, so I interned for him in New York. I ended up alone in a windowless room in Manhattan making marionette puppets for weeks. Then I took one home and decided to use it for my thesis. What was the process like making your thesis project, Jo? I guess while having that internship is when our proposals were due. Puppets aren’t really taken seriously, so I thought it would be funny to choose a puppet show for my thesis. I realize now that deep down it’s something that I really loved and was kind of ashamed of, so I kept calling it off as a joke. But that summer while I was working in New York, I was going through a break-up and was thinking a lot about my life, how I’ve spent my time, and the interactions and relationships I’ve had with other people. I realized a lot of my time has been dictated by romantic relationship. So the idea was to make a western revenge fantasy of sorts that reflected on that. I had so many different plot points and iterations of the narrative, that were sort of like really elaborate Kill Bill style schemes. They all logistically fell through in so many ways, like money, time, how many people would be involved in it. I kind of had to whittle it down to the very basics of what the narrative was. A lot of the research I did on westerns and puppetry, and the intentions that I had to make this revenge fantasy against all of my exboyfriends all kind of came through in the end in it’s own way. Maybe in a more subtle way than I hoped, haha.
How did you approach writing the narrative for the puppet show, having not had much practice or training with writing at school? My adviser kept asking me for the first six months, “What’s going to happen in this show?” and I had no real answer. I kept thinking that once everything was painted and there were characters that had personalities of their own, that would really dictate the plot. But I realized that wasn’t really a viable way to make a puppet show and I needed to have some semblance of a plan. My friend Connor McCann, who makes comics and studies a lot about narrative structure, told me to just have three or five beats with plot points. So I figured, I just need a beginning, a middle, and an end with three scenes that happen. So I started piecing together illustrations that I had done and images that I had made that I wanted to be incorporated into it, and I kind of made a loose narrative around that where Jo walks from Point A to Point B and three things happen along the way. How did you execute the final performance? Who else became involved with the project towards the end? That was the most fun I had had during my whole time at RISD. In the last two weeks before I did the final performance, I had nobody besides my best friend, Jackson Joyce, who was loosely committed to helping me with anything I could possibly need. So I held an audition. I advertised all over the school that and had free pizza and three people showed up. Those three people ended up being in the show, and after posting about it on Instagram I got a lot of other great responses. There was Zoe Blue who’s a painter, Max Hertz who’s a sculptor, Josh Foltz who’s a sculptor and animator, Hannah Moore who’s an illustrator, Addie Boyd who’s a sculptor and
jewelry maker, and Jack Joyce who’s an illustrator. So I had those people to help me out with it, and it was really great because I was so stressed out about all of the things that still needed to be organized. They were simple tasks for everyone to do, so I wasn’t worried about what would happen if one person wasn’t able to do it. But it involved kind of orchestrating this big shit show of one thing happening after another—and it was only a 15 minute performance. I can’t image how a theatrical production would be done when that also needs different people for lights and sound and projections. But everybody was really great and helpful and it was a really collaborative experience in the end. People were even like “I have to be over here at this point!” and were really intuitively doing the things that I should have been doing as a director. That was really cool. There’s a really great facility at RISD that’s a cleared out old library with all of these theatrical lights and a ten speaker surround sound system. I found it and was like, “This is the space!” and I went through all of these logistical hoops and emailing a lot of people to get it. I booked it for two weeks to rehearse after classes, so I had to make a set that could be broken down and put into a closet, and then come back out really quickly. We had done a few rehearsals that went pretty well, but the day of the performance we did two dress rehearsals right before the show and they were really shitty. Everything went wrong. Then the final performance was the best, and it was flawless. So many things happened that had never happened before, like interactions with some of the actors and puppets that hadn’t happened before there was an audience reacting. There were gasps and laughs and people would say things, and the reactions we got gave the actors a lot more to play off of. There was a lot more purpose in what people were doing, so it turned out a lot better.
A lot of your work involves figuring out the mechanics of how to make something work. What sort of enjoyment do you get out of that with the projects you make? I think there’s a lot more payoff for me if the final product is a collaboration. I don’t really consider myself a sculptor or a performance artist, but I like to make illustrations that are 3D and involve people trying to make something happen. With the puppets we hadn’t even rehearsed yet, but after I brought everyone into the room with all of the objects, they all started playing with them like they were giant toys. That was the most exciting thing for me—seeing people excited about what I had made and being able to add life to it.
Is the interaction with the art as important as what you’re saying and making with your work? I don’t think there are a lot of through lines, but I guess whenever I’m drawing or journaling, there’s a lot about people—even if it’s just drawing people in the room from life. In the future I want to make more work that explores my relationships to people and the nuances of that. I’ve been looking at a lot of illustrators who make really earnest work about their… feelings, haha. Stuff that I’m not good at. I’ve gone through phases where I feel like I need to be bolder. I feel like abstracting ideas and trying to use metaphors for what you’re trying to say is kind of pussyfooting around whatever it is instead of just saying it. I think I want to be one of those people who can just say something and do it really bluntly. I know I have something to say, I’m still just trying to figure out the right words to say it. How do you think the internet affects the way you put out your work or the way people consume art in general? That’s a really big question… Instagram is like an hour by hour expression of whatever someone is doing, or how they want to present their lives, or what vibe they want to give off. For a long time I was like, “I was lame in high school, so I want to look like everything is fun and exciting and going really well.” You were sort of talking about how it can function like a doll house. But in my senior year I was more like, “That shouldn’t be my life. My work should be my life.” and I started posting more photos of my work. I want my work to not all look the same, but I think a lot of people post the same looking things so that they can get a lot of followers and people will know what to expect. In a lot of ways I think about it way too much, haha. I’ve been posting way less as I think about how bad it is for me as a person. But at the same time, it can be a really useful tool for jobs. I don’t know a lot of people who have gotten concrete jobs off of it, but just being connected with people in a way where I can DM someone who is at a similar level out of school and is making really interesting work, and I can be like, “Do you want to get coffee? I really like your work!” What’s that expression? “If a tree falls in the woods with no one around, does anyone hear it?” That kind of idea is also a part of the internet. It’s like, if I do a drawing today and no one sees it, did I do it? Does it matter? Of course you did do it and of course it’s going to make you better. But I think a lot of people, myself included, make things and want to share them with people. The way I’ve tried to talk myself into Instagram being a good thing is by looking at it as accessibility and a way for people to enjoy your work. But there’s definitely a dark side to all of it. What aspects of the art industry do you feel like your school has prepared you for? What things do you feel like you’re left to figure out on your own? I think the illustration department did a great job. They gave us a senior portfolio class where they were like, “Make a website and make business cards and send them to people. Make a mailing list, and build your portfolio in a way that its cohesive and looks dynamic to an employer.” So they did their job. It was one class—I think it should have come way earlier so we could have been doing that the whole time. I’m now facing the world with a body of work that is very disparate, and I have a quarter of a resume for four different things. So I have a full resume, but not for one discipline specifically. That’s what I feel unprepared for, but it’s not RISD’s fault. Even if they had tried to instill that earlier, I still would have tried the same thing, which is explore a lot of different things. How do you think graduating now differs from student’s experiences graduating in past generations? I don’t know what it was like back then, but I’ve talked to people who are a couple generations
older in illustration. They were like, “I took my portfolio to New York and showed a couple publishers and got a book made.” But now it’s like, anyone can do that with the internet. I feel like now, with the internet, everybody has access to everything that I have access to. It’s just about what you’re willing to do to find the things that are hard to find—even just finding emails. You’re up against a lot more, and it’s what you have to stand out that really makes a difference. What do you think keeps young people from putting their work out when they’re starting out? I guess fear. I don’t think I’ve gotten over that yet. I still have a crippling amount of fear. I haven’t posted anything that I’ve drawn in a while, and I really should! I have this abstract fear that I need to be a full person with all of the experiences I could ever have before I have something to say in my work. But that’s not true! I should just draw something and put it on the internet just to get over it. I know people post dumb shit on the internet that’s meaningless. But maybe, playing the devils advocate, you just have to do, because you’re not always going to have something profound to say. I’m still struggling to get over that fear though. I don’t think it’s ever really even a fear of other people’s reactions. For me it’s about wanting to be my best self and presenting that to the world. Something bad about going out into the world right now is, I feel like I see so many images. Seeing all of these images, I feel like I can’t make something that’s earnest or original because every time i make something I can see how heavily influenced by someone else it is. It’s hard to sift through it and find your true voice. Every time I make something I look at it and see other people in it. I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I’m trying to do it in such a way that is right. What hurdles do you see in front of you with your work? What do you still struggle with as an artist? I’ve always enjoyed writing and hand lettering, so I’d like to get better at that. I’d love to do more design work. I want to make stuff with text and images like posters and comics. A hurdle is just being afraid. I have this deep feeling that I’m very capable, and the only thing in my way is really abstract fear. Not fear of being wrong, not fear of making a bad drawing, but just the fear that what I’m making is not the best thing I could have made. I think even the puppet show wasn’t the best thing I could have made in the time that I was a-lotted. But it’s something that I’m really proud of, and I have to realize that nothing is ever really going to be finished or end up a full and total expression of who I am. Are there any projects you’d like to embark on that you just don’t have the time or money for at the moment? I’d love to apply for some grants. I’d love to do a big puppet show. I want to collaborate with all of the people around me who I know who are on the rise. I want to make toys. I want to have a lot of cheese in the fridge. I’d love to have an herb garden. Maybe a dog… not in New York, but somewhere else. I’d really like to intern for this theater company that I was looking at, and see if I enjoy working to make other people’s ideas come alive. I want to pursue art direction in anyway. I think what I loved about the puppet show was creating and having a say in how everything looked and came together. Knowing what I wanted and having to articulate it to the other people there was fun. Maybe going into publishing would be cool. I love being able to see people’s work and critique it and enjoy it and try to make people better.
AMANDA JASNOWSKI PASCUAL
by MATTHEW JAMES-WILSON
Amanda Jasnowski Pascual, finds harmony within moments of everyday life. The Spanish-American photographer
has been taking photos since she was a teenager growing up in rural Ohio, and has used her photo practice as a tool to both document her life and propel herself forward into the unknown. After slowly teaching herself the basics of photography, taking a few community college courses, and receiving astounding support from the online photo community, Amanda moved to New York to pursue a career in her craft. With few professional relationships and experiences, Amanda quickly began shooting as much as she could, eventually producing a breathtaking body of both personal and client work.
Like many of her peers Amanda has come up during an era while the industry of photography has been fundamentally
impacted by the internet and the technology that has surfaced over the past decade. Yet, Amanda’s inventive spirit and unbridled creativity has allowed her to use those changes to her advantage, creating timeless work with tools that are forever changing photography today. As the internet and our relationship to smart phones have led to a new level of intimacy and spontaneity in art, Amanda has thoughtfully created work that explores the dangers and rewards of that advancement. What’s striking about Amanda’s work is not the scale or production value of the photos, but instead it’s her ability to illuminate the magic within reality that we often choose to ignore.
Where are you from and where do you live currently? I’m from Spain and I grew up in the Midwest in Ohio. I now live in Bed Stuy in Brooklyn, New York. What was your experience like growing up in Spain, and at what point did you move to the Midwest as a child? I moved to the Midwest when I was six or seven. I think at that age—the more that I think about it as an adult, moving felt like an abstract thing that I didn’t really understand. Over the course of some years, it dawned on me how that move had affected us and the courage it took my parents but especially our mother who spoke no english. The culture shock and the wonderment of “Whoa, what just happened?” lasted a long time. I’m sure my parents explained it to us, but I don’t think we really understood. Growing up in Spain—every time I visit as an adult it feels like a dream, haha. I have shitty memory as is, and now it just feels like something that’s cradled deeply in my subconscious. As an adult certain things start to reveal themselves. But it was really good. I have such weird young memories from there. I’m excited to spend more time there. When I moved to the states the only point of reference I had was The Simpsons. I knew nothing about where we were going other than that we were moving there. What things changed for you once you moved to Ohio? I was so young that, despite the parts of me that relate to
Spanish culture and the earliest memories that take place in Spain, I’m pretty dang American. Most of the things that I learned about American culture that would have felt “different” to me as a kid, I learned at such a young age that I became used to them pretty quickly. The language was such a big change though and I still remember my first day of school and what that sounded like to someone who had hardly heard english spoken. It took me a long time to grasp the size of America—I read somewhere that 19 Spains fit into 1 America. Coming from a smaller country it was just mind blowing and considering the size when thinking about our society and trying to understand how that affects its inhabitants. I think the true American dream is far from the patriarchal version that is peddled to us. I watched that “American Dream” manifest in the community around me. Growing up in rural Ohio in particular I feel like I had a really specific vantage point. It was a strange feeling even at a young age to come from one world into another, I can’t imagine what it was like for our mother. Where there aspects of your upbringing in the Midwest that left a lasting impression on you? Do you have a fondness for it now? Definitely. I think although there are problematic things about the Midwest there are also positives. I meet a lot of kind midwesterners here in NYC. Looking back I appreciate the pace of life. I think the things that I liked growing up are things that can exist everywhere. Community, places for kids to play, family dinners, big backyards. Growing older living in a rural town taught me that happiness comes in many shapes and it looks different to everyone. Growing up in the Midwest left me
“I was very engaged in the Flickr community and that was monumental. It introduced me to this massive yet intimate community that existed, the support and engagement I felt from it was something I hadn’t yet experienced.” wanting to someday have a home with a wrap-around porch haha. What kind of art did you enjoy making when you were younger? Was photography always your primary way of making art? I think photography was really a gateway for me. I was probably 13 or 14 when I got a digital SLR for Christmas and ever since then I’ve been using cameras. As a teen I was creating very emotional work, reacting to myself and to my world—learning a lot in those days. It was often times paired with writing. I was very engaged in the Flickr community and that was monumental. It introduced me to this massive yet intimate community that existed, the support and engagement I felt from it was something I hadn’t yet experienced. That was a big feeling and ultimately it helped give me the courage to move to NYC.
That’s interesting, I feel like a lot of young photographers I’ve talked to in the magazine initially got their start on Flickr, and they initially met a lot of each other on there. Right! It’s a small time-frame, but I think if you were there, you definitely know what it was like. Internet communities clearly still exist but that felt like a specific place in time. Do you feel like that community on the internet was an encouraging force that caused you to keep making work consistently when you were younger? Totally! I was making horrible art and putting it on the internet, and people were very supportive. I became part of a dialogue and it really pushed me to keep working. I didn’t find that kind of community in person at the time.
Was there an art community where you grew up that you had access to? There is a community, but I don’t think I was in the right time or place to find it. It was more available to adults and less to teenagers. At that age I felt more comfortable approaching the internet community. I did have a lot of peers and generally was social in school but it felt far from the sense of community I encountered online. I think this is maybe different now. Did you have any formal training in photography, or were you primarily self taught? I went to a vocational school MVCTC and studied photography the last two years of high school. I had two really great photo teachers there, Troy Baker and Jay Vada. I initially took the course because photography always interested me and overall it seemed like a funner option than going to my other high school but it wound up being my first real introduction into photography. In that time frame I was gifted my first DSLR and felt a motivating
support from my teachers and classmates. I think just having the ability and resources to practice photography and photograph my peers was really valuable and changed things for me. I went to community college for two years after that, and I had this professor named Richard Jurus. I was taking basic Photo 101 darkroom classes and a few assignments in he told me something like “Well, just come back at the end of the semester with your work, and make whatever you want.” The confidence he had in my work had a lasting impact and helped propel a lot of positive feelings within me. It was one of the first times where I imagined a future where *maybe* I could support myself with my photography, that it wasn’t completely impossible and my work was maybe *OK*. Outside of these academic settings, I was self taught. In those years if I wasn’t in school or working I was taking photos. Early on I received the advice that in order to get better you had to shoot as much as possible and I really held that advice closely throughout the years.
“Early on I received the advice that in order to get better you had to shoot as much as possible and I really held that advice closely throughout the years.”
“I realized that there was nothing I wanted to do more than photography, so fortunately I was able to take the steps to figure out how to make that my reality.” Do you remember what the first photo essay or contained photo project that you made was?
exciting feeling to be able to be a part of those physical creative communities where I grew up, even if just briefly.
It was while I studied photography at the vocational school. It was pretty basic fundamentals of composition, dodging and burning, a lot of black and white darkroom work. I think the beginning was more about training your eye, and less about the concept. Understanding how different things function. I don’t remember specifically what the assignment was, but, it was probably some type of portraiture inside the studio or outside in the fields around school. But I did do one of those cheesy “365 Days” projects on Flickr. I can’t remember if I made it all the way through, but that project wound up being impactful. It was an incredibly helpful exercise.
At what point did you decide not to go to college immediately? Was photography the main thing you wanted to pursue after high school? What way did you want to go about doing it?
You did a few group shows in Ohio while you were still living there, right? Who were involved with those and what was it like working on them? Once I graduated high school I started spending more time in the downtown area. There were lots of great house shows and community art galleries, and as I left my teenage years I just sort of became more aware of the art community downtown. This guy, David Kenworthy, was active in the creative scene downtown and he invited me to be a part of a group show he put together. Later on, a gallery in Columbus, Ohio Sean Christopher Gallery asked me to display work. It was technically my first solo show, it consisted mostly of darkroom prints. It was an
It seemed like the only option! I graduated high school and spent two years kind of twiddling my thumbs in community college. At that age I knew what I liked, what I didn’t want to study… But the idea of making such a lifelong decision and the daunting financial aspect of it made it very unattainable. I realized that there was nothing I wanted to do more than photography, so fortunately I was able to take the steps to figure out how to make that my reality. Realistically at that point I was not ready to go to /nor did I want to go to school. At that angsty age, moving to New York was a no-brainer. I felt I needed to do something drastic and do it quickly. What was your impression of New York before you got here? What drew you to the city? “It’s the city of dreams!” haha. I still believe that for sure. It feels like any job you want to do exists here. The energy here is unlike anywhere else and it gives way to some really special things. I never had the chance to visit NY before moving here so I fantasized about this place. As I got older I learned that even from afar I could see that
“When I moved to NYC I had very little to zero work experience, which made it a challenging learning curve. Fortunately the internet community became a sounding board regarding professional questions.” this was the city to go to to make myself accessible and get work. Were you starting to get work before you got here? There was no professional work—no way. I shot a six hour wedding in Ohio for $100 once. That was maybe my first venture into paid work. When I moved to NYC I had very little to zero work experience, which made it a challenging learning curve. Fortunately the internet community became a sounding board regarding professional questions. What was going on around New York when you moved? What were some of the first jobs you did once you got here? I moved here and lived for four months in a railroad bedroom by Broadway-Junction stop. It was a super shitty apartment but my housemates were sweet. Those first few months I was mostly in a constant state of shock, spending hours walking around the city, trying to absorb every inch of it. I kept remembering how when you took a walk in Ohio you would eventually memorize it because
there’s typically nothing new to look at. The simple fact that you could leave the house and see something new every day took some adjusting. You could witness something solely on the fact that you were in this place at that time, and that kind of serendipity amazed me. My first proper job was shooting photos for a blog run by a guy who in hindsight was sleazy and who paid very little for a lot of work. I stopped working for him as soon as I could afford to. A few months into 2013 I shot my first clothing catalogue with my partner at the time. We shot outside along the 1 highway in California and it was so fun. It was such a special opportunity to have so early on. At that time I was also working within the realm of social media for clients like Converse, Herbal Essence...The social media world was very different back then, it evolved incredibly fast. How did the internet affect your ability to do what you were doing? I think we are all aware that it’s such a double-edged sword. Ultimately I wouldn’t be here without it, that
“I think the industry is more saturated now with image-makers than ever before.” has always been very clear. The internet changed my life—there I said it, haha. It’s hard to say what my relationship to photography would have been like or what it would have evolved like without the virtual support as a teenager. Either way it has proven to be a useful tool that I’ve relied on to obtain work, to communicate with and extend myself to others. I still rely on it but I am trying to find a balance, to coexist, like most people I think. The internet has had a heavy impact on the industry I work in and in that sense it has hindered my ability to work as a freelance photographer. But that is the reality and I am not the only one trying to figure out a personal solution. While I am all about creating being more democratic, the over-saturation the internet has given way to has forever changed creative industries. The fact that “influencers” are a thing is wild—I guess they have always been around in some form but the way it has evolved is frightening to me. The internet fluctuates so nothing is permanent and I think re: creative industries and the internet—people are believing the hype less and less, or seeing right through it. The psychological effects of the internet/social media platforms are also something to be talked about. Everyone has scrolled through instagram feeling a sense of F.O.M.O. or comparing themselves to the people they see and counting the ways in which they haven’t done this thing or that thing. Alongside the difficulties of the internet
we also have the ways in which it has had a life-altering positive impacts. I think while we have to create ways to control our relationships to the internet for our own personal sanity, it also has the potential for power and change. We’ve seen this. We are living in a crazy time. Your work and the era that you’ve come up in are representative of the smartphone becoming a tool for photography. You’ve mentioned in the past that it has help democratize photography for people without the resources to own a camera or learn how to use one. How do you think smart phones have affected photography, and how have they affected your work? As I mentioned prior, I think the industry is more saturated now with image-makers than ever before. This has changed the game so to speak. It began to feel like the work did not speak for itself. As far as the smart-phone as a camera, it’s hard for me to deny that it is maybe one of the most accessible cameras I have. It’s very much an enabler. Also incredibly convenient and something that the general public is so used to, which makes it easier to utilize in public. Also the way it captures light and color is very authentic. I’m still looking for a digital point and shoot that will hold up.
Early on in your career, did you experience people condescending to you because of your age or your experience or your gender? Yeah, I think all of the above. I’m sure I lost jobs because of it but there was not much I could do to change that. Some clients need to feel safe and they find it hard to put faith in someone so young. Sexism is alive and well in the industry. I remember one publication who would use the same group of dudes for every issue and it was really frustrating. My own privilege as a white cis woman has allowed me to bypass a lot of the hurdles that exist within the current industry. I think it’s incredibly important and vital that we call them out and demand those in power do better. Did that have an impact on how you carried yourself within the professional photo world? I’ve always been pretty optimistic but it took some emotional training and balance. I knew that the experience would
come and I always knew that my gender had nothing to do with my ability. In those years I was so alive and high on life that I felt empowered. In the end I think being genuine and being yourself is the only way to be. This was something my mom was very vocal about. I considered, Maybe if I tried to be more of a certain way I would get more work or bigger jobs. But it would be a hard facade to make last. How have you juggled making both personal and professional work? What do you think separates the two? That’s kind of a tricky question because I feel like I have not juggled that very well over the past few years, so, I’m trying to figure out how to do that again. I think in the beginning, there were so many thoughts, Do I want my personal work to be like my professional work? Was it Ok that they could both be the same thing? Was it nice to be able to share that intimacy in a commercial way? I was excited about the idea of flexibility in my own personal practice, and applying that to more professional settings.
“In the end I think being genuine and being yourself is the only way to be.”
Photograph by David Luraschi
“You know that feeling when you feel like the world’s winking back at you? I try to radiate that feeling somehow in my work” I think now that’s still the goal. There will technically always be clients, brands, people who want to celebrate and collaborate—sometimes capitalize on—your vision. I think in the end for me it’s important to try and represent the same values in my commissioned work as much as I do in my personal work. What themes do you notice coming up a lot in your personal work? What do you try to communicate through it I haven’t been able to afford a studio in a few years and that’s had a direct impact on my body of work. There is a lot of work I wish I could make but haven’t had the time/ resources/funds.The work that I’ve made over the last two or three years is mostly travel and documentary work. You know that feeling when you feel like the world’s winking back at you? I try to radiate that feeling somehow in my work. If there’s anything that I can use my work to put back into the world, I think it would be that feeling. So I try to capture those moments with serendipitous things that happen in the the day to day. In a studio setting it’s more about creating an alternate
reality, one that incorporates elements we’re familiar with but reframes them or strips them away of context. Creating has always been a therapeutic thing for me and I hope that it is therapeutic for the viewer in some way. Each photograph aims to serve as a meditative moment. When I first started taking photographs as a teen, it felt a lot like my vision had suddenly changed, and all of a sudden I was seeing light for the first time, and seeing shapes where there were no shapes before… Everything changed and nothing was the same. As cheesy as it sounds it was really a life-changing time. My work aims to encourage the viewer to re-examine the things that surround them. I think this feeling still exists in the heart of hearts of my work. What’s the significance of the relationship between you and your subjects. Do you try to photograph people who you know, or who are important to you, or do you prefer shooting total strangers? When I lived in my studio I would photograph a lot of my friends or friends of friends. As much as I value photographing someone close to me I also believe there is a lot to gain from photographing someone new. To see
“I think photography has pushed me to understand my relationship to the world and the context that I exist in.” the way things unfold. That being said I will always be partial to photographing people I love. I think they are your natural muses. Over the years I’ve wished to have the opportunity to take more photographs of my family members—especially the ones I live very far from—and I’ve missed opportunities, so now when I have the opportunity I am so grateful. The last few years I’ve been spending more time photographing inanimate objects, which can also on some level feel like an intimate relationship. What sort of places or situations has photography put you in, that you might not have otherwise sought out or experienced? Has it allowed you to become a person that you felt like you couldn’t be without it? I think photography has pushed me to understand my
relationship to the world and the context that I exist in. There’s some form of empathy that’s exchanged through images. It’s put me in a position to say something and with a responsibility to do so as well. The curiosity of a photographer has lead me outside of my comfort zone. It’s hard to imagine what my life would be like had I not moved here. I probably wouldn’t be into photography. I think in some sense I would still be me if I didn’t have photography but so much of who I am now involves using this medium and others to communicate and to process the external and internal. On a personal level it would be detrimental to not have a creative practice to express and to wonder. Not having had a safe space to create freely— and then finding that you are primarily creating for your day job—has been very difficult as it feels like you could
forget how to manifest your thoughts and ideas, forget how to put one foot in front of the other. How have you seen your work change over the past few years? Where do you see it heading at the moment? That’s a good question. It’s definitely evolved and I think others would agree. I think there is a common thread that continues to exist but in the past I lived in my studio and during those years made a lot of very colorful, playful studio work. It was graphic and sweet. Not having a studio forced me to create work in outside elements and my work evolved then as a result. I’ve always written and I’ve very, very slowly incorporated pieces of that into my photo work. I’d like to experiment with other mediums and hopefully school is a way for me to do that. I’m not quite sure what that future looks like. I think I’m kind of in the process of trying to understand that myself. All of my thoughts about living in New York have evolved so much in the last year that I feel pretty uncertain about most things. I’m still making some work, but I feel like I have to pick everything up and give it life again. I think there is a leap of faith involved. What was your experience like doing your solo show, Do You Feel What You Touch, at Popular Kids Gallery in Portland in 2017? It was really intimate, and it was fun to be like, “Here’s this
loose theme. Make work around it!” I made a short video which was exhausting, but a really really positive learning experience. The title, Do You Feel What You Touch, is about being present and aware. I was thinking about all of the things that people would interact with on a daily basis and their relationship to those objects. Do people ever stop to think about what they’re holding in their hands? You’ve done a handful of video projects so far. When did you get interested in video art, and how do you approach those projects differently from your photography? I made some of my earliest motion things in high school. Those were really fun. I think the first few were maybe in 2014. In my mind I framed them as an extension of the photographs I was making. The whole video process had seemed so daunting for so long, that I had just been like, “Oh, I’m not knowledgeable enough to take this on.” I just didn’t feel comfortable or confident. I’ve also shot stuff just on my iPhone, which is wild. It’s more attainable and easier to approach, as opposed to thinking about a video shoot and the production and post aspect. So I took baby steps in that direction and used a tool I was comfortable with. But I think it would be cool to do DP work or direct. I think it’s a really special way to elaborate and discuss. Over the last year I’ve caught myself mentally collecting “scenes” that I encounter or come to me in moments. I collect them in my back pocket for the right opportunity.
“The title, Do You Feel What You Touch, is about being present and aware. I was thinking about all of the things that people would interact with on a daily basis and their relationship to those objects.”
I feel like there’s this sort of placidness to your photography, where it seems much less about positioning people or objects, and it seems much more about capturing the harmony in a single point in time. That’s really cool to hear—it’s become less about a single aspect and more about the collectiveness. Hearing feedback from other people has helped me understand my work in a way that I struggle to do for myself. I think it gets clearer as time goes on. As I mentioned prior what I’ve noticed in my work so far is that it is meditative and inherently optimistic, even when it’s painful. I also feel that with the ability to create also comes a responsibility to vocalize what you believe in and what you don’t. There is a lot happening in the world and it’s vital to speak up. The placidness or calming quality of my work also exists as self preservation. We’ve talked a bit about it recently, but you mentioned that you’re planning on leaving New York and potentially pursuing higher education. What are your plans or motivations for the future right now? I moved here from my family’s house, so it’s the first place I’ve lived as a “proper adult.” But I’ve gotten to a place where I can’t afford to prioritize the things I want to. Having a studio to make work and having resources that are
affordable—just so much revolves around money here, and I think eventually that’s what drives a lot of people away. I’ve never had to leave a city I wasn’t 100% sure I wanted to leave, it’s confusing. There are some people here who come and go, and I think being able to leave is key in order to mentally sustain yourself here long term. But it’s such a privilege. People here work so so so hard every day all day. The past few years have been especially challenging, and this place can be super exhausting. It’s a very, very special place and there is nowhere on earth like it. It has this wild energy, a magnetic pull. I could easily see myself moving back in some future. As far as higher education, I never really went to school and when I was younger I would often times feel like my lack of academic experience was a reason to feel invalid. It was the source of lots of self consciousness. But now I think it’s a great way to expand and absorb. I just really want to dedicate time and space to making work and learning how to make new work, without having to worry about a career or paying rent in New York. Four years studying art and making art sounds pretty good, haha. My sister graduated from art school last year and as a bystander it was a really, really cool thing to witness. I had always had the itch to pursue higher education and I finally reached a point where I felt ready. It wasn’t about going to school to invest in a career but rather going to school to invest in myself. Education should be free and it’s key to
“I’ve noticed in my work so far is that it is meditative and inherently optimistic, even when it’s painful.”
a lot of good things but that’s another conversation haha. I’m happy to have waited all these years, and I think having spent six years working in a professional field has allowed me a specific perspective.
sculpture, textiles, performance art, public art. I’d love to learn how to dance. I think the possibilities with public art are inspiring. I’d love to make books by myself but also with others. I’d love to help with workshops, particularly for kids or young teens.
Is leaving the US right now at all a part of your motivation to study in Europe?
What hurdles do you still see ahead of you? What do you feel like you still struggle with as an artist?
Not really. Part of me wish I wasn’t leaving the US. But I’m eager to live in Europe. I always knew growing up that that was something I was curious about wanted to do, to return. Exploring what I left there as a child, spending time in places I’ve known and spending time with family. The US is a unique place, it gave my dads family a home when they came from Poland and they gave my family a home when we came from Spain. It’s complicated as this country was built as a broken system, built amongst other things as racist and sexist and controlled by patriarchal forces. And we see (and don’t see) this playing out every single day. But the people and land here are everything.
I think in general mental health. The way it’s treated and talked about in this country is hurting infinitely more than helping. It’s safe to say more people than we know are suffering, and the resources we have to help with those things are painfully lacking. I worry. The older I get the more I find myself trying to fend off days where everything feels actually pointless. This is a work in progress. Artists seem to be their own worst critics, and that’s a long struggle. But ultimately I believe in following your gut. I know deep down that I want to create a healthy, consistent art practice for myself. And I know that will do a lot in terms of mental health and general well being for me. I am also always learning how to use my practice and platform as a way to serve and benefit others outside of just myself.
Are there any projects you’d like to embark on, that you just don’t have the time or money for at the moment? I’d like to explore other mediums, video, ceramics,
“Ultimately I believe in following your gut. I know deep down that I want to create a healthy, consistent art practice for myself.”
by MATTHEW JAMES-WILSON
German cartoonist, Anna Haifisch, has an astounding amount of respect for art and those who create it. While growing up
in Leipzig, Anna became enthralled with the idea of becoming an artist, after reading dozens of French comics a visit to the local art university. Once she was old enough, Anna studied print making at the school she visited as a teen and began working towards a career as a fine artist. But after a fruitful string of trips to New York where she apprenticed at Kayrock Screen Printing and lived with cartoonist Jim Tureck, fell back in love with comics and began making her own. Anna’s first few strips showcased a life style of getting wasted and finding trouble, with the endearing but self-destructive Buddies. But after looking deeper within herself, Anna found her unique and loving voice through exploring the relationship between art and mental health, with her first book Von Spatz and her trailblazing serial The Artist.
Anna is known by her readers for her masterful use of limited color pallets and brutally honest humor. But to her
community, Anna is known for her incredible warmth towards the people creating around her. Despite her relatively remote location, Anna has become one of the most active participants in the international comics scene with her work both online and in real life, and her spirit has become as beloved and recognizable as her comics. I had the wonderful pleasure of inviting Anna to my house this spring while she was in town for MoCCA Fest to do an interview for this issue. Together we recorded the following conversation in my kitchen and gleefully strolled around Ridgewood, Queens taking the photos for it.
Where are you from and where do you live currently? I’m from Leipzig, Germany and that’s where I still live actually. What was your experience like growing up there? What was your relationship to art growing up? Growing up in Leipzig was actually really nice. I grew up in a part of the town where nothing was going on. When I was like 13 or 14 I discovered that there was a big art school in town. They had these open studios and I visited—I think with my mom—for the first time, and I was so blown away. I saw all of the workshops, and people were working in them. I thought, This is the place I really want to go! I think that was kind of like the kick off. I always drew of course—every child does. But when I got older I really dreamed of this goal of going to art school. I wanted to do all of the cool stuff that people seemed to be doing there. I mean, I never drew comics when I was a kid. I drew little stories, but not really comics. But it was really because I was exposed to them so early on from the Library. Asterix and Lucky Luke and whatnot—I think I read everything, even the worst stuff. I’d read anything I could find in the library. I never thought about making comics myself until later on when I was studying art and it kind of came back.
When you were a teenager, was there any sort of art or music community at your disposal in Leipzig? Yeah I went to a lot of music shows—not necessarily because I was such a music fan, just because it was something that was going on. I liked the venues a lot and the people who went there. I liked the punk shows. Just to make myself useful in any way, I drew some flyers and stuff. But other than that I wasn’t really a part of a band or anything. I’m really a shitty musician, haha. I always wished that I could play in a band once—probably like every person, haha. But I don’t know what instrument I would play because I can’t play any. Also my singing is shit, so… I mean, I guess singing well isn’t really required. But yeah, I would be a horrible musician. But I always wanted to be part of it. How did the culture coming from outside of Germany affect your young adulthood? I think the first thing that was of any interest to me was, of course, the French comics. The whole thing around Lewis Trondheim and Christophe Blain—when I heard about that I thought, Oh, this is paradise. They have a studio in the middle of Paris, and they’re making all of these great books! It seemed so wild and I liked all of the comics back then. Maybe that was my first exposure to underground stuff that wasn’t main-stream comics? Then I think what left the biggest impression after that was the Finnish comic scene. What they wrote and drew was so nuts and funny, and I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “God,
they’re destroying every rule I thought there was.” haha. After reading the Finnish comics I started experiencing all of the American stuff slowly. So that was pretty much it comic-wise. Music-wise, I don’t know. Still when I draw I listen to soft rock like Bee Gees and Fleetwood Mac, haha. My music taste is not the greatest. How did you decide to go to art school for college? What was your experience like where you went? That was really early. Like I said before, I was 13 or 14 when I saw the art school and the wonderful building and workshops there. I decided I really wanted to go there. I applied when I was 18, and I was lucky because they took me in on my first try, which I didn’t expect at all. At first I thought, Oh, it might take four or five tries to get in. I really really liked going there. It was just 500 people going there who were painters, photographers, media artists, etc… I went into the graphic design and illustration department, and that was nothing but great. I think I got
to know all of my friends there too. It was just nice having a studio and having all these workshops. You could print whole books there, and just hangout and drink beers. There was no pressure at all. It was really a paradise, haha. I think a lot of people haven’t had good experiences with art schools, but I can’t say that about my experience. In Germany it’s free, so you apply, then you have to show your portfolio, and then you have to pass a test which involves drawing for three days. Then that’s it. Once you’re in everything is paid for. You just have to go, haha. I went there for a good seven years because it was so nice, haha. What was the attitude like at the school? Did they put pressure on you to do professional work with big clients right after school? Oh, not at all! That was not really taught there. Some people criticized them for that, but I think it’s really important to keep the arts schools more like clouds in the air. Just like “Do whatever you want!” and really hippie-ish. I spent a
“I think it’s really important to keep the arts schools more like clouds in the air. Just like ‘Do whatever you want!’ and really hippie-ish.”
ton of time in the screen printing department, and I think I needed that time to produce shit. I think for the first three or four years I just produced shit—just really horrible stuff. I tried a lot of things with printing stuff on top of each other. It wasn’t really good or anything, I think I just needed the time. Thank god back in the day I wasn’t on the internet, so nobody can see it now. It’s such a relief, haha. I threw almost all of it out. I have a few samples of what I did there, just as a reminder. But I think every artist needs some time to find your way a little bit. It’s also such a privilege to do it hidden in a building for free. You only show it to your friends, and then eventually you throw it out, haha.
the person was from Chicago or wherever. I would just read the book and read the name and think, “Oh this is great and it’s from some person from somewhere in America!” I mean, it doesn’t usually say where you’re from on your zine, like “Anna Haifisch, from Leipzig” or something. Often enough, I would be like, “Oh this person!” way later after I first saw their zine years ago. There were a few stores that I would go to in Berlin that had zines. It’s weird trying to trace it back. I actually can’t!
There was also a year where I did almost nothing except drink beer and play foosball. I got really good at that! But other than that I didn’t get much done that year. I slowly tried out every printing technique there was, and I immediately felt like etching wasn’t for me. I liked lithography, but I also came to the harsh reality that I’m not good at it. I ended up with screen printing being my thing, because it came closest to what I wanted to do with my way of drawing and the colors.
I was so lucky that back in the day the screen print shop, Kayrock Screen printing, was just on top of the old Secret Project Robot at 210 Kent ave. Then right across the street was Death By Audio and Glasslands, and those were the places I could go with almost zero money. You could leave the house with $10 and still see three acts and get drunk. That’s impossible now to think! So yeah, I did that a lot. What I really liked was the late night printing. They gave me the keys and I could just print my own stuff in the studio late at night. There were so many artist studios on the same floor, and I really loved the whole community of everybody in there. It was a weird mix. I don’t actually know what a lot of the people did in there. For some people I never actually saw a single artwork that they made, haha. But they were all just nice. I think I was just a bit of a tourist to everything, because I wasn’t really part of any of the venues except for drawing flyers. So I was always more of a visitor, but I liked that.
At what point did you come to live in New York for the first time? What helped motivate that decision? That was when I was still studying. I think it was in 2008— so like ten years ago. Good lord… haha. But yeah, at the school I went to the illustration classes were very conservative in a way. They were pretty old fashioned, which was kind of nice, but I was also kind of like, “I really want to go where the wild stuff is happening.” and that was New York at that time. I was really into Gary Panter and all of the Paper Rad people on the East Coast. There was just this whole reckless way of drawing that I was kind of looking forward to being a part of. I couldn’t because I was so far away, but I wanted to get as close as possible. So I wrote a letter to this screen printing studio I found online. I saw that they were doing such nice flyers and posters for shows, so I asked them if they needed somebody, and they did! It was really lucky that it happened. I don’t know what they were thinking after they got this letter. It was an actual letter, like on the back of a poster. I can’t image someone from Germany asking “Can I work for you?” I would probably be like, “Uh, I don’t know this person at all. Who are you? No!” But they were pretty open I think. How did you become aware of the comics and zines being made in the US? I think I bought a few zines and things that ended up in Berlin at some comic book shops. I wasn’t on social until like 2010 or 2011, but I definitely saw some stuff online for sure. The Gary Panter books were definitely around. That’s a good question—now I can’t actually remember how it happened without the internet so much. Sometimes when I’d get a zine I wouldn’t realize until much later that
What was going on in New York at the time when you got here? I remember you telling me about going to shows at DIY venues in Williamsburg.
I moved into an apartment where Jim Tureck was living and he’s a cartoonist. He had so many comics laying around, so I got into Dan Clowes’ stuff again. Jim was just drawing all of the time. He was making single page comics and longer stuff and I just thought, Oh, I kind of forgot about that. Because I was screen printing the whole day I kind of got a bit bored by it. I was screen printing for years before in Leipzig and screen printing almost for a year straight in New York. So I thought, Oh, maybe it would be nice to get back into telling stories and just drawing without the whole printing process. I think from then on I took the comics medium a bit more seriously. But now, it’s the other way around almost. I’m not sick of comics, but I’d really like to step out and go back to printing and thinking about single drawings a bit longer. What were some of the first comics that you started making around then? What were some of the first comics you started reading when you got back into them? There was a thing called The Buddies with a cat and a dog which I started making here. My friend wanted me to draw for his band a cat and a dog with Four Lokos in their hands. I was like, “Ah, that’s so easy. I can do that
“I kind of liked the characters because they were wobbly and shitily drawn. Then from there I made like six or seven little Buddies zines about the cat and the dog.” no problem!” I kind of liked the characters because they were wobbly and shitily drawn. Then from there I made like six or seven little Buddies zines about the cat and the dog. It was a little bit like Beavis and Butthead I think. They’d involve them walking around and being lazy and throwing up a lot. There wasn’t much of a philosophy behind it, haha. So I did that for a while and eventually I thought I was done with it. It got a bit boring for me and probably for the readers as well. I started to think about more sustainable stories to tell, and stories that weren’t told before, unlike the cat and the dog going around the block and puking everywhere. I think that’s been there before, haha. For The Buddies there was no real role model, other than Beavis and Butthead subconsciously. Even back in the day, my main influences were still paintings and fine art in a way. I wish I could say like Dan Clowes or Julie Doucet, but not really. Julie Doucet—I love her stuff so much—but we’re also so different because she does dairy comics and I don’t. But I thought, Man, it’s so cool how she’s telling those terrible fucked up stories in a way that you don’t feel depressed afterwords. It’s a miracle actually, haha.
What were some of the first things you did right out of school? What were your prospects at the time? I always had side jobs of course, but I think when I graduated I had to look for a real job. I went to this warehouse kind of thing for clothes and worked there for a year. On the weekends I would—it was so embarrassing—I was a mascot in a bear costume at a really stupid mall. That was so terrible. I think the whole year after I graduated was terrible. I was poor as fuck and I also didn’t get anything done, and it really messed with my self-esteem being in this bear costume. I kind of lost track of what I really wanted to do. I would think, I want to be an artists, but I don’t know how to do it. Then, I don’t know how it slowly because a thing where it was financially sustainable, but I think that progressed slowly. I’m really lucky that I’m living in such a cheap city because the financial stuff really isn’t a threat. If worse came to worst, I could live off of something like 700 euros. I don’t want to go back there, but it’s possible definitely, and that’s also a bit of a relief. But I never really did commercial illustration up until like two years ago or something. I don’t know what I did actually, haha! It started a bit with the first book, Von Spatz, when that came out in Germany and France. From there on I got a few more little teaching jobs and some com-
“It was my first longer book. Still, up until now, I have a hard time planning a book from the beginning to the end. ” mercial stuff. It slowly progressed from there. If you have the sort of spectacle that everyone can enjoy, you can insert the thoughtfulness or intellect that gets people to think about that they’re looking at in a much more subversive way. I mean I’ve never thought about how much of an influence on me Calvin and Hobbes was, but it really was. It was funny and it makes you think a little bit. Sometimes I’ll read independent comic books and I’ll be like, “Fuck this shit.” It’s too heavy handed. I’m not having fun reading it. But it’s hard to do that. To make something funny and entertaining, and making you think Wow, that’s really cool. Books do that more for me. It’ll take me forever to read because I’ll get caught up. I’ll write a sentence down sometimes after I’ve read it in a book. That shit is crazy, and that’s where writing can get so insane. How did you develop the idea for Von Spatz? How did you start working with the publisher that put it out?
to make a book now, and a comic book would be really great! I was just fantasizing for about a year or longer before I started working on a book about a place for artists that was a paradise. Jail came to mind a little bit, haha. I know it’s a fucked up thing to think, but just because you have a lot of time. I saw a bunch of photos in tabloids of the Betty Ford clinic. I think I mentioned it to you before, but I saw that photo of Lindsay Lohan with the ankle monitor and electronic cigaret. I always felt for those people and I was like, Where are they going? When you google the Betty Ford clinic all you see is this wonderful thing that looks like it had a golf course and was like a gated community or something. But what’s going on inside? I felt like it must be wonderful and it’s probably expensive as fuck. So I thought, Something like this, but only for cartoonists—that would be the best! I also thought that it shouldn’t be a comic about myself or mental issues that I have, and that it should be a bit more universal. So I made the main characters Walt Disney, Tomi Ungerer, and Saul Steinberg.
I was about to graduate and I thought, Now I really want
It was my first longer book. Still, up until now, I have a hard time planning a book from the beginning to the end. I also don’t do the storyboarding or things like that. I drew it in chapters and I had a bunch of chapters ready that I kind of tossed it around to get them in order. I showed it to this publishing house, Rotopol, and to my surprise they were like, “Oh yeah, we would do that!” I was so happy—I didn’t expect it at all. I was like “Oh… That’s wonderful!” and that of course gave me more motivation to finish it. I think with Von Spatz I totally over drew, and I ended up throwing out about 40% of the book. It was so stupid, but I’m glad the thrown out parts aren’t in the book. I didn’t plan it very well. I don’t think that should happen again. That’s not very economical, haha. I worked on it for a bit in Vienna and I showed it to my friends who knew nothing about comics—they were fine artists. I was like, “Hey, do you want to have a look at my comic book?” and they were like, “Sure!” Then they read it and they were like “Wait, so there’s three main characters? This doesn’t make any sense.” and I was like “Shit. It doesn’t make any sense. Fuck…” Of course I had to just pick one, and it was Walt Disney, and somebody else had to tell me this, haha.
How did that book then lead to you doing The Artist series? I think Von Spatz came out in May of 2015, and I think in the summer of 2015 Nick Gazin wrote me an email just asking if I wanted to do a weekly VICE comic series. I was like “Oh god, yes! I’d love to do that! But I just don’t know what it should be about…” Because it was weekly, the topic had to be a bit more sustainable and I needed a bigger topic that I could drag on for a couple of weeks. I felt like I had no clue about anything other than being an artist. After Von Spatz I wasn’t really done with the topic because it’s endless. It can be so personal and so universal at the same time. I had the idea to make it very plain and just call it “The Artists” and that way it could be any artist and it could jump in time and genre a little bit. So I tried to keep it very open from the beginning on, so that I wouldn’t dig myself a into hole. What was the reception like for that series when it came out? What did it change for you about your ability to do what you wanted to? I mean, I didn’t expect it to be such a breakthrough for
“I had the idea to make it very plain and just call it “The Artists” and that way it could be any artist and it could jump in time and genre a little bit.”
“I try not to deliver him in a way that’s making fun of him. That would be the worst way to talk about artists in general. I don’t want to be judgmental” me. I had no idea who would read it of course. It also had such an effect back in Germany because, I think once people over the ocean in American are saying “Oh, this is good.” Germans are more likely to believe it and are like, “Oh yeah, of course this is good.” But it was a bit later— way later. So it helped out a lot back in Germany. The biggest difficulty was to come up with something weekly. I thought that was a bit tough. I split it into seasons, so I’d have breaks within the series. But I think the deadline was always on a Sunday, so I would end up working through the whole weekend for something like half a year. I was so unsocial, it was terrible, haha! I mean, I liked being in the studio—I actually loved it. But I just felt like, Oh god, I barely see my friends and I’m not really around, and I’m always saying no to activities people invite me to. This is not so good. So with the new season, I’m trying to finish it first and then release it, so that I don’t get under this pressure.
What themes do you notice yourself gravitating towards in your work?
I use common stereotypes about artists and around being an artist a lot in my work. Being unsuccessful, being poor, being a bit of a shit socially—all of the negative privileges about being an artist, haha. But I try to toss them around a bit, so that you kind of feel for the main character a little bit. I try not to deliver him in a way that’s making fun of him. That would be the worst way to talk about artists in general. I don’t want to be judgmental like, “Look at this! Look at you! Isn’t this funny?” But I think now I’ve gotten a bit away from using the common stereotypes. I think I’ve done enough episodes about this whole “misery” and I’m starting to go more towards the more successful sides of being an artist. I mean, it’s still going to be miserable of course, haha. But I’m trying to swim away from the common, old fashioned perceptions of artists.
What has the comics community done for your life outside of your professional practice? How has it affected or enriched your quality of life in general? I’m so happy that there is something like “the comics community” haha. It almost sounds like visiting a camp where everybody is naked and jumping around, haha. But for me it’s always been nothing but great to go to any festival in the world and meet people who are like minded. I barely meet assholes! It’s so rare that you think, Ooo this person sucks. It almost never happens. I mean, other people who are traveling have to go on Tinder or Craigslist or whatever to find their peers—it must be so hard. But I think for us comic artists, we just go to a festival and then you make friends there pretty easily. I think the comics community is nothing but wonderful in real life. Online, maybe not so much, but in real life I think it’s very nice, haha. Yeah, there’s almost this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde relationship to the community IRL and the community
online, haha. But you must have an interesting relationship to it since half of it for your involvement is going to fairs around the world and then the other half is being isolated and having to rely on the internet. How has that shaped your attitude about it? I mean, I’m taking advantage of the online portion of it, just through the exposure of the social media I use. But other than that I try to stay away pretty much. I don’t interact much. I mean, of course with private messages I use it, but not publicly. I don’t have the urge to interact in big discussions or something. I find it too dangerous and maybe too private sometimes. It’s slippery ice, haha. But I totally see the benefits of it—I’m not damning the internet. But for me, often enough, it’s really scary to just open up Twitter and see something terrible happening there. I’ll just close it, and after six or seven or eight hours, it’s over. It’s like a thunderstorm and I don’t want to be involved in that.
“But for me it’s always been nothing but great to go to any festival in the world and meet people who are like minded. I barely meet assholes!”
“My friends and I—when we graduated, we thought it would be really cool to organize something that represents people like us.” How did the first Millionaire’s Club festival come together? What has been your goal with doing that comic fair? I think 2013 was the first one. Leipzig—the city that I’m from—use to be this big book city before the war. It was the biggest in Germany, and still they have this international book fair going on, which is quite important for everything else but comic books. My friends and I—when we graduated, we thought it would be really cool to organize something that represents people like us. People who were doing comics, screen prints, wood-cuts, small publishers—whatever. We thought, It’s not so hard to find a place for that in this city. Why not try it and invite the people whose work we really really like. We kind of tried to invite the world to this very small place and make it really nice. Up until now, that’s really been our goal. We’re not hunting for big names necessarily, but we’re into artists who are not widely known in Germany. They might
be known in their home countries, but probably not in Germany, and we really want to bring obscure stuff—stuff people wouldn’t normally see or look at—to the festival. We’re constantly trying to make that happen with the help of grants and government money. How have you seen your work change over time? What direction do you think it’s taken recently?
I mean it’s definitely changing… Maybe that’s for other people to judge that, but it’s changing constantly because I also get bored a lot. I mean, right now, I’m bored of my color pallet, that’s for sure. Even just the whole comics format. I was working very conservatively with The Artist where it was six panels and there were speech bubbles. Everything that’s in comics, you would find it there. I’m moving a bit away from that at the moment, back to more color layers and a wilder mix of graphic structures. Also my way of story telling is changing—at least for the next
book—a whole lot. You can never tell, but I always know when it’s enough. When I’m in the studio and I start drawing I think, Ugh, I’ve drawn this before. I’m bored. And that’s always the time when I change stuff up. There’s usually a traumatic break where I’m like “I can’t draw this anymore!” and there’s two months of not drawing and being miserable. Then all of a sudden, new stuff emerges. What are you working on at the moment that you can talk about? I’ve been working on The Artist season three. It’s a whole different kind of way telling the story—and in a very old fashioned way a little bit. I don’t know… It has to be a smasher, haha. I feel that it has to be good. But it can also fail big time. So I’m really excited about it. I think maybe 1/3 is done already, and I hope I can reach the goal. I really want to make the book a bit bigger and the colors should be better. The whole look of it should just be a smash—maybe a bit like Drifter. But yeah, I don’t know if I can maintain that level I have in my head. Are there any projects you’d like to embark on, that you don’t have the time or money for at the moment? I mean, I would love to do a children’s book. That was never a thing I wanted to do—never ever actually. But the idea is growing on me, and I think since two or three weeks ago I’ve been thinking, It would be so nice to do a children’s book. It’s not like I’ve never had the time for it, but I hadn’t ever thought of it. Maybe that’s something
I will think about, even though I know nothing about what children are like. I would totally illustrate it for someone else too. It depends on the story. But I would also maybe like to draw my own story, if I come up with a good one, haha. What hurdles do you still see ahead of yourself? What do you still struggle with in the work that you make? At the moment I’m really lucky and happy because it’s been safe for a year or two, financially. So that’s not a hurdle anymore, thank god. But I think the biggest hurdle is just not repeating myself and boring people. It can happen with The Artist quickly. That’s why I change it up a lot, story-wise. But I think if I don’t recognize how I repeat myself, that would be a big terrible thing. That would be the biggest failure I think. At the moment I think I still realize, Okay this is enough for me, but also for the reader it must be enough. I feel it a little bit. But I think this is the biggest kind of struggle or fear that I have about my own work. Other than that, I often think maybe it’s time to be more political. Even though I don’t want to get political in my work—I feel like I wouldn’t be good at it—but looking at the world, sometimes it feels a bit naive to draw little birds in times like this. But maybe it’s not. Sometime I think maybe I should add more to society. But maybe that’s a struggle artists have in general. You feel a bit useless from time to time. Though, deep in my heart I feel as though, if there is no art, we are done. We’re definitely doomed and left to brutality and death without it.
“Deep in my heart I feel as though, if there is no art, we are done. We’re definitely doomed and left to brutality and death without it.”
by MATTHEW JAMES-WILSON
Since teaching himself how to record music as a teenager, Liam Betson has been laboriously constructing an abstract
musical tapestry of his life. The New Jersey native grew up in what now seems like the fertile crescent for bedroom and garage songwriters in the late 2000s, located within the boarders of Glen Rock and Ridgewood. The small pocket of the state was the stomping grounds for Real Estate, Cassie Ramone, Julian Lynch, and Titus Andronicus—a band which Liam has been in and out of since he was a teenager. Although his salad days were spent among a burgeoning scene, Liam’s musical practice has always been about pushing himself as an artist. Through a consistently evolving catalog or releases, Liam has spent the past decade eviscerating the tropes modern pop and rock music, with his uniquely personal and off kilter songwriting.
Through shear determination and will Liam has recorded a singular sounding album during each phase of his life, always
adapting to the tools, surroundings, and collaborators at his disposal. Despite the idiosyncratic nature of his music, Liam has inspired dozens of contemporary songwriters with his atypical lyrics and intimate recordings. This summer Liam has released his sixth home recorded masterpiece (his fourth release as Liam the Younger) entitled Music for a While. The sprawling release is continuous in his tradition of making something that sounds unlike anything he’s made previously, and he has self released it on his imprint A Learning Computer. This summer I had the chance to speak to Liam about the history of his work, and the two of us recorded the following conversation in the same living room in his Toronto apartment where he recorded his new album.
I’m from New Jersey. I grew up in a town called Glen Rock, New Jersey and I was born in Englewood, New Jersey. I live in Toronto now, and have since 2013. It’s going on five years as my permanent legal residence.
ing with friends, and then I moved to Canada. But I think since I’ve left I think it’s got even more upwardly mobile. They’re building like an astro turf baseball field there. I don’t know anybody that lives there anymore since my parents moved away. The past is the past, and I’m not going back.
What was your experience like growing up in Glen Rock? Do you have any distinctive memories from your childhood there?
What role did music play in your life early on? Was there a music community at your disposal growing up?
I always forget everything, I feel like. You know people that can quote movies? Like they saw Wayne’s World as a kid, and they can recite it all of the time. I saw all of those movies and I can’t remember even what the plot was. So I feel like I’m kind of a space cadet or something. I have childhood memories, but none that are coming to mind right now. The town Glen Rock is sort of like a nice middle/upper class suburb near New York City. Lot of people would commute on the New Jersey Transit trains to Manhattan and work there. A friend of mine framed it where, Glen Rock on one side borders Ridgewood, New Jersey which is an even wealthier and “nicer” suburb, and on the other side it borders Paterson, New Jersey which is sort of a post industrial city that’s predominately low income. I’m not an expert, but I think Market Street in Paterson is suppose to be the East Coast heroin capitol. So Glen Rock is in the middle of those two things.
From when I was an infant apparently, I would do the thing that Infants do, which is not sleep and cry all night. I was born around the time that Full Moon Fever by Tom Petty came out and so—I don’t remember this, but according to my family lore—my dad would be cradling me in the middle of the night while listening to “Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty and playing air guitar with me as the guitar, haha. That would get me to fall asleep. Last year I got to see Tom Petty playing it live, and I was like “Wow, this is like full circle.” And then he died four months after I saw him. So I just caught it when I was an infant and then recently when I was 28 and now he’s gone. “Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed was another one. That’s definitely a childhood memory—listening to “Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed and being obsessed with the song because my mom had a Best of Lou Reed tape. In retrospect that’s a pretty funny song for a four or five year old to be into, with lyrics like But she never lost her head, even when she was giving head, haha. I’ve always been really into music.
Where are you from and where do you live currently?
I moved away from Glen Rock in 2013. My parents sold their house there and I wasn’t really living anywhere for a bit and I was touring with Titus Andronicus and stay-
A bunch of my friends had bands in high school because people would have shows in their parents basements and at the VFW halls and all of that. I assume for a lot of small towns near major cities, it’s not that unique to have kids starting bands in high school and playing in their garages. I guess because of our access to New York City, a lot of the people I played music with in high school then would go on to continue to have music be how they made a living, which I think is somewhat less common. New York, being an epicenter for independent music, made it easier for people to play good shows and get coverage and all of that. At what point did you start writing and recording your own music? I’m just going down memory lane right now trying to remember things. When I was a kid I wrote a song called “Asbestos.” This was when I was like six or seven, and I wrote it because my grandmother lived in Franklin Square, NY near Queens and she had asbestos in her pipes in her basement. My mom told me, “Okay, you can’t go down there because they’re going to remove the asbestos. It’ll kill you.” So I wrote a song called “Asbestos” that went, Asbestos killed my mother, asbestos killed my father. Asbestos killed my sister, asbestos killed my brother. Asbestos killed my whole family, except for me and my band. So I guess that was the first song I wrote. Then when I was 13 or 14 i started using Microsoft Sound Recorder. This was like before Garageband when Dell and Gateway computers where big and they had like pentium II processors. We had a desktop tower computer running windows, and it came with this program called Sound Recorder. I don’t know if they kept developing it to be more sophisticated, but when I was using it in the early 2000s it could record minute long audio clips if you had a microphone. Me and my friend would make joke songs on Microsoft Sound Recorder. Then when I was like 14 finding out about stuff like The Microphones and Bright Eyes and that sort of DIY folk music you could record in your bedroom. So suddenly I was like, “Okay, so if I go to Guitar Center and get a cassette four track, I’d then have the tools with which to make music that sounds like this? It’ll be real and acceptable for it to sound like this, and I really like it!” So when I was 14 I started doing my own solo recording stuff and messing around with that. I have multi-faceted interests in music, and I was also really into punk at the time—I still like it too—so with my friends I was doing punk bands, and we’d play shows in garages. That band was called VCR and it was a garage punk band that just played loud and fast. Good for being 15, haha. How were you finding out about music like The Microphones around then? Was there someone or something that made you aware of it? I don’t have a memory of someone being like, “Check this
out…” I have an older sister, but she wasn’t like super into music, so I didn’t have the archetypal older-siblingthat-shows-you-music. I think it was just the internet. The internet was sophisticated enough in 2004 or 2005 where you could find out about music through whatever blogs. Tower Records still existed then, and there was a Tower Records that was a 15 minute drive from my house. They had really good CDs for the stuff that I was interested in. Even shit like 120 Minutes on MTV—mass media stuff was good, and that’s how I heard Sonic Youth and all of this stuff. On MTV post-midnight they would play independent music. But The Microphones, I don’t specifically remember how I found it. Will Oldham—like Palace Music and that stuff was really big for me in high school. I don’t really remember how I came across that. I guess my friends probably showed me. My friend Sarim (Al-Rawi) from the band Liquor Store—he was in that band VCR that I played in in high school, and he’s always just had really good broad taste in music. He showed me Will Oldham and the Black Lips and a lot of punk stuff. How did you come up with the idea for your first, Death Cult Cave, that you made as a teenager? I have this aunt who lives in San Francisco, and I went out with my mom to visit her. While I was out there I got that Microphones album It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water on CD at Ameoba in San Francisco. I remember listening to it and thinking, This seems feasible to record music myself, even though I don’t know what I’m doing. Those Microphones records are well produced, but they still have that atmosphere of “It’s just a guy doing it.” I don’t exactly remember the time line, but after that I got a four track and was like, “I want to make music and record it on this thing. I’m 14 years old and I don’t want to make music that’s about love or relationship stuff or the usual tropes of song writing.” Those are all well and good, but I was just adversarial to it. I loved listened to Bright Eyes but I hated what the songs were about, haha. I liked the way it sounded and I liked the instruments, but didn’t know why he had to be singing about this stuff. I still feel that to a certain extent about people relying on tropes and cliches. “I’m a singer songwriter, so I’ve got to sing about drinking whiskey an being a cool guy.” I don’t like that. So I was like, “I’m going to make a whole record.” and I came up with the idea of it being something about a death cult. I am, and have always been interested in weird stuff like Waco and Jonestown and this American cult history. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been interested in that. So I think I wanted to make something that was like a concept album—but not something that was linear and went from point a to point z. Usually when you write songs you sit down and decide, “Alright, I’m going to write about how I miss my baby.” but I was like, “I’ll do it about a death cult.” I’ve never really been one to record a song for no specific reason, where I’d just sit on it and decide whether or not to show it to people. I’ve always been like,
“With Death Cult Cave—I mean, I was 14 or 15. I don’t think I even had a microphone stand, I would just put the microphone on a table.” “I’m working on an album.” Since that Death Cult Cave album I’ve always decided to write however many songs about a cohesive idea. At least in my mind, it’ll be cohesive. So that’s what I did, haha. What was the process like making the album from scratch? With Death Cult Cave—I mean, I was 14 or 15. I don’t think I even had a microphone stand, I would just put the microphone on a table. It doesn’t sound good, but I like it! It’s like watercolor. You can do oil painting, you can do photography, and I just decided I was going to do finger
painting, haha. I think it was the summer going into ninth grade maybe, and I would just sit in my parent basement in the middle of the night. I’d go to sleep super late, at like 2 or 3 in the morning. All the stuff I was recording with was borrowed basically. I don’t think I had my own acoustic guitar at the time. I borrowed my friend’s guitar, I borrowed a kick drum and a floor tom from my friends. There’s some stuff where I’m hitting the kick drum—but like not as a drum kit, just as random percussive moments. But it seems like a dream now, because it was 14 years ago I guess. I would just be in the basement writing and recording at the same time. I’d write a song that day and then record it that night for the most part. I would just
ride my bike around that summer to come up with ideas. When you first start something you’re like “Wow! I was actually able to record a guitar and my voice, and I can press play and hear it, and it’s new and exciting.” You’re not really stressed about making it sound better or it being not exactly what you want. When you first start doing it, you’re like “This is like actual magic.” I try to keep that in mind when I’m recording stuff and getting frustrated, just to mellow out and not worry, like when it didn’t occur to me to worry about it. When did you first meet Patrick Stickles, and when did you start playing music together? I can’t say for sure when I first met him, but we both grew up in Glen Rock and his dad’s house was actually really close to mine. He’s four years older than me. He’s closer to my sister’s age than mine, so I probably met him in the neighborhood at some point, but I wasn’t friends with him when I was a kid. In high school he was in a band called The Library of Congress. Some of the best shows I ever went to were the open mic night at Ridgewood high school where the Glen Rock kids would go and play. You’d think, This is incredible! because, like recording music for the first time, it was magic then. You could name any successful band, and you could go to the Bowery Ballroom and see them and think, That was great! But as you get older you become more aware of how it’s all done. I still get exited seeing a good show, but I’m now aware that these people have been away from home for three and
a half weeks. Maybe they’re not getting along and their monitors aren’t working. They’re tired and they aren’t feeling completely in awe of what’s going on maybe. But when you’re 14 playing in somebody’s basement, you’re like, “Wow!” So I definitely get nostalgic about seeing his bands play. It was Patrick, Andrew Cedarmark, our friend Sarim, and some other guys who played in the band. So it was like the cool older kids playing this music that I thought was really good. They were like a real band, and as it turned out, they went on to become “real bands” and tour and all that. So being 14 or 15 and seeing them play was so cool. Then I started playing in a band with Sarim. So I just met Patrick because we went to the same high school. He was a senior when I was a freshman, but it was a pretty small high school, so I just met him in the hall ways there and I’d see him at parties and stuff. But I was in a punk band with Sarim, who was really good friends with Patrick. So The Library of Congress ended and became Titus Andronicus, and they still played some of the same songs and had some of the same members. Titus has always had tons of people coming and going. At some point when I was like 16 or 17 one of the guys who was playing guitar went to college or something, and I was still in high school in New Jersey. Patrick was still going to college in New Jersey and he asked, “Oh, do you want to play in the band?” and then I joined. So I think I was friends with him at that point just through playing. I basically got to know him through the Glen Rock music scene. But theres no real origin story other than that.
“You’re not really stressed about making it sound better or it being not exactly what you want. When you first start doing it, you’re like “This is like actual magic.” I try to keep that in mind when I’m recording stuff and getting frustrated.”
“I don’t view it as a job, but in the same way that you have a day job and then your own practice, Titus is like a REALLY good day job with some of my best friends.” Did you play in the band for a while before making that first Titus album, The Airing of Grievances?
I graduated high school in 2007 and I was playing in Titus with Patrick, this guy Ian Graetzer who’s garage we would practice in, my friend Ian Dykstra who was the only other guy in the band who was my age and drummed in Little Big League and is one of my best friends. So probably around 2007 I joined, and then we recorded the first Titus album in July of 2008 I think. Titus started in 2005 if I rightly recall, but I wasn’t in it until 2007, then we recorded that first record in 2008. After that this period of being in and out of the band sort of started. I started going to college and they started touring more, so I did tours in the summer and winter breaks, but then they’d get other people. Amy (Klein) joined while I was in school and she played with them for a while. So, I was playing with Titus for about a year or a year and a half before we recorded those songs. We were really close to New York City—it would be like a half hour drive to go play at Cake Shop. We played shows in the Lower East Side and in Brooklyn, and did that for about a year. It was really loud and it was really messy, which I was really into. I was really into sloppy music. But
people would get angry too… haha. I didn’t play this show but, they played at a college in New York—Pace University I think—and they saw in the student newspaper really really negative criticism about how loud and sloppy and out of tune it all was. I thought that was cool though. I mean, we would try to be in tune and have good volume and play tight together, but it was like the intentions of The Ramones or something. The Ramones were like, “We want to sound like The Beach Boys.” but they were just too stupid to come anywhere close to sounding like The Beach Boys, haha. Did that experience of being a part of a band that’s ultimately someone else’s project change your attitude about what you were doing with your own music? Yeah, I mean it must have. With Titus, I have always and continue to, view it as Patrick’s band. He writes the songs and I play rhythm guitar in it—so I’m not even coming up with solos or anything. I always just view it as, “A really good friend of mine makes music that I like and I get to play it with him, and that’s cool!” but I get no sort of ego satisfaction when people are like “Wow, that was really great!.” I think it’s cool that my friend makes this music that people really like. But I don’t necessarily feel really
artistically or creatively fulfilled. It’s not like it’s unfulfilling, it’s just like a social thing for me where I get to hang out and travel with my friends, and see America or where ever we’re traveling, and I get to play music for people that are into dancing at shows. But because it’s not music that I write, when it comes to my own stuff it almost seems unrelated. Obviously being friends with Patrick for so long and listening to his music for so long, there’s going to have been some influence in the loose sense of ambiently picking up on his style of songwriting. I’ll play a show and it’ll be like “Liam the Younger (ex-Titus Andronicus member)” just because they want to frame it for people. Or a record will come out, and if Stereogum is writing about it and doesn’t care, they’ll mention Titus. And I’m not upset about it at all—but it’s not like “If you’re a fan of Titus Andronicus, you’re going to dig this.” or “If you don’t like Titus Andronicus, your not going to like this guy’s music.” I feel like I’m in that band because I’m friends with the guy, not because I’m making creative contributions—and that’s positive for me. I don’t view it as a job, but in the same way that you have a day job and then your own practice, Titus is like a REALLY good day job with some of my best friends. With my own music I don’t really think about it. But because they’ve had some level of success and I haven’t, people are often like “Oh, it’s a Titus related thing.” which is fine, I just don’t think about it that way. When I’m in this room we’re sitting in, writing a song or recording a song, I’m not doing anything much different from when I was 14 before I was playing in any other bands. When did you start putting music out with the label Underwater Peoples? At the time it was this guy Evan Brody, who’s from Ridgewood and who went to high school around the same time. He’s a bit older than me and I didn’t really know him in high school at all, but through the music scene, there were all of the people who he generally knew. He was playing in bands and stuff and he was the first person I knew who was involved with Underwater Peoples. Then there was Ari Stern—really great guy. Him, Evan, and this guy Mike Mimoun all went to some college in DC together. Julien Lynch, who was also from Ridgewood, knew them and he put out music with them. Also the Real Estate guys were from Ridgewood as well, and they knew Evan Brody and through him met the rest of them. I honestly don’t know the origin story of the label but I assume it’s something like, “We know people making music! Let’s put out their music!” I self-released an album called Revel Hidden Worlds around the time that they were starting. I think I was maybe talking to them about putting it out, but I was like, “I really want to put it out myself.” I was really knit picky and I wanted to try to do the process myself. But they did these compilations of songs by all of the bands in their general
universe, and they put my songs on them.” I guess, really the only thing that they released of mine was these reissues of After The Grave Yard and Clear Skies Over Black River where I did a joint thing with them and we both put up some of the money to get these albums that I put out in 2007 and 2008 on vinyl. I had kind of known them for a long time, but I didn’t work with them that closely beyond doing those reissues. Was it surprising to you to see all of this music from where you grew up finding an audience outside of New Jersey? It seems like there was a really high saturation of songwriters who came out of a couple of high schools within a few years there. It wasn’t! It’s like what I said before with seeing Patrick’s band in high school. When Martin (Courtney) started Real Estate—Martin was making music in college, and I didn’t know him that well other than through the New Jersey scene, but when I made a new CD-R I’d mail it to him and he’d mail me his solo thing. Some of that stuff ended up being Real Estate. So I thought, “Oh he’s a really good songwriter. And Patrick’s a really good songwriter too.” and in my mind they were better than Clap Your Hands Say Yeah or whatever was being pushed at the time, haha. So when they started actually getting noticed and stuff, I thought, Yeah, of course. I was more opinionated back then. But I wasn’t surprised. They were proper real bands. I almost think about those first three Liam the Younger albums as a trilogy because they sounds and look so similar and you made then in such quick succession. What was it like writing and recording those three albums? Yeah that’s fair to say, haha. Those were still done the same way—just recording music in my parents basement. For Clear Skies Over Black River I did half in my parents house and half in my dorm room. I went to a college called Manhattan College which is in the very north of the Bronx—not Manhattan. I would just record on to cassette tapes and write songs about whatever weird stuff I could think of. Again, instead of writing about how I’m love sick or feeling lonely or something, I wanted to write about other things. I feel like my music is sad sounding, but it’s sort of tongue and cheek. If the impetuous of being a singer songwriter is to express some sort of forlorn love issue, I would just sing about staring at the ceiling or something instead as my joke on subverting the trope—which isn’t like a great joke, haha. So I was doing that shit, and then I bought a reel to reel eight track off of craigslist. Me and my dad drove into Manhattan together and got it from this dude. He just opened up his trunk and there was this Tascam 38 half inch eight track. So I started experimenting with recording on that. At the time I was nervous about recording. I didn’t have
“I got all of these records mailed to my parents house. It was only 300 records, and I screen printed 300 record covers.” the processing power to record onto a computer well, and I felt like a lot of the self produced music on computers in 2008 or 2009 sounded really bad. I thought, Well if I’m doing it on to tape, it’ll still sound bad, but in a more interesting textured way. The Microphones and all of that stuff I was into was very analog based, so I was interested in doing it that way. So my dad bought me this eight track in college and I was recording with it in my parents basement, and it would break constantly. I was losing my mind for Revel Hidden Worlds. The machine was super heavy and very complex. If you look at the schematic of it you can see that there’s a million different parts that could break, and I’d get it fixed because of stuff like, “Oh, the capstan melted, so the tape won’t spin.” There were like four of five repairs that led to a horrible recording experience because of my lack of knowledge. I had enough equipment to record, but I did that entire album without any compressor or external pre-amps, other than my really shitty mixing board that I got off of Craigslist. I just did it with two SM57s, so I was recording a drum kit, my voice, my guitar, and my bass just going through a guitar amp. It was very rinky-dink, so the fact that it kind of sounds like music, I’m proud of that.
What was it like writing the songs for each? What do you feel distinguished the albums from each other? I was recording After the Graveyard in 2006. I mean the thing is, all of this stuff is kind of make believe. I was like “I am making an album.” but in the music industry, typically you record an album, you have your press cycle, the album is released, you continue the press cycle, you tour for a certain amount of time, and then depending on your budget you continue having a PR person sending emails for it. That’s totally fine, but not enough people care about my music for me to be part of that industry. But still in my mind I’m like “Oh yeah, I’m recording an album and I’m releasing it.” as if it’s important. It’s like fun fantasy stuff to me. So when I was 16 I was like, “I’m recording these songs that have this general theme.” I don’t remember what it was now though. But I was definitely deliberately writing a collection of songs and being like “I’m working on an album which is the follow up to Death Cult Cave.” So I “released” that, meaning I made some cassette tapes and some CD-Rs, and I gave them to the people who’s music I liked, like Patrick. The biggest achievement then, which I was so psyched about, was sending the album to John Dwyer. In high school I was really into the band Coachwhips, which was John Dwyer’s band the preceded Thee Oh Sees. OCS,
“From start to finish it was just insane. From recording it on broken stuff, and then not having anything to mix it down onto because I didn’t have a computer.” which was very bedroom-y folk-y home recorded stuff, and that was a big influence on me in High school. There are a handful of OCS records, and the last one that they put out was a double CD that was like 30 songs and they cover Elizabeth Cotton on it and all of this shit. Then he started self releasing Thee Oh Sees records on Castleface, so I bought the LP Sucks Blood from him and mailed him $15 cash in a CD-R case with my album in it. I was like, “Here’s my album After The Graveyard.” not even trying to have him put it out. I just wanted this guys who’s music I liked to hear it. Then he mailed me back the album I bought and wrote on the envelope “Loved your album! Viva la basement!” and I was like “This is so fucking awesome! This guy who’s music I like listened to the album!” So that was a crowning achievement. So I released After the Graveyard and I was like, “Alright, now I’m going to start working on the follow up.” Now the specifics are lost, like what exactly was my motivation song to song and what I was trying write about. I was a thoughtful guy, so it must have been something specific. I know a lot of people who are like “Writing lyrics is the shittiest part. You just have to do it. That’s how the sausage gets made. You have to have some phony lyrics to get people to think you’re saying something.” I’m not saying that I’m saying anything important, but part of the fun is coming up with weird lyrics, so I was into that. So, Clear
Skies Over Black Water—that was 2007 and 2008. Then Revel Hidden Worlds was 2008 and 2009, and it broke my brain trying to make it because my equipment didn’t work. Then it came out and I got the vinyl pressed in 2010. From start to finish it was just insane. From recording it on broken stuff, and then not having anything to mix it down onto because I didn’t have a computer. My friend Sebastian who I went to school with was like, “Oh, I know this guy Geoff Duncanson.” He lived in Mt. Vernon, New York, and my friend Sebastian lived there to, so he was like, “I know a guy who has a recording studio in his basement. He’s running protools and logic on his computer. I’ll ask if we can bring your eight track there and mix your album onto his computer.” I don’t remember how many trips it was ultimately, but I mixed Revel Hidden Worlds in Geoff’s basement. I don’t really know him now, but I spent a few hours with him in 2010 mixing this album. Then I sent it off to get the record mastered and I got the plates made for a vinyl pressing. A guy in California pressed it—Bill Smith Custom Records. I recommend him from my experience in 2010. I don’t know if he’s still around or not though. I got all of these records mailed to my parents house. It was only 300 records, and I screen printed 300 record covers. Then I just had a website and I told my friends “Oh, I put out an album.” and it was just for sale online. It didn’t even occur to me to email people
to get coverage for it on a blog or whatever. i was just like, “I put it out! Here it is!” There must have been some way that people heard about it. I mean, it didn’t sell well, but some people bought it. It didn’t even occur to me that you should do press for something. That was also when people were still putting albums up on MediaFire. I would put out the album and be like, “Here’s a MediaFire link!” Myspace was around, but I don’t think you could put a whole album on your Myspace. Myspace was aesthetically really ugly so I kind of abandoned it. Those were the glory days of finding out about music by typing in anything like “Ornette Coleman, Shape of Jazz To Come” and then just putting “MediaFire” at the end. You could find anything and just download it onto your computer. That’s just gone now. I wanted people to hear it, but I just didn’t know how the process worked. I think if I knew how the process worked, I would get an ulcer. I don’t believe in myself enough, or I don’t have enough confidence to handle interacting with people. I mean, I could interact with people, but the business side of it—I don’t have the wherewithal to do it. But I’m happy just doing things my way for the sake of my mental health. Yeah it’s interesting to see how the organization of information and sites is already so different on the internet now. Your ability to find things easily is sort of just based on who pays to be the top google result in certain cases now. There’s some wikipedia style title for this phenomenon of the first page of Google being the representative of reality. If it’s on page seven of a Google search result, people may was well think it doesn’t exist. People don’t dig deeper and they think that, Well the first page of Google is a naturally occurring phenomenon, so the first page is the best page, and that’s where the information is. We’ve reified this system of information gathering that’s an insanely recent invention that seems to be used to shape and influence power structure. It’s like the whole thing with Net Neutrality. When the fight for that was ongoing, I have to admit, it was very difficult to understand what the fuck Net Neutrality actually was. I’m for all of these smart people who are like, “We have to sign this petition! We have to stop them!” I wish there were easier ways to violate copy write on the internet—I want the internet to be insane. Not like going-on-the-silk-road-and-hiringa-hitman insane. But you know, being able to get shit that should be in the public domain, and free access to information. But while reading these statements about Net Neutrality you just start getting confused. It’s such a complicated thing. The internet, which use to be a huge open network of free information, is now mostly controlled by a few companies. They have software on youtube looking for copy written material, and Amazon is hosting cloud service for the CIA. It seems like it’s heading down a dystopian route. But I’m just lamenting MediaFire, haha.
I wish MediaFire was still around. You’re a really unique songwriter in that you pair really abstract concepts with really vivid scenes. How have you crafted your voice as a writer? What things have influenced the way that you write? Yeah that’s a good question. That does seem to be my methodology for writing. I don’t read a lot of poetry. Like I said earlier, I’m never consciously like “I want to try to write my lyrics like so and so.” but obviously there are songwriters that have influenced the way that I write. As I mentioned earlier, Will Oldham’s lyrics were important to me. Cass McComb’s lyrics, I really like. I guess what motivates me to make music is; I hear a song and I’m like, “This song is incredible. Magic is real.” and I get excited to make make my own music or cast my own spell. What I really like in lyrics is subverting tropes and having the room to be weird. You could try to do the Bob Dylan B/A archetypal poetic songwriting—and this isn’t a knock on Bob Dylan—where you try to have a received wisdom and write songs that try to express the same wisdom and contribute to the tradition of bland American songwriting. I don’t really have people in mind who are doing that—I don’t really know what’s going on. But for myself, I want to be able to be weird. You have your everyday speech—you and I are just having a conversation—but with songwriting and writing poetry or any sort of word art, you can use language in a different way that doesn’t need to make sense or that gets you to express your thought in a mystical way. But not in a Bob Dylan way where you’re like, “Marmalade Umbrellas” or just saying stupid psychedelic imagery or something, haha. I’m trying to get something very specific across, but using abstraction to do that. Yeah I feel like your writing is almost closer to something like Cubism. It’s not about glorifying something or capturing something precisely, it’s more about taking something and extracting elements from different perspectives of it, and then putting it all into a framework so that the listener has to sort of figure out the puzzle themselves. Yeah I agree! I don’t know nothing about Cubism but that sounds right, haha. Songwriting seems to be very much about generalizing and drawing on universal themes. Then the joke is being super specific about some weird thing and singing about it as if it is a general and unifying theme that people can relate to, even though it’s totally not. I think that’s really funny and exciting. So I like doing that. But I also do try to have actual sentiments. On the new record that I sent you I say “I’m afraid of nuclear war.” which is true. So I’m not trying to completely burry my head in my own little world. I try to have a little bit of everything. A lot of different spices in the pot. I haven’t really thought about it, but that’s a good way to say it.
“ I’d say the album The Cover of Hunter was sort of a dividing line.” You’ve obviously been making music for a huge portion of your life, but at what point do you think you started writing in the way that you do now? How have you seen your writing change over time? That’s a good question, and again I must reflect, haha. I’d say the album The Cover of Hunter was sort of a dividing line. All the records before were Liam the Younger, but I did that one and the subsequent record as Liam Betson, my birth name, just to create a dividing point. Now with this new record, I’m going to do it as Liam the Younger again to try to connect them all more. With that I was trying to feel very unconcerned with rhyming. In songwriting
you tend to rhyme, and in our society rhyming is encouraged in the music we listen to. The most popular form of music right now, rap, is seemingly the ultimate expression of insanely good rhyming. I’m not a cultural expert, but it seems like rap is a little less concerned with rhyming now, which is really funny. This thing where you were valued as like a “god of rhyming” has gone beyond that, and you can just say signifiers that don’t even need to rhyme. I don’t listen to a ton of new music of any genre, but I know people get angry about stuff like, “Lil Yachty can’t fucking rap!” I’ve never listened to Lil Yachty, but it’s just cool that there’s someone successful within the genre thats suppose to be about rhyming that’s not good at it. Saying
“Soundcloud rappers can’t rhyme for shit.” is like it’s own phenomenon right now, which is funny. But for The Cover of Hunter I was trying to have it be a bit more free and less concerned with stuff like, “Well I have to come up with a rhyme for ‘lazy.’ I guess it’ll be ‘crazy.’” Not that I was super concerned with it then, but when I was in high school writing songs, it was more natural for me to do that. I still rhyme somewhat, but I’m more trying to get my point across directly, but by being indirect. Are you familiar with sigils? I’m not an expert in this, but I did successfully use it once, so I believe it potentially does have some power. You’re first suppose to have some intent like, “I want to get $100.” and then you make a symbol representing your intention to get $100. I don’t remember if you’re suppose to destroy it, or if you hide it, but your intent is manifested in this thing and at some point through this sigil magic you’re suppose to invest your will and get the thing. It’s just some magician shit, haha. I haven’t consciously tried to do this, but with what we were talking about with lyrics and being abstract and specific, there is a specific intent behind my lyrics and what I’m trying to accomplish. But with sigil magic, you’re suppose to make it and put it somewhere so that you forget about it and not focus on it. With lyrics, in high school it was more about traditional songwriting, and from The Cover of Hunter on, it’s been more abstract and about, “I have some specific thing I’m trying to do, but I’m trying to willfully forget it to have it ambienty have an effect.” I don’t really sit down and think about that, but now that we’re sitting down and thinking about this shit, I guess that’s what it is. I’m also not an expert, so maybe I’m getting sigil magic wrong, haha. But from the one time I tried it in 2010. it worked. I can’t talk about it, but it did work. Were there any specific artistic works that impacted your writing at the time? This book here. This book by William Gaddis, The Recognitions—it’s really thick. I read this when I was finishing up Revel Hidden Worlds. It’s a very dialog heavy. How many pages is this sucker? It’s over a thousand pages in this edition, and it’s all a very unique writing style. I remember thinking, This is an insane book. There’s all of this dialog, but then also, the radio will be in the background and what is being said on the radio is interspersed through out a conversation between two people. Neither of the characters are identified by name, but he’s a good writer, so as you read the book you’re like, “Oh, that’s this person speaking because they have these vocal ticks.” So I was influenced by the idea that you could just cultivate your own style and just go and do your own insane thing. There’s no negative consequences to that if you just don’t talk to people about it or ask for their feedback, haha. This book was critically reviled when it came out, so it also has a great story behind it. With this book, everyone hated it and it got totally panned, and he didn’t write another book for like 20 years or something. Then that following book,
which is in the same style as this one, won the National Book Award fo Fiction and everyone was like, “Oh, he was a genius!” What aspects of becoming a professional musician and releasing your own music have been meaningful and what has been disillusioning about it? Well what’s been meaningful has been meeting people and making friends. Traveling and touring—I’ve done little tours for my own music which were really fun. But with Titus, being able to go spend three weeks in the UK or whatever, or go to Barcelona—it’s fun to get paid to travel around with your friends. I mean, a lot of it is just staring out the window of a car, but I love doing that too. Playing shows is really cool too. After you do it over and over and over again and you literally see behind the curtain, you’re like, “Okay, this is what it is.” For my personality performing can sometimes feel weird, but it’s cool overall. So playing shows is a good part of the music industry. As far as the disillusioning things, there are really cliquish people and people power tripping. It seems like where ever you go people will power trip. I was just talking to my friend last night about the Toronto art world, and someone was like, “Oh I run a gallery, so now I get to be mean to people.” Or sometimes it’s like, “I play in this band, so when I meet you I don’t have to make eye contact with you.” I don’t think that’s unique to music though. In the world it seems like people do what they can to be mean, haha. I don’t totally know how the music industry works, but I know that it involves paying publicists and sending emails and having money. I know it involves having a Doritos stage at SXSW. So shit like that is obviously not exciting. But I don’t have a better system. I’m not invested enough to be like, “We have to come up with an anarcho syndicalist music scene where.” Speaking of anarcho syndicalist music, the owner of from Plan-It-X records had a sexual abuse thing that came out about him. So even with the label that helped support folk-punk—a genre I will not defend, haha—that’s suppose to be true DIY, can still be corrupt. What aspects of making music have discouraged you from continuing and what aspects have invigorated you to make more? I’ve gotten bummed out feeling like I’ve put so much effort into something and then thinking “Well, who cares?” But also, if you think about it, you can’t expect anyone to care about what you do, so I’m always trying to feel like, I’m doing this because I like it, I’m doing it because it’s fun, I’m doing it to make something that I think is good, and I do it to feel a sense of accomplishment. Then if I show it to people and they’re like, “Yeah it’s cool or whatever…” that can really hurt your feelings, haha. You feel like, I’ve spent so long working on this and I think it’s really good. But evidently, people don’t always think that. That doesn’t
Photograph by Alexandra Jean Auger
bum me out too much. I mean, I’m getting older. I don’t really believe in myself that much, but I try not to get down on myself ever. So just to do it to be like, “I think I made something that’s great.” is good, and whether people like it or not—maybe I’m out of step with the world, but that’s okay. I still want to keep doing it because I want to build a body of work and use it to measure the passage of time in my life and see where it goes. I also just do it to have fucking fun and to do something that feels good to do. It’s like reading a book or watching a movie or something. Just do it. How would you characterize the most recent album you made? What did you feel like you wanted to express on it that you hadn’t with other albums? Well all of the songs on the album were written and recorded on that keyboard over to the right there. It’s a synthesizer, but you can’t like edit the sounds, there are just electric presets. I never learned how to play keyboard, so I’m not really playing it in a sense where I’m doing one thing with my right hand and one thing in my left. It’s very droning. I’d hold the chords and write really long songs somehow while writing on an instrument I didn’t know how to play. So the songs came out really long, which is great. I love that the songs are very long and very droning. So I’d describe the album as long and droning, haha. I wanted to try to make it feel like there was forward momentum. I
got a laptop last year and I downloaded actual recording software. I like recording stuff on tape, but for what this was it would have been too much. For the amount of time it took me using a computer, it would have been ten times longer using tape, and there were certain things I wouldn’t be able to do. So I was using drum programing to make percussion. There’s a lot of four on the floor kickdrums. If there’s percussion than it’s dance music. So it’s like long droning singer songwriter dance music, haha. It’s a Liam the Younger album because—I’d start working with somebody new at my job or meet someone, and we’d talk about music and I’d be like, “Yeah, I make music.” and they’d be like, “Oh, what’s your band? What’s your thing called?” and I’d be like, “It’s Liam Betson… my name.” It’s just like easier to have that conversation if you have a band name or a moniker. So it’s really just that. There’s no deeper thing behind that. Liam the Younger is something I came up when I was like 14, and I like it still so I’ll use it again. So then when I’m talking to someone and they’re like “Oh, what’s your band called?” I don’t have to be like “It’s my name.” Every time I make an album—every album—I’m like, “This is the best thing I’ve ever done.” and “This is a refinement of everything I’m trying to do.” and I feel that way about this one. The trend continues. I think everything I’ve done is good, and I tried really hard to make it good and to
“I’d hold the chords and write really long songs somehow while writing on an instrument I didn’t know how to play. So the songs came out really long, which is great. ”
express myself, haha. All of the albums that are just me singing with an acoustic guitar, compared to this where there’s literally no guitar—it’s not some sort of calculation or deliberate attempt to do something new and crazy. It all feels like it’s coming from exactly the same place. It’s just a different tool which I’m using to get to where I’m trying to go. The album also sounds the way it does because I recorded it in this room that we’re sitting in, and obviously you can tell, if I was playing a drum kit or a loud guitar people would be like, “You have to stop. Shut up.” But with the keyboard and the computer I could just do it all in this little room. Was I talking to you about Pink Narcissus? Yeah, it’s this film that has this huge expansive world, but it was made with paper mache in his little Manhattan apartment in the 70s. It looks so crazy, and clearly home made, but is still beautiful. That was an influence just in terms of “I could try to make this world just in a room that’s just one of 50 units in an apartment building.” My parents moved into a house with a basement, so while I was sending off this new album, Music for a While, to get mastered, I visited them and was recording with my buddy Ian with drums and guitar. So that’s still on my mind, but this was a way for me to express myself in an apartment building. But now I have a way to do live stuff again because my parents still live in Jersey. When did you move to Toronto and how has it affected the music you’ve made here? I moved in 2013 and it’s been affected in that I don’t really know a lot of people who play music here. I know some people who play music here, but I’ve spent so many years cultivating relationships with my friends that play music in New Jersey where it’s like, “Oh, I’ll go over to Ian’s house and play music with him in his parents basement?” Here I know a handful of people who play music, but everybody has day jobs and I don’t really know anybody that books shows. When I was living in Jersey and couch surfing in New York, I was friends with Adam (Reich) and Nora (Dabdoub) who did Shea Stadium, so I could be like, “Oh could I get added to a show?” Or I could email whoever at the Silent Barn and get added to a bill. Here I just know less people and I have less of a relationship with the music scene. Doing music here is very insular for me, where I’m not really playing with other people. I’m just doing my own thing, which I like. So it’s just the reality of not knowing as many people here and being in an apartment building. It’s like the materialist perspective of why the music I make is the way that it is. Are there any projects that you’d like to embark on, that you just don’t have the time or money for at the moment? I mentioned one time to my friend James who makes movies, “You know, it would be fun to make a screenplay to write and film a movie.” I said that to him off hand, and
every time I talk to him he’s like, “Hey dud, did you write that screenplay yet?” But I have no intentions of doing that, haha. But it’s fun making art that you haven’t really invested all of this psychic energy into. For me, music is the thing that I’m always working toward and thinking about. But I identify as a musician, and you I would think are like, “I’m a visual artist/curator.” You have your thing with FORGE, and you[re presumably putting a lot of psychic energy into that and caring about that. But you can be like. “I’m going to try joining a recreational soccer league for leisure and fun.” or “I’m going to start painting for fun.” where you aren’t stressing about it. I don’t know… I guess I should get into screen writing or something. But it seems like so much fucking work. Of all of the stress that I’ve had recording music, movies seem so insane. I don’t know, I guess I don’t want to rock the boat because I feel mentally healthy. I guess I wish I had money just to afford a studio space in Toronto. If I had extra money every month to have a warehouse of music shit, that would be cool. But that’s not going to happen, so I’m not worried about it. It’s all good how it is. What hurdles do you still see ahead of you with the work that you make? What do you still feel like you struggle with as an artist? It’s hard just getting started. A lot of life, I find, can be like, “Ugh, I don’t want to do anything.” Not even being depressed, just being tired or weary. Sometimes I don’t want to sit down with a guitar or a keyboard. I don’t want to hear my voice, I don’t want to hear my thoughts. I guess having low self esteem is a hurdle, haha. The feelings of “I suck.” and “What the hell am I going to say?” Then eventually— so far for the past however many years—I get some idea and then it starts building and finally I’m like, “Well, I have to do this. I want to do justice to this thing that could be really cool.” Then I work on it for however long, and the process starts over. I’ve been feeling pretty mentally healthy lately and not getting too discouraged about myself. I started recording a follow up album already. I like having the sort of loud thing and the quite thing and always having them go simultaneously. So maybe I’ll start working on something in here in my apartment. You just have to find the reason to get excited about doing it, and not just watch TV and not think about anything. So far it’s always come around. But the hardest part is just getting motivated. It’s very easy just to not do anything. I feel like that’s sort of the impetus. If we really are going down a dystopian path—we live in hell already, granted—but if we end up in a black mirror type hell where nobody has any desire to do anything other than doing mediated things and interacting with technology, I don’t want to end up doing that. Even when I’m down and not doing anything, if I can still do this, that means that some part of me that existed before the internet was everywhere still survives.
JOSH DA COSTA
by MATTHEW JAMES-WILSON
Josh da Costa is a musician and songwriter full of dichotomies and unbound by any creative limitations or obligations.
After spending a childhood in Connecticut and his teenage years in Brussels, Josh found himself at the end of high school with dreams of a life in California. As a teen he became fascinated with the culture and music that came out of the West Coast, but settled for moving to the East Coast when it came time to leave home so that he wasn’t too far away from his family. In 2008 at 18 years old, Josh arrived in Brooklyn and within days discovered the flourishing DIY music scene there. Since then, Josh has worked within almost every facet of the independent music industry, from performing in bands, to working for record labels, to community organizing. He’s regularly played with the likes of Drugdealer and Chris Cohen, fronted his own projects Regal Degal and Confusing Mix Of Nations, and contributed to the cult electronic label RVNG, all while employing the same enthusiasm and optimism he’s had since he first arrived in New York.
I saw Josh perform in various bands in New York before properly meeting him for the first time in Los Angeles at a party
in Frogtown. The two of us recognized each other, but couldn’t put our finger on our first interaction. We rattled off mutual friends and experiences in New York, and slowly began to bond over a shared memory of New York’s DIY scene from the past four years. A few days later I asked Josh if he’d be interested in doing an interview for the magazine, and within a week we had the following conversation in the back yard of his home in Highland park.
Where are you from and where do you live currently? Well, I was born in New York City—in Manhattan. I grew up in Connecticut until I was ten, and then my family moved to Brussels, Belgium. Then when I was 18 I moved back to New York, and eventually I just ended up here in LA, where I live now. What was your experience like growing up in Belgium? How do you think your experience differed from your friends who grew up here in America? Pretty quickly upon arriving in Belgium, my parents found a house that was in the city, as opposed to the suburbs, where I spent the first couple months. I was blown away by living in the city—especially a European city. I think it was part of my parents sort of “agenda” to allow us the kind of freedom that comes with living in a city. When I lived in Connecticut we lived pretty close to New York, and I think my parents could sort of see into whatever parental crystal ball that they have, that a lot of the kids we were growing up with were not really allowed to go into the city—and for good reason I guess—even though it was like a 45 minute train ride away. I think they wanted us to explore, but I think the idea of letting a couple kids roam around New York City was really daunting. They’re not American, you know? It’s funny, my mom grew up on a small island in the Dutch Caribbean called Curaçao, and she couldn’t wait to get away. My dad grew up in The Hague in Holland. I think by the time he was like 15 he was going on crazy little holidays to Spain and driving
sports cars and shit and doing crazy stuff. So they both grew up different, but they both knew that we would enjoy living in a city and be left to our own devises—but not left too unsupervised. When was like 11 I was already going downtown with my brother, who’s three years older than me. We would just have fun in the city. A lot of our friends who were living in the suburbs—they would always come and hang out at our house. Our parents made it super inviting, so that we would have friends that would be able to come stay with us. My parents were always welcoming and made it comfortable, so that we wouldn’t want to just stay out all night long. We would want to come home. They were down to have our friends over and make dinner for us, so that their parents also knew they were safe. So it was a pretty good balance. That way we were able to just have fun and be free, but also have good company with our friends who were aloud to come hang with us. They were stoked to leave the suburbs and come to the city. I’ve kept up with a few of my friends from Connecticut— I’m not super close with them. Some of them are doing amazing things in New York or even LA possibly. I have friends who grew up in the states who don’t really talk about their high school or middle school experience. I can trace back some of my fondest memories to the middle school cafeteria. I still look back on that stuff fondly, and I still hang out with some of those kids that I know from Brussels who are all spread out through out Europe. I’m not as nostalgic as I use to be, but I’m sentimental about going to school. It was well tempered with a nice school
environment and it was nice to be able to have fun in the city. Are you formally trained at all in music, or are your primarily self taught? I started playing drums when I was four. So I loved music from a super young age, and I was able to express it from the time I was really young. I mostly taught myself up until I was 12 or 13. Around that time, someone had advised that I take some drum lessons, just to brush up on technique. For half a year I took drum lessons from a guy in the Belgium countryside that was a session drummer who also played with Celine Dion or something, haha. So I did that for half a year. Around the same time the same thing happened with guitar. I was always noodling around on guitar. Then in high school I took guitar lessons as a sort of extra credit thing. I think with both guitar and drum lessons I took like one thing away from each. They were such specific things too. In the case of drumming, being taught to use as much force with both hands and feet and not just lean on one or the other— that helped me out in a big way. Just being balanced with left-right coordination—I became sort of ambidextrous with my drumming. With guitar it was just learning the chromatic scale, which is a shredder’s bread and butter. That cemented something. It laid a small foundation for me. When I was a kid my parents also made me take piano lessons, which I hated, but it came in handy. So it’s a little bit of both. Mostly self taught, but the basics and some building blocks stuff I learned. What sort of role did music have in your life growing up? Was there any sort of community for it at your disposal where you grew up? My parents listened to a lot of music. They turned me on to The Beatles when I was like three or whatever, haha. When they got me a drum set, it was pretty much married with my love for The Beatles and Ringo. Apparently my mom was sort of faced with two options around the time of my fourth birthday, because it was when Jurassic Park came out. She was either going to buy me some Jurassic Park toy or a drum set. Apparently I wasn’t that into Jurassic Park, so she chose drums. But I still remember having a toy raptor, so I think I somehow ended up having both, haha. That’s kind of my life story—I pretty much have my cake and eat it. But I remember being really down with music. The Beatles were our favorite band, but then Green Day was my first favorite band, because when I was five Dookie came out and I was watching MTV all of the time when I was really young. I was obsessed, so that’s kind of how that started. As far as the culture of playing music and making it into a lifestyle, I’m not sure. Growing up in Brussels was interesting because there’s a weird dichotomist thing where I was very independent in one way, but I was also still really sheltered. I went to what is essentially a private school, and that school was a bubble. A lot of kids would come from all
over the world, but most of them lived in the suburbs and didn’t really have a life outside of school. They weren’t too integrated in Belgium society or culture. I had both because my parents were friends with lots of Belgians and we lived in the city, so I was aware of life outside of my school. But a lot of my socializing came though the school. Even playing music, I only had bands with kids I went to school with. It wasn’t like I was going into the city, meeting musicians and playing live. I didn’t play live music for real until I moved to New York. I hit the ground running because, when I moved to New York at 18, I joined a band immediately and had played at the Silent Barn with in two or three months. After you finished high school in Brussels, how did you make the decision to move to New York? My motivation was to eventually get to LA actually. New York was sort of like this stop gap things that I thought was the middle ground option. It was like an appeasement where I could be closer to Europe than California is. There’s a three hour time difference between New York and LA, and a nine hour time difference between LA and Europe. That six hour to nine hour time difference is actually a huge deal. I’ll lose touch with my family pretty easily out here, whereas in New York I can still be on the same day and you can kind of be on the same page. We also grew up not too far away from New York and my parents both lived and worked in New York, so I think it was easier for them to imagine me there. But they had no concept of what it would be like to move to California. Neither did I! I also didn’t drive ore anything at the time, so it made more sense for me to be in a city where I could still walk around and rely on public transportation. I have a cousin who lives there and at the time he was a bachelor, so he made it possible for me to crash with him and he kind of looked after me for a bit. I was suppose to go to The New School, and I didn’t, haha. I was just like, “Yeah yeah, I’m going to go to school!” but I never did. I ended up getting an internship that became a job at a record label, which also still plays a huge roll in my life as far as my creative direction. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I was really really obsessed with the idea of California, and specifically LA, because a lot of music I liked came from here. Slowly but surely I found my way in here. What was your first impression of New York once you moved? As soon as I got there the first day, I realized New York is run by people. It’s really just people power. There’s so much energy and it’s really inspiring. Even though I was really out of my depth and really naive, I was comfortable in a city. It was almost like this blind optimism that I had. I think that kind of freaked a lot of people out, haha. People were very confused by me because I was from another country, but I was still pretty American in a way. I was a fluent English speaker and I was just really down with being around people. I was like 18—I wasn’t even of legal drinking
“I was just really happy to be out and be productive. I still think those two things go really nicely hand in hand, being social and just making things happen.”
age—but I was super down to go out. It wasn’t even like I wanted to go out and get wasted and fucked up because I was free and out of the nest, I had already kind of gotten that out of my system. I was just really happy to be out and be productive. I still think those two things go really nicely hand in hand, being social and just making things happen. When I got to New York I joined a band immediately called Dinowalrus, which is still active. When I got to New York they hadn’t been active. They were just two guys that had been looking for a drummer. Somebody found me on craigslist. I did two things; I put an ad out for myself as a drummer and as a songwriter because I had a myspace with songs that I had recorded in my basement in Brussels—which I still think is the best thing I did—and I put out an ad that was also looking for bands. We found each other, and they hadn’t played live yet, but when I joined they realized they could do it. They took me to the
first show I saw in Brooklyn, which was Silver Apples at the old Silent Barn. With in three months we played there. I think we opened for Titus Andronicus. I got pretty busy pretty fast, and through those experiences and playing in that band, I met people that I really wanted to make music with. Even though I had put myself out there as a drummer, it wasn’t long before I wanted to really start putting my own music out. Then I found people that could help me do that. When did you start working at the label RVNG? What did that experience introduce you to? Well, around that same time in the fall of 2007, I was 18 and part of my sort of fixation on LA and my obsession with the culture here was through this very important, life changing, and mind expanding mixtape that this guy Jimi Hey made. I discovered this person because I was
really into Ariel Pink’s music and also these bands like Beachwood Sparks in high school. I found him because his name was spelled J-I-M-I like Jimi Hendrix, and I was like, “Who has the audacity to spell their name like this in 2007.” But for some reason I was drawn to this person because he made this mixtape. I didn’t know anything about him or the music that was on this tape at the time, but I downloaded it and I became obsessed with this mix. It was like my bible. I feel like I’ve told this story so many times—it’s just amazing. I can’t believe I’m still talking about it. I was talking to Jimi yesterday about it. I was talking to him about why it was such a special thing because at the time I was still home and very comfortable, but I knew that there was a huge life change around the corner. I was about to graduate high school, I was supposed to be studying for finals, and I was studying this mix instead. I did mushrooms for the first time around then. It all went hand in hand because I was open to this whole new experience of listening to music. I downloaded it off of this website called Lovefingers.org which was an MP3 blog thing that this DJ, Lovefingers, had made. I would just check this website all of the time when I was living in New York and I was totally clueless about what I was going to do. One day I was checking the website and I saw that Lovefingers had put out a 12” on a label, which was RVNG. I didn’t know anything about RVNG, but I went to their website and found these monthly playlists that I thought were really cool. I was like, “Oh, this is kind of my shit.” and I emailed the very sort of generic info
email address. Then I went to Austin for Thanksgiving to visit one of my best friends and she had told me about this thing called Viva Radio, which was the American Apparel in store music service. I didn’t really know anything about it, but I got back to New York and had gotten a response from Matt (Werth) who was running RVNG and at the time was also managing Viva Radio. It was really strange that those two seemingly disparate things were actually done by the same person. It’s also an amazing online radio thanks to his direction. So I ended up working for Matt at RVNG doing things for both the radio and the label, and I met tons of people through that. I think my first day at the studio, Andrew WK came in. Tons of bands would come in and I’d just hear tons of records working next to Matt listening to music all day and helping him with all aspects of the label. I was doing mail order, writing copy, and writing to artists asking them to contribute stuff. Around this time ten years ago in 2008, SXSW was coming up and I was sort of tasked with coming up with the Viva Radio showcase. I was just given a list of artists that were playing, and I kind of had my pick of the litter. I remember thinking, Wow, I’m so excited about this and I’m probably the only person I know who’s excited about this. That’s why I’m doing this. So that’s sort of what that job did for me. It made me realize how much I love music and that I’m just down to follow my excitement. Even just talking to Jimi about that mix was a testament to how much he loved music and how much I loved music and that brought us together.
“I ended up working for Matt at RVNG doing things for both the radio and the label, and I met tons of people through that.”
What was the first personal music project you started working on while living New York? While I was working at RVNG and I was playing in Dinowalrus. I was kind of feeling unfulfilled because I liked what we were listening to at work, yet the records that the label was putting out were a little headier than the music I was interested in making. RVNG was putting out a lot of electronic music, and even though I’m super down with electronic music and I’m more into DJing now than I was then, we were listening to a lot of Flying Nun records and psyched out post punk mystery records. Then in Dinowalrus we were very much a product of that time and all of the DIY spots, and the guys I was playing music with were a little older than I was and they were into Black Dice and Health and noise stuff. I love Black Dice now, but at the time I didn’t, partially because I hadn’t seen them live, which is essential. I was kind of like, “Where are the songs?” you know, haha. I didn’t really know how to reconcile my style of making music with what was happening around me. When I came from Brussles I had been making music myself in a basement. It was kind of jangly, melancholy, blissed out guitar, bass, and drums music. But there was no edge to it. It was very sweet. I knew that that wasn’t what I wanted to bring to the table, but I definitely
wanted to bring songs to the table. At a certain point I was aware that I could do it myself, and that if I started it myself, I could bring other people into it and eventually I could have a band. I knew that there were places that we could play because I was at them all of the time, and it was a combination of seeing bands that inspired me and seeing bands that I thought sucked. I thought, If they could do it, we could do it. By the time we played the first Regal Degal show I was 20, so it was a couple years after I moved there. That was the first band in New York that was like my band with my friends. What things did you know you wanted to do differently with Regal Degal? What did you start to learn through doing it? For better or for worse, I think we kept it pretty mysterious. If you came and saw us it would just be three people doing something. It’s not like we were shrouded in mystery, but we were definitely comfortable with being low-key because we knew that if you were in New York you could see it and it was available. We didn’t think we needed to be famous, we were just like, “As long as we get to play Monster Island Basement, we’ve made it.” Even just playing
“We didn’t think we needed to be famous, we were just like, ‘As long as we get to play Monster Island Basement, we’ve made it.’”
Death By Audio, which was practically our living room, felt like a great achievement. We didn’t really have ambitions that were too far beyond New York. At the same time, I was convinced that if you could make it in New York, you could make it anywhere. So I was like, “Hey if we get big in New York, maybe we can tour in Europe.” and I loved the idea of touring in Europe. I always had this weird nagging feeling that in leaving Brussels, I kind of turned my back on something that was actually more authentic than anything. If you come from Brussels and you make music in Brussels, you’re definitely in your own self contained world, and it has its own exotic appeal. But I kind of traded that in to “make it” or something. So I did want to bring it back to Europe at some point, and my taste only turned to more weird obscure music that was coming from a city like Brussels. I’m obsessed with these labels that were Brussels based from the 80s, but that only kicked in when I was two years deep into living in New York. I was like, “Wait, why did I leave Brussels?” We just wanted to make really cool weird music that wasn’t super reliant on samplers or electronics. I just wanted to make guitars, bass, and drums music that was still intriguing. I wanted to try to reinvent that wheel, and that was kind of what we did! Not to say that we pioneered
anything. I don’t think reinventing the wheel should ever be anyone’s intention, haha. You know, the wheel is the wheel… fuck it! So we just played weird spaced out guitars, bass, and drums music. We were pretty lucky when we moved to LA two or three years later. We moved here and we were warmly received. I’ll never forget the day before we got here. We were in Las Vegas at a hotel and Dean (Spunt) from No Age hit us up because he had heard us on WFMU through a friend of ours who had an amazing band called Silk Flowers who were one of our favorite New York City bands. They were friends with Dean, so he invited us to play whenever we got to LA. We eventually did open up for No Age and he put out our first full length on his label. When we moved we lived sort of like a monastic life in this house. We didn’t go out that much, people came to us. We didn’t really try to set up shows, people would ask us. We got to play with Black Dice, we opened up for The Clean, we played with bands at The Smell—we just did a lot of really nice LA stuff. It was fun, but I think we played it cool sometimes and that limited us because we didn’t make it easy for people to understand what we were doing, which had its draw backs.
“I don’t think reinventing the wheel should ever be anyone’s intention, haha. You know, the wheel is the wheel… fuck it!”
“The artwork for the album was essential. I was determined to frame this image that I had of New York, and to me it was best exemplified by this pattern that was on the floor of the subway in certain MTA cars.”
One of my favorite things you put out with that band was the album Speckled Fruit. I’ll never forget the eureka moment I had listening to it on the subway in New York and looking at the album cover. What was the process like making that album? One of my favorite things you put out with that band was the album Speckled Fruit. I’ll never forget the eureka moment I had listening to it on the subway in New York and looking at the album cover. What was the process like making that album?
That record was sort of like a companion piece with a tape that RVNG put out and made a very limited supply of. In our first year as a band we compiled a lot of practice space recordings and experiments. It’s a very polarizing release. Some of it represents us in our most true form as
a live band, because we were just shredding away in our practice space. That was kind of the engine or our band— just jamming. But there were also these weird experiments that were made as afterthoughts or meditations on what we were trying to do. Some of it was a way to expand our palette. Even though we were kind of a noisy punky band, we were into all kinds of weird shit. At the time I was really into bands like Young Marble Giants, Faust, this guy John Bender, and just other weird stuff. I was really into EPs and I wanted to make an EP really badly, so we just took the first batch of solid songs that we had, recorded some of them at our drummer’s place in Bushwick, and then went to this studio in Philly that was recommended to us by some friends who ran the label Famous Class. Our friend Cyrus (Lubin) that ran it now runs Less Artists More Condos which is a series that’s kind of related to Domino
Records I think, and it was named after a venue that was really short lived in Manhattan. They told us about this studio and Philly and we recorded it there. It was actually a really weird time going to Philly in the middle of the summer and recording the songs. Seeing a bunch of women fighting each other in the street, seeing a guy with hook hand getting screamed at by another man in a restaurant—just weird shit that happens in Philly, haha. The artwork for the album was essential. I was determined to frame this image that I had of New York, and to me it was best exemplified by this pattern that was on the floor of the subway in certain MTA cars. I thought it was beautiful, and it really reminded me of one of my favorite records at the time, which was a Flying Nun record by this band, The Verlaines. They had this EP called 10 O’Clock in the Afternoon, and I loved the artwork for it. I really loved the design of the subway floor and it really meant a lot to me because our band really loved being where we were and making music in New York. I think we just wanted to profess our love, but not in a loud way. It’s right there underneath your nose, but it’s only for the people who are taking their time to notice it. It hits people years later. But if you notice it, you notice it, and that’s all it is.
first lived here. But when we went back to New York we hit our rock band stride, haha. Then I was kind of like, “This is cool, but I don’t want to live a double life where I’m in a rock band, but by night I’m some sort of disco maestro.” It sucked because all of us were into that kind of music, and we didn’t want it to be some sort of compromised experience where we were in a rock band but were also like “Yeah, but we don’t really like this kind of music…” I’m still playing in “rock bands” as a drummer right now because I’ve been playing with Chris Cohen and Drugdealer, which is cool! But I’m really happy to have a project now where I can really integrate what I love about the records I have and the records I play for people. It’s super exciting to be able to marry those two things without feeling like I’m shutting out a whole huge side of my musical personality. So that’s kind of how I feel about the environment I’m in out here. You could see this house and you might think, Nothing about this screams night life. But that’s kind of why I love LA. To me, it’s pretty blank and it’s really whatever you want it to be, whereas New York sort of imposes itself onto you. You can take that and run with it, but if you’re looking for a bit more flexible creative outlet, this is a good city.
How do you think New York affected the work that you made there? How did your work changed once Regal Degal decided to relocate to LA?
I know Terrible Records sort of has a history in both New York and LA. Did you start working with them while you were still in New York or after you guys moved here?
First of all, walking really jogs my creative process. Just walking anywhere will make me think a certain way. I’m already always thinking about music, but if I’m walking somewhere, it gives me either enough time or ample time to meditate on something. But it’s a strange kind of mediation in New York because the walking you do is never really casual. It’s always deliberate. I would power-walk my little ass off and that’s how ideas would come. But honestly, I was kind of unsatisfied with that after a while because I felt like the ideas I had were a little too urgent or a little too anxious due of the energy. I definitely embraced the idea of moving to LA the first time I did it with the band because we would have the time and space to work differently. At the time this house, that I still live in now, was a designated band house. We had the studio set up in the back and we could play the drums at virtually anytime, day or night—and we did! We took advantage of it, but it wasn’t sustainable. So we kind of used this house as a sort of workshop for ideas. We had people come and stay with us that would also help us make music. After about a year of that we decided to go back to New York, which was cool in the sense that it really helped us mobilize again and get energized as apposed to just being here all of the time and sprawling out. Then, after being in New York for another year and a half or two years, I was flirting with LA again and I came out here and I was so inspired. It really seemed to go along with this growing love affair with dance music and disco and electronic music that we sort of toyed with when we
Terrible is run by my friend Ethan (Silverman), and we were friends before Terrible ever released anything of ours. When we moved here for the first time in 2012, we had started working on a bunch of music. We already had a record that I was mixing that Dean from No Age put out on his label, Post Present Medium, but that was basically him saving out ass. That record was orphaned for a second, and he kind of took care of it. But we didn’t have a plan to put another record out with him—not that we didn’t want to, that just wasn’t really the discussion we had. But then we started making this EP. I always kind of wanted to put a record out on RVNG, but I always kind of felt like it wasn’t appropriate because it was a conflict of interest since I was so closely linked to it. It was a personal thing, and I just didn’t feel it was ethical or something. But then again, it wasn’t really my choice, haha. So I talked to Matt about it, but Matt and Ethan are really good friends, and Ethan was down to do it, so I figured, Well, might as well do it with Terrible if Terrible is down. Ethan embraced this new direction that we had chosen and he was down to put out an EP, and it pretty much all came together by the time we moved back to New York. We mixed it right before we left here with a friend of ours. Jimi Hey, who I mentioned, was a huge part of that EP and it was a nice souvenir of our time in LA. Then Grizzly Bear took us on tour that summer, which was definitely some nepotism on account of the fact that Chris Taylor was the other half of Terrible, haha. After that tour we started writ-
ing a whole bunch of new stuff because we were stoked to be back in New York and to have this new lease on life. We spent the greater half of 2013 writing what would become our next record. We decided to put out our full length with Terrible and Chris Taylor produced it. It was pretty quick in a way. The recording was quick, but it took a while to mix and overdub and all of that shit. That was the last thing we did with Terrible and it was the last thing Regal ever put out, besides a tape that came out a little while after. But yeah, that’s how it all went down with Terrible. It was friendship all the way. What was changing about New York around that time and what made you decide to move back to LA again? I mean, stuff had already changed when we lived here the first time. Zebulon closed in New York, which was a bummer. I never really played or did much at the old Zebulon, but I did like it and it definitely signified the end of something in Williamsburg when it closed. A lot of places had already ended or moved. When we went back to New York there were still a lot of places—Death By Audio was still there, a different version of Secret Project Robot was there. But when I decided to start coming back to LA— which was a gradual process—that coincided with Death By Audio closing. The funny thing about us leaving LA as a band was that, as soon as we left, this venue opened up called The Church on York. I remember everyone was super stoked and energized by it, and right when I came back it had just closed. So I was like, “Okay, well I missed that.” haha. But then other stuff started happening in LA. When I started to move back Zebulon LA was incubating and there were rumblings already. I knew they had a spot because a friend of mine was going there to consult and check in on them and tell them what he thought. I was excited about that and I knew that it probably meant good things for LA, and now three years later Zebulon is like my home base as far as what I do musically. I love that place! Those guys are super supportive, and they’ve pretty much given me carte blanche to do whatever I want there. I mean, they did that once, but it’s a huge gesture to me that they even did that. Also Jimi Hey DJs there almost weekly. They really nurture someone like that, and he’s grateful. I’m super stoked about that! I’m really happy. I think it’s a great place, but it’s not the only thing happening here. There’s a lot of stuff happening. Even up the street there’s The High Hat, and The Lodge Room is around the corner. When I moved here five or six years ago for the first time, it wasn’t as inviting, and I kind of liked that. I liked how it was sort of a weird no man’s land culturally compared to New York. The Smell was ongoing, but still changed with the time. You could ask somebody who moved to New York in 2011 about Todd P shows or Market Hotel and they’d be like, “Yeah, it was amazing!” Or you could ask somebody who moved to New York in 2004 about Todd P and DIY shows and they’d be like, “Yeah, that was all
we had.” haha. There’s two different ways of looking at the same thing, and I think The Smell is the same thing for some people. Some people are like, “Yeah it was cool, but it was kind of the only thing we had anyway.” and then some people six or seven years later were like “That was a special time and place, and we chose to go there. It wasn’t the only thing, but we chose to go to that thing because it really meant a lot to a lot of younger people who were inspired by what that previous generation had done with limited resources.” So I think LA is kind of in that place right now where it’s a nice marriage of new establishments and new values, but you can still forge your own little path in a DIY culture if you want to. And maybe some people don’t like that because there are too many options. It’s weird. It’s a strange time, but I’d say the more options the better. What do you feel like you’ve learned from playing in other people’s bands versus playing in your own band? How has that dichotomy affected your career as a whole? Playing in other people’s bands is so case by case. I’ve played in other people’s bands that have been so hands off that I could get away with pretty much anything I wanted to do, and I love that! Then I’ve played in some people’s bands where you kind of have to walk on eggshells, but that’s also appropriate—everyone has their own leadership style. And not even just the personalities, but the music—some bands you have to be super faithful to what the music is, and in some bands you can just do whatever you want. They’re both fine. But being in my own band is another can of worms. I have to make a lot of decisions, and sometimes I love that and sometimes I wish I didn’t have to. Sometimes I’d rather have someone else make those choices for me. It’s really weird… It’s kind of weird just knowing at a certain point it’ll have to be one or the other. I think right now I can juggle, but it depends. It changes from day to day. Sometime I wish I only had to work on my own stuff. But then there are other times where I can see the benefits of doing all of it. We’ve obviously mostly just talked about the positive sides of it, but what can be some of the downsides to doing things in a DIY way? DIY is funny because you can interpret it in many ways. I’d say the two most obvious are DIY meaning grassroots and unconventionally non-commercial through people power, or there’s DIY meaning you do it completely by yourself alone. I’m not really a fan of the latter, because I believe in collaboration. I love working with people and I think people can help each other and it’s always better to have more hands on deck. So, you know… It would be cool to have a bunch of money so you could make the thing you wanted to make. But that comes hand in hand with other people’s opinions and other people’s resources. But then there’s the sweet spot of DIY involving a lot of teamwork
“When I came out here again by myself and ended up working on music by myself, and I was trying to make music that was more inline with the records that I was listening to and DJing.” and collaboration. People are all doing stuff together for the love of it, so there isn’t that much money involved, but people are happy to donate their time and energy and resources. That’s kind of where I’m at right now with my new band. I’ve basically just been working with people who are happy to help, even though there’s no money in it. I’ve also just happened to hit a stride with the way I’m able to record and make music so that it sounds like it costs money, but it really didn’t, which is really cool.
having done that, that it’s not really the only way to do something. I’m stoked to be able to make music by myself and to put it out myself and have it sound the way I want it to sound and that it’s available to people. That’s where I’m at right now, but we’ll see how it goes.
We were talking earlier about people sometimes using DIY culture as a stepping stone, and I’ve never really wanted to “cash in” on a DIY scene, but I did want to cut my teeth and hone my craft in a place where I felt comfortable enough so that, if and when an opportunity came along to work with someone or something that had big resources, I was ready. I always thought that was the goal. You want to make a record with a producer in a studio and a label puts it out and all of that shit. I can say after
I actually started Confusing Mix of Nations in a cubby hole upstairs like six years ago, haha. My friend and bandmate in Regal Degal, Josiah (Wolfson), had a job working as a bookstore in a neighboring area, and the guy who ran the shop also had a storage space next to his house where he had a bunch of records and books. There was a zone of records called “Confusing Mix of Nations” where all the various world and ethnic music ended up. I loved that name so much that I came home and at some point
When did you start your new project Confusing Mix of Nations, and what have you wanted to do differently with it?
“It’s nice to mull it over and run through that cycle of doubt and second guessing and excitement, and then more doubt and anxiety, just to get to the point where you’re almost like numb. You’re just like, ‘This is what it is.’” I thought it would be really cool to make really strange minimal electronic music under that name. But then I just never did it. I literally spent like an hour in the closet upstairs making really weird fucked up electronic music in the dark, and then I kind of abandoned it. But the name is cool, haha! When I came out here again by myself and ended up working on music by myself, and I was trying to make music that was more inline with the records that I was listening to and DJing. We never really ended Regal Degal, we just didn’t know what we were going to do next. I was working on stuff out here, and I was even kind of calling it Regal Degal when I was exporting files, but I didn’t know where it was going to go. But I kind of knew it wasn’t the same thing. Then eventually Jamen (Whitelock) of Regal Degal, our drummer who was the work horse of the band, was like “What’s going on? What are you up to?” so I was like, “Oh I’ve been doing this.” He arranged to come out and see me, but I hadn’t even sent him anything. I had just talked to him about it and I think I only gave him the first taste of something a week before he got here, and he was like “This is great!” That’s some shit that hasn’t come out that no one might ever hear, haha. But he liked it, and based on that, he came
out here and we hit the ground running and I was like “Alright, well I have this idea, and this idea, and this idea.” He was already using new technology to make music that he wanted to make—sampling stuff and making weird shit on his computer. So I took what I was working on with his new method of working on stuff, and we just fused all of these things. We had a couple of tracks after a week or so, and it was enough to keep him interested, so he kept coming back and we would make new songs every time he would come back. At this point that was two years ago, and we’ve stock piled a lot of material, and only now are we just kind of beginning to trickle it out. It’s a nice process because instead of being like, “We made this thing and we have to put it out right now.” even though there’s an immediacy to that, it’s really comforting to have time to think on stuff. It’s nice to mull it over and run through that cycle of doubt and second guessing and excitement, and then more doubt and anxiety, just to get to the point where you’re almost like numb. You’re just like, “This is what it is.” because it’s been through the ringer. We’ve put it through all of the mental strain and all of the expectation and disappointment, and now this is just what it is. So we did that with this little EP that we put out, and now we have a record that’s coming together. I think
technically speaking we have two albums worth of material. But that’s not what’s coming out. It’s just going to be what boils down to the good shit. Now that I’m back home and working out of home, that’s also changing everything as far as the music I want to make. That’ll probably make a huge difference in how it sounds. I’m happy with where it’s going. I like the name—it’s stuck, haha. I like how it abbreviates to CMoN (pronounced “come on”). That in its own sense is cease-and-desist proof. If someone with the name Come On came after us, we can just be like “Oh! We’re actually Confusing Mix of Nations. You can’t touch us.” haha. What stuff have you been working on at the moment that you can talk about? What plans do you have for the rest of the year? I’ve been sort of slowly inching towards collaborating with my girlfriend Geneva Jacuzzi, who I live with. Now that we have a home studio, I’m just happy to be around and available to work on stuff. I would also love to produce something for her, so that’s something I want to work on. Right now I’m in the process of trying to book some Confusing Mix of Nations shows in Europe through friends, just so that we can keep doing stuff and stay busy. It’s been a really nice combination of our intention and other people’s outreach. I don’t think people have ever been this supportive of anything I’ve ever done. Even Regal, which had a lot of support, it was a little hermetically sealed. I think people got a message from us that we didn’t need help, which was not the case, haha. I think that’s part of what this project sort of signifies, in the sense that it’s way more inviting, musically and from a cultural stance. I think the way that we’re trying to present ourselves is way more open ended to people. Are there any projects that you’d like to embark on, that you just don’t have the time or money for at the moment? I’m trying to put out someone else’s music, and it’s been such a slow painful process because I’m such a space cadet, and I’ve never had enough money at one given time to finish each process of this release. But my brother and I started a label called Artist Files, and about a couple years ago I discovered this music by somebody who made it 20 years ago up in Santa Cruz, and it’s a super beautiful spaced out, dubbed out, meditative music that I want to share with as many people as possible. So I do want to do that, and I’m in the process of doing it. That’s hopefully the beginning of this record label that I’m trying to get off of the ground, where I can also use it to release this other crazy project I’ve had for a little while. I don’t know if I’ve told you about it, but I’m obsessed with this British record label with these compilations that came out in the 80s that were just like demos essentially. I’m trying to take the best of the best and put together this compilation of compilations of beautiful, virtually unheard,
barely released music from the UK. Then I also want to use that label to release a DVD of a really cool movie that I think is pretty interesting. I just want to branch out, and this could change at any moment, but I want to put out this movie called Eyes of Fire. It’s this really great Native American supernatural thriller that is kind of like this special cult movie. I think part of this label is to keep my brother interested in something that he really likes. I know he likes this movie, and I think he’d be stoked to venture out into the world of independent film distribution. I think that’s a cool thing to do! I’m not sure how successful we’ll be as a record label—it’s not really suppose to be a huge money making venture. I know people who’ve run labels and I’ve worked at one, and I don’t intend to follow in those footsteps. So I just want to keep it as weird and varied as possible. What hurdles do you still see ahead of you and what do you feel like you still struggle with in your work? How do you continue to feel motivated despite those things? Time management is always challenging because I’m not really good at it. As far as collaborations and having professional relationships with people—it’s interesting because I work with friends, and it’s not comfortable asking your friends for money. Money is important, at least as far as keeping you comfortable and letting you work on what you want to work on without external factors getting in the way. I definitely want to get to a place where I can establish that my time is worth something. It’s always going to be on a sliding scale with each project. I’m happy to be working with friends and I’ve been lucky enough to the point where I’ve been pretty well compensated for my time working with friends, which is fun. I’m really proud of somethings that have come from that. I’m stoked on the new MGMT record that came out, and I think it’s really good, but I forget that I even played on the first track. I’m so honored that I was a part of it and it wasn’t something official. There was no paperwork—there was no nothing— it was just like a phone call or a text that got me in the studio, and it was a comfortable casual experience that I didn’t even think was going to go anywhere. I thought I was just playing on a fucking D side, you know what I mean, haha. But I was amazed to find out that I now have a credit on a Columbia Records release. Yet, who knows if or when I’ll ever see any money from that, haha. It’s fine, and I don’t really care. It’s just interesting how, maybe that’s a huge deal to someone and maybe that’s someone’s ambition to be on a major label release. But I’m sure they’ll find out that at some point, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get any money. I don’t know if people know out there that there’s such a thing as broke and famous. That’s a real ass thing. I’m luckily not either, but I can see how that’s a thing.
ALEXANDRA ZSIGMOND by M AT T HE W J A ME S -WI L S O N
Over the past seven years, Alexandra Zsigmond has helped shepherd in an era of editorial illustration unlike any other.
Born in San Francisco to a mother who was an art educator and businesswoman, and a father who was a scientist, physician, and shell collector, Alexandra has cherished both creative discovery and analytical research for most of her life. After studying philosophy, psychology, and art history at Stanford and working at the San Francisco non-profit Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Alexandra moved to New York to pursue a career in design. Within just a few semesters at Parsons School of Design, Alexandra began working for a handful of designers and was eventually offered a position art directing at the New York Times. Alexandra found herself at the Times during an era where the future of print media was beginning to look bleak, and local and national newspapers began to falter across the country. While the value of editorial illustration began to be questioned in the industry, Alexandra slowly began to subvert the traditional sensibility of the paper by hiring experimental cartoonists, fine artists, and animators to illustrate for the Opinion section.
As her roles and responsibilities at the paper grew, so did Alexandra’s dedication to championing atypical artists.
Alexandra hit her stride once she helmed the role of art director for the Sunday Review, where she hired hundreds of idiosyncratic artists from disparate backgrounds, culminating in a recent golden age of illustration for the Times. Through her tireless efforts, Alexandra has not only validated hundreds of underground artists, but has elevated the role of editorial illustration as a whole, creating a new standard for what readers expect to see accompanying a piece of writing. Last fall, after seven years at the Times, Alexandra left her position at the paper and prepared to begin the next chapter of her career, open to whatever creative journey that might entail. During her nomadic year teaching and contributing to art communities around the world, I had the great honor of speaking to Alexandra while she was back in New York this summer. Alexandra’s glowing enthusiasm and creative energy are incredible to witness first hand, and I’m so glad I could receive some of her wisdom through interviewing her for this issue. This July I met up with Alexandra in her friends’ back garden in Brooklyn, where the two of us discussed working as a curator, the sacrifices you make for a job you love, and how to subvert others’ expectations of you.
Where are you from and where do you live currently? I’m from San Francisco originally. I grew up there and I worked there after college. Then I moved to New York when I was around 25, and I’ve been here ever since. I’m currently on a nomadic year where I’ve been traveling and teaching around Europe, but New York is still my base. Did you have any sort of art training or art background growing up in San Francisco? What role did art have in your life early on? My mom was a docent at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco from when I was around four to seven. She would create activities for kids my age to engage with the paintings in the museum, so I ended up being the trial child for those activities. I think that might have been the first exposure I had to art. I also grew up as a dancer, so from a very young age I was training in ballet and modern
dance. I did that up until I was 17, very intensely. So I had both visual and movement training in tandem, and my love for them developed concurrently. Then I went to college and I ended up studying aesthetics and art history, so the visual side became a bit more dominant. I was really interested in visual metaphor and the more theoretical side of the arts. So at that point I was more of a writer and less of a drawer, even though I had grown up drawing. I was an only child, so I spent a lot of my time drawing and reading alone. But from 18 to 21 I was mostly writing about art and thinking about it in a theoretical way. When you were in high school did you have any community for art that you could observe or participate in? I went to an arts oriented school in San Francisco and we had to major in a craft in high school. We had shops— metal shop, wood shop, machine shop—and we had to
take classes in all of them. From there we had to choose one to specialize in as a senior. I chose architecture and wood, and made a cabinet and a bunch of sculptures. So I guess for me, it was less about being involved in an underground scene, and more about just being immersed in making things on a day to day basis. I’m not sure if this is part of being an only child, but I actually grew up feeling very separate from an artistic community or scene, and I very much wanted to be part of one. At that age I didn’t know how to find one. Were you aware of or interested in any contemporary artists at the time? I think I started to be more aware of a scene when I was back in San Francisco right after college. I got a summer fellowship at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the contemporary arts center right across from the MoMA. I then ended up getting a job there for two years or so, and that’s when I started to really understand the arts scene in the Bay Area at that time. I came on as a fellow during that show Beautiful Losers, which was kind of an ideal time to work there, haha. I remember that one of my first jobs was to hang out on the skate bowl that had been built in the gallery, and help the people that had come to skate there. I also worked directly with the visual art curators on various projects, and gave tours of the exhibition to visiting school groups. It was really dynamic and I immediately got to meet lots of people, and that sort of started my love affair with the art scene there in general. It felt like I was a part of something and it was really refreshing because I had grown up feeling alone and isolated. You talked about it a bit already, but what was your experience like at Stanford? How did your courses and the student body affect your attitude about what you were studying? That’s a good question. I had trouble finding my place at Stanford, which I think many other arts oriented students feel at that school. I recently found out that Ryan Sands of Youth in Decline went to Stanford and we were in the same class! We both had this moment where we were like, “How was your experience?” and we both just whispered “Not good!” But it was just that it took a while to find a community. Because that school is focused on tech, medicine, and business, it doesn’t seem to necessarily be catered to people in the arts. So I spent three years feeling like an outsider, and then the last year found a wonderful co-op called Chi Theta Chi that was communal and much more art focused. From there I felt like I had finally found a good place. What I did really love about Stanford was that it has a program in the humanities that allows you to develop your own curriculum. So you design your whole course of study, and then you have to write an argument for why
it makes sense. Then you present that to the school, and they can say either “yes” or “no.” Luckily they approved mine, and it allowed me to study a random combination of philosophy, psychology, and art history. I remember the classes that I loved the most, that left the deepest impression on me, were on visual metaphor, neuroscience, a class on Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, and another one called something like Ancestral and Ritual Arts of Africa. The latter was taught by a mysterious and intriguing professor who had spent his career studying mythology and shamanism and its relationship to art objects. The class was completely fascinating. Did you have a sense of what you wanted to do after school based on what you were studying there? Were you nervous at all about entering the world after school? I was very much, haha! But I lucked out, just because in my final year I found a fellowship program called Arts for Youth that hooked students up with paid internships at arts organizations in the Bay Area. So I got that fellowship right as I was leaving Stanford, and that’s what allowed me to go work at Yerba Buena for the summer, and that turned into a job. So I had this really nice pathway directly into a career, which cancelled out some of the anxiety I had. But I was very anxious about it for a while, especially being at a school where all of the other students seemed so sure about their path and weren’t as artistic or loose about how they thought about their future. Often times that made me feel like I was on the wrong track, so I sort of assumed that I would be out of college and have no idea what to do. But I somehow immediately found an organization and a group of friends and artists that aligned with me. So I guess it was a nice reward for having spent three years at Stanford feeling lost. Was the internet starting to change the art and design world or your job after you got out of school? This was 2004, and to be totally honest, the internet wasn’t playing a really huge part in my job at that point. Artists were still sending slides. If they wanted curators to look at their work, they’d send slides, not PDF portfolios. I remember part of my job during that summer fellowship was to go through the slide submissions that artists sent and prepare the master booklet for the curators to review, to decide who might get a show there in the future. So it was still really analog at the time. I was really affected by that job of going through the slides. It struck me as deeply sad that artists had spent so much time and money to send their slides, and that we could so casually go through them, reject them, and send them back without any feedback. Once I became an art director years later, and received daily portfolio emails from artists, I tried to be really conscious of the importance of responding to everyone. I wanted to be
sure that artists knew I had received and seen what they sent, as a way to show respect. This was a direct result of my work at YBCA. Then you started doing more of your own design work after that, right? Was that something you were teaching yourself or that you picked up at work? What ended up happening was that I got hired as the marketing assistant at Yerba Buena, and began designing a lot of the posters and marketing materials for the organization. So I was totally self trained. We were using Quark still. That was the very end of Quark and the very beginning of InDesign, and I taught myself both of those programs. Creating materials for Yerba Buena made me realize that I was really interested in design. I started taking night classes in graphic design in San Francisco, and eventually decided to move to New York to go to Parsons and study it more seriously. I was ready for a change of place too. I had experienced many different sides of San Francisco - from being a kid, to being a teenager spending time in public parks drinking 40s, ha, to entering the professional world there after college. I felt satisfied with my experience there and wanted something new and challenging. So New York seemed like a good place to move to, and Parsons seemed like an interesting school to study design at. What was your first impression of New York once you moved here?
the city are a bit unrecognizable. What was your experience like going to Parsons? What did you take away from the classes and what ideas did it reinforce for you? I treated Parsons in a very pragmatic way. I knew I needed to make money fast. I was working design and catering jobs the whole time I was studying there, and I came at it with the goal of finding a good design job as soon as possible. So I focused on taking classes taught by professors that I hoped to work for or collaborate with in some way. My book design professor Charles Nix ended up being one of my favorite professors, and he took me on as a part-time designer at his book firm. I ended up working for him and his design partner for around three years. They designed books on science and nature, which was a perfect fit for me because my dad is a shell collector. He was a physician and chemist before he retired, but he also has been an obsessive shell collector throughout my whole life. So I grew up in a home filled with shells. You could open any drawer of any cabinet and it would be filled with shells, organized perfectly in little boxes and labeled with the latin names. So from an early age I was also fascinated with the natural world and with collections. Working for a book company specialized in science and nature was thus the perfect fit. That was really fun. I also worked with another professor on some branding assignments and icons.
I was familiar with it because we had family friends here, so it didn’t feel like I was moving somewhere completely new. I was just really refreshed and excited. I immediately moved into an eight person loft in Chinatown right on the Bowery. I lived there for three years. It was an international house with people coming in and out, and it was the perfect place to live in New York at that time. Because I was studying so hard and doing so much work, if I hadn’t lived in an extremely social house I never would have seen anyone. So it allowed me to work hard and remain connected simultaneously, which was great. I loved Chinatown, it’s still my favorite neighborhood. I love the markets, I love seeing people carrying whole pigs down the street, or finding buckets of frogs along the sidewalk. It’s visually stimulating, that’s what I love about it.
So what I liked about Parsons is that my transition to working professionally was very fast. This was somewhat strategic on my part, but it was also a result of the professors that were teaching there. I felt that they were really open to taking their students seriously, as long as you put the work in. It was a post grad associate degree program, so I personally was less concerned with getting the degree and more concerned with just getting job skills. It felt like most people were there for the same reason. The program also connected me to really great people. One of the students that I worked with, Ed Nacional, ended up getting hired at the New York Times soon after graduating. The Times gives one design internship each year, and he got it. And eventually he ended up recommending me for a job there. So in those ways going to Parsons ended up being extremely influential in ways that I didn’t expect.
Had San Francisco changed a lot between when you grew up there and when you decided to leave?
What was the transition from leaving Parsons to starting your first role at the New York Times like?
It was definitely starting to change quite a lot. But I left around 2007. I feel like a lot of the huge changes that have happened really began after I left. Of course, the gentrification of The Mission was already in play and had been for a while. But I feel like there has been a more dramatic shift since I’ve left. I go back twice a year to see my parents and old friends, and more and more, parts of
I can’t remember how long it was after I left school, but it was a pretty quick transition. I entered the Times as an assistant art director for the Opinion section, and ended up working in that same department for the whole seven years I was there. When I began we were just a team of two. Aviva Michaelov, who had worked at the Times already for many years, was the lead art director, and
“The Opinion blogs seemed to allow for more curatorial and artistic freedom. One of the blogs was on Anxiety, so I spent a year and a half commissioning art on anxiety, dread, depression, and panic.” I came on as her assistant. At that time we were commissioning the art for the Op-Ed page, the Letters to the Editor page, and the 3-page Sunday Opinion section at the back of the Week in Review. Then, gradually, over the seven years I was there, my responsibilities quadrupled I think. Within two years I went from just commissioning artists for that small Letters to the Editor spot to commissioning art for most of the Opinion blogs. That ended up being one of my favorite things I did there. The Opinion blogs seemed to allow for more curatorial and artistic freedom. One of the blogs was on Anxiety, so I spent a year and a half commissioning art on anxiety, dread, depression, and panic. Another blog called Private Lives was on personal narrative, and for that I started a comic series online, pairing original comics with the articles. It was in curating for those blogs that I started to find my footing as an art director. I really began to understand how I could give the section a strong visual identity through the artists I collaborated with. I gained a lot of confidence through the process of working with all these artists, and that eventually resulted in me being promoted to lead art director of the Sunday Review section, a job I did for almost three years.
I never really thought of myself as someone who would work the same job for seven years—particularly such an intensive one. And you know from working in journalism that the deadlines and the pressure can be extremely draining...you can’t procrastinate because there’s no time to. That ended up being really healthy for me because I was a big procrastinator in college from anxiety and perfectionism. But I think that working in editorial completely eliminates that anxiety because you have no other choice but to act immediately, to make really quick decisions. It’s a good thing to learn! I’m really grateful for that part of editorial. It has made me an extremely efficient thinker and much less of a perfectionist. Who were some of the other art directors and curators that were influential to you around then? A lot of my colleagues at the Times were huge inspirations. I came to the Times with a strong theoretical background in visual metaphor and art history—so I knew a lot about images and design. But I didn’t know that much about applying that knowledge and those skills in an editorial context. My colleague Aviva, who was my first
Photo by Daniel Cochran
boss, was extremely knowledgeable, efficient and direct in a way that I really admired. She had a big positive impact on me. Nicholas Blechman—who at the time was art directing the Book Review and is now the creative director of the New Yorker–—was also a strong presence. He created and published his own political magazine called Nozone, which I found really inspiring, and was a brilliant illustrator too. So those were two people that I looked up to when I first started. As I progressed and met more people in the scene, that web of influence expanded. The art director community is a small one—there are not that many editorial art director jobs in New York. At this point I feel like we all know one another and are mutually inspired by each other’s work. I’ve been inspired by all of the art directors that worked or are working at Bloomberg, like Steph Davidson, Jennifer Daniel, Tracy Ma, and Braulio Amado. I admired Walter Green’s work on Lucky Peach, and the work that Len Small did at Nautilus when Nautilus was hiring a lot of illustrators. I always liked the direction of the Pitchfork Review, and Jordan Awan’s work at MIT Technology Review. There are many many more. What was the atmosphere like working there? The last full-time job that I had worked before the New
York Times was at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, which is a non-profit arts venue. Working there meant being continuously immersed in the exhibitions, films, and performances we presented, which created a sense of being part of a larger, colorful, dynamic art community. The Times was an interesting transition from that. On the one hand, it DID connect me to an incredible art community of freelance artists and illustrators. And I’m so grateful for that. But I frequently found the actual day-to-day work environment at the Times to be isolating and lonely. It is, after all, a huge company. It’s a huge company with very intelligent people who are all often too busy to stop and talk to one another. And the Trump election made that even worse. It felt like in the lead-up and the aftermath of the election, everyone had to work harder and longer than ever. What I loved about my role at the Times is that I frequently had a lot of creative and curatorial freedom. It was great not to feel over-managed. Yet, at the same time, that meant that I had A LOT of responsibility on my shoulders. I was commissioning ten illustrations per week, designing an entire 12 to 14 page newspaper section, and was also part of the editing and production process. Doing all of that every week, week after week, didn’t leave much room
“What I loved about my role at the Times is that I frequently had a lot of creative and curatorial freedom. It was great not to feel over-managed. Yet, at the same time, that meant that I had A LOT of responsibility on my shoulders.”
or energy to have great, relaxed conversations with my colleagues or to meet other people within the organization. Everyone seems to have blinders on because there’s no other way to survive. If you don’t keep your head down and do as much work as you possibly can, you feel like you might drown. I’m not sure if that’s how it is at all journalistic organizations, but I sort of assume it is? Often times I felt like one of the youngest people there— and for a time I think I was.That was something that I thought was cool, but it was also a little isolating as well. I’ve actually never worked in an environment where most of your colleagues are around your age, as is common in tech firms (or how I imagine them to be, at least). Even when I worked at Yerba Buena, I was still the youngest one. I’m used to working with people who are much older than me, and I prefer it. One thing that always amused me at the was that people who worked with me via e-mail but had never met me in person assumed that I was in my 50s. Probably because of the prestige of the New York Times, I suppose. Then when they’d meet me in person, I could see the shock on their face. I wasn’t what they expected.
Did the prestige and history of the company seem like it reinforced a hierarchy there? Because you were in this office with all of these other incredibly smart and accomplished people, did it seem easy for people to be condescending to others as a way to assert their position of power? I did feel, as a young woman working there, that I struggled to find my own authority. I felt that it was something I had to build over time. I definitely felt tested by multiple people when I first began the job, and I could tell that my opinion wasn’t necessarily respected or trusted at first. It was very obvious to me that I had to work very hard to gain people’s respect. I think that would have been the case for anyone, but I’ll venture to say that it was a little bit more difficult as a young woman. It took me a while to feel confident in my decision making. So much of art direction is about arguing for what you think is the best visual solution and supporting the artist in their vision. I think often times editors can have much more literal interpretations of imagery, and I think an art director has to be on the side of the illustrator and on the side of a more abstract, compelling, and unexpected image. I’m interested in images that push the boundaries
“I could tell that my opinion wasn’t necessarily respected or trusted at first. It was very obvious to me that I had to work very hard to gain people’s respect.” Misaki Kawai
“I’m interested in images that push the boundaries of what we expect to see in an editorial context. That’s something that you have to teach an editor little by little over time, by collaborating closely and exposing them to different types of imagery.” of what we expect to see in an editorial context. That’s something that you have to teach an editor little by little over time, by collaborating closely and exposing them to different types of imagery. So it took me a while to gain confidence in my own perspective on illustration. Part of the way I gained that confidence was through the Anxiety blog I mentioned. That gave me an opportunity to work with artists that had never worked for the Times, that sometimes had never even worked as an ‘illustrator.’ Many of these artists were coming from the worlds of fine art or underground comics. The subject matter of anxiety allowed for a looser, more expressive approach to imagemaking, and a lot of the pieces that were created for that series felt like personal works of art, rather than more traditional editorial illustrations. Being able to work with artists in that way opened me up to being more experimental with my curating in general, beyond the blog on Anxiety. My wonderful editor on that project–Peter Catapano–was the perfect collaborator for me. He’s been an editor at the Times for several decades, but he’s also a drummer and comes from a more underground arts scene. He was so positive and enthusiastic about the artists I hired for Anxiety, and that
gave me the confidence to continue pushing forward. Then from there, when I started commissioning work for a blog called Private Lives, I got the idea to hire cartoonists to create short comics as a form of illustration. I was interested in getting comics artists into the Times, and interested in seeing whether an image could function both as a stand-alone comic and as a successful illustration for an article. That to me was really exciting—finding a way to get new contributors and forms of art into the paper. Something I’ve really respected about your work as an art director is that you’ve taken artists from so many different backgrounds and sensibilities, and you’ve created a space for them in the New York Times and you’ve really validated their work. At what point did it become your goal to feature such a wide range of artists? What do you think unifies the artists that you’ve published? I think it all happened organically. I guess I just gravitated towards a feeling of excitement, and what I found exciting was bringing artists into the paper that had never worked for it before or that didn’t come from a traditional illustration background. I wanted to include people working in
Photo by James Rawlings
“I remember Mat Brinkman wrote me saying that he was so grateful for having done work for the Times, because finally his family understood what he did.” all media, styles, and contexts: underground comics, fine art, video art, illustration, coding, whatever it was. One thing I observed is that a lot of the fine artists I worked with really enjoyed the process of having an art director. I think many artists work without feedback and critique and wish they had it, and so being art directed was refreshing and helpful for them. And I found that really rewarding. I liked taking chances on new artists, I liked being surprised. I’d often hire artists for the Sunday Review cover that had never even worked for the Times before just to see what would happen. It gave room for the unexpected, and ended up creating some really amazing results. As soon as those chances I took paid off, it was just more fodder for me to continue and push it even more. My dad really wanted me to be a scientist like him, or a lawyer, or some sort of more ‘serious’ profession. When I stubbornly pursued visual arts and design, he at first didn’t seem to understand what or why I was doing what I was doing, and he openly communicated his doubt, anxiety, and disapproval. It was only when I started working
at the Times that he seemed to gain an understanding and respect for my interest in art. And I found that a lot of the artists I worked with had very similar experiences. For example, I remember Mat Brinkman wrote me saying that he was so grateful for having done work for the Times, because finally his family understood and valued what he did. And I kept on getting that same comment from a lot of artists. The Times was validating their work, and providing that validation was one of the best parts of the job. It’s also another reason why I gravitated towards hiring a wide and diverse range of artists. Of course it also makes me sad that we live in a world where that kind of validation is necessary and that people look to large institutions as arbiters of value. That’s maybe the reality and tragedy of being an artist sometimes. Do you remember some of the first jobs you hired people for, or the first people who you hired who seemed evident of the change you wanted to make? Yeah, it was while commissioning art for those blogs, I would say. For the Anxiety blog in particular, I started to get
incredible, mind-blowing results week after week. I think that the blog started to gain momentum and artists could see what other people in their community were creating for it, and perhaps it became a healthy competition, with artists consistently trying to up the ante. I remember a string of gorgeous illustrations one after the other—a detailed painting by Rachell Sumpter of a man lost in the wilderness, an elaborate colored pencil drawing by David Jien of a man having eye surgery, an intricate watercolor by Balint Zsako of a monster crushing a man. I think what was so memorable about these, and so many of the other pieces created for the blog, was the high level of craft, thought, and time that was going into them. They were illustrations but they were also works of art, and they were done with such a high level of skill and imagination. I actually have an archive in my head of every assignment I’ve ever worked on. I started out doing the Letters to the Editor section, and kept a book archive—which still exists—of every illustration I commissioned. I think it would make an awesome book! But I can literally flip through that book and remember the entire process of collaboration on every single illustration, even from seven years ago. I guess that’s just to say that they’ve all made an impression on me. Were there any snafus while working there that stick out to you? How did you learn how to move on after mistakes or disasters when the stakes were so high at the paper? Ack, I don’t know. It was so fast paced. My colleagues and I often joked that it felt like juggling. You have so many strangely shaped objects in the air at the same time—an art director is an octopus basically. Because you are multitasking so many things, there are snafus all the time. So troubleshooting is a daily phenomenon. Most of the problems that I remember most vividly were diplomatic, interpersonal conflicts. Those caused the most stress and had the strongest emotional impact. Because I was working with so many different people each week—story editors, photo editors, producers, illustrators—experiencing conflict and disagreement was inevitable, and as the art director ‘middle-man,’ I had to constantly balance opposing needs, opinions, and desires. It was especially difficult figuring out how to strongly assert my own visual opinions while remaining respectful and open to other people’s conflicting views. I learned a lot from these hard conversations, but also got quite a few gray hairs in the process. My day to day life at the Times was all about these interpersonal interactions, all about communication. I think many people don’t realize that— the importance of diplomacy and communication within that role. I started to get particularly exhausted when I had to argue with an editor to get illustration on the cover of the Sunday Review at all. There was a moment when that did happen, and it quickly led to a feeling of burnout.
One thing that did get easier over time was dealing with the fast-paced turn-arounds. A lot of the illustration jobs are same-day assignments, and I’ve even had a few jobs that had to be completed within an hour or less. My team keeps an online archive of artists for reference, and we have an ‘emergency’ list of artists that can work particularly fast. Do you know Victor Kerlow? He lives in New York. I’ve hired him for a job with a 30 minute window, and he sent sketches within ten minutes. Good sketches too! Fast, but conceptually right on target. That was the fastest I’ve ever seen. Jillian (Tamaki) also—I remember working with her really early on in my first year at the Times, and she had an hour window to do an illustration on fashion and fascism, and of course she did a beautiful drawing within 40 minutes. Those types of situations are so common in the editorial world—planned articles drop out and new ones replace them so quickly—that they don’t even seem like problems anymore—it’s just the normal state of affairs. At what point did you move over to doing the Sunday Review? What was it like starting a new position at a company you had been at for so long already? That transition happened because my colleague Aviva Michaelov went to the New Yorker, so I got promoted to her position. I guess that happened four and a half years in or so. It was a huge shift, and it was one that I initially wasn’t sure I wanted. I had filled in for her on that job for six months when she went on maternity leave, so I already had a taste of what art directing the Sunday Review was like. I knew that it was an all-consuming job. So, when it came time for me to assume it fully, I knew that it was going to take over my life and my mind. It felt at times like the Sunday Review was a needy child that I had to tend to at all hours. Some days I worked on it from 7am until 1am. Often times I would hire artists at the end of the day from bed as I was falling asleep. Fire emails off into the void from my pillow. I got pretty good at that, haha. At that time of day I particularly liked emailing artists in Europe, because I knew that when I woke up in the morning, I would already have a response because of the time difference. Taking on the Sunday Review felt like I was taking on double the work and double the responsibility, if not more than that. I had to quickly figure out ways to manage it. It’s a really incredible and exciting job, but I think everyone in the industry knows that it’s a burnout job and that you can’t do it for too long. I wish that there was a way to change that and make it more sustainable, because if it was I would probably still be doing it.
Photo by Daniel Cochran
“Taking on the Sunday Review felt like I was taking on double the work and double the responsibility, if not more than that.” How did you come to the decision to leave the New York Times when you did? Was there anything you were worried about happening if you chose to stay? I think I was turning it over in my head for two years before I actually made the decision. I could feel that I was getting burnt out little by little, so I knew that it wasn’t sustainable. I also have a congenital heart issue, and I’ve had two open heart surgeries—one of which I had while employed at the New York Times. The New York Times was amazing for that, and I’m so grateful I had such good health insurance during that time. But as a result, I’m a little bit careful when I feel the onset of deep exhaustion. Right before I had the second heart surgery, one of the signs that something was wrong was exhaustion. So now when I feel extremely fatigued I get very worried, and the Sunday Review involved a state of perma-exhaustion, which obviously concerned me. But of course I loved that job—and I still love that job. If it were more sustainable I probably wouldn’t have left. I love working with artists and I love the collaborative aspect of it all. I find it really rewarding. But I also wish that it gave
time for my own creativity, which it didn’t. That was my other main concern. I worried that I was never going to be able to truly explore or develop my own artistic practice. I was pouring so much energy into the creativity of my collaborators, that I didn’t feel like there was any left for me at the end of the day. I’m still at the very beginning of figuring out what I want to make now. But I have some ideas. I’ve had a book idea in my head for around 15 years—ever since I was at Stanford. It’s an illustrated book on the mind and psychology, partially illustrated and written by me, and partially illustrated by others. It’s something that I know I need to make at some point in my life, in whatever form it takes. A deeper soul goal. At the same time I’m fearful of this transition because I’ve spent the past seven years figuring out how to be an art director, which was difficult enough. And now I need to figure out how to be an artist and author, while also keeping my art directing muscle alive. I don’t yet know how to do that, so I have to start a new cycle.
Photo by Daniel Cochran
“If it were more sustainable I probably wouldn’t have left. I love working with artists and I love the collaborative aspect of it all. I find it really rewarding.” What ways do you think dedicating yourself to a professional goal can affect other aspects of your personal life and health? How do you try to maintain a balance so that one doesn’t spoil the other? Maintaining a balance is a huge challenge. I definitely experienced that working on the Sunday Review. Before I began working on the Review specifically, I put a lot of time into researching artists—looking at as many books, magazines, zines, and websites as I could find, and trying to meet as many illustrators in person as possible. This is how I started to expand the range of artists we hired, and I loved that social component of the job. Once I became lead art director of the Review, I no longer had time for that level of research, and I felt my world shrink. Work at the Times is so rewarding and fast paced, but I always deeply felt a lack of time to draw, think, and develop my own art and personal projects. As the Sunday Review job became more and more intense, my desire to start putting energy into my own work became more and more intense too. Then it just sort of exploded. Now I’m just beginning the process of exploring a new side of myself. I’d like to art direct again in the future, but for now I need time to develop my own art. I’m planning
my future year by year at this point, because making more plans than that would be unrealistic. So I’m spending this year teaching workshops on art direction and illustration throughout Europe. I’m relishing the opportunity to travel and meet a lot of the illustrators that I worked with virtually but never got to meet in person. I’ve been wanting to do that for ages. It’s also a nice chance for me to use my European citizenship. My Dad is Hungarian, my Mom is Greek, but I’ve never spent more than 3 weeks in Europe at a time, until this year. What have you been working on since you left? The first thing I did was go on a three week trip to Medellín, Colombia as a guest of the Entreviñetas comics festival there. During my seven years at the Times, I was never able to spend three consecutive weeks away, because that was my entire vacation allotment for the whole year. So, to be able to spend three weeks immersed in a single city as part of a comics festival was an immediate joy and relief. I quickly felt like a new chapter had begun. I look back on that time in Medellín with a lot of warmth and happiness. I kept that model going, and soon after spent three weeks in Vietnam, and this past spring I spent four months teaching art direction in Spain and Italy.
I’m basically just trying to do all of the things I could never do before. Traveling is one of those things, teaching is another. Working on drawings has happened way less than I’ve wanted it to so far. But that’s partially because I wasn’t aware of how much time and energy travel really takes. So now my goal for the fall is to figure out a way to continue to teach in different locations, but to also maintain a more regular drawing practice. Something that is more manageable. What do you hope to get across to the different illustrators you work with? What things do you think young illustrators are afraid of that they shouldn’t be? Well, one thing I saw a lot, especially with artists who were coming from a fine arts background, is that people tend to have a preconceived idea of what editorial illustration is, and what its supposed to look like. Maybe when they’re first starting out, they try to create images that conform to that idea, rather than to their own vision. That was always interesting for me to see. In those cases, I’d encourage artists to draw from their personal work and style, and remind them that I’d hired them for their unique voice, not to create something overly conceptual or traditional. With young illustrators (and sometimes also with experienced
ones), I also often notice that their initial sketches for an assignment are loose and strong, and then once they go to final, the drawing loses its initial power and energy. It becomes tighter, more restrained. I think that’s also partially a result of this idea of what an illustration is supposed to be or what it’s supposed to look like. I think, often times, editorial illustration can be way looser and freer than young illustrators expect. Occasionally I’ve run an illustrator’s sketch in the paper, rather than the final, just because I found it so much stronger. I always use a lot of exclamation points in my emails to artists, haha. Maybe it’s my way of being encouraging, or friendly, or informal. After working in that job for seven years, I’ve met many people in the community, and it’s fun to work with people as friends AND as professional collaborators. Another strategy I use when emailing artists is sending them examples of their past work that can be applied to the assignment at hand, particularly if I sense that they are struggling with it. The idea there is to show them that they CAN do it because they’ve already done it before. I don’t know for sure, but I also think I have the reputation of being a somewhat difficult art director—a perfectionist. I
“I’m basically just trying to do all of the things I could never do before. Traveling is one thing, teaching is another.” Photo by Carlos Canseco
think illustrators know that working with me is never a short process, because I ask for revisions in the quest for the strongest image. But in the end, I think that has helped me, because it has set a high standard. Illustrators know that I have high expectations, and that I want to help them publish the best work possible. What sort of hurdles do you still see ahead of yourself? What do you feel like you still struggle with as an artist and as a curator? I had to leave the Sunday Review job when I did because I had reached a burnout point. But I still have some regret about leaving. It was an extremely difficult decision. So I’m still dealing with the aftermath of those feelings. I’ve put so much energy into figuring out how to be a good art director, and as a result I haven’t had time to figure out how to be a good artist. Even just being the author and creator of a self-published book—I don’t know how to do that. I’ve designed books for other people, I know how to design and art direct a newspaper, I know how to collaborate with people—so I have skills, but I don’t yet know exactly how to be a self motivated artist. It’s something I’m going to have to figure out over time, just through sitting and drawing and being alone. That to me is also going to be a challenge. I’m an incredibly social person, and I’m used to working in a collaborative and social environment. Even if the New York Times felt isolating at times, it still was inherently social. I know that this next chapter will be lonely at times, and I’m both excited and scared about that. Also, I don’t really have an ‘art practice’ yet. Artists talk about their practice and how they structure their practice, but I’ve never had time to have a practice. I remember getting really frustrated with friends and people that I was dating who were artists, that were like, “Oh, all you have to do is be committed to having a daily practice.” I would be like, “Well, I go to the Times from 8am to 10pm every day. When is this practice supposed to happen?” There was no time to establish that, so now I’m trying to create time to establish that, but I don’t yet know what that looks like. Yeah I totally understand that. I feel like I struggle with finding the energy to work on a project that doesn’t involve a benefit for someone else. Yeah I have that too. Especially because what I’ve been working on is a public product that so many people see immediately. You get that automatic reward of it being a real thing in the world. So I have that same issue of it being difficult for me to do things that don’t have some sort of automatic impact or value—which is totally not how to go about figuring out a practice! 75 percent of what you make has no value, beyond the value of developing your thoughts—which is inherently valuable. I have to remember that.
Are there any projects that you’d like to embark on that you just don’t have the time or money for at the moment? I have a few ideas. One is that book I mentioned, on metaphors of the mind. It would be a visual, interdisciplinary exploration of thinking, and the different metaphors we use to understand how the mind works. That interest comes from my studies in visual metaphor, psychology, and philosophy at Stanford. When I was studying those things I was always thinking about them in a visual way. From what I see, I’d like there to be more visual books about philosophy and psychology, I think there’s a hole in the market. So I’m envisioning some sort of interdisciplinary book on that subject. I also just want to spend a lot of time drawing and painting. I’d love to put together an exhibition of my own work within the next one to two years. To be totally honest, I’m also interested in making costumes. I’ve made costumes out of leaves in the past, and I want to expand on that idea. I am interested in fashion on a more conceptual level. I come from a dance background, so maybe that’s partially why. I’ve also thought about making a jumpsuit line, both from natural materials and normal materials. Perhaps a jumpsuit line for men too? I don’t know, these are just abstract ideas at this point. But they’re things that I’ve been turning around in my head. We’ll see if I can make them happen. Does it feel odd to go from this prestigious but constrictive career, to entering into a completely malleable art practice? I haven’t gone that far into it yet, because I’ve been working on the ICON Illustration conference, and teaching, and advising at SVA, and traveling. This spring I was still doing a bunch of things that kept me tethered, so that more experimental phase still hasn’t fully begun. So I don’t know yet, but I definitely feel it coming. When I was working 60 hours a week at the Times, sometimes all I wanted to do was work at a Greek restaurant as a waiter to work on my Greek and eat souvlaki. I don’t know, you just have fantasies of living a totally different lifestyle, no matter what you are doing. Now that I have more freedom, am I going to dream of working 60 hours a week in a very structured environment? Probably, haha! One of the reasons the Times was really good for me was that it did create these boundaries. I work really well under constraints, and I think a lot of people do too, so now I need to figure out how to create those constraints for myself, doing my own creative projects. I don’t quite know how to do that yet. I’ll need to create deadlines in my life.
Photography by Matthew James-Wilson
Connor Willumsen & Fatine-Violette Sabiri @ TCAF
Chris Kuzma, Patrick Kyle & Ginette Lapalme of Wowee Zonk @ TCAF
Toronto Comic Arts Festival
Ryan Sands of Youth in Decline w/ Mickey Zacchilli @ TCAF
Jane Mai & Patrick Crotty of Peow Press @ TCAF
Ed Kanerva of Koyama Press @ TCAF
Orion Martin of Paradise Systems @ TCAF
Lale Westvind w/ Matt Davis of Perfectly Acceptable Press @ TCAF
Lonnie Von @ FUNHOUSE
G.W. Jesjit Duncanson Gill of Color @ @ Code Paper@Jam TCAF 5
David Schilter of KuĹĄ @ CAB
Louise Reimer @ TCAF
Juli Majer of DDOOGG w/ Louise Reimer @ TCAF
JG w/ Juli Majer & Christian Hernandez of DDOOGG @ FUNHOUSE
Becca Tobin @ TCAF
Sami Alwani @ TCAF
Wai Wai Pang @ TCAF
Alicia Nauta & Jamiyla Lowe @ TCAF
Vinnie Neuberg @ TCAF
Brad Rohloff of Bred Press @ TCAF
Richie Pope @ TCAF
Jordan Jackson & Chloe River of Abrownrecluse Library @ TCAF
Brie Moreno & Joe Kessler @ TCAF
Lee Lai @ TCAF
Chloe Perkis @ TCAF
Kirsten Hatfield & Cole Pauls @ TCAF
Kendra Yee & Sydney Madia @ TCAF
Rhea Yee @ TCAF
Juli Majer of DDOOGG @ TCAF
Matthew James-Wilson of FORGE. w/ Juli Majer of DDOOGG @ VanCAF
Eli Howey @ VanCAF
Hayley Dawn Muir @ VanCAF
Ben Sears @ VanCAF
Vancouver Comic Arts Festival
Tom Whalen & Sasha Bondartchouk @ VanCAF
Hiller Godspeed @ VanCAF
Ross Jackson @ VanCAF
Michael Heck & Aidan Fitzgerald of Cold Cube Press @ VanCAF
Silas & Em Partridge @ VanCAF
Spencer Scudder, Sean Christensen, & Andrice Arp of Gridlords @ VanCAF
Nathan Willis & Heu Nguyen @ VanCAF
Juli Majer of DDOOGG, KC Wei of Agony Klub, & Buckminster Fleur of Perro Verlag @ VanCAF
Buckminster Fleur of Perro Verlag @ VanCAF
Marlena Vallis @ VanCAF
Anna Firth of Swampcone Mag & Marlena Vallis @ VanCAF
Jack Loot & Scotty Alva @ VanCAF
Michael Comeau @ VanCAF
Cullen Beckhorn of Neoglyphic Media @ VanCAF
Lincoln Gogo & Samuel Morgan @ VanCAF
LiĂŠ @ Red Gate Art Society
Red Gate Art Society
LiĂŠ @ Red Gate Art Society
LiĂŠ @ Red Gate Art Society
Woolworm @ Red Gate Art Society
Woolworm @ Red Gate Art Society
Trace Mountains @ Market Hotel
Ă&#x201C; @ Market Hotel
Forth Wanderers @ Market Hotel
Dodgeball @ Babyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s All Right
Emily Yacina @ Babyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s All Right
Emily Yacina @ Babyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s All Right
Coma Cinema @ Babyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s All Right
Coma Cinema @ Babyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s All Right
Dan English @ Trans Pecos
Dan English @ Trans Pecos
Poppies @ Trans Pecos
Poppies @ Trans Pecos
Poppies @ Trans Pecos
Navy Gangs @ Trans Pecos
Navy Gangs @ Trans Pecos
Airhead DC @ Trans Pecos
Airhead DC @ Trans Pecos
Lomelda @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
Patio @ Elsewhere: Zone One
Painted Zeros @ Elsewhere: Zone One
Moaning @ Elsewhere: Zone One
Moaning @ Elsewhere: Zone One
Moaning @ Elsewhere: Zone One
You Should Check Out... By Matthew James-Wilson
last summer the british three piece girl ray release a stunning debut album that i only recently came across almost a year later. i feel a little foolish taking so long to find this album–especially since i fell in love with it just two days after they played a show at baby’s all right in brooklyn :( . the cleverly titled earl grey was released on the fabled london label moshi moshi, and the whole record evokes the inescapable fuzzy feeling in your chest that come with any deep infatuation. despite the relatively common arrangements and song structures, the songs are written with effortless clarity that makes the album astonishingly refreshing to listen to. each song is more infectious than the last, and the hooks for two of the albums singles, “stupid things” and “don’t look back at ten,” haven’t escaped my head in weeks. the album is masterfully produced, with every nook and cranny of each the tracks creatively filled in. warm and rich organs and guitars command your attention, while creative use of elements like wind chimes and even the sounds of a carbonated beverage being opened are used to give the songs character. the lead singer, poppy hankin’s voice is beautifully distinctive and full of emotion, and the band’s harmonies remind me a lot of another one of my favorite british three pieces, dolly mixture! i’m not sure what they have planned to release next, but i’ll be sure to track it down once it’s out, and i suggest you do as well.
i first met may rio of the band poppies while we were both taking drum lessons from my dear friend and life coach greg rutkin, who use to drum for lvl up (r.i.p). although they only have a handful of songs out, may rio and ian langehough’s malleable bedroom recoding project shows a lot of promise. apparently the two started writing and recording together not long after first meeting through a mutual friend. the pair have crafted tracks ripe with abstract lyrics and moody instrumentals, reminiscent of earnest indie acts like yo la tango and inventive songwriters like r. stevie moore. poppies performs as a four piece live, and i saw the group play a hauntingly beautiful set at trans pecos earlier this summer. at the moment they’re finishing up the recording process for their first full length, and i’m eagerly awaited the day that i finally get to hear it!
We We We Charity Compilation
the uk electronic label me me me released an amazing compilation album this spring, with all of the proceeds for the release going to the british charity “help refugees.” the comp features 25 tracks from an international selection of electronic artists, some of which i was familiar with and some of which it introduced me to. we we we bounces from house to ambient to techno, and although varied, the mix is surprisingly very easy to work to. if you’re into contemporary electronic music and have some money to spare, i’d urge you to check out this comp and donate what you can!
High School Record i saw the film high school record for the first time this summer and i felt totally enthralled by everything about it. i stumbled upon the a used copy of the film at amoeba records in hollywood the last time i was visiting la, and purchased it after the film was given jacob rubeck’s seal of approval while in the checkout line. the film came out back in 2005 and tells a story of four disaffected high schoolers while they fumble though their social insecurities and romantic entanglements. this is the first film by director ben wolfinsohn that i’ve seen, but what initially attracted me to the film was the fact that the cast was made up of members no age, mika miko, lavender diamond, and minutemen. the film even features jim smith from the smell playing a high school security guard! the performances by everyone in the film feel amateurish, but totally captivating, and despite every limitation faced by the production, the film is seeping with character. if you’re into la’s diy scene or even just films about high school, i’d definitely recommend this.
Agony Klub i had the chance to meet casey wei, the artists and curator behind the underground small press project agony klub, while at this year’s vancaf. for years casey has been publish books, tapes, records, and even a magazine through agony klub helping to document and distribute vancouver’s vibrant punk scene. agony klub’s home made aesthetic and open ended intentions maintain all of the qualities of punk culture that many people doing similar projects often forget. tapes are some of my favorite things put out through the project.
THANK YOU: KENDRA YEE JORDAN JACKSON ELI HOWEY SOPHIE PAGE MATT LAMOURT JARED FRESCHMAN CLAIRE MERCHLINSKY DAYLEN SEU RICH VINCENT GRACEY ZHANG MERON MENGHISTAB YIRAN GUO AMBER MA DONALD PRICE ALEXANDRA ZSIGMOND SOPHI GULLBRANTS ANNA HAIFISCH AMANDA JASNOWSKI PASCUAL GRETA KLINE LIAM BETSON JOSH DA COSTA GINETTE LAPALME PATRICK KYLE LAURA LANNE JG TOM WHALEN JULI MAJER LOUISE REIMER SONYA REZ CHRISTAIN HERNANDEZ RICO MORAN REED KANTER DUSTIN PAYSEUR KATIE GARCIA LILLIE WEST SIENA EDWARDS JILLIAN MEDFORD MICKEY ZACCHILLI ARIEL DAVIS RACHEL BIRKE ANNIE KOYAMA JACOB BERENDES DEAN WHITMORE LEESH ADAMEROVICH JAMES YEH LAURA JAMES... DANNY FEILDS KATY DAVIDSON MICK ROCK ELSA DORFMAN KC WEI BEN WOLFINSOHN BEN MARCUS JONI MITCHELL DEAN SPUNT BRADFORD COX PETER SALLIS BETTY DAVIS CAROLYN ALLEN TRENT REZNOR MAY RIO STEVIE WONDER DERRICK BECKLES GERARD MCNULTY MARK MOTHERSBAUGH
E D I T E D BY M AT T H E W JA M E S -W I L S O N