FORGE. Issue 21: Response

Page 1

Ley Lines is a quarterly publication dedicated to exploring the intersection of comics and the various fields of art & culture that inspire us. “the books are gorgeous,... flawlessly curated...” - NICK FR ANCIS POTTER

“... a bold and necessary endeavour” - PHILIPPE LEBLANC



Sena Kwon “Every sting of needle hurts. Flinching from such stings would be one of the simplest and the most fundamental responses for the body to detect and to protect from external stimulus. The piece I call ‘Embroidery of the pain’ illustrates a woman who endures thousands of stings to finish one piece of embroidery. You can see her stitches create the image of snake on her clothes and her skin, even extended illusion around her. I imagine how many times she would feel physical response and hold those flinches. Every sting of needle hurts and it hurts every single time.” -Sena Kwon


rea) and movies are my biggest inspiration. We grew up living abroad in completely different cultures since we were little, so our first steps about learning other cultures was through local film. It gave us rough ideas about the language and cultural landscape. Since then, my sister and I have become obsessed with films and it has clearly impacted a lot on our careers. We are both storytellers

What is your current location?

What materials do you like to work with?

I live in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Good neighborhood. Where are you from?

For the first half of my process I use traditional mediums and for the second half I colorize using digital tools. It has been fun to experiment with dry mediums these days.

A small city called Jeon-ju in South Korea—it takes 2.5 hours to get there if you’re driving southward from Seoul.

What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on?

What is your current occupation?

I recently joined an ongoing project with a pop culture & fashion magazine called OhBoy! that mainly involves discussing animal rights and environmental protection.

Name Sena Kwon Age

Freelance illustrator and printmaker Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I studied in the Illustration Practice Program (MFA) at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). I was a graphic designer back in Korea. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? My sister (who is now a film archivist and a movie critic in Ko-

Is there any music you like to listen to while working? I love finding soundtracks of movies that linger in my head. I prefer music without vocals or lyrics while working, otherwise I would be humming and singing all day long. Where do you like to work? Sometimes I wish I had a big studio space, but as of now I work at home. I prefer working alone, so having a home studio alone


kinda suits me well.

What do you hope to accomplish with your work?

What is one of your earliest memories of making art?

Talking about feminism in Korean society still leaves a bitter taste in the mouth due to the long history of Confucianism. I would like to bring issues of gender equality and sexuality to light through visual language, soothing tensions little by little.

I made a poster for my sister’s assignment in art class, and she did the favor of editing my writing essay in school when we lived in Ottawa, Canada.

Previous Work

Where To Find Them Websites: Contact: Social Media: @kwonsenart (Instagram)



Thomas White “The work I make is normally for someone else, communicating someone else’s idea or opinion. So when left to my own devices I’ll draw things that I like. I enjoy making images that connote a narrative, a snapshot of a moment in time that could be part of a larger story. For the word ‘response’ I wanted to draw something cinematic and I imagined this person completely laying their heart on the line to someone and it being clear that they weren’t going to get the response that they wanted to hear, or maybe no response at all. I have a thing about the sea and boardwalks too and was picturing this all going down somewhere on the coast of New England in front of a shimmering ocean. ” -Thomas White Name Thomas White Age

ing obsessed with when I was about 16. There was something about his mark-making that did something to my brain. Shortly after I properly discovered Cy Twombly, Peter Blake, Franz Kline, Hockney... the list goes on but there’s definitely a common thread.

Liverpool, UK

A big one for me at the moment is photography. I follow loads of hashtags and profiles on Instagram that are amazing for throwing up really atmospheric, cinematic composition ideas. I’ve been playing a lot with light and depth recently and photography is great for this.

Where are you from?

What materials do you like to work with?

Born here, but raised on the South Coast of England in Brighton.

Freelance illustrator, and co-founder of a restaurant group called Maray.

I enjoy traditional mark-making materials and techniques, when I’m making reportage or drawing from life then I like to use expressive media like oil bars, pastels, charcoal, watercolour pencils and dirty broken felt tips. When working on quick turnaround briefs I tend to recreate these marks digitally, scanning in textures and colours to give images a more tactile, immediate feel.

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?

BA Illustration at Kingston University in London.

Alongside editorial work I have an exhibition in Manchester in February with two very talented fellow image makers - Nick Booton and Andrew Berry. The show is part of a series called ‘In One Room’ so the next few of months I’ll also be building up a body work for that. It’s all about getting back to why we feel compelled to make work in the first place, I’m looking forward to it.

29 What is your current location?

What is your current occupation?

What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? Robert Rauschenberg is the first artist I remember really becom-


Is there any music you like to listen to while working?

What is one of your earliest memories of making art?

I mostly listen to Gardeners’ Question Time on BBC Radio 4.

Drawing a pair of elaborate but entirely fictional parrots in year 1—we did a project on our pets and I didn’t have any.

Where do you like to work?

What do you hope to accomplish with your work?

When I am confined to a Mac & tablet then at a desk in front of a very large window, otherwise I enjoy drawing on location.

There are several international publications that I hold in very high regard, I think I could retire happy once I’ve had the opportunity to make work for them.

Previous Work

Where To Find Them Websites: Contact: Social Media: @thomaswhitedraws (Instagram)



Ambar Navarro “The leftover props from a recent shoot act as a response to the end of the music videos I’ve directed this year and the next chapter I hope to move onto in the following year. There was a sad feeling leftover before having to return the props I had gained attachment to so decided to give them one last moment before their return. This also represented my need to hold onto personal feelings from the shoot and ready to grow and create new things. ” -Ambar Navarro Name Ambar Navarro Age 27

Purchased miniatures from dollhouse and craft stores, souvenirs from trips, unusually small items, packaged items, gifts from friends, eBay finds, and toys! What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on?

Los Angeles, CA

Currently working on some music videos, going to start writing a short narrative film then hopefully soon after a feature script. Also re-doing my apartment and trying to plan a trip to Mexico.

Where are you from?

Is there any music you like to listen to while working?

San Antonio, TX

SPARKS, Alaska y los Pegamoides also y Dinarama, Yellow Magic Orchestra

What is your current location?

What is your current occupation? Film Director, Video Editor, and Artist. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I have a B.F.A. in Experimental Animation from CalArts. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? Jon Rafman, David Lewandowski, LaTurbo Avedon, Brittney Scott, friends, Texas, long walks, and too many films What materials do you like to work with?

Where do you like to work? In my room cave What is one of your earliest memories of making art? I started taking art classes at a really young age at the San Antonio Museum of Art and cut myself with an exacto knife. I still have the scar on my hand. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? Help normalize Mexican-American artists to a more mainstream audience and bring some sort of happiness on a sad day.


Previous Work

Where To Find Them Websites: Contact: Social Media: @ambarbecutie (Instagram)



Liva Kandevica “As I moved to Germany seven years ago, I had communication difficulties. My German wasn’t good so I often got into weird situations where I was misunderstood or where I completely misunderstood somebody else. As people where talking to me and saw that my response to what they where saying was completely something else, they gave up pretty fast on me. It led me to feel like a complete idiot. This piece is about that weird communication.” -Līva Kandevica Name

What materials do you like to work with?

Līva Kandevica

My work may look like it’s done with watercolours but it’s not. I work with acrylics.

Age 27 What is your current location? Leipzig, Germany Where are you from? Latvia 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 studied Communication Design/Illustration at Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design Halle, Germany

What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? Me, Jannis and Michel Esselbrügge, Joo Young Kim and Julius Wagner are Fanart. Fanart is an “artist collective” based in Germany. We’re planning next year an exhibition in Leipzig. We also regularly publish a zine called Fanart. Besides Fanart I’m making a new book. Is there any music you like to listen to while working? I like to be up to date so I mostly listen to podcasts or news while working. Where do you like to work? I work in a really small studio, it’s also a Comicbook Shop/ Library.

What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? Naïve artists and children drawings inspire me the most. I admire how free they are.


Previous Work

Where To Find Them Websites: Contact: Social Media: @livuxx (Instagram)



Arabella E. Mayrer “A link, a chain, a key ring - a place for charmed objects. From the rubble a small figure emerged & began a collection. A flower from a place they once knew. A two handled cup they once saw in a book. A butterfly made of bronze. A note from someone they miss. How does one respond to the world around them? How do we create when we feel broken? The idea of building an armor of your favorite things is something that strongly resonates with me. Collecting the items that give you strength, that motivate you—and not necessarily in their physical form but through your memories. A practice of recalling the things that make up your present and using them to ward off bad spirits. A halo, an arch, a ring of protection. On the chain lays a flower as a representation of place, of one’s physical world. Following is a two handled cup, and as a historical object acts as a symbol for one’s own history. Next a butterfly, drawn from one of my own sculptures which acts as a symbol for myself and my practice. Lastly, a note from a loved one as a symbol for relationships, community, and love. All of these items are used to ground the figure at the base, linked through each arm—they are a whole.” -Arabella E. Mayrer Name

College of Art with a major in Intermedia.

Arabella E. Mayrer

What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most?


Portland, Oregon

I draw a lot of my inspiration from archeology of the ancient world—I’m really interested in objects from archaic Greece & mosaics from the Roman Empire. Sci-Fi novels like those written by Ursula K. Le Guin never fail to recharge my imagination. Anime from the 90’s, Gumby, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Dungeons & Dragons. Constantly inspired by the artists I’m surrounded by and met via the internet!

Where are you from?

What materials do you like to work with?

Columbus, Ohio What is your current occupation?

Graphite has my heart <3 But I also love painting with india ink and gouache, as well as working with ceramics when I can find a kiln!

I’m currently working as a teachers assistant & print shop assistant.

What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on?

Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught?

Recently started a small apparel & publishing house with my dear friend Emma Parry called Sour Tulip ~ also working on my own comic that I’m hoping to self publish in the spring of 2019!

22 What is your current location?

I graduated with a BFA in spring 2018 from Pacific Northwest


Is there any music you like to listen to while working?

What is one of your earliest memories of making art?

Girlpool, SALES, ABBA, & love songs from the ‘40s/’50s are my go to!

My mom and I used to take ceramic classes together, I remember trying to make a small castle for a zoo, it kind of turned out looking like a crown with vines all over the top of it.

Where do you like to work? Right off my kitchen I have a breakfast nook that I love to wake up early and work in, or cozied up on my bedroom floor. If it’s nice outside I’ll walk to the park by my house and lay in the grass and draw there for a while.

Previous Work

Where To Find Them Websites: Contact: Social Media: @arabella_em (Instagram)


What do you hope to accomplish with your work? With my practice I hope to create a place for relation & healing. To reimagine memories and to create things that are hard to put into words.


Siena Edwards “‘Good Taste’ is an ode to ‘bad taste.’ More specifically, the images I collaged are taken directly from a book called Interior Desecration, about “bad” interior designs from the ‘70s. Personally, I loved a lot of the designs in the book and was inspired by these colorful, wacky interiors to create a whole new room, a space of my own making.” -Siena Edwards Name Siena Gabriela Edwards Age 23 What is your current location? Auckland NZ Where are you from? NYC What is your current occupation? Studio artist, gallery co-curator, freelance writer, essay editor, and restaurant worker. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I started off as a self-taught artist but I now have my bachelor’s degree in fine arts. I concentrated in drawing and photography. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? Ever since I read Patti Smith’s Just Kids in my first year of college I’ve been so inspired by her outlook on the world and her almost compulsive drive to make art. I know it’s a bit cliche, but that book really had an effect on me! Some other books that are

always on my mind are Beloved by Toni Morrisson, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. (I’m a bit of a fantasy dork). As far as people go, I’ve always worshipped everything that MGMT does and am constantly inspired by their music. Music has always been a huge influence for me, and I’ve been obsessed with it for as long as I can remember! People like Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and Panda Bear inspire me every single day to keep pushing my art. Some of my closest friends are my biggest inspirations too, like Grace Pendleton, who is an incredible photographer and one of my favorite people, and my partner Ben, who is my biggest supporter and an insanely creative painter and tattooer. My dad was really my first inspiration (aside from Avril Lavigne), he’s the one who taught me how to draw and paint first. There’s so many others! I’m so inspired by drag, and the idea of making art into a performance of the self, which originally started when I first saw and fell in love with Tim Curry’s character Dr. Frankenfurter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Some of my favorite films that have inspired my work are some pretty silly ones like Dirty Dancing and Yellow Submarine! I also love horror, and kinda kitsch movies like Suspiria (Dario Argento’s one) and House on Haunted Hill, an old Vincent Price B-level flick. What materials do you like to work with? I’m not super picky, I like to work with what’s available and what I can afford. But mainly I work with acrylic paints, paint markers, pastels, canvas, and most recently, fabric. I’ve gotten into textiles a little bit and am finding them a lot of fun to work with! Mostly from old clothes and scraps I can find wherever they are.


What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on?

especially one I’ve watched a million times like Gilmore Girls or Trailer Park Boys.

The main thing I’m doing at the moment is running a gallery with my partner in Auckland. I curate shows with him and do all the marketing as well. Aside from that, I’m also working on a series of paintings and fabric collages based on a couple I made for a recent show I was in.

What is one of your earliest memories of making art?

Is there any music you like to listen to while working? I have a pretty wide range of music in my library right now. It’s pretty all over the place. My most recent studio playlist features Blondie, Usher, A$AP Ferg, Enya, Chris Isaak, The Bangles, Harumi, and Elliott Smith. I also really like listening to podcasts, especially when I’m sewing. Right now I love a podcast called Whimsically Volatile, an extremely silly show hosted by the drag queen Katya and this other guy Craig. They talk about all kinds of crazy shit and interview some really cool people, and it keeps me laughing while I work. Where do you like to work? At my studio mainly, but sometimes I like working at the desk in my room. I’ve got the sewing machine set up in my room, and sometimes I’ll work with some TV show in the background,

Previous Work

Where To Find Them Websites: Contact: Social Media: @bysienag (Instagram)


I loved making art as a kid even though it was sometimes traumatizing! I remember once in elementary school art class we had to make these clay plates with engravings in them. Being the perfectionist I was, I didn’t finish mine in time and not only got in trouble in front of the whole class for not having my assignment finished, but I was forced to stay during lunch to finish it. I remember crying in front of the kiln, waiting for my plate to dry. I haven’t made any ceramics since then I think! What do you hope to accomplish with your work? On a slightly superficial level, I really would love to make a living off my art and have shows around the world and be able to work on projects with other artists I admire. But on a more selfless level, I really want to inspire other people, especially women and non-binary folks, to make the art they want and not the art they think they should make, if that makes sense. I feel like there’s sometimes this expectation for women’s art to be a certain way-that it needs to be sexy, alluring, or obviously feminine, or that any art should have some kind of gendered perspective. I want to help change that idea.


Kelly Lu “‘Drowning’ was based off of a painting I did during my first solo exhibition in 2016. I usually use myself as a reference, so the hairstyle and features are based off of me in college. The original title of the painting was ‘River’ as she’s wading through a body of water with faces just like hers, only she is going against the current. The ‘others’ are supposed to be the different masks she puts on for every day life, not genuine and insincere so you never see the full face. And the more masks there are, the higher the water rises and almost ‘drowns’ her. This was a representation of how I felt living as an outsider in the south, always trying on different faces in order to survive and adapt. Eventually rebelling and going against the status quo in extremity was my response to years of unsuccessfully molding myself into something I wasn’t. ” -Kelly Lu

What is your current location?

things/people that resemble being an outsider inspire me the most. Books like Kafka on the Shore by Murakami or A Tale for the Time Being by Ozeki have really given me fantastic imagery and ideas because they drew from Japanese folklore which I really love. Horror films are also great, It Follows had some beautiful cinematography. I just really love hauntingly beautiful, dark imagery in any form I can get. And also, strangely my sleep paralysis has given me some great inspiration because of the hallucinations I see during it—terrifying, but makes for cool art.

I just moved to South Carolina from Tokyo, Japan!

What materials do you like to work with?

Where are you from?

Black ink, always.

North Carolina

What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on?

Name Kelly Lu Age 24

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? BFA in Painting and Drawing. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? I find people that I can relate to (mostly women of color) or

I’m always working on tattoo designs for clients, but I’m also currently learning how to stick and poke! I’ve got a couple group shows coming up in Tennessee and LA and working on those as well. Is there any music you like to listen to while working? When I went to LA recently, my friends who are really into the DIY music scene showed me this Japanese band called Vampillia and we watched the “Endless Summer” music video. The music paired with the dark animation is just spectacular beyond words and really inspired me afterwards. I go from RnB to metal


to trap to kpop or jrock all in random order, it depends on my mood! Where do you like to work? In my studio at home. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? I remember maybe when I was 7 or 8, we had to draw our favorite story book character for a class assignment. I drew “The Dawn Fairy” which now looking back on years later, looks like a

Previous Work

Where To Find Them Websites: Contact: Social Media: @kelly_sux (Instagram)


stick figure on fire. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? When I was younger I didn’t really have any role models that I could relate to (Asian-American women specifically), so I want to be able to be a voice for those young kids struggling to navigate their way between two worlds. Drawing is also a coping mechanism for my depression or when I’m just going through a tough time, and maybe being able to make a picture out of those emotions when words aren’t enough could help someone else too.


Melek Zertal “this piece is titled ‘sleeping on new year’s eve.’ this response is someone’s refusal to follow pressure to celebrate together. an informal traditional invitation meant to gather friends and family, bound to wander from place to place in the hopes of finding something better. they just don’t know that the first sun will be a red one; it would have been better to stay at home and sleep.” -Melek Zertal Name

What materials do you like to work with?

Melek Zertal

A pencil and markers!


What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on?

24 What is your current location? Paris, France Where are you from?

I have a few book projects cooking! More than a couple but I have to get started on them before I can speak about them—but they are 100+ pages! Is there any music you like to listen to while working?

What is your current occupation?

I can hardly work without music. It depends on my mood or what I’m drawing. The last ones on my itunes playlist are Philip Glass, Young Thug, Nirvana’s unplugged album, Rico Nasty, Swae Lee, Molly Nilsson...

Rewatching all 5 seasons of Breaking Bad

Where do you like to work?

Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught?

I’d probably love to work in a shared space with some people but for now I’m just doing it from my room and from cafes, and I like it just fine.

Constantine, Algeria

I studied Illustration in Strasbourg Decorative Arts school, in France. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? Biggest influences would be David Lynch, Daniel Clowes, Matisse, David Hockney, Eric Rohmer, Blaise Larmee, Aidan Koch...

What is one of your earliest memories of making art? Drawing Sangoku in kindergarten!! All the kids lined up for me to draw it on their notebooks, I was very proud. Sangoku AND the easter bunny, the only two things I could draw. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? I don’t hope to accomplish anything in particular... I guess it


makes me happy if people like, can relate or identify with some of my characters or stories, but at the end of the day I really just

Previous Work

Where To Find Them Websites: Contact: Social Media: @melekzertal (Instagram)


do it for myself, everything else is a nice bonus.


Avery Jmo “This piece is about listening to gut feelings. Intuition’s powerful and it’s something that is easy to overlook or undervalue. Visually, this piece references past and present locations and selves. I find a lot of guidance in the communication between the two. This painting was done with acrylic gouache on paper.” -Avery Jmo Name

What materials do you like to work with?

Avery Jmo

I like materials that can convey fluidity. Oil paint and chalk pastel are favourites.

Age 19 What is your current location? Halifax, Nova Scotia Where are you from?

What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? I just created a music video with the Lonely Parade. Now that I’m finished, I’m opening my commissions for painted portraits. Is there any music you like to listen to while working?

Peterborough, Ontario

I’ve been listening to a lot of Bbymutha, Fela, and Joao Gilberto. I love listening to Sanam’s NTS radio show while I work.

What is your current occupation?

Where do you like to work?

Right now I’m doing commission work and focusing on school. At my last job, I was a hotel omelette chef in the middle of the woods.

The Halifax Library is dreamy, especially when it’s foggy. You can see the whole city and the ocean from the top floor. In the summer I like working outside. I’m looking forward to drawing in Trinity Bellwoods when it’s warm again.

Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I’m studying interdisciplinary art at NSCAD. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? I’m inspired by Bjork’s Vespertine, Frank Ocean’s Endless, Iris Van Herpen, Earl Sweatshirt, Antonia’s Line. I also get so much out of my zine collection. My favourites are by Brie Moreno, Kendra Yee, and Jonny Negron.

What is one of your earliest memories of making art? I drew a spaceship prototype that I tried to mail to the president. I didn’t know how mail worked so I just wrote “To the President” and put it in our own mail slot. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? Because there is so little representation for nonbinary people I understand the importance of my own and other nonbinary artist’s narratives in the world. I’m excited to bring that perspective


of gender into fashion. I’m most passionate about painting, fashion, and animation. I’m

Previous Work

Where To Find Them Websites: Contact: Social Media: @averyjmo (Instagram)


working towards integrating these disciplines together in my practice. I’d like to take my love for zines and graphic novels and bring that element of storytelling into other mediums.


Natalie Candlish “I love this scene from When Harry Met Sally, the scene where they’re in the museum and he asks her, in a silly voice, if she wants to go and see a movie. It sums up the whole film. As they discuss their close friendship and how absolutely, completely fine they are with each other dating other people, their facial expressions betray them and give away their true feelings.” -Natalie Candlish Name

What materials do you like to work with?

Natalie Candlish

I mostly work with pencil and coloured pencil, I like the texture and detail.

Age 32 What is your current location? London Where are you from? Scotland What is your current occupation? Illustrator 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 have just finished my submission for the Folio Society competition illustrating Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones and I’m working on some zines and also have an upcoming magazine commission. Is there any music you like to listen to while working? If I don’t need to think to much while I’m working I listen to podcasts, my favourites are Radiolab and All Killa No Filla, but if I need to concentrate I listen to music, Prince is my go to when I need an energy boost. Where do you like to work?

I did a Masters in Illustration at UAL: Camberwell and a long time ago I studied graphic design at Duncan of Jordanstone in Scotland.

I’m fortunate enough to share a studio with some illustrator friends, it’s the only place I can work. Having a dedicated illustration space where I have to get dressed and leave the house to go to really helps me to get into the right mindset.

What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most?

What is one of your earliest memories of making art?

I really like short stories about people, particularly Tove Jansson, Dorothy Parker and Margaret Atwood, I like the way they find a story in ordinary relationships.

I remember drawing my version of a map of the world when I was a child, it was completely inaccurate but my mum framed it anyway.


What do you hope to accomplish with your work? I always hope to capture and portray a feeling or expression and to tell a story which conveys that to the viewer.

Previous Work

Where To Find Them Websites:​​​ Contact: Social Media: @nataliecandlish (Instagram)



Olivia Kim Name Olivia Kim

What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on?


A graphic novel! A I’m making a zine with my friend Karen Thürler (@carookas)!


Is there any music you like to listen to while working?

What is your current location?

Folky type things, especially Mariee Sioux, Sibylle Baier, Vashti Bunyan, and Huun-Huur-Tu. Un-folky type things, like this artist called Jimothy Lacoste, which is just wholesome fun. Or Hubert Lenoir, which is less wholesome in some ways but just as fun. I’m also totally hooked to the album “Bark Your Head off, Dog” by Hop Along… I could go on!

Toronto, Ontario Where are you from? Toronto, Ontario What is your current occupation? I.T. assistant moonlighting as studio assistant at Colour Code Printing. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I’m a student at OCADU, so I’m working on it! What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? Paul Klee, Frankenstein, Robocop, Little House in the Big Woods, Yokoo Gibraan, Une Femme est une Femme, Jean Cocteau, Yoko Ono’s instillations, fiber and textile crafts.

Where do you like to work? I don’t really have a specific desk for myself anymore (it just became a station for me to pile things on). So I find I do my best work on the couch, at the dining table, in a coffee shop, at the restaurant waiting for appetizers, at the bar when you have nothing to say, etc. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? I painted a pretty sick dragonfly when I was about one year old in green finger paint. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? Empathetic reading.

What materials do you like to work with? I work a lot with ink and pen or brush. But I port a lot of textures into, and do most of my colour work and “finishing” in Photoshop.


Previous Work

Where To Find Them Websites: Contact: Social Media: @oliviamkim (Instagram)



Kimberly Edgar “I have a weird sensory disorder—either misophonia or a sensory processing disorder—which means I respond to really banal sounds mostly (but also touches, textures) with a fight-or-flight response that makes me think I’m dying. I’ve had this all my life, its very stressful to live with. I get thrown into some level of fight or flight response multiple times a week. Its exhausting. This is sort of a visualization of how I grapple with that kind of sensory sensitivity. It’s a curse but also its a beautiful blessing. I also have synesthesia and I would be so sad to not have synesthesia; I am sure the synesthesia and the processing disorder is related; I don’t think one could exist without the other.” -Kimberly Edgar Name Kimberly Edgar Age 29 (I’m almost 30 though, in May, and I am so excited) What is your current location? I constantly bounce between Dawson City, Yukon, and Toronto, Ontario. At this moment I’m in Toronto, and planning to return to the Yukon for about a year starting in May or June 2019, then back to Toronto! Where are you from? I’m from the suburbs of Ottawa, Ontario! I have a complicated relationship with the place. What is your current occupation? I’m a freelancing artist! Sometimes I teach art to kids at the Art Gallery of Ontario, too. I also have a part time gig ushering concerts at the royal conservatory of music. But I’m actually supporting myself mostly off my freelancing art, which is terrifying and wild.

Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I went to art school and graduated in 2013, but I mostly only learned printmaking and drawing (and other basic things about being an artist like theory and how to build a practice and etc). I taught myself some sculptural mediums and also how to work with watercolour, gouache, inks, and illustrations, as well as performance. But that being said, art school was super seminal and provided the foundation that I needed in order to teach myself. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? I feel like everything I make is somehow an amalgamation and regurgitation of everything I encounter, through the lens of my own experience. Its hard to pinpoint what inspires me because everything does? That being said I am particularly indebted to reading Joey Comeau and Emily Horne’s A Softer World when I was a teenager, that really solidified a life ethos and aesthetic for me. Joey Comeau’s writing has always been so vulnerable and aggressive and darkly hilarious. More recently, I’ve been into Michael Deforge’s Leaving Richard’s Valley, listening to and trying to memorize every lyric that Joanna Newsom has ever written, everything Jamiyla Lowe makes, listening to my partner’s storytelling abilities, watching people’s watercolour videos on instagam, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, living in the yukon and other northern things, Jeremy Dutcher, and my own fun experiences with neurological disorders, chronic illness, and chronic depression.


What materials do you like to work with? Currently I am obsessed with using this combo of sepia and paynes grey and blue acrylic ink, a kuretake watercolour set my partner got me, some old tubes of watercolour we found, gel pens, and holbein gouache. But I am really really into this sepia ink and paynes grey combo and using a tiny liner brush to fill in large spaces. I don’t know why I’m like this. What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? I’m currently trying to write a comic about isolation and being mentally ill and how we’re taught that mental illness is an individual problem instead of a community problem. Like, what happens when, in our individualistic western society, the onus of mental health is placed on the individual, on self care, as opposed to a structural change? How do I function in a system that wants me to fix myself when it is the system itself, not me, that is broken? Is there any music you like to listen to while working? I did spend a month only listening to Joanna Newsom and Owen Pallet on repeat while drawing. But mostly I listen to whatever I like. Where do you like to work? Our bedroom is also my studio and also my partner’s studio. Its not ideal but its the only place we have to work. So I like to work

Previous Work

Where To Find Them Websites:​​​ Contact: Social Media: @deadbirdparty (Instagram)


there I guess, at my tiny wooden desk with a precarious pile of paper and art supplies and old illustrations and my tea set and kettle at a small table next to me. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? My great grandmother is an Artist For Life who is now 100 and has dementia. She can’t paint anymore since she had a stroke but I’m pretty sure she is still painting in her mind because when I ask her how the painting is going she leans forward in her wheelchair and says very intensely “I will paint until I die”. Despite loneliness from living alone and outliving all her husbands/ lovers, she chose not to go to a home until she was 92 or 93, forced by a stroke, because her studio space was in her apartment in the spare room. Her house was a museum of paintings, covering every surface of every wall, portraits and landscapes and abstract. She made sculptures of clay of families and women looking forlorn, bored. I was told I had been drawing since I could hold a pencil, but the earliest memories I have is of my great grandma explaining painting to me, or teaching me to draw without an eraser, or lecturing me on colour. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? I want to create imagery that feels stylized and immersive and I want my interests and love come through to the viewer. The work for me needs to work formally but also personally to the viewer.


Luyi Wang “I am always wondering how the robots will response to love in the future. I guess if they can feel love, maybe they will be as shy as we are. This piece was done digitally and I had a lot of fun making it. ” -Luyi Wang Name

What materials do you like to work with?

Luyi Wang

Collage, acrylic and found object. I collect all kinds of paper and small objects, I like to spread the materials on the table and then let them guide the direction of my creation, often full of surprises. I am not a digital person, but I’ve been trying to make more digital stuff recently.

Age 28 What is your current location? I currently live in Hoboken, New Jersey.

What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on?

Where are you from?

Lately, I am working on my personal paintings about depression and life struggles.

Northeastern China

Is there any music you like to listen to while working?

What is your current occupation?

I don’t listen to music very often while working but sometimes if I do, I love Sufjan Stevens and Faye Wong.

Freelance illustrator and teaching artist Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I finished my BA at Camberwell College of Art and MFA at the Maryland Institute College of Art, both in the illustration department. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? I am mostly inspired by everything around me. Some of my favorite artists: David Hockney, Luke Best, Jockum Nordström, Laura Carlin, Laurent Impeduglia, Geran Knol.

Where do you like to work? I would love to work in a studio with other cool people and dogs. I miss studio life a lot. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? When I was in kindergarten I got to draw swans, but I could not draw their necks right, so all the swans I drew were super weird, which made me really upset. I would love to make funny swans rather than beautiful swans now, I guess I have gotten better artistic sense through these years. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? Express myself and ideally, I can make a living with what I love doing.


Previous Work

Where To Find Them Websites: Contact: Social Media: @luyiwangart (Instagram)



Nicole Rodrigues “This drawing is about finding your friend in the after life and dealing with loss and grief. I had a friend pass away recently and I can’t stop thinking about if I will ever get to see my loved ones again. Will I see them in another life, dimension, heaven, or anything else? And even if I do go anywhere after this life, where ever my energy or soul will go, will I even be able to find my friends and loved ones? Will I get a response from them, can I even communicate with them now? Even though all that is the unknown, I like to think about it and to know that they are always on my mind. The process of this piece involved images of parks I’ve been to and enjoyed wandering in. Sometimes I imagine visiting these places I enjoyed in the afterlife or in unknown parallel universes.” -Nicole Rodrigues Name Nicole Rodrigues Age 26 What is your current location? Philadelphia, PA Where are you from? South Orange, New Jersey What is your current occupation? Teaching Artist with the Restorative Practices Youth Program at Mural Arts. I also screen print shirts and do freelance illustration here and there. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I went to the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, MD What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most?

Right now I’m really inspired by surrealist artists Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington. Some current comic artists I’m really into are Inés Estrada, Eli Howey, Abraham Díaz, Leslie Stein, Puiupo, and Ben Passmore. I’m also into sci-bi books like Kindred by Octavia E. Butler and Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry. I also love watching tv shows like Black mirror and Star Trek. What materials do you like to work with? I love working with brush pens, pen and ink, white gel pens, colored pencils, and watercolor. What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? I’m working on a sci-fi comic right now that follows the story of a person whose world has a destruction back up plan and freezes people into space before the world ends and they get picked up by a space station community of androids. I’m also always working on t-shirt designs to screen print onto shirts as well as random illustrations. I hope to collaborate with more artists this year too! Is there any music you like to listen to while working? Chill Study Beats on youtube, haha not gonna lie. But other than that I like to listen to all types of music, anything from emo/punk to soul or funk music.


Where do you like to work?

What do you hope to accomplish with your work?

In my room either on my desk or in my bed

I hope to have people feel comfort and be able to relate to my work. I also wish to show people the connection between us and nature and how important it is to understand and be able to navigate the world around us that is equitable and fair. I focus on how human behavior can affect our environment within landscape imagery, which I hope is another relatable aspect of my work.

What is one of your earliest memories of making art? I loved drawing people and characters as a kid. I’ll never forgot when I tried to draw people having sex in 2nd grade and trying to imagine what that would look like.

Previous Work

Where To Find Them Websites: Contact: Social Media: @lost.mirage (Instagram)



Milos Kopecek “The piece I am presenting here was created with the Procreate iPad app. It’s very simple minimalistic composition and when I was creating it I wanted it as simple as possible. I was playing with that image for a while to get it right. I never really know what I am creating in meaning, but when I was creating this image I thought about living technology and something intimate. But what it is really about is up to you. I would be more than happy if people put meaning into my images.” -Milos Kopecek Name Milos Kopecek What is your current location? I currently live in Sydney, Australia. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I have attended after-school art classes from when I was seven probably untill I was 17. I have been always interested in art. I have been drawing, painting, creating pictures as long as I remember. When I studied Philosophy at University I had art courses as well but most stuff about art theory and history I have learnt from reading. But I would say technically I am definitely self taught. Especially with digital stuff I don’t have patience to watch tutorials or anything like that, so I am just learning by trial and error. I like it that way, that you really don’t know how to use technology one-hundred percent and you have to work with limited skills to create something. But I have been always drawing, all my life. I always get bored with my work after a while and then I intentionally change tool I work with. New tools usually frustrate me for a while, but they force me to do new things. When I started to work digitally I didnt know what I was going to do. I still don’t know but I like not knowing and I don’t want to define myself. What materials do you like to work with?

I started to create pictures digitally using my iPad and I instantly found it liberating. It’s like having your studio in small box which you can carry with yourself wherever you go. Digital art is still young and there is no long history of that, you have really no big Icons you can follow or relate to. And many people still don’t consider it art so it feels quite liberating too. I like working digitally because it’s very flexible in many ways. I usually recycle my own work and use one form to create new images. I have my own way of creating that which is probably closer to sculpting than to drawing. And big plus is that you don’t create physical images, which have to be stored somewhere. I find creating art digitally very contemporary because we live in digital age. We are more than ever connected with technology, our smart phones are like our body parts. It fascinates me, seeing that change in human society. Is there any music you like to listen to while working? When I was working on piece you can see here I was listening a lot of repetitive electronic music, it was intentionaI. I like seeing my current work as electronic or technological, something detached from me but still part of me, probably something like my Iphone. But I don’t always listen electronic music. It depends. Very often I sit in silence. Where do you like to work? Because I work using an iPad, I can work anywhere, I don’t need a studio. But despite that I still love working in my bedroom, sitting on my bed, or in front of TV with my boyfriend. Sometimes


I like to concentrate , sometimes I feel like disruption serves me good to get some healthy perspective. But when I travel I just pack my Ipad and take it wherever I go and work there.

Previous Work

Where To Find Them Contact: Social Media: @milos.kopecek (Instagram)


What do you hope to accomplish with your work? Well, I would like my work to be seen by more people. I am working hard and regularly and I hope I will create something I can’t create now. I want to be surprised, otherwise it gets boring.




Daylen Sue is a cartoonist and animator, who’s work grapples with agony and persistence.

Although her interest in art was kept largely to herself for much of her youth, she has maintained a consistent self-taught art practice for years because of the internet. Through diligent observational drawing and experimentation on early internet art forums, Daylen has cultivated a fascinating style and sense of storytelling. A common source of inspiration for Daylen is revenge, and her work is often where she reflects on personal conflicts. That turbulent energy coupled with her thoughtful use of shape and form, has created some of the most dynamic and captivating animations and illustrations I’ve seen in a long time.

In the few years since studying animation in college, Daylen has made a unique body of work.

So far she has put out a stunning short, a handful of comics, dozens of illustrations, and recently a music video for Oneohtrix Point Never. After moving to LA this fall I met up with Daylen to discuss her experience growing up here, her creative process, and what directions she wants to take her work.

Where are you from and where do you live currently? I’m from the San Fernando Valley. I grew up in Northridge and now I live in Reseda. What was your experience like growing up in the San Fernando Valley? Were you encouraged to make art when you were younger? The San Fernando Valley is very empty. Everything is so far apart and you really only have malls to go to. There weren’t really art galleries around there, so I didn’t really have exposure to that. But I had no parental supervision on my internet usage since elementary school, and that’s mainly where I found art. I first just started off drawing a lot of anime and manga and uploading it to Deviant Art. But I always hid it from all of my friends because it just felt like they wouldn’t understand—which is weird to think about now. Once in a while on a school project I would draw for it and they would be like, “What the fuck!? You can draw?” I wanted to take art classes in middle school but my mom had a customer who was apparently a graphic designer and he told her, “No, don’t let her take classes. When someone is unsupervised is when they make the best work.” So I just drew at home on printer paper and I never learned technical skills. What kind of art were you consuming at that point? Was there anything in your immediate surroundings that you appreciated, or did you mostly find the work you liked online? Yeah, I think it was mainly on the internet. Both of my parents grew up very poor in Korea, so they just never had the privilege to engage with art whatsoever. They were always just thinking of survival. So when I tried talking about art they would just be like, “I don’t know…” They don’t listen to music, they don’t look at drawings, they barely watch movies. None of my cousins


were into it either, so no one could help me pave the path of good taste at all. I had the worst taste back then, haha. I would mainly look at Newgrounds. Or I would go to the Boarders Books on friday nights and just read all of the manga there. Art wise, it was very incestuous in a sense, because I wasn’t being exposed to new things. It was just anime and all of that over and over. That’s so funny. Yeah Newgrounds was for sure one of the first places I looked at art on the internet as a kid. But it definitely bread some pretty questionable and controversial work. Yeah it’s pretty scummy in today’s context. But back then it was eye opening. It was like, “Whoa, this dude made an animation on his own! It’s Hentai… but he made it!” So I felt like, Wow, how do I make my own stuff. Back then people thought you’d have to work at a studio to make that. But you could just get a sticky note pad and animate on it, so I started doing things like that. Did you learn Adobe Flash while you were in high school? What was your art practice like before you went to college? It was mainly traditional work, with markers, and color pencils, and watercolor, and stuff like that. Then I would just scan it. Then in high school I got my first Bamboo tablet and I started doing really shitty Photoshop work. I torrented Photoshop and Flash, but I never got into Flash. I thought the vector lines were really ugly. So I would kind of animate with the frame timeline in Photoshop. But that was not very intuitive because it’s just not really made for animation. So I kind of backed off from it for a while and thought, I’m just going to draw. I didn’t think animation was a feasible future at all, because I wasn’t exposed to how the industry worked or that you could even go to school for it. At that point I was going to go to pharmacy school. So it was a very last minute choice to major in art. How did you eventually decide to study art in college? I went to CSSSA (California State Summer School of the Arts), which is a summer art program held at Cal Arts. It was just mind opening. My head teacher was Lori Damiano. She makes comics and stuff and now lives in Portland. Also Leif Goldberg was one of my teachers. They didn’t have a “studio approach” to animation at all. They were like, “Do you want to do sand animation? Do you want to do this? Do whatever the fuck you want.” Then they gave me a scholarship, and I was like, “Holy Shit! I’m the only one who got this scholarship and they think there’s some worth in me, enough that I can pursue art.” That was the summer right before my senior year in high school, so that was right before applying to college. I was like, “I don’t want to be a pharmacist and I don’t want to be a court reporter.” Those were both jobs my mom wanted me to have. So I was like, “I’m going to try drawing.” and no one in my family believed in it. But because I had that scholarship and I got another scholarship, and I had financial aid, I was able to go to school for my undergrad for free. The school paid for my rent and my computer, so my family couldn’t complain to me like, “We’re paying for everything, so you have to do what we say!” I was like, “Nope! I’m technically paying for everything, so I get to study what I want.” So I was able to do that purely because of financial stability from those resources. After spending so long hiding your art, what was it like to finally be encouraged to pursue the work you were making and show it to more people? How did that affect your attitude about what you were doing? It really crippled me. My undergrad was not very fruitful. I drew once every couple weeks


because I was so terrified about the expectations. I thought, Oh god, these teachers gave me a scholarship to draw, and now they expect me to be good. But I’m not good, so I’m just going to put in the least amount of effort to pass my classes. So I made horrible work almost all four years, except for my final film, which I’m still proud of. I was like, “This is it. This is what I want to make, and I should at least put the effort in now.” But there was kind of a wasted couple years because of self sabotaging and stuff like that. Then I took a year off after graduating and worked in a studio and did some small freelance stuff. Then I went to grad school and that was when I was like, “You know what, I can do this. It’ll be fine.” That’s when the pieces really fell together—only very recently. While you were getting your undergrad degree, was there any work that you saw that left a big impact on you? Did you enjoy the program despite the pressure you felt from the opportunity? I think the program was very confusing. I think now there’s more visual effects and post production stuff, but back then the one animation teacher who really gave a fuck did the genie in Aladdin or whatever, haha. Only having that kind of exposure and knowing that that wasn’t what I wanted to do was hard. All of the LA based animation shows and stuff like that are sort of one tone, and that wasn’t very inspiring. But I was introduced to Cinefamily which, before their whole controversy, was showing lots of really cool stuff. They showed animations from Japan that went beyond what we perceive to be “anime.” I met my boyfriend on Tumblr, and his art uses this rotoscoped style, which was something that I had never seen before. So he introduced me to a lot of net artists and work outside of just what I knew in LA.


After a certain point, the internet just starts feeding you back what they know you already like, so you don’t get introduced to new things very often. So I was just going to as many movie screenings as I could. Then I started looking more towards live action films, rather than animation, because I wasn’t finding stuff that I liked that much. What was the process for making your final project in school, GAWI, in 2015? How did you come up with the concept for it? I had been getting sleep paralysis weekly for a couple months—I think from the stress of having to think of an idea for the film. But it’s something that runs in the women in my family on my Korean side. My cousin had the same girl visiting her every night telling her how she died. My aunt had someone sit on her and feed her constantly until she though she was choking in her sleep. My mom doesn’t tell me, but she’s screaming at night all of the time. We get really bad night terrors. But mine was less with a singular person, and more a series of different images and experiences. It felt like it was portals opening from another plane. All of these hands reaching out, or thumbs forming a guillotine. Then I tried to practice lucid dreaming so that I could take control, and then there would be a voice that would be like, laughing at me as if to say, “Haha, I’m not giving you control!” So because I would be lucid dreaming I would be super aware of it, and then I would experience my ribs cracking open and stuff like that. I would get those dreams weekly and I was like, “Okay… I could make a film about this.” haha. It’s all traditional animation and I did it with pencil at first. Then I cleaned it up with ball point pen.

How long did you work on it? What were some of the challenges when you were working on it? Just my own insecurities I guess. It took like a year to make. I just didn’t believe that I could animate or that I was an animator at all. My film is a couple of loops and I played with the structure of it. I did not animate a lot for it. So I think the biggest obstacle was not animating as much as I should have, when I could have probably done it. Something I really like about your work is that you have this really seamless marriage of both analog animation and digital animation. How did you learn to incorporate each with one another to create the style of work that you’ve made? I think the digital came after undergrad. Also all those years in high school when I was using photoshop on my shitty anime drawings, haha. I learned a lot about photoshop back then. It wasn’t like I had to learn it again for what I do now. It was more like, “Oh, I’ll go back to this a little.” I really liked the textures and the line work I was able to achieve with traditional mediums. I just felt like I could never do that, no matter how good of a brush photoshop offers. I wasn’t getting the same weight or paper indents. Then I got really into graphic design, so I tried to marry all of these things. I think it comes more from a insecurity of being good at one thing, and it comes out of me trying to be good at everything, so that I could prove myself to myself. So it wasn’t really on purpose, haha. I have to prove to myself that I can do something, so I ended up combining those things.


How did you feel after completing GAWI? Did you get any sort of reception from people who saw it after it came out? From teachers I got a lot of pushback. They didn’t really think of it as being complete as a film. But what made me happy was, I got a lot of emails and messages online from people who have sleep paralysis being like, “This is exactly what it feels like! This is it! This hits the nail on the head! I hate this feeling.” That was enough for me. I felt like, Cool, I got to capture this feeling that a lot of people don’t really know how to describe exactly. So I just considered it enough of a success in that sense. Other than that, I don’t think many people saw it. A lot of animation classmates were like, “Whoa, I got a Vimeo staff pick!” or “Whoa, I got into all of these film festivals.” but it didn’t do well in that aspect. But I was happy with it. How long after that did you make your zine of short story comics, Thin Content? After studying animation, how did it feel to try telling a story in the format of a comic? Before I decided to do animation I wanted to be a comic artist. I read a lot more comic books and I watched anime, but I didn’t think they were viable. I had no idea about the “Do-It-Yourself” zine culture or comic culture at all. Finding out about zines felt like, Thank God, because it’s a lot less work in a sense. Do you know Paula Puiupo? They’re a Brazilian artist and they asked me to be in an anthology. That was my first ever comic. That pushed me because I loved Paula’s work. We had been talking on and off online for so long now, and I made my first comic for it—which is also in Thin Content. I didn’t even think about printing it, I just wanted to make many things, and then I put it together.


The Glass Mask, which was the third part of Thin Content, I think, was a scrolling website. That was for Pearl Girl Media, an Asian diaspora women publication, and Jessia Ma was in charge of it and she coded it. I was like, “I like these images. I’m going to do some graphic design. The second story came from me wanting to make this thing about K-Pop, haha. I love K-Pop but I also understand what a problematic industry it is and the long term effects it has on the idols. But that’s also been a part of why it interests me. It’s really interesting to study the big cultural changes in Korea over the past 50 or 60 years. I don’t know too much about the country’s history, but it’s interesting to see how much growth and progress has happened over such a short period of time. Yeah, they had major media censorship in the ‘50s when my parents were in Korea. After that whole spiel, they were just like, “We gotta catch up! We’re just going to go hyper-pop, hyperindustry, hyper-everything!” Everything that my parents grew up with is gone now. My parents haven’t visited in like 20 or 30 years, and they are still just like, “Well, there’s no point in me going back, because everything is different. It’s not the Korea I knew, so what’s the point?” Is it important to you to include that culture in your work? What relationship does your Korean heritage have to your work since you are first generation born in the US? Is it ever hard to see yourself in that Korean culture? Like you said, I don’t really see myself in K-Pop or Korean media at all, despite how much interest I might have. I was really into anime in high school and J-Rock and J-Pop. Then we learned about WWII and Japan’s colonial history. I never understood it, because I would be like, “Mom, look at this hot J-Rock Star. I love him! His name is Miyavi.” and she would be like, “Ugh, he’s Japanese.” She very clearly hated Japan—not the individuals from there, but the country—and she didn’t like that her daughter was into it. I’m half Chinese and they also fucked up China, so both of parents were like, “What the fuck are you doing?” haha. So I never really got that until I learned the history of it. Then I was like, “Oh, maybe I should try to relate more back to my roots. That’s so complicated for any diaspora. Then I got into K-Pop really heavily, but I hid it because I was ashamed. I grew up around a lot of Asians, and they were like cool “Indie” kids. They were more like hype-beast types or ABGs: Asian Baby Girls. There were very distinct groups, and liking K-Pop and being the anime drawing nerd—I was like, “I already have checklist of nerdy characteristics. I don’t to add more so that they’ll be meaner to me.” haha. So I kind of hid it and would talk shit about it. But then people were just like, “Daylen, we don’t even care. We don’t even know what K-Pop is.” so I had that kind of relationship to it. But then I found 2NE1 which is a Korean girl group who changed my life. That was like the first time I felt like I could see myself in Koreans. They didn’t have double eyelids, and they had round faces. They wore really heavy eyeliner and stuff like that, and everyone in Korea would call them ugly. People were like, “Oh, they’re the ugly but talented group.” They have a song that is literally called “Ugly” and the lyrics are something like, I think I’m ugly, and nobody wants to love me. It’s fucked up because it’s funded by an industry that puts this pressure on the people in the first place. But it’s totally packaged for insecure teenagers, like me, who want to feel like. “Yeah, we’re all ugly!” So they are what really deepened my relationship with K-Pop. Now I’m very aware of the idea that we’re all kind of puppets. But that was what really made me feel more connected to my Korean side. Lately with identity politics, it’s weird because you have a lot of Asian collectives who flatten themselves to things like K-Pop or easy-in culture, which I don’t really feel a part of either. It’s like proving to your own race that you are one of them by flattening yourself to a unified experi-


ence like, “We all eat rice.” It’s like, “Okay…Cool…” Yeah as identity politics have become something for people to monetize, it feels like a lot of people make work or do things in a way that allows them to satisfy what people from a different background want to believe about them. Do you ever feel a pressure to make work about your culture for people who want to voyeur into your culture? Yeah definitely. I think with Thin Content, it was more an exploration of personal experiences with my parents pressuring me to get plastic surgery and me not wanting to. Also K-Pop and beauty standards, etc. You know, when you’re young, you have to get it out of your system, haha. But I never meant it as, “This is the Asian experience.” it was just mine. I completely agree that something I struggle with is not wanting to be “the Asian ____” or the next Aeon Flux—which was made by a Korean man. After the Oneohtrix Point Never video came out, some Asian person commented something like, “It’s so cool that you’re working with Asian artists.” I was just like, “This person doesn’t care about my work, they care about his work. No one should be celebrated just for working with an Asian in the first place. Daniel saw my work and hired me.” So I really try to stay far away from that. But they keep clawing me back in, haha. Yeah I think, similar in the way that people flatten their cultural identity, I think the internet has also flattened the way that we look at people. People often look to individuals to represent something much bigger than themselves that’s going on, rather than seeing them as individuals. Of so many Asian artists work right now, that’s why I support Yaeji. She uses Korean, but it involves her relationship to her not speaking perfect Korean. It’s not really my type of music, but I do like how she presents herself and it doesn’t feel like much of a persona. Obviously she’s Korean—that’ll always be a part of her. But she’s not trying to ride on it. A problem I’ve had with a lot of Asian artists lately is this whole fad of reclaiming stereotypes. It’s stuff like, “I’m going to get a shitty white guy calligraphy tattoo, because I want to reclaim it.” or like, “I’m going to wear this Chinese dress to an event that it’s completely not appropriate for.” only because these people want to appear in a certain way. I guess it makes sense. I try to have a little bit more empathy for them, because maybe they didn’t grow up around a lot of Asians. So them feeling that now is empowering to them. But I guess for me, I grew up around a lot of Asians who always hated on it, and now you see that they’re all super into that kind of shit. Being Asian is cool now, but I kind of hate it because I think it’s cool for the wrong reasons. I think it’s fine to have a personal interest in those things—like yeah, dragons are cool, whatever. I think my problem is that these people make it more consumable for audiences in not very progressive ways. It’s fine if you like dragons, it’s fine if you just want to be this anime girl or whatever, I definitely went through that, but you then make it seem okay for non-Asians to view you only in that way. Trying to reclaim all of these things that are not to be forgotten but we should just be moving past at this point, or at least not making them the pinnacle of our cultural identity. While it’s important to consider the complexities and struggles of being part of the Asian diaspora, focus on the betterment of yourself and your skills. You’re already Asian—you don’t have to make yourself more of an easy to digest Asian. What themes do you notice coming up a lot in your work? What do you often gravitate towards in the work that you make? I guess whatever leaves the biggest mark on me, experience wise. I stay angry for a really long time, haha. I hold grudges, so I try to make work from those grudges, so that I can move


past them. I had a comic about “co-dependent cunt” and that was about the beginning of my first relationship. It was about understanding boundaries and things like that. I also made this series of drawings in grad school called Zero Ethnic Rhythm. It was called that because a teacher told me I’m not Asian enough. She was like, “You should be more oriental. You have zero ethnic rhythm.” haha. So I thought, Whoa, that’s kind of an interesting phrase. I’ve never been told that before. They were talking about my grad school film and they were like, “Why don’t you use traditional Asian instruments? Does Korea have traditional instruments?” and I was just like, “This is the stupidest class critique I’ve ever been a part of. I don’t want to be mad about this anymore.” But I think it’s rather menial things. Just my own personal experiences. I’m not trying to make commentary on a bigger scale in anyway. But maybe if an audience member can feel that kind of repressed anger or confusion with their identity. What did you do just after you got your undergraduate degree, and how did that lead to you going to grad school in Europe? At that point I think I was still very weirded out by studio work. But my teacher gave me a studio job for a month. It was not a very good experience, so I was just like, “Okay, I’m going to make this zine and I want to try to table at LA zine fair.” It worked out really well. This sounds dumb to say, but I think it’s important for other artists to hear—I don’t have student debt due to scholarships and financial aid and my parents are still in the traditional Asian mind set which is that you’re not allowed to get a part-time job and that doing that would embarrass them. So my entire family was saying, unless you get this amazing job off the top, then you just shouldn’t work. It’s a very privileged position to be in, but because of that I was like, “I might as well draw whatever I can and develop a personal style. Then I was like, “This isn’t working out. I didn’t learn enough skill during my undergrad, so I kept getting rejected from studio jobs. So I went to grad school because it was in Belgium and it cost $1500 a year for tuition. So I just did small time illustration jobs there and I helped out at an animation studio there, which had a lot less expectations for it’s employees. So I learned TVPaint, I learned Toon Boom, I got much more well aquatinted with After Effects. Now job searches are turning out better for me. So that helped a lot. What work did you make while you were in Belgium? Did you start working on that Oneohtrix Point Never video there? My first year at grad school involved me going way more into traditional and digital work. I started doing these small little drawings—stuff that was just for me that I never posted. My undergrad was a private university with an animation department, so it was so different from art schools. Going to art school in Belgium was about being very conceptual. Even if you were in animation you could have a series of drawings and be like, “This implies movement, so…” But that kind of bull shit is nice to hear sometimes. It helps you rewire how you think about storytelling or getting a message across. So I took a lot of conceptual classes. I don’t know anything about art history or animation history or comics history. I’m so insular in a way. So I was trying to grow more as a person so that I could make better work as a natural result of that. I just didn’t want to be the same person I was when I came in. So I was reading a lot and learning a lot. Daniel (Lopatin) had reached out to for a music video, and by that point I had felt somewhat more comfortable in the style I had developed and my skills, so I made that last year. How did you get in touch with Daniel? What was the process like working on that music video? He contacted me within the year after I had graduated undergrad. So there was like two or there years that were like, “It’s gonna happen…” but natural problems came up with him making an


album and the art direction. It was my first time making a music video, so it was confusing. It was supposed to be for a completely different song. Everything was storyboarded and edited for that, but then it changed, and it changed again, and it changed one more time. So that happened like that. I felt more confident working on it, and that was a new experience. I was not like, “Ugh, what should I make this about.” I did multiple storyboards, but I stuck with my first idea. With animation you can’t really change your mind. So I was trying to be like a horse with blinders on, haha. I was just like, “I’m just going to go and put my all into it and finish it.”


The story was simple. It was just three angels being dropped into the core of this world that is so corrupted that it’s this living vessel. Then one of them gets stuck. I can’t even remember—I haven’t looked at it in the past couple months because I can’t look at past work. It was based on me having toxic relationships with girlfriends. Backstabbing, jealousy, competition—you’re both in a shitty position, yet you’re both trying to one up the other. A lot of people don’t address that now because everyone is trying to be so positive and feminist that they don’t see that there are so many flaws in any relationship that you can work on. But in the name of woman empowerment a lot of problems aren’t addressed. I can be a feminist and still be aware that I was a total bitch to some girlfriends, or some girlfriends were bitchy to me. But that was just a result of certain societal pressures on us. It was a very simple idea and it turned into that. Something I really love about your work is that you express so much emotion in character’s movement and body language rather than through their facial expressions. How has form become such a important part of your work? Some people—when they want to get away from drawing personal work—they’ll draw fan art or things like that. But for me that thing is figure drawing. I love figure drawing because I don’t have to think at all about, “What’s the story? What’s the concept? What do they look like?” So that’s were a lot of the posing comes from. I also storyboard movies that I watch. I’ll pause at each new frame and draw them. All of those dynamic poses are what I’m extremely interested in.


How do you think your writing differs between your comics and your animations? What freedoms do each medium offer that make you appreciate both? I think with comics, you don’t have to give the audience the timing and the pacing. They do it on their own accord. So it’s interesting in that aspect. I can’t force them to look at a frame for this long or anything, so I include a lot more variety. With animation I want everything to flow into each other, so I really have to think through every aspect. I think comics are more freeing because I don’t plan them out that much. But with animation I plan out everything down to the T. I think the only reason I still do animation is because there are musicians that I like working with, who add so much to a film. I had someone who was a musician ask me in a DM if they could make a film with me. I was like, “Oh sorry, I’m too burnt out. I don’t want to make another film.” and he was like, “You can just link my SoundCloud on one of your zines.” I was like, “Fuck you, I’m not doing that.” haha. But that’s the thing, it’s not really compatible in that way, unless you do a zine reading. That’s an aspect of making films that I really really like. How have you seen your work change over time? What direction do you see it heading in the future? I think I tried to peacock a lot more initially. I was overfilling a page just because I was like, “I have all of these interesting ideas.” that were actually not that interesting since they couldn’t stand alone by themselves. I needed to combine them all together to create something alluring. People really like that—when it’s super busy. But I realized I was putting a lot less attention on things. I was just giving into what people expected with my busier work. So now I’m trying to go a little bit more simple and focus on different lines. I want to try sculpture. I feel very burnt out

after that music video and my interactions within the art community, so I just want to do something that’s truly for myself. That’s a really hard relationship to maintain with yourself. I don’t see a future honestly. It’s a little bleak, but not in a bad way. I don’t have these grand ideas of being this famous whatever. I just don’t care anymore, which has been kind of hard to deal with. You’re like, “Where’s my passion?” but then you’re like, “Maybe I’ve just been drawing for the wrong reasons.” So I’m just trying to work on that now. What are you working on at the moment that you can talk about? What do you have planned for this year? I’ve turned down a lot of things recently, haha. I’m hoping to get a comic book out this year. I’ve had people ask me for another music video, but I don’t know if I’m ready for that yet. I don’t like to consistently pump out work. The only reason I was able to make this music video or go to grad school was because I felt like my style had changed enough from when I was an undergrad. But I always want to try to put out something newer than my last piece. I’m not going to rush into freelance jobs. I might do visuals for this one musician that I’m friends with. But that’s not really drawing work. But my main goal this year is to make a comic book and to make sculptures and to try not to think so much about the outcome. 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 think I can only make that comic book if I get a grant that I’m applying for. I really want to do a big gallery show. This is such a shot in the dark, but I’ve been trying to find Chris Cunningham’s email address, haha. He has a studio now that just does commercial work. But I just can’t find his contact info. It’s such a dream. I want to do an art show with very practical visual effects—not just drawings. I use to make a lot of prosthetic in my edgy gore phase. So I want to return back to that. This is also a really dumb dream that I’ve been telling everyone: I really want to direct a K-Pop video, haha. I just want to try new things. I just don’t want to get into a cycle. What do you still struggle with as an artist? What hurdles do you want to overcome? I want to be more optimistic about people and everything. It’s just tiring to have this attitude. It’s just where my mind automatically goes, and I acknowledge that it’s not the most healthy. I want to find a new reason for drawing and for making work other than revenge or to give myself value. It’s important to try to accept that you have value outside of your work. I use to think that the two were so connected that they couldn’t be viewed as separate entities. Now I realize they totally can. I just want to focus more on my friendships that I’ve neglected a lot in my pursuit of art. I’m just trying to be more of a person.




Over the past two decades Robert Beatty has made some of the most recognizable and awe-inspiring visual art for inno-

vative musicians around the world. If you’ve visited a record store in the past five or ten years, there’s a good chance you’ve seen his work without even knowing it. The Kentucky based multi-media artist poses a rare talent for making something specials out of the few resources at his disposal, and he developed his industrious work ethic purely out of necessity. Robert has come a long way from the Lexington noise scene where he cut his teeth working at the local college radio station, making gig posters, and playing in his band Hair Police. But despite now working for massive clients like Tame Impala, the New York Times, Kesha, and Apple, very little has changed about Robert’s approach towards his work and surroundings.

The strength of Robert’s work lies in his willingness to learn and his desire to constantly get out of his comfort zone.

Although he is best known for the iconic album covers he has consistently made for bands like Real Estate, U.S. Girls, and The Flaming Lips, his work has taken shape in almost every medium you could imagine and has been show in almost every context art can be shown in. I can’t remember when I first found out about Robert or which piece was the first that I saw of his, but like many prolific artists, once I knew who he was I began seeing his work pop up everywhere I looked. I finally met Robert in person for the first time at Comic Arts Brooklyn a number of years ago while he was touring his book Floodgate Companion. Since then I’ve eagerly awaited an opportunity for us to record an interview with him for the magazine. That opportunity finally came last summer when I was in the process of moving across the country, and I made a stop in Lexington to visit Robert. While together for a few days in Lexington we discussed growing up in the south, how underground art eventually gets co-oped, and why his art has benefitted from the time he has taken to develop it.

Where are you from and where do you live currently? I grew up in a town called Nicholasville, Kentucky, which is one county over from Lexington, where I live now. I’ve lived in Kentucky my entire life. I moved to Lexington when I was like 21. What was your experience like growing up in Nicholasville? I grew up on a farm, so it was somewhat isolating. It was small town Kentucky and things were very different then. There was no internet, so did a lot of weird investigating on my own. My family had a set of encyclopedias, and that was how I spent a lot of my time—trying to find out about anything that wasn’t available to me. I spent a lot of time outside playing on the farm, but I also spent just as much time inside drawing and trying to find as much music as I could. It definitely changed once I started high school and I got into more indie and experimental music. Finding out about more stuff through that kind of opened up a lot. What were some of the first things that you were exposed to that left a big impression on you? There was a show on MTV called Liquid Television that was an anthology of animated shorts. It’s kind of all over

the place. It’s where Beavis and Butthead started, but it also had stuff made by artists like Charles Burns and Mark Beyer. Mark Beyer had this thing called Thomas and Nardo that was an animated short series on it. There was so much stuff that was pretty out there, and it led me to find out about other stuff. I was also into comics. I started out being into X-Men and comics like that. Then I found out about Fantagraphics and I started looking for anything that was more obscure that I could learn about. I subscribed to a lot of music and comics catalogs just to read about stuff. I wouldn’t buy a lot of records or comics or anything, but just being able to read the descriptions and kind of imagine what they were like—I think that was a huge part of my development. I’ve realized it’s a huge part of the way that I make art as well, because I like things to be kind of obscured in someway where you don’t get all of the answers. I really like the idea of something being a window that’s just a peek into something that will lead you off into different pathways. I think I saw Pavement on 120 Minutes and I got a Pavement record, and then I just started buying anything that was on Matador Records. So I found out about Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 and The Frogs and whatever weird bands that they were putting out records for that weren’t the bands that were huge during that era. That was just about finding new things and following them to other new things. There was a pretty good book store


in Lexington that me and my friends would go to pretty often that had a lot of CDs. They carried all of John Zorn’s Tzadik label, so there was all of this weird music that was classified as “jazz” but was really far out stuff. I’m glad that I grew up in that era and had the challenge of discovering all of this stuff. I feel like it’s very different now where you have everything at your fingertips. You don’t really have time to develop as much. For me it was very gradual. I would have one thing that I was into for two months until I found another thing. But animation and comics were really my gateway into art. That’s how I found out about anything. I got into Dada and Marcel Duchamp and I was really obsessed with that stuff in high school. Then it just kind of went from there. What role did music play in your life at the time? Did your parents play music at all, or did they encourage you to play music at all? I mean, my parents listened to pretty much only country music. I grew up listening to country music like Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn and Ricky Skaggs. It was a very Kentucky thing. My parents had a big record collection, but it was all country. A lot of the time people are like, “Aw, your parents must have had such a good record collection!” and they did, but it wasn’t like I was looking at Pink Floyd or Yes album covers as a kid, haha. I definitely kind of broke away from what I grew up with. I still enjoy that stuff because it’s part of who I am, but I don’t think people would necessarily see what I do and think, Oh yeah, country music. But my parents didn’t play music and I didn’t grow up taking music lessons or learning music really. I was pretty talented at drawing at a very early age, and my parents were very encouraging of that. They would have me put drawings in the 4-H county fair competition and I had a couple drawings go to the state fair. You know, that’s just a funny small town way to get recognized or whatever. I think I got a blue ribbon at the state fair for a drawing, haha. Would you say you’re primarily self taught in both music and art? When did you start making your own work? In high school I would say I started developing what I was doing. It took a while to figure out what I really wanted to do. It was kind of the same with music at the time. I was playing music with my friend Trevor Tremaine, who I started Hair Police with after high school. Trevor is a super talented musician and he grew up taking piano lessons and bass lessons and he can play any instrument. I started playing music by taking apart toys and opening up the electronics on the inside and seeing what weird sounds I could make out of them. I don’t have any formal training in music whatsoever, and I still don’t really consider myself a musician, but over the years I’ve learned how to do what it is that I want to do. I figured out different ways around not

having the skills to do it. You know, art is kind of the same way. I didn’t go to college. I was pretty involved in art classes in high school, and I had a lot of time to work on stuff in high school. But my life kind of took a different path after I graduated high school and didn’t go to art school or anything. I think if I had gone to school I would have gone for graphic design rather than fine art. I think even at a young age I realized, If I’m going to do this I want it to be something I can make a living doing. It’s crazy to me that anybody at age 18 is like, “I’m going to spend tens of thousands of dollars and do this speculative thing like going to art school.” You can very well come out of that not having any sort of skills or even a basic understanding of what it is you want to do. But I definitely would have gone for graphic design. I was pretty interested in that stuff at an early age. With everything that I’ve done I’m very motivated to learn new stuff all the time. I’m always trying to investigate things further than what I already know about them. It’s the same with art. I just want to know how to do things and figure out how to do things on my own. I just learned by doing stuff. What were your prospects after high school? What direction did you want to take your life at that age? There’s a radio station at the University of Kentucky called WRFL. As a teenager I listened to that station pretty religiously, and found out about so much music that I still love from that radio station. When I graduated high school I went with Trevor to WRFL and volunteered to do a radio show. It just seemed to me like it was the next logical step. I wanted to be a part of it and do this thing that really influenced me. That was kind of like the genesis of everything that I’m doing. Working at that radio station, doing a show, and meeting people there—that’s how Hair Police started. It was all people from that radio station. That’s also where I started doing graphic design and started doing posters for shows that the radio station was putting on. I didn’t really have much ambition other than, I want to make art and music and do it in the weird way that I want to do it. I got a job as a janitor at a gas station right out of high school and I worked there for like four years. But at the same time I started doing the radio show and I was starting to play music and tour. How did your band Hair Police come together around that time? There were a couple venues in Lexington where people were doing, for lack of a better term, “noise” shows. It was all over the place, but there was a very close knit scene of bands, and a lot it was people who were involved with the radio station. We started playing music with people, and eventually we started playing shows under different names. For every show we had we would just make up a name. That kind of turned into Hair Police. That was


“It definitely developed really organically, but it took off pretty fast. We formed Hair Police in 2001, and by 2004 we had put out several records and we toured with Sonic Youth.”

just the name that stuck for some reason, haha. Then we started networking with people in cities pretty close by like Nashville and Cincinnati. We started touring and playing shows there. Eventually we recorded some music and put out a tape and sent it to some record labels that we liked. A lot of small noise tape labels. Then we just started meeting people through that. That was like right at the beginning when there were internet forums. It was preMySpace, but there were websites like where you could have a page for your bands and have a few tracks.

It definitely developed really organically, but it took off pretty fast. We formed Hair Police in 2001, and by 2004 we had put out several records and we toured with Sonic Youth. Within three years of being a band, we were basically doing the thing we wanted to. It was kind of like, “Okay… where do we go from here?” Sonic Youth was one of the biggest bands for a lot of us, and we were touring with them and they liked what we were doing. It had already surpassed any goals or dreams that we had had. It was just crazy.


How did you develop the work ethic and attitude towards what you were doing that allowed you to create more and more opportunities from the few opportunities you started out with? I think honestly, we all just wanted to have fun doing what we were doing and playing the music we were playing. It’s weird because, I kind of took a break from doing visual art when the band was really touring and stuff. Other than doing album covers for the band, I didn’t really make a ton of art or drawings. I kind of came back to that later. Being in a small town, especially when there’s not a lot going on, kind of forces you to make things happen on your own. It’s like, “Oh, there’s nobody doing shows that I like. I have to start booking shows. I have to start bringing bands that I like here, so that other people can see them and find out about the bands that I like.” I didn’t ever get into punk and I never came from that scene at all. It was pretty much straight from being in a small town to being a part of this college radio station and getting into really experimental noise music and free jazz. Luckily, there were just a lot of really great people who were super motivated

to do things in this town. Part of it too is, without the pressure of being in a big city you kind of have the luxury of being able to do things at your own speed and let things develop organically. Being in a town like this it’s like, “Well, I could do this one thing and it’ll have a pretty big impact, because there’s no one else doing this.” Whereas, if you’re in New York or Portland or Austin or something like that, there’s a million people doing something similar to what you’re doing. I think that’s a big part of it—being like, “I have to do this, otherwise no one else is going to do it.” It was pretty important realizing that. There were a lot of people doing things that kind of showed us how to book shows and tour and put together tapes of our music. I’m also just a very curious person, and I’m motivated by that, so I think thats a big part of it too. How would you describe the art you were doing for Hair Police at the time? All of the art for the Hair Police records where kind of intentionally crude. It was all done pretty quickly. We would kind of throw things together and it was all more collaborative. It wasn’t just me making something, it was all of the members of the band, because everyone in the band is a pretty artistic person. I think everybody would call themselves an artist to some extent. It was a lot of degraded

photocopied collages. We would go to the Kinkos and photocopy the same photo, generation after generation after generation, until it just looked like noise kind of. It was similar to the way we were making music—processing things and degrading them. There was a lot more line drawings that were crude, quick sketches. A lot of stuff with a very B-movie horror aesthetic. That band is very much a combination of all of the personalities in the band. I don’t think I would have every done that stuff on my own if it were just me. It’s very much Mike Connelly and Trevor Tremaine as well, and having their input along with what I’m into. Also there’s very little color, haha. It’s mostly black and white or monochromatic. That was how I learned to lay out an album cover. Most of the labels we were working with didn’t have an in house designer or anyone to do that stuff. It was kind of up to us to do it. So that was how I learned how to do that stuff— through working on records that I was a part of. Did you meet a lot of the people you worked with later on through playing in Hair Police and doing art for the band? Yeah! There were a lot of people that we toured with or who we would play noise festivals with who went on to develop into other things. We were really the most active from 2001 to probably 2006 or so. At that point, the

“Being in a small town, especially when there’s not a lot going on, kind of forces you to make things happen on your own.”


noise scene changed because there were a lot of people that had been doing their thing for a while, like Wolf Eyes, Nautical Almanac, Sightings, Lightning Bolt, Kites, and Prurient—people that we were touring with. All of that kind of started to slow down a little bit. Then all of these new people came in like Emeralds and Oneohtrix Point Never and people started doing stuff that wasn’t as harsh and was more synthesizer based. That was kind of around the time I did the cover for a record called Challenger by Burning Star Core. That was a project with C. Spencer Yeh who was someone we had been playing shows with since 2001 because he lived in Cincinnati. We would go to Cincinnati and play shows with him. Me and Trevor started playing in Burning Star Core sometimes when it wasn’t just Spencer solo. So I did the cover for this record Challenger and that was kind of the first record that I did that was approaching the airbrush style. Then that got noticed by a lot of people. A lot of people who didn’t even know that I necessarily did art were like, “Who did the cover for this? I really like this.” So that was kind of the record that catalyzed what I had been doing for years into doing art work for other people. Dan Lopatin, who now does Oneohtrix Point Never, was just playing shows in Boston where he lived at the time before he did that project. I did a couple album covers for some of his early records and collaboration records he was doing with other people. I met the dudes from Real Estate though playing shows, and then I did work for them. Peaking Lights kind of came out of the noise scene. They had a store in Wisconsin and were doing a lot of shows there.

From around 2009 to 2011 I started doing album covers for people who I had known through touring, and that was the beginning of how I did up doing all these album covers. It just kind of grew from there and people seeing that work. It was also at the same time that I was developing that stylized airbrush look and figuring out how to do that. Did you start doing some of your video art projects around the same time? How did the project Resonant Hole come about? That was a little bit later. I didn’t really start doing video stuff until like 2010 or something. The Resonant Hole stuff started in 2009 or 2010. I’ve been doing video stuff for less than 10 years, and it still feels kind of new to me. Resonant Hole is a project that’s just a lot of people in Lexington making all of this anonymous music and making videos to go along with it. We had a few different bands that only played a few different shows. The first sort of video stuff I started doing was for Resonant Hole. A lot of us here in Lexington had been doing this really experimental, really harsh noise stuff, and I think it was almost a backlash against that going well, hahaha. The fact that that was the thing that got us out of Lexington and that we had some success doing that made us like, “Alright, let’s make some weird pop music or do something that’s a little bit more musical and not really even tell people that we’re doing it.” A lot of people that were playing in these noise bands were super talented musicians who can do anything. It was kind of a weird backlash, but also an effort to change things up a bit and do something different from what I had been doing for so long.

“ There’s always lots of stuff going on, rippling under the surface, that people don’t see. I’ll sketch out something and not do anything with it. But I’ll think about it for two years and then when the opportunity or right time comes to put the idea to fruition, I’ll do it”


Were you doing any personal work around then that existed outside of those music scenes? Yeah, I had some work in some art shows and I started doing some small sculptural work and some paintings and drawings. I did a solo show in 2011 called Cream Grid Reruns at a gallery called Institute 193 that I work with here in Lexington. It was the first installation that I had done, and it encompassed drawings and sculptures and video work and sound as well. That’s kind of like the ideal. I would really like to be doing that stuff more and doing immersive installations that incorporate everything that I’m interested in. There’s always lots of stuff going on, rippling under the surface, that people don’t see. I’ll sketch out something and not do anything with it. But I’ll think about it for two years and then when the opportunity or right time comes to put the idea to fruition, I’ll do it. That was the kind of nice thing about doing Hair Police. We toured pretty regularly for six or seven years as a band—we’re still active and we still play occasionally, but we definitely don’t tour anymore and we maybe play one show a year. But it was nice to have that as a focus for a while and be thinking about things I wanted to do and things I wanted to figure out how to do. I’ve come to realize that’s a big part of how I’ve ended up where I am. It’s kind of just having patience and letting things gestate at their own pace. A big part of being in Lexington is that the speed of things is pretty slow here, so you can sit back and coast along and let things grow on their own. When did you initially get interested in airbrush work? How many attempts did it take to figure out how to get the effect with the digital tools that you had at your disposal? Doing stuff for the radio station, there was a lot of work that I was doing that was just flyers for shows that nobody outside of Lexington ever saw. That was when I started learning Photoshop and started figuring out how to do art on the computer. Growing up I had a computer, but I never really used it to do anything in that way. So figuring out how to use Photoshop and wrapping my head around how to do certain things, I had a couple of break throughs. When I was in high school I really wanted to get an airbrush because I was super into Terry Gilliam and his animations on Monty Python. That stuff is all airbrush. I wasn’t really even into The Beatles growing up, but there is this book called The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics by Alan Aldridge, and I looked at it as a kid every time we would go to a book store. All of Alan Aldridge’s stuff is really awesome. He does this really psychedelic airbrush style. So I would look at this book every time I went to the book store as a kid, but my mom would never let me buy it because there’s nudity in the book. But the book left such a big impression on me. My initial exposure of the style was definitely Monty Python, and I was always pretty obsessed with that airbrush style. A lot of Frank Zappa and


The Mother’s of Invention’s album covers that were done by Cal Schenkel has some of that airbrush stuff and super chaotic collage combined with it. It was just always something that was in the back of my mind that I wanted to do. But I didn’t ever get an actual airbrush. I started to see some people in the early 2000s who had done it, and I realized, Oh they did it in a computer. This wasn’t done with an airbrush. That kind of planted the seed. I thought, Maybe I can apply the techniques of this physical way of painting with an airbrush to the digital world. So then I started to figure out how to do that. Then it… caught on, haha. Were there any tutorials out there that you looked at initially? There was no one really doing that kind of stuff in a capacity where I could look it up. I would definitely watch tutorials for general photoshop stuff, but honestly I would just get books that were actual airbrush technique books. I learned stuff like masking is really important because you’re just making shapes and filling them in with shading. So I figure out how to do masking in photoshop and apply the shading and color in a way that has the same characteristics. I had to figure out how to get the texture—like that airbrush soft grain look. It was very much me figuring out how to do it in a bubble. Part of it to is, I just kind of started doing that stuff and I started doing a lot of album covers in that style. I think for a lot of people, their first exposure to anything that I have done was album covers. They were like, “Where did this guy come from. How did he all of a sudden start doing all of these album covers?” when I had been doing stuff for eight or ten years leading up to that. I had that time to develop and build this network of people that I knew and figure out what I wanted to do and to have the opportunities to be able to do it. It just started out for friends, and from people seeing stuff. It’s crazy that now that style is pretty prevalent. You can look around or scroll through instagram and see a number of artists doing that airbrush psychedelic ‘80s Omni magazine looking art work. There’s way more people doing it now then there were ten years ago when I started doing this stuff. I wouldn’t take credit for that, but I think it’s something in the zeitgeist that has made it catch on the way it has. Who were some of the first musicians that hired you who weren’t already friends of yours? There was this band Midday Veil from Seattle. They’re kind of a prog-psych band and they contacted me about doing some stuff. Also this label Mixpak from New York— it’s run by this guy Dre Skull who is a producer and DJ. He was doing a lot of digital only releases and I did a few things for that label, two of which were singles covers for Vybz Kartel. I don’t know if you know much about Vybz Kartel, but he is now infamously in prison for murder in

“A lot of the artists that I’ve been inspired by, like Gary Panter and Milton Glaser, were doing things on every level that you could be doing things: animation, commercial illustration, editorial illustration, album covers, doing stuff for restaurants and stores, really whatever.” Jamaica. So that was some of the early stuff. Then just from doing stuff for Oneohtrix Point Never and Real Estate I kind of started branching out and doing stuff for other bands. It’s kind of hard to trace it back at this point because I’ve done so many album covers, haha. The Tame Impala cover, which is a little later—like 2015 I think—that was definitely the one that really pushed me into some new realm, just because it was a pretty big record for them especially. They had been a big band, but that record really pushed them into a new level, being that it’s the first record they did for a major label. That was the first thing I did for a major label as well, I think. It’s weird because the music world is pretty a sprawling and nebulous thing, but at the same time there are only so many people making things happen. I did a cover for Peaking Lights and they were on Domino, so I did some covers for other bands that are on Domino. It just grows from one thing to the next. People seeing that stuff led to me being in Kramers Ergot 8, and I started getting sort of in the comics world. Then that led to doing a cover for Lucky Peach magazine. That was the first editorial illustration that I had done. It’s interesting just to see how all of


these threads connect to one another and lead to other things. I’m also just very open to doing things that I’ve never done before and working in a field that I’ve never done anything in before. So, it’s exciting to me that I get to do so much illustration work and commercial work, but I can still do an album cover for my friends band that’s coming out in an edition of 300 copies. I like the way that you’re able to skirt all of these different lines and make all of this work that exists in these different worlds but can still be a part of the same thing or come from the same place. A lot of the artists that I’ve been inspired by, like Gary Panter and Milton Glaser, were doing things on every level that you could be doing things: animation, commercial illustration, editorial illustration, album covers, doing stuff for restaurants and stores, really whatever. It’s kind of always been a weird thing that I don’t want to limit myself in anyway. But at the same time I think I’m pretty realistic about where what I’m doing fits in. I can tell if something is not going to be that right situation. A lot of times, people that are into my art are pretty open minded as well and let me do my own thing, which has been really nice. It’s nice to have the luxury to be able to just do something that’s mine and have it end up in the New York

“The past three of four years have been really interesting in the way that my work has spread out and has gotten a little bit more exposure.” Times. It still kinds of blows my mind that I’m doing this stuff and it’s working out. How did things change after you did the cover for Tame Impala’s Currents? The Tame Impala cover was a really good example of when what I was doing all of a sudden became cool, haha. It was associated with this band that was up and coming—Rihana even covers a song from that album. There was some fashion magazine campaign that had Gigi Hadid walking down the runway and a Tame Impala song was playing in the background. All of a sudden it went from this thing where I went from just doing album covers to people being like “Oh this guy is a part of this cool thing that we need to bring into what we’re doing.” I had quite a few people contact me about working with major label bands or to do weird products stuff that didn’t really make sense to me. I started to see marketing coop things that are coming from other parts of culture first hand. That’s the way things work. Things will work their way up from the underground and end up in a commercial or being a part of an ad campaign. That was the

first experience I had where I was like, “Yeah, I’ll do this thing.” and people ended up really clicking with it.” A lot of people really loved that album and that art work and wanted to get that for themselves. I don’t even remember what the project was, but I got a cold call out of the blue on my landline that was somebody from a major label. They had this band that was basically a couple that was doing covers on Youtube that were going viral. They were like, “Yeah we really loved what you did for Tame Impala. We just really want some of that cool factor to apply to this project.” haha. I was like, Oh wow, there are really people like this who use terms like “cool factor” and they’re applying it to the things that I’m doing. I was trying to figure out how to navigate that kind of world, but at the same time try to keep these threads and connections open where you get opportunities that are actually things you want to work on. The past three of four years have been really interesting in the way that my work has spread out and has gotten a little bit more exposure. It’s interesting to try to figure out how to navigate all of these things, haha.


You obviously come from a background that’s really different from a lot of the people and companies you know work with now. Do you try to incorporate the things you’ve learned from the underground world into how you approach making work for bigger clients? Do companies or clients ever have misconceptions about you or your work when they approach you? Yeah! The reason that I’m doing this is because, with Hair Police and with shows that I was putting on in Lexington when I was younger, there was never a question that we weren’t going to do the artwork ourselves. It wasn’t even really “DIY” it was more like, “Oh, there’s no other option. This is the only option we have. We have to do this ourselves. We have to book the show ourselves, we have to do the art work, we have to do the layout, we have to send people these records.” That’s how we operated and that’s still very important to me. I’m very much like, “Oh, I’m going to do this myself because I don’t trust anyone else to do it.” haha. It’s a weird resilience kind of thing to some extent, haha. I think it’s strange coming from that and ending up doing things for Kesha and The Flaming Lips. The Flaming Lips kind of come from a similar background as that, where they just started out doing their own thing and ended up getting on a major label. The Kesha thing is a good example—there are so many people who their first exposure to my work was seeing it on the cover of a Kesha album. I have people on instagram all of the time sending me messages like, “I found out about your

art work because of Kesha and I listened to your music. This is so cool, I’ve never heard anything like this!” I think my work is pretty inviting in some way. That’s a big part of it. When I was a teenager I loved the art that made me feel like, This is cool and I can understand this, but it’s leading me to something that is more difficult and I have to work to appreciate it and wrap my head around it. It’s nice to be able to give people that same opportunity. It’s like, “Here’s this cover I did for a pop album. But you go to my website and you check out my music and it’s abstract electronic stuff that you’ve never really been exposed to.” The Tame Impala cover was a big thing too because, there were a couple times when I toured solo after that album came out and there were kids who were coming to my shows because of the work that I had done for Tame Impala and had never gone to an experimental music show before or had never been to a DIY venue. I don’t know if people have really come to what I’m doing with preconceived notions about who I am, especially people that are on the fan side of things—people who are actively listening to the music or checking out the art. Maybe some people who are working at some labels and marketing companies come to me and think I’m somebody that I’m not. I try to be as honest as possible to people and let people know how I operate and what I’m going. It’s worked out. It’s nice to be able to do all of this stuff and be in Kentucky. I think once people find out that

“It was like, ‘Oh, there’s no other option. This is the only option we have. We have to do this ourselves. We have to book the show ourselves, we have to do the art work, we have to do the layout, we have to send people these records.’ That’s how we operated and that’s still very important to me... I think it’s strange coming from that and ending up doing things for Kesha and The Flaming Lips.”


“It’s nice to make work on a range of scales — from doing a piece for the New York Times to doing things for Clay Hickson and Liana Jegger’s The Smudge.” I’m this dude in a place that’s not typically a cultural hub, that kind of shows them way that I operate too. People are kind of just like, “Oh, he’s just doing his own thing.” At what point did you start making a living with your work? Did that change anything about it for you? I’m lucky to be able to be making a living doing art in any capacity. I think it’s pretty rare that people are able to do that. I’ve been doing this stuff full time for probably six or seven years I would say. I worked some odd jobs off and on for years renovating houses. A lot of odd design jobs too—stuff that nobody has ever seen or will ever see. It’s strange because I kind of look at it in a very… pessimistic late-capitalism kind of way, haha. I’m working in the music and publishing industries, and both of those industries are struggling to adapt to the world that we live in now. Record labels are trying to figure out how to keep making money off of streaming. There’s this whole thing about the vinyl resurgence, but it’s a very niche thing still. It’s pretty small compared to what it was back in the 80s or whatever was the peak of LPs selling. It’s interesting to me that I’m able to make a living doing this in two struggling industries more or less. It is one reason why I’m kind of eager to do a little more commercial stuff. That stuff is not going anywhere. Marketing and advertising is what funds every newspaper and magazine that is still able to exist. I’m still figuring out how to make the most out of all

of this stuff, and doing it in a way that I’m comfortable with and that I don’t feel like I’m selling my soul, haha. I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job of being able to make a living off of this and working on projects that I feel good about being involved with. Why has it been important to you to work in all of these different facets, with various degrees of exposure, money, and creative control? How have you benefitted from working on so many different types of projects? You know, it’s not really something I planned to be doing from different levels. It’s nice to make work on a range of scales — from doing a piece for the New York Times to doing things for Clay Hickson and Liana Jegger’s The Smudge. Obviously people are connecting with the work that I am making or see something in it that can work with what they’re doing. It’s just nice to have so many different people connecting with something that, when it comes down to it, is pretty abstract and strange. Some artists benefit from limiting themselves to what they know. I just don’t feel like that’s the way that I’m going to be happy with what I’m doing. Not just even the people that I’m working for, but also the kind of work that I’m doing. It’s also nice doing all of these different things because I never lose interest. I can always switch gears and work on something else. If I’m sick of sitting in front of a computer I can make some music or I can do some video stuff or sit


down in front of a piece of paper and draw. I think part of it is keeping yourself interested in what you’re doing. I think people see that in the work and people kind of connect to that. Part of it too is, I spend so much of my time researching stuff that I love, like finding old design annuals full of artists that I’ve never hear of. I’ve been finding out about those artists and following all of these connections between things. I like connecting the dots between lot of things that seem unrelated. How has the internet and living in Lexington affected your ability to do the work that you do? The Internet has 100 percent made what I do possible. 15 years ago, I don’t think I would have been able to do any of this. There’s no way I would have been able to live in Kentucky. I’m sure there were people who did it, but being in Kentucky and doing illustrations for the New York Times—I think most people who were doing illustrations for the New York Times 20 years ago were in New York or in a bigger city. It is without-a-doubt the most important thing that has allowed me to be in Lexington this whole time. It’s let things work out the way that they have. You make friends with people. You meet people in real life that you’ve work on projects with and who you only know through email, and you become friends with them. The opportunities that it opens up are insane. I definitely wouldn’t be anywhere without the internet.

Which of the projects that you’ve worked on stand out to you as big creative achievements or mile stones in your career? Definitely the Tame Impala cover. That one stands out in that I’m really happy with the way it turned, out looking at it two or three years later. It also stands for the fact that Kevin Parker of Tame Impala came to me with this concept which I was able to execute pretty quickly. I feel like that’s the most successful album cover—not in the response to it or how well the record did or anything—in the actual execution of his idea that went into this concept through out all of the singles and album art work. That one is definitely up there. The Neon Indian record cover I did—I really love the way that one turned out. For that one Alan Palomo came to me with tons and tons of references. All of this ‘80s post modern furniture, stills from B horror movies, and all of this stuff. He was like, “Yeah, let’s turn this into a world around this record.” I really love the Steve Hauschildt Dissolvi album cover that I just did for Ghostly. That one was a similar thing where Steve came to me with a decent amount of references and a pretty strong idea of the vibe that he wanted for the record cover. I was kind of able to develop it into this whole world for the album. I did all of these animated single covers for the singles. That one was cool too because Steve is someone who played in Emeralds, and I met Steve when he was just a noise fan coming to shows in Cleveland. I think I met him when Burning Star Core was opening up for Deerhoof in Cleve-

“Alan Palomo came to me with tons and tons of references. All of this ‘80s post modern furniture, stills from B horror movies, and all of this stuff. He was like, ‘Let’s turn this into a world around this record.’”


land or something, before he was even playing in bands or anything. It’s a cool example of someone I know and have known for a long time and I’ve seen develop. I feel like he’s doing really well right now. This album is really great and it’s on a really great label. It’s cool when those kinds of things come together. He was doing records on Kranky for a few years and asked me to do some artwork for some of those, but it didn’t work out, timing wise. It’s nice that I’ve gotten to work with him in this capacity and do something that is different from what I normally do. After spending so many years creating so many unique covers, what would you say makes for an effective album cover? For me, especially at this point, when most people are viewing an album cover on their phone screen or on a computer screen and most people aren’t holding an LP in their hands when they’re listening to the music, it’s really just something that conveys the spirit of the record. It also has to be something that’ll catch your eye and be memorable. I think if you see something and the next day you remember what it is—it sounds silly to say because it sounds obvious, but I think that’s it. But there are some

album covers that I see that just go in one eye and out the other. They just don’t hold your memory at all. So I think that’s a big part of it. Making something that is somewhat iconic and has the spirit of what the music is and what the band is trying to get across. I don’t feel like everything that I’ve done is successful in doing that. I honestly try to make things as simple as possible, and the Tame Impala one is a perfect example of that. There’s very little going on. There are definitely some covers where I’ve gone overboard and put too much much detail into them and they’re not as effective as they should be. But that’s kind of the way I approach stuff. I just try to make stuff that I’m happy with and that the band is happy with. How does that work differ from your personal work, since the covers are so collaborative? I think a lot of people don’t even think of me as a commercial artist because I do have such a strong personal characteristic that shows through, where people immediately recognize the work as mine. But it’s still different with the illustration and album cover work. With most of the album cover work, I don’t really feel like it’s mine. It’s part of someone else’s art. The album cover is a piece of a larger whole. I’m here to make this thing that the band is happy

“It’s about finding value in things from the past and figuring out how you can contribute to that conversation years after the fact.”


with and that is a part of this whole package. It’s kind of strange being known for all of this stuff that I don’t really see as mine. For me it’s a part of someone else’s work. The illustration stuff is different too because you’re kind of doing something to accompany an article or a review or something like that. It wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for this other thing. There are a lot of themes that I bring from my personal work into the album covers and vice versa. There are things that I developed working on that were expanded in my personal work from an album cover. It kind of all exists in the same world and I kind of view it that way. You can open a door on the Oneohtrix Point Never cover and go into the Kesha cover, haha. I think someone on Twitter said that they like to imagine that the star on the eye of the Dent May cover is the Kesha cover, haha. I thought that was a cool way of framing the way that these things are connected to each other. How have your felt about seeing such a growth in the kind of work that you make? Is it exciting to see so many peers making work in a similar visual style?

I’m really psyched that there are other people doing work that’s similar to what I’m doing. I think a lot of people see stuff that looks similar to my work and they’re like, “Oh, they’re ripping Robert off.” But it’s like, I didn’t invent this! I view what I do as following a tradition that kind of dropped off. Once personal computers came along and digital publishing came a long, this style of art work that had existed through the 60s and 70s and into the 80s kind of died out. So when I started doing this stuff it wasn’t cool at all. I was inspired by Roger Dean covers for Yes and prog rock record covers. In 2004 or 2005 that was probably about as lame as you could get, haha. It’s awesome for me to see so many other people doing this stuff. It’s cool because I love sharing my influences with people. That’s a big part of it for me—I feel like I wear my influences on my sleeve to an extent. But I always try to put part of myself in the work as well, so that my personality shows through a little bit better. People recognize it as me and not as a pastiche of retro stuff, because I’m not interested in that at all. I’m not trying to do some kind of Stranger Things style mash-up of all of my influences. That show is fine, but it’s very reverential

“That was a big thing with Floodgate Companion. That’s why I presented that book the way that I did, with no introduction or text or context or anything. I wanted people to just be able to find this object and open it to a page and be like, ‘What…’”


to specific things. Whereas, I’m trying to take something and expand on this world and make something that is a little more timeless rather than retro. So much of that stuff doesn’t interest me in anyway. I really hope that comes through in my work. That’s my biggest fear—people thinking that I’m doing that. I’m not a nostalgic person at all. Most of the stuff I’m interested in, I wasn’t alive for while it was being made. It’s not like I’m looking back on my childhood. I mean, to a certain extent it is trying to recapture this feeling that I had when I was kid when I would see something and not understand it. I understand trying to capture that feeling of awe that you get as a child. Just being like, Whoa, how did they make this? What was going through their head when they made this. That was a big thing with Floodgate Companion. That’s why I presented that book the way that I did, with no introduction or text or context or anything. I wanted people to just be able to find this object and open it to a page and be like, “What…” I like that sort of state of confusion. A big part of my work is not just stylistically doing the airbrush stuff, it’s trying to convey these ideas within that framework. It’s like trying to open up the past so that you can step through it and go into the future, hahaha. If that makes sense. It’s about finding value in things from the past and figuring out how you can contribute to that conversation years after the fact. I don’t ever view people making work in a similar style as people ripping me off. I can’t do every album cover. I’m just one person. I try to do as much as I can all of the time. I already do too much stuff, haha. It’s honestly a relief that there are other people doing stuff in a similar style. When I have to turn a project down I’ll send them links to a handful of artists that are doing stuff in a similar style. I don’t want to hoard this work. If there are people that like my work, they’ll like all of these other artists. There’s a common thread that sort of runs through, even though everybody brings their own thing to it. It feels like it would be selfish to not acknowledge these other people who are doing great work, whether I’ve influenced them or not. I can be into what they’re doing and appreciate it and champion them as well. Life is too short to fucking get mad about getting ripped off, haha. Unless it’s like a huge corporation stealing your art work and are making money off of it. Are there mediums or platforms that you’d like to try making your work with that you haven’t had the chance to use yet? I’ve done a bit of it in the past, but I’d like to adapt the elements of my 2D work into more 3D stuff. Making environments and installations that convey and expand upon the ideas that are present in my work. It’s something I want to do. I don’t know that people even necessarily know that I’m interested in that kind of work or capable of it. So the more I can do of that, the happier I’ll be, I think.

Is it important to you to be contextualized as an artist from the south? I feel like the south is so often overlooked for it’s art and cultural accomplishments, or often the underground work in the region has that part of it’s context removed from it. Yeah for sure. There’s a lot of people doing really great stuff down here, and it gets overlooked a lot of the time. It is important to me. I don’t think my art screams “the south” and I don’t think anyone is looking at my art and being like, “Oh yeah, this guy is from Kentucky.” But I do love it here and I’ve lived here my entire life. There’s a reason why I never left. Part of it for me too is, I think it’s really important—especially now—to do what you can for the community that you live in. You want to make it better and show it off and be like, “Yeah, I love this place.” Like everywhere, it’s great and it’s fucked up. There are people I agree with and people that I don’t agree with. But we have this place in common and the south gets a bad rap a lot of the time. New York and LA are full of people who aren’t from there. Those people moved there because they have some idea of what that’s going to do to their lives. I think part of the reason that I’ve had any success at all is because I’ve been here and at times have been struggling to make things work out. But I’ve grown because of that. Turning what you’re given into something that’s viable that can be something that you’re proud of—I think it’s really important for people to step outside of what they know and explore. I’m always trying to explain to people why I love it here and why it’s great. I travel a lot too though. I’ve been to pretty much most of the US and I’ve been almost all over the world, and I’m always psyched to come back to Kentucky. A lot of people probably think that I’m here and that I don’t ever get out. But it’s a good place to live if you can get out every once and a while and get a way for a little bit. I really think there is a lot here. Some of my favorite artists are from Kentucky. What do you still struggle with as an artist? What hurdles do you still see ahead of yourself? For me a lot of it is just not having enough time in the day to do all of the things I want to do. It can be frustrating. I do spend a lot of my time doing work for other people, and I wish that I was able to do more stuff for myself. But you know, it’s hard to make a living doing music or weird animation. I would really like to make a somewhat-narrative experimental animated short at some point. I think I will do that at some point. But I don’t think it’s something that will really… pay the bills, haha. I think most experimental animators—unless you’re in academia or represented by a gallery—are not getting a lot of financial gain from it. That’s not something that translates that well. Kind of what I was talking about earlier—I’m figuring out how to navigate between all of this commercial work, and I want to do


“This is what I want to do, and I can’t imaging not doing it. I’m going to be doing it. Even if I’m not making money doing it, I would be doing it.”

this work in a way that doesn’t feel like I’m selling out—not that I really even believe in that concept. It’s important to do things in a way that you feel good about what you’re doing and good about the things you’re involved with. You want to feel like you’re making the world better with what you’re doing, instead of worse, haha. Especially with the way things are now—it can feel dumb sometimes doing what I’m doing because I’m like, Is what I’m doing helping anyone or making anyone’s life better? Is it just totally selfish that I’m not devoting my life to political activism or something. But I feel like I was meant to do this stuff. I feel like this is what I was put on their earth to do. And to some extent that feeling comes from feedback from people who are like, “You opened my eyes to a world I didn’t know existed.” Getting feedback from fans and seeing that I made an impact on even one person’s life is cool and makes me feel like I’m doing something right. I had just finished doing the book tour for Floodgate Companion when the election happened a couple years ago. I worked on that book for like five years and it being out and into the world let me travel around the world and meet other people and do all of this stuff. Then two days after I got home from the last event on our tour, Donald Trump got elected. I was just like, “Okay… This is fucked up and I don’t really know if I’m going to make anything for a while.” It kind of took the wind out of my sail a little bit. It was also after already being burnt out from this long-term project. But I’m finally getting to a point where I’m fully inspired again. That kind of stuff I struggle with pretty often. It is sort of a selfish thing to be an artist. But I don’t know, there’s


nothing else. This is what I care about doing. This is what I want to do, and I can’t imaging not doing it. I’m going to be doing it. Even if I’m not making money doing it, I would be doing it. I have to figure out some way to make it have a positive impact on myself and the world around me. That’s a big part of staying in Lexington too. I feel like I’m in a place where I can have a very direct positive impact on what’s happening around me. Is there anything you have coming up that you can talk about?

I’m going to be doing an installation at the Atlanta Contemporary. That’s really exciting for me because I’ve been developing that work for the past few years, and it’s perfect timing for me to be able to do that. I’m starting to develop ideas, like a new book of some sort. I think I’ll do a smaller book next, and then further down the road do a sequel or some sort of follow up to Floodgate Companion. There are a lot of projects that I’m working on that are more long-term things, or are things that have been in the works for a while. I would also love to make an album, haha. That’s kind of the main thing that I should be doing, focusing on doing some music and putting out a record. Hair Police hasn’t put out a record in like four or five years. I haven’t done a solo record in four years. I was doing Three-Legged-Race for a long time, and I think at this point I’ll probably just release any solo music that I do just under my own name. That’s how I’ve been playing live for the past few years. There’s never any shortage of stuff that I could be doing or that I’d want to be doing.



Kristine Leschper is a magnifying glass aimed at the harsh but beautiful world around her. The Georgia born multidisci-

plinary artist and musician is best know for her shape-shifting recording project, Mothers, which often amalgamates the themes and writing of her other practices. Her love of poetry at an early age catalyzed her interest in art making. But it wasn’t until moving to Athens for college that she found the confidence to pursue her own art more seriously. In school she began screen-printing, writing songs, and writing poetry and gradually cultivated the look, sound, and perspective of Mothers’ first album, When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired. Like many visionary artists before her, Kristine’s voice is not bound to one medium or form, and instead she is very articulate with pretty much everything she uses to convey her message.

Kristine is a keen observer, who works to make sense of the cruelty and wonder of existence. On Mothers’ sophomore

album, Render Another Ugly Method, which ANTI- Records put out in the fall, Kristine creates abstract snap shots out of minutia and monotony. The double LP is a magnificent piece of work, brimming with Dada-esque songwriting and haunting audio production. The record is a noticeable departure from their debut album, but remains as emotionally rich and creatively constructed as its predecessor. After listening to the album consistently for the ten days after its release, I reached to do a feature on Kristine for this issue. I first met Kristine very briefly after I published a piece of hers in the magazine a number of years ago. But I’m so glad we got to reconnect and discuss her art practice and this complex album in detail when the band played in LA this fall.

Where are you from and where do you live currently? I was born in Newnan, Georgia. It’s about 30 minutes south of Atlanta. I grew up there, and then I moved to Athens, Georgia for college and lived there for seven years. In a lot of ways, Athens feels like where I became a person. It’s where I “grew up” and became myself. I moved to Philadelphia about a year ago, so I’m a new Philadelphia resident. What was your experience like growing up in Newnan? What was the role of art and music in your life at the time? I didn’t really meet people I had things in common with as a kid—I felt extremely isolated. I spent a lot of time alone, didn’t have friends at my school, and didn’t understand why. That’s what I found so utterly romantic about poetry, and eventually music and visual art—these were things I could do in complete solitude. Growing up, my sister was what I would describe as “bookish.” At the time I would have called her nerdy or dorky because I was a hellish younger sibling, but I wanted to be like her. She had a selection of poems by e.e. cummings, which I’m pretty sure is the first poetry I ever read on my own, and it made me spin! I was like, This is absurd, it doesn’t make sense, and yet it makes more sense than anything in the world and how can that be... That was a key moment I think. I worked for a bookstore chain in high school, so by then I was learning a little

about the mainstream poets and became one of those awful disgruntled teens reading Bukowski, thinking they know everything and leering out at the cruel world or whatever... haha. I thought art was about being a cynic, which is a convenient perspective for a teenager. To be honest, I was severely depressed for much of my adolescence. Eventually my parents convinced me to talk to someone. I went to one appointment with a therapist, came home and told my mother that I had “been cured”, that we needn’t discuss it again...haha. That’s an absurd story. But that was me—total avoidance. Did you have any sort of art or music community at your disposal before moving to Athens? Was that something you found on the internet around that time? Not really. Locally, the only live music available was metal, hardcore, or heavy southern rock. I went to the shows anyway because the group of people I overlapped with the most were metalheads or dating metalheads. At the time I was listening almost exclusively to Bright Eyes and Neutral Milk Hotel, and discovering groups like Animal Collective and The Microphones on file sharing websites, but had no access to live shows like that or friends who cared about the music. Finding a community felt... impossible. And ultimately I stopped trying to find it.


What was your experience like moving to Athens for college? How did you decide you wanted to study printmaking in school?

a studio artist, so that’s off the table. But I love art, so I should study it! I started taking art history classes, and very quickly it was obvious that things were still not right.

It was totally mind-blowing... music is fully normalized there. It seems like if you live in Athens for more than six months, there is something like an 80% chance you will start playing music. There was a music community and history there that was terribly exciting to me. After all, Neutral Milk Hotel had lived there, and after the move I would discover what felt like an endless list of truly special artists from the town, like Circulatory System, Pylon, and Vic Chesnutt.

I said, “What the hell, I’ll take some studio art classes.” and immediately I had this sense of, this is where I belong and this is what I want to do... I want to make things with my hands!

I was originally studying psychology because I thought, This is something I’m vaguely interested in and I can probably make money doing this. I took classes and it felt absolutely wrong. I decided to adjust my major to art history because I was like, I’m not good enough to be

I didn’t know any artists growing up—it simply didn’t feel like something I was capable of until I threw myself at one of those classes. What initially drew you to printmaking in particular? What was informing the work you were making at the time? I saw a class listing for an introductory printmaking course, I didn’t know anything about it. I signed up, and

“I didn’t know any artists growing up—it simply didn’t feel like something I was capable of until I threw myself at one of those classes.”


“It had an aspect of unpredictability that felt exciting, especially as someone who didn’t yet know what my visual work would look like.” on the first day I noticed that the class was extremely small, about ten students. I found out later that printmaking wasn’t a very common major at my school... Sometimes several semesters will go by without a lithography class available because not enough students signed up for it. My professor was a hard-ass, cynical punk rock archetype. He explained to us that creating printed work is slow and time consuming, and that if we weren’t willing to put in the work, we should leave now. I liked the idea of making things that were detailed and process-driven, and immediately fell in love with printed media. It was a copper plate etching class, also called intaglio, and to this day it is my favorite print process. I liked that you had to think about it backwards—literally the image you etch onto your plate is the mirror-image of your eventual print, and I often use text in my work, so there were a number of times that I had to sand down my plate and start over when I printed the first proof and realized my text printed backwards. Haha. It had an aspect of unpredictability that felt exciting, especially as someone who didn’t yet know what my visual work would look like. I started out making prints that revolved around the human body, or sometimes fleshy visceral imagery that exists in nature. Eventually I became interested in ideas of performative masculinity and group dynamics, so most of the work I made towards the end of my degree was about the Boy Scouts of America.

You started your project Mothers around the same time while you were in school, right? What did Mothers creatively fulfill for you that your other art practices couldn’t? Well, it was originally my outlet for poetry. I was writing poems, but I didn’t know how to compile them into a book... that felt like an insurmountable task at the time. I had poems laying around that I didn’t know what to do with, so I started turning them into songs. It sort of became my publishing process, my way of “completing” the poem by putting it to music, versus cataloguing it in a book. It gave me closure. I think your writing is one of my favorite parts of all of your work! A lot of your writing involves magnifying singular moments and often your writing has a non-linear story structure. Sometimes in your writing a problem is illuminated, and then you present a reaction to that problem. What informs those two impulses in your work, and how do you make them work so well together? It’s funny that you mention the problem plus reaction to problem thing. I feel like that’s true, but one of my criticisms of my work is that there isn’t often resolution to the issue. There is a reaction, but there is no hope provided


“Rather than focusing on turning inward and creating something out of thin air, I want to spend my energies absorbing my surroundings, and hopefully that will lead to some small discovery in the mundane.” to the listener. That’s something that I feel terribly aware of now, and something that I’d like to improve in my writing. Rather than looking at this issue and reacting to it, I’m interested in also creating a resolution and providing hope. That’s something my work has lacked, I think… leaving too much up in the air. I don’t pretend to have answers for anyone, but I’d like a listener to feel that there is an answer, somewhere, for them to find. And it’s interesting to me that you describe my work as non-linear, because I hadn’t thought about it that way— the narrative is jumbled, but the musical structure is often a straight line. My writing tends to be observational and I feel like my function as a poet or as a musician is to be an observer and to try to be really good at that. That’s my goal lately, because I think that’s the way we can best make sense of our lives. So, rather than focusing on turning inward and creating something out of thin air, I want to spend my energies absorbing my surroundings, and hopefully that will lead to some small discovery in the mundane—like how that glass of water looks on the table, or the way that a car driving by temporarily illuminates my bedroom. I want to be an exceptional observer.


How did you develop your voice as a composer? How does it play off of or contradict your writing process? Like I mentioned earlier, When You Walk is very much a collection of poems set to music. The lyrics and instrumentals are two distinct objects, and the music tiptoes around the words to avoid getting in the way of the poem. Render, on the other hand, is more like reductive abstract expressionism. It was entirely about deconstruction, and presenting the words and music as tightly woven, inseparable elements. The words, in this case, are not intended to exist in their own environment. The writing of each album has similarities though, in form and in content. My songwriting has been historically linear in structure. Thematically, both collections deal with questions of the corporeal and of emotional violence. It’s funny though, moving forward—I always feel this way after making something—now that I’ve done it, I don’t feel interested in those aesthetics at all. We made this deconstructive record that’s very much about fragmenting and obfuscating itself, and now I only want to write love songs. Haha. As far as having “developed my voice” I don’t think I have at all. I’ve only made two records, which felt to me like frantic stabs in the dark. Haha. I often still feel quite

“I think it’s absurd to assume that a song must exist in one concrete form... I’ve always felt that there is a flux in music, that a song may exist in 1000 different versions and remain inherently the same.” underdeveloped as an artist. What was it like making first Mothers record? It came together incredibly quickly. I had been setting my poems to music throughout 2014, the band came together to flesh out the songs in November, and we made When You Walk the following month. At the time we had never played a live show, so the way the songs were eventually performed live evolved wildly from their previ-

ously recorded versions. I think it’s absurd to assume that a song must exist in one concrete form... I’ve always felt that there is a flux in music, that a song may exist in 1000 different versions and remain inherently the same. We’ve recorded and re-recorded totally distinct versions of several songs, and I always find that exciting—the reimagining aspect. Playing with a band made me much more collaborative on Render, which is something I struggle with... that loosening of control. But ultimately I think it gave Render a specific voice that it wouldn’t have had otherwise.


What were your first few tours like? How did your experiences following that album’s release inform what you wanted to do on the next album? It was a lot of touring... I think that shaped my outlook for the next record. We were on the road for about eight months in 2016, which was emotionally brutal for me. I found it overwhelming, couldn’t get the alone time that had become such an important part of my daily routine. I think all of us were feeling somewhat... fragile that year. It left me feeling personally very fragmented, in this way that I wanted to represent in the new music. But there were highlights—being in the car for eight hours a day and listening to so much new music... that was huge! I don’t tend to work very hard to find new music, I kind of rely on my friends to show me things, haha. So hearing all of this new music over the course of those eight months was really powerful. Some of the music that I was introduced to at the time was Krautrock, like Can and Harmonia—their albums showed me how much you can run with a single idea. I

also related to the linear structures. I got really into this record Dragnet by The Fall. It’s one of their most lo-fi records, and it has this blistering quality. I was introduced to the music of Lizzy Mercier Descloux and was totally enamored. There’s an EP that she put out called Rosa Yemen. It’s only a handful songs and very minimal. It’s basically just two guitars, vocals, and bit of sound collage with minimal percussion. That EP kind of... rocked me, haha. The vocals are wildly emotive and she’s able to capture so much in this simple, brooding atmosphere. Sometimes less is more. Yeah I love that EP! Those songs appear on a few No Wave compilation, but it took so long for me to realize Rosa Yemen and Lizzy Mercier Descloux were the same person, haha. Yeah! It’s wild because her other music is so upbeat. Like Mambo Nassau—that music is super upbeat and funky. I admire her ability to work within so many different moods.

“It was a lot of touring... I think that shaped my outlook for the next record. We were on the road for about eight months in 2016, which was emotionally brutal for me.”


“I wanted to try making something more abrasive and abstract. A friend invited me to participate in a live scoring performance, and the offer got the wheels turning in my brain and I started writing music for it.” What has your visual art practice been like for the past few years while Mothers has been your primary focus? How do you maintain a practice with the hectic lifestyle of touring and making records? It’s been suffering... haha. I find that I just go back and forth between different things. I can’t do one thing for too long. Because of that, I really value having these different outlets of expression. I find that when I’m working on a song and getting frustrated or hitting a wall, I will just start to work on text instead. I start writing on a page or I’ll start drawing, and that kind of recharges my brain and refreshes my perspective. I’ve been doing more writing rather than visual art actually. That’s where my focus lies right now—more on music and text for the page. I would really like to put out a book of poems at some point! Visual work has always been much more calculated than music and poetry for I use a different part of my brain to do it. For that reason it can be exhausting in this way that I don’t find music or poetry to be. I tend to overthink it. You did another one off project called Bulk Service before making the new album, right? What was that project and what creative urge did it satisfy? Oh yeah! I can’t believe you know about that... haha. I only made a couple of those recordings, one of them is


online. I was interested in writing and potentially releasing music outside of the “Mothers” context. Specifically I wanted to try making something more abrasive and abstract. A friend invited me to participate in a live scoring performance, and the offer got the wheels turning in my brain and I started writing music for it. It’s mostly noise... not terribly musical, haha. I’d love to write music for films someday, and this was a small and tangible way that I could do that in a live performance setting. There are a lot of new sounds and elements worked into the new record. Did these songs start out as poems and how did they evolve over time? Did you make a conscious effort to incorporate so many disparate sounds and themes on this album, or did it just sort of end up that way through the process? It wasn’t necessarily the “vision” going into it, it had more had to do with my mindset. It very much materialized through the process. Fragmented was how I was feeling. I had been exposed to challenging new music that I wasn’t sure how to process or incorporate into my own work. I also wanted to use sensibilities of collage. Render wasn’t like When You Walk, where the poems were written and then the sonic elements were added... It was more of a stream of consciousness effort, where the

music and words were written simultaneously and actively influenced one another. William Carlos Williams talks about text as a “field of action”, and similarly, Charles Olson says that a poem must be a “high-energy construct.” I think that’s so powerful, to visualize text as an action that’s shared between the writer and reader. The songs on Render are jarring, but they move, they have inertia. A lot of your writing on the album seems to deal with this existential discomfort, whether it’s in regards to health, social situations, or just existing in a body. Why do you think those are difficult subjects for us to talk about and why do you make an effort to include them in your music? That’s just such a part of my daily routine… haha. I wish it wasn’t. I experience a lot of existential dread, which is why I spend time on “creative things”—to try to understand it and put it to rest. So my writing tends to be self-referential in that I’m writing about the act of writing or the act of making something as I’m making it. I want to develop a healthier outlook. I think it’s incredibly unhealthy to feel like the things that you make validate your existence, or this feeling that, if you’re not making work or making good work, that you’re not valuable as a person... It’s embar-

rassing to admit that I’ve absolutely felt that way. I’m sure that there are other people out there who have experienced that, or who felt like, If I’m not making good work than what am I doing and why am I even around. I’ve been reading the Robert Wyatt biography, which I’ve found fully heartwarming and humbling. He’s always saying things like, “Artists, who the fuck do we think we are?” It’s good to remember that art is satisfying... but it isn’t everything. It’s much more important to live compassionate lives. I’m very sensitive—sort of to my detriment at times—and there are moments when I feel like I’m too sensitive to be doing this kind of work. Especially in the context of touring and what that means for your mental and physical wellbeing. It’s convenient to view other people as strong, confident, mentally healthy... I just want to be honest about my shortcomings in my writing. A big part of my life is dealing with being overwhelmed by my surroundings. I get really overstimulated by sounds, especially loud environments, I become totally emotionally fragile, haha. My work has a lot to do with retreating back into myself and trying to just be this third party who’s observing, but who isn’t necessarily interacting with their environment.

“The image for the album cover didn’t exist previously, I asked Alessandra (Hoshor) if they would be willing to paint something for the cover, but visually it exists as an extension to their entire body of work.”


“Regardless of whatever apocalyptic future, I do think there is value in art that helps people contextualize their daily lives, or even escape from them.” How did you end up working with Alessandra Hoshor for the album cover? Have you admired their work for a while before working together? I’ve admired Alessandra’s work for such a long time. They have this uncanny ability to combine poetry and visual image seamlessly... thats what I initially felt was so powerful about their paintings and digital work. The image for the album cover didn’t exist previously, I asked Alessandra if they would be willing to paint something for the cover, but visually it exists as an extension to their entire body of work. Alessandra is also an extremely talented electronic composer— they put out music under the name Pamela_ and her sons. What hurdles do you still see in front of yourself as an artist? What do you still struggle with in your work? I really struggle within the music industry’s record-cycle machine... It’s so circular and time consuming, and I have to fight off these feelings that it’s utterly transactional. It makes me feel a bit trapped sometimes—this groundhog day feeling that’s like, Write record, make record, tour on record, repeat, endlessly... like the only thing that matters is your most recent work. I don’t think about music that way, and it can be hard to make sense of the process. At the same time, I feel grateful that I’ve had access to so many resources for distributing the music I make, access that isn’t available to a lot of people, and that my current label lets me operate on my own terms. I grapple with the performance aspect as well... I’m not really a per-

former, but it’s the only way to have any financial stability as a relatively small music project. Sometimes I get in my head about it, and it can make live performance feel transactional, and that feels absolutely awful, because it’s supposed to be this pure thing. And there’s that article Consequence of Sound published last year revealing that artists made 12% of the music industry’s revenue in 2017... It can all be really discouraging. It’s almost too heavy to talk about, but honestly I’ve been feeling a lot of emotional weight thinking about environmental collapse. I just read a piece by Roy Scranton called “Learning How To Die In The Anthropocene” which discusses this—we so often make and document our work in the hopes that it will be intact after our deaths for some future reader or listener... the tangibility of the end of homo sapiens makes it difficult to imagine a future to write for. But regardless of whatever apocalyptic future, I do think there is value in art that helps people contextualize their daily lives, or even escape from them. Are there any projects you’d like to embark on that you don’t have the time or resources for at the moment? Yeah! We sort of touched on this earlier, but I would love to release a book of poems. My whole creative process started that way, so it’s funny it took this long for me to realize that as a definitive goal. It was my path to music, and that was an amazing discovery—I love writing music now. It’s been a long and circular route that led me back to this thing that started it all, which was poetry.




Richie Pope is one of the most promising and necessary voices working in comics and illustration right now. His sheer

talent and uncompromising work ethic have given way to some of the most challenging and endearing work that both mediums have to offer today. His current conviction and creative vision gradually developed out of years of experimentation, humility, and determination. Since graduating Virginia Commonwealth University’s esteemed illustration department, Richie has gone on to create vibrant and inventive illustrations for clients like the New York Times, the New Yorker, and TIME. His comics have the unique quality of being both deeply personal and inexplicably universal. Richie often draws from his own experiences to convey stories and perspectives that most readers can relate to. His most recent self-published work, That Box We Sit On, was awarded an Ignatz for “Outstanding Artist” this fall, and during his acceptance speech he reflected on the changes he hopes to be a part of within the current comics landscape.

I first came across Richie’s work through his groundbreaking short story comic Fatherson which was published as part

of Youth in Decline’s Frontier series. I was totally enamored by the delicate wisdom in his writing, and his ability to find humor in complex subjects like fatherhood and race while still not sugar coating either. His masterful use of color and abstraction distinguish him even among some of the most well known illustrators working today, and his talent for visual problem solving is remarkable. Beyond that, Richie is also an artist who just makes me feel less alone in the world, and his presence in his art communities has made some many people feel more welcome. In November I had lunch with Richie while we were both in New York for Comic Arts Brooklyn and together we recorded the following conversation over Nepalese food in Ridgewood, Queens.

Where are you from and where do you live currently? I’m originally from New Port Beach, Virginia. I went to art school in Richmond, Virginia, which is more inland. Now I live in Dallas, Texas. What was New Port Beach like when you were growing up there? It’s a costal city and it’s sort of like a military city too. A lot of military families live there because there’s a base there. The downtown is a shipyard. Growing up there was pretty cool because it was actually pretty diverse when I was a kid. I had that shit in school where in the hallway there was a “kids around the world!” poster where there were a bunch of kids holding hands. So that seemed really normal to me—black kids and white kids hanging out wasn’t a weird thing. I wasn’t too inland in Virginia, so I feel like my Virginia upbringing was a little different from other people in Virginia. What was the role of art and comics in your life at the time? Were you encouraged to make art as a child? Yeah, my mom was really encouraging all the time. She would put my drawings up on the fridge—all of the cliché shit. I would make these comics when I was 12 or 11. I didn’t know what zine culture was, but I’d be like, “I need blank paper.” and she’d give it to me and I’d impro-

vise comics. I’d put a little logo for a fake company that I came up with on them, haha. She still has them in a shoe box somewhere. I was making them when I was in middle school before I knew what “DIY” was or anything. I just didn’t know—I was just a black kid living in city. Even before that my mom was bringing back newspaper comics. It was a lot of Sunday paper stuff, like Peanuts. She use to work at the local newspaper, so she would bring one back and I’d be like, “Oh, can I look at the comics?” and she’d give me the whole section. So I’d read Peanuts, Garfield, those weird sort of out-of-context detective stories that are always on going but you don’t know what the fuck is going on in them, haha. There were some that were local—you could always tell because they were just a little off, haha. Around the time I was in high school was when Boondocks appeared in the Daily Press, which was the local paper in the 757 area. I think Aaron McGrunder went to a Maryland School, so I know he’s probably been around Virginia. That was really the first time I ever saw something with two black kids talking to each other. There’s gotta be a Black Bechdel test, haha. It was also the first time I had seen the n-word in a comic. I was like, “Whoa, they’re talking like me and my friends! What the hell.” It was really cool seeing that, because that inspired me to think, Oh well if he can make comics for black kids, then I can make comics for black kids. He also got a lot of hate mail which was great. A lot of local Virginia people would


be like, “I’ve been a long fan of the Daily Press, and this is a race-baiting comic!” The cape comics where something I’d get only every now and then, because we’d have to go to a comic shop to get them. There weren’t any that were super close. I kind of lived in the hood, so there weren’t really comic shops. Everything came from the paper or stuff I’d see on TV. Was there any TV that you were watching that helped shape the way you wanted to write or make art? I watched way too much TV. When I was a kid Sailor Moon would come on in the mornings at 6 am. They put it at a time where kids would watch it before school, so I would just watch Sailor Moon everyday. I was watching Dragon Ball Z when I was in high school. I was watching a good portion of Toonami and Adult Swim anime. Shit like Paranoia Agent and all of the weird classic stuff. But I also watched a lot of action movies. It’s not really noticeable in my work at a glance, but a lot of shit like Bloodsport, Kickboxer, all the Die Hard films, anything with Sam Jackson in it—all of that influenced me. I have a soft spot for it, so I kind of want to do very sincere action thing eventually. There were a lot of weird movies that would come on TV, and I would constantly watch weird shit. Star Trek was a big one too. I was a pretty big kid treky because my sister got me into it. I would be on the bottom bunk bed and she would be watching Star Trek, so I would turn around and watch it. She watched wrestling too so I would watch that too. So all of her weird nerd shit passed down to me. She’s not a nerd anymore, but she forged me into one. How did you decide you wanted to study art in college and attend Virginia Commonwealth University? What work were you making on your own in high school that led to that? It’s kind of wild actually. I almost didn’t want to become an artist anymore while I was in middle school. In middle school I had a really bad art teacher and there was this weird middle school drama where I was always clashing with them and they were mean to me. I was like 12 or something and I was like, “I don’t want to draw anymore.” So I swore off art classes. Then when I was in high school my friend was like, “I heard the teacher at the high school is actually really good.” so I was like, “I think I’ll try it again.” and he became my favorite art teacher. He went to SCAD, but he wanted to go to VCU. So I was thinking about going to SCAD and moving to Georgia, but he was like, “Think about it, but VCU is in state tuition, so you won’t have to owe a lot of money back.” So I was like, “Alright, I’ll do that.” I didn’t really know about the whole illustration industry or the kind of jobs people do, so I was just going to art school because I wanted to be an artist. In high school in general my art was like “I’m an edgy teen.” I remember


drawing anarchy symbols on the wall and shit. I didn’t know what it actually meant. I was feeling stuff like, I’m living in the shadow of my father, and stuff like that. It’s weird, it was like teen precursors to Fatherson. But I just wanted to be a general artist. I was into Andy Warhol and all of The Factory shit. Then when I got to school I was like, maybe I want to be an animator. Then I realized I was too lazy… I was like, “…That’s a lot of drawings. You have to draw 24 pictures per second?” haha. But I knew I did like to draw, so I decided to do illustration. But there were a lot of false starts with things that didn’t happen. What was your experience like at VCU? What was their illustration program like while you were going there? The program was pretty cool. I had one teacher named Sterling Hundley—if you don’t know about him, at the height of his career he was the most awarded illustrator. Before James Jean it was Sterling. He was winning medals every year, getting into annuals, and he was my first illustration teacher. So I really followed him and was like, “I want to do what he does.” Before I actually met him I saw his pieces and he drew a series of different musicians. He drew R. Kelly, and Dr. Dre, and Stevie Wonder, so I was like, “Yo, this black guy is really great!” because I just assumed he was a black dude. Then he walked into class and he was a normal white guy in cargo shorts. I don’t think I’ve ever told him that I thought he was black before I first met him, haha. But his work is what got me into wanting to do it. He became like a mentor in school. The actual program was pretty decent. I was doing a lot of figure drawing. Before I didn’t really keep a sketchbook and I wasn’t doing a lot of observational shit. But those types of programs really get you in the mode of drawing things you see. I did so many sketch books through out those four years. I would constantly just wake up and be like, “Uh, let me just draw this cup.” Just the act of moving your hand around and making marks really helped. How did your drawing practice change once you were in college? I think it changed in school because I had real assignments. In high school I was experimenting more. I was doing collages and things that would come of off the page. In college it was a lot more specific. It was like, “Alright here is figure drawing homework, here’s an assignment where you have to design a poster for a play using this medium…” I hated actually making all of that stuff, and I felt like, This sucks! I’m not good enough yet. I didn’t feel like I was a star in the department. But at the same time I was figuring out what I wanted to do digitally. Then I started working with gauche and graphite and stuff. I kind of appreciated the assignments after the fact, but when you’re a student and you’re constantly pushed to do so many things, you realize I just want to do this one thing. Sometime it seems like they’re trying to control too much,

“I got that shock that no one prepares you for which comes the day after graduation when you’re suddenly not a student… and you don’t know what to do.” but I definitely think teachers know what they’re doing. At the end of the day, I think your mind is just not ready to be challenged. You as a student just want to be like, “I just want to do my thing.” What was it like graduating after four years? Were you nervous about entering into the “illustration industry” after that? Yeah, I was super nervous. I got that shock that no one prepares you for which comes the day after graduation when you’re suddenly not a student… and you don’t know what to do, haha. I was like, “Well I’m going to get up and go get lunch on campus still?” It took a while to break that weird in between. I was actually a little depressed for a while. I had to immediately adapt to a post school culture. I didn’t have a lot of money, but I was still making work. I was picking up painting and tried to do portraits. The first ones kind of sucked, but then I got better. Then I got a caricature job because I was like, “I need some money.” and that’s how I met some of my artist friends. But I was just constantly trying to make work. I think I still hadn’t really figured out how I wanted to work yet. The first two years after school I was kind of just wavering. I worked


at an art store after the caricature job, and that was cool because I got to play around with materials. That’s really when I started messing with gauche. I used that and I got a carpenter pencil and really just started experimenting with that. That’s when I started my tumblr. I was like “Hi, I’m Richie Pope. This is my first post. Enjoy my art please.” hahaha. My goal was to just make art as if I were my own art director. So I would just go to magazines, pick an article—I tried to choose different topics like business and politics and life style—and I would make pieces art directing myself. I was just like, let me make a bunch of those, put them up, and see what happens. It took a couple years, but finally I started to get into my actual work. It seems like you really graduated at that turning point where people began relying more on internet presence than hiring agents or sending out mailers. What was your impression of the other communities making work on the internet at the time? How did that affect your attitude about doing illustration? Yeah! It was weird. When I was in school my teachers had agents. Then it was sort of on that down turn where people were like, “You don’t really need one.” So I was a

little more quasi-punk where I just thought, We don’t need anyone! We can just do it ourselves! So Tumblrs were big and BlogSpots were big. I remember James Jean’s blog was huge. Every major artist had a big blog. So I think after seeing that I was like, Alright, let me get one of those and that should at least put my stuff out there. It definitely kept me going, I think. You can get too insular, you know? How did you start honing your digital image making skills? You’ve always been one of my favorite illustrators who works digitally because you make the work still feel very human and spontaneous. How long did it take for you to start making work in the style that you make work now?

At a certain point I was just like, “Okay, why don’t I just do it all digitally, because I’m really bad at keeping track of my physical work.” I really don’t care… haha. I have computer paper drawings, and I just throw them away. It doesn’t bother me really to just toss them. So I just started doing them digitally. A lot of the stuff at the time—even the digital work—was really textural, and it seemed like you needed texture packs and stuff. At a certain point I was like, “This feels kind of hokey. I’m just drawing and then taking a texture and slapping it on. Does the drawing actually need it?” So I just got obsessed with the idea of using a digital brush and just seeing what I could do with that brush. I just wanted to focus on that first, rather than thinking about all of the bells and whistles.

It was a lot of trial and error. A lot of the work was based on sketchbook stuff, and I was using a lot of graphite and gauche. Everything I was trying to do digitally was still like, “Let me get a grainy pencil that’s sort of randomized, and let me get a brush that’s just a little watery.” Even my first couple pieces in that style got the reaction of, “Oh is that done traditionally?” and I was still scanning in lines.

Now I do a lot of my drawings with a round pencil and I’ll shake the lines a little bit. So now I’m doing stuff where I’m still trying to purposely be inaccurate when I’m drawing. At first I was doing it more purposefully, but now it’s just like second nature. I’ll see a line and think, All these lines are too straight. I don’t want to draw too fast. I don’t want it to look like swooshes, I want it to look a little more craggy.

“ My goal was to just make art as if I were my own art director. So I would just go to magazines, pick an article—I tried to choose different topics like business and politics and life style—and I would make pieces art directing myself... It took a couple years, but finally I started to get into my actual work.”


I think that all ties back to the carpenter pencil stuff and some of that stuff that you can’t really control. I still try to hack the way I do digital work to make it a little bit more random, and I think that helps with making it not look so stiff. Even when I’m doing flat coloring, I try to make the edges feel craggy or rough.

there. It’s weird because, I think the sci-fi fantasy scene really loved that kind of style. But as I leaned more into comics, my work started to get more cartoony. Now I do a lot of young adult book covers and publishers pick up more on what I’m doing. Even a subtle switch up of what I’m doing can attract totally different people.

Where there any illustrators at the time who were influential to your approach? Was there anyone who you met who left a big impression on you?

What tactics for getting your work out there did you learn in school? Which of those tactics were helpful, and what tactics did you have to figure out on your own?

Well Sterling was definitely a big one, because he was such a influential teacher locally. If you’re a student of his, you’re probably going to rip him off at least once. You’ll find those pieces and be like, “Oh, those are the rip-off pieces.” When I was in school the kind of young stars were Jillian Tamaki, and Sam Weber, and Josh Cochran. The fact that Josh was using pencil—that was a pretty big influence to be honest. He wasn’t trying to hide that they were drawings, which I really liked. He’s still a pretty big influence, but now we know each other. Everything really came after. Later on I got into Harlem Renaissance illustrators. I remember being like, “Damn, why didn’t I learn this is college?” There are so many of them and they’re all so talented. I think my favorite artist from then is probably Jacob Lawrence, just from the way he did his blocky sort of figures. What were some of your earliest illustration jobs? Well my earliest job was actually a Sterling rip-off piece, haha. It was during my senior year, and I was shocked because I got a job and I hadn’t even finished school yet. I thought, Wow, I’m a superstar already! but it was a false start, because I didn’t get another job for a few years after that, haha. But I got the job, and it was for this writer. So I did this typical Sterling rip-off of a guy at a table with a pen or something. They liked it, but when I went to go invoice them—I had never done one before—so on it I said “Invoice for Richie Pope Illustration.” But the thing with checks is, if you put something like “Richie Pope Illustration” that has to be registered as a company. So I got my check, I went to go deposit it, and the bank teller was like, “Can I see your business ID or something?” and I was like, “Uh no… I’m Richie Pope…” but she was like, “You’re not Richie Pope Illustration. That’s a company name.” and then I was “Oh, I don’t have that company.” so she was “Okay. Well then we can’t cash this check.” So then I had to awkwardly ask my art director if they could make a new check out to my name. That was my first “job” job, and then it was a couple more years before I did something for ESPN I think. Then I finally got a job through Irene Gallo at and I started doing book cover stuff. Those were really well paying jobs, and then it kind of became a regular thing, so I started doing an illustration almost every month. That allowed me to explore different technical stuff digitally, and those jobs were probably the last time I did really textural stuff. I think I started to leave it behind


Emailing was actually pretty helpful. I sent mailers—I think those did pretty well. I think I definitely sent New Yorker ones to the New York Times and vice-versa, haha. I would just be like, “Oh shit, that’s the wrong address and the wrong employee.” I think that might have worked, but I think emailing definitely worked better. One time an art director hit me up and was like “Hey Richie! I still have your email from a year ago, and I was just looking for the right project for you.” So the fact that people keep track of that shit is really cool. I know if it’s a really good email they’ll just pin it for a while and keep it on the back burner. That and the work itself kind of promotes you when you post it. I haven’t actually sent any type of mailer in a while. But the work itself starts to spread. If you work with one art director—like at the New York Times for instance—they’ll talk to another art director and be like, “Oh, I worked with Richie Pope recently.” and the other one will be like, “Oh, let me see his work!” and then maybe they’ll hire you. Once you’re in the bigger publications you can sort of spread out and work with a bunch of people. There are all of their organic ways to do it that aren’t like, “If you send this many postcards you’ll get this much feedback.” If you just send a template email where you clearly just switched out the name like, “Hello _____, I love your publication. We should work together.” people can tell, haha. I would always just take the time to write something. I would have a general idea of what I would want to say, and to not sounds stupid I would start with a base template for an email. But for each person I would change everything and reflect on what I actually liked about the publication. I wasn’t lying either—the last thing you want is to talk about the publication and lie and then they talk to you about some shit that you don’t know anything about, haha. In your work you have this incredible talent for incorporating both highly rendered images with stylized abstraction. You’re always really great at placing a recognizable and detailed portrait in really playful and inventive compositions. How do you find harmony with both techniques in your illustrations? I feel like, influence-wise, that maybe came from Ren and Stimpy and weird cartoony style that incorporates the extreme close up. They use to feel a little bit separate, but

“For likenesses especially, I try to get super accurate and then I try to just simplify it. Sometimes it’s like drawing the nose and then moving the nose up a little bit.”

now I treat my portraiture as more realistic cartooning. There’s a piece I recently did that actually came out today in the New Yorker. I kind of sketched it out first loosely, and then I rendered it, then I turned that layer down and tried to simplify it. So for likenesses especially, I try to get super accurate and then I try to just simplify it. Sometimes it’s like drawing the nose and then moving the nose up a little bit. It’s sort of the same process when I’m just generally cartooning where I’m just trying to get the lines right. But it’s a little bit more about really fine tuning the shit. With cartooning it’s a little more like, “This one is accurate, this one is not. It’s fine.” but with portraits, it’s so front and center that it must be recognizable. Who have been some of your favorite clients to work for over the past few years? I worked with Anshuman (Iddamsetty) who was at Hazlitt. He’s really fucking cool, because he’s one of the only art directors who get’s hyped off of my work. I would send him stuff and he would be like, “Oh man Richie, you did it!!! This is good, this is a good one!” I found out it wasn’t

just me, he was generally just excited about work. So he was one of my favorites to work with. I never thought he was going to be disappointed. Irene Gallo is a big one because she put me on first. She was one of the first people who was trying to see what I was doing and gave me big book cover jobs. Pretty much everyone at the New York Times is good. They’re all super chill and they all know each other. For a long time I worked with Deanna Donegan, and now she’s at the New York Times. When she was at the New Yorker we did the New Yorker Radio Hour podcast. At first they worked with different artists, and I just did one. Then she asked me to do another one. Then I think something happened where I was just always available, so she would say “Hey are you free?” and I would be like “Yeah!” We never said it was going to be a long running thing that I was going to do, but I think it just happened that way. So I was doing them every week for about half a year. They switched it up because she left, but those were really good consistent ones. As an art director she’s just really helpful and respectful of my time—she knew when to push it and when to not demand too much.


How have you balanced doing both professional and personal work as you’ve started to get hired more. What role does each type of work play in your creative life? It’s been kind of a struggle honestly, just because the freelancers life is often not being able to separate your time. It’s hard to say “This is my free time and this is my work time.” especially since I work from home. So sometimes I have trouble separating those, so I’m just constantly on call. If I get any email I’m like, “Oh! Did I miss a due date?!” But for me, those jobs are like, “Alright, let me pay rent.” but also “Let me put content that I want to

see.” I want to feel responsible with the shit I put in there. The side stuff always involves getting into a completely different mode. That’s the stuff were I go to the coffee shop for a little bit and I kind of let loose. I try to watch stuff for inspiration. I just have more time in general so I’m completely shifting gears. The deadlines—they’re usually like show deadlines—but they’re not beholden to anyone else. It’s actually gotten a lot better, in terms of how I separate the time. that’s why I like doing short indie stuff. Some people are like, “Oh, why don’t you write some longer stuff?” but I’m always like, “Yeah, but I like being able to commit to this thing and finishing it rather than having it go on for a long time.”

“But that low barrier of entry and the fact that the last minute thing pushed me to make something made me realize, okay, maybe I should keep coming back.”


“it’s a community that I don’t really get anywhere else, because the thing we do is not really tied as much to making a lot of money. That and the fact that the money people are making goes right back into buying other people’s stuff is great.” When did you come up with the idea for Newdini? Was that your first proper self-published comic? Yeah, that was actually my first self-published comic. The way it came about is completely unglamorous and irresponsible. I was sharing a table with someone who got in to a zine fair and I was like, “I need a book.” I was stressed because I had never made one, and I was like, “I don’t have anything! What am I going to do?” So I thought, I’m just going to improvise a comic. I wrote it like I was an investigative reporter, so I was drawing people and making them up as I went. It was like I was trying to figure out who they were like, Alright, who is this character? What’s their name? Maybe they’re tied to him this way. It was like investigating a crime family and using string to try to find all of the connections—that was me for that project. So I pulled an all nighter and I stayed up and printed it that morning. I was folding it myself, but I printed too many, so my friends were helping me fold them. Some of them were all out of order when I put them together. I looked at it and was like, “Cool, it’s finished!” Then I was like, “…Okay this sucks. They’re going to be disappointed. They’re going to be like ‘This is trash.’” haha. Then people were into it. I brought like 75 or 100 copies and I had like 15 left at the end of my first show. Eleanor Davis came by and got one. I was like, “You’re Eleanor Davis! Why do you want my shitty comic?” But that low barrier of entry and the fact that the last minute thing pushed me to make something

made me realize, Okay, maybe I should keep coming back. It was this level of judgement that definitely is not in illustration where, if you just turn in a piece it’s whatever. But yeah, that book was my first experience doing indie comic selling or printing or anything. As you started doing more comics, how did you approach that work differently from your illustration? I try to do something different each time. Whether it’s the format, or the way I’m drawing, or the way I’m coloring. It seems like the first couple books were all sort of different, technique-wise. Fatherson was sort of like a weird children’s book things, and Super Itis was more like a traditional comic and the color palette just involved thinking about thanksgiving food. The most recent one I’m doing, the cover has no black on it. It’s just line and really bright grey tones. So with each one I’m approaching it in a way where I’m trying to do something different. I don’t really know if I have “my thing that I do” yet, so I just want to keep playing with it and seeing where it goes. I feel like now I’m in comics college. With illustration I know what I’m doing, but with comics I feel like I’m going back to school a little bit. Even just being at shows I feel very humbled about a lot of stuff.


“I think it came out of me thinking about my dad, but also thinking about my own anxieties about being a dad potentially.” What have you appreciated about the independent comics community as a whole? What has the community provided for you as an artist that other art communities haven’t? I think we were talking about it a bit before, but it’s the flattening of distance between people. The people that I look up to who’s work I’ve been following for a couple years—after doing it for a while you just start chilling or saying “hey” whenever we see each other. Especially with the shows themselves, it’s a community that I don’t really get anywhere else, because the thing we do is not really tied as much to making a lot of money. That and the fact that the money people are making goes right back into buying other people’s stuff is great. I’m always adding to my knowledge of what other people are doing—even though I don’t get to read it all of the time because I buy too much shit, haha. When did Ryan Sands from Youth in Decline first approach you about doing a book for the Frontier series? How did you conceptualize what you wanted to do for that project? I think it was after my first or second SPX. We just saw each other and talked for a little bit. Then I think a couple days later he emailed me and was like, “Hey! I’m doing another Frontier. Would you like to be in the next round of


it?” and I just thought, Yo what the fuck! I was like “I love Frontier! How am I now in it?!” After that I was just thinking about ideas. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do yet. Then I hit him with a concept and I think he was really into it. What was cool about him as an editor is that he said he could be as hands on or hands off as I needed him to be, which was good. Really at the end it was more about copy editing and him checking to see if stuff was spelled wrong or anything. That whole experience was really really good. It was kind of like Newdini where I was working on it up until the last minute. It was also one of those things where, right when I finished it I was like, “Man, I hate this.” haha. Then afterwords I was like, “Ah, it’s pretty good!” Luckily my modes of working are a lot better now. They’re a lot healthier. I think at that time I was just working up to the wire and the experience was really stressful. I didn’t want to deal with the work. But now I kind of control my time a little bit better and I’m more comfortable putting projects to the back burner. So I actually like my work as I’m working, which is good. Like with That Box We Sit On, I actually liked it while I was drawing it. I was just like, “If I don’t have it, then I don’t have it. If I finish it, then I’ll have it for the show.” and that allowed me to step back and actually enjoy the process.

“All of those things just got put into that one book and it became a bigger thing than a little joke about a weird pill.” How did you conceptualize the story for Fatherson? I think it came out of me thinking about my dad, but also thinking about my own anxieties about being a dad potentially. I was getting at the age where I was like, “Man… my friends are becoming dads…” so the idea of what a dad is suppose to be and what a young man is suppose to be started blurring. I was realizing, “Oh okay. You can just be a dad.” I was sort of going back and forth about what was going to be the concept—was it going to be a sci-fi story

or more like an infomercial kind of thing—and then the title came as a term for the sort of cyclical nature of a father to son. I also really wanted to do a comic where I could put a bunch of random Virginia black dad references in there. I was like, “I haven’t really seen anyone mention Newports in an indie comic… I’ll put that in there.” haha. I was like “I don’t think I’ve seen a du-rag in an indie comic… I’ll put that in there.” It was very loving too. Some of the things are more critical, like the idea of not taking care of your health and the anxiety of taking care of someone else. It’s


weird—I feel like it’s a more complicated grey thing now. When I was younger I was like ”If your dad isn’t around, then they’re just a piece of shit. You have to be around! How could you not?” But now as an adult I understand it’s still shitty, but I see why people run. It’s not like empathy, but it’s more like “Oh, I see how you could end up like that sort of person.” All of those things just got put into that one book and it became a bigger thing than a little joke about a weird pill. How did it feel to have that work out once it was published? I remember that book really stood out to me when it first came out, and I think it was my first entry into your writing. What reception did you get from readers once it was out?

ing. It’s sort of like, “We want it diverse, we don’t it black.” or something. No one has ever explicitly said that but, if you drew like a city scene that was all black people, they might ask you to change someone to being Asian or Latino. So I think I worry about that a little bit—being pigeon holed in the sense of “We need you for diversity stuff!” But other than that I feel pretty good with the stuff I’m doing.

Once it got out I felt a little bit better about it. I had some distance from it once it was a book, so it felt real. People were really receptive to it. I kind of just thought, Oh it’s a part of Frontier and I’m not as big as the other artists, so if people read it it’s probably just because it’s Frontier. I was still kind of doubtful how much impact it could have on people. Then when people started telling me, “Yeah it’s one of my favorite books that I read this year. “ I was like “What???” haha. People were like, “Yeah it really moved me.” I was doing this residency, and this guy who came to interview me and document my digital work and set up the gallery—he was in his late 30s or early 40s—he had a teenage son, so he was talking about how much Fatherson really hit him. He said it made him think about his own dad, so then we were just talking about that. So then I was like, “Oh wow, I think people really like this.” My connection to it is just making it and putting it in a folder, so I never really get the actual scope of how people react to it. But now it’s actually one of my favorite things that I’ve done. Looking back at it I’m really with some of the stuff I was picking to put in the book. Also, if I become a dad one day, it’s going to be wild to see some of that, haha.

I don’t do a lot of non-fiction, but the fiction that I do is in a way non-fiction. I’m still saying something in the subtext. With Fatherson, I don’t think people see it as “a black people’s comic.” But for me, I always want to have the black guy in it, haha. That sort of Carl Winslow kind of dad type, haha. I wanted to put in the du-rag and the car stuff. With Super Itis— “the itis” is such a black cultural reference. Even with That Box We Sit On, I was really anxious about putting “nigga” in a comic. I was like, “How would I feel if white people read it and they were saying that?” and then I’m like doing the rapper thing of, “Am I okay with this?” But at this point I’m just like, “If they do, whatever. I’m not making this book for a specific group of people. But I do want the people that I grew up with to read a comic and see themselves in it.” For me that’s my most outwardly black comic. I think I fear the idea of being pigeon holed and people putting weird blackness on me, but I want to be able to take my shit and be more malleable with it. I can take it and be more explicitly like “Yo, this comic is about me being depressed about police brutality.” or it can be more in the subtext and informing some sort of a sci-fi story. That feels like a more healthy way to put that into your shit.

Have you ever felt pigeon-holed or pressure to make certain work because you’re one of the few black American illustrators who is being hired by these big clients in the illustration and editorial world? If that does happen, how do you go about it? Yeah, we have a joke where every February we’re like, “Oh it’s black history month. Here come the jobs!” haha. It’s like a catch 22 where companies mean well and they’re like “This is the perfect time to hire more black artists!” haha. I mean, it’s cool but, “Can I still get the same amount of jobs every month?” So we joke about that every February. But, I think my thing was getting worried about not getting pigeon holed to draw “black art,” but drawing an idea of what diversity in art means. Sometime it can be less “Draw a real group of people.” but more “Can you make sure this group of people is all of the people.” It can be really good, or it can be like, “There are too many of ____.” At that point it’s like, “Well, now you’re like measuring.” and that can feel like an accidental reverse tokeniz-


I think for a lot of black artists it’s hard to tell when you’re being encouraged to make art about being black and when you’re encouraged to make art from a black perspective. How do you navigate that in your own work?

What progress have you witnessed take place in the illustration industry while you’ve worked within it? What progress do you still want to see happen? I’ve seen people be more vocal about things that bother them. There can be somewhat of a generation gap. Even though we have similar values, there can be a gap in stuff like, “What do I call students nowadays. What if I say the wrong thing?” I think there’s also a love for things that may have been subversive for their time that overtime no long seem subversive. There’s a gap between young illustrators who are like, “Whoa, that’s fucked up.” and older illustrators being like, “This was legendary!” So there’s stuff like that that I think we’re still working on sometimes. But I do like the fact that we’re talking about them. It’s happened on a couple panels. I did the “Stories Matter” panel at a show a couple years ago, and it was pretty much a diversity panel for comics and illustration. The

second one I did I hosted, and that one was pretty good. It got pretty lively and people were critiquing the context of pieces in the actual place that I was doing the panel. Some of the questions were a little tense. I appreciated it because it meant that we’re not all on the same page— not that we all have to be—but the fact that we’re talking about it is good. I would actually just like that more. I think, so much of illustration is about our egos and the work we do and the awards. But I’d like for the illustration and comics scene to be a little bit more accessible and down to earth. With illustration, the work is so often for companies, so it’s not going to be devoid of “product.” But if I can find ways to make it look like the stuff I’m doing is also for them in a way, I’m at least siphoning that money to do something. You brought up a really great point about the disconnect between past and current generations in art. Do you feel like you often have sympathy for both sides of those arguments? There was an illustration job I did one time where the writer of the piece was writing about the Rockefeller Laws that passed in New York and how they ended up hurting the black community. Even though the black community voted for them. The article was basically saying, “If we want to talk about Black Lives Matter, then we have to talk about our own ideas of what we think about crime.” It was very much like a “Don’t protest if you don’t…” I thought, Man I hate this article. I don’t agree with this shit at all. But it was a job that I had to illustrate. It was the first time I ever talked to the art director and said, “Hey, I don’t agree with this article, and I don’t really like what it’s saying. I don’t want my illustration to support it. Can I do an opposing idea illustration?” and he was like, “…I mean, no. We can’t necessarily run an illustration that is completely jarring with the article. But you can solve the job in a way that has your own take on what he’s saying.” So the piece I ended up doing was this portrait of this old mid-century black silhouette with a suite and a tie, but the face was bars. The whole point I was saying was, “Because we wanted safety, we trusted white supremacy to give us safety, and they turned on us instead.” which is par for the course, haha. So I was fine with that, and the art director was fine with that. It’s only happened maybe one other time recently where it was like, “You’re asking me not to draw this, but you want to be for this cause, so I’m going to draw it anyway.” and they didn’t stop me, so I was like, “Alright.” At this point now I’m confident enough that, if something were to really bother me, I’m going to say in an email, “This is weird.” and the worst they can do is cancel the job. If I’m not desperate for the money, then it’s whatever. But it’s little things like that.

How do you think artists navigate situations like that when they don’t have the financial stability to easily say no to work? Has that been a difficult situation at different points in your career? It was more difficult in the past. I could have just said no to that job now, but back then I was like, “No, I need that money. It’s an op-ed, it’s real quick, and I can use the money.” I’m at least in a position where I can be a little bit more selective. I’m still just trying to build and save and all of that stuff. But now I’m in a better place. Really, it’s a financial privilege to say no, so I try to keep that into perspective. If I wasn’t able to say no, how would I react to these jobs? But also, so much of it is juggling your time too. I have to make sure I actually have the time to do the things I say yes to. Some of that I still struggle with at this very moment, haha. I’m like, “Did I take on too much work this month? I guess we’ll see how it goes.” What was your experience like making your most recent book, That Box We Sit On? What was it like getting an Ignatz for that at SPX? That book is really fun. I had the concept before I had the title. I was like, “Should I call it The Box We Sit On or That Box We Sit On? I’ll use the second one. There’s no way people will confuse that.” haha. So, so far there’s a lot of confusion around that. I actually designed the characters first. I had this instagram post where I had four panels, and they were the first ones I drew. I started with the beginning and the end, and they were both individually one page. Then in-between I was just improvising. I was like, “What do I want them to talk about? Umm… police brutality… alternate dimensions… weird John Carpenter dogs… all of that sci-fi and horror stuff I use to watch as a kid.” All of the dialog came first and I improvised it like I overheard a conversation. I would write it, then put a bubble around the words, and then was like, “Alright, this is where the people would go.” So, the reason why sometimes they’re big and small was all because of the text—rather than doing the drawings first and determining where I could put the word balloons. It was really fun because it was also about discovering these two characters through ease dropping on these imaginary characters. One would think of an idea, and the other would push back on it. Then at a certain point I was like, Man if I keep this up, then the rhythm gets a little stale. So I thought, Maybe I’ll have an intermission and then the “Aye, you want some sunflower seeds?” part come out and it’s just them quietly enjoying some food. Then it picks up again with the last bit. That was fun, and it’s the most nostalgic book I’ve done. It reminded me of middle school and high school hang outs. Especially when you’re in Virginia where there isn’t shit to do, you just end up being like, “Let’s just sit on this thing and talk about random shit.” It was cool to draw kids who talked like how I talked when I was a teenager—or when I was 12 when I shouldn’t have, haha. Sometimes


it’s awkward to have as shows because, when people get it, they really get it, and because of the cover and the colors, parents will come over with their kids. Then I’m thinking, Oh no… There’s profanity on the first page. The kid will flip through it, and I won’t stop them. But the parents will be like, “Oh, what’s this?” and they’ll see it and go “Oh, this isn’t for kids honey.” haha. Sometimes they’re like, “Oh this is really good. I thought it was for kids, but I’ll buy it for myself.” But sometimes people just don’t care. It’s been cool to see the different reactions. I made this lady cry one time. She was like, “It’s so important what you’re doing!” and I was like, “Oh thanks! I’m just making a book, but okay.” Then the Ignatz stuff—I was just not prepared for that. I saw the other nominees and I just assumed that I was going to lose. But I thought, Let me just go to this thing. But then at that dinner before, I was like, But if I do win, I won’t have shit to say… So I took out my phone and started jotting down notes. That whole dinner we had dim sum, and while everyone was enjoying their food I was anxious. The group picture we took at the end—I was not smiling, haha. We were going right from there to the Ignatz. We got in and we were in that third row. We were sitting next to Carta Monir, Xia Gordon, and some other people. Then it ended up that Ben Passmore was doing the category and I was like, Awe damn, now if I don’t win I have to talk to Ben and be like “I tried!” haha. His introduction speech was really good, and I remember when he was reading the category he said my name and gave a little “Woo!” afterwords. Then he said “You already know who I voted for.” haha. Then when he read the winner is was funny because he was like, “And the winner is… Oh shit! Richie Pope!!!” Then that part was a blur and I was like as zombie and got up and hugged my friend and walked around while people were like “Yay Richie!” I got up on stage and he crept real low for a dap, which might have been the first dap on that stage, haha. Then I gave the speech. I was kind of anxious because I hoped I wasn’t trying too hard and I was just being super self critical of what I was saying. My mom couldn’t make it, but she’s been supportive my whole life, so I hope I can show her the audio or video soon. But the thing that I think really resonated with people during what I said was, “I made the book for people I grew up with. Hopefully these shows will open up to the point where people from where I’m from can go to these shows and feel more comfortable going to them and tabling. I want to see hood dudes making hood dude comics.” I said something about wanting to have them in the same room and have them line these walls and be in these chairs. Then everyone started clapping and I was like, “Cool, glad ya’ll agree.” haha. So that was really good, and all of the reactions past that were really good. The Ignatz is now sitting on my desk. It’s like a paper weight at this point, haha.


What are you working on at the moment that you can talk about? I’m working on a mini comic called My Side of the Bed is Sinking. It’s inspired by the fact that, at home, my side of the bed is sinking—manly because I sleep all weird. It’s kind of about taking in too much bad news as a black person. The weight of everything makes it so that even sitting in your bed is not comfortable. It’s the complete opposite mood as That Box, and it’s serious with some dark humor in it. I’m also hopefully going to drop a Patreon soon, so that I can get some experimental color comics out there. That would just be something I would have in the background. That’s pretty much what’s coming up. What do you feel like you still struggle with as an artist? What hurdles do you still see in front of you? Completing a project and not being anxious about how it’s going to be perceived. I have a lot of in-progress comics and comics where I’m like, “That’s a good idea!” but I put it off to the side. I have a folder of unfinished comics. So the goal is to just finish them. So that’s what I’m trying to get a little bit better at. I also don’t want to be too critical of myself as I’m working. When you start cartooning you can be like, “Oh someone does what I’m doing so much better than how I’m doing it.” so I just have to get those voices out of my head. You should just draw because it’s fun to do it. Are there any projects you’d like to work on that you just don’t have the time or resources to do at the moment? I’d love to art direct or do design for an animation. Characters, backgrounds, props—something like that would be cool. I did it once for an Ohio lottery commercial, where I designed the characters and then they animated them and 3D printed them. They looked just like my drawings. I’d love to do a multi-series comic that’s recurring and full color. Pretty much anything that involves color that I can’t afford to do myself would be great, haha.


Michael Azerrad is one of the most influential and culturally significant music writers of the past four decades. Since

moving from Westchester County to New York City as a teenager in the late ’70s, Azerrad has written for the gamut of music publications including Rolling Stone, Spin, and MTV. For over 30 years he has contributed his unbridled enthusiasm and humanizing storytelling to an industry that’s often fraught with dishonest mythologizing and scandal worship. Azerrad’s writing has left a lasting impress on not just those who’ve read his work, but also the musicians he has profiled and the music industry as a whole. His most notable work, Our Band Could Be Your Life, is partially responsible for cementing an oral history of America’s indie music salad days during the 1980s. And since the book’s publication in 2001, hundreds of bands have been galvanized by the lessons and anecdotes shared by bands like Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers, Minor Threat, and Minutemen in the book.

Michael Azerrad’s writing is largely what influenced me to start interviewing artists in the first place. When I was young-

er I saw the documentary, About A Son, which was produced by cobbling together recordings of interviews Azerrad did with Kurt Cobain for his biography on Nirvana, Come As You Are. I was so captivated by his ability to ask questions with so much humility and respect towards Cobain, and the incredibly heartfelt and confessional responses Cobain gave back to him. As a writer, there is so much to learn from Azerrad’s technique, and his dedication to his craft seems almost unphased by the monumental shifts that have taken place in the past 20 years of music journalism.

This fall I leapt at the opportunity to interview Azerrad about his new book of collected tweets, Rock Critic Law, which

reflects on tropes in lazy music writing and the impact the internet has had on the industry. I’ll admit, being a budding writer myself who has only worked in the post-internet music industry, I was incredibly nervous to interview Azerrad. But his warm demeanor and insightful perspective made him incredibly easy to talk to. In November we met up in New York to take photos and see Dirty Projects play the last show of their tour. We exchanged contact info and conducted the following interview via email.

Where are you from and where do you live currently? I was born in Manhattan and my family lived in Ft. Greene, Brooklyn until I was four but I’m really from Westchester County, which is the first suburb north of New York City. The motto of my town growing up was “Clean and Green,” and that about sums it up. I moved to New York City for college and never left. What was your relationship to music and writing while you were growing up? Were you encouraged to practice either when you were younger? When I was a little kid, my parents played music on the record player now and then, but I kind of monopolized the stereo as soon as I figured out how to use it. I mostly listened to folk music like the New Christy Minstrels, Pete Seeger, the Weavers, Ireene Wicker, and Lead Belly, a really killer two-record set of Scott Joplin ragtime played by Joshua Rifkin, and a Charlie Byrd guitar jazz record. But then one day my dad read in Newsweek about a new Beatles album called Sergeant Pepper that was

supposed to be this world-changing masterpiece, so he picked it up at the Sam Goody near his office in midtown and brought it home. He liked it, but I LOVED it. I played it over and over, in the obsessive way that kids do. I was just a little kid but right then and there, I knew I wanted to be involved in rock music somehow. At summer camp, while we were waiting for the buses to come and take us home at the end of the day, my friend David and I would sometimes make a little stage out of blocks, pick up some blocks and pretend they were microphones, and lip-sync to the Beatles album Help. And girls would gather around us and scream. That’s when I really began to appreciate the power of rock music. My friends down the street, Chris and Bruce, got the bug around the same time. So we formed a band. We went through a few changes and finally settled on Chris on guitar, Bruce on bass, and me on drums. I took a few very basic drum lessons at school but I lost interest in that because it was just playing on a pad instead of real drums. With my band, I was playing a snare drum


with the snares turned off and a towel over the top so I could get that thumpy sound like Ringo, with a little cymbal attached. I guess my parents tolerated that, especially since we practiced at Chris and Bruce’s house, not ours. That band broke up when we moved across town, but I played drums in bands almost continuously until about ten years ago. I’m not a great drummer, but I’m much better than people expect me to be, and I’ve recorded a few albums; I’m very proud of the one I did with the King of France. I’ve done a fair amount of touring too, and I loved it. I still stay in practice even though I don’t play in bands anymore; one of the things I identify as is a drummer.

places like CBGB and Hurrah, then either catch a very late train home or crash at a friend’s place. It was easy to get into those places even if you were basically a kid; New York was just lawless back then. You could buy beers and everything, although we always only had one because you had to keep your wits about you in the city. Also, beers were four dollars! A lot of money back then. I literally turned 17 at CBGB, watching the Dead Boys at the stroke of midnight. That was a benefit show for their drummer Johnny Blitz, who had been stabbed on the street by a gang of toughs. John Belushi sat in on drums for a song and Divine also sang a number. Great night.

I had an aptitude for writing when I was a kid, but it wasn’t like I was a budding Marcel Proust or anything. It was just a strong point. I mean, I was good at math too. My parents were academically inclined so they encouraged all of that stuff. When I was maybe eight or nine years old, my grandmother on my father’s side, out of the blue, said to me, “I think you’re going to be a journalist.” But I didn’t believe her. I’m not even sure I completely understood what a journalist was. I probably thought I’d play in a rock band.

What was your impression of New York City as a teenager growing up outside of the city? What was unique about seeing music in the city back then that’s hard to imagine being possible nowadays?

Did you have any sort of music community at your disposal when you were younger? When did you start going to shows in New York and what was going on at the time? In high school, a guy a year ahead of us had moved to New York to go to college, and he found out about New York punk rock. So my friends and I heard all about the Cramps, Television, the Dead Boys, James White and the Blacks, Talking Heads, and the like way before anyone else in school. And around that time, another friend came home from a summer in London, working at his cousin’s punk clothing shop, with a huge pile of singles and posters, as well as cassettes of punk and dub music that the guy at the cash register, named Don Letts, would make for him. After that, punk rock was all we thought about, talked about, listened to. We started a Devo/ Crampsy punk band called the Monads, which was basically all songs about our school. People from the east coast might appreciate one of our song titles, “Diddle on My Middle States” — that was inspired by our principal’s announcement that everyone had to be on their best behavior while the school was being evaluated by an accrediting organization. And we thought, screw that. After most of the Monads graduated, a couple of us started a cover band that played dances at our high school. Our big showstopper was playing side two of Cheap Trick at Budokan. My music community was the people in my band — very few people at my school were as fixated on rock music as we were. Sometimes we’d go into New York and see shows at

First of all, New York City was all about Manhattan. From my limited perspective, Manhattan was two cities: there was midtown, which had skyscraper canyons and the Museum of Modern Art, which my dad took me to often. The combination of those two features gave me a vivid impression of a midtown Manhattan aesthetic — modernism. And then there was dirty, scary downtown, where all the art and music happened. I was attracted to both places. The city felt like freedom, a place where I could start my life. A little later, when I got to college, it was still all about Manhattan. Back then, there was just no reason to go to Brooklyn or any of the other boroughs — except to go to the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival. That’s where you’d see things like The Gospel At Colonus or Trisha Brown or Philip Glass. But going to BAM was just a matter of taking a subway a couple of stops into Brooklyn, visiting the theatre, and then going right back into the subway again. Everything was happening in Manhattan: SoHo, TriBeCa and the East Village. The difference between then and now is safety, and on a couple of levels. Seeing music in the dark old days of New York could be physically risky. There was a lot of crime in the city, hard to imagine now that New York is America’s safest big city, and often the places where the most interesting, most boundary-pushing music was made were in really sketchy areas such as the East Village, where, like I said, the drummer in your favorite punk rock band could get stabbed 17 times and beaten with a baseball bat on the street. Obviously, there is still crime in New York City, but back in the day, names like Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant were synonymous with urban decay; now you take the M train there and see an indie-rock show. But the art is pretty safe too. Downtown was full of weird, cool people, drug addicts and homeless people, and of-


Taken by Azerrad’s Downstairs Neighbor

“I decided I was going to live in New York City. That was where all the exciting stuff happened: art, music, theatre. I also really liked the smell of the steam coming out of the manholes in the street. That was reinforced when one day I heard Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians on the radio.” ten combinations of those things. It was seriously edgy people make seriously edgy music in seriously edgy places. Sure, there were the slumming rich people and comfy suburban kids like me, but we were the exception, not the rule. The music and performance could be very ugly, provocative and confrontational, boundary-pushing in various ways. There was also a lot of cool and outright charisma, things that aren’t at as much of a premium today. I don’t mean to romanticize danger and misery, though, and I really enjoy the current underground music scene too; it’s just different because times are different.

to college, I applied to Columbia and somehow got in. To this day, I don’t know why they accepted me — my grades weren’t all that great — but it was life-changing and I made the most of it.

How did you decide to attend Columbia for college and what were you studying while you were there?

But I had to declare a major, or at least a concentration. My mother had minored in Latin, and she taught my sister and me the Latin names for things around the house, and so I wasn’t intimidated by Latin, which I then studied in junior high and then a bit in high school. I got my degree in Latin because it was actually the easiest thing to do, opening up time and mental space for all the other stuff I was absorbing.

At a very young age, maybe around the time I got that eureka moment from listening to Sergeant Pepper, I decided I was going to live in New York City. That was where all the exciting stuff happened: art, music, theatre. I also really liked the smell of the steam coming out of the manholes in the street. That was reinforced when one day I heard Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians on the radio. So when it was time to choose where to go


I wanted to take the broadest range of subjects I possibly could, which was good because Columbia has a core curriculum: required courses in art history, music history, literature, religion, and philosophy. So I did all those things, plus more religion, art, science, etc… I figured this was my last shot at getting educated.

What was your experience like going to school there? What aspects of your education or your surroundings left an impression on you? I gotta tell you, Columbia was pretty grim then. It was known as the Poison Ivy. Not only was the college itself in pretty poor shape, but the entire city was just climbing out of bankruptcy. Reagan had cut funding for mental health, which meant that hospitals had to discharge patients who couldn’t pay for their own care, and so there were mentally ill people wandering around the city in their hospital robes, the plastic wristbands still on their arms. There was a lot of crime, the streets were a mess. Not long after I graduated, a bunch of freshmen found a rolled-up rug on the street, carried it up to their dorm room and unrolled it. There was a dead body inside. That’s what New York was like then. I had to put in a lot of work hours during school, as well as working through the summer as a messenger, which was really brutal, spending the entire summer on the subway. The air conditioning was really primitive and eventually, I started breaking out in hives from the mold in the air conditioners. I was still going out late at night, seeing or playing music, then making it to work at 9:00 AM. I learned how to half-sleep on the subway and wake up at my stop. I also got to know the city really, really well.

sion that lasted with me. I took a few classes with a great Latin professor named Steele Commager, Jr. — son of the noted American historian Henry Steele Commager — and he was the coolest, suavest, most urbane guy, a role model for me to this day. The well rounded curriculum was one of the smartest things I ever did. It made me a fairly cultured person, whereas before I was kind of a philistine. I feel very, very lucky to have had that education; it’s made my entire life richer. Often, when I tell people I got a degree in Latin, they chuckle about how little Latin has to do with what turned out to be my career. But that couldn’t be further from the truth: Latin has everything to do with writing: for one thing, you have to learn grammar really well, and you learn how to be concise, and how to shape a sentence for rhythm and impact; knowing the etymology of words helps you find just the right one. Many years ago, New York turned into a gentrified Disneyland but I still see it through the lens of how it was when I first got here. Our freshmen orientation handbook literally said not to go east of Avenue A in the East Village, and even though it’s long been a haven for trustfunders able to pay a few thousand a month for a studio apartment, I still feel a dash of excitement and trepidation when walking through that neighborhood.

I was always really broke and had little money left over for food — I’m positive that I was clinically malnourished for those four years. Perhaps worst of all, Columbia was male-only. I can’t begin to tell you how awful that was; not just for the obvious reasons, but just because the energy, for lack of a better word, was completely lopsided — all yang and no yin. It was deeply strange and depressing. There was the all-female Barnard across Broadway, but Columbia students outnumbered Barnard something like four to one, and of course a lot of the reason women went to Barnard was, quite understandably, so they wouldn’t have to deal with men. So yeah, it was grim.

What were some of the first pieces of music journalism that you wrote during or just after college?

I made the most out of being in New York, though; I’d hit a museum now and then, or some avant theatre or performance art, but mainly I went out to see lots of shows. I kind of majored in that. And it was a great time in New York for music — you could see really cool downtown stuff like Liquid Liquid, Glenn Branca, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Laurie Anderson, DNA, the Bloods, the Lounge Lizards, and the Rock Steady Crew; thanks to a really visionary booking agent named Ruth Polsky, all the great UK post-punk bands came through town too. I’d stay out until the wee hours, then go to a 9:10 AM philosophy class and struggle to maintain consciousness.

A few years out of college, I was working at Rockamerica, a small business that sent music videos to nightclubs around the country. They put out a magazine that they sent to record labels, managers, video production houses, places like that, as promotion for the business. The editor, a very sharp lady named Lyn Healy, decided that since Michael a) had gone to college and b) played in bands, he could write about music, and about music videos. Recalling my utter loathing of writing in college, I demurred at first, but Lyn coaxed me into it. The first thing I wrote was a review of a VHS compilation of Gumby cartoons (which I loved). And that came out really well; I was liberated by the fact that almost no one had ever written about Gumby cartoons before.

I played in bands there, doing the post-punk thing. One band was called Hard Air (a reference to soundwaves); I’m still good friends with a couple of people who were in that band, all these years later. So that’s one impres-

I didn’t write about music in college or even just after college. Writing about music was for Other People to do. When I was in college, I loved music but I hated writing. HATED it. I literally would rather have gotten a root canal than write a paper. College papers are a really formalized way of writing, and most of the time, students have been writing the same paper for decades, sometimes centuries. It was paralyzing to me. Nothing I wrote was anywhere good or original enough.

And it kind of took off from there. The first musician I ever interviewed was Robert Smith from the Cure. He is a re-


ally great interview, so thoughtful and charming and well spoken. It went well, so that encouraged me to go in that direction. Thanks, Robert! What helped shape your voice as a writer early on? What do you think has remained consistent about your writing since you first began? That’s a really tough question. Because I don’t think I was trying to imitate any one particular writer. I know some people of my generation went through a Lester Bangs phase, but while I dig his stuff, I never tried to emulate his sui generis approach. I just tried to write as clearly and accurately as possible, and I still do. I fuss over every line and spend easily ten times as much time revising as I do writing. I don’t really think I have a particularly distinctive writerly voice, but then maybe a lot of writers feel the same — the way they write just makes perfect sense to them and they’re unable to see what makes it distinctive. I will say that I use the em dash a lot. Looking back on it, my father was a huge influence on my writing. He was an excellent story-, joke- and anecdoteteller. He knew how to unfurl a story so it held your attention and didn’t bury the lede or the kicker. When my sister and I were little, he would tell us enchanting Native American tales before we went to sleep; many years later, I asked him how he learned all those stories, and he said, “Oh, I made them up.” Earlier, I mentioned one of my Latin professors, Steele Commager, Jr. I guess maybe I tried to live up to his standard of being urbane, which is kind of an interesting thing to try in the context of rock music. Sometimes people tell me that a word I used sent them to the dictionary, and I love that, because they learned a new word. Another influence was the father of my girlfriend at the time I started writing, who was a reporter for the Washington Post. I wanted my writing to meet a high journalistic standard, and I still do. The journalistic standard of music writing has nosedived in the internet era, which really irritates me if only because it dovetails so neatly and so blithely with the phenomenon of fake news. How did you begin writing for larger music publications like Rolling Stone and Spin? What were the first pieces you did for them? After maybe a year and a half of writing for Rockamerica, one of my favorite bands, XTC, released a new album called Skylarking. It was a fantastic record and I wrote a review of it simply because I wanted to; I had no assignment for it anywhere. Out of the blue, my girlfriend said I should send it to Spin and Rolling Stone. “Nah,” I said. “They won’t even read it.” But she convinced me anyway, so I sent the piece to both places. A week or so later, I followed up and called the editor of Spin, and he said, “This is no good. You should write like you talk.” And


I wasn’t even discouraged by that, since a) he didn’t know how I talk and b) writing and talking are two different modalities — it’s like saying you should walk like you run. A few days later, the phone rang. It was someone purporting to be David Wild, the music editor at Rolling Stone. He said, “Got your XTC review. We’ve already assigned that one, but would you like to try something else?” Hell yes, I wanted to try something else! So I reviewed a really good compilation of Athens, Georgia bands called Athens, GA: Inside/Out, and that was my first piece in Rolling Stone. I think my first feature for them might have been a profile of Billy Ocean — early on, I mostly got the assignments that the staff writers didn’t want, but hey, they sent me to London for that article, which was a thrill, and I learned about a lot of music I wouldn’t have investigated otherwise. I wrote pieces for at least every other issue of Rolling Stone for the next several years, wrote two cover stories (the B-52’s and Nirvana), and it made my name. I eventually became a contributing editor there. David Wild later told me that they had never before assigned a writer based on an unsolicited submission. It seemed like he had read the XTC review and liked it so much that he reached out to me. A few years later, I found out a little more about what had happened — for some reason, Kurt Loder, one of the Mt. Rushmore greats of music journalism, had been following my stuff in this little giveaway weekly out of Long Island called the Island Ear, and he told David, “Hey, look out for this kid, he’s good.” And then a week or so later, my XTC review happened to land on David’s desk. So thanks, Kurt! What was music journalism like at the time? What resources did publications have to offer writers and what hurdles did you have to overcome on your own? For one thing, music journalism was a boy’s club. There were virtually no women doing it. I’m not sure that most men in the profession even thought about that; I don’t think I did. I bet a lot of women thought about it, though. Soon, Rolling Stone brought in great people like Kim Neely, Sheila Rogers and Jean Rosenbluth, but they were still solidly in the minority. There were virtually no people of color doing it either. That all only really changed in the past ten years or so. The music industry was booming at the time and lots of money was thrown around. The press saw only the tip of that iceberg, but it was a big iceberg, so there were always nice dinners with publicists, and if you went to a show, someone from the label would be there paying for drinks on their expense account. Then there were all the promo tchotchkes and free records and tickets to big shows and lavish release parties with, invariably, tons of free sushi. The music industry ran on sushi. And cocaine too, but I wasn’t in that tier of the hierarchy, or interested in that anyway. But one did hear stories.

Photo by Julia Just

This was long before the internet. There were no hot takes because there was no platform for transmitting them, aside from maybe a fax machine. We got advance music weeks before release, sometimes even longer, and had plenty of time to think about what we were going to say. We were encouraged to write in a compelling way, but nowhere near what would now be considered clickbait. A few years into my career, I was writing not only for Rolling Stone but also for MTV News, both of which were priceless journalistic boot camps for me — a tremendous resource for me as a writer. I sometimes wrote news pieces for Rolling Stone; my editor for those was Fred Goodman, and he absolutely raked my stuff over the who-what-when-where-why coals, for which I’m forever grateful. Fred was an absolutely formative figure for me, professionally. Same with my editors at MTV News, Stuart Cohn and Michael Shore, not to mention Kurt Loder, who was the anchor and closely vetted everything he read — all of them made me a much better journalist. Other resources that Rolling Stone and MTV News offered were their clout: if you were calling from one of those places, publicists and managers would pick up the phone and you’d get your interview or some advance music or a

confirmation of some fact or other, or maybe an exclusive tidbit. Wow, did I get spoiled by that. And there was also access to Rolling Stone’s or MTV’s archives for research, which was crucial in the pre-internet days. The hurdle I had to overcome on my own was simply improving as a writer. A lot of my early and even a lot of my middle stuff is terrible; I’m deeply indebted to my editors for being so patient with me. It was only later in my career that I started writing anything that I’m moderately proud of. Of course, before that, I thought I was pretty good, but that’s only because I didn’t know how much I had to learn. What pieces were you most proud of writing for Rolling Stone and MTV while you worked for both? Who were some musicians that you had the chance to work with that left a big impression on you? The stuff I did for MTV News was mostly just news items, but I helped with some features too — one was on the longbox. Longboxes were these really wasteful cardboard boxes that CDs used to come in. They were twelve inches long so they could work with the bins that used to hold LPs; the major record store chains refused to spend money on making new shelves for CDs, so the labels had

“The music industry was booming at the time and lots of money was thrown around. The press saw only the tip of that iceberg, but it was a big iceberg...”

“And Kurt Cobain is the musician who left the biggest impression on me. Pretty much not a day goes by when I don’t think of him somehow.” to use longboxes. It was ridiculous. So I studied up on how cardboard fares in the waste stream and why the record stores refused to retool their shelving, and we did an exposé about the longbox. And that piece helped lead to the industry doing away with it. So I’m proud of that. I think the best piece I ever wrote for Rolling Stone was a review of a Fugazi show. And not just because I managed to get Fugazi into Rolling Stone, which, at the time, was an achievement in itself. I’m actually scared to look at it again, for fear that it’s not as good as I remember it. I had previously asked Ian MacKaye from Fugazi if they would do an interview for Rolling Stone. And he said yes. Wow, I was thrilled — what a coup this would be! But then he added, “But only as long as that issue has no tobacco or alcohol advertising in it.” Ha, ha. Ever since, Ian has been one of my favorite humans, a very inspiring person. But I’m also really proud of two big Rolling Stone features I wrote for one issue: an overview of the Seattle scene and a cover story on Nirvana — the one where Kurt is wearing a t-shirt that says, “Corporate Magazines Still Suck.” After that, the magazine made me a contributing

editor. And Kurt Cobain is the musician who left the biggest impression on me. Pretty much not a day goes by when I don’t think of him somehow. What led to you being asked to write the Nirvana biography Come As You Are, and what was the process like working on that book? It was because of that Rolling Stone cover story. It was the first story, as far as I know, that explored where Kurt’s scream came from. I think Kurt really appreciated the thoughtful, factual treatment. He also appreciated that I was the person at Rolling Stone who got bands such as Fugazi into the magazine. But maybe most importantly, he and I just really hit it off. Instantly — and I mean in the first split second of meeting. We came from very different backgrounds but we also had so much in common: short, sensitive, artistically inclined kids from broken homes. We’d even listened over and over to the same Arlo Guthrie record when we were little kids, both running around the house pretending to be riding motorcycles to “The Motorcycle Song.” A year or so later, I told him I had


been nervous to meet him and he said he had been nervous to meet me, and we both agreed that we felt comfortable with each other right away, as soon as I walked in the door. But I don’t claim to be particularly special in that regard — a lot of people could relate heavily to Kurt. Pretty much an entire generation of kids did. And he could translate that into songs. That was his genius. At some point, Kurt and Courtney started getting a lot of bad press, and one of those pieces of press almost got their baby taken away from them. Kurt was very receptive to the idea of something written about him and the band that would at least be accurate and empathetic, and he remembered the Rolling Stone story and our time together. That’s how I got to write Come As You Are. Once I signed the book contract, it was on your mark, get set, go! Their next album was scheduled to come out in June 1993, and the publisher wanted the book to come out around the same time. So I had nine months. It was brutal. I flew out to Seattle many times, did dozens and dozens of interviews with a whole lot of intense people, came back and transcribed them, then plugged them into the book. It’s all I did during my waking hours. By the end I was pale and gaunt; my father took a picture of me the day I turned in the manuscript and I can barely stand to look at it, I’m so sickly. I like the book but I wish I’d had more time to write it — or, more accurately, to edit it. That book really sticks out to me as one of the more humanizing portrayals of the band while they were still active. How did you approach working on that book in a way that encouraged Kurt, Krist, and Dave to open up honestly about their lives and their art? Thanks for saying that about being humanizing. That’s kind of my whole m.o. as far as profiling musicians, to emphasize their humanity. Mythology certainly is a big part of popular music, and I’m down for a certain amount of that because it’s an expression of an artist’s overall vision (see: Bob Dylan), but I find it much more interesting and inspiring to show that real people can make magical things. The three guys in Nirvana opened up to varying degrees. Maybe Krist and Dave opened up to me as much as they did because they sensed that I had done my homework and wasn’t out to get them. Maybe they just wanted to talk about what had happened in order to try to make sense of it all. And I guess they figured that if Kurt felt comfortable talking with me then I must be OK. Finally, I just related to them, not on nearly as deep a level as I related to Kurt, but we pretty much spoke the same language. As far as Kurt, like I say, we just got along. And I think he was just ready to unload to a writer, no matter who it


was, as long as they could be trusted to tell the story in an accurate, empathetic, unsensational way. Like he said to me, “I don’t think I’m going to be any more open with my personal life in any other interview in the future.” I was just in the right place at the right time — I say “just” but it’s actually harder to do than it seems. Even after the book was done, he’d call me at random times, usually in the wee hours of the morning, and we’d have rambling, epic-length conversations about whatever, the kind where you’d say, “hold on, I have to go take a piss” and the other person waits until you come back to the phone. In Come As You Are you talk about the Baby Boomer generation’s dominance over popular culture in the decades preceding Nirvana, and how Nirvana’s success is partially due to Generation X’s growing influence over music consumption at the time. Why do you think music is an important tool for studying big cultural shifts? What shifts have you seen in the decades since Nirvana? A long time ago, I read a really crucial book by the French cultural theorist Jacques Attali called Noise: The Political Economy of Music. I refer to it all the time. And the central thesis of it is: “Music is a herald, for change is inscribed in noise faster than it transforms society,” that music “makes audible the new world that will gradually become visible.” So music, because of its unique nature, is predictive and inherently political on a very high level. And sure enough, the success of Nevermind heralded the beginning of a cultural shift, from Baby Boomers to Gen X. That predictive phenomenon happens all the time — look at integrated bands and audiences starting in the jazz age and through early rock & roll, and how that presaged the civil rights movement and so on. Things tend to begin with music. (This dovetails with another perspective-changing book about music, African Rhythm and African Sensibility, by John Miller Chernoff, but that’s a long discussion.) Obviously, one big shift in our society has been the internet. Guess which art form first embraced the internet? Yep, music. (OK, and pornography, and that would make an interesting book too.) Starting with Napster, music also presaged the way the internet financially devalued creative work. Look at how, at the beginning of the internet, listservs would unite, from all around the world, fans of very specific subgenres of music. This was a new thing: virtual communities. Now it’s not only commonplace across all sorts of interests, it’s one of the defining forces of our politics and maybe our entire society. As Steven Hyden wrote in his great AV Club series on the ‘90s, “As Karl Rove proved a few years later on a grander scale, Korn showed that you didn’t need the media when

Photo by Joel Azerrad

“Our Band Could Be Your Life took three years to write. And that’s all I did: wake up, start writing, and keep going until nightfall and I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. Then I’d wake up the next day and do it all over again.” you had the wherewithal to control your own message.” That’s another great example of how music and musicians can be predictive. And it’s even truer now with a president who declares policy, and even fires people, on Twitter. Then there’s the community profiled in Our Band Could Be Your Life: the indie music world. That anticipated a cultural movement too — there are now indie book publishers, indie films, indie beer makers, and so on. There’s a restaurant in New York’s tony Lincoln Center called “Indie Food and Wine.” (“Our wine selection is handpicked by staff from independent vendors.”) There’s something called the Indie Beauty Expo, which proclaims, “Indie brands are among the fastest-growing product categories. They have become a ‘must have’ in almost every retailer’s collection and are now directly influencing key trends in their markets.” So you get the idea: indie influences key trends in markets. So to anticipate the future, look at how music is produced now. A lot of the most popular music is produced by the same few technicians and voiced by figureheads who


have relatively little say in the creative process. Or it’s Warholian auteurs who conceptualize the broad outlines and then outsource the actual tasks of making the music to specialists. Rock bands — cooperative groups of more or less equal individuals playing so-called “real instruments” — are increasingly becoming quaint, while lone artists composing in an entirely digital mode are becoming the norm. These things are predictive of something very big, and we’ll find out what they’re predictive of soon enough. When did you first begin working on Our Band Could Be Your Life, and how long did it take you to pull it all together? What things did the research process reveal to you that you didn’t anticipate learning through working on the book? Remember what I said about working non-stop on the Nirvana book for nine months and being so run down at the end of it? Well, multiply that by four, because Our Band Could Be Your Life took three years to write. And that’s all I did: wake up, start writing, and keep going until nightfall and I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. Then I’d

wake up the next day and do it all over again. Every day. For three years. Not only was I a physical wreck by the end, but I had no friends left because I never saw any of them in all that time. I was easily a year over deadline but I had a prince of an editor, a guy named Michael Pietsch, who trusted me and believed in me, and I’m deeply indebted to him for his patience, because the extra time allowed me to write a much better book. I can’t remember exactly when I started that book or even exactly when I turned it in. But I do know that my book tour was supposed to start in Chicago on September 12th, 2001. Needless to say, that book tour never happened. The aftermath of 9/11 was really tough on book sales, not that I or anybody else was thinking too much about that at the time. So the book kind of stalled out. But then, a year or so later, it started selling. And it’s stayed in print ever since. I learned a whole lot from writing that book. One of the things I learned was how much I didn’t know. Not just about ‘80s indie rock, but about a lot of things. That’s truly humbling — not humbling like when people say “I’m humbled by this honor.” I have never understood what that means. I’m talking about a constructive kind of humiliation,

which is a very tough thing to go through, if only because it’s difficult to understand that you’ll come out much better for it. The more I learned, the less I realized I knew; the book seemed like an endless, impossible task, a length of track that kept telescoping toward the horizon. But I drew inspiration from the very people I was writing about: in particular, Ian MacKaye, Bob Mould, Mike Watt, and even that merry band of reprobates the Butthole Surfers. They shared a powerful work ethic, as well as self-belief in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, that I picked up on and carried with me right to the end of the line. I just kept going until the job was done to the best of my ability. That book still continues to have such an important legacy in music writing and underground culture almost 20 years after its release. What sense of accomplishment did you feel after finishing it, and what have you felt about the reception the book has had since it came out? Like a lot of writers, I’m not always entirely sure whether something I write is actually good, especially if I’ve been staring at it for three freakin’ years. But when I turned in the manuscript for Our Band Could Be Your Life, I did know that it was as good as I could make it, and that was

“I’m talking about a constructive kind of humiliation, which is a very tough thing to go through, if only because it’s difficult to understand that you’ll come out much better for it. The more I learned, the less I realized I knew...”


all that mattered to me — you can’t do any better than your best. I wrote that book as a kind of prequel to Come As You Are. The experience of writing the Nirvana book profoundly changed my life, in mostly good ways, and I wanted to pay it back. So Our Band Could Be Your Life was kind of like the t-shirts Kurt used to wear, of bands such as Flipper or the Melvins, paying tribute to the artists who laid the groundwork for what was to come. I was also just astonished that nobody had really written a book about such an influential community. It was a labor of love, and that was one of the things that powered me through the arduous process of writing it. When I was done, I just hoped I had done it justice. All these years later, people still walk up to me at shows — I’m amazed they even know what I look like — and say, “I bet you’re tired of hearing this, but...” And then they tell me what the book meant to them. And I assure them that I will never, ever get tired of hearing that. I smile and thank them profusely, ask their names and maybe chat about music for a bit, but inside I’m getting a little teary. It is so very moving to know that something I did has inspired people I have never met before. I certainly didn’t even intend that to happen — how could anyone intend such a thing — I just did my best to write a book that I thought needed to be written. I didn’t even begin to think that it might have an effect on anyone, much less 15 or more years after it came out. And the book is kind of standard equipment in tour vans, which is also really flattering, because musicians know the real deal. A couple of very well known musicians have told me pretty much identical stories, that they reached some wretched point during an early tour and were considering giving up music when someone gave them a copy of Our Band Could Be Your Life, and it inspired them to keep going. Another musician who leads a very acclaimed band, and has since become a good friend, has given a copy of the book to everyone who joins his band for the past dozen or so years. Right now, I’m being reminded all over again of the continuing legacy of the book and the bands in it — I’m working with Hachette Audio to put together an audiobook version of Our Band Could Be Your Life. I’m reading the introduction and the epilogue, but musicians and other notable people who love the book are reading chapters about bands who inspired them. We’re just starting to announce the readers, and so far I can say that Jeff Tweedy is reading the Minutemen chapter and Fred Armisen is reading the Butthole Surfers chapter. A lot of really great people are involved and I can’t wait for it to come out. I’m generally not so keen on revisiting old work but this is different, somehow.

How have your seen the internet change music journalism for the better and for the worse? What has it been like to work in the industry as a writer and as an editor while it has undergone those changes? As we all know, the internet has democratized the media. What was once the province of major media is now available to much smaller entities. And it’s great that the media have been democratized, but smaller media tend to be pretty weak about their editing, copyediting and fact-checking. All kinds of inaccurate information finds its way into music media, not to mention all kinds of poorly written copy, and that can get spread around very widely. And if you scoff at that, well, you’re part of the problem. We’re living in the era of fake news and it’s a bummer that music journalism is, in its own way, part of that. A while back, I edited a music website and I edited every piece very closely. I worked hard with the writers to make their writing as rock-solid, factual and grammatical as possible. Not many outlets do that anymore; it’s pretty much up to the writer because the piece won’t get scrutinized very much after that. At that site, I also insisted that we use a professional copyeditor; they fired the copyeditor as soon as I left the job. Times have changed for the profession of music writing. I’m very lucky; the prime of my career coincided with the last boom years of the music industry and, not coincidentally, the last boom years of the music magazine business. So I was able to make an OK living. These days, though, it’s extremely difficult to make a living writing for music websites. It just doesn’t pay anymore. Even the most well known sites pay notoriously badly. So that’s a change for the worse. On the bright side, there are far more writers who aren’t white and male, and that’s not only introduced a lot of fresh perspectives and pushed new genres into the critical spotlight, it’s just generally introduced a whole bunch of great writers into the game. What was your experience like working with AJ Schnack on the documentary About a Son? What was it like to revisit those recordings years after you wrote Come As You Are? I hadn’t listened to those tapes since I transcribed them; for many years after he died, I even tried to avoid hearing any Nirvana music because it just made me too sad to hear it. So I was a little reluctant to listen to the tapes — I thought it might be really upsetting. But I did, and they sent me right back to those late nights we spent at his kitchen table, talking until the sun came up and then looking out the window together at the seaplanes landing on Lake Washington. Those are good memories, and some of the most intimate times I’ve ever spent with anyone. So that took some edge off the grief, which I still feel to this


day. I really recommend recording conversations with your friends and relatives — with their knowledge — and storing them away somewhere. What was the catalyst for starting the @RockCriticLaw twitter account and how did that eventually snowball into the book you just put out with Harper Collins? The catalyst for Rock Critic Law was having read rock criticism since I was ten or so and noticing the same catchphrases appearing year in, year out. One day a few years ago, I read a piece that said something about how a certain musician “returned the favor” by playing on another musician’s album. So I typed out the general rule: “When Musician A plays on Musician B’s album and then Musician B plays on Musician A’s album, Musician B is ‘returning the favor.’” And I tweeted it with the hashtag #RockCriticLaw. Then I posted it on Facebook with the kicker, “For that is Rock Critic Law.” Friends, musicians and colleagues thought it was pretty funny. And after that, Rock Critic Laws kept coming to me, and I kept posting them, and friends, musicians and colleagues kept thinking they were pretty funny. Pretty soon,

I had about 50 of these Laws: there’s one about the word “seminal,” of course, and how if the musician is sitting down during the interview they’re always “seated comfortably,” and how so many writers think the word “prolific” means “good,” the wildly overused phrase “long, strange trip,” and so on. Then I said in an interview that there was a Rock Critic Law book in the works — actually, I was only thinking about making them into a book, but that counts. A few publishers got interested, and I went with HarperCollins. For the book, I decided that there had to be 101 Rock Critic Laws — I think I was remembering a book I had when I was a kid that had 1001 riddles. It was really easy to come up with 50 more Rock Critic Laws. The other thing I wanted to do was have a great illustration for each Law. So I asked Ed Fotheringham, “How’s you like to do 101 illustrations for my book?” and, amazingly, he said yes. Ed got his start doing artwork for O.G. Seattle bands like Flop, the Fall-Outs, and Mudhoney in the early ‘90s, which is when and where I first met him. He’s got an elegant ink-blotty line that I’m sure is influenced by Andy Warhol’s commercial illustrations and book covers from

“He’s really great at pictorial problem-solving. And by that, I mean that there were so many Laws that I just had no idea how to illustrate, and Ed would send in these really great solutions.”

the ‘50s. And in the ensuing years, Ed went on to do illustrations for places like the New York Times, the Atlantic, Vanity Fair and the New Yorker — you know, strictly class joints. What was it like working with Ed on the book? Oh wow, it was great. Ed’s really renowned and, in working with him, I found out why: it’s not just that he draws really well, it’s that he’s really great at pictorial problemsolving. And by that, I mean that there were so many Laws that I just had no idea how to illustrate, and Ed would send in these really great solutions. Some of them, I knew exactly what I wanted. For instance, “If even one iconic punk band does something mercenary, you MUST write, ‘punk is dead’” — that just had to be a drawing of a dead punk with X’s for eyes. But how do you illustrate something like “You can always use a variation on the phrase ‘pop will eat itself’”? I had not idea. But Ed came back with an illustration of the head of a guitar curling around and eating its own body. Smart guy! Illustrations like that just kept coming in in and I’d think, he’s so good! So if you want to know what it was like working with Edwin Fotheringham on the book, I would say it was an honor and a pleasure. And just really fun. What hurdles do you still see ahead of yourself and what do you think you still struggle with as a writer? What do you hope to accomplish with your work in the near future? A long time ago, one of my editors at Rolling Stone, Fred Goodman, told me one of the magazine’s great early writers had become a “stone-cutter” — publishing slang for someone who takes a long time to finish a piece because they tweak it obsessively, dwelling forever on minute revisions. I can really see how they get to that place, especially since now they have a reputation to live up to, a personal standard to uphold and even exceed, not to mention sales expectations, and the pressure is on. So the biggest hurdle, and the thing I still struggle with, is improving as a writer. Like I said earlier, I’ve only started to grudgingly like what I’ve written relatively recently. But, like most writers, I suspect, I’m never satisfied with my work; the goalpost just keeps inching farther away. Although after a while, the improvements don’t come in leaps and bounds like they did early on, and instead in very fine increments. I’d really like to write another serious book. I just haven’t come up with an idea that’s worth sacrificing several years, my health and my social life. I’d also really like to become an editor. Not necessarily an assigning editor, but someone who works with writers to polish their prose: a line editor. It’s the only thing I’ll


admit to being really good at, and I’ve gotten so much great feedback from all the writers I’ve worked with over the years, almost all of them musicians. I worked with Bob Mould on his autobiography See a Little Light for Little, Brown, and wow, it was such a pleasure to collaborate with someone so talented and hard-working, and so satisfying to bring my skills and experience to bear on the project. It’s incredibly rewarding to help someone fulfill their potential as a writer. It kind of reminds me of something the guy who cuts my hair said: people sit down in the chair in kind of a dumpy mood but then he gives them a spiffy haircut and they walk out of there feeling like a million bucks. That’s what I love to do with editing. What music are you excited about at the moment? What do you feel optimistic or pessimistic about with the direction things are going? I like listening to old favorites as much as everybody else, but the music that gets me most excited is the music that feels of the moment — and it doesn’t have to be about the moment, just of it. This particular moment is so intense and confusing that I think we’re all eager to hear anything that helps us make sense of it. For me, right now, it’s musicians like Tierra Whack, Sleaford Mods, Mitski, Jlin, Stine Janvin and lots of others. I’m really into St. Lenox, who sings these wordy but really catchy, impassioned songs about his experience as a Korean-American, among many other things. He also has the best song about former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall that I’ve ever heard. His new album Ten Fables of Young Ambition and Passionate Love is a big favorite. I think Julia Holter is just brilliant. Same with U.S. Girls. There’s a really cool jazz group called Szun Waves that works with electronics and their album New Hymn to Freedom is very good. Full disclosure: these are all dear friends of mine, but I love these bands to bits and I don’t know what I’d do without them: Battle Trance, Deerhoof, Dirty Projectors, TuneYards, and Wye Oak. I’m always optimistic about the way things are going in music. The amount of great stuff being made at any given time might fluctuate slightly, but basically there’s always tons and tons of exciting contemporary music to be discovered — you just have to be open to it. And if you’re not open to that, well, that’s OK too — there’s plenty of excellent older, familiar music to re-listen to and love again. But new music is what makes me psyched to wake up in the morning.

Photography by Matthew James-Wilson

Jesjit Gill of Colour Code @ Zine Dream

Alicia Nauta @ Zine Dream

Louise Reimer & JG @ Zine Dream

Jamiyla Lowe @ Zine Dream

Ted Gudlat @ Zine Dream

Seth Scriver & Ted Gudlat @ Zine Dream

Tommi Parrish @ Zine Dream

Billy Starfield @ Zine Dream

Matthew James-Wilson w/ Eunic Luk of Slow Editions @ Zine Dream

Eunice Luk of Slow Editions w/ Andrea Manica @ Zine Dream

Griffin Miller & Jessica Cadwell @ Zine Dream

Paul Windle @ VABF

G.W. Duncanson @ @ Paper Jam 5

Cristian Hernandez & Juli Majer of DDOOGG @ VABF

Marc Bell @ VABF

Erica Wilk of Moniker Press @ VABF

Clay Hickson & Liana Jegers of Tan & Loose Press @ VABF

Will Dereume & Tylor Macmillan @ VABF

Cristian Castelo, Miles MacDiarmid, & Megan Ramirez of Freak Comics @ VABF

Cole Pauls & Kirsten Hatfield @ VABF

Jamiyla Lowe @ VABF

Claire Newton of Moogie Mag @ VABF

Ben Marcus @ VABF

Eunice Luk of Slow Editions @ VABF

Alicia Nauta w/ Eunice Luk of Slow Editions @ VABF

Andrea Lukic @ VABF

Kandis Williams @ VABF

Chou Yi & Yusuke Nagaoka of YY Press @ VABF

Jon Vaughn & Sean Christensen @ VABF

Short Run Seattle

Melek Zertal @ Short Run

Simon Hanselmann & InĂŠs Estrada @ Short Run

Chloe Perkis & Alex Pitts @ Short Run

Cullen Beckhorn of Neoglyphic Media @ Short Run

Patrick Crotty of Peow Press @ Short Run

Ben Marcus @ Short Run

Aidan Fitzgerald & Michael Heck of Cold Cube Press @ Short Run

Juli Majer & Cristian Hernandez of DDOOGG @ Short Run

Anna Haifisch @ Short Run

Matt Davis of Perfectly Acceptable Press @ Short Run

Olivier Schrauwen @ Short Run

Clark Jackson @ Short Run

Max Weiss @ Short Run

Tommi Parrish & Eric Kostuik Williams @ CAB

Richie Pope & Chris Kindred @ CAB

Connor Willumsen @ CAB

Patrick Kyle @ CAB

Ginette Lapalme @ CAB

Patrick Crotty & Jane Mai @ CAB

Patrick Crotty & Jane Mai @ CAB

Killer Acid @ CAB

Kurt Woerpel & Nichole Shinn of TXTBooks @ CAB

John Malta & Siobhรกn Gallagher @ CAB

Leesh Adamerovich & Ariel Davis @ CAB

James Yeh of The Believer @ CAB

Tommi Parrish @ CAB

Juli Majer of DDOOGG w/ Daylen Seu @ CAB

Max Huffman, Andrew Alexander, & Jack Reese of Weakly Comics @ CAB

Aidan Koch @ CAB

Eric Kostuik Williams @ CAB

Simon Hanselmann & Nick Thorburn @ CAB

Lily Snowden-Fine & Adam De Souza @ CAB

Sydney Madia @ CAB

Meghan Turbitt @ CAB

Tyler Boss @ CAB

Jessica Cadwell & Griffin Miller @ CAB

Lale Westvind, Patrick Kyle, Daylen Seu, & Lando @ CAB

Haejin Park, Paige Mehrer, & Sophie Page @ CAB

Richard Short, Tom Oldham, Joe Kessler, & Simon Hacking of Breakdown Press w/ Brie Moreno @ CAB


Brie Moreno w/ Joe Kessler of Breakdown Press @CAB

Kendra Yee @ CAB

Leslie Lasiter @ CAB

Lale Westvind @ CAB

Wet Mut @ The Glove

Smok @ The Glove

Dig Nitty @ The Glove

Poppies @ The Glove

Shit Giver @ The Echo

Shit Giver @ The Echo

Traps PS @ The Echo

Automatic @ The Factory

Automatic @ The Factory

Automatic @ The Factory

Terminal A @ The Factory

Terminal A @ The Factory

Terminal A @ The Factory

Lala Lala @ Resident

Lala Lala @ Resident

Lala Lala @ Resident

Mothers @ Resident

Mothers @ Resident

Champion Lawnmower @ Red Gate

Champion Lawnmower @ Red Gate

Fake Fruit @ Red Gate

Fake Fruit @ Red Gate

Fake Fruit @ Red Gate

Fake Fruit @ Red Gate

Shannon Lay @ The Biltmore

Ty Segall @ The Biltmore

Ty Segall @ The Biltmore

Peach Kelli Pop @ The Biltmore

Painted Zeros @ Elsewhere: Zone One

Emily Yacina @ The Pratt Institute

Emily Yacina @ The Pratt Institute

Spirit Was @ The Pratt Institute

Emily Yacina @ Elsewhere: Zone One

Emily Yacina @ Elsewhere: Zone One

Emily Yacina @ Elsewhere: Zone One

Lexie @ Elsewhere: Zone One

Lexie @ Elsewhere: Zone One

Lexie @ Elsewhere: Zone One

Gabby’s World @ Elsewhere: Zone One

Gabby’s World @ Elsewhere: Zone One

Miho Hatori @ Market Hotel

Miho Hatori @ Market Hotel

Kero Kero Bonito @ Market Hotel

Kero Kero Bonito @ Market Hotel

Lower Dens @ Elsewhere

Lower Dens @ Elsewhere

Dirty Projectors @ Elsewhere=

Dirty Projectors @ Elsewhere

Dirty Projectors @ Elsewhere

Dirty Projectors @ Elsewhere

Lunch Lady @ The Factory

Lunch Lady @ The Factory

Lunch Lady @ The Factory

Gap Girls @ The Factory

Gap Girls @ The Factory

Gap Girls @ The Factory

Brutus VIII @ The Factory

Beach Fossils @ The Belasco

Red Channel @ The Regent

Lunch Lady @ The Regent

John Maus @ The Regent

John Maus @ The Regent

You Should Check Out... By Matthew James-Wilson



automatic was one of the first bands i saw live after moving to la this fall, and i was totally enamored by everything about the band. to my knowledge, the los angeles three piece started playing together in 2017 and released their phenomenal self-titled ep at the beginning of last year. the band incorporates hypnotic kraut-rock inspired grooves, warm analog synths, and infectious bass-lines, thoughtfully combined to create a sound all their own. vocalist izzy glaudini delivers clever and often abstract lyrics with a bewitching deadpan tone of voice, while drummer lola dompè and bass player halle saxon gaines maintain a compelling pulse. their songs find beauty in minutiae, turning experiences like driving late at night or having an awkward social interaction into memorable songs you can dance to. like many trios before them, automatic holds power in their deliberate simplicity. with collaborative off the cuff songwriting and colorful production, the band has already created one of the most promising debuts i’ve heard in a long time. i’m excited to see what they have on the horizon, and i urge you to check out the music they’ve put out thus far if you haven’t already.

Pink Siifu

pink siifu is the mysterious new project from producer and mc livingson matthews. in just a few years matthews has released an astonishingly extensive catalog of lo-fi rap albums on bandcamp and soundcloud under a number of different names. i can’t remember how i initially came across his music, but i remember spending hours one day on his bandcamp, clicking through the various releases and giving them each a listen. his graceful use of jazz samples and minimal beats provide ample room for his poetic and sincere verses. this summer pink siifu self released his elegant new album, ensley, and has already become a touchstone in a new era of underground rap. on the album matthews enlists some of the most exciting young producers and rappers working today like mike, jeremiah jae, and ahwlee. ensley is brimming with thought provoking samples from films, tv, and found recordings which tie together many of the same themes in pink siifu’s writing throughout the album. matthews shows an enormous amount of protential with this project and the others he continues to juggle simultaneously. i can’t wait to hear what’s next.

Charity Downloads

Save The Lancaster Musician’s Co-Op

last fall the lancaster music co-op, a community run non-profit rehearsal space, launched a fundraising campaign to avoid eviction. the organization has occupied their current building for the past 33 years, and has provided recording facilities, music equipment, and a place to practice to local musicians. in addition to their £150,000 go fund me campaign, the co-op also put out a fundraising music compilation. the comp’s 28 tracks feature a wide range of british bands, all of whom have some affinity towards the co-op. if you care at all about local music scenes, maybe consider donating to this fundraiser.


Post Present Medium the legendary los angeles record label post present medium announced its triumphant return this winter after a five+ year hiatus. the label was started back in 2001 by dean allen spunt (1/2 of no age), and is known for releasing some of the most memorable records from la’s diy music community. during the first 15 years of the label’s existence, ppm put out dozens of releases by acts like abe vigoda, mika miko, eric copeland, and gun outfit, giving a platform to many of the friends dean made through his music scene. the influence of ppm and the records that they have released is still very evident in los angeles’s underground music scene, and in underground communities around the country. i’m so thrilled to hear that the label is getting it’s second wind in 2019, and i eagerly await everything they’re planning on putting out.

Ambar Navarro ambar navarro is one of my favorite music video directors working today. in the few years since ambar graduated from calart’s animation department, she has created a unique visual style, through inventive use of scale, space, and storytelling. ambar has a gift for creating cohesive worlds for musicians to inhabit, and is incredibly resourceful with the materials and techniques she uses to create her special effects. in the past she has worked with artists like, cuco, soccer mommy, oberhofer, and anna burch, creating dynamic videos that stick in your memory. ambar is extremely good at translating her style into a video that works for each artist’s sensibility, and shows that she has so much empathy and trust in the perspectives of the musicians she works with.