Page 1

Carpark & Company Records 2019 Year-In-Review:

Toro y Moi - Outer Peace

Greys - Age Hasn’t Spoiled You

The Mattson 2 - Paradise

Erin Anne - Tough Love

Toro y Moi - Soul Trash

TEEN - Good Fruit

Emily Reo - Only You Can See It

Prince Rama - Rage In Peace

Rituals of Mine - SLEEPER HOLD

Coming 2020 Laume - Waterbirth Out Jan 17th

Fat Tony & Taydex - Wake Up Out Feb 7th


Nada Hayek “While brainstorming ideas for the theme of reflection, one image that came to mind was that of Rodin’s The Thinker. Using the statue as the main subject, I decided to focus my illustration on something I was familiar with— over-thinking. As anyone who has a tendency to over-think would know, you generally end up in a downward spiral of anxiety and pessimistic thought. This illustration is ultimately a representation of what it sometimes feels like at the bottom of that spiral.” -Nada Hayek Name

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

Nada Hayek

Where are you from?

The first artist whose work I fell in love with was Raymond Pettibon. I used to exclusively draw with brush pens and ink because of him. Even though I don’t work that way anymore, I think there are still certain aspects of his style that have stuck with me. It’s refreshing to get inspiration from something that isn’t visual, like music. It allows me to play off the mood, rather than something that already exists visually. Lyrics play a big part in this too. I’m not a film buff, but movies I often think about are Harmony Korine’s Gummo and Nobuhiko Obayashi’s Hausu. Both are weird and have a playful creepiness to them, and that’s something I appreciate in films and art in general.

Vancouver, BC

What materials do you like to work with?

What is your current occupation?

Traditionally, I love working with gouache, but I made the switch over to digital because it makes the turnaround much quicker for shorter deadlines. It also allows for consequence-free experimentation—CTRL+Z is my best bud. I always start by sketching on paper though, so at least there’s a bit of traditional art-making at play in my process.

Age 25 What is your current location? Vancouver, BC

Freelancing while in school. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I’ve taken studio art classes in the past but I’m currently finishing up a degree in graphic design and illustration. Learning about design has definitely benefited me in terms of how I think about composition and colour, but over-all, I would say I’m pretty much self-taught with illustration. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at other people’s work, pinpointing what it is about it I like (linework, composition, palette, etc), and applying it to my own projects in a personalized way. That’s where I feel the biggest learning curve came from.

What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? Currently, I’m trying to focus on further developing my style as an illustrator. There are a bunch of elusive themes and moods in my head that I feel like I haven’t been able to properly represent visually, so that’s the challenge I’m trying to work through. Nevertheless, every year I feel like I’m getting a little closer to what it is I want my work to embody. Apart from that, I’ve been doing


commissions for magazines overseas, bands, and might have an opportunity to work with a publishing company in the near future. Is there any music you like to listen to while working? In general, I mostly listen to punk and its sub-genres (post-punk, punk rock, etc) and I jump across them depending on my mood. My go-tos are Gang Of Four, Kleenex, Wire, Fugazi, Wipers, Beat Happening and a bunch of stuff in between. Where do you like to work? I have a desk in my bedroom, and that’s where I do all of my work. During the day there’s a lot of natural light that comes in, which helps me stay motivated. I find I’m more creative at night though, so I’m often up very late.

Previous Work

Where To Find Them Websites: nadahayek.com Contact: nada.celsha@gmail.com Social Media: @SloppyJohansson (Instagram)


What is one of your earliest memories of making art? The clearest and earliest memory I have of making art is copying the covers of VHS Disney movies. They’re pretty good considering my age, but I spelled a bunch of the titles wrong even though the words were right in front of me so I’m giving myself a B- on those ones. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? Definitely to inspire someone the way my favorite artists have inspired me. Being exposed to artists who’s work I identify with has given me so much more than just visual inspiration. They helped shape me as a person, and I think having that kind of positive influence on someone would be really fulfilling. Also, making a living would be great.


Christopher Savage “The drawing I submitted to this issue portrays a vase (or urn) decorated with historical and pop cultural visual references. The central imagery of the vase features the masks of the Greek muses Thalia and Melpomene, or comedy and tragedy. Around the masks are two cartoon characters dancing and shrugging. Decorative patterns frame the central imagery on the vase and the lid shows half a shell with an exposed pearl on it. In this drawing and in the rest of the ongoing series of drawings, I attempt to humorously convey aspects of the paradoxical nature inherent within contemporary life. In this drawing in particular, I was thinking about the wealth of knowledge that history provides, despite being fragmentary of the original context at best, verses the willful ignorance that is often embodied individually and collectively within society. While we march forward nervously laughing, we approach a point where shrugging things off may no longer be possible. This piece was drawn with ballpoint pen and graphite on a piece of lavender note pad paper. ” -Christopher Savage Name

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

Christopher Savage

I have been thinking about and looking at the collaborative artwork done by Raymond Pettibon and Marcel Dzama a lot lately, the way they work together and install in the gallery is very inspiring. A sci-fi film I watched earlier this year that I really enjoyed was Annihilation with Natalie Portman and one I look forward to watching soon is Gaspar Noé’s latest film Climax. I have been re-reading the first two essays; 1. Introduction: Rhizome and 2. 1914: One or Several Wolves, in Deleuze and Guattari’s book A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia and I continually find them to be sources of inspiration.

Age 29 What is your current location? Calgary, AB, Canada Where are you from? Victoria, BC, Canada What is your current occupation? Mostly an artist. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? Recently, I completed a Masters of Fine Art at the University of Calgary.

What materials do you like to work with? Lately, I have working primarily with paper, light, and clay. What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? For me, the most exciting project on the go right now is a collaborative series of ceramic works with long time friend Erin Berry. Much of the imagery on the ceramics is taken from a series of drawings, one of which is featured in this issue.


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

What is one of your earliest memories of making art?

I’ve been listening to a lot of BADBADNOTGOOD, Funkadelic, and the new Young Thug album in the studio at the moment.

I remember in early elementary school, during a period of free time during class, that I sat at my desk and tried to replicate a photograph of a fox on a poster in the classroom. I’m not sure that counts as making art, but I am constantly trying to find my back to that kind of unrestrained and intuitive mark making sensibility within my drawings.

Where do you like to work? Right now I am fortunate to have a studio space as part of a residency, which has been amazing. Usually, I like to work at home at a computer desk or the kitchen table.

Previous Work

Where To Find Them Websites: christophersavage.ca Contact: ccmsavage@gmail.com Social Media: @ccmsavage (Instagram)



Ashley Caswell “I focus a lot on nature in my work, and the reflections and symmetry that occur in the natural world have always been equally creepy and fascinating to me. No matter how much I learn about biology, I will always see it as a secret form of magic.” -Ashley Caswell


reading/watching a lot of apocalypse stuff which… makes sense for 2019. I also love stories that have lots of warmth and found family elements. I’ve been telling everyone I talk to for more than five minutes to read the Broken Earth trilogy, which combines a lot of those things.


What materials do you like to work with?

What is your current location?

For the most part I work digitally and I’ve been learning to draw more finished work with an iPad, but I also love working with watercolors and colored pencils. I really enjoy working with ink too but usually only get around to it when Inktober rolls around.

Name Ashley Caswell

Brooklyn, NY Where are you from? Needham, MA What is your current occupation? Full-time book designer and freelance illustrator/comic artist. 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? Right now I’m finishing up my contribution for Little Red Bird Press’s newest anthology Votes for Women. I’m also working on a children’s book pitch and some smaller self-published comics! Is there any music you like to listen to while working?

I studied illustration at the Maryland Institute College of Art. It was a great experience but when I graduated, I had this attitude that there wouldn’t be any more ways for me to learn and develop outside of a classroom. I’m so glad I was wrong!

If I’m writing emails or comic scripts it’s lo-fi hip hop beats or Animal Crossing soundtracks. Otherwise it’s a mixed bag of podcasts, audiobooks, and Spotify algorithms. I’ve been making playlists for all of my larger comic ideas lately. Mitski, Blood Orange, of Montreal and Mount Erie all pop up a lot in those a lot.

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

Where do you like to work?

My fellow illustrators/comic artists/friends have always been a major source of inspiration for me. Nothing gets me more motivated to make something great than seeing other people making great things! On another note, I’ve noticed lately that I’m

Anywhere quiet and well lit, but mostly at home! I’ve finally got a good desk setup, it’s really helping me stay motivated.


What is one of your earliest memories of making art?

What do you hope to accomplish with your work?

Probably the first grade, when I got in trouble for coloring a mountain range purple instead of brown. I actually wrote about it in my college application essays, if you’re looking for examples of spite being a motivator.

It depends on what kind of work I am making but for the most part, my goal is to improve someone’s day in any capacity. During more difficult times looking at work I admired was part of how I coped and kept working–I hope I can do the same for others!

Previous Work

Where To Find Them Websites: ashleycaswell.com Contact: Ashley.e.caswell@gmail.com Social Media: @caswell_ashley (Instagram)



Jaina Cipriano “These are visual metaphors for the crushing lows of abandonment and the joyous heights of a potential salvation. Love and loss, lost and found.” -Jaina Cipriano Name Jaina Cipriano Age 26 What is your current location? A suburb outside of Boston. Where are you from? I am from where I am currently. What is your current occupation? I work at a repacking facility in the produce industry. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I have some formal artistic training but most of what I do (especially in set design and how to work with models) is self taught. I learn best through experience and the freedom to experience failure. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? I am inspired by everything. By the industrial facility I work in and the time I spend with the machines, the cartoons I grew up watching and specific overwhelming emotions I have experienced. I love the universe of David Lynch, Arthur Ganson’s Gestural Engineering, Matthew Ronay’s Ritualistic Objects, and most everything that Gregory Crewdson has done. Coraline, Al-

ice in Wonderland and Where The Wild Things Are are also very important to me. The book House of Leaves changed me. What materials do you like to work with? My favorite part of my process is the construction, building something from nothing. I love learning how to use new tools and bring new ideas into a physical space. I cannot get enough of welding, it is so simple and cathartic! What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? I am still working on my current body of work, building sets, editing photos and taking pictures. I have started set design on my first short film, based off a friends script and I have begun writing my first short film script that I will do the cinematography for in 2020. I have started volunteering at a local theater as their Master Carpenter, leading the build. In my (very sparse) down time I am working on the third issue of my publication Finding Bright. I love all of it! Is there any music you like to listen to while working? I like it hard, fast and dramatic. Recently I’ve been listening to Senses Fail a lot, reliving my high school years. Where do you like to work? The solitude of my basement workshop and studio is wonderful. I hope someday though, to make it above ground. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? My mother took a picture of me when I was about eight. Outside in my pink raincoat with cat ears, she caught me throwing


a bucket. The flash froze the water in time. I carried that photograph with me to school day after day, transfixed by it, showing it to anyone who would look. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? Currently my work centers around coming to terms the visceral

Previous Work

Where To Find Them Websites: jainaciprianophotography.com Contact: jainacipriano@gmail.com Social Media: @jainasphotography (Instagram)


loss of childhood dreams. The sets I am building now are bright, theatrical and dramatic. I mix moments of childhood freedom with the sharp edges of an independence you are not prepared for. I am making a drama out of ordinary moments. I want to encompass the freedom music and dance can give you when you are small and enclosed, like you have wings you do not know how to use.


Grant Yun “City 2 is a futuristic city I have drawn that really depicts a world far too small in area for the population it has to hold. As a kid my favorite movies were SciFi movies from the 70s such as Star Wars and Alien. To be honest, that was all I could think of as a kid... just day dreaming and imagining a world outside of the one we live in where technology has reached a level far greater than a level humans can control. In this piece, I wanted to relive the imagination and awe I had as a child. In terms of my technique, I love the shapes too in Adobe Illustrator... I love geometric based art and its easy to see that here in this piece. The world City 2 takes place in is a world that never sleeps, a world that has no time for anyone or anything. Buildings rise up high, and lights and construction prioritize function over everything else. I also thought it would be fun to add a little scene within my piece. Towards the bottom of the piece, there are two men standing with one holding a gun to the other one’s head. The posture of both appears comfortable and calm, as if the victim accepts his fate of capital punishment. Who knows... I want to leave it up to the viewer to interpret. As for the name of the piece, it is simply the 2nd piece in a collection of pieces I am creating that all take place in the same city.” -Grant Yun Name Grant “Riven” Yun Age 23 What is your current location?

Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I actually never had any formal training. I taught myself how to use the Adobe Suite throughout college. I might not be the best at it but I am comfortable and happy with the skills I have. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most?

Originally I’m from San Jose, CA. However I did attend the University of Wisconsin, Madison from 2014-2018.

My biggest influences come from the sci-fi genre’s of the ‘70s and ‘80s. My biggest inspirations include artists such as: Ralph McQuarrie, Syd Mead, and HR Giger. In terms of films, anything inspired by those artists such as Alien, Star Wars, Blade Runner, etc... On top of that very heavy sci-fi inspiration, books that explore societal critiques such as 1984 by George Orwell or Brave New World by Aldous Huxley inspire me greatly.

What is your current occupation?

What materials do you like to work with?

Well... I recently just moved from Madison, WI to New Haven, CT so I’m out hunting for work! However I did just get accepted into medical school so my “soon to be” occupation will be Student Doctor, haha.

Mostly digital. The vast majority of my recent work is all through the Adobe Suite. I do enjoy graffiti work every now and then.

New Haven, CT Where are you from?


What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? I think I’m focusing a big portion of my interests right now into mid century modern inspired art. There is something about art genres from the 1900s that are just so beautiful. Just take a look at the interior design of any space ship in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey... Just pure beauty. Also I am dedicating a huge amount of time to my photography whether it is film or digital. Is there any music you like to listen to while working? I’ve been a bboy (breakdancer) for about 11 years now. My jam when I do anything creative is all about that OG funk: James Brown, Jackson 5, Bob James, Pleasure, Roy Ayers, Kool and The Gang, Herbie Hancock, Debarge, Jimmy Castor Bunch, Weldon Irvine, Don Blackman, George Benson, The Isley Brothers, Grover Washington, Donald Byrd, Prince, Lonnie Liston Smith, Marvin Gaye, Parliament, (also Jamiroquai)... I literally could go on for hours. Where do you like to work? In a tiny isolated corner of my room with the music upppp.

Previous Work

Where To Find Them Contact: grantgyun@gmail.com Social Media: @notimetoburn (Instagram)


What is one of your earliest memories of making art? My mom and my aunt were art teachers. My dad was an engineer. There was not a moment throughout my childhood where I did not see someone drawing. As a kid, I would draw or do crafts literally anytime I had the chance. It has always been a passion. It will always be a passion. I still have a binder of literally everything I drew from the moment of I could draw up until college. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? I want to show my generation and future ones that some of the greatest inspirations are in the past. Don’t forget all the rich history each generation had to offer. This refers to everything related to art: Music, Dance, Graphic Design, Interior Design, Architectural Design, etc. Through my art and photography I also want to show the world that art is everywhere. If you just sit down literally anywhere and just look around you for a moment, the world modern society has built for itself is a perfectly crafted piece of art, you just might not realize it. I genuinely believe we live in a society where we are ridiculed for imagining and expressing creativity. Don’t be scared to imagine. Don’t be scared to day dream.


Mary Kirkpatrick “This piece is a page from my upcoming zine On Salt Hill which is about my home in rural Nova Scotia. It’s a very small, very old community and I am fascinated by the ways in which the houses carry so much history within them. Many of the houses are over 150 years old and many now stand abandoned due to the limited economic mobility in the area. I was curious to explore the ways in which history is made and forgotten in geographic space. In this illustration, I am imagining the lives of the people who have lived in my house over the years.” -Mary Kirkpatrick Name Mary Kirkpatrick Age 21 What is your current location? Toronto, Canada. Where are you from? I grew up in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and Millbrook, Ontario. What is your current occupation? I’m a working artist and freelance illustrator. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I’ve just graduated from OCAD University with a Bachelor of Design! What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? I am lucky to share a studio with some very inspiring folks — wonderful friends and talented illustrators! That’d be Eryn Lougheed (@erynlou), Lily Snowden-Fine (@lilyfine) and Camilla Teodoro (@millteodoro). In regards to books I’ve loved re-

cently, I love You & A Bike & A Road by Eleanor Davis— a real treat to read! Also, Maira Kalman is an illustration deity and all of her books are absolutely excellent, especially Principles of Uncertainty. And lastly, movies! I just watched Happy as Lazzaro which is heartbreaking and excellent. Also heartbreaking and excellent is Shoplifters. What materials do you like to work with? I am rather devoted to traditional media. Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of single-media work with gouache but generally I tend towards mixed-media work with lots of layers and interesting textures. I really enjoy letting the media guide the mood and feeling of my illustrations. What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? As I write this, I am fully immersed in zine preparations for the / edition Art Book Fair in Toronto and Comic Arts Brooklyn. I’ll be releasing four new zines at those fairs including one that’s been in the works for some time called On Salt Hill which is about my home in rural Nova Scotia. Is there any music you like to listen to while working? Depends on what I’m working on. I can’t have any distraction if I’m writing or thinking through sketches but I love listening to music or podcasts while I’m painting. Lately I’ve been liking Reply All, Radiolab, and Ear Hustle.


Where do you like to work? I am fortunate enough to work in a beautiful old building in Toronto with three of my best buds. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? I remember exactly when I decided I wanted to make art. It was after seeing the movie The Corpse Bride, which had a bizarrely strong effect on me as a seven-year old. I remember that I went home and made this huge book out of those sheets of felt and it was the story of my life and my family and probably was very cute to my parents. Thinking back, I think what resonated with me about The Corpse Bride was the way that it placed you into

Previous Work

Where To Find Them Websites: mary-kirkpatrick.com Contact: marycolombekirkpatrick@gmail.com Social Media: @marycolombekirkpatrick (Instagram)


this strange and beautiful world and carried you through this very immersive experience of the story. And storytelling is still what I like about making art! What do you hope to accomplish with your work? So many things! I think that illustration carries the power to make information exciting and accessible to people and I would like to use those skills for good. My dream project is to collaborate with my sister who is an amazing science communicator on a children’s book that makes science learning exciting for kids. Fostering curiosity is something I’m extremely passionate about and I think that illustration can play an important role in that.


Tanner Le Moine “Emelia Austin, front-woman of LA band, Gal Pal, sings a new untitled track at Little Joy, Echo Park, October 2019. Emelia raises her hand up to her face, as she stares at it, she sings ‘He sees you as his mirror, I am your mirror.’ I asked Emelia what this moment means. She explains, ‘The new track represents how we use relationships as mirrors to understand ourselves, while simultaneously using them to deflect what we don’t want to see and admit about each other.’ Shot on Nikon 35mm, Ilford Delta 3200, hand developed.” -Tanner Le Moine Name Tanner Le Moine Age 25 What is your current location? Los Angeles Where are you from? Los Angeles What is your current occupation? Freelance Photographer/Cinematographer Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I attend Santa Monica College where I learned the basic techniques of filmmaking and digital and analog photography/ printmaking. But my style is specifically self taught using the knowledge I’ve gained working in the field. I love when candid moments look cinematic with a fine grain. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? Nothing really inspires me at the moment. I just love capturing

genuine moments. if anything that inspires me is that I strive for my photos to be “Magnum Quality.” But, I do plan to volunteer for Bernie Sanders or whoever the democratic nominee maybe and use my photographic and filmmaking skills to help them get elected swaying purple counties towards blue and whip Trump’s ass. What materials do you like to work with? I mainly shoot with my Nikon AF 35mm SLR, and mostly 3200 speed B&W film. Occasionally I’ll shoot Kodak color film, or various Fuji films. I develop my own film using metal tanks/reels, and Clayton D76 developer. For prints; 11x14 Ilford Multigrade Art 300 Hammermuhle. For editing, I use Lightroom. What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? Currently just expanding the fuckedfilm concert series. Considering having a gallery showing at the beginning of the new year. I’m also interested in shooting more band portraits and doing cinematography for music videos. So if anyone is interested please dm me. Also recently camera operated and helped DP a Franky Flowers music video. Is there any music you like to listen to while working? I like listening to my playlist its on Spotify called “Constructive Blues.” Sometimes while I’m editing concert photos, i’ll listen to the music of the artist I photographed, its kinda weird, but it helps find the mood of the edit.


Where do you like to work? I like working at home or in the darkroom at Santa Monica College. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? One of my earliest memories of making art was coloring outside the lines of this Titatic themed coloring book in preschool, and I recall the cafeteria lady telling me it looked disgusting lol. Although my first memory of taking a photograph, I was 8 years old and I was shooting a polaroid camera. I recall my friend’s

Previous Work

Where To Find Them Websites: fuckedfilm.com Contact: tannerlemoine@icloud.com Social Media: @fuckedfilm (Instagram)


parents commenting of how interesting it looked and that I have an “eye” for it. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? For the concert photography…I want people to feel the emotion of the moment rather than just simply observing such, I want to move away from the staleness found in most concert photography. And my way of doing that is through the feeling and emotion that 35mm film invokes. There’s just something in the grain that spark those feelings.


Miza Coplin “This drawing is loosely about personal growth, being queer, former selves, and self love. While making it I was the thinking about ritualistically connecting with the self through transmutation as well as letting go.” -Miza Coplin Name

What materials do you like to work with?

Miza Coplin

Usually my process includes bristol, pencil, ink, and markers, but trying to move away from those to start painting more.

Age 28 What is your current location? Boise, Idaho Where are you from?

What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? Right now I am taking a break from projects to collaborate with myself on figuring stuff out lol. Is there any music you like to listen to while working?

Boise! Been allover though. Moved back home last year to take a break from Brooklyn and finish my degree.

Lots of NTS mixes, love Spinee and anything in the realm of hard house. Techno baby <3 But also I get into my feelings a lot and put on things like John Fahey or Cocteau Twins.

What is your current occupation?

Where do you like to work?


Even though I have a studio I usually end up on my couch. It feels the most natural and it’s fun to put cartoons on while I draw.

Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? Kinda.. started out as self taught and then went to Pratt for a year, but dropped out cause it didn’t seem worth the money rly. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? People inspire me. Mostly people I see on the streets and women I admire. There’s something about older people that is especially striking. I like wrinkles. I like wondering how people got to where they are today and why. In general I’m inspired by magic and mysticism/thinking about the universe/and thinking about nothing at all.

What is one of your earliest memories of making art? When I was a kid I was totally obsessed with faeries. I used to copy drawings by Amy Brown and Brian Froud. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? I don’t know yet! Pushing myself + growth is really important to me. The connection that follows is my favorite part of making art.


Previous Work

Where To Find Them Websites: mizacoplin.com Contact: mirabellacoplin@gmail.com Social Media: @mizaroux (Instagram)



Sarah Pincock “‘Hair Cut’ features a character that shows up in my work a lot that is a representation of the archetype of the magician, a wizard on their journey through cycles of self-reflection and growth. The piece features two numerals from the tarot, II and V -- II for cards that are in part about things that are mutually fulfilling, a mirroring of desires; and five, a signifier for the completion of one form and the movement into the next phase. Hair is a very personal space we interact with everyday–It’s very gendered, we have to look at it on ourselves, we touch and adjust it all day–I feel a lot of us can mark the eras in our lives, long and short, by hair cuts. Drew this when my hair was way too long.” -Sarah Pincock Name Sarah Pincock Age 26 What is your current location? Nampa, Idaho Where are you from? Eastern Idaho What is your current occupation? Paid work at a hotel and bar, semi-paid work at artist :p Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I’ve been a freshman fine arts student a couple of times, but I would say self taught with the help of artists around me and artists out there making art!. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? Samuel Beckett, A Wizard of Earthsea, Spirited Away, Star Trek:

The Next Generation & Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, The Highlander movie, The Muppets. Breton, Cornish and other Celtic lores. The world building in Dark Souls and the Mario games. I also really like my rose bush in our yard. What materials do you like to work with? Illustration markers, gouache, Speedball Super Black, illustration board, oily pencil crayons, Ticonderoga pencils. What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? I do a lot of merch, posters & design work year-round in collaboration with Death Rattle Writers Fest. But I’m currently working on a book length collection of short stories centred around the lore of the Hawthorne tree under the working title BARRIER. You can read “Prologue” of BARRIER in ANMLY (Anomalous Press) Issue #29 if you would like to peek at it! Is there any music you like to listen to while working? Solid go-to’s on this current project have been Turn of a Friendly Card by Alan Parsons Project, Behaviour from Pet Shop Boys, any Mort Garson or Elliott Smith, or anything with big dad energy. More recently Dorian Electra! Honestly though if I’m drawing alone I put cartoons on in the background (mostly re-watch Clarence over and over). If I’m drawing with the roommates we usually listen to something like Spooked from Snap Judgement.


Where do you like to work? At my roommates and I’s long tables out in the garage made up into a bit of a studio for everyone. In winter we are forced inside around the big table with the two cats and the frog. Inside is nice too, I didn’t meant to make it sound like that. I don’t like to draw in places where I don’t have chair.

in the minivan–all very big into Mac OS ‘90s KidPix. Also made a lot of home videos together; mostly soap operas and game shows, and a lot of commercials. Total game changer when we got an early version of a stop-motion capture program and made terrifying things happen to any and all of the dolls with good articulation points (sacrificed a lot of Bionicles to playdoh).

What is one of your earliest memories of making art?

What do you hope to accomplish with your work?

My three siblings and I would sit and draw together constantly growing up–on a lot of weirdly cut shapes of printer paper that had this strip of glue my dad would bring home from the scrap pile at work that we would take everywhere with us, art supplies

Give something for to my comrades to look at they think is nice. Create more queer and non-binary protagonists and their stories. And draw 80 pages this winter!

Previous Work

Where To Find Them Contact: artmuseum.edu@gmail.com Social Media: @artmuseum.edu_ (Instagram)



Thu Nguyen Name

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

Thu Nguyen

I listen to ancient Egyptian music, Vietnamese music from the ‘70s.

Age 51 What is your current location? Kamuela, Hawaii ( on the Big Island) Where are you from? Vietnam What is your current occupation?

Where do you like to work? In my studio What is one of your earliest memories of making art? I’ve been painting since I was a child 6-7 years old. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? To get my work into the museums’ art collections, and important art collectors.

Artist Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I received a BFA at California State University Long Beach What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? Ancient Chinese paintings What materials do you like to work with? Oil and gold leaf What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? I am working on a piece that reflects my past as a boat person from Vietnam.


Previous Work

Where To Find Them Websites: thunguyenartgallery.com Contact: darlene.nguyen.ely@gmail.com Social Media: @thunguyenpaintings (Instagram)



Jen Yoon “Eyes beyond bars in animal shelters contain their stories of entire lives. Even though they cannot verbally explain what they have been through, we still feel and relate to the strong emotions coming out of their eyes.” -Jen Yoon Name Jen Yoon Age 25 What is your current location? New York Where are you from? Seoul, Korea 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 graduated School of Visual Arts with a degree in illustration. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? Mostly I got inspiration from the museum like old paintings and ancient statues. Especially Metropolitan Museum of Arts is always the place whenever I need to refresh my brain. Also, Chan-Work Park’s films too. Whole aesthetic of his movies are mesmerizing. What materials do you like to work with?

ferent sides based on how I control it. Then, use 0.5mm mechanical pencil for the details later. Recently I tried to switch into iPad in order to change my whole process digitally. Then came across Procreate’s 6B pencil brush, which is similar to the actual pencil texture. What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? Inktober! I just finished Norse mythology book illustration series with Korean publisher right before October, and solely focus on Inktober now. It’s like having deadline everyday, but exploring a new theme and sharing them with other artists are really inspiring than I ever imagined. This project is still going on until 31st October, and you can check out new works on @Jenyoonart everyday! Is there any music you like to listen to while working? Sia’s “Snowman” is recent working mood for me. I guess ever since the weather got chilly and windy in New York, this song became the main loop. Also, Alec Benjamin’s “Jesus in LA.” There is something calm me down in this song. Where do you like to work? Local coffee houses. I just in love with coffee and the vibe of coffee spots. So, I dedicated my first year in NYC to visit new coffee places every time, then made personal GIF project to remember all these. Few places were closed down but most of them were major too, so they survived through. On top of that, my recent favorites are Gimme! Coffee and Bluebottle’s mocha.

Pencil. I love both soft and rough texture of pencil. It shows dif-


What is one of your earliest memories of making art?

What do you hope to accomplish with your work?

Since my childhood memories are really vague and hazy, the only memory I remember for art making was in kindergarten. I was making a mask. Cutting a paper and coloring them with colored pencils. It was like an animal, so I guess it was for the play in kindergarten.

I want to share stories that we need to remind ourselves constantly. In our daily lives, it’s hard to remember and care all things happened around us. Therefore, I’d like to create illustrations that tells messages and stories like I did with the piece I submitted, “Way they talk”.

Previous Work

Where To Find Them Websites: jenyoonart.com Contact: jenyoonart@gmail.com Social Media: @Jenyoonart (Instagram)



Sabina Fenn “This narrative piece depicts a travelling couple taking a break and having a nice picnic by the river in the south of France. I used gouache to create this illustration, and I left it quite loose, not sketching too much and letting myself experiment with the medium and concept. Last year, my boyfriend and I did a lovely backpacking trip across Europe and this piece was inspired by that.” -Sabina Fenn Name

tal elements to edit my illustrations and make them cleaner.

Sabina Fenn

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


Where are you from?

I always tend to have 2-3 projects on the go at a time. Currently, I’m working on some beauty illustrations for a local makeup artist. I also just finished a fun project with a german magazine called SisterMAG, featuring illustrations of different haircut trends that are back in style. I’m about to start a fun project with a jewelry brand where I’ll be painting some intricate diamonds and gemstones. I love how each project is so different and unique.

Just north of Toronto, a town called Newmarket.

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

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

I try to avoid music with lyrics but sometimes I need a little pick me up. I love jazz and french-style music, I find it very calming and sort of sets the mood for my work flow.

24 What is your current location? Toronto

I have a Bachelor of Design from Ryerson University, but I am also self-taught as an artist for most of my life. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? I’m very inspired by other modern illustrators, but also Fashion Illustrators from the past such as René Gruau and Erté. I find a lot of inspiration from travelling and experiencing different cities & cultures around the world, but I’ve always been particularly drawn to warm climates and sunny elements. What materials do you like to work with? I work with Gouache and sometimes watercolour. I also use digi-

Where do you like to work? I have a nice little studio in my apartment, where I can spread out my things and make a mess, so it’s nice to work in there. There isn’t a whole ton of natural light in there however, so I often go to a local co-working space where I can work among other women entrepreneurs. It’s nice to have people around you when you’re used to working alone. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? I remember in my Grade 2 class, we had created a painting or collage of a snowman and my teacher used it as the example


for the class, and brought over the teacher next door to see it! I think that’s when I started realizing I was good at making art, and I developed from collages to paper maché, to painting in high school and illustration in university. It’s hard to imagine my life without art to be quite honest! I don’t remember what it feels like to not think of myself as an artist because I’ve felt that way from a young age. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? I hope to live a long life of painting & creating and pushing my boundaries, finding new ways to incorporate my art into people’s daily lives because I think it brings a bit of joy to people when they see something hand made that adds a bit more colour to

Previous Work

Where To Find Them Websites: sabinafenn.net Contact: sabina@sabinafenn.net Social Media: @sabinafenn (Instagram)


something that is otherwise bland. I hope to continue working with companies of all sizes to create all kinds of fun projects like editorial illustrations, book covers, product packaging and surface design, to name a few. Lastly, I hope to inspire other artists to be brave and take on a career in art, because I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for me getting uncomfortable and pushing through the noise. There are a lot of initial hurdles and people’s opinions can really destroy your drive if you let them. I’ve been lucky to have a lot of support, but I’ve also had to deal with the pressures of people in my life who couldn’t understand how I would be a thriving artist. The more success I have, the more people come around, but I know how hard it is at first and I hope I can support some young artists and show them a way to embrace the challenge..



Musician and songwriter Emma Danner has been creating a musical journal of her young

adulthood under the alias Red Ribbon since 2012. After a handful of years busking in San Fransisco, Emma relocated to Seattle and has since become incredibly active in the city’s local music community. She’s collaborating with dozens of bands from around Seattle and regularly enlisting musicians from different projects to help her perform her own music. Emma’s unfeigned ballads have taken on several different shapes through the various minimal and maximal arrangements she has played with live. Despite the band’s rotating cast of musicians, the emotional depth and mournful tone of Emma’s writing has remained consistent for Red Ribbon. On her debut full length Dark Party, Emma’s anecdotes of lost love, social alienation, and hopeful perseverance, are wrapped in haunting instrumentation and textural production.

I first saw Red Ribbon last spring in Seattle when the band opened up a couple of my friend’s

shows at Barboza and the Clock-Out Lounge. I met Emma after one of the shows and eagerly bought a copy of her first record. A couple days later we met up at Volunteer Park in Capitol Hill, took a bunch of photos, and got to know each other a little better. Then, after returning to Los Angeles, Emma and I reconnected over the phone and conducted the following interview. In it we discuss, grieving through music, how songs evolve over time, and the unspeakable trust she puts in her collaborators.

Where are you from and where do you live currently? I was born in Tacoma, Washington and I grew up in Central Illinois and Northern California. I spent a lot of time in Sacramento and San Francisco and then came back to Washington and moved to Seattle to work more seriously on music. So now I live here in Seattle. What part of your life did you spend in Illinois and California and what was your experience like growing up in both places? I moved at a pretty young age to Central Illinois to a place called Normal. There was just a lot of corn there, haha. But I did a lot of dance my whole life there. Then I moved to California when I was becoming a teenager– probably when I was like 13 or 14. That was around when I started playing music more. But I studied dance for a long time, until I

was about 16. You know, you get a little rebellious at that age, haha, and I just wanted to do the opposite of what I thought I was supposed to do. So I quit dance and started playing more music. What role did music play for you while you were growing up? Did your parents expose you to a lot of music, or did you find stuff through your local community and online? What music left a big impression on you then? Well there was definitely a piano in my house when I was a kid. The first guitar I started playing was my mom’s old guitar. My family wasn’t really super musical, despite those things. But the internet definitely fucked me up, haha. I remember when iTunes was first coming out and finding different things on the internet. I’ve always been interested in historical music and music from the past, so I started to research music from ‘70s or


the ‘40s, and discovering that stuff was pretty eye opening. It was exciting to learn about different music that wasn’t just what was on the radio. I think when I was a young teen I was pretty into acoustic music from solo artists like Elliot Smith or Cat Power. That stuff made a big impression on me when I was a kid because it felt so deeply personal and not necessarily “perfect.” I think Elliot Smith recorded everything himself and played everything himself, and a lot of it is really weird and soft. Something about it feels so intimate that it seems like you can almost touch it. So that left a big impression on me. But I got into a bunch of different music. My parents records were stuff like Neil Young or Emmylou Harris. They had a lot of stuff from the ‘70s around, just because of their age. Of course, at the time I didn’t like that because I was forced to listen to it, haha. But now I’m like, Okay, yeah… This is pretty good. When you were going to high school in Sacramento, was there any sort of music community at your disposal? When do you remember going to shows or observing a “scene” for the first time? The first shows I started independently going to as a teen would have been these small shows in the Sacramento area. It’s in such close proximity to San Francisco or even LA, so I feel like when people want to pursue music in a professional way, they’ll just move to those places. But that didn’t stop there from being some small shows in Sacramento. I guess I’d describe them as “punk shows” with kids and mosh pits. It was mostly young kids who wanted to get that energy out and experience music in a cathartic way. We’d drive to Citrus Heights or these different smaller areas and find the seedy punk venues there, just so we could smoke cigarettes and hang out, haha. But overall it was very small. I think close to the town I lived in there was just one venue in a church. There was a little cafe and you’d go there to see whoever happened to be touring through there. Even now when I’m driving through Sacramento, sometimes I have a hard time book-


ing shows around there, haha. But there are some cool things there. There’s Peach House Presents, which is this Sacramento organization that I think is volunteer based, and they book shows and throw house parties. They have this cool community of artists. So stuff like that does exist there, but when I was a kid we had to work for it a little bit more to find it. What was it like moving to San Francisco for college? What was your impression of the city and what was going on when you got there? Well when I got there, that was when I began playing my first shows. My first live performance experiences were actually busking. I studied classical violin with this woman named Loretta Taylor, so I would take what I learned from that and go busk in different places in the city. It was really fun and a lot of people were actually really nice. People would give you a couple bucks, or some people would bring you a six pack, or some people who were tourist would ask to take a picture with you, haha. It was really fun and it was a good way to make a little bit of money and develop chops around performing in front of other people. It’s really low pressure because they can just walk right past you if they want. But if they want to listen they can. It’s a very low pressure audience. I think I started around when I was 17 or 18 and I did it for a couple years. That’s so cool! It’s interesting what people do early on that gets themselves more comfortable with performing in front of people. Do you feel like busking helped inform how you approached performing after that? Yeah, I think so! I mean, when I think of early performance stuff, I think about all of the early dance stuff that I was doing. That had a big performative aspect to it. But with music, it was a bit more intimidating to me because—I wasn’t like a child prodigy or anything, so I had to be publicly bad at it for a while, haha. For some reason I thought that, if you were a musician you just get to skip that phase, haha. But you don’t. I think it shaped how I

wanted to perform in that, I do really prefer intimate small venues. I think the ultimate goal is always about connecting with an individual. So busking probably had some influence in that way. I feel like when you’re playing like that, you can focus on playing for that one person as they’re walking by.

While you were in college, did you have a music project that pre-dated Red Ribbon? What was some of the early stuff that you were writing and recording on your own. I guess around that age is when I started writing for Red Ribbon, but I wasn’t really calling it Red Ribbon yet. The earliest things I wrote and turned into songs are what became Red


Ribbon, but it took me some life changes and heartbreak to really jolt myself into honoring my work and calling it something. It started as this weird mishmosh of whatever I was doing, and I was much less confident. I’d say the earliest proper songs I wrote eventually turned into Red Ribbon stuff, but it was secretive for a while. Then I started showing it to friends and I realized there was a supportive community. In San Fransisco I’d fill in for random bands shows. I played with my friend’s project called Lemme Adams. His name is Jesse Adams and middle name is Lemme, haha. So I played a show with them and did a couple of house shows. It was very casual and playing supportive roles were sort of my first live experiences. Were you going to a lot of shows in San Francisco at the time too? Were there any bands playing around then that were really inspiring for you? I think for the first time I had a lot of access to


seeing big national touring acts, so I got to go to The Fillmore and see some shows there. I remember seeing Blonde Redhead there and Kaki King and a bunch of other bands. As far as my peer group and their music making—I would record and make music with my partner at the time there. It was pretty casual though. I really felt the biggest sense of community when I moved to Seattle. It shaped my world a lot more, once I moved here. What were you studying while you were in school at the time? Did any of your classes have an impact on you or what you were thinking about at the time? I was studying history and archeology in school. I was living in tents for little bits of time and digging up shit, haha. But whenever I would do that, I’d bring my guitar and want to do that more. I liked it, but as soon as I left that environment I kind of knew that I wasn’t destine to follow that as a line of work. I knew what I wanted to do once I got out, and it was

music. If pursuing music means I’m working as a waitress or whatever to make a living, I don’t really care, haha. At what point did you decide to move to Seattle? What was your impression of the city once you got there? Well, I was super in love in San Francisco. My partner at the time was my first love, and he actually passed away. So after that, I was like, “I want to leave town.” My brother was living up here, so I decide to come up here and I was staying with him a little bit. I also knew Seattle was sort of a music town. So there was this culmination of different events that led to it happening. I think everyone collects little griefs and sadness, and I think when you experience that it makes you want to just… grab the world and shake it, haha. Certain things become more clear when you experience things like that.

Yeah I think experiencing of the loss of someone close to you can force you to reckon with your own control over your life. It can be really devastating to experience, but it can also really push your life in new a direction. Yeah, it definitely shapes you in an interesting way when it happens when you’re younger. But it happens to everybody, so it’s a very human experience ultimately. Once you moved to Seattle, what was going on there at the time? What helped encourage you to participate in the scene that was happening there? I remember the first show I came to here in Seattle was at an art gallery called Vermillion, and it was this band called Rose Windows who were playing. I was just like, “Wow, this is amazing!” I went up and talked to them and they started telling me, “Oh you should got to The Black Lodge!” and “You should check out


this other venue!” It was so exciting to realize, Wow, these musicians are amazing and I can just go up and talk to them, and they’re so approachable and nice. Then over the years I got to work with some of those musicians from that band. It’s small here, so it’s different from San Fransisco or other big cities. Everyone knows everyone—which can be good and bad—but I think it was really good for me at first, and is still. Playing music here felt more accessible and I think the attitude here is, You don’t have to be very good to start a band and play shows. I feel like with your songwriting, you’re really good at establishing a mood with each song, and your arrangements really carry that mood or allow it to change throughout the song. How do you approach arranging music for a band? How do the songs that you make evolve from the original demo once you bring in more musicians? I’d say 90 percent of the time I’ll just start with an acoustic guitar and write a basic song structure. I really just like to work with musicians who are better than I am, haha. I try to give them a lot of trust to do whatever. I like bringing that skeleton and then going from there. With the Dark Party stuff, we did live tracking with myself on guitar, Pat Schowe on drums, and my friend Natasha El-Sergany on guitar as well. Then I went and recorded all of the bass after that—which was kind of a weird way to do it, but for some reason I really wanted to play bass on the record. Then we did some overdubs with flutes and keys by Veronica Dye and Monika Khot and some extra guitar stuff. So that was how that record was fleshed out step by step. That’s still kind of the way I’ll do it. I’ll bring the basic structure there and just try to work with people who are better than I am and who I trust on that intrinsic, unspeakable level.

You mentioned earlier that you’ve really liked researching music from different points in history. Has any particular era or technique of recorded music influenced how you approach recording for Red Ribbon? You know, I always just really want that 1970s rock & roll band tone, but it never actually comes out that way, haha. A lot of the synth work on it maybe made it sound more like ‘80s production, which is like my least favorite decade of music actually, haha. As far as vocals, I’ve always really loved Billie Holiday. She has an amazing register. I don’t think I sound like that, but I’m inspired by her. I always want it to sound of the moment too. It should be timeless as well. I think probably most musicians feel that way. I know before recording your first full length you put out some earlier recordings of the same tracks in the form of the Freaks Only EP. What was the process like for making that release and how did those songs change over time? This label outside of Seattle called Union Zero picked up that first little EP when they were starting the record label. They were like, “Hey, we want to put this out!” and they pressed five copies of it on vinyl. That was really fun for me—it was my first vinyl record. That stuff was all self produced and it was songs from the much more the secret preRed Ribbon recordings. There was kind of a large period of time that I had to work on that record because it was basically my whole life up until recording it. I came to the studio with maybe like 12 ideas for songs that I wanted to do. Then we ended up recording ten and one of them I cut. I like to do projects where you do more than enough material and you cut off a little bit. I feel like that’s a good way to do it.


What themes or ideas do you notice yourself gravitating towards a lot in your writing? What informs your voice as a writer? I feel like, by nature, I have a gloomy outlook on things. So I really want to find within myself some essence of hope, you know? So I think a lot of it is just grappling between those two feelings. There’s nothing if you don’t feel a little bit of hope for the future. Having a sense of humor is really important too. I do think my writing tends to be confessional and based on personal experiences. I don’t always want it to be that way. I want to try getting in the mindset of writing a song for someone else and seeing what that does to the music. I feel like one of the best examples of utilizing your sense of humor is what you did for the release of the “Your Car” single. The album cover for that doubled as an ad for your car that you were selling, right? Haha, oh yeah! Oh man, I was feeling pretty

crazy then. I was having a medical issue at the time, and without going into details, I was just feeling freaked out. Everything ended up being fine. But at the time, I was like, Okay I have to tour this record, but it’s going to take a little money to do that. So I decided to sell my car and ended up touring with the band down to Tijuana. But I think people got a kick out of the ad and the humor of it. I don’t know how true this is, but sometimes I feel like if you sacrifice things, you make more space for other things, and that can end up being positive. The line up of the band has changed a few times over the years. Even when I saw you in Seattle you played with two different arrangements in the same month. Who are some of the people who’ve contributed to the band and what have you learned from everyone you’ve played with? The first live show as Red Ribbon had a drummer named Ray McCoy and a bass player

“Your Car” Still by Casey Sjogren

named Jaquelyn Dygert and I played guitar. Then Red Ribbon was backed by this band called Charms for a long time in Seattle. Then that sort of disintegrated and I played some shows with a viola player Laura Seniow or this drummer Sheridan Riley—she’s really awesome. She plays in Alvvays now and she has her own project as well which is really cool. So for a while I would just do weird one off things. I’ve played alone throughout the history of the

band too. But after the second iteration sort of disintegrated I felt like, Oh man, I’m never going to get to play again. But then I realize, Oh I still can! The crew on the record was super amazing. Geoff Joynes, has been instrumental in the touring band, and has played live with Red Ribbon longer than anyone. Josh Hart also toured nationally Red Ribbon playing drums. Abbey Blackwell has collaborated with me a lot too. I still think I may be missing


some folks. It is proving a bit challenging to keep track everyone who’s been involved! I think all of the variations sort of underscores the fact that you can never play a song the exact same way twice anyway. Even if you have the same band with the same people in the same place, the time is different and so the song is going to be different. It can depend on the venue and where you are. Even the recording of a song is not necessarily a “finished” version. It’s just one of an infinite multitude of variations. Even with the lyrics— you as the author think they mean one thing, but then they can mean something else to you later. You don’t even have control over those! I think the changes in the band have just kind of reinforced that it needs to be an experiential process.


What has it been like touring with the band and what have you observed from the different scenes you’ve seen around the country? I love to tour. It’s one of my favorite things. It’s been really amazing. I’ve toured with some different band members and groups. Again, it’s about respecting the musicians that I get to play with, and I try to let them bring their own color to things. I’ve really loved the shows I’ve gotten to play in Alabama. It was really amazing—we got to play at this old cotton warehouse that was definitely haunted. It was converted into hundreds of different artist studios and there was a little theater in there. I just felt like everyone in the audience was so excited and supportive, just because we were there. That type of thing is really amazing. I felt that in Tijuana too. It can feel so nice to get to connect with people.

Sometimes it’s not all positive. We did have our shit stollen in Montana. It was crazy. We played in Montana and then our next show was in Oakland, and that is an insane drive, so we had a day off in between. We stopped in Reno and went to some casino and stayed there. I think our car was parked by a valet or something. Then we got to the gig in Oakland and were trying to unload for the show and realized our shit got jacked. So of course, I blamed Reno and was convinced Reno took our guitars. I filed a police report with this detective in Reno and described the guitar and he was like, “Oh man, that sounds like a facemelter! I’m going to get it back!” and I was like “Uh huh… Sure…” But then, he ended up finding the guitars in a pawn shop in Montana. Pawn shops use the serial number to check-in each guitar and there’s a national database of stolen guitars. One of the instruments had a serial number and one of them didn’t, but they ended up finding both and returning them to us. That was a really good

“Your Car” Still by Casey Sjogren

lesson thought. I mean, it took months to resolve, but it was a really good lesson because I realized you can tour and play shows without having an instrument. I just had to borrow guitars and stuff everywhere. But I was like, Okay, that’s a good thing to learn I guess. So I guess it had a happy ending. What has it been like to play in other bands in Seattle? I remember you mentioning playing with The Berries. Are there other bands that you play in regularly? Yeah! I use to play in this band called Dream House that was members of that band Rose Windows. That’s sort of how I met them. I played bass in that band for a while and we did a national tour. That was my first tour. I’ve played a lot with this band called Somesurprises, which is Natasha El-Sergany’s project. She also played on my record. That project just had a record come out. I’m going on tour with The Berries in a week or two I guess,

just down to Texas and back. I think it’s really important for me to play other people’s songs, because everyone’s brain is so different—especially when it comes to songwriting. It’s challenging to learn other people’s material and I think it’s a good educational exercise. You also kind of have to develop these ecosystems of support and community to exist alone. Even if you’re an independent solo artist or something, you still couldn’t exist alone. You have to connect with other people. Sometimes I also just have a hard time hanging out with friends without working on music or something. So it ends up being how I get to be social and how I connect with people. How has maintaining a music practice impacted other aspects of your life? It’s definitely a life saving thing, and it’s definitely therapeutic. I don’t think I could exist without it. It’s kind of an extension of my brain. Processing feelings and emotions through music is probably one of the most important roles it has. It helps me understand existing a little bit more—or at least gives me the effort to, haha. What do you think prevents people from putting out their own music when they’re starting out? How did you overcome those hurdles when you were starting out? I mean, I have definitely felt a lot of anxiety around sharing music. You’ll always feel stuff like, Oh man, this isn’t good or No one is listening to this. But I think it’s just important to realize that, if I want to play music I have to keep the channel open and I can’t let my insecurities shut that off. I just have to keep creating. Some of it is going to be good and some of it is going to be bad, but you just have to keep it open. I have to not let my own ego discourage me from that. You have to make it more like a lifestyle practice I guess. And it’s your job to keep the channel open. I think that people are also challenged by the distribution aspects of releasing music. When you self release—even when you can release something digitally—there are now built in barriers to how far it’ll spread on the inter-


net. Then, obviously, it’s much harder to do physical distribution because it costs money to make records and big labels have access to things that you just don’t have access to as an independent artist. But for me, when I was starting out I would just make a bunch of cassette tapes because I felt like it was the one physical distribution method that was still pretty cheap. I think that was important for me when I was starting to put out music. I was just like, Okay, what is within my world that I can use to put it out and make it happen. Tapes were the answer to that. A lot of people were like, “Why do you have so many tapes? This is a dead medium.” but I really think it’s great. It’s great for independent artists because they can just get them out there. What are you working on at the moment that you can talk about? I’m just at the end phase of the writing process for the new record. I think I sent you link of a bunch of stuff—thanks for listening! I’m just amassing a bunch of material to continue workshopping. I feel like my record is written, but I feel like there are three phases that I see as part of the job for a musician making songs. The three phases are writing, recording, and playing. Right now I feel like I’m at the very end of the writing phase and entering into the more proper recording phase. It always seems like the most dull of all of the phases, but it’s also arguably the most important, so I’m trying to remind myself of that. I feel like the new record is going to be better than the first record, as far as the strength of the material. I’m just excited to solidify a version of it to exist. So that’s where I am now. In what ways do you feel like your work has changed from the first album to the new songs you’re working on? What direction do you see the work going in the future? I think volume-wise, there’s just more of it. I think that helps with creating a body of work where you can still kill some of it off. I think I’m just a little more comfortable with songwriting. It’s hard to describe. I feel like I’m a little more stronger than I was and I think I’m a little less self conscious. I think I can try to write with

some perspectives that are not just my own sort of confessional thing. 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 have sort of a dream recording scenario for the new record. I really want to record it in at this place in El Paso Texas at this place called Sonic Ranch. But that’s sort of subject to change, so I’m hesitant to say that’s the plan. I also just want to have more material to tour on, and I’d like to do some sort of a split national/Europe tour based off of the new record. Those are the things I imagine for the next body of work.

What do you feel like you still struggle with as an artist? What hurdles do you hope to overcome in the future? I think I still struggle with ego and self-doubt a little bit, like everyone does more or less. One thing I notice as a common thread with successful musicians is this sense of being grateful. I like to watch interviews with artist—I’ll watch a Dolly Parton interview or something, and she’s just so grateful and there’s a ton of gratitude. So I think trying to tap into that aspect is powerful. I can get in these negative feedback loops in my mind, and if you start to think negatively, your brain start to get use to thinking in that way. So if you can step outside of yourself and identify yourself doing that, and then make an effort to change in a grateful or hopeful type of way, then that can be powerful. I think that’s a really important part of getting work done.



Los Angeles based musician and songwriter, Michael Vidal, has made so many sacrifices for the uncompromising body of

work he has been cultivating over the past two decades. While growing up in Chino, California, Michael taught himself how to play guitar and developed an extensive knowledge of underground music through television, the library, and the internet. In high school, Michael quickly befriended budding musician Juan Velasquez, bonding over counter-culture and an urge to engage with the world outside of Chino. As teenagers the pair formalized their collaboration with a new four piece band called Abe Vigoda and immediately began playing DIY shows in and around Los Angeles. The high schoolers stumbled on the city’s burgeoning all ages scene surrounding venues like The Smell, Pehrspace, and Il Corral, and developed lasting relationships with members of bands like Mika Miko, No Age, and Best Coast. Between 2003 and 2012, Abe Vigoda released a cascade of memorable LPs, EPs, and 7 inches that calcify the bands constant effort to push themselves in new directions and reinterpret their voice through various sounds. In the span of a decade Abe Vigoda tore through more creatively unfamiliar territory than most musician’s have the capacity to, and became one of the most electrifying live acts, before the project came to a sudden halt.

While music served as a valuable outlet for Michael to meet other peers and observe like-minded art spaces around the

country, it also served as a necessary escape from his own reality. To write for both Abe Vigoda and his solo project, it’s always been more important for Michael to reach a subconscious part of his psyche, rather than dwelling on a calculated agenda. The dissociative power of music has brought out some of the best and worst moments of Michael’s life, and he has been keen to learn from each of his experiences. Following the end of Abe Vigoda and the release of his first solo album, Dream Center, Michael has been in a creative hibernation, re-establishing a healthy routine in his life to be able to sustain his art practice. I met Michael during this phase of his life the first time I visited Los Angeles, and I’ve looked to him and his work for inspiration and guidance since then. To better understand the story behind his momentous body of work and the journey he has been on to get to this place in his life, I asked Michael to talk with me for this issue of the magazine. Over the course of several conversations at his home in Chinatown, Michael and I conducted the following interview in which we discuss, American noise music, the rise and fall of Abe Vigoda, and what he’s given up for his art.

Where are you from and where do you live currently? I grew up in Chino, California. I spent all of my teenage years in the Inland Empire. I moved to Los Angeles when I was 18 years old, and I’ve lived here ever since—except for a brief stint I spent in the North West around 2016 to 2017. What was your experience like growing up in Chino? What role did music play in your life during your childhood? Chino is a suburb of Los Angeles that’s about 40 minutes east. In hindsight, I’m really glad I grew up outside of a metropolis. I think it really allowed me to explore on my own. I’d hang out in weird parking lots and ride my bike around an old field, haha. During that time I always complained about being bored. I was always kind of pining for the big city. My dad always worked out here, and I think we came out here during a family trip, and I thought it was so intriguing. I always imagined myself living in the

city, but I go out to Chino now and I’m like, Wow, it’s kind of magical out here. I have a real love and deep affinity towards the place I grew up and where I spent time as a kid. Art and culture were always big for me. I was the last of three children and I could kind of get away with whatever I wanted. For me that looked like watching five hours of TV a day. I was obsessed with VH1 and MTV and cartoons and shit. I would just consume so much culture and retain all of this media knowledge. I definitely feel like I’m not alone in that. I feel like a lot of kids who grew up in the ‘90s have this encyclopedic knowledge of the most banal bad media. I also grew up sort of pre-internet. My family had a computer, but it was dial-up and the internet was not what it is today. I had an older brother and an older sister who turned me on to a lot of music. When I was like seven I would steal their CDs and tapes. I took stuff like a Pearl Jam CD, an Elastica CD, and the Smashing Pumpkin’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness double cassette—I snuck that one out of my brother’s room qui-


et a bit. I sort of formed this suburban, alternative rock universe for myself. I would also listen to the radio a lot. When I was a kid I would listen to a lot of talk radio. I would just scan the dial and I discovered KSPC which is this radio station out of Claremont. I loved the weirder music that they played. I would come home and do my homework listening to KSPC. I watched a lot of movies on TV too. I was just consumed by movies, tv, radio. How does Chino’s proximity to LA affect what it’s like to live there? What industries or communities exist in Chino? Chino was originally a dairy town. It was all dairy farms back in the day. Even to this day, you’ll go out there and there is the smell of manure in the air. Growing up it was a lot stronger. Whenever you’d wake up in the morning or when it rained, you would smell it and be like, “Wow!” haha. Chino was small but growing. The house my family was in was built in the ‘70s and further out there were houses built in the ‘90s. Originally the town was very Mexican. Then there was “white flight” in the ‘70s and people started moving to the suburbs. So it was a mix of white and Mexican people. Over the past ten years it’s become a lot more Asian. There’s a big Filipino population. It’s all just track housing and schools and parks. Like I mentioned earlier, riding bikes around with friends was everything. I only had like two friends, haha. At what point did you start playing music? Did you have any formal training early on or were your primarily self-taught? I’d say my instrument is the guitar, and I have had no formal training with it. My first introduction to playing music was in school band. I played the saxophone and I did that from fifth to eight grade. I didn’t take it very seriously—that’s why I quit in high school. I just didn’t want to do high school band. I’ve always had an affinity towards music. I was drawn to it. My older brother got a guitar, and much like his music collection, I would steal his guitar and play it whenever I could. I have really early memories of sitting with this weird Yamaha acoustic guitar and my fingers hurting a lot, haha. I also remember trying to find really sad chords to play, haha. So whenever my brother would leave I would sneak into his room, and steal his acoustic guitar. He eventually got an electric, so I started stealing that. I was kind of shadowing his musical experience. He plays guitar really well—he was always super good at the guitar. It’s really interesting because he plays country blues music now. He’s got a whole finger picking style that’s really cool. Do you remember when you first started making your own music? Who were some of the first people you would play music with? I think, when I graduated the eight grade, I got a guitar


as a present. I think the options were; I could either get a PlayStation 2 or a guitar… I really wanted a PlayStation 2, but I think it had just come out and was really hard to get. We tried really hard to get a PlayStation 2, but I ended up just being like, “Well I guess I’ll just get a guitar.” Once I had my own guitar I really started playing a lot. I basically taught myself how to play guitar more seriously by printing out tabs of my favorite Smashing Pumpkins songs or whatever from the internet. I had this notebook of all of these tabs I printed off of the internet. I started making my own songs by reworking parts of others, haha. Then in high school I met some people who would heavily factor in my life. I met Juan (Velasquez), who was in Abe Vigoda with me, and his whole circle of friends who were a little older than I was. Me and Juan had a friendship that kind of sparked off immediately. We liked all of the same bands. Juan has this very gregarious and personable energy, and I had never really met anyone like him before. So we just kind of hit it off and we would talk about music all of the time. It was a friendship where right off the bat we were hanging out every day. We would mostly talk about music and we’d discover new stuff together. I think pretty soon we started dabbling in our own music. He had been playing guitar and we had some keyboards and stuff. At some point I remember he was acquiring gear to start a band. He got the red Korg Electribe drum machine. I remember the big crown jewel of this project we were going to start together was this microKORG. We were just really into Saddle Creek bands and indie pop. We started recording with this friend who had a Zoom multitrack recorder. It was just like… shitty songs, haha. Was there any sort of music community at your disposal in Chino, or was that something you had to find on your own in LA? There was a venue out in Pomona called The Glass House. It’s still there—it’s a bigger concert venue. Anytime bands would tour and play there we would go see them, Sometimes just to do something. We saw a ton of great bands. I remember seeing Casiotone for the Painfully Alone years ago. I was just like, Whoa, he’s just up there with these same shitty keyboards I have at my house too. I remember seeing a lot of stuff that made me think, You can do that. But the bands that would come through always felt older or would be more cool and mysterious. It kind of felt detached or like something to aspire to. One of the most formative shows of my young life was the Oops! Tour which was The Locust, Lightning Bolt, and Arab on Radar. The band Moving Units opened, who were a big deal in LA at the time. I just remember seeing “crazy” music for the first time. It really blew my mind. Juan was actually out of town to his chagrin, haha. I remember trying to describe it to him and he was upset or he didn’t want to hear about it. But as a young kid, meeting Brian Chippendale after a show was super cool. That show itself turned me on to a whole host of weirder music.

“Me and Juan had a friendship that kind of sparked off immediately... So we just kind of hit it off and we would talk about music all of the time. It was a friendship where right off the bat we were hanging out every day. We would mostly talk about music and we’d discover new stuff together. I think pretty soon we started dabbling in our own music.” We saw a show at this venue we had never really heard of before called 51 Buckingham and it was the Dischord bands Black Eyes and Q and Not U. We went to the show and thought, Wow, this venue is so cool. We had already started recording with our high school friend Albert (Torres). I thought, I wonder if we could somehow play here. We talked to the owner, and he said, “Bring a demo.” So we recorded this demo and brought it to him and he gave us a residency. He liked what he heard enough or totally took a whim and was like, “You can book four shows this month.” which was crazy. We were super invigorated and inspired. We were like, “This is real! We’re playing shows! We’re playing a residency?” I think we found out what a residency was when he told us what one was, haha. We played some pretty interesting shows. It was an opportunity for us to ask bands who we liked or had seen to play. It was mostly smaller local bands or friends of friends. What was the project you were playing with at that point? Did your collaboration with Juan have another name before Abe Vigoda? It was called Microcassette. I wanted to call the project Tape… I don’t know, I was a child, haha. I think I was like 15 still at the time. I think at that point we weren’t even going to LA yet. Other than like big shows at The Troubadour or The Fonda Theater. It was also before we discovered the more underground LA stuff. But we were recording


with our friend Albert on his multitrack recorder. We did two five song EPs which I don’t think I even have anymore. I don’t know if Juan still has them. Someone has them somewhere. I haven’t heard them in so long, so I have little to no idea what they sound like. It’s probably a little cringey. It’s probably just 15-year-old me singing and heavy breathing into a microphone.

Then Juan and I had this idea to start a new kind of band. We were super inspired by the weirder music we were diving into—a lot of the more noisy punk stuff. Also, the band The Rapture just released their album Echoes which was really formative for us. We started talking to a drummer— this guy Zack (Downing) who we went to high school with who we knew played drums. We were like, “We should have a band with a drummer and it can be like a dance punk band.” haha. We started writing these songs and our friend David (Reichardt) started playing bass. I don’t remember how we started writing songs. That all happening coincided with us coming out to LA and seeing shows at The Smell. I feel like we started this other kind of band after seeing bands at The Smell. What initially directed you to The Smell? Do remember the first show you went to there? I can’t remember the first show we went to there. It might have been a Chromatics show, back when Chromatics

were a spazzy, kind of weird band. I want to say the first time we tried to go to The Smell we got lost and turned around and just went home, haha. We were so deflated. We were just like, “We can’t find it…” It was in an ally way, so it was too much for our little minds, haha. But eventually we started seeing bands at The Smell. It’s such an enchanting place to walk into. To see kids your age running the door and doing weird shit was very inspiring. It, again, gave me that sense of, You can do this. I remember seeing Mika Miko for the first time and really feeling… just so freaked out and positive, haha. It all felt so very transgressive at the same time. I just didn’t know things like this existed. We saw a lot of noise music there too. I remember seeing a band called Rainbow Blanket and this project This Song Is A Mess But So Am I. We just all wanted to be a part of it. So we started this new band and we called it Abe Vigoda. How did you decide on the name? What was the first music you wrote and recorded as Abe Vigoda? Abe Vigoda is an actor. The story is really uninteresting, haha. He was on Conan O’Brien a lot at the time. Juan and I were on AIM while Conan O’Brien was on in the background. We were like, “Let’s just call the project this.” Then it just stuck. It has a nice phonetic sound. But there’s no reason our band should have been called that. It’s really arbitrary. We wrote four songs and recorded them and did the

same demo thing. I think people were intrigued and it kind of evolved into this thing where we were playing LA all of the time. At least once or twice a month—sometimes once or twice a week. At that point I was probably a junior. Juan was a senior. My home life was very weird at this time. I was kind of allowed a lot of freedom. My parents were divorced and my mom was out of the picture for a period of time. I was living with my sister who was like 23 at the time. It was a weird home life that allowed me to fully do music stuff. I think similar to a youth subculture like skateboarding, DIY shows definitely seem like a safe haven for kids who are trying to escape some sort of dysfunctional home life. It also seems like the people who end up being the most active or the most prolific in those communities are also people who are trying to avoid being at home as much as possible or don’t have a comfortable home to begin with. When the stakes are really low and there’s freedom to express yourself, people in those situations often find the support they’re looking for from strangers. Right! I definitely feel that escapism. Fantasy has always been at the forefront of my mind, haha. Everything I do has some element of Get me out of here! I think for me it was just exciting to be participating in a culture—what really felt like cool, transgressive art. To this day I still think it is. I think everyone makes art for different reasons… But for me, I definitely think it’s escapism and fantasy. It’s also

“The first official Abe Vigoda release was this album called Sky Route/Star Roof. It was a joint release between two labels. One of the labels was Not Not Fun and the other label was Post Present Medium which was Dean Spunt’s label.”


a way to stay at this heightened level of presence in the moment. But we really just dove in, and we were being validated. At some point we got our friend Reggie (Guerrero) to drum instead of Zack. Zack quit the band. It was never really his thing and we took a trip to San Fransisco with Mika Miko and he just hated every minute of it. It’s interesting because I met people I still know to this day on that trip. But anyway, Zach quit and Reggie joined the band. Abe Vigoda would flip the script a lot. We kind of threw out the old concept we were working within. We brought in our best friend Reggie to play drums, and he had never drummed in his life. We bought a drum set for like $100. I started playing guitar with four strings in this weird tuning. We ditched the synths and it was way less ambitious. We fully simplified everything, almost out of necessity. But it was a lot more exciting. The lyrics were almost like from the point of view of this observer from outside of earth describing things on earth. It’s really hard to describe. But the early Abe Vigoda material was almost like this world view. There was even a song called “World Map Forever” and it’s this very global vision. Very macro-punk, haha. But it was still a spazzy crazy band. We weren’t the only ones doing that sound, but for us it was the craziest thing we could do. It felt really good and people liked it. Did you have any proper releases with the band while you were moving into making that music early on? Yeah! The first official Abe Vigoda release was this album called Sky Route/Star Roof. It was a joint release between two labels. One of the labels was Not Not Fun and the other label was Post Present Medium which was Dean Spunt’s label. He played in the band Wives at the time and plays in No Age. I thought it was crazy that two labels wanted to release us—I feel like it’s rare that that happens. Both labels are really beautiful. They’re well curated, they’re cool, they’re in it for the love of the music and because they want to support things. They went in on something that they really liked and wanted to be a part of. I think I was 17 or 18 at this point. I don’t think the album is streaming, but it’s out there. You can buy it on discogs or whatever. They put it on vinyl and—I really fought for this—we had a burned CD-R of the album inside the record. I remember Britt (Brown) from Not Not Fun records was like, “Pick a format!” haha. But I just wanted everyone to hear it. The record was cool. I kind of prefer it to the record that is on streaming services, Kid City, which came out right afterwords. We recorded it with Bobb Bruno who plays guitar in Best Coast. Back then he was just a dude who played in a bunch of bands at The Smell. He had previously recorded friends of ours and he recorded the album to tape. Also the cover of the record was designed by our friend James Bradley. He was an illustrator we knew from Riverside and we loved his drawings so much. I think we’ve all lost touch with him now though.

How did bringing your friend Reggie into the band change the project? I know you’ve said in the past that his drumming really influenced the over all sound of the band and the direction things went. What was it like to start writing and performing with someone who was just learning drums? We started fresh entirely with Reggie. It felt more authentic to us. Rather than being too directly inspired by what we were into, playing with him felt like real expression. I feel like the first record we actually physically released was very pure and a really cool summation of influences rather than us imitating something. I always used the word natural to describe the way we wrote stuff. None of us came to practice with any songs. We would just kind of fumble around until we fell into something. New songs would kind of just form and take shape. I was using a strange tuning—Juan was using an even weirder tuning. We would just come up with these parts and then we would put the parts together. It was very rudimentary, but an affective way of working for us. After we had the record we started to do West Coast tours. This was in the days of MySpace, where we were able to fully book tours through MySpace music pages. You would discover bands through the Top Eight feature on MySpace. It was a real golden age for music on the internet around 2004 and 2005. Abe Vigoda started in 2003. I graduated high school in 2005 and that’s when Reggie came in to the band. Once you were finishing high school, what were your prospects for the future? Was there any doubt in your mind about pursuing music, or were you interested in pursuing anything else? The end of high school for me was really strange. I finished high school, but I went on an independent study program for the last six months of my senior year. I had like zero interest in school. All of my friends were older and had already graduated. I was very involved with music and was playing a lot of shows. Abe Vigoda was the only thing I cared about. I had no prospects as far as education. I only did school to appease my parents. Music felt really all-in for me… and I think my life nowadays is a testament to that. I had no interest in college or school whatsoever. It didn’t make sense to me. I was kind of always an autodidact—I found things I was interested in and I studied them. High School just made no sense to me and I didn’t care for it. I also had much cooler things going on, and I still believe that. I don’t have any regrets about that. My main goal was, I want to move to Los Angeles as soon as possible. That was where all of this music stuff was happening. At the time we were making this very far-out music in the suburbs in Juan’s parent’s garage. Looking back at those moments—that was so beautiful. Maybe it was lost on me then, but I don’t think it was really. I think we really enjoyed doing it. I look back on that time really


“We started fresh entirely with Reggie. It felt more authentic to us. Rather than being too directly inspired by what we were into, playing with him felt like real expression.” fondly. As crazy as it was and as weird as I was mentally at that time, it was really cool. I think that was kind of part of the deal too. I think Dean from No Age wrote something for the record that was like, “These weird kids from Chino are making this weird music out in the middle of nowhere.” haha. So as far as plans for the future, I just had tunnel vision with Abe Vigoda. Who were some of the first bands who were really supportive of Abe Vigoda? When did you start touring around the country and meeting new people? Really early on, our neighbors to the East in Riverside were supportive. There was a music scene in Riverside. Maybe I wouldn’t call it a scene… But there were bands out there who were very fucked up and very weird. Erin Allen, who is an artist based out of Oakland now—he lives at this place called the Huffin House—but back then he had a house in Riverside called the Pixel Palace. They would put on house shows. That’s actually where we met James Bradley who made the illustrations for our first two records. Aaron was in college at this point, but we would just go over to his house and draw and like listen to CAN, haha. It was really fun to hang out with these weird artists in Riverside that went to college. A lot of bands at The Smell were supportive. Mika Miko were closest in age and they were just super friendly. I


developed crushes on all of them at the same time, haha. They were just like our cool new friends. There were a few other young bands. There was a band called The Ride that was sort of garage-y. There was this other band called Silver Daggers which featured Jenna (Thornhill) from Mika Miko on Saxophone and a bunch of other older musician dudes. It was such a powerful, sort of noise-y, sort of Fela Kuti inspired punk band. That was the band that really kept me super inspired through out 2004 to 2006. We ended up touring with them up the West Coast. We also did some short trips to The Bay Area with Mika Miko. How did your sound change as you were starting to work on your second record Kid City? The first record felt very gritty and grainy and concrete. On the second album it gets brighter and it has this really dorky, bright, fun album cover, haha. There are some aspects of the previous material in there, but the band was always changing so much. From record to record there are these huge leaps in whatever was happening. Before Kid City we actually did a five song 7 inch. It’s actually the best of the earlier stuff. I think there were just 200 copies pressed by this label out of the Inland Empire called Silencio Records. They only did a couple of releases. The 7 inch was self-titled with this black and white album cover that says “Abe Vigoda” in red on top and the A’s are an-

“The first record felt very gritty and grainy and concrete. On the second album it gets brighter and it has this really dorky, bright, fun album cover, haha. There are some aspects of the previous material in there, but the band was always changing so much.” archy symbols on both ends of the name, haha. The back of the record had photos of each band member and says what they play. My head is completely bald in the photo. I look like a genie, haha. I remember for that record we had this concept of “whimsey-core.” There was a lot of spiraling and the songs are super frantic. There was something about it to me that was super silly. That 7 inch is pretty magical, and I think it’s the best of our early material. Anyways, like I said, Kid City was a lot brighter. There’s a lot of influence from African guitar music. Juan had bought a CD by this band called Hallelujah Chicken


Run Band which is this awesome, groovy African band. There’s still some noisier stuff, but over all it gets a lot more bright. Something else that really inspired us around that era —definitely for me—was Deerhoof’s Milk Man. There are elements of the sound, that bright, crazy playing, that were inspired by that. But we worked really hard on that record. It was recorded in a couple weird ways. Part of the instrumental was recorded at a really fancy studio as a part of a UCLA recording class. Someone who was interested in the band was taking a recording class at UCLA and had access to free tracking. It was at the studio where they literally recorded Santana’s Supernatu-

“All of the writing is very swirling and dream-like. I also tried to insert things that I really wanted to say... Each song has a very different story.” ral and like Blink-182. There were platinum records on the walls. So we got these tracks back that were very dry and clean sounding, as apposed to the previous record which was just Bobb Bruno and a tape machine in a practice space. We worked with the UCLA student to fix the recordings and add vocals and stuff. Then we also started working with someone that we met out in Torrance who recorded bands. He recorded a friend of our’s band called Le Joshua who was another young Smell band. We loved the record they had made, so we ended up doing some recording with him. The better songs on that record were recorded with him.

parts. We would find these interlocking parts together and then flesh them out with bass and drums. But for the most part, everyone would write their own thing and brought it to practice. Then it would just be this looping rehearsal of trying to find our parts within the part. Juan also had some songs he would sing on for Kid City.

There’s a lot of interplay between the four of you and complex rhythms in your songs. Did your writing process involve just playing together a lot, or did anyone in particular write and arrange parts for the songs?

I wasn’t super intro poetry or anything at the time. One thing I remember was, I would look at photos and describe or create worlds around them. I’d look at national geographic magazines or books at the library. But all of the writing is very swirling and dream-like. I also tried to insert things that I really wanted to say. The lyrics are tricky to think about, haha. Some of them were written so long ago. Each song has a very different story. I remember specifically writing songs about a photo of someone working in a market somewhere in Asia. I wasn’t trying to describe or make an observation of a world scene, but I would try to take the energy of the photo and put whatever I was getting from it into words. That’s definitely how I wrote a lot of the lyrics on Kid City and on Skeleton, but Skeleton was a little more auto-biographical. I would write as an attempt to bring that world into my city or wherever

Reggie got really good at the drums kind of suddenly. He’s one of those drummers who doesn’t necessarily do things “the correct way,” but he was doing really interesting things almost naturally. He was born to drum or something. I remember we would ride the bus together in high school and he would always drum on the back of the seat. He just had a drummer energy. From the first to the second record he got so much better. Then it really comes into fruition on the third record, Skeleton. Me and Juan would write together a little bit more on Kid City, I think. We would sit in his bedroom in Chino playing guitar

Much like your music, you lyrics are really unique and interesting. Your writing is very poetic and fragmented, and your delivery has this intense emotional quality to it. What informed your voice as a writer when you were writing for Abe Vigoda?


I am at the time. I usually end up describing some natural elements around me. I’m trying to remember the lyrics for Kid City… A lot of it is about being strong. There are a lot of lyrics about strength and youth and gender. There’s a lyric about murdering your parents and like swimming, haha. All of the lyrics on that record are repeated over and over again, almost like mantras. What happened between the release of Kid City and when you started working on Skeleton? Skeleton was happening as we moved to Los Angeles.

Kid City was written in the suburbs. A lot of Skeleton was written in Chino. Juan and I were already living in Los Angeles, but we would come out to Chino for band practice at David’s house. The themes of that record are about describing this new crazy space, which was Los Angeles. A lot of it is just about being a young person in a new city and feeling weird and in danger—but also super inspired and excited. Skeleton to me is the record that Abe Vigoda made. It’s the one where everything kind of clicked. I think in a lot of ways it’s… just the best one, haha. I think that’s the one people latch on to as “This is the Abe Vigoda sound.” It’s really fast paced. I think it has this run-

“It’s 14 songs, and they’re all these galloping, crazy songs. The first song kind of just goes and goes on this weird locked groove. It’s really frantic. I remember as we were making it, a lot of things seemed to be working. There were very positive things happening.”


ning energy. It’s 14 songs, and they’re all these galloping, crazy songs. The first song kind of just goes and goes on this weird locked groove. It’s really frantic. I remember as we were making it, a lot of things seemed to be working. There were very positive things happening. When Juan and I moved to Los Angeles we sublet the apartment Dean (Spunt) and Randy (Randall) from No Age lived in. They were on tour, and I think we were there for a month, but it felt like forever, haha. They use to have this place near Melrose and the rent was so cheap. There was like a half pipe in the back yard. They use to have these parties. It was a cool space. While we were subletting from them we found jobs and were really making it happen. I just remember things feeling really good. I remember having a conversation with my sister where she was like, “You’re killing it!” haha. She always says that, even when I’m fucking up, haha. But it was a really positive time. Skeleton definitely seems to be the album that put Abe Vigoda in the more national discourse about what was going on in music. What was it like to see this sudden attention on your band and the scene surrounding The Smell? All throughout the time Kid City was being made there was this growing momentum. Mika Miko signed to Kill Rock Stars. Wives had sort of fizzled out, but No Age had

started and people freaked out about that band. That’s really what brought this light over to Los Angeles DIY and The Smell. There were a few other venues like Il Corral. Pehrspace was a really important venue to me. That band Health kind of factors in as well, but they were never really a part of my own story, but people really liked them. So in general, there was a lot of attention being placed on the Los Angeles music scene. I think everyone was just making their really good records. It felt serendipitous. In 2007, 2008, and 2009 these bands were doing their really good work. It was a culmination of a lot of really great records from different artist, all at the same time. I think right before Skeleton came out we did our first US tour in 2007. We were playing Skeleton songs, but the album hadn’t come out at that point. Then No Age invited us on a tour with them in 2008 after Skeleton came out. Once Skeleton came out, what changed for you and how did the release of that album impact your view of what you were doing? It was really well received. I think we made it on some Pitchfork year end list. It was talked about, and it seemed national as apposed to local, which was so bizarre to me. Playing shows in New York for the first time was cool. There was a Pitchfork: Don’t Look Down performance. I remember having a google alert set up, and every day there’d be something new on the Google alert. It was really weird and cool.

“In general, there was a lot of attention being placed on the Los Angeles music scene. I think everyone was just making their really good records. It felt serendipitous. In 2007, 2008, and 2009 these bands were doing their really good work.”


Something that I think is important to realize about so many of the bands from the Smell is, no one really cared about whether people saw it or not. It was really insular. No one was trying to get ahead or anything. I feel like some artists were trying to be seen and heard, but it always felt so obvious when you would come across those artists. I didn’t really fuck with them. I feel like the sort of Rosetta Stone for the scene you’re talking about is the Live At The Smell DVD. Being someone from the outside, I feel like that’s the easiest document to use to make sense of what was going on there at that time. It’s a cool document. This person Michael Fierstein put it together. No one really wants anything to do with him now. But in his defense, he put this really cool thing together. It was a couple different shows that were professionally filmed and recorded. Most of the bands were from LA, but a few of the bands weren’t. Ponytail from Baltimore was one of the bands. High Places was a New York band at that time. Who else was in it… It was Abe Vigoda, Health, The Mae Shi, No Age, Foot Village, BARR, Gowns, Captain Ahab, Ponytail, and High Places. It’s hard to remember the events of the days while it was being filmed. They had this screening at this theater, The Downtown Independent, which is right next to The Smell. I remember going and seeing it on the big screen and not cringing during out entire section, haha. Does that film feel like an accurate documentation of what was going on at the time? Does anything seem miss-represented or is any important context lost? I didn’t really notice any ripple effect immediately after the movie came out. It’s weird that people bring it up who are from other parts of the country. I’ll talk to folks and they’ll be like, “The Live At The Smell DVD is so cool!” But I maybe only saw it twice and didn’t really think about it. DIY spaces exist in pretty much every big city, and all of them are cool. I was fortunate to play a lot of really similar independent spaces all across the country. Places like Rhinoceropolis in Denver comes to mind. Shea Stadium or Market Hotel in New York. But yeah, I think there is a certain voyeurism for LA with that DVD. What was your experience like touring the country to promote Skeleton? Do any shows or memories stick out in your mind? I don’t really know if I have much to say—besides what anyone has already said—in regards to touring. I always really enjoyed it. America is really beautiful, and I never really saw much of it before being able to tour. I didn’t travel really as a kid. I was simultaneously seeing America for the first time—going to New York and the South for the first time—and I was kind of getting a super curated view of all of the art spaces across the country, haha. It was

super cool. I, unfortunately at this time, started drinking heavily. So there was good and bad… It’s mostly positive good memories. Just meeting people who knew the record and would talk about certain songs with real ownership was, obviously, a really amazing feeling. I think that’s when I realized it’s not just my music. When a record is made it takes on new meaning and it morphs and changes to suite the listener. A dark story… I think it was in 2011. A guy came to a show of ours in Texas. He was a big dude and he was exmilitary. He was like, “I was stationed in Afghanistan and I listened to your album a lot out there. He was like, “I’m not going to lie… We saw some shit… and I was listening to your music during the experience of war.” I had no idea what to do with that information. I honestly wish I never knew. It’s so fucking weird. So that’s just one example of how, once something is recorded, you no longer have ownership of it—which is also kind of freeing and amazing too. It was cool to experience that for the first time. After talking to people who knew the material, you see that it kind of has a life of its own. Around that era when there were tons of blogs writing about independent music, there were a lot of genres thrown at specific sounds and movements that often pigeon holed bands into a singular style. I know you guys were categorized as “tropical punk” a lot at the time. How did you feel about that term and the other music you were grouped in with? I think we kind of dug it. We didn’t necessarily hate it. It seemed like an apt descriptor. It’s silly—what does it even mean? It doesn’t make much sense, but I don’t think we were ever mad at it. It always seemed sort of silly and cute, haha. There are lots of worse things to be pigeon holed as. I think the lumping of us in the same camp as bands like Vampire Weekend or even like Tan Lines doesn’t make much sense if you listen to the things backto-back. It’s obviously something else. But I think that was also something that was happening. From a media standpoint I’m sure lumping us in with those bands made some semblance of sense. But I think to the listener, it’s very obviously three different things. For the Abe Vigoda stuff, my guitar playing and Juan’s guitar playing were really inspired by Konono Nº1 and the album Congotronics. Are you familiar with that album? It’s this music from the Congo. It’s mbira—those thumb pianos—and they are mic’d up and performed on these weird sound systems. That record came out in 2004. Crammed Discs put it out. I forget who, but someone turned me on to it. I remember, it really inspired my guitar playing. The rhythm and the cyclical nature of the mbira influenced my playing a lot. I think there were a lot of factors though. Reggaeton was on the radio and was playing everywhere. That fully informed a lot of things.


“A lot of our music has to do with identity, but in a way that’s almost really insular. It’s hard to describe. A lot of the songs on Skeleton and around that time were about claiming or making space for yourself.” How culturally diverse was the scene you were playing in at the time? Did it ever feel alienating or did you ever feel uncomfortable being a band with POC and queer members? A lot of our music has to do with identity, but in a way that’s almost really insular. It’s hard to describe. A lot of the songs on Skeleton and around that time were about claiming or making space for yourself. Finding a home, building a family, and destroying something else are reoccurring themes on the album. So I think subconsciously a lot of it is about making space. There were people of color in the scene. There weren’t a ton, but it wasn’t like unheard of. In The Smell scene there were other Latinx bands. There were a few black people performing. I mean, there were tons of Mexicans making music. I think that’s just LA though. But look at the Live At The Smell DVD. We’re some of the only people of color on that thing. So we definitely were outliers. I don’t think we ever really thought about it—at least I didn’t. I’m not really sure if I can speak to Juan’s experience being out and performing across the country. I know at times it wasn’t always easy. But I don’t really know about his experience. As someone who identifies as queer now—I didn’t really know I was then—it wasn’t really at the forefront of my mind then and it wasn’t something that we felt we had to speak on artistically--never in an obvious way. It wasn’t like a talking point for us. I think the music is more generally about


personal identity claiming, which kind of leaves it open. After finishing the tours for Skeleton and as you were beginning to write for the follow-up, Crush, what did you know you wanted to do differently with the new music you were working on? There was a lot of touring around then. Reggie quit to go back to school and moved to Olympia. It was really hard… We recorded this EP called Reviver, which people seemed to really like. It’s not my favorite. I’m not in love with the recording, but there are some good moments on it. But it was a stepping stone towards Crush. It has some Skeleton style stuff, there are some quieter songs, and there’s a cover of a Fleetwood Mac song, which is kind of like the first “Michael Vidal solo” style song. That was the last record with Reggie on it. It just felt kind of rushed and strange and a little tossed off. We also did this weird tour with Diplo. The tour was Diplo, Telepathe, Abe Vigoda, Boy 8-Bit. So we were just all on a tour bus with Diplo for a month. It was so wild. He wanted punk bands and he liked what we were doing. He liked the record Skeleton. He thought it would make for a cool interesting tour to have younger bands. He didn’t want to tour with DJs. I’m sure there were moments on that tour where he fully regretted having us on that tour. Me and Juan fought a lot… I was drinking all of the time. That was also one of Reggie’s last tour with us. We did Europe and the UK for the

“We also did this weird tour with Diplo. The tour was Diplo, Telepathe, Abe Vigoda, Boy 8-Bit... It was so wild. He wanted punk bands and he liked what we were doing. He liked the record Skeleton. He thought it would make for a cool interesting tour to have younger bands.” first time with Reggie, that was his last tour with us. All throughout this time I was dating someone. I wasn’t working anymore. I was really broke. I was living with this person, but I was also always leaving to go on tour. I was kind of able to make some rent, not really. But honestly, my life was kind of falling apart between Skeleton and Crush. We started writing material for Crush when I was in a horrible depression… I don’t know what had happened. There was a lot of marijuana involved, which does not work well for me. I was listening to so much Christian Death and David Bowie and a lot of weird goth music. So my side of why Crush turned out the way that it did was, I was in a dark place and I was listening to a lot of “dark” music. After Reggie left, Dane (Chadwick) joined. Dane is someone we met while we were touring in Arizona. He was from Tempe near Phoenix. He’s a super talented drummer. We played a show together and stayed friends afterwards. We kept in contact and he was feeling super listless and wanted to move to Los Angeles. He came out to visit and we all got along super well. So Juan just straight up asked him if he wanted to do it. We all tried it out and he could clearly play the drums very well. He played in a cool style and was really talented across the board. So we brought him on and he also lived with us—Juan and I lived together on and off during this time. We were also getting back into incorporating electronic elements and sounds. With the switching of our drummer, we were kind of trying to flip the script a bit again. It’s hard to say how all of the elements came together. I think, even despite the


changes, in my mind I was like, It’s not that different. But from record to record it’s very different. It’s like a different band. But in the moment I was like, This is so obvious. How would you characterize that record over all? What influenced the way that it turned out? The songwriting process was totally different. I remember bringing a lot more nearly finished ideas to the album. We went about it in a totally different way. We used weird old equipment. Dane loves old keyboards and old sequencers. He had this really ancient sequencer and a weird tone box that he had next to the drum kit that he would sequence certain things on it. The record was really elaborate. We recorded with this really professional guy at a very professional studio. This record is kind of hard to talk about. Some of it is so good. I’m not in love with all of it, but it’s a really cool record. We worked really hard on it. Harder than we’ve ever worked on a record before. I think that was really self-imposed. It wasn’t so much that we felt pressure from anyone for it to be a certain way, It was more that I had heard this record in my head. We all kind of had these influences we were incorporating. For whatever reason, the ’80s really factored into this one. It was like really romantic ‘80s records and sounds. We felt like there was a lot of room for us in that realm for whatever reason. The lyrics are also a totally different vibe. A lot of it is fantasy… but about drug addiction and slavery—it’s very heavy themes. There are certain lyrics and themes that I wrote for that record that honestly come purely from a

place that’s not my story or anyone’s story. But elements of the lyrics, I found as I would sing them, started manifesting themselves. It was the first time I realized that songs have this weird power. Now I’m a lot more careful with the things I write about, haha. Especially if the song is performed a lot, it’s weird. It’s like once you put something out there… I don’t know, I had written some things on Crush that definitely manifested themselves as we toured on the record and as we played the songs more and more. Very strange. It was a kind of lesson. The record is kind of cursed. It came out on my birthday, and it came out the same day as Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest and No Age’s Everything In Between. All three records have black and white album covers. That record was just a different energy entirely. I remember you guys mentioning going on tour with Vampire Weekend around then, right? Both bands were compared a lot, but seem to come from very different music communities and backgrounds. What was like to play shows together? Earlier on we were asked to open some shows in California for them before their second record came out. I thought that it was interesting because people were like, “There’s this band that kind of sounds like Abe Vigoda.” and vice versa. I feel the two are very different, but there’s definitely an element of rhythm that we kind of share. So we did those shows and it was really cool to play them. They were smaller shows throughout California. We played one in San Luis Obispo, we played one in Bakersfield, and we played the LA shows. I remember I was kind of aggres-

sive towards Rostam. I think I got really drunk, and I think I told Rostam something absurd like “I walk everywhere I go and everything I eat I steal. I don’t understand why our bands are compared!” haha. I was just like very upset to be given this opportunity. I don’t know why. I think that also goes to show that my mental state at the time was to get drunk and act out. Then after we recorded Crush and we were asked to go on tour with them again. It was a nationwide tour for their second record, Contra, and it was all of these big theaters, anywhere between 1200 to 4000 seats. We kind of deliberated whether we should do it or not. I was like, “We’d be idiots not to.” I don’t know if the pay was good or bad, but we got $800 a show—which, every night for a month felt good to me at the time. Then we embarked on this tour and nobody got it. When you open for Vampire Weekend or a band like them, you’re playing to the general public. The context for our music was completely lost. And we were playing the Crush material, which also alienated our fan base. At the time I don’t think people were getting it. I felt the shows sounded pretty good. Even in hindsight, watching Youtube videos of shows, I felt like it sounded pretty good and the mix was right. But it was like, Who is it for really? We didn’t sell much merch. It was interesting. I have one weird memory that’s kind of like scar. I’ve never been more anxious and freaked out. I only had one guitar on the tour, cause I’ve only ever had like one guitar. I broke a string that was essential to the rest of the songs in the set. It was at a bigger venue—like 3,000 people—and

“But honestly, my life was kind of falling apart between Skeleton and Crush. We started writing material for Crush when I was in a horrible depression… I don’t know what had happened.”


I just grabbed Ezra Koening’s guitar. There were a whole bunch of guitars to the side of the stage, so I just grabbed one and started playing. I guess I grabbed his main guitar. But like, whatever, he has a guitar tech. There were literally 3,000 people waiting for me to play music. What do I do? After the set, the tour manager pulls me aside aggressively, and was like, “What makes you think you can grab the headlining act’s main instrument.” and I was like chastised. Then I’m walking backstage and I see Ezra there eating some food, and he’s like, “You played my guitar?” and I was like, “Yeah yeah I did, I’m sorry.” Then he was like, “It’s cool… Just don’t let it happen again.” like jokingly? But I was legit freaked the fuck out.

most absurd drives all across Europe. It made no logistical sense whatsoever, and I think we came back owing thousands of dollars. That also kind of took the wind out of our sails. The last show Abe Vigoda ever played was opening up for Bob Mould at the El Rey in Los Angeles. I didn’t know it was going to be the last show. We played a new song for the first time and I thought it went really well. Then our drummer Dane broke his arm skating. We were kind of like, “What do we do?” It was the second time one of our drummers had broken their arms skateboarding. Previously, Reggie broke his arm and we had to cancel a tour we were gonna do with Dirty Projectors in like 2008, haha. Drummers who skate… I fucking hate skateboards.

I guess it’s not that I felt out of my depth. It’s just that they were making so much money on that tour. Between merch and guarantees. I mean, I’m sure there are a lot of expenses involved, but still. I just felt like, What am I doing? Who am I playing for? Why am I being treated this way? The tour felt like something we had survived. It was gnarly, I can’t believe we did that.

I remember me, David, and Juan met at my apartment and we were like, “We’re going to keep working. We’re going to work through this and keep on working on music.” and it just never happened. That’s when I started working on the Michael Vidal solo music. Juan had started Roses. David started playing with Dunes. Dane was working on production and electronic music, which he’s really good at. So we all kind of had our projects, and we just never came back together. The local shows we would play towards the end… I’m just going to say, kind of sucked. We would always play last, and people wouldn’t stick around. People had moved on. It was just difficult. It was this blow after blow that resulted in us never playing again. I think that’s how a lot of things end though. There’s this sort of half agreement to keep it going, but for one reason or another it never comes together.

You mentioned that the people who were at least fans of yours coming to those shows were alienated from some of the new songs you were playing. What was it like to put all of this effort into expanding your sound and subsequently disconnecting from some of your audience? I think with the Crush material, we alienated our audience, in that it was a stylistic shift. It was no longer a “tropical punk” band, which I think was purposeful. We made that change. That music came about in a different way and everyone was in different places in their lives. In hindsight, I was at the beginning of what was to be a decent into drug addiction. At the time it was just marijuana and the depression. The songs were less collaboratively written. That’s not to say they weren’t, but I definitely came with full songs. I think when we brought in more electronic elements we lost some of the fun and traded it in for serious life contemplation. People were like, “Oh, maybe this isn’t my jam anymore.” But that being said, we were playing way bigger shows and we had way more visibility this time. It just wasn’t hitting the same way. I think that’s really what eventually led to the demise of the band. Did you guys have a sort of last show or last tour in mind before the band decided to end? Was the ending something that was collectively agreed upon? It was less with a bang and more with a whimper. Juan and I were meeting up once a week and writing guitar parts together. We were trying to write new songs together. We had a few new songs. I think we played Coachella in 2012 on a Friday or something. We also did this very long European tour that got a little dark. It was like seven weeks long and we lost a ton of money. It was this poorly planned UK and Europe tour and we were making the

You’ve worked with a lot of different sounds through out your whole body of work, but a lot of your writing and approach is pretty distinctive and consistent. What themes do you notice coming up a lot in your work, and what intrinsic qualities tie the different music you’ve made together? I don’t know where the lyrics come from. I usually just sit down after I’ve written some music. With Abe Vigoda, it started off with this really large scope—sort of a “world scope” in the early days. Then around Reviver it got really personal. I think Skeleton and Reviver were really personal records as far as my lyrics. The song from Skeleton, “The Garden,” is about moving to Los Angeles. That was just me describing things that actually happened. Then on Crush a lot of the songs, were a kind of fantasy about things I had seen in Los Angeles. I wrote songs about people I saw on the bus or different neighborhoods. I was sort of using these far out external things to talk about whatever I was going through at the time. With the songs on Crush, even when I was trying to be my most separate from myself or writing just pure fantasy, those ideas and themes sort of manifested themselves in my life. That really led me to believe the power that songs hold, especially when you play them over and over again. You’re setting an intention and it creates the world.


I don’t know, I think I try to keep it vague and open to many interpretations. Often times the lyrics are misheard, which I think is interesting. If you look up Abe Vigoda lyrics online, there are so many funny wrong ones—even for songs on albums that we issued lyrics with the album. Certain songs are very personal and are not as open to interpretation. I think those are the ones that people are most drawn to. On the Dream Center album, the song “Dreams (Come Back to Me)” is pretty direct. It’s one of those songs about a relationship ending and surviving and understanding that. People always talk about the lyrics to that song in particular. I think it was one of the times I was able to really nail a certain feeling down without being too overwrought or too abstract. The newer material has lately been very abstract descriptions of very real things—the things I’ve lived or experienced. I feel like I describe emotional states, rather than situations, with words that you wouldn’t normally use to describe emotional states, haha. Once you started working on your solo music and developing the songs for Dream Center, what did you know that you wanted to do differently from the Abe Vigoda material? I was writing by myself, and I think it’s sort of a continuation of the personal work I did for Crush. It was just like everything else was removed. I think it’s a lot brighter and airier. That was a distinct choice I remember. There’s a more whimsical quality to it, and an atmospheric air, that is kind of depicted on the album art work. I remember that being intentional as well. With the solo material I was kind of still working with the same tools I had before. I didn’t really have any new gear or any sort of real intention for the project. I was playing solo shows because people would ask me about music and want me to play a show, but I had no band. I think I just started looping on a delay pedal, which was actually really awful because I would only have one layer, and there would only be like two seconds of loop time, haha. So that’s how I started to write a few bits for the solo project. Then I was playing shows at places like Pehrspace and The Smell, as I always did. But I was honestly just feeling so crazy after the band broke up. Abe Vigoda broke up and a relationship I was in for a while just ended. And, I got into hard drugs truthfully. That was a secret that no one really knew about. A lot of Dream Center touches on that. Songs like “Burn” and “Sky Blue” are both kind of about that. It was a weird double-life kind of thing. I was playing these shows by myself and then Tabor (Allen) who’s a friend in the music scene was like, “We should play music together! I’d love to play drums.” We met and it came together really well. Our mutual friend came in to play bass, and that’s how the Dream Center album happened. They wrote their parts to those songs. We had this idea of it being a super tight combo and it was really locked in. Aside from a few really explosive moments, like on the song “Dreams,” the record is really small. There aren’t a lot of really bombastic


crazy parts. The bassist, Ryan Beal, recorded the album, and I think he did a really good job. He has a really good ear. I just love the way that it’s mixed, and the over all tone really works for me. But I had no real intention to do that. It happened through other people encouraging me, and making it happen. I went along with it because it was sounding very good and people were excited. I felt like I was reconnected with a group of young creative people through The Smell. It was like another generation of folks with the label Big Joy. Friends who are now in bands like Moaning and Traps PS. It was like kind of like starting over. But I had this horrible dark secret. I was using crystal meth, which is harsh. I think we released the tape and did a release show, and then like two months later I went to a rehab. So the music in general… is really painful for me. It’s really difficult for me. I think the experience of writing and recording Dream Center while secretly under the influence of hard drugs around very sweet and well-meaning people really left marks on my creative consciousness. I feel very apprehensive with all creative pursuits at this point. That’s why I haven’t made another proper release since. I play live a lot because people keep asking me. It’s really important for me to continue working and writing music. But anytime an opportunity comes up to bring other people into the equation I get freaked out and weary. Me and Tabor began work on a second record and I relapsed. I was no longer trusting in the process. I had ten songs—some of them I still play to this day—but I just didn’t let it happen. To this day Tabor and I are on very distant terms. I think he got burnt because I was so difficult. I just like squashed the album. Since the release of Dream Center I’ve had three pretty intense breakdowns. Drug addiction and depression and existential crises have led me to take many breaks. I moved away from Los Angeles at one point, I swore off music a couple different times. But I know it’s something I’m meant to do. As painful as it is, I feel like I’m able to bring something unique that I kind of wish I would see more often in music, and in Los Angeles especially. There are a ton of other people doing really amazing work. But the music I’ve been doing lately I feel like might exist on another plain—which might sound self-important. I really feel as if I’m working with really potent tools. This kind of chaotic emotional energy. I’ve also been training my voice inadvertently for the past few years. I’m really happy with my singing lately. How does it feel to revisit or continue to play old material from a time when you felt like a very different person? Do you have to put yourself into a specific state of mind to perform it? When I play older material, it’s honestly like I become the same person I was when I wrote those things. It’s interesting how the material takes on new meaning, and it kind of changes what it means when I sing it. That’s one thing I

“I think we released the tape and did a release show, and then like two months later I went to a rehab. So the music in general… is really painful for me. It’s really difficult for me. I think the experience of writing and recording Dream Center while secretly under the influence of hard drugs around very sweet and well-meaning people really left marks on my creative consciousness.” love about the solo music, as years go on songs take new meaning. That’s one thing that helps when I perform older material. You have to trust in the new meaning. It’s hard to articulate that to someone who is not me. It’s about finding the similarities and all of the differences between who I am now and who I was then. The intention has changed in some of the songs, especially when I perform them live. One thing that’s interesting for me performing songs is, the songs are the constant in this life that is always changing.

As far as working on new material, the process is very slow for me. Since I’m a solo performer now, I work at home or at the practice space. This is what it’s been like the last few years of writing new music. I’ll play guitar or sing for an hour, not really knowing what I’m doing, or doing old stuff. Then eventually—typically between an hour and an hour and a half—I arrive to the place of where the new thing is. It’s different from warming up. Psychologically there’s a change that happens. I’ll suddenly arrive at this place where new creativity can happen. I just kind


“It’s about finding the similarities and all of the differences between who I am now and who I was then. The intention has changed in some of the songs, especially when I perform them live. One thing that’s interesting for me performing songs is, the songs are the constant in this life that is always changing. ” of know when it’s right. I think for most creative people, it involves many many hours spent banging your head against the wall until something shakes loose. It’s so cool when it does, haha. Recently I have a new batch of songs that are dealing with the death of a friend. That’s honestly a whole other set of difficulties. How does one move forward? You write songs to deal with the trauma, and you grow to love the songs in a sense because you love the trauma because it’s a part of you. With this batch of newer material about my friend who has passed, I kind of want to get it out quickly, record it, and then move on. I think I’m at that place to let go. But it’s going to be like another six months of working on it. For me it’s a slow process. I’ve also made structure in my life in a way where I don’t need to work quickly. I’m not putting any pressure on myself to work in anyway I don’t feel comfortable. What do you think separates the music scene you were a part of in LA when you started out and the music scene you’re a part of now? What qualities about LA impact the music that is made here? I think my relationship to it has changed. I think my perspective has changed—I would hope it has. There’s always younger people doing cool shit. I feel like there’s always going to be a young scene. It’s an energetic, sprawling city. That always means there’s going to be beautiful young music culture. We live in a place that’s


endless in so many ways. Having lived in dense urban areas in Los Angeles for like 12 years now, I feel like I’m still figuring it out. It’s never not going to be an exciting place for music. It always has been. There are obviously different trends. It doesn’t really matter what I think of them, haha. But it’s never stagnant, and I think that we can always trust that no matter what venues close, or what label stops operating, or how we get our music, or how we get paid for our music—none of that will change the fact that there is always going to be brilliant new music to be heard and enjoyed. The people who care about the music industry changing—I don’t give a fuck about them. This is such an exciting time. I really love Los Angeles. It’s interesting to see how people grow old in the music communities in Los Angeles. People become artists, or chefs, or even very successful musicians, haha. I see myself as one of those people who is definitely a “lifer.” I’m definitely not going to stop making music, no matter how badly I want to. It’s been my identity at times when my identity made absolutely no sense to me. When I haven’t known what the fuck is up with ever other aspect of my life, music was always the constant. It’s always served as a guide, even in the stupidest or darkest of times. What are you working on at the moment that you can talk about? So there’s a sound art piece that I’m doing for your gal-

“I’m definitely not going to stop making music, no matter how badly I want to. It’s been my identity at times when my identity made absolutely no sense to me. When I haven’t known what the fuck is up with ever other aspect of my life, music was always the constant.” lery show, haha. I want to record a short album. This has been the goal since the last album. I just need to release new music sooner than later. I’ve been telling myself that I’ve been in this gestation period, figuring out what kind of artist that I want to be. It’s hard to know how to present yourself as a 31-year-old guitarist, or to even want to be one, haha. But I think I’m doing exactly what I should be doing with the guitar and voice. I need to do it on my own terms, which means that I’m going to have to record it. I’m thinking like eight songs would be good. I’ll probably just put it on Bandcamp and maybe do a tape release. I’m not actively seeking labels. I’m not really eager to jump into that world again. The material has gotten really far out lately, especially the stuff I’ve recorded thus far. I love to play live. It’s really cool to notice the silence in a room when I perform. It’s like a weird super power, haha. It just helps me. Performing just helps my mental state—I need to perform at least once a month. But my plan is just to keep on working as I have been. I think I’m nearing the end of this kind of painful period of self-discovery, grieving former selves, and grieving other people. Are there any projects you’d like to embark on that you don’t have the time or money for at the moment? I would love to make some sort of visual film kind of thing. But I’m not really pursuing that in any way, haha. I do work with my roommate Liz (Quezada-Lee). We’ve both been

kind of going crazy with viciously opposing schedules. But it’s this project called Kyrie and it’s electronic sample-based music with poetry and spoken word. It’s very pretentious, haha. But I fucking love pretense. It would be cool to work on that a bit more than we have. I think there’s also a big visual element to my work that is just kind of housed in my abstract instagram, haha. But for me, it’s the same thing as the music. What do you feel like you still struggle with as an artist? What hurdles do you see ahead of yourself that you want to overcome? My biggest asset and my biggest obstacle is my own mind, which is this waring hell-scape, haha. I’ve been doing a lot of work recently to overcome a lot of what I’ve been struggling with. That’s going to be ongoing for the rest of my life. I think I’m always going to grapple with being “a musician” haha. It sucks! I hate telling people that I’m a musician. There are just so many connotations and it’s such a trope. I just don’t want to be misunderstood. I think there’s people who know I do music and there’s the people who’ve seen me perform and they seem to have two different opinions of me. I’ve seen people who learn, “Oh Michael does music. Cool.” and they’ve never heard any of it, but then they’ll see me perform and they’ll be like, “Oh my god… What? Okay.” It’s just funny how they view me differently. I’ve seen it happen a couple times over the last few years. I think to see me play a show is to really know what I’m all about. It’s me at my best.




Chicago based multi-media designer and artist, Crystal Zapata, explores process and motion through her focused profes-

sional work and experimental personal work. Coming from a background of dance and collage, Crystal has approached design with resourceful techniques and a deep appreciation for movement. While studying at Columbia College, Crystal carefully amassed an arsenal of both digital and analog skills, which she makes an effort to utilize throughout her work. After graduating Crystal was welcomed to the team at the esteemed Chicago design studio, Normal, where she and her fellow designers have employed their unique sensibilities to designs for local and national clients. In addition to her work with Normal, Crystal has taken on an array of personal projects and freelance design work, creating tactile, risk-taking work for musicians, clothing brands, and editorial publications.

Like many of her peers, Crystal has come up in an era of design when the financial woes of print media has coincided

with the limitlessness of digital media. Although the communities and processes of art and design have quickly become more digitized, Crystal has been persistent about experimenting with physical materials and collaborating with local peers. One of her most consistent clients, a bi-monthly dance party at the Hungry Brain in Chicago called Bricktown Sound, has given her the opportunity to regularly expand her work in a low stakes setting. I first came across Crystal’s work through the designs she’s done for Chicago bands like Lala Lala and Resavoir, and I’ve always loved her ability to reaffirm another artist’s sound through visual art. Her motivation to problem solve and work outside her comfort zone is admirable in an industry fraught with people taking the safe way out. While visiting Chicago, I paid Crystal a visit at her home in Logan Square, and we discussed presenting work to clients, the power of collaboration, and the value of experimentation.

Where are you from and where do you live currently? I’m from Skokie, which is a suburb of Chicago, and I now live in Chicago. Skokie is still on the CTA, which is the public transportation here. It’s on the yellow line, which is the train with only two stops. It’s still access-able from the city, so it’s not too far away. But it is a Suburb. What role in your life did art have while you were growing up there? Did living so close to Chicago impact the access you had to things when you were younger? Or did the internet have a bigger impact on what you saw? I feel like I always sought out something other than what I was getting in my physical existence on the internet. I didn’t really have friends who were interested in art in the way that I was, or interested in music the way that I felt I was. Even clothing was like that. It was exciting for me to go online and discover that there were communities of people who were dressing in ways that I felt excited about, or were making work that I had never seen before. I also really loved magazines and going to the bookstore was a really important time for me to discover things on my own. So I was just always looking for something else, and I didn’t think that anything that I wanted to be a part of was accessible at that point. Especially being a young person—how do you really find a community of people

like the same music as you if you don’t go to school with anybody who likes that music? I guess you log on, haha. I remember being really obsessed with Nylon in like 2008. I still have the first one that I bought. Scarlett Johansson is on the cover, and it was when she was trying to be a musician, so she’s posing with this electric guitar. But Courtney Love, Kim Gordon, and all of these other really cool people were in that issue. I was just so excited about it and I was just like, Who are these people? I can’t believe this exists. I want to learn more and be a part of it. But I didn’t know how because I lived in Skokie. At least I had the magazine! Once you started using the internet more and starting having an awareness of some sort of “counterculture,” what were some of the platforms that you used? Was the internet mainly a resource for you to find stuff at the time, or did it eventually become a place that you put your work and ideas as a teenager? Definitely both, but it started out as a place that I was finding stuff. I remember being on MySpace and hearing Uffie for the first time when I was in middle school, haha. I had never heard anything that sounded like it before and I thought it was so cool and exciting. At the time Nylon was also doing these video podcasts. A lot of websites use to do video podcasts or blogs, and they would up-


“My dad is a dancer and my mom is actually a graphic designer... My mom collected ephemera and paper and kept materials around the house. They were definitely very encouraging of everything.” load them to the iTunes store, and I would download them and put them on my iPod Classic and watch them before I went to sleep, haha. Nylon had done an Ed Banger Records garage sale video in Paris, and I was like, Wow, this is so crazy. I’m sure if I watched that video now, I would be like, Wow, this is stupid. It was basically just two well dressed people going to a garage sale where people were on the street just selling stuff. But it felt so exciting. People were gathering around a record label. A woman with really cool hair and a smokey voice was telling me about it. I thought, How do I become friends with her? Where did she get those shoes? She thrifted them? I’ve never heard of that. But yeah, I feel like the internet introduced me to these really fascinating aspects of culture that I didn’t have access to or think about as a young person. I feel like people who grow up in the city obviously have a different world view. They have access to different music and clothing. But people don’t dress weird in Skokie, haha. The internet definitely makes the world smaller.

of everything. I also took art classes at this community space, the Evanston Art Center, which is this art center in an old house on Lake Michigan. I think I just went once a week on Saturday morning. I remember I made this big pair of scissors out of cardboard and duct tape, haha. I think the assignment was to make a small object large— I’m sure we were looking at Claes Oldenburg or something, haha. I was definitely encouraged to experiment with materials there. I’ve always had an interest and an eye for looking at things around me and being like, Oh, that piece of trash has an interesting shape, haha. Once you were in high school, did you start making your own work more regularly? What mediums did you move towards when you were that age?

I was heavily into my art class in high school. I think many people who are artists as adults were very into their high school art community or social circle. At the time I was making photo collages out of found imagery and weird materials that I came across. I remember seeing paint that had dried onto the paint roller pan, peeling it off, and Did you have any sort of formal art training as a kid? noticing that is had this really nice dot texture and that it Did your parents encourage you to make art early on? was very malleable. So I used that in a piece and glued some photos on it. I was also heavily influenced by Tumblr. I remember looking at vintage stock imagery and old Yeah! My dad is a dancer and my mom is actually a issues of national geographic that my high school had graphic designer. I studied dance when I was a kid. My collected and no one had touched in years. I was very mom collected ephemera and paper and kept materials into that and the cannon of Tumblr collages, haha. I was around the house. They were definitely very encouraging also really into painting. I remember trying to make photo


realistic body parts. There was no real conceptual driver for that work, but I was just like, Hmm, I wonder if I can paint that. That was a really funny time. I started dancing when I was a toddler in ballet class. Then I did it all the way up until I was 18, and I stoped when I went to college because there just weren’t enough hours in the day. Dance still definitely informs what I do now too. It helped a lot with my understanding of space. What were your prospects for the future while you were finishing high school? At what point did you decide you wanted to pursue art further into your adulthood?  I was actually really interested in becoming a fashion journalist. It goes back to downloading those vlog podcasts on my iPod—Style.com use to make these incredible runway summaries where Tim Blanks would interview people who went to runway shows. I still love Tim Blanks. I realize he’s an incredible writer now that I’m reading his articles and not just watching his Style.com videos. But at the time I was so obsessed with clothes—and again, I think that really had to do with the idea of looking like you were a part of some sort of counter-culture or outwardly letting people know you were a part of some sort of community through the way that you dress. That’s one of the really exciting things about fashion. I wanted to do that, so I was looking at schools that offered a fashion program and a journal-

ism program. Somehow, the only schools that were within the price range that I was looking at were mostly state schools. So I did a lot of college visits at state schools, and with each one I went to, something felt horribly off. My mom was really adamant about helping me find the right place, but I just felt like none of the options were really going to work. I had applied to Columbia College in Chicago as sort of a last minute decision, just in case I decided to go to an art school. I kind of had a crisis and was like, “I cannot see myself going to any of these state schools.” and the only art school that I applied to was Columbia, so I ended up going there and studying graphic design. It was a really crazy experience going to that school. They have an open admission policy which brings in all sorts of different people. What did you end up focusing on while you were there? What was your perception of the student body and the school as a whole while you were there?  It was interesting. I always felt like I was overdoing things. I felt like was trying too hard, haha. Some people cared, but not everyone cared. It was always really discouraging for me, because I would work really hard on projects. We would always have critiques at the end of a project and I would always make an effort to say something about everyone’s work, even if I hated it. That’s why we were there—to have a discussion—and we wouldn’t gain anything unless we talked about the work. Even if

“Especially being a young person—how do you really find a community of people like the same music as you if you don’t go to school with anybody who likes that music? I guess you log on, haha.”


“I still feel like I’m trying to push the boundaries in some way with the work I do, but I don’t think that school really promoted that ideology. I think a lot of what was taught was very traditional and rooted in trying to encourage you to commodify the work that you’re doing and make it more attractive to an ad agency or something.” it’s something positive I’m trying to say about something I ultimately don’t like, it’s still important to have some sort of exchange. What’s the point of going to school if we’re not? School is about talking and discussion more than anything else. There was a point where we were supposed to make a publication, and I worked so hard on my publication. I interviewed all of these people, and did handwritten interviews where I wrote all of the questions and sent them to them and they would fill it out and I’d scan it all in. I took photos of people. It ended up being 100 pages, even though the requirement for the project was like 15 pages. I was so proud of it, and I was mostly just excited to be doing it. I brought it to class and went through the critique of the other 15 people and said something to everyone. Then we got to mine, and no one said anything. I had to walk out because I was so upset. I would have been happy if someone said even one thing like, “The title is in red, but I thought it could be in blue.” or something. But no one said anything, and that was really discouraging. I felt like everyone was very disengaged and like I wasn’t on the same page as anyone there in terms of what I was trying to do. 


I still feel like I’m trying to push the boundaries in some way with the work I do, but I don’t think that school really promoted that ideology. I think a lot of what was taught was very traditional and rooted in trying to encourage you to commodify the work that you’re doing and make it more attractive to an ad agency or something. Columbia is a school that will teach you how to get a job at an ad agency, and that’s how it felt being there. I was always really sad because I was interested in doing a lot of different stuff, and I couldn’t really get down with that. While you were going there and feeling some discouragement from the faculty and student body at the school, what was encouraging you to keep making stuff. Were you active in an online community or a music community at that point? Were there other people who were receptive to the work you were making?  To be honest, I was just really excited about all of the resources that I had. In college you have everything. We had all of these different printers. I got into screen printing t-shirts because I took a one day silkscreen workshop and all of a sudden I had access to making t-shirts, and posters, and whatever. That was really cool. I took a furniture making class which allowed me to use the wood-shop

and I was so excited about that. Just learning how to use different tools and gaining knowledge in different disciplines and crafts was the thing that was driving me. That’s still something that drives me—I’m always really excited to learn how to do something new. Back then pretty much everything was accessible to me in school, so I was super excited and felt really blessed to have all of these tools to make whatever I wanted. There wasn’t really any pressure either, since no one really cared, haha. Did you discover any work or artists that left a big impression on you while you were in school? Was there anything that you were exposed to for the first time that impacted the work you made? I did take a photography class with this artist Chris Meerdo, and he really introduced stuff to us that no other professor was really showing us. The curriculum at Columbia is very heavily based on 20th Century design and art. You take art history and you take 20th Century communication design if you’re a graphic designer. You don’t really learn about contemporary anything, which I think is frustrating. That professor was really adamant about showing us things that were happening in art and photography in the present day. He was also very encouraging and liked weird shit. He shared theory around everything, so that became an exciting new approach for me. I think at other art institutions and other art schools in general, that’s part of the dialog. But I think Columbia maybe needs a little refresh. Having him as a teacher really changed a lot for me, and it allowed me to start seeing the context of my work in a different way.  I had never read art theory before, and reading it for the first time was kind of crazy. It definitely pushed me to think about my own identity and make work about it. It made me think about the work that I wanted to make at that point and reflect on culture, instead of just making things in a vacuum or making things for a client. I wouldn’t call it a dichotomy because I don’t think it’s so black and white— but there’s a side of me that has to make money and has to do work for clients and there’s a side of me that thinks, Well how far can I push this person to let me make something crazy looking and still pay me for it. I definitely made some good friends in college—friends who I still see now. It’s funny because, I think if you still live in Chicago after going to school around the time that I went to school, you have no choice but to be friendly with one another. I think for many people Chicago is a very transient place. You come here for a few years or for school, and your plan all along is to leave. But for the people who still live here, it feels like we’ve bonded in a way because we’re still around. I think that the art and music community in Chicago is like nowhere else. It’s so rich and people work really hard and are very supportive of one another. People make a point to show up for one another. There are a few people who I met in college whose

work I still feel very strongly about. I feel drawn to them and I love them. It’s cool to grow up with people in that way and all meet each other at a vulnerable time when no one knows what’s happening. Everyone is making work, but they’ll all probably feel embarrassed by it in like five years, haha. How do you think your work changed as you were leaving school? Once you were out of school, did you have fears about the industry you were entering into?  My work has changed in a really huge way. I think I was really optimistic about making weird looking things when I left school, and I now have a very good understanding of limits and the politics behind decisions. I understand what it takes to make something crazy and how difficult that really is. It’s never just one person making a decision or signing off. It’s always a team of people. I now understand that that is very much a reality.  Being in school, you have no experience with clients. You have no experience with trying to sell an idea to somebody in a realistic way. Now I just understand the importance of walking someone through an idea and having them on the side of understanding my thought process. It’s hard when you just show someone something and say, “I made this for you. Hope you like it.” rather than explaining the context or helping them understand why you made what you made. It’s good to have the person be on your side. It’s more than being a skilled designer—it’s important to be good at explaining things, communicating, and being friendly with the people you’re working with. Those are the things that are really important. Having ideas and designing are really important too. But at the end of the day, if you don’t know how to explain something you made… you’re fucked! I don’t think I understood that in school.  In school I was very interested in aesthetics and color and style and vanity. But now I’m much more interested in how I can get someone on my team so that we can make something together and both be happy. If I’m happy and they are really upset, I’ve failed. If they are happy and I’m not happy with the product, we’ve still failed. It’s a lot more about compromise. Definitely! Constantly making compromises seems to be a big part of being a designer. It also seems like there are a lot of politics around who clients are willing put faith into for unconventional ideas. It seems like there is a degree of respect that has to be earned to be given trust and creative authority as a designer. Sometimes it even seems like designers try to earn that respect by either constantly making compromises and being accommodating to clients or being so uncompromising and demanding so early on that clients characterize you as a “visionary.” But I’m sure that garnering that respect can be complicated too


when you are a young designer or when you represent a point of view that hasn’t always been taken seriously in the design world. Sometimes I also have to divorce myself from the situation and accept that whatever the end product is going to be, it’s probably not going to be something that I’m excited about. In those cases I just treat it as work. Not every single thing that I make is something that I can strongly stand by. I don’t think that’s the case for anyone. Sometimes, what starts out as a really exciting idea can easily devolve into my worst nightmare. I also think its frustrating when people think that they want something weird, and then you show them something weird, and then they decide that they don’t want something weird. It’s more like the proximity of the thing to you is what makes it weird, but the end product is not. That sucks. What were some of the first jobs you did after school? Were you freelancing before working with the studio you work for now? I started working at Normal immediately after I graduated from school. It was a pretty smooth transition honestly. It just gave me a good rhythm to go off of in terms of work-

flow, how to talk to a client, and how the process of making something goes. Of course I was also making small things for friends and people who approached me at the time, but I didn’t really have a serious freelance practice until a little bit later on. Some friends of mine have this party called Bricktown Sound which takes place at a bar called The Hungry Brain which is a jazz club. The parties take place twice a month, usually the DJs spin vinyl, and it’s a really good time. They asked me to start making posters for them which really blew things open for me. They have never asked me to change a poster. That’s always a really amazing client to have and a really good relationship to have. When there’s a steady thing that allows you to explore what you’re interested in at the time, you can experiment with things that you otherwise wouldn’t have the means or content to play with. It’s nice to have information to play around with and to have a project that can be totally open. I think more than anything, that has really allowed me to explore graphic design in a way that I probably wouldn’t have if I didn’t have Bricktown Sound. Having a graphic design job, you’re performing the task at hand for very specific clients. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun while you’re doing it, but there are parameters right away. But with this project, there are no parameters other than the information I have to put on it.

“It’s nice to have information to play around with and to have a project that can be totally open. I think more than anything, that has really allowed me to explore graphic design in a way that I probably wouldn’t have if I didn’t have Bricktown Sound.”


How did you get involved with the studio you work at, Normal, and how does that collective of designers typically operate? Normal started with my boss, Renata Graw, and Alexa Viscius who’s a photographer and designer. I had been following Alexa and Renata’s work for a couple years. I always really admired their approach to graphic design. One day a professor of mine pulled me and another person in my class aside and told us they were looking for an intern. I was just like, Oh really? I NEED to get that internship. So I emailed them, we had a meeting, and Renata offered me the internship right there. Alexa left and she’s fully freelance now, and Tim Curley joined the team. So now it’s Renata, Tim and I and our office manager/vibe keeper Noël (Morical). For the most part, we pass things around. If we’re starting a new project and someone approaches us and needs an identity or wants merchandise designed, we’ll each do one. We’ll each get our own ideas out and reconvene at the end of the day and have a discussion about what’s working and what’s not working. Then we’ll go back and narrow it down. The process feels very organic. I think having that openness promotes a positive working environment. What has it been like working with your colleagues there? What have you started thinking about since working there that has affected your work? Renata has a unique way of looking at things, is very observant, and is really good at communicating with people. She’s great at showing how an idea grows and develops. I think more than design, she’s really taught me how to show things to people. It’s such an important skill to have, and no one talks about that—the art of sharing your ideas. Thinking about that has really changed my ability to work with the types of people that I work with. Showing people what I’m looking at to come to a conclusion is much more powerful than showing an end product. I don’t think I really would have learned that unless I worked with her. I’m still really afraid of presenting and speaking in front of an audience, but I’ve learned a lot from watching her and people’s reactions.  Something I really love about your work is that you’re really great at integrating all of these different parts of your creative practice into your work. Whether it’s photography, collage, or digital design, you always find a way to seamlessly integrate different techniques into a singular piece. Sometimes when people attempt that, a piece can feel really overworked or unfocused, but you’re really good at finding a balance between multiple elements. How do you go about incorporating different parts of your practice into you work? I just love a lot of different things, so I like being able to use a photograph I took five years ago for a poster that I’m


making today. I like putting different things that I appreciate on the page and figuring out what unifies them. It’s a lot about playing with the balance. There’s really no concrete process for me. I really do take a long time to try different things until something feels balanced. I also always have to sleep on anything that I make. I think when I’m looking at something for so long I get into a habit of criticizing it as I go. I think anything starts out judgement free, but once you start working on a file for eight hours, you’re like, Okay, I have to fucking finish this. I could move all of these things around the page for ten years and still go on for another ten years. So I like to move things around, get a general rhythm, and look at it the next day. Chances are, I’ll realize, that I just have to move this up, make this thing bigger, and then it’s done! If I hadn’t stopped myself from working on it the night before, I would have gone for another six hours and never come to that conclusion. I think looking at things with fresh eyes is so important to me. That has become a big part of the creative process. What percentage of your work employs digital techniques and what percentage employs analog techniques? What do you find helpful about the limitlessness of digital techniques or the limitations of analog techniques? How do you avoid feeling trapped in one or the other? I don’t know if I could easily put a number on analog vs digital. But, especially when it’s something for Bricktown Sound or it’s a totally open brief, I’ll try to see what comes to me first. Then I’ll go through the options in my head and figure out how to execute it. I don’t know if it’s necessarily about trying to strike a balance between something organic and something digital, I think it’s more that I only know how to do certain things in an analog or digital way. Like, I can’t draw something on the computer and make it look like oil pastel. If I want it to look messy, or I want it to look like oil pastel, I have to do it with oil pastels. If that’s what the vision is, that’s what I have to do. If I want something to look like it was shot on film, I’m going to shoot it on film. I’m not going to put a light leak filter on it. That feels so bad to me, or like you’re telling a lie. So I think it just comes from getting an idea and then figuring out how to execute it. I’ll go through the tools I have in my mind and go through the aesthetics that I’m trying to express in the thing, and then I’ll decide how to make it. I only know how to do so many things too. I’m really bad at 3D rendering— I don’t know how to do that. So if I want something to look three dimensional, I have to make it in real life and then take a picture of it. I think it’s just about grappling with my skills and interests, the archive of things I have already, and the materials I have in front of me, to get to that end result. I think it’s really important to understand the process it takes to make something look a certain way and to realize how much you can continue to experiment throughout the process. I feel like, because of

“I think graphic design, in a lot of ways, has become a way for me to explore materials instead of graphic design aesthetics.” how much the internet and technology allows us to accomplish a specific look or effect without thinking about it too much, people often forget to experiment or incorporate their own style during the process as well. Sometimes digital tools get us to focus so much on the end result that we don’t consider what we can fuck with on the way to getting there.

that! That’s just not cool to me. I don’t know, I think I might just be a skeptic when it comes to computers. I mean, I love computers and I love the internet—as I’ve made clear in this conversation—but I definitely feel like a skeptic when it comes to computer “styles” and the abilities of the computer. There’s no physical return when you’re doing things in that way.

Totally! It feels very unnatural to try to fake something. For some of the things that I make, I like printing on everyday objects. I could easily just multiply text on to anything and have it look like I printed on it. But that’s not exciting to me at all. It doesn’t make me feel anything. It actually makes me feel depressed. Anyone can photoshop a word onto this glass I’m holding, but it’s way crazier if I figure out a way to actually do it. Digital short cuts feel discouraging because it’s not exciting to do. I think graphic design, in a lot of ways, has become a way for me to explore materials instead of graphic design aesthetics. It’s way more exciting for me to have a material exploration with a plastic bag. I’d rather try to print on a plastic bag and have it not work, than try to make photoshop text look realistic on a plastic bag. People might think it’s cool that it looks like I printed on a plastic bag, but I know I didn’t actually do

How have you maintained a personal practice while you make art professionally? What do you think separates the work that comes out of each side of your work? Umm… I’m basically just addicted to working, haha. I’ve definitely made a really big effort to make actual leisure time for myself. But having graphic design practice as a full time job and also trying to have a real art practice is really insane. I haven’t been able to really work on the art that I’m interested in, but I’ve been making commercial art, and even that has eaten into my leisure time in a major way. I’ve been saying “No” to things. That’s really how to find a balance. You just can’t do it all. Sometimes it’s not worth it to do it all either. After devoting 40 hours a week to my studio job, I only have so much other time to spend


on other things. I get emails to work on things that I’m like, “I could never say ‘No’ to this!” But at the same time, I just picture myself on the edge of a cliff looking down at all of the work I have to do how little time this is to do it all. Where does it end!? It never ends! Unless I want it to and I say “No.” So I think I’ve just tried to put a lot of time and energy into my own creative practice, because it really is so important to me. I’ve also learned that I need to have limits for myself in order to have that work flourish in anyway. If your work becomes work all of the time and you’re not enjoying it, what’s the point?  What have been some of your favorite projects to work on? What have you had the opportunity to make that you feel super proud of?  Working on merch for Pitchfork’s festival was huge for me. I’ve been going to Pitchfork since I was a teen since I grew up here. It was always such an exciting thing to look forward to. Not having a community of people in Skokie that were interested in what I was interested in, and then being able to physically see the amount of people who were showing up for a certain band was really exciting. As a 16-year-old, listening to something in solitude and then going to a place and seeing hundreds of people singing along is such a moving experience to have. So making merch for Pitchfork was really really cool. That was a very exciting moment for me.  I really like when people come to me with open prompts because that is really challenging. The times that people have, I feel like I can produce something exciting. I made

a poster for Crack magazine that felt really good. I was really excited about it because Crack is distributed in a lot of different places and it’s printed on newsprint. I felt like it was something that if I was 15 and found it, I would want to take it out and put it on my wall. Some random kid DM’d me on Instagram and sent a photo of the poster. They were like, “Wow, this is so cool! I’m definitely putting this in my room.” which felt really cool. I did the album artwork for my boyfriend’s band called Resavoir. That was actually a really difficult process. It was during the transition from winter to spring. It was a really open brief—kind of, haha. Will (Miller) lives here, so there would be moments where we would talk about a concept and I’d work on it for like two days straight, and I already knew that it wasn’t going to work. During those two days I’d be like, “No, I can’t go out of socialize right now, because I have to work on this thing and you need it by Friday.” Then he’d come back and say, “Yeah… I don’t really like that…” and I’d be like, “I don’t either! It’s just not working.” So that was a really interesting process for me, but I think the end product feels really good. It feels exciting to be able to work on something with someone who I love and have a different relationship with. It’s kind of a crazy experience, haha. But it was exciting because I respect him as an artist in a huge way. Being able to share that was important to me. Honestly, even just one off posters that people hit me up to do sometimes end up being things that really change the way that I want to make things. It’s hard to narrow it down to a couple things that I feel excited about, because I often feel excited about everything.

“It feels exciting to be able to work on something with someone who I love and have a different relationship with. It’s kind of a crazy experience.”


“Working on merch for Pitchfork’s festival was huge for me. I’ve been going to Pitchfork since I was a teen since I grew up here.” A big portion of the design work you do is for music clients. What do you think is the role of visual art that accompanies music? What is important to think about when you’re creating images that are meant to sell or promote or compliment music? Is it ever hard to determine what something that sounds a certain way should look like? Yeah! This question is funny. Flyer culture is something

that I’ve always held near and dear to me. It’s important that it lives on through the digital age. At one point flyers were printed out—they still are in some cases—then put up in a coffee shop or bar window or you’d see them on the street. But now there’s this different way of consuming them. I think sometimes I’m very adamant about representing someone in a way that I see true. With someone like Lillie (West), I find it’s really easy to make things for her, but I think it’s largely because I know Lillie and I un-


derstand certain things she’s attracted to. I can look at myself and try to interpret something that I’m interested in through Lillie’s lens or vice versa. I find it really easy to make things in that way because I know and love Lillie and I want to make something that feels true to her.

I always try to listen to the music and get a mood going. I think a lot of times, whatever I produce is really just trying to interpret a feeling. Obviously the number one point of inspiration for working with a musician—you have to listen to the music and then figure out the rest.

Sometimes a person will approach me and I’ll feel like I have nothing in common with them and I feel like I hold different values than them and I’m finding it very difficult to get inspired by something that feels true to them, but also feels true to me. Sometimes I sort of go through solutions in my head or brainstorm with myself, and I end up not knowing that to do. At that point I think I sometimes produce a visual that just feels true to them. I think sometimes in my head I see that I need to compromise. Coming to that middle is so hard… Also, pretty much 90 percent of the times that musicians approach me with a flyer or a t-shirt job, they need it in a week. That is not enough time for me to make a gorgeous balance of my identity as a designer and their identity as a musician.

What direction do you see your work going in the future? What is informing the changes that are happening in the work you’re making now? I recently got a sewing machine, which I’m super excited about. It seems like the logical next step for me. I was making a lot of furniture at the end of college because I had the resources to make furniture. Now I don’t have access to saws anymore and the materials are really expensive. Also the world is burning, so why the fuck do I need to buy new materials? I don’t! I can use old materials. I also just don’t need another chair in my apartment, haha. As much as I love chairs and form and making three dimensional things, I’ve been thinking about how I can reframe that. So I got a sewing machine and have been going to the thrift

“Sometimes I sort of go through solutions in my head or brainstorm with myself, and I end up not knowing that to do. At that point I think I sometimes produce a visual that just feels true to them. I think sometimes in my head I see that I need to compromise. Coming to that middle is so hard…”


“I also want to get over the moment in the process where I’m just criticizing myself as I go... It’s very easy to get caught up in your own thoughts and insecurities when you’re working alone.” store and finding large pieces to take apart and make into other things. So I’m interested in making more clothes and making more wearables. Are there any projects you’d like to embark on that you just don’t have the time or money for at the moment? Yes, there are, haha. It’s always just random things. It’s my dream to design an egg slicer. My favorite kitchen tool is an egg slicer, so I’d love to design one. I’d love to have the time to just make clothes and furniture all day. I’d love to have the time to make graphic designs for all my friends for free. It’s more like a dream lifestyle. What do you still struggle with as an artist and what hurdles do you still see ahead of yourself?

at saying “No” to things that I think will deter from those interests. I want to be better at standing up for myself too. I think that the business side of art is really boring and something that we all have to deal with. It’s a very harsh reality that I had never thought about until I had to actually deal with it. I also want to get over the moment in the process where I’m just criticizing myself as I go. I would love to be less critical of myself. It’s very easy to get caught up in your own thoughts and insecurities when you’re working alone. Having someone to talk to during the process is really helpful. But I would love to be able to get to a point where I don’t have to have an argument with myself before I make something.

I think I just need to be more honest with myself and what I like and what my interests are. I also need to be better



For almost a decade Nnamdi Ogbonnaya has been an integral resource and spirit for the DIY music communities in

and around Chicago. Courageously taking on the roles of show promoter, venue operator, label owner, producer, band-member, and solo performer throughout his career, Nnamdi has had his hand in every imaginable aspect of music production. Growing up in the South Suburbs, Nnamdi was exposed a wide range of musical influences from disparate parts of his world, with everything from 2000s radio hip-hop, to Mid-West emo, to his parents Nigerian Christian music leaving a lasting impression on him. With an itch to entertain and a need for a therapeutic creative outlet, Nnamdi quickly began playing in bands, recording his own music, and documenting his local community online as a teenager. After running two house show spaces, playing in dozens of touring bands, and running multiple defunct music promotion projects, Nnamdi has now taken all that he has learned over the past nine years and focused his efforts into his record label Sooper Records and his solo project NNAMDÏ. Despite a rocky journey and several set backs, Nnamdi’s resilience has brought him to one of the most exciting times in his young adult life.

Nnamdi’s holistic attitude about working behind the scenes in music mirrors the all encompassing approach he takes

to making his own music. Since putting out his first solo albums under the name Nnamdi’s Sooper-Dooper Secret Side Project, Nnamdi has amalgamated his various influences and musical trainings to create a sound all his own. Due his immense energy and imagination, it’s much easier for Nnamdi to exercise each of his musical ideas and then edit and organize them until a project reveals itself to him. Drool is his most focused project to date and was released in 2017 through his label and Father/Daughter Records. The visionary LP skillfully juggles Nnamdi’s humor and introspection while balancing all of his musical sensibilities. I saw Nnamdi for the first time a few years back at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn and was captivated by his stage presence and the uncompromising quality of his music. We were connected through our mutual friend, Lillie West, and I joined both on a road trip to Ohio for a Lala Lala show at Oberlin College. In the wee hours of the morning following the show, Nnamdi and I recorded the following conversation from a hotel room a few miles away from the campus.

Where are you from and where do you live currently? I’m from Chicago and I live in Chicago. I was born in LA and I lived in Ohio for a little bit. I’ve lived in the ‘burbs of Chicago—that’s where I grew up. But now I live in the actual city. What role did music play early on in your life? Were you encouraged by your family to play music? Did you take lessons at all while you were growing up? I took piano lessons. Then I started drums in fifth grade. I was in Band from fifth grade until middle school. In high school I was in all of the bands—Symphony Band, Jazz Band, Marching Band. I played drums for all of them. Drums are my main instrument. Out of high school I was playing in bands—mostly drumming. I would play on and off. It was my favorite thing, but I wasn’t really focused… about anything, haha.

What informed the music that you listened to? Did your parents expose you to the music that you listened to, or did you find music through other means? My parents definitely listen to things that maybe subconsciously influenced me, but I wasn’t actively thinking about how it was affecting me at the time. There was a lot of Christian music and old Nigerian Christian music. They were into Bob Marley and The Police too. I grew up in church so, that exposed me to a mixture of gospel, contemporary music, jewish hymns, and all sort of stuff like that. Yeah I feel like church is definitely a place where so many young people end up learning how to play music and perform. I know a lot of the best musicians that I went to high school with initally got into music through their church. Gospel churches have the best musicians. When people tell me “God isn’t real.” I’m just like, “Well… why are all gospel musicians better than anyone else, from the


youngest age?” haha. I’m not like super religious or anything—I grew up religious but I don’t really practice anything. I have my beliefs, but they are not so associated with the church. But I mean, something’s going on! You can’t deny that something’s happening. You’ll see kids that just shed. Like eight-year-old kids that shred harder than 40-year-olds who have been playing for years. Something is going on, whether we know what it is or not. Maybe we don’t need to explain it, but we can appreciate that it’s there. What music left a big impression on you at a young age? Was there anything in specific that convinced you that you could create your own music? In early memories it would be the stuff my brother listened to, I guess. The Black Sabbath stuff. I remember him getting a Beatles album from the library—I think it was Sgt. Pepper’s—and that was a big influence. Also my friend in middle school who I started my first band with was obsessed with The Beatles. I think we talked about it a bit in the car, but I would listen to Radio Disney while simultaneously listening to the hip-hop station. So I’d be listening to like, (singing to the tune of “Mambo No.

5”) A little bit of Minnie by my side, and that would be mixed with (singing to the tune of “In Da Club”) You can find me in the club, bottle full of bub. Also just like horrible Eminem songs where he’s talking about like killing his own mom and shit. So I’d do back and forth between channels and be like, “Damn! This is tight!” haha. It was just a hodgepodge. Once you were finishing high school what were your prospects for making music in the future? Did you want to continue to pursue music in an academic way? Were you already playing in bands at that point? My first band was called The Para-Medics and we were still doing that through high school and after. I had another band that I started in high school called Richard Def and the Mos Pryors, and that was the first time I played guitar and wrote my own songs that I played publicly with a band. So that was really fun for me and definitely got me out of my comfort zone. Before that I was just doing drums. I knew I wanted to do entertainment in some form. I’m super into comedy and acting, and a lot of the stuff I wrote—and still write—have humorous elements in the lyrics or in some way in the music. I was always into com-

My first tour was right after I graduated high school. We left a couple weeks later. I booked it all through MySpace, just messaging bands and venues that I found...

I love learning, I just never liked the class room settings and I never liked looking at a teacher for fucking seven hours a day. edy and I always thought I would do that. That’s all that I was passionate about, but I didn’t see them as viable jobs. No one in my family was like, “Yeah, this is what you should do!” Everyone was supportive of me doing music, but it was never like, “Yeah, you should follow this.” I was just told by everyone, “No, you need to go into something that’s going to make you money.” Parents don’t want you to suffer and they want you to be sustainable, and it’s risky doing anything in the arts. I also have immigrant parents who came here and just had to work. It’s scary for them to realize, Oh you want to make art? That’s a horrible idea. So I got a lot of that. But I think I’ve always wanted to do something in entertainment. Did you have to sort of hide your enthusiasm around pursuing music when you were around your family? Did you have a hard time sharing with them that you were putting all this work into what you were making on your own because of their predetermined ideas about pursuing music? It was kind of impossible to tame once I started realizing how much I enjoyed it. My first tour was right after I graduated high school. We left a couple weeks later. I booked it all through MySpace, just messaging bands and ven-

ues that I found and being like, “Hey, can you help?” I booked a two week tour and it was amazing. After that I was like, “Yeah, I’m gonna keep doing this regardless of what happens.” I started school after, but I never liked school. I love learning, I just never liked the class room settings and I never liked looking at a teacher for fucking seven hours a day. Sitting in a chair and looking at someone tell you things for seven hours with a couple breaks in the middle is not how I learn well. I’m very hands on—I have to actually do it in order to know it. You mentioned to me earlier that you had a sort or roundabout college experience. What schools did you attend and what did you study at each? I first went to Purdue University Calumet for college. I think my parents were around for the first year I was at Purdue Cal. I was studying electrical engineering. I never studied music after high school. I didn’t do well the first year I was at Purdue Cal and I had to re-take a bunch of classes a second time. Then I think by the second semester my parents moved back to California and I stayed in the ‘burbs in the house with my brother who moved back from New York. He had been there for college and stayed for years after. Then my sister finished


I had met so many touring bands and people on that first tour I went on, so I was just inviting people to play. If anyone was like, “Hey I need a stop to play.” I’d be like, “Play my house!” school and also moved in for a little bit. We had a couple house shows while my mom was still there. My dad left to go to California first, and then my mom was gonna meet him later. So we had a couple shows while she was there and they were chill. She was like, I can see all of your friends and see what’s going on. Then once she left we went kind of crazy. I had met so many touring bands and people on that first tour I went on, so I was just inviting people to play. If anyone was like, “Hey I need a stop to play.” I’d be like, “Play my house!” I called it Nnamdi’s Pancake Haus. We would make pancakes—well, my brother would make the pancakes—but I would get all of the credit because I put my name on it. But yeah, we had dope bands. Who played there? This band Dirty Dishes. Grass is Green, which had members from Speedy Ortiz. People on the label Exploding in Sound. This band Tenement, who I fucking love, played one of my favorite shows there. I played a couple of my first solo shows there. We had a lot of shows there. I went to South Suburban College, which is a community college, for a year and I got gen ed’s out of the way. Then I started commuting to UIC (University of Illinois) from


Lansing. It took like an hour or more every day. I’d have to drive to the train station, park, then take the train for an hour. It was a long commute and I was always eager to get off campus just so I could go do music shit. So I was still having shows when I was commuting to UIC. But then my car got stolen at the train station. I finished class one day, took the train back, and went to where I parked my car, and it just wasn’t there. I was like, “Maybe I didn’t park in this spot…” and I searched for an hour. I looked for glass incase maybe someone smashed the window. But someone just finagled their way in and just drove away. They must have hot wired it. So I called and filed a police report. They didn’t do shit and never found it. After that I had to move to the city because it was in the middle of the school year. My brother searched for a place in the city and he found a big warehouse in East Humboldt Park. It use to be an old show space called Lucky Gator Loft. So we got in there and were like, “Yo, this is definitely a place we can have more shows.” So the cycle kind of continued. People already knew that spot and it was big, so we could fill a lot of people in there and we just had bigger and bigger shows. Around then I started a record label with some friends that is now defunct called Swerp Records, so we called it Swerp mansion.

I feel like I was the most depressed while I was at school, but I wrote the happiest music. That was probably my way of coping with how shitty I felt. What do you feel like you learned from organizing shows early on? What hurdles did you have to overcome in running a house venue and why did you decide to stop running a space when you did? I loved it and I’m forever grateful to have run a DIY spot and organize shows. I met a lot of amazing people. A lot of people who I still fuck with today. I think there’s a lot of stigma around making money from your art, especially with punk music and DIY communities. People are kind of hard on themselves in a weird way. People think they shouldn’t charge for their art or think it’s unpunk to. So I kind of just got sick of being broke and living in a place that was messy all of the time. When you run a show spot, no one listens to you. We tried to have a “no drinking” rule, and people hated it. I was just like, “Are you serious? Come on! I live here! I don’t want to clean up beer.” Everyone else drank in the place but me, but we tried to institute that rule so that the house wouldn’t smell like beer the whole time. But no one listened. People feel entitled to your space when you present it to them. I’m just not into that. But I think it’s still cool. It’s just not for me. I love that people have punk houses where you just go there and cut

loose and shit. But I also like having toilet paper, I like having clean bathrooms—I just want to maintain cleanliness all of the time and not have to keep cleaning or policing people. I hate doing that. Now that I’m older I’m just like, “That’s a young man’s game.” Every time I see someone doing it I’m like, “Fuck yeah! I’m so glad you’re doing it, cause I don’t want to.” I still want to be involved in that community and I still want to help in different ways, which is why I ended up starting another record label. If I can’t do the show aspect anymore, I still want to do music and help people who are passionate about music. What changed about the music you were making throughout the time you were in college? How did your personal practice evolve during that time? I feel like I was the most depressed while I was at school, but I wrote the happiest music. That was probably my way of coping with how shitty I felt. I was like, “I’m going to make something fun.” I made three albums. The first one was called BooTy Slices, the second one was called Rotissabooty, and the last one was called Bootie Noir. I would say about 70 percent of each of those records are very goofy, with the other 30 percent being some serious stuff mixed in. During that time period I was mostly writing


goofy, funny things. I would collab with a lot of friends on those records. It’s funny to hear your friends sing about butts and poop and stuff. It was all very silly and immature. But musically… I think it’s some of the most advance stuff I’ve done. But it kind of gets over shadowed by the goofiness. People are just like, “This is goofy.” and don’t realize that there’s a lot going on. Were you just recording yourself at that point? How did you learn how to recorded and how do you approach producing for yourself? Yeah I started with just a karaoke mic plugged into the 1/8 inch jack on my desktop. I would also plug my guitar directly into the computer like that. I would just record that way. Then I got a Snowball mic which is a step up USB microphone that kind of changed the game. I didn’t really have nice gear. I met friends that started recording in college and I would record some stuff with them. But for the majority of the recordings I just used my Snowball mic and I got really into programed music. Not a lot of my earlier stuff had real drums because I just couldn’t make them sound good. What software were you using at the time? Yeah I’d say it’s mostly other music and movies and comedians. Drumming wise, I was super into very sporadic stuff. I was into The Mars Volta. That was a band that like changed my life. When I was into The Beatles and The Who, I was also into Sum 41 and all of that stuff around the same time. But then finding The Mars Volta—that shit fucked me up. Then I found out about a band called Tera Melos and I was just like, I don’t know what music is anymore. It was crazy. Then I tried to rip both of those off for a couple years before realizing, I’m going to try to do something that’s me. It’s like, I have all of these influences, why not try to make something different? Also Frank Zappa! Frank Zappa is probably my favorite musician, because of how smart he is. I love how humorous his music is, but also how intricate and delicate it is. He can make the wackiest, most obnoxious music, and the most beautiful, orchestral shit at the same time. Also the amount of music he produced. He’s got like 70 albums or some shit, and they’re all… insane! They’re all different. So I liked that. I was into emo shit for a while. I really liked American Football. They’re an Illinois band. I was super into weird hardcore stuff. I feel like The Mars Volta led me to looking up weirder stuff. I got into Boredoms and this band called Ruins who were from Japan. I found this band Yowie that literally sounds like a bunch of rubber bands being tugged on. It just led me to all sorts of things. I feel like for a while my mind was mostly focused on “weird but accessible” music. That’s what I wanted to be for a while. I think I finally reached a point of doing that without consciously trying to do it. It was actually just what I would make and it felt like me.

It’s cool that you had access to a music community online as well as a really strong local community. How did you use the internet as a resource early on? What did you learn from online experiences and what did you learn from real life experiences? I was very into Facebook for a while. That’s how I would release all of my albums. I would make a Facebook event and be like, “This album is coming out at this time.” and that day I would post the album on the page and all of my socials. But a majority of it was people I already knew, so it wasn’t as much for expanding to a new audience. But we would get some new people and folks I didn’t know in there every time. I think the way the internet helped most was with booking my first few tours. That’s how I met a lot of people that made me want to keep making music or made me able to see that music was a viable thing that you could actually do. It could be sustainable. Even though I didn’t make any money for like the first seven years I toured, haha. For some of my first tours, I was in this hardcore band called Ittō, and I didn’t have enough money to even go on the tours, so my bandmates would pay for me to go. They were like, “We all really want to go, and we really want you to go. It doesn’t matter to us, we just want to do this.” so they paid for me. I feel like I need to repay those guys—they did so much for me and kind of changed my life and how looked at the world. You’ve played in so many different bands and have been really active in your music community. How has playing in other bands fed back into the music you make on your own? What do you think you’ve learned from playing other people’s music? All of the people I’ve collaborated with in bands—everyone has their different influences, and they’re bringing them all together to try to make a new sound. I feel like I’ve discovered so much music that would have taken me longer to find had I not met all of these people. I hadn’t really listened to that type of screamo or hardcore before I joined Ittō, but I had seen them play. They were a band for a couple years before I joined, but their drummer moved. I saw them a couple times and seeing the way they wrote, I was just like, I don’t know any music like this. This is tight! So when they asked me to do it I was like, “Yeah!” and it was so hard for me to learn that new type of music. But that collaboration has definitely influenced what I listen to now. It’s much broader and much less narrow than if I was just doing shit all by myself all of the time. It’s funny because, I was in a bunch of bands, and now I’m just back to being by myself all of the time. But I have all of that information that I learned along the way that helped form me into this weird goblin creature that’s just in the basement being like, “Eeee! Hit the record button! Must make music!” The things that I make are way different than they would be. I don’t know if “better” is even the right word. It’s just different. I’ve been able to experience


Liana Jegers

I just wasn’t grown enough or invested enough to know how to handle a business. I mostly just wanted to make music and not do the business stuff. It took years of me going to college and touring to understand what musicians need. so many different collaborations and different great musicians I got to play with. How did your label Sooper Records begin? How did the end of Swerp Records inform the beginning of Sooper Records? I didn’t really want to start another label because it would have been my third attempt at starting something like a label. The first thing was just a Facebook group where I was trying to bring everyone in the south suburbs community together and have all of our stuff in one place. But I didn’t really know how to manage it or delegate tasks or anything. The page just kind of turned into everyone being like, “My music! My music!” or there were a lot of ideas that never came into fruition. I kind of just felt defeated, and I was like, “Hey guys. This is not what I wanted. I’m gonna back out of this page.” It sucked so bad. A couple years later I had a friend named Matt Nix who was like, “Yo, you are like the center of this big music community.” Because I was in so many bands at the time, he was like, “I feel like you’re tying a lot of these people together. I feel

like there’s a cool community here, and we should combine it.” I was hesitant at first, but he was so passionate that I was like, “Yeah, let’s do this together.” Swerp was a word I created that was just a word I used to describe my friend’s hair. He had like Ace Ventura hair, so I’d be like, “Hair go swerp!” and then that just ended up being the record label. I was young and I was in school and I was just sad all of the time, haha. It was his idea, but we started it together, and I didn’t contribute anything. I was just passively involved with a lot of it. So that kind of went off the rails. I just wasn’t grown enough or invested enough to know how to handle a business. I mostly just wanted to make music and not do the business stuff. It took years of me going to college and touring to understand what musicians need. It’s mostly just a person to be empathetic and who will listen and just root for them. Someone who will just try basically, haha. You just have to try everything you can possibly do and try to learn as much as possible. But I was just not ready to think like that. I was just wanted to make music whenever I could cause school fucking sucked.


Then the idea for Sooper came about because my friend Glenn (Curran)—he was in a band called Long Face and he wanted to start doing solo music, and he hit me up and was like, “I wanted some help with drumming and coming up with some vocal melodies.” He had all of these lyrics and I was like, “Yeah, I’ll help you!” Then he was like, “I’ll pay you!” and I was like, “Go ahead! Even better! Let’s go!” So he was paying me to do sessions with him and work on these songs. We kind of just hit it off and it was a lot of fun working together. The project was called Man Without a Head and it was his first solo album. But just one day while we were hanging and writing, we just talked about all of the musicians and cool people we know and how much we thought other people needed to hear their music. There are a lot of people who I think are super legendary and talented. He brought up this idea, and I was just like, “Bro, I’ve been there… I’ve been there twice! I can’t afford to have another failure.” Honestly, that was how I was feeling. How exactly did Swerp end? Swerp ended very poorly. It was a handful of things, that

were mostly my fault. Matt, who was the person who started it, rented a van for me for this tour with my band Nervous Passenger and this band from the UK called Johnny Foreigner. We were driving straight to New York and I crashed it immediately. I didn’t have any money, so he ended up paying for it. The people who we rented it from were super pissed. I was like, “I’ll pay you back!” and he was like, “How will you pay me back? You have no money.” I was like “Some day I’ll be able to!” and he was like, “No.” It was not a great situation. So that was the first big thing. Then the second thing was also a car problem. We had a tour coming up for this band Water House that I was playing in and this band My Dad that I was also playing in. We bought this shitty van that we thought would work, and it broke down like half way through the tour. We got stuck in New Jersey, but luckily our bass player’s mom lived in New Jersey so we ended up crashing at her house. We were just stuck there for days just trying to figure out how we were going to fix this car. It ended up being a few grand that our friend’s dad helped pay, But Matt, the label owner, was texting all of us being like, “So what’s the deal? What’s going on?” and we were all just like, “We should just all text him the same thing at

We ended up starting Sooper because Glenn was so sure that this was the right idea. It had been a couple years since Swerp had ended. He was so sure and he was like, “I feel like we could do this!”

We put out my record, which was co-released with Father Daughter. Jessi (Frick) is one of the most amazing people of all time. She helped so much. If we had just done it ourselves, it would not have had the splash that it had. once.” because we all thought it would be funny. And… it was not funny. He was so worried about us and we all texted, “Good, yup!” at the same time. He was like, “Nah, fuck y’all” But it didn’t even end after that. It kind of fell a part when everyone was moving and a lot of different shit. But those were definitely big factors which I take 100 percent responsibility for. I was a dumb, immature idiot. It took a lot of growing up to realize being goofy all the time and joking around is not the best way to cope with every problem. We ended up starting Sooper because Glenn was so sure that this was the right idea. It had been a couple years since Swerp had ended. He was so sure and he was like, “I feel like we could do this!” He’s a lawyer and he’s super smart and super nice. He’s really willing to learn anything he can possibly learn. I was like, “Well, if it’s going to work with anyone, it’s going to be you.” The combination was great. I love learning and everything, but he’s just way faster than I am. I’m very slow paced with a lot of things. Very impatient, but slow paced—also a great combination, haha. But it felt very right. I was at a point in my life where I could actually focus on it and make it a reality. I

think Man Without a Head was the first thing we put out on the label, and it was great! We’ve just been going hard ever since. He works so hard. I’ve never seen anyone work as hard as him, it’s crazy. It kicks my ass to work harder too. When and how did Sen Morimoto get involved with helping to run the label? Well we put out my record, which was co-released with Father Daughter. Jessi (Frick) is one of the most amazing people of all time. She helped so much. If we had just done it ourselves, it would not have had the splash that it had. She did all of the PR for it. We asked her so many questions about running a record label. She pretty much taught us everything through our toddler years. I owe her so much and she’s so sweet. It’s crazy to run a record label for as long as she has!

So after we put my record out, we ended up talking to Sen (Morimoto). I had been collabing with Sen on some silly songs here and there. We ended up talking to him about putting out his record. He had only been living in Chicago


FECKIN WEIRDO was the first album where all of the songs were meant to be together in that order. for like maybe four years. But he was already involved with so much stuff, just because he’s such a chill person and so good at every instrument. Everyone is like, “Yeah, let’s fucking work with this dude!” I think he just knows what ways to approach things. He has a spidey-sense but for good music and good people. I think he can just tell what people we should work with. In the process of putting out his record, we realized it would make sense to have him on board and have him be a part of it. We were going to go so hard behind it too, and he was like, “Yeah, this seems right.” We try to go based off of things that feel right and things that have historically worked. We try to work with talented people who put all of their energy into their art. He puts all of his energy into his own art and art for other people. I love Sen. Going back to your solo music again, what was the process for making your album FECKIN WEIRDO like after releasing the “Booty Trilogy” albums. What did you know you wanted to do differently with that album and what did you learn in the process of making it? I just wanted to make a cohesive album that made sense all throughout. I think the Booty Trilogy albums—none of them were really albums, they were more like a collec-


tion of songs. A couple songs worked together, which is why I am hesitant to just call it a hodgepodge. But over all, it was just a bunch of songs I made around the same time. So I was just like, “Okay, I guess I’ll put them on the record.” So FECKIN WEIRDO was the first album where all of the songs were meant to be together in that order. I thought it was definitely the most accessible thing I had done. I was conscious about not going too overboard with new musicality stuff on that record. I thought it was just a simple, rap/pop record, but it was still all just recorded on my Snowball mic and all of those programs I used. How do you find a balance when you’re incorporating so many different styles and reference points in the music you’re making? How do you utilize different genres to make something new, rather than creating an unfocused amalgamation? I just record all of the different sounds that inspire me. I just record all of my ideas. Currently, the way I write most records is, I’ll record every song idea that comes to my head. Day after day I’ll finish different songs and then I’ll start to notice a pattern in a couple of the songs. I’ll be like, “Oh, this song I wrote two weeks ago and the song I wrote yesterday have similar themes and aesthetics.”

so I’ll put those in a little folder. Then I’ll be like, “Oh this song I wrote four months ago and this songs I wrote last week go together.” and I’ll put those in a folder. Then I’ll start working on more songs that sound like a folder once I have like four or five that make me feel like “Oh, we have a project here.” I’ll start writing the rest of the songs to fit that vibe. If I can’t write songs for that vibe, I’ll just keep writing, and eventually something will happen that will end up in one of the different categories. So I really just have a lot of different albums that are almost done and a few that are done. Once I have all of these songs that go together, I’ll refine the collection to make it a record. It’s an interesting process. I don’t know how anyone else makes music, haha. But that’s how I write records. How do you think your writing developed once you started working on Drool? I think that record was the first record where I decided I wasn’t going to be complacent with what happened. I didn’t want to just be a reactionary person, I was going to take initiative and be more assertive in my decisions. Once I decided to do that, a couple good things happened. I think you can hear it in the lyrics on Drool too—it’s definitely about not going back to old ways, looking at the future, and learning from your past experiences in order to better yourself as a person. That’s constantly what I’m trying to do. I think everyone should be trying to do that. You had a handful of features on that album as well. After so many experiences of being brought into someone else’s music project, how did those experiences affect how you brought people into your project? I still very much don’t… It’s not that I don’t like collabing, it’s just that, once I have an idea, I just want to do it. Unless it’s something like, “I hear this person’s voice right here. This has to happen.” Most of the time it’s very therapeutic for me to just record everything. It’s my therapy. I just want to do all of it, and then it’ll be done. It’s nice to just end up with a finished thing. It makes me feel great to do that, so it’s hard not to. For the most part, I just like making songs. If I wanted to collab I guess I would start a different band, but that’s not really why I’m doing it at this point. You touched on something interesting when you mentioned that recording and making music is your form of therapy. I think that’s definitely true for a lot of artists—especially those whose practices have exists when it was convenient for them and when it was inconvenient for them. Some of the most valuable work to the individual who’s making it can be work that functions that way. But I’m sure turning something that you use as your therapy into your professional pursuit can also have its set backs as well. Yeah! You just have to learn how to have a little bit of

a thick skin. If you’re approaching music in that sense rather than, “I need to do this!” a lot of people can get hurt when people don’t like it. But I just don’t give a shit. I know why I made the songs. I know that the people who like it are going to like it, and the people that aren’t going to like it just aren’t. I never stop to think about the people that aren’t going to like it. I sometimes do stop to think about, How can I involve more people in the enjoyment of it? But I also like to fuck with people, haha. I just want to see what people can endure musically. It’s kind of cool to test the bounds. I saw Tim Kinsella do this song where he just repeated the same line for so long. I watched people go through every phase of emotions. At first people were like singing along. Then after like three minutes people were like, Is he still going to keep doing this? Then after five minutes people were angry. Then after six minutes people started laughing hysterically. Then after like seven minutes it was just dead silent. Then after a while people got back into singing again, and he just stopped the song. It was such a crazy whirlwind. I think art is meant to push boundaries in whatever way. I love art for it’s ability to bring people together, but I also love art for it’s ability to make you think or consider, Maybe I need to reevaluate something about my life. When it comes to alienating people through art, I think it’s often unnecessary in most regards. But sometimes it’ll just make you think. Sometimes an uncomfortable situation will change you. Do you think about your practice as a performer differently from your practice as a composer? Does performing function as a type of therapy the same way that writing and recording do? It’s a different type of therapy. I’m excited about performing, but I don’t think I have ever performed to my best ability, which is not a great thing to think about. I wish I could just enjoy everything in the moment, but a lot of times after a lot of shows, I’m just like, Damn… I can only focus on the few things that I didn’t mean to do. But it is definitely therapeutic. It’s a lot of fun and I like controlling and commanding a crowd, and I like the feeling of bringing them with me. I like situations where everyone is in the moment together—that’s my favorite part. It’s nice to realize, Oh we’re all just doing this one thing together. It’s beautiful. Anytime humans gather together, it’s a powerful thing. Anytime there are people in agreement on something, it’s more likely to get done. I think it’s definitely used in religion, but it’s such a human nature thing. Anytime people agree on something there’s definitely power in that. What frustrations do you have about the current state of music? What makes you still feel optimistic about music? I think the both questions have the same answer. I’m frustrated with what people can get away with musically, and


I’m also very excited about what people can get away with musically, haha. Part of me is just like, Damn! You can just do that, and people love it? I love that in a lot of hip-hop people are allowed to be silly now. I love that you don’t have to be really hard or hood, and I also love that you don’t have to be crazy talented. I love that somethings can just be happen stance too. It’s exciting and it keeps people on their toes. But I also hate that someone who did no work can just surpass people that have been working forever. I’m very mixed on all of that. How has working behind the scene with things like booking shows and running a record label helped open up your mind about the music you make and how you can approach it? I just think about marketing a lot more, which is what corporations do. But it’s so cool to me that people can market themselves in a way that they blow up just because of how they present themselves. I think about that a lot because, if I’m going to be helping people with their music, that’s a very important thing nowadays. With all social media, how you present yourself can make or break different situations. I fucking love unique marketing strategies. I think like Wiz Khalifa released a song on an Oreo. I love stuff like that that makes people pay attention. This dude in Chicago was like, “I’m dropping my album! Nah, I’m literally dropping it. I’m jumping out of a plane with my record.” haha. I forget who did it, but someone in Chicago just did that. I love goofy stuff like that. It just causes people to be more creative. Some people would say, “On one hand, it takes away from the music. Why do you have to do all of these stunts? Can’t you just make good music?” I agree with that as well, but I think there’s also another little piece to the puzzle. I’ve definitely learned a lot about the business and my rights as an artist. I definitely learned through Father/ Daughter and the new people I’ve been working with. I think I’ve learned more than the average person about rights. But like I was saying, at the end of the day someone could blow up and not know anything, and because they blow up they can afford to have the people who will know these things for them. A lot of people just don’t need to know this because they can just hire someone. But if you’re coming out of the dirt, doing your own DIY shit, it helps to know as much as possible about every aspect of whatever art you’re going into. I don’t think you could ever know too much about what you’re passionate about. I want to jump back to what you said about how exciting it is that hip-hop can be silly now. I think a lot of the black pop culture from the era we grew up in around the late ‘90s and early ‘00s was pretty narrow in how it depicted black identity. Because so many white companies and executives were still behind the marketing and production of a lot of black culture, a lot of stereotypes about blackness were projected and


perpetuated through the media. But it’s really exciting to see how the internet and black musicians having more control over the marketing of their work has help expand the ideas around “what it means to be black.” Since you’ve operated in both hip-hop and indie rock communities, how do you blur people’s expectations of you in both? Have you ever felt alienated by the overwhelming whiteness of underground music and what people in those communities expect of you? Being a black person who has been involved with any type of rock or indie music, you definitely see how easy it is to be put into a category. You really have to fight to make your own category or make your own space wherever you want to be. Whatever you want to be known as or known for, you have to be aggressive about it, otherwise you’ll be lumped in with something that maybe doesn’t fit with you. I’ve read articles about it and friends have talked about it a lot—anytime a black person makes music, they get lumped in with R&B. It’s just like, “Really? Did you listen to it at all? This is not R&B. This is like weird folk music.” I feel like that happens a lot with Moses Sumney. People just don’t know what to call it. I definitely feel for people who have to fight for it. I’m in a position where I’m just around too many white people, haha. I grew up around punk bands and indie rock stuff—those were the bands I was performing with. I’ve always listened to hip-hop. My family is Nigerian and I grew up in a very African household. But the people I was involved with and the people doing everything that I wanted to be doing musically just happened to all be white people. As I’ve gotten older and have put more of myself into the music, I have to fight to make my own space. I put out FECKIN WEIRDO and Drool which I would call rap records, but there are so many other elements in there. If anyone has listened to any of my music before that, it’s so all over the place and covers so many different genres. So to be just called “a rapper” is not only offensive to me, but it’s offensive to people who are rappers. There are people that rap rap—people who could just spit 16 right now. I’m not that person. I write songs, I’m a songwriter. I’ll write a song in any genre I feel like writing. I think I’ve been able to turn that grabbing-at-the-wind into something a little more packaged and refined currently. So I’m excited for the future of music because I feel like a lot of people have paved the way for it to be weird. Tyler, The Creator—he’s gone through so many phases. He started out as a goofball, but has gone through so much shit and is a business man now. Frank Ocean too. Even Migos are still goofy. The internet is definitely a part of it too. We’re all on there. It’s not just one group of people. We all see these memes and watch this anime.

Being a black person who has been involved with any type of rock or indie music, you definitely see how easy it is to be put into a category. I think what the internet has created is—since black people have more control over their music and can profit off of their work more directly than in the past, black culture is much more what black people want it to look and sound like, rather than what white people want black culture to look and sound like. That’s why we need more black CEOs in the music industry. At the top of everything, it still feels like it’s being puppeteered in some ways to me. Especially when I see videos of people doing performances in major label offices. There’s a good one of Bobby Shmurda where he’s on a table performing for a group of a bunch of white people watching him rap in their office. It’s the weirdest disconnect. I think even with smaller independent labels, you see a lot of companies changing their ethnic of gender make up through the artists they put out, but not who’s actually working at the company. What they think is creating diversity ends up just being white people exploiting the need for more representation and deciding they should be the ones profiting off of it and marketing it. Yeah I think a lot of that is slowly changing. You can see it in some lower levels and mid tiers of the industry, but never at the top. What are you working on at the moment that you can talk about? Ugh, I can’t talk about any of it. But I’m always working on records. I have a bajillion records, haha. I don’t think


most of them are going to come out. But the ones that do are going to be awesome. It’s gonna be the best music I’ve ever made. I have songs that I recorded years ago that I’ve never played to anyone. I’d say the biggest range of time that has passed between when songs were recored on albums I’m still working on it like three years. The oldest songs for the newest albums I’ve been working on stared out as ideas three years ago. I’ll find a phone memo I made three years ago and go, “Oh!” and keep working on it. Are there any projects you’d like to embark on, that you just don’t have the time or money for at the moment? Every project… I’m broke! I don’t have shit, haha. I just want to be able to take people on tour with me. I want to make orchestrations that involve string sections and horns and dancers. I want to do big production stuff, and that costs money. So my goal is to be able to do bigger productions and shows that involve every aspect of entertainment. Skits, comedy, music—just everything. What do you still struggle with as an artist? What hurdles do you hope to overcome in the future? I think I’m less patient than I would like to be. I’m pretty impatient. Most of making music for me is waiting. Touring is mostly waiting. When you work on a record you’ve got to wait a lot if you’re having other people put it out. So I’m just trying to learn to be more patient. I also just want to get better. I always want to get better at my craft. I think that’s pretty much it.

Photography by Matthew James-Wilson

¿LA PREGUNTA? @ Tom of Finland Foundation

¿LA PREGUNTA? @ Tom of Finland Foundation

Shamir@ Tom of Finland Foundation

Shamir @ Tom of Finland Foundation

Shamir @ Tom of Finland Foundation

Milly @ The Echo

Milly @ The Echo

Cryogeyser @ The Echo

Momma @ The Echo

Momma @ The Echo

Momma @ The Echo

Emily Yacina @ The Echo

Emily Yacina @ The Echo

Cole Haden @ MCAU

Cole Haden @ MCAU

Lunch Lady @ The Echo

Lunch Lady @ The Echo

G.W. Duncanson @ @ Paper Jam 5

Lunch Lady @ The Echo

Mo Dotti @ The Echo

Mo Dotti @ The Echo

Mo Dotti @ The Echo

Mo Dotti @ The Echo

Ian Sween @ The Echo

Ian Sweet @ The Echo

Ian Sweet @ The Echo

Lala Lala @ The Getty

Lala Lala @ The Getty

Lala Lala @ The Getty

Lala Lala @ The Getty

Necking @ The Echoplex

Necking @ The Echoplex

Necking @ The Echoplex

Momma @ The Echoplex

Momma @ The Echoplex

Momma @ The Echoplex

Ian Sweet @ The Echoplex

Ian Sweet @ The Echoplex

Ian Sweet @ The Echoplex

Ian Sweet @ The Echoplex

Gap Girls @ The Smell

Gap Girls @ The Smell

Gap Girls @ The Smell

Brutus VIII @ The Smell

Brutus VIII @ The Smell

(Sandy) Alex G @ Ameoba Hollywood

(Sandy) Alex G @ Ameoba Hollywood

Dirt Buyer @ The Smell

Dirt Buyer @ The Smell

Dirt Buyer @ The Smell

Surf Curse @ The Smell

Surf Curse @ The Smell

Surf Curse @ The Smell

Surf Curse @ The Smell

Surf Curse @ Subterranean

Surf Curse @ Subterranean

Hotline TNT @ Flood House

Hotline TNT @ Flood House

Mac DeMarco @ The Riviera Theater

Mac DeMarco @ The Riviera Theater

Mac DeMarco @ The Riviera Theater

Mac DeMarco @ The Riviera Theater

Mac DeMarco Stage Design by Matt Volz @ The Riviera Theater

Mac DeMarco Stage Design by Matt Volz @ The Riviera Theater

Lala Lala En Route to Oberlin College

Walldogs @ Oberlin College

Lala Lala @ Oberlin College

Lala Lala @ Oberlin College

Lala Lala @ Oberlin College

Lala Lala @ Oberlin College



Profile for FORGE. Art Magazine

FORGE. Issue 24: Reflection  

FORGE. is a quarterly submission based art magazine, with the sole purpose of showcasing the work of different artists on the internet and a...

FORGE. Issue 24: Reflection  

FORGE. is a quarterly submission based art magazine, with the sole purpose of showcasing the work of different artists on the internet and a...