LETTER FROM THE PUBLISHER
MADE EMIL ERWIN OTIS JAMES TANNER GOODS
14 22 32
STYLE KYLE MULLER SAM HILL
DESIGN JACK SANDERS
ADVENTURE ON THE ROAD / JEFF HOLT ONE ROLL / SCOTT G TOEPFER
MUSIC JOSHUA BLACK WILKINS
RF SUMMER PICK
PUBLISHER/CREATIVE DIRECTOR: CHRIS BROWN SENIOR PHOTOGRAPHER: GUSTAV SCHMIEGE CONTRIBUTING WRITERS: OTIS JAMES, RYAN FISH & SCOTT G TOEPFER CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS: GUSTAV SCHMIEGE, WILL HOLLAND, RYAN FISH, JEFF HOLT, SCOTT G TOEPFER, AMY RICHMOND & ALLISTER ANN © 2013 Refueled Magazine. All Rights Reserved. Reprodcution without permission is prohibited.
When I was growing up, Erwin, Tennessee, was the quintessential small Southern town. Life was slower and everyone knew his or her neighbor. During the summer, we were allowed to roam the town until late in the evening. There was innocence then that is lost in most towns these days, and sadly I feel like mine was the last generation that was able to enjoy the small East Tennessee town that my grandparents and father had also been raised in. Name your poison - meth or cell phones or whatever - that way of life seems lost today. Maybe I can just chalk it up to naivety, but Erwin - at least the Erwin I knew - was a perfect place to grow up. Being such a small town, you couldn’t get away with anything, and there was always someone you could lean on. It instilled in me a sense of tradition, respect, and responsibility to my neighbor. There was a sense of trust that everything would be all right because you could expect others to do right by you. These ideals are what drive me to create the products we do. I have a responsibility to the person buying it to do right by them. Today it’s easy to have such a transactional and impersonal lifestyle that you lose the sense of responsibility to the folks you deal with on a day-to-day basis. As a family and a brand, Leslie and I want to treat folks like our neighbors, expecting that we will see them again and letting them know they can depend on us. When did you begin sewing? I first sewed in kindergarten. We were given a kit to make our own Christmas stocking. It included two pieces of felt pre-cut into the shape of a stocking with yarn and a blunt needle. We decorated our stockings and sewed them together. I remember thinking it was so great that I was able to take these pieces of fabric that served no function alone and turn them into a useful item that Santa was going to fill with candy. How did that transfer into what you do today? Obviously, that idea stuck with me, but I made no effort to pursue it for many years. I was struck with the idea one day when I developed a hole in my jeans. I thought I would try to repair them rather than spending the money to replace them. After patching my jeans, my mind started wandering to the possibilities. I could make all of my own clothes! In college, I made really crude purses for girls as a substitute for mixed tapes. I made a few here and there when I was inspired, but mainly abstained until Leslie provoked me to start again. I made a bag or two for her and never stopped. We moved to Los Angeles a few years after we met. That’s where I had my first experience in the commerce side of things. I found some leather that had been sitting around since the 70s, bought an industrial sewing machine, and started to make some small shoulder bags using found objects. We sold them at a store in Venice Beach and people actually bought them. It was great to see something I thoroughly enjoyed making being appreciated. Everything I made was awful, but I was learning how to problem solve and slowly learning how to source better materials and hardware. When we moved back to Nashville, I talked my way into an upholstery job, building and refurbishing custom tour
buses for entertainers. I was being paid to sew all day and took the opportunity to fine-tune my sewing skills. I would spend hours in front of the machine, sewing straight lines, starting and stopping, and practicing curves. Industrial sewing machines have a clutch motor, so it was much like learning to drive a stick shift: It takes a while before you can shift with grace. I was tasked with covering everything imaginable in leather, which taught me to work with the medium and problem-solve some ridiculous situations. The company fell on hard times and I was laid off which gave me time to focus on designing and creating. I knew I was finished with upholstery, but I wanted to keep sewing so I focused on making bags every chance I had. I still spend my days solving problems, but I get to make things I love instead of coving picture frames in leather. Leslie, how and where did you and Emil meet? You both were making bags as a hobby, right? Emil and I met through mutual friends in college when we were 18. If you had told me that I had just met my future husband, there is no way I would have believed you - and I probably would have cried. We met again at the same friends’ engagement party almost ten years ago, and no: he did not woo me with a bag. Emil has always been the bag maker. If saying, “Hey honey, can you make this?” qualifies as a bag-making hobby, then yes: we’ve both been making bags for a while. The results of my personal craftiness are not something that we sell at Emil Erwin: knitted intarsia baby blankets are not really the direction that we’re going.
You convinced Emil to take the hobby a step further, into making it a family business. Did he need much convincing? No, but I think it was a relief to Emil that I’m the one who brought it up first. It’s always scary to take the plunge, but to me, sanity is much more valuable than money. At first, though, watching Emil work all day and stay up most of the night making bags and then doing it again the next day was insane. We had a really rough year, and then, all of a sudden, things just seemed to come together in ways that we never fathomed. I remember we were laying in bed one night, talking about what we should do, and we just decided to go for it. Our reasoning was, what’s the worst that could happen? If we lost the house or the cars, who cares? They’re sort of crappy anyway. Our relationship and our children are our most valuable assets. Not too many people take kids to settle debt. It was an opportunity that I’m grateful we took. Emil, what were some of the first bags you created like? What was the inspiration behind them?
was so stressful. Now we get all of our leather from Horween, and our brown leather is custom. In 2010, Emil Erwin was awarded Garden & Gun magazine's "Made in the South" award. Did that award change the way you looked at the brand? We entered that contest from the hospital room the day after our second daughter was born. It changed everything. Everything. Without that award and the recognition that followed it, we would still be working out of the garage in our backyard. We almost didn’t do it: there were problems with the WiFi at the hospital and we felt the pictures we had weren’t good enough, plus it cost $100 to enter. But it was the best money we ever spent. That award changed the way we looked at ourselves as a brand - because for the first time, we realized we were a brand. Leslie, you inject a feminine point of view into the rough-hewn collection. Talk about that vibe and process.
Simple and strong. They had a strap and you could hold things in them. We try to maintain those same characteristics today. Old military bags were and are a big source of inspiration. I often look at my Swiss Army backpacks and original mail carrier bags and try to think of ways to improve on them. I can’t, though. The materials and construction are second-to-none. They can be updated and made more practical, but you can’t beat the craftsmanship.
The process is fairly simple. It mostly involves me nagging Emil about making more stuff for the ladies - or rather, anything for the ladies. Emil has a great eye for the way that things are constructed and he has the ability to look at something and know how to reproduce it. My contribution includes coming up with color combinations, and recently has expanded to working on ideas for the new women’s collection. I never thought I would be a “designer,” but I guess we all have a little designer in us. I’m just lucky I can communicate the design to Emil and he can create it.
Matt and Carrie Eddmenson from Imogene + Willie, who were also in the beginning stages of starting their brand, took notice of your detailed leatherwork and asked to collaborate. Describe that project.
As far as the roughness of the collection, I imagine that will soften with time. It is derived from learning how to construct luxury items, and a desire to refine everything that we have made thus far.
The project was Imogene + Willie and Emil Erwin for J. Crew. It was our first venture into the world of retail and wholesale. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into! Lucky for us, Matt and Carrie held our hands and walked us through the process. We were thrilled to get to work with them, and it was surreal to be able to tell people that our products were in J. Crew. It gave our brand a sense of legitimacy that it really needed. We went into some major debt buying the first Durkopp industrial machine and all the leather, but we learned so many valuable lessons on that project about retail and wholesale … and purchase orders: like, don’t cut out anything until you have a purchase order in hand! When we got the preliminary quantities - which were huge for us - we realized that we didn’t have enough leather to fill the order, and we couldn’t get more of the exact stuff we used to make the sample. The quantities of leather we were buying were so small that we used seconds - in color, not quality! That meant we couldn’t perfectly match what we already had. We ended up getting something very close, but that
The entire Emil Erwin collection is patterned, cut, sewn and assembled in your Nashville studio. How does that help shape the product? Our hand is in everything. We are the product. We don’t have designers and we don’t have manufacturers. The designs are based on what we like and nothing else. We don’t have any guidelines that we need to follow, and no one but the customer to appease. Since we are making our products in real time, if we see something that needs to be improved, we improve it. No red tape, no phone calls, no bullshit. So, the product is very personal, and very much derived from what we want to see, and the needs that we have. The designs have led to some pretty heated debates in the Congdon household, but I guess that’s just part of the process, especially when the lines between work and family are so blurred. We draw pictures over pancakes, and hold babies during meetings. Emil Erwin is our life and our livelihood. Now if only we could squeeze a vacation in there somewhere. RF
This bicycle trip in the Summer/Autumn of 2008 wasn't the first endeavor like this I had undertaken. In June of 2007, barely a year out of film school, I sold all of my possessions, moved out of my apartment in Los Angeles, and rode my single-speed bicycle 2000 miles up the west coast to Canada. It became a 2 month solo journey ripe with personal challenges, stunning beauty, wonderful people and an abundance of life lessons. I learned that nothing was out of reach if I merely applied myself. Overall, these two journeys laid the foundation for what I am doing now and how approach each endeavor. The unique challenges, charming folks, and endless hours of time alone brought me a new perspective on life, as well as the confidence to pursue whatever my heart desired. Without those lessons, I can't imagine I ever would have come so far with a business endeavor in which I had absolutely zero experience before beginning. Recently I took some time to sit down and outline just how these intense and rewarding experiences shaped who I am and how that is applied to my work. SIMPLICITY: While living in Los Angeles after film school, I converted an old 10-speed road bike to a single-speed urban commuter. It was my only form of transportation while living in L.A., with a daily commute of roughly 15 miles round-trip. As I began to prepare for my journey up the coast, I realized that I did not have the funds to upgrade to more gears, nor did I really care to. The mechanical simplicity was preferable, with no shifters or derailleurs to potentially fail or require maintenance. In the end, the mechanical simplicity became far less important than the mental advantages that were afforded. When one only has a single option, one must never need worry about making the correct selection. Facing a steep incline or a hellacious headwind, I simply pedaled harder. When presented with a soaring downhill or a gracious tailwind, I relaxed and used the extra energy to focus on the beautiful scenery passing by. Ultimately, this method provided an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction and kept me mentally present throughout the journey. Some of my favorite parts of that route were actually the most physically demanding ones. For the second journey I upgraded to a 3-speed internally geared setup, because I figured I would need the extra help when crossing the Appalachians and the Rockies. I ended up rarely changing gears throughout the 4,000 or so miles and crested a 9400-foot pass in the Rocky Mountains staying in the same gear as I had used to cross all of South Dakota. When starting my business three years ago, I made a strong conscious effort to apply these lessons to every aspect of what I do, from the design and construction of each item to the presentation of the final product. I try to source materials that exude a simple elegance and create products that contain only functional details. My business plan and approach require a lot more work than most, but it allows for the connection and satisfaction that I seek from all that I do.
CONNECTION: Before beginning my second bicycle trip around the country, I decided to attempt to make as many of the items I would carry with me as possible. I built the front rack on my bike, as well as the bags that mounted to it, a fannypack for carrying my most important personal effects, two alcohol stoves, and a button-up shirt. Those things I couldn't build or already owned, I sought to understand better. I completely disassembled my bicycle, painted the frame, and rebuilt the components. Throughout the trip, I was afforded a strong sense of connection to these possessions upon which I relied on a daily basis and felt confident in each's ability to perform its necessary function as well as my ability to fix any item which failed along the way. After ending my travels I decided to continue on this path of learning to make or repair the essential possessions in my life. It was this decision that helped drive me toward learning tailoring and the art of making clothing. In setting up the basics of my business, I realized that I had to figure out a way to translate that ideal beyond just making items for myself and present a product that conveyed that dedication. That is the reason why we make everything by hand in our studio and work to sell the product directly to consumer. Not everyone has the time or desire to learn to make ties or caps, but when purchasing an Otis James tie or cap, anyone can be sure that I have taken the time to not only master the construction of that item, but to also understand why each technique or material must be used. It wasn't enough for me to make a good-looking product. I had to figure out how to make the most functional and enduring product. And if anyone ever has a question about what we make, they can always give us a call or send an email. It becomes more and more difficult each day, but I still answer every email that comes in and try to personally pick up the phone every time it rings. HUMILITY: I left Knoxville on that second journey with only $100 dollars to my name. I had enough food to last about a week and places to stay lined up for four days. Beyond that, everything was left to circumstance. Most nights I slept outside, under the overhangs of churches or in secluded parks. Sometimes I would be invited to sleep inside a church or even in a stranger's home. Less than a month into the trip, I left New York City with less than $10. Two days later I was literally picking up pennies along the road to save up for a bagel so I could have breakfast the next morning. I stopped that night to sleep at a church with only 23 cents in my pocket. There was an AA meeting commencing when I arrived, and a friendly conversation afterward with one of the attendees ended with him giving me $20 out of his wallet. Not because I asked him for money, but simply because I told him my story and he felt compelled to help. I was able to buy more than just a bagel for breakfast the next morning.
I have an endless amount of similar stories of overwhelming kindness and compassion I received along the way. Every gesture was a reminder that the most important aspect of our lives is not the items with which we surround ourselves, but the people. I could have worked a little longer and saved more money before beginning my trip. I could have stayed in hotels or fancy campgrounds and had plenty of food, but it would have made for a soulless and unsatisfying journey. I never would have met the multitude of warm-hearted, generous people that I did. I wouldn't have realized how important it is to simply put yourself out there and realize we don't travel through life alone. I have been very fortunate recently in the attention that my brand and product has garnered, and I am very grateful to have been given such a gift. It has provided opportunities that I never even dreamed of. Still, at the end of each day, each week, each month, I try to remind myself what is truly important in my lifemaintaining connection to the wonderful people around me, treating my hardworking, warm-hearted employees as well as possible, and creating and presenting a product that inspires awe and appreciation and affords me the opportunity to meet and work with even more wonderful people. This business has never been about making money for me; it's about the shared experience of creating something greater than one person. INTEGRITY: I wanted to bike all the way to California on that second journey, to be able to say I had biked across the entire United States, but 4,000 miles into the trip, by the time I reached Santa Fe, New Mexico, I knew in my heart I was done. I needed to stop and move on to something else. It was a difficult decision to make, but it was the right one. Throughout my journeys I was presented with plenty of advice on how to travel, for which I was always grateful. In the end, I was always able to find a way to sort through those recommendations and coercions and find my own path for my journey. Shortly into my jaunt up the west coast I received an email from a good friend he was forwarding from his mother. She was offering to buy me a motorbike for my trip so that I wouldn't have to pedal a bicycle. She said I would still be able to see the sights
and feel the wind in my hair, but without the strain and inherent danger of traveling by bicycle. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the offer and even considered taking her up on it, but ultimately decided against it. The point wasn't only to see the sights and move from point A to point B; it was more so about the experience of powering myself along that path and moving at a bicycle's pace through those beautiful surroundings. To move any other way would have been to forego the integrity of the journey. Much of my experience with this business has been very similar. I am constantly receiving advice and recommendations on where to go, how to grow the business and create more product, as well as which outlets to pursue. While I am grateful for every bit of advice that comes my way, I find myself constantly sorting through these words to find what applies to what I believe this business should be. Sure, we could start manufacturing our ties and caps and seek distribution through large retail outlets around the world (and there is nothing inherently wrong with that model), but that isn't what I've worked so hard these last four years to create. This business is not merely about the final product we offer for sale; it is about the process that brought that product into being. It is the journey that begins in our studio and continues on with each wearer's experience. The value of what we make comes not only from the quality of the materials and craftsmanship that goes into the manufacturing, but also from the intense dedication that drives that manufacturing. It's something that I believe cannot be mass produced. It's not an easy path to maintain, but it's the only way I believe in for myself at the moment. RF
By 2005 Huff was working solo, making leather goods in the back of his retail store on Thurman Street. Mark Perusich, whom Huff met during his tenure at Fuse—a Portland product design firm—helped craft those earliest bags, and came on as the second full-time employee in 2008. And Jevan Lautz, growing up with Huff in Sisters, Ore., joined the company to foster stockists and business relationships, making it a ownership trio. While belts and wallets are made around them, Huff, Perusich, and Lautz blend in while building designs for future products, like a leather knife sheath made from natural leather which I find Perusich handsewing and tweaking as I come through the front door. Huff, who acts as gatekeeper for press and public relations, walks me around the production space. He looks like the timeless laborer, in an orange woolen plaid shirt, Danner boots with classic red laces, and jeans with rolled cuffs; his hair is loosely slicked back and his glasses are of the vintage ilk. His arms are often crossed but he’s cheerfully patient with my questions, and his tendency to explain leather tanning and design inspiration in greater-than-necessary detail is hugely disarming. Toward the back of the studio, where fat industrial lights hang overhead and shelves of rolled leather surround us, he sprawls a piece of leather on a work table and begins tracing outlines for a prototype: a leather briefcase. This case, like every other Tanner item, is dreamt up to meet an everyday need. From a luggage tag, to a canine collar, to a document folio, to a simple coin pouch, if there’s a need in daily life that can be filled with a leather product chances are it’s been considered by Huff, and the most viable of those products eventually reach full scale production.
Collaborations come about organically, too. Take the partnership with Tellason, for example, which began in 2010 with a roll-up tote made from deadstock canvas Tony Patella, of Tellason, found in an abandoned factory in San Francisco. The success of that small run of totes led to a current run of wallets made from Tellason’s Cone-Mill denim. Likewise, the Pendleton wool-lined wallets, made for Tanner’s retail store’s grand opening, led to the recently-released Pendleton x Tanner Goods camp blanket. Most striking of all their collaborations, however, may be a line of goods—a camera strap, a passport holder, and a wallet—made with both natural and black leathers combined side-by-side, codesigned with the Ace Hotel; the effect is Chiaroscuro—eye-catchingly high contrast between two differing leathers in such close proximity. But for those who suffer from collaboration fatigue, solace can be found in the signature style of Tanner's solo-undertakings. Namely, their heavy use of wrapping leather into forms instead of sewing. Their cardholder, document folio, sunglass holder, and coin pouch are all stitchless, relying instead on rivets at crucial stress points for strength—the leather is wrapped to create a form that is, it seems, all held together by unseen threads. “I think a lot of the beauty in design comes from thoughtful ways a piece can be patterned, it's almost a kind of origami,” Huff says as he cuts the leather for the briefcase, which happens to be one of those unsewn items, “it's relatively easy to cut a bunch of square pieces and sew them together and make a bag, but to find a compelling way to create a three dimensional shape out of one leather piece is entirely different.” Apart from looking both than in product design.
A sewing machine's staccato thump plays like a joyful anthem for these youthful makers, who each pursue their own craft when they’re not at Tanner Goods. Gage Hamilton, cutting straps for belts, is an illustrator by night; Alex Nugyen, developing Tanner’s online graphics, creates bow ties from Pendleton wool and custom Japanese fabric during his weekends; and Taylor Ahlmark, with hands darkened from edge-dyeing, makes fromscratch soap and perfumes in his spare time. I overhear them suggest solutions to problems in one another's side-hustles, and discuss ways to collaborate. Through careful hiring selection, Huff and his co-owners have spawned an incubator for tomorrow’s craftsman. Each item is made by hands as dedicated to the art of craft as they are, and, in a world where a handmade object often inherits a its character from its maker, they’ve sidestepped the stigma of mass production. Later that day, I finish my journey with a visit to the Tanner Goods retail store in downtown Portland. Now combined with the Wood-
lands—the clothing-centric men’s retail store that was once a separate entity—this space showcases Hill-Side handkerchiefs, hats by Norse Projects, and elevated racks of parkas and knitwear. The center table is set with leather goods made from both vegetable tanned leathers and Horween’s Chromexcel, the latter having a tremendous pull-up—the industry term for a burst of color created when folding certain types of leather. In the display window I find a collection of wallets and card holders that have been worn in over years by a few loyal patrons. The edges of the once-plain leather is now blackened and the side panels show rich gradients of maple and mahogany. The presence of those items, alongside the new items whose cut edges are not yet worn smooth, makes a customer dream. What mighty trailhead adventures or wild urban nights or crushing work days might shape this leather's patina? I can only imagine. But that ability to craft leather goods that conjures dreams is becoming synonymous with Tanner Goods, one finely designed item at a time. RF
What's the origin of Sam Hill? Why did you decide to use the name? Growing up my father used the phrase, “What in the Sam Hill’s going on?” or “What in the Sam Hill are you doin’.” In my mind Sam Hill always seemed like a friendly alternative to a curse word. When I started my business venture, I struggled to find an appropriate name for my brand. After racking my brain for months, I remembered the saying I heard growing up, and decided to find out what in the Sam Hill “Sam Hill” meant. After doing a little research, I knew it was the right name. The name has a long list of derivations and is surrounded by American folklore. One possible origin that I am particularly fond of is the story of Sam Hill and his mercantile store (late 1800s). Sam Hill owned a store with a variety of goods and a diverse inventory. It became common to say, “What in the Sam Hill is that?” to describe a unique or peculiar item.
is when I visited my first thrift store. Not only were thrift stores amazingly cheap, but I could also get an item that no one else owned. I hit the jackpot. I loved going through racks and racks of clothes trying to find that one special piece, or discovering a cool pair of sunglasses or a bowling ball. I never knew what I might find at a thrift store, and I kept going back.
Folks who collect as adults most likely collected as a kid. What did you collect when you were younger, and how did it evolve into vintage clothing?
Years later I still found myself rummaging through thrift stores every day (sometimes even on my lunch break) to get a quick fix. I continually found great “stuff” and eventually my family and friends encouraged me to open my own vintage store. Thrift stores paved the way for my entry into the world of vintage apparel, but finding amazing garments was difficult. Rare and vintage finds were few and far between. To open a store I had to discover a method for locating quality merchandise on a consistent basis. Through travel and networking, I made valuable connections that allowed me to tap into a more reliable pipeline. Once that happened I started Sam Hill. What I find most interesting about Sam Hill is that it started as a Pop Up, not a storefront. What was the thought process behind that decision?
So true. I collected everything as a kid and my room was wallto-wall with all my treasures, knick-knacks, fossils and knives. My grandfather was the most influential in my quest for treasures. He piqued my interest in all things old at an early age. He was born at the turn of the twentieth century and was nearly eighty years old when I was born. Not only did he have great collections, but also his collections were very old. Every time I visited it was as though I was on a treasure hunt. He particularly enjoyed seeing my excitement about the very same items he cherished. He encouraged me to collect coins, stamps, old wooden boxes, hats, bottles and other odds and ends. I received several of my most prized possessions from my grandfather and my interest in antiques and anything old grew from there.
I was introduced to the idea of a pop-up shop while living in New York City. The fact that the shop was there one day and gone the next intrigued me. I had to be in the know. Unpredictability keeps people on their toes and it’s fun knowing the inside scoop. Building a mobile storefront in a completely new environment, at different locations, requires a tremendous amount of work. While labor intensive, the process is creatively gratifying. Each new spot comes with its own challenges and results in a new and different aesthetic look and feel. With a traditional brick and mortar there is merely a single location. With a pop up I can literally set up a store in a living room. Probably my main reason for doing pop up shops is that I get to collaborate with different businesses. It’s awesome being able to meet new people and curate a unique event.
I discovered vintage clothing as a teenager, about the same time I became more aware of clothing, style and popularity. This
What were you doing before starting Sam Hill? Before Sam Hill I was a full-time graphic designer. After attending the University of Texas I worked for several different agencies, worked abroad and lived in New York. I love painting and making art so design was a great way to be creative while earning a living. Although I have a passion for design, it is very difficult for me to sit behind a desk all day. I wanted more adventure in my everyday life and I wanted to work outside the standard office environment. I needed to create my own career identity with a brand I could call my own. Describe your personal style and how vintage plays into it. My personal style is strongly influenced by vintage apparel. I have never felt comfortable just selecting any shirt off the rack at a department store. To me, vintage is about individuality and making a personal connection with a garment. I like knowing the history and story behind the clothing I am wearing. This knowledge gives me a since of ownership over my personal style. If a garment is weathered, worn or shows signs of mending, those attributes just make the piece more appealing and special to me. It’s an amazing feeling when you can put on a piece of history. My personal style is ever changing and evolving, and I like knowing that I can wake up and take on a different look and become anyone I want. Clothing is powerful. Take us through the curating process for Sam Hill. There is a checklist I use while buying vintage clothing. Fabric, pattern and color are the first things that catch my eye. The more I learn and the longer I do this, the faster I can sort through massive amounts of garments with a quick glance. Once something grabs my attention, I check for style and age. I usually stay away from large 70s butterfly collars and western wear (just personal preference). The next step is determining the condition of the article. If there are too many missing buttons, unsightly stains or extensive mending needs, then I will pass on it. I have to make a quick assessment and decide whether or not the time invested will yield a high enough return. Sometimes I buy a piece that is not necessarily marketable, but still has a quality that is appealing to me. I like the real dirty stuff. What other vintage, non-clothing items make their way in to collection? I guess I end up buying and selling things that I like, and essentially items that I would own, wear or use. I don’t sell anything that I wouldn’t wear or have in my home. My inspiration
comes mainly from American fashion and history, so jewelry, woolen blankets, bandanas, knives, sunglasses, dominoes, playing cards, rugs, magazines, baseballs, cigarette lighters, skulls; nothing is really off limits as long as it fits in with the Sam Hill brand. Sam Hill has a definite vibe. Describe the look. There are certain elements in American fashion that transcend time and will always be considered “classic”. I strive to carry classic garments and accessories that are just as stylish now as when they were constructed. There is wildness and a ruggedness that I am trying to capture. Being confident in who you are and what you wear is the epitome of cool. I just want to convey awesomeness and make people feel badass. Why do you think there has been such a resurgence in not only American made goods but vintage as well? Consumers are becoming more intelligent and technology has made information more accessible. People are becoming highly sensitive to what they eat, what they drink and what they wear. After years of overproduction, fast fashion and over stimulation, people want something with sustainability. They want to know the story behind the garment-where it was made and how. Every piece of vintage clothing comes with its own memory. When you own that piece you come in contact with another life and another time. By wearing it and owning it you are continuing the journey through history. It’s something you can be proud of and confident in. What you put on your body carries more power-much more than people realize. When you find a great vintage piece it speaks to you… almost like it’s been waiting for you. Once you own it and incorporate it into you life its something that will be treasured. RF
Your work explores and defines more than just design and place. What elements inspire you? I am inspired by the stories and artifacts of those before us who used the materials at hand to create, survive, and make sense of the world. Examples: Arrowheads, Building Materials and Techniques, Cowboy Poets, Campfires, Outdoor Showers, and Sandlot Baseball. You tend to fill a lot of sketch books with thoughts and ideas. Can you explain your creative process? My sketchbooks do lend themselves to working out a single thought or an idea. But more often I use the sketchbook to record the Adventure as it takes place. You make drawings, collages and etchings. Let’s talk about a few of your favorites and the meaning behind them. Design Build Adventure occasionally takes me to some remote parts of Texas for work. When we are out there, I definitely draw the snakes, the bugs, and the javelinas. We camp on site often and I find myself under - the billions of stars visible in the night sky or sometimes a big bright moon. I became fascinated with the idea of trying to create a drawing or a collage that might do justice to the vastness of space, the numbers of stars, the distance of the moon to the earth. That led to a series 'night sky' drawings
that would take all the black ink from a few pens. This fascination came home with me and led to some linoleum cut prints with a similar outcome. At the end of a long night of printing the labored linoleum plate, I had a 'light bulb' moment mixed with laughter when I realized that I could simply print a tortilla from my taco dinner to create a print that somehow illustrated wonder of the solitary moon.... To myself, your build/construction work like your art embody clean, modern lines. Whether a large project, small residential build like fencing or a huge collage, how do they all relate? It is my hope the work as seen as contemporary (or modern), and I hope simple or pure in many ways – but not “clean”. I think in some ways I see the work as dirty or messy in the sense that it begs for for the patina and richness of experience, time, weather, and adventure. RF
THE IDEA SEEMED SIMPLE ENOUGH IN THEORY... ONE ROLL OF FILM, EVERY PHOTOGRAPH GETS PUBLISHED. SHOULD BE A SIMPLE ENOUGH TASK FOR THE OPEN-MINDED PHOTOGRAPHER, BUT THEN THERE IS ME-SOMEONE WHO LIKES TO SHOOT LOOSELY, AND AUTHOR STRICTLY. SO DECIDING HOW TO SHOOT EXACTLY 1 ROLL OF FILM WENT FROM BEING A FUN EXERCISE INTO A HAUNTING TASK OF PREPARATION, CREATIVE BRAINSTORMING, AND DEFEAT. NOW I CANNOT AND WILL NOT SPEAK FOR OTHER PHOTOGRAPHERS, BUT OUT OF ONE ROLL OF 35MM FILM, I'M OVER THE MOON IF I GET 4 IMAGES I'M WILLING TO SHOW ANYONE OTHER THAN MY WIFE. I CAN HIDE MY MISTAKES, HIDE MY PROCESS, AND NO ONE IS THE WISER AS LONG AS I PRODUCE AT LEAST ONE IMAGE THAT TELLS THE STORY FOR THE REST. I WILL SHOOT HALF OF A ROLL AND REVISIT IT DAYS OR WEEKS LATER ONLY TO BE SURPRISED BY THE IMAGES LATER ON. I WILL TEST OUT COMPOSITIONS THAT I FEAR, AND I WILL FAIL. I WILL PHOTOGRAPH A TEXTBOOK YET BORING TEXTURE, I WILL PHOTO GRAPH A WOMAN FROM AN UNFLATTERING ANGLE TO CREATE AN INTERESTING COMPOSITION. SO DOES THE IDEA OF SHOOTING ONLY ONE ROLL AND EXPOSING ALL OF THE CONTENTS TO A MAGAZINE SOUND LIKE AN EXTREMELY VULNERABLE EXERCISE? YES. BUT, I HAD SUCCESSFULLY TURNED AN ITEM AS INCONSEQUENTIAL AS A ROLL OF 35MM FILM (THEY ARE LITERALLY STREWN ABOUT MY HOME) INTO AN INSOMNIA-INSTIGATING BRICK WALL. BY CREATING THIS CONCEPT I HAD FORCED MYSELF TO PLAN A BIT OF A NARRATIVE, THINK OF THE IMAGES THAT MAKE A STORY WITHOUT BEING THE HERO IMAGES, AND PLAY WITH THE IDEA OF HOW EACH FRAME WOULD RELATE TO THE ONE NEXT TO IT ON THE ROLL. EACH IMAGE WOULD HAVE TO RELATE TO ITS PARTNERS AS A WHOLE. AND THEN IT CAME TO ME...THAT 'ONE ROLL' WAS JUST AS MUCH ABOUT THE PROCESS AS THE IMAGES, AND JUST AS MUCH ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER AS MY SUBJECTS.
WHAT MUSIC DID YOU LISTEN TO GROWING UP, AND HOW DID IT SHAPE WHO YOU ARE TODAY? MY PARENTS HAD SOME OLD RECORDS AND CASSETTES THAT I PLUNDERED AT A PRETTY YOUNG AGE. THE BEATLES ABBY ROAD HAS BEEN ONE OF MY FAVORITE ALL TIME RECORDS AS WELL AS NEIL YOUNGS AFTER THE GOLD RUSH. BOTH OF THOSE RECORDS WERE FOUND IN THEIR COLLECTION. I STARTED LISTENING TO THE VIOLENT FEMMES AROUND 1986 WHEN AN OLDER NEIGHBORHOOD FRIEND MADE ME A CASSETTE. I WAS 8. VIOLENT FEMMES CERTAINLY INFLUENCED ME TO PLAY ACOUSTIC GUITAR AND I HAVE ALWAYS LIKED HOW AGGRESSIVE THAT MUSIC WAS WHILE USING ACOUSTIC INSTRUMENTS. I WAS 13 IN 1991 WHEN THE WORLD OF POPULAR MUSIC CHANGED. I HAVE ALWAYS CREDITED THE SEATTLE "GRUNGE ALTERNATIVE" GENRE TO SHAPING MY APPROACH TO MUSIC. BANDS LIKE PEARL JAM SPOKE TO ME FOR THE EMOTION AND DELIVERY OF "LEFT OF CENTER" MUSIC, ALTHOUGH IT QUICKLY BECAME VERY MAINSTREAM, AS WE ALL KNOW. I SAW WHISKEYTOWN PLAY ON SEPT 29 1997, AND THAT ALSO CHANGED EVERYTHING. BY THAT AFTERNOON, I KNEW IT WAS OKAY FOR ME TO WRITE/PLAY/PERFORM "COUNTRY" MUSIC. THOUGH THE TERM "ALTERNATIVE COUNTRY" DIDN'T BECOME WIDELY USED UNTIL A FEW YEARS LATER AS A POPULAR MUSIC GENRE, IT WAS VERY APPARENT TO ME THAT WHAT I HAD FORCED MYSELF TO CALL "FOLK" MUSIC HAD INDEED HAD ANOTHER NAME.
When did you start writing songs? What came first, lyrics or music? I had starting writing "songs" around 14. Before I played guitar. I didn't like to call them "poems". I started playing guitar a year later when I got my first acoustic guitar, a black Alvarez dreadnaught. I taught myself to play guitar and started writing music/songs immediately. I had a cheat sheet a friend gave me with the basic open chords on it for guitar, and I still basically just use those chords and a capo now. Once I had got to a point where I could change chords without looking at my hands I stopped looking for new chords and started putting more attention to songwriting. I had never wanted to play other peoples songs because it never made sense to me. The bands and artists I liked/listened to wrote their own, so I wanted to as well. I have never acknowledged "singers" as "artists" if they don't write their own songs, because my basic definition of an "artist" is someone who creates something. It had seemed to me early on that "alternative country" was country music sung by the people who actually wrote their own songs, which is hugely different that what is playing on mainstream country radio. Your songs tend to speak about America's underbelly. Where does that voice come from? I have never been drawn to pretty songs. Love songs sound cheap and easy. I have always been more interested in honesty than perfection and "beauty". Songs about rainbows and flowers are simply cheap shots at avoiding the truth about life. I didn't have a hard life growing up. I wasn't spoiled, but I didn't do without either. I was never the popular kid and most of my friends growing up were older/badder/weirder than me. Not being on the school football team meant I didn't like anything about that culture and I still don't. My songs aren't for everyone, which is a good thing. You either like me or you don't like me, but at least I am honest to myself and my music. I sleep well at night. What inspired the songs for your new album Fair Weather? Fair Weather was mostly written during the summer of 2012. Two songs had already been written (Frankie and Tennessee Junkyard), but everything else was written specifically FOR this record. Though it wasn't intentional. I had been very busy with photography during the first half of 2012 and had begun to lose a lot of sleep. Songs like Western were compiled in the middle of the night while watching old movies on tv. A lot of the subject matter was written based on older subjects that I felt I hadn't completely worn out on my other records. Fair Weather was also the first time I had put more attention to the craft of songwriting than the (personally) historic honesty of
the songs. At the time I had been in an 10 year relationship, and none of those songs were about her, so I had to compile other inspirations and focus on writing BETTER songs that would relate (possibly) to more people. What's the creative process behind writing a new album? The process is different for everyone, and has been different for me on all of my albums. I had no intention of writing Fair Weather, I had originally though I would make a full production version of The Girlfriend Sessions, which had come out a year earlier as a stripped down acoustic record. I wrote I Tremble then Western. Then I wrote We All Bleed, then another, then another. By the time I entered the studio, I had 9 new songs that were all important enough to make the record. How has coming from East Nashville influenced your sound and songwriting? Living in Nashville in general has greatly influenced my music on all aspects. I moved here with wide eyes and open arms in Oct 2002. I have only ever lived in East Nashville since living in Tennessee, and have always appreciated the amount of talent and inspiration in East Nashville. This is a community of like-minded people that are able to feed off of each other. Unlike Music Row, East nashville is not comprised of one simple genre, and since "alternative music" has a lot less industry rules there is a lot less restrictions on what we create here. The amount of great rock/country/folk/etc is what separates East Nashville from any other part of town, and the country. Most of us would agree that the amount of press attention for East Nashville has been very welcoming. We are proud to live in the neighborhood and take a lot of pride in our local restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and music venues. The fact that corporate America has yet to infiltrate East Nashville is not an accident. It's not welcome here. You're also a accomplished photographer. Does your photography work influence your songwriter? Or vice visa? Thought it is not intentional, my photography does influence my music. Many people like to relate the two in terms of style, imagery, tone, feeling, etc, and though I don't try to mend the two together, I can also see the influences. Through photography I have been able to work with a lot of influential artists, and several of those artists respect my music too, so there is definitely a correlation between creating my visual art, and my audible art. Being in Nashville, and East Nashville specifically, simply inspires everyone follow their dreams and create something that defines themselves. RF
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