it's always cool to get a phone call out of the blue from a record company. I got one of these calls a few weeks back from Oh Boy Records, John Prine's record label, out of Nashville, Tennessee. The fellow on the phone told me that Mr. Prine is touring for his new record The Tree of Forgiveness (get yourself a copy here), and he asked me to create an image for his upcoming show at the Warfield.
He said something about a tree in heaven that doubles as a bar. I was thinking about a recent trip to a friend's property close to the Sonoma Coast, where we sat under this lovely old oak tree. So I used her as the basis of the sketch.
Here's the final below. I'm pretty happy with it.
Here are some images of the printed poster courtesy End Hymns Printing Company.
I have a funny history with John Prine; I was asked to create a John Prine poster for a Fillmore show some years back, and our band covers one of his songs that he sings with Iris DeMent. See the video for that song below as well as a cool little film about the new record.
This year's Posters design for the CVB/Cracker shows are done, ladies and gentlepeople, and I'm very excited about them. Here it is. It's a portrait of our favorite unwilling participant, Patty Hearst, aka Tania.
this month I interviewed one of my very favorite musicians, Karry Walker from Ultralash. Based out of Oakland, California, Ultralash is a folk electronica project made up by Karry Walker with a revolving cast of characters both real and imagined. Karry has several musical projects (we'll learn more about those in a bit), but Ultralash is her solo project. Her new album, A River Listless, is wildly compelling, atmospheric, spooky. I wanted to know more (and so will you), and so I asked.
Here you go.
Q: Can you describe Ultralash for a new listener? Who is Ultralash?
A: Ultralash is a character based on this young girl I used to see riding around in my neighborhood on a low rider BMX bike with a banana seat. She had freckles and flaming red hair, and she always had this huge backpack on. She would ride down the street on her way to wherever, and one day when I was sitting out on the front porch having a smoke it occurred to me that she was perfectly Ultralash. It was one of those moments when I didn't try to question what came out of me. I just went with it.
About 5 years later I walked into a bank and there she was, working as a bank teller. All the spark in her had been tucked away or discarded, as she greeted the customers in her black bank suit and bright, contrived smile. It was a sad day for me, but it was nothing out of the ordinary. It happens every day, to all girls who grow to be young women, unless you are extraordinarily vigilant about protecting that light within you from the pressures of conformity.
Q: How did you begin A River Listless? Did you set out to make a concept record, and/or did the concept arrive as you wrote?
A: Well, one day I was looking at my iTunes music collection. It contained a huge lot of recordings I had made over a period of about 10 years and I thought "geez what is all this stuff?" Most of it didn't even have names, just numbers and dates. So I began listening to the recordings, and then I thought "hey, some of this stuff is pretty good. I should catalog it." So I created two folders named "Light" and "Dark" and I just started shoving stuff into each of the folders based on my first impression.
When I was done doing that, sez me to myself "Let's make a record." So I flipped a coin - Heads for Light, Tails for Dark. Tails. So then I started listening in earnest, stitching together the tracks that told a story. I never really know where it's going. The story reveals itself as I work on it, and it's based purely on what makes me happy as I listen - what makes the little hairs rise up on the back of my neck.
Later, just like when you try to tell someone about a dream you had, the plot presents itself. I always have mixed feelings about this part, because it can become confined by it prematurely. I have my ideas about what that plot is, and there are certain elements built into the finished album that are my own meaningful bits, but those are personal.
The final decision to dispense with track numbers came after Myles Boisen and I mixed the record. Determining where one song ended and another began was proving difficult. Around that time I was with a friend and we were talking about how visual artists - painters, sculptors, film-makers get to have installations - a one time showing of their work. It was then that I came up with the idea of doing it as a sound installation - one complete composition, listened to one time. Several songs are available for download online for anyone who would like to listen in a shuffle.
Q: What was the timeline for this record? Did it all happen at once, or was it gradual? Both?
A: Fits and starts. The labeling project began in 2011. I stitched together a rough mix of about half of it in the next couple of months. Then I abandoned the project for a while because I was involved in other music projects like She Mob, an all girl garage rock band fronted by Joy Sue Hutchinson. I played bass, which I'd never done before! That resulted in recording She Mob's album Right In The Head.
I was also writing songs with Myles Boisen for a ukelele/slide guitar duet we call The Hollywood Laundrette. That also resulted in an album with brilliantly illustrated cover art by Michael Wertz!
But I didn't pick up the Ultralash project again in earnest until a year ago, April. I was reeling emotionally from some personal changes, so I threw myself back into the project to distract me from my own misery. And it did, because hey. There's working on yer shit, and then there's working on yer shit. And the latter has always, without exception, been more productive. At least for me.
Q: What's your writing process like? Acoustic guitar and recorder? Piano? Notebook? What's your best time of day to make music?
A: I daydream a lot. Occasionally there's something in that stream of consciousness that's worth writing down. And if I'm lucky and paying attention, I will. Some of my most favorite lyrics were written in less than a minute, and most of my favorites were written in ten. It's just a matter of paying attention at the right time. Often it happens when I'm outside on the front porch having a smoke. But my favorite time to record acoustic songs is first thing in the morning, sitting up against the wall, dog at the foot of the bed. That's how I recorded two songs on A River Listless. I used Garage Band to record "Skin." I used my iPhone voice memo app to record "Do You Ever Think About Me."
Q: Upcoming shows or events? What should we know?
A: I'm throwing around ideas and footage for a music video for Terminal Velocity, one of the songs on A River Listless.
I'm also currently working on a contemporary remix of Kitka. Kitka is an internationally renowned women's choir who perform traditional Eastern European women's music. The Ultralash remix should be released sometime in the latter part of this year.
So there she is, folks. I'd like to thank Karry for the interview, and for all her beautiful music.
This month's interview is with Nat Swope from Bloom Screen Printing in Oakland. Nat was kind enough to give us an interview (in between running his shop, teaching classes, and little league with his kid). Nat and I work on a few projects a year together for clients who need multiple prints, and he always does an amazing job.
Q: Hi, Nat. How are you?
Doing fine, thanks.
Q: How did you first learn to screenprint?
My aunt Mary, who is an artist and art teacher, gave me a rudimentary introduction to it. I had already figured out stencils, cutting frisket, so screen printing made sense. A little bit later I got a job printing shirts. That's how I learned about production, on the clock. I didn't go to art school. I was into photography so exposing screens photographically was pretty exciting. This was the late '80's/early '90's so I caught the tail end of paste up before computers really came into play, which I always thought was helpful later on. Most art departments back then were still using copy cameras and rubylith. But the short answer is I learned how to screen print the same way you learn how to do anything: by doing it over and over again. The other thing that really accelerated the learning process was printing for other people. It led me down a lot of roads I would never have gone down had I only been doing my own work. Getting a glimpse into other people's processes has been invaluable.
Q: What about screenprinting gives you that special feeling inside?
Screen printing is a bit like assembling a puzzle and I like that. I like graphics and flat, clean color. I like paper. If things are going well it can be meditative and rhythmic. At this point though it's really about the people I'm working with. I've been lucky to work with a lot of people I genuinely admire.
Q: Can you tell me a few of your favorite clients?
Too many to name and I don't want to leave anyone out.
Q: When a new client comes to you, what do you ask them?
Can I see a file before we talk about cost and deadlines?
Q: What's your favorite kind of job to print?
Again, it's the people I'm working with that matters the most. I like seeing what gets them excited. Often the client is responding to something I'm not really thinking about. My concerns are usually technical. I'm in problem solving mode and the artist is usually operating on a more emotional, gut level--do I like how it feels?
Q: Is there a kind of image that is _not_ served by being screenprinted?
Well, it has to be designed with the medium in mind. It's a flexible process but it can be unforgiving. If you don't understand spot color and key line you're going to have a hard time. Not everything has to be simple spot and trap, like a coloring book, but if you don't at least understand those things you're in for a rough ride. Less is more. It's also a fine line between surrendering to the process and being particular about certain things. Choose your battles. It's good to aim for perfect but perfection is unattainable. And boring.
Q: I know you used to have a machine-run press, but you gave it up to focus on hand work. What about doing all your prints by hand appeals to you?
Autos are great and there is nothing inherently better about things made by hand. Part of what I like about screen printing is that it is mechanical and I do not fetishize the hand made. The machine just kind of turned my studio into a factory and I just didn't really like it. I have more room to maneuver in my small space now.
Thanks again to Nat Swope. If you want to see some of the work in person (and take some goodies home as well), visit Bloom Press (2310 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland) on May 3 during First Friday.
I'm attempting a little experiment over here. We (the royal we) have created a monthly inbox zine called Wertzeen. If you sign up, it will arrive, like a magic mist, in your email inbox. Once a month, and no more than once a month. It is a zine without the paper: a zeen. We’ll keep you informed not just of our illustrative scribblings and meanderings but also of the happenings of the Bay Area creative community. It will be good fun, and it means you no harm. It is free and easy. If this interests you, click on over to this page.
I'm posting issue #001 tomorrow, and I can't wait.
our little uke band special ghosts (it's andy, isabel, and yours truly) is playing the burlington hotel on july 18th. if you haven't been to port costa yet, it's time to treat yourself. be sure to have dinner at the bull valley roadhouse before the show.
here's a flyer, and some images of isabel and i screenprinting little stuffed ghost pillows for sale at the show. thanks to bloom press for hosting.
Wow. I'm stunned.
Chris Rathman has taken the cover art I created for Camper Van Beethoven's La Costa Perdida and has done stop-motion animation with plastic beads to create this super-groovy video. There's lots of great CVB in-jokes that whiz by. You'll have to see for yourself. Behold:
Campout 9 is upon us. Here's the poster I just finished. Stay tuned for the printed version. This was a meditation on an upcoming birthday, on the death of the glaciers, on the old traditions and religions. Remember when rock and roll used to be dangerous? Apparently a 9 enneagram is "the peacemaker". That sounds good to me.
the new Camper Van Beethoven record is out today, and it is, indeed, a goody goody. The package design and illustrations were done by yours truly. You can stream the whole thing here, and you can buy yourself a copy here. I recommend getting a "hard copy" of the CD, since that will give you the full sensory experience of owning the record (as opposed to having these little pop gems lost in the "shuffle" of your playlists).
Go ahead, treat yourself. Buy the CD from your local music purveyor, wait for it to arrive, pour yourself a frosty beverage, put the CD on, find a comfortable place to sit and listen, and relax. Listen to each track carefully, noting your physical reaction to each song. You might get distracted. That's ok. Sit back down, and listen to the next track. And so on. See? Feels good, right?
Good morning friendlies,
Sara Thacher asked me to contribute graphics to a game (Sara calls it a "playful narrative experience") for The Exploratorium called Hiss Pop. You'll be able to play this game (and experience a bit of authentic San Francisco musical culture, including custom-crafted 45rpm records) if you make the scene at The Exploratorium's After Dark event on March 1. Don't be square, be there!
Here's the three patches we produced for the event. We referenced groovy LP graphics for these, and put our own spin on it.
Turn off the glowing box, jump on the train, and getcherself some cool, dads. The Exploratorium is where. It's. At.
Friends to the Four-Pawed:
Andy and I are doing another 'Singing' for A Curious Collection of Cats (a children's book lovingly illustrated by yours truly) this Sunday at Clayton Books in Clayton, California. If you are in the East Bay, come on out and getcher book signed and see Andy & I act like goofballs! Here's a little bit from the book launch party:
What: Ukeleles and Kitties and Drawings
Where: Clayton Books, Clayton California
When: 3 pm. Right after naptime.
Music fills the room at the Wertzateria for about 12 or 13 hours a day. It's our constant companion. I geek out about music the way some people geek out about sports - or movies. I dream about doing posters for my favorite bands, and sometimes my dreams come true (stay tuned for a Campout 2009 poster design!). I am constantly searching the intertubes for interesting music to play on my radio show, The Argyll Adventure Tree. Some music (and noise related sites and images, many thanks to Phil Benson) for your eyes and ears:
On July 2, William Orbitplayed a live set on KCRW (featuring Laurie Mayer from Torch Song)!
Our friends in Voice Farm have a new website. I love these guys.
There's a nifty documentary about Brian Eno (whose Oblique Strategies I use all the time when I'm doing a creative project) streaming right here.
A lovely sad song: "Another Day" by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush. I know the cover by This Mortal Coil, but I'd never heard the original.
A contemplative moment: through our friend Antony we were turned on to the music of William Basinski (in fact, Andy did a bunch of work on William's site). Quiet, loopy, weird, and entrancing.
You might enjoy the Nigeria 70 Box Set. Funky and so, so great.
Andy and I will be doing another "singing" and signing of A Curious Collection of Cats tomorrow at Kepler's Bookstore in Menlo Park, California. Andy and I will be performing a few of the poems in the book (singing and playing uke), and author Betsy Franco will be doing a presentation about how the book was written. Should be a hoot! If you're in the area, come on over and say hi and get a book signed. Fun for kids (or for the eternally young).
What: 'Singing' for a Curious Collection of Cats
Where: Kepler's Books, Menlo Park
1010 El Camino Real
Menlo Park CA, 94025
When: 11:30 am, Sunday June 28
Here's a little video from Diesel Books in Oakland:
we had such a marvelous time at the book launch for A Curious Collection of Cats. Many, many thanks to Diesel Books in Oakland, thanks to Abigail and Hayley at Tricycle, thanks to my sweetie who set three of the poems to music so we could sing 'em. There were about 60 people in attendance, and we sold out of books! If you want a book, call Diesel (510-653-9965). They are ordering more books (and doesn't it feel good to support the indie bookstore instead of the nameless behemoth bookstore?) and should have more copies soon.
For those of you who came to the Launch, thank you so much! If you couldn't make it, we're scheduling a few more "singings" for the book: Betsy Franco and I will be doing a talk and signing at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park on June 28th at 11:30. I am also scheduling a singing for San Francisco - stay tuned for that info!
In the meantime, here's some video my brother Tim took of us singing: