Portraits of the artistsâ¦
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
A couple of weeks ago I got to hear a great new recording by a duo calling themselves Maniac. They consist of Jake Grigg, erstwhile guitarist and vocalist of Central Coast indie rock band Something With Numbers, and Shawn Harris, former guitarist and vocalist with California band The Matches. I then got had the pleasure of interviewing Jake about their new recording â an excellent five-track EP entitled Extended Play â for Live To Ride magazine. Thereâll be a fine interview with the band in the next issue of that publication. But during our chat, we got talking about the bandâs art, beginning with the band logo â a kind of sloppily executed rifle sight. Iâll pick up the interview where Jake told me about it. But first, enjoy the clip to âDie Radâ. And then appraise the symbol. And then start reading!
JAKE GRIGG: Yep, itâs similar to that. It looks a bit like an âanarchyâ sign as well.
Shawn is an artist. Heâs actually a great artist and weâre putting on a show next week. He does all the art for all our stuff. Iâm not really an artist but thatâs the only thing Iâve ever drawn. For some reason we needed a symbol, and I can draw a circle and an upside down cross. Hang on and Iâll hand you over to Shawn so he can talk about his art.
SHAWN HARRIS: You asked about the symbol? Thatâs Jakeâs masterpiece. But I just want to say that Jakeâs the best artistâs subject. Iâve just done a roomful of paintings of his head, seven feet tall. He has the weirdest face. Have you ever looked at Jakeâs face? Itâs the weirdest thing: he just has all this surface area, and then all his features are in the middle. From painting him, Iâve measured it out, and itâsâ¦ wow! You canât forget it. It breaks all the rules, man.
JAKE GRIGG: I do have the weirdest face.
Dom Romeo: I look forward to you featuring in the
Archibald Prize some time soon, but back to the symbol: I suspect it may come
to the point where you wonât have to have the name. A t-shirt with just the
symbol will say the same thing, kind of like the Radio Birdman symbol.
JAKE GRIGG: Exactly right. And Iâve been asked before, âWhat does it mean?â To us, it means the fun that weâre trying to exude out of the music. Every time I look at it, I get that same feeling of fun. We wanted something that people could see and just get that same feeling as hearing the music. But it is just a circle and an upside down cross.
Shawnâs paintings, it turned out, were being
exhibited at Blank_Space on Crown Street, beginning Saturday 12th.
I turned up for the opening, where I got to interview Shawn and Jake, this time
mainly about art.
Shawnâs paintings, it turned out, were being exhibited at Blank_Space on Crown Street, beginning Saturday 12th. I turned up for the opening, where I got to interview Shawn and Jake, this time mainly about art.
Dom Romeo: Jake, I know that you designed the Maniac logo, which is the circle and the cross, and there is one artwork that you did, of the circle and the crossâ¦
GRIGG: How could you tell?!
Dom Romeo: Itâs the one thatâs not got any other paint on itâ¦
JAKE GRIGG: Yeah, exactly. It was a very inspirational piece â something I put a lot of time and effort into.
Romeo: I also like the portrait of the two of you
JAKE GRIGG: Thank you very
much. That was actually inspired by both of us naked. It was very
inspirational. We stood still in front of a mirror for about 30 minutes and I
SHAWN HARRIS: The brush!
JAKE GRIGG: The brush! I
stroked the brushâ¦
Dom Romeo: Now, Shawn,
what I like is that thereâs a painting that you did that has the logo on it,
where youâve gone to great trouble to reproduce the look of it being painted
on. Itâs a very âmodern artâ thing1 â tell me about that.
SHAWN HARRIS: I was pretty
diligent in recreating the organic brush strokes of Jakeâs original, yes. I
just got in there with a really fine sable and drew in all of the imperfections
if you had done the original logo like Jake did.
Dom Romeo: And along with the logo, the two portraits areâ¦ I donât even know what you call that styleâ¦
SHAWN HARRIS: I think the
one youâre referring to is probably the most âpop artâ of all the pieces. Itâs
three shades; itâs really almost made straight for silk screen, you know?
JAKE GRIGG: Itâs my
SHAWN HARRIS: Mine too,
Dom Romeo: Now, I donât know much about art, but you can clearly paint â and I shouldnât sound so surprised when I say that â but did you train as an artist?
SHAWN HARRIS: Yeah, until I got completely and wonderfully side-tracked with touring and playing music. I was in art school, en route to being an animator for Walt Disney, which Iâd decided I wanted to do when I was about three years old. I wanted to work for Walt Disney. And then I found out he wasnât alive any more and started playing the guitar and everything changed.
JAKE GRIGG: Heâs frozen
Dom Romeo: He is frozen!
SHAWN HARRIS: The only
reason I would every leave Maniac is if they thaw Walt Disney and he hires me
JAKE GRIGG: Iâll make sure
that never happens. Never happens! Iâll blow up the sun before that happens.
Dom Romeo: Do you paint a lot?
SHAWN HARRIS: I do, yes.
Iâve acquired something of a habit of painting to support myself because music
pays sometimes and most of the time it really doesnât. So instead of being a
barback or, ahâ¦
JAKE GRIGG: A storage kingâ¦
SHAWN HARRIS: â¦ a storage king, or selling coat hangers to old people, like most of my friends do â who also are amazing musicians â I have somehow winged it with my graphic design company.
Dom Romeo: Whatâs your
graphic design company?
SHAWN HARRIS: Itâs called Oxen. The websiteâs www.oxenoxen.com
Dom Romeo: What do you
fall back on in hard times, Jake?
JAKE GRIGG: I fall back
SHAWN HARRIS: Me!
JAKE GRIGG: Yeah, exactly.
I fall back on Shawn, hopefully, selling some art.
Dom Romeo: I assume this series was painted here, in the process of recording the EP and the 31 other tracks that are yet to be released in some other formâ¦
SHAWN HARRIS: Definitely.
One of the pieces is basically a âremixâ painting of the digital paintings that
is our EP cover. So itâs this really sloppy, stoned, crazy, colourful piece
based on that one.
Dom Romeo: I like the drips on that!
SHAWN HARRIS: Yeah, me
too. I got right into letting that one be what it was aiming to be. I just kind
of moved out of the way for that one; it painted itself.
Dom Romeo: Theyâre all
portraits; did anything abstract come out of the time you were recording?
SHAWN HARRIS: Umâ¦ we could play you some tracks that could probably be categorised as âabstractââ¦
Dom Romeo: A lot of
musicians come out of the art school milieu â Ian Dury for example was a great
British artist who was a musician as wellâ¦
SHAWN HARRIS: David Bowie showcases his stuff all the time.
Dom Romeo: Paul McCartney
and John Lennon both went to art college. Was music always there in the background
when you were a kid, wanting to draw?
SHAWN HARRIS: Music always was, absolutely. This is a weird reference, I donât know if either of you guys know it, but Harry Nilsson actually did a soundtrack for an animation called The Point. That was actually my favourite record as a kid. Since then, I think Blackalicious has sampled it and made a hip hop song out of it â the song âMe And My Arrowâ. That was my favourite thing as a kid. Then I come to find out, as I get a bit older, Harry Nilsson was a bit of a protÃ©gÃ© of John Lennon, recorded an album with John producingâ¦
Dom Romeo: Pussy Catsâ¦
SHAWN HARRIS: Yeah, an amazing albumâ¦ Itâs really funny. The stage that me and Jake are at right now â all roads lead back to Mecca. Whether itâs these paintings or itâs music that weâre creating, all of our references seem to point back to those first records that we heard, before we even knew what was pop, what was rock, what was cool, what was not cool, what our parents listened to or what our neighbours who worked on cars in the garage and had long black hair and tattoos listened to, had no concept of any genre of music or anything â those first songs that connected to us are coming back to be huge influences.
Dom Romeo: What are they?
Give me some examples.
SHAWN HARRIS: Like I saidâ¦
JAKE GRIGG: Carole King,
SHAWN HARRIS: â¦Harry Nilsson, The Pointâ¦
JAKE GRIGG: Carole King, Tapestry.
SHAWN HARRIS: Tapestry. I heard that album a million times, and Jakeâs been playing it non-stop for the past month and I know every word, like, âDamn, man, I was seriously raised on thisâ¦,â you know?
Dom Romeo: Now, you
mentioned David Bowie; thereâs one track on the EP that the saxophone to meâ¦
SHAWN HARRIS: Ha ha!
Dom Romeo: â¦sounds exactly like David Bowie playing it.
SHAWN HARRIS: Yes, man, yes!
JAKE GRIGG: Yeah!
SHAWN HARRIS: Iâm a flute
player myself â that was my first instrument. But itâs actually the same
fingering as the sax. So Iâve been working on my chops: I want to play that so
bad. Iâm not up to speed yet.
JAKE GRIGG: Weâll probably get Bowie to do it.
SHAWN HARRIS: Weâll probably get Bowie.
Dom Romeo: It does sound like it came straight off one of his â70s albums.
SHAWN HARRIS: Thatâs the best compliment you could give us, man! A good friend of ours, Matt Appleton, played sax on the EP.
JAKE GRIGG: We said,
âSound like Bowie!â Heâs really good at emulating that.
Dom Romeo: I didnât mention Captain Beefheart when I was listing the musicians who paint. The guyâs a professional artist. He wonât go back to music because it took him too long to be respected as a painter.
SHAWN HARRIS: Really?
Well, Iâll always go back to music.
JAKE GRIGG: And if he doesnât, Iâll always make sure he does, some way or another.
SHAWN HARRIS: Listen, as
long as thereâs music, thereâs visual art. The two will always go hand-in-hand
and I will never be in a position where I feel like I have to choose between
the two. But if I did, Iâd choose music.
Dom Romeo: Now, Jake, I donât want you to be offended, but I heard someone who was admiring the exhibition say, âIf I could, Iâd have Shawn paint my portraitâ.
JAKE GRIGG: Iâm offended!
SHAWN HARRIS: Ha ha!
Dom Romeo: Now, Shawn, I
donât want you to be offended.
SHAWN HARRIS: Okay, okay, okay.
Dom Romeo: If I could, Iâd
have Jake paint my portrait.
SHAWN HARRIS: Yes! Itâs like Jakeâs got that primal genius, man. Heâs just showed up, just figured out how to use a wheel and some fire and taps straight to the source. Thatâs why I write songs with him, because he does that with music as well.
Dom Romeo: Gentleman, I
think thatâs an awesome ending for a great interview. Thank you very much!
SHAWN HARRIS: Thank you.
JAKE GRIGG: Thanks heaps, mate. Cheers.
1) See Lichtenstein's Yellow and Red Brushstrokes, 1966, in which brushstrokes are depicted, but with no actual brush strokes showingâ¦ (read Tom Wolfeâs The Painted Word for more information).
2) Or is he? Apparently, Disney being cyogenically frozen is an urban legend. Well, that's what Wikipedia says, so who knows?