Portraits of the artists…


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 – an excellent five-track EP entitled Extended Play – for Live To Ride magazine. There’ll be a fine interview with the band in the next issue of that publication. But during our chat, we got talking about the band’s art, beginning with the band logo – a kind of sloppily executed rifle sight. I’ll pick up the interview where Jake told me about it. But first, enjoy the clip to ‘Die Rad’. And then appraise the symbol. And then start reading!




JAKE GRIGG: Yep, it’s similar to that. It looks a bit like an ‘anarchy’ sign as well.

Shawn is an artist. He’s actually a great artist and we’re putting on a show next week. He does all the art for all our stuff. I’m not really an artist but that’s the only thing I’ve ever drawn. For some reason we needed a symbol, and I can draw a circle and an upside down cross. Hang on and I’ll hand you over to Shawn so he can talk about his art.

SHAWN HARRIS: You asked about the symbol? That’s Jake’s masterpiece. But I just want to say that Jake’s the best artist’s subject. I’ve just done a roomful of paintings of his head, seven feet tall. He has the weirdest face. Have you ever looked at Jake’s face? It’s the weirdest thing: he just has all this surface area, and then all his features are in the middle. From painting him, I’ve measured it out, and it’s… wow! You can’t 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 won’t 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 I’ve been asked before, “What does it mean?” To us, it means the fun that we’re 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.

Shawn’s 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 cross…


JAKE GRIGG: How could you tell?!

Dom Romeo: It’s the one that’s not got any other paint on it…

JAKE GRIGG: Yeah, exactly. It was a very inspirational piece – something I put a lot of time and effort into.

Dom Romeo: I also like the portrait of the two of you nude…


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 stroked him.

SHAWN HARRIS: The brush!

JAKE GRIGG: The brush! I stroked the brush…

Dom Romeo: Now, Shawn, what I like is that there’s a painting that you did that has the logo on it, where you’ve gone to great trouble to reproduce the look of it being painted on. It’s a very ‘modern art’ thing1 – tell me about that.

SHAWN HARRIS: I was pretty diligent in recreating the organic brush strokes of Jake’s 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 are… I don’t even know what you call that style…

SHAWN HARRIS: I think the one you’re referring to is probably the most ‘pop art’ of all the pieces. It’s three shades; it’s really almost made straight for silk screen, you know?

JAKE GRIGG: It’s my favourite!

SHAWN HARRIS: Mine too, hey!


Dom Romeo: Now, I don’t know much about art, but you can clearly paint – and I shouldn’t sound so surprised when I say that – 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 I’d 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 wasn’t alive any more and started playing the guitar and everything changed.

JAKE GRIGG: He’s frozen now!

Dom Romeo: He is frozen!2

SHAWN HARRIS: The only reason I would every leave Maniac is if they thaw Walt Disney and he hires me personally.

JAKE GRIGG: I’ll make sure that never happens. Never happens! I’ll blow up the sun before that happens.

Dom Romeo: Do you paint a lot?

SHAWN HARRIS: I do, yes. I’ve acquired something of a habit of painting to support myself because music pays sometimes and most of the time it really doesn’t. So instead of being a barback or, ah…

JAKE GRIGG: A storage king…

SHAWN HARRIS: … a storage king, or selling coat hangers to old people, like most of my friends do – who also are amazing musicians – I have somehow winged it with my graphic design company.

Dom Romeo: What’s your graphic design company?

SHAWN HARRIS: It’s called Oxen. The website’s www.oxenoxen.com

Dom Romeo: What do you fall back on in hard times, Jake?

JAKE GRIGG: I fall back on…


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 form…

SHAWN HARRIS: Definitely. One of the pieces is basically a ‘remix’ painting of the digital paintings that is our EP cover. So it’s 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: They’re all portraits; did anything abstract come out of the time you were recording?

SHAWN HARRIS: Um… we could play you some tracks that could probably be categorised as ‘abstract’…

Dom Romeo: A lot of musicians come out of the art school milieu – Ian Dury for example was a great British artist who was a musician as well…

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 don’t 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 – the song ‘Me And My Arrow’. 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 protégé of John Lennon, recorded an album with John producing…

Dom Romeo: Pussy Cats…

SHAWN HARRIS: Yeah, an amazing album… It’s really funny. The stage that me and Jake are at right now – all roads lead back to Mecca. Whether it’s these paintings or it’s music that we’re 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 – 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 said…

JAKE GRIGG: Carole King, man…

SHAWN HARRIS: …Harry Nilsson, The Point…

JAKE GRIGG: Carole King, Tapestry.

SHAWN HARRIS: Tapestry. I heard that album a million times, and Jake’s been playing it non-stop for the past month and I know every word, like, ‘Damn, man, I was seriously raised on this…,’ you know?

Dom Romeo: Now, you mentioned David Bowie; there’s one track on the EP that the saxophone to me…

Die Rad (Bowiesque sax line)


Dom Romeo: …sounds exactly like David Bowie playing it.           

SHAWN HARRIS: Yes, man, yes!


SHAWN HARRIS: I’m a flute player myself – that was my first instrument. But it’s actually the same fingering as the sax. So I’ve been working on my chops: I want to play that so bad. I’m not up to speed yet.

JAKE GRIGG: We’ll probably get Bowie to do it.

SHAWN HARRIS: We’ll probably get Bowie.

Dom Romeo: It does sound like it came straight off one of his ’70s albums.

SHAWN HARRIS: That’s the best compliment you could give us, man! A good friend of ours, Matt Appleton, played sax on the EP.

JAKE GRIGG: We said, ‘Sound like Bowie!’ He’s really good at emulating that.

Dom Romeo: I didn’t mention Captain Beefheart when I was listing the musicians who paint. The guy’s a professional artist. He won’t go back to music because it took him too long to be respected as a painter.

SHAWN HARRIS: Really? Well, I’ll always go back to music.

JAKE GRIGG: And if he doesn’t, I’ll always make sure he does, some way or another.

SHAWN HARRIS: Listen, as long as there’s music, there’s 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, I’d choose music.

Dom Romeo: Now, Jake, I don’t want you to be offended, but I heard someone who was admiring the exhibition say, ‘If I could, I’d have Shawn paint my portrait’.

JAKE GRIGG: I’m offended!


Dom Romeo: Now, Shawn, I don’t want you to be offended.

SHAWN HARRIS: Okay, okay, okay.

Dom Romeo: If I could, I’d have Jake paint my portrait.

SHAWN HARRIS: Yes! It’s like Jake’s got that primal genius, man. He’s just showed up, just figured out how to use a wheel and some fire and taps straight to the source. That’s why I write songs with him, because he does that with music as well.

Dom Romeo: Gentleman, I think that’s 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 showing… (read Tom Wolfe’s 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?