Iron Fist Interview

So am I guessing that you were friends with Matt Pike... doing the shirt and touring (were you a driver/ merch guy?) for 4 months. Is that shirt like a collectors' item now?

I made the artwork for the first High on Fire shirt. We toured North America in 1999 and Europe in early 2000 and I was in charge of selling the only two items we had to offer, the t-shirt and the original 3 song demo.

I suppose the shirt is seen as a cult item at this point. When the band celebrated its 20th anniversary a few years ago I was asked permission to reprint the design so I cleaned it up and re-inked some details.

I think it’s one of those designs that retains its naive qualities and a certain appeal. When I drew it in 1999 I was simply trying to make a design that looked like an old biker emblem. The lettering was a rough homage to a Stanley Mouse Cream poster. The original run was in fact printed by Matt’s girlfriend’s father in his biker t-shirt shop.

A moment from that era that I sometimes think about is the London show at The Garage in early 2000. The crowd was the biggest they’d played to by far and just blissfully chaotic. When Des kicked off the beat to 10,000 Years the energy was insane and beautiful.

It seems that your father's record collection had an impact? For me, part of the lure into rock music was obsessing over record sleeves in the shops as a kid; they'd take me away into far away lands. Was it the same for you?

How does it feel now that perhaps you're having a similar effect on a new generation?

My father’s record collection was big influence, yes. The artwork and inventive packaging was more compelling than the music in many cases though it did illustrate to me the concept of marrying art with music.

I love to think my work has been an influence. 10-20 years flies by quickly. Scenes come and go and underground culture shifts. Meanwhile I’m still sitting at the drawing table!

I am very supportive of younger artists. My advice sometimes feels lost to time, as social media and music formats have changed so abruptly, but I try to be helpful. I have certainly noticed the shrinking cycles of regurgitation in pop culture, for better or worse. If I can keep the creative flame burning during my lifetime I will be happy with that contribution. I hope my work will leave a lasting impression of pure art and inspiration rather than surface level memes.

What album sleeve caught your eye in particular? Does that album still invoke the same feelings now as a professional artist yourself?

Within my dad’s collection, which was fairly pedestrian for the 70s, I loved Martin Sharp’s Cream covers, Lee Conklin’s Santana, and R. Crumb’s Big Brother and the Holding Co. These albums can facilitate the total immersion of art and sound which should be the goal I think.

An album that has really transcended time for me, both visually and sonically, is Blue Cheer’s “Vincebus Eruptum” . There’s something about the solarized effect on the photos and loose 1960s lettering style, perfectly balanced without being overwrought. The artist was a very interesting character, an outlaw biker and Blue Cheer manager, Gut Terk. My 2008 Blue Cheer poster was a tribute to his artwork. RIP Gut.

If someone talks about psychedelic art... often it conjures up the notion of crazy hippies and drug-taking and creating far out ideas... how off the mark is a thought process like that as far as you are concerned?

I would likely be considered a crazy drug taking hippie by most accounts and I embrace the label with one caveat : I am also an artist. I have devoted my life to channeling ideas and inspiration which can come to me through different channels. That said, my process does involve many many hours at the drawing table. A lot of time alone, flipping through books, meditation, woodland walks. The path is not always a romantic one and the struggle can be challenging but art is my true calling and I love all facets of the process.

How do you look back at previous work you have done ... are you self- critical or do you believe in the notion that you are only as good as you can be at a time and your talents are on a constant journey of progression? In context, I find it very difficult to read really old articles I did 25 years ago for my zines or my early days at Metal Hammer, for example ... they always feel flawed but at the time, i was super proud and felt I had done the best interviews!

It’s often difficult to look at my old work and not be critical but I’ve learned to accept that people don’t see the “mistakes” and in fact a drawing’s imperfection is sometimes its appeal. This is a good lesson for any artist, musician or craftsperson because sometimes an underdog piece is granted a long life or even iconic status.

There is a 'zen'/ calming-vibe to your work (looking at it, from the outside) ... is that something you would agree with or indeed aim for with your work?

Yes, that’s a gracious observation. I’m certainly aware that my nature is somewhat calm and inward looking so it inevitably shows in my work.

People have different ways of viewing artwork. Some need a design to scream at them from across the room. Others like to journey into an image and sit with it for a while. My work tends to appeal to the latter, I think.

When you get called up to do an album sleeve, poster or merch... do you have to vibe off the band to get involved or can you seperate the two?
Do you have any fan boy moments where you feel the pressure to deliver something to a band who you really respect?

What are your own musical tastes?

Working with a band whose music I am inspired by is great and I’ve been really fortunate in this respect. On the other hand, I recognize the commercial side of my trade as an illustrator and can see a job as an objective challenge.

Wino “Punctuated Equilibrium” was a total honor as it was a sort of spiritual collection of songs spanning many years . Wino’s artwork ideas were very cool and tailored to his life experience. The extensive packaging ( gatefold with a tipped-in 10” sleeve) was a pleasure to design and will forever be a personal favorite.

I had been a fan of Ulver since the trilogy albums and when Kris contacted me in 2006 I was ecstatic. The vinyl version of “Shadows of the Sun” was quite early in my career and I certainly recall having butterflies during the process.

Working on Witchcraft “The Alchemist” was awesome and I think the album is a classic of the genre.

Making the the Comus poster for their 2010 Roadburn appearance was an incredible opportunity. To think I was collaborating with these legendary artists from an older generation was just mind blowing. I could not believe that I was corresponding with Bobbie Watson as if we were peers! She was very kind and supportive.

Roadburn has been such a fantastic event where the generational gaps are celebrated and bound in the spirit of art and music. I felt similarly a few years ago when working on Triptykon’s opus “Requiem” (with my friend Jondix) and also when creating Arthur Brown’s tour poster in 2017.

Doom metal in all its iterations, including a dissolution into drone or dark ambient, has always been my preferred soundtrack. I also find inspiration in atmospheric Black Metal and psychedelic folk music. I cherish music that facilitates a meditative and creative state of mind.

Growing up in Oakland, it always feels like there was a music/ creative scene during the 90s (Neurosis' Steve Von Till always talks about the scene around that time)... did you feel it was a creative hub? What impact did it have on you?

I grew up on the east coast and hitch hiked to Oakland in 1994 . My timing was perfect to place me in the middle of an incredible scene which was a fusion of punk, metal, and experimental music. I was supported in making photocopied fliers for local shows at a time when there was no money to be made nor commercial interests. In many ways I am still propelled by the momentum from that era.

My earliest fliers were for bands like High on Fire, Dystopia, and Asunder. Many of these bands that I came up with and are now considered very influential but in the moment were my closest friends and neighbors.

What took you to Portland and how does it fair in comparison? Musically at least, there seems to be a lot going on...
What inspirations does it offer you?

I love the Pacific Northwest for its landscape and climate. I moved up here to explore what it means to be an artist and establish myself on the path. So much of my free time here has been very inward looking while walking in the woods, studying yoga asana and spiritual texts, or communing with small groups of friends in nature.

Some Cascadian bands like Fauna, Agalloch, and Dead Moon have perfectly captured the environment here, crystallizing that otherworldly vibe of a rainy winter day in the Pacific Northwest.

You went to college much later than many people generally would ... do you feel in hindsight that was a good experience for you?

How old are you now? In what ways would your path be different if you hadn't gone for some formal training?

I’m 46 years old. I have an insatiable hunger for new methods and ideas in art so attending art school made sense for me. I believe I gained a sense of discipline and real world application there.

You mention that you like symbols ... in our somewhat out of control world, traditions feel like something we can all hang onto or look back to for guidance. Would you agree? Do you feel kinships with any symbols and/ or belief systems yourself and if so why?

The cross, for example, is amongst the most ancient symbols of man. It can represent the human figure, a spiritual crossroad, the division of earth and heavens. That said, its relation to the Christian church is understandably difficult to break for some people. I like to look beyond the modern associations and swim in a sea of ancient runes, spirals, and crosses, to meditate on these symbols and their pre-historic meanings.

I love to study all types of spiritual thought but I am a Pantheist at heart and do not choose any religious system other than the non-dual worship of nature.

If we take a sleeve like the Witchcraft album or the Sunn0))) (Let there be drone) ... typically how long would a piece like those take you? Do you do them in stages or do you work on one piece at a time.

An album can take several months though there are so many variables. A very detailed poster such as SunnO))) ‘Let There Be Drone” can take a few months from start to finish.

I am usually juggling several projects at once at any given time. Again, this depends on deadlines and a lot of moving pieces. Drawings are usually india ink on board which I later scan into the digital realm.

Metal/ rock music has a strong connection with artists, it always feels that audiences connect as much with artwork as they do music... do you find this with yourself? Have you obsessive fans?

We can thank the progression of the 1960s artists like Rick Griffin through to Roger Dean to Jim Fitzpatrick to Derek Riggs to Pushead and onward. I really appreciate when a band develops a unique aesthetic with an artist and the fusion becomes its own powerful entity. I’m proud of my work with Om in this respect.

I’ve connected with some of my closest friends as a result of sharing my work worldwide. I try to garner the mutual appreciation and love of creative spirit rather than the fan / artist dynamic, as the rewards are so much greater. If someone is seemingly obsessed with my work I would like to talk with them and hopefully encourage their own creative ventures.

Tell us about your current work (please).

I’m beginning work on the Birth album on Bad Omen Records.

I have just finished the title page and a few illustrations for “Head on a Pike” which is Matt’s upcoming book. It’s a collection of lyrics paired with artists from the history of High on Fire.

What ambitions do you hold for the future?

I strive to move forward with integrity and balance while I explore the spiritual depths that open up through art making in solitude. I also hope to continue my travels and connect with like minded people who help nurture the universal creative fire!

“The artist is not born to a life of pleasure. He must not live idle; he has a hard work to perform, and one which often proves a cross to be borne.” ― Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art