Gothamist caught up with Kayrock and Wolfy at their printing studio out in Williamsburg. The pair have designed posters for bands ranging from Nada Surf to Oakley Hall, The Rapture to TV on the Radio and a show of their work is on display at Jessica Murray Projects through August 5.
We spoke with the guys about their poster work and tried to get them to dish on some of the bands. We also found out about their political views and side project, anti-pleonast band, Roxy Pain.
(Pictured: Wolfy, left and Kayrock, right)
How did you get your names?
Wolfy: That’s a long story, it’s from my childhood…and abuse.
Kayrock: My name came from the name of the business, which was a combination of my name and Bill Kaizen’s, the I guy I had been working with before. The names sort of stuck when we were on tour with the band Oneida. They always use stage names; they never on any of the albums or press allow anybody to know their real names. So, when we would go on tour with them they would call us by those names.
How did you get into business together?
K: After Bill left for grad school, I was working alone making the silkscreen posters. Wolfy had his art gallery thing and on the side he was making all these spray paint stencil posters. We knew each other from around. There was a loft that Wolf used to live in and they were getting kicked out, so they wanted to have this “last loft party ever.” He had drawings that he wanted to turn into a silkscreen or some kind of print to promote it. He came over and it was the first collaborative thing I had ever done with anybody. With Bill I was doing more of the computer stuff, the typesetting and just taking the drawings.
So we came up with this poster and we silkscreened it together. And then I was kind of overwhelmed trying to have my computer company and then silkscreen at night and Wolfy was like, “Well, I’ll come help you.” So he came and saved my ass with this big Nada Surf tour poster that I had to do and all these record covers. After a little while it was so much more fun to talk to somebody you work with and we were starting to design some posters together and got to the point where we decided to make a company together.
What kind of stuff do you do?
K: We do everything from T-shirts and posters for rock bands to wedding invitations. And it ranges from stuff where we have complete creative control to things where it’s purely a commercial job. We try to balance it.
You guys have a show of your posters up at Jessica Murray Projects, how did that come together?
K: We’ve known Jessica for a while. A couple years ago we did some prints for Brady Dollarhide who she represents. She was up here visiting Brady, who has one of the studios in the back, and he’d been talking us up. She was looking for a summer show where she could bring someone not well known into the art world. She also wanted it to be fun and to have a party aspect to it. Brady thought we’d be perfect for that.
We wound up doing a sort of conservative art thing where we took some of our rock posters and reworked them and reprinted them bigger and on this really fancy paper and used these fancy inks that are awesome, but cost a lot more than what we usually use.
Then we also have this whole music component where we got a lot of the bands that have worked with us over the years to come and play these rock shows for free in the gallery, and one at the Knitting Factory and one at the Frying Pan.
What about the name of the show, One Sixpack Short of a Hippie Death Cult?
K: We thought it embodied the whole, about to breakdown chaos that is in our shop.
The show only has 13 pieces. Do you think it’s a fair representation of your work?
K: We would have liked to put a lot more in. The last show we had in LA we had like 35 posters and it was a lot more salon style. I sort of like looking at it that way because your eye just shoots around. But the way the show is allows a more isolated, intimate space for each one. But then the wall in the show that we did with all the crazy off prints that has all this jumbled stuff, that’s what everybody’s drawn to.
W: It’s the one place where they let us do whatever we want.
K: Wolfy’s bitter.
W: I’m not bitter. It’s just a simple fact, when we’re given free reign we usually get a positive response.
K: And, that’s exactly what happens with the rock posters. Generally the way we like to work is that a band says we have a show here’s the info and then a week or two later they come and pick up the finished posters. Those guys get the best posters we’ve made. It’s not on purpose, but if we look back over our work, historically those are some of the ones we’re most proud of and the ones that have the best response. When people get meddling in it, generally some of the spirit goes out of it. You’re compromising with musicians who aren’t necessarily visual people, they are sound people, and they might not understand how silkscreen works and it can often corrupt the work.
How would you describe what you do?
W: It’s like utilitarian art. One of the things that we strive to do in the landscape is not just simply do what is often done, posters that can be narrow-minded or narrowly focused. There is a lot of blatant lifting of popular imagery in the landscape. What we try to do is bring our hands and our vision into the work and provide “high-minded ideals on an everyday level.”
K: People are often saying, “Man, your posters are over the place. You need to develop a style. Like all these style guys.” No, that’s the last thing we want to do. The style is that there is no style, no form.
You’ve worked with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, what was that like?
W: No comment.
How about The Rapture?
K: That was good. The first poster we did for them they were totally hands off and that was a really good poster. The problem is that when the bands get bigger, they don’t really have the free reign or the spine to put their foot down and say we want to work with these people. You got all these management companies ….
W: And they all have opinions about what sells better to kids.
K: So we haven’t been able to break through to that level, partly because we aren’t very good at not getting pissed off at the bullshit.
At what point in The Rapture’s career did you work with them?
K: We’ve only worked with them since they were pretty big. But the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were a band that we started working with very early in their career until they reached a point where they were too big to be bothered with us anymore.
Ever work on a poster for a band that you didn’t like?
W: Yes… But, I don’t think we ever designed a poster for a band where we disliked both the music and the people. We have definitely done posters for bands that have a different aesthetic from what we necessarily like, but the people were awesome. I don’t think there is a poster that we’ve done where we just cringe when we think about the people and the band.
Would you ever refuse to do a band’s poster?
W: You mean if Coldplay wanted us to design something. If they said they’d be hands off, we trust you guys, we’d probably do it. They aren’t offensive, they’re just bland, so we’d use a lot of cream colors.
What’s your creative process like?
K: It’s a mess. It goes differently every time. Sometimes it’s simple and it happens, sometimes there’s a lot of back and forth.
Ok, say I’m in a band and I want you to do my poster…
W: First off, if you have recordings of your band, we’d want to hear them. We definitely try to consider the landscape in which the poster is being seen in and the community at large. And then we’d probably talk to you a little about what you see.
You definitely have some recurring elements in your posters. Can you talk a bit about those?
K: We like pixels a lot. That’s from growing up playing old video games. And hand drawn stuff, hand drawn typefaces. Sword fonts and ice fonts. The kind of stuff you doodle in your high school notebook.
W: I like using the hand drawn stuff because it is more inviting to people in the landscape. At least I respond to things that might have some awkward element to them. Things that are slick and super polished like the sign across the street, you just walk right by it.
Your work has some humor to it. How would you describe your sense of humor?
W: Slapstick with more slap than stick.
On your desks you have a tombstone sort of thing with the word death, tarot and magic cards and other items that have a dark or satanic feel. Why this imagery? Do you engage in satanic rituals?
W: No, a lot of those images are classically associated with rock ‘n roll.
K: I don’t think we are particularly dark. I mean sometimes we listen to goth music and other times we listen to the Beach Boys.
W: Those are both kind of dark. The Beach Boys are kind of dark. I think it just depends on the period of time. I definitely spend a lot of time reading about all things Fortean. In a lot of ways it’s just the entrance of surrealism in the everyday. If there is one thing that people need in this day and age, it’s a certain amount of weird abstraction or magical realism.
What books are you buying?
W: As a business we’ve been buying the Buddha books by Osamu Tezuka. They’re comic books.
K: They tell the life and story of the Buddha from the guy who did Astro Boy. We buy books of typography. We bought the Ursula K. Le Guin books - the Ekumen or the tales of the Earthsea,.. I buy a lot fiction. I bought the new Harry Potter book the other day.
I saw a Raymond Pettibon book…
K: We didn’t buy that one. We stole it.
W: It was payment for services rendered…that were never paid for. At one time Pettibon was a really interesting force in fine art, comics and rock ‘n roll. He did exactly what in some ways, we would love to do, but we just don’t…
K: …party hard enough.
You work a lot with new bands so you must know a bit about new music...
W: We encourage people to bring us music. We just worked with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. We were doing all this work for them and none of us had ever heard them so we asked them for a record. We’ve listened to that a few times. They’re super hot right now.
The other night we played at the Knitting Factory with this band called Hot Fire. They are high school students that are writing and performing their own songs. It’s great to see teenagers so enthusiastic about what they are doing. It seems like when you are a teenager you put yourself out there in a way that’s really endearing and could be embarrassing. Then there is a whole phase in your 20s where you don’t want to do anything that would even come close to embarrassing you publicly. Then when you hit your late 20’s, early 30’s you realize, I’m never going to do anything of any kind of legitimacy if I don’t rediscover that feeling of being embarrassed.
You guys also make Fuck Bush merchandise. I take it that you don’t like the President…
W: Nobody can stand up to Bush and nobody is standing up to him and his cronies. It’s like a fauxhawk to me, like you’re willing to make a commitment but you’re not willing to shave off all your hair to have a Mohawk. You want to be cool but you still want to pat your hair down in the morning and go to work.
He’s ruining the world that we live in, quite literally. He’s making it more difficult for artists; he’s making it more difficult for independent small people. He’s making it extremely difficult for everybody except for himself and his agenda.
He’s manipulating the system worse than criminals on the street. I’d prefer to run into criminals on the street because at least you know where the knife is coming from. I think he is a really horrible person that needs to spend time in jail.
How do you guys feel about what’s going in your own backyard?
K: You mean the local politics in Williamsburg?
K: That’s all depressing. All these people did all this work and in the end the City Council and the developers are like we are going to do what we need to do to make money.
W: The people on the City Council that represent this community, they have a façade of representing the poor while they are sticking money in their pockets.
K: They are swapping out their poor constituents with new fancy rich ones.
W: They’d rather have a satellite Balthazar where they can sit with their rich friends.
Right now the City Council and the Mayor have no respect for the historical facades of any of the buildings in this city or the historical feel of any of the neighborhoods. If they can make a buck, they’re gonna make a buck. It’s the whole eminent domain thing. I’m sure that’s going to start effecting New York. They decide what’s good for the good of the world and they don’t stop and think. They are just as bad as people that fly planes into buildings to destroy them. Only they are doing it “legally.” They find legal ways to take down the buildings that make New York what New York is.
But they aren’t killing people…
W: Not yet…Actually they are killing people. They are making people who can’t afford to live in their laps of luxury, unable to live here and continue making a living. Those people are going to be ousted into the ether. After spending years of their lives in the community and in the neighborhood, they will have no income and no place to live. What are they going to do to those people? Sure they aren’t going to kill them directly, but they are going to make damn sure they are the people that are starving on the streets and picked up and exited out of the city.
They are ruining and undermining the spirit of this country and then being there when they are at their darkest and worst place and giving them god and a gun and sending them off to Iraq.
Wow. Not sure how to follow that…Wanna talk about your band Roxy Pain? How would you describe it?
W: I think it’s the hippy death cult we are trying to avoid.
K: We just counted up all the members past and present of Roxy Pain and we can probably start up a small battalion of hippy death.
Now you guys just came out with a record, but from looking at the site there seems to be a strong performance aspect to what you do. So what is it, music or performance?
K: Roxy Pain is an anti-pleonast band. There is an anti-pleonast manifesto. You are on stage to entertain people, both with your music and your performance…
W: but by putting your ego aside.
K: Yeah, it’s not about you, it’s about the audience and what they are giving you.
W: So, performance is definitely a big part of it.
What are your goals for the band?
K: We’d like to get famous enough that it would be worth anyone’s while to sue us.
W: I’d like to perform at the next Whitney Biennial.
K: I’d like to have someone pay us to go to Japan.
Can you give a highlight from your career so far?
W: Over the years we have definitely done a lot of posters for free or for materials costs. It’s always been a secret desire of mine in doing this to be thanked by a band on stage. There have been so many times when I’ve been on tour with bands and they’ve been thanking the bartender, thanking the door guy, thanking the guy that helped give them directions at the local gas station and in those moments I’ve always been like, “Oh yeah, they are going to thank me next for making the poster.” And it never happens. So, I kind of expressed that to Kayrock, but then we let it be.
But then we did a poster for Nada Surf, which they must have really responded to because they mentioned we did it in the middle of one of their shows and talked about it very specifically. Kayrock was like, “You told them.” And I was like, “I never said a word.” We celebrated a little bit with alcohol and some quiet cheering and at the end of the show we noticed that a larger number of kids were carrying around rolled up posters. It was a wonderful moment to finally feel appreciated for what we do… which can kind of be seen as the safety fastener on the diapers or just the diaper of the rock ‘n roll industry. I imagine some management people would say we are the diapers…Maybe we are just the talcum powder.
What do see in the future for Kayrock Screenprinting?
K: I’d like to focus less on the commercial stuff we do and more on the projects we love to do, but we’d have to hire more people to help us. We currently have some great interns working with us.
W: I don’t know about getting bigger, that’s scary. We are definitely at a juncture where the business has to change in some capacity – maintaining its usefulness in the community while still being a feasible source of income for us. I think in some ways it’s legitimizing what we do. I think we need to go outward as well as upward. We need to reach out to more people and become more of an institution with padded walls for the hippy death cult members.
Photo credit: Emily Wilson