Portland-based designer Aaron Draplin talks about getting into design, real-world inspiration and his Minneapolis days.
- Needmore’s Open House
- Aaron Draplin’s website
- Draplin Design Co. on Twitter
- SNOWBOARDER magazine
- Cinco Design
- House Industries
- Field Notes
- Led Zeppelin – Immigrant Song
- Led Zeppelin – Immigrant Song, Early Version
- Hi, Aaron.
- Are we starting right now?
- No, you know, you can…
- Oh, come on.
- …take your sip of water first, you know. Get some PVCs going.
- Because you’ve got to do the, “Here we are with…”
- Oh, that happens…I have other people do that for me. This will have already happened, yeah.
- Okay, because I’m going into this blind. I mean, you’ve talked about…we should be recording this. Are we recording right now?
- Okay, let’s start.
- Yeah, okay. We are. No, we are.
- It’s already started?
- I’m going into this fucker blind, Ray.
- Yeah, I know. I know.
- You know, we’ve talked in the hall…
- I’m sorry I didn’t give you any notice.
- …about once every six months back when you were here in the building.
- That’s right, yeah.
- We still became friends. I allowed you in. I allowed you into my life, Ray. Now, to do this, I can update you…
- Yeah, catching up. We had like five years, yeah. Now you’ve got two, when you only had one before.
- You have a baby and a wife and all.
- Have you seen my baby? There’s my baby down there. I’ve got two babies now.
- Didn’t you come to Bazaar or something with the baby?
- Yeah, that’s right.
- Yeah. That’s coming up. Yeah, okay, so two babies.
- Yeah, yeah.
- Wow, man.
- Enough about me. How long have you been doing this?
- Like in the shop here, or…
- Yeah. Well, in the shop and in general.
- I would say since about…you know, drawing since I was a little kid, but design since about ‘91 when I got my first sort of like little shitty degree right out of high school. You sort of picked, I’m going to be a graphic designer, I’m going to be something, and I started in ‘91. Thinking in terms of making logos and stuff since around then, or doing design, but it really took off for me about ‘96, because I went out West from Michigan to be a scrub snow boarder with my buddies.
We snowboarded during the day, that’s what we did, so I went to Bend, Oregon. Which, you know, it was cool, it was okay, but we were there for the mountain. It wasn’t…we’d come to Portland on the weekends to see bands and get supplies and stuff, whatever you needed. We’ll just say I went my first summer to Alaska, ‘96, to make cash. Then I got my computer, and that’s when shit started, so we’ll just say a good, solid 16, 17, 18 years.
Then again, didn’t really start…I had a computer all through that time and into college, but we’ll just say about 2000 is when I started to work professionally. I went back to school in Minneapolis, got a big degree, and in 2000 I had my first job at SNOWBOARDER magazine, so since then. We’ll just say 13 years of like getting a paycheck and shit, and it has been…but actually, we can even take a couple years off that, because I did a couple years at the mag, a couple years at Cinco Design Office here in town, which was a great job, but went on my own in the summer of 2004.
I’d call it maybe a good, solid nine years now, right? Five years on my own and then we’ve been in here about five years, with my partners Nakamoto and Goo, working together, not working together, but we’re coming up on our sixth year here. A lot of numbers in that thing, but we’ll just say it’s been a long time, a good, solid really decade kind of free, feeling free.
- When you first started doing stuff on your own and putting your own name on it, how hard was that transition and how did you get people to know the Draplin name as opposed to…
- Well, that…see, the funny part about that is I think, when you come into this shit and you’re a little kid and you’re excited and you saw House Industries, now, House Industries to me felt big. They felt established and the work was great, and it was funny and it was cool. I remember my dad liking it, you know. Then I went and met them in ‘97, and really realized it’s just four or five really creative guys kind bullshitting you, and it’s awesome. That’s funny to me. It’s funny to me that…
- Projecting an image of the industry?
- Yeah. I mean, I took the hook, and it’s awesome, because the work was great, and when you went and met them, they were just as cool, you know what I mean? It wasn’t this big…it’s a bit of a puton, but it’s not, you know? They were hardworking people. Seeing that, and then having some turd who was some David Carson spinoff, doing what is basically just fashionable at the time, in the late ‘90s, and seeing how seriously they took themselves and the bullshit they were selling, it really affected me to be like, “Wow, I just want to be my own thing, okay? If it’s never a thing, I’ll have a job and I’ll get a job.”
I got a job, right? If it ever becomes a thing, it doesn’t matter. It kind of doesn’t matter, it was just a joke. Because you’d meet these people when I was in Minneapolis who were like really fuckin’ smart, man. I mean, great. Excuse me. Excuse me. Everyone has to hold what they’re doing so I can check my stock price here. Oh, by the way, it’s going to be a big fuckin’ fourth quarter, Ray, just so you guys know, okay?
- The numbers are in.
- …break this thing, but it was always a joke. It kind of still is, because like I said, I met these guys who were like really serious about what they did, that’s fine, but kind of a puton. With the right fashion, you can be whatever you want, and it’s bullshit because you meet them and they’re kind of dicks. I always wanted my thing to be like bigger than it ever was, and then when they meet me, I’m a reasonable person. I’m nice to people or whatever, you know what I’m saying?
It’s not just an act to get better clients or some shit. It was just a fun reason to make fun Tshirts and fun shit. That’s all it’s ever really kind of been. When you start becoming this thing and people get to know your name, there’s no strategy there. It was just like, “Oh shit.” It’s fun, any job I get, to say, “By the way, yeah, I’m the Draplin Design Company,” you know what I mean? It’s like take a hat, take a pencil, take a trinket, because the bottom lineism of everything I got to see, no one let that shit fly.
House Industries did, but no one let that shit…everything has a fuckin‘ UPC on it now. Everything’s shopified. Everything’s…you know, you want a little extra? You want a little extra love put into that thing? It’s going to cost you. Here’s the love package. That’s fuckin’ garbage, right? I’ve felt that from the very, very beginning, even to the point of like, “Oh, you need extra work done on this project? You’ve got to pay for it.” You’ve got to put an RFP or an STD or something, some like acronym thing to get a change…what’s a change order called? Change order.
- Change order.
- Change order. Okay. I don’t operate in that world. For all of you guys who do, who have some big fuckin’ house on the hill in Beaverton, must be nice. Is there some life here in town? I don’t operate like that. It’s like, you need a change, I’ll just make the fuckin’ change. You’re paying me a fair price. You see what I’m saying? The politics of all that quagmire that people sort of like to hide in, I’ve just never been interested in that. Either…be it your self-image of, oh, I’m some smart thing, or I’m just…I’m fuckin’ …and it’s accessible, you know?
My favorite bands, my favorite bands growing up, you could see them loading their van and unloading their van, and you could go up and talk to them. Sure they’re busy, sure they’re whatever, but they’d say, “Yeah, come out, the show’s tonight, yeah, we’re going to somewhere,” and you know what I’m saying, that’s it. If they had someone doing it for them, you’re instantly just kind of like, “Where are they?” The bigger it gets, I’ve always just kind of shied away from it.
This whole mess is just a joke, really, kind of a weird little joke. I mean, it’s fun, it’s a real thing, there’s assets and shit in here, but it’s mine. It’s my baby. You know, it’s dumb, and I’ll never take it too seriously to where I think it’s bigger than what it is, ever. I have opportunities to do that all day long, but no. It’s just…you know, I don’t know. In ‘99, motherfuckers were calling themselves like Something Nothing Design, or something cute and coy, FlipFlap or some shit. No. “We’re called Flitch and we’re a design company.” Fuckin’ whatever, you know? All this fuckin’ stock photography and shit, and it’s just like…you know what I’m saying? You remember. How old are you?
- I am 41.
- Oh. age supersedes wisdom over here on my side, but I’m less than that. I’m going to be 40 in two weeks, so fuck. Okay, so the idea that you were around. You saw that shit too. You know, you saw that shit. You saw that shit.
It’s not just an act to get better clients or some shit. It was just a fun reason to make fun Tshirts and fun shit. That’s all it’s ever really kind of been. When you start becoming this thing and people get to know your name, there’s no strategy there.
- Are you from the Midwest?
- Yeah, from Michigan. Northern Michigan. Born in Detroit, but we moved north to Traverse City, Michigan when I was just a tiny little kid, and that’s where I grew up. As soon as I could, you know, 19, I got out of there. After a tiny little associate’s degree, I went all the way to Oregon to go with my buddies be a snowboarder. It’s like people were starting their college lives, and we started our lives, just being a bunch of scrubs, snowboarding every day. It was awesome, man, it was awesome. Your life is so visceral.
What were people worrying with back home? They were worrying about like, “Oh, I’ve got to get to my job and put gas in my car and stuff.” Well, we did that same thing in Oregon, but we got to go snowboard every day, like really good shit. Back home, you didn’t have that benefit. You didn’t have anything like that. It was just Michigan, man, small. We came when you could, when you should come. We moved when you should go, because you’re young, you’re dumb and your knees are still good, right, so we did it, and it was fuckin‘ great. I also knew when to stop, like I knew.
- Why did you back to the Midwest for school?
- Because I wanted…yeah, I wanted to concentrate. I wanted to shed all my…not shed the buddies, but just shed the system of like being in a big pickle between starting a new life and getting back up on the hill. Now, listen, fuckin’ all these years later, man, there’s still some Peter Pan motherfuckers that live these nice lives, man. They’re active, they’re out. There’s hiking, biking, surfing, whatever, skateboarding, everything, but I just wanted to try working. Sounds exciting. I had to get away from it. You know, I tried. I looked at the school here. I think it was the Pacific Northwest School or whatever, but it just seemed a little small at the time. Whatever it was, I can’t remember.
- Yeah, it was a while ago.
- Then I went back home and it just felt like, well, you’re home and you can focus, and I really fell for Minneapolis. It could have been really any town. I fell for being lost in a city by myself, as hard as that was. It was hard for a couple months until I made a couple buddies, and then you start to settle in and it’s like…it was really cool, you know?
If I would have never made any friends, I still really liked it there. I liked the grit, and I liked that there was accessibility to all these bands and record stores and shit. I didn’t have a penny then, but I still…you know what I mean? It was just fun to be…like I had to drive to Portland to get all that shit when I lived in Oregon, Bend. There, it’s just like down the street, you know? You learned at the temper…
- What era was this?
- That would have been…I moved back in ‘98 to Minneapolis.
- That’s about when I moved out here.
- From where?
- No shit?
- Yeah, so I have a lot of fond memories of record stores and first…
- Yeah, yeah.
- Oar Folkjokeopus. You can go for hours there.
- Yeah, Garage Door.
- I went there…I went to Garage Door when that dude…what was the band he was from? It was a spinoff of the Mats or whatever it was. See, I went there…no, it was the guy…his name was something like Little something, Little Dave or Little Sparky or something, Little John or Little something, like Young something or Tiny, Sparky or some shit, but anyway, he was like some guy who was the buddy of the buddy of the buddies of those guys.
For me to go back there be like…well, right now, I remember people kind of, “Why are you here?” I said, “Well, you know, there’s all these ghosts of these bands,” and the moment you say that, you’re a chump now. I’m sure if someone came here and said, “The reason I’m moving to Portland is for the Decemberists,” I’d have a fuckin’ couple words for them, you know, whatever it is. It’s like I was really…just the lore. I had missed it by…are you from there?
- You saw it. I missed by a decade, but it was still fun to be around that, we’ll just call it, missed opportunity for a lot of those guys. It’s the “could have” kind of thing, coulda woulda shoulda, but fuck, it doesn’t matter. It was great. That was enough for me. I don’t know if they were palling around here, going to these little bars and all that. The lore there, it was just really fun to me. It was fun to be to be around that.
It’s not like going to LA or something where you don’t care about it. I really cared about those bands, or the Chuck Andersons and the art and the design that I was so enamored by from a distance, so I went back and it was a fuckin’ killer. It could have been any city, but I picked it because my heroes were there. That was when Minneapolis came up, you know.
- It was like a rare stop for some of those bands, because it was such a pain in the ass to drive. I can just imagine driving from there to Seattle…
- Why hit Fargo? Why hit Fargo? You know, right. I mean, right, think about that. It’s like to do the Upper Midwest and then you go on to that next big thing, it’s just a big long drive in a couple days. Maybe you dip down, you go up and hit that thing and then you dip down and go do…you know, nothing to do in South Dakota or wherever. You dip down to like a Denver or something from there. I mean, the idea that there’s this town with this insular quality of all this art, design, the Walker, all that shit, these type foundries and all the things I was a fan of.
Then, the lore of the…yeah, of like the underdog bands. You know, those guys never made shit from that, but they won everyone’s heart. I think that’s a bigger paycheck than…they’d never cop to it, but you know. The idea that when I was there and like Westerberg was just there doing what he fuckin’ does, smoking the stogies, writing his little…I loved that, because I thought they were dead. You know, they were, they are, but have you seen the…them getting back together for their couple of like reunion shows or whatever?
It’s very weird, you know, because I’m not going to go pay 200 bucks to see it, even though I got to see Westerberg in maybe 2002, here in town. It was fuckin’ great. It was weird and wry and cynical and all that shit, but I don’t pretend. I remember I went and did the Walker Arts Center thing.
I spoke at the Walker a year ago, and they were like, “Tell us about what…” you know. They’re like, “What about the…you love the Replacements?” I said, “Who am I to talk about that?” I didn’t grow up here. I was a fan of it from a distance, but all I could talk about was what they meant to me, even as kind of a turkey coming in there, and I did. I made a list of something like the hundred things I loved about Minneapolis. I could make that about Portland all day long, but it kind of resonated with a couple people. I spent two years there just digging on the city, getting lost. Colder than a motherinlaw’s love. Holy…you know. Where did you grow up in the city?
- Well, I grew up in White Bear Lake.
- Oh, go Bears. You know, “Go Bears?” Oh, man, I could go for hours about just that. We used to go up to White Bear Lake just for the fuck of it, me and my buddy Rhino. Rhino, if you’re listening, remember those days up there in White Bear Lake? Frolicking, you know, seeing the city and hanging out, those long nights in White Bear Lake. Yeah, we used to go to Fridley for fun. We were like, “Let’s go to Fridley, there’s a Cheapo up in Fridley.” Because there’s stuff…you know…are so weird, kind of. We had no money.
- It’s a weird place. It was very much like…
- In the bins you’d find stuff, promo shit for two bucks, and that’s all…I couldn’t afford the full art, so I’d get the $2 one and it was enough, you know? I’d burn the disk into my…or just play the disk. That’s before burning shit into a machine but, okay, yeah, yeah. Wow, cool.
- Speaking of lists, you seem like a man who has a lot of loves, and a lot of your…like the poster work you’ve done is basically lists that you’ve turned into artwork, of things that you love about…
- Just pounding them into something, yeah.
- Yeah. Are there dates where you finally…you just have to really dig deep to find…
- No, no. I went to Arkansas and I was totally going to be like, “Oh, man, there’s six things that…” In Oregon, there’s no way that I could…I’d have to make a life-sized poster, and one of my friends…never been loved about it, whatever, because I’ve spent so much time here. Like Arkansas, you start going and you start digging, and you find awesome examples of awesome logos and things from regular working, sweating, bleeding people. Once you get past the lore or the easyhanging fruit, the lowhanging fruit, the easier to pluck. Like, or, man, this thing, with some great sports logo or something. No, it’s not that rough.
Some of the ones…I mean, it’s more that I’m just tired, but I love discovering something from some little shit town, so I’m always looking. I’m always collecting these logos and rebuilding them. Say I went by and I would do the iPhone, and I catch it at some gnarly angle. I will straighten that thing out and rebuild it, just to get that form…I just love the idea of celebrating good, solid things, things that have lessons.
Like why do logos suck nowadays, because we don’t look enough. We go look on Ffffound or Designinspiro.com or whatever the fuck, and it’s like we’re whittling down to ten archetypes. Okay, number one is who, some big name, so we’re not…big names, but down at number ten is someone I love, Dan Pisaro or something, you know. He’s funny, he’s witty, he’s good, he’s a fuckin’ good type, you know, and then you start to see your kids aping him.
No different, no different than when I was in ‘98 and motherfuckers were trying to pretend to be some David Carson. I went through that shit. It’s stupid, but I also at that time discovered Jan Pishel…and all these books that you see here. I discovered Bast and Rand…then and quickly shed all that shit, quickly let go of any of that fashion.
I wasn’t necessarily good at it. I was good at taking something and drawing and figuring something out. I learned how to decorate, and then I learned how to undecorate and go after form, and go after readability and shit, you know? Like tweaking type and stuff, and that, that’s more from…that’s more the local heroes I saw in Minneapolis, the Jim Werners, Barry Johnsons, Wink…, Aesthetic Apparatus. These were working people when I was kind of around then. Maybe some of them weren’t even around yet, but the working people is where I found the most inspiration, just doing good, solid work from Minneapolis, you know what I’m saying?
You start going and you start digging, and you find awesome examples of awesome logos and things from regular working, sweating, bleeding people…I love discovering something from some little shit town, so I’m always looking. I’m always collecting these logos and rebuilding them…I just love the idea of celebrating good, solid things, things that have lessons.
- Do you think that the people who…like if you look at a really old piece of equipment with a really crazy, funky logo, how is the person who made that different than the person who’s, say, designing the Yahoo! logo?
- Okay. Well, the difference is…and it’s very…but I love, number one, hardball. I like you. I like your style. Hardball journalism, here we go. Well, first of all, we’re in this place where we get to make things on whim. You could rationalize it however you want, but then it was about readability and functionality, and that’s why it was just so beautiful, because it wasn’t a piston match. You started to see that in the ‘40s and ‘50s in this world, where suddenly fins on a Cadillac mean something. That’s extra shit, that’s more cake icing, right?
Well, there’s a point where there wasn’t a lot of icing on the cake. It was just a little teeny smidge. That’s all you kind of needed, and that has always been an exclamation point to me. They had one little badge and one little thing that was pretty functional, this is what this tank or desk is, bam. Pure function. That’s beautiful to me because it’s free of any sort of…there’s no airs being put on it, right? You don’t have to be a certain set or caste or fiefdom, rising above, some bullshit, to be able to enjoy it, you know what I mean? It’s kind of like it speaks to the people. That’s what a lot of that stuff was really interested in. There’s a democracy to it or something. This is just typefaces, man, little badges and little shit.
You see design become this thing in our lives right now, where it’s just kind of like cake decorating. Fine. Not that it needs to be a movie prop, but I like things that work. That might be very ornate or might be very beautiful or very loose or whatever these things are, but that’s okay if it solves the problem. People love to kind of like slam me into this like, “Oh, well, you don’t like this kind of look or this kind of style.” No. No, no, no. What’s appropriate for the problem, you know? If you’re making a piece of furniture…you know, they did it right in the ‘50s and ‘60s and ‘70s with that shit, you know? It’s like it didn’t need to turn into like some ugly showroom shit, you know what I mean?
- Yeah. I mean, the classic example is the fact that laser printers made it so everyone could just like make whatever collage crap, and back then it was like…well, we were looking through an old high school gym yesterday, and they had stamped the seats with this really bleedy ink, really…
- Like 222, 221?
- Yeah, but it was like they had…the letters were just the right size where you could still read them, but it was as if they knew that it was going to be really messy and kind of look…you know.
- See, isn’t that interesting that that wasn’t about being the most…let’s just say functional solution? It’s not about being pretty at that point, it’s just about it working, and where do we make that shift? I’m not here to be some big cultural whatever, no, no, no, but I get let down by all the power that we have in our fingertips, making garbage, what I make all day long, and yet it’s not as good as the guys that didn’t have all that shit, right? Isn’t that interesting?
Isn’t that because they were drawing, they were talking through what it meant to be? You know, like, “What should it be? Let’s try this.” No, these are all big leaps. If I’m totally wrong, fine, but I’ve enjoyed looking at that stuff for a lot of years. I’m not saying I’m right or I’m wrong, but do you see what I’m getting at? It’s like, no, that makes sense to me. I love it when people say, “Well, why…” you know, I’m not fuckin’ academic or some kind of…I just like things that seem…that work, you know that…I don’t know, you know?
Photo credit: Aaron Draplin
- It seems like you also like things that are physical, like that actually…that’s like the…
- Ooh, yeah. Well, imagine a life, right, all this shit.
- Do you need to take that?
- I don’t know. Let me just try. Wilderness. Wilderness. Oh, they might have it. Sorry.
- On the subject of that…
- Yeah. You can look around my shop here, and you see this mountain of shit, right? I just totally cut you off. We’ll start it over.
- Can you edit that shit out?
- I can edit anything.
- Is that cool?
- No, I’m wasting time. Okay.
- Okay. The Field Notes brand, how did you get involved with Coudal to do that sort of thing?
- Well, do you want me to answer the one about the physical shit?
- I love things you can touch, right? Imagine a life where everything’s on one iPad. You have one thing in your life. You have the iPad with all your memories, all your photos, all your shit, all your reference, all your work, right? That’s how you get to it, is this swipeable doodad. You just had this big room with one desk and one device. You’ve got your whole fuckin’ life on there. That just sounds like it’s kind of sad, you know?
- It’s like your worst nightmare.
- It’s just kind of sad, right? I see that shit go down. That’s fine. It’s actually a little more sensible because, you know, this is a lot of stuff, but I do. I just love the reminder of a tactile quality, the reminder of like what a line of type looks like on something or a little bitty teeny type looks like on something. The reminder, the physical…like messing with it. The smell of things. The triumph of a business making this tiny little thing and putting it in a tiny little box is just really interesting to me.
It’s like, “It’s hard for us to make packaging for our brands. It’s expensive, it’s this, it’s this,” and any number of excuses, but it’s like I don’t want a life where I don’t have stuff to play with, you know? Look, there’s piles of shit here. It’s close to being like…I’m always close to just that precipice of like, “I’m going to clean everything all up,” and that’ll never happen. When I get it good in here, I get back to busy and then I fuck it all up and whatever.
The guitars are within arm’s reach. There’s books, everything I’d ever want with my books, my heroes I get to read about. There are piles of like dead stuff. I haven’t even showed you my drawers and shit. Or playing with the mail that came in, records and stuff, these physical things.
When we go home, I go home, we have the house considerably cleaner. It’s very minimal. I need my records, I need clothes, and that’s about it. There’s Legos there, but it doesn’t turn into piles back there. We run a tight ship. Here, it’s a clubhouse, and you should be able to play and get nasty and get dirty, so that’s the answer to that.
- Okay, now you understand about Field Notes. Let’s talk about fuckin’ Field Notes, I know.
- Well, how did that ever…how did you and Coudal ever start doing that?
Field Note’s Fall 2013 “Drink Local” edition
Photo credit: Field Notes
- Well, I was…you know, I’ve been asked this many times. I’ve had to kind of figure it out again, because the answer was just simply this. It’s like I made my own, and I gave one to Jim, or a stack of them or something. I said, “Hey, take some of these, they’re fun,” and he flipped out, but it does go back a little bit further than that.
I made my first…I took a journal and I screenprinted on the journal with my Gocco printer, “Field Notes.” They were coordinates of where I lived, Poplar and 24th at the time, and really it was just this…you know, it was like DDC Notes called the Field Notes. DDC Field Notes is what it was, and that’s 2002 when I went and started working at Cinco. I found some off-the-shelf little hardbound journals.
I’ve kept journals all my life, be it…like you hear me rustle around…This is my Field Notes. There’s a list. I’ve got a list up to 18 things, just since I got off the plane a couple days ago, and I’m checking shit off. Now, if I go flipping through here, you’ll see me monkeying around with logos for companies that we can’t talk about on the air, but you may be spending a lot of money on at some point in your life. That’s good, so I’ll get paid some fuckin’ pittance and these guys will have a cigarette boat up and down Willamette River. Nice, right?
Well, here it is, right? I’ve always done that. I’ve always collected. If it sticks, I stick it in there. Remember Sugar Ray? Sugar Ray, with those stickers? What were those stickers, when Sugar Ray was pitching like ten-ten two-one or something, ten-ten one-one? Remember those, back in the day?
- That sounds familiar, yeah.
- In the late ‘90s, and they came with those little stickers. You’d put them on your, like, fridge. Someone had a roll of those in Minneapolis, right, and we stuck them on everything. It’s like that kind of shit. If it sticks…remember when you’d get that free Ben & Jerry’s thing, the little sticker from the Ben & Jerry’s sticker, from something like Sierra Club or something? Remember that? I would track my years by…That would go into my little…my book, so I have been keeping books all my life. I’ve kept a journal since I was 13.
I quit around when I got out West, somewhere out there. That’s when the blog kind of started up, like a way of sharing everything I was doing in a different way, but I made my own. Freaked out. I couldn’t find little pocket ones. I didn’t need that big hardbound, and did my first set by…with the Gocco printer, basically. Just cut them out, loved stapling them, putting all the graph paper in and mixing the pages.
Built my own, and I did an edition of 200. Handnumbered them, gave a bunch to my buddies. Evan and all the other turkeys out there, Rhino and all my buddies, gave them all stuff, and they used them, because it’s just a little project, you know? When I gave them to Jim, that’s where he kind of freaked out and said, “We’ve got something here, Drap.” You know, cool.
I think shortly after that I did 2,000 books for 2,000 bucks. It was a good, fair price and it was cool. I did them local, and it was awesome because I could give those things to all my buddies by the handfuls, you know? It was a company but not a company. It was more just for kind of fun, you know? Jim took it to the level where…I want to say it went to real fun. You know, it became real, and we had ways to sell it and ways to find it on the Web, and then ways for a company to like…there was finally a protocol now, a person, a business person to handle those calls.
Through that process of learning what the profit was going to be, it allowed us to make a subscription service and start playing, and making all the ones that definitely I dreamed up, or anything that would come from the guys in Field Notes Midwest. Those guys would just take it…I mean, the best sets we’ve ever made, straight up, they’re not from me. I often feel bad when I see something on the site now. “Oh, Draplin’s new beer set.” That’s a mystery to me. I might have made a logo for it, but that’s a pretty good shot that that’s Jim picking up something. I’ve had a couple come…a couple motherfuckers come down the pipe that you had to have, but we’re collaborative, you know?
This thing’s been taken off. We just did that little beer set. The starry sky was great in the summer. I love every single one of them. If it doesn’t get past us, we don’t make it, you know? What would we want to be putting our notes in? Because what you can’t see is like in Australia or whatever, but it’s like I have probably 200 of those things since I started this mess. I mean, more than that. It’s like one every kind of three weeks, you know? I’ve kept every one of them. If something was to go down in here, I’d grab those. That would be the first thing I’d grab, so it really is the sort of like…you know, it’s an image of my little life. All the notes, all the stresses, all the things, little numbers I’d remember.
I really do write things down to remember shit. I’ve trained myself. When I have a bit of…you know, sort of a little jolt of, “Oh, that could be cool,” I draw it. Or, “Don’t forget this, this, this and this.” Yours, when we agreed, went into the damn thing and it’s just on my list. When we’re done, I will physically check it off. I will draw a line through it, and that is a satisfying thing. Instead of a check, like a little finger swipe. I mean, I get it. It’s easier, it’s less whatever, but who doesn’t like making a grocery list? You can make it on your phone, fine, but it’s the idea of making your brain think like, “Well, what do we need?” This thing’s been going. Thank you to everybody for buying them. Buy a thousand of them. Tell all your friends.
- Have you ever seen a…someone does a blog called Letters of Note. Have you ever heard of that?
- There was one in there that reminded me of something you were just talking about, that was like Steve Albini writing a letter to…
- I just saw it.
- A great letter, basically saying, “I don’t want the work unless we do it this way.”
- Right. “I don’t want a point and a half off the record sales.”
- “I don’t need that.”
- “I know that will be…” however…
- Four hundred thousand bucks. I wonder what he got for that? I wonder if those guys just gave it to him anyway? Because you know what he did, he probably just built the studio out of that, you know? Whoever’s listening, if you don’t know who Steve Albini is, you’re just…
- A beautiful curmudgeon.
- Well, you just don’t know. You just don’t fuckin’…what a fuckin’ sad life you’re living, man. My buddies, we know who that is, because those guys are jewels. He’s a mean bastard. I’ve heard some weird shit about him, but they’re jewels. You know, they’re jewels within rock and roll, they’re jewels within like just culture, that he has the guts to say that to one of the biggest bands of the time. How he said it, he totally meant it. Has that…could he have a bigger house because of that? Probably, but no, the fucker stuck to his guns. It is so awesome, because that record, when he did In Utero, it still sounds so pure.
- Yeah, yeah. Anything, basically. If I’m trying to decide if I need to buy something on vinyl and I see a name like Albini in it, then it’s for sure.
- He’s got a lot of lemons too. If you go look through…that’s what I love about that guy. Not that they’re lemons, sorry, little teeny bands you’d never ever hear, and they get his process and it’s fuckin’ great. It is fuckin’ great. I’ll bet you, if you’re the goddam Shits and you go in there, “We’re the Shits, you know, and we have no money,” it probably makes it worth his time. You know what I’m saying? He comes down to their level. You get that sense. Maybe not, but if you’re the goddam Whoevers, and you go in there and he takes care of you, that is world class to me.
If it’s The Jesus Lizard, which you know and I know and we love, but you’re some band that looks up to them and you get that same amount of like care and detail, that is pretty cool. I bet you…I don’t know, I don’t even know another name, someone who is waiting to do…the next Foo Fighters and the next big and the next big and the next big. It’s like, I don’t know, there’s a certain…
- In music, yeah, I don’t know.
- There’s just a certain awesomeness about that. I don’t know how to say it. It’s like, “Yeah, man, that is some inspiring shit,” because he could have went for the gold. I’ve had a couple carrots waved, you know.
- Yeah. You also strike me as someone who…not a lot of people will say no to big jobs or that kind of thing.
- I haven’t said no to much, seriously, but I’ve said no to the wrong ones, and I have no problem doing that. It’s not been much because, you know, if you work within the Nike realm, which are great, solid jobs, you get those, but I always feel like a bit of a poser going to that shit. You know, not a poser, it’s a stupid word. The wrong fit. Just I’m three times the size of the fuckin’ person who runs, you know? Why am I going to make a running campaign, right? I wrap my head around it or whatever. That’s such bullshit, man.
It’s not that they need to go find another runner, at least find someone who can fuckin’…you know, whatever. I just felt weird. If a shitty band comes into my shop, let’s party, let’s get it going. That’s different. That’s from a different space. I instantly love it. I don’t need to like the record, I just love making them become something. Helping their little…at least in my corner, making their little item as good as we can try to make it. Sometimes you don’t get to do that, but I’ve been able to hit a couple out of the park.
- Yeah, like some of the stuff that you’ve done for like just, you know, Sizzle Pie. That’s probably just for buddies.
- Yeah, those are just friends, and what’s fun about that is when it’s just your friends and it’s not some beancounting fuckin’ art director or company owner or whatever…no, it’s Matt and Mikey. These are buddies, you know, and they’re guys that you…they come to you and they’re really just like, “Can you just make us something cool?” Isn’t that…I kind of need luck to do that.
Now, that doesn’t pay your life, it doesn’t pay your mortgage and shit, but like when we did that, you get to creatively look at the box and say, “Why are all pizza boxes one and two colors on some substrate?” How many pizza boxes in your life have you seen a little hit of red and a little hit of green on white, right? Every pizza box.
- Right, right. It’s the default template.
- Great. That’s what every motherfucker does. We looked at it and I said, “Why can’t we just reverse that shit to red, so you get a little bit of white knocked out of a big old hit of red?” They freaked. It was cool. They took it to the guy. The guy, “Oh, I don’t know if we could do it,” because he’s never done that. That’s called creative thinking. It’s still the same amount of ink kind hitting the motherfucker, and he just, “Well…” of course he could print it. It’s a red box now, and that’s where the red box comes from.
We were just like, “Oh, cool, we could take…” that’s a trick. I would have never, ever, never learned that, being in some big agency that just gets to do whatever they want all the time and doesn’t have to think on their toes. I learned that from the guys I work with in here, like how do we look at this thing? No one’s got any money. How do we make it the best record?
You probably met David. David’s got a record label…Audraglint, it’s called…and every single time they’ve made a record, he’s exceeded what it should have been. Like be it an embossed or something cool, you pick it up and you’re like, “Whooo.” That’s not bottomlineism. That’s now how I was trained. I was trained you make it the best you can within that spectrum, you know what I’m saying?
Like those guys, I do a lot of that shit. When someone comes in and it’s like…you know when you’re making a record, you can do what you call reverse the board. Like you reverse it and you get that uncoated side. There’s a coated side. That uncoated side can change the way that thing feels in your hand, the way that ink hits it. It feels suddenly hulkier or a little more…whatever. If you’re doing some wildass, loud color thing, you use that colored side.
These are tricks, or range, that I learned because I had to have…I had limitations. Like what happens if you can only do one color because that’s all you can afford? Oh, I’ve been down that road. Bands do it all the time. You have to handcut their shit. That’s the metaphor. We’re not afraid to go down that road. Some motherfuckers don’t even know where the road’s at, you see what I’m saying? I’m really thankful for that. It’s probably going to kill me because I do too much, I work too hard sometimes, but whatever, maybe not. I’m turning over some new leaves, right?
These are tricks, or range, that I learned because I had to have…I had limitations. Like what happens if you can only do one color because that’s all you can afford? Oh, I’ve been down that road. Bands do it all the time. You have to handcut their shit. That’s the metaphor. We’re not afraid to go down that road…It’s probably going to kill me because I do too much, I work too hard sometimes, but whatever, maybe not. I’m turning over some new leaves, right?
- Do you work a lot of hours?
- It seems like you kind of do.
- What does “work” mean? Sitting on my ass, clicking a mouse? Guess what I’m going to get? I’m going to get a table desk that lifts up so you stand at the desk.
- I’m totally going to get one of those too.
- I’m getting one. This shit’s not working, sitting on my ass all day. You know, there’s some changes going down. I don’t need to get into specifics, but there’s some fuckin’…I mean, whatever. I just went today for my little…oh, it’s weird. I’ve got a personal trainer. You ought to see it. It’s so gross.
- I’ve considered that too.
- When I went in there and you go off the menu of stuff…hey, I’m about this and I want to learn how to do…I was in like Z, Category Z, like he’s going to fuckin’ die in three months, you know what I mean? That’s what it felt like.
- Are you at the Lloyd one?
- I’m at Kisar, downstairs.
- Oh, okay. Oh, in the building?
- In the building.
- Oh, that’s cool.
- Right next to where you guys were at. I guess what I’m getting at is I…I’m like excited for a new desk. Brad, from…he bought me this chair. He bought me this chair in 2004. “It’s for your back, Drap.” I’m like, what a fuckin’ champion, you know? It was a lot of money, and he didn’t have to do that, but you know what, he did that for my back.
I do sit here a lot and I do work a lot, but I love it, you know? I got in here early this morning. That’s four hours to get going. I’ve charted my whole day out today. I knew we had to do this. I was on the other one before with that kid, and I finished my projects on the phone while we were clicking. I had to apologize to him and say, “Listen, you’re going to pick up the little…you’re going to be hearing this shit.” Do you hear that?
- The mouse clicking?
- “You’ll be hearing that shit the whole thing.” He was like, “That’s cool, that’s cool, that’s cool,” you know, whatever, but I had to do it. So, yeah, I work a lot.
- I’m surprised you don’t use a graphics tablet. Can I say that?
- Yeah. I have one, but because I learned clicking the mouse with my right hand, I use my left hand to draw. What I’ll do is I’ll pull the tablet out and I’ll draw in Active Pad…or something. It’s less and less and less. For three years we’ve done a lot of photography shit where it’s clip or whatever. I’m doing less and less of that stuff. If I need to, I still have my little skill set.
We used to do a lot of production on that stuff so I’d pull it out to like clean out fur or whatever we were working with, you know. Or draw, to draw in Photoshop, but that’s also kind of dumb too. There’s a thing called brush and ink. You’ve just got to draw that way and scan it. Isn’t that funny?
I met a kid over the weekend, he’s a fuckin’ incredible, incredible illustrator named Ray Frenden. The guy lives down in Austin…yeah, Austin now, and he’s been one of my favorite illustrators for a long, long time, and I got to meet the guy. He was young. It was awesome, you know, when you meet someone that you really look up to his work, and the way he works is really cool too. But, yet, when he’s working digital, he will like make his own tool sets, and they’re just crazy.
- Yeah, you mean like little, sort of, default sets…
- Yeah. He sells you a folder, those go in. It’s his style, because I guess it’s infinite. I mean, you’re right, you…You can make any kind of brush, any kind of…but they’re his kind of thing, the pressures and all the stuff. That is so cool to me. That’s like wow, man. Before, you’d have to kind of watch him work on paper and see how he does it. The guy still works with paper.
That’s where he starts and whatever, but that was really kind of a cool moment, to be like, “Oh, man. You’re getting rewarded for your…” the magic that guy’s got, right? He’s getting that reward, obviously cash or whatever, but like…that’s pretty cool. As a young illustrator, he can get that, just like his things right there that way. It’s kind of weird. They’ll never have his little hand pressure or what it takes to make that thing, but it’s kind of like…but he shares that. It was really kind of interesting to me that he’s not afraid to share that, you know?
I’m not afraid to be like, “This is where I got this thing, this is where I found it. Go to this junk store and find it. Good luck, kid,” because they’re probably not going to do it. I don’t know, you’ve got to quit going to like…you’ve got to quit taking fuckin’ photos of coffee…That’s a different…you know what I’m saying? It’s like that’s a different little…you know, whatever.
- Well, I assumed, when you described your home, that it would be like this, because for the longest time you were constantly posting photos…I don’t know if you still do…of garage sales, of stuff you’ve seen.
- Yeah, yeah.
- You don’t buy all that stuff, do you?
- No. I mean, I could start pulling some…