16. Josh Ross

The Job PDX
The Job PDX
16. Josh Ross

Josh Ross is a commercial portrait and still life photographer based in Portland.

Show Notes

Recorded Monday, June 3rd, 2013, and this is episode number 16. Follow Ray, Kandace, Dan, or Needmore on Twitter. Please rate our show on iTunes!

The Interview

Hi, Josh.
Hi, how are you?
I’m great. How are you?
Excellent. It’s a beautiful day.
Yes. It’s perfect. Let’s start at the beginning. Where are you from?
I’m actually from Idaho. I’m from a tiny town in Idaho near McCall, which is a resort town that some people know. It’s a tiny little town, just 650 people. I lived briefly in Moscow in Pullman, and I went to high school in Los Angeles. I went to college in LA. I’ve been out there until last fall.
You’re recently of Portland?
I’m very recently of Portland.
Do you still do work in LA?
I do. My client base-my business-was built in LA. Most of my contacts and most of the people I know are in LA. Obviously, I’d love to transition as much as I can to Portland, but I still do work in LA.
Do you fly down there?
I do.
I guess that it would be easier to take pictures if you were actually there.
Sometimes people-I’ve been doing a lot of still-life and product work over the last year, and a lot of times they will just ship it to me, which is nice.
That’s nice.
It is nice.
Why did you leave LA then?
I am very clear on this and it’s very simple: traffic, the weather, and-well, I guess that’s it, really. Traffic and weather are the two big reasons that I left.
The traffic is horrible. It is terrible. I can’t even explain to you how bad it is. It is 24/7. At 12:00 at night on a Saturday you’re in stop-and-go traffic if you drive anywhere near downtown. For me, all the agency meetings that I typically take- which is a good portion of my work load is just meeting with people-you really have to give an hour and a half to two hours to get somewhere that is 20 minutes away. It might take you 30 minutes or it might take you an hour and a half. You just don’t know, so you’ve got to block that time. I was so tired of it.
The weather-everyone thinks the weather is so fantastic in downtown LA. If you live in Santa Monica or Venice on the beach, then it’s fantastic. The rest of LA is a desert and it sucks. This is a perfect-today in Portland is a perfect example of what people think LA is like, and what it is never like.
That’s how I felt about visiting Las Vegas. It’s Las Vegas. You
should come visit. It’s a 110 degrees.
It’s brutal heat most of the time. It’s no good.
Understandable. Are you liking Portland so far?
I love it. I can’t say enough good things about it. I really love it. It was basically everything that I had hoped it would be. There’s no traffic. The one thing I did not count on is how nice people are. I would never describe people in LA as not being nice. People in Portland are ridiculously nice.
That’s good.
We owned a house in LA. We lived there for five years. We talked to our neighbors a handful of times maybe. We’ve been here since the fall-six months-and I chat with our neighbors almost every day.
That’s nice to hear.
When we moved in, people drove by and slowed down and said, “Oh, hey, welcome to the neighborhood.” It just blows me away how nice people are.
That’s great. Did they know you were from California? When I first moved here, there was a big, “quit coming here from California.”I don’t sense that anymore.
I don’t sense that.
Maybe it was just a fad.
Kind of like when I travel I almost want to say I’m Canadian. When people ask me where I’m from, I often want to trend towards saying I’m from Idaho, which is true. I haven’t noticed any- nobody seems to care.
That’s good. I noticed that you used to do graphic design.
Why did you leave your first love?
I went to school for design, and I did that for about ten years. I did love it. The thing I loved about it was always that I was always problem-solving. The thing I found to be a challenge-I imagine would be something that you run in to, because I especially found it in web work-is that everything is so drawn out and slow. You’re brought in to solve a problem, and by the time-and especially with web work, I found-by the time you’re out the door and it’s completed, it could have been such a long process. I just found it to be challenging after a while. With photography, since you’re always freelance and brought in on a project, the problem-solving is always very short. They have a problem. You come in, you provide a solution in a few days, a week maybe, and then you’re on to the next thing.
Can I say something? I hate my job. I can’t stand it here. I think everyone has headphones on right now. Just kidding. Do you want more water or beer or something?
Sure, I’d love a beer.
It’s nice enough to have a beer. Can we pause this?
I’m curious to hear your thoughts on that.
That’s an excellent point. That is a challenge because it can routinely be six months from the inception of a program until the launch. That’s absolutely true. I absolutely feel that way. Just going through a round of mock-ups takes as long as your whole project cycle.
I love to come in, have a very specific need, solve it, and then move on. The thing that’s great about design is seeing the finished product. You have this wow moment. You look at it and you say, “God, this looks great.” You get that great high. It’s a challenge when it only comes every six months.
To be fair, the projects overlap. I do get that high once in a while, but still, totally understandable. How long have you been doing photography?
I officially went on my own as a photographer in 2009, for four years now I guess. I was working as the art director in-house at a place, and I had the opportunity to leave, and I did.
Are you doing print design work or web?
I was doing everything. I was the only art director. I was the entire department. It was primarily print although it was everything. It was web also. I didn’t study web is school. I never fully made a transition to it. I was rooted in print. The world is as it is; I did as much web as I had the opportunity to do.
Did you have training in photography, or did it just take over?
I didn’t have any training in photography specifically. The actual mechanics of using the camera-I just learned that. It’s all out there if you want to spend the time. I’m really happy that I went to school for art. I think it’s very important. A lot of photographers say that you don’t need to or whatever, but I think it’s really important.If nothing else just to learn-one of the things I love about having art education is gaining an understanding of how to evaluate work. To be able to work and say, “That’s good and this is not,” and-if you can understand that your work is not good, then you will eventually become good. If you don’t even have the understanding to know that your work is not good, you’ll never go anywhere.
That’s a valid point. You’ve always shot digital? Is that fair to
I have always shot digital. I shoot film fairly often. It tends to go up and down, but I shoot film fairly often. My favorite camera is the Rolleiflex that I have. I also have a Pentax K-1000 that was sort of-I didn’t know it at the time, but my dad and I had always used it when I was five.
The Pentax, is that a 35mm?
Yes. It’s a 35mm film camera that was very ubiquitous camera that’s totally manual and very simple and it’s really light. Everybody had it. Even up to a few years ago it was the student camera because they’re very cheap and basic. I have that camera, and I love it. I also have a collection of various other cameras. I shoot that from time to time. I’ve never shot it on client work. I tend to be sort of a person that likes to double check. Film is a bit nerve-wracking.I have shot film concurrently. I’ll shoot on digital and know that I have it, and then pull out a film camera and also shoot something. If I get it, then it’s great. I’ve shot some personal work that I, up until recently had in my sight, that was film work.
When you’re shooting digital, it depends on the type of work, but are you checking your work as you go on a display, or are you just looking in the camera to see how it’s going as you do that?
My ideal work flow is to be shooting tethered. I prefer to do that all the time. I just prefer to do that. My favorite way to work is with a great art director. We’re both there and we’re shooting tethered. We shoot stuff, and we both bounce ideas, we look at it, and then we both make adjustments. That way, at the end of the day, we know that it’s there and done. Everything has been signed off on and everyone’s happy and we know that we’ve got it.Sometimes I shoot working with the back of the camera. I don’t have the latest, greatest cameras. On the new ones, the displays are pretty nice. Mine is-I can kind of check it, especially once you know it. I can, I have sense of what’s happening, but it’s not where I can really check things on it.
Being a person who likes to check things-the back of the camera is woefully inadequate for most of that stuff.
Yeah. There were so many times when I was shooting where I would think, “Yeah, this is great, I got it.” When you bring it up on the computer and you look at it, it’s totally out of focus.
Totally out of focus.
You just can’t tell.
Otherwise you’re just zooming. Okay, that one is screwed up. Zoom, zoom. It seems like you do different types of work. Do you prefer portrait, or landscape, or what?
These days I do commercial portrait work and still-life work, or product work. I call it still-life; some call it product.
Still-life sounds better.
Yeah, I like it. When I started, I did all portrait work. In my background-especially as a designer-I did a lot of retouching. I worked as a retoucher in various times of my life. I did a bunch of work for GMC and Nissan, I think, doing retouching.The first good agency job that I had was from a company that did the dealer brochures for GMC and Kia, but I worked on GMC We would move in to the photographer’s studio for about three months at a time. I would retouch everything coming off of the camera. I worked with the art director. At the end of each shot we would have something that, from my point of view, could have went to print. The client would sign off on it and we would make changes if they were needed, and we would go back and forth on that. They would take my work and the larger files off of the camera, and the retouching house would duplicate it.So I had all of this background in the product work. When you work with people, you’re not the only creative one there. Everything is not up to you. You have this dynamic of-if you work with a great model, they bring something to the table, and you get this great back and forth. You never quite know what you’re going to get.When I was new, I thought it was great because it’s not all you. You get some feedback and some back and forth, and it’s great. As I’ve progressed more, I think I enjoy controlling it more. The product work is just me and the studio. It’s very technical. It’s very retouching heavy. I have come to enjoy that a lot. You sort of make things look perfect.

Talking about portraits a little more for a minute-I really do enjoy like your portrait work. I was really enjoying that website. What, to you, makes a good portrait. What kind of a relation with the subject is it that you’re looking for? What makes a great picture?
This is another thing about my portraits, I tend to work with the model as if they are a product. It can be good or bad; it just is. I typically will think out a portrait in a very methodical way. I’m like okay, this is what I’m going to get. I’m not typically someone, because there are some photographers-I’ve seen guys that just go out on the city with a model and they just walk around. At the end of the day they have 300 shots and 50 of them are great. I just don’t work like that. I think it through and I have this idea of what I want to get. I find the right model or I find somebody, and we work to get that shot. I’m very happy to get the shot and say, “we’ve got it. We’re done.” With commercial work, depending on what you’re doing, you may provide more than that.So I very much work with the model. I like to tell them ahead of time what we’re going for to show them-this is what we’re going for. This is what we’re trying to get. We’ll shoot some and then look at it on the computer and make adjustments and shoot some more. We try to get that iconic shot. That shot. I think that answers the question.
Do you have a setup in your house? Where do you usually shoot those
I don’t have a studio in Portland these days. I do have a space at my
house that is a studio. I don’t really bring anyone there. If I
was screwing around on some personal project I could bring
people there. It’s big enough. I just don’t. For any sort of
commercial work I rent studios. I’ve found some great studios
that I’ve rented before. I do a lot of work on location as well.Often times, I come to people’s offices or even houses. I was
working on this one series for Yogi Times about the influencers
in the LA Yoga scene. They’re famous people, but they’re not
like Madonna. If you’re in the yoga scene you know them. That
was all shot in-all kind of crazy things. I would shoot in
people’s hallways and other ridiculous stuff. In whatever space,
I can make things work.
What’s the biggest challenge when you’re shooting people in portrait?
I typically have not worked with models in my career. Models are
great to work with, but for the work I do, I usually don’t end
up working with models. The biggest challenge is to get people
to forget what they think they know about a picture. People have
this idea that you’re supposed to smile and you’re supposed to
look. They think they know something. You try to get them to
relax, and-we’re just going to have a conversation. You don’t
have to smile. All we’re going to do is shoot a picture.
Are there contemporary photographers that you like or that you are
inspired by?
There are a ton of photographers. Although I had an art education. I
did a bunch of art history. I really don’t look at classical
stuff. I look at a ton of other photographer’s websites. I’ve
heard-and I’ve seen this in the case-that some photographers
look at other work and some photographers don’t. I’m definitely
someone who looks at other people’s work. I look at other
people’s work constantly. Anytime I see someone’s website that I
really like-I have Dido, what’s the company. It used to be owned
by Yahoo! They’re a social bookmarking think.
Delicious or something?
Yeah, I used to have a Delicious account. Then when they got sold, I
left them. But think of that. I have an online bookmarking. I
have a few hundred websites that are of photographers that I
really like. They’re categorized and I look at them constantly.I typically don’t name names when I’m asked about who I really
like. There’s a few reasons. Right now, it’s because I don’t
know them off of the top of my head. The real reason is because
they tend to be people that are either at the same place in
their career as me, or slightly ahead. It’s not as if there’s
some great far away person. They’re very close. I would tell
them, but I don’t necessarily like to broadcast that.
I think I know what you mean. I imagine there are web designers who
try to avoid looking at websites that their contemporaries are
making because they want their work to be more pure. Like you, I
have a pile of bookmarks and I love looking at other people’s
stuff because it gives you ideas. It helps you keep your
standards high.
Yes, that’s another thing. It goes back to what I was saying about
understanding how to look at work. You have to practice. I look
at tons and tons of photography so that I can-it’s like studying
for school. I follow the trends, and I see where things are
going. If I’m thinking about doing a shot, I like to look at
how other people have shot it and see what worked and what
didn’t and just assess it. I figure it’s all been done anyway.
It’s all been done, yes. That’s true. I probably don’t have that
problem in web design.
That it’s all been done? I guess it’s always progressing.
I’m sure there are innovations in photography. In web design, if you
were to look the industry for six months and come back, you’d
say “Whoa. I didn’t know you could do that stuff1 Wow, that’s
I’ve been doing a lot of splash work lately with liquids and things.
It’s been an interesting space to be in. For the first time in
my career, there’s very few people doing it. It’s actually
rather hard to find-with portraits, there’s a hundred sites that
you can look at and think through every aspect of a shot. With
the splash work, there’s actually very few people doing it. You
can get some ideas and you can look at some stuff, but there’s
not a lot out there. I can understand with the web design thing.
It’s a fairly new thing that I’ve come up against. There’s
nobody else to look at here. It’s good and it’s exciting. It’s
Talking about change in that industry. There’s new conceptual cameras
coming out that are focus-less. Have you read up on those at
I know about them, the Lytro. I tend to be a curmudgeon about camera
stuff. What I would like a camera to do is-I need aperture, I
need shutter speed, and I need the button the click. I don’t
need a lot. I’m happy with things like the Iso getting better.
I’m not someone that’s crazy into the latest and greatest
gadgets on a camera because I don’t really use them. I never
take my camera off of the manual. It’s not because I’m trying to
be like…
You’re like the fixed-gear bicyclist.
Yes. I just don’t need it. If there was some great thing that made it
be great, then fine. Photoshop is a perfect example. Every new
Photoshop that comes out, they say, “There’s this great new
thing.” You don’t use it.
That’s true.
You use it three times because it’s cool. Every few generations
there’s one knew thing that you might incorporate in to your
work flow. For the most part, it’s the same since version 3 or
That’s very true. Are you on Instagram?
Have you thought about it?
Sure. I’m not against it. I don’t have a real problem with Instagram.
The thing about Instagram-I’m heavy in to social networking. I
do tons of Twitter and Facebook and a lot of LinkedIn for
business stuff. I just don’t see the place for Instagram. I have
built a community through Twitter and Facebook. When I want to
show a picture, that’s where I show it. I don’t see the need to
build another community.I wish that Google+ was awesome and that Facebook died, but it
is what it is. Instagram is something where I say, “I hope they
succeed.” I’m happy to show my work on Facebook or even
Twitter. I actually use Flickr a lot. It’s a different audience.
It’s a photographer audience.The other thing about Instagram-which I mentioned when somebody
else asked me about it-I love having a phone and camera, and
using that but it’s very separate from that. It’s like a split
personality. Business stuff is on a camera. Anytime I put
something out through those channels from that camera, it better
be top-notch because art directors are judging it. If I put
something out there and it’s sub-par, they think, “If I hire
him, maybe I’ll get that sub-par picture.”When I want to shoot something that’s just a snapshot, then I
use the camera on my cellphone. I really don’t care if it looks
good. I have no interest in it being a great thing. I just don’t
see the place for Instagram.

Understandable. I’m curious-and this is totally off the topic-why are
you hoping that Google+ takes off? I’m just purely curious.
Because it’s wonderful. Have you used it?
What do you like about it? I’m just curious.
Things work. Facebook is just-I find it frustratingly to be the
lowest common denominator. They are the kind of developers that
I wouldn’t want to work with. If was working with them, I would
fire them. They leave stuff that doesn’t quite work and they
don’t think things through. They come out with a new version
when they haven’t fixed the old stuff. They never quite think it
Google+ is a little more elegant.
Yes. They’re engineers. They innovate and they see a problem and they
fix it. They don’t just come out with some new thing that-
Facebook just frustrates me. They have a great audience. It’s
not that I have a problem with the audience.
A billion people can’t be wrong.
Exactly. I just wish that they would-a perfect example of my problem
with Facebook is the Facebook Android application. It’s as if
three people use it, and there’s nobody on Android. The thing
crashes constantly. It never works right. I find it very
You can install Facebook Home and it will take over your whole phone.
If you are Facebook and you are releasing something that gets one
star on Google Play, you have a problem. It’s not as if they
don’t have resources.
Definitely. What do you do the rest of the time, when you’re not
taking pictures? What are your hobbies?
I have a son. He’s thirteen months old, and that takes a lot of my
time these days. I also run and do some cycling when I have some
time. I used to rock climb and do speed skating on roller
blades, which is kind of weird. I always roller bladed, so when
I got older I tried that. I do a lot of athletic, outdoor stuff.These days, since I’ve moved to Portland, my new hobby is
brewing hard cider. I’ve been loving it. It’s very Portland,
too. Mostly, these days, my son takes my time. I play some video
games. I play a ton of StarCraft, I have to admit. Once mom and
baby go to sleep and it’s 10:00 at night and I’m done working,
I’ll play some StarCraft.
When you take pictures of your son, do you tend to not want to use
the camera and just use your phone?
I have two ways of doing it, and this goes back to my earlier
discussion of the dichotomy of-I use my cellphone and take
snapshots and they’re great. That camera is always with me and I
never hesitate to take a picture with it. I have no problem with
that. It doesn’t have to be great. The point is to show
something. I also shoot stuff of professional quality with him.
I try to do it as often as I can.
How do you get him to hold still long enough for that?
You don’t. You have to design it around him. The last studio shot I
did of him-it was about four months ago-when he was just
starting to stand on his own, I had his mom hold him, but you
only see her arm. Her arm and he’s holding onto it. You can see
her arm and he’s holding on to it. You don’t get a lot of shots.
You’re not going to shoot tethered and make sure it’s perfect.
You’ve got to test everything. You sit him down and you get ten
shots. If you don’t have it, then you’re done.I have also shot kids before, in general. It’s a lot of work.
You just play and pay attention. You set everything up in such a
way that it’s really forgiving. You just sort of play and wait
for the moment to snap a shot.
When you’re doing work-say the product work with someone who’s in LA
and you need to do some stills for them, some product shots,
some splashes-are you sending samples to them by email? How do
you collaborate with someone who’s that far away? What sort of
tools do you use?
I primarily use email. If I can, I try to get them to set aside some
time where they’re available to chat. It doesn’t always happen
that way. That’s a fantastic way of doing it.
Like a Skype kind of chat?
I don’t Skype because-I would if someone wanted to. Typically, I like
to let them work while I work through something. I just want
them sitting at the computer so I can say, “Hey, what about
this,” and send them a quick picture and ask them if I’m going
in the right direction, that kind of thingTypically, though, we end up talking about it ahead of time. We
have a basic understanding of how things are going to go. I
shoot stuff and I show it to them. It’s either going on the
right track or it’s not. Eventually we get to the point where
it’s going the right way. I show them stuff early and often is
what I try to do. I go, “Here’s the shot shown directly out of
the camera. Just look at the lighting in this section. Is this
starting to look right? Is this what you’re looking for?”If they say yes, then I move on and get the next piece. When
it’s all done, I put it through post-production if we’re ready.
If they say it looks great, then I do the production on it and
send it off to them.
Do you use Lightroom?
I can work without Lightroom, but it would be crazy at this point. I
love Lightroom. I cannot say enough good things about it.
Have you played with the version 4 Beta yet?
I think it’s 5, but no, I have not.
I’m sure it has some great features that you’re going to love.
It’s so funny. I looked at it and said, “Those are things I don’t
need.” One thing that’s nice about Lightroom is that it’s not
expensive. I might upgrade the Lightroom.
It’s 99 bucks, right?
I don’t remember if it’s 99 or 199. They run specials and sometimes
it’s 99. Nowadays you could be on the Creative Cloud. I’m not.
That would not be feasible just for that application. That’s 50
dollars a month. They throw it in for free for us. I still use
Aperture because I can open my iPhoto library and I have years
and years of iPhoto.
I work on a Mac, but I don’t use iPhoto. In fact, I don’t even have
the i-apps installed. I uninstalled them at some point. The
think about it I never really understood the Apple philosophy
behind Aperture and iPhoto, whereas my whole career I’ve worked
with Adobe. When you work in Lightroom, it’s the Adobe
philosophy. I understand that because I’ve always worked with
The reason I like Lightroom is because it doesn’t feel like a damn
Adobe product. It feels like its own thing. It’s like switching
from Facebook to Google+ for me. Things like Photoshop and
Illustrator feel like they have the weight of 25 years, a
quarter century, of baggage. Lightroom feels like they just took
their best and brightest, locked them in a room, and said, “Do
something crazy.” The interface is completely out of the blue.
It is its own thing. I do like it a lot.
That is true. I would agree with that. It’s really just Camera Raw,
wrapped in its own wrapper with a library. It’s Bridge mixed
with Camera Raw.
Do you use a retina laptop or Mac?
No. I’d love to, if at any time you’d like to ship me one.
I was curious because-for us, doing the web design stuff, Bridge is
really handy, but there is relatively little cause to use
I could imagine.
Bridge-it feels like a very neglected product. I totally sympathize
with Adobe. They’ve got to prioritize. They’ve got so many
applications out there that-certain ones are money makers, and
Lightroom is one of those.
You can’t even buy Bridge separately, right?
The changes for CS 6 was, “We fixed three bugs,” but the application
hasn’t changed in 10 years.
I completely agree. I used to use Bridge for when clients give you a
disk full of assets. It’s nice to be able to flip through.
It’s a good way to look at the thumbnails. If the photography doesn’t
pan out, what’s your fallback?
There’s no fallback.
I’m joking. I like the answer, though.
You’ve got to go all in.
This is kind of a cliché question, but if someone else is looking at
your work and thinking, “That looks like so much fun. So much
better than this web design shit.” What do you recommend
someone do to-you seem like a pretty good example. You have no
formal education in that. What would you recommend someone to
someone who’s on a different career path and wants to try their
hand at that? What would your advice be?
First, I would caution them that, as with any job, it is a job, and
it is not the fun part. Photography is one of those things. I
would actually say being a musician would be like this too.
People think, “I’m going to be a musician. This is going to be
great. I’m going to play a guitar and get girls.”Being a musician or being a photographer is being a sales
person. You’ve got to hustle. If I was giving advice I would
say, “Don’t think that it’s going to be super easy. You’re going
to have to really hustle. Learn to be a really good sales
person.” Because that’s how you’re going to get work.It’s a little cynical, and I probably wouldn’t tell someone
this, but, if you’re a really good salesperson, you can be a
photographer without being a really good photographer. You see
it all of the time. If you want to be a good photographer and
you want to have great artistic integrity, just shoot
constantly. Just shoot, shoot, shoot. Look at lots of work.
Evaluate what’s working and what’s not. Keep shooting.As far as business, become a good salesperson. Don’t be bashful
about it. Your work is great, even if it’s not. Just believe
that it’s great and keep working. It’ll get better. If you can
evaluate work and you believe your work is great and you’re a
good salesman, you will be successful. Your work will always get
better. Whatever stage you’re at-if you’re good at selling
yourself, there will be a client that’s at that stage as well.
Not everything has to be for a national company. You can shoot
something that’s just okay. Find the right client for it. When
you’re better, you find the next client.

Sage advice.
I hope so.
Josh Ross, thanks for coming down today and talking to me.
Thank you. It was a pleasure. I’m glad we were able to make it
Before we go, where can people find samples of your work online, or
get in touch with you, or socially network?
The best place to go is JoshRossCreative.com. I have all my social
networks linked there. I welcome connecting on any of those. I
always love hearing from people.
Perfect. Thanks and enjoy the lovely afternoon.

15. Marjorie Skinner

The Job PDX
The Job PDX
15. Marjorie Skinner

Marjorie Skinner is the managing editor of the Portland Mercury, author of several columns, blogger, fashion show producer, and film critic. Find out what she’s excited about in the Portland fashion scene on this week’s episode.

Show Notes

Recorded Tuesday, May 28th, 2013, and this is episode number 15. Follow Ray, Kandace, Dan, or Needmore on Twitter. Please rate our show on iTunes!

The Interview

Hi Marjorie.
How are you?
I’m pretty well. How are you?
I’m doing great. I actually prefer the rain, so I’m thrilled, this is great.
I think this is my first authentically stupid outfit of the year that I wore a miniskirt and wedge sandals for the rainiest day we had.
That’s okay, I saw a buddy recently and asked if my shoes are prescription, so…
Yeah, that was rough. Then I went along with it, but inside I was crying.So where are you originally from?
I grew up in Moss Beach, which is a small, as the name implies, beach that’s just south of San Francisco. Very, very small.
Okay. How did you end up in Portland?
I went to Reed College.
I studied English literature. I had never heard of Reed, and then when I was a freshman in high school, this guy that I had a crush on who was a senior was doing his college search, and he was kind of a cool, creative, stoner dude, and he was like,”Oh, you know, you’ll really like Reed, you should check it out.” I always just kind of kept it in mind, and then when it came the time for me to do my college search, I checked it out and… Actually, my first choice was NYU, but I was like,”Well, Reed’s pretty cool actually, I agree with that guy,” and my dad wouldn’t let me apply to NYU.
Too far away or… ?
He just hated New York. He actually told me, this is so terrible that he said this to me, but he actually said,”You will get raped everyday on your way to school and then raped again on your way home.”
Yeah (laughs). He lived that way.
It’s interesting though … Yeah, that’s … Okay. God, I don’t want to to go to New York now. So, how did you end up at the Mercury?
I honestly just kind of fell into it. I graduated, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I thought it would make sense to use my career, and kind of the obvious path would have been to go into teaching, but that didn’t really appeal to me, I didn’t really see myself as a teacher, which left a big question mark in… But I was really open-minded, and just kind of excited to see where my life is going to go, and I was kind of open to any suggestion, and my boyfriend at that time was a musician, so the [unknown 00:02:31] of the Mercury was always around our house, and he was like,”You know, Mercury’s cool, why don’t you go and see if you can do something there?” and I was like,”Okay, yeah sure.” I just walked in the front door, and I said,”Hey, I just graduated from Reed with an English degree, do you have anything I can do?” and they were like,”Well, you can apply for an internship.” So I did, and I got the internship, and that was only a year after the paper had started, so it was an even smaller company than it is now.So, partly because of that, it was only a couple of months before they hired me part-time, and the other half of my time I was jocking a register at Borders downtown, and then after about a year, or a little more than that of working part-time for them, they hired me fulltime, and then I just kind of kept jumping up the ladder from there.
Yeah, as on the side, were you sad to see Borders go?
Not really. I was deeply embarrassed at that time of working there. A lot of my friends were anti-corporate activists types, and so I was…
Like maybe if you worked at Powell’s, it would have been okay or…
I applied to Powell’s, but of course everybody applies to Powell’s, so I didn’t get a job at Powell’s.
That’s true, I applied to Powell’s at one point. Yeah.
I actually went to huge lengths to keep it secret from a lot of people that I was even working at Borders, which I don’t know it was incredibly manipulative, but it frankly wasn’t that bad ’cause when I started there, it was really chill, and I worked at the register, that’s all I did, and I worked the slowest shifts, I worked Sundays and Mondays… I don’t even remember what my other one was, but it was evenings, Sunday was really slow and Monday was kind of busy but not really. So, I just read at the counter most of the time, it was actually pretty sweet.But by the time I left, corporate had started sending all these douchebags down the line, and they always wanted you to be doing this obnoxious busy work, and it was one of those situations where I was really hating it, and I don’t know, I decided I was quitting on my walk to work one day and then I quit on my lunch break and I was over it. I didn’t have any sympathy (laughs).
Yeah, my fondest memories of Borders were that there was one in where I grew up [unknown 00:05:10] and we used to have shoplifting competitions, so we’re just stealing books from the man. So, Borders was good for that, they had very lax security and it was fun.
So, you’ve been at the Mercury for probably 12 years? Is that right?
I think it will be… Good God, yeah, it will be 12 years in July. June or July.
What is your title now?
I’m the managing editor.
What does that mean?
I mean typically in most newspaper environments, it just means that you’re literally managing the day-to-day operations of the editorial department, and I do lot of that. It’s dealing with personnel issues, I’m often involved in hiring decisions, unfortunately sometimes I’m involved in lay-off decisions, although that has happened only once in the history of our department. I deal with our freelance budget and kind of arguing for and defend our spending in that regard to the publisher. But because it’s a small company, I wear a ton of different hats. I often write a fashion and retail column, I’ve always been one of the main film critics that the paper, I mean, I still do some low-level data entry. I still help like enter the film times at the back of the paper, and copy-edit and all kinds of stuff.
So, I always imagined and I like to glamorize other people’s jobs, which is probably why this podcast is so fast I mean… But I have imagined that the newsroom at the Mercury is like starting it live and there’s the rush to get to the press and everything, is it really exciting, is there like a [unknown 00:07:11] figure there?
Well, William Steven Humphrey, the editor-in-chief, is quite a character and it’s important to remember that his first love is theater. His undergraduate degree is in theatre, and he, especially if there’s a new intern… We have these weekly editorial meetings where we talk about, everybody kind of goes around and discusses what they’re putting into their various sections for the next issue. I mean, he’s hilarious and super inappropriate all the time, and he kind of likes to showboat a little bit, so… There is a certain level of ridiculousness that goes on in our office and it’s very creatively free and a lot of eccentric people work there but it’s left of “Stop the presses!”. You know what I mean? Our literal newsroom is an office that two people and an intern share, half the interns [inaudible 00:08:08] people, but you know what I mean?They’re actually weirdly, I despise the mutual agreement, always have the lights off, and they got glass walls on the outside, so you have to peer in to see if anybody’s even in there. So they’re actually kind of chill.
[Unknown 00:08:33] they get the breaking news better if it’s dark.
It’s got to be some psychological thing that they decided to their benefit. Maybe they can just see their monitors better. I don’t know.
It really is sounding a lot like Saturday Night Live in the 70s (laughing).It’s hard to tell from the outside how the Mercury has changed. It seems like the publication hasn’t changed as much as the extracurricular activities. It seems like now a lot of the stuff that you and the Mercury do are really interesting like the fashion week that you just did and stuff like that. How has that changed over the years with the Mercury?
We’ve always done and have wanted to do as much as we can events out in the community. Just from a purely business standpoint, it’s good marketing for us. It would be great if it was a money-maker for us, but we’re not really there. I mean HUMP! is really profitable, the immature Portland festival in the fall. But otherwise, there have been fashion shows that I’ve done that have made money, but I’ve also lost money on them. It’s mostly a marketing thing to just stay involved in the community, and these events come out of things that the people who work there are passionate about, and people who work at our editorial department are really living a lifestyle where they’re entrenched in everything that they’re covering. We go to the events, we know all these people, we socialize with them…It’s really a lifestyle kind of job and it’s a passionate interest that you never entirely clock out of. So, a lot of the times, it’s just a natural extension anyway. I was going to get involved in fashion shows anyway. I’m already involved in fashion shows outside of the Mercury. I work on Content at the Ace Hotel that happens in October, last year it happened in November. I was going to get into that kind of stuff anyway, just as a by-product of being interested in what I’m interested in. So we just kind of try to make it all dovetail and breakeven, really.
It sounds like a podcast too.
We used to do a podcast.
Yeah. I wasn’t aware that you didn’t anymore.
No, when we had to do our belt tightening everybody else, after the economic hoo-ha whatever, that’s one of the things that was kind of the time and resource stuff that we decided we couldn’t afford to do anymore. We might bring it back though.
Did you guys already make mugs for your podcast?
Maybe that was the problem (laughing).
‘Cause that’s when it takes off. So is it safe to say one of your early passions is fashion?
Yes and no. I was always interested in clothing, particularly shoes. I always read fashion magazines growing up, I read Betty and Veronica, the comics, I read that for the clothes pretty much. But I had never thought about it having anything to do with my career. It was just that when I was in that part-time position at the Mercury, I was really gaming for a full-time thing and just trying to figure out a way to make myself indispensable and everybody pretty much had the usual category covered, we already had a music editor, we already had a film person in theater, ladada, and all these other things, and this was also at the same time that Seaplane was doing all these great shows and they were staring to pick up national attention, and a little bit of buzz, and I just made the argument that it didn’t make sense for us to be covering all of the other local arts so thoroughly and be completely ignoring these really exciting things that were happening and indeed denying that other magazines were talking. Venus was doing it. It didn’t make any sense.So, Steve just let me run with it, and I do still really love clothes, but I kind of cannot take a more intellectual approach to it than that and what I’m really interested in is localized manufacture and what kind of products are indicative of certain places, and it’s almost like a social anthropology fascination for me.
How has that aspect of fashion in Portland changed over the years? It seems like there’s people, like the Portland Garment Factory in the south…
Yeah, it’s been great. Portland’s actually, I mean for its size … We’re doing awesome in terms of the actual quality of designs, originality that’s happening here. In terms of our boutiques, Portland has completely exploded. We have world-class boutiques here and far more of them than you would think we could handle. We lose a few of them every year, but not as many as we gain, which is crazy, and definitely we’re towards the head of the pack when it comes to starting to build infrastructure for people to be able to have their designs locally manufactured. It’s really cool.
Interesting. Do you see that continuing? I noticed when you started your response you started with”for its size”, which is something that a lot of people say about Portland, you know, like you gotta excuse, this is Portland but… Do you think that could continue? Do you think that’ll all continue to grow, or that it’s hit some kind of limit here?
I really hope though… I feel like people, for as long as they’ve been saying, oh, for its size, Portland still has that little hesitancy and a little bit of self consciousness, but look how long we’ve been going. It hasn’t hit its wall yet. I don’t know if you’ve heard about this Union Way Project, the so-called Alley Proect that’s going there, I don’t think it will probably be completely done until August, but it’s this huge retail and food… It’s kind of like one of those indoor flea market type of spaces that you see in Europe. It’s a little bit smaller than that. It’s where Aura used to be, as well as the Redcap, it’s on that block where the Living Room Theater is. It’s still under construction right now, but it’s this other huge retail place that’s going down and it’s right in the heart of the so-called West-end part of downtown. It’s just spitting distance from the Black Box, which has another huge say in that and that just went in a couple of years ago.So, it seems like it’s still going. I can’t really predict if it’s going to keep on going, but I feel like there are a lot of people that are concerned about keeping it going. There’s a lot of energy and a lot of ambition here to maintain it. I mean, a lot of people are just really motivated to support it. Stores like Mag-Big; Kathy Ridgeway is the owner of that, and she is incredibly ambitious, incredibly active. There’s Crispin Argento who does a line of neckwear called PINO, but he’s also a master networker. You give him five minutes, he’s shaking hands with the [unknown 00:16:44], and he’s really motivated to try to figure out what the design community needs to keep going and to maintain itself as one of the leading cities, as far as sustainable local manufacturing does. There’s a lot of interest right now, so I have a lot of hope for it.
Where do you think the attention and the exposure of Portland comes from? Is it getting written up in the New York Times or is it when people from here are on Project Runway or something like that, or what do you think is the sort of…?
I think it’s all of above. I have always been kind of, specifically with Project Runway, I’ve always been kind of like urgh.. Like kind of grumpy about it’cause it’s reality TV, it’s kind of gross.
It’s more about the drama than the actual design.
I don’t watch a lot of TV, but for reality TV, as far as I have seen it as a [unknown 00:17:51], it at least showcases people who have a technical skill and there aren’t very many reality TV shows that do that, so that’s nice. But I don’t know, I kind of stopped complaining about it for this past season when Michelle was on it, our most recent local winner. I don’t know, I’m just going stop squawking about it, if designers want to do this, it is a ton of exposure, if they win, they get a bunch of money, it’s not my place to tell people what to do with their careers, and maybe it’s not the way that I would envision happening in the most hippest way, but it is broadcasting year after year the fact that a city that was so not associated with fashion for so much of its history. People, especially young people, that are watching this show, and in their minds, they’re like,”Oh no, designers come from Portland all the time.” Portland has tons of design talent’cause they’ve won the show four times out of 11.So, it’s all of the above. Those kids are maybe reading the New York Times but it felt [inaudible 00:19:10] when I was their age, but you know, it just hits different demographics. Maybe their parents are reading the articles in New York Times. Although most of that I think, thus far, is concentrated more on our food culture.
That’s true. I think so, too.
But there are a lot of parallels.
Yeah. That’s also a good point. If someone was coming into town or someone called you up from wherever and said,”What’s the must-see fashion thing in Portland, like destination?”, what would you tell them right now?
Like a store?…
Well, I may actually say Mag-Big because they are probably the most vocal and the most dedicated to just local designs, and they do the Alley 33 fashion show, I mean they’re really, really active. Kathy, who I just mentioned, Kathy Ridgeway, I think she’s like president of the Hawthorne Business Association or something already, and she’s been in that store for a year. She’s just a real go-getter and a real advocate. So, that might be one. But just in terms of retail experience, God, there are so many good ones, for instance Frances May is amazing, Una’s amazing, [unknown 00:20:48] is amazing, Canoe… I mean really, the list goes on. OKO gallery is this tiny little place in northwest… here are so many really personal, like Sword + Fern., honestly they’ll just keep popping in my head indefinitely, just really interesting people who’ve carefully curated these often tiny spaces. It just really makes shopping this magical, exploratory, like woah, what’s this kind of experience which is super neat. Stand Up Comedy. I mean, there’s so many, so many.
You had mentioned Seaplane, that seemed so long ago now, I don’t know if you met even when it was on Belmont, when it was in northwest. It was when on Belmont, and they would do fashion shows on the corner, for me that was the first time that I ever thought, oh my gosh, there’s a fashion thing here. Was that your experience or did you feel like other things predated that because that was just sort of really hit me?
Yeah, yeah. In college, when Seaplane first opened, me and my friends would go to the Seaplane on Belmont, but it was just sort of like, astronomically expensive to [crosstalk 00:22:32] forget about it, but we would drop in there to just to gawk at stuff a little bit. So, there are early incarnations with a little bit ahead of my time. I was going downtown a lot. I was like super into the vintage scene downtown, I was doing a lot of that stuff, but I was just not prepared to get into boutique shopping at all. So definitely my memories of enjoying it and spending more time there and covering it more heavily there when it was on 23rd.But yeah, definitely, I mean I was kind of a snob, like really a snob when I first moved here, I was a normal teenager, would wear jeans and stuff and whatever, I went to school in San Francisco, and I was just appalled at how people dress, and I was like, this is unacceptable. I just went to the thrift store and I just bought all skirts and dresses. I wore skirts, dresses, heels, red lipstick everyday for well past college, I don’t even remember. It was in my late 20s before I ever wore jeans again. I was just like somebody has to raise the bar, this is gross, so I was really excited to discover Seaplane, I was just like, oh my God,’cause most of the country kind of looked down on Portland as fashionless.
Fashion-free. You’ve got pages to fill, things to write for the Mercury, how do you stay on top of all the stuff that’s happening right now? Do you rely on press releases or tips or just email or just getting out there and pounding pavement?
All of the above. We’re lucky, especially a lot more than when I first… I mean the Mercury used to get forgotten a lot in its early days, and we almost weren’t even allowed in city hall, I don’t think. We had to definitely earn a lot of respect or even just repetition to get people to even remember that we existed, does that make sense?Now, it’s a lot easier. Now, pretty much everybody is sending us a press release or an email. I use Facebook extensively. Facebook has been, more than any other social media, has been hugely helpful to me on a professional level, and it’s also just getting out there. I’m like resting a little bit on my [unknown 00:25:30] now because I feel like I don’t have to as much, but for years and years and years and years, I literally went to everything I possibly could, every trunkshow, every store opening, every first Thursday that a store hosted and just met people and then I went and socialized with those people, and just ingratiating yourself in a community, and I don’t want to sound like those friendships are inauthentic or anything, because they’re absolutely not, but part of where I was going was directed by my area of coverage. So yeah, it’s all of the above, and then you become friends with them on Facebook, and then they send you invites for your event, and that’s just like getting a press release.
And it goes right in your account (laughing). This may be a little geeky, but how do you keep track of all this stuff, do you have just a big folder, do you have Google docs in your computer?
No. I don’t know what you mean by stuff, but I don’t really have a database.
Every time a friend comes in like an event or something like that, you just decide, are we going to write about this or not and then just move forward with it?
Well, I mean a lot of the stuff that I get is, oh, we’re having a sale, which is just something I’ll just do a quick blog post. Sometimes I don’t have time or I don’t actually get a press release, just something I’ll feed on Twitter, and I’ll just retweet it from the Mercury fashion account, and like sorry, that’s all I can do for you.Every week, I have to as best everything that I know about that’s going on, we all do on our sections, and we have to make a decision okay, what am I writing my column on this week.
As far as social stuff, is it kind of just Facebook and Twitter? Do you use Pinterest a lot?
I like Pinterest, but I don’t really use it on a professional basis. I haven’t had time to recently, but historically one of my favorite things to do to just completely chill out, like brainless relaxing, is to go online window shopping at all the fancy online stores, and Pinterest is similar to that, it’s just kind of like Magpie, making note of things that your eye is attracted to. So I really enjoy it, but I don’t have a ton of time for it, and I know that everybody’s really crazy about social media and everything, and I know that’s a lot of what you do, but for me personally, I really feel that I’m getting to the point that editing is like…Twitter professionally is a lot more useful to me than it is personally. I frankly kind of abandoned my personal account and I’m just using it for Mercury fashion stuff. I like Instagram, but I feel like that’s pretty intimate and it’s just like my personal account. Pinterest is nice if i have a free evening to drink wine and cruise the internet, which I wish I did more often. But, I don’t know, I feel like everybody thinks they need to be on everything and do everything, and I think that the pendulum is kind of swinging or you just need to figure out what’s actually working for you.
What’s important to like…
Yeah, and just for me personally, for whatever reason, Facebook happens to be the ideal. It’s what I use the most that works for me both personally and professionally in a way that mirrors the degree of comfort I have with those lines being blurred in my everyday life.
Right. What types of things do you like to read, as far as periodics?
Harper is my favorite. I consider it an accomplishment each month if I can make my way through Harper. I’ve definitely for a long, long time been more interested in nonfiction than fiction in general. I have a specific weak spot for biographies. But honestly, it’s pretty shameful, most of the reading I do is I read the internet.
What’s the last good biography that you’ve read?
It was the Keith Richards.
Okay, did you like that?
Yeah, but the guitar parts were a little too nerdy for me. Like if you don’t actually play guitar, it’s really technical kind of, made my eyes [crosstalk 00:30:37].
Yeah. When you talked about first discovering Seaplane or whatever, you talked about your fashion style then, how has your style changed personally since then?
Well, I definitely have way more pairs of jeans in the past couple of years. I don’t know why. I probably still have this influence, but I think I used to be more influenced by rocker styles, a lot of like black pants and boots. I had this, I still have them, this pair of motorcycle boots that I’ve had literally for 13 years that I used to wear everyday, and now I wear them once every three months. I always say I’m dressing more like a lady now. I have boucle in my closet now. I don’t think I even knew what boucle was 10 years ago. So, a little bit more grownup but I’m still eclectic. I have always been kind of a little bit all over the place, so it’s hard to say.
So, as also the Mercury’s a film critic, what have you seen recently that was thrilling or that you were really excited to see or do you see your taste in movies [unknown 00:32:19] like biographical?
No. I’m all over the place. I tend to, I don’t know why, they stopped sending me to as many romantic comedies as they used to, but I think that there are kind of, I don’t know, there was like a rash of romantic comedies a couple of years back or something. But I tend to get steered towards a lot of foreign films and documentaries. Yeah, in a way, I do have a lot of love for documentaries and I actually right before I came here, I was watching the new Sarah Polley documentary, the stories that we tell, it is autobiographical, it’s about her finding out that her father is not who she thought he was, blah, blah, blah, which was really good. I literally was watching that an hour ago for work and that was good. But then, I also adore any movie that I don’t have to review. It’s kind of sad, you could take to any piece of crap film and I would be like, that was awesome.
You just like the movie experience.
Yeah, [inaudible 00:33:33] so much fun I just got it like [unknown 00:33:35] and watch a movie.
So seeing so many of these, do you have like a favorite theater or venue for a movie in Portland? ‘Cause I love the Living Room Theater.
Yeah, but thinking of the Living Room Theater…
And Cinetopia is fun. I mean, Living Room Theater’s my favorite, it’s just that rarely do you see like a goofy comedy there, there are art films and stuff, you know.
Yeah. When I am going to see a movie just on my own or with a friend, we usually go to the Laurelhurst. I love the Laurelhurst. So that’s my go-to even though it’s not like as fancy as the place like the Living Room.
But you can get your beer and your pizza or whatever or your wine.
I just like it there.
I just think if you work for at the Mercury, you’re always very critically overthinking about what’s cool and what’s hot, so now I’m going to ask you what the cool restaurant is or what I should try.
Oh God, well okay, I’m going to go ahead and plug my new neighborhood spot, which is Old Salt that just opened up on northeast 42nd in Alberta, which is in the neighborhood I just bought a house in so everybody should go there and that neighborhood should blow up and my property value should go up.
Yeah (laughs).
But it’s actually a really cool place. It’s sort of not fully formed yet, from what I understand right now, it’s like a deli, but sure they do all their butchering and stuff in-house. It’s the same guys that do Grain and Gristle, but they have a restaurant and a bar, and frankly I haven’t actually gone there for a meal yet, but just gone there to have a couple of glasses of wine before leisurely walk the half-block to my house. It’s very nicely decorated. The people who work there are really enthusiastic about the concept. It’s one of these uber-local… It’s nice to have like that, and then the Spare Room, which was our like other neighborhood bar before the Old Salt opened up, so it’s a diverse little block there.
We’re in the Foster-Powell neighborhood, and there’s not a lot of that. They’re all sports bar. So I will speak with the folks who opened that place and give them a suggestion for the next place to make cool. It’s hard because Foster’s one of those angular streets, like Sandy. They’re doomed. There’s just nothing you can do for those streets.
Well, I mean Sandy has got some stuff. They just had Church open. Have you heard about Church?
No, where is that?
It’s right in that kind of deadzone, I want to say, may be 24th or so. It’s kind of between all the stuff that’s on 28th and …
Kind of by where Gleason kind of starts off of Sandy?
Yeah, near there. But then that like food complex thing ocean went in right there. I actually haven’t been to Church yet but I have friends and it’s like supposed to be like northeast Sandy’s answer to Dig A Pony. It’s supposed to be super hip and good food and blah, blah, blah. It’s where that Thai food place used to be.
I’m thinking of a dive bar there that I used to go to long ago. Is it by the Sandy Hut kind of?
It’s further up. It’s further towards 28th. But the Sandy Hut is still there.
See, full disclosure I have kids now, so to do that kind of stuff…
Oh, party’s over (laughing).
Yeah, the party’s been over for years. I can only read about the diving and fun things. But you know, it’s the brilliance in here, the satisfaction.
Yeah (laughing).
So, here’s my last big pitch to you, as a managing editor of the Mercury, what advice would you give to someone who wants an awesome job like that?
Geez, I was really not strategic at very much. Here’s the best I can answer is that when it occurred to me to even approach the Mercury, it was something that I had a really clear idea that I could do that. I was like I can do what these people are doing, and I can help them. I can do at least as well as they’re doing it, and I’m fresh out of school. Maybe I’ll even get better at it than whatever… I’m not going to say that ’cause my boss is still my boss, but it was just a question of paying attention to the people I was around and listening to what they complained about, and Julianne Shepard was totally complaining about having to do with music listings and blah, blah, blah… Well, hey guess what, I can do that for you, and [unknown 00:39:26] all the time. You just kind of have to get people who are doing something that you want to be doing and listen to the parts of their job that they complain about doing, and then if you can do those things for them and ideally even learn to appreciate the value of those tasks, you will be more likely to find yourself indispensable.
You just got to get a foothold kind of, and it helps when you’re in your 20s or something where you have that enthusiasm.
It’s curiousity more than anything else what I feel like really propelled me is that I was just super open-minded and just sort of like point me in a direction and I’m going to go.
Now you appreciate sitting back in your leather Eames chair kicking up your feet and then just ordering them around. Is that pretty accurate?
No, it’s like a really shitty old desk chair that the upholstery is ripped and the cushion is hanging out, but… (laughing).
Well Marjorie, thank you so much for coming down to chat with me today.
Yeah of course. Thanks for the invitation.

14. Mike Squires

Image of Mike Squires
The Job PDX
The Job PDX
14. Mike Squires

Mike Squires is the lead guitarist for Loaded and veteran of more bands than you can count. He’s also incredibly funny.

Show Notes

Recorded Monday, May 20th, 2013, and this is episode number 14. Follow Ray, Kandace, Dan, or Needmore on Twitter. Please rate our show on iTunes!

The Job is a talk show about design, music, business, culture, technology, the web, and Portland, and featuring interviews with interesting people. Hosted by Ray Brigleb and brought to you by Needmore Designs.

13. Bob Smith

Image of Bob Smith
The Job PDX
The Job PDX
13. Bob Smith

Bob Smith is Portland’s favorite autodidact. He’s designed with everyone from Nike to Wieden Kennedy, he’s now with New Balance and today he shares some thoughts on inspiration, becoming a better designer, and thinking way outside the box.

Show Notes

Recorded Monday, May 13th, 2013, and this is episode number 13. Follow Ray, Kandace, Dan, or Needmore on Twitter. Please rate our show on iTunes!

The Interview

Hi Bob.
Hi Raymond, how are you?
I’m excellent, yourself.
Lovely, this is lovely little studio you have here.
Thank you.
Thanks for the beer.
Yeah you bet, cheers.
All right.
Why don’t you tell me where you are from, where were you born?
I was born in Hollywood, California. My dad moved us to Oregon when I was 10 against my will. We went from Malibu and Disneyland and Magic Mountain and all my friends were in L.A. and Hollywood to Portland, Oregon in the early `70s.
Why? That was a terrible time over there wasn’t it, it was the worst time.
I’m still mad at him for it. He got a job … he grew up in L.A. and he had had enough and I was just getting started. He got a job with Tektronix which was the Nike of his time. That sets the stage for where I came from. That’s … I have … when I go back to California even though I haven’t lived there since I was 10, I go back there I go. I feel like my people even though they are messed up.
Deep back in your lizard brain there is a California vibe.
Yeah, there is something about it and I still remember running away from Jellyfish at the beach. Just like all that crap. I think they say the first five years of your life are the most formative and then … Anyway I lived there until I was 10 and then we moved up here, so that’s where I was born. Where do we go with this?
Were you? What were you like in high school? Were you the rock and roll guy?
Its funny, I suspect everybody has this story no matter how popular you were or think you were, but I just never seemed to fit in. I never … I wasn’t nerdy enough to be nerdy, I wasn’t cool enough to be cool. I did ascend, I was honored, I was class clown honored in my senior year. I never felt like I fit, do you know, do you get that feeling?
I hated high school.
I know.
It was the worst.
I tell my kids now because my son is going through high school now and my daughter is in middle school which we used to call junior high. I said, “Just get used to it, it’s the most three years of your life.”
Yeah, your life sucks but it will get better.
You are going to cry and people won’t understand you and you might even … might be violence who knows. Anyway so …
Wow, way to psych him up for …
I know right.
It’s true though yeah.
Well I just want to manage their expectations as they say. Poor kids.
Well the problem with me was that my high school was across the street from my house.
You were that kid?
I was that kid. I lived right across the street so I never went to school, it was terrible.
I always thought those kids were so weird. It’s not like living across the street from the 7-Eleven which would be really cool if you are that age, right. All the Tank Battle you can play. Where were we headed with that?
Did you play music?
I did I played music, I always … I played drums and bands and then I started playing guitar about 10 years ago just because I felt like I needed to. I played in junior high and high school and I played in Jazz band and all that stuff. Then I played in bands after I got out. I always really loved it and I always felt curious people I went to school with who played music in band when you were in school. When they are done with school that’s when they stopped playing music and I always thought that was really curious like that was something they are being forced to do. I was thinking, “Isn’t this something you like doing?”
It always seemed really weird to me that the thing in high school, there was jazz band. Jazz was always like a foul word. Like who wants to be in Jazz band?
If you think about it, it wasn’t even real jazz it was like this weird stage, stagey … It wasn’t … you weren’t playing Coltrane for god’s sake you were playing these big band charts and stuff like that. Which I loved but I wasn’t really … I remember when I first got my first … I was supposed to buy this Weather Report record and I thought okay cool and I read it and its supposed to be really good its got five starts and everyone is raving about it.
To practice for jazz band or something?
No just to listen to it because I thought it was something. Because I realized I grew up in Tiger, I went from one of the hippest place in the world to one of the stupidest places in the world. I grew up in the burbs, “Okay I want me some of this Weather Report.” I bought it and I thought I had wasted my $4.44 because I originally I didn’t get … I was, “What the hell is this?” You know what I mean. Now it’s … the record was Mr. Gone, now its one of my favorite records of all time. It’s one of those …
It’s like my dad was always listening to like Beach Boys and classic rock and I just fucking hated it back then, I was, “God that’s so … “ Now of course I’m … I can’t stop talking about the fucking Beach Boys. I’m like wow.
I know. It’s funny my dad, first god bless him he is still alive and he actually lives with us in our house and he is the grandfather to my kids which is awesome. He kept finding new ways to reinvent himself as a nerd. If he would have stayed with the music he was listening to back then he would be super-cool now, but he found new ways to nerd himself out. After he got done with the Beach Boys he went on to Yanni and then after he got done with Yanni he went on to who knows what else. It’s just like …

Anyway that was my music thing with my family. My mom was listening to pop radio in the car and we were driving to the beach and hearing what was on the radio. It was always music. Were you that kid who always had a song stuck in their head?

Oh god I still do, I can sing a god damn song in my head for a week.
I know right it’s awful. It can be great. I remember walking to school one morning, how old was I? I don’t know. Getting that song Frankenstein stuck in my head.
No, what’s that one?
You don’t know that the Edgar Winter song?
No I don’t know that at all.
It’s this really have rock and roll song from the `70s and anyone who is listening to this right now is going to go, “Yeah I know that song, I know that song.” I remember singing that song walking to school, when I was … how old was I? I was going, “Do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do.” I could play every note and I was thinking, I love that song.

That came out … that same energy when I go see a show now when a band is really good, it came and it comes from that same place in your gut where you just feeling, you know what I mean? I guess like you meant now I realized that’s what was going on then.

I need to hear that song.
I still regret … not regret, but I still wish it said musician on my passport instead of designer.
Designers don’t get enough respect do they?
I know and then lots of designers are playing music and musicians are being designers. I have a good friend, do you know Alan Hunter?
Not by name.
[Amy] Ruppel knows him, he had been on tour, he just got back with … he is a bass player in a band called the Eagles, you may have heard of right. He has been all over and I got to play with him last summer in some little stuff here around town in Portland it was really fun. He got to go on tour so I get to live vicariously through him. I always feel like I was that far away from hitting it and Portland.
You could have been in the Eagles with him. I’m just kidding.
I know.
It would have been great.
Then the kooky, crazy Courtney Taylor was in a band called the Beauty Stab, do you remember that, were you here then?
No, was that before?
It was before …
Go on.
It was before Nero’s Rome.
Yeah I moved here in like …
Which was before.
I moved here in `97.
Okay so you must … Dandys were in full swing at that point.
Musically he was I think … if I get my history right he went to Sunset High School. I think Sunset or … and he won … his band in high school won battle of the bands. He was really a very talented guy, he was an amazing songwriter. He played drums in these bands for a long time and then he did his own thing with the Dandys and of course the rest is history with him. I think the cool thing about Portland as it’s come up, you can do all of it. You can do … you can have a podcast, you can play in a band and you can design things. There is … I think any delineation you make is artificial because you can …
The town is filled with renaissance men and women, so very much like everyone …
I don’t know, it just feels like the older I get I feel, “Why would I want to limit my self?”
That was the idea behind the show name, The Job, its not really about … it’s about how things go from hobby to job to hobby. Especially in Portland it seems like a lot of people are … they are really passionate about food and then they took a stab at a restaurant and oh my god it totally took off.
Oh my gosh, I’m so glad you brought that up because … I’m missing the guys name, head of Spy Magazine, Kurt Andersen, do you know who he is?
He wrote a book called Turn of the Century. Anyway, I saw him give a talk he is a friend of Molly Hill, she’s an artist here in town. He gave a talk about a year and a half ago that totally broke this thing wide open for me. I’ll have to jump back and explain what I’m talking about after I say what I’m going to say. I’m not trained as an apparel designer. I’m not trained as anything really I didn’t go to college. I hardly have any … I’d be surprised if I have 10 credit hours to my name. I always had a job where I would do something and then I would scam my way into getting promoted and doing the next thing.

As I was telling you earlier before we started taping, I used to do displays Oscar Mayer Franks and Fred Meyer window displays, dress manikins and make signs and things like that. Then I parleyed that into a job at Nike as a designer, as a graphic designer there. I worked on apparel and I did for 10 years and during that time I slowly glow my way into designing apparel pieces. Because I was always working with really talented apparel designers and [inaudible 00:12:03] fittings. Excuse me I have to do this thing where … excuse me.

Its okay, there it goes.
Nice. Anyway I was looking at it.
Don’t worry.
I know. These jobs and I think … I don’t know, I think this is possible for anybody. You always have these opportunities to … If you are working in music that leads to maybe a career in acting or whatever. Anyway so this guy Kurt Andersen was talking about doing exactly that. He started out as writer and he started publishing this magazine called Spy Magazine which was really big in the `90s.
Sure, sure I remember Spy, yeah.
You remember Spy. He was talking about this career path where he did that and someone asked him, “Hey would you be interested in doing a radio show?” He said, “Well I have never done a radio show before but it sounds like fun, I’ll try it.” He is not trained as a whatever. That became … I forget, I can’t … this is where the facts … my source [inaudible 00:13:05] runs dry. I can’t tell you what the name of the radio show was. He was pretty successful at this and then someone said, “Hey do you want to do a TV show?” He said, “Well yeah.”

I think that turned in, is it called 360 or something? I have to look it up. Anyway that became successful and his whole point was, these … the borders we put on what we do are self-imposed. Once he … he said that to me and I was like, I thought, “God here is this guy I really respect and admire.” By anyone’s estimation he is definitely successful making it in New York. I thought, well that was my permission to go full steam ahead with this thing doing apparel design for a small company at the time. The guy I worked with and I were a good fit and we took that on the road and we went to New Balance.

Now I’m designing tennis apparel for freaking the number 13 ranked tennis player in the world and doing it for the Harvard men’s and women’s. Dang if isn’t good stuff and people are liking it and I can do it. That’s funny, like I said a lot of it is … I think you are your own worst critic. That can be helpful, it helps you from putting crap out. Or being [inaudible 00:14:25] you know what I mean? I think also it can prevent you from moving forward with something that might be a little scary.

Speaking of Dylan I think that he experienced that same thing where he had a music career for decades and nobody really heard of him. Then he did this radio show or podcast, the Bob Dylan radio hour and then everyone was, “Bob Dylan.” Just an example.
Why wouldn’t it work? Think about it right.
I think that really … When I talk to people, people who are going to work here or whatever. Its like I … to me … Maybe I’m biased because I don’t have any formal education there, but I feel for someone to … if someone is really passionate about it, that’s worth so much more, its priceless.
Oh my god.
You’ll figure it out.
Especially something that’s as new as web design.
You know what? That’s such a great point I’m so clad you said that because I was thinking about this when I was at Nike, I used to look at people’s portfolios all the time. They could be going through school and I thought, “That’s good but what I really want.” I thought, let me back up just have a space. We had basically designers found in two camps, people who were trained as graphic designers and people who were fine artists who could get … who got work as graphic designers.

It seemed to me that people whose work I admired the most were always the fine artists. They had the most cleverest solutions, they had the best ideas. Rather than polishing your technique you were actually working on your intake. One class I do remember taking in college I had this really great professor out of Mt. Hood Community College and he said … at the time I didn’t know what to do and he said, “Well you might want to go get a descent liberal arts education. What that will do is that will increase your range of source material so that you have more material to work with.

I thought about as a designer what I’m really doing is synthesizing, there is nothing new in design as we all know. There is different combinations of new ideas. The more source which I felt I had to draw from, the more the possibility for solutions would be. The other thing is I thought school was a codified way of learning. I felt like the whole time I wasn’t going I was missing out on maybe dorm life, or interacting with other designers. I don’t know about you I have a feeling … I read voraciously, do you do the same thing?

That’s how you learn, right? That’s how I learned.
There is about a couple of hours a night usually where I am … and you know it’s always … it really is a cross … I might see … At some point I was obsessed with the Swiss Railroad Clock face. Apple basically copied that idea for the iPad clock. I read that story and I was, “Let me look at this clock, why is it such a big deal that they paid a settlement, or paid to license it?”
Why is it so iconic?
It’s so good. It’s just a clock face, its just a bunch of little notches and I don’t even think it has numbers on it, but it’s just … just the balance of the elements is so nice.
Isn’t it. It was Saul Bass’ birthday yesterday and someone did a Google tribute.
I saw that yeah.
Did you see that? It reminded me how much I love Saul Bass, so much of that stuff is instinctual. There are points like, I look back at stuff I used to draw when I was in high school or even when I was … They say you copy until you find your own voice and then you … its all … that goes back to what I was saying about synthesizing. Some of these people were drawing their source … where it’s coming from its just so intriguing.
Saul Bass is one of those guys, where everything he does is so primitive and yet at the same time it’s so refined, so dialed in. The colors, the way he uses color and motion and proportion and scale. I guess if I was classically trained as a designer I can tell you … there is probably like … some probably rules that are informed by all these things. That’s proportion and that’s, whatever the golden ratio, or … However you ever … the clock is a great example there is something about it that even if you don’t know anything about design you are … it sounds very corny but your being responds to it. Something about it catches your eye.
It’s almost like when you glance at it you can take in the information so quickly, you don’t recognize the design, you just look at it and instantly you can see the time. There is no …
Which is what I love about it. Actually what I like about it, maybe you can relate to this too, is because I backed into a career in graphic design or whatever you want to call design. It’s fascinating for me to go back and read up on the history after I have already been at this for a while. I read a book, the history of Paul Renner, he is the guy who designed the future of typeface. Back then he got … I’m probably squishing this all into one big story but basically he got thrown into jail when he was designing them.

Because design represented something that was political at the time. Do you imagine getting thrown to jail for doing a poster or a typeface now, it just seems … its all style. At the time it was a little more. The reason I bring that up is because the whole Swiss thing I believe is all based in this idea of this ultimate humanism, rationalism. Making everything as clear as it could possibly be and that was the goal of it all. Not that it was going to wind up in design within reach or. It wasn’t a style.

That was just a happy byproduct.
I know right. You know what I mean, actually it was … actually there is a nobler purpose attached to what they were doing at the time with design. Which isn’t to discount what people are doing nowadays but I think there was an era I think. Something about that period of time was more considered than it seems to be now. The way people dress and the way people approach problem solving and all that stuff.
that’s definitely a larger question, I think.
Yeah I know right.
With Saul Bass and with Andy Warhol, its funny how you look at his early work and how it evolved into the real … for Saul Bass it was the movie titles and stuff. For Warhol it was The Factory and how he turned that style into something where you can still recognize a little bit of the elements of his early …
Have you seen his shoes that he drew?
Exactly we used that as a reference on a site we did recently.
Oh my gosh, it’s just … it all comes from a point … to me and not to hijack the conversation. To me I think … I love it because it all relates back to craft and wanting … to skill like woodworking or carving or anything that people used to do before computers came along. Not that you can’t do craft with computers. To me the idea of researching a topic and knowing it and working your craft and getting good at it.

It’s like really that’s … when I see someone who can really draw, I still don’t feel I can fuss my way into … here this is what I’m thinking. Well here let me work on it. Some people are really good draftsmen and that still blows me away. I‘m not that. Anyway that’s what I respond to, especially with people like Warhol he is screen printing. He came from a place that was very … where he practiced his skill and worked his craft and his eye was impeccable because he had that background of drawing.

Well he may not have actually, done the screen printing with his hand at some point it was … still he was the esthete. He guided the … he was … it was his name that was being put on it. At some point he was like Steve Jobbs he was basically saying this is good enough, this sucks, whatever.
Yeah, there is something to that where you have a point of view and its editorial and you are not just trying to make something that everybody will like, you have something you are trying to communicate. Some people will like it and understand it and other people will be offended by it. Anyway if I feel like … that’s how I feel like I have space in my museum for Lady Gaga and Andy Warhol and Gerhard Richter and anybody who is trying to do something with a voice and working at their craft I think there is space for it. How is that for broad?
No, that’s was great. Talking about what you were talking about with school, I see that too because I didn’t go to college or anything like that. I always felt like … and maybe this is only Ivy League schools, half of the point of going there was to make connections and stuff. Hopefully by now, my connections came from working in coffee shops or whatever. Hopefully they are there.
I know right and that’s valuable. How is that not valuable?
Yeah, well see, they are not East Coast.
Are you from the East Coast or West Coast?
I basically grew up in the twin cities.
Yeah, oh wow that explains the [inaudible 00:24:04] connection.
Perhaps yeah and I don’t know [inaudible 00:24:07] there but we …
I know but it’s the same …
Aesthetically yeah.
People who are from … my wife is from Akron. Some of my favorite people …
We’ll I’m originally from Cleveland.
Perfect, that’s why I like you guys then. There is something really practical about you guys. I’ve got to tell you speaking of that Harvard thing, its really blowing my mind because I grew up in the West Coast. I’m working with New Balance in Boston. In all the travelling I did for Nike I never went to New England. I always … it’s always been … it’s a culture … it’s the American culture it’s so of its self and is always really intriguing to me. To be going there and the first time I went to Harvard, there really is an energy to that especially I guess that no college education, growing up on the West Coast. You go to Harvard and it is, “Oh my god this is it, there is here freaking Roosevelt went to college.”

Where I got a tour of the campus and just, “Wow this place is older than the United States.” It was no rules going to some place like that and working with them, that’s like taking everything I know about what’s normal and stood on its head. It’s I think … it’s a culture thing, right. Coffee shops are as valid a culture thing, a band is as valid a culture thing as Harvard is, it’s just a different … Its funny, it took me a long time to get over my insecurity about not going to college. Because it’s just a different path.

Not that I’m proud of it but I think I’m a lot more accepting to myself now where I feel like, “I was just a fuck up, I could never make school work.” Well it just wasn’t a good fit and its maybe not a good fit for … especially what we do, its what you know right?

Yeah, yeah. I don’t … well that’s the thing. If I had though, oh I will be a web designer, that would have been impossible when I … at my age just the word didn’t exist, the word literally didn’t exist when I would have been going to college. You know what I guess I could have studied design.
Who knows? I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was in high school. I wanted to play in bands and I liked designing things. I then didn’t see how either one of those could really be a real career but …
I guess more to the point is that I don’t feel like … I feel like I have to learn something new every damn week. Every other week, it’s I guess with the business growing I’ve got to learn how to sell. I’ve got to learn how to be a salesperson and shit like that. I would never have studied that in the `90s.
It’s so funny you said that because I was thinking, I was checking this big giant sales [inaudible 00:26:48] sign for New Balance anyway, last … two weeks ago. I had been on this line for the last year and it was finally getting ready to come out to the market. I thought, oh I have to present to all these sales people and they want to know what they story is. The better I do my job of telling them what the story is, the easier their job will be selling it, which will … of course that’s good for me because I’m in sales and I’m successful as a designer, blah-blah-blah.

I started thinking. I saw some people get up there and try to sell their work and they weren’t always designers, sometimes the line manager would present it. I always thought the designer was the best person if they were qualified and were good at it to sell because obviously the inspiration comes from the designer blah-blah-blah. I just felt so sorry for these people who couldn’t articulate their vision and they got all caught up in reading the PowerPoint slides and all the stuff and I thought … I felt to me as a designer you have to do two things, you have to be a good designer, but then you also have to be good as selling. That’s as important as …

Even if you are just like …
Even though that’s not your job.
It occurred to me that there has always been and there always will be this artist patron relationship. No matter what, it could be really overt, if [inaudible 00:28:01], or if you are a fine artist you are going to have a gallery showing. Or can be as me as an apparel or product designer. There is a certain point where you take your work that you have done and you hold it up to somebody else who is writing the check or buying it or selling it and you say, “What do you think?” They give you a thumbs up or a thumbs down, but there is never not that …
There is always some degree of pitching of selling. Have you ever … do you know who Mike Monteiro is? He wrote this … a very slender volume called Design is a Job. His point was just … a big part of the point of the book is that, you have to defend your design. You can’t … too many designers. He is taking about the web [inaudible 00:28:47] we’ll make a design and we’ll expect someone else in the business to pitch it to client and then they come back with a bunch of stuff and its like, “Well this is bullshit I can’t deal with this.” You realize you need to be facing the client and saying no. I can’t change this, there is a reason for this.
I agree that’s why I think Mad Men is so fascinating.
Oh me too.
Because you see the different … how that works, for better or worse or …
I would love to see a mash up of all just the pitch meetings.
The pitching right, I know.
Not any of the fucking drama, just five, 10 minutes of each episode. If someone would make that for me I would pay more for that. Because I just don’t have the patience.
I’m so glad you brought that up, I was thinking that Nike … I guess in a really real way Nike was my educator … my real …
Your college.
My college and I saw some people who were really good at talking and telling stories and when I look at their designs I go, well they are okay, they always had this heat. They always had … people were really into them and what they did. I realized, yes please … it occurred to me, they are just really good at selling. That’s really … and I’m not saying that’s all it was but that was a large … that was my big takeaway from that. I was like, so if … and I … I have all these personal maxims hanging around down in a book someday and no one is going to care about it.

I remember, where you think to yourself and then you write it down in your head. I remember thinking, it is what I say it is, to a large degree. To a larger degree than I think most people realize it. If I think its good and I really believe in it, then it is.

Well I learn from watching other designers pitch that they don’t …
You can tell if they don’t believe it right?
For instance there is a really basic idea that you just let someone walk in the room and just see the damn design. There is a whole ceremony there, in the way you reveal it and tell the story and walk them through the story. I feel like a junior designer, someone who is new … that’s … you are giving a presentation and it’s a really intricate thing with lots of moving parts that have a lot of psychology in it its just. I don’t know how you would even teach that in school.
I don’t know … I think, its funny I think about this all the time, I used to read a ton of how to play drum books which is fine, and lots of how to design books which I still do. I realized at a certain point you just have to do the work. I have …
You’ve just got to beat the drums.
Yeah right, I tell all these anecdotes about all these … any subject you care to discuss, but one of my favorite ones is actually about this. It was … I remember seeing, or reading something about the Disney Studio back in the `50 when people get to draw there. I think that’s what turned into art center. Not art center the CalArts. Anyway and one of the illustration professor said, “When you got here … your first day here you probably have about 10,000 bad drawings in you and I’m here to get them all out of you.” I’m here to get rid of those 10,000 bad drawings.

The idea is just doing it, just doing it, just doing it. Some people have a gift and they’ll get there quicker, but what I’ve noticed, the time I spent at that other place and the time … even I gave six presentations last week its just you just get through it, you get better at it and you practice and that’s how you … The work is how you get better at that.

That reminds me of that, I don’t know if you’ve heard the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.
No I haven’t.
That popularizes this idea that it takes 10,000 hours to get good at anything. Whether it’s … He theorized that if you added it up that the Beatles spent 10,000 hours before, yeah before even being recorded which is probably true. Because they would play for eight, 10 hours at a time. If you look at any great artist you just think, “Oh my gosh they were just born perfectly and they came out of this eggshell with this magic.”
The annoying thing is there are those kids in junior high school who drew the perfect Van Halen logo on their …, I was like, “God damn it, your bag-pack looks great, the V is so perfect and that S in Santana….” There are those. One of my favorite quotes these days is hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard. The reason I say that is, I was in all these crazy gifted programs in L.A. when I was a kid. I don’t know what it does to you, but I’m guessing it probably fucked me up pretty bad.

I got thinking well I’m gifted, so I don’t have to … Meanwhile, you are taking these… seeing these other kids get As and I was thinking to myself, if I really tried I could but I don’t want to try blah-blah-blah. I had to learn as an adult then, how to discipline myself to do the work that I knew I was capable of. That … my big thing nowadays and this is what I’m trying to teach my kids, good help me, is just showing up and doing the work everyday is so huge. I think it’s underrated, or it is to me anyway, it has been for a long time, just showing up and putting in the hours everyday and being there. Because … and I think that’s … when I do that that’s how I realize I’m most successful.

I guess that touches on the other reason why this show was named The Job.
The Job.
It’s very much, you have to show up and you have to do the work and sometimes you will have to try the same thing 100 times before it works.
I don’t want to, I don’t want to. I still have to do schematics, I have been doing this for 15 years, I still have to do button schematics? Yeah because either if I don’t then I give the power to somebody else. If I don’t set up a way to have it … I have to put in the work some way or another. Either I have to do the work or set it up so somebody else can, you know what I mean.
It’s like the whole Warhol Factory or anything like that. It’s like ultimately the responsibility falls to the person whose name is attached to it and if you abdicate that responsibility and you just …
Like your presentation example, presenting … if I give it to somebody else to present then I have given part of my power away.
They are going to make you look like an asshole.
I know, well I have seen people where they take your work and they objectify it. They go, “Well the designer was thinking.” They take … they are one step away from it … they have insulated themselves against it being good or bad, they don’t have any skin in the game. Whereas if the person was involved in the process and they would defend it more as a we, “Here is what we were thinking and this is what … ” Rather than, you know what I mean by arms-lengthening.

As a designer I think … first of all I have to know I am doing good work. The other thing I have to care about what I’m doing and be interested in it. If I’m not any one of those things could torpedo my effort. There is nothing worse than working on something that you don’t believe in.

You just never … you never do a good job.
Which is different than not feeling like designing that day.
If you are working on a project … if I was supposed to design something for something I didn’t care about or wasn’t interested in, I probably won’t give my best effort, especially if I don’t believe in it. The fun thing about working at … if I can do this for a second, the fun thing about Nike I found a good place for myself. The fun think about being at New Balance now is that they actually … if you dig deep enough there is a really good story there to tell and that’s what gets me excited.

When I get excited … its like when you have in your neighborhood [inaudible 00:36:49] going up, “Oh I have got this really cool thing come check this out.” Right a cool magazine or something like that and you get people fired up and involved in it, if you are excited then other people get excited and then they … and then you have people who are excited about their work.

Yeah, stories are really a huge powerful thing in the human nature. I always think if you loose a passion for something you are doing then some young gun who is passionate, regardless of their education is just going to … they are just out of attrition there is just time eventually that you can’t hold up to it. Because they are going to be burning the midnight oil. Fascinated by this thing and learning everything and just soaking it up and you are going to be like ah, this sucks.
Like you did, like I did, like I’ve done before. Where you are clicking through it, where you are reading something and you got stacks and stacks. You are reading the Paul Renner book, or they are reading the story of story Swiss Modern design or any of that stuff that they are really into it. I have this thing … I have … one of my … another one of those maxims I have, personal maxims I have with the people I work with.

Now its like if we are working on a product, if we are working on a shirt, or a dress or a skirt, or a coat or a jacket or something like that. If we get the samples back and I tell them if you don’t want to steal it then we probably shouldn’t be making it. If it’s not good enough for you to want to take home then why were you even wasting time making it. Let’s just drop it right now and focus our energy on something we do want to do. I just … I remember working at Nike and we would have these line plans, they are 14, 20 items wide. We need this, we need this, we need this because we had this last year we did this three years ago and this sold really well three years ago.

Then you get this line there was just … you all had a couple of people working on it maybe it was an inch deep like a mile away. Its was, “Who needs that, who wants that anymore?” Its fun now to see it, the tide it shifting back in general towards more craft, made in craft. If you see Imogene Willie in Nashville they are making handmade jeans one at a time for people. That’s part of what’s fun but working at New Balance not to fish the company I’m working for, but they actually … they make, I think its 25% of their production is still made in the United States. They are actually still … it’s an archaic business model but there is something about it that feels like you are supporting something.

It means something. Believe me and I’m not mocking Nike because I remember a lot of great things about there, I remember making some really amazing products. I just felt like, it was fun to take a step back and do something that looks a lot personally more purposeful and impactful in that way. I think we’ve seen that shift certainly here in Portland. How many people are hand roasting coffees and making beers and work that … You know who I love is these guys, the … I keep wanting to call them Oh My Fucking God Company. The Original Manufacturing Company.

Yeah, yeah they are great.
Fritz… they make that shit by hand, I have been in their bar they make their own god damn papa shot who does … talk about uncalled for.
They are awesome, but I’ve got to get those guys on here to [inaudible 00:40:16].
Yeah, oh my god they are great. That’s kind of what I’m taking about I think … thank god its dependent on springing back the other way, because I just …
Sometimes it’s hard to tell and maybe you can answer to this more because you travel more than I do. Sometimes I worry that I’m in a burble here in Portland and that no one else in Kansas gives a shit. Maybe it is …
I don’t travel to Kansas a lot, I can’t tell you much about that.
In New York City though I guess.
Yeah I know you know what, in London I am seeing it, certainly in Boston. My sense is if you’re autodidactic as I am I think you probably … you have your finger in a lot on pulses then you feel … I think it feels like and again this is anecdotal so I don’t have my source on lockdown with this but it feels like its heading that way.
We’ll get our research around that.
We’ll get our … and here is one of the things I cite. The Olympics last year, was it last year or two years ago where Ralph Lauren made all the opening and closing ceremony stuff. It was as most apparel is, it was manufactured in Asia, China or Vietnam of wherever. People were so upset that all the American Uniforms were made overseas, but the fact is that’s a standard practice, right and its really unusual for things to be made here in the Unite States.

Anyway the reason I bring that up is what that told me is, that was a shot over the barrel of business as usual or as the status quo and that said to me that someone like Ralph Lauren is now going to start focusing their resources on manufacturing domestically. You have people like … you start thinking about, again this all anecdotal … you have American Apparel has this big made in USA thing it does .

Yeah that’s their thing, that is part of their brand.
Right and you see more and more of what I do anyway, especially in the line of work I’m in. You see more and more of it, there is [inaudible 00:42:21] that type of people. You have [inaudible 00:42:24] up in Seattle. You have [inaudible 00:42:28] goods here in town. It’s just there is enough of these little places and for the first time, it’s actually considered … It used to be made in Germany was great. But in USA actually means quality which is bizarre, growing up when we did.
It’s true.
That’s where I am getting my readings from. I think it is coming back here, its coming back here.
I think you are right, even the … and this is to go outside of apparel, even the CEO of Apple recently said they were going to start making one of the computer lines which … When Apple first started.
They made their computers here.
Over time they just couldn’t compete on that, when everyone else in the industry that was … everyone else was just dominating and pretty soon its standard … you assume it’s not made here. Why would you think otherwise. It is exciting to thing that there is …
It’s interesting … it’s just an interesting turn of events. Anyway that to me speaks in people are interested in … and I don’t know if this is me getting older. I would be curious to see what my kids think. Rather than having more stuff having fewer pieces but better pieces stuff. Things that will last longer, buying more [inaudible 00:43:46] things. The other thing … that’s the pull, the push is on the other side of it, you have … there is all the investing in this fashion thing. The Bangladesh factory a couple of weeks ago collapsing and its … people should realize that these choices actually do have consequences.

Its interesting people, I don’t know. Now this is definitely a first world problem. “Wow, I don’t want to buy my $150 shirt at Target, I want to buy it … “ Meanwhile some people don’t have cell phones or clean water or whatever, its [inaudible 00:44:25] big picture. As a designer anyway, I think what I’m encouraged by is I feel like its getting back to craft and service of a story rather than just style. I think style will always be there.

Do you know who Stefan Sagmeister is? I remember seeing a conference of him when I was just a cub designer 15 years ago. His thing at the time was style equals art and I think that the core value was substance equals art. The idea is, anybody can paste style on anything and make it look good but he wanted to work on things that actually had a purpose. Which is. “Wow, who doesn’t want to do that?” Who wants to sit around … who just wants to sit around and crank out the latest font of the day?

It’s really appealing for a designer when you feel like so much of what you are doing is so removed from …
I mean you just feel like you are giving matching orders and someone in Asia follows them or whatever. It’s appealing to think of that whole process being a little closer in or that affecting people more directly.
Actually you are probably very well qualified to talk about this. You work with Dwayne right [inaudible 00:45:38]. He has always been about … the restaurants he opens now are beautiful and that really speaks to his eyes and his care that was always there from the beginning. Tell me about that, what was that like working with him?
Well I think that and we actually did an interview with him not for this but before that. He is really … its nice for the restaurants because people can be more directly rewarded by locally sourcing. Those amazing oysters in Woodsman. He has those relationships, he goes to the coast and meets with them and stuff. Definitely all the lighting and [inaudible 00:46:17] are just amazing, I think that’s all from [inaudible 00:46:20] Electric I think we do that in Portland. Its amazing how much of that you can do locally now. It’s really exciting that someone can be rewarded by … that’s a great business model I just love that.
Don’t you. I know I was just thinking about that.
Yeah restaurants in Portland are just one of the most exciting things.
I made a choice, when I started working at New Balance because I knew it would be all consuming and it has been. I was just trying to get a lot of print design for restaurants [inaudible 00:46:49] I did the stuff for Tumblr and there are some really big people in town to do work for it and they really appreciate great work. They are really great partners. I was sad to have to leave that behind.
Yeah, yeah. Were you doing like freelance work before?
I actually saw Jeremy probably about a month ago, down at the Ace and Palm Springs and I was I’m on to my fifth career now [inaudible 00:47:15].
Because now every time I go going to [inaudible 00:47:20] r or even Tumblr to see your work there and there is posters for the [inaudible 00:47:25].
I know right. That’s … that goes back to what I was saying about just having … developing an eye for quality. Because I have always loved clothes and then I’ve always worked with clothes even when I was at Nike I designed graphics and stories that went on clothes with clothes. That whole Nike sportswear thing I started there and that came from a storytelling perspective that wasn’t being told at the time.
What was that … what do you?
That Nike sportswear logo that you see everywhere, now I did that by hand. That came from … that was … I was at time, Nike that was … it’s been a while now, I keep thinking it was last year but it was actually about 10 years. We had … Nike was very well established as a performance apparel company, but they weren’t very good in my opinion at the time of doing what I would call classis street wear or sportswear. Which is stuff that you see in a shop like down at the compound gallery. They didn’t do that very well and I thought they could have been and other people were doing it.

I thought Nike were taking themselves too seriously as a … they called it authentic athletic and they only made things that you could actually work out in. I thought that to me that left a lot of stories on the table specifically the U of O track team Steve Prefontaine, Phil Knight story, Bill Bowerman story all the people that went along. It was a really amazing story because I think about it, it was the conference of Bill Bowerman, Steve Prefontaine, Phil knight and Geoff Hollister all coming together at the same time to create what they created was really unbelievable and it was actually born out of this `60s reaction to the establishment.

Ironically they were reacting against Adidas and now I think they are the same thing. Anyway what I wanted to do was tell the story with the apparel that captured all that and they weren’t doing it. I put together a line, I just [inaudible 00:49:41] how deep I should go at this. Anyway …

Go crazy.
I put that together and I presented it to some senior management and they … “yeah this is a good idea lets go do that.” That little Nike sportswear logo is what I drew to … I went down to Melrose one time and I went through all these thrift stores and they all had a certain Nike blue label, orange label and orange label was the very first hang tag put in the back of the clothing. It said Nike sportswear I thought, “That’s weird we don’t use that anymore.” We hadn’t used it since 1977 something, they dropped. I thought, well that’s what we should call it.

I took the Nike logo and I fucked it up a little bit. If you hang it … if you pulled them up next to each other you can realize, it’s tweaked and weird and long and they kept using it. It started out as this tiny little logo for this tiny little collection and they kept using it and now it’s everywhere. Anyway the reason I bring that up is because that means I was on to something, that means there was a story that actually had … worth telling that resonated with people.

It had legs.
I was actually just in London a couple of weeks ago and I hadn’t talked to the guy that I worked with there in a number of years and I told him about where that came from. He said, “Oh yeah everybody here knows where it came from.”
Is it the all caps one?
Yeah but it’s not the [inaudible 00:51:05] one.
Right its more … it’s more yeah.
The sportswear I drew … actually the sportswear typeface itself is hand drawn it was based on … I started out using Univers Condensed it didn’t look quite right and I tried a couple of different. I tried Trade Gothic, nothing looked quite right. I thought well I’ll just draw it myself. I was actually literally using these wonky old woven hand-tags from 1978, 1979 and try to replicate that feel.
Yeah interesting.
Its funny, now you probably get this question all the time, some odd designer will call you up and they want to use something that you did and they said, “What font is that?” You are like, “Well it’s not really a font.”
Or will just guess the font.
Yeah or will just guess it right. Have you … do you know Jessica Hische? I love, she was … I saw her talk a couple of years ago and I loved the fact that she would, if it didn’t exist she would make it up. I loved the idea of, just because I can’t find it in a font or box, or a clipper thing I’ll just go make it because it needs to exist. That really resonated … that was … she was another person who just pushed me over the edge that way.

When I heard her say that I was, “Of course why wouldn’t you?” Because what you really want is the best solution right. Not the best solution I can get out of a font package, it’s the best solution right.

Yeah we … sometimes you forget that when you are designing and you have your Dropbox and your hard drive and your gigabytes and gigabytes of source material. It’s like … we just need a bag, draw a bag, we just need a square and a circle. Sometimes you’ve got to roll up your sleeves and … That’s a great story sometimes, the fact that you drew that thing that was a little bit different than the thing already out there … its almost subconsciously I feel sometimes I worry that design is something that is hard to pitch to a man on the street. What’s so great about design? Sometimes I feel like you could demonstrate it to them and they would get it.
Do you always walk around with that feeling in your head? I do. I think, “Just give me five minutes I can show you exactly why it is.” I wish … just that confidence.
Yeah, I do, I really do. I feel sometimes we work with clients who are … we have clients all over the world and its really hard sometimes because you just want to sit down and say lets pull up this website. Let’s watch it load, lets click through it and experience it together and then this one and see what you think.
What you think and you don’t mean there is this …
I feel like I could spend all day trying to write an email that would explain the subtleties of this or that but … go on.
Again this is fun to talk to you because [inaudible 00:53:54] we are taking in information in a lot the same ways. I saw Steve [inaudible 00:53:58] talking at one of these … I think the AIG had been doing those things at the laundry [inaudible 00:54:02] they have been really good and I try to go whenever I can.
At the [Ace 00:54:06] you mean?
Yeah the [Ace 00:54:08] laundry. He said, he is so good. I forgot how good he was … he was saying … he had this really great sign that said, “People don’t care how clever your solutions are they want to know that you care about them.”
That you care about their …
That’s a great quote yeah.
Isn’t it? It’s like oh my god it’s so obvious. Think about when you are arguing with your wife about the dishes, it’s not about the dishes. It’s not about the dishes is that you never pay attention to her, it’s not about the dishes.
I feel if a client knows that you care about their brand then they will trust that what you are …
They are engaged.
They trust that you are going to be a good shepherd under the internet or something. Whereas if they feel like you don’t get it which is a challenge when you are working with someone.
Or if you have been flipping about their needs.
Its funny because one of the things when I was talking to Jeremy last month he said, he goes, we just we had to make sure that people we were with get it too.
Wow that is a great, great point yeah.
Sometimes its not a good fit, it’s just not a good fit. Its funny, I told my son a couple of years ago, I had to fire a client. He goes, “You had to fire a client, or did they fire you?” I said, “No, it wasn’t a good fit I told them it wasn’t a good fit.” Because you know how those things go, you keep trying to make it work and they don’t get it and they want you to revise it and they don’t understand what your time is worth and blah-blah-blah. You know it because you have done it with [inaudible 00:55:31] before and it has to be a good fit.

That’s why I think its interesting when you see people … now I know its true and you know its true too when you see designers when they get an award for something and they say. It sounded phony when I first heard it, “We had a great client that we worked with.” Now I understand a little bit of what they are talking about, because I have had a few of them and you realize that they trust you. I have had and hopefully you’ve had this happen to you, where you have a solution that you are giving to a client and you are really strive and you believe in it and you present it with all your heart and soul and they don’t get it.

They come back to you the next day and they say, I have had this happen a couple of times and they said, “When I went to bed I didn’t like, and when I woke up in the morning and I looked at it I loved it.” Have you ever had that happen?

I had a similar thing happen, but it was never quite that …
I might be overselling my position sometimes it just takes [inaudible 00:56:23] and you are stretching them hopefully in a way that … which means that you are on to something that’s original and memorable which is the point.
I have looked at designs that I have done in retrospect and I have certainly looked at them as I was going the wrong way and the client did … because really I’m not doing what I do, I’m not an artist, I’m a designer.
You are an arranger.
A curator.
Yes that’s true.
I’m delivering something that’s going to help their business and if it helps mine great.
Yeah you have to … its funny, I’m not always, in fact I’m pretty sure I suck at this. You are after the right solution, you don’t have to be right, you just want the right solution, the best solution. Maybe that is with you and maybe there is someone that may be better at executing that who can say.
Sure, sure it’s definitely been the case.
When you think about people who are really, really stylized and they are different … going back to music you wouldn’t have hired Dave Grohl to play on your symphony record. You wouldn’t play Vic Firth to play on your Queens of the Stone Age record.
I have always tried agency wise, tried to fight against having a certain house style, but you do, you always do. There is always … in the jobs that you accept or the types of clients you work with or just whether you are thinking about it or not, it’s going to come out.
How often … how … so I’m curious how does that go for you as … especially, because I have always worked on my own. How does that work for you when a client comes across the desk for you, how … what do you … what’s your process?
When building a website or?
No I mean I know you have your questionnaire, how do you decide if it’s a good fit?
Sometimes you are not sure and you just want to challenge yourself and see if you can do something that’s a little outside of your comfort zone. Definitely there is … a client will have an existing website and hearing them describe what’s bothering them about that and why it isn’t working is the most helpful thing in the world.
No kidding right.
If they have a website and they think, “Its not bad” and then they say, “Well my problems are this … “and they are really insightful and they are really well considered. For me listening to someone who’s really thinking things through and working with that person is delightful. Working with someone who is a little too prescriptive and heavy handed … if they are describing their problems with their site as this isn’t working, or this isn’t working or … it just doesn’t.

I can deal with that … but if they are like, “Well this is red it should be blue,” and giving those kinds of things then I feel like its not going to be a good fit. I assume that someone has looked at our portfolio and they know what our style is, what we are going for.

Right I would think …
They are not going to come to us, if they want something that’s totally not what we do.
I’ve got to say I hardly ever … when someone … the poster that was up in Steve’s place and I hope he is not listening to this, is when someone leave their phone number, I have done this a couple of times. They will go “I like what you did, can you call me.” I hardly ever call back. Because it’s you know what … I just … I don’t know.
Well the worry there is they are going to want you to do the same thing … and the same thing and that’s not the feeling.
It’s just …
Well in anyway you’ve … you are doing other things.
Yeah there is that too but I’ve always liked to think that, the work I do, I just [inaudible 01:00:20] pretty much self-segmenting. No one is going to come and ask me to do …
We’ve tried various things to get clients like running Google ads, or cold-calling at various points in our history and it has never worked.
It doesn’t, I know right.
The results that you get are people who have … we are several orders of magnitude out of their ballpark for something. They have no … they clicked on a Google ad they are not looking for a five figure website or something they are not looking for that.
The guy who I’m working with right, now who I love dearly he is the guy who used to run tennis at Nike ironically. Him and I like to say what we are doing with the tennis apparel at New Balance is we are trying to create a pull not a push. I don’t want to jam it at any place, I want to create something that people want to come get. I want to create an attraction, like you see … when I think about a place here in town, it makes me think about … I think about Blake or Lizard Lounge. Some place where you go, you are … maybe something new and interesting and you are attracted to that.
I love what Lizard Lounge is doing I love that place.
I know right, that’s the whole thing, the vibe and the [inaudible 01:01:39] the place is awesome, it’s just always something that is really interestingly curetted and displayed. You are drawn to it, rather than, “Shit I need toilet paper [inaudible 01:01:50].” That’s a whole different proposition. Again, not to [inaudible 01:01:56] so much of that is storytelling it’s something that’s interesting that you are drawn to, is a point of view and you are doing something that’s interesting.
You want to know a lot of stuff about … I remember when we started out, I remember reading a book by Guy Kawasaki who …
Yeah I have Guy Kawasaki.
It was his first book after, I think he left Apple and he was always harping on you need to position yourself at the high end. You always want to be the person who is, “You know what I understand that you might be able to afford us, but if you can here is what we would love to deliver.” You always want to be in, it’s worth being that person. It saves you a lot of …
I was talking to somebody they called me up and they said, “Hey so and so I was going to do some work for them and I told them this is what I would charge them.” I said, oh my god, you are screwed because you told them … you should actually be charging twice that and now you can’t go back and tell them that. Because you already told them you are going to work for half of what you should have. You know what I mean. I’m always coming at it, “What’s this worth.”

Again I’m a man of a million anecdotes, I remember seeing Charles Anderson and I think that he said, the trap a lot of designers fall into is that, they think they are selling a service but they are really selling a commodity. You are selling something … you are selling a brand … you are selling an idea. You are not just selling typesetting, you are not just selling coloring, you are selling … here is an idea and it’s worth something bigger than just the hours it took to do it. You know what I mean?

Yeah absolutely.
That’s [inaudible 01:03:35] that’s always stuck with me, its like, god if nothing else that Nike sportswear thing, holy shit, that is … they have been using that logo ever since I did it 10 years ago.
Our big fear is that people will look at us and think how many hours is it going to take?
I know that’s a really good … that’s a red flag, it’s like … that’s what you thinking you are getting? Not that you are going to screw them but if that’s what you are thinking right off the bat then this is … that’s not a good sign. Anyway I think … again I think of this … if it’s … when I worked for Pendleton. I was, “God I feel like I’m contributing into this cannon of great design and venerable design, people hold on to those blankets for 50 years.” I was thinking, “I don’t want to fuck that up.”
No, that’s a great thing you feel that way.
That’s … there is no higher purpose as a designer, right?
That’s a testament to …
I have lived on to be a part of that. That to me is … that’s … it’s an honor, I’m honored and I respect what you do and I’m going to take care of it and protect it.
Did you know that the Beach Boys originally were named the Pendletones?
I do.
You did know that.
I do. It makes you wonder what would happen …
We should have an anecdote off.
Here is something that I … I want to do this. Do you know about the … there is the one about the … there is the one that the Legends of Portland and how it was named. Was able to be Portland?
Or Boston.
Boston yeah, yeah.
I have been there all the time and I can’t not … this is terrible, my fifth grade teacher would slap me on the wrist for not remembering, I think it was Pettygrove and Lovejoy who they had a coin toss.
Yeah [inaudible 01:05:34].
The guy I think its Lovejoy is buried in that Pioneer cemetery over there on [inaudible 01:05:40]. He is the guy who lost the time. Can you imagine if this was actually called Boston, Oregon how confusing that would fucking be?
I think we lost out being Portland. You want to be the bigger one.
I know right, Boston … oh Boston, Mass … no Boston, Oregon.
Oh that’s too bad.
[Inaudible 01:06:00] I know I keep thinking about those big what ifs but yeah.
Its fascinating that isn’t Brooklyn a separate city?
Brooklyn is?
It was.
At some point it was.
You know they call Portland the sixth borough but is it really? I wouldn’t know that.
I think it was at some point and then they just … Same for the Minneapolis was originally St. Anthony.
… and Minneapolis they just merged they are like corporations, they merge as they grow these cities.
I know with North and South Dakota there is a big kerfuffle over one of them being the original Dakota and then having to delineate themselves between north and south. One of them feels like they are just called Dakota. The fact that they have to call themselves north and south is in a front to …
There are more important arguments than that.
I know, who cares?
The problem is no …
Jeremy is awesome, he’s, what I love about Jeremy telling that story is he is actually … his background … he went to college he has a degree in anthropology. Which I always thought don’t you …
It’s hilarious, I interview an anthropologist last week for this, who was a client of ours, Hunter Qualitative. They do … that’s I would … I should definitely talk to Jeremy.
I have far more fun talking about human behavior than I do about design.
Yeah because you know it’s …
Why do you do what you do?
Its design. I am interested in what … other stuff that just tangentially can contribute to my understanding of how design fits into the human experience.
Don’t you love it when something … when you are anointed with the perfect solution then go, it wraps it all up in a nice little package. That’s … that it isn’t that you are so brilliant that you thought of it, it’s just that it happened. The reason it’s so fine, is because you bring all this other stuff into it.
You just have to stay open to inspiration and …
Totally, where does that come from Needmore? Where does that come from?
It actually came from the record label. I was really into Guided by Voices about a decade back. Their publishing company was Needmore Songs and one drunken night I noticed that and I was, “That’s clever, I’m going to steal that.”
One of my email addresses that I thought was so clever its blife. B-L-I-F-E and that was a bite off who at the time was alife in Manhattan down in Orchard Street. There is a shop called alife or whatever they call it.
I do not know that.
They carry really cool things and it was one of the first really hip New York boutiques about 10-15 years ago.
I always think of you as bizzbob.
For the record radio listeners its and this is my …
I’m I pronouncing it wrong?
This is my failed attempt because … its bizzebobe, get it?
I do, that makes more sense.
The guy I’m working with [inaudible 01:09:05] calls me bizz, whatever, it is … whatever. It is what it is.
Cool, we should … I guess we should wrap this up. I’m paying by the minute here for the …
Oh my gosh [inaudible 01:09:22].
Just kidding. Thanks for coming by Bob.
Oh my gosh yeah.
Bob Smith where can people find you are you mainly on Facebook or do you have any … ?
I’m on Facebook a lot. I have an archaic website Wikipedia link, but mostly on Facebook or LinkedIn.
Just keep an eye out for.
Okay cool. Thanks.
Yeah. Thanks Raymond.

The Job is a talk show about design, music, business, culture, technology, the web, and Portland, and featuring interviews with interesting people. Hosted by Ray Brigleb and brought to you by Needmore Designs.

12. Jon McNeill

Image of Jon McNeil
The Job PDX
The Job PDX
12. Jon McNeill

Jon McNeill is an ethnodocumentary filmmaker, and applied anthropologist, founder and researcher with Hunter Qualitative… and a father. Fascinating guy.

Show Notes

Recorded Monday, May 6th, 2013, and this is episode number 12. Follow Ray, Kandace, Dan, or Needmore on Twitter. Please rate our show on iTunes!

The Interview

Hi Jon.
How are you today?
I’m doing great. Thanks for asking.
Thanks for coming down for the show.
My pleasure. I was thrilled to get the invite. I’m walking where Hutch Harris has walked before.
That’s right.
It’s a unified company.
Yeah. Big shoes to fill.
Yeah. I’m just a lowly qualitative researcher.
Well, it takes all kinds. So let’s start from the beginning. Where are you from?
If we’re starting from the beginning I grew up in Tacoma, Washington which while I was there was the number one per capita for murders in the nation. I had nothing to do with that.
You were too young.
But now it’s not that anymore. I don’t know who has that title but they are quite into meth. So I left Tacoma, went to school down in Salem, Oregon and then after that migrated to Portland and I’ve been here pretty much ever since.
Okay. So you’re a Northwest guy.
I am a Northwest guy and the more I travel the more I’m just excited to come back to Portland. It’s a really special city.
I think we should insert a little snippet of song there. So what got you into anthropology in the first place?
Well, in high school I thought I was going to be a psychologist. I was really into dreams and I was like, “Oh, it would be a cool job if you could just analyze people’s dreams all day.” Then I started finding out more about what psychologists do and I was standing in line at a McDonald’s for breakfast one Saturday morning and I was looking around at all the other people also standing in line with me. It was a Saturday morning so we’re all kind of schlubby and some people aren’t even wearing shoes I think. Now, I’m looking at these people and thinking, “I don’t know that I want to listen to their problems.” I have my own problems and maybe that’s, you know. So I realized at that moment may be psychology, being a clinical psychologist is not for me.

So then I went to college and I wasn’t too into hard sciences because it felt like I was doing so much learning of what other people had already learned. You do a problem in your Calculus book and someone’s already done that problem, he created the problem. It’s not new territory. What I loved about cultural anthropology was immediately it was like a wide open field. It felt like I could go out and do my own research, come up with my own conclusions, and use my point of view to discover things about our culture and other cultures and that was really exciting to me. That’s what’s set me on this path.

I do that today in my job. I basically—anthropology at its core is, I would say, looking at what people create and then trying to understand people from what they create, culture mostly. I’m a visual anthropologist so I deal more specifically with art and products, photography, paintings, physical design and looking at those things to figure out who people are, who created them, who’s using them. How do they impact our perception of the world and the environments we live in? I get paid to do that which is fascinating. So whether I’m working on a study for a client about different types of carpet or the political discourse in America since the internet it seems like no matter what I’m always diving into these really deep human truths about what makes us who we are and I find that endlessly fascinating.

You went into college knowing you were going to do that?
I didn’t. My first anthropology class was just an elective and I wound up loving it. I actually started out as a music major just because I heard that if you majored in music you got free lessons so I thought, “Great, until I know what I’m going to do I’ll just major in music, get some free music lessons, and then I’ll figure out what I’m going to do after taking some different classes.” I pretty quickly switched over to cultural anthropology.
Okay. After graduation did you go right into doing your own thing or did you have other work?
I met a person, another applied anthropologist Genevieve Bell who is also in Portland. She works over at Intel. She spoke at one of my classes as a senior and she said, “If anyone’s interested in an internship over the summer get in touch with me.” I did and they didn’t have space at Intel at that moment but she knew someone at a place called Fiori which was a product design and development firm in Portland. So I got an internship there. I was actually starting working there before I graduated. Actually, the day of graduation I graduated, threw my cap up in the air and then got on a plane for St. Louis and started immediately and I’ve been doing it ever since.
I’m surprised to hear that Intel has anthropologists. I never would have guessed that.
Yeah, they have I think one of the more respected groups of anthropologists and psychologists all doing a lot of proprietary research all over the globe about Intel’s products and up and coming technologies and that sort of thing.
Okay. As you probably know, my lovely and talented wife studied anthropology as well and I always pictured it as something that was—I had never really thought of it as having a purpose in corporate life but it seems like you definitely have found that sort of niche. Can you speak to that?
Well, it’s not just you.
Fair enough.
I think the first day in class my professor handed out a sheet that said, “Careers in Anthropology” and like what you can do with an anthropology degree.
I think the students were supposed to go home and show that to their parents and say, “You’re not wasting your money on this. I can become a Peace Corp. person.”
Right. Right.
So I didn’t know what I was going to do. I just was fascinated by it and I think when you’re that age you choose major early sideshows and majors based on what I was fascinated by not on what I necessarily though I was going to be able to do with it. I figure—I don’t know. Things you can do with an anthropology degree like wait tables or–
What is on the list or was it–
Work at the post office. No, these weren’t on the list. These were just what I was thinking.
It was a serious list.
Yeah. Actually, I thought I’ll study anthropology and I minored in film and I’ll go to film school. I really wanted to direct that was kind of my plan. My dad was actually relieved to hear that I wanted to do film instead of anthropology that’s how bad anthropology is, right?
Wow. Yeah.
No, I totally stumbled into this career and there is actually and about.com article a couple of years ago about the ten weirdest jobs or oddest jobs and my job, ethnographer, was right below guy who picks up gum off the sidewalk. I’m in rarefied company.
So ethnographer, what does that mean?
Well it can mean a couple of different things depending on what degree you have whether you’re in academia or outside. Basically, ethnography is writing about a culture. An anthropologist traditionally, will go off to New Guinea and spend some time there with the cultured air, with a local tribe and then come out of it with a bunch of field notes and then over the years he or she will put those together into an ethnography.

Well, in the business world it became really cool to have an anthropologist do your research a few years ago. So they call basically any type of in-person, one-on-one research outside of a focus group facility ethnography and that’s always been something that I’ve kind of fought against because I have more traditional understanding of what that means. An ethnographer, calling myself an ethnographer, basically means that I go around and just try to spend time with people and understand how they live where they live through participant observation. Just hanging out with them, watching them do what they do and then piping in questions here and there and then also more contextual researcher where I’m interviewing them at length just where they live rather than saying come meet me in this address, in this sort of stark room and talk to me with six or seven of yours peers.
I do do focus groups and other types of research as well but really the bread and butter of Hunter is more ethnographic research with a documentary film element.

Okay. St. Louis. You go there, you’re working for Fiori, is that right?
Working for Fiori, trying to research video phones. This was 2003. We were working for a client that–
It sounds so quaint now.
Right? Working for a client who was going to put out the first video phone. So we had sent these prototypes out to different people across the country to get their sense of what they like, what they didn’t like. One was kind of a webcam deal, one was actually connected to a physical phone with a touchpad and then one you hooked up to your TV and kind of used your TV to communicate. More or less, all of those are in refined sort of versions today but back then this was a big deal.
Is it almost like a form of market research? Is that–
Yeah. I do research on a brand, say a brand comes to me and says we want to understand what people think about us. Or what people like about us or don’t like about us or I can do research on maybe a piece of advertising or a product. Getting peoples’ opinions on those and trying to figure out what needs to change or be improved so you really work the hardest or more people focused doing some type of segmentation research, trying to understand. Nike says we have a lot of these hiking shoes or running shoes that are being sold but we know that there are different types of runners. Help us try to understand the different types of people out there.

There’s a wide range. For instance, last year I did a study for a company called Break Media. They own break.com and a couple of other websites directed toward men. Basically if you’re a guy and online these are kind of the websites that you want to go to because they’re about stuff that you care about. So they wanted to understand what it’s like to be a guy today and try to look at some trends of what’s going to be happening in the near future for guys so that they can kind of be the experts of what it’s like to be a man.

We went around the country to New York and Portland and Kansas City and spoke with teenagers all the way up to people in their 50s or so and trying to understand what do guys think about, what it’s like to live in America right now and be a man, what are the pressures that they’re dealing with, what are the things that they care about, who are they trying to be are they trying to emulate previous generations, are they trying to forge their own paths, and through that we kind of got a sense of what the major trends for men are right now.

Hunter Qualitative. How did that come about?
I was working at a larger research shop in LA when I was living down there for a couple of years. in 2010 I decided it was time for something different and I wanted more control over my schedule and I wanted more control over the types of jobs that I did and kind of do research the way that I thought it should be done. So I started Hunter. It was just myself for a while and then I brought on a friend of mine. He became a partner in the business and more of the creative director and between the two of us we organize and do most everything in the company, all the studies and video work.
In preparation for our conversation I was watching the videos in the [inaudible 0:13:47].
Thank you.
What is it about that that makes Hunter so unique in your approach?
Sure. It’s funny because it did combine those two things that I was interested in all the way back in high school and college. I think that since I started doing this work I was always trying to push the boundaries a bit of how video could help people understand the “consumers” or the “users’ of their product or the people that are buying their product or liking their brand. It’s one thing to deliver a PowerPoint presentation or a Word doc report. They often get digested and then put off to the side or set somewhere on the desk or forgotten completely but a video and taking inspiration from old ethnographic documentaries that I studied in college.

A video is so much more powerful in a lot of ways because it can really bring the person and the brand closer together and help them understand each other better I think. It’s kind of always my goal to push that further. With Hunter we’ve been able to really have complete creative control with that and do a lot of things that I think before had been seen as that won’t work in market research, that won’t work with what we’re trying to do because it would be off-putting to the person you’re interviewing or the cost-benefit ratio isn’t quite right or whatever but I think Hunter has sort of been a test case for showing how useful it can be.

We have clients that use our videos still for training purposes. New people come on board and they say watch this, this gives you a really good sense of who our customer is, or they’ll use it for sales. They’ll go out and say this is some of the research we did and here’s this really compelling documentary put together based on the research and what we found out. It has a longer lifespan I think and it’s more engaging than just photos or words on a page.

Yeah. I’m trying to even picture a busy executive wanting to read a study like that but looking at the videos that makes total sense. I can see how anyone can immediately relate to that and feel a much greater, much greater connection to the subject, the people in the video especially since they are people. This seems like such an obvious and genius idea I assume it’s something that others have done. You sort of referenced something like that. Is this as old as film itself, this concept of doing ethnographic research?
Yeah, I think so. One of the first films was called Nanook. King of the North I think is the subtitle and it’s about this Eskimo. It’s black and white, silent film, and it’s a documentary. I think it’s one of the first—I think the first films were documentaries. They were just the people who created the technology going around and filming their families and friends, two people kissing, or whatever, the baby playing outside in the backyard. But Nanook was the first, I guess feature length documentary or one of the most famous first ones. I think that it has been with film as long as film has been around. I think if you get into the real nerdy academic cultural anthropology setting there are a few luminaries of ethnographic film within that too who have spent lots of time with different, various African tribes or places in East Asia and have tried to create films that do a really good job of I guess getting as far away from “The Gods Must Be Crazy” as possible. It kind of helps you understand who this culture is.
Is that the one with the Coke bottle?
Yeah, that was the one with the Coke bottle.
Yeah, okay. I remember that.
Not that. Right?
Something that sort of brings them closer, makes them seem less weird I suppose.
Does so in a way that doesn’t marginalize the culture or sensationalize things.
Is there a particularly good recent excellent example that you can think of in a good way? I feel like a saw there was BBC series that was—it wasn’t “Earth” but it was one about studying different—what about the babies? Did you ever see that?
I wanted to. No, I haven’t caught that one yet. Possibly. I believe his last name is Regio. He does the [inaudible 0:19:00] these really gorgeous two to three hour film that are mostly wordless I think just with a soundtrack and it’s time lapses, it’s slow motion and the shots are from all over the world. Those are really gorgeous examples, I guess, of something similar, trying to portray something without necessarily a strong Western point of view.
Of course what we do often is more reflexive than that. We’re looking at American culture because traditionally cultural anthropologists go elsewhere and look at other cultures. I always thought it was interesting to look at our own culture and instead of trying to make other cultures look more familiar try to make ours look more strange that’s kind of what we try to do with the film too. Step outside of ourselves a little bit and capture what’s going on without necessarily putting our own familiarity with Western culture into it because I think sometimes you can find some interesting things that you just would take for granted until you actually pay closer attention to them.
I was given a question by someone else in the studio. Do you consider Carlos Castaneda to be an anthropologist?
Are people typing in things right now?
No. This was earlier today.
Oh, this was earlier.
Yeah, yeah.
Sure. I think coming from a world where frequently they try to restrict whogets in the club. I feel that that’s a term that can be much more openly used. I don’t think you have to jump through certain hoops or see things a certain way. One of my favorite anthropologists is a guy named Marvin Harris who is really a lot of things that post-modern anthropologist, people in the 1970s and later hate about traditional anthropologist. He’s a guy that often sits on his armchair or in his armchair, I guess, and writes books about–there’s this great one called Why Nothing Works and he comes up with this huge theory for America, post-World War II, and why things aren’t as good as they used to be. He just comes across like a homogeneal man, but …
I really like the guy.
Yeah. Oh, it’s a great book.
It sounds awesome.
It’s really well written and that’s something that a lot of technographies lack. It’s being well written. I think that that term can be broader. I’m so sure. Bring him into the fold too. He’s welcome here.
Okay. What do you mean? To the clubhouse? Where does the name Hunter come from?
I wish I remembered. The first study that I did was with a client, a friend of mine, and we were going back and forth joking about this picture, I think, of a dog who was wearing a sheriff’s badge. It looked like one of those–like Sears portraits. Some guy who might have been a cop took his German shepherd to Sears, brought him in front of the camera and took his portrait. Somehow, we came across it on the Internet. I think he was like “that should be your logo for new company.” I think we just decided that a great name for this dog would be Hunter. That’s how it originally happened, but what I like to tell people now is Hunter calls back to cultural anthropology in terms of the hunter-gatherer roots of the discipline. What I’m actually doing is hunting after solutions to client problems, but it actually started just completely randomly.
I’m letting you behind the curtain. You’re good. You’ve got me completely open up. I think it’s this matte.
Yeah. You got to think that’s lower. Why? You’re going to–I think you’ll be able to drive. Do you have like an ideal client or like a dream client that you would love to work with, or like a dream project?
I feel like I’ve done a couple of things who have become dream projects for me. I don’t know if there is one right now that I fantasize about, but, certainly, I’m looking to work with more local Portland companies. I think there are some really great ones here in town and I’d love to partner with more of them. A lot of my clients come from other places in the country. There’s something cool about working with a local company that excites me.

I’m always trying to expand my reach locally. But the study that I referenced earlier about understanding the political discourse in America and how the Internet has impacted that, that was a dream project for me. Because we actually we got to go around the country and talk to Republicans and Democrats. We talked to mayors of small towns. We talked to people who sat on commerce boards for their communities. We talked to people in DC who were staffers and the Congress people, and all with the question of–this was during the primaries for the 2008 election.

We were trying to understand what’s changing now that there is all this additional access to information and it was this amazing time in America where people really felt so optimistic about where politics could go because of the Internet. One guy in the San Fernando Valley who–we met this group of older Republicans down in the valley and one of them was ex-astronaut, and we met at his house. All of these astronaut like NASA paraphernalia around. He said, “It’s like the Gutenberg bible.” Before the Gutenberg bible, Catholicism or priests handed down knowledge to people and said, ‘This is what you believe and that was the only source.’” But after the Gutenberg press came along, people could go find out those answers themselves. He said, “It’s like that now with the Internet and politics where before we had to turn our TVs and trust some guy in New York to tell us what’s important, now we can go ourselves and figure out what do I agree with, what do I disagree with, and the possibilities are so much more open to get the real truth out of it.

These people are just so excited about this. In Des Moines, we brought two small groups of people into the same room. One, a local Liberal group and one, a local Conservative group. We set the Conservatives on the right and the Liberals on the left and we are ready for this to hash it out. Whose party is doing a better job of harnessing the Internet? They wound up agreeing on almost everything, just that the politicians didn’t get it yet and that they were using it in a way and wishing that the parties would catch up. They all went out for drinks after that.

It was like this really cool time in American history that it was really exciting to talk to people about. The whole study culminated in this big presentation in D.C. and Karl Rove spoke at it and totally ignored me at the after party, even though I did the research. But it was just lots of fun and then I re-did the thing in 2010 and everything would change. People got totally cynical and we’re back just talking to the ruts again, and here we are today. There is that great time where a lot of exciting things were happening so it was a dream study.

In your bio on your website–and may I say, that is a lovely website. It says that …
I like it a lot too.
Good, good.
I’ll pass that along to the designers.
Just put that in the comment box. It says every study eventually gets down to explaining the same basic human truths. It sounds like we’re already touching on that, what are some basic human truths that you have explored or seen in the research you’ve been doing with Hunter?
Sure. One is in the nature of performance in everyday life like how much of what we wear or surround ourselves with is directed outward versus inward. Can we really separate that? It’s a deep thing to think about and it comes up in the middle of study about window cleaner or whatever. It’s surprising how these things show up.

What’s another example? Something like how you decide what’s most important to you in your life. When we did this study with men last year, we put a bunch of different qualities down on these 3×5 cards and some of them are more traditionally male like strong or good and bad, and some were less traditionally male like eco-conscious or good in the kitchen, or sensitive or whatever. We gave them all to each guy and said, “Score three of these and tell us which ones you feel are most important to you or you most want to describe yourself as.” Consistently, time and time again, it came up where people, guys in particular, wanted to be described as good hearted and well rounded, and a friend to many and a good father. These things that, I think, define men very differently from previous generations.

Ostensibly, this is a study that will be used to help sell advertising on a website but we’re talking to these guys about really personal stuff and having them really talk and think about what is important to me and how do I want to live my life, and that thing. We’ve had interviews where people say like, “That really felt like a therapy session.”

That’s funny. They started out talking–yeah, that you’d get so deep with …
Yeah that you just start at a very simple level, not knowing these people at all, and then after two or three hours you know intimate things about them. It’s so open and it’s such a privilege that we’re able to do that.
It makes you sound like a psychologist or you’re just probably a little of that too.
Yeah. I think there is some of that in it, but it’s a special thing where you–it’s I guess like a blind date each day that you meet somebody new and at the end of it, you have this really great understanding for them. I think it teaches you something about yourself too. I think at the end of every study, my point of view slightly shifts. When I was doing a lot of product research, I wanted whatever product I was studying no matter what. It was like oh, just having people talk about the products so passionately. It’s like yes, absolutely. I totally agree with that now.

I do want a truck just so I can put a cover on the bed of it. But now, talking to people more about concepts like politics or personality, and that thing, I think it still shifts your point of view on how you see the world. So that’s fun.

Now, you’re a total conservative or?
Maybe not that …
No. That was one of the difficult things about that study. It’s biting your tongue at certain times, being like, yes, you believe that and that’s totally valid for you, and we’re not here to get into a discussion.
Thinking I’d step back as our listeners might already have guessed. We worked together on a website project and I thought it was interesting how many–but some of the references that you brought the table. First, I remember you talking about D to Roms a little bit. Where did that come from? Do you have a secret passion for design as well?
Well, I think working for a design firm–it was a crash course in that because I was sitting right next to industrial designers and engineers every day. Having the experience of renting a car in a different city and watching the industrial designers sit down in the passenger’s seat, and then start to take the car apart to see how everything was put together and how it was molded, and just like looking at things in a different way.

I picked up and soaked up as much of that as I could via osmosis and also intentionally. I think the [inaudible 0:33:28] comes from that. Just something that is very simple and beautiful in its simplicity has a purpose and is designed for that purpose, and no extra adds or what have you’s. That’s very beautiful to me. So I wanted the website that emulated that and I felt like we got that.

Another and I think was more when we were talking about the logo. One of the references you had was Rushmore and it was like a particular scene in that movie. Am I recalling this correctly?
That was the scene in the dean’s room. Where did that come from? Were you thinking about that before you even thought about the website? Is it just your favorite scene in the movie or was that …
It’s not my favorite scene in the movie. It is my favorite movie, I think. That and Vertigo, I think, jostle for the top spot, depending on what day you talked to me. If you want to do a film podcast after this, I will just totally stick around and …
I just love the color in that like the really deep green accent with the gold frames. It’s very warm. It kind of feels like you’re–and I’ve never been to one of these, but you’re kind of at one of those hunting lodge men’s clubs after a day of riding your horse around, chasing after foxes or something. Sitting down with your smoking jacket and your pipe and having conversations.
Those places must still exist, I assume they … I don’t know, yeah.
I think I’d be terribly disappointed to walk into one. I would rather have this idealized you in my mind thanks to Wes Anderson.
Thanks to Wes Anderson and his work. How did you get snubbed by a Karl Rove?
Well, this took place at the end of that political study. At the end of the presentation where we got up and we said, this is what we found after going across America, talking to this many people in person and then also having a quantitative survey of a thousand people or whatever. These are the main games. Then he gets up and says, “Oh that’s hogwash. We have to be careful of the internet because people can go on air and say anything they want. They only use language on the internet that they would never use in person.” He just totally didn’t get it, right?
Right, right.
People were enraptured by him because he’s such a big personality. Afterwards we’re all in the bowels of this hotel at like an after party, a cocktail party thing. My colleague and I are just kind of hanging out against one of the walls thinking this is a totally bizarre experience for us because there’re all of these really important people milling about. Everyone’s completely ignoring us which hurt a little bit I guess because I really wanted to talk about the study some more, but people were more interested in Karl Rove, so everyone is gathered around him talking to him. He passed by and I think we raised our drinks or whatever. We were not important enough to spend time with.
You little puke.
It was an open bar so we just made use of that and went our separate ways but it was a totally bizarre experience.
That is bizarre. I think it’s interesting, you did a study I saw on the roles of men and traditionally female roles and stuff like that. I also know that you have a very young son.
How has that study informed your parenting or has it?
No, it’s funny because like I said, it seems like these studies do kind of affect my point of view. When that study came around we were just talking about when is a good time and getting closer to the point of wanting to start a family. I was just taking notes for the study, but also really trying to tune in to what these dads were doing like trying to get some tips and understand what it’s like from their perspective. It was a great study.

I was worried that we weren’t going to get really to the depth of what it’s like to be a stay at home dad or a dad these days just by a simple interview. We split it up into three different interviews. The first time I sat down with a guy just one on one and spend some time with him for about two or three hours and just really trying to understand who he was. Then I came back the next day and spent time with him with his family and saw the dynamic there which was really interesting because the first day he might have said, “Oh yeah, my wife and I split all of the household duties 50-50.” Then the next day I talk to the wife and she’s like, “Uh-uh. He might say it’s 50-50 but there’s all this other stuff that I do that he doesn’t know anything about.”

I really created more of a three-dimensional picture of these dads. Then I hang out with him with his buddies just to try to understand how these new dads are figuring stuff out together, like what they’re talking about, what they’re asking questions about, what type of diapers do I buy, or what’s the best butt cream, those types of things. We would go golfing or we went to a Cubs game and we grilled out in the backyard, just these different things, guy things, to try to see them in that environment too. At the end of the study, I felt like I got a really good sense for who these dads were and what they were all about.
It absolutely informed me. I think that I took some from each of those guys and some from own dad and some from my friends who got started before me. Just creating this rue of hopefully good parenting skills or as good as a 3-1/2 month old knee incident all continued to get better as he gets older. Do you have any tips?

I’d say parenting is a game for amateurs. Do I have any tips? Gosh, no. I can recommend a good butt cream, but I’d have to go home and check with the label.
We don’t have to get into it. I think A&D is a pretty good one, but we …
Okay. How have you been sleeping 3-1/2 months?
Pretty good these days. My wife and I take shifts. He seems to wake up a couple of times a night, once somewhere in 12 to 2 range and then once somewhere in the 3 to 5 range. So she takes the first one and I take the second one. Otherwise we get to sleep, so I’m feeling pretty good. Last night I couldn’t get back to sleep after I got up for him so I just was up from about 3:30 on.
Its complex now that we have two kids because the older one would sleep fine and then we had a baby and then she started going to this thing where she’d wake up in the middle of the night. It was like, why? She was just feeling like, “Oh, I should be able to wake up and have someone.” We worked through that.
Good. Well, I will ask your advice when …
Just take that one and put it in your pocket, yeah. What’s next for Hunter? Do you have any exciting plans for the business?
Well, the next study that were doing is just coming up in a couple of weeks. We’re going to be gone most of the month of May doing a followup to this man study. This time looking at how men choose to buy something for the first time, choose to not get what they usually get but instead go a different direction. I think that will be really fascinating. We’re going to be in five different cities in the US over the course of the month talking to about 40 guys about that. Beyond that, my baby came and that was enormous and then our new camera came for Hunter and that was not as big of a deal.
What kind of camera is it?
Really great. It’s a Sony F35 so we bought the camera that shot that last Tron movie, Tron Legacy and shoots Modern Family episodes and now we have it for our documentaries. It’s a big step up in quality and it’s also really fun to monkey with.
Is it HD?
It is HD. It’s a digital camera. It came out the same time as the Alexa which is now being used on most digital nerd films right now. The F35 got left behind a little bit. We got a good deal on it. Now we get to use it for our purposes.
Nice. Well, we mentioned films, is there a movie that you’ve seen lately that you’re really excited about or is particularly good because I haven’t seen any movies lately?
The past three months have been kind of weird.
It’s the dry season, yeah.
We’ve sort of been stuck at home a lot lately.
Oh yeah.
I’ve been catching up. I caught up on a bunch of the Oscar movies from last year, Django and Les Mis and a few others that …
I haven’t seen either of those yet.
Les Mis I liked. Sharon was the one that really wanted to see it. I thought the cinematography was really interesting. They use a lot of wide open lenses so it has a great narrow depth to the field which was an interesting choice for a musical. I had the songs in my head for a couple of days after. The cool thing about that movie I read was that they recorded all of the songs live rather than recorded them before and have everyone lip sync. So it must have been a real headache for the engineers during the shooting but it was really cool to actually have it be a live performance.
Yeah, that’s crazy. I never heard that. That’s impressive. That reminds me of the … what’s that movie that Stanley Kubrick did where he shot only with natural light?
Barry Lyndon.
Yeah. That was a great movie though. Anyway, we will get together again and do a podcast about film.
Great. The one that I’m excited about, I haven’t seen yet, it came out at South Buy. There was a movie a few years ago, maybe 2006 called Primer about these two guys that built a time machine in their garage. It’s a real low budget indie film. That director has taken him all this time, but he just came out with a new movie. The reviews so far have just been outstanding saying that this is an incredible movie. The title escapes me right now, but I’m really excited to see that because Primer just fascinated me.
We’ll find it and put it in the show notes.
Great, thank you.
Well, thank you so much Jon.
My pleasure.
You’re at Hunterqualitative.com. Is there anywhere else people can find you online?
Yeah. I’m on social networks, Facebook, facebook.com/hunterqual and Twitter is hunter_qual, and same with Instagram. We are out there and Instagram has been a little quiet lately but once we start travelling it will pick up a lot more and we’ll have some interesting stuff on there.
Great. Thanks for your time Jon.
Thanks for having me. It was fun.

The Job is a talk show about design, music, business, culture, technology, the web, and Portland, and featuring interviews with interesting people. Hosted by Ray Brigleb and brought to you by Needmore Designs.

11. Amy Ruppel

Image of Amy Ruppel
The Job PDX
The Job PDX
11. Amy Ruppel

Amy Ruppel combines talent and versatility like no other artist in Portland. Her whimsical style and quirky point of view has given her the ability to combine the analog with the digital, the old with the new, the modern with the historic. I sat down with Amy to talk about her upbringing on a midwest farm, her jet-setting wanderlust, and all the years in between.

Show Notes

Recorded Monday, April 29th, 2013, and this is episode number 11. Follow Ray, Kandace, Dan, or Needmore on Twitter. Please rate our show on iTunes!

The Job is a talk show about design, music, business, culture, technology, the web, and Portland, and featuring interviews with interesting people. Hosted by Ray Brigleb and brought to you by Needmore Designs.

10. Peat Bakke

Image of Peat Bakke
The Job PDX
The Job PDX
10. Peat Bakke

Peat Bakke is CTO of Portland startup Little Bird. He’s also known for travelling, speaking, and photography. On this week’s episode, we talk about all these things and more.

Show Notes

Recorded Monday, April 22nd, 2013, and this is episode number 10. Follow Ray, Kandace, Dan, or Needmore on Twitter. Please rate our show on iTunes!


9. Hutch Harris

Hutch Harris
The Job PDX
The Job PDX
9. Hutch Harris

Hutch Harris is a singer, songwriter, guitarist, and leader of The Thermals. We talk with him about his history, his philosophy, and what went into the recording of their new album Desperate Ground.

Show Notes

In case who are wondering, we’re just doing a podcast.
Yeah, check this out.
Okay, cool.
I know iTunes is out. It’s cool.
Okay. All right.
Yeah, it’s awesome.
Excellent. Yeah, cool.
Am I good? Do you want me here? You want me close?
Point it at your mouth but I think you can be good half foot away.
Yeah. Okay.
It’s probably better too quiet than clipping. I’d set up another interview one day and then left and then all hell break loose. This is clipped pile of shit and you can swear just getting that out there right now.
Fuck you guys.
I’m going to go way back.
We got a little time here, where were you born?
Me? I was born in New York City.
I lived there for eight years.
Then …
The first date?
What’s that? Yes, sir. Yeah, and then moved to San Jose when I was eight because my dad got in to, he work for start ups in Silicon Valley.
Yeah. He actually worked, I don’t know if you remember since, is it called …
I probably …
It’s called Syntelligence.
Oh no, I don’t.
They made …
I like the name though.
They made the keyboards, yeah. Some of the companies that went and they were gone so quickly. God I wish I knew, I’ve never done electronic music but there are some famous keyboards that are still used that Syntelligence made. I see them now, they are like these cool retro because now they are like almost 30 years old.
Now they are like, probably like collector’s pieces in some museum.
Is Hutch your real name?
It is.
Hutch was my mom’s maiden name.
Oh, okay.
Yeah, all my relatives on her side their last name, it’s like the Hutches, those are my cousins like Tom Hutch and Jane Hutch.
It’s from Ucci, it was changed by Italian immigrants from Ucci to Hutch to sound more American.
How do you spell Ucci?
Just Ucci like Gucci.
Okay, all right. I’m sure you listened to a lot of music in high school but how did you get into playing?
My dad is a pianist, he was always trying to get me to play instruments. I played saxophone, I played piano as a kid, hated it. I played saxophone kind of liked it. I got a guitar when I was 14, loved it and then yeah. My dad was always encouraging me, it was easy. I just asked my dad if he’d buy me a cheap guitar so he bought me a guitar when I was 14 and then loved it. Just kept playing.
Do you still play cheap guitars or do you play fancy?
I do still play cheap guitars. I got my first fancy guitar this year but usually I mean whatever. The first guitar I had probably cost like 60 bucks. I guess I play slightly better cheap guitars now.
I don’t need anything fancy.
That’s scored at three digits in the price there. Did you originally start recording around that time? Are you comfortable with recording? Is that something that your dad would listen to?
No, not so much. In New York he had done like off Broadways and stuff and then he had done like industrial shows and then he was making money doing auditions with people like he would go with singers to auditions. People were always rehearsing for their auditions in our apartment and then my dad would go with them and play the piano with them. He was doing that and before he got a real job and then he know he was doing off Broadway stuff.
That’s crazy you went from that to Silicon Valley.
Yeah, at the same time he was getting his Masters at Columbia for Engineering.
No. I didn’t start recording till probably I would say probably when I was 17 or 18. Probably when I was 18, got a four track and then started recording.
Portastudio or something?
Yeah, of course.
Oh yeah.
Love it.
Yeah. You still have?
I still have, right now I have four, four track because that’s in two 8-track. I only want more cassette machines, I don’t ever want to get rid of any of those. I love those.
This have such a nice sound.
Yeah, I still use them all the time.
Do you ever listen to a band called Medicine?
I think the guitarist in that band it was like 80’s Indie. They were like America’s My Bloody Valentine but the guitar is … Check out Medicine. I’ll put it in the podcast notes for you.
Okay, go.
He would run his guitar through a portastudio as part of the chain.
Love that.
I got the most hissy, awful sound.
Yeah. Actually when we just recorded last year for the newest record I love that vocal sound I get from the four track so I just brought the four track and the cheat mic that I like and just did … it’s the same thing, I just sang through the four track and that went to tape.
Nice. Let’s get back to your dad. Just kidding. How long have you known Kathy?
Kathy and I met just after high school. 19 years, 19 or 20. This is my 20th high school reunion is this year. I can’t believe it’s been that long. I got an email about it and I was like “The 20th? Are we planning for 5 years from now?” I was shocked.
Is it in Portland? Did you go to school in Portland?
No, it’s in San Jose.
Yeah, Kathy and I moved to Portland 15 years ago. We moved here 98 but yeah we both graduated high school in San Jose.
Are you going to go with that? It’s not what Facebook is for, you’re still going to go?
I’m not going. I actually did go to the 10 year. I have another old friend, my friend Jeremy who lives here and he’s the only other person I went to high school with who lives in Portland. For so long our friends were going to the 10th and we’re like “No, we’re not going. We’re not going. Fine.” We did go down. It was all right, the people that we want to keep in touch with, we keep in touch with. It’s actually more than you might think, I still keep in touch with plenty people from high school but yeah I don’t need to go. I don’t need to go down for the 20th anniversary or reunion.
How do The Thermals come about?
Back to the four track. The Thermals started on the four track just at my house. Yeah, just recording songs in my kitchen.
Just restlessly recording.
Kathy and I were doing the band called Hutch & Kathy quite different, still a rock band but a lot mellower, acoustic guitars and drums. This was a little project that I started doing, just writing songs and doing just songs one at a time. Writing a song during the day, I was working [home town 00:07:31]. I would get off at noon usually, go home, write a song, record that song. Write the whole song and record it in one day which became the whole, that was the method for that whole first record. Just me at my house. It wasn’t incredibly labored, it was something that just was very easy and fun.
When did the name come? Was that part of the project or just you needed something to call it when you put a dozen together.
I remember brain storming names, when Kathy and I were doing the band I wanted to turn it into something that sounded more like a band. I don’t want to keep it calling Hutch & Kathy. I feel during that, somewhere between Hutch & Kathy and The Thermals I just started brainstorming names. To me The Thermals felt very Northwest to me. It made me think of [Grunge 00:08:27] in the 90’s where people are wearing thermal underwear under their, cut off jeans and have thermal leggings on. That in my mind and then …
They still do that in Minnesota, it was just in cities and they are still doing that.
There you go.
I think the 90’s, now that it’s 20 years. 90’s can really come back now so all that great stuff, flavor savers and threads I guess.
I have at least one vinyl pressing of yours that, of you yourself that predates that. What were you doing before The Thermals yourself? You, not recording as Hutch Harris?
There was a band called Urban Legend that Kathy and I did.
That might be what I’m thinking about.
Yeah. It was something that went through a bunch of different I don’t know, there wasn’t like one single sound, there were some loud stuff and there were some mellow stuff. That was the name we used not very long, maybe a couple years. Kathy and I had to be [Halo 00:09:30], when we were really young we could never have a band … Have a band for two years, that was so long. It was just always about moving on and making something. Really I guess it make sense that once we had The Thermals we really have all the success that all the other projects never really knew. It made sense to move forward with that and not just toss it out so quickly.
Right. That make sense, you always hear about bands yeah going through that. Sorting themselves out, shedding a few skins, finding more comfort.
Yeah, definitely I feel even like the Beatles and Velvet Underground, Grateful Dead all these huge bands they all started as something else when they had a different name and eventually find what works the best.
Has your recording process changed a lot since you were just recording at first thing with the four track?
No, we go to the studios. Back then it was just always at home with the four track and maybe I love the studio but it’s so expensive. You’re always just trying to get in and out as quickly as possible.
For example, you don’t have the luxury of writing a song in the morning and spending the evening recording it?
Exactly. Yeah.
It’s more you got to come in with a set.
We’re just doing both now. We still demo all the songs on a four track and I’ll use that to write lyrics and that’s a good way. I love recording on the four track at home because it’s just good practice. I’ll just practice singing those songs as I record them. Then yeah now it’s really when we go to studio it’s all about knowing exactly how everything is going to go. Yeah, because you’re just paying for it when you’re in there.
Right. How long does it usually take to record an album for you in the studio?
Usually a week and a half of tracking and then another week and a half or two of mixing.
Okay, yeah. Usually, is it up to you where you’re recording? How you find or decide where to …
The most recent record that we made, the producer [John Yellow 00:11:46]. I got in touch with him. He’s in Jersey, he records mostly in New York or New Jersey. Then he suggested this studio Water Music in Hoboken. We went there but the previous records was a jackpot in Portland and then the two previous records for that were both in Oregon City at Supernatural. Really, I think I just jackpot I just knew because it was famous, it’s a famous Portland studio. Supernatural, I actually don’t remember how I heard about it but it’s nice too.
When you started out, when you put together a band I guess for playing those songs originally with a four piece, it seems like you guys have settled on the three pieces?
Yeah, comfort zone. Yeah.
Do you ever missed the four piece? Was there a …
Yeah I do. It’s just less work for me. Singing, just singing and not playing guitar and sometimes I think maybe we’ll do that again. There’s something really nice and respectable about being a trio but I do miss just singing … it’s just the thing is when you’re just singing you really have to, when you’re not singing you got to make sure you’re doing something, you have to keep it interesting. When you’re playing guitar and singing you’re either doing, either playing or you’re playing and singing. You’re never like “Oh, am I entertaining enough?”
You mean to have a little dance or something?
Yeah or do I need to climb the scaffolding or jumping along.
Jump for the audience. That’s great but really it’s a lot of work just singing because you really have to be on the whole time and we used to joke when I was younger. I grew up, this thing I was in it was that cool to have just a singer who just sang. We would always call it the useless lead singer. We like bands like Pearl Jam but we would look at any better be like “Come one, pick up a guitar or something” that I totally changed the way I feel about that. Nirvana was obviously a band that we all looked up to and that seem like perfect. There was just three of them and they were really cool and Greenday too. There’s a lot of bands that just take the last, people doing a lot with less people.
I remember Nirvana, someone saying that they were about to join that band. They were going to have a fourth member or coming in singing intended on it but never got around to it?
Other guitarist come and go, there’s the guy who’s on Bleach and then Pat Smear joining and it was cool but it was something that’s really cool when it was just the three.
Yeah, absolutely. They certainly had a good sound. Have you ever listened to, I’ve been meaning to ask you this for a long time, have you ever listened to The Clean?
New Zealand band.
Yeah. Awesome.
There’s like this, I don’t remember the album, that’s another one word thing, Big Cat? Do you know that song?
I don’t know, I have that Anthology that’s like gig, hits are 40 songs or something.
Okay, it might be on that.
I totally, I was like “You sound like this New Zealand bands.”
That’s cool. I feel there’s so many bands that sound like them. A lot of it sound like them that aren’t really as cool but yeah I really like that. It was actually Kathy. Kathy had that and she turned me onto that.
Oh cool. You’ve been doing a lot of touring, I guess you’re in town for your little press tour now?
When you’re touring, what do you do with your time? I always wondered what do you do all day. Are you just waiting for the venue, you sound check and then you just have hours to kill?
Driving mostly, in this country we’re driving all day because everything is so …
Fucking far away.
Far, yeah. What’s great is we rent these Sprinters now, we don’t take our van out anymore. For the past four or five years we’ll just rent a large Sprinter and they have wifi boxes on the top of the van.
What is this, is Sprinter a kind of a van?
Yeah, Mercedes makes them and then I feel like one other, maybe Dodge makes them. You’ve seen it, it’s like the delivery van.
Something Euro style delivery vans and they are normal. There are smaller ones and then there are larger. The ones we take probably seats like one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, it’s like nine or maybe eleven passengers. We have captain’s chairs. They are really cozy. It’s much better. It’s like in between your basic shitty van and the tour bus. You’re not on a bus but it’s not nearly as expensive. There’s a company Band To Go that just rents Sprinters and maybe regular vans but mostly Sprinters to bands. Ever since we got internet while you’re on the road, that saves everyone’s life.
There’s wifi built in or something?
Yeah. You get it most places. When you’re in West Texas or Wyoming or some areas you’re going to lose it but overall so then you can do your email and you can do a lot of stuff.
That’s pretty cool.
There’s video games and TV and stuff. Just as long as no one has to read a book. It’s funny because this is what we used to do. Everyone just read books all day. This is what the future looks like.
As you mentioned, you used to serve coffee. Have things changed a lot over the past decade? Do you feel like the same person? Do you still drink good coffee? Do you still …
I still drink Stumptown coffee everyday. Seriously everyday.
You bring it on tour?
I do, yeah. It’s funny we would just went down the California and we did bring it. Yeah, I still love coffee more than anything else. I haven’t been drinking alcohol because it’s really hard to my voice. We just did South by Southwest and I had remembered the previous, a time there because you know you’re doing two or three shows a day. Then it’s really easy to just drink and party all night. I remember the previous year where I had really lost my voice and I really didn’t want that to happen again because it’s terrible. You still do the show but it just sucks. If I went and saw a band and just the singer couldn’t sing I’d be like …
I do party.
I stopped, we we’re just been playing so many shows and I have not been drinking really just to save my voice but now instead of looking like “Oh man I can’t wait to have a beer” I’m like “Oh I can’t wait to have a cup of coffee.” There always has to be something, some kind of delicious addiction.
Coffee is something I don’t have to give up.
Do you get a change to cook when you’re on the road or you’re just eating anywhere?
No, not at all. At home, yeah but not yeah not at all. The more, I feel like Trader Joe’s saved us and Whole Foods have saved us even though it’s like so expensive.
It seems like going down each of the coast would be reasonable but then there’s this gaping fucking middle section of America where it’s like you could be driving for like days.
Yeah. It is getting slowly it’s getting better. I remember when Kathy, Kathy and I were touring well before The Thermals and sometimes yeah your only options were fast food or something at the gas station. You didn’t have a GPS or a smart phone or anything that would find you. You can find a coop actually and then a lot of places where you would think there’s nothing even in South Dakota or just seriously middle of nowhere there will be something healthy. Now you have like the tools, on your smart phone to find it. That makes a huge, huge difference.
Where’s the nearest coop?
Yeah, I forget what … that sound for us I can’t remember the name of that app but it was like a fine vegan food app and I don’t need to find vegan food but wherever the vegan food would be it’s healthy.
It’s a good lead.
Yeah, it will take you to some like a coop or somewhere.
How many people tour with you?
For a while it was six. It changes a lot, the most is six. Three in the band, someone selling the merch, sound and then tour manager / driver. We’ve gotten a way with four and that is fine too. It depends on how crazy or how busy the tour is going to be and how long it’s going to be too.
You guys just drive each other fucking crazy?
Again the internet in the van. Seriously, it’s the pacifier. Seriously, it’s something that everyone can just zone out. That’s what television is for a family. Something that everyone can just zone out on and get your brains sucked out and you don’t have to pay attention to each other.
Don’t you worry about social media corrupting us?
Yeah, I do at some points but what the other thing is you’re going to kill your, whoever you’re closest.
Right, yeah. Preferable.
There’s no perfect.
A lot of your themes in the songs that you’re writing are religion, politics, big things, violence, violence, love, war and death and killing.
Violence, yes, I’ve seen the new video.
Where do you, besides the tour van where do you get inspiration for these?
Film a lot and the new video yeah it’s very violent and this record specifically we wanted it to be really cinematic. We wanted the songs to sound not like the soundtrack for a movie but the movie itself. We really wanted to make a record that was really like an action movie just in the form of a rock record.
Okay, how did that idea come about?
We’d like there to be a theme for each records that the songs, I like to tie all the songs together. We don’t want the record to be just a random collection. Just all these songs that happen to be written at the same time. We want there to be a theme and a loose story but really just something that ties them all together. I really wanted to write something about war but not any specific war. About more just the urge that people have to kill each other because people are constantly killing each other and especially here in this country we’re just very obsessed with violence. I just thought that would be interesting and entertaining. Violence, this horrible violence in the world all the time but at the same time we’re so obsessed with being entertained by violence too. It’s not a statement on that, it’s more like we just wanted to be part of that as well.
Sure, just be a part of the discussion. Maybe, do you feel like that’s a net positive for the band to talk about that stuff? Do you think that’s what your fans are looking for?
I do think they are. Yeah, I think the songs and the records that people most like from us have been that. If you look at the The Body, The Blood, The Machine. I would say so far the favorite record, I think most people would agree on that, fans of ours that they like that record the best. To me that is the most crazy, violent record that we’ve made.
Yeah, do you ever worry that, I remember after one of the … There’s been a lot but there was a school shooting and then I saw, is that a movie about time traveling gangsters? You see that movie?
We don’t know. It’s not gangsters quad, is that?
No. The one where someone would appear and then …
Yeah. I did see that.
Bruce Willis.
Yes and Joseph Gordon Levitt but what is the name?
Okay, we’ll remember it.
At some point here. Maybe Corina knows but we’re watching the movie and it was like right after the shooting and there’s Bruce Willis goes and he’s shooting children and I remember thinking to myself the same thing I felt when I saw that video. Is this going to make people not want to watch the movie or is it going to make them feel more engaged with the movie. I think it probably made them more engaged but it’s always hard to tell. With touchy subjects like that, if you write a book about religion I don’t know maybe the fact that there’s the new Pope becomes gets people talking about your album or something I don’t know.
You have to risk it, you can’t … Especially since our record was, we weren’t going to change. Our record was finished before Newtown and I have relatives that live in Sandy Hook right by Newtown who were like themselves affected and for me personally I wasn’t like ‘Well no one is offended.” I was like “I hope my aunt and uncle specifically aren’t offended by this record.” The thing is the band is not selling millions and millions of records, a lot of people mainstream people who don’t pay attention to underground music, they are not going to see the video, they are not going to hear the record. I think if we were like Coldplay or [Rihanna 00:26:05] someone who’s like a worldwide celebrity I think you probably have to pay a lot more attention to stuff like that because the whole world is watching what you do.

For us, we have the luxury of flying under the radar. You don’t have to, I don’t know if I would feel differently but for me and for us we’re not going to change what we’re doing and you don’t want to hurt people’s feelings but also a lot of people will, if they see it fuck I don’t know. Everyone has the option to just not pay attention to what you’re doing.

Right. Yeah, as a musician how do you feel about the album like the record, the LP that we grew up with versus Pandora? How do you feel about the direction that all of this was taking?
I like both, like I was saying we still think of album as one, a thing. As long as, label still want you to do a record. I did this other band and I just did singles and it was like you definitely couldn’t get the press to write about it the way they would if you did a full length because we’re still just stuck even though we’re so obsessed with singles. In the culture, really the album is still what you do. It’s still the rule. If the label came to be and said “Hey don’t do it wrong” you just like “Just do some singles this year. I would be fine with that.” Every label we worked with they want a record and from that record to come single. Everyone’s still doing both. I love stuff like Pandora, I love singles, I love the radio.

I think the important thing is to make a good record where all the songs are connected but also within that there have to be good singles. Also, I only speak for us now. I wouldn’t say everyone has to make a record with a theme but you don’t want to go too far with that. You don’t want there to be songs that have to depend on one another on the record. You need to write good enough songs, any song could get pulled off the record and still work just on it’s own.

There can always be a surprise hit as supposed on LP. You don’t think it’s going to … Do you still think of it as side one side two?
Definitely, yeah. We’ve always, I feel like we’ve talked to other bands or other people about this and they feel the same way that side two is usually the darker or more introspective side. Record should take a turn and even if the majority of people are going to be listening on a CD or just on a device we still like to think of where’s the end of the first side, where’s the beginning of the second side. It’s just nice, nice to have two chapters to the story.
It reminds me a lot of the stuff that Bowie did like the Berlin […] like that. It was always like the front side was rock and roll hits and then the back side was like what the fuck is this?
Totally, yeah. It’s really cool. That’s the extreme I guess.
I feel that’s a really good example. Side two is the place, yeah maybe side two is just one crazy long song or just a place. I feel Pink Floyd did some of this.
They literally would have a side that was one song.
Yeah, really. I think, is Echoes just on metal? I think that’s just one song on that second side.
That’s great. Side two is very loud to just go off to deepen.
It’s like the chef’s table, I guess. As someone who shares the love of comedy, yeah David Cross. Just random question about it I’ve been meaning to ask you this, are you excited about the new season of the rest of the development?
I really am. Yeah, because you know it’s good that … I don’t know if the movie is coming still. I forget what but I know about Netflix making the episodes. I think it’s great because so many times a movie, a sitcom or a sketch that was never as good as episodes.
Oh yeah.
The format you keep it that same short length. To me, I’ve loved so many things David Cross has done but rest of the development specifically it’s so rewatchable, they are so intense. You can go back even if, Kathy and I have watched all those seasons just multiple times because they are just, it’s brilliant.
Yeah they are really just dense with weird inside jokes that you do, it rewards repeated viewing which is good. We want that in all of your media.
Yeah, totally. Kathy and I were discussing this the other day because we were saying it’s funny how we’ll just watch the same things over and over and we like to think a good television show or movie is like a record too. You should be able to just consume it repeatedly if it’s good.
That’s a thing, I was really into I don’t know the last album that Phoenix did.
It seems like the album or in that media or movie or whatever, it’s such a fulcrum of marketing. Your marketing efforts is like so center on that that it seems like Phoenix has had their new album done for six months.
I swear to God, I’ve seen leaks of it forever.
Really, yeah.
I feel they are holding it, they were holding it deliberately until that SNL episode.
Oh yeah.
The other night. It comes out this next week, I feel all this marketing is focused on having just the right gigs to promote it.
Do you worry about the fact that the single is basically gone? The single on the B side and stuff or do you still feel that’s a valid art form.
I still feel … The way things have changed so much even just since we’ve been a band, how everything is gone digital. When we started this band, we were still printing glossy photos, the whole the 8 x 10 glossy. We have that, then after two records that was done. Then any kind of paper promo was done. There was nothing set now, there’s just all … There are still CD promos but I don’t know why because everything is just a watermarked mp3 file that’s being sent out. My computer doesn’t even have a CD drive.
I can’t even play one. I can’t imagine what another ten years will be. It’s fine, it doesn’t bother me. I feel overall music is … I don’t think it’s changed. I feel like everything around music has changed and marketing has changed and format has changed but I don’t think it’s affected the way people write and what people are doing. I don’t think it’s affected it as much as you might think considering everything else around it.
Yeah. People’s attraction to music and the reason for music isn’t going to change.
It’s still part of a discussion in popular culture. It can be top 40 or it could be Indie underground whatever it’s still … i don’t know where I’m going with that. What is a piece of music equipment that you couldn’t beside your four track, that you could not live without when you’re on tour?
It would just have to be my guitar. I play those … I’ve always used the telecast here, I love it. Lately I’ve been playing the Left in line, 72 reissues because … We adjusted the trip or we just flew, we didn’t have, we didn’t bring any amps with us. We just would borrow amps from other bands or the show. The promoter would just have a back line brought in. In South by Southwest we played eight shows, we played two shows a day for four days. Every show had a different amp and they send you the list of what they have and usually it’s fine. It’s like a DeVille or a Twin. Usually they have a couple options, I always go for I don’t want a Marshall.

I don’t want like a stack or anything but it just means like so in four days I played eight different amps. I don’t really, I usually don’t care. It sounds fine. If you have, to me if you have pedals that you like it will sound similar enough. Just saying that I can take almost whatever amp. I have a ton of amps, I can bring whatever one. I think they are all fenders, there’s probably six or seven. To me as long as I have my guitar and my pedals I’ll play through whatever. We were in France, the back line blew. It was a half stack, it broke right before the show. I went direct, that was the only, it was one show like hundreds and hundreds. I wouldn’t ever want to do that again but it was an option. It’s plugged there, I mean it did not sound great but I can live with it.

This is a stereotypical question, what’s like your desert island album?
It’s probably The Breeders. It’s either Last Splash or Pod. It’s probably Last Splash. I feel that record I could listen to over and over. It’s hard, so hard to pick one. Maybe Agent Orange, Living in Darkness. These days I haven’t listened to much besides our record when we’re mastering and Agent Orange and like that record. Seriously over and over again. Yeah, the rest of the development I feel Last Splash it lend itself, there’s so much weird hidden stoney just weirdness going on on that record. I feel every time I listen to it I hear something new and crazy. That’s a good reason to bring that.
You have a new album coming out?
Yes sir.
April 16th.
Will we be out on this before that?
Then it has already come out?
It’s all ready to drop, yes. Where can people go to buy it? Online? Is it iTunes? Just look for The Thermals?
It’s on iTunes of course, I would say the best place to buy it is at SaddleCreek.com.
You can buy it on our website, you can just buy it at thethermals.com but the best place I think go to Saddle Creek’s website.
Saddle Creek.
If you just want to buy the mp3s, it will be at the same price as iTunes but it’s going to go right to us and the label as opposed to giving Apple their whatever.
A cut. Right.
Too much label.
Yeah, right fair enough. Cool, thanks Hutch.
Awesome, yeah. Thanks for having me.
Yeah. Cool, easy. Can I see what are you’re using? You like this?

Recorded Tuesday, April 16th, 2013, and this is episode number 9. Follow Ray, Kandace, Dan, or Needmore on Twitter. Please rate our show on iTunes!

The Job is a talk show about design, music, business, culture, technology, the web, and Portland, and featuring interviews with interesting people. Hosted by Ray Brigleb and brought to you by Needmore Designs.

8. Jenn Armbrust

The Job PDX
The Job PDX
8. Jenn Armbrust

Jenn Armbrust is a creative force of nature. For years, her gallery Motel was a must-visit stop in downtown Portland. She’s been advising creatives in person and with her Free Advice series at Nationale, and she’s going to share some free advice with you on this week’s show.

Show Notes

Recorded Tuesday, April 8th, 2013, and this is episode number 8. Follow Ray, Kandace, Dan, or Needmore on Twitter. Please rate our show on iTunes!

The Job is a talk show about design, music, business, culture, technology, the web, and Portland, and featuring interviews with interesting people. Hosted by Ray Brigleb and brought to you by Needmore Designs.

7. Trevor Fife

Image of Trevor Fife
The Job PDX
The Job PDX
7. Trevor Fife

Trevor Fife is a director of photography based here in Portland. His varied works include plenty of stuff you’ve seen such as promotional videos for Stumptown Coffee and the intro for the True Blood television show.

Show Notes

Recorded Monday, April 1st, 2013, and this is episode number 7. Follow Ray, Kandace, Dan, or Needmore on Twitter. Please rate our show on iTunes!

The Interview

I don’t, maybe I should. I don’t have an adapter, so I’m the only one who gets the headphones. Sorry, we’ll work on that.
I’m good. That’s all right. That’s all right. Sometimes, hearing yourself is a little too much.
It’s true. I think it would … I think I’m used to it now, but I think some people might find that intimidating. Okay. Would you like some San Pellegrino just to have it handy?
Yeah, I’ll get it. I’ll get it when the urge strikes me.
Okay, okay. Yeah. The sound of it will be exciting for our listeners I think with little “Pssst.” Okay. Here we go. Hello, Trevor.
How are you?
Fine, thank you.
Good, good. Thanks for showing up and blowing up. Let me get this a little closer there or point it. Maybe just point it. There you go. Okay. What’s going on with this? It’s going to … Okay. Hello, Trevor.
Much better, much better. Why don’t you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself? Where you from?
Originally, from Michigan.
Bounced around growing up, Colorado, California, Connecticut.
Wow. Why so much bouncing?
No particular reason. I think it was just young parents.
Just checking out new things, different job opportunities.
Okay. It was the ‘70s. Was it the ‘70s?
It was ‘70s.
Yeah, nothing sorted.
Okay, got you. Just free spirits?
Yeah, yeah.
How long have you been in the Portland area?
Since 1995.
Okay. You are a video guy? What’s your title? What do you call yourself if someone asked you?
In the industry, I would be called a director of photography.
Okay. Where did you learn to do that? Where did this come from?
Where did it come from? Let’s see. I don’t know if it came from anywhere specific. I think it was partly born out of not being interested in very much of anything.
At a certain point, I thought, “God, film production looks cool.” That was the first like first thing in my life. Now, it’s like at 24 or something like that. I was like … I finished school, and was waiting tables, and just thinking what was the next step, and so I jumped into some classes at Northwest Film Center here in town and just explored that. From there, I got into the photographic side of that. I was like I just … It was cool. I enjoyed the process, and I felt like I was okay at it, like I had like … It was one of the first things I think that I recall feeling like, “Oh, I’m good at this,” like in a … Maybe what I considered a meaningful sort of way.
You had an eye for it kind?
Or something, enough to like spark my interest and curiosity. I was definitely like curious to like learn, and watch, and just absorb as much as possible. The interest I think stemmed from those, those experiences.
Before that, you went to college, but it wasn’t for a film or anything like that?
No, no. Just a …
What was it for?
A little arts English degree, keep it open.
Okay, okay. All right. Is there someone who inspired you to do that, or was there a certain kind of …?
I don’t think there was like a person per se. I think like definitely exposure to certain kinds of filmmaking was a huge turn on to me like lots of more experimental avant-garde documentary stuff, stuff that was really interested in exploring form and with this idea that there’s like … In a way like all stories have already been told. The thing that makes each story a little bit different is how they’re conveyed or how they’re told. That was super exciting for me. Not just photographically, but editorially, and thinking about the creative process from that standpoint.

Here I am like in my early 20’s, just seeing like all of these avenues to explore creatively and just trying different hats on all the time, and it was super exciting to simultaneously find your own voice within that, but also just explore in a very pure creative way. That fueled my interest for years I would say, just trying.

When you started out, were you … What were you shooting on?
Like initially, like my first film projects were on super 8.
That was through course work at the Film Center. They had awesome teachers there who … I would say as much as anybody were instrumental into turning me on to filmmakers that were doing things that I had never seen before and getting me to think in ways that where all of a sudden like igniting some just like curiosities and passion in myself. I was just like … To have that happen to you in your life for the first time, it’s like you just hold on to it like for dear life. It’s like a life jacket. You’re like, “Oh, finally. Something’s come along that’s … That I like.” I just ran with it as much as I could and just worked at it.
You were just … You were shooting, editing, all on super 8 just like cutting film?
Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Okay, okay.
It’s all very like this was at the tail end, I would say, of entering into digital stuff, and I’ll be at crappy digital stuff; but so like I was … This was the tail end of editing on flatbeds, so cutting everything still on film. You could certainly cut things on video, but in an educational setting, that was still being promoted. I think part of that, that framework influenced the kind of work I was into. I think stuff that was really like … It felt like something that had texture and things that you could hold on to.
I had like a lot of physical substance and quality to it which was stuff that was, again, like more experimental nature stuff that was maybe interested in alternative photo chemical processes or were really interested in these very formal structures editorially that we’re trying to develop these internal languages within the films themselves and seeing how that … Those might have conveyed an idea or a story differently than maybe a more standard conventional approach.
Okay. Were these just a few minutes long like …?
It was definitely like … In general, I think that kind of work was so much more well-suited for the short film format because I think you … Bearing in mind, someone else is watching what it is that you’re … You’ve put out there. The attention span for these kinds of things I think is … It’s quite a bit less than a narrative-driven story that is an hour and a half long. While there are certainly beautiful and compelling works that are super challenging to watch that take hours, an hour if not hours to play out. I think by and large, most of this kind of work is most digestible in the under 15-minute format.
Was this black and white?
Did you start in black and white, or did you start in …?
Yeah. I mean like starting would only just by virtue of like … That was like the requested stock to use maybe for some initial projects, but by no means was I compelled to just shoot in black and white or anything.
I see. What was … How long was it until you got a commercial work that you’re …?
A long time, so like at a certain … Let’s see. In 1998, I did an internship at a local production company, and I quickly learned that I wanted nothing to do with working in the commercial industry. It just seemed like a dead-end. They had nothing to do with what I was interested in which was like, like I said before, about that time geeking out on all these like seeing how … “What happens if you do this? What happens if you put this after this and slow this down, speed this up?” For all intents and purposes, just fucking around to make things feel a certain way.

I was looking around at some of the people who were working in the industry and seeing that after 20 years of hard work, they were doing like Bowflex ads or something like that. At the time, that seemed very unattractive or it wasn’t where I was. It just wasn’t what … I wasn’t ready to jump into that boat quite yet. I said, “No. I don’t think that’s the track I’m going to explore.” I found myself employed at the school that I went to, Northwest Film Center. Basically, running their equipment room for the next seven years after that. It was … It facilitated that … Those interests too like it … The framework was set up to like continue like maybe working on my own stuff or working on other people’s stuff.

That was really helpful to start to like get rid of this kind of aesthetic or just hone your own personality a bit and … I felt like that was a super helpful thing. Then as far as like commercial entry work, it was very weird and it was … I shouldn’t say it wasn’t unintended. After working at the Film Center for that many years, I was like, “Well, this job is like fine, and I love the people here, and I love like what our … What we’re doing as an organization,” but it wasn’t the place that or a job that saw myself doing when I was 50 and thought, “Okay. Well, what‘s the best …? Okay. If you could do what you want to do, what would you do?” I thought, “Well, if I can figure out in some shape, form, or another to make a living working on commercial projects that are in some shape, form, or another an echo of my personal work.”

Like more creative and more experimental?
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, like they bring me on to do like something that is that I offer in my own work, then maybe I can enter into that conversation a little bit easier. It wasn’t like I was like every project needs to be like that. It was more like … I was thinking like, “Well, if … Initially like maybe if two out of every 10 projects has like something that I can grab on to and feels like it’s coming from a good place for me, then I can … That will be a goal for me to like work towards.” At that point, you’re just like you’re just taking whatever that comes your way.

I remember I did like a feature-length slideshow for like this doctor in Beaverton who’s like … He wanted to do like art therapy and show like his snapshots from travels around the world, and he … It was called “A Video Safari”. Everything about it is about on par with what the name of the piece suggests. It really was like …

How did you find the client like that, like that type of … How did you …?
I don’t know. They called me.
Yeah, okay.
At that point, it’s just like if the phone rang, awesome. Still to this day, if the phone rings, awesome. I know I’m not that much pickier today than I was then in a sense.
Fair enough.
I did that kind of stuff for a year or so, and then an old friend from the Film Center who I hadn’t talked to in years, he called me up and said, “Hey, I work at this production company up in Seattle. I remember really liking your work. Send us some work samples.” I was like, “Cool, cool.” I sent them that, and it was … It ended up being a job for the introduction for a HBO program series, True Blood. This is the company that did the title sequence for it. That was well-received by audiences and within the company that produced it. In that, that kind of … That sparked something.

All of a sudden like I was like … They called me a few more times just like it just … Things started to creep from there, and it wasn’t like all of a sudden overnight like, “Trevor, get an agent,” like, “Let’s go. We got work to do.” It was still very like I was still teaching at the Film Center, and I did that for a couple more years.

Just saying you hadn’t decided what to wear on the runway yet?
Exactly. Yeah, or at the award show. It’s just too much stress.
Yeah. Long story short is True Blood, opening title sequence helped generate future work and on some level helps mount a lot of the commercial work that I’m doing today and twofold. I should say that the … A lot of the … The work from … That I did for True Blood honestly was generated from some of the early work that I did for Stumptown, Stumptown Coffee Roasters, and that’s a huge, huge part of my identity to work for them.
At this point, when you’re doing the intro to that show, for example, are you still doing it on film?
All of my contributions when I was the co-DP for that job, and all of my contributions were either on 16 millimeter or super 8.
That was a format that I still continue to work with sometimes, whenever I can if it’s appropriate for the project.
Is it typically a question of budge or the right visual aesthetic for the project or time?
At this time, both, especially budget. It’s more and more expensive to be able to work in that medium and …
Sorry, everyone.
That’s all right. Creatively, sometimes it’s appropriate. Sometimes, it’s not.
When you do that, are you editing it digitally? Do you do the transfer than the editing nowadays?
Yeah, and I’m doing very little editing these days.
I’m handing off all of the materials and never seeing it until it’s finished more often than not, except for anything that I’m fully producing which at this point is mostly just the Stumptown work and maybe an occasional thing here and there. By and large, I’m just shooting and never seeing it again until it’s finished.
Until it’s up?
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. The super 8, 16 is processed, sent to a facility that transfers it and puts it in a digital file format that then is ingested into an editorial setup.
Okay. Yeah. Your relationship with Stumptown has been amazing to watch. How many videos have you done so far?
In some shape, form, or another like for different applications and purposes, there’s probably a good 12 or 15 that are out there. Some are for educational, some are for event-specific scenarios, and then a handful are standalone like short pieces.
For a while there, you’re doing going on sourced trips like visiting the countries where they’re … Like to shoot them harvesting and … Tell me about that. What was that like?
It’s tremendous. I would say it’s one of the most important experiences that I’ve had. I would say that in 2006, the first time I went to a coffee farm, Finca El Injerto in Guatemala. I travelled with my partner on a lot of these films, Autumn Campbell, and at that time, Duane Sorenson. It was like one of those light bulb moments that you have, hopefully you have, of looking around your … What’s going on and acknowledging like, “This is really what I want to be doing.” It wasn’t till that point that I knew that I wanted to be in different places outside of Portland meeting new people and seeing new things behind the lens of a camera as not just as like a creative experience and gathering elements to put together for films, but also as much as anything, just for like an experiential sort of thing.

Like it was like just awesome to be able to engage in conversations. Not verbal conversations, but just some sort of interaction with people from the framework of photographing versus being say like a traveler or a tourist. It was … All of a sudden, it opened up these doors to those experiences that I hadn’t experienced before as a tourist. That was like … That was so rich feeling to me and …

You’re comfortable having your camera around there?
Super comfortable. Yeah.
Yeah. Did it seem like that it was …?
I have no … Every culture is different in terms of how receptive they are to being photographed. Some like … It runs the gamut. At the end of the day, I’m not comfortable … I’m not uncomfortable pointing a camera at somebody, and I … It’s either one of two things. You can either just … You feel the vibe that’s telling you to be more sensitive. At which point, you make yourself come across as being sensitive to the situation either physically or verbally; but ultimately, if your presence isn’t wanted, it’s easy to pull back. There’s no like … It’s very rare that there is content or an instance where it feels like it’s so demanding that you have to contradict somebody’s suggestive or explicit request for you not to be there photographically. It’s an easy scenario to navigate.
How long on a trip … Like the El Injerto trip that you mentioned, like how long are you there? How many days are you shooting?
A short period of time, so that’s like usually three to four days. I think like in that respect, one of the things that was always important and maybe still is today is that when you’re putting together material based upon those short excursions that you’re putting together content that reflects actually that time frame that you’re working in and that you’re not trying to suggest your intimacy, or knowledge, or understanding of what’s going on there anymore than what one would be able to absorb in those number of days.

Like for that respect, from that … Or from that aspect, it’s like I always felt like it was our responsibility to invite the viewer into like how a place looks, and how it feels, and how it sounds, and try to keep it in that mindset and not be overly … I don’t know what the words are, but not try to suggest that you understand what’s happening there more than what you could actually understand within that framework. I certainly would say like early on, especially with the first handful events, it was like … It was really, really … Maybe to a fault was really …

Let me ask you this, are you … Do you mean like you maybe wouldn’t film yourselves hanging out having dinner or doing the part? You’d film more like them, like people at work or like that? Is that what you’re talking about?
Yeah. I think it’s really interesting to incorporate a filmmaker’s participation within the framework of the thing that they’re shooting. I wasn’t … For these projects, I wasn’t interested in exploring that. This was always more about trying to like convey what it was like, A, to pick, carry, process coffee, and what the locations looks like, and who the people were, and what they exuded in some shape, form, or another. It always felt like it was almost better to do it a more open-ended sort of way versus in being very explicit because one thing that’s always challenging is communication. It’s like you’re like dealing with folks on maybe a more superficial level at that point, and you’re just going off of gut interactions.
On that first trip, you’re shooting. You’re shooting film at least for that first one?
Film and video. Yeah, yeah.
Okay, okay. Is there any concept of like dailies? Are you able to review your footage at the end of the day, or you’re just hoping you got what you need?
No, you’re so beat. Like after 12 hours of shooting, you’re just like …
Yeah, in the sun.
You’re just wiped out.
I could see that.
It’s nice to not have to look at stuff unless you need to, and just let it digest, and come back to it after you return if the project allows that.
Jumping forward to the most recent project, is that something that you were still shooting with film, or is that mainly a video?
It’s mainly video. You know what? I think it’s … Like I’m trying to think the last time I shot. Actually, the … I shot two projects in the fall. I shot film for it, but I never processed it because of the like expense of it, and I knew I just didn’t necessarily need it. It was like bonus material.
Are you shooting that as when you do the video, is it with a video camera? Are you using a regular like a digital camera?
Certainly, like the last three years have been super DSLR heavy with like when Canon 5D hit the market. It just … It changed the landscape of commercial filmmaking in a really profound way, and it like just … it really like … For me, it was just like it’s a game changer too. It broadened my palette exponentially and just got me super jazzed and excited about photography again.
I was shooting mostly like 16 before and standard definition video. It was fine, but all of a sudden, what some of the creative choices that were allowed with a DLSR, all of a sudden really … It gave you that many more decisions or creative choices to make when putting a shot together.
Give me an example of …
Like all of a sudden, with a DSLR, you were shooting with a camera that had a very cinematic quality. I.E. shallow depth of field which is a property that most people are familiar with, whether they know it or not. When they watch a motion picture, where your backgrounds are out of focus considerably compared to your foregrounds or vice versa. It’s this idea of selective focus was a huge thing all of a sudden to consider. The form factor of the cameras, they’re super small. They all of a sudden like really facilitated documentary filmmaking in a way that was a little bit less obtrusive than it was before.

That, all of a sudden, I think made people more comfortable who you were shooting in documentary situations. Mostly, those two things just optioned more considerations of how you wanted things to look. I think lensing all of a sudden became a much more important thing to me. It used to be like … When I was used to shooting 16, it was all just like, “Make a beautiful frame, done. Make a nice composition …” Or have it be whatever it is, but it’s just like whatever was in front of the camera, that was the end of my conversation.

Now, it’s that and a couple other things. That’s just like anybody as they learn more about their craft, they have more to bring to the table, and I think like that helps speed that conversation long for me like in a huge and important way that’s been super cool for me.

Do you feel like when you’re working with people these days, because you have so much of a body of work behind you that they know what they’re getting? You don’t have to sell yourself as much?
Definitely, yeah. Thankfully. I feel super fortunate in that respect, and like I was saying before, it’s like … At the end of the day, it’s like I am a gun for hire for commercial projects, and I rely on the film terrain. I take work wherever it comes and whatever shape, form it is. If things are slow and Bedmark comes by, it’s like, “Hey, we want to do a commercial.” I’m like, “Cool, awesome. I’m happy to be work. I have overhead.” That takes precedence over my creative wishes, and curiosities, and percepts to be honest. Having said that, I feel like my patients in my earlier years of not stepping into production work and climbing a ladder of just getting to a position where somebody was going to pay you to shoot something was a gamble that paid off in that I developed a voice.

I think that people have subsequently and has been more and more as time goes on have come to me to bring on their product. They know that like my style is like … It’s definitely like documentary in approach. Hopefully, it has some refined qualities that make it a bit more than something that looks haphazard as if somebody was just picking up a camera and going out there, and hitting “Record”.

If someone was going to TrevorFife.com and you’re going to tell them, “You watch this one piece, that’s my style in a nutshell,” what would that be?
The style in a nutshell is … In the best case scenario is a synergy that happens between a very formal and emphasis on composition in terms of photographic style that editorially is combined with a very organic and seemingly unrefined raw sensibility that when put together hopefully creates a synergy. I really believe in there being incentive intention behind how you’re expressing something, and how you’re photographing something, and especially even how you’re editing something.

When I go out, I like to at least like breathe intention or reason into like why it is I’m doing the thing that I’m doing, why it looks the way it does, and that it has some sort … It’s grounded in some sort of like approach and with an intended result. Not to say that you get that, but at least to get the conversation going.

Do you have discussions with clients who push back and wonder why you made a particular shot?
Do you feel like …?
Most of my conversations are with directors.
With the directors, my job really is to facilitate the creative vision that they have. In the best case scenario, I’m asking them questions that get them to explain, or expand, or question some of the … Where they’re at in the projects, and hopefully, that pushes the project into a better place than where it was; or me just better understanding what their vision is and being able to do my job in a better way.
When you’re shooting something that you’re also going to be editing like this recent Stumptown work, for example, are you more or less comfortable in that situation? Do you find it more challenging to come up with what you’re going to shoot without that direction?
No. I think like my … Because that’s where my interest lie in a more global sense is when I’m hired to shoot something I’m … I like to think that I’m conscientious about not just how things are appearing in the frame, but I’m thinking about things editorially, so making sure that it’s … That they’re getting the elements that they’re going to need to work with and thinking about how things are going to ultimately look beyond just what we’re seeing in each individual shot. What was the question?
I was wondering if you were equally comfortable in both roles.
Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Totally. To that end, it’s like I love … I love directing. I try to get like upstream in the conversations as much as possible, so that … Because I feel like the shooting, especially the kind of projects that I work on, the … Photographically informs the edit a lot in making sure that the photographic elements are there for the edit I think is … It always is important, but I think, for whatever reason in the projects that I worked on, it’s maybe even more important. It’s almost like doing diligence to my own work and … Thinking that what … That my contributions might help the edit if we get our basis covered. It’s hard … it’s hard for me to describe.
With the most recent Stumptown, it’s a good example where the format was focused on a series of interviews. I would describe it as … But filled with a lot of little visual sides, and vignettes, and little stories like over that. Tell me about your process for making that. Did you start with the interviews and then have the story in your head how you’re going to … What were you going to shoot and then just set out to get all of that footage?
Yeah, very much like that.
All the interviews were conducted more or less. I’d say three quarters of them were conducted within a few days.
Then from there, I put together just like an audio narrative. From there, it’s like that starts to invite some editorial ideas and what kind of visual content you’ll need, and then just piecemealing from there, and then filling in holes wherever need be.
You work in iMovie?
I’m actually curious. Is it like Final Cut or?
Final Cut.
Seven or 10?
Yeah. If I was an editor like professionally, maybe I would edit in 10, but only because maybe that’s what I would need to do professionally, but I know plenty of professional editors who are still editing in 7 for those of you who are remotely interested in that kind of thing. It’s back … Seven is just A, okay with me, and I thought they missed big time on the Final Cut 10 in my opinion.
What’s next for Trevor? What are you excited to be working on next? What kind of … Where do you see your career going from here?
I just came off one of the better jobs in the last few years shooting content for the … I think that’s a new LAX … Either it’s like a terminal, or a new wing, or something like that, or new sort of thing. Inside the terminal, there is this … All of these like huge large scale architectural video panels that are in like these odd-shaped configurations, very like design-oriented. Some of these are computer generated in terms of the content, but there’s one section. There’s this 8-panel video wall that is going to consist of these 6-minute portraits of cities around the world. We just finished shooting content for Barcelona, Bangkok, and Seoul. It was like one of those like dreamy jobs because there was really good …
On location.
It was on … It was a fun place to shoot. There was no client there, and the creative was just like wide open, shoot what’s cool with a few … With some very creative like point of references and how to make something tangible from it, but it was very like “Just go do something cool” kind of job which in theory could spawn into repeated shoots for 22 more cities if it’s well-received. That could be in the future, the next couple of years. Other future things, I would say like it’s still … Like I haven’t done a personal project in years. Partly, out of like just being much more interested in commercial work.

Simultaneously, the commercial work actually really feeding a lot of the like personal creative interest, so it hasn’t been any kind of like struggle or conflict. I’ve been very content with the commercial work satisfying work, but I would still … I would love to work on something that just had no attachments to anything other than personal interest and whatever comes up from that groundswell.

It was on a good … At a good location might be at the end?
It’s all about location.
Have you been …? You mentioned … I think you mentioned still photography in passing, is that something you’re also interested in, you’ve been playing around with or?
I don’t play around with it. I love still photography. At times, I like it better than motion or live action stuff. I love the nature of a still photograph and the dialogue that happens between a viewer in that context versus what happens between the viewer in a live action. I feel like the kind of things that I’m drawn to photographically, they’re live action or still stuff is stuff that is a little bit more ambiguous and mood related. Correctly or incorrectly, I always felt like still photography invites a relationship that viewers will engage with.

Viewers I think are much more patient with a still photograph that doesn’t have a quick read and certain meaning; whereas I feel like a viewer’s patience with live action is like they’re just like … They’re in and out so much quicker, and they just like … They’re not willing to engage with something that is a little bit more meditative or a little bit quieter.

It’s got a little bit of a different nature like the … If they were staring at a still image in a video, they’d be “What’s wrong with it? It’s not doing the thing it’s supposed to do for me.”
Yeah, and I … Totally. I think like in live action stuff, a lot of the shots that I’m drawn to are … They’re basically … They’re still photographs. They’re images that very little is actually moving in the frame, and so I enjoy that quiet quality, and the slower, the better in my book.
Okay. You won’t be doing any work in 3D soon? I got to ask these questions. I’m just curious what you’re going to say.
No. I wouldn’t know where to start. It’s like at this point, it’s do what you like and do what you get paid for.
Do you think there’s any technologies out there that would get you excited like those like RED cameras or the … That camera that …?
Yeah, like I’ll shoot on … I shoot on RED once in a while or ALEXA. It’s all about what’s the right tool for the project, and what’s the budget of the project, and what’s the creative vision of the project, and just figuring out which camera is the best tool for the job. Like I was saying before, a lot of my stuff is documentary in approach and higher end, conventional, commercial production cameras are not a great fit for those scenarios, so it’s all project dependent. As far as like new technology and like … I don’t know exactly what’s on the horizon beyond like 3D and focus-less cameras.

I think what’s going to happen is the resolution is going to get better on cameras, and that conversation will only become meaningful as soon as the displays that feature this content can catch up with that resolution. Like everything now is 1080 HD, but … And there’s a lot of cameras that shoot at 4 and 5K, but there’s very few display options to be able to exploit that, unless you’re going to theatrical release. If you’re putting stuff on the web, you’re just not going to see that kind of image quality difference more or less, but that’s going to change eventually.

At that point, then it will be interesting to see how cameras respond and where that conversation goes. Yeah.
Someone visits your portfolio, they’re just out of college, and they’re like, “That’s the kind of shoot I want to do,” what advice would you give them? How should they get started?
I think there’s two paths that I like I would suggest to people and not with and y sense of expertise. It’s only based upon my very limited experience which is either … One is just getting … It really … What’s your … You have to define what are your interests. What do you want to be doing? A lot of people want to be … They just want to be working in the industry, and they want to be just doing commercial work. That’s like … That’s the cherry right there. Maybe for somebody else, they want to be involved in some kind of like … They want to explore their personal creative approach to the medium a bit more.

I think you have to define those a little bit before you set your path forward. If you’re minded towards figuring out what your own personal voice is and being able to do commercial work in that framework, then I think you just have to … You have to open yourself up to as much as possible, and just be a sponge to what’s out there, and spend as much time absorbing and doing your own like creating your own voice. You just got to work. You have to work. You have to be passionate and just be honest about what it is that you’re interested and what you want to do.

At the end of the day, I don’t think it’s very surprising. It just takes a lot of work and just follow your heart because then … I just … You got to be … You have to be honest with yourself in some shape, form, or another. I guess that’s pretty like … That covers a lot of territory, just being honest with yourself in some shape, form, or another. It’s like, “Do you think you’re doing the right thing? Do you think you’re going to … Down the right path? Do you think you’re … This is making your life more interesting? Are you having fun doing this?” Hopefully, you’re having fun because then it will make it a lot easier.

Totally agreed. Trevor, thanks so much for talking to us today.
Where us … We …? Aside from TrevorFife.com, your home in the internet, where else can people find you? Are you on Twitter? You got an Instagram?
I am so unsavvy when it comes to social media.
TrevorFife.com is the place to go?
TrevorFife.com, yeah.
Are you on Vimeo?
I’m on Vimeo, but that’s … I’m there. Mostly to embed into my website, but I’m also on Vimeo.
Okay. Thanks a lot, Trevor.
Thanks, Ray.

The Job is a talk show about design, music, business, culture, technology, the web, and Portland, and featuring interviews with interesting people. Hosted by Ray Brigleb and brought to you by Needmore Designs.