Kickass Kuties’ miss cutie herself, Lisa Petrucci!

Visitng the Something Weird  table was always one of the highlights of going to the Chiller Theatre Expo in NJ.  Mike Vraney and Lisa Petrucci were always so friendly and just about the cutest couple around.  And that’s where I discovered Lisa’s adorable and very nostalgic Kickass Kuties art.  I remember buying a tank top with a little devil girl on it, a little change purse with a little leopard gal on it and some stickers of various Kutie characters.  I still use that change purse till this day and will always hold it dear. I kept those stickers safe in their little paper baggie hidden away for years and would love to take them out and look at them once in a while like a secret treasure.  And then I started sticking them places, which led to their wearing out due to the elements and such, so I will have to replenish my stock. I also hope to one day own one of her beautiful paintings.  For me, Lisa’s art takes me back to my childhood, to the cherished big eyed blond and brunette paper dolls I played with and loved so much and still remember so vividly.  It’s wonderful to be able to connect with that child inside you, and I think that Lisa’s art does just that, for me, and perhaps for others who also enjoy heavy bouts of nostalgia, and certainly as you will read below, for Lisa  herself!

death-maiden-a-gogoYour art is so darn cute, hence the name, Kickass Kuties. Was there ever something you tried to paint that you couldn’t make cute?
Ha! I guess making things cute just comes naturally now. I don’t think I’ve tried to paint anything other than in that style. Even my creepy and sexy subjects are cute!
What was the first doll you ever got as a kid, that you remember dearly and had a fascination for, and how old were you?
I vividly remember having Liddle Kiddles dolls during the mid-1960s. There’s actually a photo of me clutching a Liddle Kiddle in my tiny fist outside our house in Ipswich Mass. I must have been 3 or 4 years old.  They were my favorite dolls then and still are! Liddle Kiddles were the original inspiration for my Kickass Kuties.
What was the first Kickass Kutie, or other series character, you ever painted?
Some of the earliest paintings I did during the early 1990s featured Kimba the White Lion. When I moved to Seattle in 1994 I began incorporating Liddle Kiddles and pin-up girls into my art. Probably the first official Kickass Kuties were two Bad Bunnies (wearing black and red onesies) with flames in the background. I was attempting to make lowbrow art that appealed to females.
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How long did it take you to find a style that you were comfortable with?  Can you talk about the evolution of your style?
I didn’t seriously start painting until around 1994. I had been dabbling with the idea of doing collages and decoupage plaques with cute, sexy and subversive imagery, but it was when I decided to paint on wood slabs that I found my groove and developed the style I’m known for now. 
 
bigtopbeautyHow do you get, or where do you get, the wooden backings for your paintings?
I find vintage decorative wood slabs that already have images decoupaged on them in thrift stores, flea markets and swap meets. I scrape off and sand down the surfaces and get them prepped to paint. Or if I run out, I get blank consumer wood slabs at the arts & crafts store, but these are inferior quality so I prefer to use the old found ones.
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Is there a series, or a type of Kutie, you tend to like painting more than others? Are there any you consider your faves?
 I prefer creating characters that have a retro feel to them, like 1950’s bad girls and 1960s sex kittens. Either big pin-up girls or pint-size Kickass Kuties. I also enjoy doing creepy monster-themed cuties too. And incorporating kitty cats. Some of my favorites are the Frankenkuties series and the ones based on spooky subjects and campy cult movies.
On your site you have a lot that are marked “private collection”. Does it ever happen that you’ll paint something and decide you love it too much to sell?
Private Collection just means that someone bought the painting, but prefers not to be credited or I don’t know or remember who bought the painting, (so I can’t give a proper credit)! There have only been a couple of paintings that I didn’t offer for sale. One is my Liddle Lisa self portrait. Others are ones that my late husband Mike Vraney wanted to keep for himself. But otherwise they were up for grabs!

lil_puffDo collectors tend to buy the Kuties that resemble them, and whatever the answer, what do you think about that, or why do you think that is?

Collectors definitely identify with some of the characters and imagery I’ve created. And over the years I’ve done custom commissions for fans, which are basically cute versions of them surrounded by things that they like.
miss_monster_ovalWhat do you think of girly toys and dolls that are made nowadays?  Is there anything that you like?
I kinda like the Monster High Dolls, but I’m pretty out of the loop these days. I have noticed that dolls and toys have gotten increasingly bigger eyes over the years reflecting recent trends in popular culture, so that pleases me.
 
How did you and Mike Vraney, the founder of Something Weird Video, meet?
We met at the Chiller Theatre Expo in 1993. Which is funny because that’s also where I met you and Sal Canzonieri! I actually interviewed Mike and legendary exploiteer, David F. Friedman, for an article I was writing about sixties sexploitation films. Mike said he fell instantly in love because I knew who Michael and Roberta Findlay were. haha
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How much had you been exposed to Exploitation Cinema before meeting Mike?
I’ve always liked horror films ever since I was a kid, but really got into exploitation movies in the 1980s when I started renting videos and reading the Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film and Incredibly Strange Films books. I used to live in the East Village in NYC a few blocks from Kim’s Video and watched any oddball low-budget flick I could get my hands on. There was a big section of Something Weird videos at Kim’s Video, which is how I became acquainted with the company. I even worked at the Psychotronic Store in the East Village for a spell, so I was pretty immersed in exploitation film fandom before becoming involved with Something Weird.
 
Have you watched all of the videos that Something Weird has produced? Which films or which genres of the SWV collection are your favorites?
I have watched a lot of the Something Weird catalog but certainly not them all. However, I’m familiar with all the titles since I’m the one who puts together the catalogs and dvd covers, but I certainly don’t need or want to see everything we’ve ever released. My favorites are the Sixties Sexploitation films, especially the black & white New York roughies and films of Doris Wishman, Joe Sarno and the Findlays. Also the kooky regional Nudies by filmmakers like Dale Berry. “Hot Thrills and Warm Chills” is one of my absolute favorites.

When you’ve sold your videos at conventions like Chiller Theatre, what kinds of people, characters typically buy them? Who have been the most surprising types of customers? It’s everyone from serious film genre fans to creepy pervs with cringeworthy fetishes! Young and old. I’m always surprised at what people are drawn to. Some customers want recommendations based on their particular, and often peculiar, interests. The funniest interactions have been on the phone when they call and start telling us really confessional and embarrassing things about themselves. Or just sound totally nutty. Something Weird customers are often unintentionally entertaining.

Which films have you sold the most of? 
Probably the Herschell Gordon Lewis gore movies like “Blood Feast,” “Two Thousand Maniacs,” and “Wizard of Gore” which are the most well known and popular in our catalog, but also the Bettie Page burlesque movies “Teaserama” and “Varietease.” We have over 2000 titles available so there’s something for everybody!
 
something_weird_logoDid anyone ever return a video because they didn’t like it or it was too shocking for them?
A few times people have tried to return a video because they didn’t like it, but never because it was too shocking. If anything it was that the film wasn’t shocking enough! One time a guy sent back a video because he said the boobs weren’t big enough. Needless to say we don’t accept those kind of returns. Welcome to my world.
Have you ever had any self-righteous anti-sexploitation people trying to shut you down?
Ha! No, but occasionally a customer will write or email to be removed from the mailing list because he’s found religion or his wife disapproves of him watching smutty movies.
 
How’s it been carrying on the business, and Mike’s legacy, after Mike’s passing in 2014?
Running Something Weird by myself has been a challenge. Mike and I were great team. We each brought strengths to the table. I’m trying my best to keep things afloat and going. Mike and I both knew this business was changing even before he died, so now I’m partnering with enthusiastic young companies like AGFA and Alamo Drafthouse who are helping to take Something Weird into the 21st century and bringing these films to a new untapped audience. I miss Mike everyday, and I’m working hard to keep his memory and legacy alive and well.
 
Have you been producing any new films? Have all the exploitation films ever filmed been found?
Not really “new” ones, but what I have been doing is working with other film preservationists to restore and release existing Something Weird films in high definition. They’re rescanning the original film elements in 4K and releasing them on blu-ray and other digital formats. There are are still lost films left to unearth, but I’m leaving that to the next generation of archivists.
 
touch_of_her_fleshHas business declined with any significance with the advent of DVDs? Actually, people are buying fewer DVDs, Blu-rays and physical media than they used to. Most of our business is actually digital downloads that customers get directly from our website. Plus many are watching films via streaming and other sources that don’t involve actually purchasing anything which effects small independent video companies who are struggling these days. We depend on genre fans to keep supporting us by actually buying movies from us.
 
How did Mike Vraney find these films? Can you relay any particular stories?
During the early 1990s, Mike came across the first 35mm and 16mm of the sexploitation films in an abandoned storage unit near Seattle. It dawned on him that there were probably hundreds more oddball lost movies out there so he began actively looking for them. Eventually David F. Friedman heard that Something Weird was selling some of his movies on video, so he contacted Mike and offered his film library. Dave later introduced Mike to other film producers and colleagues. People began to contact Something Weird directly about original film elements. And we scoured as many film archives as we could. Some films were even scored on eBay! 
 
If aliens came down to earth and invaded the Something Weird film library – what would they do? What would be their commentary on the human condition after watching SWVs?
Ha! Based on that extraterrestrial beings would think human beings are obsessed with naked ladies, sex, vice, monsters, blood and death. In other words, completely unworthy of their time and attention!

 

Please visit Lisa’s site at The Art of Lisa Petrucci and Something Weird .

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Steven Cerio’s amazing suburban kid world

Steven Cerio’s world is filled with the innocence and refreshing newness of childhood discovery.  As an artist he communicates this animated sphere of his younger years through  an extensive range of very detailed  ink drawings and colorfully vibrant paintings of a myriad of joyful worms, bees, pig-tail girls, minnows, giraffes, and whales. Discover his boundless  creativity in his free flow doodling in band posters, films, comics, books and music.  Read  about his early childhood experiences, his love for folk and outsider art, the useful self-marketing tips he learned from legendary artists and illustrators in NYC in the late 80s, his love for improvisation, abstract expressionism, and DIY thinking.  Take this trip and delve into Steven Cerio’s  magnificent  and captivating macrocosm  about all of the above and so much more in the interview!

At what moment in your life did you realize your calling as an artist? 

I think it was really early for me, cause I found boxes of drawings that my mother saved. I think I was encouraged more than most because my dad – both my parents were first generation Americans, my mother’s family is from Yugoslavia and my dad’s was from Italy – he couldn’t afford to go to art school but he had skills and wanted to go but couldn’t so I think that’s why he enjoyed the fact that I liked drawing so much. If I even mentioned offhandedly, you know, asked like, “what’s oil paint dad?” we’d be in the car driving me to buy oil paint at 7 years old. And I got interested in typography early on, signs, and my father would take me to the museums. I think he was taking me partially hoping that I would be interested but he was interested in it himself. I think that got me on track at an early age. I used to say as a kid I wanted to be either an artist or an archeologist.

Do you have any of your dad’s paintings?

He didn’t paint a lot or draw a lot around the house, sadly. I wish everybody did.  Sometimes I try to make people do it – pretty much anyone I was too close to in my family is passed away now. It would be so nice to have just a painting, a very simple painting that my grandmother did of her house or of a puppy, whatever. To me, well you know, I believe in art, it speaks to me, so to be able to answer “what is that weird bean shape on that canvas?” with “oh my grandfather did that; he was 82”. I wish I had stuff like that, but I do have this though, I have a painting that my dad did of a pot full of flowers, a still life that he did when he was showing me how to paint. He was showing me how to do shading and highlights. I have that exact painting, I kept it, I have it framed on my wall. And that thing is so strong to me it can drive me to tears on the right day. And I just wish that I had stuff that mother did, or my grandparents – not specifically for me but just a doodle or something. That would say a lot to me.

Painting by Steven Cerio blue and greenWere there artists on both sides of your family?

No, no one on either side of my family. No, they didn’t like doing it. I wish I had pieces by everyone of them though. No, there wasn’t a lot of that around me growing up. I just believe in anyone, even non artists.  I think especially non-artists do the most interesting stuff anyway, I really do. I mean honestly the things I pay the most attention to since I was a kid are folk art and outsider art. I got into outsider art in NY in like ‘89 or ‘90.

What’s outsider art?

Outsider art would include a lot of folk artists of course, but it would be people that didn’t have any training, that weren’t doing work to have it be in galleries. It would be somebody like Henry Darger, one of the more famous ones. When he passed away they found in his apartment a book that was thousands of pages long and it had a lot of illustrations and paintings. There’s other ones, like the Philadelphia wire man. Someone passed away in an apartment and they threw away everything that was in there, all these abstract strange wire sculptures. That stuff speaks to me. Like to me the people who say they can’t draw, when they sit down to draw they have these unique styles.  Dubuffet was the first one to promote it and use the term ‘art brut’ to describe it. And then you have a place called Gugging which is a mental facility in Austria and they started having people do drawings and paint every day, and they’re not painters and artists, and they created some of the most original and telling work. To me that flies in the face of all the training that people get, conceptualizing the way people do nowadays.

So, it’s like the natural trait in humans…

Right, it’s a human trait, it’s no longer a college graduate trait, or well educated trait, and to me that’s big, that’s strong human instinct.  Look at someone like Howard Finster, one of the biggest folk artists in the world, one day he just decided that he was going to do sacred art, as he called it that was it, he just woke up one day and decided to do it. It’s an American thing. You see it in Europe and elsewhere but it seems to be a very common American occurrence. Waking up one day and going, “oh, I’m going to be a film director now”, you know, that was afforded to us back when there weren’t as many troubles as there are now, it’s still going on. 5-6 years ago, I got up one day, and decided, “I am going to start doing films” and then asked myself, “I never shot a film before, why am I going to do a film?”, and that’s why I started a film, because I had never shot one before. And I don’t know, I guess I carry around that Do it Yourself attitude, where if I don’t do a film one day I will look back and admit I didn’t do a film, but if I do a film, then I did a film. It’s as simple as that, right?  And if you feel drawn to it then go ahead and do it. Going back to folk art, Grandma Moses decided, she was 72 or 73 when she started painting. You know, why not.  Like some people are like – I wish I learned an instrument, and they’re like 40. You have plenty of time to learn an instrument. Pick up a guitar and play it your own way. If you are interested in it enough, you put in a couple hundred hours just messing with a guitar, you are going to start writing songs, you’ll start figuring out where your favorite notes are, you’ll start figuring out how to structure things or what appeals to you, I think it’s like that with everything. I wish there was more people that would do that, I wish there was moDrawing of girl - steven ceriore naïve music out there instead of the worried, businessy dress up music that the labels award themselves for.

When you talk about composition and theory in art and music, it’s nonsense. It’s nonsense to educate on composition. That’s old silver haired white boy stuff that they still stick to. It’s not that I’m revolting against it. Now think about composition in music – John Coltrane- Cecil Taylor goes out, Ornette Coleman goes out, and they improvise completely.  They learned structures/patterns, how to play a song, that there’s an introduction and a chorus, it’s not really that hard to learn.  And you learn that stuff and when you go to improvise – Coltrane still created beautiful music even though it was improvised. If Coltrane just plays a theme at the beginning and just runs off that theme like Ornette Coleman did, who is to say that that’s not music or a composition. To predetermine doesn’t take skill or taste, just memorization. That is what music is, not pop music, it’s actual music. And these ideas from composition come from old classical techniques that the composers used but when you take rules away you realize most people invented their own rules anyway, Shoenberg, Cage and Varese. If you get different pieces of colored paper and you throw them on the ground a composition got created. Composition isn’t something that you need to go to school to be good at. Composition is something that just happens. I feel like a lot of these things that people believe they need to learn kept them from becoming an artist or musician, I think they could have just gone right past it. Composition and theory, theory is just that, it’s a theory. A person that just sits down and plays and starts doing music is going to have a catalog of 5000 new songs before a lot of these other musicians learned enough theory to improvise yet.

Do you use this same philosophy in the music that you write?

I sit down and play, if something works it works, if I enjoy listening to it I’ll continue working on it, and I’ll go that direction. There’s that instinct, if you are playing, even if you don’t have something written down, hopefully I know enough than to play a D sharp for 7 hours straight, you know what I mean? Some people think that if you don’t have something written down, if you don’t know where you are going you couldn’t go anywhere good. But if you get in your car and you drive you could very well wind up somewhere good if you keep driving long enough. That’s where I draw the line between what songs are and what music is. I think music, John Coltrane is music, I don’t think of John Coltrane as songs, I think of music as from higher level of thinking than that. Not that I think that there’s anything wrong with anyone listening to it or anything. I think at some point I grew out of the idea of songs. Grew out of the idea of even listening to them. If I know a verse is coming and I know a chorus is coming I get bored awfully quickly. Something might grab me for a little while but like most pop music it becomes disposable after a while. Where Coltrane, or Captain Beefheart say, even though his work was very structured, it’s hard to wear out. You could play the same song in a row for a decade and you still hear something different every time. I know it’s not for everybody.

Can you take me through the evolution of your artistic style?

When I started, the first thing when I started that I was in love with was the dictionary. It was the first thing that I saw that impressed me as a kid. I saw those tight engraved lines and I didn’t know anything about printing, I thought they were drawing all those little lines, and I thought those drawings were done that size too, I became fascinated with the idea of really tight line work when they brought out black ink in school, and then I saw the first Santana record.  A friend of the family gave me a copy of the first Santana album, the Lee Conklin cover, it’s a drawing of a lion, and I was sitting around with it and I knew there was something up with it, I didn’t know what it was and I kept looking at it on and off for a couple of months and all of a sudden I saw the girls inside the eyes making up the nose and that’s when I started drawing.  I asked my father for ink and I started drawing in ink, too much maybe –I got called into the school psychologist and I didn’t know what was going on, I thought I did something wrong. He sat me in a room and now that I look back, they were watching me through some glass or something, this was in the 70s. He watched me for a while and then he came out and the first thing I said to him when he came in was, “Is that a Boston pencil sharpener?” Because I loved Boston pencil sharpeners and you could see a lightbulb go off over his head, Ching!, cause that’s what I was there for. He asked “Why do you care if it’s a Boston pencil sharpener?”, and I reached into my pocket and I pulled out 5 pencils and he let me sharpen the pencils and then he asked, “Why are you sharpening those pencils?” and from my back pocket I pulled out a couple handmade sketch books that I had made out of folded paper. I would carry them to doodle during recess, and he asks “What are these?” and I go “Sketchbooks – I’m making sure the pencils are really sharp because I am doing detailed drawings” and he goes “Okay, you can leave.”  They thought I was just obsessively sharpening pencils for no good reason, the reason why I would get up during class was because I wanted to draw all day. 10 years later I won a couple of scholarships to go to college to art school so it all worked out I guess.

I kept with the ink work, then I started giant scale charcoals and I Steven Ceriowas painting a lot. When I was around 20, I was doing all ink drawings, I had moved away from color, just ink drawings. I switched from a technical pen to a brush in ‘90, and I worked with a brush ever since then. I started painting seriously somewhere around the mid-90s in a looser kind of style, sometimes almost completely abstract. It’s a completely different animal. I started showing the paintings now and I’m realizing how strongly people react to color. Cause to me I care more about composition more than I do about color. I had no idea, all of a sudden I’m doing work that people will hang in their living room and their wives will let them buy it. I think that the energy in my drawings is very aggressive to some people, it makes them nervous. So I am at both ends of the spectrum now, doing tight anal retentive drawings and really loose paintings. The way I see my stuff, even as a little kid I could see in my stuff, I’m always trying to build structures, they’re sketches for sculptures, and David Smith had a large part to do with that. It was one of the few sculpture books at the library in the town where I grew up, and I just adored it right off the bat. He was a big inspiration for me, still is. So a lot of my work is sketches for massive sculptures that I could never afford to make.

How did your poster making for bands come about?

Well that was one of the first gigs I got.  I moved to New York, I got out of school in 87 and I was in NYC in 88, and people laugh about this but I moved there with $700 dollars in my pocket. That was enough to get situated back then, it was so cheap to live there, and the second day I was there I landed a job at Psychedelic Solution Gallery in the East Village. Steven Cerio Frank Zappa posterSo I was working in a place where artists come in, Rick Griffon would come in, I got to know him, we’d have shows – artists would be coming through so I picked up a lot of advice from people’s work who I admired since I was a little kid. From there I started meeting people that would come in to look at art. My skin’s always been thick about art, it’s aesthetics, someone’s gonna like your work, someone’s gonna hate it, and I think I just knew that as a kid, I’m never really bothered, if someone doesn’t want to use me for a project I don’t become offended by it, I may not be good for the project or they may not like my work, I’m ok with that, it’s not really bothersome to me, I never let that get in the way. So every person that came in I was helping with a print I’d ask, “Are you in a band?” NY back then was all creative people, cause it was cheaper to live, you’d meet people that would make a living from having a little tiny record store in the back of a book store, everyone was doing something, but I’d ask enough and I met Kevin Hine who is one of the art directors for Screw magazine. He had me doing little spot illustrations for that and then I did a single cover for the Dust Devils, that was the first record cover I ever did, and from there I’d meet people, I did a poster for White Zombie before they broke really big, just a Xerox street poster, and I did some for Monster Magnet before they really broke through, so there was a lot of those bands around and people would come to me to do posters. Sometimes I would just accept a few beers for it, and the poster scene, there wasn’t really a poster scene back then, it was just Xerox street posters, it wasn’t until one day somebody came in with a Frank Kozik poster that we realized that anyone was still printing posters anymore because all the posters we were selling, nothing went past 1974, they were antiques that we were selling.

The Residents by Steven Cerio

So how did you get involved with work for the Residents?

That happened by an old business technique where some of these older illustrators and gallery artists told me, don’t ever sit at home and wait for a gig, don’t do that, you go out and you knock on doors, that’s the way it’s done. Rick Griffin, Robert Williams, Ron Turner, Robert Crumb told me go and knock on doors, that’s the way you do it. And they didn’t mean as a beginner either, they meant as a professional artist, you knock on doors. That’s essentially what I did with the Residents, I got a mailing address for their office and I would spent $15 on Xerox copies, send them in, not hear anything back, send some more in, get a little note, and then one day they asked me to work on a film with them. Back then you used mail, the physical object, getting a physical object and holding it I still think has so much more power than getting an email. You can overlook an email but if you mail someone a 2-pound packet of Xerox copies of your drawings and they hold it in their hands and they wind up on their desk, you know they don’t get turned off, objects can’t get turned off, who knows, someone pins one up on a wall. I’ve sold art to people because someone they met had a poster of my work on their living room wall, or a postcard pinned on their cubicle at work. You can’t account for where people are going to see your works, putting actual copies out there still seems to me that it works much better than e-commerce.

Can you talk about some of the reoccurring characters in your work?

Yeah that goes in deep, all the way to my childhood, it takes a long time for a new character to be accepted into my stuff, I think carefully about that. All of the images I use started when I was a little kid, to me everything in there is suburban. The worms…I remember as a kid, I grew up in central NY, not a lot of sun, and I remember us calling each other and going “It’s a blue sky day” and looking up and having no clouds and having that beautiful blue sky, the green of the grass, certain things have a special resonance when you first start noticing them, I remember falling in love with lawn grass and finding toads and a puddle at the bottom of the driveway after it rained and there might be some worms in it. So you’d have this black pavement with this bright pink worm moving under the puddle and then you have a bright green frog hopping through bright green grass and to me there is a lot of poetry in all of that. It brings me back to those experiences and I remind myself of their beauty and because I’ve done that I’ve never forgotten. I talk to my friend Cindy, we’ve known each other since we were 3, and we talk about our neighborhood and the fields. She saw my art after we hadn’t spoken for a few years and said “I knew your art would look like that”, which I thought was great, and she remembered more stories than I did, like she remembered how obsessed I was with bees when I was a kid, which are still in my drawings, she goes “Remember the burning bees?” and I go “No..”  I guess at one point my dad had a jar with some gas in it, he was cleaning screws, and I just emptied the gas out and I caught bees in it and we left it in the sun and it blew up cause of the fumes and we were freaked out, we didn’t know what was going on, some strange other worldly physics were going on. But all of those things like the yellow of the bees, of the yard, all of that, and building dioramas as a kid was a big thing with me and if you notice in almost all of my work has a short depth of field. I never use deep space, I never try to do reality, I never try to make something realistic, I’ve never been interested in it.

a-vivified-sugar-cube-explains-the-universeI was obsessed with view masters, I remember holding one on my face so long that I actually got bruises around my eyes from bumping into things. I wanted to be able to walk around and be in that Charlie Brown world. I kept hoping that if the light was just right I could still look at Charlie while I did my homework or while I was eating dinner. I think that’s where the love of shallow space comes from. To me, my work is all very innocent .I call myself a psychedelic artist but I don’t mean that in the most way that people use that term. I’m not a habitual drug user. I’m not saying I never had psychedelic experiences though. To me the psychedelic experience is just a pleasant sense of confusion. To get lost in something, to not know where you are for a while is very pleasant. I’ve experienced certain psychedelic states looking into a swimming pool and the light moving around, I don’t think it necessarily has anything to do with drugs, to me it’s just the way your brain is reacting to things. Alan Watts said, “after you get the call you can hang the phone up”, I think it was helpful to me, it helped me focus and realize things, but I don’t base my work in anything that’s happened to me, I’m on play not record, I want to confuse myself, I want to look at something and wonder why I did it, and guess at what state of mind I was in to make it, and I think that goes right back to my love for outsider art, if I am looking at a piece of art and can’t figure out why the person drew a fish or a house the way they did, I’m probably going to enjoy it .

What about the whales in your art?

I went on a whale watch out in Maine and they were swimming right along the ship, I was able to pet a couple of them, they were babies. I met whales – I was out there in the water with them, I was out in California, I saw whales out there – didn’t draw whales, for years I didn’t draw whales. You think that that experience alone would trigger something. No, it took 8 years. Things have to feel right, there has to be a reason- not necessarily rational- why it’s there. Sometimes I’ll put something in and it doesn’t look like it belongs, like even my giraffes. My giraffes aren’t really giraffe’s, they’re toothpaste. I was doing a drawing one day and I drew some toothpaste squirting out, it was a tube with a chopped off end like a log, and then I drew an eye on it, so in my head it’s ok having toothpaste in a drawing about the suburbs and my childhood ’cause it just reminds me of the Crest tubes. There’s always bees, there’s always lawn grass, and there’s always worms, that’s been in everything for about 20 something years. But if I have water now I have I certain type of minnow I draw all the time because I had been up by a river, hiking up in the Adirondacks, and there was one dead silver minnow laying out on a rock, perfectly laid out on a dry rock. It looked like it had only been there for a half hour and it just struck me for some reason, like the shape of it, and how silver it was and how big the eye was and I took a bunch of photographs of it and then I started drawing minnows the next day. It just made an impression on me, it came into my work organically.paintings-by-steven-cerio-variousTo me it’s comfort food, art is comfort food to me, it makes me feel good. I don’t do irony or politics, to me art should be about confused comfort and pleasure, some people get it, the people that like my work get it. Everyone wants to feel better, no matter how many skulls and graveyards they tattoo on themselves.

 steven-cerio-holding-a-painting-overheard-by-christopher-molloy

Can you describe your studio space?  ? What environments are you most comfortable or enjoy most working in?

I think the one thing I took from the environment living in NY was the horror vacuous approach of it all; televisions playing in windows and all the trains back then, this was the late 80s when I just got there so the trains were still really beautiful. They were big beautiful murals rolling through the city. We’d all stop and watch the # 7 trains go by, they were just painted from top to bottom. Even riding those trains was a treat. I already had those kind of horror vacuous instincts, the idea of activating every available space, but I was still drawing nature, I never really found cities, boxes and squares very beautiful, but after I moved up to the Hudson valley in the Catskills my style really started changing a lot quicker. I never thought much of inspiration, I never thought that I needed to be inspired by anything outside of me, just like Picasso said – inspiration is just fine but when it shows up it better catch you working – I’m paraphrasing but that’s the essence of it. I got up there and found giant centipedes and caught frogs on the way home, after being in NYC all day I’d stop at a pond on the way home, and be careful not to hit raccoons on my bike when I was going to get pizza in the evening. That really inspired me. Nature started becoming increasingly important in my work. Even now though I’m technically in a suburb but separated by big lots, being able to go out in the garden every day helps me get a lot of work done, my brain just opens wide up. The pollen, the bees, just the color green, I love the summer. For my studio set up I keep everything in the same room, one giant room where I have all of my books, the television is in here so I can leave movies on, the stereo, my computer, two drawing tables, a surface for cutting stuff and trimming stuff. A brain where you can go in there and there’s all this activity going on and hopefully some of it grabs you. Everything is an arm’s reach away. I’m stalked up on pencils, erasers and ink and there’s stacks of unfilled notebooks. I love the idea that there’s paper I haven’t drawn on yet. I like knowing there’s tons of work that I still need to do. That really inspires me knowing that there’s all that blank paper in the world. I love facing an empty canvas, I love facing empty paper, I love it, because there’s nothing there and when you are done there’s something there.

I’m trying to remember a long time ago I think you told me how you enjoyed working in the south west, maybe Arizona…

Yeah, I’m very attached to that area, especially the southwest corner of Arizona.  My friend Dave and I used to fly out there about every year or two years and go out there to hike and drive every road we could and mark it on the map, all through New Mexico and Arizona till we found something interesting. I fantasized about living out there, the idea to me of just having nothing to do but work sounds beautiful to me. I don’t hate people but I like the idea of being out there in the middle of the desert and no one’s going to disturb you. Of course that was pre cell phone days, but to really be in the world, I know it sounds simple and almost hippyish but the idea of being in the world and getting wet when it rains- being there in the elements. I brought my mother’s ashes out there to Arizona near Organ Pipe National Monument. When she passed away I brought her ashes out into the desert. I like thinking of her ashes being there cause it’s so incredible the view, you can see 20 miles into the desert from where I climbed and that’s what my movie was about, The Magnificent Pigtail Shadow.  The idea came from that day where I was up on the mountain and a bird followed me up and all the way back down then sat underneath the car. My half-sister Michelle said – “That was your mother!”  – and I go  – “My mother followed me down and sat in the shade of a rental car and ate potato chips from a bodega in Tucson?”  – and I found that insulting (laughs)! No, my mother didn’t inhabit a bird and eat Ripples underneath our Ford rental car! When I was up there laying out her ashes, I took some photos. Only in Arizona can you have really strange shadows casted from rock formations you can’t see from where you are, and there was this rock casting a shadow that looked like a girl with pigtails. It reminded me of a picture of her when she had pigtails when she was getting her communion as a little blond girl in Simpson, Pennsylvania. For a second I thouSteven Cerio painting pigtailsght, “wow that looks like that photograph” – but I don’t go for superstition or mysticism so I was bothered by the fact that my brain was trying to make me believe that her spirit was moving in strange fantastic ways and I rejected it and I still reject it but when I got home and showed my sister that picture, and she said that- “that was your mother!” – it didn’t make me angry at my sister but it made me realize how un-superstitious I am, how un-spiritual I am, and for a while I felt a little bit guilty about that.  One would assume that I am a cold person but I’m not – I just believe that we should do whatever we can while we are here. We should enjoy this world as much as you can while we are here. The movie is  about that sensation, it doesn’t have a sinister tone to it but it’s slightly mocking, like oh, you can think of something better than this desert or that beautiful tree, you’ve got something better, what is it, a vision of heaven that you’ve never seen that someone sold you on that they invented and you are going to wait for that instead of enjoying where you are here? I’m not trying to attack religion but superstition is fascinating to me. I’m using images of the earth and laying them on top of one another and it looks very meditative and very psychedelic so technically speaking, me doing a film isn’t me being here and enjoying the world either, it’s me doing a film to tell everyone that they should enjoy the earth (laughs). Creating art isn’t enjoying a sunset either.

Can you talk about or describe the various techniques you use?

The paintings I’ve been showing, I hadn’t shown them for years. Doing the tighter style that I do which is the really tight polished style with the brush, I call it the germ free style. But that stuff is a stunt, I don’t draw like that in my sketch book. I have to control my breathing when I do those, there’s a specific brush I use and there’s no mistakes on them. Since I was a kid I liked the idea of art just coming out of you-happening to you. I think of the great folk artists and outsider artists as cavemen – they did what they had to do to get the image down or to create the object, they didn’t care what they made it out of.  Look at Salvation Mountain, its’ made out of mud. He needed to get that image out in the world and he couldn’t afford cement so he was making adobe out of mixing water with the dirt that was out there in the desert. I approached art initially as a little kid, and at this point the pieces that I do have no performance anxiety in them at all, there’s no test to me in it at all, it is me getting an image down. I put a color I don’t like down I’ll either paint over it or I’ll tear it right off cause I paint on paper now, I stopped painting on canvas, it was starting to take up too much room and I just liked the absorbency of paper better and I like the texture of paper better and I didn’t enjoy spending hours preparing for every painting or drawing. On paper I can do work on 6 paintings at the same time, and there’s not much prep time involved really, and there’s no such thing as mistakes anymore and sometimes they wind up being fifteen layers of paper and weighing a couple of pounds, but in the end the image comes out the way I want the image to come out and they follow that caveman approach where I’m going to get this image down no matter what. It’s an attitude that has nothing to do with style, it’s not a statement in itself, it is only the urgency of getting something accomplished, something recorded, something done, something out there, I hesitate to ever use the word expressing because that word seems odd to me, like I don’t really feel like I’m trying to tell anyone anything and I think expression means you are trying to tell somebody something, I’m not trying to tell anybody anything. It’s about structure and it’s about beauty. I think of it as art of course, but a bit like putting in a bathroom floor in a way. I think of it as what my dad did being a carpenter. Those instincts sound ‘selfish’ in this age, but art is selfish, or at least it used to be .Now the art world wants art to be ‘socially redeeming’, but I didn’t get into art to illustrate American politics. I feel like a lot of gallery art has become very illustrative where abstraction has become a dirty word, like it’s something that self absorbed people did instead of painting the US flag dripping its red stripes like blood.  I’m not inspired by CNN to do art.

eyes Steven Cerio When you are facing a blank sheet of paper do you know what you are going to draw?

I will definitely have an intentionally loose idea of how I want something to come out. It’s usually from the most simple thumbnail sketch imaginable and I’ll keep it on the wall while I’m doing the piece. The inspiration is often a simple shape. Everything comes off that big shape. I’m always thinking sculpturally. A thumbnail that took me 3 seconds to draw might talk to me for some reason. The sketches that I really prepare for I rarely end up using ’cause I feel like I already know what they look like in my head so there’s no mystery in it for me anymore. If I plan too much the mystery is gone for me. It’s the same thing for me in music, if I know where the verse and the chorus is and how long the song is and when it’s going to end I don’t want to play it anymore. I kind got really fed up with playing pop structures and songs.  I wanted to sit down and do music and play music like you go for a walk, like you think, and what happens, happens, and when it ends, it ends. You don’t really know exactly how long it’s going to be, you just need to have that mystery, the possibilities and open-ends of it is what inspires me. But with my paintings I’ll start with nothing. I’ll start making gestures on the paper and just feeling out. There’s no performance anxiety, it’s just jump in, sink or swim, but really, there’s no sinking because I can always tear out the part that I don’t like.

Do you ever get commissions for work?

Galleries, commissions and book/print sales is how I make a living.

Do you still do posters?

People usually don’t tell me what to do when they want posters done. It was back in the 90’s, I worked for Entertainment Weekly and Nickelodeon and all that and it was very precise stuff, like we need a dog and the dog needs to be this color, or the article is about this person, do a portrait of them. It was easier doing that than, you know, cleaning dishes, for me. I could make more money doing that so I kept at it for a few years. Most of the commissions now are for paintings, I’ve been doing more paintings than usual and then some people will commission posters and graphics for bands and what not. I’ve been working on a lot of books now, the one sad thing about book publishing now is that there is no such thing as advances anymore.

sunbeam-on-the-astronaut-by-steven-cerioCan you tell me about your book, Sunbeam on the Astronaut?

It was a collection of what I wanted in narrative work. I like abstraction in writing. I used many of my automatically written shorts alongside veiled stories of my sister’s death, hallucinations and dreams.  It is far from a comic but has some influence of 60s undergrounds. I used any style needed to push the writing. I often invented styles for a specific piece. Its being re-released as a boxset with my new book Charming the Sugarbowl– a full color collection of my paintings. The box will also have a collection of my music and films.

Sunbeam on the Astronaut

Can you talk about your whole toy making experience?  

I was talking to a friend about ideas for The Residents toys that I wanted to do. I had the blessing of The Residents to do it, and he had just met Lev from Toy Tokyo, so we made plans to go down. Lev at first wasn’t too thrilled with the idea. I am sure he has to say no to like a thousand toys a day I would guess, but he kept a few images from me and then a month later he called me, and I lied and told him that I knew how to make toys. I called up some friends who knew Residents toys photohow to design toys, found out it wasn’t horribly detailed and I didn’t need to go to school for 8 years to learn how to do it so I jumped in, got it done. I ran everything past the Residents and we were good to go. I told that story to my students and they didn’t seem to think I really got the gig was their impression. They thought asking someone for a job doesn’t really mean that you got the job, that you were essentially begging for it. They seem to think you get on a TV show or win a contest and the next morning you wake up to a career. I hope that magical thinking works for ‘em, but I haven’t seen any evidence of it. There’s only so much I could do teaching seniors that had never been taught any business at that school. I think if you go into art school you should be learning business at the same time. I’m not saying that you have to be like Andy Warhol where 99% of your day is business. It’s often painful for me. I don’t really dig the business side of things but I don’t hate it either, and I know that it’s necessary, I know that promoting my art gets me more commissions, gets me more gallery shows, gets me more books, and that gets me more work to do so I can use up all that paper in the corner.

steven-cerio-holding-a-painting by Christopher Molloy

Visit Steven Cerio’s website to get lost in the gleeful abundance of his work in a multitude of mediiums!

The Almighty King Khan communes…

Anyone who’s been to a King Khan and the Shrines show knows all about the sheer cathartic energy, the wild and crazy exuberant antics onstage and the adoring crowd as they worship the almighty King Khan and his sensational Shrines in all their fantasmic musical glory, as they spread their wicked voodoo charms, in their whacked out glittery caped costumes.  It’s a soul-filled, garage-y, horn smattering love-fest of spiritual liberation, excitation, and sexhalation. While on his latest tour, the multifaceted man about town, King Khan, kindly finds time to answer some questions:

 

What lives inside the mind, heart and soul of King Khan and the Shrines?

I really feel like what we do is some kind of spiritual service especially in such a corrupt world nothing can soothe the mind and soul more than soul music. If the intentions are holy and it provides the proper opiate that both alleviates pain and exposes hypocrisy then we have a true catalyst for change which is precisely what rock n roll really is… breaking all sexual and social boundaries…. Little Richard was nothing but an Indian deity!

 Where do you get your flashy and sexy outfits?

King KhanMy wife makes all the uniforms, i guess she understands my body the best after 17 years of marriage. She seems to control how much i expose myself to the world.

 Can you describe the journey that you are taking us on?

Well it is basically trying to find your own path of illumination. This can only begin when you are spiritually liberated and start to learn the tools to control your destiny. Once that path is found, everything falls into place…. order out of chaos…. the light shines thru and your visions become crystalized and begin forming….  the dance of reality is what my mentor and guru Jodorowsky calls it.

 Who or what inspires you to do the things you do?

Its hard to say, everything inspires me, i am very passionate about the things i do and i think people feel that and see that my intentions are good and dont revolve around trying to get rich or climb a bullshit social ladder. AS much as i feel like a receptor for divine information from the cosmos, i also feel like a 12 year old boy who wants to make jokes and laugh all the time. That childishness is something i cherish deeply and share very profoundly with most of my closest musical brothers and sisters, especially Mark Sultan, him and I have been giggling all the way to the bank for a long ass time.

I love your crazy hilarious videos. Who comes up with the stories and ideas for them?

I do all the story writing for the videos. I have a wonderful team in Berlin called the HYLAS brothers…. whenever i gave them a script they always made all of it come true, even when i wanted Jesus squirting red wine out of his eyes and shooting white bread out of his hands…. they literally make my dreams come true.

Any favorites?

Sleepwalker video for moon duo is one of my faves, I lay a cult leader/aeorbic instructor…. its really funny.

KingKhanandtheShrinesfromCoolDadMusic.com

You must have traveled all of the world spreading your glorious music. Which places have you like the most and why?   

Mark Sultan and I drank fresh cobra blood and spinal cord in a vicious cocktail in Jakarta, i love that place. Playing the Sydney opera house was also pretty crazy cuz we got to hang with Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson for a few days and do Tai Chi with them. Spain is always wild and fun, Berlin too…. i feel very fortunate to have traveled the world over and over again with the people i love the most.

Where do your wildest fans live?

Berlin, Spain, USA, Oakland, all over i guess.

King Khan Black Power Tarot

Tell me about your wondrous Black Power Tarot cards.  What went into creating them? Did you design the cards?

I designed them based on a dream i had of Jodo and i hanging out and him asking me to show him a card that is weird. I woke up knowing exactly what i had to do. When i told him my idea Jodo really loved it and gave me his blessings. Michael Eaton, the artist,who does lots of stuff for Game Of Thrones, reached out to me and i filled him up with the vision. Then every card was sent to Jodo to be approved, and that’s when happiness began!!!!

How did you get involved with Alejandro Jodorowsky? Did you meet him? 

His son Adan, who was the kid in Santa Sangre, played bass while i played guitar and sang a Charlie Feathers tune at a buddy of mine’s wedding. Afterwards we met and i told him that i had been studying his fathers teachings for a long time. He told me he loved my music and would love to send me to meet Jodo. I felt i wasn’t ready to meet him at that time and waited a few years till i felt strong enough and then it happened. Jodo invited me to his home in Paris, gave me my first deck of the Tarot de Marseilles, taught me personally and finally I got to be one of his spiritual warriors.

What’s your favorite film of his?  Can you related to any of the characters in his films?

That is tough, i love Holy Mountain and El Topo equally. I love that each of his films are like a ritual, with the intention to mutate the collective soul, to teach all of us something profound, hilarious, surrealistic and mind blowing. The world needs more things like that to save our souls and keep us laughing till it hurts.

What’s the story behind the William S. Burroughs “Let Me Hang you” record?

Let me Hang youThat was a gift given to me by Hal Willner. Hal was Lou reed’s best friend and producer and i met him and Lou at the same time and became close buddies. A few years back Hal wrote me that he had a surprise for me, he sent me seven tracks of William S. Burroughs reading the most unspeakable parts of Naked Lunch. My mouth dropped, i made the music for all the tracks and one of them even made Hal cry! WSB has always been one of the biggest catalysts of change in my life, i read Naked Lunch when i was 14 years old and it mutated my brain and turned me into a absolute freak worshiper.

What do you think William S. Burroughs would say today if he heard that record?  

I think he would love it…. and maybe fly me to Tangiers and feed me the black meat and eventually I would turn into a fez wearing mug wup juice drinking queer or maybe not.

king-khan-shrinesfromtinymixtapes.com
Having just played Burger Boogaloo, what was it like meeting John Waters?

Meeting John Waters was a dream come true… i think his films inspired me just as much as all the r&b and garage punk and teenage bubble gum rock n roll i grew up on with the Spaceshits. When john introduced the King Khan and BBQ Show, he was blown away and gave us the best compliment ever… he called us the love child of gorgeous george, liberace and bunker hill!!!! This year he introduced the shrines and i got to hang with him a lot. It’s amazing that he can still whip out a sentence and have the whole room open mouthed in awe at how offensive he can be…. i cherish that in people very much.

Did you get to meet Traci Lords? 

Not only did i get to meet her, but i kissed her hand and just that act alone completes a circle of orgasmic energy that was created in 1999 when i found a tape of hers in my wife’s VHS collection and of course I am gonna marry a woman who can watch hours of Sun Ra with me and then enjoy some of Traci’s finest performances…. especially Cry Baby!!!! I think Traci is one of my super feminist dream goddesses, what she single-handedly did to turn the porn world upside down and empower herself could only be masterminded by a TRUE BANDIT QUEEN of the highest order of filth and i mean that with the utmost respect and admiration. I am trying to get her and Willie Nelson to sing a duet of this country song i wrote with my daughter Saba Lou who is 15 called “you’re only as good as the woman you love”.

So, being chosen by John B. Smith, founding member of The Invaders, to do the soundtrack of The Invaders film, was a wonderful experience for you…. Can you describe how you felt, what that meant for you, and how you tackled the project with the feelings you had? Have you always been interested in Black Power and such subversive groups?

My father told me he saw the Black Panthers speak in the Univ. of Montreal in the 60s and gave me the Autobiography of Malcolm X when I was 12 years old. I was raised to love Black Power and learned at an early age that black power meant “All Power to all People!” The fact that this film actual tells a new side of civil rights blew my mind, I had no idea that MLK embraced a militant group and was impressed by their incredible work in organizing the youth of Memphis, getting all the kids to drop their gang colors and fight for Black Power. MLK was always painted as the peaceful one and Malcolm X was the tyrant, this was total bullshit. They both were radical in there own ways. It was the greatest honor for me to be chosen by John B. Smith, the man who had secret meetings with Dr. King and helped organize the poor people’s campaign. During the two years of working on this soundtrack John B. adopted Prichard Smith, The Director, and I like real family.  

Had you heard about The Invaders Black Power organization before all this?

I had no idea about the Invaders, i feel like it was the powers that be that tried to erase there existence. Luckily Prichard was from Memphis and his mother told him about the invaders long ago when he was a kid.

Did you have an opportunity to watch the film and decide what tracks you wanted write and where to place them?  Or was it a different sort of process?  Describe the process.

I basically was given carte blanche. They sent me the film with no music and i got to put what i wanted where I wanted. Since it was about Memphis, Prichard and our record collector buddy Andrew Macullogh wanted to use a lot of our favorite soul comp called “Chains and Black Exhaust”…. I also wanted to put some real Black Power Free Jazz into it so I used some amazing tracks by Philip Kelan Cohran and The Art Ensemble of Chicago. 

How has this whole experience changed you, and the way you write?

It gave me a reason to start writing more about getting involved…. I choose to stay away from heavy politics in my music by choice. Music is a spiritual thing for me, and also a strong opiate… I prefer making music for those purposes, but now i also try and throw some serious issues into them. 

How did Ian Svenonius  and Jack Oblivian get involved in the project?

I got Ian involved cuz I love his writing and we are very good friends and always talked about collaborating, this was the perfect thing to get together for. Ian is a super genius! Prichard got Jack involved in the beginning of the film and he provided a couple of tunes with his new band The Sheiks.  

What did you grow up listening to as a kid? Did you live in a musical household?  When did you passion for music start?

My dad used to book very big Indian classical music legends when i was a little kid. My mom used to put headphones on her belly before i was born and make me listen to Indian classical music in the womb. That’s why my brain is paisley inside, haha. My parents loved music and made me learn guitar when i was 12. They were very supportive of my weird musical taste and let me discover all the music i wanted to so I guess my passion from music was pre-natal.

Do you believe in some sort of afterlife?  What do you believe happens when you die?

I believe in the universal soul, a place in the stars where all our spirituality comes from. Humans are 20% magma and 80% water…. the magma in us wants to return to the sun our holy mother, just like the planet earth whose blood is magma and wants to rise and go back to mama sun. All spirituality wants to erupt and go back to space. The moon is our bloodless sister which we are tethered to so that we are reminded of the cycle of the days.

What are some of your all-time favorite movies?

There are way too many to mention…. but here are some films that changed my life….

Holy Mountain and El Topo by Jodorowsky
Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song by Melvin Van Peebles
Black Orpheus from  Brazil
Three Cabellreos by Disney
Naked Lunch and Dead Ringers by Cronenburg
Psycho and Vertigo and Birds by Hitchcock
Spirits of the Dead: Toby Dammit episode by Fellini
Taxidriver, Meanstreets, American Boy and Goodfellas by Scorcese
Space is the Place and Joyful Noise by Sun Ra
and The Third Man and Touch of Evil by Orson Welles

In the film you did the music for and acted in – Back to Nothing – was this the first film you acted in?  Did you enjoy playing the character Pontius?

Actually Miron Zownir the director wrote that part for me! I did a bunch of films as a teenager with Mishka Gollner aka T.T. Rogers, as well as some low budget films with German film maker Iris Cuntze…. Hombre Fatal! I loved playing Pontius, but filming with Miron can be torture, but only in the best way!

Have there been other soundtracks besides The Invaders and Back to Nothing that you did for films?

The first major motion picture i scored was Schwarze Schafe by Oliver Rihs in 2005…. its a great German black comedy…. The Invaders and Back To Nothing were the other two major films I have done.

If Hollywood discovered you and wanted to hire you full-time to create soundtracks for super grossing films, would you quit touring and do this full time?

Probably not…. i love doing ALL of those things. Touring and making rock n roll is my service to the world, to heal their ills with my opiate….

kingkhan

Gerry Alvarez of The Gruesomes and The Gerry Alvarez Odyssey

After seeing the legendary band The Gruesomes play a live show in Montreal recently, after what’s been like decades, it left me feeling totally ecstatified!  The show was so simply amazing!  They garage-rocked the house down! And prior to the show I pulled out all the Gruesomes CDs I had (courtesy of Ricochet Sound) and started reminiscing and feeling utterly head over heals.  I was also listening again to The Gerry Alvarez Odyssey – Candy Prankster CD remembering how special  it is! In fact a few days after The Gruesomes show and wearing out their CDs from constant rotation, I decided that in order to give The Gerry Alvarez Odyssey a proper listening to I had to put away The Gruesomes for the time being.  Sad but true. And believe me, was I ever blown away, I mean I couldn’t fully appreciate it until I saw it as a separate entity.  I was absolutely enthralled.  I felt a  connection to the songs and  I decided to see if Gerry was up for an interview and he was.  We met and Gerry was super nice and funny,  and so I was happy to hang with him for a bit and ask him these questions.

So I find there is a lot of eastern religious or Buddhist references in most of your lyrics, and also in the imagery of the artwork…. Does this come from your actual personal ideas, beliefs, or experiences?

Yes, yes it does.  I’ve been into meditation since my early twenties. Spirituality I think is a very strong artistic energy that I’ve always been interested in, and have read books on Buddhism and meditation. And artists that I really admire as well have also been influenced by eastern philosophies so because of them I was influenced as well.

Which artists have inspired you?

George Harrison, he was big in eastern philosophy and many other artists. When I was young it kind of piqued my interest and then I just got involved into it on my own. I think in order for art to last for a long time it has to be spiritual, it can’t be just sexual or just material. If you want it to be listened to in 500 or 1000 years it has to be more profound. Leonard Cohen, he  is  spiritual,  is into Buddhism, and he’s an ordained monk. Nobody knows that, not many people know that, they think he’s just Jewish. He’s just open minded, I like that, and I like to study things, and to learn and use that as an influence in lyrics and music.  I grew up with punk rock music and rock’n’roll, and I got into psychedelic rock. But you know I’m not a teenager anymore, my lyrics just evolve by themselves, I didn’t force it, it just happens.  I do still write songs sometimes about relationships but sometimes I’m on another level. And to inspire others as well to get into it.

Do you follow any practices that involve meditation or visiting Buddhist or Zen temples?

Well I don’t have much opportunity to do that but I used to go to Buddhist temple in Toronto and study meditation, I had a monk teacher. I’d love to go to Asia or South America and see temples.

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What books would you recommend?

I’m into Joseph Campbell, the Power of Myth, it’s a great book. I also like all of Leonard Cohen’s interviews, I’m thinking of that right now because I’m being interviewed (laughs).

Also, I get a feeling of deep relaxation and balance from certain songs that have that hypnotic trance like rhythm, sort of what you might experience from listening to chakra healing music.  Is this effect intentional?

Yes, it is, I listen to that a lot. I like frequency music too as well, 528 MHz, it’s like relaxing sounds at the frequency of 528. It’s really cool. Once you get into that, it’s nice, it’s very relaxing and spiritual. It’s a mathematical equation from nature, all the cells reproduce themselves using that mathematical process, formula, and that’s the tone, 528. It’s the tone that makes you feel positive, and it’s healing, and I find that that music is influential for my music as well. You mentioned liking the song “Heaven” before, it’s kind of like that music – transcendental. Yeah, that’s an influence.

Are you working on writing new songs?

I’m always fiddling with new songs, I just write down ideas all the time, and then I’ll see what happens, no plans on a record yet but I do think about it.  Right now I’m painting, I’m doing canvases.

Right, I wanted to ask you about that..

Sure, nowadays I do acrylic paintings on canvas, they’re very 50s and 60s beatnik-y kind of influence and they are again very primal and mythological kind of stuff, psychedelic-y in a way too, It’s hard to describe, I enjoy it. I went to art school.

Right so you are an artist, and practice art?

Yes, Then I became an art director in advertising, a graphic designer, so it’s all part of the same baggage.

Do you have a large collection of your own art that you’ve done over the years?

Well, I have sketch books, and prints, I’ve got a few canvases, but now I’m really focused on creating a series.

Are you going to have an exhibition? Where will you do that?

Yes, I don’t know yet, I am just going to accumulate the work and then I will find a gallery or something in Montreal. I’ve been to a lot of galleries and art shows in Toronto and Montreal. I’ve always been into that. I enjoy it. We’ll see what happens. There’s no money in music too so (laughs), it’s all fun making a record and playing in a band, but it costs, you don’t make much.

How big are your canvases?

They’re 30×40 inches, something like that.

There is a theme running through them?

Yeah, they all have that same style, mid-century modernistic.  I love Picasso, huge influence, he’s Spanish. He’s my guy.

It’s figurative then, not just abstract?

It’s abstract figurative.

You said you may not be putting out a record soon, but do you plan on playing any shows?

Well with the Gruesomes, we just did a couple of Gruesomes show, and we might do more shows, but as the Odyssey no because it’s kind of hard to play in two bands at the same time, so I kind of tend to focus on one at a time, one thing, one project at a time.

So right now you are more in Gruesomes mode.

Gruesome mode, yeah, I’ve turned into a Gruesome again (laughter).

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When was the last time you played before this last time that you played?

It was in 2008, at a festival in Montreal.

Is it fun, getting back together?

Yes, it was fantastic. We’ve played together for so long, for so many years, that we’ve developed deep grooves that we can easily get back on. We know each other so well and the songs so well, it’s easy to get back on it. It’s fun for us, well for me.

Is the new material similar to the last two in terms of the psychedelic rock sound?

Yeah, more or less, it’s hard to say cause you just do it and see how it’s going to come out after.

What are your musical instruments, effects and pedals you use to make The Gerry Alvarez Odyssey sound?

I play a fender telecaster, and I use a Vox amp, which is a 60s quintessential amp, the Kinks used, and the Beatles and the Who, that’s got a beautiful sound. I used to use a distortion peddle but I don’t use it anymore, I like the natural distortion of the amplifier, of the Vox amp. I didn’t use one in the 80s and 90s because they didn’t make any reissues, they were original 60s amps and they were old and banged up and they were rare and expensive so I used to use Fender all the time. For peddles, in the Odyssey I use backwards peddles for a backwards sound, makes like a backwards effect, and I use a sitar effect as well, to get a buzzy sound, so you can play a sitar through your guitar (laughs). I also use a tremolo on my Vox, and that’s about it.

In certain songs, like the Trail, that has a sort of noodling fluid thing going on in it…

Yeah, it kind of has a delay kind of thing. I don’t know the names of these things, I just screw around and get the sound and don’t know what it is but it sounds cool.

Can you talk about the difference in production between Candy Prankster and Omega Tea Time?

Well the first one is more layered. I really was into making a record that was really psychedelic, full of effects, just want to paint imagery and landscapes and go crazy and make long songs that are very trippy. On the second album I sort of gone back to my roots, more stripped down. I’d been on a trip to Liverpool in England and really got back into my early Beatles fandom, my punk rock roots. I’d made a more stripped down power poppy kind of record, still with some psychedelic flavor to it, and spiritual flavor. But it’s more stripped down and shorter songs, tighter. Production is cleaner, you know it’s hard to make the same record twice. I don’t want to make the same thing twice but if you try it’s hard cause it’s like trying to make the same exact cake twice. It’s impossible.

Are there any songs on either of your records that you’ve written that stand out for you as more meaningful than others – in terms of when you were writing them and what influenced you?

That’s a good one cause they are all like your little kids, it’s hard to pick one more than the other ones. I kinda like Cosmic Weaving at the moment, from Omega Tea Time, because it’s very cosmic, it’s heavy, and it has some personal meaning to it as well. It’s got Who influences, Beatles influences, the kind of stuff I enjoy, I always liked. It’s the kind of song I always want to do and I’m very proud of it. Yeah that’s a good one.

Can you talk about how the cover art of Omega Tea Time came about? The collage of images and concept?

Oh yeah I did that, I’m into collage art. I published a book of illustrations and poems and songs and lyrics with drawings and collages to sell at shows.  I did a lot of collages on the computer,  I did a silkscreen from one of my collages and then I did one for the cover. So it uses a lot of imagery that I like.

Did the images come from books?

Books, anywhere online, I just screw around with it and make my own art out of it.

Do you have the original framed up somewhere?

Uh, yeah I have a silkscreen that’s sort of based on it. I took that silkscreen and then I tweaked it for the album cover. I have the original. I love travel as well. I work for a travel agency that I do graphic design for and I learnt a lot about itinerary and cultures from around the world, and I started my own travel blog, Mythic Journeys Travel. I get the information from all over the internet, and I am working on a book for that, I love travel and culture so that cover reflects a bit that vibe.

How do you feel about people downloading your songs on ITunes or listening to it on Spotify? Do you think that they are missing out on actually owning a copy of the CD?

Yeah, it used to bug me. The thing is I sort of gave up on all of that, I used to care. I used to get hurt when I’d see people on those download softwares but there’s nothing you can do anymore. It’s a free for all. It’s busted, broken, it’s done. It’s like water, it’s done. Who cares anymore? I’m not going to make myself sick worrying about it. No, I did it for fun and I hope people enjoy it and it gets around.

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But the sound quality is not the same, right?

A CD is much better. It depends what kind of recording you got, and what kind of song you got, what format, but CDs I think are better.

Oh and another thing, the big influence on me that I didn’t mention before for the Odyssey is Stanley Kubrick. I can go on and on about Stanley Kubrick. And the Odyssey is from 2001 Space Odyssey. For me it’s the new bible for the 3rd millennium. The new Odyssey, from Homer, from the 3rd Millennium, because 2001 is the first year of the 3rd millennium, it’s the new age. The opening sequence is by  Strauss called Thus Spoke Zarathustra. It is also a book by Nietzsche with the same name, on the ascension of man to superman. Just the intro, it’s ascending climax, the attention to detail to everything, how far ahead that movie is.  It was done in ’68. Every time I eat while watching my iPad I think of that movie, they were doing that, eating while reading their iPad on the table. 50 years ago. Because it’s the new bible and Odyssey for the new millennium that means that in 1000 years that movie will still be good and watched.  I always tried to be at that level, it’s an inspiration. So it’s kind of like my Odyssey, the records, my experience.

Is the Odyssey available on vinyl?

No, but we are planning on doing a greatest hits on vinyl.

Tell me more about the book you put out?

The illustrated book of songs, poems and stories, it came out with Candy Prankster to sell at shows.

How many did you make of those?

I don’t know I got it published online, maybe about 20 or so. But I can print those whenever I want. I started working on a new one that includes the lyrics for Omega Tea Time and stuff, new art…

Does the CD have the lyrics in it?

No, that’s why you have to get the book (laughing).  It’s nice to have swag for shows too so I did that one specifically to sell for the record/CD., and it’s got poems, just whatever – scribblings, so I’m working on a new one, and it’s taking a while, it’ll come out someday, long term projects.

What in your music collection is the least psychedelic or garage sounding?

In my records? Ok, well let’s see…uh it’s a good question (laughter), well I have movie soundtracks, like zombie movies, and sci-fi Logan’s Run soundtrack. But I like this band called Zombi. I listen to that kind of stuff, soundtrack-y kind of music, like Goblin.

From Dawn of the Dead?

Yes, that’s right. I’m just throwing that out there, I mean that doesn’t sound psychedelic, I have a Johnny Cash record. Leonard Cohen doesn’t sound very psychedelic or garage sounding.

Do you have a lot of records?

Vinyls? No I have a small collection, I used to have a lot, now it’s dwindled.

You got rid of stuff?

Just through the ages, moving here and there, I got rid of stuff, cause it takes a lot of room, but I am trying to get my old collection back.  I’ve given records to friends years ago and I’m trying to get them back.

The same ones?

(laughs) Ha yeah the same ones.

You lent them?

Yeah, lent them, I don’t know what I did.

Are they going to give them back to you?

Well, yeah (laughs).

You’re hoping.

Well a friend of mine already started giving some back.

That’s a good friend.

But I’m not trying to build a huge collection anymore, I enjoy listening to either CDs, vinyls, whatever… It’s all over the place now. I don’t have the energy to really go for collecting. I used to collect but not anymore.  I have so much on the computer so why bother spending money on the vinyl version if I have it on the computer.

So you download it?

Well I pay for it, but no I really haven’t downloaded much music, it’s just CDs that I copied over. I still have a good CD collection, but who buys CDs anymore.

Well I buys CDs, or went to this used record store recently and they had a lot of great CDs. They were like 5 bucks each.

Oh nice, it’s a good price.

Yeah, Cheap Thrills.

Oh, it’s around? I used to buy records there in the 80’s.

They have a lot of records there.

Do you remember Dutcheys?

Yes!

Oh you do? Wow.

Yeah I bought my first record there, I’m sure.

Yeah that was a great place.

It was.

Those were the days!

So what music do you put on if you want to get psyched for a show or event?

I like Tom Jones (laughs). I have this record since I was a kid, Tom Jones Live in Las Vegas, it’s bursting with energy and I enjoy singing along with it. It’s really really something. It’s great.  I mean I don’t collect his music or records, it’s just that particular record live at the Flamingo in Las Vegas, in the mid-60s. It’s fantastic, incredible. It really really gives you a lot of energy.

So what’s one of the best shows you ever went to?

We opened up for the Fuzztones in Quebec City in the late 80’s and there was a balcony, and after we played John Davis and I went to the balcony and watched the Fuzztones. Rudi Protrudi was incredible, really the best show ever, it was amazing. Really something, yeah.  What a performer that guy, memorable. I think we were on the sweet spot too, the sound, the visuals, the seating, just a big difference, get the sweet spot, bang! We were right on the edge of the balcony and you could hear perfect and it wasn’t a balcony really high up, it was kind of a low balcony too. In Quebec City, I don’t remember the club.

Any advice you would give to the kids today who are starting out as musicians?

Well, part of me would say don’t do it (laughs), do it if you really really have a real meaning of life feeling about it. So if it’s everything to you, then yeah, do it. Go for it, but don’t put all your eggs in that basket, just be careful, it’s not easy, not an easy life, especially nowadays.

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Are there any newer bands that you know or like?

Garage bands? Any bands? Well you know online you get to see so many bands, on Facebook, you have new bands just playing clubs. There’s a band from Seville, Spain, called the Smoggers, great garage sound. New bands, I see so many online,

Do you listen to them online?

Yes, on Facebook and Youtube. I will like their page and they post their stuff, their music and their videos or whatever, clips of their shows.  A lot of people I like are my friends, are musicians in bands and post a lot of music stuff that their into, that they are playing and doing like the Montreal band, The High Dials from Montreal, they used to be on Ricochet Sound. They were a mod band before called the Datsons but then they became The High Dials, but their first two albums as The High Dials are phenomenal. Some of the best stuff to come out of Montreal. I don’t know much about their later stuff, their current stuff is more 80s sounding and another band that came out of that is called The Elephant Stone, that’s a good psychedelic, more laid back, more groove, trance-y, lounge-y kind of stuff.

You mentioned some shows might be in the future for the Gruesomes, like in Mexico maybe? And you mentioned some festival too… I imagine you played in Europe also back in the day…Would you consider touring again?

Yeah, we got offers, We were offered to play in Mexico and a festival in Montreal so we will see how it goes. We’ve toured Europe, yes, the thing is it costs a lot of money to go over there and nobody’s forked it over yet (laughs). I don’t want to pay for it. We are open for anything. We were supposed to do a tour in 2008 but I think the big crash that happened kind of cancelled the tour, people just didn’t have money in Europe after that. Nobody wants to pay for bands. Sometimes I don’t mind punking it out but if it’s for a whole tour and not making any money and punking it out at the same time, no, I can’t do that.

Any chance you guys would start writing songs again, as the Gruesomes?

Not really, no.(laughs). No not with the Gruesomes, no.

No chance in hell? Just playing the old stuff, which is great!

No, not really. Yeah, we thought of maybe doing a record of cover songs, but it’s too much time and money for what its worth for what we get back from it.

Who’s the “band leader” of the Gruesomes? Like the main organizer.

John Davis. He works at Concordia. He’s been working at the Concordia music department at Loyola campus for over 20-30 years.  He’s a stage manager, in the music department. So he organizes all the bands that come in and all the stage handling and all that. He’s the guy, he takes care of our stage managing.

So he’s the one who organizes the shows, and calls the clubs and is like hey ok, be there. And you are like ok.

Yeah, well we have a bit of our input if we want to or not. Well I handle the online, the Facebook page, so people contact me through that and then I talk to John.  I guess I’m more PR than the other guys. I’m more the advertising guy, I’m the one who does most of the posters, the albums, the CDs.

Between you and Bobby, how did you decide who was going to sing what song?

Well it depends on the style of the song, if the song is a more trippy more smooth song, I do it, if it’s a more growler song, it would be Bobby, or who wrote it.

Whose house is on the cover of Tyrants of Teen Trash?

I don’t know, somebody who lives on Cote St-Luc (Montreal).

So you just stood in front of a random house?

Yeah, Bobby had got permission and then we posed there.

Did you guys meet in high school?

John and Bob did, they’re friends from Westmount high, or something like that. I knew Bob and John from the clubs hanging out, downtown Montreal hanging out back in the early eighties. The Mod scene, the Montreal Mod scene. I bought a guitar and was looking to jam with different musicians. Somebody told me, “John, Eric and Bob got instruments, are starting a band” I said “oh, I’ll try it out.” I showed them how to play their first chords for the first songs, and we had different names. I don’t remember who came up with the Gruesomes, was it Eric Davis or Bobby, I don’t remember, and it took off from there. We became really popular really fast because we had a schtick, a style, we had a look, we had  the sound, we did what we wanted, it was stuff that was easy to play. We were all really into it. I remember when I was still really young and I heard The Count Five doing Psychotic Reaction and I was playing air guitar like crazy, and I said I could do this crap easy. And so there you go, that’s how it started, in garage music, in punk garage, yeah it started from there.

Anything else you want to talk about?

I don’t know.  We could have been way bigger, I think. The Gruesomes could have been way bigger.

Maybe if you started later when garage became more mainstream?

Yeah, I think we played in the 80’s underground scene that never really got really mainstream till much later. We had really burned ourselves out touring Canada many many times. Canada is not like England, you know, all these British bands they toured, it’s nothing. Canada is enormous. It kills bands. I wanted to tour Europe, and the States and it wasn’t going on, it wasn’t taking off enough..

Have you toured in the States?

Yeah, we toured all along the east coast, but it just wasn’t the right time for that. I think we could have been as big as the Cramps or the Ramones (laughs!)

How did your relationship with Ricochet Sound happen?

Ray, he was a fan, he contacted us, he had a record store back in the day. He wanted to re-release our stuff. We released our vinyl records at the end of vinyls, in the 80s CDs were coming out, and we’re releasing vinyls, and our music started first coming out on Cd’s in the 2000s. “Cave In” was our first CD in 2000. So we were way behind in producing digital music, and so not only did we miss the vinyl thing we missed the CD thing too. By the time we started releasing all the original stuff on CDs, the first three CDs came out in 2003, on Ricochet, thanks to Ricochet Sound our stuff was released finally on CD. So we were way behind, so bad luck there too. We could have had more impact if our CDs were released way earlier. During the whole 90s we had no CDs out there. And that was the peak of it. And vinyls were dead back then, and that was all we had, was just vinyls. So it was poor management.  I mean OG was great, they released our stuff, we were thankful for the release, but there wasn’t much in promotion or anything so it kind of spudded away. We gave it our all but it just died off. And then we got back together in 1999 to make Cave In, and I’m glad we did that, that was our best record and finally we ended on a good note. So that was great, I’m happy about that one.

Anything else you want to talk about?

So whenever anyone interviews me for the Odyssey, the last question is always “When are the Gruesomes coming back?!” (laughs). I used to say I don’t know, maybe, never, I don’t know but you never know. You really never know.

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