Shawn Reed (Wet Hair/Night People): Interview
“My brain is so blasted on what my reality should be or where I need to be or go.”
Night People owner, Wet Hair band mate, and ex-Raccoo-oo-oon’er Shawn Reed has been boss of underground music for quite some time now. And he’s one of the front-runners supporting some of the best artists on the internet music scene. Popping musicians such as Dirty Beaches, Peaking Lights, Dead Luke, EMA, Broken Water, Daughters Of The Sun, Blanche Blanche Blanche, Robedoor, Sleep ∞ Over, etc., this is the kind of dude who gets ticked when other people steal his jammers. But that’s the curse of owning a label and producing impeccable tastes. Speaking of taste, scope Wet Hair’s newest album Spill Into Atmosphere on De Stijl Records, which is available now. But I believe Raccoo-oo-oon is still on an indefinite hiatus. Wait, really? Read and find out, ooo:
Had a busy day pushing tapes?
Actually, today I was silk-screening tape covers for most of the day.
Right, each Night People release is silk-screened, right?
Yeah, everything has been silk-screened. There are a few tapes that have been made on the Xerox, because the image had too much detail for silkscreen, but pretty much everything is silk-screened. A few things Ryan Garbes and I work on together.
I read once on how your influence for most Night People art is from early Crass album covers. What would you say your more modern influences in art lie?
I wouldn’t say Crass art by Gee Vaucher is a sole prime influence, but I do think the Crass record packaging and artwork is amazing and really created such an impressive visual iconography that fit with the music perfectly, to the point where that design sense has been copied over and over. Those records overall are pretty important to me musically, visually, and conceptually. I do take a lot of influence from record cover art in general, a lot of stuff from the early punk/new-wave era. I guess the roll the Xerox plays in what I make has that time-capsule quality to it, in a way, and also the kind of contrast you have to work with to make silkscreen work also lends to that.
Do you have a studio in your house?
I have a studio in the basement of my house, that also includes a practice space. It’s a simple set up: some tables, a vacuum and printing table I made, and a spray-out area; sometimes I expose the screens at my place on my ghetto exposure rig, but I usually mooch that part of the process from a university connection, since the exposure unit there does a much better job. I need the exposures to be perfect since I try to get a lot of detail out of the screens.
Is that how you did the silkscreen project this summer?
The silkscreen prints at the bottom of the Night People website you’re referring to, that are titled in alphabetical order, are some prints Ryan and I made together, initially for an art show in Montreal we did with Seripop in March of 2011. We ended up showing that work in Iowa City and at an exhibition for the Sound Summit Festival in Newcastle, AU, which Wet Hair also performed at. Ryan and I spent some time getting that artwork together over a few months. Some of it was versions of art that had appeared in the Radiant Lines 7-inch book Not Not Fun put out, other images were new and some had seen life with Night-People releases, but we mixed it up and sent it all in new directions with the prints. Our pals at the University of Northern Iowa, Tim Dooley and Aaron Wilson, our former professors who are great artists and people, gave us access to the university studio to do the collab prints. We spent a couple days busting them out; it was insane. Ryan shot screens and I printed. I think we went through like 50-70 screens actually, pretty wild and intense. It was an around-the-clock sort of thing and at the end we had 20 different prints, two to three colors each [and] editions of five to eight.
I feel like, in a way, Wet Hair is much more indebted or created from our record collections essentially than any music that we have ever been around in person.
Does Ryan share your artistic influences? Especially involving Wet Hair album art?
Ryan and I share pretty much the same influences, although he works with collage in a more micro, super-detailed, and chaotic way than I do. I tend to lay things out in a less chaotic, more boxed-out sort of way. It’s interesting because our newest member of Wet Hair, Justin Thye, also went to the same school we did for art and studied with the same professors who I mentioned above. I went there first, then Ryan towards the end of me being done, and then Justin at the end of Ryan’s time. We all moved to Iowa City and joined the band in that order as well. So all of our art fits pretty well together, and it’s easy to collaborate on.
The record cover we just got done with is a bit of an homage to Tanadori Yokoo, who is one of my favorite artists of all time. I also drew upon Keiichi Tanaami a bit and had been looking at a good bit of Guy Peellaert when I started laying it out. Wet Hair and NP in general make a lot of references to art history and musical history, but maybe not in an overt way. I like to use art to make art… mainly approached from a collage standpoint or trying to create homages to the heroes and add to the history bring it into new light — mine its power.
The Spill Into Atmosphere artwork was a serious endevour. I worked for a couple weeks hunched over the drawing table with a big pile of images I had collected. I had Ryan and Justin give me some versions of things they had made as well to work from. We then got together and sat around the computer working with found images, adding color and images Justin and I had shot in Australia on tour there to come up with a full-color version of the artwork, with some color photo montages embedded in the final product.
Speaking of Wet Hair, is it safe to say, “Tonight you see motion like light outside?”
HAHA — I don’t know really… lyrics are a weird-awkward zone for me. I’m just trying to describe, like — when a sensory image meets up with a feeling. Like, the process of light or physical things in the world and how they create an image of a moment. How reality meshes with a feeling in a moment and creates something else, a memory, maybe even an untruth. I don’t have much confidence as a lyricist; some of the lyrics are actually improvised. I like immediacies in vocals…
Do you think that has anything to do with the vocals in Raccoo-oo-oon and get used to something more linear in songwriting?
Raccoo-oo-oon was even more free-flowing in that way, although there was repetition, thought, and practice to it — a lot of practice actually.
When’s the Raccoo-oo-oon reunion album coming back around?
I do think the Crass record packaging and artwork is amazing, and really created such an impressive visual iconography that fit with the music perfectly; to the point where that design sense has been copied over and over.
I doubt it ever happens. We will see though. It’s never been discussed, [and] it’s hard to believe anyone would care. When we were around, 20 people at a gig was a decent turn out. We are all still really close friends. Daren lives in NYC and does Driphouse and is a man out in the city soaking it up. Andy has been living in L.A. working for an artist, doing art things, but he is actually switching it up and heading to law school. So everyone is always busy regardless.
How do Night People releases influence the Wet Hair sound?
I feel like, in a way, Wet Hair is much more indebted or created from our record collections essentially than any music that we have ever been around in person. What really influences us back and forth is taking music, swapping records or music finds with friends, finding out about new long-lost records. Night-People evolves with my taste and what I discover in new bands that I like or find interesting. Sometimes geography itself even plays into it in weird ways. Like a current interest in the Beijing underground. I really appreciate what some of our close allies are doing with their own evolution: Rene Hell, Three Legged Race, Cuticle, Peaking Lights, Goldendust, Featureless Ghost, etc. That list could get pretty long actually. So many friends projects that I find inspiring…
How do you find the variety of bands/musicians for Night People?
Correspondence has always been something I gravitate towards and do a lot of. Mixing that with touring has created the special situation of knowing people from all over the world, making music [and] doing creative things, so it leads to a lot of great friendships that end with overcoming physical boundaries and actual physical time to hang out. It’s like the way of the road: you get to spend small but relevant amounts of time with people, and then keep in touch; the label is really built around that, and it’s created a lot of good situations. Like, my interest in Australian bands and touring with them or playing shows with them in the US.
How much influence do you have over the Night People releases involving pre-production?
Not really any. I do often talk to bands about my ideas concerning their music or tips just from being around a long time touring, recording etc. But I leave that up to them mostly. I try to help bands with tours when I can; that is something I do have a lot of experience with at this point.
What is the level of creativity artists may invest in their release covers/j-cards art, considering the Night People standard design/art?
Early on, the bands had a bit more say, but it never worked out very well. So I’m pretty much a dictator about it. Usually it seems like they are cool with it though, since NP is so what it is at this point in terms of the back catalog, its reputation, and what everything looks like. Maybe I’m just kidding myself and everyone hates it!
How often do Night People artists record in or around Iowa City? If there was, say an Iowa City Sessions (series), where would you host it?
I would like to make this happen more, but geography usually doesn’t enable the situation. I don’t really work with that many bands that live close. I do have strong ties with our friend Luke Tweedy, who records Wet Hair at his Studio Flat Black. He is a great engineer, has a nice studio, is cheap and fun to record alongside. I actually talked Peaking Lights into recording 936 with him, and it’s obvious how well that worked out for them. They really enjoyed working with Luke as well and really bonded with him. Wet Hair recently did a collab recording session with Dirty Beaches at Flat Black that a local fest, Mission Creek, paid for. It was a ton of fun and will probably be released by Night People in the fall.
What really influences us back and forth is taking music, swapping records or music finds with friends, finding out about new long-lost records.
Do you feel a pull between personal/mental time and your work with Night People, as you say you do both at home?
I feel like it’s hard to get away sometimes; I feel like my brain gets out of control and overrun, but I try to have things get me away from thinking about art, music, and the label. I fucked up my knee playing soccer, which I used to do about four days a week year-round, along with distance running. I had a big surgery and am still recovering; it’s kind of an endless thing, but I really had to switch things up. I’m really into weightlifting now actually; I get a lot out of it personally and mentally. Since running is difficult, I’ve tried to get into swimming too, but I don’t like it as much. I’m pretty obsessed with NBA basketball. ESPN.com and NBA.com get hit up a lot. Collecting records and watching basketball are what I obsesses over. So psyched for the NBA playoffs coming up. I follow college ball as well. It’s fun — it’s a good outlet for fun, to think, and to talk about with buddies.
When are you escaping and uprooting to Australia?
Man, my brain is so blasted on what my reality should be or where I need to be or go, etc. that so often I have wanted to move; I just don’t know how to or where to. Just being able to have cheap rent and be prolific in my house that is very integrated towards the band and the label, I can’t let myself potentially sacrifice that, with the time and financial expense of moving. I just don’t want to take any time off at all. My personal self sometimes is sacrificed at the altar of my creative self. I think about the label and the aspect of being prolific in the Internet Age, in the age of quality, easy home recording, etc. It’s always a consideration, a thought. I really dig Australia — everyone in Wet Hair really liked it; we have a lot of friends there. The music scene overall in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne is awesome, so much cross-filtering going on between all of those cities. I could probably do a whole interview just about Australia, the geography, the music scene present and past.