I have a clear memory of the first time I saw Andy Barron. It was a warm evening in late August, 2001, and I was lying in bed. It was my first night away at college. Just as I was about to fall asleep, the door of my dorm room cracked open and someone slunk inside, attempting to be quiet.
I knew that one of my two roommates was named Andy. We’d even spoken briefly on the phone ahead of move-in day. But I had no idea what he looked like. Being the shrewd fellow that I am, I feigned sleep. I figured if I was about to be robbed by a malingering undergraduate taking advantage of unattended belongings during the chaos of move-in week, I would wait until he got closer and then brain him with my alarm clock.
Instead, the shadowy figure clambered up the edge of the bunk bed, shaking it crazily in the process, such that if I had been asleep I would have woken in a panic thinking an earthquake had struck, and proceeded to fling a guitar bearing a Jimmy Eat World sticker onto the mattress along with a backpack and various other sundry items before climbing back down and immediately leaving again. Two days later I found out it was Andy.
The phrase “one thing led to another” seems to have been invented for Andy, who by now has been making his living as a graphic designer, photographer, tour manager, press wrangler and videographer for over a decade. He has toured extensively with Switchfoot and Foster The People, and has taken captivating photographs, perusable on his website, of everyone from The Jonas Brothers to Paper Route.
Of all the artists I’ve had occasion to know, he is one of the least pretentious, least neurotic, and least anxious. He comes across as being singularly unconcerned with whether or not people find him, or what he “is into,” to be sufficiently cool. Which makes him a very easy person to be around in an industry generally rife with insecure men and women desperately trying to manage others’ impressions of them.
We corresponded via email.
Once I create something, it’s no longer internalized and only mine to experience. Others experience all of it through their own eyes, ears, and emotional filters. At that point, the music is part of the fabric that makes them, that helps them through their own trials and tribulations. – Jacob Bannon
One night during my first semester of college I ended up getting involved in a labyrinthine conversation about music that ended up feeling like one of those formalized mating dances that birds of paradise engage in; adversarial and flirtatious at the same time. Bands and records were reduced to chips in a poker game, with each player bluffing about their hipster cred. The girl in whose dorm room I was sitting had pink hair, a lip ring, and an encyclopedic knowledge of gender-bending feminist spazz rock. Our ritualistic exchange ended up centering on hardcore though, and at the end of the night she gave me a copy of Converge’s Jane Doe. It was a record that would change my life as a lover of music.
That album seared itself into my car stereo and my memory, changing the way I related to every other heavy band. The men of Converge seemed to be playing at the bleeding edge of their technical abilities, blazing through songs at speeds that felt positively centrifugal, as if the entire operation was just about to break loose of that one rusty screw holding it together and go cartwheeling off into the void. Vocalist Jacob Bannon’s distorted howling was largely unintelligible, but his lyrics were poignant, and, when I finally got a chance to see the band live years later, his presence incendiary.
During the course of the ensuing decade I’ve followed Converge’s trajectory, and Bannon’s specifically. He co-founded Deathwish Records in 2000 and is a prolific visual artist. Jake has always struck me as an interesting figure; a lover of aesthetics with a fine eye for detail; a prolific writer whose emotions seem to spill onto the page; a charismatic frontman at the forefront of a genre that touts tolerance and unity while simultaneously being predisposed toward violence, or hijacked by it, depending on one’s perspective. We corresponded via e-mail this spring.
In December, a couple weeks ahead of his appearance at the Portland Bazaar, Eric Trine told me about having recently given a talk where he described himself as an artist posing as a designer. By which I understood him to mean that, as a guy who makes stuff for functional use (tables, lamps, pot holders, chairs), he’s always trying to walk the line between aesthetics and usability. Lest I get confused, he later clarified, “I’m not a designer in any traditional sense.”
Most of the time, Trine, who rocks a hairstyle that’s half greaser, half California soul-wave, refers to himself simply as a “maker.” It’s a title at once utterly expansive and implicitly practical. The choice is indicative of his approach to his craft. He spoke at length about his desire to make beautiful, eminently useful things, often furniture, that people can actually afford. At one point we got to riffing about Design Within Reach, the slick modern furniture brokers whose moniker belies the price point of many of their offerings. “I want Design Within Reach to actually be within reach,” Trine told me. “As much as I respect high end furniture makers, I kind of want to disrupt that market. I want my stuff to be affordable.”
After taking a break during the Holidays, we here at Ragged Band are looking forward to rolling out some excellent new content this quarter. We’ll be continuing our series of profiles and conversations with up-and-coming creators across a range of disciplines, starting with Portland artist, designer, and general “maker of things” Eric Trine.
In addition to resuming our normal posting schedule we’ll also be doing a 2011 Ragged Band Alumni Roundup that takes a look at what several of the talented men and women we spoke with last year are currently up to. As a preview, feel free to screen the new trailer for Vern Moen’s forthcoming film, “Plastiki & the Material of the Future.”
Yes, that voice you hear at the 50 second mark is Alec Baldwin. The film’s narrator.
Jon Contino works with his hands. That might seem a simple matter of course given his chosen trade of commercial illustration. But in a field swiftly tilting towards the digital, a significant number of contemporary illustrators have dispensed with the traditional tools of the trade, swapping out their pens and pads for stylus and screen. At a time when the worlds of design and the visual arts have been upended and rethought in the wake of the advent of the computer, Contino is committed to doing as much of his work as he can with good old-fashioned pens and paper. In a world where everything from acne to misplaced lines can be whitewashed in Photoshop—a world in which we no longer trust our eyes—the ability to draw well is as rare as ever.
In addition to the Americana-themed bent much of his portfolio takes, Contino is best known for his hand-lettering. He creates fonts and scripts with the appearance of age; washed out phrases and words that look like they could have been pulled from an 18th century broadsheet or a ratty photocopier in some young punk’s basement. The demand for his services speaks to the creativity and ingenuity of his work, and to a vague yet persistent hunger for the tactile in modern American culture.
Contino imbues his hand-crafted alphabets, often seen accenting images from a canon of time-honored American symbols (boxing gloves, eagles, anchors), with a gritty, worn-out feeling; a ragged aesthetic that has struck a chord with a public fast developing a fetishistic relationship with physical objects. The less necessary physical objects become, the more we esteem them and those who can create them. Or, in Contino’s case, those who can render them in such a way as to make them seem grounded in the beautifully imperfect realities of the physical world.
“I survived on the Subway $2.50 six inch sub of the day. I didn’t have a car, so laundry was always an issue. We were directly across the street from a huge porn shop, and I would fall asleep counting the flashes of the pink lights through the window.”
- Jordan Butcher
I am sitting in King’s Hardware, regarding Jordan Butcher from across the rough wooden expanse of our corner table where we are surrounded by taxidermy and vintage beer cans. It’s early, and what will become a deafening roar of conversation and music is still at a reasonable drone. So it’s not that hard to hear Butcher as he picks up his pint, leans in, and, with a twinkle in his eye, tells me a story. Despite being able to hear him fairly well, I ask him to repeat himself.
“Sorry, it sounds like you just said Katy Perry kissed you.”
“She did. On the cheek.”
When Jordan finishes telling his story, the one where Katy Perry kisses him on the cheek outside the bathroom at the afterparty for the Grammys, I find that I am not all that surprised. For one thing, he tells a lot of outrageous stories. For another, the guy is on a career-high tear, having just returned from Los Angeles where he’d been invited to the mother of all music awards shows after being nominated in the category of Best Special Packaging for his work on Underoath’s “Lost in the Sound of Separation.”
I am trying to picture Ms. Perry kissing Jordan’s whiskered cheek, when I realize I need to refocus. He’s already on to the next story. Something about Andy Summers greeting him as they waited in line to walk the red carpet.
“Andy Summers of The Police?”
“Yeah. He told me his kids were big Underoath fans.”
Sure they are, I thought to myself. Then again, it sounded about par for the course. Butcher’s date had showed me a picture from the afterparty on their return. She was hugging Leonard Cohen.