Would have The Velvet Underground been as iconic without Warhol’s banana? Would The Smiths have maintained the same sexual ambiguity without the young actors portraits’ covers? Would Aphex Twin remain a menacing musician without Chris Cunningham’s little boys? The answer is doubtlessly “yes, but not quite so”. Because if music can be strong and affecting, its combination with the art world or its association to films and videos lends an even more potent and compelling quality, making both the visual and the audio instantly recognizable and utterly unforgettable. “Cross Paths” will therefore be a foray into how music, movies and art can meet and what goes behind it: the artists, and how they get to work together.
In the first instalment of this series, we meet Glenn Davis and John Malta. Glenn plays for the Columbus, Ohio based Way Yes. John is a visual artist who, among others, draws Way Yes covers. Is it the African influenced, breezy music that suits the dancing animals and the hugging cactuses of the covers, or the other way round?
We let Glenn and John lead us through.
Chapter 1: Manners first. Allow me to introduce myself.
Glenn: Way Yes started in January of 2010. It was started up by Glenn Davis (me) and Travis Hall. We have been making music together for over 8 years since going to high school together. We met in drivers ed and became friends because we both liked Radiohead. Way Yes is our most serious attempt making music since it happened after we all were finished with school. It has been the fist time we have had time to devote 100% to making songs. During college we widened our influences to include a lot of world music (with a special interest in African and Brazilian rhythms.) This is combined with our background of writing folk/pop songs and interest in electronic music as well. The blend of it all has led us to sound we both excited about exploring further. We try to combine the “feel-good” qualities of world rhythms with more melancholy lyrical themes (death, losing friends, and the daily grind) in a way that our music hopefully taps into a wide range of moods.
Max Lewis who recorded our first two EP’s has joined the band for live percussion as of last winter. Since this past summer we have been joined on aux percussion by Tim Horak, who plays with us on the new 7″ “Oranjudio”. Drums are a huge focus for the live show and we love having these two with us on stage and in the studio.
Way Yes from left to right: Travis Hall, Max Lewis, Glenn Davis. Photo credit: Nick Fancher
John: My name is John Malta and I am a visual artist from East Cleveland, Ohio. I am currently living, working, and completing an MFA at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. I have exhibited my work in Taiwan, New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, and widely across the Midwest- and have been self publishing zines and books of my drawings for as long as I can remember. When I was a child I would draw the things that I loved most from pop culture- characters from television shows, movies, and video games. “Aaah! Real Monsters”, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, “The Adventures of Pete and Pete”, “Gremlins”, “Super Mario Brothers”,”The Simpsons”, “Zombies Ate My Neighbors”, “Donkey Kong”, “Beavis & Butthead”, and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” were some of my favorites.
As a teenager I became more interested in counter cultures. I spent most of my time running around Cleveland with my friends- we were all in punk bands and skateboarded till we couldn’t see the road in front of us. I began drawing flyers for our shows, demo cassettes, t-shirts, and album covers- as well as painting massive banners on my parents spare bed sheets to hang behind us while we performed. But now almost 10 years later illustrating for clients such as The New York Times, The Stranger, Willamette Week, and all of the various bands and t-shirt companies I continually work on projects with I am doing exactly the same thing I was back in my teenage bedroom.
For the past year I have been creating installations, picture books, comics, and everything in between within my own tolkienesque world called Mount Moldy. I just wrapped up a twenty eight page folk story about two transient trouble makers named Francis and Geronimo who romp around the aforementioned cosmos. It can be viewed in it’s entirety here and physical copies will be available through my website November first!
Chapter 2: You wanna hang out?
Glenn: As far as the art aspect of Way Yes, I wanted to work with someone who could make Way Yes come alive visually. John Malta had done some collaborations in a public mural or two around Columbus, (where we were both living at the time) and I was drawn to his contributions specifically in these murals. I had to do a little poking around online to find John from a list of contributing artists on this mural, but once I found his blog, it was a really obvious match to me. His choice of color, and zany subject matter always seem to make me smile. Because I want Way Yes to have this same positive effect on people when they listen to the music, John was my number one choice for an artist on the “Walkability” cover. We were all big fans of working with someone in Columbus too. I approached John via email about working on the cover and he was into the idea.
John: Way Yes and I have grown to love and know each other over the past year. The first project we worked on was a full length cd they put out called “Walkability”. When collaborating with bands I like to get to know where they are coming from so I sent over a series of interview questions much like you have sent us to find out where their breezy-tropical sounds were coming from, what was going on in there lives, and how this particular album came to be. From there we had several conversations on visual imagery, color, and design. I feel like in doing that we came up with something that really represents Way Yes’s sound.
Chapter 3: Hey, I like you!
Glenn: Working with John is a blast. When we got started on the project I sent John our music. He gave it some listens and returned to us with a really thoughtful list of questions. He was interviewing us as a way to figure out what direction to head in for the artwork. I think this helped us all get on the same page right off the bat. Since then it was just narrowing in on the best ideas. We found a retro bag from the 60′s or 70′s that we sell our merch from and asked John to use the color palette in his work. Eventually, John came up with the cover for “Walkability” which was just amazing. We have had people buy the CD just because they liked the album art. I have also had fans of Way Yes tell me their children love looking at the album cover. Kids are some of the most honest critics there are. I think its cool that John’s art appeals to such a wide age range.
John is currently my favorite artist. When it came time to do art for our new 7″ “Oranjudio”, John was once again the first person we contacted. We quickly narrowed down a few of John’s initial ideas. I remember him sending me a text saying something like: “I’m thinking a raccoon hugging a cactus, who is wearing a raccoon mask.” Of course we all loved it, and its now the finished cover. This cover is a little different than “Walkability” because we asked him to design something that could be printed with a 3 color screen print. We have also worked out a deal with John to where I use all of his drawings for our website too. I can’t imagine anything more suitable for Way Yes. We hope to work with John again for future projects.
John: We took a much different approach to “Oranjudio”. We had spent several months of molding and adapting our two personal aesthetics for “Walkability” so the foundation to collaborate with one another was already set. Way Yes sent me an e-mail asking if I’d be able to do the layout and illustration for their new record. So I did several quick sketches- one of which they felt really connected. I could not be happier with the result- and am looking forward to listening to the seven inch on vinyl!
Chapter 4: The secret is…
Glenn: One of my favorite parts of working with John, that I think some people overlook, is his lettering. You won’t ever find fonts with his work. Its always hand written. This gives all of his art an amazing personal touch, where each letter is a part of the finished piece. The back cover of “Walkability” or “Oranjudio” are great examples of this.
“Oranjudio” is out now on Lefse
mp3: Way Yes – Automail