CVLT Nation Interviews Josh Graham
Josh Graham’s installation Standard Model Catastrophies opens on Dec. 4th at the NY Media Center
Hey Josh, how are you doing?
Hey Sean, everything is good man, thank you. Just getting ready to start some thanksgiving cooking after this. How goes it out there?
All good here! Tell us about your upcoming show, Standard Model Catastrophes…is there an overarching theme, or is it more of a retrospective of your visual work?
There are two different installations in the show: the first is a retrospective that is being shown on a block of 27 HD monitors. It features a variety of work from the last 10 + years. Music videos for Dillinger Escape Plan, Isis, A Storm of Light, Eyehategod, Bee & Flower, Soundgarden, Vattnet Viskar. Concert visuals for Neurosis, A Storm of Light, Jay Z, Soundgarden, Drake, and more.
The second installation is called Watchmaker, and was created for Made in NY Media Center’s 120 ft long, 360 degree projection system. Their take on the 360 is very unique, in that it’s not a 360 circle of screens around you, but rather a seamless projection that you walk around. The result is that you never get to see the whole thing in its entirety, just smaller sections. It feels more engaging and experiential.
Watchmaker’s theme deals with the world’s current arsenal of nuclear weapons, which is surprisingly massive, to say the least. Between the US and Russia alone, there are thousands of warheads actively ready to launch. Both country’s detailed doctrines that allow for acceptable use of the weapons…and not just in a full-scale nuclear war. Visually, the pieces is both bombastic and pretty, focusing primarily on the weird beauty of ICBM contrails.
There’s a also a 72-seat screening theater which will be playing some of the content. Should be interesting to see it that large, considering most of this stuff I have only seen on the computer.
Now let’s back up – can you tell us your earliest memory of creating art?
My earliest memory of creating art was in 5th or 6th grade. It was all war-based (mostly Vietnam) and kind of looked like the side view of a video game. Wide horizons of Huey choppers shooting people or dropping guys into the jungle. I have an insane one (picture attached) that was from 6th grade. It’s totally weird, and my wife has it up on the wall in her art studio. Probably not much further description needed.
When did you first join a band?
My first band started when I was 15 or 16 in Phoenix. It was called Grind (w/ Dan Hawkins and Chris Hewlett) – below is a picture of a flyer I made using xerox and cut-outs. We started off as kind of punk/goth/sonic youth and went into more of an industrial metal route (this was 1990). We actually did pretty well, opened for Pigface and some other bands.
When and how did you get into video art and concert visuals?
That was my next band, The Sycamore Trio (Shahzad Ismaily, Jason Farrell, Rick Heins, Caroline Buckman)…a Twin Peaks reference…ranged from Twin Peak’s weirdness, to dark Slint to bombastic Neurosis. It was instrumental and 100% improvisation…viola/2 guitars/drums/bass. I would edit together documentary and film footage (using 2 VCRs) and we would improvise to the intensity of the visuals, war/preachers/vivisection/etc/etc.
When we played live, I would act a bit as conductor, signaling when a visual change was coming up next. We were too broke for projectors, so we would borrow as many TVs as we could get. Once we even rented a big-screen TV from Rent-A-Center. That was ridiculous.
What are the parallels between creating music & creating art?
Both processes are very similar for me…starting with either a vague or specific idea, struggling to clarify it, and hopefully turning it into something that works for me and for everyone else involved. There is almost always frustration and some doubt, but ultimately it becomes rewarding…even if the original idea was scrapped altogether.
Tell us about the role music has played in the direction of your artwork – your own and others?
Music definitely steers a lot of my visual work, often sparking ideas or images while I’m listening. Some ideas I try to write down and save for the future, even though it may end up being for a completely different project. I almost always associate music with color as well, which is weird, but seems to help with the creative process. That first visual color combined with a lyrical reference can help me start to think about what I would create to represent that piece of music, or that album.
A Storm of Light probably gets that direct relationship the most, because I am instigating most of the music and creating the art. Both the album art and record unfold simultaneously over the course of writing the record. For shorter projects, lyrics are always important, and can really guide the imagery.
How does being in an urban environment shape how you create? Do you draw inspiration from nature as well?
My wife and I actually left Brooklyn a little over 3 years ago. We’re now about an hour north of Manhattan, a few blocks from the Hudson River and our small town is surrounded by national parks. This is the most rural place I’ve lived, and has been an interesting change from the city.
I hadn’t thought about this before, but I just went through my print work. It seems that while I was in the city, I was creating artwork with a lot of vast open spaces. (Neurosis – Given to the Rising, A Storm of Light – Forgive Us Our Trespasses). Now that I am in a much more natural landscape, I’ve been focusing on specific elements that could exist within those types of environments (Sorxe – Surrounded by Shadows, Soundgarden – King Animal, Neurosis – Honor Found In Decay).
Your work has a sci-fi aspect to it – are there movies or literature in the sci-fi genre that have influenced your style?
Yeah, definitely. I’ve always been interested science non-fiction and dystopian/science-based sci-fi. What comes to mind now… Arthur C. Clarke, The Road Warrior, Mad Max, 2001, 1984, The Road, Children of Men, Blade Runner, The Man from Earth, Sunshine, The Martian Chronicles, Margaret Atwood – Time Capsule Found on the Dead Planet, Steven Hawkins – Brief History of Time, Alan Weisman – The World Without Us, George Orwell – Animal Farm. Interstellar in IMAX blew my mind. I am looking forward to reading The Science of Interstellar by Kip Thorne, the astrophysicist who worked with Christopher Nolan on the film.
What medium of art would you like to work in that you are not at the moment?
I would really like to combine projection with physical installation, create life-size physical foreground scenes that are backlit and effected by projections. That kind of work is all about the right gallery, though. Hopefully someday I will be able to execute one of these ideas in that capacity.
You’ve worked with a wide range of musicians and genres. When you are designing visuals for musicians, do you try to exclusively cater to their audience, or do you bring your own aesthetic and tastes to the table? How much creative freedom are you given in these jobs?
I’ve been pretty lucky to have quite a bit of freedom over the years. Working with Neurosis, we were all always on the same visual page, which was great. Total freedom within reasonable bounds.
Work with Soundgarden has been very similar as well. I listen to the lyrical content of the songs, but focus more on creating a cohesive body of work. That may mean leaving out obvious song references and complimenting the visual body of work instead.
Sleep’s visuals had 3 rules I had to abide by: 1. Space. 2. Weed. 3. No animals.
On the larger jobs, Drake, Jay Z etc, creative freedom can vary every tour. The difference with these jobs is that they are not my direct clients, unlike Soundgarden etc. The guys who work with Jay / Drake on a regular basis generally hire me to work on pieces that are in my scope of work. The last tours I worked on for both Jay / Drake culminated in creating most of the content on-site at the concert venues / hotels either in rehearsal or while the tour was happening. 20 hour work days of madness! That said, the freedom on those was huge because of the time crunch.
Photo: George Chin
If you were only allowed four possessions for the rest of time, what would they be and why?
My first answer would be my wife, but because she is not my possession, I’ll move beyond that. ha.
Comfortable and safe shelter near a clean river.
A library. I assume this is after the end of humanity? Entertainment.
Banjo. I have to get better at playing mine, and need some tunes.
Mexican food. Is that possible?
What’s a question that you never have been asked, but you would like to answer?
Question. Can I give you 10 wooded acres of beach-front property with a view of the Olympic mountains?
Answer. Yes, yes you can.
Has Drake ever asked you to hook him up with tickets to an A Storm of Light show?