Exclusive interview with Sonny Kay
Sonny Kay has been involved in the music scene for some time now and his path has led him in so many directions of music and art that everyone at Sound Colour Vibration is honored we are able to work with him. From The Locust to The Mars Volta to DJ Nobody, Sonny Kay has been pushing his visual design works for the last 3 years. Sonny will be having an art show with our organization and Division 9 Gallery in Riverside on September 2nd, the first Thurday of the month at Riversides Arts Walk. Full info can be viewed HERE. Sonny Kay is a really humble guy and had some very interesting things to say from the questions we asked him. These interview questions were compiled by Erik Otis and Pouya G.
1. “The evolution of your album covers for Omar Rodriguez Lopez have gone from surreal to plain extraordinary, what makes you push the envelope further for each record?”
More than anything, I don’t want to repeat myself. I’m pushing my own ideas of where things should or could lead, and Omar pushes as well. Often times he sees some intermediary step in a design and gets attached to it, insisting on developing that step as opposed to where I might want to take something myself. That’s resulted in a lot of stuff I may not have otherwise arrived at. Beyond that, I’d like very much for the covers themselves to be something that people can return to time and again, like the actual records. I’d like for the experience of viewing the cover art to be something that evolves each time the record is pulled off the shelf. As for the subject matter getting more “out there”, well, I find my thoughts dwelling more and more on concepts of multi-dimensionality and what might be called the fabric of reality, and the images are useful for me in helping to examine those ideas.
2. GSL was a label that put out records for the likes of mars volta, locust, free moral agents, !!!, subtitle and so many more good artists and bands, how did the label start and how did it change from the original conception?
I started it when I was at college in Boulder, Colorado, as a way of documenting the local punk scene. I was involved in putting on shows, playing in bands, that kind of thing. It was a natural extension of that culture. After I finished school and moved to the Bay Area, I was able to release more and more things and eventually some of the bands, most notably The Locust, started selling some serious amounts of records. That enabled me to really expand the whole thing and cover a range of styles and genres that were interesting to me. I’d go on tour with The Locust, see bands in random places, and wind up releasing records for them. In that way it was an organic, almost autobiographical, chart of where I’d been and what I was interested in. I always referred to it as an ongoing art project. It was definitely more that than a proper business.
3. What made you decide to start doing your own art shows at this stage of your career?
When GSL ended in late 2007, I began switching gears and concentrating more on my interest in art and design. Omar was very encouraging and started using my work on his solo albums and gradually I began doing work for other bands, as well as just for my own amusement. Some good friends began encouraging me to consider gallery shows and once I got over the hump of the first one, it just seemed like the logical next step, or path to follow. I enjoy the idea of people viewing a lot of the work all at once, and how the various pieces might relate to one another. I really embrace the idea of cover art being paired to an album, for example, but the excitement for me now lies more in providing a broader and more encompassing “experience” for a viewer.
4. Do you listen to any demos/or tracking[s] when starting an omar cover, or do you envision from the final musical product?
Honestly, very rarely do I have any of the music in advance. It’s not uncommon for Omar to request 5 or 10 rough ideas from me at a time. He’ll go through and assign ones he likes to one album or another and then I’ll get to work on developing each idea, usually in the order that the records are scheduled to be issued. Many times the art is close to finished long before the album is mixed or mastered. There are times when I feel like his enthusiasm for a cover design is actually what’s inspiring him to get an album finished, which I think is a pretty unique or at least unusual approach. Then again, so is the idea of releasing 6 or 8 solo albums in a year.
5. What was your involvement for the art direction in your old band year future and do you see yourself being in a band again?
Year Future was a democracy in terms of the songwriting, but developing the look and feel of how we presented ourselves was left entirely up to me. That wasn’t really unusual for me, it had been essentially the same way with the other bands I was in before that, like The VSS and Angel Hair. I was always just “that guy” in the band – it seems like a lot of bands have one person who just kind of takes the reigns in that respect. As far as being in a band again, it’s hard to say. I wouldn’t rule it out, but at the same time, I don’t really consider myself a musician or anything. I feel very fulfilled these days with doing art and I’m already struggling with the feeling that there’s not enough hours in the day. I couldn’t work a band into the mix right now if I wanted to. But I’ve also learned to never say never…
6. What are your thoughts on the recent oil spill in the gulf of mexico and where do you see the world going after this type of event?
It’s hard to even really put into words the way I feel about it. I’d like to think that we’re experiencing the darkness before a dawn. I don’t believe that humanity can or will be able to sustain itself in it’s current incarnation for much longer. Spill or no spill, I believe now is the time for us to educate ourselves on the true nature of reality and to reconnect with our forgotten collective identity. I don’t pretend for a moment that such a realization will take place across the entirety of humanity, but I think it’s crucial that people who feel dispossessed or helpless examine the truth within their hearts and the wisdom available to them by turning off their televisions. There is no hope or future in the culture of materialism and violence and fear which we rely on as if it were God. Physical reality is a riddle we must learn to unlock.