Damon Locks is a man of multifaceted talents. In addition to being a musician and the lead singer of ‘The Eternals,’ he is a gifted visual artist. He has touched modern culture in many areas, having worked in so many places and leaving his imprint behind. We were first introduced to the art that Damon had put into the world from the album cover work he has done for many bands and artists in his career. His cover work for the new Andrew Bird record Break It Yourself displays his stunning usage of landscapes and people that runs in many of his works. Originating from the east coast with his roots planted firmly in Chicago, he has happily made a living in the Midwest for most of his life. From the early ties in the punk rock scene to funk, rock and jazz, the creative transition between making music and art is virtually nonexistent and both mediums flow naturally to us in the works we have encountered from Locks. Damon’s art is a reflection of the life around him. What he sees, hears, touches and imagines leaves a unique mark on his works that has inspired us for years. Damon has been working hard for well over a decade to present more art shows in his career and the pieces we are presenting with this Creator Wave online art gallery posting come from a recent show he has on display in Chicago at ESS’ Audible Gallery. Please enjoy this exclusive interview and online art gallery posting with Damon Locks at Sound Colour Vibration.
Damon Locks exclusive interview with SCV
Conducted by Michele Lin
SCV: You are a Chicago-based artist, musician, lead singer of ‘The Eternals’, curator and journalist. What are some special skills and talents that I may have missed?
Damon Locks: Hmm…I make a delicious non-traditional rice pudding. I am a deejay. I am also the vocalist in a jazz group called Exploding Star Orchestra. Oh…and I can cut hair.
SCV: Cityscapes are a large theme in your work. These scenes are made astonishing with your use of colour, perspective, proportions, crafted grit, veil of nostalgia and keen design. I’m very curious to know. What is it that mostly inspires your art?
Damon Locks: Everything inspires my art. The excitement of possibility gets filtered through the mediums most suitable. So, if I see a great film or have a great conversation, if I am on the C train in NYC people watching or listening to a Daphne Oram reissue, it helps me make art. I often don’t know what I will do ahead of time; I just have to let the image dictate the final outcome. I have to let the art reveal itself. The more I focus on making art, the more I want to do it. The more it feels like it needs to be done. It feels completely necessary to my well being.
Cities are a theme. I think buildings are great to look at. They are evocative and tell a story really well. I believe it is a story about people. Since I was little my art has been about people. I have childhood sketch books filled with drawings of superheroes…one on each page. I think today my images are still about people even when they are not visually the focus. Our environment tells so much about who we are.
SCV: Can you elaborate on buildings telling stories about people? And what can the environment tell about us?
Damon Locks: Well, what we put up and what we take down tells about our intentions and our needs. A city street tells a larger story about us than one person can say. A city skyline is another conversation entirely. I love people and at the same time, I can’t stand most people. I want us to be better at being a community. I want us to care about what we create. Buildings show us how much we care and don’t care. They show how we live and how we shelter ourselves from the elements and how we block each other out. Buildings show how we cover things up yet they reveal so much.
SCV: Thank you, that was beautifully said. To be a musician, as well as a visual artist is quite a feat. How do the two mediums intertwine in terms of your creative process?
Damon Locks: They are both very natural to me. When I was younger the people in bands were often artists as well. I never thought it was strange. As we all got older many drew a dividing line between the two mediums. I think the thought process was, to be a serious visual artist it was probably best to hang up the being in a band thing. I never bothered to make a distinction between the two as a preferred outlet. But let me say for probably 15 years, I took visual art for granted. It was something that I could do but I had no overt trajectory. I did form a musical trajectory during that time (or more my musical path became more defined by where I was not interested in going). That being said, I think the time invested in making music helps inform decisions I make as a visual artist.
SCV: Can you further explain how making music ties into making decisions as a visual artist?
Damon Locks: As a guy in a band, I am used to making decisions about the trajectory of the band…shows we will or will not play. We make decisions about what songs to put out and where to tour. I have learned from being in a band that you control how people view your band/music. You create the context from which people form an opinion about what the band is about. In many ways, the band itself creates its audience. The band has an identity outside of the individual members. As a visual artist there is also a perceived identity outside of who you actually are based on the decisions you make. The decisions you make in terms of medium, subject matter, venue, etc create the perception of who you are as an artist and creates your trajectory.
SCV: What are you listening to now?
Damon Locks: Literally…Street and Gangland Rhythms, Beats and Improvisations by Six Boys in Trouble (an Old Smithsonian Folkways Recording). I listened to my cassette of that tonight. In the last couple weeks, the two most recent Erykah Badu records.
SCV: You said that you derive inspiration from books. What are your most inspiring works of literature?
Damon Locks: Probably Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Kalfa’s The Trial. Both are wonderfully disconcerting surreal perspectives on society. They both resonate without having read them over and over. They linger in my mind. Have you seen Orson Welles’ The Trial? Brilliant…a must see!
SCV: Great! And what are you reading now?
Damon Locks: Crime by Alix Lambert and The Chicagoan Magazine (look them up!).
SCV: Ok, this is a random, but very important question. What is your ideal breakfast?
Damon Locks: My homemade oatmeal with Scottish stone ground oats with raisins (if you salt it just right, you don’t need brown sugar nor maple syrup) was once my ideal. Now, I like to start with a cup of herbal tea and I normally have an apple or banana with that. An English muffin buttered with some jam compliments a cup of tea nicely, but that is a rare occasion.
SCV: Yum! How has living in Chicago influenced you as a person and artist?
Damon Locks: Chicago has its own specific urban character that I have grown accustomed to. I am from the east coast but have been here over half my life so the issues of this city have become my issues. I love the subway train cars…the elevated train line. It’s beautiful. I feel like living in Chicago, you can take to time to build your own thing and give it time to grow. You can be unplugged from the matrix and plug in if you feel like it. It is definitely a big city and it carries weight but you can determine the amount of weight you want to throw around.
SCV: I really like that last metaphor about throwing weight around. That’s really great. San Francisco, where I’m from, is a lot like that too. It’s literally engineered to be a place to work, play, rest and be constantly inspired by the life around you. It’s a magnificent balance. So you’re from the East Coast originally. What brought you to Chicago and what about the city makes you stay?
Damon Locks: I wasn’t happy at art school in NYC. I came from the east coast to the midwest from School of Visual Arts to the School of the Art Institute. I met the rhythm section of my Chicago band Trenchmouth when I was in NYC and they moved right after I moved to Chicago. I went to school and started the band and never left. 23 years later Chicago is still serving me well. When I first moved here I thought of myself as an east coaster. For years I denied being a Chicagoan. What happened between then and now is what is called life. I built a life. The Field Museum, The Spertus Instistute, Blackout Records, Hi Fi Records, Idful Music Studio, Thrill Jockey Records, Biz 3 Publicity were all places I have worked. Trenchmouth, The Eternals and Exploding Star Orchestra are the bands I have played/still play in. I have roots. I have friends here that I consider family. This is my life and I dig it.
SCV: Any shows or new works that we can look forward to in the near future?
Damon Locks: I have a show up right now at the Experimental Sound Studio here in Chicago for which I produced 8 new prints; some digital some silk-screen some Xerox. I had my hand in helping to create an experimental animated piece for this show that came out great! It is not my animation but it was a thrill to work with such a talented team on that piece.
Terri Kapsalis and I were commissioned to create pieces responding to ESS’ archive of Sun Ra tapes. In lieu of solo work, we up and invited The Eternals’ Wayne Montana and animator Rob Shaw to collaborate on this 18 minute video. Throughout the process, I have been working on a new series of related prints that will be on display in ESS’ Audible Gallery through April 4 which are the prints that we are including for this online art gallery posting with you.
Coming up: an online show that will later be a real world show called Desaturate. It is the second in a series where several screen printers were asked to do five prints, not using color. It’s a great line up of really talented people. The artists are from Chicago and Madison. It will be up on the Red Rocket gallery site and up on walls at the Living Room gallery in Chicago during the Fall. The living room show might get pushed back though.
I am contributing to another show at Living Room that is being put together by designer, Eve Fineman, entitled “Objects in Space” (opens June 22nd). There will be a ton of great furniture, textiles, artwork and accessories included in this show celebrating art and design from a Chicago point of view. Wayne and I (The Eternals) are working on a couple songs that we will perform for the project “Crime, USA: Hartford” at the end of March in Hartford Conn.
I think that is everything! Thanks for listening.
SCV: Thank you, Damon!
Creator Wave Volume 39: Damon Locks / damonlocks.com
To see the pieces presented here in the incredible exhibit Damon is a part of with Experimental Sound Studio, check out the info below or click on the link for all the details.
Animated video by The Eternals, Terri Kapsalis & Rob Shaw
Prints by Damon Locks
Opening on Saturday, February 4, 2012, 7:00-9:00pm
Screenings of the animation at 7:30 & 8:30
Saturdays & Sundays, 1:00pm-5:00pm, or by appointment
SCV: Relationship of Command from At The Drive-In was a record that had a huge impact on me when I first heard it in high school so I had to ask, how was the process of designing that cover for you?
Damon Locks: My old band Trenchmouth played with At the Drive-In their early days. I believe it was in El Paso, pre-Omar even (I still have the seven inch I got at that show, Hell Paso). They were a really cool band. Great energy and they seemed to really like Trenchmouth. As they got more popular, we would always hear word about how they gave props to Trenchmouth. I think Trenchmouth was a influence over the early Defacto recordings they did. Anyway, I was asked by Thick Records to do a picture disc split 7″ for Burning Airlines and At the Drive-In. I had designed the Trenchmouth artwork/t-shirts/record covers etc but I had no computer skills at the time. So I just did my best to imagine layering images in my head and picking colors. Well, the 7″ came out pretty well. I think this put the idea in their minds to get me to do the artwork. The mighty Jason Farrell did the actual design work on the record. I think he told me what they were looking for image-wise. He did the layout and the type etc. I just did the artwork. He created the look and placed everything. That was totally cool with me because I had not developed that skill yet. It took me months to gather the ideas for a Trenchmouth record cover. I drew the art for Relationship of Command and mailed it of to Jason and he put it all together.
I still get random emails about that record cover. Most people want to see the rest of the Trojan Horse because they want to get a tattoo of it. There is no bottom half of the horse.