One of the great advantages to being a culture nerd in the era of the internet is its ability to provide context for your obsessions. Learning about an artist’s life and interests outside of the field for which they are known can change your perception of their work and allows you to discover more awesome art in the process. We all know how wrong this can go when huge stars try to capitalize on their fame in every possible market (see: celebrity perfume lines). Thankfully, today, with the ease of self-release and DIY art, smaller and more interesting musicians are broadening their creative horizons with fabulous results. With that in mind, here are a few artists whose musical work we love, but who have other creative projects that deserve more attention. As always, please leave your own additions to the list in the comments.
It’s not surprising that the petri dish of creativity that is Baltimore’s underground art scene is full of multi-talented artists. The Baltimore based “post-hardcore” band Double Dagger is a perfect example. Their live performances are energetic and cathartic, full of communal punk spirit, and their albums have gained them a dedicated following. But their musical career is only a part of their creative endeavors: the band’s frontman, Nolen Strals, and bassist, Bruce Willen, also run the design firm Post Typography. Their striking work has been featured in the New York Times, Spin, international ad campaigns, and a recent Time magazine cover about data mining. Willen and Strals are also the authors of the typography design guide Lettering & Type . We highly recommend their website, which is full of playful design gags, like a manifesto that changes into the unreadable font Wingdings as you try to read it. Early in their career, Double Dagger (whose name is a reference to a typographic symbol) made allusions to design in their music and even jokingly referred to themselves as “graphicdesigncore.” However, in recent times they’ve moved away from this, and now their music and design stand apart from each other as equally brilliant artistic achievements.
Will Schaff (of What Cheer? Brigade)
Unlike most of the musicians on this list, Will Schaff is predominantly known for his work in the visual arts. If you check out his extensive Flickr page, his fans’ devotion is evident by the many tattoos of his art featured. He’s done unforgettable cover art for bands like Okkervil River, Godspeed You! Black Emporer, Songs: Ohia, and many others. The tortured tone of his art, which has focused on his interpretation of the Holocaust and other tragedies, is the antithesis of his musical side: a band that is positively exploding with joy, the Providence, RI-based marching band What Cheer? Brigade. If you see the Brigade live, it is likely that they will skip the stage in favor of performing their raucous music from the center of the audience. Schaff acts as sort of a band mascot and silent leader, playing drums and wearing an ape mask. His art and music are a perfect balance to each other, each containing their own kind of beauty.
Carrie Brownstein (of Sleater-Kinney and Wild Flag)
Remember the ass-kicking, fantastic seminal post-riot grrrl band Sleater-Kinney? (Of course you do. How could you forget?) Carrie Brownstein was in that. Remember the annual rundown of the year’s best music on the NPR podcast All Songs Considered? Carrie Brownstein was on that, too. Remember the wonderful Monitor Mix blog on the All Songs Considered website? Wonder who wrote that? (Hint: Carrie Brownstein did.) Have you heard the new band Wild Flag, who’ve already opened for Bright Eyes at Radio City Music Hall and were one of the most anticipated bands at this year’s SXSW festival? You better know Carrie Brownstein was in that. Do you remember the totally hilarious and painfully accurate miniseries Portlandia that made its debut on IFC last year and has already been renewed for another season? Yeah, Carrie Brownstein is totally in that shit, too.
Jeffrey Lewis is probably one of the most neurotic musicians working today. Many of his songs revolve around emotional or career-related personal crises and his swirling thoughts surrounding them, detailed in simple yet precise lyrics. Others of his songs have more creative content, like a track that details the history of proto-punk music on the Lower East Side in the 1950s and ’60s, complete with short covers of every band he references. If you see him live, you’ll probably get treated to at least one or two songs, like “The History of Communism,” accompanied by his “low-budget films,” in which Lewis stands on a chair and sings while holding a sketch book filled with his colored-in drawings. Lewis has been writing and illustrating comic books for as long as he has been making music, and has done cover art for his friend and fellow anti-folk hero Kimya Dawson. He sells his comic books for extremely reasonable prices at shows and online, and we highly recommend picking one up in person if possible.
In case their name didn’t tip you off, AIDS Wolf are a weird band. They play noise rock, so their shows involve a lot of screaming and strange noises. Their fans dance, crowd surf, mosh, and generally freak out, while those who aren’t in the know look on in confusion. The Canadian three piece is divisive in their music and style, and like pushing the boundaries of taste in their music and art (if you can handle some serious strangeness, this video is highly recommended). Two members of the band, Yannick Desranleau and Chloe Lum, run Seripop, an experimental design and art studio. Self-described “printmaking iconoclasts,” their band posters, art prints and installations are full of exuberant colors and designs that are both unsettling and addictive. If you’re into it, their yearly subscription is a fantastic deal on consistently amazing art.
If you saw the outragous and celebrity- filled music video for The New Pornographers’ song “Moves,” directed by Tom Scharpling and released earlier this year, then you already know a bit about Jon Wurster. In the ridiculous fake biopic, Wurster, best known as the drummer of Superchunk and more recently The Mountain Goats, starred as AC Newman… if AC Newman became a psychotic, drug-addled megalomaniac with a terrible toupée. As the video suggests, Wurster is not new to comedy. He has co-hosted The Best Show on WFMU with Scharpling for ten years and has even written for TV shows like Monk and Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! And aside from these comedic pursuits, Wurster has taken to dispensing his extra wit on Twitter. His account is a must-follow for anyone who enjoys a good mixture of sarcasm and music nerdery.
Poster design by Elizabeth Blackford
Amy Klein (of Titus Andronicus)
Since the release of their critically acclaimed epic The Monitor last year, Titus Andronicus have been quickly ascending to indie rock fame. Patrick Stickles, their lead singer, is outspoken and idealistic about music and morality. He’s a cool guy, but his charisma can make it too easy to forget his other band members, who happen to be pretty awesome as well. Occasional Flavorwire contributor Amy Klein, in particular, who plays guitar in Titus, is revealing herself to be not only a great musician in her own right (her self-released solo debut, I Know What You Want , was released recently, and fans of Joanna Newsom will not find it disappointing), but a promising writer and activist as well. Klein, fed up with the sexism in politics, culture, and particularly music, began writing about it on her Tumblr and eventually started a feminist group based in New York City called Permanent Wave, which is using music and art to make a dent in this institutional chauvinism. Permanent Wave hosted its first show at the Brooklyn DIY venue Death by Audio February and featured music and poetry performances, along with art by Marissa Paternoster of Screaming Females. It’s wonderful to see someone bringing back the spirit of ’90s riot grrl at a time when we still so desperately need it.