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Home FEATURES Jay Howell Interview

Jay Howell Interview

Written by Jesse Pollock   
Tuesday, 06 February 2007 05:54
Jesse interviews this SF based artist who has a thing for dogs and boners.

I love dogs, music, sex and fun times. As a result of liking those things, you might say that I was biased when talking about Jay Howell and his artwork. This is artwork where mountains go bike riding, where dogs form pyramids and cyclones, and where hippies rock out to metal... and don't forget boners. Plenty of boners.

Jay is also the author or countless zines and books, most recently the instructional guides; Dog and Dog Information and Let Me Tell You Where to Stick It (with Audrey Erickson). Jay is also co-owner of the record label Mt St Mtn, who with partner Mark Kaiser, has continued to put out great records for the last several years... Below is a short conversation with Jay at his apt. in the Mission here in good ol' San Francisco, California. USofA.

// Jay Howell and his pet birds. photo: pollock

Since I love food basically as much as I love art, I usually talk about restaurants and delicious places to eat right off the bat. However, you're a vegetarian. So where do you get the best veggie burger or whatever?

The fish tacos El Metate are so good. I eat at El Farolito, St. Francis, Atlas Cafe, and Country Station. I also can't forget Arinell. I love a pizza sandwich (when you take two big slices and fold them into a sandwich). Pizza is so good, plus Arinell is the best pizza place in the city.

You used to live in Sacramento a while back and you seemed to do a lot of great stuff up there. So much so, that someone actually called you "Sacramento's golden son". How was your time up there?

I had so many amazing moments in Sacramento. It's a really kind city and a good place to get things done, get to things started, or a good place to have kids. It's easy to get stuck in a rut there though. I like the crazy hot summers and then going to the rivers and riding bikes all night. Breaking into swimming pools and drinking cold beers in the hot sun is good too.

Since we're currently in the dead of winter, I'd take any of those moments right now. Sounds like you got wasted a lot and had a bunch of crazy parties.

Well, getting wasted and having a crazy party is kind of my thing.

You made your book Negatron up there and it did really well - even making it on to some critic's top picks. Can you talk about the book a little bit?

It's a compilation of old zines that I started doing back in 1998 called Punks Git Cut! Then I re-drew a bunch of it, added some new stuff and called it "Negatron". I named it after this weird experience I had with a magic healer dude who told me my mission in life is to take negative experiences and "vibes" and then recycle them into fun times for the people around me.

Also while living in Sacramento, you formed the record label Mt St. Mtn with Omnibus's Mark Kaiser. Despite small runs and being an independent, the label seems to be doing really great right now. How did all that start?

Mark and I really wanted to create an imprint which is a little more lasting than what is currently out there right now. All you see is tons of disposable things like CDs and flyers for shows. Just 100s printed up and put out all over the place for a single moment by the worst graphic designers ever (anyone with a computer). Or like the internet, which is so wonderful, but it feels cheap to me because I can't hold it. I like to own special little things and I like to give them away too. Things like zines and records are personal and thoughtful products. They're the type of thing that makes me super excited. The first time I saw a Cometbus zine I was so stoked that is was just some random dude telling you about his life. It was really inspiring to see that I could do this too and that there was no one there looking over your shoulder, grading you or anything. Do you remember when he'd put out those zines on tape too? That was so sick. All our records are hand screen printed or letter pressed, and done in limited runs no bigger than 500 copies. This creates a product that's not so disposable and the people who really want it the most can have it. You can order them through Revolver USA if you're interested. I sell the zines for like 2 bucks at Needles and Pens or if you see me on the street I'm always down for a trade or whatever. Just ask me and I'll give you one.

That's a pretty refreshing stance on the whole record company scenario. On the other side of things, you and Mark were also in that band Gift Of Goats as well as some other bands over the years. What's up with you and playing music these days?

Being in a band is miserable. I'd rather go out and see bands that know what they're doing. It took a little while, but I finally figured out that maybe I'm not the best musician and should put my energy in other places. I still get the urge to jam out sometimes but then like, who doesn't? There's nothing that can match the feeling of playing music and having it all come together. Music is so important to us and we would be nothing without it. Everybody knows that though.

What kind of music do you listen to while you're working (if any)?

I listen to His Hero is Gone, Sunn o))), Tragedy, Smog.. shit like that.

You have been playing records an awful lot these days as well, any plans to cut back?

I don't know, maybe. I'm a pretty lousy DJ.. like I can't beat match or anything. I get drunk and play the same songs over and over, and then I cut songs off because I get excited to hear another song and stuff. I just like to drink beer and listen to loud music of my choosing.

I feel like when I read your books and zines, that I take something away with me. A sort of "Jay Howell mantra" or something. I have the idea stuck in my head, that your books are quasi self-help manuals for daily living. Does something like that go on in your head when you're working?

Take a stand against the jerks from hell. They are out there and they want you to feel bad just because they do. You will not be taken down, YOU are from Tuff Town and they are from the lame village across the river. We launch rocks at them for a reason.

I think it's pretty obvious to anyone who has met you that you sort of incorporate yourself into your work. Do you typically draw your fantasies? Do you do think your work reflects yourself more often than not?

I try to go onto my back steps and sit in the sun everyday. I like to stare at the sun with my eyes closed, you know like when your eyes are closed but you can still look at the inside of your eyelids? Then with the hot sun it's just so weird and red looking. I really like to soak up the good times, like petting dogs, swimming in the ocean, partying, drinking tons, eating junk food, tons of sex, loud music. I live my life like I just walked into the chocolate factory (Mr. Wonka's). Fuck, that moment still gives me the chills and I watch it so much. I'd just stay in there forever and never ever get on that trippy-ass boat.

I suppose I'll draw my own conclusions from that one. I've heard your work described in the past as confrontational. Is that a statement you agree with? Is it something you strive for?

Maybe it is. I'm always scared to show my Mom what I'm doing. It's just sad to show your parents little pictures you drew of naked people and like, mountains with boners and stuff. It sounds silly, but I just want people to laugh, it means so much to me and nothing else matters. So it's not all for nothing, you know?

All I'm saying is that it's so important to be yourself. That's all you have to offer so just be honest. It's really scary to put yourself out there knowing that everybody is going to come down on you because they think they know where you're coming from and what you've been through. That's never, ever true. Personality is art.

Jay just finished a collaboration with film maker Jim Dirschberger of Eighty-Four Films on an animated short. You can watch their new film 'Hippy Shit Adventure' here. You can watch their previous film 'Punks Git Cut' here.

You can get updates on Jay and his work at Mt St Mtn. Also check out Jay's upcoming show and t-shirt release at Receiver Gallery on Saturday, February 17th. {moscomment}

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