The following interview with me was set to be published in ZERO TOLERANCE magazine (an excellent UK metal / extreme music publication) late last year. It got edited out because of space issues. The plan is that I'll be doing a new interview soon since this one's out of date. I will post info if that comes to be. Thanks to Calum and ZT for letting me post this on my blog.
This was in the context of a larger feature on Power Electronics / Noise. I'm a little wary of the whole graphic design / illustration vs art thing (it's a vague difference at times) but I figured it was best to not edit this at all. Enjoy.
Interview with Jonathan Canady by Calum Harvie - October 2008.
1. Is there such a thing as a ‘typical’ style or visual aesthetic associated with power electronics? It strikes me that there are many different ‘looks’ but often there’s a common theme in terms of subject matter.
I agree that there is no quintessential power electronics look. The visual subjects usually reflect the core lyrical themes of sex and violence in one way or another.
I have to give credit to WHITEHOUSE for using Trevor Brown's artwork regularly because it gets across the same essential ideas but in a much more interesting and dynamic way. Also, Mark Solotroff (BLOODYMINDED / INTRINSIC ACTION) always uses a poetic approach to imagery that I admire very much.
2. What role does visual art play within PE? Is it an integral part of the whole package, or can it simply stand alone too? As a performer, to what extent did you use visual art as a key element of your projects?
First of all, fine art and graphic design are very different animals. I would classify 99% of music related visual art as graphic design. In rare cases you get both in one shot, like the work of Paul Romano (famous for his work for MASTODON) and again, Trevor Brown. In those cases the artwork can absolutely stand alone.
The average PE fan doesn't give a shit about design. The only importance of design is in it being part of an effective package that makes people want to buy the manufactured CD or LP instead of just downloading it. I think this is the case for all types of non-pop music.
For me solid graphic design is VERY important to make a complete statement. However, I will admit that sometimes I was lazy about the design of my own releases because I had to deal with so many other people's graphic design all day long. The releases of mine that look really great just happened to work out well, thankfully. One exception is the 1999 power electronics comp "The Sound of Sadism" I put together. I was involved very deeply in making sure that particular package looked great. I still am very proud of that one.
3. What makes for good art in PE? Are there certain visual elements which it should contain? Should it convey a certain message or aim?
Exceptional art for PE is just made by someone having the talent to know what looks good or the sense to use a good artist or illustrator.
Cases of great art used for a PE album cover are sadly rare. Need I say Trevor Brown again? One great example was ATRAX MORGUE's use of Otto Dix art for the cover of "Woundfucker" (RIP Marco Corbelli). Nicola Vinciguerra from FECALOVE is an excellent artist and tends to use his own work for his releases. Andy Bolus, aka EVIL MOISTURE, is good example as well. There should be more of that going around.
Specific visual elements and messages aren't as important as the packaging working in perfect combination with the music.
4. Given that a lot of the content (lyrically) of PE is in-your-face, do you think it works well if the visual side is more abstract? Or does that simply dilute the impact of the music?
I always favored more towards in your face, brutal imagery in the past. I think for PE and noise that type of visual can be effective.
However, I have learned a lot about art in just the last couple of years which has changed my feelings. I do not like completely abstract expressionist art at all. There needs to be something to capture and hold the attention of the viewer. Imagery that is too straight forward fails in this respect and so does totally abstract art. Francis Bacon is the best example of a perfect balance.
Imagine an exceptional power electronics band using truly effective art that succeeds like Francis Bacon's work. There would be an epidemic of noise fans dying from brain aneurysms while listening to the album and gazing at the artwork. Ha ha. What could be better than that?
5. As an artist yourself, to what extent did your art influence your music? Or was it vice versa? When composing, did you ever start out with a visual in mind and then move on to lyrical / musical content?
There was no influence as far as art goes. I only began painting and drawing seriously in early 2007. With any graphics I did on my own releases the music always came first and the design was the final touch. It would be interesting to try it the other way around though.
6. Do you think that the visual content of PE has to be more creative than the lyrical content? Given the subject matter, is it sometimes easier to get away with what you can shock people with aurally than it is visually? Is it a necessity that some artists have to ‘tone down’ the visual side of things in order to avoid getting into bother with authorities? Or does the underground nature of PE make that irrelevant.
Ideally the visuals would be more creative but I really think most PE bands only do the art side of things as an afterthought. Some exceptions are the people I've mentioned previously.
With the internet at most people's fingertips I think it's difficult to shock anyone with visuals anymore. I expected a lot of protest and complaint about my fine art but it never happened. Most people have seen a lot of extreme imagery online already and are desensitized.
I think the authorities are less of an issue than the companies that print the artwork. I have run into problems several times over the years where the printer refuses to do the work because they are offended by the art. You either have to find someone else to do the work or change the art. I always just keep the art as-is and find a new printer.
7. Which album cover art within industrial / PE / noise – other than your own – do you like most? What is it about it that you like so much, and what makes it particularly effective?
Trevor Brown's art for "Extreme Music From Africa" immediately comes to mind. My words would be inadequate, just look up the cover if you haven't seen it. That artwork is like a fist to the face. It's SO powerful that when you put on the album you are almost guaranteed to be let down by the music in comparison.
8. You’ve ceased musical projects now to concentrate on your own art – what’s the reason behind that?
The simple answer is that I have very limited free time. So, I had to choose one passion over all others. Creating art gives me a satisfaction that I never got from music.
9. How would you describe your artistic output?
I really prefer not to describe it. Just look at my work, that's enough.
I'm actually in the midst of creating a new body of work right now. So my art is changing quite a bit from what you see accompanying this article. The main ideas will remain but it will all look quite a bit different.
10. And how do you go about creating your designs? What medium is your preference?
The work you see here is mostly gouache (opaque watercolor paint) on paper. I did freehand drawings using pornographic magazines as my "models" and developed those into full paintings.
My new work is all acrylic on canvas and I'm not relying on porno mags anymore. Some of my new work should be on my art website by the end of this year.