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Matt Maust is a visual artist, as well as the bassist for COLD WAR KIDS. Driven by the pure experience of creating, Matt produces quality through constancy.
Q: How did you become a artist?
A: I think you’re always becoming one really, and never fully arrive. When i was really young, I was always very excited about album covers, skateboards and posters on my brother’s bedroom wall, but I remember this girl, Kassi in 7th grade, bringing in what I think was the first issue of Ray-Gun Magazine to science class (she took it from her older sister’s room). Interestingly, I realized that I preferred the design of the magazine over the content.
That was the first thing I remember of “steezy design,” and soon after that, the U2 record, Achtung Baby came out, and I absolutley loved the cover by Anton Corbijn.
Later in college, I would become a graphic design major, basically because I liked a girl who was already an art major, and she said I had a pretty good sense of layout.
I was always making her mixtapes, and I think I spent more time at the xerox machine in the library making the inserts than actually picking good music. From making these mix tapes, friends from different bands would ask me to design their record covers and demos.
If I had to pinpoint a place in time, I feel like this was really when I became an artist. I’m proud of some of them, and not very much of others, but it was good practice.
Q: What drives you to create?
A: Earlier today, I was recording music with a friend just for fun, and we were thinking about it and asked ourselves, “Why is recording something and listening to it so exciting?” All we could come up with, was that it’s probably similar to what a person doing graffiti might experience; making a mark upon someone else’s property or tag and getting a temporary high off of it. Sure, it might be man’s natural desire to create for a better life, but I think it’s much more selfish than that. I think it all comes down to the thrill of making a mark on something, and if someone likes what you made, then that’s a double-whammy of sweetness. Really, I think it’s as simple as just always looking for the next high.
Q: What was the most influential time in your development as an artist?
A: I think when my brother gave me the Tom Waits album, “Bone Machine” to listen to on a road trip to Texas, around 10-12 years ago. That album had a huge impact on me in so many ways; it made me think about art in a simple way. The record is very, very simple, and I think he approaches music-making in kind of a childlike way. I started thinking, maybe my style could similar, but visually. This was about the same time I started designing sleeves and t shirts for friend’s bands, and during this time, I would listen to that Tom Waits record over and over.
The second most influential time was when I worked at a clothing line in Los Angeles called Ever, a company which is over and done with now. However, I was paid to make their t shirts and an assortment of other stuff, and to basically stay inspired all day long, whatever that meant. If I felt like getting in my car and driving around taking pictures, then that’s what I did.
A friend of mine, Jason, employed me and gave me artistic freedom to do whatever I wanted with the t shirt line. He wanted an artist, not so much a graphic designer, to make the t shirts. I had already been obsessed with t shirts since I was a kid, so it was kind of a dream job.
Q: What is your process when creating something new?
A: I think one of my heroes Dieter Roth says it best, and I don’t mind quoting him,
“ON THE VISUAL ARTS:
Take a thing and put it on one thing
Take a thing and put it on 2 things
Take a thing and put it on 3 things
Take a thing and put it on 4 things
Take a thing and put it on 6 things
Take a thing and put it on 7 things
…sell any time.”
But seriously, I’d really like to be that way. I think the things that I’ve enjoyed most, that I’ve had the pleasure of bringing about visually, I haven’t thought about too much. They just sort of arrived as gifts from somewhere else. It’s like fishing, you do all of the work baiting up your line and hook, but the real hard work is simply waiting for the gift to bite. It’s the same with song writing, I think.
Q: What mediums do you use?
A: I’ll use whatever is lying around. I’m kind of a mix of cheapskate and stupid splurger, so I’ll go long periods of time without spending a dime on supplies, then wait til someone moves or “cleans house” and gives me all their supplies from school. On the other hand, I’ll also buy a bunch of ridiculous, unnessecary pens and pencils… But I’ll use whatever. My favorite tools tend to be the xerox machine and really, really thick pencils. I also like tempura paint, especially red. Lately, however, I’ve been doing a lot of traveling with my band, so I’ll buy lots and lots of postcards, everywhere I go, and paint on those.
Q: Since you’re a musician as well, does music influence your visual art?
A: O yes, they go together. Sometimes, I really enjoy that they do, and sometimes, I think it bites you in the ass. I’ve just made my first short film with two of my friends, and I have to say that the most enjoyable part of working on it was the music placement within the film. I had Richard Swift do the music for it, and then we placed his tunes where appropriate. I think that film/visual things can come alive with music attached, and I want to explore this more. I’m not sure in what capacity, but I really want to be involved with making films. One of my favorite artists, Rodney Graham, is great at this.
I think you can change the context of something drastically when toying with visuals and music. Take now for instance, I’m sitting in a bar doing this interview, and the Beegees song, “Staying Alive” is playing. And the people who are in this bar are so different than who I think should be listening to this music, that it alters my perception of this song, “Damn, what a good song.”
Q: What does quality over quantity mean to you?
A: O, I think enjoying an old Rasputin rather than a sixer of Pacifico or a Terrence Malick film over Friends. But seriously, that question is so subjective. I think you just know it when you know it, and you leave it alone when you don’t. I have a hard time with this question because some of the greatest art, I believe, is made from or inspired by the “lowest culture.” I don’t like naming names when it comes to this kind of talk, but I think it rings true. I say, “Take it all in, hold your breath, and hold it for a while,” because what you might think is “not of quality,” just might turn out to be really great.
You’ll still never get me to watch Friends though, what a waste of time.
Q: If you could live in any building in the world, which would it be?
A: I was asking a friend earlier today if he knew where Woody Allen lived (we were in the neighborhood where we thought he might), and just before I started responding, he texted me the address of his place.
It’s going to be hard not to stake out his coffee shop now, but I think I would like the vibes of his building. I feel like there must be some good energy roaming around those rooms. So yea, that building.
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