――Welcome back to Japan! How do you like it here?
A. Savage: “Thank you. This is my third time in Japan. I love it. I never want to leave whenever it’s time to go. I always want to stay. It’s a really enchanting city. I’m so familiar with New York, I’ve lived there for so long. So it’s nice to feel like a foreigner sometimes to feel bit lost, and just feel kind of like you are wandering around on your own.”
――Where are you from? How did you get into art?
“I’m from Texas and I studied painting in university. I began in music but it wasn’t for me, so I switched to painting. Because the music program I went to was very competitive. I played upright bass. That was my first instrument that I started playing when I was 11.”
――Did you grow up painting as well?
A. Savage: “No, I didn’t grow up painting. I mostly grew up drawing. Painting started in university for me, but when I was there, I mostly painted gouache. And then when I left university, I took a break from painting for a while. Because I moved to New York and I didn’t have enough room in my apartment to paint. So it was a few years before I was able to get a studio. I got my studio in 2014.”
――Did you move to New York to play music?
A. Savage: “I moved to New York just to move to New York. I only knew few people and for that reason, it was quite exciting the first year there, just learning about the city, making new friends.”
――When did you start Parquet Courts?
A. Savage: “We started Parquet Courts in 2010 in New York. I did all the artwork for the band, so I’ve always done art, but painting is something that kind of started for me in 2014, like five years ago.”
――Congratulations your first exhibition in Tokyo. We are so happy to see your artwork.
A. Savage: “Me too, it’s an honor.”
――Why did you call this exhibition “Golden Week Blues”?
A. Savage: “Well, in order to start, I kind of had to find a subject matter. I knew it was going to be Golden Week, and I knew I had these blue jackets that I wanted to paint on. I’ve been doing those for a little bit actually. So those are the ‘blues,’ the blue jackets. It’s like I wanted to make my costumes for Golden Week, basically. So that’s what these are, costumes for Golden Week. But it’s also kind of like blues, like a blues song or something, you know? So a bit of a double entendre, I guess.”
A. Savage: “Also, I’ve been a big fan of Big Love. So it’s really an honor to have been asked by them, because they are such good people and such a cool store and it’s a community. I’ve been hanging out here during the day, and all sorts of people come here just to hang out. It’s a really good sense of community here, and people really respect it all over the world. And so, I kind of wanted to with the prints and the T-shirts I made for them, that’s kind of about juxtaposing Tokyo and New York for me, which is why it says Neo Tokyo, Neo York. And kind of about cities in general, urban living in general, and especially in late capitalism, how global capitalism kind of homogenizes places, and it’s kind of turning urban life into a singular experience all over the world.”
――Yeah, you go to big cities in different countries but they are kind of similar.
A. Savage: “I wrote an artist statement and I used the metaphor for a coffee shop that you can find anywhere in the world. People are asking ‘what is it?’ but no it’s not a specific one. What I’m saying is you can have the same sort of consumer experience in cities all over the world without having any sort of reflection of where you are. Yeah, I think what I wanted to do was sort of focus on what makes Tokyo and New York unique, and what makes them similar but not in a homogenous way. So there is a lot of imagery like baseball in there. Because that is a similarity but it’s also kind of makes both places a little bit unique. Baseball culture is just a very different culture in general.”
――Also, it’s very interesting that there are strong illustration elements in your paintings. Is that because you grew up drawing?
A. Savage: “I guess so. In my paintings I don’t tend to use lines for that reason. Because I do see a difference in them and I don’t consider the painting to be illustrations, although they could be seen as being illustrative. I’ve been around illustration all my life, we all have, it’s everywhere. But I do think they are different like “Wide Awake!” cover. It’s very relying on line, more like cartoon. That was kind of an homage to cartoonists like Hergé, whereas I tend not to line in my actual paintings and more focus on color as a form.”
――What were some of your early inspirations for art?
A. Savage: “Cartoons for sure. ‘Ren & Stimpy’ was huge for me. That’s probably what really got me excited to draw. I was obsessed. T-shirts, dolls, yeah I loved it. So gross and weird. I think that show couldn’t happen now.”
――When you create artwork for an album, you have the music as your inspiration. When you have exhibitions like this, do you set a theme or concept beforehand, or do you start painting and a concept comes out of it?
A. Savage: “Especially for painting and everything I do really, there is so much planning that happens beforehand. So much writing, sketching and just try to figure out what I’m saying and what I want to say. That’s really a half of it is the planning stage. For this project, at my studio there is just wall of drawings and writings that I just stared at. Because it’s very important for me to basically know what I’m talking about and what I want to say. I find that when I just tried to start painting without any concept of what I’m saying or doing, it becomes a bit inarticulate and it doesn’t mean anything. It’s important that it means something to me. It’s not just pretty images or whatever because then it becomes decoration or something. It’s got to mean something and there is got to be a concept behind it. Like I guess I could have gotten these jackets and just paint shapes on them, but it wouldn’t have had like a soul, you know? It needs to have a soul, and it needs to have the thing that it’s about. Because if it’s empty for me, it’s not going to be meaningful for anybody else. It has to mean something for me at first.”
――There are some musicians who create their own artwork, but in your case, you really have a separate painting career aside from musical career. How do you see the two art forms? How do you balance them?
A. Savage: “I have to plan out my time really well, because like last year was so busy for me, it was too busy really. I had a very large commission of 20 paintings for a hotel in Los Angeles called Gold Diggers. And also last year, Parquet Courts played over 200 shows, and I also had to make 20 paintings. So basically I would come home from tour and then go straight to my studio, and then work for a week or two weeks, and then go back out on tour, and then back to my studio and work… So it’s all I did really. You sacrifice a lot to do that. I wasn’t always able to see friends or something because I had to be dedicated really. But this year, we are playing much less. We are going to record but I have more opportunities to do stuff like this.”
――It must have been difficult to get inspired to create when you are that busy?
A. Savage: “Yeah, it’s just a habit really. When I’m in New York, I need to go to my studio pretty much every day. Because it’s a habit of being in that environment, where once I step into that room, my mind kind of switches, you know? It’s kind of like a muscle memory when I enter that room, my mind knows it’s time to start thinking about what I’m doing, be creative and stuff.”
――And you write your own music as well?
A. Savage: “Sure, yeah.”
――You are so productive!
A. Savage: “Thanks [laughs.] I hear that sometimes.”
――When I first discovered your music, it was actually through the artwork. I really loved the artwork for “Wide Awake!” You have been nominated for your artwork for a Grammy, right?
A. Savage: “I was nominated for ‘Human Performance’”
――How did you feel?
A. Savage: “It was cool. I got to go to the Grammys, which was exciting. I wore a tuxedo. I was very surprised. I had no idea I was even submitted for it. The record label submitted it but they didn’t tell me, and they just texted me and said ‘you’re going to the Grammys!’ [laughs]”
――You are an artist and musician and seem to be very busy. Do you ever hit a creative wall?
A. Savage: “Sure, of course!”
――What do you do to get over it?
A. Savage: “Sometimes you just wait. You just have to be patient. On one hand you have to be patient, but on the other hand you can’t just stop doing what you are doing. I do have to keep going to my studio even if I am in a wall. I have to keep being there in order to get the inspiration. And you know, reading and meditating helps, too. The hardest part is answering the question ‘what do I want to say?’ You know? Once you know what your idea is being writing a song or doing a painting, once you know what you are talking about, then it becomes fun.”
――What would you like Japanese audiences to take home with when they leave the gallery?
A. Savage: “Honestly, anything. Even if they felt like it was total rubbish then, at least it’s new for them to feel something. But maybe my preference would be it’s kind of an homage to the city, to Golden Week, to kind of my foreign interpretation of Tokyo, and my sort of enthusiasm for having this project that’s about Tokyo and also about New York. Thanks to Big Love that a lot of really interesting events happen here, because it draws a lot of pretty cool creative people from around the world. So I hope people continue to support Big Love really.”
――Now you have spent your Golden Week here, did you get any new inspirations?
A. Savage: Sure, of course! There is a lot of great bar here that are just cool old men and their record collections. It makes me think “should I just open up a record bar?” To play my music and get my records out of my apartment and put them there, you know? Maybe I need to take the concept to New York [laughs]”
photography Satomi Yamauchi
text Nao Machida
「A. Savage – Golden Week Blues- 」
May 3rd（Fri） -19th（Sun）
Big Love （3F-A, 2-31-3, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 1500001 JAPAN）