Australian graphic designer Seldon Hunt has created artwork for bands like Sunn O))), Melvins, Earth, Isis, Acid Mothers Temple & many more. Seldon spoke to M3 about his artwork & how the internet has destroyed alternative culture…
M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
I live and work in New York. The majority of my work has been album cover art and merchandise related projects for bands and labels.
What inspired you to focus on music related artwork? What is your own musical background?
I was an avid music fan as a teenager and through college. Discovering the punk scene in my home town of Melbourne, Australia, had a profound impact on me as far as a culture was concerned. I did not contribute to it back then, but it impacted me in terms of wanting to participate in a sub culture, and to contribute something to what I guess back then was a fight against the mainstream. This lead to eventually working with new bands coming out of the US in the late 90’s.
The list of bands you have worked with reads like a veritable who’s who of contemporary drone/doom. How did you come to be involved with these bands?
I did some work with Neurosis and Isis as I had met them while in the states on a holiday . I showed them my work and they contacted me soon after for some projects. The timing was great as the doom/drone/post metal scene was just beginning, so a lot of new bands liked what I had done for Isis and Neurosis and work started to flow from there. The scene grew pretty rapidly and my style I guess became somewhat synonymous with that kind of music.
How much creative control do you have over your artwork for musicians? Do they give you an idea of what they’d like, or just let you do your own thing?
In the early days I had total carte blanche over the art. The musicians in a sense viewed the work as some kind of collaboration. As time went by and some bands became more successful, they wanted to have more input into the concepts. This was especially the case with merchandise as they could see what kind of iconography sold the most! These days its pretty rare to be given total freedom, the scene is dissolved to a greater extent, and the current scene has a totally different attitude to art and music. These days it appears to me, that bands want art that associates their band with a broad scene and hence aesthetic. The room for innovative solutions is pretty limited.
Would you recommend illustration and design work as a good way for struggling musicians to earn an extra income?
Ha, no not really. Get a job bussing tables in a bar. Better money, better hours.
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
Vinyl. For all the obvious reasons, im 42, I grew up with vinyl, i love the jacket size, and it does have a better range of audio.
Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
I think its almost forgotten and will be completely by this time next year. Things are a changing! Everything is directed towards short attention spans, snippets of information, previews, summaries etc. The very nature of iTunes players tends to lead people to create playlists which of course is about creating your own personal radio station…. Obviously having a physical medium like an LP or CD, forced you to listen to a whole album, unless you could be bothered changing disks every song! Plus many albums were designed as narratives and were intended to be listened to and appreciated over their entirety. There is no real reason for a band to do that these days.
Much has been made of the supposed death of the record store in recent years. Do you believe the digital age has killed the record store, and if so, do you think that this is a necessary part of progression, or a tragic loss?
Its is definitely a huge and tragic loss. I see no real progression in this at all. I do miss the visit to the record store. Flicking through the releases, holding onto the ones you wanted to listen to and bringing them to the desk to listen to on overly warm headphones. This was geared towards an attitude of curiosity. It took some level of passion and commitment, and thus one was more appreciative of the music one listened to. With the current easy access, sound byte, sample culture, its just too easy to to be flippant and complacent, you neither need to like it or love it or hate it, it has no impact on your reasons for listening. WIth record stores, one went with the anticipation of discovering something new and remarkable. To not even leave your bedroom, means you can just flick through sound bytes while you put your pants on and its too easy to just be nonchelant about what you’re hearing. Going to record stores was in some sense no different to going to a live show. It was a process, a physical investment in a sub culture, a direct participation. And I think this has impacted on the music industry in more ways than just how music is sold, but how music is appreciated. Dedication created passion, it created scenes, it created cultures. Like minded people gathered at shows and created events, art movements, and musical movements branched out from these passionate meeting points, and this of course stemmed a lot from music stores, where most shows were advertised on pin up boards. Passionate, dedicated people went to the ends of the earth to go to the store, then did the same to go to the associated shows. These days people are alone, in bedrooms, shopping with their credit cards and listening to music alone and without any social context. What is the music really speaking to them about? Before the internet, I remember that every waking moment of the day was mainstream, the news, the radio, the outside world, advertising, cars, gas stations, chain restaurants, it was infinitely in your face all day. To access sub culture, or alternative culture as it was known back then, required quite a bit of effort, taking long journeys to book stores, record stores, events/shows. It was only once inside that the mainstream world vanished and this relief of being in the world you felt the REAL connection to would be revealed. Now, you can access 377 forms of subculture before breakfast and before you’ve even left the house. This just merely dilutes the true purpose of alternative culture, in fact it just means it joins the mainstream, and hence there is NO alternative culture. It is blurred into one homogenous mass of meaninglessness.
Recently, there seem to be a large number of bands offering their releases for free via sites like Bandcamp. What do you think of this distribution method, do you think it is a realistic solution to the problem of illegal downloading?
I think bands have little alternative in terms of how to get their music to people. What else can they do? The people born post 1990, have reached spending age and they have spent their teen downloading music for free, and they have zero connection with purchasing music. Its only going to get worse. To teens, music is not something you buy, its something that floats out there and you can just have it for free. And its not that hard to do.
What is your take on the recent SOPA/ACTA controversy?
Well, its not something I have read a huge amount about, as it seems inevitable that this would happen. I think in some respects the intention of protecting from piracy is forward thinking but the capacity for it to become dangerous as far as free speech is concerned is what will ultimately make me think its the wrong direction. It always seems to be that something that is done in what ‘appears’ to be the right reasons by the government has a hidden insidious purpose and will be wielded by people with less than admirable intentions. Ultimately it will be a debacle, and people will be arrested for stupid reasons and music and movies will still end up being pirated. There will always be a way around it.
Finally, what does the future hold for Seldon Hunt?
I have no idea! Im just trying out some new ideas and seeing where it leads.
For more information about Seldon Hunt, you can visit his official website.