Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Joshua Mikel of Look Mexico, Sharkguts, and Himself.

Josh is one of those rare guys you meet that does everything well. Even interviews. He made my questions seem better than they were. Thanks Josh.

So, you do a lot of different things: Writing, playing drums for Look Mexico, and you are the artist behind Sharkguts. You told me that overall, you really would like to consider yourself a writer, although at this time you spend more time with music and design. What sort of things do you like to write? I know you have written a play or two. Anything else in particular you find enjoyable?

I wrote a little poetry and a few short stories. I really enjoyed that stuff, but generally I concentrate my efforts in the theater. It's what I got my degree in, and I like seeing my stuff come to life. I am currently in Amherst, VA working with my friend Geoff's theater company on a piece I wrote called My Brother's Knife. It's a real heavy piece, and has gone through a ton of changes in the last month or two. I've written a handful of other one acts, and I wrote a children's play called The Monster Hunters that's published by Playscripts play publishing. It's awesome to write children's theater because it's just so much easier for me, and it's such a welcomed vacation from writing heavy stuff like what I'm working on now. I do better thinking in whimsy than I do in real life, I guess. I'm currently writing another children's piece called "Good Good Trouble on Bad Bad Island".

When you compare writing to other things you do, such as art and music, you said that ultimately you would like to be a writer one day. Why do you think that is? Also, do you think that with the amount of creative energy you expend playing drums in Look Mexico and doing artwork as Sharkguts hinders your ability to write as much as you would like to? I.E. you have an amount of creative output now that leaves little in the tank for you to write on?

I think everything I do is relative. Playing drums, art, acting, writing- there is really SO MUCH cross over. When I write, I essentially act out each part as I write them. I try and think about how I would play the part I am writing, and I think it helps me address problems with the characters before they end up on the page. I've been trying a lot lately to incorporate my more graphically minded side to mingle with my writing and such- to create better images for the stage, and I am trying to write with the teeth and fearlessness I can sometimes do art with. As far as drumming- there is certainly an element of my theater background that comes across at live shows- and a good sense of timing and rhythm is priceless in all art, I'd say. As far as being creatively drained- I like to think that creativity is endless, and it's just a matter of finding the catalyst to spur me into something else. I would say though, when I am working all day on design, by the third design, I am about done with staring at a computer screen. I also find it hard to change gears when I am doing art, and then switch over and write on a play or article or something. I think the writing and art come from different parts of my psyche, and it's hard to access those fluidly. Playing drums always comes a little easier, but sometimes I sit behind the kit and am completely spent and have nothing to offer as far as new writing goes. Acting is different too- I like to think that doing some solid character research and having some good rehearsals before going into a piece definitely brings about the best performance.

What are some of the things you have written thus far, that you are most proud of? Of these, which is your favorite? Why?

I guess I covered this in an earlier question, but as far as what I'm happy with- I wrote this ten minute play called "The Great Black Vulture" - I'm very proud of it. I think like any writer, I fall in love with the things that are most recent to me, but then the honeymoon wears off, and I need to write more.

Do you have any tips for someone who aspires to become a better, or more productive writer?

Put yourself, if at all possible, in situations where other people are depending on you. Right now I am up at my friend's company working on this play full well knowing that actors, crew, and an audience are waiting to perform, design, and see this piece. I mean, they announced it as a season show, and put it on a t-shirt. I have to deliver. It's a kind of stressful spot to be in, but the alternative is taking naps and feeling guilty I wasn't writing. Other than that- I'd say I did my best writing in classes when I had deadlines. If there's any way you can find a way to hold yourself accountable and give yourself a practical deadline for things (and not go off and party hard because it's just easier) then you will undoubtedly get some stuff written. Also- don't wait to be inspired. Once you start writing, you start thinking more about writing, and suddenly things seem more worthy to write about. It's self propelling.

How is your approach to writing different from approaching say, a shirt design for a band? Do you get yourself up for the tasks mentally the same way, or is it all completely different for you?

Yeah- it's definitely different. But there's some cross over. When I come up with a design, I try and come up with a real bad ass sounding idea. For instance "I want to draw a dude sawing his arm off while he's vomiting and getting eaten by beetles." In the same way- I try and come up with a cool idea for a play- "I want to have a crazy cop stop this dude from committing suicide and make the suicider start a rock and roll band with him." That sort of thing. And most always when I go into write or draw something, I am influenced by one previous work or another. Some piece of art I saw before that I liked- or some movie or play I saw that I was really inspired by, and want to recreate in my words and scratches.

How long have you been into graphic design?

Eh- wouldn't say I've ever really been into graphic design. I like drawing bad ass pictures, but the whole design thing- I could take it or leave it.

At what point did you realize it was something you could do on a freelance basis for other people?

I knew I enjoyed drawing, and I felt like I could make some pretty cool t-shirts, so I started doing Look Mexico's. The dudes were cool enough to let me put my stuff on our shirts, and I just kind of fine tuned my style a little, and people started asking at the merch table who designed our stuff. I started small, and just recently in the past half a year or so have really started paying the bills with my art. It's something I can do virtually anywhere, and I love that. I'm doing my best to never work a REAL job the rest of my life. Or at least a job where I'm not actively creating.

Is there a particular Sharkguts project you have done that you are the most proud of?

I like the Look Mexico Gasp Asp EP artwork a lot, but I'm getting a bit tired of it. Again- it's that thing of being SO STOKED immediately when I design something, and then the newness wears off. I think I will always be proud of the video I did for Look Mexico's "You Come Into My House While I Sleep?" just because it was such a passion project. And I really like the "Expecting Concept Art" I did for my friend Ryan's feature film script. I learned a lot in that process.

Has anyone ever asked you to design something that you absolutely hated, and thought, "what the hell is this crap?"

I've designed stuff for bands and projects I didn't necessarily believe in, but folks are generally pretty awesome about letting me do what I want on their shirts. I've been trying to hold myself to a higher standard and give it the "would I like to wear this shirt?" test. There are some past projects that I cringe at, and am kind of sad I let them make it to a screen print.

What is one of the most valuable lessons you have learned about design as you have gotten more and more involved in it?

If it's a project I believe in from the get go, I always do a better job. AND don't do any work until I have seen at least half the money up front because I used to do designs for every dick that asked, and thusly did a lot of work for nothing.
(editor note: funny, my dad is an accountant, the exact opposite possibly of an artist, and he says the same thing: The hardest thing of working for yourself, is working for others who may or may not pay you for the services rendered.)

I guess one of the great advantages of being in a band, and doing graphic design, is that you can do a lot of the work for your band, offering both yourself some practice and your band some cheap design work. Were the Look Mexico shirts the first shirts you designed?

I actually started designing shirts for my high school theater. My mentor was awesome enough to let me throw my stuff on the show shirts. I did a real cool design for the stage version of The Hobbit and about ten shirts after that. They weren't anything like the stuff I do now. I had no idea what I was doing.

Speaking of Look Mexico, you guys have been a band for 5 years now, right? You guys have gone through some changes, but you have been there the entire time. How does it feel to know you guys are still kicking?

I like saying I am one of the founding members (but I think that is still kind of arguable) but I was certainly the first drummer to play shows with the dudes and record with them. All in all, I am proud of the hard work I've done with Look Mexico. I love the dudes, and I believe in the music, and I am goddamn proud of the songs we have written together (maybe not the recordings) but the raw material. We've been recently getting labeled as indie rock veterans, which is nice to get some cred- I think younger bands respect us because we've been through a lot of shit, and still keep at it- and it's gotten progressively easier with each tour we head out on. More people show up to the shows, and things are more comfortable for us. I've never been one to shy away from slow and steady. I don't want to be a flash in the pot anyway.

How long have you been playing drums, exactly?

I joined band, playing standing snare in 8th grade to go on a field trip to Disney World. It was kind of a sexual Babylon. Then I started playing a kit in 9th grade. Dropped out of band, and have been in bands ever since- save a short spell where I was bandless my freshmen year of college.

What are some other bands that you have played in over that time?

The first band I played in was called Last In First Out- and, go figure, we were awful. Then I played with a ska band called The Soapbox Prophets, A melodic hardcore band called Blackpaper Diary who kicked me out for not being able to double bass, then a metal core band called Victims of Society (who were exponentially better than their name would suggest)- I always thought it was a bit ludicrous being a middle class white kid in a band called Victims of Society. Then I went to college and played with Kids Like Us, had a short regrettable stint as a singer for a band called Milktime Riot, and then met up with Look Mexico.

How is drumming in an Indie band like Look Mexico different from, say, drumming in a hardcore band such as Kids Like Us?

Drumming for KLU was about the most uninspired I have ever been as a drummer. The dudes would always be telling me to stop playing "jungle beats" which was anything that involved my toms. That pissed me off, and I got pretty disinterested in hardcore and the "scene". It was fun though how amped kids would get at KLU shows. Mob mentality. Look Mexico in contrast is a breath of fresh air to play for. The guys' math minded guitar styles really help open songs up to lots of movement in the drums, and generally the dudes are real supportive of what I'm playing. I'd say they let me know when they think I'm getting a bit too busy for the good of the song, and sometimes that's hard to take, but I'm usually always happy they said something.

Do you think it has made you a better drummer, by playing in diverse musical styles?

For sure. I think I brought a lot of what I learned in hardcore to Look Mexico- and it's just nice to have a gamut of beats I have written over the years for different things. The experience and familiarity that sometimes comes with working new songs is the best.

Do you play any other instruments? It seems like every drummer I know is the most proficient in the most instruments. Why do you think that is?

I am being very liberal in saying I can play the guitar. I think a lot of musicians tend to learn other instruments- it's just drums are hard to learn for a lot of reasons- I'd say A- a drumset is expensive and B- you just can't practice drums anywhere. Got to have space and cool parents. Whereas dudes can go out and buy a hundred dollar guitar and play it quiet in their room. I think it's also a little frustrating sometimes for drummers for not being a part of the melody creation for songs. I myself have a whole phone full of recordings that I sing to myself on long trips- songs that I'd like to, but probably will never record.

Where do you see Look Mexico, Sharkguts and your writing going over the next couple of years?

Look Mexico- continuing to write, tour, and record a record a year for as long as we're inspired. I'd like Sharkguts to eventually mean a few designers- perhaps a production company to offer larger services like band videos- which I've started dabbling in with Look Mexico- and maybe down the road funding some small budget films (that I or my friends write) - and ideally I'd like to write at least a play a year. I think I'd be a pretty happy dead dude if things work out this way. I think I'd be a pretty happy dead dude now though too.

Are there any bands that you have seen in the last year or so that you have absolutely fallen in love with? What is their link?

I really liked touring with Frank Turner, but other than that- haven't gotten a chance to check out a lot of new live music. As far as what's been spinning on my ipod- Gaslight Anthem, mewithoutYou, Iron & Wine, Okkervil River, Pedro the Lion, R.E.M., and Radiohead stay pretty constant.

Last question. . . Moe's or Chipotle?

Chipotle for burritos and chips- their rice, cheese, and romaine lettuce trump all. Moes for their mind blowing salsa bar and free chip refills.
Thanks Kyle,<