How/when did you get started doing tape art?
I started around five years ago. People ask how I came up with the idea. I think I was just daydreaming/scheming at work one day and decided to give it a try…
Making a daydream a reality is an epic feat—props to you, sir :D
Generally, what’s your process from start to finish?
Once I’ve had a general idea for a subject I spend quite a while on finding images to base the work on – this might be from photos or drawings I make myself or images I find online or elsewhere. Sometimes the tape suggests the subject, other times I have a subject in mind and find a tape to match. There is always some kind of relation between the tape and the final image, although it might not always be obvious – and things like the colour and style of the tape and label (and the tape itself) are also important. I then do digital sketches based on this and which I think will work well using the simple lines you get with the tape. Once I’ve transferred this to a board there is a lot of hammering in of nails, and finally winding of tape. It is pretty painstaking…
Oh yeah I can imagine! Seems very meticulous, and the finished products are an awesome reflection of your work. Incredible stuff!
Tell us about some of your favorite clients or projects. Any favorite pieces of yours come to mind?
Some of my favourite commissions have been for portraits. As always with portraits, you are trying to capture the essence of the person portrayed within – in the case of tape and pins – a pretty restrictive medium. You can’t really do curves, for example, or fills – you just have a few simple strokes, but that means you end up with an interesting, really pared-down look.
That’s interesting—it’s a whole new spin on artistic portraits. You’re putting those janky caricature drawings you get at theme parks to shame…for sure.
I’m sure you work with a ton of different tapeheads—from label owners to tape collectors. What’s your favorite thing about the tape community?
That they haven’t so far lynched me for pulling apart tapes. They are also often into DIY/remaking/sharing-type things, which are all fun.
*What would you say is your current go to jam, (in any format)?
My friend Hamish does the best compilations based on old records he gets out of the public library. I don’t know what half of the tracks are as I don’t sit with the case in front of me, but when I want to listen to music at the moment these are what I tend to put on.
I’ve been watching a ton of 80s movies on Netflix lately, (The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Dirty Dancing, Say Anything) and have just fallen in love again with the soundtracks and scores. *What’s your favorite 80s flick?
So many, but Bladerunner is in my head.
No way! I actually have the soundtrack to Blade Runner on cassette. I should get you to do a piece with it. Can’t go wrong with a cassette portrait of Sean Young, right?
So the intricacy of the designs and your attention to detail are incredible! How long does a typical piece take you?
I work on pieces in quite a few stages over many days, but not whole days, and it really varies between each one. But from hours to days.
Has art always been a passion of yours? When did you realize you wanted to create for a living?
Unfortunately art isn’t yet my living! But it is a good supplement to the funding I get for my PhD which I’m doing at University College London. I’ve always enjoyed art and got serious about improving the technical side of it (like drawing and painting) about five years ago. I’ve also done quite a bit of printmaking which I also love for some of the same reasons as tape. To me they both combine elements of mass production, uniqueness, technique and DIY. I used to do a lot of music and art has kind of replaced that for me.
You found the perfect combination of the two I’d say, haha.
What is an inspiration to you as an artist?
That’s hard – many things. I enjoy the process, and working within tight constraints to come up with something that looks good. I also find it inspiring to get together with other people in art, something I don’t get a chance to do much in my day job.
Who are a couple of your favorite artists?
Could not be more popular I’m afraid – Van Gogh, Schiele, a lot of pretty expressionist stuff.
Do you feature any pieces publically or locally?
I do shows when I can. For example there is a coffee roaster near me (Volcano Coffee Works) and I’m about to set up a show in their café, and I have an urban art fair coming up in Brixton (South London). I’d like to sort something out with a record store as they would probably be a good venue to show my pictures.
That would be awesome, perfect place to display and spread the word. People will geek out seeing your stuff in person!
Have you made any friends in the tape community doing this specific type of art?
I’ve certainly come across a lot of people whose work I enjoy. As you know I did a picture for Randall at Graveyard Orbit and he was kind enough to send me some tapes – which I’ve really got into.
I wouldn’t say there is much of an identifiable tape community around where I live – or maybe I’m just not trying hard enough…
Do you sell your art at any venues or festivals? What kind of reactions do you get from people?
As above, mainly art fairs and the odd show – not much music-related as yet. They do tend to get a good reaction from people as often they haven’t seen anything like it. I started out with a stall on the market in Brixton and that was a great way to quickly see what caught people’s eye – definitely better than doing online stuff.
Interesting—I seem to have the opposite thing going on with RFx. We always do 1000% times better selling live.
I saw that you also do the same style of artwork using VHS Tapes (epic!), what’s the difference between VHS vs. Cassette art creation?
Yes, I want to do more on the VHS front. They are a bit harder to do as the tape is wider, but it also shows up more boldly so it works well. There are so many possible subjects – but it is partly a question of finding space in my apartment to put all the pictures (VHS ones have to be bigger).
You should definitely make the trip to Austin next year for Austin Cassette Fest, people will lose their minds when they see your stuff.
It’s a long way, but in principle I would love to!
To commission your own unique piece, or to keep up with news, projects and more from Mike Fell, peep his websites here:
Hood Smoke is a delightfully eclectic blend of American Rock, 70’s Soul, Funk with a subtle dash of Pop. Their sound is diverse, and they seem to be effortlessly creating their own sub genre. Sarah Marie Young’s vocals are bold, bodacious and full of vigor. This girl can seriously belt, y’all. The drums are bouncy and creative, complementing the funky bass lines beautifully. And those filthy guitar riffs are the perfect accent to a magnificently crafted, wide-ranging sound. Their new teaser for the song Stoop Lady is a seamless assemblage of both classic and hard rock, and the vocals are straight wicked! I had the pleasure of getting the scoop on the band’s like/dislikes, some band history, and shit to watch. Bryan Doherty— bassist, composer, and founder of Hood Smoke dropped us some lines. Take a look.
How did Hood Smoke become a reality? Did you all meet each other forming the band, or did some or all of you know each other prior to the start of the group?
Mike and I met in 2002 playing for an Afro-Cuban band. I met Rob a year later at Roosevelt University and he actually ended up playing with that same Afro-Cuban band for a while. The three of us and Chris Siebold ended up being the band for a production of “Billy the Mountain” by Frank Zappa in 2005. We all kept in touch over the years and played in different projects. Around 2009 and 2010, I had been writing a lot of new material that was very groove, rock, and old R&B influenced. I then met Sarah on some gigs and it hit me. This is it. Let’s get these people in the same room together and see what happens.
What bands would you say are an inspiration to you as musicians? Were there any artists that influenced Hood Smoke’s sound?
The Beatles, Weather Report, Herbie Hancock, The Band, Talking Heads, P Funk, Ravel, Bartok, Frank Zappa, Paul Simon, Sly and the Family Stone, etc.. I think the basis of what I go for when writing music for HS is establishing a solid, unique groove, a lyrical melody, and parts for each instrument. I think a big influence for that type of music are more individual albums than artists in general. For example, the Talking Heads’ live album Stop Making Sense is a great example of these things that move me musically. No one is ever playing a “stock” or cliché part. Every little thing that any given instrument is playing has been well thought out and fits the greater good of the song and groove. Play the song and make it feel good.
Any particular albums that still resonate with you as a musician?
Along with Stop Making Sense I would say Roxy and Elsewhere by Frank Zappa has had a massive impact on me throughout my life. It’s a great example of what an amazing band can sound like. The songs are well thought out, funky, soulful, creative, and everyone on stage nails it. Not only is it precise but the pocket between the drums and bass is still gritty, tough to achieve. Some other albums that have made a lasting impression on me as a composer and overall band enthusiast: Night Passage by Weather Report, There’s a Riot Going On by Sly, Thrust by Herbie, Swing Lo Magellan by Dirty Projectors, Ram by Paul McCartney, The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein by Parliament, Music from BIg Pink and The Band by The Band, Release Yourself by Graham Central Station, Voodoo by D’angelo, King of Limbs by Radiohead, Still Crazy After All These Years by Paul Simon, Fulfillingness’ First Finale by Stevie Wonder, the list goes on and on, I’m sure I missed a ton.
The band name somehow fits your aesthetic perfectly. How did you decide on the name Hood Smoke?
The name Hood Smoke comes from my car, a 1997 Toyota Corolla. She’s a beauty. The radiator broke and smoke began to billow from the hood. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to use that as a band name until I realized that I couldn’t even afford to get it fixed. I took shortcuts and used inexpensive temporary means to maintain the coolness of the engine without having to buy a new radiator. Because I make my living hustling gigs as a musician, I think that some things are put off in terms of what needs to be taken care of in life. When the music started coming together for this new band idea, I thought, “What best represents the state of where I am right now? I’m broke and I can’t even afford new clothes let alone a new radiator, because I’m trying to make a living playing music. Smoke is constantly coming out of my hood because I’m trying to maintain something that’s broken instead of getting to the root of the problem and fixing it.” It dawned on me that not only do those two words sound cool together, but they also represent facing what life has to throw at you and figuring out how to make it work.
Do you guys travel a lot? What would you say is your favorite city to play live?
We don’t travel as much as we’d like to, yet. I think so far my personal highlight with the band was just this past Thursday at Jazz in the Park in Milwaukee. The people there were incredible. There was a great energy in Milwaukee that night.
Tell us about the new album ‘Regular Neurotic’.
Regular Neurotic is basically a groove based narrative about my late 20’s. We recorded live in the studio, no click track, no headphones. Live monitors and amps in the same room. I think it really captured what we sound like on stage. It has a very raw sound, thanks to the genius of Anthony Gravino, the engineer and co-producer.
Any future projects or collaborations you’re working on? Personally, I think you guys’ music would be amazing for a cassette release.
Do people still have cassette players? Our record release show is on September 12 at the Hideout and maybe we’ll have some vinyl copies? And we’re having a listening party at the Happy Village on the day the cd comes out, July 1. Come and hang with us, the cd will be playing through the jukebox at around 10 and we’ll have copies to sell.
Oh absolutely. Cassette tapes are an overlooked format making a HUGE comeback.
Will Hood Smoke be taking on any upcoming tours? Who would be your ideal band to tour with?
That’s in the works right now. Maybe we could open for someone like Allen Stone or Alabama Shakes? I think ideally we could open for Zappa’s band in ‘74 on the Roxy tour but alas…
To check out more from Hood Smoke, peep their sites: