The Cold War Kids are a pretty well known band and Matt Maust plays bass in that band. But that’s not why we called him. We called him because of his art.
The band’s album art has always caught our eye, and once we realized someone actually made it, and it wasn’t just a photograph of ancient litter, we got curious about what must be an odd process by an interesting man. We lined up a studio visit and what we found was an exhausting, odd, cluttered workshop of memories and thoughts made into a beautiful paper dream.
Below you’ll find an excerpt from our Issue 11 interview with Matt, and tomorrow, we’ll be World Premiering our new What Youth Artist Video Series, which will feature some intimate, revealing studio visits with artists changing our perspective on things.
MATT MAUST: This is my studio. It’s probably cleaner than its ever gonna be right now. Lots of piles of things. Right now I’m really into making books. Just putting all my work into books, I don’t know why. but it’s… it’s what makes me happy right now.
WHAT YOUTH: What do you mean by, “Putting work into books?” I tour a lot because I’m in a touring band and I make a lot of work in the hotel rooms, on the bus, just like in the pockets of time. And sometimes those pieces don’t stand alone, but they look good in a book. And so the last few months I’ve been doing books.
In your work theres a lot of text. Where does that come from? It could be anything. A lot of it’s stuff people say in conversations I hear. A lot of it is phrases people say to me. A lot of times I’ll have a phrase that I like and I’ll have somebody translate it into some other language for me. Quotes from movies, quotes from songs, stuff that my mom or dad says that I think is crazy [laughs]. Yeah, kinda pull from everywhere, ya know. I’ll have movies and stuff on while I’m working and when you pull a word or phrase out of context it can be fun.
What are the photos from that are in your work? Did you take them? Most of them are mine. I’m obsessed with postcards too. I’m constantly buying postcards eveywhere I go. Over there on the table by the badger theres a million postcards. I’ve loved them since I was a kid. But if it looks like a photograph, chances are I took it. I like things to look like I stole it. But in reality, I didn’t… I just made it look stolen.
What do you mean by, “Make it look stolen”? Well, like this is a photograph of a building I took somewhere and I put text with it and then I xerox that a milllion times and then I make it look mass produced but its really not mass produced, if that makes sense. I’ll have a bunch of zines printed up and then I’ll take pages out of them and make them into new books or new pieces or glue them on other work. It’s like a constant regurgitation. Nothing’s ever really finished. The only time it’s finished is when you put a frame around something, and theres not many things in frames around here. It’s a constant regurgitation of stuff.
Walk us through the process of this zine. What steps did you take to get to a final product? when is something finally “done”? I took a whole handful of artwork that was really large, and I started photographing that and I started layering that and making more Xeroxes of that and playing with it until it looks cool. The journey is usually more fun.
I don’t have a whole lot of fun looking at it now, but it’s a lot of fun to make.
It kind of just makes its self, ya know? I like having an iPhone now because you can take a lot of photos and you can get Xeroxs straight from the machine and you can do a lot on the road, which I do. I do a lot of this stuff while I’m touring. I work really quickly. I think I spend my whole life thinking about everything but then spending very little time working on a piece.
Do you have an idea of what it’s gonna look like or what its supposed to look like before you start? I have a good sense of all the elements that go into a piece but I don’t think that I plan out pieces very often at all. The most fun is when you combine pieces. So, for instance, here’s a good example of combining some stuff. This was at one point four or five pieces. And there’s a weird rub when you have all these pieces that are “done” but they’re all 90 percent finished in my mind. I think its good to have one finished piece as opposed to having, like, five at 90 percent. So you sacrifice all those 90 percent pieces to have 1 piece. I like to fool myself and try to fool the viewer to think I just took it off the street somewhere.
Where did you develop that? What made you want your art to look like that? I went to Europe with a couple friends for a while and I ripped these Tom Waits posters off the wall in Florence, Italy. They’re in my bathroom still actually. But I remember this street I walked down there was like a million of these posters. He was playing in town and it was in July. Some of the posters were really tattered and torn and some weren’t. I went and bought a utility knife and just kinda cut these 2 posters out and folded em up and put em in my luggage and took them home. When I got home a few months later I unraveled them and I took a steamer, like to putty in windows, got the paper wet — because they were really thick — and there were like layers and layers and layers of playbills and old posters underneath. I wanted to frame them but they were took thick to put in a frame so I started peeling off the layers of the back of the Tom Waits posters and it started looking like this [points to his art]. You get tons of different text and I was in Italy so it was all in Italian, and it looked really cool. Right then I was like, “I want my art to look like that.”
…continued in What Youth Issue 11, and tomorrow in the World Premiere of our new show: What Youth Artist Series, tomorrow at WhatYouth.com