Gift Guide For Music Nerds: 10 Quick Questions With Brad Klausen

by Gordon Elgart on November 30, 2009


I first discovered Brad Klausen’s work due to his Big Business poster, and discussed him in my first article about rock poster artists for Spinning Platters without knowing who he was.  It’s a few months and a few poster orders later, and now I breathlessly await each new release from him.  For our ongoing series, the Gift Guide For Music Nerds, I’m suggesting that you go to his site and buy the music nerd in your life some amazing rock posters. So I asked Brad if he would do a quick email interview with us, and his responses blew me away.  They’ll surely do the same for you.

Spinning Platters:  What was the first work of art you did for money?

Brad Klausen:  Ummm…. hmm, not really sure. Being that I went to school for graphic design, my first job was at a graphic design firm, and I got paid for working there but I can’t say I really got paid to make art. I didn’t really get paid do to any design work either, I was just the lackey for the other senior designers. When I started working for Pearl Jam, they gave me a paycheck to work for them and create art, so it wasn’t like I was a struggling painter and finally someone bought a painting.

So I would do all kinds of different design work for Pearl Jam, but I don’t think I ever really thought too much about that stuff as art at first since it was just my job and I was utilizing a lot more collage with found imagery. I still thought about it as graphic design rather than art. I would have to say the first time I felt like I was getting paid for an original piece of art would be when I sold the first copy of the first poster I ever made. That was in 2004, which was 5 years into my career working for them. So I had a bunch of art and design I had been paid to create for them before that, but it wasn’t until I started making posters that I felt like I was actually making art. Plus I would get copies of the poster to sell on my own, once someone handed me cash for a poster I had drawn was the first time I felt like I was making money off of my own art rather then just getting a paycheck doing design working for somebody else.

I did get paid once in chocolate chip cookies for doing album artwork for a friend’s band. It was for a now defunct Seattle band called Neo, and their drummer’s wife was a co-worker of mine and she made these great cookies that I loved. So when I did the artwork for their first album they couldn’t afford to pay me any money so I negotiated  to get paid in chocolate chip cookies. Which I was totally fine with because as much as I liked the band and was excited to make art for them, I really liked those chocolate chip cookies.

SP: What are your favorite places to visit when you’re on the road selling posters?

BK: Well, I haven’t really gone that much on the road to sell posters. The only time I went on the road was to the 1st Flatstock in Europe in Hamburg, Germany. Other then that, so far I’ve only traveled locally here in Seattle to sell posters. I know a lot of other poster artists do seem to get out and travel more selling their wares, but I can’t say packing up a bunch of cumbersome large format paper goods and lugging them around the country making sure they don’t get damaged is something I really enjoy doing. I like the comfort of my own home and website and flat files. But when I go to visit my family in LA, I always love going to the Getty Museum. Not really for the art inside the museum but for the grounds and the architecture. I want to set up a tent and live on the gardens there, it’s one of the few places in LA that makes me forget how much I can’t stand LA. It’s a truly serene and soothing place that just has this great energy to it. And I usually have to go to In n’ Out at least enough times to over do it and make me not want to go back until my next visit.


SP: Who are some other artists you’d like everyone to know about?

BK: Well the ones I would want more people to know about, most of the art world is well aware of, but to those outside the circles… I think both James Jean and Aaron Horkey should be more on the non-art world’s radar then somebody like Shepard Fairey is…. I think Jean and Horkey are easily two of the most interesting illustrator/painter/artists around right now and I am beyond pleased to be living at the same time that they are making art. Not only are they both technically better then most, but the concepts and ideas they choose to illustrate are always kind of wonderfully bizarre and not something you’ve ever seen. They both have that rare mix of technical and conceptual mastery… like Jimi Hendrix, they are just operating on a whole different plane.

I also love Femke Hiemstra’s work. Her paintings are such a great mix of custom typography and bizarre characters and just perfectly strange and odd snapshots of some trippy world I wish we all could live in. The paintings are all pretty small, some done on the covers of old books, and her compositions and use of color and her ability to create captivating scenes in such a small space is something that I am in awe of. Jean, Horkey, Hiemstra their art all has that element of “weird” that I think is crucial to what makes art interesting. It’s one thing if you can paint a bowl of fruit well or a landscape scene of a river at the base of some mountains well… but when people start depicting things from deep in their imagination and psyche or subconscious and give to the world imagery that no one has ever seen until it fell out of their head through their hands, that’s when you get the best art.

SP: When you make a rock poster, how does the artist’s music affect your art?

BK: The music has a big effect on the art. I will usually listen to the music of the band for whatever poster I have coming up next while I am finishing a different poster. That way I can just have the music seeping into my subconscious and planting seeds. And sometimes it works, sometimes by saturating myself with the music ideas start to form and take shape, or vague concepts seem to appear from out of nowhere. Sometimes I can listen to the music ad nauseum and not get one bit of inspiration… when that happens I try and look more at the lyrics and see if there’s any creative catalysts in the actual words or any words that seem to be particularly descriptive of a scene or emotion. But the art has to reflect the music to be successful… I think too many times poster artists just take the style they work in and change the letters to spell whatever band name they are making a poster for, and the art looks great but it just looks like the last 10 posters they did for 10 different bands. But it’s usually a difficult task to transpose something that is auditory into something that is visual. It’s like trying to use the sense of touch to tell someone what something tastes like. Sometimes you nail it and the imagery resonates well with the music, and sometimes you don’t. Every once and a while you can truly capture the sound/vibe of a band in a flat 2 dimensional still image, but it’s probably one of the hardest parts about making a rock poster… what does this music look like….


SP: What are your favorite guilty pleasures (in art or music)?

BK: Well, I can’t think of any in art or music, but I’d say overall my favorite guilty pleasure is television. And more times then not, sadly, it’s reality television. Take a camera and follow around human beings either in their every day routines or by making them all live in the same house and compete for the attention of one person, and I am hooked. Reality tv, with all its editing and story telling that has to be done to make an entertaining show, that all aside, it’s still this great psychology experiment where you get a window into the train wreck that is the psyche and ego of human beings. It shows you the completely skewed perspectives we all hold about what we think it means to exist in the world and what we think our place in it is. And just the sad desperation that seems to have swept over a massive amount of modern humanity that’s just clamoring for some sort of notoriety or celebrity or any kind of attention at all because they know they are destined for greatness and everyone else will know once they see them on tv… so much so that people will compete and show that they can eat more cow rectums or deer dongs then the next person or embarrassingly whore away any ounce of morals they might have once had to compete with a gaggle of strippers for a 30 minute date with a has been rock star, or even worse, compete for a date with a reality tv star from last year… it’s the train wreck of our modern humanity, and I am quick to pull my chair right up and, as David Cross says, “watch the parade of the delusional”.

And all because they think that by being on tv, they’ve “made it” and that celebrity and fame will fill the hole in their empty life. The great part about it is they have kind of “made it”, but not in the way they were hoping… they’ve only made it into the revolving door of exhibits on display at the fucked up circus sideshow human zoo where they are on display not because they are talented but because they are so wonderfully flawed and screwed up, and that’s far more interesting to watch then any talent they might have. Take Whitney Houston for example, we don’t really care that she can sing, it’s far more interesting to find out she’s a coke smoking freak show whose life is a mess. And we get to look into the mirror of society and see just how perversely messed up and horribly off course we are as a species… and every year there’s an exponentially bigger line of folks camping out for weeks waiting their turn with millions of others to audition for the next temporary zoo exhibit to showcase all their insecurities and issues and problems… and then there’s all the folks like me who can’t wait to see what mutation of human development will be put in front of us next.

But watching reality tv is a double edged sword, it’s never a good feeling. I always  feel like I’ve wasted hours of precious life over-analyzing the behaviour and actions of dellusional attenion craved human egos and lost a part of my soul as I take some sort of strange pleasure watching the demise of human priorities, when I could be actually living my own life experiencing reality and not paying a single amount of attention to any of it… but there I sit, trapped, unable to stop touching my toothache waiting to see when the animals in the zoo will start throwing feces at each other…

Big BusinessSP: Listening to any music these days that you’d like to recommend?

BK: Hmmm…. lately I really like the band Tweak Bird. Their record “Reservations” I think is one of the better newer records I’ve heard in a long time. I love over the top, swelling, huge distortion playing melodic music. Not only is it huge but it has grooves and hooks. And they sing, they aren’t just yelling or trying to sound like a screamo cookie monster demons. Another band that’s good at playing melodic heavy music is Big Business. I think I listened to “Mind the Drift” more then any other album this year. Going to see them when they play with the Melvins is easily one of the best nights of music you can go see. Anything by McLusky. They were hands down one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen as well, always bums me out that they aren’t together anymore, but I love all their albums. Future of the Left is good, but it’s no longer the magic that was McLusky.

And speaking of heavy, oddly enough the Smashing Pumpkins put out one of the heaviest songs I’ve heard in a while… a song called United States…it has these great Sabbath-esque drums and it just swells and builds, it’s got that big War Pigs/Children of the Grave intro and delivery and feel to it and it’s epic at almost 10 minutes long. I was in the kitchen one day and there was some televised save the earth type of concert going on that I wasn’t paying much attention to until the  drum intro for United States started, and I instantly had to go see who it was…I was not expecting it to be the Smashing Pumpkins at all. Oh and the song “Ghetto Love” by Spinnerette has been getting a lot of heavy rotation on my computer these days, great groove… right in line with the Josh Homme sung UNKLE song “Restless”… if those two songs don’t make you move, there’s something wrong with your internal rhythmic mechanisms…


SP: What secrets might we learn when you have a Wikipedia page?

Well, it’s not so much a secret to those who know me, but I have a chronic problem with chocolate chip cookies and/or brownies. And not it that way that everyone likes those things, but in a seriously problematic way… if it was alcohol or meth or cocaine, I’d be in jail or dead.

I believe that ancient civilizations were far more advanced then we arrogantly seem to believe we are and that human development has not been this linear idea of progress and development as we’d like to assume it is. I think ancient civilizations had far more figured out then we currently do and that they understood with far more clarity our role in the universe and within nature.

I also have quite an interest in all the esoteric aspects of life, sacred geometry, alchemy, gnosticism, the Rosicrucians, ancient Egypt… all things occult. Which is a word often misused to refer to things that are considered “satanic” or deal with witchcraft… occult just means hidden.

I  am what people would consider a conspiracy theorist, which again is another misused word… Nowadays the true meaning of the word conspiracy has been twisted into this orwellian double speak to mean “absurd notion that has no basis for discussion and should be laughed at as absolutely implausible and illogical thinking for it’s complete irrelevance to how the real world works”,… when the actual definition of the word is “a secret agreement between two or more people to perform an unlawful act”. So when you take the true definition into consideration, you realize that the whole history of humanity has been built on a solid foundation of one conspiracy after another.

All major decisions in societal development happen behind closed doors by a few people. Pharaohs, kings, dictators, despots, emperors, prime ministers and presidents don’t consult with the masses to make decisions about what they are going to do. They, along with two or more people, meet in secret and agree upon when and the best way to perform unlawful acts such as:  when they decide who they will invade, what war to start, what new ways they can tax the masses, what financial rates to rig and impose and control, what information the masses can be allowed to know, what natural resources they will steal and resell and how they can maintain their power and control through psychological manipulation or good ol’ fashioned brute force. The history of human civilization has always been made behind closed doors steered by the true definition of the word conspiracy.

So it makes absolute sense that the definition of the word conspiracy had to be spun so that when people started pointing out what was really happening, the powers that be could quickly blow it off as absurd and nonsense… “that’s a conspiracy theory, next question”… and the more they repeat this behavior, the more the word has changed so that now whenever someone hears “conspiracy”, they know not to pay much attention to anything they hear after it.

Another secret you might all be aware of now… I like to ramble on when I type answers to questions or write emails.


SP: Could you talk about any of your projects you have outside of the poster world?

BK: I wish I could, but at the moment it’s almost all poster related. Hopefully in 2010 I will start having a few more non-poster related projects cookin’ and don’t want to jinx anything by speaking about it prematurely…but for now it’s just more poster stuff…

SP: What do you do to keep from repeating yourself?

That’s a good question… I’m not sure really. I think I usually don’t think that much about it, I just try and find a solution for each poster/band and whatever shows up in my head is what shows up. Looking at other people’s work is quite helpful in breaking habits of style or at least showing you a different approach to composition or line quality. And looking at all kinds of different art too. Just flipping through a book of an artist’s work or going to a museum or a gallery show really helps me. It’s always inspiring to see all the different ways people create things visually. That stuff will seep in and filter through your own technique and you end up doing things a little differently then normal. I can’t say from one poster to the next I divert that much from what I normally do, but I’d like to think there’s a decent amount of variety from one piece to the next. They all have some level of similarity though.


SP:  What are your favorite posters from your own portfolio?

BK: Usually the newer ones are the one I like the best. I drew this owl for a Monsters of Folk poster because I had been having these very interesting owl sightings on walks with my dogs through this mini forest / park near my house. I became smitten with this owl and kept going out at dusk to see if we could find him again, and for a week or two we kept having sightings and encounters with him. It was amazing. The interesting thing about it is, prior to these sightings, I had drawn an owl in a Pearl Jam poster for a show of theirs in Toronto and a couple days after I had finished that one was when we started to see this owl in the park. So that owl ended up in the Monsters of Folk poster, and that will always remind me of those encounters. The owl is a barred owl which I named “The Priest” because he had this little white bar just under his head that looked like a priest’s collar… plus I had started calling my daily walks through the woods “going to church”. So he is the wise Priest of that church. I wanted to make sure I drew him well and was quite pleased with how he turned out on the poster.


Drop by Artillery Designs to buy any of Brad’s available artwork.  See below for a gallery of some of my favorites of his work.

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

More Posts - Website - Twitter

Read Also:

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Caroline November 30, 2009 at 1:54 pm

Bravo! Thanks Brad Klausen for giving us great insight into your work.


David Price November 30, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Basically, I NEED that Tron poster! I expect that for Christmas from someone!


Ben December 1, 2009 at 9:40 pm

Awesome artwork.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: