An article about Andy Dixon could go in a number of directions. Previously manning the guitar for d.b.s. and The Red Light Sting, the one-man maelstrom now flexes his musical muscles with Winning (a three-piece noise project) and Secret Mommy (his critically acclaimed alter-ego). Ache Records, Dixon's label, has put out influential records by the likes of Flössin and Konono No. 1 (the vinyl-only release), as well as creating Div/orce, an ongoing series of 7"s from the likes of Hella, Four Tet, and Hrvatski.
Despite all this, the only thing paying any bills at Andy's Vancouver home is The Chemistry Designs, his art and design company that has created work for Insound, The Blood Brothers, Poison The Well, Motion City Soundtrack, Yaris, and Kokanee beer. Filled with decapitated animals and hand-sketched skulls, his work–both the professional and the personal–blurs the line between playful and terrifying.
On the horizon for Dixon are two Vancouver gallery collabs (Murder Ain't Shit with Landon Metz at Midtown this year, followed by a show with Sean Maxey at Antisocial in 2007), two Secret Mommy records (The Wisdom EP in August followed by the Plays album next year), and a slew of Ache releases. In the midst of all this, I met Dixon at a coffee shop to find out why it's so fun to make things look messy.
XLR8R: Are you able to survive off of your various projects?
Andy Dixon: Design is the only thing I've ever made money off of. Music, in any way, shape, or form, has never made me a dime. Ache is in a crazy amount of debt, actually. A couple of the releases have done quite well–it's definitely not a failed business venture–but whatever money is generated is just going to go right back into it. I've never taken any money from it. Design is the only thing that pays the bills.
Musically, and with Ache, you have always adhered to punk's DIY ethic. Does this translate to your art as well?
Definitely. Financially, I do that by having a sliding scale of rates. I've designed stuff for change, for trade, for whatever. If I really believe in what they're doing–like if it's kids and they're in a really cool band–I'll do it for almost nothing. In that way, I'm trying to maintain the same sense of community that I had in the punk scene.
What are some of your favorite album covers?
Tim Kinsella, Crucifix Swastika; Fenno'Berg, Magic Sound of Fenno'Berg; and Radiohead, OK Computer.
What is your design trademark?
I would say a really hand-drawn aesthetic. I like to use a lot of found objects and doodles and drawings and stuff. [It's got] a collage vibe to it, usually really dirty–actually, always really dirty. My design aesthetic and my music aesthetic are closely related–they're both [rooted in] micro-objects and found, unrelated objects that are put together to create something.
Would you say you're attracted to an ugly aesthetic?
I think so. I think the weirder and more off something looks, the more I like it. That's what I like about a lot of visual arts, like Basquiat. I love things that are random and not so straightforward. Like, if you're going to make a website for some company called "Pony," to use a pony is just too easy for me.
What do you listen to while you work?
I listen to a lot of this group from Northern Africa called the Master Musicians of Joujouka, which is a really awesome record to work to. I just got the new Liars, which is fun to work to. Also Fennesz, Microstoria, Oval, and stuff like that.
What's your biggest design pet peeve?
One of my worst design pet peeves are those pre-made grunge fonts, like dirty lettering. You couldn't just print it out on your laser printer and rub it in some dirt and scan it...you had to download this font to do it. So every "e" is exactly the same with the exact same piece of gunk on it. It drives me nuts.
Who inspires you?
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Neasden Control Centre, Thomas Schostok, [art collective] Gelitin, Ski-pp, and Marcel Dzama.
Do you work quickly?
I try to, but I'm also pretty laid-back. I find that with my aesthetic, if I spend too much time on something it gets ruined. I've had a few times where I've needed to do a real back-and-forth with a client because they're being picky. It just gets ruined–I hate the compromise. I don't think compromise is a good thing when you're dealing with the arts in general. It's always nice to have outsider input, but when you're trying to make too many people happy at once the outcome is always so mediocre.
Of your own work, what are your favorite pieces?
I think one of my favorite paintings is the one I did of the Monopoly man–it just really clicked. I think it is just so iconic and bold, which is not normally what I do. I did a new one that I really like where I went to [the thrift store] Value Village and bought this frame. It was linen and there was this big rainbow that someone had staple-gunned into a frame on a canvas. I'm not sure if you were supposed to hang the rainbow on your wall, but I bought it and painted over the top of it. I really like that one because it was such a weird thing to work with. As far as design stuff goes, my favorite design I think I've ever done is the cover of my [Secret Mommy] record, Mammal Class (Orthlong Musork), with my head on a horse. I love that cover so much; it's the funniest thing I've ever seen. The expression on my face, it looks so majestic–like some weird unicorn picture–and the mane looks like this weird mullet thing. And it's pink, too. A pink horse–it's just kind of nasty.