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Salad Days Magazine | December 2, 2022

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Heather Gabel interview – original version

I really love Alkaline Trio. And I love their playfully gothic, decadent esthetics, which has mostly been in Heather Gabel’s hands for over 15 years. Black & White & Red All Over: 15 Years of Alkaline Trio designs is a nice and square book, that covers most of these designs. With a similar style Heather also worked for AFI, Reggie & The Full Effect and Rancid, and with different ideas and materials started to show in galleries. And if you want one of her creations, there’s her Etsy shop to be seen..

SD: The work you’ve done for A.T. is really iconographic. Did you start with a real plan in mind? When did the skull/heart logo appear in the whole story?
HG: I didn’t start out with a master plan, not at all. At the time the band was playing basements and mostly opening for bigger bands locally at clubs, I had no way of knowing then how popular they would become or how many designs I would end up doing for them in the future. The logo came about almost accidentally really. I was making a flyer for a show and had all the little bits cut out, the skull was in a pile near the heart with the devil tail (which had already been established) and I just put them together. I still work like that, gathering a group of things with a theme and letting them fall into place, keeping what works and discarding what doesn’t.

SD: Given what you did for Alkaline Trio over the years, is there any new band you’d like to collaborate with extensively? Bands that might keep you inspired besides the friendship you grew with A.T.?
HG: I recently did a shirt for Garbage, they have a new record coming out later this year (2012) and I’d love to work more with them. They have a dark side that I really connect with. Shirley was really active in the creative process, in a different way that most bands usually are which was really refreshing. There are a few new bands, like The Horrors for example, with an aesthetic I feel akin to as well. I’d love to do design work for them. Another recent project was doing stylist work and art direction for the band Cheap Girls on their new record out in February called Giant Orange. It was something I’d never done before and really enjoyed. Yeah, actually another recent project I did was doing stylist work and art direction for the band Cheap Girls on their new record out in February called Giant Orange. It was something I’d never done before and really enjoyed. They were looking for something to define their aesthetic for the record, promo stuff, ads, etc which I was happy to provide. Jobs like that keep me from feeling limited. To look at the record you’d never know I had a hand in it, it’s a completely different style. I loved doing something out of my comfort zone.

SD: At this point, when did you make the last A.T. designs? Does it become more complicated as time goes by, or do you maintain an easy and fast approach?
HG: The last designs I made for Alkaline Trio were done a few months ago. When I get the request for new shirts for them I always think,”What am I going to do this time?! I’ve done everything already!” but I also know that somehow we are always on just the same page and that they’ll like whatever I make. The designs still come easy, in fact the less I think about them the easier they are.

SD: From Black Flag to Hot Water Music, many bands gave their image to a single person, have you ever looked at some of these examples for inspiration or just out of curiosity?
HG: I’m familiar with the work you’re talking about. I love Raymond Pettibone’s art, the Black Flag stuff is beyond awesome and the rest of his art is just as powerful and gut wrenching to me. I really respect bands that give someone artistic license like they did with him. That art could be for anything, it’s not specific to the band and is just as strong without the band name which is something I am always striving for in my design work. Crass is a perfect example of that as well. The imagery that Gee Vaucher created for them is the perfect accompaniment to the music, you can argue that it is just as important as the band’s music in this case.

SD: Is there any common key for reading your art? There are some recurring elements here and there (rays from eyes, bars on eyes, cut hands…), I was wondering if it’s mostly stuff you enjoy drawing, or if there’s a clear meaning I’m missing…
HG: There is no clear key to the imagery, no. There are themes and symbols I explore and exhaust as they come up in my head. It is most definitely things I enjoy either drawing or looking at though. They stand for something for me but I can’t even always say what, I don’t find it a problem though, expressing them is what’s important to me and having other people see something different in the work is always rewarding. It’s just as much about the viewer when the piece is finished for me.

SD: Speaking of your collages, can you tell us a little how you research images?
HG: As far as research for the imagery, I am just a complete paper hoarder. I have piles and piles of old magazines, newspapers, records, sheet music, catalogs, nudie mags, literally anything printed is what I collect and peruse when I need either inspiration or a specific object.

SD: I’m finishing this book, ‘Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution’, and I was wondering if you ever realized some piece of yours with some kind of feminist approach… You have a wide female imaginary, was any of those figures born with a more social/political consciousness in mind?
HG: Of course, certainly. I am, by nature, technically a feminist, but that’s not a premise I basing my art on or a perspective I’m consciously coming from. It happens by default because that’s part of who I am.

SD: Have you ever had the chance to realize as a 3D figure any of your design? Ever thought about making it a toy figure or a jewelry piece?
HG: Alkaline Trio made necklaces with the heart/skull logo as a pendant but that’s it. I did dome jewelry making when I was in school and really enjoyed it. It’s something I’d definitely be interested in doing again in the future, as well as toys. I’d love to make a figure of some of the girls I’ve painted in the past.

SD: And after all, have you ever had your own band?
HG: I’ve played bass casually with friends a couple times. When I still a kid living in Detroit I played with a couple guys, mostly we just drank 40s at practice, and we had like 3 songs I think. It wasn’t anything that anyone, including ourselves, took seriously but it was fun. We were called the Unloved. I’ve also sang a few times, same scenarios, some friends, some drinks and some songs, which I enjoyed more than playing bass. I’d love to put out a 7″. My husband built a studio last fall and I’ve been on him to do a 7″ together. I want something I can hold in my hands and listen to when I’m old just to say, yeah I was in a band once.

SD: The dirty life of a merch guy/girl. I guess most of readers have been to a merch table, so what’s the do and don’t do list from someone on the other side of that table? Anything you’ll tell to your grandchildren?
HG: Ha! Yes, I ‘d definitely remind my grandchildren that simply saying “please” and “thank you” make a world of difference. As for do’s and don’ts, I can think of a couple key don’ts: don’t keep your money in your shoe or bra. It is disgusting. I’ve seen people refuse it, but I’d always just keep it to the side and use it for change when other people bought something. Don’t say “I want the black one” when they are all black shirts. Don’t say “The one behind you” because they are ALL hanging behind me. Don’t say “The Alkaline Trio” one, because again, genius! they are ALL Alkaline Trio shirts. Most importantly, don’t freak out! Kids get so out of control at the merch table, I love that they are excited to see a band but save it for the dance floor, the t shirt is cool and all but chill out, wait your turn, don’t interrupt. It’s just a shirt, and you will get one, relax. Do’s: know your size, if you don’t just check the tag of the shirt you are wearing (that’s another “do”, wear a shirt!) then just ask if they run big or small. Have your money ready and know what you want. Be polite, I would totally give the nice kids who were acting like civilized human beings free pins or stickers or whatever because it was such a nice relief to serve them after the apes and all their grunting. Another do is, buy the shirt anytime other than right after the band has finished playing. I know, I know, you don’t want to carry it, but it’s not that big and you avoid the mad rush that makes both the customers and the clerk easily agitated, plus the stock is full so you won’t miss out on a design you want.

SD: Being exposed to so much music, which is the most underrated band that stuck in your mind, the one you maybe saw a couple of times and then disappeared?
HG: A band I toured with a few times, both with Alkaline Trio and on my own was The Dismemberment Plan. They were bigger in Europe than they were in the states and they’ve started playing shows again over here, probably over there again too, but I always thought they were really different and totally underrated. Check out ‘The City’ and ‘Timebomb’, 2 of my favorite songs of theirs.

SD: I know your name because of your bond with music, I guess someone else may know your art without having an idea of your bands’ designs. How do these works exist side by side and what you’d like to accomplish in those world right now?
My work that I exhibit in galleries is totally different in most cases than the design work I do although there is some overlap sometimes. An image I use for one or the other sometimes works in both arenas and I utilize and expand on that when I see fit. I think the relationship is this, my years of design work have honed my composition skills which really benefits my other work. Working on a t shirt is both limiting and liberating in that you only have so much to work with. Keeping it simple, direct and visually dynamic really benefit the work. If you can make the small space of a shirt interesting to look at then you can apply that skill to other things as well. As far as what I’d like to accomplish, I released a book this past October of all the t shirt design work I’ve done for Alkaline Trio. 15 years of work, over 100 designs. It felt like a real accomplishment. I had a show for the book release with an installation of the original art for the designs as well as sketches and some album artwork and had prints made of ten of the designs the band and I chose together as our favorites. As long as I’m still designing for bands then I feel totally fulfilled in the design department. As far as my own work goes, I’m feeling pretty fulfilled there too. I have a couple things lined up so far for this year, the one I’m most excited about is a project I’ll be involved in this summer with The Johalla Project in Chicago. They are working with the city to install art into the subway stations throughout the year, changing the artists monthly. I’m really proud of Anna Cerniglia who has been working for years on the proposal and getting it all together and I feel truly honored to have been selected to be a part of it. Showing in galleries is really a wonderful thing and I am happy to be able to do, but projects like this are really exciting because they are different and that feels like moving forward for me.

SD: Bands create communities or scenes, artists often do the same. Who are the artists you can call friends? Do you usually stay focused on your own work or like to look at fellow workers?
HG: A lot of my friends are artists, yes. Either musicians, photographers, painters, sculptors, clothing designers, jewelry makers, etc. Almost everyone I know does something creative so I sometimes take it for granted, but they are all inspiring to me in some way. My friend Chris Norris (he works under the name Steak Mtn) is someone who I’ve done shows with in the past and is also someone who has a design background like me. He does a lot of work for my husband’s band so he is someone who is motivating especially because we are both doing design and fine art work. Plus, his personal work is fucking badass! Some more inspirational friends would be Alexis Mackenzie (amazing collages), Chrissy Piper (photographer extraordinaire), Shirley Manson (amazing recording artist), and Marie Foxall (jewelry maker at “Wasted Effort”).

(Words by Marco Capelli x Salad Days Mag – All Rights Reserved; Artwork by Heather Gabel)

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