I clearly remember paging through a compilation book of rock poster art in the early 90’s and being instantly drawn to Derek Hess’s visual take on what bands represented. His art was raw but sophisticated….strongly sketched form, bleeding with emotion; it’s hard to look away from his pieces without being compelled to study each minute detail. I had the honor of speaking with Derek this week and below are his answers to my 9.5 questions (+1). Please enjoy.
1 - When you were working with Kent Smith on 'Please God Save Us', did you have any reservations or did anyone close to you discourage you at all from releasing what some (conservatives) would consider controversial material?
Oh no, not at all, I pretty much picked all the chapters by my imagery, my illustrations. I got Kent aboard because I speak visually….and if I got into a debate with somebody about that stuff, I get angry and as soon as you get angry in a political debate, you lose…even though I’m right. I’ve known Kent for years, and he’s a politician…he’s well spoken, he gets to the point and is clear about it…so I said to Kent, I’ve got all these images...I want to do a book…would you write/cover each one of these subjects for the book? So it was all good, I had no issues at all.
..But recently we had an issue…Kent was running for state representative and his opponent pulled it up. His opponent was running around saying we’re anti-Semites because of the crosstika imagery. But then it’s a question of did you read the book [the opponent]?? In context it’s an image that reflects the separation of church and state. Kent ended up winning with 78% of the vote.
2 - Working at the Euclid Tavern you almost passed on booking a not yet famous Green Day who were on the verge of a meteoric rise. What band do you remember that you thought should have made it but didn't?
A lot of bands that made it to being able to sell out the Euclid Tavern didn’t really make the jump past there which was a shame. You can look at Jesus Lizard, Cop Shoot Cop …. Soul Coughing got bigger but they still didn’t blow up, blow up, which I really think that band should have. I had them in the larger room, 1000 capacity, two nights sold out, which is awesome, when no one was booking them a year earlier...but it would have been nice to see them make a jump to arenas…because they were out opening for Dave Mathews…Soul Coughing should have be the headliner of that and that was kind of a shame. They gave it a shot, they did what they loved and they got where they were.
3 - You've been fishing for some time...go to bait? Favorite freshwater fish to eat?
I’m not this crazed fisherman who works with luers. I like to set up my pole and fish off the bottom and I use night crawlers…
That’s a good question…I like catfish…of course being on the shores of lake eerie you see perch and walleye all the time those are the big fish out here. That’s about it, I eat more red meat to tell you the truth… and I don’t eat what I catch. I’m a catch and release guy. The only time I keep a fish is when I keep it for my fish tank. I had these huge crappie that I had to let go…I have a 150 gallon tank…but they got too big for it…I raised them from fries which was really cool. Right now I have a yellow bullhead and a pumpkin seed.
You know, I’m definitely grateful, god damn, especially being in the Louvre…but the things that really satisfy me are when I have a crowded opening. When I have an art show somewhere and the opening is well attended. I can talk with people, kinda like you, people who have questions about things and I can go one on one…that’s the most satisfying to tell you the truth.
5 - You can tour with one band for one year at their peak. You have full access to all the debauchery that goes with the touring scene....what band do you hit the road with...what tour, year or era?
I’m not one to take part in debauchery, but that’s a good question…I’ve got a broad range of bands I like over decades and my big one is the 70s… I would go with the band that was my first concert…Queen…in 1977. So as my first concert, an evening with Queen, sold out in a large arena/coliseum, and as a kid it was like holy shit….so it would be a Queen tour.
6 - Text as a compliment to your art is showing up more often in your work. Was there a particular inspiration took you down this path?
It’s definitely whatever I write in there is part of it; I can’t think of any off hand I can dissect for you..but yeah, it’s just another element to try to tie the piece all together as one thought.
7 - You can meet one historic figure from the past or present...they will chat with you and answer any question you have with full honesty. Who do you meet? Why?
Captain America. He’s my hero, I think I’ve got seven Captain America tattoos. I came up, and again, it’s a seventies thing, that was my first comic book. It’s hard as far as real people go I don’t really know…not sure.
8 - You make a living as an artist...but I think we all fantasize to some extent about having a different career at times. If you weren't creating art, what would your ideal job be?
Wow…oh shit…I don’t really know now, but I used to want to be a garbage man. You can ride on the back of that big truck, you throw in the garbage and when you’re done you just throw the cans down and it looks like you left a path of destruction behind you..it’s like riding on a tank…like an urban tank. You get benefits too. When I was learning print making I did several prints that revolved around garbage men and garbage trucks. I should go find those but they’re probably buried.
9 - Since 'Please God Save Us' was published in 2008...do you feel like there has been any visible progression for America? Or are we still fighting the same battles?
I think it’s the same gist of battles. I’m not looking forward to the next political season coming up. I’m discouraged. I was a big Obama fan, but I think he ended up being fairly weak in certain aspects of his administration, which bums me out…it could have been such a great thing but it kinda got bogged down…and he didn’t have the balls, especially with international situations….he didn’t pull the trigger. Then again I’m looking at all these fucking nuts on the right getting ready to run for president and holy shit…it’s kind of as scary now as it was then, it’s just a four year cycle of fear.
9.5 - If I had to draw 100 posters in a row for one band (or I would be executed), I would draw for _______________ .
Answer - UFO
10 – You’ve been working on forced perspective with Nick Cavalier, have you gotten a video bug from that? Can you see yourself using video as an artistic medium in the future?
No….not me, I’m set in my ways. I see what Nick does and it’s amazing, and those guys that he works with. When he runs the credits at the end of the movie, it’s really impressive and with the music score he got these musicians that are top notch….I can totally appreciate it but I wouldn’t know what to do.