Frank Kozik: Stupid Future

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From leading the concert poster revival to creating his own music label. From designing record covers and putting out hit singles to becoming a vinyl toy god. In between it all, Frank was the fly on the wall – working in the clubs where his artwork set the stage or diving deep into the underground toy culture on a collector’s shopping spree in Japan. Curiosity may have killed the cat. But for Frank, it inspired generations of creativity across wide-reaching disciplines and stroked the creative genius within. Dude’s so into his work, he was fiddling with a project while we talked.

The FRANK KOZIK ARTIST SERIES HIJINX is available online in limited quantities.

NB: Where do you see yourself on the personality pinwheel?

FK: A…… …(laughing). It’s like: my personality is whatever it’s been for my entire life. It’s just that people’s perception has been altered. The public’s perception is radically different than the people I hang out with – they could give a s… about what I do. I’ve always tried to keep a separation between the two. I don’t take work home and as I got older, as I understood what the business really was, I had to do it. Because when I first started in music, I was really into the scene. But different people are going to see different types from me. The goal with my work is to not be definable, aside from trying to be funny – injecting humor into everything that I do. I deal with a wide variety of people in any given week, so within that, there’s a shift. But there’s no gimmick – I’m not bitter or anti or any kind of that s….

NB: You were born in Spain (Madrid, ’62) and came to the US at the age of 14. Austin, TX was just becoming Austin, TX

FK: The first 30 years of my life, wow, what a wacky adventure. It just happened (to me), but in retrospect, it was unusual. My father was an American serviceman. My mother was Spanish. It was different lifestyle. A weird family. Things that no longer exist in the world were happening (to me) – it was kind of bizarre. We’re talking about Fascism, programmed marriages and s…. I was a misfit for a variety of reasons. I finally met my father when I was 10 or 11, spending a few months at a time in England. Now, as a teenager, my family was a class-structured-programmed-deal. “Marry this dude’s daughter, work in this dude’s factory, etc.” But my old man didn’t care what the f… I did. Partying, girlfriends – that was attractive. But when I left Spain and came here, “party dad” wasn’t necessarily the best thing. I dropped out of school, lived in my car at a park – no idea what I wanted to do. So I went into the military. The ironic thing is, I went in to go back overseas. I even volunteered for all this s…. So of course, they sent me to Texas. Luckily, Austin in 1980 was this insane renaissance of music and culture that revolved around the university. Here I was, this uncultured weird person, educated in the old-fashioned way of life. I literally stumbled into punk rock.

NB: You’ve been given a ton of credit for reviving the seemingly lost art of the concert poster. How’d it happen?

FK: All my friends were starting bands. And back then, you had to be a participant, not just an observer. My method was these s….. little posters for the bands. And a lot of them got super famous so I got to go along for the ride. There was no real plan – I didn’t think I was an artist. Right place, right time, I took the ball and ran with it. Now, I had no formal training. Never went to art school. I had a GED from the military. I was self-taught. And I’m usually able to figure out a way to make something out of it.

NB: Talk about the transformation from the black and white universe of posting your creations on telephone polls to becoming the go-to-guy for the Austin music scene.

FK: At the time, dude, I just thought, “F…, this is cool. Maybe I can get laid.” I didn’t realize what it was. If you boil it down to a magic formula, it was Austin. A very liberal oasis where every misfit for 1200 miles in every direction ends up. That’s good, right? Bonus number two: it’s a perfect little town. Back then it was tiny. Inexpensive. There were jobs. You could afford to rent a real house with a yard and a garage with a part-time job. That infrastructure made it available to do stuff. Practice room in the garage or a skate ramp in the backyard. You could scrape a little money together and open a business. Plus, the university was there, which brought you several thousand liberal kids every semester – including a couple thousand new art chicks ready to blossom. And every touring band would come through there on their connection to larger cities. It was super amazing to live there, doing something creative with 10,000 like-minded young people. Even pre-Internet, the system was in place to make connections coast to coast. Someday, someone’s going to write a book about it. Because for about ten years, it was like an incubator. A playpen where people were just going crazy doing cool s….

NB: But you left for SanFran…

FK: Time marches on. I had lived through four waves of college graduations and people were starting to move on. I had this big giant house and was like a local celebrity. It was time to go somewhere else – to see if I could do it in a real city. I came out and got this gig, the guy handed me all this cash. And he owned the building, fixing up this loft in San Fran. On a whim, I packed my s… up in three days and left. And it sucked for about two years. It was like a reality buzz kill. The weather sucks, I had no bathroom in my place. I was like: “What the f… am I doing?” But it worked out. I prospered here. And now, I’ve been here longer than I was ever in Austin.

NB: Pearl Jam. Soundgarden. NIN. The Chili Peppers. To Ice T. Or Neil Young. How did you manage to capture the essence of such a vast array of music/performers in your artwork?

FK: For a few years, I was really into the scene. I became one of those people at all the shows who knows everybody. I worked at some of the clubs, did the posters. I got to meet all these people early in their careers. I did one for Sonic Youth in 1987, and they asked me to do another one. It was that simple. It wasn’t like I went to design school to do rock posters and be cool. I was in the scene, I knew everyone and people dug what I did. I got a hold of a silk screen press and started doing these big fluorescent posters. It was a different scene. I was doing flyer posters, but I wasn’t making any money. I worked construction, drove delivery trucks, worked in bars. Whatever, typical s….. blue collar jobs. But I always had a venue. I always did the next show. It was a completely natural and organic thing. With no concept of being “cool” or “collectible.” I just wanted to make really rad posters.

NB: So what about your time in the music business for real?

FK: I was doing posters for tours, or a single cover here, a CD there. I was like “Well f…, man, if they can make records, maybe I can, too.” I was getting a lot of commercial work in San Fran. I did an Air Max 2 campaign for Nike and they handed me this giant check. The question was what to do with it. So I contacted some dudes I liked and started putting out records. I’d design silk screens in the shop – just a neat little piece of vinyl with a silk screen cover – and people just went nuts. Bigger bands wanted to put out a ten inch, then CDs. Then a distribution deal – it just grew really rapidly. I went from zero to a couple million in just a couple years. My thing was: I wasn’t around in the 70s, smoking weed in NoCo. I liked Sabbath and Zeppelin. The 90s had all these really heavy bands, stoner rock like Queens of the Stone Age. I started putting out records because I loved it. Everyone told me I should be putting out more Grunge or Emo s…, but I hated it. I was over punk. So I started with these 70s-type heavy rock bands, real doom and gloom records. And people went nuts again. But there was no real plan – I just liked the music.

NB: The Vinyl Art Toy Movement was next – were you just bored?

FK: I guess I’m just a culture w…., obsessed with weird culture stuff. I read a massive amount, collect stuff, and the phases of my art are generally influenced by whatever I’m collecting at the time. Luckily, I’m usually collecting on the cusp – right before something breaks big. I went back to Japan and started making them there. Then the companies started making them over here, and they contacted me because I was the American guy in Japan. It’s amazing, because I don’t have to please anyone but myself anymore. It’s just some weird s… that I found somewhere and had a gut feeling about. I tried for years but nobody wanted to hear it. Now, these toys are huge. I can do whatever I want with it. And my most personal creative work has become the most commercially viable. To me, it’s perfect: Ho Chi Minh covered in pink velvet.

NB: Over 200 toys, 220 singles from your record label, the posters and a book. Are you surprised with the success?

FK: There’s so much more coming out – I really believe the clothing thing is going to skyrocket. What’s really interesting to me, the stuff I did for music, thousands of finished pieces. It got me more, but it got me more of the same. More music work or commercial ads trying to sell to music people. Now, with the toys, it’s functional around more open doors. More places. Clothing lines. Night clubs. Household objects. It’s led to dreams I never thought about before. I started my own skate company, so it’s nuts. It’s international – I get to travel all over the world. And it’s a broad spectrum of people, too – not 50,000 white dudes that went to college. It’s so far beyond anything I ever thought possible, I don’t even deal with it mentally anymore. I’m super lucky.

NB: What’s been the most difficult part of the process?

FK: It’s weird. It’s not like I’m very much concerned about one poster, one toy. It’s all one big thing. When I got heavily involved in the record label, it became a grinding business. I’m non-aggressive, a private person. In the last 20 years I’ve been doing this, my least favorite part was dealing with the ego machine in creative work. Dealing with people who aren’t even the owners of something, the middlemen managers who are weird and hard to deal with. They’re kind of like elaborate parasites who tend to clothe in layers of social ego.

NB: The best part?

FK: I’m forever young. I’m in my mid-40s, but I’ve been living like an adolescent my whole life. It doesn’t matter if I wear the right clothes. I get to meet all these interesting people. And I don’t ever have to grow up on a personal level. I don’t have to fit in to some weird path like I see with a lot of people who have to have a clean shirt everyday for work.

NB: All-time favorite design?

FK: In general, it’s usually the one I just did. I can’t point to one and say it’s the best because I think they all suck. In their own little ways, they all suck. The two with the most resonance for most? For music, a slap-together collage poster for Soundgarden that had the porn chick with tattoos. For toys? The smoking rabbit. People love it.

NB: Top 5 favorite bands?

FK: Black Sabbath. Zeppelin. I’m obsessed with this English band, Electric Wizard. This Japanese band, Church of Misery. And…Skynard. I still love punk rock stuff. But you have to be there, the live show, the energy. I wouldn’t sit around and listen, even though I love a million punk bands. And I wouldn’t be on a desert island listening to them to transport me into realms of fantasies.

NB: Talk about designing your Hijinx.

FK: I kept it…simple. For lack of a better term. A cool graphic design has become increasingly complicated and baroque. Everything just becomes invisible. So I’ve been purposely going back to being as crude and basic as possible – with a strong idea or joke. With the sunglasses, it’s impossible to design a f…… thing to put on a f…… sunglass frame. Some crazy three dimensional object that floats around in space on people’s faces and s…. I took a retardedly simple graphic approach, wanting to find an interesting pattern that fits on a frame. At the same time, infuse an 80s Reagan tongue-in-cheek punk thing. A sunglass template isn’t a defined shape, like a box. With the sunglass, I was d…… around for a few days, a blob here, a blob there, do the other side. And it worked.

NB: Did you find it challenging to take your creativity and cram it onto the smaller space?

FK: My biggest thing is always thinking, “F…, this might not work.” I’m amazed that anyone likes it besides me. I like it, but I mean, I’m astounded that people…I think it’s good. I’m always amazed by people’s reactions.

NB: The Future is Stupid means ______:

FK: I miss Reagan. Everyone does. There would be no punk rock without him. Everybody hated him – he was great to hate – it was awesome. He wasn’t some bland, useless, pathetic turd. The dude had some f…… presence. Like him or not, he was a rad president, it was cool in a weird way. The Future is Stupid means whatever you want it to. To me, punk rock ethos have won. Punk won. Everything is underground. Everyone is a rockstar rebel. A bunch of full-fledged individuals who can spread their wings and fly – and it hasn’t changed a g.. d… thing. Everyone wanted a future of complete individualism. You got it. But it still sucks. We’re here and now and it still sucks. Also, I’m not into people who have all these big ideas who think they can come around and fix everything for me. It’s a little bit of that, too. To you? I have no idea…

Author

Newbear Lesniewski

Date

May 07, 2008