WORDS: BENJAMIN IRONS | PHOTOS: TOMMY LY
Kinda grunge, kinda punk, kinda hardcore, definitely a good time. San Francisco rockers Culture Abuse do things differently. And though they appear to present themselves as part-time slackers, they’re anything but. Sonically, they flirt with the Ramones and early 90’s Green Day, sprinkling feel-good riffs and rhythms onto a sturdy punk rock foundation. But they also flirt with the art aspect of the industry too.
We caught up with Culture Abuse’s very own guitarist, artist and serial head-banger, John Jr., to chat about his – and the band’s – more creative facets, and his involvement in his very own art and lifestyle brand, Outlaw Press.
In a city where inequality is rife, homelessness is deepening and human waste complaints have skyrocketed 400% in the last ten years, resourcefulness is few and far between in San Francisco. John Jr.’s side project Outlaw Press, however, looks to be a small but bright spark in a divided area of California. Described as “a lifestyle brand helping to create limited edition apparel, art & accessories for drifters and vandals, faithfully endorsed by those who are artistically and habitually living beyond the common laws and criterion”, the company aims to offer an alternative platform for creative individuals to harbour their talent.
“I just wanted to throw a party and have a good time with my friends with interesting things to look at”
Toward the back end of August this year, John hosted a “no rules, no permission” art show, showcasing works from a range of local artists including, but not limited to, Anson Cyr, Nicolle Ashby, Nick Garcia and Andrea Sonnenberg. “There are only a few galleries around here that are willing to do shows for artists to help them, others just want to take a percentage if you sell a piece. That’s all bullshit to me, and I just wanted to throw a party and have a good time with my friends with interesting things to look at”. A lack of response from local galleries helped push the art show onto the streets of San Francisco.
“There was a wide variety of art shown, paintings, illustrations, photos, mixed media and collages. Each artist has a deep history with San Francisco, each one of them has been integral in the development of the bay areas art and music community”. Instinctively, the art was hung up on a chain-link fence in a parking lot, identical to the ones that adorn the album covers for the band’s records. But he later admits this was also so they could be easily removed if the Police turned up.
“Each artist has a deep history with San Francisco, each one of them has been Integral in the development of the bay areas art and music community”
While the show was public, it unintentionally became something of an underground movement that he explains was never the original plan: “When you think about it, I just hung up art on a fence in a parking lot, promoted the concept and didn’t release the location until the day of. Most of the promotion was word of mouth, and these days with the Internet at the tip of your fingers, word of mouth is underground”. More importantly, John tells that most of the people involved in the show he met through Culture Abuse, which provided him with an extra means to promote his own artwork and the work of Outlaw Press: “Culture Abuse is such a huge part of my life that everything I do is impacted by our band, in the most amazing way”.
“It’s weird to say, but I’ve always been quite creative. As a young kid I used to daydream about bands I could be in one day”. John’s background in art helped him become very hands-on with the band’s creative direction, spear-heading the designs for all of the records in their discography, and simultaneously framing them in a different light amongst a cluster of emerging rock and punk bands. He explains that he used to create album concepts; come up with a band name, album title, song titles, before designing the cover itself: “…everything I do now as far as art and music has been my dream since I was a kid. My life and brain has always been consumed with art and music, and I’m very grateful that I get to work on both together”.
The iconic chain-link fence motif is a consistent theme across the band’s canon. It’s one that is both a constant presence around the Bay Area of San Francisco but also has since become a symbol for the band and their avant-garde, DIY and distinctly unpolished aesthetic. For the eagle-eyed fan however, this ignited a minor altercation in January last year between the band and metalcore act From First To Last, who appeared to take a great deal of inspiration from the design of Culture Abuse’s third studio album, Peach.
The controversy surrounding the cover of their album might have given them a little slice of mainstream publicity, but the band – aside from the odd retweet – were not deterred by the explosive threat of social media and overnight virality. What it did was help to create a conversation about album art and how much of a staple component it is in music, rather than shifting the focus on the band themselves. This prompted an apt response from the band: “Our music & our art means everything to us… We do this out of pure passion. Not for money, not for approval”. See, there are no frills with Culture Abuse; no festooning in a celebrity status, pretentious high-end apparel or 50-strong entourages. They’re refreshingly straight up and honest, artistically and sonically, both on and off the record.
CULTURE ABUSE HIT EUROPE THIS MONTH IN SUPPORT OF BASEMENT. CHECK OUT THE BAND’S CUSTOM DESIGNED POSTER BELOW FOR MORE DATES.