Extended Sunland Interview: Jon Kortland

Extended Sunland Interview: Jon Kortland

Last Wednesday’s Sunland talk on the convergence between Art and Music was a great one–and on a topic that we could have kept going for way longer.  We heard from a few of you that you had burning questions you wished you had asked or wanted to know more about, so we asked each panelist to participate in an extended interview for us.

Up first, we asked Jon Kortland  (Iron Lung, Iron Lung Records, Feeding) to delve a little deeper…

Q: Both musically and artistically, you collaborate with one other person. Why collaboration and why one partner (verses many, or a few) for both projects?

Jon: I have worked on a few other projects (Gob, Pig Heart Transplant, Dead Language, Public Humiliation) with more than one other collaborator and the results have ranged from being exceedingly rewarding to near cataclysmic. Sometimes dealing with more than one other ego can drag things to a virtual standstill.  For me it is so much easier to get on the same wavelength with just one person rather than a large group of people. This seems to be especially true if I already trust the aesthetics and instincts of said other person. I think it is always a great experience to create art or music with other people even if the end result is and utter failure. Sometimes failure becomes the best tool to move the process forward.

Q: As both an artist and musician, do you learn things in one area that you transfer to the other? As an artist, what do you learn that transfers to your music practice, and vice versa?

Jon: Both mediums definitely inform one another. Art and other forms of communication / media have a huge impact on the lyrics and visual aesthetic associated with any musical project. And vice versa, listening to music is always essential when creating visual art. I try to not compartmentalize either form of expression. I never want to limit the possibilities.

Q: This is a multi-part question: What is the connection for you between art and music and, more personally, between your life as both an artist and a musician? Do you feel closer or more interested in one facet over the other, or do they occupy the same amount of mental/creative space?  What is your creative process? Is it the same or different for both your art and your music?

Jon: Making horrible sounds and scribbling on paper/canvas/wood are really the only things I know how to do in this world. I may not even be good at doing these things, but there really is no other way for me in this life. This may sound like a cliche, but I wholeheartedly believe that statement to be true. This is what drives me to do these things as long as I possibly can. Basically, the connection is the act of creating. Therefore, the process is very similar, even when the tools are very different.

Q: Your work is very graphic—both in the design sense (as bold, intense), and in its content, which can be very provocative. Is this intentional? What about being provocative is appealing? Can you, or have you ever, gone too far?

Jon: I would say about 95% of everything I do is intentional. The other 5% operates in some nebulous zone out there. I think the ultimate goal of any creative effort should be to provoke some kind of response. The idea is to strive for something that lives outside the mediocre or middle ground. This is not to say that everything I do succeeds in stimulating a reaction. To me the most powerful work always insights a strong feeling whether it be disgust, fear, or even rage.

According to other people, I can go too far. Especially when I was a student, my art work was frequently banned and at times restrictions had to be applied to what I could and could not do. Also, due to the “provocative” nature of our performances, the band, Gob was banned from several music venues.

Q: You’ve lived now in Seattle, the Bay Area, and Reno—do you think each place has a distinct visual or musical vibe? Can you identify a sound or look from those places?

Jon: I would say that pretty much every major city / region in the world creates a distinct style and this seems to be the way it has always been especially within the realm of punk and hardcore. Whether you are looking at L.A. punk from the late 70’s / 80’s hardcore or raw 80’s Dbeat from Sweden, distinct style similarities emerge. As far as contemporary regional sounds and images the west coast seems to be having an explosion of expression with more women, people of color, queer/transgendered people being represented.  At the moment, Seattle is having a hardcore (punk not karate kick) resurgence that has been very refreshing. To me, Reno bands have always had a more down to earth, melancholy, fucked-up-ness than bands from other places. I think this could be attributed to the insular nature of the city mixed with the proximity to bigger cities. As a whole, all the trends and sub-genres of last 10-15 years have been dominated by a rehashing of the past for better or for worse and this seems to be true all over the world.

Q: Can you speak directly to the core artistic elements and design aesthetic in punk and hardcore?  What is different about this genre verses others, in terms of its distinct look?

Jon: Well, at this point we are pretty much dealing with an antiquated genre. Punk and hardcore has been so assimilated into and bastardized by mainstream culture and design that it has almost been negated by misinterpretation. I stress the word almost here because this subculture still exists and continues to maintain a strict distance from the norm. Here are a few examples of things associated with the punk / hardcore aesthetic:
Raw and / or crude images.
Appropriation and / or manipulation of existing art.
Hand drawn or cut and paste lettering.
Cartoonish representations of society.
Photo copier manipulation.
Political statements.

Q: What do you strive to convey when creating work for a musical project? Is there one thing you always want to master, or does it depend on the project? And somewhat related, do you create work that is unified? (for example, so people will know you created it, or that it fits into a larger overall scheme?)

Jon: Visually, I love when a record is a complete package. I also love when a cohesive package properly represents the sounds contained within. This is something that I always strive for when making art for a band. Even if the music comes across as a disjointed schizoid mess, I want to make the sure that mess comes together to be understood as a cohesive whole. It is the main goal to have the art reflect the music first. It is not as important that people know who created it, but if someone does, I won’t complain.

Q: Who/what has shaped your own style and what you strive to achieve as both an artist and a musician?

Jon: My formative years were the late 70’s and mostly 80’s, so I was exposed a huge amount of bizarre media. As a kid, I was really into science fiction and horror. This led me to my fascination with punk.  For me the style was the most futuristic, apocalyptic, otherworldly mode of sound and dress. As far as art, I was immediately drawn to surrealism, dada, etc. (without really knowing it) as this was to me, the perfect visual representation of the future. This combined with and obsession for 80’s trash cinema molded my rotten mind into what it is today. One person who has had a very long lasting impact on me is Michael Sarich. He is a fantastic artist and teacher, without his knowledge and encouragement I would not be doing what I am now.