banksy

Background Noise, Episode 62: Mike Leavitt by Matt Valerio

THE BACKGROUND NOISE PODCAST SERIES FOCUSES ON THE MUSIC THAT ARTISTS LISTEN TO WHEN THEY WORK, WHAT MUSIC INSPIRES THEM, OR JUST MUSIC THEY LIKE. THIS WEEK, IN EPISODE 62, the focus is on artist mike leavitt

THE BACKGROUND NOISE PODCAST SERIES FOCUSES ON THE MUSIC THAT ARTISTS LISTEN TO WHEN THEY WORK, WHAT MUSIC INSPIRES THEM, OR JUST MUSIC THEY LIKE. THIS WEEK, IN EPISODE 62, the focus is on artist mike leavitt

Mike Leavitt has a plethora of things under his belt. Based near Seattle, WA, the man who now also refers to himself as ReMike (ReMike remakes things), has been going strong for quite some time.

I'd seen some of his work online in passing over the years. It may have been his Banksy action figure that caught my attention. Needless to say, I jumped on the chance to go see his Empire Peaks exhibit at Jonathan Levine Gallery in Manhattan a couple of years back. The exhibit showed off Mike's sculptural mash-ups of political icons, pop culture figures and Star Wars characters, all presented as large scale, hand-carved, ARTICULATING wood statues. Each piece was amazing, and each one was incredibly hard not to touch. There was Steve Jobs as C3PO, Donald Trump as Darth Vader, Che Guevara as Boba Fett, among many others.

His Art Army toy series, his largest series of work, has gotten him a lot of attention since he created his first piece in 2002. Aside from his Banksy toy, which is the only creation of his to have been mass-produced, every other Art Army figure is one of a kind. He covers so much ground in this series, creating amazingly unique figurines of artists such as Cindy Sherman, Matthew Barney, Chuck Close, Ai Weiwei, and Barbara Kruger. All artists who most definitely would never have been in toy form if it weren't for Mr. Leavitt.

He has a whole series of shoes and accoutrements replicated to exact specs with cardboard. Cardboard Crocs, Chuck Taylors, a Keytar, etc.....He has Kurt Cobain towels, an Elton John toilet seat, an Ahmadinejad teapot (a collaboration with Seattle ceramacist Charles Krafft), and his work is in the permanent collections of Morgan Spurlock, KAWS, Ron English and Eddie Vedder (the latter of whom bought a piece of Leavitt's work and accidentally broke it when he got home). As far as I know though, Leavitt fixed it for him, and went on to make Eddie and his wife a custom wedding cake topper.

I'd highly recommend blocking off a good hour of your time and heading over to Mike's site to check out just a fraction of his body of work. It's absolutely insane what this guy has made.

First album you bought?
Michael Jackson Thriller. The cassette was my birthday present to myself when I was 8. I freaked out on the dance floor of a friend's birthday party when I first heard it. I had to have the album after that.

Last album you bought?
Future Islands, On the Water. I'm a total sucker for regurgitated new wave- M83, Hot Chip, Cut Copy & them. I love Future Islands' twist on it. It's like Tom Waits fronting New Order in their prime.

First concert?
MC Hammer, hot off the Can't Touch This tour. Back then I think even transcribed all of the lyrics from that song from a recording I made off the radio. I guess every answer to your questions requires me revealing one guilty pleasure or another.

Last concert?
Just saw The War on Drugs at a place called Pappy & Harriet's near Joshua Tree between their Coachella sets.

Was there one album that made a significant impression on you?
Besides Thriller? U2 Joshua Tree, funny enough. It was a comfort in middle school during those awkward adolescent days. It still plays really well for me. Bruce Springsteen Born in the USA was another big childhood favorite. Great memories of roadtrips with my Dad. It also still plays well for me. I know The Boss isn't the best one to idolize as a hard-working blue collar hero. He gets the job done for me. Sometimes I need my studio to take on the foul air of a Jersey construction site, alright? We all have our own motivations.

Who is your musical hero?
I used to answer this question "Beck" without hesitation. Bjork, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson have all held this slot for me for long periods of time. My answer today: David Byrne. Talking Heads were a huge influence in my life from about age 12 to 18, especially as I learned and studied the downtown scene, Reed, Warhol, CBGB, Haring etc. As an adult I've discovered a whole new appreciation for the Heads & Byrne himself. That he's both a creator & facilitator, a great author of music and great assembler of talent.

How important is music to your creative process?
It's instrumental :). Literally. It's not as important during early stages of conceptualizing and brainstorming. Music will definitely trigger new ideas and inspirations. It also triggers affirmation. It's a product of recorded music, especially anything with history. I hear a song even just a year or two old and I recall memories of the first time I fell in love with it, what was happening around that time. I should try to act aloof and perpetually confident but the honest truth is that I need affirmation to continue taking risks and experimenting. Music takes on another level of importance to my process after I've started a project, anywhere in the middle, and definitely towards the finish line. Good music is the chugging train that keeps my wheels turning and hands moving. If I'm ever in doubt, ever in need of a dose of energy or emotion it never fails.

"Chuch", Shabazz Palaces
"Don't Sweat the Technique", Eric B & Rakim
"Skills", Gang Starr
"Sweat", Theesatisfaction
"Queens", Theesatisfaction
"Human Nature", Michael Jackson
"Double Dutch", Malcom McLaren
"It Was Written Down", Toots & the Maytals
"Mama Africa", Peter Tosh
"Shuffle a Dream", Little Dragon
"Back in the Tall Grass", Future Islands
"Vireo's Eye", Future Islands
"Sax and Violins", Talking Heads
"Running to Stand Still", U2
"I'm Going Down", Bruce Springsteen

Check out Mike's mix below, download it directly here, or subscribe to the Background Noise podcast on iTunes. Be sure to like Background Noise on Facebook for updates on future episodes. You can browse ALL the Background Noise episodes here.

Background Noise, Episode 25: Blek Le Rat by Matt Valerio

The "Background Noise" podcast series focuses on the music that artists listen to when they work, what music inspires them, or just music they like. This week, in Episode 25, the focus is on legendary Parisian stencil artist Blek Le Rat.

The "Background Noise" podcast series focuses on the music that artists listen to when they work, what music inspires them, or just music they like. This week, in Episode 25, the focus is on legendary Parisian stencil artist Blek Le Rat.

Parisian stencil artist Blek Le Rat is another artist that I'm absolutely honored to have on board for this project. For over 30 years, Blek (born Xavier Prou) has been doing his thing, putting up his signature stencil works in cities throughout the world.

photo by  Zerbi Hancok

photo by Zerbi Hancok

Long before Banksy became associated with stencils of rats, Blek was stenciling them throughout the streets of Paris, inspired by them because they create fear and are synonymous with invasion. Despite being known for this, they aren't the only thing he's incorporated into his art. He's done self-portraits, images of Warhol, Amy Winehouse and various homeless people, often life-size stencils.

Blek continues to go strong, still doing work in the street, despite some run ins with the law, and often has gallery shows. I checked out one of his shows years ago when I lived in San Francisco, and saw his impressive Ignorance Is Bliss show at Jonathan Levine Gallery last year here in New York.

His Background Noise covers a lot of ground in its short 33 minutes, and I'm impressed when someone can go right from Neil Young's "Old Man" into Rick Ross's "Hustlin". It gives me that much more respect for him.

photo by  vitostreet

photo by vitostreet

photo by Matt Bomarr

photo by Matt Bomarr

First concert?
Rolling Stones 1969, London - Tribute to Brian Jones


Last concert?
Scred Connexion


First album?
Sgt Pepper


Was there one album that made a significant impression on you?
Hendrix - Electric Ladyland


Who is your musical hero? Eminem

How important is music to your creative process?
It makes me forget that I am working

1. Wax Tailor - "The Games You Play"
2. "NTM - "Pose Ton Gun"
3. Eminem - "Real Slim Shady"
4. 2pac - "California Love"
5. Wax Tailor - "Que Sera"
6. Neil Young - "Old Man"
7. Rick Ross - "Hustlin"

9. Kevin Coyne - "Marlene"
10. Bob Marley - "Redemption Song"

 

Check out his mixtape below, download it here, or subscribe to Background Noise for free on iTunes. Be sure to like Background Noise on Facebook for updates on future episodes.

Background Noise, Episode 23: Hanksy by Matt Valerio

The "Background Noise" podcast series focuses on the music that artists listen to when they work, what music inspires them, or just music they like. This week, in Episode 23, the focus is New York artist  Hanksy .

The "Background Noise" podcast series focuses on the music that artists listen to when they work, what music inspires them, or just music they like. This week, in Episode 23, the focus is New York artist Hanksy.

"Catch Me If You Can" (photo by Matt Bomarr)

I'm a sucker for a good pun. I often make them myself, and now that I'm a dad, I can REALLY get away with them (or at least I'd like to think). While I consider myself pretty good, I have to bow and acknowledge that New York artist Hanksy is the master. Just look at the image above. Marty McFly, get it? Of course you do. It's brilliant. And it doesn't stop there.

Hanksy first started getting attention when his Tom Hanks-themed wheat pasted Banksy parodies started popping up around NYC and other cities. All of them featuring recognizable Banksy imagery, but with the Academy Award-winning actors face added in.

"Human 50 Centipede"

He has since moved on from the Banksy stuff and has been doing his own original pun-tastic pieces all over the country, gathering a fair amount of continued attention in the process. After all, his work constantly has the potential to go viral due to its pop culture familiarity, the tongue-in-cheek humor to it all, and the roll-your-eyes "oh god" punny-ness. Fairly recently, one of his images started making the rounds on Reddit. An image depicting rapper 50 Cent, actually, multiple 50 cents, all strung together Human Centipede-style. The name of the piece? You guessed it, "Human 50 Centipede". Another one that popped up in the Lower East Side last year featured the late James Gandolfini merged with Gandalf from Lord of the Rings for "Gandalfini". I seriously could go on forever with these. Love him or hate him, the guy has wit. See for yourself in the gallery below.

Hanksy's wit has even been acknowledged by Stephen Colbert. Last October, when Banksy conducted his "Better Out than In" on the streets of New York, Colbert called on Banksy to use a wall on the outside of the Colbert Report studio as a canvas for one of his pieces (actually, he sarcastically "forbade" Banksy from doing art on the wall) . Not one to be baited, Banksy did not oblige, but Hanksy wasted no time and hopped on this opportunity. The next morning, a wheat pasted bear with Stephen's head appeared on the wall outside the show. The name of the piece was "Colbear", and Colbert loved it. He devoted about 5-minutes on his show to talking about Hanksy.

Hanksy also curated January's 2-hour guerrilla art show "Surplus Candy" in an abandoned house in Alphabet City. An event I attended with a couple of friends, and have mentioned in numerous Background Noise blog posts, due to the fact that many of the artists I've featured in the series were also part of this one-of-a-kind show. Once again, a short video that sums up the entire event can be seen here.

He put together possibly the longest mix in the series so far. Clocking in at 1 hour 47 minutes, the mix gets started right out of the gate with Miley Cyrus and jumps right into Japanther. Operation Ivy to Pharrell Williams. It covers the whole spectrum. I'm happy to have Hanksy contribute to this series.

What was the first concert you went to?

Thanks to various huffing incidents, my childhood memory is fairly foggy. But I'm fairly certain it was one of the first Warped Tours. Rancid and Bad Religion played and I was 15 and I was super fucking stoked. 
 
What was the last concert/show you went to?

The So So Glos at the great Shea Stadium.

First lp/tape or cd?

The first couple cassettes I purchased with my own money was Green Day's Dookie along with the soundtrack from the movie Newsies. Seize the day, yo. 

Last album you bought?

I've got a fairly good amount of friends in the music biz, so I try to cop their new releases as often as possible. Yesterday I picked up "Back in Black" by Chicago's Archie Powell and the Exports. It's great. 

Is there one record that made a significant impression on you?

Energy by Operation Ivy. It's the one album I will forever return to. Again and again it never ceases to bore me. 

Who is your musical hero?

Bob Dylan. 

How important do you think music is to your creative process?

Unlike some creative types who can work in silence, swimming in their own thoughts, I can't. I fucking drown without some sort of noise. For me silence can be suffocating so I make damn sure I have some playlist cued up and ready to go whenever I'm working in my studio. 

 

Check out his mix below. download it here, or subscribe to the Background Noise podcast on iTunes. And don't forget to like Background Noise on Facebook for updates on future episodes.