Background Noise, Episode 17: Hellbent by Matt Bomarr

My new "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 17,  the focus is on Brooklyn-based artist  Hellbent .

My new "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 17,  the focus is on Brooklyn-based artist Hellbent.

If ever there were a perfect candidate for the Background Noise podcast series, it would be Brooklyn's Hellbent. An avid music fan himself, he jumped on the opportunity to be able to put a soundtrack to his creative output. Rightfully so, since he has an entire series of his work, (two, actually) called Mix Tape and Mix Tape (Side 2), where all of the pieces in the series are named after songs he was listening to when he made them.

A little more backstory on this from Hellbent himself:

The series began as I began collaging the tape that I used to mask off parts of pieces I was putting on the street.  I would use the over spray of patterns and colors I was getting on tape and started to arrange them in my sketch book. From one of those sketches I did it in paint for first time on a mural I executed in LA.  From there I began working with a purely abstract style, this was about 2.5 years ago.  I call the works in paint the mix tape series as it was inspired first from tape pieces I did.  I name each of these paintings after a song that I was listening to as I am finishing up work.  Music was a huge influence on earliest abstractionist. Kandinsky was heavily influenced by the new compositions that were coming from composers at the turn of the century.  Music is a huge influence in my life and work.  So, by naming paintings after songs, it's a nod to the past (like Kandinsky and others) and to the importance of music to me.  Consequently, the tape collage pieces I have dubbed the "demos" as they are the first part of music making process like the pieces themselves are the first part of my working process.

Screenshot 2014-04-20 22.54.02.png

Hellbent initially caught my eye on one of my walks around Williamsburg a couple years back. I noticed a piece of his, quite a bit above eye level. The piece was bolted to a wall in all four corners, and featured just a drawing of a jaw bone, juxtaposed over an almost wallpaper-like pattern, with the word "hellbent" carved into it. I loved it so much, my initial impulse was to find a way to take it home with me. To be honest, had it been easier to take off the wall, I probably would have (not a practice I adhere to these days), but I figured that if it was bolted there, it was probably meant to stay, so I just photographed it and went on my way.

I continued to see his work around. Whether it was various stickers bearing the jawbone image, or a beautiful upside-down elephant over some bright pink and blue pattern in DUMBO, I loved it. He had a great art show at Mighty Tanaka Gallery a while back that had some of his colorful pattern pieces, as well as a stack of jawbones, and an upside-down pentagram made of flowers.

He's participated in the East Village's Centrifuge Public Art Project, which features a revolving cast of artists collectively transforming an abandoned trailer on 1st ave and 1st street, and recently transformed the facade of one of Ralph Lauren's stores near Union Square.

Hellbent is a very talented artist, and one (ahem) helluva guy. If you're in the Chicago area, go check out his Past Future Perfect show at Maxwell Colette Gallery. It's running from April 18-June 7.

photo by Matt Bomarr

photo by Matt Bomarr

photo by Matt Bomarr

photo by Matt Bomarr

What was the first concert you went to?

Joan Jett opening for Aerosmith

What was the last concert you went to?

Washed Out

What was the first album you bought?

Quite Riot-Metal Health, first tape Van Halen 1984

What was the most recent album you bought?

The Servants: Small Time

Was there one particular album that made a significant impression on you?

Walk on the Wild Side, Lou Reed. Put it in my head that I needed to move to New York at a very young age.

Who is your musical hero?

Probably Perry Farrell

photo by Matt Bomarr

photo by Matt Bomarr

How important is music to your creative process?

Music is extremely important to my process. I have to have music on when painting. Live music especially because when I see a band live I see all these paintings I want to paint. If only I could get a band to play while i was painting ….

Check out Hellbent's site here, and follow him on Instagram.

Stream Hellbent's mix below, download the file directly 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.

Background Noise, Episode 8: Enzo & Nio by Matt Bomarr

(photo by @lostkaws)

My new "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 8 the focus is on Brooklyn street artist duo Enzo & Nio.

Enzo & Nio have been friends since they met on a tree farm in 1994. Their shared sense of humor, love of hallucinogenic drugs and more importantly, their taste in art lead them to start collaborating in many creative ways ever since.

photo by bomarr

photo by bomarr

Lots of their work tends to lean toward the humorous, tongue-in-cheek side of things (see their "cock shark" stickers), while still making a statement. The specific statements are always left to the viewer's interpretation though, and that's how Enzo & Nio like to keep it. They rarely, if ever, talk about their work. Sometimes the work shows an obvious disdain for certain things. For example, their "Pull in case of..." series shows a standard looking fire alarm that says things like "Pull in case of Bloomberg", "Pull in case of Facebook", etc. And then there are the various wheatpastes that feature young girls with bandanas over there faces, brandishing weapons or holding molotov cocktails.


I met Nio in person at a Futura art show a couple of years ago, and he told a friend and I about how he and Enzo had recently hung $100 in $1 bills from a string on the Williamsburg Bridge. Just because. It was fascinating. These guys really don't stick to just one medium when it comes to their work, which is admirable.

Music has been a big part of both of their lives, so it was only fitting for them to do one of these podcasts for the series.

Read their words below, and check out this excellent little feature on them done by the Dega Films series "Wild In The Streets"

What was your first concert?

Enzo: My first voluntary* concert was Bo Diddley. It was also my first date which is why it sticks in my head. I was in 6th or 7th grade and my uncle chaperoned a few of my friends and our dates to the concert. I don't remember why it was Bo Diddley it makes absolutely no sense that we went to see Bo Diddley at that age. In makes more sense in a hindsight kind of way - years later I would end up playing guitar in a few blues bands (at one gig Nio was even running lights for us). As for the Bo Diddley show, I don't remember the opening acts, but I remember Bo Diddley! He was loud enough so I could feel the bass in my feet and stomach. I always dug that riff and still do.

*My parents used to drag me to their stuff.

Nio: John Cougar Mellencamp (with my parents) circa 1986-ish

Last concert/show?

E: As far as bigger concerts go I saw Furthur this past summer, I think that was the last major show of note. I like outdoor shows and something you can make a day of. Sometimes, it’s kind of cool to just disconnect and groove in the sun. Shows in general? The last one was B.Dolan and Sage Francis - that is good time! B.Dolan’s new set up features a madman on the drums - they were pretty impressive - BOOM!

N: I went to the underwhelming Amnesty International concert at Barclay's Center last week.



First tape/cd/lp?

E: Wow, I had to think hard, I was young: Greatest Hits - The Jackson Five. There was a time in my life when I would have been embarrassed to admit that, but their early stuff was SOLID, I still listen to it today. Then I think it was something by Alice Cooper or Kiss. I’m rarely current with music.

N: Van Halen 1984 on cassette


Last album you bought?

E: “The Best of War” - I want to thank OverUnder for making me remember them when I listened to his “Background Noise” installment. I'm listening to them now as I write this.

N: Sage Francis- Sick To D(eat)h


Was there any particular record that made a significant impression on you?

E: Yes, a lot of particular records have made a significant impression on me for a variety of reasons, I actually started to list them all chronologically here and then saw it would be ridiculously long. As it relates to the spirit of “Background Noise” I would say that several artists/albums have influenced the spirit of my contribution to Enzo & Nio. “Film the Police” by B.Dolan and the first “Rage Against the Machine” album are ones that easily come to mind. “FUCK YOU I WON’T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME!, FUCK YOU I WON’T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME!, FUCK YOU I WON’T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME!, FUCK YOU I WON’T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME!” Yeah, something like that.

N: Bob Seger- Nine Tonight


Who is your music hero?

E: This will sound strange because we are not from the same era but John Lennon. Not only was he a great lyricist and musician, but John Lennon always stood for something and was unafraid to voice it. He also did it during a time when it wasn’t about a photo op or a meme or for self-promotion. He used his music and celebrity as a force for change to the point that he became an enemy of the U.S. Government - BECAUSE HE PROMOTED PEACE! I admire his cleverness, way with words/language and desire to make things better - for everyone. So he was influential to me for music and more. I think he kind of lurks in a few of E&N’s more socially conscious or philosophical things because of that. That said, we won’t be abandoning the Cockshark anytime soon - We don’t take ourselves THAT seriously.

N: Mighty Mighty Bosstones- Devil's Night Out


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

E: I am never working alone or with Nio when there isn’t music playing. It’s a mindful addition to our creative work environment. We’re just wrapping two days of studio work and we made some definite decisions about the music we were listening to. Among the choices for those days were “The Talking Heads”, Mike Doughty, “G. Love & Special Sauce” and some other related and unrelated artists. I can honestly say that even when we are running the streets, pasting or just fucking around, something is playing in my head that relates to the moment/night (some Jay-Z most recently).

Looking back, music has been an integral part of my friendship with Nio from the earliest days. You could say that as street artists “Enzo & Nio” were born at a music festival. One hot summer day with a number of acts playing on stage, Nio and I along with a few friends (fueled by psilocybin) kind of staged a massive public intervention with thousands of florescent orange “HOT!” stickers.

Some things change, some things stay the same but there’s always a soundtrack isn’t there?

N: Music can create an inspirational moment when you least expect it, whether a lyric, or a feeling that you want to capture or create later, but in the studio it is more background noise then something that is in the forefront of the process. Shout outs to Howard Stern, who I listen to on a daily basis more often than any sort of musical type situation.

Check out more of Enzo & Nio's work at their website.

Stream their episode below, subscribe on iTunes, or listen on Mixcloud