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Background Noise, Episode 62: Mike Leavitt by Matt Valerio



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 27: Stikki Peaches 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 27, the focus is on Stikki Peaches

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 27, the focus is on Stikki Peaches

Stikki Peaches is a street artist out of Montreal. His work is often pop culture-based, using well-known imagery that we all know and love.  One of his best known characters, known as "Bat Bond", blends the Caped Crusader's head with James Bond's body, with some spiked shoulder pads and a gun with a flower in it for good measure. This piece is usually accompanied by a question that Stikki asks in frequently in his pieces: "What if art ruled the world?"

You'll find that he also has a penchant for Star Wars. Darth Vader's helmet, and the Stormtrooper helmet have become iconic images in their own right, but Stikki takes them another step further, juxtaposing them onto men in suits, usually with some form of bright pants on.

His work is eye-catching from afar, but he adds yet another layer to his work to make it that much more interesting. He'll frequently fill in the faces of his pieces with hand-written words and drawings, sometimes looking like facial tattoos that might look like a bunch of scribbles until you get closer and see words like "hope" , skulls and crossbones, diamonds, "troop life" and more. Or for some extra color in the pants, he'll paste in some colorful comic book pages, and sometimes lays out stickers given to him by his friends in the street art scene to create hair or other features on his work.

Stikki has risen fast in the Montreal street art scene, and shows no signs of slowing down. He'll always get his stuff up when he visits NY as well, and people are taking notice.

Check out more of his work here, as well as his Tumblr, and buy some of his art via the great folks at Station 16.


What was your first concert? 

Last concert/show?
Jay Z, Holy Grail 

First album, tape or cd you bought?
Thriller vinyl (Still have it!) 

Last album you bought?
Kissland (The Weeknd) 

Was there any album that made a significant impression on you?
Kiss (Psycho Circus) I was crowd surfing and unexpectedly ended up onstage. 

How important do you think music is to your creative process?
I couldn't imagine working with no music either in the background or plugged in my ear. It helps me get lost in my work, no other distractions. It’s like an escape. The music comes on, the creative juices start flowing and before you know it, you've created magic, all because of those good vibes running through your veins :)

Episode 27 track list:
Bonobo - First Fires
Blackroc - What You Do To Me
The Weeknd - Wanderlust
Bob Marley - Three Little Birds
Radiohead - Creep
The Bad Plus - Sing For A Silver Dollar
Nirvana - Come As You Are
The Roots - The Seed 2.0
The Killers - This River Is Wild
Frank Sinatra - You Make Me Feel So Young
Arctic Monkeys - Fluorescent Adolescent
Oasis - Hello

Check out Stikki'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.