Second big collection of posts from this year’s Instagram series (the first one is here), which will exist on this blog after I delete it from socials at the end of this year.

Canon Fodder Week 13: As a post-grad with an English BA, I had some pretty soul-crushing campus jobs at the UCSB bookstore and HR office. Much like when I finished high school, I had few ideas or ambitions beyond what I was already doing—but I liked what I was already doing, so I stayed in Isla Vista with my girlfriend and bands while earning money to pay for escalating I.V. rent (which was nowhere near what it costs now). The people I worked with on campus were good folks, but the work was mostly admin stuff and terribly dull. It wasn’t my first rodeo in college text retail (I worked summers at Saddleback’s bookstore in OC from 1995-1997), and it wasn’t the only paid work I had between 2000 and 2003, (more on that later), but it paid the most, so leaning on my creativity was absolutely essential to avoid brain-rot.

I did things that made the overall boredom more interesting, like drawing the globe on racquetballs and learning to stack textbook overstock in elaborate ways on end caps. It didn’t make working in retail any less frustrating, but it killed time at a time when, amazingly, I had too much time. This was a skill I learned to embrace in the future whenever I had relatively-uninteresting design work, but back then it didn’t save me from my own bad habits. Wasting time on someone else’s dime was way too easy, especially as a glorified secretary in the HR office, so it wasn’t too long before I flailed and bailed. However, if boring admin jobs are the worst thing in your life at age 25, you’ll probably be fine. And I was.

Weird Flexes and Wild Trivia: One of the ways I killed time instead of doing the work I was assigned was by playing around with Yahoo’s Geocities service to make rinky-dink band websites. That helped steer me toward “web development” and, after I bought the domain, helped prove I could pay bills on time when financially powerful people needed proof of such things.

Canon Fodder Week 14: The final Mojo Wire entry is for their fourth demo/CD-R, from mid-2001. For a full blow-by-blow, check out its corresponding @mybandrockspod episode. The TL;DR version is basically this: every defunct band has a document of their dissolution, and for my first band, that document is this album. It took a long time to make, band members were rarely in the same place at the same time, I micromanaged everything, released what we had, and that shows. It can’t seem to decide if it’s a collection of new stuff, a live album, or a remake-fest, and so it ended up as a hodgepodge of all three. However, there’s some killer stuff there (much of which stayed in my later bands’ live setlists for years), and we made leaps and bounds with home-recording skills.

The cover art doodles are fun too; they call back to the first album in the best way. The band ones are by me, and the others are based on images from an old Spanish class workbook, which I re-traced and re-juxtaposed to evoke the cliché of Isla Vista as a demented and dangerous playground for misfit toys. The manila-heathered texture and yellow-orange accents made a compelling visual change from previous albums’ white/red/blue/black palettes. Like the other Mojo albums, this got my deluxe-reissue-redesign treatment in 2017, which was a great opportunity to integrate contemporary color snapshots by Emily DuBois (from our final gig) and grayscale photos by Leslie Valle Montoya (from our rehearsal space at Table Salt Screen Printing).

Weird Flexes and Wild Trivia: There were several versions of this CD-R floating around at the time, mostly because every few months during production I handed them out to anyone in the SB music scene who might care. I realized how futile this was soon after, when I landed my second and final journalism job—but that’s another story and one I’ll get to next week!

Canon Fodder Week 15: My second and final journalism gig was for about two years of on-again-off-again music writing at the Independent, Santa Barbara’s longtime alternative weekly. I don’t remember how I got the gig, but my first byline was in February 2001 when I took on the “Positively State St.” column (basically the “what’s happening this week in town” report) and the occasional bite-sized “Sound & Fury” 90-word CD review. There was definitely a house style—or at least I perceived that there was, and nobody corrected me—so I got away with a good deal of creative freedom and appeared much hipper about the Santa Barbara music scene than I had any right to be. As with the Daily Nexus, it was because I had a great and supportive editor—in this case Duncan Wright, the Indy’s Arts Editor back then.

With one very brief public lesson, Duncan taught me the importance of taking credit for professional achievements, no matter how small—and that performative modesty is no way to be creative. After a show by one of his bands, he introduced me to others there as “one of my columnists,” and when I said “I’ve only written one so far,” he (very Britishly) noted “Well they don’t know that, and besides, it still means you’re a published columnist. Own it.” And of course he was correct. Thanks, Duncan. I also learned that I preferred to work inverse to the way journalism usually happens: I’d dutifully wait for an assignment instead of researching and pitching stories. I liked the work, but all of my experience at the Nexus and the Indy was with columns or reviews, and I won’t say that’s all I thought journalism was, but I never tried to find out more, so it didn’t seem like sustainable or regular enough work. In some ways I was still a very talented but obliviously naive person.

Weird Flexes and Wild Trivia: This job is when I first had to learn about how image resolution (dots/pixels per inch) works; screen (72) vs print (300). It’s something so basic to me now, but it blew my mind at the time. Even then, I didn’t get the hang of it until I’d made several low-res CD covers for my second band, Honey White. More about them next week!

Canon Fodder Week 16: First entry in this series for my second band, Honey White, is for their first release, a 5-song indie-rock EP from late 2002. It was many things, but most importantly was our first pro-engineered recording and got us higher-profile gigs in the Santa Barbara area. Full details about the tunes themselves in its corresponding @mybandrockspod episode. Tracking this disc followed a very brief few weeks when I thought I wanted to be a recording engineer, but after 1-2 lessons I decided I much preferred songwriting, recording, and gigging for my own music instead of someone else’s. With the Mojo Wire basically finished, my brother Bryn and I formed Honey White with guitarist Brian Wolff and drummer Bill Fedderson. HW a unique and talented band that clicked almost instantly, but we were still the sum of our parts on this recording and hadn’t formed a group identity yet.

That would change soon, and kinda helped along by unifying visuals like this CD cover idea from Bill: a Volvo that evoked our small fleet of two ’80s station wagons which transported our gear everywhere, from studio to rehearsal space to gig to home and back again. The CD cover looked a bit different back then (and for most of the past two decades), but at the time I was still learning basic design and layout concepts like image resolution. When it was time to re-release this one in 2019, I revamped the cover using edited images of a toy Volvo wagon digitally dunked in a gradient of honey. Literal title + slightly figurative concept = literal color palette? It worked. Adding in more Table Salt rehearsal photos (by Earl Arnold) helped put faces to the fun.

Weird Flexes and Wild Trivia: “My Band Rocks” earned us some good press in the SB Independent, a HW first. It’s also the only Honey White (or Mojo Wire) collection to see vinyl release (so far), thanks to then-frontman-now-teacher Bryn DuBois’s students (also in 2019). They gifted him an “exclusive custom-made special collector’s edition.”

Canon Fodder Week 17 is both sort of a creative dead end and yet not. In the summer and fall of 2003, unemployed (deliberately) for the first time and with my band Honey White on a months-long hiatus, I sunk a crazy amount of time into learning about digital video: how to edit and produce using (by today’s standards) extremely clunky software. It was a debilitating and laborious process I only undertook out of sheer ignorance. Syncing up audio and video became a nightmarishly huge project, using tons of footage from 2 (and eventually 3) gigs we did in 2003-04, along with my own live recordings from those same gigs (see them all here, here, and here).

Within a few years YouTube (and better software) came along to make that less of an ordeal, but at the time I swore to never mess with video again, and I sort of kept that promise to myself, at least as far as never becoming a qualified/professional video editor. It seems obvious to me now that I was simply diving into a massive time-suck to avoid looking for “real” jobs, and I still had no idea what I wanted to do (or could do). Thankfully my friends and family were patient with me. The band eventually got back together for some of our best work yet (more on that later) and I even parlayed my slapdash amateur DVD cover art (along with other work and my final design certificate course) into a real design agency job (more on that later too).

Weird Flexes and Wild Trivia: This one’s more of a regret than a flex, because it kills me to think I spent all that jobless time inside staring at screens when I could’ve been biking my newly-out-of-shape mid-20s self all over Santa Barbara County. I would try to make up for that much later.

Canon Fodder Week 18, in which I cram the lessons of my first creative agency job into less than 2200 characters: At BBM&D I went from a 27-year-old design intern (2004) to “Chief Creative Officer” (2013), from Isla Vista to Ventura, through 9 years, 3 locations, 1 recession, and many logos, websites, catalogs, publications, presentations, ADDY awards, photo shoots, and client meetings. I did good work (in these slides) with many brilliant people. Shoutouts in particular to Amelia Aparicio, Mia Bortolussi, Arrate Zavala, Claire Krohmer, Katy Palmer, and Margaux Pinero.

On balance BBM&D was fine. The really good stuff—art parties, project wins, and the only clients who mattered to me by the end—will appear again soon in the separate posts they deserve. On the other hand, I learned that good skills and bad habits are two sides of the same creative coin, like refined taste and sneering snobbery or best practices and blatant paranoia. I saw how a boutique creative business worked (or didn’t), but also realized I got taken advantage of and would never be paid what I’m worth. I learned how to quit a job when it was past time, and how to do that responsibly. I learned that I wasn’t ready to be a business owner (yet). I learned (again) that if I didn’t actively decide what I wanted to do or be, then someone else would choose for me, and it wouldn’t be good. I finally bailed when I found myself carelessly snapping at interns, botching brand pitches for good clients I desperately wanted to impress, and feeling pressure to work after-hours for unsupportive supervisors and bad clients who didn’t respect my time. Not to make it sound all bad, but hollow highlights are for LinkedIn.

Weird Flexes and Wild Trivia: I got yelled at by supplement salesmen and was condescended to by right-wing dentists. I’ve forgotten all I learned about e-commerce websites and content management systems (which I don’t work with anymore), but retained almost everything about publication layout and production (which I still do well). I foolishly signed non-competes, foolishly kept to them, and yet may have done some of my best creative work (more on that soon) entirely outside of working hours.

Canon Fodder Week 19: Honey White’s second entry in this series is for How Far is the Fall, my second band’s full-length studio debut, from 2005. It was the first and only time we’d record in a real studio (Take Root in SF) with a real engineer (J.D. Mayer) and we took as much advantage of that as possible. Full details about the tunes themselves in its corresponding @mybandrockspod episode. It captures Honey White 2.0, when after a short hiatus we belatedly established a definitive sonic template (our own mix of classic/modern/indie/alt-rock) and group identity that worked for everyone involved. For me personally, the project was a big creative marker. I contributed five of my best lyrics, learned to accept the “support-before-flash” role of a traditional bassist, and designed some of my best album artwork, combining band studio snapshots with the cool colors of echo and reverb, which dominated the album’s sonic palette.

This album (and its gigs in 2005-06) was also when I kinda traded the “guy in a band” identity for the “professional designer guy” identity, since making it was contemporaneous with starting my first design job at BBM&D. In 2018 I gave it a super-deluxe “reimagined” re-release: a re-shuffled song sequence, five bonus tracks and two 44-page booklets with band interviews, photos, liner notes, and a characteristically pompous album history mini-essay. Sadly, there was never a vinyl release, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t make a mockup of it anyway. Perhaps for the 30th anniversary in 2035.

Weird Flexes and Wild Trivia: By the numbers, “How Far is the Fall” was recorded in 14 days over 6 months in 2004 for about $8k, a bargain by any measure. We played 6 support gigs in 4 SoCal counties, including theaters for the first time (I.V.’s Embarcadero Hall, UCSB’s Campbell Hall) and made our stage debuts in Ventura (Nicholby’s), L.A. (Brown Derby), and O.C. (Ocean Institute).

Canon Fodder Week 20 is a weird one: “Dubious Ventures” blogging. When I gave up journalism I didn’t stop writing, and that took up more free time when Honey White wound down and I belatedly did the marriage-mortgage-career adulthood dance. I kept my design job through the recession, but was uneasy, unhealthy, over 30, and “posting though it.” For better and worse that meant aping deranged work by certain authors I’d absorbed for years—Bret Easton Ellis, Irvine Welsh, and most obviously Hunter S. Thompson. Probably a questionable phase, but it produced some interesting stuff (read if you dare via link in profile). Not terminally online, but not far from it, these fever-dreams were creative but also reactive and kinda destructive. I tried what Thompson did with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (writing it to cool down from his bigger legit journalism pieces). I let off steam while slogging through first drafts of my first novel (more on that later) by barfing cringeworthy prose all over political sites like Daily Kos, then on my own venerable Wordpress blog.

Too much of my 2008-2010 was spent staring at screens and typing furiously, mashing together throat-clearing clichés, lyrics, puns, news, and anything else that fit. I even inexplicably documented trips to web conferences in Seattle and Boston this way. I was still doing web design for BBM&D, keeping my CSS/HTML skills sharp with multiple redesigns of before Bootstrap, Magento, and Expression Engine complicated my web work. Then social media strangled my blog. But that blog helped me write a novel, and I may anthologize it in some form soon. Maybe spoken-word audio. Who knows.

Weird Flexes and Wild Trivia: This week, that’s everything that went into this bloggy blender. The 2008 election, Iraq news, the Tea Fire, Fight Club, Monty Python, the French Revolution, Orange County, U2, Pulp Fiction, Isla Vista, the Simpsons, the early Obama era, Hellenistic history, Blade Runner, baseball, Calvin & Hobbes, Bob Dylan, Battlestar Galactica, Brick, Yellow Submarine, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Little Richard, Cryptonomicon, Shogun, Prohibition, the Weelykta Party, Firefly, and the Ventura Chamber of Commerce.

Canon Fodder Week 21: “Gifted Education Communicator” publication design (2007-2012). One of only two truly important (to me) clients I worked with while at BBM&D was this quarterly education research journal published by the California Association for the Gifted. Over 5 years I perfected my publication layout skills in a friendly setting: an agreeable, supportive client and a topic I had strong feelings about. It was also my first project management experience; I’d been helping with layout since we got the project in 2005, but in early ’07 I took over the whole thing from colleague Mia Bortolussi when she left BBM&D. Mia had transformed the GEC from a dull academic journal into a stylish and compelling near-magazine, so I was in a great position to build on her work.

The audience was an extremely specialized one (teachers and parents of gifted students), but I successfully maintained strong graphic standards over the following 5 years. A combination of inspiring educational imagery and whimsical illustration jumped off the grayscale pages and breathed life into the surrounding research. It even won some ADDY awards (whatever that’s worth) circa 2008. Sadly once GEC editor Margaret Gosfield retired in 2012 our days doing the project were numbered. It was a lesson in what people claim to value (quality) and what they actually value (cost), but with education-related budgets always strangled, we couldn’t really blame them—especially at a time when many publications were going online, and the tools for that (like Issuu or other Flash-based things) weren’t up to the task yet. Still, a big deal for me at the time and everything I learned from it has never not been professionally useful.

Weird Flexes and Wild Trivia: In summer 2010 Margaret invited me to write that issue’s “Student Voices” column, so in “The Designer-Wordsmith-Rockstar, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Being ‘Gifted'” I recounted how my 1980s-1990s “gifted” experience fostered a longstanding ambivalence about the extra work and other silliness involved, but also how I (mostly) grew out of and got over it. Check out the essay and a project portfolio page via my link in profile.

Canon Fodder Week 22: Honey White live albums. Recording our gigs took up lots of my band-hobby time. We were pretty well-rehearsed, so most shows went well, and I captured 18 of our 26 gigs with my trusty Roland VS-890 digital recorder. My questionable “release it right now” habit yielded the “Live and Unprofessional” series, 4 CD-Rs from 2003-2007—a bit much, so late in the decade I pared them down to 2. “Deluge and Drought” (2007) had the best performances from ’05/’06 shows, and “Some Reassembly Required” (2009) collected the best from the ’02-’04 CDs. Visually, everything feels kinda overcooked. These weren’t my best cover designs—the first 3 suffer from Photoshop filter experiments—so later I tried re-doing them with an all-black aesthetic, which didn’t really work either.

A bit better were my “city limits” covers, which had enough location variety (I.V., UCSB, Santa Barbara, Goleta, Ventura) to work for full show recordings I uploaded to the Live Music Archive circa 2006. For the “Some Reassembly” compilation, I mashed up all our gig flyer designs and drowned them in the same honey-color gradient as the Volvo-EP cover. Ultimately the covers don’t matter much; it’s the performances that count, and they still hold up really well, especially the ’05/’06 ones. However, by then we were all living in different corners of California, so rehearsals (let alone gigs) were few and far between, and “the war to make people care” wasn’t worth fighting, so the band helped me choose sanity and we gradually wound down HW activity. We weren’t totally done (more on that later), but as a live act, that was it. Check out these links for the @mybandrockspod episodes and AllMusic archive.

Weird Flexes and Wild Trivia: What band doesn’t have war stories from gigs? We have zillions, but I’ll simply offer a few: we only had one I.V. show shut down by police, we were once upstaged in Campbell Hall by fake “hula” dancers, and our single L.A. show was at the Brown Derby, where “Swingers” was filmed.

Canon Fodder Week 23: “Nostalgia Wall.” Let’s go with a bit of filler this week, but also with something that documents my impulse to compile and collage. It’s always been one of my main creative habits and something that’s also spilled over into lots of other projects that involve collecting or presenting any body of cumulative work (such as curating my professional creative portfolio). It’s gone by many names (Creeping Nostalgia, Nostalgia Wall, Distorted Decade, etc), but it’s just a transparently idealized version of what I want to remember from each year, beginning when I took a photography elective as a high school senior in 1994/1995. It’s changed from cutting up actual printed photos and gluing them together on poster paper to editing together digital snapshots and foisting them upon social media apps every year or so. Maybe I was “doing Instagram” years before Instagram.

The most recent decade or so is at the bottom of my profile feed, and older stuff can be seen via this link. I’m not sure why I do this. It’s not original and it’s definitely not a showcase of “real” photography. It’s not even the same idea as the one I copied (a ’90s U2 album cover) when starting it, though I’ve done several album cover designs this way. It’s just montages of square-cropped snapshots. I do know that I went from a 4×4 grid to a 5×5 grid in 2014, when I got a new phone with a better camera and snapped more than ever, and then a 6×6 grid in 2021 when trying to cram a decade’s worth of deleted Instagram posts into 10 (now 12) slideshows. It’s just a fun yearly project, because I always need projects.

Weird Flexes and Wild Trivia: At one point circa 2008 I went so far as to get, like, 10 or 11 of these printed on poster board and then stuck them up on the guest room wall (which is why they appear at this point on *this* series’ timeline). I don’t know what possessed me to do that, and they’re definitely not there anymore. The urge to compile isn’t so different from the urge to delete. Anyway, better and more music-related stuff next week. Stay tuned.

Canon Fodder Week 24: Low Tide’s “Weapon of Young Gods” soundtrack. This is a a sprawling, lengthy album of echo-bass-driven instrumentals that I self-produced and released in March 2008. It had one purpose: something I could listen to as background noise to set the tone while writing (and re-writing, and editing) my first novel, also called “The Weapon of Young Gods.” The book wasn’t released until 2012 (it’ll have its own entry later), but for me the soundtrack has aged much better. Full details about the project and tunes themselves are in a corresponding @mybandrockspod episode. I needed ambience to evoke the story’s non-linear elements of dreams and memory, but I never found the right fit until I realized I could make it myself—with both unused Honey White recordings and new solo overdubs.

For the cover, I combined one of my own mixed-media “Ojai Art” pieces (more on those later too), an image of three skeletal calaveras (which haunt the novel’s main character), and wild, Steadman-like typefaces to conjure dynamic gonzo prose (which I tried too hard to emulate in the book). The most important thing this did was help me prove to myself that I could make music alone if I had to. I think this was my first Bandcamp release (by 2008 CDs were near death), but I pressed up a few discs anyway for those who asked, individually-numbered and stamped. For its 10th anniversary in 2018, I gave it the same treatment as the expanded Mojo Wire and Honey White reissues: deluxe PDF-booklet polish-ups with a handful of bonus tracks.

Weird Flexes and Wild Trivia: “Low Tide” originally began during a Mojo Wire hiatus circa 1999, when my brother and I taped five nameless drum-and-echo-bass jams, pressed about 3 CD-Rs (complete with Photoshop “glowing edges” cover art), and abandoned it when the Mojos revved up again. Low Tide wasn’t all me, but it was close enough, so using that name felt appropriate for a semi-solo book soundtrack containing significant contributions from the guys in Honey White.

Canon Fodder Week 25: VSI branding and publication design (2009-2013). The second of only two clients I did my best and most worthwhile work for while at BBM&D was this international nonprofit dedicated to improving women’s health in developing countries. It was my first *account* (not just project) management experience, and I did it up until the end of my run at BBM&D, all beginning when VSI’s then-Communications Director Amy Grossman walked in one day and asked “do you do websites?” I did, and based on two colors from Amy’s business card (plus lots of teamwork from Amy and her colleagues Emma Nesper and Allison Boiles) I built VSI’s website and helped launch a multi-year print-and-pixel branding and identity project speaking to multiple international audiences (governments, physicians, and financial donors).

VSI was doing serious, urgent work—providing the life-saving drug misoprostol to new mothers in rural areas—so all this material had to distill complex program details into a simple but compelling message. VSI ended its mission in 2015, so the website’s long gone, but I still have some 10-year-old stationery, research reports, and press sheets hanging around. The research reports (and other printed material) were probably my best VSI work overall. I combined vibrant colors and icons, informative charts and maps, and compelling, aspirational images of the women and children who benefitted from VSI’s work. So this entry probably isn’t one for weird flexes or wild trivia, and I’ll just say that creating these pieces made showing up to BBM&D every day (where, for the final year or so, I was increasingly unhappy) much less of an ordeal. Thanks to Amy, Emma, and Allison—a true power trio—and the VSI team for hanging in there with me.