Monday, July 4, 2011

Interview: Outsider Artist/Ex-Weezer Bassist Mikey Welsh

By Tom Faix

"Skim Milk Jollies" by Mikey Welsh
Outsider artist Mikey Welsh’s latest solo exhibition, “Skim Milk Jollies” opened Saturday at the Slingluff Gallery in the Fishtown district of Philadelphia. Entering the gallery one will become immersed by walls clad with abstract scenes and imaginative portraits surrounding. Particularly striking is Welsh’s manic technique and high volume of work which reflect his need to constantly paint.

Based in Burlington VT, Welsh is a self-taught painter who had considerable success in the music world as Weezer’s second bassist, as well as playing with Juliana Hatfield and the short-lived Boston outfit Kickovers before trading his bass in for paintbrushes. In April, he was featured as part of PBS’ Art Month. Welsh has contributed to action-sports culture by creating murals at skate-parks, as well as painting skate decks, and designing a line of snowboard equipment for Burton.

I caught up with Welsh at opening night to discuss accessibility in art collecting, as well as his recent nods back to the music business.

Square Cotton Candy: You offer your works of art for a lot lower of a price than many fine artists and I’m wondering is that in response to how prolific you are or is it in response to the economy, or is it just what you feel like doing?

Mikey Welsh: That’s a great question actually. I’m glad you asked that. I think it’s a couple of things. I think one of them that definitely plays into it is the prolific nature of how I work. I do a lot of painting every day, every week; I just crank ‘em out. I think that’s probably why you see so much energy, because they’re painted in a pretty manic fashion. Another really important component of what we’re talking about is I’m trying to take some of the exclusiveness of art collecting for people. Particularly, I particularly have a lot of younger fans from my music days with Weezer. They don’t have 2000, 3000 dollars to spend on a, you know, 22” by 15” painting so I sell it for 200 dollars, and I mean I’m not attached to these things like they’re my lifeline. I make them, I crank them out. That’s not to say that they’re not important to me, they don’t mean a lot to me. What is important to me and what I was just trying to say is making them accessible to people, like that’s important to me. I don’t like the snobbishness and exclusive nature of art buying and art collecting. That’s a really good question.

SCC: I appreciate that cause I mean a lot of artists out there themselves can’t afford to buy the art that’s influenced them themselves and it’s kinda strange how something even before it got to that point, something that might’ve been, even with Fluxus in the 60’s, some of the books they would make, art books they would make, maybe would be like three dollars, six dollars when they first sold them, and now they’re thousands of dollars and that’s never what they intended.

Welsh: Yeah, well I think that, um…I don’t know how to say it any clearer. I’ll just like reiterate what I said a second ago. Its’ just, you know, I want people to have my work. I think people either love my work or they hate it and, I don’t really…If they love it that’s great, if they hate it that doesn’t faze me at all. I don’t care, I’m not gonna stop making it. It’s important to me that people have it, if they want something that they really love that they can own it, you know, and take all of that snobbishness out, you know. That’s the fucking thing, you know, life’s too short man.

SCC: Another thing that I came upon recently was your artwork for the Twin Berlin.

Welsh: Yep.

SCC: It’s been a while since you left the music industry and I saw a little nod back to it. How did you become involved with making their cover for their debut album?

Welsh: You know in the last ten years since I left Weezer that I’ve been painting full-time, for one reason or another, you know, for the energy of my art or for my obvious connection to the music business through my bands, I’ve had a lot of bands ask me to their cover art for albums and I always have…When I have these emails come in I always have them send me the music to hear it, or send me a link so I can download it. I gotta know; I gotta know what it sounds like.

SCC: You gotta know what you’re representing.

Welsh: I‘ve had dozens of bands ask me to do their artwork for covers and stuff. I never heard anything that really floored me and Twin Berlin was another band that sent me an email, can you do our cover art, and sent it to me and I was like, you know what, they’re young, they’re good looking, they remind me of the Strokes a little bit, which is a good thing and they got good songs! But they’re reminiscent of things that are familiar to me but they craft really good songs, you know, and I was like, I can get behind this so I was just like yeah, and I just did it for them.

SCC: In the past few years a lot of archival Weezer recordings have started to surface of official releases, particularly revised arrangements of “Trampoline” and “Everyone” on Death to False Metal.

Welsh: Everyone is on an album?

SCC: Yeah.

Welsh: (Laughs)

Revised early Welsh era tracks appear on this divisive disc.
SCC: I was going to ask if you felt like the released versions were faithful representations of what you were a part of.

Welsh: To be perfectly honest, I haven’t heard, I didn’t know, god, what did Trampoline sound like? That’s, you’re going way back man. You’re going back like 12 years.

SCC: “Never seen you before but I know what you’re thinking” [hums the riff].

Welsh: (Laughs) I haven’t heard them but, you know what, I don’t, I, you know, the weezer boys played up in my neck of the woods up in Vermont last year and I ended up playing Hash Pipe with them, which was the opening song and they did songs that were early demos when I was in the band, like Dope Nose, which ended up on a record and my buddy Scott [Shriner] did all the vocals, Scott the bass player that replaced me, and it was fantastic. It sounded like the original so I’m sure, you know, knowing Rivers I’m sure he kept it true to its roots. I think with the situation where he’s taking old songs off of old demos and re-recording them or re-releasing them or whatever, he wants to sort of capture that moment in time you know, I don’t think he would fuck with it too much. And I’m sure he’s busy writing new stuff so I don’t know why he would bother, you know. It’s like me pulling out a painting from two years ago and re-painting it or re-working it or something. It’s like, you know what, that’s what I was feeling two years ago. Leave it alone, you know what I mean?

SCC: I find it that way as a musician myself. There are songs that I wrote a few years ago that never got realized as a full-band recording and I could go back and do that nowadays but the energy’s just not into it and I would want it to sound like I thought it back then but I’m not gonna go and change it up so much. I tried that and it didn’t work out too well, didn’t go too far with that.

Welsh: Right. I think, um, it’s sort of a random guess, but I would kind of assume he would want to keep old…those are old songs you’re talking about. It’s from ’99 probably? ’98? He would probably want to keep them pretty true to the original form cause it’s just a moment in time.

Skim Milk Jollies will be on display through the end of July at the Slingluff Gallery.

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