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Artlick Lounge: Home of “The Michael Gross Drink”

Back in the days of writing and creating for artlick.com (alas no longer online), I filled my notepads with several ideas & sparks for pieces to post on the site. Almost 25% of my ideas those days were visual – little doodles or sketches – which was probably due to the website being such a visual medium. One such idea was to create a secret part of the site that would take you to our artlick lounge bar.

And of course in that lounge we would digitally serve conceptual and silly beverages. And the signature cocktail was “The Michael Gross Drink”, named after the journeyman actor who starred in the sitcom Family Ties and the Tremors movie series. I remember us being very tickled by the sheer mundanity of calling it “drink” rather than cocktail or martini. And if memory serves, the drink contained whiskey, some prescription medication, and a feature length movie playing inside it.

The idea never went any further than these doodles that I sketched it out. Either it was too complex to pull off with our limited web design skills, or we found another idea that captured our imagination more.

Michael Gross – the actor, not the drink

Mr. Splash starring Nicolas Cage and a bottle of ketchup

Nicolas Cage has been making increasingly erratic and poor movie choices for some time now. Back in the 90s, for the now defunct artlick.com project, myself and my friend Dave had this mad idea of creating marketing materials & collateral for a buddy road-trip movie, where Cage would star as himself opposite a bottle of ketchup. We wanted it to be just odd enough to seem almost a plausible choice Cage would make. We really got into it and the final mugshot movie poster Dave created up above is an absolute gem – a proper work of art that belongs on a wall – and I would dearly love to see this movie. Presenting Mr Splash…

The idea began I think over lunch one day when we spilled some ketchup on the table and Dave took a photo of it with our trusty digital camera. Somewhere between that moment and our mild obsession with quirkmeister Nicolas Cage as an actor, grew this idea, which was quite simply one of the most fun creative things we ever brought to life. It spawned such a world for us as we explored it, including a whole backstory and history, as well as a visual identity that we gave a lot of thought to.

We were very interested in getting the right look and feel for this sort of creative project, so it became important to us to test different variations of ideas and styles for the fake film we were constructing. We landed eventually on the teaser poster above, but we did toy with the slightly more cartoonish noir one below for a while, but eventually discarded it.

With the visuals starting to take shape, we spent ages (probably far too long) cooking up names for the cast and crew of the movie. I have very vivid recollections of being very precise and specific about this absurd list of contributors, but that level of detail ultimately helped us bring the creative world it lived in to life. There was a particualr moment of giddiness about deciding the score was written by someone called simply “Barkley”, which somehow was a nod to the legendary composer Vangelis. Which then led to us deciding that Vangelis was actually going to make his debut as an actor in the movie! (alongside a rather eclectic international cast, which you can see in the mugshot poster at the very top of this post)

As part of this extensive world building, we then decided to present the archival materials and content from the film on artlick.com as an exclusive peek into the library of self-proclaimed film historian and auteur  (and crushing bore) Raymind Runn, a personal friend of the film’s director. Below is the elaborate, self-indulgent, and deliberately poorly written introduction we used to present Mr. Splash on the website.

There are other fragments that I can unfortunately no longer find, including a memo from the movie producers outlining a series of changes they required in order to complete the financing of the movie to completion – with ludicrous requests like demanding that it be 17% more funny; adding a scene where someone eats sushi, because people love sushi; giving Nicolas Cage or the bottle of ketchup a catchphrase.

Like so many of the things we created for artlick, we really went deep into the details, and went super specific to our own sense of humour, in the hope that others would follow. And if they didnt, that was ok, because we had an absolute blast piecing it together. Which feels like a good rule of thumb in general for most creative endeavours. It will find an audience. Even if it doesn’t, enjoy it. You might end up with something as funny and simultaneously cool as this poster!

Portrayal of an Artist – Part 3 [Music Parody]

For the past two days I have been sharing the wacky album cover and music industry satire we created for the defunct website artlick.com (see Part 1 here and Part 2 here). This is the final instalment in that oddball collection. And if you thought some of the other albums were odd, you ain’t seen nothing yet. These go deep into really unusual abstract places, but are among my very favourites of the entire series.


Albums: Futurific;  Neon: The Futurific Remixes
Singles: Once in my past twice in your future; Greener Grass; Eliminate your last thought

 

One afternoon in 2001 we headed out around the financial district to take some suitably esoteric photos of me wearing a beanie hat and some Elvis sunglasses. I remember really loving this photoshoot. The result was the Futurific album which we decided was to appear on a new record label called Electric Son. I imagine this as somewhere between heavy beats driven electronica and jazz. We had been listening a lot to the band Red Snapper during the creation process for these, which I feel are a big influence on them.

As with all popular records, you’re nothing if you don’t have a dance-y remix version of your album. So we went to Times Square one night and captured some remarkable photos in front of the neon lit NYPD outpost there to assemble the makings of this sister album to Futurific.

The singles all followed a similar theme to the Futurific album cover but are lent an added air of poignancy given the events of 9/11 a few weeks later. They now stand as a strange document of that time

The most eerie and unusual one of them all was this single, which we named before the terrorist attacks, but now seem strangely prescient given the subsequent events that unfolded. Another curious element here was the naming of Clune (David Gray’s longtime collaborator and drummer at the time) as a collaborator on the tracks. I was a huge David Gray fan, and we had been to see the band perform many times during this period. We had a huge affection for the charismatic drummer Clune in the band, so we added him in as an unlikely collaborator on these.

The Greener Grass single cover is probably the coolest of them all and might well have deserved an album of its own.

We shot so many great images of the Twin Towers, so we designed a funky foldout CD type inlay to accompany the standard album covers. These are really nicely designed I think and the glorious lines of the towers are so photogenic in these. Masterful work by Dave on the design.


Albums: The Rambler Trilogy – The Rambler; The Return of the Real; Committed to Mediocrity
Singles: Slang; The Myth of Everything; Intermission

This is where we went super oddball and arty, and the results are both beautiful and slightly unnerving. It began with a photoshoot in our old office, where we were packing up to move to downtown Manhattan. So there were loads of empty office spaces, brimming cardboard boxes and a wealth of orange packing labels. Naturally enough I decided to stick them to my head to create a makeshift hat of sorts, and off we went. Given the rather unusual atmosphere and ambience of the photos, we took the album art even further out there as we manipulated the images. We also decided to put this out on yet another record label that we called And Recordings, which somehow felt suitably indie. Additionally, I quite liked the idea that the word “and” is a conjunction and it was somehow connecting radically different phases of the artist’s career

We imagined that the recording artist would forgo his usual name (Kalle Ryan- yes, I find it odd talking about myself in the third person too) and simply become a character called The Rambler and this would be a suite of three concept albums that told a trilogy story from his experimental point of view. Ultimately the idea was a series of records based around language. And if you look closely, the table of ideas has resurfaced as one of the tracks on the first album

Again for this one, we decided to a gatefold centre with a slightly unusual look and feel

The singles all followed in the same mad spirit. There’s something almost Kubrickian about them. Empty spaces. Weird characters.

I love the deliberately computer generated blockiness and cut-n-paste vibe of many of them. Seems fitting for something so artificial and contrived.

This one really looks like some kind of otherworldly painting. For some reason it harkens imagery from the Wim Wenders film Until The End of the World, which I was really taken with at the time. I remember going to see Wim Wenders do a Q&A at a legendary 4 hour version of that very movie around this time ( and it was the only print in existence of the movie) so some of that must have filtered into the influences on this one.


Album: Eventuality of Nothing

I think this one was imagined as an instrumental album along the lines of Brian Eno’s Music for Airports. Dave was also a huge fan of Vangelis and I think some of that was fuel for inspiration too. The record label was again different for this one, Lösch Audio, which seemed to fit with the experiemntal soundtrack vibe. If thie artist was to fully realise his wild ambitions then of course he would release an epic lush instrumental soundtrack


Album: I was just getting into that (b-sides & rarities)
Single: Toasting Paint

Any good artist worth their salt must release a B-sides and unreleased demos record (or his contractual obligation will ensure that the record label releases it). But his artist had to obviously go even bigger and release a double album of demos, and an entire record of cover versions. This is very much a Thin Raft album and the choices of acoustic guitar  cover versions ranged from the possible (Bob Dylan) to impossible (Public Enemy).

Fun fact, this photoshoot was done on the same day as Dr Livingstone I Presume, but we didnt use it till much later. There is also a shoutout my friend Corrie Leane (who created the artwork for the Footsteps in Chalkdust album) who is named as co-songwriter on a few tracks. And all of those particular tracks are references or in jokes between us, although my foggy memory can’t really recall the exact reference points any more.


Album: Midnight at Donington

The metal album.?At the time on MTV we were often treated to heavy metal concerts from Castle Donington. So, in my mind that was a connection forged between a place and a genre of music. Which meant that we decided we needed a heavy metal record to capture the artist’s evolving musical development and genre defying proficiency. I think it may have also been inspired in part by Ryan Adams, an artist I adore, who had put out a trash metal record under a different moniker at the time called The Finger.

I think we imagined an epic Stairway to Heaven type track as the closer, and for that we felt we needed to ground it in metal royalty with Kirk Hammett (Metallica) as a guest guitarist on the track. The record label naturally enough had to be suited to the genre, so it came out on Darrk Source, which sounds like something a user on Reddit would call themselves these days.


Album: Zoocoustic

Long before the mighty Ryan Adams made it popular to do a superb cover version of an entire album (have a listen to his Taylor Swift reworking of 1989 – sounds like Bruce Springsteen and The Smiths singing pop songs), I cooked up this acoustic, unplugged tribute to the seminal Zooropa album by U2. A band and an album I adore to this day.The guitar is my Takamine that I still own to this day, and the Zooropa artwork and layour is poached from the original album. I always wondered what this album might actually sound like if it were recorded this way. Over to you Bono…


And that, my friends, is that. Hope you enjoyed this odyssey through my fictional musical back catalogue (Go back and read Part 1 here and Part 2 here). I have a pile of sketches in a notebook of album titles and concepts that we never got around to creating, so I will post those at a later date.

Portrayal of an Artist – Part 2 [Music Parody]

Yesterday I shared the first part of a project I created with friends for the now defunct website artlick.com (see part 1 here), where we satirised the music industry through a series of fake album covers entitled Portrayal of an Artist. The back catalogue is absolutely huge, so here is the second part of that look back through the album designs (alongside some thoughts on the accompanying creative process). Hope you find it interesting. Join me now to explore the slightly more esoteric output of my musical back catalogue from an alternate universe…


Albums: French Aphrodisiaque; French Aphrodisiaque (Live in New York)

Conceived as a pair of fusion jazz albums released on the same day (ala the Guns n Roses stunt of releasing Use Your Illusion I & II simultaneously) with the added twist that one was a studio record, and the other a track-for-track live performance of the same record. We had created the artwork for the first album and were pleased with it (it now has echoes of The White Stripes, but I didnt personally discover them till many years later) Then one day we were inspired by a large red cube shaped sculpture down in the NY financial district near our office. Dave took a photo and added the white stripe to it in Photoshop, and a second sleeve was born. We were then torn between the two and stumbled upon the idea of the dual release. I wonder why more bands don’t do exactly this.


Album: Office Politics
Single: 95% of what you do here is utterly useless

 

The punk album. I get the sense I may have been less than enamoured with my job at the time, or certainly was channeling some frustration about it anyway, when we came up with this album (and the exaggerated lyrics printed on the back cover). It began with a photo of my head in a photocopier.

The general concept for this one, as I recall, was to put out a raw, more rough looking punk record, but due to cluelessness and contrivance on the part of the artist, it failed to be in any way punk at all. In fact, a punk rock album centred around working in a generic office, couldn’t be less punk rock really. There was a lot of that kind of commercial “punk” music actually floating around at the time, like Green Day, so I’m sure that inspired it.

The record label was Bourgeoisie Beat, which I still reckon is a cool name, and I still dig the logo. I may be misremembering it now, but I wonder if we also imagined a backstory where this record label was a sub-division of some mega label, and this was their effort to have some kudos and be cool.


Album: Pure Yang

This one came from a photoshoot we did one night in my apartment, where we ordered a ridiculous amount of food from the delicious local Chinese restaurant. If memory serves I was also going through some spiritual quest where I was trying out meditation, and I think my roommate Mike had recommended the ‘I Ching’ to me. So all of those influences are part of this one. The record label, Bass Envy, is possibly my favourite label name, but I have zero recollection of what genre of music the label was supposed to put out. At the time it was undoubtedly crystal clear, but I no longer remember. Isn’t it funny how something matters so intensely in a creative process at the time, but with distance, not only does it matter less, you probably don’t even know why it really mattered in the first place. Having said that, I think all of this meticulous attention to detail that myself and Dave put into every one of these pays off in the final product.


Album: Replenish
Single: Lost your nerve yet?

For some of these records, the album title came first, and then the artwork. And on other occasions a cool or funny photo would provide a spark of an idea and the album would blaze on from there. This was definitely one where the photo came first. Dave and Jenn had been defrosting their fridge and this huge chunk of ice had fallen out. We knew instantly that we had to take a photo of some kind with it. When we discovered that the camera had a multiple photo burst feature on it , the idea clicked into place to photograph me breaking it over my head (anything for art, of course!). Now, a reminder that the camera was a super early digital device with a 3.5″ floppy disk recording the images, so it was sloooooooooow. Hence, only the first two photos really captured the moment, and we certainly couldnt go for a second take. But on reflection, the negative space of the subsequent frames was actually kinda cool.

For the single we took a burst shot of my poor forehead that had taken the brunt of the impact of the ice block and had left a little cut. So that had to be documented too of course. And I think we imagined this music to be quite hardcore and abrasive Electronic Dance Music, so it ultimately belonged on the Purification Records label. Our reference point for it musically was a band I never listened to more than one song of called Speedy J (which was more than enough)


Album: Flip you for real
Single: Early Sunday morning

The only album that Dave appears on, and is co-credited as writer and performer. The title came from a line by Benicio Del Toro in The Usual Suspects ( a film we both deeply admired), and it was one we used to jokingly quote at one another often. So it then somehow morphed into us flipping off the camera and turning that into a collaborative album.

And this was our “censored” version of the album cover. We really should have stuck one of those old school Parental Advisory stickers on it.

The record label is Purification Records again, as I’m pretty sure we saw this as an ambient soundscape-y sort of record, maybe even drum-n-bass. In fact, around this time, there was a regular gang of us going to a monthly live drum-n-bass show called Prohibited Beatz hosted by Swiss drummer Jojo Mayer in Manhattan (how pretetnious does that sound!) and that was definitely part of the creative osmosis on this one. I was, and still am, a huge fan of LTJ Bukem, so that may also have been an influence. Either way, the song title “My porch is a ballroom dance floor” ranks up there as possibly the greatest one we came up with.


[Warning – Slightly NSFW]

Album: Se tirer d’affaire, s’en sortir tant bien que mal
Singles: Ne pas, ne jamais, ne rien ; Cannelle

This one was a truly hilarious creation to work on. We figured an artist this enamoured with himself would go full hipster and create an album so pretentious it would be written entirely in French (I am not even sure what it means entirely – Any French speakers out there, please let me know!). To capture that spirit we went for a Jim Morrison-in-a-bathtub-in-Paris photoshoot that showed of my Adonis-like physique (I have to work out to look this bad). In the end I really love the way Dave stitched together the images to make something even more quirky than the originals we shot.

The singles were simply variations on the decadent bathtub theme. The old New York bathroom added a fun flavour to the look and feel of the photos (especially the old school taps in the wall)

Fun fact. This is the same bathroom we took the photos for Replenish in


Album: Continuity in a Box: The Sovereignty Sessions

We envisioned this one as an early years demo tape style release on a renegade label. Or perhaps a session so deliberately bad it would never see the light of day (much like the infamous bang sessions by Van Morrison). To capture that vibe, we made the record look almost like a homemade piece of cover art. At the time there were a lot of live CDs of bands floating around the East Village record shops, and this design was heavily influenced by those DIY creations. Musically I imagined poorly recorded demos with audio quality akin to the first few Mountain Goats records recorded direct to cassette tape on a boombox.


That’s all for now on this phase of the Kalle Ryan album back catalogue. Catch up on Part 1 here. Continue reading in Part 3 here

 

Portrayal of an Artist – Part 1 [Music Parody]

I’ve mentioned before that I ran a website called artlick.com with my friends Dave and Jenn. We were fascinated with this burgeoning place called the internet and the opportunities it presented to be creative. We had a keen interest in all artforms, especially writing and graphic design, but with very little experience of how to code, so we just jumped in and started building a site full of our own artistic creations, quirky installations and mad ideas (and we learned along the way). There were bucketloads of interesting projects and creations from the site that I’m hugely proud of, and I will post about them further in the coming year, but I’ll kick off with one of the most fun projects we ever embarked upon – Portrayal of an Artist.

Through my friend Ravi, we had acquired an early digital camera (it had a 3.5 inch floppy disk that you inserted into the side to capture the photos!) – and, for us, it was a great way to creatively play with such a futuristic gadget. One day on our lunch break we took a snap of me goofing around the server room in our workplace, and following a little bit of digital doodling later we had a suitably silly looking album cover.And so, our shared love for music and album cover art spawned an entire section of the site dedicated to this parody and satire of the music industry. The idea was ultimately to make fun of the many different styles of album cover art, and a broader sideswipe at self-important, stupid rockstars who put out an eclectic set of genres of music to reinvent themselves — with all the whims of moving labels; lack of quality control; wildly misjudged titles and lyrics.

Some of the photos are still really funny to me, and some are really beautiful and otherworldly. There are some particularly poignant photos in here of the old World Trade Centre too that proved to be a glorious backdrop to some of the albums. Dave did such a class job with some of these covers – some real gems that would look good on a shelf, and others that still make me laugh out loud. And as I look at them I often daydream about what the songs might actually sound like. I really should record them some day. There are also loads of fake album reviews to go with them, which I will also dig out and share at another time. But for now let me take you through some of the creative process that brought them to the world wide web. The back catalogue is absolutely vast, so I will post a chunk of them here today and share even more tomorrow!


Album: DATABANK
Singles: <ANTON> ; <PUNCHCARD>

The first album came about, as I said above, when we pottered around the servers at our office. The word DATABANK was emblazoned on the original databank itself, so we kept it and figured it would make a good album title. That then sparked the idea to create a couple of singles, which Dave used to hone his burgeoning Photoshop design skills.

I remember us spending huge amounts of time on coming up with the right titles for the songs, so they would fit well with the genre of the album (which we assumed was some kind of electronica). Also, there are little details on there that we added for our own amusement; we thought it would be funny that the album version of Anton was 34 minutes long, but the single was drastically edited in length. We extended the joke but reduced the running time even more preposterously for the Punchcard single.

 

Finally, the name of the record label was incredibly important (for this and subsequent albums) and I seem to recall Dave coming up with this one, saying that it felt right for an electronica record. Can’t argue with him. Even now.


Album: Footsteps in Chalkdust
Single: Walking home in the rain

The next album was a great marrying of old ideas with new ones. I had been playing with the idea of pretentious singer-songwriters and had written a sort of poem with ludicrously earnest titles a few years earlier (and pretentious sample lyrics) . My good friend Corrie Leane, a brilliant artist from Waterford, had designed some cover art for them during a poetry/painting collaboration we undertook a few years previously.

The record label (Thin Raft) was also a shared reference I had with Corrie, which came from a Jim Morrison lyric in The Doors song Texas Radio and The Big Beat– “I love the friends I have gathered together on this thin raft”. It was our shorthand for our friendship and artistic kinship. So it felt fitting given this new arty collaboration with a few close friends.


Album: Was?
Singles: Was! ; Memory III

The chronology of these albums (both real and imagined) is pretty fuzzy after all these years. We created these back in 1999 / 2000 I reckon, and this particular album was an attempt to create a singer songwriter album (hence the Thin Raft record label), where the singer had decided to go ultra pretentious and perform only on a piano. And all the titles had to have slightly avant garde sounding Steve Reich / Philip Glass sorta titles. This would be the type of album where critics would nod and agree that he began his more “experimental” phase, perhaps bridging into his next phase of electronica.

 

As a student and fan of the German language, I suspect I was playing with the word “was” which means “what” in German, and the past tense of the verb ‘to be’ in English. Which probably explains why the album title has a question mark and the single title has an exclamation mark. Or perhaps I wasn’t thinking of any of those things.


Album: Dr. Livingstone I Presume
Singles: Cane Toad Nightmares

This album was one that was sparked by an impromptu photoshoot on our lunch break (I know this because my fake watch from Chinatown says it was almost 1pm). I spotted a large potted plant outside a store on Broadway and thought it would be funny to appear from it as if I were an intrepid explorer. The phrase just jumped out at me from something I was reading at the time. I still love the way Dave layed out the title on the cover, with the old school “A-Team” style lettering.

 

We then thought there would be something inherently funny about having LOADS of singles of the Cane Toad Nightmares, given the propensity of cane toads to reproduce so much.

We also felt that the artwork had to have something of a psychedelic “Apocalypse Now” kind of feel to them. The harsh neon colours were a very deliberate choice as I recall.

Again, this was deemed to be a Purification Records release, so some kind of dancey, electronic vibe to it. I’m pretty sure the inspiration for that record label was Warp Records, as we were listening to a lot of Boards of Canada at the time.

I’m still not sure what on earth a Cane Toad Nightmare is. Maybe Dr. Livingstone will know when I see him.


So, that’s phase one of the Kalle Ryan albums. Oddball treasures for sure. For more dizzy album cover delights, read Part 2 of the musical odyssey here

Sketchbook: The Table of Ideas

 

I was sifting through an old series of sketchbooks I kept during my time living in New York and found some fun old doodles, ideas and unfinished concepts. This one, The Table of Ideas, was one that I’m no longer sure what I was trying to do with. I know that it was inspired by some very dense philosophical writings I had encountered in college by two gents who went by Horkheimer and Adorno. However none of the actual substance of the book formed part of this idea, but really just the colour scheme of the book it looks like. See for yourself (the actual book is a bot more orange looking).

 

Then the idea must have evolved somehow to become a working idea for artlick, a website I ran for fun with my good friends Dave and Jenn (more on that some other time). The idea clearly never left the sketchbook stage, possibly because I have no idea what the ultimate goal was – maybe a section of the site was going to be called this, and would be a place to spark conversations and ideas? You have to remember the internet back in 1999 / 2000 was a pretty clunky slow place, so we may have jettisoned this idea purely because messageboards and virtual guestbooks were the main way of interacting with a website, and that was well beyond our primitive web skills.

At some point the idea seems to have been conflated with other ones and reverted back to being The Dialectic of Enlightenment, but now by some new authors Bo Henstergaard and Ulf Hammarsten. I think this was some reference to a Swedish radio documentary I had heard about hemp farmers (strange I know!), and I loved the names of the people being interviewed, so I mucked around with their names to make them sound even more unusual, and then clearly made them the new authors of this seminal philosophical tome. That must have tickled me for some reason

 

At this point the idea had clearly spiralled in on itself and become some weird set of personal references and touchpoints, that mean almost nothing to me now several years later. Still though, I think the central concept of being able to visit a Table of Ideas, whatever that may be, is a nice one. Worth revisiting maybe.