The Children of Karl Marx & Slayer
Art Direction, Photography & Illustrations
by John Henry Pitts, III
Being both a heavy metal musician and all-around metal enthusiast since I was a teenager, I cannot tell you how much it irks me to no end that the average American still sees “heavy metal” as the biting of heads off of bats (thanks Ozzy!) and the wearing of studded, black leather outfits (Looking at you Judas Priest . . .). My goals with this project were to show how much this genre of music has evolved since the heyday of Metallica and Slayer, while highlighting the more technical/artistic nature of their music and its subversive social connotations.
For the main illustration motif, I took inspiration from the Russian art of Khokhloma painting. In Russian culture, the Khokhloma pattern is quite common in tableware and furniture, as it was an inexpensive way of giving objects a metallic and/or heavier appearance (A life struggle that all metalheads can relate to!!).
All five bands featured are bands that I personally listen to and see live whenever they are in town. The common lyrical thread throughout all of these bands is in the exploring of one’s place in today’s society, and the health/disease that comes from living within it. By using the Russian khokhloma pattern, I wanted to create a Soviet “propaganda” feel utilizing actual lyrics from key songs from each band.
In regards to footwear, I‘m pretty loyal to the few shoe brands that I’ve worn over the years, mainly because very few companies make hip, comfortable shoes in size 14/15! Globe Skate shoes was an obvious choice since I already owned half a dozen pairs, haha~
The idea again here was to combine the low-end skate shoe with a luxury-inspired aesthetic. I found a dealer in Taiwan (through eBay no less) that was able to sell me hundreds of copper, silver and black metallic spikes. (Apparently Christian Louboutin had bought up the majority of the world’s supply.)
I ended up “spiking” 5 varieties of shoes along with the cutting/sewing of the in-soles. Several seasons of Game of Thrones were watched during this process. (I don’t care what anybody says, Melisandre is the sexiest woman in all of Westeros!)
As much as I love the Doc Marten/Vans advert “grunge” aesthetic, I really wanted to photograph the skate shoe in a more refined way, similar to how a Givenchy or Diesel would advertise their clothing. I’m a big fan of Japanese film director Kazuaki Kiriya (Casshern, Goemon), as I’ve always been taken with his hyperreal, colorful style of photography.
I’m a dude with an easy going girlfriend, so my knowledge of New York florists is minimal at best. Thanks to Yelp though, I found Sunny’s Florist in the East Village who “provided” 3 dozen flower arrangments (probably the most expensive part of this whole project), which then had to be trimmed and arranged for each of the five shots (I went through half a pack of Allegra allergy medication during the shoot). All of these photographs were digitally photographed with a customized LED ring light and photoshopped to emphasize specific color palettes.
While in the process of putting together the coffee table book, I wanted to do a secondary fashion shoot, this time having the model wear actual t-shirts that were purchased from each of the five featured bands. My background is actually in automobile photography, so I felt more comfortable with the model (who built the motorcycle featured in the photos) posing with his bike as I could discern a lot more interesting angles using the motorcycle as sort of my creative anchor point.
Having played in a few bands and hung out with a lot of metal dudes, the one thing that I always know to be present is . . . cheap beer!! I had the “ah ha” moment thinking, “What if we represented these bands by creating a brand of beer based around their personalities?” There is a book photographed by Dan Becker called “Beer: A Genuine Collection of Cans” that I thought was amazingly well-executed. Again, who would think to take the time to elegantly light and photographed old, rusty beer cans from the early 1900s???
Using his book as a reference, I scoured eBay for the appropriate beer cans (still underneath my desk as I type this), photographed them in my apartment, then designed the “band logo” to be photoshoped on top of the photograph. My favs are Parkway Drive’s (an Aussie band) which is actually a Resch’s Australian Pilsener can made in the 1920s and The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza (a band from Murpheesboro, Tennessee) who made it easy on me by already releasing a t-shirt design with the classic Pabst Blue Ribbon logo (see photo above).
For the actual content portion of the coffee table book, I knew I had to appeal to the “nerdiness” of the diehard metalhead while still creating a clean, elegant book that would appeal to your average music enthusiast. A lot of research (i.e. stalking band members inbetween sets and asking about their gear/equipment) was done to get the full rundown of all of the technical details and information.
Each band section actually starts with a listing of every single piece of equipment each band member uses while either playing live or recording. Below that chunk of text is also the correct (and verified) guitar tuning that each band plays in. For example, while Marc Okubo from Veil of Maya plays in a Drop B tuning on a 6-string guitar, Josh Travis from Tony Danza Tapdance plays an 8-string (!!!) guitar tuned to E B E B E F# B E.
All of this information may seem like overkill, but to understand this music is to understand its fan base. Rare is it to find a metalhead who isn’t intimately familar with all of the technical inner workings of their favorite musicians, as he/she is probably an aspiring musician him/herself. This is probably what separates the heavy metal genre from most others.
During the process of designing this book, we were hit with the unfortunate news that the lead singer of one of the bands featured in this book (Mitch Lucker from Suicide Silence) had been tragically killed in a motorcycle accident, leaving behind his wife and 2-year old daughter.
Being from Southern California myself and having watched this band grow from a small local outfit to a worldwide touring phenomenon, it hit me hard and made me realize how important the friends and family that have been with you throughout most of your life are. I definitely feel that it affected how I approached finishing this book, as I wanted to honor, not just the memory of Mitch, but also the musical world that he left behind.
All of us metalheads may be bit misunderstood to the outside world, but without question all of the men featured in this book are stand up gentlemen who have given so much of their livelihood and sanity to give meaning and purpose to thousands of young people all around the world. We as a culture all too often treat music like a disposable commodity, but I hope one day we can change that. The next time you see your favorite singer or musician, don’t ask for their autograph. Just buy them a beer or coffee (and perhaps their latest CD)!
They deserve it.