Q&A: Jeff Kleinsmith

Sub Pop's art director talks about graphic design in the age of iTunes and Contra.

In the 11 years that longtime Sub Pop art director Jeff Kleinsmith and partner Jesse LeDoux (the artist behind this week's cover) have been operating their rock-poster company, Patent Pending Industries, a thing or two has changed about the music business.

Albums are increasingly transmitted digitally, not behind a beautiful album cover, and fans find out about shows more often from Facebook than from postered telephone poles. Counterintuitively, the concert-poster business isn't dying, it's thriving. No longer saddled with so much of the responsibility for advertising a show, posters have become sought-after, collectible pieces of art that mention concerts.

On the eve of Patent Pending's 11th Anniversary Show, August 5 at Design Commission Gallery, Kleinsmith talks to us about his first attempts at graphic design, Judas Priest, and what can happen when women end up on album covers without permission—as is the case with Vampire Weekend's Contra, whose fresh-faced, polo-clad cover model is suing the band, saying she never authorized them to use the image.

More of our conversation can be read on Reverb, our music blog at SeattleWeekly.com/Reverb.

SW: I notice that you did the cover of Mudhoney's Since We've Become Translucent.

Kleinsmith: Yeah, Jesse and I did that together. First of all, that's the band saying, "What do you got? We're letting you come up with something." Which is great. That's really empowering. You can go as a lot of different directions as a designer.

Are fewer bands saying "What have you got?" these days?

I feel like that's the case, and I will say that it's probably due to the fact that everyone has a computer. Graphic design has gone, obviously, digital, and so these programs are just easier and easier for people to figure out themselves.

Can you empathize with Vampire Weekend and the lawsuit they're going through right now?

Kleinsmith: It's very reminiscent of TAD's 8-Way Santa. Those guys found some scrapbook at a garage sale [with] a photo of this hesher dude and his girlfriend and he was grabbing her breast, and she was in a bikini. That came out as the cover of 8-Way Santa (1991). Turns out she's like a born-again Christian singer, and so she sued, and [Sub Pop] had to pull it off the shelves.

I feel like I don't see your work out very often.

Sort of the dirty little secret with this poster business is that they're not used to advertise a show. They're purely merch. You might hit up Radiohead and say, "I wanna do either a tour or this single show." Can I have permission; I will give you X number of posters; I will take X number of posters. My payment is you giving me permission to sell them online. And Radiohead sells them (at their shows). I think that the tables are turning a little bit. We've been able to start charging what we're worth as far as design goes.

How did you get into graphic design?

I was designing stuff in my bedroom...the Doors logo or the Judas Priest logo on graph paper, spending a lot of time grounded in my room listening to those records. Those records kind of got me interested in art.


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