Words by Avery Gregurich
Thad Pasierb is trying to reimagine visual art for the country and folk music scenes. The Pennsylvanian artist has worked with the likes of White Denim, Shakey Graves, Houndmouth and many others, making gig posters, movie posters and other illustrations. Through a few email dispatches, Thad revealed his creation process, his influences and why he thinks there’s a gap between visual art in various music scenes.
Urban Plains: What’s the five-minute bar stool recitation of your life so far?
Thad Pasierb: I was born and raised in rural Pennsylvania; a stone’s throw from everywhere and a stone’s throw from anywhere. Divisions as arbitrary as how a word is pronounced or which particular stretch of coal-black mountain and orange creek you called home are imbued with significance. My parents were teachers. I was a latch-key kid raised on action movies until my parents got home.
UP: When did country music specifically enter your life, and why has it stayed?
TP: My parents had a nice collection of mostly folk and some rock and soul albums that they spun frequently. John Prine, the Band, Dylan, Joni Mitchell were spun regularly and all left their mark. Being an elementary school teacher, my mom sang and taught me old folk songs.
Eventually, I began playing music, and the sound and feel of bluegrass made sense to me. It was through bluegrass that I began to get into country. “Three chords and the truth” says it about as well as I could.
UP: When did you start your sketching, and what things were you drawing then?
TP: I’ve always drawn. Comic books, portraits, animals — I don’t remember a time when I didn’t draw. Drawing was “me” to those who knew me and those who knew of me.
UP: Who were your favorite artists growing up, and how have your influences changed?
TP: Artistic influences are tough and sometimes either seem obvious or seemingly irrelevant. I am hugely inspired by comic books and children’s book illustrations. Quentin Blake, Shel Silverstein and Maurice Sendak were my childhood, and inspired me to write and draw. Then comic books took over, and the list of artists there is too long. Eventually, I got into more mature illustrators like Charles Burns, and I’m still envious of his clean technique.
UP: Tell me about your art projects so far, particularly, whom you’ve done concert posters and illustrations for, and any future projects you’ve got running?
TP: I’ve been making gig flyers for local legends and barroom superstars in my home county for years. Blind Pigeon Records is the local rock ’n’ roll label, and I make gig fliers for them regularly. Mistakes trained me, and that experience gave me the confidence to reach out to bigger artists.
I have made posters and designs for Houndmouth, Shakey Graves, Futurebirds and countless barroom bands. I have many projects in the pipeline — movie posters, gig posters and other illustrations. Most are top secret, but stay tuned.
UP: Do you draw whom you are listening to at the time?
TP: I absolutely draw whomever I’m listening to. It’s actually what got me my first notice, so if I draw someone, you can be sure I am listening to them. I am a frequent user of gigposters.com, and I do lots of research. I don’t have my own work on there yet because I want to have a good chunk of work for my page first. I should have that up later this spring.
UP: Tell me about the Shakey Graves match-up? How did that come about?
TP: Regarding Shakey Graves, I did some work for some landmarks in Austin (the O. Henry Museum), and he started following my work after that. I took notice and flat-out asked him if he wanted any design work, and he said yes. He is extremely gracious, kind, creative and an all-around good guy. I have a good line of communication with him now and look forward to further collaborations.
UP: Talk to me about the gap between the country music scene and jam or metal scenes in terms of visual art, gig posters, etc.? Why do you think those barriers exist, and how does visual art become more prominent in the country/folk music scene?
TP: The gap between the country scene and jam or metal scenes is pretty simple economics. Most hip country bands are just too damn small to afford a gig poster for each unique date, so they may commission only one poster for an entire tour, which of course is a smaller market and harder to nab. Additionally, big country acts usually go with photography rather than illustration for posters, making that market smaller.
Jam and metal scenes are unique ecosystems. Those fans buy merch like crazy and want unique work for each individual date. Jam and metal fans will also, rather uniquely, buy posters of gigs they did not attend and are fans of particular bands for life. Dead fans are fans for decades. Same for Widespread Panic or String Cheese Incident, Umphrey’s McGee, etc. Same goes for metal. If you like Slayer and Pantera, you like them forever. That’s not to say country fans aren’t loyal, but they are either too small or too large.
There is a healthy market for “legends,” though. Folks do seem to enjoy collecting prints and illustrations of classic outlaws and the roots of country, so that’s a nice niche that is growing thanks to the exposure and success of Sturgill Simpson, Hayes Carll, Chris Stapleton, etc. It is a good time to be a country fan — if you like folk country, honky tonk, Texas swing, countrypolitan or whatever, there is a band or artist making quality tunes.