Jeff Jank Interview in Bonafide #3 (UK)

Jeff Jank Interview in Bonafide #3 (UK)

  • John Whybrow
  • Bonafide
  • April 13, 2010

By John Whybrow, an excerpt from a piece in Bonafide Mag, issue 3. This issue features a cover & interview with Stones Throw's Dam-Funk, and Malcolm Catto of Heliocentrics.

Imagine, you're flipping through records at your local spot, when midway through the hip-hop crate, floating above the monotonous sea of Pen and Pixel efforts, a 12" canvas catches your eye like that cutie you saw on the platform this morning. The colours don't scream, they merely snap their fingers to the beat (hell, they'd probably be wearing shades if colours could). All browns and yellows and off-kilter purples. The illustration is simple but effective, not too showy, not too abstract. You know the music is dope, but there's something in the way this thing Is put together that you can't help but feel it is on your level. In essence: you dig. Record in hand, you make your way to the counter when a giant fibrous yellow ant-eater frantically scouring the 45s looks up, burps out a lungful of smoke, and gives you a conspiritorial wink amid the haze. And somehow, you know you done right.

AS ONE HALF OF THE ALTER-EGO WOULD YOU SAY YOU IDENTIFY WITH QUASIMOTO, IN BOTH AESTHETIC AND MUSICAL TERMS? DID YOU TRY TO MARRY THE IMAGE TO THE MUSIC? THE COMBINATION OF HIS APPEARANCE AND VOICE ALWAYS STRIKES ME AS A NATTY ONE, LIKE HE'S BUGGIN' OUT, WAS THIS SOMETHING YOU WERE AWARE OF AT HIS INCEPTION? I'm not one half the Quasimoto alter ego per se, I think that's strictly Madlib - but I'm Quasimoto crew. The pictures are very much guided by the music, It's now been four years since I drew a bunch of Quasimoto characters set to music, and the previous record was four years before that.

During the first record I felt I perfectly understood the lifestyle Madlib & Quasimoto were writing about. They were writing the music from a southern California perspective and I was 400 miles north in Oakland at the time, but it's still California living, with a little bit of criminal, a little lazy, bored with your mind wandering, anxious to make music and things. On the second record it was a bit more of adult Quas, dealing with a lot of adult bullshit that none of us think we should have to put up with, so his life, the music, and the drawings were a little more chaotic. We're due for another Quas, but times are different now than eight or nine years ago when it started so I have no idea what to expect next. As far as buggin' out, I don't think that's Quasimoto's style, he's non-confrontational and sedated, even when he's talking about stabbing old folks with butter knives.

RIGHT! SO HOW DOES WORKING WITH SUCH A UNIQUE BATCH OF ARTISTS HELP THE WAY YOU SEE THE FINISHED PRODUCT? AS A CONSUMER WE DON'T ALWAYS GET A STORY BEHIND THE MAKING OF THIS OR THAT, DO YOU SEE THE STORY BEHIND A RECORD OR DOES THE FINISHED PRODUCT BECOME A SEPARATE ENTITY FROM THE WORK-IN-PROGRESS? WHAT'S YOUR BEST WORK TO DATE' I see our DJs, producers, and rappers as unique but maybe in a different way. Madlib and PB Wolf, who I've known since we were young guys with funny haircuts, are the guys I got into this work with, and they're the ones I most enjoy working with even when things get difficult. We started out together, trying to make something out of nothing with no expectations. It's always different with the guys that have come around since then: either they're experienced and Stones Throw is one of many groups they've worked with, or they're new-jocks struggling to make their own mark within what we've built. What I'm trying to say is that working with each person is a different experience, and it's always changing. Some guys are a little defensive and unsure of themselves, others are confident in their role and my role. This always shapes the finished project, but we never know going into a new one if it will work out positively, or leave everyone frustrated. The easy and fun projects are most often the successful ones, which makes the frustrating flops even more annoying. And then we start the next one. My best piece of work to date would be Madvillainy. It's a companion piece to Madonna's first album cover. Sort of.

THERE MUST BE AN INSANE AMOUNT OF PROFILE PICS OUT THERE FEATURING THAT LP HOVERING ON SOMEONE'S SHOULDERS. WAS BECOMING ART DIRECTOR AT STONES THROW AN ACCIDENT OF SORTS? OR WAS A JOB LIKE THIS ALWAYS IN YOUR SIGHTS? It was never planned out. I mean, when I was 10 years old I was not sitting there drawing up a master plan: “when I am grown up I am going to be art director of a record label, in the decade after the music industry goes down the fuckin' toilet.” I'd like to say I was, but I cannot tell a lie.

WE HEAR YOU ON THAT. WHAT HAS BEEN THE BEST ADVICE ANYONE HAS EVER GIVEN YOU REGARDING THE WAY YOU PRODUCE WORK? IN FACT, WHAT HAS BEEN THE BEST ADVICE ANYONE HAS EVER GIVEN YOU PERIOD? Oh, I wish had some good advice at some point. It's such a pain in the ass learning by making one mistake after another.

DO YOU HAVE A CONNECTION WITH OTHER CREATIVE HEADS IN THE FIELD OR IS IT MORE A CASE OF ARTISTIC INDIVIDUALITY? IS THERE ANY BEEF? I've been a fan of George Dubose since B52s, and Klaus Voorman when I saw his name written into strands of hair on Revolver. Gee Voucher from Crass is a favorite in the world of album cover art. Props as well to Cal Schenkel (Zappa), Warhol, Francis Wolff & Reid Miles, Richard Hamilton for his stunt known as The White Album, Ray Pettibon (SST), Push Pin graphics, whoever it was that invented the black metal logo style, Peter Beard who has never done an album cover but who set my imagination on fire with the inside sleeve of some late 70s joint, dozens of nameless dub records designers... And perhaps most of all to Alex Steinweiss, the man who was a young employee at Columbia records in the 30s and suggested they start putting pictures on the covers of records instead of just cardboard.

PROPS TO MR. STEINWEISS. YOU SEEM LIKE A NICE GUY, ALMOST LIKE THE PAPA SMURF OF STONES THROW. LETTING DOOM CRASH AT YOUR PLACE, LOOKING AFTER HO, OPENING THE DOOR FOR MADLIB AT 5AM, IS THAT THE REALITY? I wouldn't say I "let" him crash at my place ... I mean, if the door's locked, he gets in through the window. Actually one time he got in through the window when the door was open. The Madlib incident at 5AM (as depicted in "Strip Club") is true, but he was knocking at Egon's window back when we all lived and worked at the same house. Madlib's a great guy, but living with him takes a lot of love.


Mr. Jank then, it seems, is not a hip-hop head who's into art. He's an artist who happens to be into hip-hop. Whereas the likes of George Dubose were responsible for laying the design foundations of what would ultimately become the mainstream musical genre for 21st century kids, Jank explores the genre's fringes, driving a wedge between the played-out imagery so prevalent in that mainstream and the genuinely intimate side of hip-hop music culture as repped by Stones Throw artists today. One might argue that they have been set an even harder task than that of their forefathers original hip-hop labels such as Tommy Boy and Cold Chillin' could afford to let loose and ride the bragadocious wave generated by the cultural swell of the birth of an exciting new music, yet nowadays independent hip-hop is wary of, and even strives to distance itself from, what is generally accepted as a rotten, stale scene.

Thankfully, breaking conventions comes as naturally to Jank as breaking laws comes to Quas, probably more than he himself realises. Andrew Emery, in his excellent homage to the genre's visual escapades (The Book of Hip Hop Cover Art, Mitchell Beazley, 2004) asks "is there anything left in the tank?" It's a question that could solicit general discomfort given the way hip-hop is moving at surface-level, so it's with a sigh of relief that Bonafide can confirm that there's still plenty left in the Jank.

Props to Public Emily for the hook up