Saturday 2 August 2014

Interview with W. Ralph Walters

An album's artwork can be the main deciding factor in drawing you in to check the band's music out. It's almost as important as the music itself.

Today's guest is not part of any band of any kind but he has worked with the following bands – Mastodon, High On Fire, Bongzilla, Thorr Axe, Jucifer to name a few. Plus a band called Traitors Return To Earth who are my fave all-time band that I have discovered through my work on Sludgelord.

He is a brilliant graphical artist and designer who has created some of the best album covers over the last decade or so. His artwork is admired through out the Sludge/Doom/Stoner Metal world for it's vision and creativity.

His work for STB Records is helping that label in releasing some incredible vinyl covers and limited edition goodies that STB Records is becoming known for.

Steve STB – Owner of STB Records said this about today's guest.

I for one have always been envious of artists. To be able to take a thought, sometimes twisted, and put that down on paper, canvas, or even and album cover truly amazed me... I have always been drawn to bands who had awesome cover art. To this day I will most likely check out your band first if your art work is on point. When I was introduced to W. Ralph Walters a mere year or so ago, I was instantly blown away at his talent. The way he took things to the next level with his own true style. The true genius of W. Ralph Walters is not so much his amazing abilities, but his application to an idea.

We have worked together on many projects now, and to be able to send him a message like "I want Dracula killing another Dracula over a virgin with lots of blood" and with in 5 minutes he comes back to me with this insane renduring of exactly what my mind was thinking plus more!!. He surpises me every time. His heart is huge and he is a true fan boy like my self. He wreaks of passion for his art, music and selflessly using his abilities to give to others. In life I try to surround my self with positive like minded individuals who make me a better person as a whole, W. Ralph Walters is one of those people. He is a true renaissance man.”

But I want to find out about the man behind the brilliant artwork and an artist who I have came to respect and admire over the last 5 years or so.

You need more proof on how talented this guy is. We all know how picky The Metal Archives website defines actual bands as Metal. We all know how many bands have been refused a page on this website for not being classed as metal. Well this dude has his own page.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it's my pleasure to be talking to W. Ralph Walters.

Q1 – Hi dude. How's it going. Thanks again for doing this. Massive fan of your work.

Thanks man, I appreciate it.

Q2 – Can you tell our readers how you became involved with your chosen career.

When I was a kid, my mom had the biggest TV Guide collection I've ever seen. Every freaking issue from about 1968 through the 80's. My little sister and I used to play a game where one of us would read off an album title, and the other would have to guess the band. I really liked some of the album artwork in these ads, and as I got older, not only did I discover I really loved metal, but I also found it was the metal album covers I was drawn to the most. Guys like Derek Riggs, Ed Repka... Jesus, I know it's not metal, but that Frank Kelly Frees' cover of Queen's News Of The World – you have no idea how long I would stare at that cover.

Q3 – Did you start drawing at a young age. What were your influences when growing up.

My mom said I started drawing at 2, and that I drew skulls for a year. She used to have a photo album of them. She was a classic horror and sci-fi movie fan, so my early influences came from that. From there, it was TV Guide illustrations. Yep, TV Fucking Guide shaped me as an artist. From there, I got into pulp illustration, then album covers.

Q4 – Did you major Art in College or University. Or are you primarily self taught.

Primarily self-taught. I'm severely colorblind – protanopic, to be exact. I couldn't get through a color basics course in college, so I couldn't major in art.

Q5 – You are mainly known for your artwork within the Doom/Sludge/Stoner Metal scene. How did you become involved with that and why that music genre and scene.

I love the music. I got to see Crowbar, Eyehategod, guys like that, in New Orleans in the early 90s. I'm drawn to the slow, heavy nature of the music, like an electrified glacier slowly destroying the landscape. It's the only music I can listen to where, if a good riff plays, I automatically close my eyes and nod to it as though hypnotized. It's poetry to me. I used to do tour posters for a friend's company, Drowning Creek Studios, which got me the Kalas album cover with TeePee. When I realized I could actually get away with doing covers for doom and stoner bands, I started bugging bands to do covers for them, and it ran from there.

Q6 – What was the very first band/artist did you create an album cover for.

The first remotely related band was Kalas. Ha ha – I did tour posters for High On Fire when they were with TeePee, and I got the Kalas cover – I'm still holding out for a Sleep T-shirt design to complete the Pike Trinity.

Q7 – You have designed for some amazing bands in your career, Mastodon, High On Fire, Jucifer to name but a few. How did that come about with you designing artwork for bands within the Sludge/Stoner/Doom Metal field.

Through tour posters. I did tour posters for Tee Pee Records for a couple years, and that was a gateway drug to doing the covers, as well as t-shirts, stickers, patches, etc.

Q8 – When you design artwork for a band. What influences you to come up with the finished product. Do you research the band's music, Do you speak to the band or do you just draw and design something that comes into your head or wild imagination.

I'm really ADHD, and I'm good at brainstorming because the brain is always spinning. The band comes to me with whatever idea they have (some of them fully formed, some of them vague and all over the place, most fall somewhere in-between). The influences really stem from the idea we decide on running with. Often times the inspiration comes from the title or lyrics or overall concept, and the influences are dictated by the concept.

Q9 – Which band and artists has been your favourite to design for.

Thorr-Axe is preparing to drop their sophomore effort, and we're doing this insanely high concept packaging. They'll let me do the most insane things. Astralnaut is fun, as we've built the art around the concept of the Cult of the Astralnaut, a coven of witches whose numbers grow with every release (there's a new witch for each cover – the Thieves, Beggars and Swine cover featured all four so far), and Steve at STB Records is really open to ideas – I've had a blast doing art for him. I love creating for most of the bands I work with, though. I've been able to somehow make a semblance of a living doing art for bands I not only like, but often geek over. I can't ask for more in a day job.

Q10 – Are you an old school type artist mainly drawing by hand. Or do you use Computer Software and Programs as well.

I'm pretty old school. Not technophobic, I just love the feel of creating art with your hands, the feel of a brush on a canvas, the sensation of graphite on paper... I scan and color on the computer using Corel Photopaint (because I'm the only guy who didn't get the memo that no one else uses it), but I prefer going as old school as possible.

Q11 – Do you have as set of rules or ideals a band has to meet before you decide to do some work for them.

I try not to, mostly. I like being thrown into a new situation and being forced to come up with something I might not normally try. I don't like assholes, so I try to avoid them. Otherwise, I've been lucky enough to work mostly with bands I honestly love.

Q12 – Most of your recent work has mainly been with STB Records. How did you hook up with them as you have created some brilliant artwork recently with Druglord, Traitors Return To Earth.

Traitors Return To Earth was how I was introduced to Steve. STB released a die hard version of Betting On A Full Collapse with my Spooky Space Kook T-shirt design, and Steve and I started working together on the Brimstone Coven release. I get to work with some amazing bands thanks to Steve.

Q13 – Does Steve STB have any input into the designs or does he leave you up to your own devices and wild imagination. Love the work you recently did for Ancient Warlocks. WOW.

Thanks man! That was both my first glow-in-the-dark cover and my first wizard cloak. Steve usually comes to me with an idea, then we throw the idea back and forth until we've come up with something we're both happy with. He's easy to work with, and once we nail the initial idea, I get to run wild with it. I absolutely love working with Steve and STB Records.

Q14 – You currently live in Columbus, Ohio. I promise dude I haven't been stalking you. HA HA. What is the local art scene like there. Do you participate with the local art scene. Do you feature in any exhibitions of any kind.

I apologize in advance, this will be lengthy. The Columbus art scene has limped along for decades. What sells here is 5 minutes of splashing paint on a big canvas. There are some good modern artists here, but not many, and they get swallowed by and drown in an ocean of consumers who wouldn't know good art if crawled out of their ass, showed them a resume, lit a cigar, and slapped them. So long as it matches the furniture, they're happy. Lately, however, artists have been working harder to create their own opportunities. There are over 100 art groups in Columbus now, each of them setting up shows for themselves.

Eventually, these self-styled opportunities began to include other artists, not necessarily affiliated with an art group. Suddenly, a handful of artists realized they could get away with murder if they were assertive enough and worked hard enough at it. Shows became events occasionally. Now that the city is investing in an area in downtown Columbus called Franklinton, intending on reinventing it as an arts district, we have the opportunity to do much bigger things to help influence the scene here. I try to curate two huge shows a year, I take part in a lot of group shows, and I'm fine tuning the launch of an art magazine. It's a good time to be an artist in Columbus.

Q15 – Do you have any plans to release a graphic novel of some sort as your style of artwork is perfect for that medium. Are you fans of the graphic novels and comic books.

My dream as a kid was to do cartoon strips. An old buddy of mine Jordan Hillyard and I self-published three comics in the early 90s before finances shut things down. I used to really get into comic books, but started reading a lot of non-fiction and doing research just because I like learning about odd things instead, which I eventually began using as subject matter for some of my paintings. I'm not opposed to doing a graphic novel – I was actually working on one in '95 about a doom band who accidentally triggers the apocalypse with an ill-advised tour. Might pick that up again.

Q16 – What is your favourite bands of all time. Regardless of genre. Any particular band or album that made a lasting impression on you.

Christ... that's a tall order. I worked at a record store for about a decade in my youth, and I listen to a little of everything but folk. The first thing that comes to mind is Sabbath's self-titled. I know citing Sabbath is fairly typical among our crowd of friends, but the song “Black Sabbath” completely changed my concept of what music was and what it could do. There's nothing bad about that song – even as an adult, I get tingly when Ozzy sings “please God help me” and the fucking hammer falls. So good. I love Sleep, Dopethrone, Black Pyramid, Early Man, Pombagira, Buried Blood, Headless Kross, Major Kong, Kongh, Junior Bruce, Wolf Lord... I could do this all day. I absolutely fucking love Twisted Sister's “Stay Hungry” album. I get obsessive about it. I love jazz before the fusion movement, I love roots reggae and dub, I love traditional country, from a karaoke standpoint there's nothing better than smarmy 70s pop... I'll quit for now. I'm such a High Fidelity-style music geek. It's embarrassing sometimes.

Q17 – When I was doing research for this interview. I came across some old pod-casts that you used to participate with. Sci-fi comedy themed style podcasts with The Frequency Of Fear. Can you tell our readers about that as it sounds insane. Funny as hell but insane. Are you still involved with that stuff.

Those were a lot of fun to do. It was my chance to be a horror host, another occupation I've wanted since childhood. I have a huge collection of horror and sci-fi old time radio, so I did these silly wraparounds for theme specific horror radio shows. I'll send you a couple of episodes – it was really turning into something impressive, but I was spending all my time working on that, and not on art. I'd burned out on art for a few years, so it was a nice distraction. I'd love to work on them again, but time doesn't permit right now.

Q18 – If you could give any advise to any budding designers, graphic artists out there, What would it be.

Being an artist for hire is an interesting job. I'd make more money selling intestines door to door. It's often amazingly thankless. Despite all that, I wouldn't be happy doing anything else. If you want to be an artist for hire, you need to understand your work, and how it can be marketed (and what you're willing to slap your artwork on). You need to be incredibly honest with yourself about your skill level and what opportunities it offers you. You have to grow a thick skin – not everybody is going to like what you do, and no, not “fuck them”, they're allowed to hate your work as much as they like. You have to be willing to work your ass off – sleep, food, pfft, these aren't necessities, creating art is your only true need.

You have to be willing to be a real pain in the ass for a friend or significant other, because a successful artist is one who puts their art before their relationships more often than you'd think. Stay busy. Gain a sense for business as it applies to your market (a lot of artists aren't born with one, but I'm living proof you can attain some semblance of one). Don't give up. As animals, we are designed to survive and conquer. So do it.

Q19 – Well dude. Thanks for doing this interview. Do you have anything to say to your fans as you have quite a lot amongst our readers.

Thank everyone for supporting me! I'm living a 12-year-old boy's dream getting to do album art for a living, and I couldn't do that without the support of art lovers and bands. I hope I can keep cranking out interesting art for the bands we love until I'm dead (although I'm working on a way to continue drawing and painting after death – wait for the Kickstarter campaign for details).

Thanks for doing this interview. Really appreciate it. Can't wait to see what future artwork you will design in the future.

No problem Steve, and thank you.

Check W. Ralph Walters from links below.

Written by Steve Howe