Eric Baskauskas is an artist and graphic designer from California now living in Chicago. Over the last few years, at least in the world of music, he’s been chiefly associated with Fat Wreck Chords’ Direct Hit, guiding the group’s visual identity across a range of media that’s included nearly all the band’s record covers, along with comics, video, merchandise, and much more. But increasingly, Baskauskas’ work has been tied to a growing number of groups, including Fucked Up, The Lawrence Arms, Brutal Youth, and many others.
Yesterday, Direct Hit revealed the artwork Baskauskas produced for their Fat Wreck debut album – Wasted Mind – which highlights the same irreverent, jeering, and maniacal attitude the band’s reached for since its inception. So singer/guitarist Nick Woods sat down with the artist to learn more about his background, and plans moving forward.
I read somewhere that you teach graphic design at Northwestern? That’s a pretty high-prestige place. Is that actually a job of yours? Or were you talking shit? Or did I dream that up?
I do indeed teach there but it’s only one class, one quarter per year. “Intro to Graphic Design.” It’s through their Professional Studies school so it’s a night class, which works well with my schedule. Just a little thing to go do after work once a week for three months. I really enjoy it. It’s a welcome change-up every year when it comes around; gets me in a different mindset and breaks me out of any routines I may be in. It’s fun to be on the other side of creating things, not just making stuff but leading others through making — articulating myself in a different way.
How do you make your actual living? Do you consider yourself a “professional artist”?
I work at a marketing agency as a creative director, so definitely not. I mean, I design stuff for a living, but I’d have to off myself if I ever tried to believe I was making capital-A “Art” all day. I do like my job, though. It’s challenging and satisfying work, but there’s no real self-expression involved. I suppose that’s why I wouldn’t ever call it art — that and the fact that I actually get paid. I’m lucky too that for the past four years or so I’ve been working on a product that I truly believe in: Beer.
What made you wanna be an artist in the first place? Who did you look up to in your formative years?
Drawing monster trucks and dinosaurs and other cool stuff was always just the most fun thing I could think of to do. I started when I was like 3 years old and never really stopped. Media’s evolved through the years but the spirit of making stuff has always been with me, I guess. And for better or worse the subject matter is still pretty much the same. I was just at my mom’s house over the holidays going through old drawings and found one of a dude puking acid on another dude’s face, which was melting off. Now, I made that 25 years ago – But have you seen the cover art of the new Direct Hit LP?
As for my formative years, here’s an abridged, somewhat chronological list of artists and artworks that have inspired me from age 3 to now: Mom and Dad, Grave Digger (the monster truck not the metal band), John K / Ren and Stimpy, Marvel Comics, Mike Judge / Beavis and Butthead, Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, Richie Bucher’s Dookie art, Earthworm Jim, “Big Daddy” Ed Roth, Roy Lichtenstein, Raymond Pettibon, Ed Ruscha, Barbara Kruger, Robert Irwin, Winston Smith, Pushead, Horsebites, Drugface.
Did you always wanna make artwork for bands? Or is there other stuff you like doing better?
Visual art has always been what I do but for me, music came from another, much cooler planet. I loved music so much growing up that I was afraid to even try playing it out of fear that I would be so bad at it that somehow my life would be ruined. Like I would pick up a guitar and suck so bad at it that I just died right there in my bedroom. So instead I went for the next best thing and invented fake bands so I could design flyers and cover art for them. That was my first taste of the music industry and I loved it. Now, here’s a feel-good story for you: One of the bands actually ended up becoming real when a friend of mine gave me a drum kit like six years ago and I figured out how to play it. And earlier this year I went on a two-day tour with that band and I didn’t fucking die!
What makes for a great visual identity for a band or musician?
Four black rectangles.
Top 5 favorite album covers?
I might need a few years to think before I can correctly answer this one. Partially because it’s so hard to separate the visual from the audio once you really dedicate yourself to a record. This is, of course, why album art is also the coolest form of art. How about five really great music + art combinations? In no particular order:
Green Day / Dookie — The first time I felt that feeling of sitting down with a record and scrutinizing every detail of the cover while the music played and changed your life.
Bad Religion / Suffer — No ambiguity whatsoever. Bad Religion = religion.
Municipal Waste / The Art of Partying — Barfing zombies.
Iggy Pop / Lust for Life — Look at that face and tell me that guy has even once taken his shirt off in public.
Mission of Burma / Vs. — A beautiful, simple, and elegant expression of the music contained within. The opposite of barfing zombies.
Where are you hoping to take your career next?
Space. I had a dream recently that I was sent to Mars as the official graphic designer for the entire planet. Working on that, but in the meantime I would love to get involved with more labels/bands that I look up to. There are so many out there. I know there’s not a ton of money to throw around in the music biz but I work for cheap — that’s why I have my day job. So will the following labels please call me: Tankcrimes, Southern Lord, Sorry State, Grave Mistake, Iron Lung, Deranged, Dirtnap, Katorga Works, Relapse, No Idea, Not Normal, and Beach Impediment.
I must take the time to thank you guys for working steadily with me over the last 4 years or so. It’s been a dream come true to put my art on LPs and T-shirts and skate decks for a real band. And one that I like to boot! It’s helped me forge some connections and indirectly led me to work on some stuff for Fucked Up and the Lawrence Arms, two of my favorites over the years, among quite a few others. I owe so much of my portfolio to you guys and the consistent work you’ve given me.
Pitch yourself to the next band you wanna work for. Who is it, what do you wanna make for them, and why?
Dear Power Trip: You are the Terminator 2 of bands. Do I need to explain that? I’m gonna say I don’t. But I’m not fucking around, that was serious. Please let me make the cover art for your new LP. Please make 20 more LPs and let me do the art for all of those too.
Why do you separate yourself from your Wall Of Youth “brand”? What’s up with that? Why not go by your own name?
I guess there are a few factors at work there. First of all, I started Wall of Youth as a record label for my band and I thought it’d be a good idea to have all my “punk shit” live under one cohesive umbrella so I decided to make Wall of Youth a design studio too. Seemed fitting since the band started as a design project to begin with. And I mentioned some of my influences — Pushead, Horsebites, Drugface — who chose to adapt pseudonyms, all of which are cooler than normal names. Then of course there’s the matter of how I’m a total sellout and would rather keep my marketing and advertising portfolio, which IS just my name, a few clicks away from my super punk self.