Citizen's Nick Hamm talks... kindergarten beginnings, design inspirations, third LP
Beyond the hustle and bustle of Citizen's heavy touring and recording schedule, lies the artwork of guitarist - turned artist - Nick Hamm, who has steered the band into an intriguing new design aesthetic.
Hamm's first public design for the band came in the form of an album sleeve, for their debut LP Youth (2013). This design uses a kind of expressive typography technique, with flowers arranged to spell out the record's title, presumably to articulate the word "Youth" in a much more striking way. But, in comparison to his later works, this design is incredibly docile, despite its simple beauty.
Their second LP Everybody Is Going to Heaven (2015) could be seen as turning point for both the band and their artistic direction respectively. The mysteriously minimalistic design for this sleeve, which featured a goldish-gray background, a cut-out of two eyes in the centre with the title of the record typed below, acted as a proxy for their heavier, darker sound they had adopted. Thus followed a series of designs for tour posters, merch, demo covers and band promo art - each more absorbing than the next.
We spoke to Nick about his beginnings as an artist, the inspirations behind his designs, and what we can expect for their next LP:
You’ve made your name as the guitarist from Citizen, but when exactly did you start getting into the art side of things for the band? Did you dabble in art before becoming a musician?
"I started dabbling in art from a young age. My kindergarten teacher wouldn’t give me scissors to cut things out because she said that I made everything into an art project. I suppose that’s the first time I realized I had any more interest in art than anyone else I was going to school with. Around the time Citizen started, I’d more so curate the art. I always did the shirts but never had the confidence to do our record covers or things that in my mind, held more weight. Even still, I struggle with that."
As the lead designer for Citizen, do you oversee the entire design process yourself or do the other members get a say as to what works/doesn’t work?
"I take the reigns aesthetically but I also talk everything over with the band. I think we generally share the same vision. They seemingly trust me to just go at it, which I’m grateful for. They’ll certainly tell me if they don’t like something or if they love it, too."
The subjects in a lot of your work range from mythical creatures and dogs with spiked collars, to men in electric chairs and women riding tigers. Where do you draw your inspirations from?
"I suppose I’m still finding my voice in art. I find inspiration in many things, although they usually aren’t communicated in more than a t-shirt. I love old busted up “Beware of Dogs” signs. I love old Agnostic Front tees. I love NYC. I love Pettibon. I’m inspired by the “non-artists” that are making more beautiful art than any trained commercial designer."
Both ’Youth’ and ‘Everybody Is Going To Heaven’ are relatively tame compared to the pieces you’ve supplied for bands like The Menzingers, The Story So Far and Hung From The Rising Sun. What’s the reason behind this?
"For hired work, I approach each piece differently. It sometimes takes compromise. Sometimes, our voices meet in a really cool way and other times it doesn’t work out. With Citizen, it’s kind of all one voice. So I think that I’m able to do things that I wouldn’t necessarily approach another project with. With Citizen, I think of the body of work. With hired projects, I’m really just concerned with that specific piece looking cool within a vacuum."
Are you planning to release any new material this year? If so, are the sleeve designs likely to be something a little more like your last two LP’s, or something similar to the work you’ve produced for other bands?
"Yes. We’ll have our third LP out later this year. As of now, the art direction is fairly different from anything we’ve done before. I’m having more fun with it than ever before so I’m really excited about that."
You can catch Citizen on the following UK dates at Slam Dunk:
27th May - Birmingham - The NEC
28th May - Leeds - Various Venues
29th May - Hatfield - The Forum & The Attic