Justin Gallego talks... being in a band, crate digging, visual identity
Growing up, Seattle-based multi-disciplinarian Justin Gallego considered himself more of a musician than a visual artist, and admits that he still does. But when Gallego isn't bogged down with recording and touring dates, he's bringing his creative attributes to the fore and giving the industry a new lick of paint.
"I got really into the idea that a band could have a visual identity that progressed along side its music. My interest in that world kind of snowballed from there"
"I grew up playing in punk bands in Seattle. I definitely considered myself a musician before a visual artist... but I became really attached to the more visual elements of being in a band". Spending a lot of time staring at the artwork and inserts of his favourite records was something that sparked his interest in the more creative aspects of a record, as oppose to what the music itself was offering: "I got really into the idea that a band could have a visual identity that progressed along side its music. My interest in that world kind of snowballed from there". This affection then continued into high school, where he eventually "started making shirts, flyers and album art for my high school bands, more so due to necessity but it pretty quickly became an outlet for me".
Posters and shirt designs are usually up to him to form a direction, as he admits they are pretty low risk and often an opportunity to play around and have fun with. However, album designs are different: "If it's an album, I usually have a bit of back and forth with the artist, not so much to gain instruction but just have a conversation about the album. From those conversations I'm usually able to make a connection with a record and then I'm left to do my thing... I've been really grateful to work with people who allow me the space to run with ideas".
Album artwork has long been a means for artists to visualise the key themes and concepts of songs - and songwriting in general - in physical form. They can help communicate an idea, or simply dress the musical elements in certain colours and subject matter than can pull you into a certain direction. With vinyl making a big comeback as well, there is definitely a greater awareness of a record being presented to you as a complete package, as oppose to a collection of songs on a disc.
Gallego works in a record store and spends a lot of time digging through the jazz section, "nerding out" over covers from the 60s and 70s. He cites labels like Blue Note, CTI and Impulse as having some of best art departments in that genre: "I love that all of those labels had distinct visual identities during that time. Without seeing the logo you already kind of have an idea what label it is. But even with it being familiar to their "brand" they still found unique ways to capture the spirit of each artist. Which is kind of the goal for every record I work on. I want to present myself but only while highlighting the spirit of the album".
Gallego is also in a band called Dreamdecay, which started out as a recording project in his bedroom that soon evolved into a full band that he shares with his closest friends. They have been been described as "lunging, murky noise rock... constantly evolving and refining their craft into something truly massive and unique". Their latest release, YÚ, combines the raucous energy of Sub-Pop's METZ with the attitude of former Seattle-dwellers Nirvana. But what was important to Gallego was how the band were represented visually: "I always aspired to being in a band that had a strong visual identity that grew along with it's sound. I've been able to use the band as a long standing project for that, explaining it's volume in my portfolio. I'm really grateful to the friends I play with for letting me kind of just run with that".
His relationship his art art has with music is something he explains he is proud of, but does not necessarily feel an obligation to that connection, adding: "I see myself working within other mediums just as I do music". Gallego also recently produced a flyer for Nothing's upcoming tour with Culture Abuse, Swillies, Big Bite and Smut, which he revealed was an exciting project to work on: "They saw my art through a mutual friend and got in touch with me. It was cool, they had some images from their new record they sent me and I just ran with that. It was a very easy and fun project".
As far as future plans go, Gallego is currently "in the middle of a couple albums right now... if you're reading this, hit me up, let's get weird".