Wes Freed: Nostalgia for a time that never was.

Wes Freed is a Virgina-based artist and musician. He creates the album art for the Drive-By Truckers.He recntly wrote in to discuss his artistic process, living the south, and DBT’s next album.

You’ve said that growing up on your family’s cattle farm has inspired a lot of your artwork. What is it about that area that you find so inspirational? 
Geography & architecture, and the stories my Grandaddy told me , mostly. Old barns, old trees on hills, in the moonlight, or the moon rising over the Blue Ridge mountains .
When I was at VCU, I was driving back from the Valley to Richmond, on 64, under a full moon, and the next day I went to the art market, and got a blue, and a white oil pencil, (the big kind) & started making nocturnal landscapes. On the farm, every day began and ended feeding cattle in the barn. And they are such cool old buildings, nothing else like them, really. They smell good too. Autumn in the Valley is also quite incredible.

How did you first become involved with the Drive-By Truckers? 
My wife, Jyl, and I were part of the Capital City Barn Dance, which was a monthly event, in Richmond, that featured Americana type bands. We also played in a band (Dirt Ball) that did some touring up & down the South East. When we played the Bubbapalooza, in Atlanta, on a Friday, me and Jyl stuck around til Saturday to scout bands for the Barn Dance. So, we’re (I’m) hungover as hell, but the only thing that didn’t suck about that painful night, was the DBTs set. Really the other bands were great too, but when you got a hangover…
Anyway, Jyl went back stage after their set, and talked to, either Patterson or Adam, I can’t remember, and we had them up for a Barn Dance. They stayed at our house , we drank a little, they liked the artwork they saw hangin’ around, and the rest, as they say, is history.

You’ve been involved in both playing music and creating art. Do you feel these two creative feilds have an impact on each other? 
I don’t really separate the two, I’ll write songs about paintings, or make a painting about a song. They are both necessary, to me at least. They kind of play off of one another, and I don’t know if I could do one without the other.

How would you describe your art? 
A while back I came up with the phrase ” nostalgia for a time that never was.” Or perhaps you could call it Faulknerian/O’Conneristic surrealism, with some Crumb overtones, & a healthy dose of Robert Williams. I flatter myself to even mention these worthies, but they did have an influence. A friend once described it as Thomas Hart Benton on acid.

Do you have a favorite medium to work with? 
I prefer acrylic on wood , or metal, but I do most of the poster art (band stuff) as water color/pen & ink/marker on paper. I don’t do anything on the computer, other than scan & send. I don’t have anything against that, I just can’t figure it out, and to tell the truth, I prefer the ”hands on” approach. I haven’t painted on canvas since i figured out you didn’t have to. I love painting on wood, or metal. It just feels right. For me anyway.

Do you follow a certain process when creating artwork? 
Not really, I tend to spend a lot of time staring at the board, thinking about it, then I just kind of dive in, and get the broad strokes done, so I can concentrate on the details. That’s always the best part, the details. I’ve started painting outside lately, in my shed, and while I’m painting, I feed peanuts to the squirrels. We got a white squirrel that
comes around, we call her Skully. In the winter, though, I tend to be a night owl, painting inside, by the fire.

Does your artistic approach differ when creating album art? 
Only in that I’m listening to the specific music that the art is for. And of course you have to consider packaging, and sizes and all. And I’m sending scans of everything that I’m doing to the band, and everyone, and getting their feedback, which is cool, because back in the old days (Southern Rock Opera), we had to mail all that shit back & forth, and it took forever. We go back and forth (me & the band) about what the record’s gonna look like, and we usually manage to stay on the same page. Their (DBTs) next record is going to be quite a ”Big To-Do.” Been working on it for a while, lots of artwork, and the band is in its finest form. They WILL blow yer mind when you hear this. I don’t exaggerate.

Are there any bands that you would love to create album art for? 
When it comes to album art, I only do that for the DBTs. With a few exceptions (with permission). We have an agreement, you see. But I would love to do something (in fantasy land) for Calexico, or Lucero, or the Stranglers, or Gun Club (rip Jeffrey Lee Pierce), or a Stephan King book. I’m working on recording a record right now, with Bob Rupe, formerly of Cracker, presently with Fairlane, and Jon Brown of Horsehead. This band, I believe , will be called The Magnificent Bastards. When the record is done, I’ll probably have something to say about the artwork. Y’know, it’s weird about album art. If I had listened to Harvest (Neil Young ), I wouldn’t have come up with that cover, but it’s f*cking perfect. There is an old Celtic concept, about the ”fitness” of things. How some things are just right. I’m kind of stuck in that groove, but it ain’t steered me wrong so far.

What do you love about living in Virgina?
Right now, I’ll have to say, once again, the mountains, the valleys, and the Moon. After election day, I might have a change of heart, but if McDonnell wins, I’m just not sure what Virginia is anymore. Sorry to get political, but Creigh Deeds is a BIG DBTs fan. No shit. And a GOP victory means the hollers & mountains are fair game for the Big Bosses.

What do you feel are some of the biggest misconceptions about the south? 
I reckon it’s no different for the South than anywhere, just people who don’t know no better painting everyone with a broad stroke. I drive (ride) a Triumph Bonneville, and a Ford F-100 pick-up both of which were made in 1979, both of them have different versions of the Rebel flag on them. But I voted for Obama. Ask Levon, he’s been dealing with that shit since the 60’s. Unfortunately a lot of the southern stereotypes are real. But they exist all over the country, and the world, for that matter. It’s just real easy for middle America to identify backwards/racist ideas with a Southern accent. And a lot of that is our fault. But what is important is what has happens in the South when the black kids and the white kids play nice with one another. Muscle Shoals is a great example of that. Country music, the blues, rock n’ roll, is all about everybody getting together, and just groovin’, for lord sake.

How has living in the south influnced your artwork? 
Well, when you grow up hearing stories from a man whose Uncles served in the First VA. Cavalry, Co. E. (my grandad), about the War you kinda get a unique view of history. I am a firm believer that if we give up the Rebel flag to the Kluxers, then the Terrorists win. I know this is a hard fight , but dammit those Glenn Beck Mofos CANNOT have this one. There is a gentle slowness to the pace of life in the South, at least for those who can appreciate such things. Unfortunately , the pace of ”growth,” for it’s own sake, is undermining this way of life. Farms are becoming sub-divisions, towns are becoming cities. And the fact that this bothers me, kind of explains the whole ”nostalgia for a time that never was ” thing. I’m not a complete misanthrope, I love individuals, but I hate ”people.”

What would be your advice to up-and-coming artists?
Do what you love, don’t compromise, and don’t get into a situation where you gotta compromise . Also , learn a trade that’ll pay the bills, but won’t cripple you by age 40 (hint: avoid housepainting). But really, stick with what you love, work yer ass off, and, you won’t get rich, but if you spend your life doing something you love, and at least get by, then you’ve got that. What more could you ask for?

For more info on Wes Freed, check out http://wesfreed.com/

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