Interview: Tyler Stout

featured / Interviews / News / May 18, 2017

When Tyler Stout does something within the vinyl world, you pay attention. These releases, primarily pairing him with Mondo, often end up being some of their catalog’s most memorable, from the much-loved “Drive” package they put together (still the essential version of that release), to the screen-printed “Guardians Of The Galaxy.” We had a chance to talk to Stout about his latest collab with the Austin-based soundtrack label, a 4xLP set honoring the music of “Alien.” Enjoy the wide-reaching conversation and you can pre-order the deluxe “Alien” set until May 19

Modern Vinyl: First, I gotta ask, what took this project so long!? This may be the longest tease Mondo has had for a soundtrack release, as you did the poster back in 2015, and the soundtrack was teased in the credit block for that poster. Was there a point where you were just kind of hanging out with the artwork? Or were you actively working on it over the last 2 years?

Tyler Stout: As the saying goes, “In Space No One Can Keep Track of Deadlines.” Sometimes things just get put down then picked up down the road; I think everyone involved had a lot going on and it just ended up being put on the back-burner. I’m just glad it’s finally getting released and the work paid off. But to answer your question, I wasn’t working on it non-stop for the past two years, there were lulls, then [it] suddenly came to life again.

MV: At this point you’ve done a handful of album art jobs, with a majority being soundtracks for Mondo (Drive, the Studio Ghibli compilation, Guardians of the Galaxy, Alien). I know you do gig posters and that you’ve contributed memorable album artwork to a band like Flight of The Conchords, but how often are bands, or other soundtrack labels reaching out to you for album artwork? Because you seem to be a true music fan, but we don’t see your work in that world too, too much.

TS: It’s not a super common thing, maybe a dozen times a year from different outfits. A lot of them are smaller “I have never heard of this movie” type projects, plus a few are the “Do we really need to release the Surf Ninja’s soundtrack on vinyl?” variety.

MV: Out of your vinyl soundtrack releases, 3 have used the same art as Mondo posters (Ghibli is excluded). When you know that’s going to occur, if you do, how does that creative approach differ? And when that moment comes when you have to make the switch from, say 24×36 to 12×12, or vice versa, what’s the process?

TS: I’m sure there’s probably some sort of mental mindset difference, but in terms of practical project approach, it’s pretty similar, poster or soundtrack cover. It’s basically creating a piece of artwork in a vaguely rectangular or square shape, then slightly reformatting it for its end purpose, be it soundtrack or screen-printed poster. You usually don’t want to design smaller then go bigger though, it works better to shrink down. I know with Guardians of the Galaxy, the poster was designed first then reformatted for the soundtrack. With Alien, it ended up going in reverse, and maybe that impacted the end design, since the response wasn’t overwhelming, ha.

MV: As stated, this is your 4th vinyl release with Mondo. Tell us about working with that specific music creative team?

TS: Is there a music creative team at Mondo? I had no idea. Ha. I just work with Rob Jones on soundtrack stuff, with Mo Shafeek chiming in with notes from the label, notes about legal type stuff. It’s not a huge affair, just me sending stuff to Rob and him picking it apart and focusing on the minutiae. Which, coincidentally, is a word he would use. He’s one of them smart fellers.

MV:  Let’s shift gears and talk about the film. Alien — a horror/sci-fi classic. What’s your relationship to the film on a personal level? How do you feel about its sequels, spinoffs, and the upcoming Alien: Covenant?

TS: Oh man, the tough questions, what is my relationship on a personal level to Alien? I mean, he’s a nice guy but a bit too touchy-feely on the first date, last thing I want is to end up knocked up. No face-hugging on the first date is a good rule of thumb.

But yeah, hard to quantify the importance of the Alien series. It’s been around my entire life so it’s just kinda programmed into my DNA as a film fan. I’m a child of the ’80s, so Alien and Aliens were hugely influential on my life and the culture I grew up in. When you think of space and monsters, or space horror, Aliens is the first. It’s basically the Star Wars of killer space menaces, of which many copycats followed suit. So I love the series, I can’t get enough of ’em. Aliens is the pinnacle for me, but Alien has a sublimeness to it that stands the test of time. I go back and forth on Alien 3; I’ll go years without watching it but then come back to it and realize it really has some bright points. Alien: Resurrection still holds a spot in my heart; I was working in a video store at the time and seeing it in theaters was a blast. I even enjoy Aliens Vs Predator 1 & 2. You take what you can get. Prometheus was one of my favorite films of the past decade, and I am keenly interested in seeing Covenant. Here’s hoping it doesn’t completely abandon all the things that made Prometheus great, but manages to further bridge the gap between that film and the Alien series.

MV: The imagery in Alien is iconic, and it has stuck with fans new and old for decades. You are no stranger to the pressure that comes with creating artwork for such an iconic, fan-favorite property, having done art for major cult favorites like The Goonies and The Thing. That being said, I think you would agree, the artwork you created for Alien — both the vinyl and the poster — is different in many ways from your other work.

What drove that change in direction? Something as simple as a lack of likeness rights? And how do you deal with any backlash that comes up when you decide to do something different?

TS: Likeness rights played a part in the direction we went with this Alien project, for sure. “Do something for Alien that focuses solely on the alien and surrounding tech, but leaves out the actors faces.” So that was a struggle, but I’m pleased with the final pieces. I wanted to do something that felt like it lived in that universe organically, using pieces from that universe, and maybe I left too much of my personal style on the cutting floor, I dunno. I guess we’ll see how it ages over time, ha. But I knew from the outset it would be a different project, I just didn’t think people would care that much one way or another, since it’s a soundtrack to a movie that came out 40 years ago. I’m certainly not changing that film’s place in history in any way. But hopefully I was able to add a tiny pixel on the huge mosaic that is the Alien legacy. If not, them’s the breaks.

MV: Do you do pencil/paper work when working on a project? Or does it start and end working in the digital realm?

TS: I try to sketch things out in pencil and then ink digitally, [but] sometimes for speed I end up sketching digitally. There’s certainly a different feel between the two. But with changes and feedback and tweaks, usually digital is easier, as the project nears completion.

MV: This box set is huge. With most Mondo vinyl releases, an artist gets the front, the back, a gatefold, and sometimes the inner sleeve. Did you know up front this was going to be a huge box-set? And if so, how did you approach utilizing the 4xLP structure in creating this project? With an audience typically experiencing a vinyl box-set sequentially (given they’re listening in order, looking through it in order), were you immediately imagining a narrative?

How does this compare to working on something like your Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack release?

TS: Rob Jones of Mondo was pretty clear on the scope of this project from the beginning, but honestly most of it went over my head when I took on the project. I gathered that it had multiple parts, but didn’t realize how many. It was the gift that kept on giving…me nightmares. He started sending me pictures and sketches of the box layout, and eventually my caveman brain realized what it entailed. The whole “4 separate records” thing lent itself to coming up with a progressive series/visual dialogue, and the solution seemed to present itself organically. Hopefully the end result is cool, we’ll see.

As for how it compares to the Guardians soundtrack….I mean, it’s pretty similar, the amount of work we put into Guardians, or even Drive, they both had a ton of inner work and design. Guardians had those screen printed handbills, a pretty arduous project in and of itself.

MV: Let’s talk about text design. One of the most iconic pieces of imagery from Alien is that minimal building text that starts with small geometric lines, and slowly starts to form the word “ALIEN.” I love the way you used each of the vinyl sleeves to build that text just like the film. What lead you to make this creative choice? Did you just have an “ah-ha, this will work!” moment?

TS: It just came from watching the movie, seeing the slow reveal of the type at the beginning. Its hard to pinpoint the exact “ah ha” moment when I decided to use them on the sleeves; it was just something that existed in the movie and I just kinda put them on the page, ha. A movie like Alien has such an epic sandbox to work in, I can’t really take too much credit, [as] anything I did (as long as it remained true to the film) would look okay, since the film itself is such a masterpiece.

MV: With a vinyl release, does the music itself play into this creative process at all? I mean, does it assist you to sit down with Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic score and take it in for pacing and tone?

TS: It’s interesting that you say “iconic” in regards to the score because I myself was kinda like “Does Alien have a musical score?” in response to hearing about the project. But walking through the movie, it really does wash over you, that feeling of exploration and space odyssey turning to unsettling dread and then outright horror. We’ve become (or rather I have, at least) pretty desensitized to the scares of Alien, but back in the day, it was one of the scariest movies ever made. It was alien in the very sense of the word, something I’d never seen before. It was Jaws in space. Terrifying. And the soundtrack certainly is part of that overall feeling of horror.

MV: On that note, what are some of your favorite horror movie scores?

TS: Man, I’m pretty terrible at saying “my favorite” anything; it changes day to day. But obviously anything by John Carpenter. He has written some of the best movie music that has ever existed in any time and place in the universe. I saw him in concert last year and it was incredible, one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, seeing him go through his hits from The Thing to Halloween to Prince of Darkness to Christine. Everything he touched was gold. Plus the soundtrack from The Keep, Tangerine Dream was pretty great, I had that on cassette. And if you want to play fast and loose with the term “horror” and the idea of “scores,” then the soundtrack to The Nightmare Before Christmas is obviously the top of the list.

MV: So would you be into doing a Nightmare Before Christmas poster/vinyl artwork? You have done a handbill before, I know sometimes your handbills will be for future poster releases, like with Fantastic Mr. Fox.

TS: I’d definitely love to do Nightmare Before Christmas someday, that would be awesome.

MV: So overall, what was your favorite part about designing this release? What was the most challenging?

TS: Honestly, the most challenging was working on something hardcore for months [and] then having it sit on the dust pile for 3 years, only to be picked up again and dusted off, ha. It worked out, so I can’t complain, but man, that wreaks havoc with my inner biological clock.

MV:  Not everyone knows this, but you have/had a military obligation. Does that have much of an impact on your artistic output?

TS: Man, the deep cuts, we’re going to be getting into the death of my first dog here in a minute. I do indeed serve in a weekend warrior capacity in Portland, Oregon. How it affects my artwork…well I’d like to say it makes me more aware of deadlines and making use of the time I have…but that’s not really true. But it keeps me in shape, vaguely, and gives me an opportunity to ply my craft in real world situations like aircraft decals and markings. It definitely grounds me, as a person.

MV: So what was your first dog’s name and how did it die? I kid, I kid. 

TS: %*@(!)!! — all kidding aside, Aggie was my 14-year-old yellow lab; a more loyal and loving dog you couldn’t find. She got hit by a car and my grandpa shot her (out of kindness) while I was at school. Really sad. I have a 10-year-old yellow lab now, Iggy, and he’s a lot like her.

MV: But really, Aircraft decals? Do you have any examples of these? Picturing it in my head — I have a feeling they look pretty sick.

TS:  You would be let down then, ha. It’s lots of type and cleaning up older decals from the ’60s and ’70s. It’s fun but not necessarily portfolio work, yet. I have some on my Instagram O think.

MV: Over the last two years Mondo has been making a name for themselves with their toy/statue releases, and they have done a lot of cool projects with some of their biggest, most frequent art collaborators (Mike Mitchell, Matt Taylor, Francavilla). What’s your interest in that field?

TS: They’ve asked, but I haven’t found the right project with them. I think it’d be a lot of fun, but like an old coworker of mine Cris Dabica used to say, “Play your position, Stout.” So I dunno, never know, but it ain’t my forte so far.

MV: Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What has been your favorite vinyl release from Mondo so far from other artists? Are there other artists who have done these vinyl releases who serve as inspiration for you when sitting down to do this work?

TS: I’ll be honest, I don’t really buy much new stuff being produced today, so I can’t comment on which of [that] stuff is the best, ha. It’s all equally great. I was in Las Vegas recently and asked a taxi driver what casino was his favorite, and his response was “I don’t gamble.” That’s probably me as well. I have enough old stuff to collect without getting hooked on new stuff. That being said, my GI Joe figure collection is nearly complete from 1982 to 1994; it’s that mail order exclusive stuff that’s tricky to track down.

MV: We have gone to Mondo Con the last two years. Hoping to go back again for a third, are you ever going to come to Mondo Con?

TS: Never say never, ha. I’m kinda a stay at home dad and traveling is pretty tricky.

MV: As a designer and fan, what properties do you feel would be fun working with in this particular format? And what about those properties would make it a fun experience?

Man, too many to list, too much to think about. I think you hit it on the head when you mention “fun experiences.” As I slowly slouch towards the grave, it’s about doing things that you enjoy, things that you find meaningful and inspiring, and not getting caught up in “what will people think?,” “how much does this pay?,” “how will this sell?” and other uncontrollable factors like those. The funnest projects are the ones that no one cares about, no one is stressed about and no one has any expectations about, and when they come out bring smiles to people’s faces. If the Alien franchise has taught me anything, it’s that people love surprises.

A big thanks to Tyler for chatting with us. 

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Zachary Behm
Zachary Behm is from Asheville, NC and has been a writer and illustrator for Modern Vinyl since August 2014. He currently works as a child therapist, and sometimes does freelance illustration. If you have a question or comment, don’t hesitate to tweet him or find him on Instagram: @zachbehm_illustration

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