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When Rock Music’s Biggest Names Need a Concert Poster, They Go to Local Artist Jeffrey Everett

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What do the Foo Fighters, Frank Turner, Against Me!, Jason Mraz, The Decemberists and the Gaslight Anthem all have in common? When they need an out-of-this-world concert poster design, they turn to local artist Jeffrey Everett.

For the last 20 years, Everett has made his mark in the entertainment industry with his highly emotive, eye-catching designs. With his full-service creative agency based in Rockville, Maryland, Rocket are Red, Everett has built himself a loyal international fanbase (who frequently get his designs tattooed) along with a growing list of famous clientele who view him as the go-to guy for their creative projects.

But despite how much he’s achieved, Everett is humble about his success and views his career as a work in progress. In a recent conversation, I got a chance to know a bit more about his creative process, views on music, politics, experiences working with music’s biggest names, and everything in-between.

When did you realize you wanted to become a designer?

Jeffrey Everett: I went to the Corcoran for two years and had to make the decision to pick between “fine art” and graphic design. After taking a few design courses taught by people on caffeine highs, I realized that the “art” I understood and appreciated the most was graphic design. Record covers, book covers, shirt graphics, screen-printing, comic books, etc… these are all things I enjoy and are forms of design.

Design felt attainable to me. My interests are varied and I felt I could explore many aspects that would hold my interest. With the advent of the internet my junior year, design opened even more. Ultimately, I believed with design I could stay creative and interested everyday. I have seen a lot of the “fine artists” who called design a “sellout” head into different careers and have given up on creating art. There are a few things I would have changed in my life, but going into design is not one of them.

When did your ‘big break’ come? 

I don’t think I got a big break. I have been working as a designer for 20 years and I have been steadily growing each year, trying to figure it out. I have a few artist inspirations, like Chuck Sperry, who have continued to get bigger and bigger every year they are working. That is what I want, each year to be a little further ahead than last year. Look at Orson Welles. He peaked in his 20s and was constantly fighting to regain that notoriety.

I can point to several projects that have given me notice. Working with The Gaslight Anthem for years, especially with their Hurricane Sandy relief poster and shirt project; working with all the fabulous clubs in D.C.–9:30 Club, Fillmore, Rock and Roll Hotel, Black Cat and all the others; hooking up with Frank Turner, The Bouncing Souls, Against Me!, and participating in gallery shows with Gallery 1988. These opportunities introduced me to a new audience, and now, possibilities. Doing work for Gallery 1988 allowed me to design a Blu-Ray steel cover for Zombieland.

How did you begin creating posters for bands/musicians?

I was taking screen-printing classes at The School of Visual Arts in New York City while getting my master’s degree in design. The class had this wonderful hippy teacher who was like, “Eh, just print some stuff.” Instead of randomly printing fluffy bunnies, I found out my favorite band, Firewater, was playing. I ended up contacting them about doing posters and giving them a stack for sale. They loved, appreciated and felt guilty about them. I got free tickets and drinks and got to hang out with a very inebriated band afterwards. This seemed like a good opportunity to pursue.

I started reaching out to other bands about doing posters while still in New York and once I moved back to D.C. I ended up working with Pretty Girls Make Graves, Band of Horses and more. It gave me an interesting perspective on the “glamorous” life in the music industry.

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Do you feel as though D.C. has had any influence on your artwork?

D.C. is a magnificent city. I am proud to call the DMV my home for 20 years. I love the duality of the city. On one hand, you have people like Trump who vilify our city, disparage its population and all that D.C. stands for. People think D.C. is all about corrupt politics, beige pants, and boring discussions on wonky issues. Meanwhile, D.C. is a beautiful city brimming with amazing music, talented artists, and fascinating people of all types. It is not only a symbol–people live and create here. There is an energy that hums throughout D.C. I try to use that energy to add depth to my work and to give the designs another purpose and story.

Being a part of the music scene here with bands like Fugazi, Jawbox, and Damnation A.D., I have learned that the personal is political. Not all my work is “LOUD OPINION” about the world. Instead, I try to make subjects like equal rights and gender equality more commonplace. I try to have the women in my posters equal, independent, and having active participation in the scene. Attractive? Sure. They are their own woman in the end. They are not waiting around for the guy as he strums a guitar indifferent to the bored lady or holding onto the “strong” guy’s leg while looking up wistfully. The woman I know, and admire, can hold their own and don’t need the guy to make things right. It is an equal give and take, I hope. At least, that’s what I intend.

Where does the inspiration for you work come from? 

My inspirations for music posters mainly come from lyrics. Certain phrases and imagery pop out to me and move me to put them as designs. I work to make the poster imagery relate to those specific bands. I don’t want generic imagery that any name could be attached to it, I don’t want interchangeable design. If a person sees the poster, I want them to think of the band. I don’t want them to just “look nice.” Wallpaper “looks nice.” I want people to be able to look at the posters and see a story through it and have it relate to them personally.

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What does your creative process look like? 

The initial concept is the hardest. I typically will get a few sketches right off hand and will wait a bit to get more. I want to produce something I am excited about and will work until I am. My brain typically doesn’t turn off which is why I need to listen to podcasts when I sleep to distract me. It is common to get ideas in the early morning and have to wake up to work on them.

The actual implementation of the design is pretty quick. It is an enjoyable process to me and I know what to do. It is all about getting that initial concept. That’s the part that drains me.

Do your clients give you full artistic freedom with your designs or do you start each project with a set of guidelines/themes they are looking for? 

It depends on the clients. Some come to me because they want my particular slant on their project. Others like my style and have a definite vision of what they want. I am working with Battery. Brian has a firm view of what he wants but allows me to explore the options within that space. It is a nice give and take.

I enjoy working with other artists and clients who are smart–we can bounce concepts off each other. Even without those thoughts, I use their inspiration–business focus, lyrics, etc.– to mold and shape the outcome. I rarely do them alone. It makes for a stronger piece.

With gallery pieces, there is usually a theme for the show and I can run wild within that theme. Those can be the most scary though. I have no one else to blame!

Many of your designs only feature specific colors. What draws you to certain color combinations?
My posters are all screen-printed, so a limitation of color is needed. I typically use three to four colors on any piece. I enjoy working within limitations as it forces me to make smarter choices for maximum impact.

If anyone knows me, I typically wear shades of black and grey. Color has infinite amount of variation and frequently overwhelms me. If I keep limits on my options I know I can manage.

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Is there a certain genre of music you like designing for more than others?

I have not been as diverse as I would like in the music world. I would love to do some more work in hip-hop, especially Run the Jewels and Kate Tempest. I mainly work in the punk, indie and punk-folk realm–a lot of them based in New Jersey/New York for some strange reason.

My work tends to be sentimental–a bit sad and a bit love struck, perhaps. It works with certain bands like Bouncing Souls, Gaslight Anthem and Frank Turner. Those bands then see my work for their friends and give me a ring or are open to talking.

I appreciate designing for bands that have viewpoints and tell stories. I want to capture a mood and story. I don’t just want to make something pretty with their band NAME REALLLLLLYYYY BBBBIIIIGGGGGGGG!

What is your favorite part about designing music posters?

Music is a visceral experience. You either love it or hate it immediately, for the most part. Good music pulls a reaction. As Henry Rollins would say, “Good music makes you wanna fight or fuck.” Design and art does not have that immediate punch to the gut… most of the time. Seeing people get excited for a poster, seeing someone light up when they make that connection, seeing the 16-year-old girl swinging a poster in the pit
wanting the sweat stains on her print… that’s about as close I will get to being on a stage. People make that happen for me.

It is satisfying to know someone worked to make their money and they felt that those hourly wages are worth my design. That is appreciated and the highest compliment.

As much of an introvert as I am, that small connection to the world, knowing someone wanted my work that connects them to something bigger–a band, a story, an emotion–it makes me happy and makes the hours working on posters alone worth it.

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Growing up, did you have band posters hanging on your walls? How does it feel to know that your creations adorn the walls of dedicated fans?

I didn’t have many growing up, actually. Well, not in the sense of what I create now. I had a lot of the crappy, folded up 12×18 glossy promo flyers that were ripped down from seeing bands I loved. I still have my Girls Against Boys “Live at the Middle East” poster that someone Sharpied “If you don’t see them, you suck” in the corner. That was a killer show. They covered “She’s Lost Control” and absolutely slayed. It was a bucket list goal when I got to design a poster for them.

I had a lot of comic book posters, posters my father and uncle would get me from the Boston Art Museum, and a few, um, “art prints” featuring women like Sherilyn Fenn from Twin Peaks. Hey, I lived in the middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts.

With the lack of people buying physical music, a lot of people buy music posters to replace staring at album covers. There are a few people I know who have amassed a HUGE collection of my posters. I have a friend in Germany, who now resides in London, who hung about 12 of my posters in her office at a pharmaceutical company. I also know a manager for Metallica is hanging a Bouncing Souls poster in her office. I wonder how Lars feels about that, the art collector he is….

I recognize names when I am sending out orders and always try to add something extra for everyone. It is such an honor to be included in these people’s lives. The insane part are the people who get my designs tattooed onto themselves. WOW. The fact someone would desecrate their skin with my work…mind blowing. My favorite story is a gentleman who went to get my Gaslight Anthem image tattooed in Neptune, NJ and ended up sitting next to the singer who was also getting inked. Or, the stellar PhD candidate who lives in Sweden who had to get my design tattooed on her. She makes my artwork look so much better than it really is.

It makes the world smaller to me, that someone on the other side of the world felt that need… such a compliment.

What is your favorite creation thus far?

Is it a cop out to say “my children?”

Being rather high strung and filled with anxiety, my favorite creation is the last one I did on time and I didn’t lose money on. Some of the pieces I have liked never sold more than a few copies. I am more excited about what comes next.

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Do your personal artist endeavors differ from your published work? Do you experiment with other mediums in your spare time?

I don’t have much spare time. I am designing full-time in a variety of mediums, both print and web. Poster design is my “collecting stamps” or “writing the great American novel.” I do them because I enjoy them and I feel I have something to say with them. When working with clients is no
longer fun I stop working with them. I’ve done that before and will again I suppose.

I don’t experiment as much as I should. I am constantly sketching. One of the things I like about my work is that I try new things mainly to entertain myself. I believe I have not found “the look” and then replicate that for every client that comes along. That has maybe worked against me at times but at least I am happy… for the most part.

Sometimes.

What’s in store for the future? 
I am still plugging away on posters and other pieces for Frank Turner, Bouncing Souls, Marc Maron and Patton Oswald. I am currently working on a ‘zine that discusses modern beauty with ancient texts and poems with a PhD candidate. That will be fun.

You can buy work from Rockets are Red here, and also check them out on Facebook and Instagram.

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