(Above: Dave Van Patten Mural, Alex's Bar, for POW! WOW! Long Beach 2016)
For Dave Van Patten, music and visual art go hand in hand. His witty, surrealist illustrations—as psychedelic as they are prolific—span many album covers (most recently for The Grateful Dead’s Live Concert Series), the 16-by-60-foot wall flanking Alex’s Bar (one of Long Beach’s most respected venues), dozens of iconic festival and show posters, as well as the entire lineup of Stacks FX pedals.
As it turns out, Van Patten is quite the musician himself. With an expansive array of influences that include Buzzcocks, Elliott Smith and Woody Guthrie, he played in a few bands back in the day, endeavors that provided a much-needed creative outlet for him particularly during his seven-year respite from drawing. During this time in the depths of the Long Beach music scene, he met Miguel and Brian—the founders of Stacks FX. Their eventual collaboration was a natural progression in their relationship as artists with mutual respect and appreciation for one another.
Today, Van Patten still records and writes music all the time, primarily as part of his lofi-psych-folk solo bedroom project, Free Tree (https://freetree.bandcamp.com). In some ways, his songs are the sonic equivalents of his illustrations — cheeky, unpredictable and fearless.
Where do you draw your inspiration from when designing for the pedals? What's your process like?
My process of creating designs for the pedals has a lot to do with the specific knob arrangement of the pedal. The knobs always leave me with a very strangely shaped canvas, so it’s always a little bit of a struggle to come up with something that fits perfectly in between them. I base my themes on whatever effect the pedal is. For the Native Lung reverb pedal I created a really spacey, echoey kind of vibe. For the Dabber overdrive pedal I created a more aggressive design. Other times, Brian and Miguel have given me artistic direction. For the newest [TBA] pedal, they encouraged me to do a vintage sci-fi theme, which made me really excited.
(Above: the Native Lung Reverb)
As someone who is constantly creating, do you ever face writer's block? What are some ways you overcome it and inspire yourself with new ideas?
I get writer's block all the time – mostly when I’m working on something that I am taking too seriously. I will start to think about what other people like instead of what I like and I get temporarily blinded. The best way to break down the wall is to work on something that you really like again, and something that you don’t take too seriously.
I’ve heard that you used to play in a few bands around here. I’m curious to know more about that and what your relationship to music is like today.
I started playing in bands as early as 2001. My college friends and I played in a punk band called The Quagmires. We were a mix of the Buzzcocks, Ramones and Stooges. A couple years later I transitioned into folk songwriting. I was more inspired by beautiful melodies with a little bit more complexity so I went in that direction. It was right after Elliott Smith died and I was shamelessly trying to vicariously live through him. My music sounded a lot like his until I went through my Woody Guthrie phase in 2007. I formed a band with two friends called Family Tree. We did three-part harmonies and had amazing chemistry both performance and songwriting-wise. Our songs had an old-timey Woody Guthrie kind of flair to them but were melodically inspired by the Beatles and stuff like that. We wrote songs about hugging people with beards, riding bicycles throughout town and almost getting killed by cars overtime, being a long-haired freak in a conservative town and honey bees building their homes. That band blew up in Long Beach at the time; however, it only lasted about two years because the other band members moved away. And I got the band van towed because of parking tickets.
Now I still record music all the time; however, it’s primarily a bedroom project called Free Tree. My next personal musical awakening came when I heard the music of White Fence back in 2013. I found his lo-fi production style and amazing songwriting and chaotic energy to be the best shit I had heard in years. It kind of became my fuel for songwriting again. Thus, my new bedroom recordings are a mix of psych-rock, shoegaze, and I still have got a bit of the folky bone in me. LA Record called it “Beatles meets Pavement on a 4-track.”
Does this intimate relationship with music converge at all with your approach to creating visual art?
My music has definitely affected my visual art in a good way. I took a seven-year break from visual art in my early 20s, and that break, along with the creative growth that came from songwriting, filled in the cracks I needed in order to form a voice for visual art.
What are your thoughts on the local creative culture and community here in Long Beach, your home since 2000?
There’s a pretty contagious creative vibe throughout the city. However, I think the music scene really shines the brightest. The visual art scene has really blown up the last couple years as well, thanks to Pow!Wow! bringing dozens of murals to the city. It started a fire, and now so many more non-related Pow!Wow! businesses are commissioning murals. Unfortunately, we are starting to reach the cusp of gentrification and being a little too expensive to live here as an artist. But if you’re smart, you can still find a good deal.
(Below: Artist Dave Van Patten)
And lastly, what are your top five favorite songs to listen to while drawing as of late?
Juan Wauters - Sanity or Not
Pete Dello - It’s What You’ve Got
Jessica Pratt - Bushel Hyde
Omni - Wednesday Wedding
Thee Headcoatees - Evil Thing
For more on Dave Van Patten’s work, visit his website.