“I like surreal art that doesn’t take itself too seriously,” says Cody Blanchard as we discuss the vaguely disturbing but wonderfully intriguing images from books like Shel Silverstein’s Falling Up or Grimm’s fairy tales. Blanchard mentions the work of Hieronymus Bosch. “I like that dark and silly and surreal work….the idea from Dadaism: taking really ordinary, everyday objects and mixing them together in surreal ways.”
Blanchard, the well-known guitarist and vocalist for Oakland’s beloved Shannon and the Clams, creates art in many realms outside of his Clams stardom. In addition to his solo music career as King Lollipop and just good ol’ fashioned Cody Blanchard, or playing in groups like Hobocop, Blanchard is an illustrator and visual arts collaborator, he creates sculptures and freaky weird videos, he writes short stories and he just finished a dark, poetic children’s book. We spoke about some of his ongoing projects, RuPaul, the ways artists get ripped off, and of all the ways in which Cody Blanchard creates art within the wonderful world of music.
One of our favorite Blanchard illustrations is the banana-infused one he did for the Clams. He says he liked the idea of opening a banana and realizing that what was inside was not what you were expecting. “It could be anything in there,” he says of those bananas. “Hairbrush. I think there’s a telephone. A rat.”
He says, “I was recently listening to this amazing interview with RuPaul where he was talking about this very advanced zen concept that everyone operates on these rules and expectations and we behave in certain ways because that’s we were taught — which sometimes is true but, he was saying there aren’t actually any rules and that ‘everyone is God in drag.’ That every person is like God…there’s this movement of everything together.” With that idea, we all have the freedom to create things that operate on a different level and challenge the viewers, readers, listeners.
That concept of giving oneself the freedom to create nontraditional pairings is an exciting one that shows up in frequently in the work that Blanchard creates. He’s got his whole world of creatures and things.
This surreal freakyness shows up in Blanchard’s band posters, T-shirt designs and other illustration work. His website, Cody Zone, showcases some of this work, including kooky sculptures and videos. For those interested in checking some killer shirts or merch he’s created we recommend the Clams store, which also features exquisite corpse drawings between members of the band. For a really great description of that collaborative drawing process, we recommend reading about it whilst checking out the band members’ exquisite corpse drawing, which ended up on a T-shirt.
“I wish I knew more specifics about Dada!” he says, going back to Dadaism. “I actually just have a general and vague impression of Dadaism from art school. There are lots of ideas and images I liked but I never wrote down any names or looked further. To me it just represents a way of making art mdash; and a way of thinking, really — that challenges all of the structures imposed by modern western polite society…stuff you learned in school like manners, the way things go, what art is supposed to be…”
Between a busy touring schedule, writing, recording, being a new dad, Blanchard spends bursts of free time looking at a few choice websites for fun and inspiration. There’s one called 50 Watts that is full of beautiful illustrations and design ideas. Check out Clarke’s Fairy Tales, published in 1922. Blanchard tells us about Monster Brains and a tattoo artist named Lilly Morlock who creates unique and vibrant tattoos like I’ve never seen.
“There’s this cannibalistic style-copying thing happening,” says Blanchard. His tone shifts to frustration, anger. “…Stuff gets ripped off faster than it’s recognized. Shannon Perry’s stuff gets copied, Lilly Murlocks’ stuff…Seth Bogart does these amazing sculptures and people are ripping it off and selling it to Urban Outfitters. No credit to the artist.”
It’s some upsetting shit. We gradually switch topics to artists commissions. Blanchard’s concert posters have popped up in venues all over the country, his designs worn on t-shirts far and wide. We’re happy to premiere his latest, “Welcome In,” which features that sweet handshake deal. A classic is this blob creature admiring itself.
The previous week Cody sent over the transcript to a new children’s book he’s writing (Shannon Shaw is illustrating it with watercolors). It’s called Tater Man. There are some lines that go:
“thirteen fourteen fifteen eyes
they see through the window
and see through the lies…
knock knock knock
the sheets are smeared with mud
knock knock knock
there lies a knobby spud”
I say, “At some point it says something about how he’s going to get them with a potato peeler for their skin, how they can’t hide. It’s kind of dark! It’s like a kind of Brother’s Grim type of deal, or The Babadook. What ages is this meant for?”
He laughs and says, “Yeah it’s pretty dark…I’d say it’s for kids ages, maybe 10, 11, 12. I’m trying to think what age I was reading Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.” We discuss some of the dark and disturbing images from those spooky stories.
In contrast, Blanchard’s solo music, which he describes as having a “weird creepy disco vibe” is not dark at all. It’s full of those signature sweet vocals and layers of funky infusions. Some tracks are really funny. Take “Big Strong Daddy” as an example, which sings about a daddy who knows how to take out the trash, baby.
I ask if becoming a father has influenced his music. “Yeah, I’m actually working on a kid’s album but it’s really hard to make time to record.” He says that he and his wife attended an improve class recently. “We were pretty good at it, and she’s really great at rhyming…afterwards we were making up all of these crazy ass songs on the spot. And like, one in ten would be amazing.” We discuss the need for there to be good children’s songs, rather than those ear-irritating songs that most parents loathe. “Fuck that. We play all kinds of stuff for Arlo.” One of the young lad’s favorites? “That Barry White song, ‘My Everything.’”
We’ll leave you with this freaky video of animatronic mutations. Stay tuned for more on the bright, sweet horizon for Mr. Blanchard, and remember: don’t expose your children to terrible children’s music. Marvin Gaye is what wee babes crave.