Best of CH 2015: Interviews

Our most fascinating and entertaining discussions with artists, designers and innovators of all kinds

The only thing that sometimes fascinates us more than innovation and exploration within the arts and sciences happens to be the people behind such change. While we can never fully understand how another person’s brain works, speaking with great thinkers and creators can give us small insights into their process and motivation. And, sometimes, just hearing about another person’s hard work, problem solving or breakthroughs can be inspiration for us. With inspiration, information and curiosity in mind, here are our favorite interviews of the year.

Ruban Nielson of Unknown Mortal Orchestra

On their first two albums, Portland-based Unknown Mortal Orchestra charmed fans with dirty low-fi tracks—poppy but unafraid to be thought-provoking—recorded out of a basement studio. Their third and latest effort, Multi-Love was born in the same basement studio, but from the ashes of exhaustion, depression and too many drugs. Like a phoenix reborn in an explosive sheen of disco and R&B and analog synthesizers, Multi-Love exudes an energized maturity and complexity. From the deluge of new releases this year, it stands out as each lyrical and musical gesture, down to its atom, tugs on a personal level.

Artist, Stephen “ESPO” Powers

With a strong passion for the art of sign-painting, Stephen “ESPO” Powers has written “Love Letters” (a captivating blend of melancholy and devotion) in several cities in the States and internationally. After seeing signs in Coney Island fading and being replaced with cheap vinyl iterations, he started a program with Creative Time (called “The Dreamland Artist Club“) for which 25 artists and sign-painters worked with business-owners; repainting signs, murals and rides in the seaside town. It makes sense then, that Powers was asked to take part in the Brooklyn Museum’s show dedicated to the spirit and art of Coney Island. We spoke with him about how his impressive installation was created and what’s so special about Coney.

Sound Engineer, Dieter Burmester

For many of us, the dynamics of sound is difficult to fully comprehend but easy to criticize. A meticulously crafted speaker is only as good as the amp it’s connected to, there isn’t a system in the world that can help a poorly shaped space seem like it has good acoustics and the listener’s experience is entirely dependent on their location relative to the speakers. The car provides an opportunity for audio engineers to create an exceptional experience because the space is contained and controllable, while the passengers’ listening position is almost entirely predictable. For Dieter Burmester (the self-described “creative engineer” behind the eponymous hi-fi brand), the notion of perfection has been nearly achieved on the system developed for Mercedes Maybach. We spoke with the exception man, who said, “I believe that music can transport emotions.”

Anna Murray of Patternity

The last time Cool Hunting spoke with Anna Murray, the co-founder of Patternity (along with Grace Winteringham), it was 2013 and the pattern-obsessed duo had just launched their Pattern Power festival in the Londonewcastle Project space on Redchurch Street, London. Two years later, that very same space just hosted their latest Festival of Pattern during London Design Festival—and the launch of Patternity’s first book, “A New Way of Seeing.” For anyone who’s spent ages scrolling through Patternity’s mesmerizing online pattern archive, the book is a welcome physical representation of the calming feed. It’s also an indication of how far Patternity has come in the last few years, and of how, as our digital lives become ever-more ubiquitous and absorbing, finding patterns IRL can be a way to appreciate the random, un-programmed beauty of the world. Change is in the air for Patternity, and we met up with to Murray to talk about the next step for the company, the importance of reflection, and the journey so far.

Photographer, Stephen Alvarez

Few people know about the power of image-making as well as a National Geographic photographer. While the final photographs published in the glossy pages of the yellow-bordered magazine speak a thousand, powerful words, the people behind the lens are often more elusive. We had the pleasure of interviewing Stephen Alvarez, who’s been working (or, survived working) for National Geographic since 1995, and are sure his job—hands-down—wins any Career Day. We were fortunate enough to meet the expedition photographer on a recent trip to Alaska through Microsoft, where he served as an ambassador.

Jared Swilley of Black Lips

It’s difficult to affix a genre to the type of music made by the Black Lips. There are elements of punk and garage rock; there’s potency and power—and a sense of immediacy. But at the core, a lot of their tracks are just plain fun. While it may be tricky to place them in a musical box, there’s one thing that’s very easy to understand about the band: they deliver raucous, wild and turbo-charged live shows. We spoke with member Jared Swilley ahead of Festival d’été de Québec about what it means to put on a good live performance.

Artist, Polly Nor

Polly Norton’s women characters are as 21st century as they come: fun-loving, unabashedly sexual, and doing whatever the hell they want—whether that is hanging out with devils, being devils, lazily sex surfing, or having some fun with lava lamps. The illustrator, who goes by Polly Nor, often uses nude and pastel hues to depict her characters, which seem equally vulnerable and strong. Each is drawn lovingly, but with a healthy dose of satire. And the savvy titles of her illustrations—“Nm Rly Wbu,” “Shh bby no more tears over fuckboyz” and “We In Luv And Live Very Fabulous Lifestyles”—underline their roots in the online world. We spoke with her ahead of her London show, “Sorry Grandma.”

Dieter Burmester image by Josh Rubin, Stephen Powers image by Kevin Serai, Black Keys image by Philippe Ruel, all others courtesy of respective artists