Interview – Travis Lee Wiggins

Meet Travis Lee Wiggins. A true creative spirit who is an artist, designer, musician, filmmaker, and writer, all at the same time. So who is this guy, and where does all this creative energy come from? I sent Travis a few questions. In return, I recieved some brilliant answers! So please enjoy.

Hey Travis. Tell us a little about yourself. Where you from, what you do?
I grew up in Northwestern Indiana, USA, about 50 miles from Chicago, directly south of Lake Michigan. In High School we used to ditch school and go to the Dunes, which are these huge sand dunes created by the glaciers of the last ice age, right along the shoreline of Lake Michigan, only to come back the next day at school burnt like bacon with an excuse from our friend’s sister who would call in and act like our mom. I was an athlete in High School, but also really into art. I won best of show at my high school art show as a sophomore. I actually did the drawings for the covers of our baseball programs too. In my senior year, I realized I wouldn’t be able to pursue my athletic goals, so that energy had to go somewhere else.

From the performance: “My first sigarette, 2001″

One night when my friends were getting drunk, I went in my friend’s room to get away from everyone. This is totally tacky, but I went through his CD collection and found a jimi Hendrix CD and played it all the way through several times until I fell asleep. I listened pretty much exclusively to classical music until that point, and after that I took my mom’s classical guitar out of her closet and started playing. People started calling it my “wife” because it was inseparable from me. I would take it everywhere. I went to college to pursue architecture, but was taking some design and art classes and that interested me more. I remember the time too. I was sitting in the architecture dean’s office waiting for him to get out of a meeting with someone else and every second I sat there I realized I did not want to be there. After about 10 minutes, I got up and never looked back. It’s weird when life is decided by feelings like that. During college I cut back on the music playing a lot and really concentrated on design and art. At that time I started writing a lot and did performances and readings.

“After college there wasn’t any restrictions on what mediums I was using and I swayed from doing mailings, I wrote a couple books, started some bands, did some art and video, but I seem to focus on music more now than other mediums.”

You are working on a broad range of creative expressions like art, music, video, design and writings. Any favourites? And if so, why?
I would have to say right now I think music is my favorite form of expression. With music most of the things I am interested in are combined. With music, it combines art/design (website, artwork for albums, album designs, photography, posters, props) with performing (videos, live shows) with writing (lyrics). Music is something I’ve found compared to all the other mediums as being very exceptional because you can do it by yourself and also it really lends to being collaborative. The other mediums can be more restrictive when it comes to collaboration. Overall the medium is less important to me than the idea or expression that comes behind it. Some people are really interested in mediums. Like they’ll be a painter and stare at a blank canvas and ask themselves “what do I paint?” That seems like an ass backwards way of doing things to me. You should have the will and drive to have an idea, and then find a form to put it in. They say “I’m a painter” or “I’m a writer.” I don’t label myself as such, so I don’t fall into that trap.

Shaken not stirred, 2007

What and who inspires you? Any idols?
I don’t really get inspired from outside sources from a creative perspective. Sometimes I will see or hear something that is great, whether it is a song, or an artwork, or writing, whatever. And it actually really pisses me off. I can be a very competitive person. I’m always trying to achieve greatness in my life, and when someone else has , in my eyes, it makes me feel kind of worthless because I don’t feel like I’ve done that. It drives me to make more and better work. It’s a cycle.

Very Strong Feelings, 2002

From a life perspective, I’ve been inspired by a few people I have known who have grown throughout their entire lives. It’s funny that I only know a handful. It seems like so many people stop growing in their mid-20s and they are that person for the rest of their life. Their body ages and they are in a time capsule. I love the idea of getting to know yourself, and growing your whole life—making yourself a more complete individual. Following the twists and turns of a life. I’m not sure if it is an American thing, but it seems like we are obsessed with youth. It dominates our press and culture. I like the Native American concept where the people with the most say were the elders, because they had been around so long and are wise. Young people tend to think older people are stupid because they don’t know how to use a cell phone or get on the internet. But who cares about technology in the grand scheme of figuring out what’s important in life? Maybe someday we’ll figure this out. But it’s like, I feel like I’m finally at the age where I’m getting to know myself, as an individual, and what it is to be a human at this period of time. In five years I’ll probably say the same thing and think how naïve I was right now.

In your art, you are using a wide spectre of techniques and styles ranging from drawing, photography, painting and performance. Any techniques you prefer?
Each has their own processes and limitations that are interesting compared to the others. I know that’s kind of general and may seem like a cop out explanation, but I would have to write a lot to explain it all, and I don’t want to do that here. I liked them all really, any of the forms. I think the thing that separates me from other people is that I never really romanticized it too much. Like you would see people talking like “ou, la la, I’m working on a painting.” Or “ou lala I’m writing a book or working on a song…” Whatever. That kind of shit really pisses me off. They’re more interested in the medium or they romanticize creative expression over so many other things, and think they’re so fucking special. It becomes a religion. Being creative to me is expressing yourself, and you express yourself by so many other things, like the way you stand, or what you choose to eat, the way you cook, the way your cross your t’s when you write. Each moment is you expressing yourself. Seeing an idea come to fruitation or come out of thin air excites me much more than whatever medium it happens to be in. I remember this moment in the Metallica movie Some Kind of Monster—I always reference it. I’m not a big Metallica fan, I like some of the stuff in the “Enter Sandman” era. But during this movie they are trying to come up with lyrics and the producer asks ‘what is this song about?’ And the singer says ‘some kind of monster?’ And that becomes the meaning of the song and the chorus. That part gave me goosebumps. It’s like that feeling is amazing, to have that eureka in life. It’s like above when I was talking about quitting architecture. I love using art or music or anything to get to that moment. That moment where something clicks. That movie also showed them as people and not as some idealized person.

“The most creative people I know are twisted weird people, with all of this leftover energy—sometimes because they are atheist or don’t have a religion or don’t have kids (yet). They’re looking for a purpose so they find one in creativity.”

People see the rock star singing in front of the crowd for some reason want to be that person, famous, everyone listening to them, but they certainly don’t see the tortured weird person that fucks somebody with a fish!

In the performance “72” you quit eating for 5.5 days and for 72 hours contained yourself in a small wooden box with eye and ear protection. Could you tell us something about the background of this project, and how it was to go through with it?

I originally had the idea that two people would face each other in two plexi-glass boxes facing each other. I thought it would be awesome to get another person, who I never knew into this situation and had to look at them for that length of time. Afterwards you would never see them again. There’s something about the human experience—when you have to go through something—that connects you. But the concept of the project really took a turn.

“72, 2002″ – About to go in to the box

At the time, I was going to school full time with an expanded schedule, all studio classes, which meant double the amount of time in class. I was working 3 jobs. I evolved to basically living on 3 to 4 hours of sleep every night, literally just going going going all day long. And it seemed like a completely insane way to live. It was. I would get eye twitches, which if you’ve ever been stressed out that much—really driving yourself into the ground—and your eye starts twitching randomly—it drives you even crazier. I longed for a situation where I could think. I could relate everything. So I just up and did this project. Built the box. We actually had to take apart the door of the building I did it in to get the box in. I built the box 30 inches wide, which is pretty standard (thanks architecture), but these were old doors so they were 28 inches.

But everything changed when I did the project. The one part I really didn’t think about that would effect me was the not eating. Since I knew I wasn’t going to, the physical part wasn’t difficult. But the mental part was. I wanted to eat all the time. I honestly was not hungry the whole time. But my mind wanted food. We always joke, but when I was in the box I kept thinking of scrambled eggs and corn. I have no idea why. My friends actually threw a party later that we all ate it. Also, I started noticing all of the food ads. And I noticed how much of our lives, our social lives, our schedules, are defined by food. Americans are obese as hell and they always look at the food, but what about how much of our culture and lives are defined by food? My mom said a complete genius thing once. We were talking about seeing all those murders in movies and on television and people say that it doesn’t affect you. But my mom just bluntly said something along the lines like, well if what you see doesn’t affect you, then why are these companies spending hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising every year? Obviously it’s working! The whole food thing wasn’t something I had even considered. I didn’t even think about any of this.

So I’m sitting inside the box there, thinking that oh, here I am, I can think now. But I couldn’t think at all! Without any outside stimulus nothing is causing you to think about anything. You become a blank slate. It was hell. At one moment I got so bored I had the idea to start pulling out every one of my beard hairs and count them. I got about to 250 and then I’m like why am I doing this? I would fall asleep and wake up and not know if I just slept 20 minutes or 9 hours. At one point probably about half way through I just couldn’t take it, and I started smashing the side of the box with my feet. But then something happened. I thought to myself, deal with it, or get out. It was a life changing moment. At that point I kind of learned, you have to deal with the problems you have at the moment, or get yourself out of them. There’s no reason to get stuck in that middle zone. So I dealt with it. It’s like being outside in the cold and shivering. If you get to the point that you accept your fate that you’re cold, then you deal with it, and you’re not that cold. You realize that being cold is a sensation, and you can be bigger than that sensation.

What is your favourite piece (of your own work) and why?
I’ve done a lot of pieces of work over the years that I’m really happy with. I think what can define the success of a creative person is not only when you can make something good, but when you can make something good that is above you. I feel like I’ve been able to make some pretty good creative pieces over the years that I could not make again, because of the time and place I was in, and I followed the string that unravelled that particular project. When you do that, it’s like the piece directs you, and tells you what to do, rather than you trying to achieve something.

Hate, 2004

One of the most influential pieces I ever made to me was an ugly painting named “Pinky.” It’s on my website. I made this drawing of a naked woman and then decided to make a painting of the drawing. The canvas was decently sized at 4 x 6 feet. I don’t know what that is in metrics. I painted this, and I really thought it sucked ass. You can still see some of the old painting at the very bottom. I hit this point, where I was like, “what am I doing? What am I doing this for? Why am I painting this?” And that led me to think, well, why don’t I do something I don’t like then? What is the worst thing I could do to this painting? So I mixed some really gloppy pink paint and just spread it all over the place. And then I thought ok, what wouldn’t I do next? And so I took some globby black paint and spread it all around, and it mixed in places and not in others. And then the next step—paint an odd shaped green box, and I stuck a piece of paper that I found in the painting studio where someone had painted their hand and put it on a sheet of paper—I stuck that to the painting.

This was revolutionary to me. I think everyone is taught to be an individual, and part of how you express that is this personal taste and style that you evolve. Everyone thinks that their style and taste in anything is the best. I think it’s all a bunch of bull shit. For starters, you’re part of your time, and you can try to escape it as much as possible, but for the most part humans need to be part of a herd. They have a herd mentality. It’s the reason why cultures are invented, and why they change—all these small decisions on a grand scale. It’s why fashion changes, and style changes—it’s all shift in the herd. The perfect and most pertinent example in our age are the Nazi’s and how that whole thing went down. Now a lot of the people who were Nazis talk about how that it was just part of that time. They were being just part of the herd. I could elaborate on this a lot more, with a lot of different things. This painting was part of these ideas, even though at the time I didn’t know it. In “Pinky” I created something that I didn’t like. It was actually the opposite of what I liked. I realized my personal taste could be outside myself. It didn’t have to define me, control me. I could experiment and make things that I didn’t like and learn from them. I could completely experiment without thinking what is good or bad. I could completely fail.

This as a creative person completely changed things. I think many people can’t start or finish anything in their life because they judge it as good or bad way too soon in the process. They are attached to some style or sound or vision of what they want to create. It’s the reason why so many emulate others—because they like that other person, and they think that other person’s work is good—so that being the case—when they make something they make something just like what they like. You have to take yourself out of the equation. At least your current taste. At leat try to. The sound and vision of tomorrow cannot be judged on the taste of today.

When I start a song, I throw my hands on an instrument and let my fingers play. I listen. I try to find the song, it’s going somewhere, I don’t know. When I paint sometimes I mix some random paint and throw it on the canvas. I don’t judge, oh this sucks, or this is bad. Something will hit, and I will follow it. Then I think what’s next? Sometime the work takes me somewhere and I try something and it doesn’t turn out so good. Usually the best ones just come naturally, without all the thinking, just the doing. If only we lived our short lives by this directive more often.

You are playing in two bands in addition to your solo project Essex Chanel. With the “The Album is Dead” record you are making a clear statement that the music industry has changed. So what is your view on the future of music? Is it possible for music and the internet to live hand in hand?
Yes, in addition to Essex Chanel, I have a multitude of other musical projects. One is called The Summer Salts (www.thesummersalts.com) – a three piece indie/rock/dance kind of band. Another is called Fetla (www.fetla.com) – another three piece indie/rock, but completely different musicians and different sound. I also have another project called Nick & Travis in Outer Space (www.nickandtravisinouterspace.com) – which is a weird project. I’ve been working on another project since last summer with a DJ/producer named DJLimbs. I’ve been using a loop pedal and playing guitar/bass/keyboards/banjo/vocals and he’s been doing the percussion. We don’t have a name yet, but we’re about to start playing some dance clubs. It’s much more dance/electronic in nature. Another project is a project I have with violinist Allison Trumbo. It’s much more folk influenced. I’m keeping it with a lot less instrumentation and much more up-close and personal. I like to work with a lot of different people as well as explore myself. It fends off loneliness, and anyone you work with takes you to a place you wouldn’t or couldn’t have gone by yourself alone.

Essex Chanel, One Last Hurrah Before I Die, 2006

The music industry has changed. I’m not sure what the future is. I think that it’s not only about music though but it’s about the nature of the current culture. Before the internet, it made sense to buy music, or books, because they were physical objects that cost money. Now you can make a .wav or .mp3 file and give it to everyone in the world, and it wouldn’t cost you or them anything but hard drive space. You could write a book and .pdf it to everyone using the same method. What hasn’t been defined now is how much is information worth? The music on that disk and the info in the book has now become separate. You’re selling ideas and sounds. Virtually.

The reason why we have this technology is that it is built upon other technology that someone worked on before. The sharing of information and technology has become easier and faster than ever before. But if you spend your life working on something, using your time and money, and someone can just take it and build on it and you don’t get anything in return, do you pursue it? The reason why we have copyright laws is because in effect, no, you wouldn’t pursue it. Do you spend a year and $5,000 making a music album and then everyone takes it? At what cost is fair to the individual and to society? I don’t have an answer for that. I find myself in between the two worlds of wanting to make a living because I work hard, and wanting to give everything away. I think for the most part the world itself hasn’t figured it out. I give away a lot of my music for free because I just want people to listen to it. I think it may be that there will be a new answer, one not part of either methodology. I haven’t come to terms with it yet. I throw out a mixed bag of mass media things, most free, some for sale. I really don’t want to work my day job anymore!

Essex Chanel, 67 Car Commercials, 2005

You have also been doing a lot of design work, and especially many album covers. How does the fact that you’re a “cross over artist” making you a different from other designers?
Ideas usually drives my designs instead of something I see in a magazine. I don’t even look at other people’s designs. For the most part I’m a terrible fan. I really don’t like art, or design, or music as much as I feel like I should. I enjoy making it a lot more than I enjoy seeing it. I go to a lot of shows, but it’s like I’m just thinking of being on stage or what I would do, or what artwork I would make instead, so what’s the point unless your getting drunk with your friends? I’m not sure where my design falls these days. I try to make something unique. I love things that have lots of pieces. I used to send out a zine (!!!!!!!!!!!, you can see more at my website) which was pretty fun and had all different kinds of pieces. I’m attracted to packets a lot, because I think one thing we’ve lost in this new world is tangibility, and that’s all we really want. We want tangible experiences, which is why we buy a t-shirt at a concert, or souvenirs from a trip. I try to design things that are art pieces in themselves, and give you little pieces of interesting tangibility that you don’t just want to “throw away.” I’m happy when I go to other people’s houses and see something I mailed them 5 years ago up on the wall.

How is your working process? Do you decide in advance what days you are going to be a musician, artist and writer, or do you choose it more spontaneous?
Most of the time these days I am a musician. I’m very fearful though. I was hanging out with some friends a month ago and went to a poetry slam and really was surrounded by words again. My musician friends don’t talk about lyrics, it’s about music, so that side of me—I just felt like an excitement. I wanted to do a reading. My favorite reading I used to do was I would take popular songs and read them completely monotone. I called it monotone poetry. My favorite was the Spice Girls “Wannabe.” To hear the words completely separated by meter and pitch made them really comical (zigga zigga huh?). I also really feel pulled by getting involved with film. It seems like I could combine my writing, sound/music, performing, storytelling, acting, all into one medium with film. So it’s almost like I try to stay away from stuff. I’m the type of person that just likes to do things. So if a future me were to come back in time and talk about how next week I would become obsessed with becoming a fighter pilot for the next three years, I could say it really wouldn’t surprise me. But I can see myself going back in time and say that to myself just to fuck with myself. Can you really trust your future self?

Katarina, Cutout Series, 2004-

How do you see the future? Any goals you are working to reach?
I feel like I’m at the point where I can make something really good. I’ve spent time learning about the creative process and making a lot of failures. Any time you switch mediums it takes you some time to learn the technical aspects of it. How many times you can do that and have enough time before you die to make something great is always an issue.

I don’t want to be a person that has potential, I want to be someone/make something that is better than me, and you hope you can create something timeless. What that is I don’t know. It’ll probably appear and be done before I know what it is I’m doing. I don’t mind being lost.

Finish this sentence. Creativity is…
a box around something real.

Anything else you would like to add?
Do you want to work on a project?…….


+ Travis Lee Wiggins homepage

+ Music video Essex Channel

One thought on “Interview – Travis Lee Wiggins”

  1. A true artist! Now I need to check out more of Travis Lee Wiggins work! And thanks for a great and funny interview Knudzich. It was a good read.

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