I’m pretty much a magazine junkie. For the ones that provide superior content anyway. Like Milan’s Pig magazine. As much as I like the immediacy of the web, nothing can replace the experience of walking up to a magazine rack, surveying the field, finding something that catches your discriminating eye and getting lost inside the pages. It’s how I discovered Lemon magazine 3-4 years ago. I almost forgot about the magazine too (they only come out once per year, dammit), but I was at the stand a little while back and their latest issue, Heroes, featuring Daft Punk striking Bowie’s famous pose from the cover of his Heroes album, caught my eye. Unified by a single theme as usual, the issue is a tribute to the brilliance of David Bowie. I do concur. They even got Bowie himself to contribute artwork to the issue. How sweet is that?
Thoroughly impressed once again by the obsessive attention to detail, I figured I’d hit up their website and find out who the hell these guys are. Surprise surprise…it just so happened to be Kevin Grady and Colin Metcalf (Grady & Metcalf), the talent behind Gum, another magazine I fell in love with a while back, but which unfortunately disappeared a few years ago. Gum was a brilliant take on pop culture, a true celebration of art, design and music with an over-the-top graphic sensibility. “A piñata filled with goodies like books, comics, View-Master reels, gumballs, etc”. When Gum went away due to being really cost-prohibitive to produce, Lemon was born. Like Gum, Lemon puts an interesting twist on pop culture — this time around finding a balance between the ‘60s and ‘70s and 21st century hyper culture. There’s a textural and conceptual richness to Kevin and Colin’s work that goes way beyond the scope of normal publishing. Their magazines don’t reek of propaganda, or falsity, or meaningless collaborations. There’s a real chemistry in what Kevin and Colin do and they clearly possess the ability to make jaw dropping, awe-inspiring, thought-provoking magazines. Lemon is proof.
Make the Jump to read the conversation Kevin Grady and I had about the magazine, the creative process and the world of publishing. Class is in session… Prof. Grady is about to speak.
Before that, though. I asked Kevin to make Lost In A Supermarket a soundtrack to the new issue of Lemon. This is what he came up with.
“Life on Mars” Seu Jorge
“Bowie” Flight of the Conchords
“Sound and Vision” Matthew Dear
“Heroes” TV on the Radio
“Major Tom” Shiny Toy Guns
“Kilometer” Sebastien Tellier
“Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” LCD Soundsystem
“In Dark Trees” Brian Eno
“Queen Bitch” David Bowie
“U Can Dance (featuring Bryan Ferry)” DJ Hell
“What’s uncommon about Lemon is the extent to which we explore that theme. Each issue is like a big costume party, and all of our “guests” are expected to dress the part.” – Kevin Grady
How did you originally link up with Colin Metcalf?
Kevin Grady: Colin and I met in college in Colorado many years ago. I think the first encounter I had with him was when he insulted my bass playing in our dorm. We eventually became good friends and talked for years about doing some kind of venture together. In 2002, we started GUM. It was lot’s of fun, but really cost-prohibitive to produce. So in 2006 we decided to move to a more conventional format and Lemon was born.
Lemon is essentially Colin and myself. We edit, design and publish it. We’ve had some help over the years from some very talented friends and associates, including Robert Bundy, Adam Larson and Guido Vitti. It’s a true labor of love, fuelled mostly by an obsession with all things Pop and a love of print.
What bassline were you riffing when Colin called out? Was he right—are you any good?
God knows. Something with very few notes. And he was probably right—I was pretty new with the instrument so I wasn’t exactly Jaco Pastorius. But I was better than Colin!
Can you articulate what is it about pop culture that fascinates you so much?
I think it’s the sense of escape that it provides. I’m a fairly serious person, and pop culture in general is a needed release from the hardships of life. It’s also part of our collective memory, which I like. I’d rather refer to some element of pop culture that everyone can relate to on the cover of Lemon than do something so obscure that it means very little to very few. I think that’s why Warhol was so successful—he was working with mass shared experiences.
How would you describe your style and personality? Colin’s too.
In terms of style, we’re both fashion conscious but too old to really care what the kids are wearing. We’re bored to death with sneakers and t-shirts. I guess you could say that we’re trying to age gracefully.
Personality-wise, I think most people would say we’re pretty nice guys. We both do a fair amount of work with ad agencies and are constantly surprised by the Super Egos we encounter there. That’s not us. We both feel confident in our creative abilities but also have a firm understanding of our weaknesses, which keeps us pretty humble.
When we’re together, we also spend a lot of time making funny voices. We imitate Tennessee Tuxedo and Chumley a lot (now we’re dating ourselves!). I have no idea why.
Personal experience tells me that Super Egos usually come from a place of insecurity. Not really a question, but if you have something to say about it, please do.
I tend to agree with that. There’s generally a massive lack of perspective involved as well.
What kind of work do you do with ad agencies — is that your day job? Do you ever knock back a noon scotch n’ soda and pretend you’re Don Draper?
It’s been my daytime job at various points in my career, but I’ve mostly worked in graphic design companies. I’ve also worked on my own as a freelancer. I’m generally very critical of advertising but I first got into it to work on the Truth anti-tobacco industry campaign, which I felt was a great use of my time. Currently, I’m the design director at Crispin Porter + Bogusky. It’s a challenging environment. The scotch and soda generally has to wait until nighttime though, sadly.
What does your desk look like?
As far as Lemon is concerned, my “desk” has been my trusty Powerbook G4. I mostly work sitting on a couch in my living room. Not the best ergonomic situation.
While I’m working, I do love to surround myself with some of the things I love: CDs of whatever music I’m listening to at the moment (right now it’s The Psychedelic Furs, Wild Beasts and Mew), art and design books (currently a Barney Bubbles retrospective called “Reasons to Be Cheerful”) and so on. I’ll pick these up and leaf through them now and again as I’m working. I absolutely love the tactile nature of books and magazines and also the physical manifestation of music through packaging. Music without a nice cover just doesn’t sound as good.
Barney Bubbles’ logo design for Ian Dury & the Blockheads is pretty amazing. Have you ever bought an album strictly because of the cover art?
I do that all the time. I’m a big believer that the cover art literally effects how we hear the music itself. An album with a crappy cover just doesn’t sound as good to me.
What’s more valuable, the music on your iPod or the device itself?
How do you go about putting together an issue? Do you take a lot of pitches, or do you assign your vision? Has an unknown artist hit you up outta know where that you ended up doing a feature on?
Editorial responsibility has fallen mostly on my shoulders, and I simply concentrate on content that is personally exciting to me and assign from there.
Each Lemon explores a specific theme, which is common with magazines. What’s uncommon about Lemon is the extent to which we explore that theme. Each issue is like a big costume party, and all of our “guests” are expected to dress the part. We started with “Supernatural” and “Espionage,” but our two most recent editions have looked to specific people for thematic direction. So our third edition ended up being a Kubrick tribute called “A Clockwork Lemon,” and the current one is “Heroes,” a celebration of David Bowie’s creative legacy. We had Daft Punk imitating Bowie’s iconic “Heroes” pose on the cover. We talked to astronaut Buzz Aldrin, a nod to Major Tom. It’s a fun approach.
And we do get lots of submissions. Very occasionally these have led to actual assignments in Lemon.
As you’re an obvious fan of Bowie, did you discover anything cool/weird/intriguing about him while putting together the issue?
Keanan Duffty (fashion designer, musician and TV host) said that Bowie told him he doesn’t consider himself as someone who’s particularly interested in fashion, or something to that effect. That was a pretty surprising thing to hear.
What magazines do you pick up and read? What is it about them that you like?
I read very few specific magazines regularly. I do pick up Grafik, a design magazine published in the UK, and am consistently inspired by the work I see there. Otherwise, I tend to pick up the odd issue of anything that grabs me based on content: Interview, Psychology Today, whatever looks interesting for reading on the plane.
I love collecting older publications and have compiled a complete collection of Ralph Ginzburg’s Avant-Garde magazine, designed by Herb Lubalin. That magazine was a big inspiration for Lemon, even down to the distinctive square format. I love looking through old books and magazines, particularly ones from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. I just love the general aesthetic and simplicity of much of the artwork and design from back then.
If you could choose 3 people to read your magazine on a regular basis who would that be?
Um, at the risk of over-doing it: David Bowie. Because he’s David Bowie. Jarvis Cocker, because his overall artistic sensibility seems very similar to ours. I’ve even considered asking him to be a guest editor for an issue. And Andy Warhol. Which might be a little difficult, but who knows: maybe there’s an all-encompassing collective consciousness or something. God knows he’s been a huge influence.
How do you feel about the Internet in relationship to your job?
To me, the Internet represents targeted entertainment and access to information. I use YouTube instead of my TV for most of my entertainment, and I love having access to information on whatever esoteric subject I’m into at the moment. But I have to admit that I’ve never been creatively excited by the medium itself. As a designer, the lack of a tactile aspect really leaves me cold.
Do you think the Internet generation is going to miss out on something important with technology like the Kindle?
It’s hard to say because what’s important to one generation may not be that important to another, and I’m obviously biased. I do think the shift from analog to digital mediums is inevitable, so what will be, will be, I guess.
What’s the most frustrating aspect of your job?
Since Lemon comes out so infrequently, we really want each issue to be amazing. And that adds a lot of pressure. It can at times induce a kind of creative paralysis, because once it’s printed, it’s printed, and that’s that. It’s not so much frustrating as challenging.
How much time do you spend putting together an issue? Do you already have a theme in mind for your next issue?
It takes several months of initial exploration and then a good two months of solid work. I’m trying to think of the next theme and am searching for another personality with as much cultural resonance as Stanley Kubrick and David Bowie, who we featured in our past two editions. Maybe it’ll be the “King of Pop” issue…
In your opinion why is print publishing having such a hard time?
Publishing is going through a natural transition and extension into various digital media. There’s no fighting it. Ultimately advertising dollars are going in many directions beyond print, so it’s simply harder to find money to pay for printing and distribution.
I love the idea of having “sponsors” rather than advertisers. Has this approach helped Lemon?
I think so, yes. We don’t make sense as an ordinary ad buy, particularly in this economy. But offering a more prominent and exclusive presence in such an elaborate publication has been an attractive alternative for some of our advertisers. It’s been working out pretty well so far.
If money and resources weren’t in the equation, how would Lemon magazine be different than it is right now?
It would come out a lot more frequently, probably on a quarterly basis. Otherwise, I think we’re doing things pretty much the way we’d optimally like to do them.