Saturday, March 2, 2013

Interview with Santos

The other day I was lucky enough to talk to an amazing artist whose work I love and respect so much. Santos' designs have graced the t-shirts, album covers and posters of metal bands such as Lamb of God, High on Fire, Kylesa, Torche, Yob and many more. Not only has he done illustrative work for metal bands, he's also been known to work the merch table on occasion....

Me: Thank you again for agreeing to this. You're the first person I thought of when I came up with the concept of this blog. I've never interviewed anyone so be kind. hahaha.
Santos: Thank YOU for including me on this. I'll be kind. 
"Swans of Black Ash"

Do you prefer Santos or your first name?
Santos. I haven't went by John since I was 15. There are some people that don't even know my first name. haha!

Fair enough! I get called Wichita a lot.
Ha! Funny how that happens. I always prefer Santos. John is so common a name. 

Well first & foremost I'd like to say I'm a huge fan of your work. The "Swans of Black Ash" design you did for Kylesa is one of my favorite band shirts!
Thanks! (i'm blushing as i'm bad with compliments) ha!

ME TOO! How long have you been doing ink illustrations?
I can remember inking my first designs for a few bands in high school in 87'. Shitty quick designs.

Were the designs for bands that you were in or friends' bands?
Friends' bands.

What/who were your early illustrative influences?
I read a lot of comics and Art Adams and John Byrne were two of my favorites. Of course, Pushead blew me away as soon as I found his art. I was also really into Gustave Dore' illustrations. I also thought that Derrick Riggs was a god. His Iron Maiden covers were one of the main reasons that I wanted to do cover art.

Who doesn't love Eddie? haha
Right?! I drew those covers over and over again. On desks, notebooks, for friends, and wherever I could get away with drawing him. I had almost every Iron Maiden button that I could find on my jean jacket. Obsessed.

My girlfriend is a card carrying member of the Iron Maiden fan club! hahaha
I cannot believe that I'm not one. I saw them on the Piece Of Mind tour with my friends' big brother. Changed my life.

I bet it did! HOLY CRAP!
I'm old. haha! I saw them at Red Rocks with Twisted Sister for Powerslave, with Metallica (with Cliff Burton) on Somewhere in Time, and several times even through the shitty years.haha!

Can I be you!?! I cried when I saw Cliff Burton's bass at the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame. Nerd ALERT
Ha! It was an awesome show. They had just come out with Master Of Puppets. No worries. I'm a HUGE music nerd.

Wow. When did you realize that you could/should charge bands for your designs?
I think when I did the Catheter 7" cover on Headfucker Records. I got paid a 1/4 of dank buds. So, I started charging a little bit of cash and maybe some pot on top of that, but I was just into doing art for bands. The first time that I was officially paid and knew that I could get into getting paid for all of my work was when I had inked the first design for High On Fire. I got paid $200 and was AMPED! haha!

I would have been stoked too! haha. Of course you hand illustrate all your designs correct?!?
Yeah. I'm still into the old ways, I guess. I like to get the illustrations the way that I want them to look before I scan them in to send out. Less computer work.

That is amazing! How long does it take you to finish a design for say, a band t-shirt?
Around 2 weeks. With a week of sketching and dialing in the design.

That's worth way more than $200. 
Yeah, i charge a bit more these days, but it's still way below what it should be for the time taken for each design. But, bands aren't rich and I like to keep my rates affordable for any band.

Of course. :) Can you take me through the process that occurs between you and a band when they come to you for a design?
I start by finding out if they have any ideas or themes for the design. If they do, I get as much information from them as possible concerning their idea. If they leave it up to me, I will then ask for lyrics or music so that I can come up with an idea that it relevant to the band. I then sketch out some designs and send them along to get a sense of whether or not the band is into any of my ideas. I will get the sketch to a final pencil drawing, send it along, and wait for an answer before I start inking. Once I ink, I really can't go back. If there are any changes that they want in the design, i get that info when they get the final pencils file.
"Demons & Diamonds"

Because there is so much initial discussion about the band's ideas and concepts, does it ever occur that the band decides to go in a completely different direction by the final pencil drawing?
That hasn't happened to me, yet. I have had a few people ask to add or remove things when it's finished being inked. I then inform them that it is too late and they have never really put up a bitch about it and were happy with the design regardless.

It must help that they are more or less aware of your artistic style and are coming to you for that very reason
Nowadays they are aware of that. It didn't used to be so easy.

Do you find yourself busier now that you're more accessible via the interwebs?
Yeah. Much busier. I think word of mouth has helped a ton, too. There is a chain that I can follow of bands that passed my name around for years. It was awesome and humbling. I've never had a business card not a real web site. I should think about getting one soon. haha!

Word of mouth is so cool because that's old school.
It's the best. I remember seeing High On Fire >Kylesa & A Life Once Lost. Kylesa> so many Southern bands. Scott Kelly got my name from Pike and Lamb of God got my name from Scott Kelly. Touring has also helped a ton.

I had the pleasure of meeting you (very briefly!) in NYC while you were with Torche last fall during the Converge/Torche/Kvelertak tour. How was that experience?
It was awesome. One of the best tours that I've been on. The Torche guys are some of the best. Hell, we all have the same tats now. haha!

A Harmonster right?
Yep. I love those guys.

Rick is the BEST
Yeah, I hung out with him a lot. Crazy vatos!

As a seasoned mercher (yes, I just made that up) what are some of the highs and lows working the merch table?
Highs: Meeting awesome people, making the band some cash, selling designs from many of my friends, tips, and the ease that goes with selling goods.Lows: punishers, dumb questions, rude and drunk assholes, hagglers, people looking for deals, location of the merch area, and clubs taking a % of the merch money.

WHAT? I'm so naive, I didn't realize clubs take a % of the merch money!?!

That's the first thing that I ask is what the % of the merch money goes to the club. Some clubs take a % from soft good only like shirts, hoodies, totes, etc. Some take a % from soft goods AND music. The best clubs take no % because they fucking rule and know that that is all bullshit.

It IS bullshit. They depend on that. I don't know how many times I thought I should bring extra money for merch cause I know it helps the band.
Yeah. Some places even have their people sell your stuff for you. The Paladium in Dallas, TX counts in your merch, sells it for you, AND charges a 30% fee on soft and music. I was there with Kylesa one time and the sold 2 cd's and the club STILL took their 30%.

What a bunch of pricks!
Festivals do that shit, too. On top of mark up the prices on your merch. People should definitely know that merch is directly tied to helping the band get down the road to the next show. And, instead of trying to get a deal out of the band, maybe realize that they are more than likely getting fucked by the club already.

Agreed. I can't stand when I'm at the merch table and some dude/dudette is next to me haggling about the prices! haha. It's like really? This isn't fucking Metallica, this is Skeletonwitch. This guy goes home and has a fucking job.
I know. I like when they try to get a deal out of you and you finally give them a break and they ask if you have change for a $100. Or say, I'd buy merch but I need money to drink. haha!My sign for the Torche /Converge tour merch table....

"The mantra at the merch table." - Santos 

Hahahahaha! That's brilliant!!! 
Thanks. It worked, too! I know that Kim Kelly has a "No Gods, No Masters, No deals" sign. I should ask her for a pic of it.

haha I'm pretty sure she had that during the Metal Alliance Tour! 
I think she did. 

Do you have any plans to tour this year?
Yes, I do. I might be going with Kvelertak on their US tour in April, but waiting to hear back. And, from talking to David, I may be going out with Red Fang in the fall.

Red Fang! One of my favorite bands, one of my favorite patches.
I always look forward to getting out on tour.

Other than High on Fire and the bands mentioned above, you've done designs for Yob, Sleep, Torche, Lamb of God and multiple others. What band(s) would you like to work with in the future? Iron Maiden perhaps? 
Iron Maiden would be tops, but a close second would be Neurosis. They've been my favorite band since the 80's. Scott told me that I would be doing some art for them soon, so i'm closer to that dream.
"Bastard Samurai"

That's awesome! Last but not least, what have you been listening to while you illustrate?
That's always funny because it's usually never metal. Let's see..... Neu!, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Amen Dunes, Black Math Horsemen, Ash Ra Temple, and surprisingly a lot of punk and jazz.

That all sounds great! I love Black Math Horsemen. My poor girlfriend, I've been insisting on listing to the Smiths, Wire or Hole while painting. hahahah
Hole fucking rules!

Thank you so much Santos! I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. 
Thank you for including me in this and for being the first interviewee.

You can check out more of Santos' work at his blog 
or at his Tumblr 


  1. This whole project is cool. I like the idea that you can start compiling a history of undocumented areas of a music scene.

    Also, I am impressed at the John Byrne name-drop.