Ellen Nguyen is a Night Owl who draws, designs and djs under an umbrella she calls “Afterwords”, a concept and a place where the only language spoken is the visual language. Janet Kim is a Tiny Creature, a music teacher, and a Soft Boiled Eggie who calls upon her friend Ellen when her sounds need images to accompany them. Soft Boiled Eggies are releasing their second record, Try It Again, at an 1830 show that will combine rooftop music with an inside art opening featuring the album art drawings by Ellen. This interview by Drew Denny.
Janet Kim: He was like “Call me whenever! Call me, you know, my wife doesn’t have sex with me anymore. Just let me show it to you. It’s so soft!
Ellen Nguyen: Soft!?
Wait, where did this happen?
JK: In my BATHROOM!! He was a plumber. He was fixing my toilet!!
Gross. So what’s the story with the release party?
JK: Black Black, Pocahaunted, Weave, Soft Boiled Eggies, and Tall Paul’s… “thing”. He’s doing a fashion, performance art thing. And maybe more!
EN: I’ll be showing giant litho prints of the album art inside. And I’m making posters of the back of the album.
JK: And t-shirts!
EN: Maybe… We’ll see…
JK: Or maybe people can just buy a plain shirt and glue and sew stuff onto it!
How did this collaboration come about for the album art?
JK: I asked her, she was down.
EN: At the time, I was experimenting with pencil drawings, I did some illustrations of a girl- with some abstract flowers… but it didn’t capture the feeling I wanted… when Janet told me the album title, Try It Again, I wanted to bring out the relationship aspect of it, but keep it ambiguous-
EN: At first she was going to name it after one of the songs-
JK: “Can You Send Blame”
EN: That’s when I drew the girl with the hand on her back, but it was too serious.
JK: It was almost there. But then she made something for the back and that was PERFECT. For the front.
EN: I took a still from a scene in this Czech New Wave film, Loves of a Blonde, and I drew from that. It feels serious but open-ended, no context.
JK: Definitely the right feel, something about it is just right.
EN: I got into images of hands, hand gestures and poses. I wanted to show a relationship through interaction between hands.
JK: It’s so simple, black and white.
EN: Minimal. And with the title, Try it Again, it’s sort of positive-
JK: but implies failure.
EN: The image does the same: the girl’s back, she’s turned, you can tell she’s not really all there. It’s a mixed feeling. There’s more than one interpretation.
JK: Sounds good to me.
When did this process start?
EN: 3 or 4 months ago.
JK: She did it real fast.
EN: I took a week and a half just to think about it. Then it took me three weeks, then the changes…
JK: We were recording at the same time, so we kept extending the deadline.
EN: And we did the insert too-
JK: It’s really colorful! It has lots of Donkeys-
EN: Some rainbow teardrops-
JK: Lots of pictures! Some that you took, Drew-
EN: You’re credited!
JK: Yeah, the insert is bizarre-
EN: it’s a whole different-
JK & EN: TRIP!
EN: It’s crafty, you can tell it’s home-made.
JK: I wanted it really DIY, but Ellen’s so good at design that it turned out really weird.
EN: I like spontaneous, rough, jagged art, but when I make stuff-
JK: She’s so clean!
EN: Maybe I just need to take a lot of drugs.
JK: Yeah we should have smoked up a lot or something.
EN: Next time.
JK: No, it’s good. It’s got a lot of information.
EN: I like the personal elements-
JK: Lots of pictures of Donkey-
EN: You should tell how Donkey came about.
JK: He’s a family member. A son. My teacher’s assistant. I bought him as a gift for my mom 4 years ago. He was just sitting on one of those racks at CVS. There were all these tiers of stuffed animals: Lambs, goats, then there were these little donkeys poking out at the bottom- smiling donkey faces just looking up at me. He was only $2.99 but don’t tell him that.
EN: So he’s adopted-
JK: He doesn’t remember his family. I have Donkey now, but I used to have Mr. Bear- this is so retarded- and he just loved the world. He was God-like, really, he could read your mind- but then my dad wasn’t doing very well and he asked for Mr. Bear because Mr. Bear was so-
JK: Very Zen. I missed him so much, then I saw Donkey just sitting on the TV and I was like, “He’s so cute! I need to hold him, just for a minute.” So I bought him as a gift and then I took him back! He got all wrapped up in these pink satin underwear during the move, but I took the underwear off him, and he just came to life- like ‘I’m naked!’
When did you two meet?
JK: When I met Ben (Eggies bassist, Part Time Punks/Punky Reggae DJ), I met Ellen.
EN: But I’d heard of you… Like two years ago?
EN: Ben was djing in Hollywood at Via. It was the only place to go hear good music… Ben and Andrew- they played all the post-punk.
JK: They had so many records! Andrew has a crazy collection.
EN: And I heard about Ben’s girlfriend-
JK: I wanted to start a band…. And start doing art stuff, and I’d been looking at Ellen’s website for like a year-
JK: No! I didn’t go to it everyday, I just liked it. And a year later,
EN: She got the space .
JK: And I asked her to show, for the very first show at Tiny Creatures with Matt Fishbeck.
EN: I was doing collage stuff at the time, literally cutting and pasting images from magazines, scanning them in, then I started the line drawing designs… but I wanted actual tactile pieces that I could hang up on a wall.
JK: I asked her right before the show-
EN: It was short notice! I worked everyday.
JK: That was an amazing show. Cause you walked in and everything was so huge! Ellen and Matt both, it was so good.
EN: It was a good beginning.
JK: A debut.
EN: I was working 9-5, you know, so that show was an experiment-
JK: Matt’s first, too.
So you just make people-
JK: Make things.
When was that?
JK: That was October, 2006. Then Ellen showed again in the 1 year retrospective, in September 2007, and you wrote the article about her in the Tiny Creatures zine.
Wow, this is so-
EN: Full circle?
Something like that…
JK: When I saw Ellen’s drawings for that show, I knew I wanted them for the record art.
EN: Those shows, and the show at the Show Cave, helped me figure it out… starting to really draw, making those gigantic litho prints, I was so unsure at first. But I love them now.
How long will the art be up after the record release?
EN: One night only. 1830 is a performance arts space really, it’s all about the night. The moment.
EN: Just going keep trying to do something different. Challenge myself.
EN: It’s a hard market. There’s the mass market, they’re afraid of what’s different, but even the hipsters are afraid to be different! I work at a t-shirt company now, and it’s all, ‘the t-shirt represents the person, the image and the text say for who they are’… UGH! My designs do not fit into that. But I don’t mind working.. it creates routine.
And for you, Janet?
JK: Tour. UK. We’re going all over England and Scotland for 10 days in August. Upset the Rhythm is putting out this album so it should be fun- They put out No Age, John Maus, Barr…
EN: Did you know John Frusciante was there last night (Three Burritos closing at Tiny Creatures)
That guy with the amazing beard?
JK: Crazy… I wonder why he came? Maybe No Age.. or Cali.. or Spanky??
EN: He had a car and driver waiting out front the whole time!
JK: That’s cool that he still hangs out on the underground-
Tiny Creatures gettin classy?
JK: Na… No way.
SOFT BOILED EGGIES WITH BLACK BLACK, POCAHAUNTED, WEAVE AND TALL PAUL, FEATURING ALBUM ART BY ELLEN NGUYEN OF AFTERWORDS DESIGN ON SAT., MAY 31, AT 1830, 1830 SUNSET BLVD., ECHO PARK. MORE INFORMATION AT EIGHTEEN-THIRTY.COM. SOFT BOILED EGGIES’ TRY IT AGAIN RELEASES SAT., MAY 31, ON UPSET THE RHYTHM. VISIT THE SOFT BOILED EGGIES AT SOFTBOILEDEGGIES.COM. VISIT ELLEN NGUYEN AT AFTERWORDSDESIGN.COM.