Oisín Kealy has a word with Hinterland’s resident live artist Jenny Soep
How did you get started on sketching live bands? What is it about the Glasgow music scene that inspired you?
I started sketching live bands in 2000 when I was studying illustration at Duncan of Jordanstone, Dundee. At the time it was the Dundee Jazz Festival and I drew Randy Brecker’s band. I was sitting at the front and while playing his trumpet he sauntered over to the front of the stage to check it out and gave me a thumbs up!
I once heard the writer Rody Gorman stating he was just a frustrated musician, and I feel the same. I don’t play an instrument, but I do sing, and always wanted to do something that was different from the norm, so I guess I translate my love for original alternative music into visuals. My aim is for people to get a sense of the experience of each live gig through the style of drawing. I also love the intrinsic qualities of text and feel the lyrics I hear, and embed into the picture, catch the viewers attention invoking memories/nostalgia or the imagination of what it could have been like.
Glasgow has such a rich tradition of contemporary and traditional music, art, the arts, creativity and innovation. It’s also a very welcoming and open minded place. I moved to Glasgow last year to be immersed in it, but I moved from a tiny village where not much happens and nearly went nuts trying to draw all the weird and wonderful and exciting goings on. I’ve taken a big step back and am aiming to be a bit more selective. Glasgow is also a fantastic base to work from as regards travelling around the rest of the country and beyond.
At the start did you have to fight the urge to edit your work post-gig? How often will a rowdy crowd interfere with your work?
Sometimes I’ll accentuate the drawings after a gig or add a few minor details I remember. I often have to go over words I’ve written down as they can tend to dissipate into the picture. I’m very lucky that I’m often in the press pit at major gigs, but when doing more intimate smaller gigs with no barriers makes for some knocks and shoving, beer and wine spillage, but it all adds to the final image. It’s evidence of the situation I was drawing in.
Press pits are still accessible to audience ‘interference’ though – drawing MIA at Connect, she encouraged an impromptu stage invasion so I had to scarper with my picture which still got some mud flung on it, as did my pictures of Bjork who played after, one of them getting some generous splashes of red wine incorporated. I actually had to add more ‘rouge’ as the stains dried a bit grey: once you know they’re wine stains they’re very noticeable.
I want the drawings to look like a human being drew and experienced them, and not some unemotional machine. Photos tend to show you what you already know, drawings illuminate what’s special.
Do the bands always know you are there, or do you ever get a few worried looks from lead singers?
Heh heh. I’d be dissapointed if they weren’t a bit curious, but I tend to try and look friendly so they don’t think I’m writing a shit review of their music. I also don’t want to put them off their stride. David Byrne was aware I was sketching him which he alluded to at the beginning of his gig. I’m waiting for the day when I get told to take my pens and fuck off.
To what extent does your enjoyment or lack thereof of the gig affect your document of the night? Does a good gig necessarily mean a good picture?
Most of the time. I draw theatre shows as well though, and one of my favourite acts, Al Seed was really difficult as it was deathly quiet and I felt I couldn’t really use my pencils and watercolours as they would have been too noisy and distracting for the audience. Gigs are definitely easier!
I use my art to learn about music, but usually do a bit of groundwork to see if the music is going to be something I’ll like. However drawing at the Futures stage at T in the Park, for some reason, I felt violently bored by a particular band, but though I felt really irritated I produced a pretty good picture, which they saw afterwards and really liked. I don’t really know what to say when a band I didn’t enjoy, like the picture. Apart from, ‘It’s yours for only a thousand quid!’.
Off the top of your head can you think of any band that has been particularly hard to draw and why?
The Second Hand Marching Band because there’s so flipping many of them and they swap around during their performance. This becomes evident in the drawings I do of them as somebody’s face will be hovering above someone else’s body. Zoey Van Goey are another band that do a bit of swapping around. The drawing I did of the Week That Was (which is currently up in my show at Mono) ‘unfeatures’ the lead singer as I started drawing him in one position planning on finishing it when he returned, which he didn’t. So the colourful suggestion of him has been written over with lyrics, in particular ‘Where do I begin’ which I get a big kick out of. That picture was bought at my preview which was nice.
What has been the highlight of your work sketching live music?
That’s hard – there’s quite a few highlights, but getting to draw David Byrne was really cool especially as I met him afterwards and he’s put my images and blog comment on his website. Big Kudos there! Drawing Bjork was amazing, then Sigur Ros last year at Connect which I was on stage for (at the side, but still onstage!). They’re lovely folks. Another biggie was being involved with Ballads of the Book, doing a one day exhibition at Tramway that grew during the day’s gigs. Because of that gig, I also got invited to draw the ‘Scottish Night’ at the Crossing Borders festival in Holland and rub shoulders with some amazing musicians – though I chose not to say anything to Patti Smith when I saw her, because I would have come out with something I’d probably regret.
What bands did you get a chance to see at Hinterland?
Well, it was really difficult as there were a lot of bands I would have liked to have seen like Slow Club, This Will Destroy You, and Sons and Daughters but it was brilliant to see and draw The Wave Pictures, the legendary Mark E Smith regardless, Foxface and Jeffrey Lewis. I have drawn Remember Remember, Zoey Van Goey, Popup, De Rosa and Punch & The Apostles, and in the future want to draw Desalvo, Mitchell Museum, Meursalt and Y’All is Fantasy Island. There’s a whole host of others I’ll learn about. So many bands, so little time! I turned 30 on Friday the 1st of May – wasn’t a bad way to enjoy it drawing two of my favourite bands.
(Jenny’s exhibition is running at Mono until mid June, if you are feeling a bit flush you might be all too easily convinced to pick one up)