Interview with multitalented Laurie Sidis an accomplished artist, designer, musician, archivist and writer

"In my world, art and music are all connected.  I visualize what I want to see and hear."

Laurie Sidis: Rock n' Roll Fantasy

Laurie Sidis is an accomplished artist, designer, musician, archivist and writer. The design company - Armadillicious Design was so named after her lifelong fascination with the armadillo (aka the texas turkey). Bassist and founding member of Lynette Skynyrd, Laurie's passion for this seminal music makes her the perfect female counterpart to Leon Wilkeson. It was always Laurie's original vision to be Lynette's bass player. As fate would have it, the honor of channeling Ronnie Van Zant fell to her.

In the first 3 years of Lynette's existence, Laurie was the singer and frontwoman for the band. At the beginning of 2014, Laurie revisited the idea of her original vision. With 3 years of solid band history behind her, Laurie knew it was the right time to pursue the lower netheregions of the fretboard. Laurie has served as bassist, vocalist, guitarist and songwriter for Hallowed Engine, Dirty Red, Higher Octane, Special Head, Motochronic and Wet (just to name a few). East Coast rockers recognize the name Laurie Es from her weekly radio show on WFMU in the 80's and 90's. She is a published rock journalist with features that have appeared in The Village Voice, The Austin Chronicle, The Album Network and Seconds Magazine.

In addition to providing those legendary Leon Wilkeson basslines , Laurie also creates all the artwork for Lynette's iconic gigposters. She is a lifelong Skynyrd fan and it was her vision that formed Lynette Skynyrd. Lead singer, Laurie Es also does all the artwork for Lynette Skynyrd also for other bands and events.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from you’re the ARTS (visual, music etc.) and what does "ART" means to you?

In my world, art and music are all connected. I visualize what I want to see and hear. I feel fortunate that I have the skills to execute it. Having that talent at my fingertips is like a magic power. I know there are a lot of other musicians out there that don’t have the luxury to design their own artwork. Those of us that can, I call Sonic Aestheticians.

Growing up, there was this toy called ‘Lite Brite’. The commercial had this happy little song: “Lite Brite – Making things with light – Outtasight! Making thing with Lite Brite”. That song always stayed with me because it’s such a perfect metaphor for the creative process. I derive a tremendous satisfaction in the execution. If you don’t love the process, the finished piece will reflect that.

"When I was a little kid, I used to draw on the walls with my crayons. My mom bought me sketch pads, but I insisted on tagging our house. She finally gave up and just let me go hog-wild." 

What characterize Laurie Es’ artwork and how do you describe your artistic philosophy?

I find clean, thick lines within a distressed environment characterize most of my artwork. In almost all my posters, there will be an ornate frame that holds the subject matter. Very often, the band name lettering will be part of the frame. Like the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd, my art has many layers to it.

With many of my designs, the background will contain a continuous ghosted image like an old sheet of blotter acid. These teeny little striking icons seem meaningless as a single entity, yet have incredible impact when grouped together on a grid.

I am very influenced by the artwork that was used in the 19th Century Medicine Bottles. I love to create imagery that looks like something you would find in the attic of an old house. The Lynette Skynyrd album cover is a perfect example. I wanted it to be a composite of icons that represent the music and the band.  What sums up our group aesthetic? Whisky bottles, old skeleton keys, turquoise jewelry, red velvet, dirt – all held together in a barb-wire frame. We’re the earth mamas with hearts of gold, telling Ronnie’s story. Lynette Skynyrd is feminine, but rough around the edges. I think the album cover speaks to the music and vibe of the band.

I grew up on LP’s with covers designed by Hipgnosis. In those days you could buy an album, spend the entire day spinning the vinyl, reading the lyrics, tacking the poster on your bedroom wall and rolling a joint in the gatefold. Time well spent.

I’m really into iconography and symbolism. I think the rebel flag is such an amazing design. I love the symmetry of the 13 stars. It’s perfect! When I see the stars and bars, it immediately reminds me of the seventies: The General E. Lee on ‘Dukes of Hazard’ and of course ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd’. I think it’s such a shame that hate groups have sabotaged the rebel flag and made it into something negative.

When I created the Lynette Skynyrd logo, I wanted to create a memorable branding that was completely different than any of the Lynyrd Skynyrd logos I’ve ever seen. The Mudflap Mama is the universal trucker icon. You can’t ride down a highway and not see her protecting the tires on some 18-wheeler. Give her a Les Paul and she becomes the spokesperson for a group of well-traveled  American women, playing the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

One of my favorite logos of all time has to be the Creem Magazine mascot ‘Boy Howdy’ by Robert Crumb. He’s just a smiling bottle of beer, sitting in a circle. If you grew up in the seventies, you knew that image. We were all in on the joke. Although we were not altogether certain what the punchline was. It didn’t matter. Creem was smarter than everyone else. If they told us that all the rock stars were drinking Boy Howdy Beer, we wanted to wear the t-shirt.

There is so much visual media out there today. You literally have 10 seconds to catch someone’s attention, so everything you put out there has to have power. Much of this is subjective. Just because I think it’s cool doesn’t necessarily mean everyone else is going to share my opinion. So there’s also a psychology that I try to incorporate. Psychological studies have been done for years with the Rorschach test. Here’s this ambiguous shape. What does it mean to you? Everyone who sees the same picture will have a different response. But take a piece of paper with hundreds of those images, put a circle in the middle of the page and your attention will be focused on the circle. Why? Because that’s a natural cerebral response to stimuli. Advertising Companies spend millions of dollars every year trying to figure out how they can generate that same response to make us buy things.

"One of my favorite gifts I have ever received is a coffee table book called “The Art of Rock” which not only includes the gigposters from Family Dog, but also The Tomorrow Guys who designed all the artwork for Armadillo World Headquarters. I’ve often looked to that book whenever I need inspiration."

What experiences in your life have triggered your ideas for posters most frequently?

When I was a little kid, I used to draw on the walls with my crayons. My mom bought me sketch pads, but I insisted on tagging our house. She finally gave up and just let me go hog-wild. You can imagine what my bedroom looked like growing up. It was 4 walls of blacklight posters and hand-painted murals. That worked well for me because it kept my parents from barging into my room.

I am a huge fan of the armadillo. I discovered that strange creature when I was 12 and I’ve been collecting them ever since. Somehow, that animal finds his way into many of my posters and artwork - if not blatantly, then subliminally. There was an entire group of Austin, Texas artists back in the 70’s who created posters for Armadillo World Headquarters. The name for the venue was inspired by the use of armadillos as a symbol in the artwork of Jim Franklin, a local poster artist, and from the building itself. In choosing the mascot for the new venture, Wilson and his partners wanted an “armored” animal since the building was an old armory.

I think my creative process for posters is very similar to the way a baker would create a Birthday Cake. Rock posters are made to advertise and commemorate an event and the musician. What visual imagery will I apply to announce the occasion? If it’s a poster for Black Oak Arkansas, I’m gonna put a washboard or an acorn in there somewhere. If it’s for a show in the desert, I’ll draw cowskulls, vultures and cacti.

The Italian Western of the 1960’s and 70’s have inspired much of my poster art. The fiery colors and heavy lines emulate a gritty cinematic atmosphere. When I think of the films of Sergio Leone, two things immediately comes to my mind : the poster art from ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ and the theme from ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’. The visual and the auditory are simultaneous, yet represent two entirely different elements.

"I find clean, thick lines within a distressed environment characterize most of my artwork. In almost all my posters, there will be an ornate frame that holds the subject matter."

What are some of the most memorable posters and prints you've had? What is the relation between music and visual art?

I had a lot of fun designing the ‘Back To The Desert’ Tour Poster for Truckfighters and Dozer. It’s a tribal woman, meditating in the desert. Sitting on her blanket is a peacepipe and a cup of mushroom tea. It tells a story of an ancient culture and Indian mysticism.

The Hawkwind Tribute Poster is one of my all-time favs. Hawkwind’s dancer, Stacia has appeared on their album covers and posters back in the seventies. I did my own take on her with wings, inside a psychedelic vortex. It celebrates the power of woman and the atmospheric soundscape of Space Rock.

Before I formed Lynette Skynyrd, I played bass in several original bands. My band Dirty Red was invited to play a Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute where each band would play 4 or 5 covers. That was one of those situations where I wanted to boil the event poster down to it’s barest elements and let it speak for the music. Putting Ronnie’s face on a bucket of chicken was like saying “These musicians are coming together to celebrate an American institution”.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Family Dog with your art? What do you miss most nowadays from the Acid Art?

One of my favorite gifts I have ever received is a coffee table book called “The Art of Rock” which not only includes the gigposters from Family Dog, but also The Tomorrow Guys who designed all the artwork for Armadillo World Headquarters. I’ve often looked to that book whenever I need inspiration. Some may say that I’m hearkening back to a dead era, but I think it’s timeless. Even if you’ve never heard a note of the music, you can just look at one of those posters and know what the concert is gonna sound like. Back in the heyday of Haight Ashbury, the counter-culture was so blitzed on acid, it didn’t matter who was playing at The Fillmore. “The poster is a naked orange lady with giant tits and an even larger afro, juggling planets in outer space. Come on, Man! Let’s go the the freakout!” Now that’s an effective marketing tool.

I think the main difference between today and the hippie era is that we now live in a paperless society. People are more likely to see my posters online than they would on the wall at Amoeba Records. Naturally, that tiny image on your computer is never going to have the same impact that a giant poster, printed on glossy cardstock. The same way a CD Booklet Cover could never blow your mind like the gatefold of an LP.

"There is so much visual media out there today. You literally have 10 seconds to catch someone’s attention, so everything you put out there has to have power. Much of this is subjective."

Let’s take a trip with a time machine for the next 24 hours, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day?

Since I get to travel in time, I want to make some changes in history: First, I would go back to Deadwood South Dakota on August 2, 1876 and make sure Wild Bill Hickock isn’t sitting with his back to the door of the Number 10 Saloon. Then, on the way back to 2014, I would stop off on October 20, 1977 and warn Lynyrd Skynyrd not to get on that plane.  I know the first rule of time travel is to not mess with the space/time continuum, but when will I ever get this opportunity again?

What do you miss most nowadays from the Southern Rock of 70s? Do you believe in the existence of real Dixie Rock nowadays?

There are some really great Southern Rock Bands out there today – Blackberry Smoke, Preacherstone, HogJaw. Some of our favorites from the seventies never really went away - Black Oak Arkansas, Point Blank, Outlaws, 38 Special, Marshall Tucker, Molly Hatchett, Blackfoot. We don’t really hear as much about them today because the media is so focused on the latest winner of the ‘X-Factor’.

I had a long conversation with Artimus Pyle about what he thought about the current state of music. He said “the contestants on  ‘American Idol’ may have some talent, but they have no idea of what it’s like to get in a van, travel 500 miles and play a show for 50 people as if you were playing for 5000.”

There’s a certain integrity that existed within the Southern Rock of 70’s. Too many artists today want the fastest, easiest way to get to the top. Perhaps it was that ethic of the working man in that music that we all found so appealing. Does Dixie Rock exist today? Absolutely, but it’s a much harder road to ride.

"I am very influenced by the artwork that was used in the 19th Century Medicine Bottles. I love to create imagery that looks like something you would find in the attic of an old house."

How you would spend a day with Rick Griffin?  What would you say to Chet Helms?  What would you like to ask Salvador Dali?

Besides being one of the leading designers of psychedelic posters, Rick Griffin also was a regular contributor to the underground comix movement. I’d like to spend the day bopping around some dusty old book stores and then at night, we’d go see that Big Brother / Albert King concert I missed because I was too young. Maybe at some point he can reveal why so many of his posters and comics contain eyeballs with wings.

Without Chet Helms, I don’t think Janis Joplin would ever have become so legendary. He was instrumental in convincing her to quit school, move to San Francisco and join Big Brother and The Holding Company. He gave them their first show and ultimately became their manager. He introduced Janis at the Monterey Pop Festival, thus marking her elevation to national prominence. Above all, Chet Helms will forever be remembered as the man who brought people together. The world will never see another promoter as selfless as Chet Helms. I would just have to thank him for giving the world the opportunity to see and hear so much great music.

I’d have to ask Salvador Dali if he ever felt like time was just melting away? I’m sure no one ever asked him that before.

What is it like to be a female rock artist in a “Man’s Man’s World” as James Brown says? What is the status of women in rock?

We’ve had lots of male musicians approach us who want to play on our stage. At various times, we’ve actually had some special guest dudes who rocked with us with a mutual respect. But there’s always those guys who approach playing with us as a way to boost their own egos: “Hey, little lady, let me show you how it’s done.” I always find that hilarious, because half the time, they don’t really know how to play these songs correctly and we end up having to school them. They’re always a bit humbled once they realize that we are deadly serious about what we do and really good at it.

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