Q&A with illustrator and designer John Seabury - his visually addicting works of art have been featured in the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame

"I'll try to keep this from getting overly long. In the 60s Rock n' Roll was almost inseparable from the rest of the counterculture movement."

John Seabury: Rock Around The Art

John Seabury is a Grammy nominated illustrator and designer. His visually addicting works of art have been featured in the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame, internationally acclaimed publications, and in a broad constellation of promotional material for icons. John Seabury created Pyno Man who appeared on hundreds of flyers for the late ‘70s pre-punk noise-pop band Psycotic Pineapple (he was also the bass player). Educated at the San Francisco Art Institute, Seabury is a fine artist with an attention to detail and line work that borders on psychotic obsessiveness. For decades, Seabury has been a working artist with a broad command of varied techniques and mediums. While continuously expanding the limits of his repertoire, he has engaged in the production of…                                                   John Seabury / Photo © by Bob Minkin

Psycotic Pineapple was an Emeryville band (1979-1980) that featured John Seabury (bass), Alex Carlin (keyboards), Dave Seabury (drums), and Henricus Joseph Holtman (guitar). Their flyers had a recurring cartoon character, a mischievous little pineapple man drawn by John. A band of this name opened a show for Pearl Harbor and the Explosions in Berkeley around this time, or maybe a few years later. The musicians switched instruments from one song to the next, Chinese fire-drill style, the keyboard player moving to drums, the drummer to bass, singer to guitar, etc. They were playing with a small horn section (who did not switch instruments). Eventually some guy in a big foam-rubber pineapple suit came out and danced around. Sound a bit like Geza X sometimes. The Pineapple reunited on June 24, 1988 at the Berkeley Square along with Tommy Dunbar of the Rubinoos and played a series of gigs around the East Bay around that time.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Rock n' Roll counterculture? What does the blues mean to you?

I'll try to keep this from getting overly long. In the 60s Rock n' Roll was almost inseparable from the rest of the counterculture movement. Growing up in Berkeley back then it was our whole way of life. Very different them most of the rest of the world. We had the first student protest movements, the Haight Ashbury, the first "hip" FM radio stations, the psychedelic rock posters, the underground comix and great weather! What I learned about myself may only partly been from our youth society. But I still think that I would have been an artist and musician if had grown up somewhere else. Nonconformist, loner, whatever. Part of the reason that I got into the arts is that I was lousy academic student and not very popular at school. Lot's of time on my own, not doing my homework, drawing and playing music instead. Too bad for my Dad, he was a professor at Cal Berkeley.

He was also a cartoonist. Definitely influenced me. I should be frank here and state that I am not that huge a fan of the Blues. (Visualize me ducking all the beer bottles and bar stools here) I'm more Rock n' Roll, Pop, Rhythm and Blues, Doo Wop. Songs, vocals. Vocal harmonies. Not knocking it at all, Howlin' Wolf is one of my favorite musicians in any musical style. And Screamin' Jay Hawkins is also a favorite. I like Peter Green more than Eric Clapton. Because I like his more melodic songs and a touch of psychedelic influence. Clapton is more of a purist. I'm not really into that. I discovered Otis Rush a bit late, underrated in my opinion. I like variety. By the time I really got into playing music, a lot of the local guys were only into Funk, Blues and Jazz. And most were not into singing or songwriting, just instrumental soloing. That's not a reflection on the Blues masters. I just was leaning in a different direction than my peers.

I have a regular twice-monthly gig at the Saloon in S.F. It's the oldest bar in S.F, on a block that is locally famous for Blues bands. But as a bass player. I can get bored if that's all I'm doing. Some of the musicians are superb, but a lot of the "lesser" bands seem to all play the same Chicago-style, usually sing a verse, then four choruses of solos, another verse, four more chorus solos. All night long. Mostly songs that don't need rehearsal. Kind of lowest common denominator songs. But the band I play with their (The Christopher Ford Band) is a combination of R'n'B and C&W and some crossovers. But I am no expert on the Blues.

"I miss the variety and quality of music from the 50s through the mid-70s. I feel like I've been watching it slide downhill since then. Back then, every year it seems, the styles changed a lot. Like in the 60s. First Motown, then the Beach Boys California sound, then the Beatles British Invasion, then folk rock and funk, then psychedelia, then back to the roots (like the Band), then heavy rock." (Artwork by John Seabury)

What were the reasons that you started the artistic researches? Where does your creative drive come from?

I've been drawing as long as I can remember. You could say I've always been drawn to drawing. I wish I could remember the name of my pre-school teacher back when I was 5. We had an assignment during art period. I drew a Giants game with Willie Mays catching a fly ball. But because he was way out in the outfield, I drew it from the perspective of the back wall, looking towards the batting cage. Perspective. Aged 5. He was leaping in the air and the ball had motion lines like I'd seen in the funnies. The teacher liked it so much she made me show it to the principal. I guess that encouraged me. Not that I needed it that much, since I was obsessed with comic books and illustrated stories. And a bit later, all sorts of visual art.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I already mentioned the preschool teacher, my father's influence and S. Clay Wilson. My teacher in sculpture class at SFAI was Ron Nagel. He was also a musician and it seems like we talked about music more than art! But he did once suggest that my work was too "literal". Meaning too obvious for fine art. Need to be more subtle, I guess. Which made sense, since I was making fairly cartoonish ceramics. Nagel called it "Yuk Yuk ware". I did take it to heart and it helped me later to per sue more abstract and semi-abstract art, which I rarely did when I was young.

How does the underlying philosophy of comic impact you? What touched (emotionally) you from the (power of) satire?

As I said already, my father was a cartoonist, mostly political, and had a twisted sense of humor. Combine that with growing awareness of the wide world, people and their foibles and of course all of the crazy events going on, satire came easy to me. I suppose what touched me was the relief and/or release of tension caused by all of it. We had a Christmas tradition in out family of homemade Xmas cards, which my father drew. They were all satirical to some degree. When I was maybe ten, my father asked me to do it. I didn't realize at the time that it was a job for life! My father never did another. Mine were all satirical as well.

"I generally avoid the "what ifs" like "what if they gave a war and nobody came?" (popular bumpersticker back when). Clever, but useless. But just to be nice, I'll answer it with "people should stop being assholes". That would help a lot." (Photo: John Seabury created Pyno Man who appeared on hundreds of flyers for the late ‘70s pre-punk noise-pop band Psycotic Pineapple)

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss the variety and quality of music from the 50s through the mid-70s. I feel like I've been watching it slide downhill since then. Back then, every year it seems, the styles changed a lot. Like in the 60s. First Motown, then the Beach Boys California sound, then the Beatles British Invasion, then folk rock and funk, then psychedelia, then back to the roots (like the Band), then heavy rock. It was almost too much great stuff to keep up with. And compare "She Loves You, Yeah Yeah Yeah" with "Third Stone from the Sun" from Hendrix's first album. Less than three years apart. Funny thing is, amid all of that when I was 13 (1969), I totally fell in love with 50s oldies. A few of my friends did too, but most kids my age didn't get it.

And then there was the AM radio. I kept my radio on all night, every night until I got an AM/FM set with a timer to shut off automatically. On the one hand, Top 40 radio was very repetitive, on the other hand there was a variety of popular styles, so you didn't know exactly what was coming on next. You could hear a great Dusty Springfield ballad followed by the Who, followed by James Brown etc. I have a nightly "radio show" on Facebook where I'm the laziest DJ in the world. I post a theme or just one word and my friends pack the page with all sorts of great music videos. I mean dozens, sometime hundreds. I just sit back with my martini and choose the ones I want to hear. A lot of variety. The idea came to me when I got sick of Youtube sending me down the same old rabbit holes. Same thing with Pandora. "You might also like this".

I'm pretty jaded, have been since my teens, so I don't have high hopes for the future of popular music. I know there are plenty of younger musicians who are doing it right, but since the 80s maybe, radio has segregated different types of music to cater to specific audiences, isolating listeners (and musicians) to narrow styles. Hardly any crossover songs any more. Modern streaming is an extreme extension of that. In my opinion, technology has also had bad effects on the creativity of musicians and engineers. When you had less options in the studio, you actually had to be more creative and technically able to write good songs and make good recordings. And in a much shorter time span than most modern recordings. Nothing like being on a deadline to make you think on your feet.

"When I discovered the undergrounds it was as if they were designed specifically for me! By the age of ten or eleven, I was getting tired of the mainstream comics, especially DC. After I got into underground comix, I hardly ever read DC or Marvel. And these days I'm sick of all the rehashes. A lot of the comix were local and we even had our own Comix store, Comix and Comcs." (Artwork by John Seabury)

If you could change one thing in the world/people and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I generally avoid the "what ifs" like "what if they gave a war and nobody came?" (popular bumpersticker back when). Clever, but useless. But just to be nice, I'll answer it with "people should stop being assholes". That would help a lot.

Do you consider the "Rock" culture an artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?

Hm. I think it's both, although the culture doesn't seem at all like it was when I was young. Back then, there was a lot of experimentation and cross-breeding. These days it seems like just pick a style and go with it. Blues, Punk, Rap, Metal etc. Which team do you belong to?

How has the underground comix (of the 60s) influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Oh man, when I discovered the undergrounds it was as if they were designed specifically for me! By the age of ten or eleven, I was getting tired of the mainstream comics, especially DC. After I got into underground comix, I hardly ever read DC or Marvel. And these days I'm sick of all the rehashes. A lot of the comix were local and we even had our own Comix store, Comix and Comcs. I shoplifted my first S. Clay Wilson there. He's my hero and I'm happy to say we became well-acquainted, if not close friends. I still communicate with his wife, we're online friends for real. Journeys? I dropped out of art school to play music, Psycotic Pineapple (yes that is the correct spelling). I created my own underground character Pyno Man as our "mascot". I was happier drawing flyers than I had been trying to do "real" art.

What is the impact of music and art (general) to the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications?                            Screamin' Jay Hawkins / Artwork © by John Seabury

Jeez, there's whole books on that. I'm not well read enough to give expert opinions on it!

"I'm pretty jaded, have been since my teens, so I don't have high hopes for the future of popular music. I know there are plenty of younger musicians who are doing it right, but since the 80s maybe, radio has segregated different types of music to cater to specific audiences, isolating listeners (and musicians) to narrow styles."

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

Back to my youth for sure. Not sure when. We were very fortunate to be comfortable (not at all rich) and our neighborhood was something like the Young Rascals. Getting into mischief in the overgrown back yards, roaming around the hills. We had a lot of freedom. I mean Saturday, get up, watch cartoons while stuffing ourselves cereal, then go out and play. All day. I know that that helped my creative growth. My teen years were pretty fun and crazy too, so either one.

John Seabury Art - Home

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