Quit Your Day Job: The Postmarks
Stereogum favorites, The Postmarks, are a sad ‘n’ sunny Miami indie-pop trio consisting of Ivy/Concretes-style vocalist Tim Yehezkely (yeah, a girl) and lush, soundscaping multi-instrumentalists Christopher Moll and Jon Wilkins. Yehezkely’s listed first because she’s the focus, both on record and via the band’s nostalgic, Sirkian album art, which makes perfect sense with their cinematic Bacharachian sound: Magnetic Fields-friendly Peter Bjorn & John without the backlash? Live, the trio balloons to a six piece, which no doubt aids in those rainy-day string swells.
The Postmarks have been on our minds lately, so I decided to approach them about their day jobs/current student status. (You graphic designers out there will be happy with this one.) In celebration of the moment, we’re including a remix of their best song, “Goodbye,” by Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha, who, in fact, gets otherwise mentioned below…
STEREOGUM: How’d you get involved in graphic design?
JON WILKINS: I started working for the tabloids in 1995 as an editorial assistant and writer. I saw that graphic design was a way to move up so I taught myself Quark XPress … when I felt I was ready, I requested to be made a designer. The Editor at the time was very open to employees trying new things so it wasn’t a problem.
STEREOGUM: You were at Weekly World News … but no longer?
JW: The tabloids are going through a financial crisis right now. Their future looks pretty dismal, due mainly to the hubris of the owner and stiff competition from other publications. I was laid-off a few months ago but would have quit last month because of all the band commitments. My title was Art Director, but I primarily did page layout and photo retouching for the Weekly World News. I loved working there because it was very much like a family. I started with the tabs around 1994 and had a great run with them off and on. In their heyday, it was a great place to work. My background, though, is in journalism. Not sure if you’ve noticed, but it seems like the journalistic arts are sorely lacking with most “music writers”. Research and “getting it right” seem to be a thing of the past. I’ve seen my name spelled “Jonte Watkins”… and James Iha referred to as the “bassist for the Smashing Pumpkins.” I’m glad to see Stereogum has some journalistic integrity. Keep it up!
STEREOGUM: Thanks, though now I’m going to be paranoid about typos. As far as facts go, has anyone referred to Tim as “he”?
JW: Funny enough, no one has yet to think Tim is a guy, at least not in any of the print reviews or features I’ve read … and they spell her name right every time! They can’t get “Moll” right, but “Yehezkely” seems to be no problem. Seriously, how hard is it to look at the website or the CD cover? I think most of the so-called “music writers” out there simply piece together their story from other blogs, therefore perpetuating misspellings and factual errors. When I see my name spelled “Wilkins” in the first paragraph, then “Watkins” in the third, it begs the question, who the fuck is editing this shit? One major mistake is writers trying to edit themselves … they’ll always miss something, no matter how many times they re-read it. Granted, a lot of these are blogs or DIY zines that have a single writer who also acts as editor and publisher, but find a friend to help out, anything!
STEREOGUM: As a journalist, what did you write?
JW: I started out doing TOH (top-of-head) stories for The Sun. Basically, you’d come up with an idea, like, “Father finds lost son in belly of great white shark!” Then, you have to write a news story about it, the more believable the better, with fake sources, photos, etc. When I moved to San Francisco, I switched over to journalistic fare at a newspaper, then went to work for a trade magazine that dealt with mobile e-business. After returning to Florida, I started writing freelance music reviews and features for the local free magazine.
STEREOGUM: Who are some contemporary music writers you enjoy?
JW: The only music writer I read is Robert Christgau. He remains one of the best out there. Even if my band got slammed, I’d still enjoy reading it. Also, writers like yourself and Marc Hogan over at Pitchfork seem to get what we’re doing and are very insightful and literate.
STEREOGUM: Well, thanks. How’d you guys come up with the Postmarks signature look?
JW: I think it’s no secret that on this record we were utilizing many influences from ’60s pop to ’80s no wave … the record cover art reflects that. The lyric book inside was Tim’s idea, I think. The lyrics were all handwritten by her. As for record design today, I think the fact that CDs dominate the music market has limited creativity for the most part. But occasionally you can find interesting designs, like the packaging for the Modest Mouse’s Building Nothing Out Of Something. The Silversun Pickups record has an interesting piece on the cover, and a great font. There’s a record by Lewis Taylor called The Lost Album that captures the ’70s perfectly.
STEREOGUM: Can you name some classic or contemporary cover art you think of as successful?
JW: I remember Foreigner’s Head Games being quite interesting with the girl trying to pee in a men’s urinal … but nudity (whether suggested or blatant) can sometimes work against you. The naked dude on all the Rush covers was kind of embarrassing. But bands that continue a theme have the best idea. Like the Dean covers for Yes, or Derek Riggs’s paintings for Iron Maiden. Unless you have a great gimmick or look (Kiss, W.A.S.P., The Beatles) putting yourself on the cover is kind of ridiculous. That’s why Chris and I are on the inside — no argument to that!
STEREOGUM: Have you ever worked on websites, or in that general “electronic” realm? Do you think blogs, MP3 sites, etc., have contributed to the tabloids’ aforementioned “financial crisis”?
JW: When I lived in San Francisco in the late ’90s/early-2000s, I witnessed the Internet boom and worked for several before the big crash. But none of them had any affect on the tabloid’s demise. Granted, they’re not dead yet, and I hope my friends there have a job for a long time, but I think you’ll see the once formidable tabloid leviathan slim down to a more manageable size, due more to better competition from print media like US Weekly and cable channels like E! more than anything else. Blogs break some stories, but they rarely get the big ones. Tabloids and magazines have massive budgets for investigators and lawyers … blogs rely on who they know and a healthy bit of luck.
STEREOGUM: What are you doing now?
JW: Currently, I’m working on screenplays. I’ve been in love with film since I was a wee lad. Bought my first Super 8mm camera when I was 12. My ultimate goal is to be a filmmaker like David Lynch or John Carpenter; someone who writes, directs, and composes the music for his films.
STEREOGUM: Or, Vincent Gallo. Actually, I have a soft spot for that guy … What do your screenplays/films cover?
JW: Ahhh, Vince. He’s funny. I really dug Buffalo ’66. The scene at the end where he’s in the club and the camera starts doing the Matrix thing with that Yes song pounding away … come to think of it, The Matrix was released in 1999, while Buffalo ’66 came out in 1998 … hmmm … looks like the Wachowski’s weren’t the real innovators. The Brown Bunny was interesting as a meditation on a road trip. I still think the BJ scene was fake, even though Clöe was dating Vince at the time. My films tend to cover strange territory … like Lynch and Carpenter. Small towns, murders, secret pasts, odd characters. I turned a script I co-wrote with some friends called Drifter Smile into a graphic novel by a great artist named Rob Croonenborghs. You can check it out at www.pulpdeluxe.be. My latest script is about two old billionaire brothers who play deadly pranks on people, and each other.
STEREOGUM: You’re a graphic designer. Can you tell me a bit about that?
CHRISTOPHER MOLL: Basically, a very similar position to Jon’s, but a heck of a lot more boring. I do layout for promotional and marketing materials, help put together presentations both print and multimedia. Real cut and dry and corporate, though I’m the artistic guy at the the office so they give me more breathing room.
STEREOGUM: Do you have a fine arts background?
CM: I did for awhile, but walked away from it.
STEREOGUM: What kind of art did you make?
CM: Pretty much all the mediums: drawing, painting, sculpting. Towards the end I really started to focus exclusively on charcoal drawings. I really liked the moodiness of the medium; it was like exploring an intense black & white, cinematic world. While I had the physical mechanics down pat, I never felt as personally validated with art as I do with music. And yet, possibly, it’s why my music has a very visual sense because those two elements are very closely tied together within me.
STEREOGUM: What do you mean by a “visual sense”?
CM: Well, I’ve always heard my own music in a very visual kind of way. Almost like a soundtrack playing in my mind for everyday events that I’m going through: Walking through the rain and I’ll hear some accompaniment, sitting quiet at night with the crickets and I hear the background music. I want to convey that emotional synergy between the visual and the musical to my listeners.
STEREOGUM: In the work realm, can you give me some details about a few recent presentations or marketing campaigns?
CM: Really, it’s a lot more boring then it sounds. Basically I’ve worked for the same company for a very long time and have carved a niche for myself. This allows me to bring my creativity to the table in a way that is not very mentally taxing, which certainly allows me room outside of the day job to push the envelope of my music.
STEREOGUM: Did you meet Jon in the graphic arts realm?
CM: No, Jon played with my last band See Venus, after our original drummer got a job working at Apogee out in California. We hit it off — kindred spirits so to speak — and there you have it.
STEREOGUM: Bringing this to the musical realm: As far as record covers go, can you name some classic or contemporary cover art that you think is really successful?
CM: Hands down I’d have to go with The Smiths. I can’t think of any other band off the top of my head who’s cover art inspired so many other bands to just go ahead and copy that look wholesale. Can one ever stick a duotone photo of an old film star with a simple clean font announcing the band name on a cover without hearing accusations of plagiarism? Probably not…
STEREOGUM: How about the Morrissey solo records?
CM: Well, since he designed all of the Smiths covers I guess there is some visual continuity. He had himself in a bit of a predicament at the start of his solo career — he had a very distinct eye for the universe he wanted to visually create, but also wanted to distance himself from The Smiths and his past. He decided to focus on himself as the star rather then the cinematic stars of his youth. Sometimes it’s worked, other times maybe not as well.
STEREOGUM: Do you design the band’s merchandise, etc? If so, is it tough deciding what to do with two designers in the band?
CM: Well, we’ve kind of leaned on a close friend of the band, Brian Hill (who happens to play bass in the live lineup as well) to help throw ideas at us, be a sounding board for the ideas we throw at him, and generally to help coordinate the overall look and feel of the separate marketing aspects with the album. He’s a graphic designer who has an excellent sense of continuity, coordinating all the different elements of our product design so they appear to have come from one universe. He has been instrumental in helping us visually tie everything together.
STEREOGUM: The Postmarks definitely have a distinct visual style. How’d you decide on this nostalgic particular “universe”?
CM: To us — Tim, Jon and I — along with Brian coordinating all of the artwork, it felt obvious. The album was conceived as an attempt to create something modern yet with a timeless feel, to possibly write songs in a way that evoked the way songs used to be written a la the Brill Building. I just feel like the large majority of writers have lost touch with that golden era. I’m not saying that I’m completely retro in my approach, and that sonically we’re aping that, because I don’t think we are. I just wanted to write something that hopefully could be a tenth of what “Moon River” or “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” achieve in the three minutes or so that they emanate from your turntable (or iPod). Given that approach, the artwork had to follow accordingly.
STEREOGUM: Completely unrelated, but there are a bunch of serial killers from Florida … what’s the deal?
CM: I think it’s ’cause the heat fries peoples brains … but that’s just a theory.
STEREOGUM: You’re a chemistry major at Florida Atlantic University. How much longer until you graduate? Are you planning to go into chemistry as a profession?
TIM YEHEZKELY: I’ve got four courses left to complete a BS in Chemistry. Before all this band stuff started coming together, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the degree — maybe Med School, or Pharmacy; perhaps a Masters or Ph.D.; if I fell in love with some aspect of Chemistry or Biochemistry, then i could work in industry or as a professor; maybe become a high school science teacher … lots of possibilities.
STEREOGUM: How’d you decide to pursue Chemistry?
TY: In high school my English and art teachers were always encouraging me to pursue something creative, but I didn’t trust them and didn’t want to end up a starving artist, so I decided to go for science kind of out of spite or rebellion or something, and for the challenge. In English classes I always hated how my essays seemed to be graded based on my teachers’ opinions or how closely my point of view resembled their own, and same thing in the art classes, so I couldn’t develop an unbiased criteria of what was good or crap and that irritated me. You’ve seen that movie Art School Confidential? It was just like that. I knew I was good at bullshitting my way through art classes and writing classes, but in math and science you either understand the concepts or you don’t. It’s not as arbitrary or abstract, at least not initially, when you’re learning the fundamentals. I also figured, if I was already good at art and language arts, I should focus on other things.
I started out with “undecided” as a major and was not convinced to choose Chemistry as a concentration until I got a huge crush on this Poli Sci major who didn’t like Chemistry, so I decided I had to be better than him at Chemistry. I also had a very inspiring organic Chemistry professor who was incredibly passionate about his work. I loved watching him draw chemical structures on the board during lectures and imagined he would’ve been a talented artist or cartoonist had he not focused on science.
One day I went to his office to find out what he loved about his work, and he helped me understand that creativity was one of the most important factors in scientific research. That’s when I started to get drawn in, and once I began telling people on a whim that I was a Chem major, I loved the response I got from them, which was an automatic assumption that I was really smart, so I decided to stick with it.
STEREOGUM: Do you have a specific concentration?
TY: I would say I lean towards biochemistry although the degree I’ve almost got is an ACS certified BS in Chemistry. I could take an extra lab and have a degree in Chemistry & Biochemistry but it means practically the same thing.
STEREOGUM: Are you planning to delay the degree now that band commitment are becoming greater?
TY: Yes, it is currently being delayed. My professors are excited about the record and reassure me that they will be there if or when I want to return, school will be there, and I can finish it at any time, but this is a rare opportunity for the Postmarks and may not come about ever again.
STEREOGUM: Hmm, does your Chemistry knowledge ever come in handy in a band situation?
TY: In the band we’ve got great Chemistry … But no, I guess the knowledge doesn’t come in so handy in a physically practical sense … but the theory behind the combination and resultant behavior of things helps me understand the dynamics of the band circumstance, for instance within the music itself and all the intricacies of recording and performing it, or the interaction between band members, or between lovers as in the case of the subject matter of the lyrics, or in the arrangement of words in a poem…
STEREOGUM: Any interesting day jobs before you went to school?
TY: The only interesting one I can think of was at the International Museum of Cartoon Art in Boca Raton (which no longer exists). When they had the Garfield exhibit, I performed as Odie in full costume, like the ones at Disney … a really big, hot, furry body suit and a huge, heavy head. They usually hired professionals, but I guess they were trying to cut costs so they only had a professional Garfield and let kids fill in for Odie. So I posed for pictures with kids and acted in a birthday party with Garfield when Jim Davis came to speak.
I also shelved books at a local library for a summer but that was pretty boring.
STEREOGUM: Does your school have a decent student-run radio station? If so, have The Postmarks gotten any airplay?
TY: FAU does have a radio station but I wouldn’t say it’s good. It only broadcasts within a 10-mile radius of the campus. I used to have a friend who had his own radio show and he invited me as a guest DJ a couple of times. I met the guy running the station at the time and he seemed interested in a lot of indie music but that was five years ago, and I’m not sure if he still works there. They blast it in the hallways but it’s usually heavy metal or rap or classic rock and not much light or quirky indie stuff these days. I suppose it still couldn’t hurt to drop off a CD.
The Postmarks is available on Unfiltered.
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