Those New York art-punks and video-contest bigwigs Les Savy Fav don’t need much of an introduction, but maybe their jobs do: Guitarist Seth Jabour works as an art director in the marketing department of a fragrance company (he comes up with the visuals) and hyperactive, crowd-kissing, prop-wielding, skivvies-sporting frontman and drug-lingo expert Tim Harrington fittingly works a number of jobs, though here we focused on Deadly Squire, the home and apparel company he’s run with his wife, Anna, since the winter of 2004.
The band’s fourth full-length Let’s Stay Friends comes out 9/18 on French Kiss, the label run by bassist Syd Butler. After the following discussion, spend some time with “The Equestrian” and “What Wolves Would Do,” both from the new one, and remember there are bona fide songs behind Harrington’s bona fide live antics.
Seth Jabour, guitar
STEREOGUM: How long have you been at your current job?
SETH JABOUR: I started as a consultant in 2005 and was hired full-time last June, so just over two years.
STEREOGUM: Does it get in the way of touring with Les Savy Fav?
SJ: Kinda. I get vacation days and personal days. I try to reserve them
for band-related events. But gone are the days of doing any extended tours.
STEROGUM: Had you previously worked as an art director?
STEREOGUM: How did you end up at a “fine fragrance” company?
SJ: Purely by chance.
STEREOGUM: More importantly: Do you, yourself, wear cologne?
SJ: Depends. I’ll spray a little something on if I’m donning a suit for a wedding or a hot, sexy date. That sort of thing. Sometimes I like to smell pretty if I’m eating pizza. I usually just smell like cigarettes.
STEREOGUM: How do you come up with visual for a specific fragrance? Maybe talk us through one of your recent campaigns.
SJ: We recently worked on a proactive campaign for Marc Jacobs. Our perfumers were asked to submit fragrances based on six different flowers, each in one of three directions. My job was to create six mood boards for each flower depicting the three concepts that would fit into the Marc Jacobs universe. For example, Carnation/ Vintage — I chose a picture of some old carnation wallpaper and composed a glamour shot of a model wearing a very vintage-inspired coat by Marc Jacobs. That sort of thing. I prep by spending a lot of time scanning images from fashion magazines and trolling sites like Flickr.com. They have the best assortment of amateur and professional photography. Their selection is incredible.
STEREOGUM: Paul over at French Kiss sent me a sort of job statement where you talk about “how closely related the synthesis of smell is to the mixing of sound or the mixing of color.” Would love to hear more about this idea.
SJ: Well, with fragrance you have top, mid (heart) and bottom notes (or dry down). With sound you high-end, mid-range, and low-end. Top notes, like high end, tend to be bright and have more sizzle, but don’t last as long. This could be your citrus notes in fragrance, your cymbals and bright, piercing notes on the guitar in music. Mid notes tend to be the heart of a fragrance — jasmine, rose, etc. Sonically, mid-range is in the realm of what most people are able to hear. I think of it as the vocals and such. Bottom notes, or dry-down, are larger molecules and tend to last the longest. Often they hold the fragrance down and allow the top and mid to do their thing. Similarly, the bass is your low-end provider, allowing other frequencies to respond accordingly. See the likeness between the two? By adjusting one thing, you affect the other. This principle can be applied to most anything. But when I began my job this was an easy analogy for me to make in order to better understand what the perfumers and evaluators do here.
STEREOGUM: In that same missive you said, “emotions are often abstract and it’s interesting to create a visual language to interpret the intangible.” How much of your own emotion do you put into a particular design? Ever take scents home with you, live with them awhile?
SJ: I wouldn’t say I put a lot of my own emotions into any particular design. There are some projects that get me psyched. I was referring more to the idea of interpreting a concept like “young and flirty” and presenting it in a way that conveys those feelings through visuals instead of words. I never take scents home and live with them. I may, on occasion, smell a fragrance to get an idea of what it’s like. Usually I work independently from the perfumers. I work in our marketing department — not sure if I mentioned that. That may help explain some of my directives.
STEREOGUM: This was also in the job statement: “I like working on flats and bottle comps the best. Here, I rely on my illustration skills, whether 2-D or 3-D. Mood boards are always interesting because you can be creative with the choice of images you use in describing a feeling or smell.” Could you unpack the ad lingo a bit?
SJ: Sure. A flat is an illustration. We’ll use them if, for example, we’re creating a line on ancillaries to go along with a pre-existing line. This way the client has a visual idea of what kind of products we can put fragrance in. A 3-D comp is the same thing only I’ll make labels and glue them onto a bottle so the client can hold it in their hands and go, “Oooh. Ahhhh. I love this. Who was the designer on this? I wanna buy him lunch.” As I mentioned, mood boards are boards with images that depict either ingredients or moods that fit in with the brand. These are fun because, as the designer, I have freedom to compose imagery that isn’t bound to the literal. It allows me to flex my creative muscle a little more. If done well, I may get lunch. For free.
STEREOGUM: Any of your art directing/design skills overlap with your guitar playing?
SJ: Not exactly, but looking at flowers makes me feel sensitive.
Tim Harrington, vocals
STEREOGUM: How did you come up with the name Deadly Squire?
TIM HARRINGTON The name Deadly Squire is actually from Les Savy Fav touring. We were in England — Nottingham, I think — and after we played we went to this party-house house party (six dudes sharing a four-bedroom type deal). It was really fun and as our hosts got increasingly drunk they began declaring “Deadly Squire!” with their drunk, bombastic British accents any time they agreed with something someone said. I think it was an Anglicized take on “Killer Dude,” like what surfers say in the movies. Anyway, Anna and I were kicking around ideas for a name and when we thought of that and it stuck. I always thought Versace’s medusa logo was really cool and badass. Our logo is a dagger, and the name Deadly Squire kind of feels like maybe our company is 200 years old and used to be in the sword making business.
STEREOGUM: The patterns are Deadly Squire’s signature detail. How did you decide to make the patterns your focus?
TH: Anna’s mother is from Sweden and she has always been very into Scandinavian design, textiles in particular. When Anna and I first started dating she turned me on to a lot of that stuff. I’d always done visual art and design when not busy with Les Savy Fav, and Anna paints. Someone commissioned her to make a pattern for a towel and I was helping here digitize her drawings. While doing it I couldn’t help but do some myself; it looked like fun. Anyway, the next thing we knew we had all these patterns and ideas and were inspired to try and do something with them.
STEREOGUM: Do you develop the patterns separately or together?
TH: We work on the patterns together; I do a lot of the more figurative looking bits. Anna is more abstract and does more with color and scaling. Patterns have rhythms like music. Anna is the drummer.
STEREOGUM: Who sews/manufactures the products?
TH: We have all our sewing done at different small factories in New York City. Our ties are made on the West Side. Our totes are done in Williamsburg. The dog beds are made in the Fashion District. Something we’ve made far away is our trays. We make these cool super heavy-duty wooden trays in Sweden. They’re really cool — the kind of thing which will last for years and years.
STEREOGUM: Do you have the inventory in your house or is there a separate storage location or storefront?
TH: Most of it is in our apartment, unfortunately. We have a storage unit for some stuff. We are currently trying to find an investor to help up grow and maybe afford an office (the dream of dreams!).
STEREOGUM: When you go on tour does Anna handle the sales, etc.?
TH: Anna is a million times more organized than I am. I do the website, I work on patterns, I provide muscle for carrying junk … Anna does most of the books and sales.
STEREOGUM: Do you know of any other musicians with home and apparel lines?
TH: Not yet, but I think it could be a new trend. Like all the musicians who are also DJs, or make t-shirts, or run record labels. Dudes will be like: “Have you seen my bathmats?”
STEREOGUM: Does Seth ever help Deadly Squire with marketing strategies or ad campaigns? Maybe pair scents with Deadly Squire products?
TH: The scents deal would rule. Outside of Deadly Squire and the band (neither make enough money to do full time) I actually do a lot of design and have worked at lots of ad agencies and the like. So I fancy myself pretty good at marketing. It’s hard — since we have no real marketing budget there’s really only the website to communicate what our aesthetic is all about.
STEREOGUM: What are some new products we can expect? I know you have patterned ties. Any plans for a suit? Or skirts?
TH: We want to make some clothes. They are kind of hard since you need to make them in different sizes. Our apartment is already full of Deadly Squire stuff; I can barely imagine if there were things in four sizes as well. One of the main goals for the business is to cover anything and everything in our patterns and let the customer carve their own lines out of what goes together as a match. We made these limited skateboards, we make some baby clothes, we make oven mitts. Maybe you think all those things should match perfectly. That’s what we’re there for.
STEREOGUM: When we were initially trying to figure out an interview time, you said to call after work. Do you have another job as well?
TH: I always have like five jobs. I create logos and look books for small fashion type companies; I’ve done writing for ad agencies; for a long time I was doing interactive design/programming online; and for the past few months I’ve been working at VH1 doing broadcast graphics. When you see the name of the musician at the bottom of a video on VH1 classics … that’s me! I love every creative act — writing, visual art, performing, whatever — it makes it tough to focus but I can’t help myself. I want to do everything in the whole world!
[Les Savy Fav, left-to-right: Tim Harrington, Seth Jabour, Andrew Reuland, Harrison Haynes, Syd Butler]