Kill the Engine

My Studiomate Mike Aho Has a New Book

By Michael Sieben

Unpiano Books recently published a book for my studiomate Mike Aho. It's not every day that somebody publishes a book for my studio-mate Mike Aho, so I thought I'd write something about the project to celebrate. The book is a collaboration between Mike and Mel Kadel. If you're not familiar with Mel's illustrations, keep reading and you'll see a bunch of them. Mike has a band called ((Sounder)) and this book comes packaged with a 7" record with two ((Sounder)) songs. The song on the A side of the 7" is titled "It Rained All Day," which is also the title of the book. The text of the book is the song lyrics, and the illustrations are Mel Kadel's visual interpretations of the lyrics. If you're over 30, you might remember those old children's story books that came packaged with a record. This book has a similar feel to it, but it's much nicer than those old books. More like an art object than something you'd give to your kid to destroy.

I interviewed Jesse Pollock, owner and operator of Unpiano Books to get some information about this specific publication as well as some information about his business and working methods. If you're a fan of books, art, photography, or just the idea of people doing things instead of talking about doing things then keep reading. If you don't like any of those things then I'm totally confused why you're on this website.

VICE: Why did you start your own publishing company? Aren't there enough books out there already?
Jesse: There are totally not enough books out there! While the number of ebooks sales continue to go up every year, the amount of actual printed content continues to fall by about 10 percent. All of that aside, I just like to see what people are capable of when given the opportunity to self-curate. Publishing your work makes you refine, edit, and become a better artist (well... most of the time).

Unpiano Books basically started out of my own impatience. I kept identifying artists that deserved book deals and it just wasn't happening fast enough. In the case of Sandy Kim, who was our first release, I had been keeping an eye on her work for about a year and was getting really frustrated that no one else was doing anything about it. I wanted to own a book of her photographs and I was sick of waiting around. So we made one and I have been doing it ever since!

We focus mainly on artists and photographers who are poised to do great things, but need help with that first step. There are fewer and fewer outlets to publish artists' work in a format like this, and it makes us really happy to try and get people out there in orbit. We care less about if the artist is established and more about capturing that transitional period in a career that you can point to and say, "There, that's where they took off."

As a publisher, how do you feel about sites like blurb? Do you think the availability of digital printing waters down what you're doing as an independent publisher? Do you think the general public can tell the difference (or cares) about printing quality?
I love Blurb for what it is, but it shouldn't be confused with publishing. I know a lot of people who use it as a way to showcase their portfolios when looking for work and I use it to make fun vacation books since it's essentially a photo album. In those instances it's perfect and it's only when people try and sell those books that I have a problem with it. I find the print quality to be pretty appalling in much the way that you can compare shooting film to using a digital camera. Hopefully other people feel the same way, but it's hard to say these days especially with the success of previous projects like Tim Barber's TV Books—which was a one-off publisher. I am a fan of people getting their work out there in every way possible, personally it's just not my style. 

How many books has Unpiano published to date?
This is our sixth official release.

How did the ((Sounder)) It Rained All Day book project materialize?
This project sort of happened by accident since it's a bit different from the type of work we normally publish. I was pretty familiar with Mel's work, so when I was approached with the idea and saw what they had come up with it was sort of a no-brainer. Also, up to this point we had not put out a vinyl record, which was something that we wanted to work in there someday. For each new release we try and do something that we haven't done before in an effort to just sort of see what's possible. Hopefully we can take that a bit farther in the future.

How do you go about choosing the artists to work with on projects? Is it mainly people you know, or are you scouring the internet looking for up-and-coming younger artists?
It's sort of a mix of both these days. I am lucky enough to know some amazing artists, so I naturally I end up working with friends a lot. However I also do a lot of online curatin—which is basically just creating folders of work taken off the internet—so I can watch an artist progress. Usually when that folder gets full of work, I'll approach someone and see how they react to the idea of working together. People have also been pitching me ideas more often which is really cool to see. There is nothing better than working with someone who is passionate about a project.

How did you go about funding your first project?
Unpiano Books is proudly founded, operated, and funded by debt. In publishing it takes quite a while to turn a profit, so while we are doing very well in terms of where we need to be, it's safe to say that we have a very close relationship with our debt.

What advice would you give to a younger person who dreams of owning their own business?
I don't think you have a choice in the end. While I have always had day jobs, it's a fact that I have been fired from nearly every single one. Instead of letting this fact get me down, I choose to think of it as a sign that I was meant to do something more. In my case it ended up manifesting itself as publishing. I know that need to be involved in and supporting art so no matter how I structure my life, art finds me. People who really have those dreams will end up where they need to be whether they know it or not.

What's next for Unpiano Books?
We have some really cool stuff lined up for 2013, and while I can't talk about all of it, I can say that we'll revisit some popular themes and hopefully throw some really fun parties. We still have yet to have a book release in New York, where we are based now, so that will probably we the first order of business. You can keep updated on all this by joining the mailing list through our website.

For more information about Unpiano Books, visit their website. If you're interested in purchasing a copy for your library, check your local bookstore. If they don't carry it, you can purchase it directly from Unpiano.

And check out the trailer for the ((Sounder)) film, The Lonely Life, starring Will Oldham. If you live in or near Austin, there's a premier for the film on May 28th at the Scottish Rite Theatre and an after party at The Mohawk, where ((Sounder)) will be performing and Will Oldham will be DJing.

Previously - My Ten Favorite Things in the Local Skate Shop
 

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