T.J. Cowgill, the guy who runs the clothing label Actual Pain, also performs music under the name King Dude. He’s the most optimistic, friendly Luciferian we know, a declaration made all the more powerful by his new record, Burning Daylight, which is out this month. It’s filled with upbeat, folksy songs with horrifyingly grim lyrics and a few dirgelike tracks sprinkled in for good measure. I wanted to talk to him about his new album, so I called him up because I’m a “journalist.” Pretty neat how I can just do that, huh?
VICE: Why’s the new record called Burning Daylight? Is it about being aware of the limited time you have left to breathe, or is it more that it’s a pretty bit of imagery?
T.J. Cowgill: It’s both. The record is about having time against you, so all the stories and characters have a serious desperate vibe to them. I like to think of the subject as times when shit is so bad you don’t even notice how beautiful the daylight is, or how obsessions drive people to do something so fiercely that they don’t see the good things around them.
There is a lot of the sound of whooshing wind on this record, especially on the first song.
The first track is the sound of a massive house fire I sampled from some home video I found on the internet. I do a lot of field recordings as well and those always end up on my records. Like on this newest one there are recordings of church bells from Stuttgart, a train in Italy, a broken bathroom fan at this Vietnamese restaurant called Ballet by our office, and more, I’m sure. That’s just what I remember off the top of my head.
You cut your hair since the last time I interviewed you. Why’d you do that?
As I’m sure you remember, it was really long. It got stuck in a car door once, and that was it for me. I donated it to Locks of Love, and they sent me a certificate of appreciation, which was really nice. I like to think of the little kid with cancer who has my hair stapled to her head. If she only knew where that hair has been. Besides, it’s fun to drastically change your look from time to time. It makes it easier to index your past and avoid annoying people in public.
Somehow you were conned into designing a T-shirt for VICE. What’s it going to look like?
I don’t know. I try not to think about my designs too much before I sit down to make them. I suppose it would have to be kind of funny since VICE is a comedy magazine. Maybe you could help me design it? I could hire you to do it, and then it’d be like you paying me to pay you to draw your own shirt. That’s pretty funny already.
I guess. What’s your process usually like when you’re designing a shirt?
I usually start with an intention or a feeling, more than an idea of an image that I am going to put on a shirt. Normally I will find something that inspires me to make a series of designs, most often an old book. Then I work on an entire season at once, designing about 13 to 20 images. Our seasons have general themes or intentions, which guide me along in the process. I find that very helpful in deciding what makes the final cut. It’s the same process I use when writing music.
Here's a picture of Ben Shapiro and Sasha Hecht (Girl Reporter), the head honchos of NOISEY, wearing their special Actual Pain shirts. We all seriously wear these every day.
Want more from Nick Gazin? Check these out: