Art by Sonny Kay
Very few records have followed me from my teenage years into adulthood. One of those records is “Nervous Circuits” by The VSS. A record that floored me from first listen, and still confounds me today. “Nervous Circuits” was released at a time when punk was still outsider art, and could be mysterious. I remember staring at the record’s unsettling and deceptively simple cover and trying to dissect it. The dissection was unsuccessful, but the image was a part of me. The music became the background in my head at work or on long walks. Simultaneously manic and delicate, frightening and comforting.
Sonny Kay, singer and cover artist for The VSS, is an artist and designer. He’s lived all over the world, and has recently settled in Hot Springs, Arkansas where he is the new Executive Director of Low Key Arts. Kay has designed record covers for The Locust, Mars Volta, and many more. He’s also recently released his first book of art called “Headspaces.” The book is full of new worlds to dissect, all of them are filled with possibility.
Sonny Kay’s work will be displayed at Stage Eighteen throughout February. An opening reception is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 2. Kay will also be signing his new book. This show is highly recommended.
I talked to Sonny about a few things and here it goes…
Who: Sonny Kay opening reception
When: 6-8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 2
Where: Stage Eighteen, 18 E. Center St.
Music: Live music at 8 p.m. by All The Way Korean (Hot Springs) and Whoopsi (Fayetteville)
More: See the Facebook event
You’ve recently taken over as the Executive Director of Low Key Arts, how did all this happen?
Mainly through my connection with Bobby Missile, the Artistic Director of LKA. He and I have known each other for over a decade. I first came to Hot Springs on tour with my band in 2006, and Bobby promoted our show at the Exchange. A year later I put out an album for his group, Attractive and Popular. When the E.D. position opened up, he felt like I was a natural fit for it, and more or less, I am.
Had you visited Arkansas before? How are you liking Hot Springs?
In addition to that time at the Exchange I mentioned, I’d passed through Arkansas on tour with one band or another three or four times before, starting back in the mid-90s. Hot Springs struck me as someplace very unique on that first visit, but it’s a much different vibe here now than it was then. The whole of downtown Hot Springs feels much less sleepy now than it used to. I’m enjoying being here a lot. I like the laid back atmosphere, which is kind of funny since I haven’t been this busy in years. I enjoy the weird architecture here as well, and the juxtapositions of random eras of the past with the present.
What are your goals for Low Key Arts, and Valley of The Vapors 2018?
To keep surprising the people who come and reminding them of why the festival means as much to so many of them as it does. There’s a lot of loyalty to the VOV. It’s an institution but at the same time, still a fairly well-kept secret, and I think there’s a desire here to see the festival keep growing and evolving and encompassing more things, maybe cover more bases. What Bobby’s put together this year is truly an eclectic mix of artists and there’s definitely some wild cards.
Your art is very distinct. How would you describe it to a stranger?
It’s very high-def and realistic collage crafted in a surrealistic and somewhat painterly manner, often used to package music. Some of it is more graphic design-oriented. It’s pieced together in Photoshop without the aid of digital tricks like filters or rendering software.
“Headspaces” by Sonny Kay / Photo: Amazon.com
You use found objects in your art. Can you share a story of finding an object and the work that it led to?
Honestly, not really. I tend to discover the bits and pieces I use during marathon digging sessions in the middle of the night, then circle back to them days or even weeks later and am often kind of surprised by what’s there. There’s a lot of trying things out and discarding them. The eureka moments are finding pieces that “share” a light source and suddenly become believable when placed side by side.
What was the last book or film that made you want to create?
I saw “Loving Vincent” when it screened here a couple of weeks ago. It definitely stirred something in me, which I would say is the will to persevere, as both an artist and in terms of any monumental undertaking (like the film itself was). Ultimately, I think that’s most of what creativity really is, dedication to an idea at any cost.
What have you been listening to lately?
I’ve been digital crate-digging online for material to play on my KUHS show, The Bassics, so a lot of dub reggae and English rap by Caribbean-born emcees. The Bug and Flowdan are cemented to the top of the list.
Are there any wishlist artists or musicians that you’re trying to bring to Hot Springs?
I would like very much to bring Jack White to Hot Springs, I’ve had some experience with him in the past and consider him a truly remarkable and top-notch performer. I imagine a lot of people here would enjoy the chance to see him play. My old friends in Dead Cross would be a score, too, so I’m working on them, or their agent at least. I’d love the chance to bring some old favorites of mine here… Tortoise, for instance.
You’ve got a show in February at Stage Eighteen – what can we expect at the show?
It’s about half prints of various sizes (of works spanning the last 10 or so years) and half actual artifacts from the same period, so a lot of LP jackets and colored vinyl. It will feel like a museum installation more than a gallery exhibition.
Will your book “Headspaces” be available at the reception on February 2?
Yes it will. I look forward to hopefully disseminating it around northwest Arkansas.
Will this be your first time in Fayetteville? Anything you look forward to seeing or doing?
I was actually in Fayetteville once before, in 2001 with The Mars Volta when they played at Clunk Music Hall. I was driving their tour van and selling t-shirts. We were in and out so fast though, I don’t remember much. I’m looking forward to just familiarizing myself with the town a little. People in Hot Springs speak really highly of Fayetteville, so I’m genuinely expecting to love it. Besides that, I just really like the opportunity to get my art in front of new faces.