My first memory of becoming fixated on ephemeral posters and flyers has to do with my older cousin, who was my idol, and who in high school shared a practice space with the coolest bands in Athens, Georgia. I was like 8 or 9, and I’d hang out in his room and fixate on this wall poster of Lou Reed. It was the Rock ’n’ Roll Animal poster where his arms are behind his head and he’s bathed in yellow light and looks like a monster. It was just so torn and frayed and brittle, and it had these cryptic lyrics printed on it. I was more interested in looking at that than listening to Lou Reed.
That started my obsession with album art. I don’t want to sound like I was a precocious, overly educated underground-music child. I wasn’t walking around listening to Half Japanese on my Walkman, but eventually my dad came to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be into sports as much as he wanted me to be. He would let me wander off and go to this comic book store, and the next thing you know, this hippie-looking guy named Devlin—who became my mentor in terms of graphic design—was telling me about underground comics and Robert Crumb, so I was deflowered by punk and underground culture early on.
When I got into middle school, Nirvana was happening, and I got into fanzines and punk-rock flyers. I was too young to understand corporate versus indie, but it was such a relief after seeing a bunch of Whitney Houston posters. My designs were all done without a computer. I was taking X-Acto knives and tape and laying stuff out. I spent a lot of time at Kinko’s. When I was in high school, I started being Atlas Sound and making 4-track tapes. A big part of it for me was making the tapes’ slipcase covers. I was utterly obsessed with it. I would buy a new CD or a tape, and I’d open the cellophane, take out the printed booklet, and put it up to my nose, smelling the ink and feeling the paper, and looking at every little typeface they used. I wanted to see stuff that looked like it was put together by hand. This was before grunge typography became really cliché.
Now I would groan if you showed me some of the fonts I made. But I’ll always prefer a pair of scissors, an X-Acto knife, some Scotch tape, a glue stick, and a Xerox machine to Photoshop. I don’t like pressing a space bar. It’s not a purist thing; it’s just that the blacks are too black, the lines are too clear, and the typography is too perfect. To me, it looks like a fucking real-estate newsletter.
For an extended interview with Bradford Cox, go here.