Creative Quarantine: Artist / Musician / Creative Director David Head, Jr.

David Head Jr. | Photo Credit: Lindi Gordon

1. How are you holding up?

I am very lucky that I and the people I love have remained safe and healthy. Everyone is still putting food on the table. I’ve been lucky to be able to continue working on all my stuff — art, music, and creative direction. I’m working on a score for a short film right now. That’s a new thing that I’ve never done that I’m really excited about. And I’m teaching myself a little music theory and piano. I’ve put together a portable studio to record music between my apartment and my art studio. The onset of the pandemic coincided with a strange period in my life, so the last 4-5 months of social distancing have been like a sabbatical. 

The World Feels Crazy these Days no. 2, detail | 30” x 40” | Acrylic, oil pastel, and found paper on canvas | © David Head Jr. 2020

The World Feels Crazy these Days no. 2 | 30” x 40” | Acrylic, oil pastel, and found paper on canvas | © David Head Jr. 2020

I had a crazy week earlier this year, right as the pandemic was looming. On, like… a Tuesday, I suddenly found myself in the position of saying to my former bandmates, “I don’t want to be in a band with y’all anymore.” That band, Surfbort, had been one of my main creative endeavors, and one that I’d been completely committed to for years — touring all over the world, writing and recording music, and playing many, many shows. Many, many days and nights on the road together when other people in my life also needed me and I was not there for them. So… you know, it was an unforeseen and a very sad and difficult ending. It broke my heart, really. But, hey, that’s showbiz. 

48 hours later, Thursday was like, “Hold up, brother!” My partner — the love of my life — and I were happily surprised to learn that she was, unexpectedly and against all odds, pregnant. We’d believed this was highly unlikely if not impossible, and had resigned ourselves to that long ago with some ambivalence and sadness. And then suddenly this door opened up and we walked through it.   

David Head Jr. | Photo Credit: Lindi Gordon

I was still trying to process these profound developments, when, a few days later, the pandemic tidal wave really began lapping at New York’s shores. There was a period of time at the height of the first wave here in March and April, when things got really bleak. So many small businesses shut down forever and people were out of work. Everything shut down. Essential workers suddenly were battling this existential threat so the rest of us could eat. Around this time, an old guy in our apartment building died. He went over the rainbow bridge alone a few days before anyone noticed (of non-covid-related causes, evidently). The building super did a welfare check, popped the lock, opened the door, and the old familiar smell quickly filled the building with a visceral reminder of our collective mortality.

Subway People | 24” x 26” | Acrylic on canvas | © David Head Jr. 2018

Little by little, though, the sun came out and things got better in NYC. We got the virus under control (true story: masks + social distancing = virus under control). A changed and diminished version of the city began bouncing back. When the Black Lives Matter protests erupted, it was beautiful. It was a very powerful, poignant, and positive inflection point. It was an awakening — not only social and political, but in the sense that the city and the people had survived this long dark night and were awakening and coming together in a new day with new possibilities for justice and reconciliation. And then NYPD showed up and rioted on the protestors for a month. But, this is a true popular movement. It is very powerful and profound and it’s not something you can beat or gas into submission. I will always be happy that I was here to experience that and to participate in that. It was intense. I hope it continues and I will try to do my part to see that it does continue. I hope that energy carries through decisively to November, 2020 and sweeps all these fascists into the dustbin of history… Power to the people! #BlackLivesMatter! #Antifa!

So, I’m holding up alright. 

The World Feels Crazy these Days | 30” x 40” | Acrylic, oil pastel, and found paper on canvas | © David Head Jr. 2020

The World Feels Crazy these Days, detail | 30” x 40” | Acrylic, oil pastel, and found paper on canvas | © David Head Jr. 2020

2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way?

In my painting, I think a sense of the apocalyptic has definitely crept into my work. It was already there, I guess, but it’s more pronounced. My own mood and my palette got darker. In the absence of a functioning live music scene, I’ve had more time than ever to paint. And I’ve begun working more slowly and methodically. I think my compositions have become more nuanced and complex because of that. 

David Head Jr. | Photo Credit: Lindi Gordon

My process with painting is to start by sketching or photographing things that for some reason interest me — people on the subway… signs that don’t make sense… street performers… graffiti… whatever… all these things that I encounter when I’m walking around New York or on my travels. I’m also always collecting ephemera like old books and magazines, photos, packaging… Lately, I usually start with an idea of a person or a scene that I want to paint that comes out of all that, somehow. So I’ll start painting them and then I start painting other people or places that interact with them or respond to them… I make an effort not to think consciously about it while I’m doing it, or to have any kind of a literal narrative in mind… there’s some stream of consciousness flowing. It ends up being some kind of reflection of what it’s like to be me spanning time in the universe in this particular place, I guess. In that sense, there’s some window onto the plague era New York running through the current work. 

Patrick and Archie, detail | 30” x 40” | Acrylic and found paper on canvas | © David Head Jr. 2020

Patrick and Archie | 30” x 40” | Acrylic and found paper on canvas | © David Head Jr. 2020

During the pandemic, I’ve also been more focused on music and on applying a more rigorous attention to the craft of songwriting. That’s something I’ve learned from my art — to be rigorous and consistent in working on the craft of it. I suddenly found myself without the creative outlet of this band that had been a huge part of my life for years. I had a bunch of songs and ideas that I wanted to keep refining and building on. But, the lockdown, for obvious reasons, made it difficult to begin any new musical collaborations, and any thought of putting a new band together quickly faded away. 

David Head Jr. | Photo Credit: Lindi Gordon

I set up a very barebones home recording studio. Initially, I focused on writing and recording demos of songs, with the idea that I was laying the groundwork for a near-future new band. These days, it feels like there’s no real end in sight as far as the pandemic is concerned. The concept of live music just seems impossibly distant at this point. So, I’ve become more consumed with the recording process and how that can create a positive feedback loop with the songwriting process, my plan has shifted. I’ve started thinking of it as being less about making “demos” and more about finishing songs and releasing them. That’s the idea now, anyway.  

I love playing live shows with a band more than almost anything in the world, though. That is one of the times in life when I feel most content and alive in the moment. I’m addicted to that feeling. So that will follow as soon as possible when live music comes back. I’m plotting my next moves. 

3. Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you’d like to keep after this is over?

In the past, my approach to songwriting was more haphazard and often happened collaboratively on the fly with bandmates. During the pandemic, I’ve had the inclination, time, and freedom to approach that with greater attention and focus. Working on it every day, even if I don’t feel like it. I’m down with the new approach and I plan to maintain that. I’ve been learning more about the nuts and bolts of the recording process. I’ve been recording with bands for close to 30 years, so I have a good high-level understanding of what goes into it, and now I’m filling in some of the details.

Humanoid Underground Dweller III | 40” x 36” | Acrylic, oil pastel, and found paper on canvas | © David Head Jr. 2018

I think my painting during the pandemic has been more in sync with the collective mood than it was before. Maybe everyone’s coming around to my dark point of view. But it will be interesting to see how that quality of being connected to some larger current or to the zeitgeist continues (or doesn’t). 

I’m a weirdo loner introvert, so I’ve adapted well to this new, more solitary existence. In some ways it’s like being on tour. Days don’t tend to have a great deal of preordained structure, and I like that. Social distance is my default mode. Life now has an ascetic quality that I like and find inspiring. I think it will be a challenge for me, at some point when a more social life reemerges, to figure out how to maintain the ascetic qualities I like and balance them with being a social creature in the world of other humans again. 

4. Of the artists you follow, who’s handling this particularly well?

The artists I admire are the ones who are fighting on and making new work and sharing it with the world. The people who aren’t dwelling on what’s gone but are finding ways to navigate the new landscape. And I admire artists who’ve been able to amplify the movements for social justice and equality while remaining true to their own voice. 

My buddy Shamon Cassette in LA never stops. He’s always making music and making moves in art and fashion. He’s gettin after it and I admire his work ethic and style, always. He just released an EP/mixtape called NEWDAYNEWAVENEWLIFE4ME. He’s doing live streams. You’ve gotta be bigger than Covid to stop Shamon. He has an unflappable positivity that he projects out into the universe, and I respect that. He’s a bona fide original and a true freak. 

My friend, the Australian photographer, Jamie Wdziekonski AKA Sublation. I met him through his work documenting the live music scene, but he’s hugely active in documenting social movements around things like climate change activism and BLM in Melbourne and around the world, as well. And he’s focused on those latter efforts during the pandemic. His photographs are special. He has a way of drawing out the essence of the thing that his gaze falls upon, and I think his photos will end up being an articulate record of this time — especially in Melbourne.

The Australian punk band Amyl and the Sniffers and in particular their singer / ringleader, Amy. They’re so young and have achieved so much, and yet they’re unfazed by it and seemingly unchanged by their renown. It’s inspiring. It hasn’t gone to their heads and they haven’t gone “Hollywood” or anything. I admire their determination and how they’ve got each other’s backs. Their leader, Amy, is a badass. She’s a new archetype. They all live together in a tiny little house in Melbourne and keep working on new stuff and somehow don’t kill each other in lockdown. A while back they did this great livestream backyard cover of that old Peaches song, “Fuck the Pain Away.” It seemed like they’d learned it that day but it was so great and REAL in this way that is just… them…

Dion Lunadon. I met Dion when he was playing in his old band, A Place to Bury Strangers. Lately he’s been releasing music from a solo project he’d been working on since before the pandemic hit. I admire the determination and focus to keep moving things forward in the face of adversity and this changed world we find ourselves in. He’s about to release an E.P. on the Swiss label Disco Fridge.

The artist, Snoeman. I admire how he has leaned fully into the BLM movement and is turning his powers towards building a visual communication language of protest signage that feels of-the-moment while simultaneously drawing on NYC’s rich graffiti and hip hop heritage.  

Mac Blackout. I knew Mac from the Chicago punk scene in the aughts. Now he makes wild free jazz improv music and really cool, highly original art with roots in graffiti and mural and street art but completely untethered to any of that. Barely tethered to earth. It’s very cool and it’s been inspiring to see him continue cranking it out during the end times.

The LA punk band, Ho99o9. Their apocalyptic sound and vision seem uniquely suited to be a soundtrack to the messed up times we’re living in. But there’s also a sense of the indomitable in it. A sense of revolutionary hope, which is a beautiful thing for the listener to cling to, circa 2020. 

David is an artist, musician, and creative director living in New York City. Most recently, he played guitar in and did visual design for the band, Surfbort, whose debut album, “Friendship Music,” squeaked in at number twenty on John Doe’s (of seminal, first-wave Los Angeles punk band, X) list of “twenty favorite punk records of all time”. David’s art has been exhibited in New York, Chicago, Austin, TX, and elsewhere. In 2017, he had his first solo show at Fort Houston in Nashville, TN.

Check out David’s website, Instagram, and Spotify feeds,