We’ve been waiting patiently for this one and it’s finally here. Released in May, the Aaron James Draplin design tome Pretty Much Everything landed with an audible thud and it’s all we were hoping for and more. Messy, sprawling, honest, funny and irreverent – Draplin’s book has serious soul. This is what we’ve come to expect from the big man and ACL was lucky enough to catch up with him in Portland, Ore before things get too crazy with his upcoming book tour.
Al James: Holy shit. What a book. I’ve never seen a design book that is so personal and filled with emotion. Did you have a blueprint to work from? Are there other design books that tap into this feeling or did you just dive in and do it “The Draplin Way”?
Aaron Draplin: Thanks for the nice words, Al. My first reaction was to recoil. This was the big leagues! When an offer of that magnitude comes in, you find ways to make yourself as small as possible, just out of fear. Which is dumb. I was scared I wasn’t “book caliber”, you know? Once I did a quick audit of all the stuff I could show? That’s when I got excited. John Gall showed that to me, and I love the guy for it. He was the Editor on the project.
I’ve been lucky to go to a ton of places and meet so many cool designers. And it was that one turd that spoke about all the book he made, and how important he was and how readers, “just don’t get it.” And then I see his book and it’s the same old shit. Instantly forgettable. I’m not naming any names, but that shit instantly came to mind when Abrams called. I didn’t want to be one the guys who churns out the formulaic stuff. This had to be a “all or nothing” kind of thing. Every page needed to be considered. Each page an opportunity to show everything, or tell my side of why I made something the way I did. One big opportunity, really.
And don’t get me wrong. I love design books! I keep that monster Saul Bass his daughter made at arm’s length at all times in the shop. And that thing, it’s beautifully written and filled with a life of incredible work. A book at that level designs itself, in a lot of ways. I’m no Saul Bass, but pledged from the get-go to make my shot at a book as fun as I could. And down-to-earth. And colorful. And weird. And hell, I guess that’s how I attack everything. All according to plan!
AJ: A few months ago someone handed me a little notebook and referred to it as “Field Notes” even though it wasn’t a true Field Notes booklet. It’s like Kleenex. How does that make you feel to be part of something so iconic?
AD: I’m so thankful for the trajectory Field Notes has been on. My very favorite part about Field Notes is our “$9.95 for a three-pack” thing. I was just in New York City and saw them alongside $300 jeans. And then a week later, in some campus bookstore in the Midwest and there they are, doing their job. I’m proud of that. Too many times, you’ll only see the cool stuff in the high-end places. I like things that work on all levels. From the beginning, that was our focus. Almost a decade later and seeing the range of products we’ve made, I’m so proud to see them out there working in the world, for all kinds of people. At a price that works.
AJ: Has the meaning or feeling around “Made In The USA” changed for you over the years?
AD: It’s still a little benchmark for me. Still feels special. And more and more, I’m seeing things made here, and celebrated beautifully. That’s a good thing for all of us. Just today, I got a run of ear plug containers in! You know those little “pinch pocket” holders where you squeeze it and it holds your ear plugs? Simple stuff, and still made in the states. I like championing that sort of stuff. As the brother of an audiologist, we all need ear plugs for the rock shows.
But of course, there’s a threshold. If “Made in the U.S.A” translates to “We Can Charge You 500% What It Actually Should Be For The Thing”, then I’m out. I like the stuff that just operates like it always did. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the cool axes, paddles, jizz rags and leather doodads out there being sold at exorbitant prices like anyone else. Sure. But sometimes, that shit’s just a little too high brow for me. Do this: Do a search for “chain wallets.” And you’ll find crusty, little sources that sell wallets for $20-25. Weird as hell. And if you dig hard enough, you’ll find ones made in the states, just as they always were. I bought one of those in 1989, and still have it to this day. It was $20 then, and still is $20. When folks start adding a zero to price, whilst holding some bullshit artisanal knife to your throat, that makes me squirm a bit.
AJ: The Get Cosmic section of the book is really special with pieces about your Dad, your dog Gary and your family.
AD: These are things I’ve always been something I was comfortable with sharing with my little world. I was lucky as hell to have a cool mom and dad, and shared that openly. And now that Dad’s gone, I can’t talk about him enough. What’s important in life? Clients? Projects? I love applying design to the things closest to me. And when I look back? I’d rather show some bullshit Santa Claus card I made for my dad instead of another t-shirt I made for some company who made 100 bucks for every buck I made. And a big part of the book is filled up with stuff like that. Way more fun to show.
AJ: The unguarded honesty is refreshing and surprising in a design book. Was this always part of the plan?
AD: I’m relieved as hell to hear my line of bullshit comes off that way. Makes me proud. I mean, I just sort of write it how it happened. Or how it felt. No big deal, you know? And hell, I don’t know if I’m smart enough to do it any other way? I just want the words to sound like me. That’s all.
AJ: Tell us about the DDC Everything Else Enhancement Kit. Is it ready to ship? What can we expect with this bonus pack?
AD: Not just yet. We’ve had a couple setbacks. Since the slipcase is being made in Wisconsin, you are sort of on “Wisconsin Time” and they are professional folks who keep professional hours. I need to be patient and diligent with the process. I can say this much: I have the sample here and it’s BEAUTIFUL. They are so nice. That foil stamp on the spine? Moving. Here come the waterworks!
When I saw the first book up close, where I could hold it in my hands and feel the weight, it really moved me. The thing was real. And I got fired up and went on a quest for the perfect orange slipcase. As a big ol’ exclamation point on the whole project. I had a lot of doors slammed in my face. Big promises from fast-talking people. At least my buddies in Portland who looked for me would level with me, “This thing is kind of hard to make in the states, man.” But I kept at it and found a source in Wisconsin. And they are almost done! As soon as I get them, they’ll be loaded with a mountain of goodies. Mini prints, a merit badge, a decal sheet and a couple three-packs of viciously limited-edition Field Notes. Holy shit, those books are going to RULE. Just approved the foil hit on the cover. Bombproof!
AJ: Is it essential to enjoying the book?
AD: Is it essential? Nah. Is it the perfect slipcase for a book I never, ever thought I’d make, toiled over, lovingly constructed, orange as hell and built like a brick shithouse? You bet. Take that one to the bank.
AJ: You’ve always run DDC like a band and you’ve got deep ties to different labels, musicians and bands. If there was, hypothetically, a DDC-Fest – some sort of awesome music festival that you got to book, who would be part of the festival?
AD: A DDC Festival?! Oh man, I’d tap into all the bullshit I’ve always loved, on a series of stages that erupt at different times of the day. It would definitely be in the Fall, in the leaves somewhere, so you don’t sweat your balls off in the sun.
AM Gold Stage: Gordon Lightfoot, Todd Rundgren, Steely Dan and Neil Young.
Power-Pop Stage: Big Star, dB’s, Tommy Keene, Shoes and The Knack.
Still-Holds-Up ‘80s College Radio Stage: R.E.M., Replacements, Smithereens, The Cult and Galaxie 500.
Not-So-Cringeworthy ’90s Alternative All-Stars Stage: Dinosaur Jr, Pavement, Sebadoh and Paw.
Punky Punk Rocky Rock: Damned, Dead Boys and Dicks.
No Smiles Stage: Fugazi, forever in between songs, just berating the crowd for something.
Midwest Ugly Stage: Jesus Lizard, Shellac and Mule.
Northwest All-Stars Stage: Sonics, Mudhoney, Tad and Dead Moon.
Texas Tribute Stage: Butthole Surfers, Willie Nelson, Centro-Matic and ZZ Top.
Y’all-ternative Stage: Son Volt, Bottle Rockets, Jayhawks and my very favorite Portland band of all time, Richmond Fontaine.
Atmospheric Lift-Off Stage: Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, My Bloody Valentine. Polyphonic Spree and Swervedriver.
New Riders of Metal Sage Stage: Red Fang, Mastodon, Torche and Baroness.
Ghost Stage: MC5 playing the opening of “Kick Out the Jams” over and over and over…
Guilty Pleasure Secret Show: Donald Fagen playing “The Nightfly” in its entirety. Don’t know why, but I fuckin’ love that shit.
Sad-Sack Slow-Core Stage: Red House Painters, Low, Swell and Bedhead, just to put the festival to sleep.
I’ve been waiting for someone to ask that question all my life. Thanks, Al!
AJ: So what’s next? You toured your ass off leading up to this book and it was a massive undertaking to birth this thing. What’s next for Draplin and DDC in the near future?
AD: This fall we’re gonna take the book on the road and do a full tour. All of October and November. I’m getting a Ford Econoline cargo van and will be loading it up with merch, books, my girl Leigh and hitting the road. And for the record, not one of those Sprinter or Transit things. A Ford fuckin’ Econoline…“Gas Pig” edition.
And then, past that? A typeface I made years ago is coming to life, lot of new Field Notes stuff and getting my mom out to Portland as much as we can.