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Keep it simple, stupid: An interview with Peter Kratcoski

Words and interview by Evan Harms

Peter Kratcoski is a lifelong Kent resident and a current Kent State student studying graphic design. He also plays drums in SAP, Cool Dads and is filling in briefly for Speedfreak. In our conversation, we addressed the way visual art, music and growing up in a Midwestern college town all intersect and create some sort of meaning.

 

Evan Harms: Can you run me through a day in the life? I know you’re a busy guy.

Peter Kratcoski: Yeah, it’s pretty much just constant stress from waking up to going to bed, which is personally inflicted. But, probably wake up around 9 a.m. or 10 a.m., that’s because I’m up late the night before (which we’ll get to later), go to class, check my emails at least, like, 18 times and definitely miss something …  that’s important … to someone. I like to say that I balance my clients and classwork, but at some points I’ll just do five straight hours of one project, tunnel vision it out. And then that’s like 11 [a.m.] to 2 [p.m.] Or 10 [a.m.]. Or 9 [a.m.]. Whatever it takes. That’s what a day in the life is, whatever it takes.

Evan Harms: So how do you make time for “fun” things then?

PK: I think I don’t. I think I was talking to someone about this yesterday, that’s one of the reasons we chose the majors that we did, and you can probably relate to that. It is fun, you wanna do something for the rest of your life that’s interesting, it’s a hobby of yours, and oftentimes, if that’s something fun for you, usually it’s pretty challenging. For a lot of people, there usually has to be a challenge and fun. That’s where, like, a balance comes in. With choosing illustration or journalism or photography as a major. The hardest challenge is to major in it.

EH: Yeah that’s true. Sometimes with [journalism], it’s like “I have to go out and do a project,” but for this interview it’s tight because of your background. At the same time, I have to take time out of my day, I gotta do a project.

PK: Exactly. I think the answer to that is finding fun in the thing you have to do.

EH: Let’s talk about your art and graphic design a little bit now. It’s pretty minimalist, usually geometric, just little kind of goofy but meaningful fliers, clothes, those animated fliers — how did that kind of “get got?”

PK: I appreciate that. It “got get” by seeing that a lot of art is overcompensating. In illustration especially, people that work with minimal line and flat design, you find out that they can crazy render. You know? They’ll draw a sunset like nothing with a mechanical pencil. That’s what I think is kind of my process. When anybody gets started with art or anything, you want to make it everything. Because you want to capture yourself, and that’s hard to do. You can’t put every emotion and every facet of you into a flier. I just noticed artists using a bare minimum of tools and making something incredible out of it, and making an incredible amount of money. You know, [Mark] Rothko is a big example of that for me. I think my history teacher, Mr. Yanko had [Rothko’s] “Orange, [Red], Yellow” hanging up, and he told us that it was a famous painting worth millions of dollars, and I thought that was insane and really inspiring. And that goes out to music, too. You know Daniel Johnston, he was a real early influence. I think that’s part of illustration, too. [Most illustrations] aren’t in museums, they’re in magazines, or on t-shirts and fliers. You don’t really need to put a bunch of work into it, because sometimes that can just turn into a lot of noise. If you’re scrolling through your Twitter feed or walking downtown, and you walk  past a bulletin board of busily designed stuff, and I think the thing that speaks the loudest is a three-color, two-line drawing of a dog. Why spend a lot of time rendering a mountainscape, when in reality that might just get swept under the rug?

EH: Yeah, I like the minimalism thing. It’s kind of hard to compare that to writing.

PK: Oh, it could.

EH: It’s kind of the “keep it simple, stupid.”

PK: Doug Green was the first person to ever say that. *laughs* He’s working on a zine right now about that.

EH: You want to talk about that? Let’s talk about it.

PK: Yeah! Is it just the two of you?

EH: I don’t know, he’s mainly in charge of it and he asked me to do a couple of [album] reviews.

PK: Oh yeah, the ten words or less! … Those are cool. His illustrations are wild!

EH: Yeah! Now, back to business: Do you see any kind of crossover between your making music with Cool Dads and SAP and with your visual art?

PK: Yeah. I guess I would. I guess one of the tenets of that is just making do with what you got. Cool Dads doesn’t have a lot of money or sound equipment, but we have a lot of friends. And I think that while I want to express myself and create music that evokes a certain feeling or portrays a certain thing about me, one of my larger goals is to make other people happy. I think that the audience is at the heart of any artistic endeavor. And with Cool Dads, our number one priority is to make sure people are having fun — no, it’s to make sure that we’re having fun. If you rely [too much] on other people it’s stressful. We have fun, they have fun, and after that is that we’re expressing something or making good music. That’s part of the reason I’m in illustration rather than art. Although I’m expressing myself, working for a client is more interesting for me. I don’t think people care about the stories I have to tell about my internal battles, I think there’s enough of that. I think there should be more, for sure.

EH: Right, it’s still important to communicate that stuff.

PK: Oh yeah, very important, but I’m not the person who’s going to make money off it, if that makes any sense. I think it’s an interesting challenge to meet a band, meet a company or it could be a book, and say you have to use visual tools to express this audio, or these words, or this feeling, this article. It’s a really fun challenge to read an article or listen to a band and come up with a way they’re going to be perceived, and come up with a way to attract people to this event with a flier.

EH: Right, certainly within our DIY circuit, we kind of do goofy random shit–it doesn’t matter that much. But, in a more professional context you have to really think about how other people will perceive this, like normies and whoever.

PK: Well that’s why money’s involved, that’s where the line gets drawn. Fun and money.

EH: The normies got the money.

PK: The normies got the money. Fun and money. That’s it. K.A.S.S. — I mean K.I.S.S., keep it simple, stupid. [laughing]

EH: Keep It Simple Stupid [laughs]. So here’s another music question: how do you deal with the diversity of being in, now you’re in three bands, SAP, which is anarcho-peace-punk crusty loudness; Cool Dads, goofy surf-jazz.

PK: Noise.

EH: Noise, and then SPEEDFREAK which is just garbage.

PK: [laughs] I like how you did that to your band, not mine.

EH: [laughs] Yeah, well. So, I know that you don’t have a playing style that you’ve honed in on over the years, you’re not Neil Peart.

PK: That’s right, I’m not.

EH: So how do you do drumming for each band, are there similar approaches for each band or do you have to diversify?

PK: Absolutely similar approaches. The pretty simple answer is that on one, I’m not singing. So I don’t have to devote half of my energy to windpipes and that part of my body, so I can devote more energy to, you know, the drums. Outside of that, I have a pretty consistent way of approaching everything. And you can attest to that, drumming in Cool Dads is pretty similar to drumming in SAP. I’m just trying to be Zach Hill [the drummer from Death Grips] [laughs]. One time someone told me that I was like him and I don’t know why I’m still in this band, because that’s all I wanted. I’m sure you have a similar approach to journalism and your radio show. Those are two different voices but you have a pretty consistent style that you apply to both of those.

EH: Oh yeah, definitely. I’d never really thought about it. So, do you wanna talk about your drumming technique at all?

PK: I don’t think there is much of it, to be honest.

EH: Yeah, I mean that’s what makes it sick to me. Because I go to some shows, like Often, their drummer is insane.

PK: Wild.

EH: Warming up all the time, like [intense air-drumming]. Holy crap, he’s really good, and it works with their sound. But you, again going back to Keep It Simple Stupid, you’re just wailing on it and it makes perfect contextual sense.

PK: Yeah, well thank you. I would say it’s the only area of my life where I’m really able to express myself, by hitting stuff really hard. I used to get yelled at for that–the way I learned drums was steel drums in high school–and I got yelled at for playing too hard and too fast. It’s kinda the only time in my life that I say “I can’t help it,” it’s just what comes naturally. I can pretty much suppress most parts of myself in every other aspect, but that’s the one part. So I guess I’m exactly what I’m not I said I was in the beginning of this. I’m the Mark Rothko of hitting stuff.

Both: [laughing]

PK: Please cut that out. [laughs] That’s pretentious as hell.

EH: So you grew up [in Kent, Ohio]? Or your parents worked here?

PK: Yeah, pretty much. I went to grade school here and then we moved here when I started high school in Akron.

EH: Where are you originally from?

PK: Munroe Falls, but commuted to Kent every day, spent time in Kent.

EH: Does growing up in that kind of Midwestern college town have any impact on who you are today?

PK: Absolutely, this city specifically. Especially because when I was little, this city used to be so much more, not even liberal, but downright hippy. There used to be three tattoo shops on Main Street, three record stores and three art galleries. That was pretty much all of Main Street. There was also some place that sold sandwiches or something. Going to grade school pretty much right next-door to that was like I think the first time I ever saw anyone “knit-bomb,” I think that’s the correct term for someone crocheting around a tree. The first time I ever saw that, I was blown away. I said, “Why would anybody do that?”

EH: Yeah, killing a tree.

PK: Yeah, and what a waste of time. Not a waste of time because it affected the heck out of me. Seeing that stuff, and seeing these people, and being around art and music. You couldn’t hide from it, you still kinda can’t hide from it. And also seeing how it changes. How fast the place you grew up becomes unrecognizable.

EH: Mm.

PK: Definitely lately, that’s something that has been hitting me really hard. And I think Garet [Greitzer] too, he has some lines about it in Speedfreak.

EH: I wish I knew the lyrics to our stuff in that band.

PK: Same!

EH: Because I’m interested in what he’s saying. I hear him saying goofy stuff sometimes, but like you were saying earlier, that’s him expressing his “I’m a fuck-up”  mentality, that’s powerful.

PK: And that’s the teenage mentality too, you know, because he’s not a fuck up.

EH: Right, he’s like one of the most successful high schoolers I’ve ever known.

PK: Right! But he has that one where he says “I watch the city the change before my eyes.” I was listening to that in the car the other day, and was like, “Wow,” I kind of tried to forget about, but that is true. And I’m not the person to draw a larger lesson from it, but there’s definitely a lot to think about it in terms of capitalism and small towns and internet communities and, and how value and profit can change all those things pretty fast.

EH: Mhm.

Both: [Silence for a little bit]

EH: So I guess you would consider Kent to be a pretty big part of your identity.

PK: Absolutely. Absolutely.

EH: “Personal brand” is such a goofy thing to say, but I’ve only been here … six months?

PK: It changes you.

EH: I like it, I love this place.

PK: It’s still great, it’s still really, really great. My dad, he told me if I had told him I wanted to go to Kent six years ago, he would’ve told me “don’t.” But that’s probably the reason I remember it so fondly, is because I was a child. And I didn’t value things like excitement and large groups of people. It was probably pretty dead back then to be honest, but to be like a 9 year old and be like: “This place sells giant CDs,” that’s enough [to] just say [whispers] wow.

EH: So as far as eventually graduating and getting a “real” job, if that’s even what you’re going to end up doing, do you think you’re going to leave Kent, do you think that will affect you? Can you talk about that at all?

PK: I don’t know, I guess it’s just like — I think about that all the time. It’s one of those things where you don’t know and don’t have any answers. You just walk away with nothing…It’s tough to be able to make money off of doing simple drawings, but you can work remotely. I’ve always thought about Cleveland, it’s nice.

EH: Yeah, that’s where I grew up.

PK: Oh nice, which part?

EH: Not Cleveland proper, way out on the Northwest corner of Cuyahoga County. Bay Village. Very upper-middle class, white people, you know. But I’ve been all around the city as a youth and as an adult. It’s similar — it’s not quite as artistic, hippy artistic.

PK: Less Bohemian.

EH: Right, but similar mentality, I think, as far as creative culture goes.

PK: So maybe, we’ll see. It depends on how everything changes in the next five years.

EH: So what are you working on right now?

PK: Speedfreak T-shirt. I used to try to do a lot of self-exploratory, like “this is me” indie comics and stuff, but like I said, that’s a lot of pressure, so I’m kind of backed away from that. I wanna start making videos for Cool Dads because I’m really into motion-design, but comics too. I’ve seen a lot of comics recently that have been very interesting and very prominent as a way of cataloging the scene. Comics that are drawn in a humorous way, but there’s no slapstick, there’s no bit. There’s no comedic pacing, it’s just literally a biography. There’s one on Silver Sprocket, I just read that one, it was about the guys from Lemuria, they were playing this show in Europe and all these Nazis showed up.

EH: Oh! Yeah, Scotty [McMaster] was talking about that.

PK: It’s a wild comic.

EH: There’s a 45” Lemuria put out, and the insert is that comic.

PK: Oh, that’s really cool. But yeah, I was kind of waiting for a joke because you get in that formula.

EH: Yeah, that very realist-not realist, but documentarian, almost journalistic.

PK: Almost journalistic! Yeah, exactly. I’ve read a lot of comics and have been inspired by a lot of great comics. The writing is so good, the character development is so good, the aesthetic, the way it enhances the storyline is so good and powerful. There’s a lot of pressure to do that when you’re 20. So Scotty, he just did that one for Maximum Rock’n’Roll that’s just about his life, his week.

EH: And Scotty naturally has that little bit, that humor and personality, but he’s still talking about the same stuff.

PK: Right, “Here’s my friend, this is the show we went to,” just for the sake of being on paper. I never thought about that before until this interview, this is helpful. I learned a lot about myself.

EH: Me too!

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