LA-based artist Sage Vaughn is best known for his wildlife series and many of his paintings are titled after song lyrics. In his Guest DJ set, he talks about the physical process of making art and the music that fuels his work in the studio, as well as some unexpected favorites like Wham. His work was exhibited at MOCA last year and his latest book, Ice Age, is out now.
1 - Metal - Mikki and the Mauses
2 - Dare to Dream - Dutch Dub
3 - Midnight – Yaz
4 - Eyes of the World -- Grateful Dead (Live At Capital Theatre Passaic, NJ 6/18/76)
5 - Everything She Wants - Wham!
Anthony: Hi, I’m Anthony Valadez and I’m here with artist Sage Vaughn. He’s best known for his wildlife series depicting colorful butterflies, owls and sparrows and some of his work was featured in the Transmission L.A. exhibit at MOCA curated by Beastie Boy Mike D. Today we’re gonna talk about songs that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Sage, welcome to KCRW.
Sage: Hi, how are you?
Anthony: I’m excellent. We’re so excited to have you here and what’d you bring for us today?
Sage: The first song is by a band that is really close to my heart, Mikki and the Mauses The lead singer of that band Anthony Anzalone is my favorite poet and he wrote all the poetry in my art book that just came out. The song is called “Metal”, and it’s a song all about emotional pornography. Just the way that everything now is just playing off these extreme points of interest for us; like every advertisement and, you know, from a Ford truck to like a Bruce Willis movie, it’s all pornographic almost to the emotion.
Song: Mikki and the Mauses -- “Metal”
Anthony: How did you come across this band or this poet?
Sage: Actually a friend of mine signed him years ago and their first show out here -- he was in a different band at the time and it was called the Mean Reds -- and they were all wearing Mexican wrestler outfits and they played this art show at a hair salon that I curated. It was a benefit show for the Silverlake Music Conservatory and they ripped everybody’s cap off. It was incredible.
At the end of his set when he got completely naked, stood on top of an amp and was channeling some kind of Jim Morrison, Darby Crash character, it was amazing. I don’t like going to live music because I feel it very intensely and that looked like the way I feel it, so it was perfect for me, cause everything else feels that intense. So when I see it actually make sense on the outside and the inside, then I feel everything’s OK.
Anthony: That was Mikki and the Mauses selected by Sage Vaughn as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. What’s next for us, man?
Sage: Next is a song by one of my favorite musicians of all time, this guy Nick Dewitt, and he did this project called Dutch Dub. This was mainly the soundtrack for when I was first going to New York and doing art shows, I listened to this a lot. It’s just a good walking around the city alone with headphones album.
Song: Dutch Dub – “Dare to Dream”
Anthony: You know there’s a good strong four on the floor beat. Are you ever inspired by rhythm?
Sage: For sure. I used to listen to a lot of metal when I would do work because it would keep me very active and working, but for the past five years it’s been a real strong dance kind of soundtrack in the studio. Just to keep the energy alive and moving, because really it’s a physical process. I’m on my feet from about 9am to 6pm. And so, it’s nice to have the energy to keep up.
Anthony: When your painting do you feel more comfortable painting to music you’re more familiar with or do you like discovering new music while you’re in that artist mode, in the zone?
Sage: Sometimes, I really like to get a familiar track going and just work and work. Other times, it’s really nice to just be in something that has no vocals and I’m not associating anything with it. Just feeling it.
Anthony: That was Nick Dewitt as Dutch Dub with “Dare to Dream” selected by Sage Von Part of KCRW’s Guest Dj Project. So what’s next for us Sage?
Sage: The next one is more indicative of what I’ve been listening to in the studio. A lot of ‘80’s synth. Like dance music and Yaz, or I found out they’re also called Yazoo in the UK. She’s got the most incredible voice and his writing really good. And it’s probably driving my assistant crazy, because it’s always on rotation in the studio.
Anthony: The vocals are amazing. And I’ve noticed that lyrics are important to you by looking at your book.
Sage: Almost all my paintings are titled after song lyrics. Just because I feel like it’s not a strong suit for me, I am very visual, and these people put so much work into the crafting of words. Sometimes I just lift little bits of their stuff. Even stuff I misheard or got wrong because I’m terrible with song lyrics, like I will feel them so much and find out 10 years later I’ve been singing the wrong lyrics the whole time.
Song: Yaz – “Midnight”
Anthony: That was Yaz with “Midnight” selected by Sage Vaughn as part of KCRW’s guest DJ project. So what’s next for us Sage?
Sage: The next is a song by the Grateful Dead. I’ve been listening to them to the Grateful Dead my whole life. It’s just a huge part of my growing up.
Anthony: I read somewhere that your work is very reflective of the challenge of being in the world. And there is a great line in the song that says “Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world”. What does that line mean to you?
Sage: I think, to me, it’s really about being in the moment. This world is an ever changing place. The best we can do is be in the present. And I think that you wake up to it, you know. I think it’s a wonderful statement. I mean the Grateful Dead really; they are just unsung heroes in American music. They were punk before punk. They were touring doing it all by themselves. I use to go to their shows in the community that lived in that lot around that show. No other band has that.
Song: Eyes of the World -- Grateful Dead
Sage: I think jam bands get a terrible name because there is a lot of really bad stuff, they’re figuring stuff out live on stage and, in this, it’s a good 6 minutes of them jamming and like talking to each other sonically. That’s wonderful, before the song starts to jell up and then it fades away and it tightens up and when it goes into it, it’s just, it’s interesting to see someone work out their process in front of an audience.
Anthony: Let’s take a listen; this is Grateful Dead with “Eyes of the World”
Anthony: That was the Grateful Dead with “Eyes of the World” selected by Sage Vaughn. So what’s next for us Sage?
Sage: Next is Wham with “Everything She Wants”. I thought it’s a great dance song, but also just a story behind a song of a gay man writing about his troubles being in a relationship with a woman. I thought --and the truth comes out later, we find out he is gay -- but it’s also a really funny song to me because he just complains that she spends all his money. I wonder if that’s what he thinks it’s like.
Song: Wham – “Everything She Wants”
Sage: Looking at it, you see the whole picture now and it’s a really interesting moment in this man’s life. Now, he is writing this song about having a troubling time being in a relationship with this woman. Obviously at the time he is very closeted, he can’t be free about who he loves. The song has struggle in it and with my work I struggle with trying to describe these things that I find interesting and beautiful in the world and sometimes it clicks, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I feel like I am getting across with what I need to say, sometimes I need to hide it and other things. And so I feel like, in some ways, I really relate to him, because there’s something there underneath it all.
Anthony: Let’s take a listen, this is Wham with “Everything She Wants”
Anthony: So Sage thanks for coming through joining us here at KCRW.com
Sage: Thank you for having me
Anthony: For a complete track listening and to find these songs. Go online to KCRW.com/GuestDJProject and subscribe to the podcast on ITunes