Chords + Canvas: Jordan Buckley (Every Time I Die)

ETID New Junk Aesthetic Feature

Now being added to Under The Gun’s vast array of feature content is Chords + Canvas, a fresh new column written by our very own Adrian Garza.

While most musicians grow tired of making noises on the instruments of their choosing, a select few will turn to other artistic outlets, and that is what this series is all about. Chords + Canvas is a series of interviews done with musicians who dabble in the visual arts to varying degrees.

Without a doubt, Every Time I Die is considerably one of the most eclectic touring forces to be based out of Buffalo, NY. Behind one half of the guitars that craft the band’s signature sound lies Jordan Buckley, who runs Jordan Buckley World Wide (otherwise known as JBWW, for short) in between all of the madness involved with being in the band. In our interview we discussed such things as Buckley’s roots in the music and illustration worlds, how the two seemingly different worlds work with one another, JBWW, and of course, He-Man.

How would you describe yourself as an artist?
Obsessive? Yeah, I think you kind of have to be if you want to be not successful, but be satisfied.

How long have you been creating visual art? What about music? 
Kind of literally all of my life. I guess not literally, but… literally most of my life. I was always drawn into He-Man and stuff when I was like five. I think my earliest memory of drawing was [when] I drew a Castle Grayskull on a chalkboard, but I drew it with marker, and I didn’t understand why it wasn’t coming off because I thought if you drew it on chalkboard you can just erase it.

So you know, I was at a very young age and it kind of just always interested me. First grade I won a drawing contest, so how old are you in first grade? Like seven or something? Eight? Maybe six?

I was probably like three or four, you know, like how little kids draw. I was really obsessed with He-Man, so I was always drawing He-Man.

So, when did you start to consider it as your “thing”?
Umm… I think in first grade when I got that award, it was like… I didn’t consider it my thing, but it was the first time that I thought I was better at something than most people. So I kind of liked that feeling I guess, now that I’m thinking about it.

You’re really opening things up. I feel like I’m on a psychiatrist’s couch, this is great!

What about music?
Well my dad always had guitars, he played the guitar. So that was always cool, so I never knew how to play them at all. Like, my brother’s friend used to come over, and he played the guitar, so I kind of used to always look up to them, because they weren’t much older than me, but they could play the guitar.

So I’m like “I’m only a couple years away from being as good as they are.” So I guess I started to learn really easy stuff, which kind of… You know when something just looks impossible to do; you don’t even start doing it?

So I just thought the guitar was just impossible, and then when I was like twelve, I was getting into Nirvana, Green Day, and stuff like that, I kind of realized that through a friend (like, “show me how to play this, show me how to play this!”) that three chord songs were really easy to play.

So I was like, “wait a minute. So the biggest bands in the world right now are playing the guitar, and it’s this easy?” You know? It’s not like I sat down and tried to learn like, Metallica solos, I was [playing] “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Welcome To Paradise”, like these are songs that I could actually play. I was like eleven or twelve, and so all of the sudden that wall of it being impossible was kind of knocked down, and so I’ve kind of just always kept playing since then.

I always like to obsess over what I’m doing, and that’s why I never start something until I know that I can give it 100% of my obsession that I’ve kind of committed to that. I’m not necessarily good, but it’s kind of my life, so that’s good enough.

I really should’ve asked this sooner, because I know you’ve kind of touched on it with your other answers, but what got you into art?
I’d watch cartoons, and I would just kind of like… I would want to make them because there weren’t any limitations. Even at a young age, I didn’t see limitations. Like a cartoon could be of anything… Literally. I know I’ve been using that word a lot, but I try to only use it when it’s correct, so that I emphasize. A cartoon could be anything, and art could be anything. When you’re a kid it’s like “you can’t do this, you can’t do that, you’re not old enough to do this, and this is too hard.”

But you see a cartoon, and in a weird way it’s like… “I can sit down and draw Skeletor.” You know? I can give him five hands, if I want. I can give him two heads, if I want. If I want him to be ten times bigger than He-Man, I can do that. Or I can make him ten times smaller than He-Man. It was very intriguing to get involved in something so limitless.

What are your favorite mediums?
I do pen now… that just came from like, a touring thing. If I’m on tour and I’m drawing, I can’t break out paint brushes, paints, and a big canvas. So I just kind of got good at pen, just because of its functionality. To repeat myself, I wish I could get more into acrylic and more into paint, except I don’t want to half-ass it. I barely have any time not on tour. So I feel like the next time I have six months off, I’ll tackle it, because I will get incredibly frustrated if I start something, I’m not good at it, and I don’t have enough time to get good at it, or get better at it.

So that’s kind of why I stick with pen, because I’m just so comfortable with it, and it’s very practical. I can go to the store and grab some new pens if I run out. We tour in a van, so most of the times I draw; it’s just in a dirty closet anyways. So it’s just a little easier than most other mediums.

What mediums would you like to get into?
Definitely acrylic. I’m very jealous of some of my favorite illustrators, because a lot of my favorite illustrators also paint, so it’s like “dammit! They can do both, I want to do both!” I’m not so jealous of people who only paint because I respect their dedication, but when I see a really good illustrator, they’re like “oh by the way, here’s this awesome painting I just whipped up this weekend…”, I’m just like “come on! Now I’m going to have to do that.”

It’s not that I’m competitive by any means, there’s more than enough room in the world for– I’m very inspired by other people’s art. But I’m very down on myself when I feel like I’m being lazy, and so there’s always this voice in my head that’s like, “shouldn’t you have learned how to paint by now? I mean, come on!”

So when I see illustrators/painters, it kind of light’s a fire under me to get my act together and start doing that. The same with digital [mediums] like Photoshop. I mean, I hate it, I’m bad at it, I don’t know how to do it, and whenever I need something done digitally, I just hire someone. But at the same time, there’s a voice in my head that says “c’mon, you sit around at a venue all day, why don’t you learn a thing or two? Why don’t you do it yourself?”

I’m happy with my illustration skills, I wish I [would] just bite the bullet and learn how to do Photoshop and Illustrator. Next time I’m home instead of watching movies, I should teach myself how to paint or something.

Yeah, sometimes you just gotta chill though.
Yeah! That’s what my mom says too, that that’s important, but I only relax when I schedule relaxing time because then I feel like I’m working. It’s like “oh yeah! Relaxing is on my to-do list, so I’m allowed to do it!”

Who are your favorite artists? Who inspired you early on?
Early on it was– Like specific illustrators? I didn’t really understand the concept until like, um… comic books was when I really started to notice that. Like when I’m watching cartoons and I’m watching Batman and superheroes, and everything on TV. You’re never really thinking about the person that made them. You just think about how cool it is that this art is alive, but with a comic book, it’s different; you’re looking at it and it’s like “well this guy’s stuff is way cooler than this guy’s stuff!” and “this guy’s stuff is what I want to learn how to [do].”

When I was ten, I really got into Spawn, and that was big. Eventually this dude, Simon Bizley, you’ll look at it and you’ll be like “well I’ve seen this before,” and he’s a really good comic book illustrator. People nowadays like Alex Pardee and John Leesh, Skinner, Crayola and people that through the internet, I’ve actually met, communicated with, and become somewhat friends of. That’s always weird to me, you know? Like it’s still weird to me when I’m friends with a band I really love, and it’s even weirder when I’m friends with an artist that I really love.

But yeah, the list goes on and on: I like Ralph Steadman (I don’t know if he’s dead), that guy Alan Cober, he got me into pen, and that was just because I went on a field trip in college to see his exhibit at the University of Buffalo. He is no longer living, his work is decades old, but it’s just crazy how I went there once on a field trip, and it kind of changed my life. It’s like “Oh. What if I had skipped that class that day?” You know? Check him out, Google him.

Are there any mediums that you’d like to get into with JBWW, but are possibly unsure about?
I’d like to be able to color and– like, I take the process from the drawing to the scanner, and then I scan it and I e-mail it to a variety of graphic designers that I work with, and I say “here’s how I want it to look, send that back to me and then I’ll (you know), I’ll pay you.” Then the shirts are made.

So I guess I would like to be more of a self-contained unit in the fact where I could be able to draw it, scan it, then do it all myself, and then just hand it in. Because sometimes, if I’m obsessing over something, and they’re not, it’s hard to get– I’ll e-mail them and be like “Hi, can you make this one little speck white?” Then three days later they’ll be like “Oh, you were serious?”

I’d rather just be able to do it all myself than be like “hey, this one little thing that only I notice, can you make it this shade and…” It’s really, really obsessive stuff that I almost feel bad about when they’ll send me a finished product, and I’ll be like “Well… change this, this, this, and this.” One day I’d really like to just not have to do that and do it myself.

But then again, I find it very satisfying to know your weaknesses, like I wouldn’t put out a shirt that’s an awesome drawing, but a half-terrible color job just because I did the color job and I refused to have anyone else do it. I’m proud of the fact that I can admit that I don’t know what I’m doing with computers, and that I don’t like it. You know? I guess knowing your weaknesses is huge to any business. And yeah, I’d rather write a check for “X” amount of dollars to a guy who’s been doing Photoshop eight hours a day for the last ten years than be like “I can do it myself!” and then have a great drawing ruined by my crappy digital coloring abilities.

But then again, who knows? I get frustrated easy, it might be 1,000 times easier than I think. That’s what they all tell me. Every time I hire someone to do something for me, they’re just like “Why don’t you just do this?” It’s like: 1. I don’t know how, and 2. I don’t know how.

How long have you been doing the whole Jordan Buckley World Wide thing?
I think I started that in 2008. It was kind of just a way to do something with my art. Like, I couldn’t take a 60-hour ink drawing, hang it on a wall, and be like “well I just spent 60 hours on this, I want a ton of money because I spent 60 hours on it,” but my fans don’t really have that kind of money, and so it was kind of a “how do I get my art out? And how do I get it to people that can afford it?” and t-shirts were just kind of the obvious solution.

Except, I knew I would get that “oh, another guy in a band with a clothing line!” thing, and I think anytime you have anything that has been done before. Like, I’m not the first person that has made t-shirts, and I’m not the first dude in a band to be responsible for it. But, I was like “ok, how about I do that, but I’m just the best one” you know? [laughs]

I’m not going to name names, but some of these band guys with clothing labels are just – their shirts are just stupid and take like two seconds to make a kid in his digital graphic design class… and a lot of people just see it as another way to get $20 out of their fans. Like, it’s a money-grab.

You can call a kid who’s majoring in graphic design and be like “OK, I want it to say like… fucking ‘YOLO’ bro, and then I’ll put my name on it, and it will sell!” I’m the one that’s like “No. I actually care.”

*looks out to parking lot*

That kid just walked by with one of my shirts, and I was like “cool, I’m proud of that.” If it was something I can’t do with my band, I can’t do with my shirts, I cannot – I cringe, and I want to curl up into a ball when I see something I’ve done that I’m not proud of out there. So I wanted it to be like when people said “oh cool, another band dude with a clothing line,” I want it to be the best of that. You know? Because I really have no choice! How else am I to get my art out there? I could apply for a job at a comic book company and then I could… but then I doubt I could do that and then tour at the same time. I could… I don’t know. How else can I? I could make flyers, I could make whatever, but I just found this to just be the most logical.

Are there any future JBWW collaborations that you would love to do, but probably wouldn’t be able to do?
Well the collaboration thing was an idea of mine (and I have many, some come to fruition and some don’t), and originally, the idea was to have kind of a “2013 band of the month” kind of thing, where [on] the first of every month there’s a different band. It’s a band that I like, a band that I’m friends with, it’s I respect, and it’s a band that I’d be proud to work with. Because I have made a lot of really good friends in a lot of really great bands, and I’m actually– a lot of people just assume things, it’s like “oh, you probably hate this band, you probably love this band.” No, I’m friends with nice people, and you know, I kind of stay away from people that suck, so I didn’t want to do it based on the popularity. It’s not like I was “I want to get twelve of the biggest bands…”

*Shakes head*

I wanted to get twelve bands that I’m friends with, that I love, that I love touring with, that I’m so happy I’ve been friends with, and that I listen to when I’m driving.

One thing leads to another, I’m just too busy, and… I wanted to do Underoath first, because I run JBWW with Tim [McTague], the guitar player, he’s kind of the man behind the man here on this Merchline, he runs Merchline. So I brought the idea up to him, and he’s like “Dude, as long as Underoath can be like, first.” I’m like “heck yeah!” So I did the Underoath one, and then we were on tour with The Chariot and I brought the idea up to them and they were like “we love, we’d love it.” I had up until like May, and then everything just– with the holidays and the crazy touring, I just wasn’t able to get the Underoath one done in time. Since I didn’t get it done in time, I just kind of ruined the whole thing. I’m not going to do a “band of the month,” but let’s start with two in February. I wanted to do it with like “January 1st, February 1st, March 1st…” Once the January 1st idea kind of went out the window, the whole thing went out the window. But I’m still going to do it, it’s just going to be less scheduled, and it’s going to be more sporadic. Like, I did the Underoath ones at the same time, and they killed. Kids loved them.

Can you imagine it lasting more than a year?
Umm…Yeah! Yeah, now that it’s not a “band of the month” thing, maybe I’ll do two in a couple of months, maybe I’ll do one in a month, maybe I’ll do five in the fall, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just scrap this whole thing and then try it again next year.

Would you say that you approach songwriting and sketching similarly?
Yeah. Well you’re starting with absolutely nothing, and you’re trying to make something. You’re being inspired by random things, and so yeah, it is very similar. You’re sitting down with nothing, and you’re trying to make something that you’ll love and be proud of. So yeah, in that sense, it’s exactly the same.

Do you ever find the time and space to create when on tour?
Yeah! It’s tough, but I do. It all comes down to [how the green room is]. Is there a table? Is there room? You know? Is there some sort of privacy? I can’t do it if there’s like a room full of people. If I have a nice table and just kind of got some sort of privacy, I can crank out some drawings.

Do you have anything else to say?! Thank you very much for the interview, man! I appreciate it. I love the Twitter, Instagram and all of that crap, because it’s very interactive and very direct. I like seeing artists I love mid-process, and mid-progress shots, I like getting feedback from fans, all of that. Also, sometimes I’ll put up a drawing and be like “I’m out of ideas, what do I do now?” I love the constant content; I’m a fan of that.


You heard it from Mr. Buckley, head over to Jordan Buckley World Wide for your dose of wearable artistic paraphernalia. Remember, if you’re not banging your head to Every Time I Die, you’re obviously not doing it right.

Interview written and conducted by Adrian Garza (Twitter)

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