Earlier this month saw the release of a new album by multi disciplinary artist and musician Heathered Pearls, real name Jakub Alexander. For many years he has worked within the creative sector, designing installations, writing music and showcasing performances – he is not bound by one sphere.
His new album was released by longstanding label Ghostly International and featured exuberant collaborations with the likes of innovators such as Terrence Dixon, Shigeto and Nick Murphy. However, perhaps the most important collaboration of all in respect to this project was the creation of the artwork which is showcased on the cover of the release.
The record features artwork designed by himself, his mother and his sister, Martyna. Family is important to Jakub and the ability to involve them so closely in a project such as this is rather unique.
We invited Jakub and Martyna to interview one another, reflecting upon their own experiences….
Heathered Pearls asks Martyna
I know you work on iPad, you paint on canvas, you do graphic design and you also draw every day. With CAST pretty much all the work was physical pieces/sculpture. If you could do more work with physical art what it would be?
Oh, that’s a tough one. I love a lot of 3D mediums but they are so much harder to work in! I think fashion/apparel design is a physical medium I’ve always had a love for. The fabrics, textures, and silhouettes are so appealing but I think the medium I’m most fascinated with right now is architecture and environmental design. I’m constantly sketching and thinking about small retro cabins or sustainable in-ground homes that I hope Danny and I could actually build and live in one day. But everything is very standardized these days and I’d like to build a very customized experience. Something surreal yet still practical. Something where each individual nook and small area can give you a feeling of adventure but also comfort, using space and scale and shape. It opens the project up to an infinite amount of variables, textures, and materials but the built environment is so exciting since our experience of it is so standardized within the commercial industry.
We did about 50+ facetimes to finish this project because you’re in Detroit and I live in Brooklyn, what’s the most irritating thing and also what’s the best thing when it comes to working long-distance?
This is pretty much the only way we’ve really worked together over the years which is strange to say with how many projects we’ve done together but it seems to really work well for us. I think the best part of long-distance work is that it keeps things quick and pretty efficient. I can devote time to many more projects at once this way and provide quick and easy images, video,s or feedback when communicating. And I think our work lives are pretty similar in that we have multiple projects going on at any given time, meetings with our jobs, etc. but we’re also fairly easy to get a hold of in that way too. Whenever Danny and I get into the studio you’re usually available to chat and hopefully vice versa. At the same time, I know that if you were in the studio with us, that the physical realm, with the piece there in front of everyone, could also be a great way to work through concepts, and challenges more easily than us sending a million tiny photos and videos back and forth haha. But I think we gain a lot from being in our own communities and different cities, mainly that it broadens our perspective on the world, and makes the collaborations richer.
You did the art direction and Danny, your boyfriend, photographed everything for us in your studio. Outside of CAST what else do you two work on or are you planning to work on?
Well in my day-job I’m a freelance graphic designer that works mainly on branding and web design, so Danny and I will often work on websites together because nothing is worse than a well-designed site with terrible photos! And since Danny is a photographer that often shoots for retail brands doing social and web I will sometimes provide insight into the web-need aspect of his work or suggest ideas for brand consistency. But for personal work, Danny and I have always wanted to create an art publication together. It has been a long time coming and is still on the back burner but I’m excited by the prospects of combining our personal artistic sensibilities in print. Danny’s art touches so much on the candidness of humanity while also finding these whimsical moments in the real world that it sometimes touches on surrealism.
What time of day do you find the easiest to start working? If you had a clean slate with all your projects done, what would you start working on?
Well, I’m a pretty cut-and-dry night owl. I wake up late, and stay up late. And I find that the best times for me to work are close to when I wake up and then pick up again in the evening when everyone else has stopped working haha. If there ever was a time that everything was off my plate (how do it get there?!) then I’d probably default to sketching ideas for a painting, or sketching some clothes I’d like work on with a seamstress, or looking for land to buy so I can hopefully start building someday. But I think I would definitely just start sketching painting ideas.
Tell me some of the projects you’re working on – freelance and personal.
Right now, for design, I’m working on branding for a small cosmetic producer in Northern Michigan, a website re-design for a hotel in Detroit, websites for two different local product designers, branding concepts for a local furniture company, and in a few weeks I’ll be driving to Indiana to paint some murals for a retail store opening in December. I also have a tiny solo show of my paintings going up in about a week that I’m prepping for. As well as some paintings for a December pop-up, and a commission piece for a client. Too much if you ask me! But I’m definitely also grateful to have work at this time and to be able to pursue my art.
If you couldn’t do art in any way, what job would you take?
I actually think about this often, I’m not sure why, since I dont think I could truly ever give up art but if I had to I feel like I would do well long-term caring for animals and/or learning about them. It’d be nice to find a way to impact the greater pet industry and ideas of pet culture – to try to end the over-breeding and abandonment of animals. Or maybe a therapist that uses botany or nature to help people. Nature has always been so healing and fascinating to me, so I think being surrounded by some form of flora or fauna and using it to connect with other humans would replace the things that Art is doing for me now.
Tell me about where you started your internships, where you’ve traveled? What most shaped your taste from those experiences?
I did a lot of internships in school and they all taught me a great deal about different types of workplaces, cultures, and how much context played a role in design. I did 3 internships in New York one summer – Bon Appetit magazine, a mid-size product design company, and a tiny 2-person design firm in Brooklyn. I also did a very short-lived internship in SF at a boutique book publishing company called McSweeney’s, as well as an internship at a small design firm in Tokyo, Japan right after I graduated from college. All of that after studying abroad in Florence in college as well. I learned traveling doesn’t mean much – or I guess doesn’t change a person much, unless you truly immerse yourself in a place’s culture – and that takes time or effort. I learned it’s really hard to design for clients whose culture you don’t know well but that there are some things that transcend culture or language and it’s the basic desire to help and be kind to others. I also learned that I am privileged even if I didn’t always feel that way. I also learned that capitalist/consumerist corporate work-place culture is often toxic, it doesn’t matter how much you are getting paid and that nothing is more valuable than understanding where other people are coming from – as in their history, their culture, and how it’s shaped their perspective. My general taste is made up of my own experiences, my family, what I was exposed to. I really loved anime and manga growing up as well as vintage advertising and marketing design – the way it has translated through the decades and through different countries. I especially love vintage packaging design from North Korea and Japan and that was definitely influenced by my travels.
Give me a list of 5 songs that you listen to while working.
So I tend to listen to music more while I’m painting rather than designing and it changes all the time obviously, but here are some classic go-to’s:
Tear My Heart – Moon Boots
Julia Brightly – Caribou
Two Dots – Lusine
Division (Heathered Pearls Remix) – Tycho
Changes – Antonio William, Kerry McCoy
Martyna asks Heathered Pearls
Kuba, before you started Heathered Pearls you were and still are an amazing DJ. How do you think being a DJ better prepared you to start making your own music? And how does it continue to impact your work?
DJing really gave me some reference to what electronic music needed for production, I have no musical background really so every little bit helps. Sure, I can listen to some Arthur Russell and want to make that but that would take some more education. The records I was playing were mainly local Techno from the Detroit record shops, super digestible loops and fed me a formula I could follow. This also has governed my sequencing, I have a love for loop based music and something with a pulse.
From working with you my whole life it really seems like art and music are very fluid means of expression for you, they often blend together in many of your projects. What other artists that work in both mediums do you admire or take inspiration from?
Well I have had Scott Hansen ISO50/Tycho near me daily before I even started Heathered Pearls. He’s almost an engineer when it comes design & music, such a craftsmen to watch because his output is high-quality across the board, it’s like watching someone from the matrix work. Even though we have different tastes, his processes have helped me prepare and plan projects. As for organization though, i’m Francis Bacon studio level bad when it comes any creative output, everything I touch is just week old dirty plates under a table somewhere.
How has your childhood, both traveling across Europe and rooted in Michigan shaped your perspective and taste – in music and in general?
Without the Michigan music scene from late 90s Detroit raves to Ann Arbor’s Tower Records to UofM college/Detroit radio and the record shops that were scattered all over, i’d probably be listening to rap/pop and the formulalic stuff that’s accessible. I owe a lot to the Polish pirate CD-R music shops that stacked X-Mix compilations in front of me to the expansive electronic section at the local Tower Records and resale stores. I was able to dig past just Prodigy / The Hackers Soundtrack and get an early start on the vast amount of music out there across Electronic.
As long-time collaborators we’ve worked on so many different things, from apparel to album art, to sculpture. Is there a dream project or medium that you hope we might tackle someday?
A Richard Serra sized piece that sits out in nature.
What other creative mediums aside from music and sculpture have the largest influence on you or give you the most inspiration?
I have to say custom printing, embossing always catches my eye, half-satin paper, metallic foils, thin die-cut clear plastic…that world I feel like hasn’t been nearly explored to it’s fullest.
What is the first step or element in developing a new album? Is it a common thread between half-made songs, is it a sculpture, a narrative or is it a completely different spark each time?
I think stepping back from what you have that you’re happy with and finding some common ground, where it naturally pairs. Until then just keep focusing on the individual sketches.
This is one you already asked me but I’m so curious to hear your answer too, if you had to pick another career outside of music or art what would it be?
Hunting poachers…I don’t know how to shoot a gun but knowing I could be stopping animals from being hunted for their bones just for profit, i’d jump on that opportunity.
Buy the new album HERE.