Hi. My name is Travis Keller. I live in Los Angeles, California and I am an artist. I do a gang of different shit that falls under that umbrella which includes but is not limited to: photographer, director, writer, curator, designer, record label guy and skateboarder. I list skateboarder because I identify with that first, and because for me, it was the thing that connected me to everything else that I listed there. Skateboarding really shaped me as a person. It taught me a lot of things, most importantly that you really can do anything if you put your mind to it and just don’t give up. It also taught me that failure is a part of the process and you just gotta keep getting back up. Gotta keep pushing. I’m standing on the corner preaching that. I’ve learned way more from my failures than I have from my successes.
I started the website Buddyhead.com in 1998 and it was one of the first independent music websites on the internet. I was just one of the first people who learned how to code websites in my circle of friends and we came from the world of fanzines so it just seemed logical to start an online fanzine cuz it was free and could reach more people. We told it exactly how it was, which no-one else was doing at the time. Ok, we talked shit. A lot of shit. But if I’m being real, the focus was much deeper than that. We were defenders of art and with the spirit of punk we tried to shine light on artists that normally wouldn’t get love elsewhere. The secondary goal was to make ourselves laugh. It was an even mix of high brow and low brow art. Buddyhead also spawned an independent record label of the same name that has released over 55 titles, including records by Ink & Dagger, The Icarus Line, At The Drive-In, Murder City Devils, Text, The Dillinger Escape Plan, 400 Blows, Wires On Fire, Moccasin & others. Buddyhead Records is still putting out releases in 2020. Two of the newest releases being “i got it from my mama” by Problemas and “Lay Off Me” by LA surf rockers The Cauterizers.
I am currently the creative director of American Primitive art collective, which also includes Jacob Mendel and Joe Cardamone. Joe and I have been friends and collaborators for over 20 years now, so it’s like a family. We’re based out of his studio Valley Recording Co, where a ton of artists have recorded including Ariel Pink, Royal Trux, Ian Astbury, Pink Mountaintops, Giant Drag, Jesus and Mary Chain, The Stooges, Omar Rodriguez Lopez, Evan Dando, Jon Brion and Joe’s own ex-band The Icarus Line. The film division of American Primo has produced videos for The Rentals, Joe Cardamone, Problemas, Dreamhome, Vitamin XP, The Cauterizers and Mark Lanegan.
In 2018 I released my first photo magazine called Past Lives which was 112 pages of photos from being on tour from 1997-2007. In 2019 I followed that up with my second zine called Stay Alive which was photos from the last three years and featured interviews with the American Primitive gang ala Mark Lanegan, Joe Cardamone, Annie Hardy & Problemas. I am currently working on a third photo magazine called Rona Life. I am also Mark Lanegan’s “official photo dude” and have shot the press photos for his last two albums. I am quoting Mark when I say that too. Lol. It’s a really good title and always an honor to shoot Mark, he’s a living legend.
Please can you explain the process and how you go about creating a body or piece of work?
My process for creating kinda depends on what type of media I’m using and what it’s for.
But in general, my process is just to keep continually creating everyday. For me being creative is how I stay sane. And also the more I do it the better I get at it. I really feel like creativity is like a muscle, the more you use it the stronger it gets. And I’m trying to get ripped, so whenever I can I make stuff I do. Usually the mornings and evenings are my peak times to create, but I really don’t have a set schedule.
Who and where do you draw your main influences from?
My biggest influence is living in Los Angeles. I love this city, I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else. It’s an amazing melting pot of people, food and cultures. We got it all here. It’s also the centre of the universe for film, music and skateboarding. And then there’s the weather, the palm trees, the sunsets, the beach, the waves, the mountains, the desert, the tacos and the people who live here.
The area of the city I live in for the past year is called Boyle Heights. I love it, feels like home. It’s the first suburban neighborhood next to Downtown. We’re right by the Mariachi Station, Union Station & LA River, which is the heart of LA. And being that we live in East LA, we’re surrounded by a plethora of bomb Mexican food spots.
I also don’t drive anymore, which forces me to experience the city in an extremely different way. I’m either walking, skateboarding, riding my bike, taking the metro or riding in an Uber. All of which force me to connect with the city and the people in it instead of floating around the city in my own personal bubble.
Other things that influence my art would be Progressive contemporary music. Which now that rock n’ roll is dead af, when it comes to new music it’s primarily hip hop I listen to lately. Also my friends and the art they create because being around like minded people who are also creating is crucial.
Can you tell us a bit about any of your previous collaborations and why they might have stood out as a focus point?
Some personal favourites for me were:
1) The Buddyhead shoe I designed for DVS in 2010. Was a lifelong dream to design my own skate shoe. Was limited to 500 pairs.
2) Buddyhead Presents: Gimme Skelter which was a compilation I did in 2003 with Nettwerk Records that featured exclusive or rare tracks by Iggy Pop, Mudhoney, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Primal Scream, Le Tigre, Weezer, The Icarus Line, Shat, a bonus track where Nardwuar interviews Iggy Pop and artwork by Raymond Pettibon.
3) Just started working on a collaboration zine yesterday with Oliver Leach aka Bakoon on Twitter, and it promises to be straight fire. Very excited about that project.
4) My favorite is all the projects we collaborate on at American Primitive. Joe Cardamone and I have been friends for over 20 years, he was a big part of Buddyhead, I released his previous band the icarus line’s debut record in 2001 and we spent the majority of our 20’s touring around the world together. Now in the present day, we’re always collaborating on videos for his projects as well as others for hire. Good examples of sure are the Mark Lanegan Stitch It Up video as well as all of the videos for Joe’s Holy War project.
Is there a message or feeling you hope to provoke through your work?
That life is beautiful and it’s really crazy that we’re somehow able to be alive and wake up everyday And Gratitude. I’ve got mad gratitude that I’m still alive and breathing, able to make shit. It’s a dream. I just try and be as real and honest as possible in return.
I know you’re involved with the music scene and have your own brand, can you tell us a bit more about that?
I’ve always been a huge music fan, it’s the closest thing I’ve got to a religion. I just like to document what’s around me. Starting Buddyhead, running a label and touring most of my adult life has forever connected me to music. Not to mention I have also taken a lot of press photos, done artwork for albums and of course music videos. Plus my friends have always been musicians and artists.
Any additional plans for the future you would like to share?
About to start making videos for new Joe Cardamone music, he’s releasing a string of EPs called the Deep Fake series. Everyone at American Primitive is really excited about that and stoked cuz in my opinion Joe’s about to drop the best music of his career. Proud of the homie.
I’m going to be releasing a third print pack soon, which will be 40 various 4×6 prints and a mini zine explaining them, hand numbered and signed. All my print packs are limited to 100 copies and then they’re sold out. Also got a few photo zines in the works, one being a collaboration with Oliver Leach and another being Rona Life which is a follow up to Past Lives & Stay Alive. Other than that my plans are just to do my best, be nice to people, keep making shit, skateboard everyday, document what’s around me and just try to be a good person.