Photo: Courtesy of Jeffrey Everett
Photo: Courtesy of Jeffrey Everett

A Day in the Life: Rockets are Red’s Jeffrey Everett

If you’re into music, Jeffrey Everett is a guy you want to know. The talented artist and owner of Rockville-based design agency Rockets are Red has designed hundreds of concert posters for bands like Foo Fighters, Social Distortion, The Decemberists and Wilco, not to mention comedians like Marc Maron, Nick Offerman and David Cross. In the past 13 years, he’s worked with some of DC’s best music venues – 9:30 Club, Fillmore Silver Spring, Rock & Roll Hotel and Black Cat chief among them – and built a fanbase reaching far beyond the DMV. This month, his retrospective “Facing The Music – Thirteen Years of Concert Posters” comes to the Gallery at Lost Origins Productions in Mount Pleasant. We caught up with the designer about his upcoming show, some of his favorite client moments, what inspires him, and life with his wife Kelly and their boys Max and Alex.

On Tap: Tell me about one of the most interesting posters you’ve designed.
Jeffrey Everett: Getting to work with Lou Reed was pretty interesting. He was doing this tour, and he wanted his poster [of a man and woman on a motorcycle driving down the road] to say, “F–k the Pope,” and he wanted it really big. I’m like, “Mr. Reed, I’m a little squeamish about that” but I did a little [“F–k the Pope”] tattoo on the guy’s arm. I submitted it for final approval and within 30 seconds, his tour manager called me up and was like, “Take this off right now. He’s doing a tour in Italy and we will get killed.” It was an interesting poster because it was this idea of not only having to deal with [Lou], but also having to deal with what the audience would say and seeing how big and in-depth a tour can be. It’s amazing how large a musical entity can be, especially behind the scenes. It was a real eye-opener for me.

OT: What about album covers?
JE: I did a cover for the Horrible Crowes’ Elsie record. I loved that one because I got to work with a photographer named Danny Clinch. I think his taste in photography and my composition just really worked well together and made things perfect. It’s one of my favorite album covers.

OT: Do you have any favorite clients to work with?
JE: I’ve loved working with Laura Jane Grace from Against Me! She is just somebody I really look up to, and I’ve followed her personal transitions [she’s transgender] and the growth of the band. She’s just so incredibly smart and articulate. I’ve been a fan for such a long time that getting to do work with her and for her is really just an honor. I get to geek out a little bit.

OT: Most memorable client story?
JE: I did work for [writer/director/producer] Tommy Wiseau when he did a play version of his movie The Room. I worked with his manager on a deal where we would give Tommy [a set number of] posters, and then we would have extra posters that he would sign and I would get to take and sell them to basically get paid for my work. A week after the show, I get this email from a guy named Johnny and he claimed to be representing Tommy. The email is like, “I don’t know why you’re selling these posters. I wonder why you’re being a bad boy and not doing what Tommy the great director has asked you to do. I feel like you are being wrong.” And it’s signed, “Johnny, the lawyer of Tommy.” [Note: The abbreviated version of the story is that it turns out Johnny, the lawyer of Tommy, is actually the wrestler himself, and when Tommy’s manager calls him out on it, they get in a huge email fight that Everett is cc’ed on.] The entertainment industry is completely bizarre. I got to watch it happen in front of my eyes.

OT: How would you describe your style?
JE: I’m no longer trying to do a single idea. I’m trying to capture more of a story, or a longer-lasting theme. If you watch a really good movie, you should be able to take any scene from that movie and make it into a poster. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to get a slice of a larger story. Stylistically, I do a real pop art style – really thick chunky lines, halftone dots, something [Roy] Lichtenstein or a 1950s comic book illustrator would do.

OT: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
JE: I read a lot of books, I go to a lot of movies, I try to go to museums. I try to really get ideas from the world around me. I really love Raymond Pettibon. His posters really influenced me growing up. He was a person who was taking punk music and making it artistic on a very high level. When you saw his work, you knew what the music was going to be like. I’ve always loved him. The guy who did all the covers for Joy Division, Peter Saville, is the same way. I draw a lot of inspiration from him. And Edward Gorey. I admire [a lot of people] more for how they approached their design rather than how they did their design. I approach posters as a world unto themselves so when you have them hung up, it’s like you’re telling a story.

OT: What inspired your “Facing the Music” retrospective?
JE: I was working with Jason [Hamacher] on a piece for a [hardcore punk] band called Battery, and he was like, “You should do a show at my gallery,” and I was like, “Okay.” And then it turned into, “Oh wow, I’ve been doing this for 13 years. I should do a collection of 13 years of posters because 13 is a really cool number.” A lot of times, things just fall into place. And when they do, you just kind of go along with the ride.

OT: How did you choose what posters to include?
JE: Honestly, it’s turned into what am I not embarrassed by. I read this quote by the lead singer of The National, and he says something like, “Bob Dylan has written more bad songs than he has good songs, but the good songs are what will stick with you.” That’s kind of how I feel about my work. I’ve done about 250 concert posters; that’s an astronomically large amount of posters in 13 years. At least 70 percent are just f–king horrible and 20 percent are okay. Nine percent are pretty good. One percent are really good; [they’re the ones] I’m not repulsed by. I’m going to hang that 30 percent.

OT: Tell me more about the 30 percent making it into the show.
JE: I still really love the first five or six posters that I did. And my work for The Raveonettes, Gaslight Anthem, Against Me! and Frank Turner. In the last four or five years, I’ve figured out how to do this, and that’s speaking more as an artist who designs rather than as a designer who is trying to be an artist. There’s a lot of really bad posters that I’ve done, and I’ll probably throw a few of those in. [Note: When asked for an example, Everett describes a poster with a couple making out, but he forgot to give the guy any legs.] Once you see [the poster with no-legs guy], you can’t unsee it.

OT: Why should folks check out your show?
JE: I think the show is interesting because it does reflect changes in music. It shows a lot of bands who I’ve worked with for years and how they’ve evolved. I think if anything, it’s just a nice slice of capturing times and places in DC, and how DC has been viewed and how it has changed.

OT: What’s your favorite place to catch a show?
JE: I love going to Rock & Roll Hotel. Steve Lambert, who runs the place, is just a cool guy. It has a very different vibe, and all different types of shows. And of course, 9:30 Club, Fillmore, Black Cat – all of them treat me really well, and all have their place in the area.

OT: Go-to spot for a bite to eat?
JE: Right by Rock & Roll Hotel, there’s a place called Pow Pow that is wonderful. I’m very excited because in the next few months, the people who started Vedge in Philadelphia are also opening a restaurant right by Rock & Roll Hotel. The vegan in me is really excited to eat enormous amounts of delicious vegan food.

OT: Where in the DMV do you explore?
JE: I always love going to Baltimore – walking around Hampden and going to places like the American Visionary Art Museum. I have kids so…I’ve become really old and domesticated.

OT: Where do you like to take your kids?
JE: We love going to new cities. Every year, we try to go on a big road trip. My kids are just really inquisitive and talkative, and they’re kind of up for anything. It’s kind of cool having these little creatures that you’re showing the world to, and they’re totally taking it in and becoming these people you want to hang out with. But they have crappy taste in music, so I’m still working on that.

Cant’ Live Without
My patient and supportive family
Tattoos of my children’s drawings
Starbucks Iced Espresso Cubano
Henry F–king Rollins
Deadlifts

Must-Have Items
Twin Peaks
A mermaid
Massive quantities of caffeine
Judgmental cats who ignore me
Books with actual paper (preferably by Jo Nesbo and based in Norway)

Rockets Are Red Essentials
Wrestling and podcasts about wrestling
Music that inspires and clenches fists
A comfortable pencil and a damn good eraser
People who give a f–k and aren’t crazy
Wrist-saving Wacom Tablet

Learn more about Everett and Rockets are Red at www.rockets-are-red.com, and catch “Facing The Music – Thirteen Years of Concert Posters” at the Gallery at Lost Origin Productions from Tuesday, August 15 to Tuesday, September 5. Join On Tap for the opening reception from 6-9 p.m. on the 15th.

The Gallery at Lost Origin Productions: 3110 Mt. Pleasant St. NW, DC 202-409-6211; www.lostorigins.gallery