How did you get your start as an artist?
I always drew, and my parents were very encouraging about it, and it's something I gravitated towards. I was into comics when I was a kid, and once I realized people did that for a living, then I was trying to do that. As I got older, I got into music, and started doing flyers and, you know, record covers and stuff like that. I knew (EarthQuaker founders) Jamie and Julie from bands, and started working at EarthQuaker building pedals, and then when they needed art for a pedal, I did it, and then kind of done them all since then.
So you’re a musician as well?
Eh, theoretically. (laughs) I can't actually play an instrument, but I've been in lots of bands, lots of improvised stuff. I mostly play effects, not instruments, so it kind of works out.
What does the rig of someone who ‘plays effects’ look like?
I had a Ensoniq DP4 Multi-Effects Processor that has just tons of different effects in it, and an Electrix Filter Factory, and I had a Casio SK1 keyboard, which is a sampling keyboard, and a radio that I would mostly tune to static, and then effect that. It was unpredictable enough that it helped my inability to actually play anything. So I was just kind of trying to figure out, make a good sound out of it, you know? And no one else had it, too, so it was a unique sound for me.
Matt shows off the final Yeti design
How did you become the artist for Earthquaker Devices?
I think I'd kind of been bugging them, or you know, we had talked about the idea of me doing art for some of the pedals at some point, and then it was The Depths, was the new pedal, and they just said, "Hey, figure out--" they knew the name ahead of time. Most of the time, Jamie has a name ahead of time. And yeah, I did some sketches, and they approved one, and that was it.
Has that become the standard procedure?
Yeah, he (Jamie) will have the pedal, like, done, and most of the time, he'll have a name while he's working on it. And then he'll let me know the name. Sometimes, I'll hear them ahead of time. Sometimes I won't. I'll just know, oh, it's a fuzz or it's a flanger or whatever it may be. And I’ll do a bunch of sketches, send them Jamie and Julie and they decide. Then I’ll refine one.
Matt’s draft iterations of the Yeti Design
Is the name of the pedal usually what’s leading you to a design concept?
Some of the names Jamie comes up with, like Arpanoid or Rainbow Machine, they're not real things. So you just throw it into Google Image Search, and just see what happens to come up. And you know, you click on that, then the next thing, and all of a sudden, I see something and have an idea.
Do you listen to music while you work?
I definitely listen to a lot of music, a lot of soundtracky, ambient stuff when I'm working. If it's something a little too pretty for what I'm working on, it'll feel wrong, and I'll switch it. It's not totally a conscious thing, but I know it factors in. Sometimes I'll sit here searching for a while to find the right tone that I want to be listening to while I work on a specific piece.
What was the genesis of the Attack Of The Yeti design?
Guitar Center asked for a Yeti version of the Avalanche Run, and I had kind of a classic Yeti in my mind. There’s the Abominable Snowman from the Rankin/Bass Christmas, like, he's so cool, and then there's the Wampa from Empire Strikes Back. I just wanted to do a classic Yeti for this, so it read right away.
How does that then fit onto the face of the pedal?
Doing the art on an established pedal like the Avalanche Run, I already know the knob layout, so I know how the piece is going to sit. It's always kind of a guessing game, even with templates, what's going to get covered up by the knobs, and what kind of knobs it's eventually going to have. Sometimes I'm designing before I know what color knobs it's going to be. Actually, I almost never know. So, I'll do a couple sketches, and this one, we knew right away, a Yeti with the mountains and the avalanche in the background.
How does it feel to see your art on thousands of pedalboards?
It's awesome. The thought that at any moment, someone is stepping on my artwork somewhere in the world, potentially in front of thousands of people, is amazing. The fact that these pedals are so amazing and great-sounding, I love it so much. To have my artwork associated with that is pretty cool. I try not to take it for granted, for sure.
What advice do you have for the aspiring pedal or comic artists out there?
After the fourth or fifth episode of Storage Wars, go ahead and turn the TV off and go draw. (laughs) Now that I'm doing this for a living, I’m realizing I could have been there so much earlier had I not wasted so much time doing things that aren't productive. Not that you've got to work every day, every moment, but you know, the only way to get there is to do it. I mean, it was some luck of course, and timing, but I think when I really started to push myself and apply myself is when I finally started to see some progress.
Matt's original sketches of the Special Edition "Monster" EarthQuaker Devices
The Attack of the Yeti Avalanche Run was the first of what would become a series of EarthQuaker Monster Pedals including special edition Afterneath, Data Corrupter and Westwood. Check out all of the EarthQuaker Devices here.