Incredible Tom Tomorrow Interview

by Kathy Davis on September 16, 2009

SpaceDrummer

I’m loving Mel Duncan, a Pearl Jam Examiner at that stalwart website community at Examiner.com.  I’ve been following his project inviting people to vote for their favorite Pearl Jam concerts over history, year-by-year (my suggestion for 1991, the Mural Amphitheatre 8-23-91 show actually won that year). But Mel has trumped that side project and raised the game to another level with this most excellent three part interview with This Modern World and now Backspacer artist Dan Perkins, aka Tom Tomorrow.

To enjoy the original article entitled “Dan Perkins: Yesterday and Tomorrow” in all it’s original glory , follow the  links above each of the below 3 sections -  you’ll want to click through to see photos of Tom with the band and more of his PJ artwork.  For reference, here are the guts of the interview. Mel, you’re THE MAN!

Part 1: 

Examiner: I noticed your last three books are through three different publishers. This is a lot like Pearl Jam’s last three records (Sony, J, Monkeywrench)

Perkins: I’ve had a run of bad luck with publishers. I had such an unpleasant experience with my last publisher I ran screaming away from them. The thing that made it really a joy working with Pearl Jam, the management, everyone around them, was that everyone really gave a damn about producing a good product.

Someone like me, someone low on the totem pole, the battle I’m always fighting is just to get a book out – something people in the art department don’t give a damn about – it’s just a thing on their desk. Once they clear it off, they’re done and onto the next thing. For me, it’s this book I have to live with for the rest of my life.

My current publisher (Ig Publishing), I love them to death. I’ve had some different experiences with other publishers though and that’s what was so rewarding about Pearl Jam, everybody just wanted to do a good job.

Examiner: Your first children’s book, The Very Silly Mayor (available now), what inspired it?

Perkins: The obvious answer – having a young child. Many children’s books are kind of awful. (laughs) When you have to read them over many times your eyes just glaze over from the boredom.

As someone who’s been working at the intersection of words and pictures for a long time, it was just a natural thing to do.

Examiner: Do you think there is something both children and parents can take away from the story?

Perkins: I do. I definitely set out to write a book that was genuinely for children, but I also wrote it so the parents have fun reading it over and over like you have to do with kids.

Examiner: To just wake up one day and find out you’d lost a big piece of your livelihood, how did you take the news?

Perkins: It wasn’t a happy day. (laughs) I had always approached my career keeping my eggs in different baskets. I never wanted a job where one person could fire me. So I syndicated my cartoon out. What I didn’t figure was all my baskets merging on their own. Over time, these papers consolidated and suddenly it turned out that one chain owned most of the major cities I was in.

I still am in a lot of papers and salon.com and just had the good news that I’m back in the Village Voice. (note, the paper in NYC, not the chain)

Examiner: Since you’ve designed posters for Pearl Jam and you did a one off show for Primus and The Melvins, who else would you want to work with?

Perkins: If Neil Young wants to give me a call I’m eager and waiting. (laughs)

Part 2:  

Examiner: How did the art for Backspacer come to be?

Perkins: When I lost those papers, I sent out emails to people who live in the cities where I lost the paper. Eddie is one of the them because I lost Seattle Weekly. He put an open letter on the Pearl Jam site (in my favor). In the New York Times article, one thing the writer got wrong was I didn’t call Eddie asking for work. The most I’ve asked him for is a couple concert tickets once in a while.

Eddie called me saying ‘maybe we can put some of your stuff on our site or maybe do a poster.’ Then he said ‘maybe you could have a shot at designing the next album cover.’

That really blew me away. It was an incredibly intense moment. So after I recovered from the shock of that (laughs), we got to talking.

The idea I tossed back at him was that (the art shouldn’t be) just about the songs, but the band’s memories and images that left some of psychic mark. Things that aren’t widely known or dissected to death in interviews or on fan sites. For example, I didn’t want to do anything about Eddie surfing or anything obvious, I wanted interesting memories or intense dreams.

The album didn’t have a title at that point and Eddie, unbeknownst to me, was messing around with these typewriter keys. It all kind of came together and turning into this thing about dreams and memories and recollections.

Examiner: Can you give me a rundown as to what each panel means?

Perkins: Having the band open up and talk to me was with the understanding that what we talked about stay private. I don’t mean to be coy, but it’s not my place to do that.

Examiner: Fans are looking at the panels and trying to trace back their origins.

Perkins: I’m glad everyone’s having fun looking for this stuff, but I would caution people they shouldn’t confuse the map for the territory, as they say in semiotics. Even if you do find the photo I used for source material, it may just be a photograph. It may not mean anything at all. The reason I used it more likely has something to do with a private conversation I had with someone in the band, and that’s not something you can Google.

If I had the meaning of life, I don’t think I’d be hiding it in album covers. (laughs)

Examiner: Did you do the inside art as well?

Perkins: There’s a couple more surprises, but I’d say you’ve seen about 75% of it at this point.

Part 3:

Examiner: What’s your favorite song off the new album?

Perkins: “Speed of Sound.” I think it’s just a beautiful song.

Examiner: What are some of your other favorites from the Pearl Jam back catalog?

Perkins: I kind of go back and forth a lot. Let me preface this by saying I don’t think artists should compete with themselves like ‘this work is better than that work.’

I like “Life Wasted,” a lot of songs on Vs.: “WMA,” I love that bass. “Dissident.” I like “Elderly Woman,” “Indifference,” “Red Mosquito,” uh, you’re kind of putting me on the spot. (laughs) “I Am Mine” and “You Are.” Do you know how they got the guitar sound on that song?

Examiner: I read that the guitar was played through a sequencer or a drum machine.

Perkins: That’s a cool guitar sound. Also, one of my big favorites because of the message is  “Present Tense.”

I kind of came a little bit later to Pearl Jam. There’s a couple songs that are high up on my list, but Ten is the album I come back to the least. I love “Alive” and “Black” though.

Examiner: On your site, you show a picture of the outside of a record store with a giant panel from Backspacer, the drummer in space, and you note, ‘this is all so strange.’ What did you mean by that?

Perkins: Normally my relation to my work is like that of a parent’s to a small child. You know what they’re doing, you know where they are, you’re keeping an eye on them all the time.

This is what I imagine a parent’s relationship is to a grown child: they go off into the world and they do these interesting things and they come back and tell you about it, and you’re totally surprised and proud, but a little bit taken aback by the whole thing.

I’ve had to just let (the Backspacer art) go out into the world and let it do what it will do. It’s fun, it’s all great, but it’s very strange.

Examiner: Besides the books, the album, and the posters, what else are you working on?
Perkins: Isn’t that enough? (laughs) This month is the culmination of everything I’ve been working on since January. Once I recover from this, then I’ll figure out what the next thing is.

Special thanks to Dan Perkins and PJ’s management.

And by the way, Tom/Dan posted this on his site

By the way — my advice to PJ fans would be to avoid leaked photos of the inside album art. There are some small surprises which will be much cooler for you to discover for yourself, which is why 10C and I have both been holding back on releasing any of it.

UPDATE (already): Follow  Tom Tomorrow (tomtomorrow) on Twitter to stay updated. Tom is thisclose to having 3K followers…help bump him over the mark and beyond! Follow him here. 

Rock!

Kathy Davis ( Twitter: @CrookedArm23 )
A Bay-Area based entrepreneur, co-editor Kathy conceives and writes her share of TFT’s articles and sections. She was co-editor/co-founder of one of the first Pearl Jam fanzines "Footsteps" (1992-1997). Kathy’s first Pearl Jam show was at the Bridge School Benefit on November 1, 1992.

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