This week, Brett MacFadden gives us a look inside MacFadden & Thorpe, the three-year-old design studio he runs with business partner Scott Thorpe (and their musician-by-night intern Clive). Listen up to this smart mix compiled by all three designers from their San Francisco-based workspace.
What do you listen to while you work? Like most designers, music is an important part of our creative process and our tastes are eclectic, worldly, sophisticated, massively edgy, and, indeed, beyond pioneering. We listen to Internet radio a lot and to more classic rock than our interns might appreciate, but that they quietly tolerate. We love classic rock because it’s generally older than us. We also like classic-country, classic-rap, classic-jazz and classic-cal. Scott would like to emphasize that we do not like Vampire Weekend, and I (Brett) support that, even though I saw them last year in Berkeley and it was a not unpleasant experience.
How do you listen? If we listen together, it’s traditionally though my iMac, which has decent speakers. But I recently brought a small Altec Lansing speaker in from home (a great product by the way) and now Scott is enabled to play music as well. Often I like to stream one of two great public radio stations—KEXP in Seattle or The Current in Minneapolis—then it takes the pressure off of being the DJ, and provides a steady wash of new music. Although, lots of times I’ll be playing one of these stations and I look around and everyone else has put their headphones on.
Scott and I both love vinyl and someday hope to have a studio with a stereophonic gazillion watt mind-melting high-fidelity system with a wall of speakers and a crystal turntable to spin records on. For my birthday Scott gave me a collection of vintage records to play on a turntable I had found on the street—including Patti Smith’s “Horses”; Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”; and Doc Watson’s self-titled album. It was an excellent gift, both in terms of graphic design and of tunes.
Do you have any favorite music websites/providers? Scott pays more attention to sites, like Pitchfork and Daytrotter. I get most of my new music education from the aforementioned streams — KEXP and the Current. NPR Music is a favorite source for both of us.
Does music influence your work? I think it’s fair to say it influences us more in a workflow and morale sense than a directly graphic one. But if I were to think of an example, it would be a book I did several years ago with the photographer Henry Horenstein called “Honky Tonk.”
The book is photos from the 1970’s of country musicians, and working on it was a labor of love, as well a great education. While on the project, I got a rescue dog and named her “Maybelle,” after Mother Maybelle Carter, who is photographed in the book.
Who influences your musical taste? We influence each other, learn about artists through the mentioned sites and stations, and our interns are a constant source of new material, as well as sometimes musicians themselves. Our current intern Clive Hacker is in a band called Sunbeam Road and our former intern Barrett Korber goes by the nom de rap Polar B.
We also teach at the California College of Arts (CCA) and we learn a lot from our students. We both used to work for a larger company, Chronicle Books, and it’s sometimes hard not having that network of co-workers to organically lead you to new ideas, both musically and otherwise.
What song or artist best represents the work you create? In our design we strive to make things that are honest, well crafted, and true to clients and ourselves. There’s a lot of musicians out there who have an ethic we admire—The Black Keys, Neil Young, Gillian Welch—and others young and old and in many styles of music. But if I had to pick just one, we’d hope to be like Willie Nelson, who innovated by being modern, authentic, and a little weird. And who, to this day, is approachable and sincere to his fans.
MACFADDEN & THORPE’S PLAYLIST
Gotta Get Up, Harry Nilsson
Super Duper Rescue Heads!, Deerhoof
The All Golden, Van Dyke Parks
Alsatian Darn, Panda Bear
The Village Green Preservation Society, The Kinks
Brand New Start, Little Joy
Sweet Thing, Van Morrison
Thirteen, Big Star
Wouldn’t It Be Nice, The Beach Boys
Remember Me, Willie Nelson
Moonshiner, Uncle Tupelo
Images courtesy MacFadden & Thorpe