Interview with Sam Ryser by DX

Sam Ryser’s illustrations have helped define the style of modern New York punk and bad trip hardcore, gracing countless fliers, zines, books and records. His bands are Crazy Spirit and Murderer, and both are entirely worth your attention.

Sam recently started a project drawing freehand t-shirts for freaks who message him their favourite band and song. This is the Bathory shirt he drew for the song ‘Enter the Eternal Fire’.

I called Sam last week to ask him about the Bathory shirt, the impromptu 2020 Crazy Spirit reunion and the Murderer show in London at the start of the pandemic.

You started a project designing band shirts. How did this Bathory shirt happen?
I was like: tell me a band name and a song title and you get what you get, I’m gonna figure it out. That was the deal. There were no parameters. I fucked up majorly. So, now I have to come up with completely new ideas each time, pull shit out of my ass to make a shirt happen, and I have another 40 or so shirts to make. 
The guy that asked me to do the Bathory shirt just brought up Under The Sign, and I checked it out and - I didn’t know that wasn’t a painting on that cover. They just went to a play and took a photo of some guy standing in that weird Minotaur-esque looking outfit. Some guy from the fucking play!


I just chose my favourite song off that record. I wanted to make an image where I felt I could hear that fucken riff. I needed something horrible, Pieter Breugel looking, people swirling and burning. It’s insane, it’s an insane thing to put on a t-shirt. 
The reason I do these shirts is, I always did them. Back in the day I would walk around with some obscure band drawn on my shirt, in the hopes that some other kid would be like, wait, I know that band.
I feel like now, I care less about what 50 people on a random subway think about whatever shit is written on my t-shirt.
But I like the idea of sending people out in the world with a message on their shirt like ‘Enter the Eternal Fire’ on a t-shirt. Imagining what the other people on the bus are thinking.

Tell me about Satan.
In Tokyo, as you leave some station I don’t remember the name, there’s this arcade as you leave the station in this tunnel, and it’s full of these shops with really obscure anime in the windows, comics, record stores, really insanely eclectic bookshops, a couple have these little tiny encyclopaedias of monsters.
I have this little Japanese book on monsters, I can’t read it, but, one of the guys, it looks like a gnarly old German woodcut of a dude sitting in a really basic throne, not really any detail on the throne, it looks like someone took a ruler and traced a chair form and this demon, all of his joints are faces. I started with this guy.

How long do these shirts take you to draw?
Earlier on, I was spending a lot of time, for the bands I really like I was having a really hard time cutting myself off, I was just going insane. When someone asks me to draw a shirt for a band like Electric Eels, I felt inclined to sit with it for a while. I spent too long on them. I would say, probably 12 hours on this Bathory shirt. 
The first ones I would draw everything in yellow and try go over it and hide the yellow, and then I started just going for it and, fuck, the Y of this BATHORY ends up in this guys armpit. It is way the fuck to the right.
When you’re doing freehand shirts they have that wonky charm.

What was the last show you played before COVID?
The last music related thing I did was play in London with Murderer. It was fucking insane. I don’t stagedive that often, but that band Muro played from Bogota, and I jumped into a crowd of people in Mid March. In London.
Thinking about that now… it’s fucking insane. Getting on the plane home - we all smoked hash, we were driving to the airport, we all smoked it being like “hash, it’s like the wine of weed, we’ll all be relaxed” - we all got, completely fucking high off our asses, had bloodshot eyes and we were coughing hysterically, getting a plane from London to New York, we were just like, don’t cough, don’t cough.
We got home and started quarantining and then we got fucking bed bugs.
Playing a show in another city was such a regular part of my life, and then the channel changed really quickly. It’s like, reality farted, and this is what happened.

Have you been playing any music?
Last year, Eugene had a practise space that wasn’t being used, and he asked if I wanted to play, so Eugene and Henry were living with eachother and Henry was like “wait, I wanna come”, so we were like, this’ll be funny if Walker showed up and we had Crazy Spirit practise, and we literally ran into Walker, and so we played as Crazy Spirit.
I mean, there was a lot more debauching than playing. That was the last musical shit I’ve done all year, an impromptu band reunion that left me hungover for 5 days.

More of Sam Ryser’s t-shirt art can be seen here

Listen to Murderer here.
Listen to Crazy Spirit here. 

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