We are poster nerds. This started back in the 80’s when we plastered our rooms in Sisters of Mercy, Metallica, Ramones, Jane’s Addiction posters and the front of CD cases when they came in the large cardboard boxes. Seeing the first 1960’s San Francisco poster art really drew us in to the art and magic of not only the posters to market an event, but the commemorative posters as well. Watching the commemorative poster scene explode even more, where sometimes a band would make posters for just a pinnacle show, now they are making them for every show. We took it upon ourselves to create posters for the “big” shows we brought to Reno back in the day, which basically were Bassnectar, The Glitch Mob and The Bounce, but also did posters for lowRIDERz and the infamous show of NastyNasty, Katey Red and BLVD.
Imagine how stoked we were, when driving through Midtown, we saw a new store called Rock City Posters. Opened by Scotty Roller, of Scotty Roller Designs, the shop sits right between the Chocolate Walrus and Sierra Nevada Chocolate. Go visit! The store is really awesome, with a huge variety of posters from around the world, new and vintage, plus t-shirts and other swag. Plus you can have posters sent out to be framed there, as well as they may purchase a print you have around the house.
If you are into posters, sit down and enjoy this interview with Scotty Roller. It’s kind of long, BUT WELL WORTH IT.
FB: State your name and where you are from.
SR: Scotty Roller. I’m from Anaheim, California.
FB: How did you end up in Reno? When do you move here?
SR: My wife and I moved here in 1996. We were going to move somewhere out of Anaheim but weren’t sure where. She had an interview for a teaching position here, she sent me a postcard of downtown during Hot August Nights with the neon on the casinos, the hot rods and the whole bit. I started packing sight unseen. Before she went on that interview I didn’t even know Reno existed. In fact, no one I told where I was moving knew where it was either. My whole day-to-day life was in Orange County and, on occasion, in L.A. for a show or something. No one in Southern California ever leaves the immediate area. Since then, I’ve been all across the entire U.S. multiple times, Europe repeatedly and can’t wait to see the rest of the world. Moving here kick-started my travel itch of wanting to experience other countries and places I would’ve never been able to see.
I still have a strong love for Anaheim and visit quite a bit during the year, but I also like living in Reno too. There’s a lot of great things being here has afforded me and not to mention the small things like not sitting in traffic or struggling for parking. I love Reno for what it is.
FB: How did you get into the poster art world and making posters?
SR: The first posters I made were actually ink drawn punk rock keg party fliers for some friends in high school. Every Friday there was a raging party that these guys wanted a flier done for and being in Orange County, our local bands were Social Distortion, The Vandals, T.S.O.L., Doggystyle, Cadillac Tramps, China White, Insted, Agent Orange and on and on so they were always on these fliers for these parties. I’d get paid once in a while $20 or some skateboard parts or something really minimal but it wasn’t about the money at all then. It was way more fun drawing these fliers in class as opposed to doing what I should have been doing.
I made all the posters for my band, The Saddle Tramps years later, and would do posters for other bands as well but I really got my chops doing 2-3 posters a week for the Tramps in early 2000’s when we were touring constantly. Later when the economy tanked and all the graphic artists in town were tripping over each other to get the big corporate clients and jobs, I realized I had an address book full of band’s numbers that I’d met over the years and so I started reaching out to them saying, “Hey let’s make a poster for your show”. I started one at a time, and then the hustle was back on just like it was in the 80’s and early 90’s for me. Finding out how to reach these band’s managers and decision makers, getting permission to do them, and then the hard part…..getting paid. Once I did enough of them the bands started commissioning me and it sort of took off.
After all that, you’ve got to get involved in the poster community as an artist. This is by participating in Flatstocks, API events, and hopefully the other artists accept what you’re contributing and bringing to the table. If you’re not bringing anything to the party so to speak, they won’t run you out of town but they won’t make it easy for you. I’ve seen some artists try and get into this, and they just flop and fail miserably. As a poster artist, you not only have to have your art game on, you’ve got to be able to print (even if you’re having someone else print your stuff, you still have to know how to do it, and have done enough of it), and the biggest thing is you have to be a good enough hustler to get on the phone with the managers of these bands and get approved and hired to do this work. You can’t just make a gig poster because you feel like it, especially if it’s being sold. The minute a poster is exchanged for money it becomes a piece of merchandise, and if you don’t have the approval or the permission to have done that poster, you just made bootlegged merch and that damages bands, venues and all involved. There’s rules to this shit. Rules and ethics that have to be followed and played by.
FB: Any educational background in art?
SR: I took an art class in high school my senior year. More because of a girl that I was trying to get with than anything. I went out with her once and couldn’t stand her so the whole thing backfired. I tried to take two different art classes at Fullerton Junior College and dropped out of both. I hated them. I did manage to meet my wife there though so it wasn’t all that bad. Haha!!!
If given the opportunity again, I’d have pulled my head out of my ass and gone to Art Institute or Cal Arts and done it properly. I always wanted to work at Disney Animation Studios, and then Pixar came along and thought that would be the ultimate. I know plenty of people who could have been the connection I needed to get in there but they all said without a proper degree and training from those schools, they won’t even take your call or portfolio. And it’s true. I submitted my portfolio and resume repeatedly. Go to school kids! DON’T do it the way I did.
FB: How did the Rock City Posters concept happen? It’s an awesome store.
SR: Two defining moments. Two years ago in Hamburg at a Flatstock another poster artist friend of mine (who does great work) was bummed out and said, “How are you selling so much already and you’re not even set up? I haven’t sold anything.” The answer in my mind was pretty cut and dry especially since I have been the guy that doesn’t sell anything before. Art is subjective. You’re not doing anything right or wrong, it’s just a matter of people’s taste. But then the first “A-Ha” moment came to me where I thought, what If I wasn’t selling anything but the other 39 artists are. If I was getting a piece of the action from all of these artists I would be making something and not nothing. I need an outlet to sell my posters, and posters from other artists.
The second moment that really made my mind up was an invitational poster show in Dresden called Colored Gigs that my friend Lars Krause puts on. It’s in a venue called Scheune and it is all black inside, unfinished concrete floors, a stage at one end that bands were playing on, a DJ at the opposite end playing records between bands and all while this is going on, we had hung our posters from the ceiling like drapes and people were walking the aisles looking and buying posters while music played. It was incredible. I knew I had to bottle that feeling and experience and bring it home. We had nothing like that anywhere.
Since I’ve opened Lars and countless poster artists and studios have rallied behind me and championed my efforts. It does wonders for all of us. It brings their art to a place that has never seen their work, they make some money, I make money and on top of it all, it’s all done in a proper environment. I know it’s been done right even in it’s infancy because tourists and visitors come in and take their photos next to the door, the stage, the sofas. It’s crazy. They buy the posters, the t-shirts and post their stuff online and most importantly they leave with a smile on their face and happy and a lot of times it was their first introduction to gig posters at all. It makes me feel good that my passion for it can cross all demographic lines and make people happy.
FB: What do you look for in posters to sell? School us on the art of poster making and the business behind collecting them.
SR: There’s a huge science to it and we could be here for days talking about it, but in a nutshell here’s the theory behind the posters we buy: 1) Is it real? We buy directly from the artists as often as possible to ensure that. When we consign a collection from someone we are looking to make sure it’s the real deal. If there is a poster in question or in doubt about where it came from, or who made it we decline it. We do what we can to shut down and stop poster counterfeiting. Same thing with the vintage stuff. We’re looking at how it was printed, what it is, which there are several resources we use to authenticate that stuff. 2) In Reno, people buy posters based on the band almost 95% of the time. Seldom are they buying the poster based on the artist or subject matter. So that’s a huge deciding factor. I need posters that I can sell within 3 months. If I think I can move them in that time frame they’re a good investment for me. If I think for a second it’s questionable about moving in that time frame, I’ll pass on it.
As a poster collector……buy the ones you like. Plain and simple. It’s art. Art is supposed to make you happy and feel good when you look at it. If a poster does that for you, then get it. I personally don’t collect posters any more but when I am buying one for my personal collection it is of a show that I was at, or it’s a historically rare and important poster that’s almost impossible to get your hands on.
FB: What are some of the “Holy Grails” of posters? Rare ones people are seeking out.
SR: The most sought after and highly valuable posters are without question the 60’s Bill Graham posters. Mint condition first printings are what people want and some can fetch as much as a new car. The 1966 Beatles poster from their show at Candlestick Park in San Francisco has brought as much as $57,000. We have a signed and numbered mint second printing of that poster. There were 48 made and we have number 14. We also have a flier from Nirvana’s show in April of 1991 at The OK Hotel in Seattle where they played “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for the first time. We got that from a friend who was at that show and took the flier from the venue. We’ve got an autographed Ramones flier from 1980 from a show in San Francisco with The Plastics, I’ve got a portrait snapshot of Sammy Davis Jr. with a handbill from the show where the photo was taken backstage in 1964 at The Riviera in Las Vegas. We’ve got scores of vintage Rolling Stones posters, The Clash, Iron Maiden, Cream, 90’s era Fillmore posters from bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers, we’ve got older first wave screen printed posters from artists like Marco Almera, Tara McPherson, Frank Kozik, Jermaine Rogers, etc.
I own a snapshot of poster artist Rick Griffin drawing the Jimi Hendrix poster with the flying eyeball. I got the photo from the photographer who took it in 1967. It’s an original unpublished snapshot. I’m trying to get the first printing of that poster that he was drawing so that I can frame them and hang them side by side. Unfortunately, finding that poster is like getting your hands on an artifact from the Titanic, and when it does come up it sells for around $15,000. It’s all about the chase and the hunt to get one. We have a few rare posters like that. One is going to auction at Christie’s in London in March. That is a Thirteenth Floor Elevators poster from 1966.
FB: Who are your favorite poster artists?
SR: My favorite posters are from Hatch Show Prints in Nashville and Globe Poster Company. Globe did all the soul revue posters in the 50’s and 60’s for The Apollo Theater and the like. They used neon inks, halftone photos and they were true wild vibrant graphics that sold excitement. They were the polar opposite of understated posters like you see today. They were advertising pieces that subsequently were an unintentional art style. I love Hatch Show Prints because they have a distinct style, the type blocks were all hand cut, and their posters are hand done but simple, recognizable and they never changed.
FB: What do you see as the biggest failure people have in designing posters?
SR: The biggest failure I see is that people get so wrapped up in the design that they forget what it is. A gig poster is a piece of advertising that should look so cool that it makes you want to go to that show, and when you get there should make you want to buy that poster. A gig poster is a catchy hook to a song. If you remember that poster it worked. If you can’t remember it, it missed the mark.
FB: What advice can you give aspiring visual artists in the concert poster world?
SR: My advice is this, and it can be transposed for any career. Even if you’re a mechanic or a bus driver: Don’t do it for the money or to get into the shows for free. Do it because it’s your one true passion in life. If it’s truly the one thing you feel that you were put here to do, then go for it. Draw every day. Even if you’re using a computer to make them, you have to know how to draw by hand. If you don’t, you’re not gonna last very long or go very far. Learn how to hand letter. Become a tracing pro. You’re gonna need it. Learn how to use a brush to ink. Once you’ve got this down, get your computer stuff together. The last thing, don’t use pre-distressed fonts. Distress them yourself.
The last big thing is, find your style. Even if you like to design in different styles, make it so people know you did it. And when other know-so-much designers start criticizing, discounting your work or passing you off as a hack make sure they see your middle finger and hear you clearly when you tell them to piss off. Just like Andy Warhol said, “Art is what you can get away with” and Shepard Fairey said it even better, “People like to talk shit but it’s usually to justify their own apathy.”
FB: Any particular fanboy moment where you say “I can’t believe I am making a poster for this artist?”
SR: I’ve been very fortunate in my life through playing in bands and making posters that a lot of people who I looked up to over the years have become friends, acquaintances and clients. I never get star-struck over doing posters for a band. I’ve done posters for some big artists who I have really admired and they have been super cool. They’re just like you and I. I have done a poster for one artist who I looked up to and he was so schizophrenic I squashed the deal. Another artist I did a poster for gave me more grief than I could ever express and it only made me respect him more because he was that way when no one was looking. It wasn’t a put-on. Every one else has been insanely nice and easy to work with for the most part. I’d imagine if I got a chance to do a poster for Chuck Berry and he wasn’t a complete dick I’d probably be a little giddy.