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Frankie "Kash" Waddy
Frankie "Kash"
Inside the World of a
P-Funk Time Lord
Beau Boeckmann
Custom Car Nirvana
at Galpin Ford
Kenny Gravillis
Kenny Gravillis
Smart Art for Hip Hop
and Hollywood
T.J. Hooker
T.J. Hooker
Desperate Hours of a
T.V. Ham
Five-O Undercover
Daredevil Alley
Daredevil Alley
Super Joe Reed, Janet Lee, Evel Bowevel
King Crimson
King Crimson
Prickly Prog-Rockers
Hold Court on Sunset
Kam Fong
Kam Fong
a.k.a. Chin Ho Kelly
The Five-O Farewell
George W. Bush
Regime Change
The Case for One Term
40 Years
January 1963
Playboy Magazine
Kris & Rita
30 Years
Kris & Rita – 1973
20 Years
Iron Man – 1983
Kerry Von Erich
10 Years
Kerry Von Erich
Previously on Five-O
Issue Two
Swingtime Strippers
Issue One
New World Evel
Part II
The L.A. Years

Kenny: At the end of my five years at Def Jam I get an offer from MCA to come head up their Black Music Division creative department in New York. At the time it was a big opportunity. Even Cey and Steve were like, you should take it. It's big money, big opportunity. You should roll with it.

I met Deanna at Def Jam. That's the big part I'm missing. She grew up in New York City, went to an all-girl prep school called Marymount and then to UMass. She always wanted to do advertising. She went to Oxford for a year and then interned at an ad agency in Manhattan. She also landed jobs with a music producer and then a director's rep, meanwhile waitressing all around town. Deanna was working
at RCA Promotions when she left for Russell Simmons and Def Jam.

We met the day of her interview. And as soon as we met, we totally hit it off. We tried to keep it a bit secret, but as you know in the office, everyone ends up knowing about it. I tried to be a mack about it. It was groovy. It was great her being there but it was better when she left. Too
many people in your mix. All the girls there knew how much I was into her. We got married in August of 1995, and had Bianka in 1999 and baby boy Noah in 2002.

MCA was a great experience because it was more of a business experience for me. Just dealing with corporate
America at the time. MCA was a whole different ball of wax to me because it was just corporate America to the hilt. Run by Hank Shocklee, part of the Bomb Squad from Public Enemy, and David Harleston, who used to be the president of Def Jam. That's how I got the job. MCA's creative services
department was in L.A. I didn't want to move to L.A. They said, why don't you stay in New York and set up a studio. I hired this cat named Drew Fitzgerald to help me get that stuff off the ground. Basically they set up a department for us to work out of New York and I'd have to go back and forth to L.A. as much as needed.

Then after the mergers, Seagram's, and all that mess happened, it kind of left us in a weird spot.

Five-O: When MCA first brought you on, what kind of projects were you working on?

Kenny: That was 1995. I worked on Al Green, Chanté Moore, and a bunch of new bands, stuff for Uptown. New Edition. As far as my worst complete nightmare project, New Edition pretty much hits it (laughs). You know what MCA taught me a lot, was handling these big projects, these projects that mean a lot to people, and not that at Def Jam they didn't, but it was so close, tight knit. Almost everybody took responsibility. That was the kind of family environment at Def Jam. MCA didn't have that at all. It was definitely corporate America. You were on your own. It was like, dude, handle your business, or we're pointing fingers. I learned how to handle myself in those type situations. It was a completely different experience, just as valuable as Def Jam.

Basically Jay Boberg came in a president of MCA Records, lured me from the Big Apple, gave me a promotion and all this stuff. Deanna and I said, we'll try it out for a couple years. We were here for a year when we started really getting into living here in L.A. I had to go back to New York a lot, but you know, New York seemed more grimy, more dirty, more hectic, more hustling, and I just liked the fact that here is just more chill.

When I got here I was working on Rahsaan Patterson. Then came the big merger where Mary J. Blige came to MCA, and Uptown folded out. The Mary J. Blige Share My World album came up and I did that and started to make my niche in L.A. MCA were good to me. Made it smooth. Work was flowing well.
The next big transition for me was after a wave of lay-offs. It was around the time of the Mary album, I used Albert Watson for the shoot. At the time Deanna was pregnant. We got married in '95. I felt a wave of uncertainty at MCA and I didn't like the feeling. Things were no longer safe there.

Because the company had changed mottos, Black Music Division was folded into MCA by Jay and no longer separate, I felt very strongly I should not be doing just black music. I should get to do other types of music. They gave me the band The Murmurs to do. It was fun, a cool job. But that was it. After that I didn't hear anything. I remember a meeting where one of the excuses was, it's about who connects with the artist more. That seemed convenient and I had huge issues with that and I didn't see it really changing too much. I realized that wherever you start is more so how people see you. If you start as an intern, even when you go up the ranks, depending on how the structure is, a lot of the time people will still have that intern philosophy about you. Until you move to another place, and they've never known you as an intern. I felt a little of that as a "black music designer."

The goal was, we need to diversify. I needed to make a way to do that. Then when we were pregnant, we became aware, you know, we want to make out own schedule. Things are changing in the industry. We were like, maybe it's time to make a move, and go independent. It's taking a chance because you have a family, but it was — let's just do it. We feel confident enough to get the work.

Once we made the decision to leave, I'd just finished Mary. I told them I'd be there through the end of the year. I did the Common project, Like Water For Chocolate. But it kind of crept up on them. They were like, huh?

Leaving, it's been awesome. It's been much more work, though, than I anticipated. I do admit. I didn't have the company mentality, even though it's a small company. I had the freelance mentality. You know, see a movie during the day. Occasionally we still do that, but it's just a little harder now. What happened was, we got so much work right at the beginning, we were forced to bring people on to help us. We showed our stuff around and everybody started calling. Dreamworks, Arista, MCA was still using us, different labels, different projects, Forefront Christian label in Nashville. Not all black, all rock bands and stuff — it's so refreshing to work on different stuff. We're still known for our urban music, but we're up for everything. Now we're doing Third Eye Blind. We did Babyface and Usher and Blu Cantrell for Arista. We did Ashanti for Def Jam.

Having a company, you deal with all sorts of issues versus working for a company. It's hard work. But this year for us has been a year of transition. We have to move into a new studio. It's huge for all of us right now. We want a boutique studio, four or five people max. Super quality work. That's what we want to be known for. Not right for everybody kind of scenario. Diversifying. Getting out of just doing music.

It goes back to my college days, getting people to think. To me, it's all about what the idea is. It's not necessarily that it's an album cover or poster. What's the idea behind it? That's what makes it special, creative.

That's what we started to concentrate on, to get people to see us for being idea people. That's why we don't call ourselves just a design firm. We call ourselves visual communicators. It broadens us a little more than, OK, they design album covers.

Last year we started to diversify. And this year we've made a big push to infiltrate the movie side of it. The reason I did that is the same reason I went to Chris Austopchuck's office in New York: because I like music. It was getting back to the idea: what do we like? What are we into?

The movie side is a difficult issue to get into. There's definitely a clique of companies that everyone uses. Thankfully, God's looking out for us and we've been able to work with one of the big studios, Fox, on this summer movie by Roland Emmerich called "Tomorrow." We did ideas for Artisan for "Standing in the Shadows of Motown." Poster stuff, which was great.

My old boss, Steve Carr, is a director now. He did "Doctor Dolittle 2" and he's directing this new Eddie Murphy called "Daddy Daycare." So hopefully we can work a little with him on some projects. Also an old friend of ours named Brett Ratner is also a director. He just finished "Red Dragon." We're trying to hook up with our old buddies (laughs).

Five-O: What about directing a movie yourself?

Kenny: I'd like to. But I wouldn't see myself as a career director, like that's the be-all and end-all scenario. For me, there's certain stories I would like to tell, to write and direct, but I don't think I would be on the director's train per se, like, OK send me scripts, let's see what's out there to direct. I think it would be something more personal. It's a case of, this is another outlet to do something.

We're also talking about starting a magazine possibly. Different things that we're leading up to, but Gravillis Inc. is the conduit for everything. And we're trying to have fun with it. My philosophy is, it's pointless working your behind off — especially for someone with kids — when we're working, we need to enjoy it as much as possible. And I think you're better at work when you realize it.

The reason I think we have so much success with projects like The Roots and Common is strictly based on relationships. In reference to creating something that speaks for the band, speaks artistically for you, you have to have a relationship with the band — it's trust. Trust is a huge part of it.

If we go back to things fall apart (The Roots' 1999 album masterpiece), I went to New York, met with the band, and art-wise they were completely off in another direction. They had some bad illustration ready for the cover. It was like, all the guys in the group at the bottom of the sea with chains on. It was, it was — terrible (laughs). It was just bad. And I spoke to ?uestlove, Amir Thompson, I was like, Amir, this is horrible. I really like you guys' stuff a lot, and I'm here because I really want everyone to see how great this record's going to be and I really want the imagery to match. You guys worked this hard. Think about it, the cover, it's face of your music. You spend a year, or however long, making some music, and at the end you have this cover, you want it to be the best it can be, surely.

The Roots, with them guys, I was able to build a relationship of trust. After things fall apart, the imagery of things falling apart in society proved so successful, the guys decided to go ahead and trust me. And it shows, because on their next album, The Roots Come Alive, the live thing, we put just the mic on the cover, by itself in a concert hall. I remember one time Tariq, Black Thought telling Tim Reid II, The Roots' marketing man at MCA, "just let Kenny come up with something and we'll do it." That's very unusual. You don't hear that. People do not say that usually. And that shows the level of trust. I'm always showing them what I'm doing, always get their approval, but there's a sense of freedom in work, and I feel complete liberty to take the approach I'm working on. I think that's so important. It hardly ever happens. I think most designers will tell you: if out of the year you do 20 packages, you can probably count on one hand the packages where you have complete freedom.

Five-O: And to have that when the music is reaching new highs —

Kenny: Yeah, it's really special. A lot of the time when you get artists that are true artists, they have a respect for art. What ends up happening is they have a respect for your opinion, as an artist to another artist. When that happens is when sparks fly and really great things happen. You have two forces working together as one creative entity. And one's not banging its head against the other, even if there are disagreements. They're resolved in a creative way.

Five-O: things fall apart, The Roots album, was named after the 1958 novel by Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, who drew his title from the famous Yeats poem "The Second Coming." That's a hell of a pedigree. So how did you decide, I'm going to take a documentary, war correspondent-approach to this package?

Kenny: For me, the title was so social, you know? It felt like it needed to be dealt with in a realistic way. That's where the idea came from for the documentary photos. They were social events. People still talk about seeing the woman running from the police — that ended up being the main cover. It was like, look at that — the fear on that woman's face as she's running. The dead hand with the ace in the fingers. Black churches burnt down South. Little kid left orphaned by war. We did like 20 different images. Some were so intense it was like, there's no way we can use these.

Amir is very much into his artwork. A lot of people are, but the level of what that means is variable. For him it means a lot. He wants to be recognized for his artwork by people who recognize artwork. It's not about wanting his boys to like it, moms, dads, uncles, brothers, to think he looks cool. The album cover shows your level of intelligence as an artist.

Five-O: Especially contrasted to the jewelry, car and booty obsessions being sold as the ultimate —

Kenny: Totally opposite of the bling bling and all that stuff. I think the success of it is great, because it shows people's willingness to think.

The new one, Phrenology was a little different, because it had a title that meant something. That was The Roots saying to us, "Phrenology" is the album title: go. Literally. We were like, "O...K!" So it was time to study phrenology, and it was fun in the sense we took the time to find out what phrenology was all about, where it came from, and that all helped.

(Phrenology is a cousin of palm-reading, a pseudo-science based on "reading" the shape of the skull and features. Sometimes was used to advocate racist fantasies about higher and lower "types".)

The great thing about the cover is when you match it up to all the definitions and terms, it's a great connection for bringing it all up to do, a total Roots scenario, compartments of the mind. You get to know the personality of the band, it's just much easier. We went ahead and did. We sent it to them. They were like, amazing. A couple little tweaks and we were done. Projects like that? I love.

Plus I think The Roots have come with a record that is not what people expect and is not in the box people have put them in. That's the best kind of artist. "Do not dare put us in a box or we will smash it," you know what I mean? We try to do that with the artwork, too. Make people think,
make them do a double-take.

Five-O: They're one of the only groups in hip hop to really surprise you.

Kenny: I really agree with that. That's why I feel honored to do their stuff. Because creatively it's a treasure chest for us to be involved.

Five-O: Another of your artists is also at the forefront: Common.

Kenny: Definitely. Common is an amazingly nice guy, the nicest guy in hip hop that I know. Rashid, that's his name. The cool thing about him is he's always trying to go the next mile, to the next level. And he's so open to creative ideas. With him the process is like, "Kenny, let's just try to push it, let's be creative, let's try to be on the level of the music." This is someone for whom his album cover means a lot. We went through like three different campaigns before we came up with the final for Electric Circus. This was the best one, the one that made the most sense. One was a woman, an icon with a '70s kind of feel. We ended up going with the idea of what it took for him to make this record. His thoughts, ideas, it worked on a personal level for him. The circus being the people that influenced him to make the record. That hit the nail on the head for him — a Sgt. Pepper kind of vibe.

With this one for Common, same thing: I think people are going to be thrown off in a good way. Again, it's that smashing out of the box. I prefer to do that, and people hate it or they love it. Rather than I give you something you expect and you like it OK. For me as an artist, that means more. I think that's what art's about. Number one, it's all relative. And it's about expression. I can express something exactly how I want it. How you receive it is how you receive it. Both The Roots and Common do that to most of their ability.

Five-O: How about Common's breakthrough album Like Water For Chocolate?

Kenny: Common brought that image to us. For us it was about designing it in a timeless, throwback way. Back to that Alabama time. We got a little girl I knew as the model. It was amazing because she had the perfect face, a black child back in the '40s. Rashid really led us on that one and we took the ball and ran with it. One thing we did, we put the track titles on the spine of the CD case. Other people might have been like, why are you doing that? No one does that. Rashid loved it. He was like, I've never seen that. That's why we have success and fun on these jobs. It goes back to personal relationship. I mean, Rashid must have called here twice every day during this last project. It's cool.

Five-O: It's a different game from Roots and Common with some of the commercial projects.

Kenny: With some of the other acts it's a little more corporate: make me look good. I gotta look good, great, amazing. And that's fine too. But being a good designer means bringing out the best in the environment you're in. So when you're in the "make me look good" environment, you do your best. Also don't be upset if it's not the award-winning art piece. It's not that type of thing. In college, your mindset is everything has to be the award-winning art piece. In the real world, once you start understanding different projects require different mindsets, then you'll be more successful. Once I understand this person needs to look good — they're not going to be into having their face half-cropped off, because that's not what they're into. It might be cool to you, but that's not what the artist needs. It's an apple-sauce box, versus Common or The Roots, where you cut off half their face and it doesn't come close to doing what you need to do to throw these guys off, you know.

Five-O: I saw Kenny gave you a full credit on the Phrenology and Electric Circus packages. That's a pretty good step for a guy who's still fresh to L.A. a couple years out of school. Did you have an artistic background as a kid?

Matt Taylor: I was an artistic kid, pretty much encouraged by mom and dad to do my stuff. In high school I got into photography. When I got to college I thought that was going to be my major. I took a graphic design class and it clicked. When I was a kid growing up near Chicago, I paid attention to billboards and ads I later realized were "graphic design." You know, why do some letters have little feet, seraphs, and some don't? I took a class and it all sort of made sense and I kind of forgot about photography and focused in on design.

I got my bachelor of arts in graphic design from University of Missouri. My junior and senior year I was president of the design club and we got some funding to bring a speaker. One of my instructors, Jean, knew this guy in L.A. named Tim Stedman, who worked at a record company. So we got him to come out and speak. (Tim Stedman, VP at MCA Records, handles album art for acts including blink-182, New Found Glory, Lyle Lovett and Res.) So he came and he liked my work. About a month before I graduated in '99, he called me up and asked me to come interview as soon as I graduated.

Five-O: Nice segue.

Matt: I didn't even have my book fully together. Came out did the interview and a couple weeks later got the job as a design assistant at MCA. I helped on all sorts of projects — I guess my one thing was the Dice Raw package (never released), I helped Tim on the Mint Royale package, then all the assistant things, all the ads, full on designing merch stuff, which was cool.

But the thing that was really neat about Kenny, he saw that given more opportunity I could do more. So once he brought me on to Gravillis Inc. in 2001, I slowly did more and more.

And he was really excited about the amount of effort I put into it. Actually Tom Huck, the illustrator on The Roots Phrenology, is a guy from my school. When we started the project Kenny was talking about how it should look, and I was like, oh wow, I know this guy who would be perfect. So it was really truly a collaborative thing. Kenny was definitely art-directing this thing, but I was able to art direct Tom and deal with him.

Five-O: Obviously it was the right move to make, from support at MCA to busting it out over here.

Matt: It worked perfectly. I needed that amount of time I spent at MCA to grow from college to real world designer. Then Gravillis called and said we want someone to work with
us, it's getting heavy. It's timing, you know. Once I saw how things were working here, Kenny kind of gave me more and more. I did some smaller CDs like The Sounds of Blackness greatest hits anthology. It would be like, here's this project, handle it. There was a Christian R&B group, Out Of Eden, that I handled. It was really good experience.

Five-O: And you're also branching out to movies. How's that been?

Matt: It's a trip. I'm very blessed to do this stuff with Kenny. He's known as the music guy, but he wanted us both to jump in on the same level on the movie side and them to associate us both with this new aspect of the company.

Five-O: The stuff I've seen you're working on for the summer movie "Tomorrow" is of a piece with what you do on the music side: its' a concept. Is that going to be accepted?

Matt: That's what Gravillis Inc. is all about. We want to take it way out left and have you bring us back. So we do the heavy conceptual stuff that's smarter. And it was appreciated on the "Tomorrow" campaign. That's another reason I think I work so well here... it's our approach to design. It has to be a strong idea before anything else. If you look at 80%, 90%, 99% of the movie stuff, it's formulaic. We're not saying we're going to change the world, but we're going to try to freshen up the cocktail.

Five-O: Kenny's got his eye on maybe someday telling stories as a movie-maker. What about you, do you have any ambitions you're holding out for a later day?

Matt: For him to do that, he needs somebody to run the show here, so on the short end, I'd be excited to run the Gravillis Inc. scene. As far as myself, I'm crazy about what I do. I'm lucky because I love music and I love design. If I can be as established as Kenny is in the music business, that's definitely a goal for me.

Five-O: What were you listening to when you were younger?

Matt: I would have Barry Manilow on the little Mickey Mouse turntable and then KISS Destroyer would come on after Manilow Live. I knew there was so much out there and I always wanted to know more. It wasn't just one thing that I liked. I like rock, I like techno, I like hip hop. Once you understand the genre it's a part of a huge palette. It's the same as my approach to design, music, movies, whatever, once you understand what that particular piece is about, the conventions, you can approach it in the best possible way.

Five-O: What's your family background?

Matt: My dad is a retired pilot. My mom is a housewife who's done some jobs. My brother's in school for airline training — he worked for a long time in Utah as a camp counselor. I'm sort of the black sheep. For a while there, Pops didn't figure out what his son was all about. Then it was, OK, he's creative. They fostered that. My dad's dad did little editorial cartoons. He always encouraged me to keep trying.

L.A.'s the perfect place in time for me right now. I can see building up my work and what I do and maybe taking somewhere else. I love Colorado and envision myself living there someday, maybe with my own studio. Dealing with all these folks in New York, there's no reason I couldn't be in Peoria, Illinois doing the same thing.

Five-O: How do your friends back home react to what you're doing?

Matt: I remember about ten years ago when I was a teen-age kid listening to music trying to figure it all out, I go see this guy named Jeff "Cool Breeze" Gordon, who works at Streetside Records in Columbia, Missouri. I go, I'm sick of Eazy E and NWA — I need something more intelligent.

Jeff goes, hold on. And as fate would have it he comes back with two CDs: Common Resurrection and The Roots Do You Want More?!

So this last Thanksgiving when I was home, I went over to the store and showed Cool Breeze the new Common and Roots packages. It was pretty cool. I wanted to show him that Missouri was holding it down.

World Poker Tour
World Poker Tour
Introducing the NASCAR
of Texas Hold-em
Tree Sitter
Tree Sitter
John Quigley
Onboard "Old Glory"
The 400-Year Old Oak
Bartok Takes A Bride
Eqyptian Theatre
All-Stars Party
with Thai Elvis
Malvin Wald
Malvin Wald
The Naked City Writer
on Al Capone and
Ronald Reagan
HEll House
Hell House
Interview with Filmmaker
George Ratliff
The Conqueror
Bow Down, Tartar Dogs!
It's John Wayne as
Genghis Khan
Film Noir
Film Noir Fest 2003
Black Lightning Strikes
at the Egyptian
Forrest J Ackerman
86th Birthday Bash for
Famous Monster
Funk Photos
The Funk Does
Charlton Heston
Omega Man
A Very Lemmy
Yuletide at the
Rainbow Room
Charles Phoenix
Charles Phoenix
Big Laughs in
Xmas Parade
The Hollywood
Christmas Parade
Unholy Spectacle of
Glitter and Filth
theron productions