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Interview: Steven Vogel of Black Lodges

Insights and ideas from the creative and rebellious Renaissance man

by Karen Day in Culture on 08 November 2013

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Whether or not you're familiar with the name Steven Vogel, it's more than likely you've ogled his work in one field or another; be it his pioneering music and menswear blog, his expert projects for big shots like Burton and Levi's, or his brazen T-shirt and print designs. Though perhaps a wordsmith at heart, Vogel has proven himself an obsessive creative in all aspects of his work. His artistic vision began brewing at a young age with skateboarding and jam sessions, which was followed by a writing career with book publishers Thames & Hudson. He started lifestyle site The Reference Council in the early blogging days, and even earlier his own creative agency Black Lodges, which continues to take on impressive clients and projects of all scales. The list keeps growing. A watchful eye on Instagram shows Vogel is constantly in production mode, but we recently got a chance to catch up with him to chat about his formative experiences and what he has coming up next.

How do you feel about being commonly referred to as a Renaissance man?

I wasn't aware that I was. Mostly I get called "Dad" these days, but I can wear that hat also.

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What is your artistic background?

Professionally, I am a freelance creative director and writer. Essentially, I get to make "things" that I have always wanted to make and then I make "things" for a number of clients who for whatever reason or other want to use my services, which is always nice. Writing has always been my go-to happy place and that is how my professional life started back in 1997 when a few music magazines and websites were crazy enough to give a kid a shot—in exchange for free records and concert tickets. Since then I have had the opportunity to work with some pretty amazing brands, publications, publishers and people. I have no artistic background in the traditional sense—or at least in regards to an education. I have a degree in philosophy and history as I wanted to be teacher when I started college. Drawing, writing but specifically making and listening to music have always been my hobbies though.

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Can you tell us more about Black Lodges and The Reference Council?

Black Lodges started as a blog zine in 2005. At the time I was pretty disillusioned with working as an editor in print, and I was young enough to be idealistic. I wanted to purely write about what I was into and before I knew it the site had grown to include over 70 guest bloggers from the realm of music, art and fashion and had become ridiculously popular. At the same time I started working with Burton as a creative consultant, which jump started the agency which I also called Black Lodges. In that time we worked with some great clients such as Burton, Analog, Gravis, Edwin Jeans, Globe, Sailor Jerry, Garbstore, (capsule), Thames & Hudson, FC St. Pauli, Ehinger Kraftrad, Atari, Levi's and so on. I decided to shut down the blog in 2009 because I needed to focus on the agency more, but before I knew it I launched a men's lifestyle blog called The Reference Council. I work with a great crew of people on that and really my only involvement in TRC is oversight and direction. Today, Black Lodges is a moniker for my own creative endeavors through which I write and make "things" that nobody needs but I like doing and I sell them through the online shop.

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What are you working on now, or what do you have coming up?

I've just wrapped up several big client projects after spending three months in California, which was great. As far as Black Lodges is concerned, I just finished designing a capsule collection of clothing for Quintin Co. which will hit retail on 15 December if all goes to plan. Also, I was recently part of an artist project for Supreme Being in the UK that involved some close personal friends and artists that I value highly, such as SheOne, Ornamental Conifer and Mr. Penfold—which is coming out any day. I also did a series of T-shirts for Supreme Being. I was honored to have one of my drawings in a recent show at the 1975 Gallery in Rochester also, and there have been a number of oddball releases of prints, pomade and t-shirts through Black Lodges which have been fun. I am finishing my latest book for Thames & Hudson these days on contemporary menswear, which should be coming out for S/S 2014. Apart from that and the daily work that lands on my desk, I'm sure I am forgetting a lot.

How would you describe your aesthetic?

Depends on what I am doing. If it is something for Black Lodges it is almost always in black and white, hand drawn and most of the stuff I come up with is based on my own personal interests. Most of the stuff is music-based, or at least comes from the depths of the subcultures that I am a fan or participant of. Professionally, whatever the project demands. I am still learning daily as a maker of things, and I couldn't clearly say that there is an identifiable aesthetic people hire me for, but if I had to guess, it's always been very bold and functionally minimalistic with substance based in experience and involvement. I separate the two quite clearly though.

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You have interviewed a lot of people, who is the most interesting person you've spoken with?

Interesting is probably not the right word, but some of the people I have been fortunate enough to interview have been intimidating on a fanboy level. Ian MacKaye (of Minor Threat, Fugazi, Dischord Records) was memorable. I cold called his office one day back in 2007 and asked if Ian was available for an interview for an online fanzine. Oddly, it was Ian who answered the phone and after he checked out the site while I was on the phone, he proceeded to hackle me for my "lifestyle bullshit" and he went on a rager about a certain sports brand that had caused a little earthquake when they appropriated an old Minor Threat image without his consent. All I wanted to talk about was music and he literally held a two hour monologue on bullshit scenes and how they are appropriated by corporations. That was intense.

Also, Henry Rollins—I got in an email argument with him during an interview about some literature piece which was hilarious, we both laughed about it afterwards but at the time all I could think about was that I was arguing with Henry Rollins!

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Does living in Hamburg influence your creative outlook or process in any way?

Maybe. It's great to no longer live in an international scene-y hub like London or Berlin because no one really knows what I do here or who I am, which is nice. My work life here is completely separated from the actual day to day, which makes it all pretty "real." After 10 years of London and four years of Berlin, the hustle and mostly nonsense gets exhausting and prohibitive for producing solid work, at least in my experience because getting caught up is a day job in itself. Hamburg is a beautiful place—great city in itself with loads of accessible nature. And secondly, it's home. As a transplant who's lived away from home for the last 20-plus years, it's good to be home. Thirdly, it has a great, dark seedy underbelly in terms of nightlife, and for someone that really enjoys gigs in small intimate venues, St. Pauli, where I live, is probably one of the most frequented and best cities in the world.

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What's your favorite time of the day?

Definitely dawn, there is nothing better than watching a sunrise. The period between 9am and 7pm I find annoying and least productive, at least creatively as everyone is up and wants something from you. Usually, I draw and come up with stuff early in the morning, do agency "work" things during the day and write at night time.

Check out Vogel's latest products, including a limited edition "Black Lightening" pomade, at the Black Lodges shop.

Images courtesy of Image Agency

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