Interview with Seibei

by Andy on May 10, 2010

seibei interview

If you’re a dedicated Seibei stalker like I am, you’ll be well aware that right about now, David Murray is flying over the Pacific on his way to Japan to exhibit at Design Festa. It’s a pretty big move for him, well, for any brand really, so it’s a good thing I got this interview in before Seibei blows up and turns into the next Bape (for people that like tacos and dinosaurs). This is an unusual interview, because usually I’m asking questions to someone who I don’t really know, however, me and David hung out in New York last year, and he was one of the first people to send me a hoodie back in the early days of HYA. Basically, I know David better than most of the tee-ple I’ve met through this site over the past four years, and I think that my questions might reflect that a bit. Enjoy!

So you’re going back to Japan (to exhibit with Seibei) for the first time since being a student in Kyoto, I assume it goes without saying, but this is huge for you, right? How do you think Seibei will go down in the land of the rising sun?

Absolutely! The beginnings of SEIBEI have their roots in my year of study in Japan, so I’ve been wanting to bring it back for some time. Personally and professionally it’s going to be very big for me. I’m thinking it will do well – I actually met a rep for a showroom in Tokyo a couple of years ago who wanted me to show my line there but I just never ended up pulling the trigger due to various concerns, and for years people have been telling me they could see a Japanese influence in my work (which could really mean anything, of course). Also, working shows is all about having a quality product and getting attention at your booth – granted, Tokyo has more than their fair share of white guys, but I think being a foreigner (who can speak Japanese, even) is going to really work for me, for once. I’m actually considering making myself some weird sort of SEIBEI outfit to wear – something akin to a superhero outfit (that will still show my big, weird, Caucasian face, of course).

It’s a big, weird leap, but I’ve been wanting to work Design Festa for some time. I’m fortunate that two of my best friends from my time in Japan will be helping me at my booth and trying to set up meetings with retailers for the two weeks that I’m there. It’s like Conan said: “work hard and be kind, and amazing things will happen.” Obviously some great people have a lot of faith in me, so here’s hoping I don’t blow it!

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The new line of shirts is a bit of indulgence for old fans, what made you decide to go down that route rather than go with more experimental designs?

I can’t remember where I read it, of course, but I do remember reading that a brand’s identity isn’t determined by the brand itself, but by the fans who support the brand. I’m trying to get on a more consistent schedule with releases and such, so I had to take a good, hard look at what my fans actually like. Zombies, dinosaurs, and weird slogans that sort of make sense – those are my bread and butter. My fans pay my rent, so why not give them what they want? This is going to be a big year for SEIBEI, so I figured I should get a few more top sellers under my belt to help me do as many shows as possible and get as many new fans as I could. This is, honestly, the first release where I’ve really thought about what my fans want as opposed to strictly what I want – I’m an artist but if I want to keep doing this I need to be mindful of the business element of it.

Apart from a little help here and there, how do you keep yourself sane being a one-man-brand working from home? Ever get lonely?

In addition to my friends and family, and my girlfriend Kate, who have all been very supportive, my fans are amazing, and it seems like whenever I’m having a rough day someone will drop me a line to tell me I’m awesome. That helps a lot – the fans are what make this all worthwhile. That said, it does get lonely in a way – I hope I can assemble a real team sooner rather than later. It’s just a matter of growth and finding people that I can trust who are similarly bent. Because I’ve been doing most everything by myself for so long, it’s tough to wrap my head around the idea of letting other people that far in, but let’s face it, Sisyphus could really use some help with this boulder.

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You’re moving to Napa, CA, how do you see this impacting on Seibei, since you’ve obviously got a good relationship with your current printer on the East Coast?

That’s gonna be a tough one! I have a long standing relationship with them (for those who don’t follow every detail of my life, my current printers were my last employers and good friends of mine, American Icon in Newburgh, NY), but yeah, not being able to see the shirts in person will be a bummer, and all of those shipping charges will add up. I’ve actually been talking to people about having my own blank tees made in California, which would be great, and if that happens I’ll have no choice but to switch to a nearby printer – paying for shipping to New York and back again for every tee would just be a mess and a half. That might not happen anytime soon, but in that situation I’d definitely switch.

That said, living in Napa is going to be awesome. I’m going to miss taking the train to NYC to see shows, but instead I’ll get to take the train to San Francisco to see shows! I’m going to wear short sleeves all year and drink Anchor Steam as much as possible.

I ask everyone this, what was your biggest error when first starting out with Seibei?

Starting SEIBEI as a hobby that turned into a business that turned into a full-time job means that I’ve been learning how to run things as I go, and I’ve made a number of mistakes too embarrassing to run through here. I think my biggest mistake would be not approaching it like a business from the get go – these days I’m pretty on top of things but I can’t help but wonder how much better things would be if I’d run a tight ship from day one.

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A lot of people look to Seibei as inspiration when starting a brand, how does that feel?

It’s a great feeling for sure. I remember when I first met Johnny Cupcakes and told him how I’d been inspired by him ever since I saw some little blurb on him in Nylon magazine years and years ago, and now I’m privileged enough to be on the other side of that conversation every so often. The first time someone asked me to sign a shirt, I asked them where they wanted me to sign it and they said “oh, just sign it wherever you usually sign the shirt,” to which I had to humbly reply that they were the first person to ever ask me to do that. It’s great to feel like the work you do makes a difference and influences others.

That said, I wouldn’t look to me as an inspiration just yet. I’ve still got a long way to go.

The Seibei x Gregg Abbott tee looks badass, though not particularly like a Seibei design, have you considered doing more collaborations and who would you really like to work with?

I really love that one too, thanks! I don’t do collaborative tees too often but do want to have a few more peppered throughout the year. I’m actually planning on releasing a couple of tees in collaboration with my buddies Two Rabbits sometime soon. As for people I’d like to work with, Godmachine and Ray Frenden are two friends of mine who I’ve been talking about working with for years, and hopefully someday I’ll work up the brass to try and commission some pieces from comic artists like Matt Furie and Johnny Ryan. I have also been a fan of Evan Dorkin since I was a kid and would love to try to commission something by him eventually.

There are also some killer Japanese artists who will be showing at Design Festa, so I will be scouting for some possible collaborations and commissions there as well.

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You seem to be buddies with quite a lot of bands, do you get hit up often by bands asking for free stuff, and do you think that there’s much value in it for a brand to give away their product, or is it more “hey, that cool band is wearing my stuff”?

I actually haven’t started “sponsoring” any new bands in a long time – I get requests all the time because of a blog post I made about two years ago on the subject, bless their little hearts, but I prefer to keep a good working relationship with a few bands rather than just haphazardly giving away stuff to anyone and hope people see it and like it. The few bands I do work with are all really awesome and I barely have enough time for them as it stands. Whenever I see ads for clothing companies that brag about what bands they sponsor, my first reaction is “who gives a shit,” but I realize that I’m a jaded old man. Sponsoring bands is great when done right, and there are plenty of brands who do it really well (Glamour Kills is probably the best example), but in general it’s not for me.

I usually like to ask people what their favourite foods are in an interview, but as I’ve actually eaten with you it seems a little redundant, so when you aren’t explaining Korean food to confused British people or enjoying a hangover curing burrito, what tickles your tastebuds?

I like all kinds of food, but I’m really looking forward to eating my way across Tokyo. One of my favorite dishes is a proper katsudon (fried pork cutlet with a bit of egg and sauteed onion over rice), and restaurants in the States always want to foul it up by throwing in superfluous vegetables that mess with what is a delicious, simple dish. I’m a big proponent of eating vegetables, of course, and try to eat vegetarian more often than not, but there is a time and place for everything. One of my friends is hooking me up with a good buddy of his who’s a dedicated ramen blogger (Nate of http://www.ramenate.com/), and I can’t wait to be up to my eyes in proper ramen again.

Other than that? Some other things I really like are good pickles (such as anything by Rick’s Picks http://rickspicksnyc.com/ or simple Japanese pickled daikon), a good banh mi, juevos rancheros, a good falafel or schwarma…it’s really a matter of what will hit the spot at that moment.

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How glad are you that you came up with the Intramural Zombie Hunter design? Having a shirt like that which is popular and sells well must be reassuring, and have you thought of creating anything else similar that would be attractive to people as a costume as much as a regular tee?

Making shirts for the Intramural Zombie Hunting League could be a company on its own. It’s a unique product that creates and satisfies a niche that most people don’t even think they have. Not many people think about what kind of casual uniform they’d have if zombie outbreaks were a common enough occurrence to be fought by what are essentially weekend softball league level zombie hunter teams. The idea came from being so bored with my restaurant management job that I’d wish for a zombie outbreak so I could run around and fight for my life all day rather than count the tills and refill the sauces at a kebob shop. It’s an interesting mythology and I really need to explore it further.

I know that a lot of people think Seibei is more than just one dude, but what I like about your brand is that it reflects your personality so much, from the site design down to the product descriptions and blog, I presume this was a conscious decision and do you think it helps you from a business point of view that visitors and fans feel that they have a connection to you personally?

Thanks Andy! This is definitely a conscious decision – it’s just me against the world. The way I see it is, by no means am I the best artist out there, or the best businessman, or the best salesman, but I think I have a unique combination of skills (think Liam Neeson in Taken) that have brought me to where I am today. If I want to survive and build the SEIBEI name, I have to bring something unique to the table…so I bring myself.

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With that in mind, does it make it a lot harder to take when you get negative feedback? as if someone not liking one of your designs is like an attack on your personality.

It was hard at first (particularly because I wasn’t that great of a designer when I first started), but what I had to realize, especially having kind of a weird sense of humor and style, is that not everyone is going to like what you do. Though I do very well on the craft show circuit, for instance, some people will still look at my tees as if they stumbled upon a corpse. You just have to laugh it off. I’ve been weird for most of my life, so dealing with not being liked by everyone isn’t new to me.

Most of my best work is fueled by some sense of being an underdog, of being disliked.

Lastly, did you know you can get the subway at any time of the night in New York? That’s amazing!

I think the few times I’ve taken advantage of this I really wasn’t in a position to remember it, to be completely honest.

  • http://blog.ruderetro.com Rude Retro

    Cool interview. I’ll be heading to the Design Festa on Sunday. So I’ll get to meet Mr. Murray too.

  • Kevin

    “…I’ll get to take the train to San Francisco to see shows! I’m going to wear short sleeves all year…”

    That’s what you’d think… San Francisco is not yr stereotypical sunny Cali, he’s in for a surprise!

  • http://www.hawkenking.com hawken king

    Great interview! Thanks so much for this insight into Seibei.

    And, finally! I have a reason to attend Design Festa this year. Will keep my onions peeled

  • Simpson28

    Another fab interview, keep them coming Andy.

    I’m not the biggest Seibei fan but you can’t knock David’s originality and sense of fun in everything he does.

    Top stuff

  • Pingback: hello from Tokyo! | SEIBEI

  • Bianca

    I had no idea you were moving to the bay area! I visit there a few times a year to see family, so we can kick it WEST COAST STYLE.

    Also, I’m friends with Johnny Ryan’s wife if you ever decide to pursue that for reals.

  • http://www.seibei.com David

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Kevin: I know SF isn’t all sun and such – short sleeves all year was a bit of an exaggeration but it will definitely be a bit more moderate than midstate NY. Mainly I’m looking forward to avoiding icy winters and boiling summers. Everything in between is a-okay in my book.

    Simpson28: even though you’re not the biggest fan of my work, that’s one of the nicest comments I’ve ever received, thank you. Staying original and fun is a better achievement than being well liked by everyone, so that means a lot.

    Bianca: we are SO gonna kick it West Coast Style. That’s awesome that you know Jenny Ryan – I’ve always hoped we would end up working the same event but it has yet to go down.

    Alan and Hawking: SEE YOU THERE! Otanoshimi ni!

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