Travis Keller (pictured above in a photo by Ollie Promblemas) is an American creative director, writer, publisher, record label executive, manager, skateboarder and all round artistic whirlwhind. Travis got his initial start in the art game as a photographer and skateboard video maker in his teens. Skills which took him to LA in the mid 1990s were he promptly founded cult culture website ‘Buddyhead’ with his best-friend-at-the-time, Mr. Aaron North.
Through ‘Buddyhead’, as well as his personable nature, friendship with ‘The Icarus Line’, writing, and photography skills; Travis spent the late 1990’s and 2000s immersed in the global music scene – running the ‘Buddyhead’ website, releasing records through ‘Buddyhead’, being a journalist, accompanying bands such as ‘Nine Inch Nails’, ‘Ink and Dagger’, and the aforementioned ‘Icarus Line’ on tour, hanging out with ‘At the Drive In’, getting wasted with ‘Oasis’, collaborating with Raymond Pettibon, and living life as a general cultural roustabout.
Through it all Travis has remained committed to art above all else.
Travis’ latest project is ‘American Primitive’ – an art crew that so far consists of Travis as creative director, as well as musician / producer / engineer Joe Cardamone, and filmmaker Jacob Mendel. Importantly, through Joe, ‘American Primitive’ have direct access to top of the line recording / performance facility ‘Valley Recording Company’, located in Bourbank, California.
A combination of people, skills, and equipment that allows ‘American Primitive’ to do pretty much anything art wise: shoot video, record music, edit, host concerts, plan events, and engage in the usual marketing, sales and hustling.
So far ‘American Primitive’ have released records, merchandise, videos, ephemera and more. With notable releases being Joe Cardamone’s post Icarus Line solo work ‘Holy War’, collaborations with Annie Hardy, releasing Italian musician Nero Kane‘s debut LP, as well as LA electronic goth group Hide‘s ‘Castration Anxiety’ LP, The Great Sadness‘s 2017 LP ‘Weep’, and Travis’ ‘Past Lives’ photography book.
(American Primitive logo, below)
Taking it back to the beginning, Travis centres the ‘why’ of his artistic drive and culture hustling skills with an origin tale baked in American small-town desolation and DIY ethics:
“My first art, like on my own will…. outside of school, was at 13 years old – living in Northern Idaho – and making skateboard videos of my friends and I. The local cable company in my hometown had a non-linear Super VHS editing system that people could use for public access. I taught myself. They would play them on the local cable access channel and we sold a couple thousand copies outta my parents garage for $7 a copy.
Oh and the why? Out Of sheer boredom, ever been to Northern Idaho? It’s a cultural void. Which I think, at least for me, made me create my own world and survive it. Until I could move to Los Angeles. So… outta boredom, survival and it was fun.“
So with Travis having recently launched his debut photography book ‘Past Lives’, and ‘American Primitive’ on the boil big time – now is the perfect time to get to know Travis, and ‘American Primitive’ by reading the Culture Talk below…
Basics/Getting to Know
Name + D.O.B?
Travis Michael Keller
City, State n Country you currently call home?
Koreatown x Los Angeles, California – USA
(Photo below of Travis’ recently published ‘Past Lives’ photography book)
City, State n Country you’re from?
I was born in Spokane, Washington – went to high school in Moscow, Idaho – both USA.
Please describe some memories from key stages of your life: concerts, art, action-figures, romance, school, politics, crime… ANYTHING really!
* Age 5:
I don’t really remember much from age 5 aside from what I’ve seen in photos or people have told me.
I think I was stoked on shit like Star Wars, Gremlins, MTV, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Different Strokes.
(Photos below of Travis as a kid)
* Age 10:
Well I know that Appetite For Destruction came out this year. That was a big one for me, I was into rock n’ roll like for real from then on. That was the first band that was mine. My parents hated em’ and I loved them.
I was also getting into hip hop, Too Short, NWA, etc.
* Age 14:
Stopped playing sports and got into skateboarding and punk rock.
* Age 17:
Moved to Hollywood.
* Age 18:
* Age 25:
Still did Buddyhead.
(Photo below of Travis in his 20s – taken from an old magazine article)
* Age 30:
* Age 35:
(Photo below of Travis in his 30s)
* Age 40:
American Primitive started.
* Age 41:
Past Lives zine dropped!
Gotta keep making shit.
(Photo below of Travis and Jacob Mendel of ‘American Primitive’)
When and why did you first start making art of any type!?
My first art, like on my own will…. outside of school, was at 13 years old – living in Northern Idaho – and making skateboard videos of my friends and I. The local cable company in my hometown had a non-linear Super VHS editing system that people could use for public access. I taught myself. They would play them on the local cable access channel and we sold a couple thousand copies outta my parents garage for $7 a copy.
Oh and the why? Out Of sheer boredom, ever been to Northern Idaho? It’s a cultural void. Which I think, at least for me, made me create my own world and survive it. Until I could move to Los Angeles. So… outta boredom, survival and it was fun.
Any pivotal artistic moment(s) / influence(s)?
Early on it was skateboard videos and magazines.
Mike Ternasky & Spike Jonze were big influences and motivators. Especially Spike, cuz watching him was like “oh shit, skateboarders can do bigger shit”. The Blind video, Plan B – Questionable, Plan B – Virtual Reality, Girl – Goldfish & Animal Chin, to name a few. And just studying issues of Trashers.
Underground culture only came from so many places back then. So whatever we had, we watched over and over.
I wore all that shit out. I memorized it.
Punk rock. That was a huge one. I got so much from Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Fugazi, Misfits, etc. All those bands influenced me in so many ways.
Hip Hop as well. Which to me was the same as punk rock, they both hated authority and the police. I was in.
Discovering Raymond Pettibon was also a big one for me. Found him through Black Flag records. He’s still one of my favorite humans to this day. A true weirdo, original and individual. And he’s so prolific. I wish I was good at drawing.
Do you consider what you are making to be art, design, re-hashed crap?
I’m sure I do a little bit of all of those from time to time.
(Sample pages from Travis’ Past Lives photography book below)
Worst aspect of the contemporary art hustle?
Trying to find money.
Best aspect of the contemporary art hustle?
(Photo below of Joe Cardamone and Travis of ‘American Primitive’)
Describe the process of producing your art? – Dot point all o.k!
* Your photography?
I use whatever I have access too.
There really is no process I just shoot what’s around me. So it’s just living.
* Your writing?
Kinda of the same as above.
But it really depends on what I’m writing.
Whilst we know you through your work with ‘Buddyhead’, and ‘American Primitive’; as well as your writing and photography – care to share with those at home the details of your other creative endeavours… if any?!
I’m training for the 40+ amateur Olympic skateboarding team. I make zines, I take photos, I put out records, make videos and I know how to fly drones pretty good.
Oh and as implied, I skateboard everyday, which if you ask me is totally art.
In your LA Times article from 2009 you talk of how music is a religion for you… So, to elaborate:
* Who is in your musical pantheon and why?
Times have changed for sure, that was almost ten years ago.
But back in 2009 it would have been The Stooges, The Cramps, The Gun Club, The Birthday Party, Funkadelic, Sly, Prince, Captain Beefheart, Wire, John Lennon, Miles Davis, Lee Hazlewood, Rolling Stones, The Faces, Jesus Lizard, Jesus and Mary Chain, Love & Rockets, Misfits, Suicide, Bad Brains, My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream, Nuggets Box Set, 100% Dynamite, The Doors, The Cult, Gina X Performance, Porter Wagoner, Shocking Blue, X, Germs, Guns N’ Roses, Spacemen 3, Roky Erickson, Swans, Monorchid, Rollerskate Skinny, Fang, Mudhoney, Spiritualized, The Standells, Stone Roses, Oasis, Neil Diamond, Neil young, Bob Dylan, Gino Washington…. to name a few off the top of my head.
(Photo below by Travis of Sean Patrick McCabe from ‘Ink and Dagger’ taken in 1997)
(Photo below by Travis of ‘The Criminals’ taken outside Chain Reaction in 1997)
* What are your 7-deadly-music-sins?
1) Streaming music
3) Lenny Kravitz
5) Rap Rock
6) Wireless guitars
7) Hands Free Micropones
(Photo below by Travis of ‘At The Drive In’ taken in 1999)
* What about your 10-music-commandments?
1) Play from the heart
2) Follow your gut
3) Go crazy at least once
4) Never Look Back
5) Never play yourself
6) Never give up
7) Define success
8) Don’t follow trends
9) Be yourself as best you can
10) Stay alive
* What are the sacred texts?
* What are the sacraments?
(A recent photo by Travis of American Primitive associate Annie Hardy)
Who are some of your favourite contemporary musicians / bands? – Please also tell our readers a bit about each of them.
I just discovered Makaya McCraven, he’s got a newish album called “Universal Beings” you should check out. He’s a jazz drummer who records these jam sessions and then loops em and fucks with em later, it’s a very modern take on jazz. Great record to work too.
Jay Rock’s newest album Redemption is one of my favorites of 2018. I like it a lot. I saw him recently at the Fonda here in Hollywood and it was pretty great. Kendrick came out and did four or five songs with him and the place went nuts. Made me happy to be alive.
The new Vince Staples is really good too. Short and sweet. And the Future/Young Thug record is still in my rotation, love that record.
I’ve been listening to lots of John Lennon lately too for whatever reason, one of the few old rockers I’ve got in my rotation lately. Plastic Ono Band is still one of my favorite records ever.
03 Greedo. If you know you know.
Freddie Gibbs is dope too. His instagram story game is A+.
I only listened to it once but I thought that new Low album was alright.
I listen to Daytona by Pusha T every day almost tho.
‘American Primitive’ Questions
For those reading at home – please explain the who, what and why of ‘American Primitive’?
American Primitive is an art collective based out of our Valley Recording Co. studio in Burbank, CA. We’re repping the 818.
Currently it’s Joe Cardamone, myself and Jacob Mendel.
Why? Cuz it’s what we do. Art gang.
What is your role within ‘American Primitive’ both officially and unofficially?
Creative director, joint roller and token skateboarder.
Who else is involved in ‘American Primitive’ and what do they each bring to the table?
We kind of all do what’s needed.
(Photos below showing behind the scenes of Joe Cardamon’s ‘Holy War’ project – released by American Primitive)
Lets get it!
Why the name ‘American Primitive’?
I would guess cuz it sounds cool, but you’d have to ask Joe. He named it.
So far the ‘American Primitive’ banner has been applied to the recent solo musical works of Joe Cardamone, the associated music videos, as well as your just published photo book…
* What other projects have you and the ‘AP’ crew got in development?
There has also been a few records that have come out under the American Primo name….
We’re all working on sequels… Joe’s working on writing his second album, I’m working on my second zine and jacob working on the sequel to Blow, which is gonna be called Blow 2.
We’ve got a few other project in the works but it’s just too early to talk about em. I sorry.
* Do you view all the ‘AP’ projects as collective collaborations, or are they more solo works released under a label?
It really depends on what it is.
We all bring what we can when it’s needed.
(Some ‘American Primitive’ promotional ephemera showcased below)
Joe Cardamone and ‘Icarus Line’ Questions
How did you and Joe come to connect?
I met Joe when his band Kanker Sores came through my hometown on tour, they were 16 and on break from high school and had a seven inch on Recess Records.
They were kids who were in a van driving up the west coast, playing shows they booked and selling records out on a label I’d heard of. I moved to LA a few weeks later and they let me hang out.
The rest is history.
(Photo below by Travis of a young Joe Cardamone after a show in the late 1990s)
What impact has Joe had on your life both artistically, and personally?
So much in both of those areas, I’ve know him for more than half my life now.
He taught me to never give up, that you don’t have to compromise and that there’s always a way to make shit happen.
Dudes a warrior. The last man standing.
Any Joe related tales, tidbits, or gossip to share?
He loves the CBD blunts.
If you had to describe Joe to a potential romantic interest and / or court-appointed-judge – what would you say?
Love child of Iggy Pop and Nick Cave. Dresses like he’s in Funkadelic Maggot Brain era.
(Fliers below for Joe Cardamone solo shows, together with screenings of The Icarus Line Must Die film)
The recent film ‘The Icarus Line Must Die’ hints at Joe getting death threats from at least one individual – any truth to that narrative sir? And if yes – please elaborate further on the details…
Yes, that’s based on a real experience. Joe and a few of our friends were getting some meth fueled threats from a former band member.
Was a drag.
Looking back over everything ‘Buddyhead’ through the lens of time and the inevitable rose-coloured-glasses…
* Please outline your top 3 ‘Buddyhead’ tales / experiences?
Getting sued by Axl Rose
Getting sued by Axl Rose
Getting sued by Axl Rose
* Who were your biggest influences when it came to establishing and running ‘Buddyhead’?
Thrasher, Big Brother, the zines I read as a teenager, Sean McCabe, Bill Hicks…. and as for the label I’d say Dischord, Touch & Go, Kill Rock Stars and Sub Pop were all big influences.
I always loved Sub Pop’s “world domination” ads. Those were sick.
* What do you feel is the ‘Buddyhead’ legacy today?
(Image below of the original Buddyhead logo)
* ‘Buddyhead’ was very in-your-face, aggressive and confrontational in it’s writing – an artistic style and attitude prevalent in the late 1990’s and early 2000s, yet very much on the wane now… Do you think ‘Buddyhead’ would survive at all in today’s increasingly politically correct / ‘woke’ culture?
If Buddyhead happened today it would be different in every way.
I’m guessing we’d be a meme account on Instagram like Inzane Johnny.
* What lessons did you learn, and what did you take away from your time running ‘Buddyhead’?
People love dick jokes.
Mr. Aaron North was both a pivotal part of the ‘Buddyhead’ crew and a member of ‘Icarus Line’… Yet the last official news on Aaron is an extremely bleak and sad Spin article from 2013…
* What did Aaron bring to the table at ‘Buddyhead’?
Really long fingers.
(Photo below of Travis and Aaron visiting Santa in happier times – pre 2008)
* Has your and Aaron’s relationship changed at all since 2013 – why and in what ways?
Hasn’t changed at all since then.
I have not talked since 2008.
* What, in your opinion, led to Aaron’s exit from the music scene?
You’d have to ask him, I have no idea.
(Image below of a classic Buddyhead X Raymond Pettibon t-shirt)
* Any news or updates on what Aaron is up to today? Last we saw on his Instagram he was doing stand up comedy… Which seemed strange, yet oddly fitting…
I don’t have any updates at all.
Hopefully recording a new Gayrilla Biscuits album.
* To double up on a question we asked you about Joe C… What impact has Aaron had on your life both artistically, and personally?
I mean we were best friends for years and toured around the world, we were all in a gang. It was us vs the world so our impact on each other artistically and personally is really hard to measure.
None of us would be anywhere with out the others, much like Guns N’ Roses or Voltron.
(Cover below of the 2006 Gayrilla Biscuits EP ‘Hung Queens Can Suck It’ – Released by Buddyhead.)
Odds n Ends
What role did toys play in your childhood?
They kept me stoked.
I’m still mad my father sold all my Star Wars toys in a box labeled $1 at a garage sale when I moved to LA.
Who was your 1st crush and why?
Madonna. I really liked her first album. Second record is ok too.
I dunno why, I guess cuz when I was in first grade that shit was tight.
Still got a crush on her.
(Photo below of Travis’ first crush – Madonna in 1983, the Year of her Debut LP)
Does sex change everything?
Nothing stays the same.
Please describe what you think the American psyche / zeitgeist is today?
America, fuck yeah!
Which cartoon character, would you most like to see in a tribute sex toy, and why?
(Please draw a prototype of your design!)
Actually…. Here’s a Scrappy Doo dildo.
Who would win in a fight and why: Iggy Pop Vs. all of KISS?
The whole band?
KISS should. I’d be rooting for Iggy for sure but let’s be honest, he’s a little dude. Hopefully he’d at least get a couple punches in on Gene Simmons before it was over.
What are the top 3 items you own?
Drugs – waste of time or gateway to the universe?
They are both.
It really depends on how you do them and when you do them.
Please describe your latest dream in detail…
Ever since I was a kid I pretty much have a variation of the same dream, usually I’m saving the world, I’ve got an Indian Jones whip, I’m running from boulders and swinging from vines.
Which, when I write it out seems pretty weird.
Of everything you have done what would you most like to be remembered for and why?
I’d like everyone to remember I released a 69 song cd by SHAT.
(Image below of Shat’s 69 track, 2006 LP Cuntree – released by Travis / Buddyhead)
If people wanted to collaborate, buy something, or find out info – how should they get in touch with you?
I’m on social media or email me, firstname.lastname@example.org – also hit americanprimitive.org
Any collaborations on the horizon?
Too soon to talk about. I sorry.
Any major projects you want to hype?
I got a new zine I’m working on should be out in the next couple weeks.
And we should have a short video drop before the end of the year – from our trip to Mexico City when Joe played some shows there a few months ago.
- American Primitive – Site
- American Primitive – Instagram
- American Primitive – Online Store
- Travis Keller – 2009 LA Weekly Long Article on Travis (‘Buddyhead Redux’)
- Travis Keller – Old Buddyhead Blog (Ceased updating in 2007)
- Joe Cardamone – Holy War via SoundCloud
- Joe Cardamone – Site
- Joe Cardamone – Instagram
- Joe Cardamone – Facebook
- Joe Cardamone – twitter
- Jacob Mendel – Online Portfolio
- Jacob Mendel – Instagram
- Jacob Mendel – twitter
- The Icarus Line – Bandcamp (main)
- The Icarus Line – Bandcamp (secondary)
- Valley Recording Co. – Site
- Valley Recording Co. – Facebook