Local Music Issue 2019 | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

March 12, 2019 News » Cover Story

Local Music Issue 2019 

Turn it up to 11, boys and girls. Our rockingest issue is here!

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ENRIQUE LIMÓN
  • Enrique Limón

CRITICAL GOODS
Copper Palate Press helps local bands get ahead with quality merch and a passionate, print-first perspective.

By NICK McGREGOR

The start-up checklist for a new band looking to play some shows is simple. Instruments and sound equipment. Some kind of wheels to get to the gig. Creative inspiration. A willingness to perform. And, of course, a tip jar to hold George Washingtons.

As ambition revs up and perspectives broaden, those $1 bills might not cut it anymore. Ditto for the door take or the venue guarantee. The next step is to find new ways to pad your pocket—and if you're smart, you'll figure out how to build your brand along the way. Enter Copper Palate Press, a downtown screen-printing and printmaking shop. Managed by Brian Taylor, pictured, who co-founded the company 10 years ago with Cameron Bentley, Copper Palate specializes in the tangible merchandise—primarily T-shirts and posters—that bands need to start to earn a living.

After moving to Salt Lake City from Philadelphia in 2003, Taylor attended the University of Utah, studying graphic design before falling in love with all the different ways to print physical stuff: letter presses, wood blocks, etchings and more. "In college, screen-printing was a fine-art thing," Taylor recalls. "But I wanted to figure out how to make money doing it."

Like any creative pursuit, the hustle proved tenuous at first. Inspired by Leia Bell's iconic hand-printed, folk art-influenced gig posters for Kilby Court, Taylor started churning out his own versions. "I was all over the place," he admits. "I could do five different posters five different ways and you wouldn't be able to identify my style the way you could Leia's. It was all done for fun—and to get the experience of exactly how much time and money it takes to make 100 prints."

The poster market became oversaturated, though, and many bands began opting for digital prints. So, in addition to ramping up his commercial printing enterprise, Taylor shifted his small-batch screen-printing focus to T-shirts. "They're effective," he says. "If somebody buys your band's T-shirt and wears it, it's mobile advertising whenever they're standing in line somewhere. That's way cheaper relative to ad space on YouTube or social media, which is out of reach for most people. And who knows whether it's working? We stay away from that because we have a grip on making stuff that's physical and real."

That "we" in Copper Palate Press has evolved over the years. Originally, Taylor and Bentley wanted to create a collective where artists could share space, equipment and costs in a gritty, stimulating, non-gallery environment. As artists like John Andrews, Dave Boogert, Sri Whipple and Clyde H. Ashby have entered and left the fold, new blood like Fiz Bradshaw (of local noise-rockers Lube) and Jordan Fairbanks (of outlandish glam-rock act Baby Gurl) have injected fresh energy into the brick back-alley garage off 200 South.

click to enlarge The Copper Palate Press crew - ENRIQUE LIMÓN
  • Enrique Limón
  • The Copper Palate Press crew

"All my real jobs and paychecks starting out were from bands," says Taylor, who now teaches graphic design and handles e-learning for Salt Lake Community College. "Working with bands snowballed into buying bigger equipment, which we had to do to accommodate bigger orders. In the early years, we'd do a few jobs for bands, buy a used press, push its limits, save up and buy another piece of equipment."

Next up, Taylor has plans to replace the roof on Copper Palate's physical building, add new workspace and commemorate the business' 10-year anniversary with a party later this summer. He attributes much of that continued success to the next generation of artists like Bradshaw, who "are really helping us stay connected to the bands."

Bradshaw has dashed off tons of eye-catching runs recently: hand-cut cassette tape inserts, posters, T-shirts and album covers for Utah favorites like Human Toy, Brain Bagz, Sad State of Society and The Violet Temper, along with prints for California's Similar Alien and Idaho's Lloyd and Savior. Bradshaw's kaleidoscopic detail and surrealistic style is unmistakable, and her connections to the Salt Lake City music scene have turned Copper Palate into a must-stop for any band looking to express its creativity and make a few extra bucks by putting out one-of-a-kind merchandise. "Fiz's art is visually compelling and related, which I'm pretty excited about," Taylor says. "You know Fiz's look when you see it. It took me a long time to come up with that for myself."

Copper Palate's proximity to popular downtown haunts like Este Pizzeria, Fice Gallery, Diabolical Records, Campos Coffee and the Bar X / Beer Bar / Johnny's on Second triumvirate certainly helps. "We print our posters and then get 'em up and get 'em out," Taylor says. "People seeing 'em in all the shops and restaurants is just as effective as a magazine ad, a radio stop or an Instagram post. Print—the actual physical thing—still matters."

Here, Taylor launches into the kind of sermon-cum-sales pitch that would resonate with any band eager to share their creative vision with the world. Looking at art on your phone? "How are you going to appreciate something that someone's labored over for hours?" he muses. Pondering the necessity of marketing and branding? "It's an investment in yourself and your hard work." Working with 16-year-olds printing shirts for their first band? "I know they don't have a lot of money to begin with, so in my eyes they're deserving of a discount right off the bat." Understanding the demands of the road for seasoned bands on their first regional or national tour? "I know those guys will be struggling and putting in the work to sell the T-shirts. And if they don't sell that night, that might mean they don't have gas to get to the next show. A box of shirts can make money—and keep a band moving."

Although he's not the same kind of music fan he was 15 years ago, Taylor admits it's hard not to find himself emotionally invested in jobs for bands. "I like working with bands," he says. "I always have. It's fun. It's always a white-on-black image with some kind of skull or something, but bands are hungry. They're putting work in to live the dream. I respect that, which is why I still do at least 10 print runs for bands a year, just myself. Pound that out over 10 years."

Asked about the recent job that stands out the most, he mentions a four-color poster drawn for local Americana band Fur Foxen's November album release party at Lake Effect. "It was a really good illustration by Brett Ferrin, and when I got it back, I was like, 'Damn!'" Taylor says. "A 13-by-19-inch poster like that with thicker paper and brighter colors will stand out so much better than an 11-by-17-inch digital print with margins. The kids don't cut 'em down to full bleeds anymore, and at a Beans & Brews kiosk with 30 printers, guess which one's going to pop off? That's my sales pitch for that: 'You want to stand out?'"

On the other hand, Taylor says an epic 1,600-quantity run of four-color posters for Bleachers' August 2018 performance at a PluralSight tech conference nearly broke him: eight days solid of hand-printing, taking time off from his day job, icing his forearms each night. "That was nuts," he says with a laugh. "Definitely the biggest paper job I've ever done."

After doling out so much good advice, Taylor adds even more for bands unsure about which direction to go for their merch: "When I was starting out, I was really nervous to approach people who do what I do," he says. "But ask questions. Admit if you don't know something instead of pretending you're hot shit. Be honest about what you can afford."

As for those epic Copper Palate Press parties of the past, with punk bands raging while Taylor pulled ink over a screen shaking like a drum? Those days, sadly, are mostly over. Taylor waxes nostalgic about Aldine "Punk Rock Farmer" Strychnine old-school hardcore shows, Davey Parrish and "Bad" Brad Wheeler's DJ sets, and SLUG Magazine Executive Editor Angela Brown's curated parties, along with all the memories he's heard about The Moroccan, the former DIY concert venue that once called Copper Palate's humble abode home. But Taylor also says he doesn't miss setting up band equipment, fixing his own equipment and walking away at 3 a.m. without any extra money in his pocket. "I couldn't take it on myself," he says, lamenting the loss of artist and wingman John Andrews, who moved to New York City several years ago. "I tried for a while after John left, but it's a pain in the ass."

Still, Taylor says he's hoping to tap into the energy of younger artists like Bradshaw, who will hopefully help out when the time comes this summer for Copper Palate's 10-year-anniversary soirée. Hopefully the business can even get back to its collective roots, Taylor admits. Clearly he finds joy in passing down his knowledge, all while letting Copper Palate's meaning to local bands morph and evolve with the times. "What's the future hold?" Taylor thinks aloud. "I'd like to do more classes, more shared space ... I want to try to build the community again instead of just focusing on growing my commercial shop. I can do that anywhere. Here, I can give back to the art scene, because it's been good to me. Fiz and I will still do the 10-20 shirt runs, where a lot of people are going to turn those kids down. We have no problem doing those jobs."

"That's why I've always stuck to print," he adds. "Print is the most important thing. You have to experience it—just like with music and bands."

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman

Bio:
An accomplished writer, blogger and reviewer, Zimmerman contributes to several local and national publications, including No Depression, Paste, Relix and Goldmine. The music obsessive says he owns too many albums to count and numerous instruments he’s yet to learn.

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