Checking in with Thomas Dean

What were you doing when we called?
I was with a friend at this thrift store over in Waynesboro. A pretty decent thrift store, with a lot of old keyboards and T-shirts—not as picked over as the Charlottesville versions. You always gotta look.
When he’s not making album covers and posters for other bands, Thomas Dean plays with both Invisible Hand and the spazzy, off-kilter rock group Order, which he founded 10 years ago.
What are you working on right now?
My band Invisible Hand is working on a new full-length. And this coming fall is the 10th anniversary of my other band, Order. On my own, I’m doing a bunch of band T-shirts, this being touring season. I’m also doing a big commission, a giant screenprint this guy’s going to mount on his ceiling. It’s of a woman arched over a mountain scene going over the sky, based on some Egyptian mythology. Every night she eats the sun and gives birth to the moon—or eats the moon and gives birth to the sun. I adapted that story and sort of made it my own. It’s more of a local mountain scene than an Egyptian landscape.
What is your first artistic memory from childhood?
My mom would paint a lot of fruit, especially strawberries, which is funny. She would paint on leather, on belts, key chains, on slate, old pieces of metal, ash cans. I think one of the earliest things I drew was on my walls with crayons, and of course she was mad at me, but it was the same giant strawberry she always painted. When I started playing music, I started getting into the associations between music and the visual. I started creating artwork for bands to go with their music. And then I got into designing and silk-screening T-shirts in my garage because we couldn’t afford to pay people.
If you could have dinner with a person, living or dead, who would it be and why?
You’d think maybe famous people, or people that have passed, maybe family members, but those aren’t the kind of experiences that I sit around and idealize. Meeting your heroes is a very scary thing. I don’t know if it would be an experience I would be super-psyched for.
Who is your favorite artist outside your medium?
Well, he’s not exactly outside my medium, but David Bowie has a really admirable way of evolving in what he does. Sort of an all-around artist. A great inspiration for all kinds of things.
Which of your works are you most proud of?
I’m probably most excited about the two album cover designs I did recently. One was for Borrowed Beams of Light, and the other was for Whatever Brains, which is a friend’s band from Raleigh. Their album also has a 16-page booklet with a lot of artwork. There’s also a print I sold to the owner of the Southern that’s sitting in there. It’s made of about 24 different screenings collaged together.
Tell us about a recent concert, exhibit or show that has inspired you.
Recently I went to see Belle and Sebastian with my girlfriend in New York. They’re kind of a band that I lost interest in quite a few years ago, but I was blown away by the spirit and the energy of the show. The upbeat charisma of the singer and the power of the crowd. It was a really positive and surprisingly good show from a band that I had lost interest in, because I felt like their stuff had gotten weaker.
Locally, who would you like to collaborate with?
Ned Oldham keeps threatening to start a band with me, and I’m officially saying we definitely should. Maybe seeing it in print will get him jazzed about it.
Are there any items you splurge on?
Just keyboards from thrift stores, some records—only the cheap ones, though.
What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
I’m kind of on the verge of doing it at this point, quitting my job and making art full time—something I’ve always been afraid of. I definitely couldn’t do it by myself. My landlord is very lenient, and my girlfriend has definitely bought me dinner a few times. But hopefully that will all come out in the wash when I make a little more money and can return the favor.

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